Entrepreneurialism comes in many colors

Being an entrepreneur comes in many different colors.  A book writer, an artist, a playwright, a CPG founder, a software developer, a dog walker,  a fashion designer, a cybersecurity expert and so on.  These days you can create your own path. People have less loyalty to their companies although they might be completely committed, they are most loyal to themselves.

Past generations, even one could say my generation, have been committed to staying at a company sometimes for most of their career but that behavior no longer exists.  This particularly holds true for the Millennial Generation and it is certainly going to hold even more true for Generation Z.  People follow the path that makes sense for them, as in nothing is standard anymore.

I think of this generation as a generation of apprentices.  They go work to learn, to expand their mind and then take what they learned on the road with them to that next place.  Those experiences are bonuses for whatever they do next, be it the book they write, the job they take, the art they create and the people around them particularly the companies they go work for, benefit from their fresh outlook.  They have fresh outlooks because they are always looking to expand their own personal careers.

In many ways, this generation has all become entrepreneurs of their own lives.

All women have a sexual harassment story

I had the extreme pleasure of having dinner this past week with over a dozen women in the start-up sector.  90% of the women are the dinner are the female investors who any founder would want to get in front of with hopes that they fund their companies.  Over the years, I am happy to say that many of these women have become my friends.

I knew everyone at the dinner but not everyone knew each other.  So we began the dinner telling our name, where we reside and a personal sexual harassment story.  I wish I could say that not everyone had one but the reality is every single one of us did and then some.

Some of us reflected on what had happened to them and what they would do differently if it happened the next time. That is the key to change.  We can no longer be afraid of speaking out and calling someone out when it happens.  Just like Emma Sulkowicz carried a mattress around Columbia University to directly amplify her voice towards someone who she had accused of sexual harassment, the women at the top of the investment world need to do the same thing.  The women at the top of every field need to do the same thing.  All of these women should be able to stand up and tell their story so that others can feel empowered to tell theirs too.

If women are no longer silent then men will curb their atrocious behavior because they understand that the chances of someone will be vocal is a given.  It is high time we stop pushing this behavior under the rug and publicly point out sexual harassment the moment it happens.  That is the hardest part.  Most flounder, walk out of the room and miss the moment and of course, they do because it is terrible and uncomfortable.  Here are some suggestions.  Muster up the courage to look at them directly and say “I am going to pretend you did not say that” or “Did you just say that to me?” or “You must be kidding me” and then a follow-up with “don’t you ever talk to me like that again or I am going to sue you for sexual harassment and have you fired” and you could throw a few fuck’s in there and definitely say it loudly so someone else hears what just went down.  It is awful and it shouldn’t happen but it does.  The more we push back and speak up, the chances that change will happen are almost guaranteed.

It’s all about the people

I was listening to an interview on NPR around how Rotten Tomatoes is changing the economics around movie going. Then I read a piece on it too.   It has definitely made an impact on how we choose what films to see.  When we look at seeing a film, be it on Netflix or at the movie theater, the first question we ask is, “what did it get on Rotten Tomatoes”?  If the score is below 80, even 85, we hem and haw.  Ridiculous but true.

The same goes for Foursquare.  I might be a restaurant being available for a reservation but it if gets below an 8 then I hem and haw about going there too.

You can read a review of a wine that Robert Parker thinks is incredible but who is to say he has my taste?  I can find out what my friends think on Delectable, people whose taste I trust.

There is something extremely democratic about this approach. If enough people comment and review something that I want to do and it doesn’t score well, then I can use that as a point of data before delving in.  Certainly, when the score is off the charts I don’t need to do as much research.

As for the movies, well there have been a lot of films that have been green-lit over the years that are terrible that cost a lot of money to make so perhaps this will push the industry to think deeper about what type of entertainment they are making.

Data please

How do we increase diversity and inclusion in all companies?  The answer is data.

The conversation has changed over the past decade and even most so over the past year around diversity and inclusion.  That is the good news.  The fact that CEO’s, founders and investors are talking about making deliberate choices inside companies focusing on diversity and inclusion decisions.  Change takes time but the conversations are hopeful.

I spoke to Marie Klawe, the President of Harvey Mudd, this week.  She is not only leading the charge in cultural transformation, she has proven you can change the ratios.  At Harvey Mudd, she increased the female computer science majors by 10% by changing the number of women on the computer science faculty over threefold.  No doubt having female role models in the computer science program spurred interested from younger women.

We talked about how she wants to change companies from ground-up focusing on the start-up space.  I believe the key is pure data.  What are the questions we should be asking on an annual basis through LP’s and VC’s for their companies to pull together information about the impact of diversity and inclusion?  I want to see KPI’s aggregated annually from thousands of companies answers that I believe will provide data that proves that when there is inclusivity and gender balance in a company we will see healthier cultures and balance sheets.

Here are some questions I would like answered.  Are more women getting funded this year than last year?  Are women getting worse valuation than their male counterparts?  How many men and women are working in your company?  How many women are on your investment team?  What is the correlation between women on the investment team vs no women on the investment team in regards to how many women get funded from that fund?  How many women are on the C-team?  How many minorities work in your company? Has your culture changed with balance?  Has your bottom line changed with balance?

The most important thing about these questions are the answers and seeing the data year after year.  Because if it is obvious that companies with diversity and inclusion are absolutely more profitable, then even the ones that tend to not really care about this but are only concerned with the bottom line, will make changes because if the data is affecting your bottom line, you tend to do something about it.

Donna Zaccaro, You Need to See It In Order To Be It, Podcast #34

Donna Zaccaro is the director of the upcoming documentary film, ‘To A More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor” — set to have its world premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival this October.  Donna is also the founder of Dazzling Media.  She joined me in conversation to talk about her films, her empowering influences, and a career full of decisive twists and turns that led her to a life that allows for her impactful, creative endeavors today.

Facebook Ads

Ads come at us all the time on pretty much most platforms we are on.  Even if we don’t pay attention to them, there is definitely an underlying impact in our brain having those ads just sit on a page of something else you are looking at.  Remember when the movie theaters used to have subliminal advertising around the popcorn prior to the show?

Reading about how the Russians created Facebook profiles and then used those profiles to push out over $100K of ads and posts across the platform that were anti-Hillary and pro-Trump is extremely disturbing.  It will be hard to quantify the impact but it’s there.

Someone told me this story that says something about the propaganda from Russia on Facebook.  She is some Houston, first-generation American.  Her parents immigrated here from India.  Her father is now a retired doctor in Texas.  He has always been a Democrat.  He cares more about his fellow man than his taxes.

Before the election, the family gets together for something and their father is praising Trump, talking extremely right-wing and everyone is confused.  They wonder, has Dad lost his mind?  But the one sibling who gets the Internet said, let’s check his Facebook settings.

They make some adjustments, such as blocking extreme right-wing media sites that somehow were coming at him fast and furious and made sure that what he was now seeing was articles from places such as the Washington Post, New York Times, New Yorker and others.

Two weeks pass and guess what, he is back to his normal Democratic self.   The whole family sighed relief but think about that.  Here is an educated man, a doctor, who might be in his retirement years but a smart guy who was obviously being swayed by the articles and ads being pushed at him.  I find it extremely scary.

Fear

I had drinks with someone the other night and they asked me “what will we say when we look back at this time of political upheaval”?  I thought about it and said, “we had to go there to get here”.   Now of course what here will be is unclear but we move forward and we inevitably move forward into something else because of this upheaval.

What is most disturbing around the seemingly constant chaos in this Administration is their use of fear.  Fear makes us numb.  You read about people who have been brought up in abusive homes that are scary and they become used to that normal by shutting down from trauma.  Remember those color alerts after 9/11 that came daily from the Bush administration?  It was a way to manage their power by creating fear so perhaps we did not see the they were really trying to do.

I am not so sure any of us really know what shifts have happening inside this Administration.  Major offices, such as cyber-security, is being run by people who have been working there though many Administrations, without someone being appointed to run it.  Many ongoing research projects have been halted such as looking into health problems in certain states and what environmental issues are connected to them.  I am sure there are too many undisclosed changes and cutbacks to site.

More than anything between Mother Nature wreaking havoc on our country right now from Hurricanes to Fires, the under-lying Mueller investigation, to the tweets, to the fear for many possibly being deported that could take billions out of the economy, it is this crazy fear that makes us numb to reality.

Perhaps I put too much expectation on our leaders.  Perhaps the system really doesn’t shift much because if we are lucky each leader just gets one thing major accomplished.  But I just can’t help believe that one true leader can really make us go down a much brighter path.  These days the path just seems like a constant torrent of black clouds, rain and wind. It is making me start to ignore it all and look for sunny spots elsewhere.  It is dangerous to be immune to everything that is going on around us right now.  Perhaps that is their point.

 

 

Survival

I spent a lot of time this summer thinking about survival.  What we do to survive and how survival shapes us.  I find myself reflecting more about this topic. Survival is about your personal nurture more than nature.

After reading the book We Were the Lucky Ones, a true story about the survival of a Polish family in WWII.  It is amazing what this family did to survive.  Sometimes it was just fate and other times pure chutzpah.  There is no doubt that what each of them lived through changed who they were for ever.  I wonder if I would have survived that horrific time in history.

The book 4 3 2 1 forces the reader to think about survival.  Each of those 4 lives, with the same exact character, shaped his outcome but not who he was at his core.  I wrote about this book after reading it.

Then I read something like Evicted and wonder how those children living in these circumstances will be shaped by those survival experiences.  Will they rise to the occasion to always have a roof over their head or will they just fall into the same endless cycle of despair that their parents, unfortunately, provided for them?

Everyone has a story about growing up.  Your parents are your first role models.  You don’t know anything else.  Sometimes you revere them and other times as you get older you question their decisions.  Regardless, who we are individually at the core doesn’t change, it just gets molded by our experiences.

First Saturday back in NYC

I just love NYC.  Even though I find myself spending less time here than years past, it might make me love it even more. Flipping through the NYTimes or NYMagazine reading about the new movies, new theater, new restaurants, new stores and all the excitement of the next thing to experience is what makes this city so unique.  The streets, the neighborhoods, the diversity of this town just beats at an entirely different level than most places.

The first Saturday back we walked until our legs ached.  We both did maintenance items in the morning before meeting at Sorbillo to start off our afternoon.  We loved this place in Naples.  It has yet to open so instead, we popped into the Hole to start out our day.  There are two exhibits up, one show called Rom Com from Alex Gardiner, of acrylic paintings on linen.

The other from Morgan Blair, always acrylic paintings.

Prince Street Pizza was in order because pizza was what we now had to have.  We got in line and waited it out.  We had two types of pizza, the classic round pie to the square.  Both delicious, with different crusts but full of flavor and just the right texture, fresh cheese, and super spicy crispy pepperoni.  So good.

Lots of new shows to see in Chelsea so off we went.  First stop was Yancey Richardson Gallery to see the Anthony Hernandez photos that show the harsh realities of living in LA.

We popped into Matthew Marks to see this piece, by Martin Honert, called the English Teacher, that stands solo in the front room.

Our next stop was to Sikkema, Jenkins and Co to see the Kara Walker show that has been written about everywhere.  Her work continues to highlight the sin of slavery then and now.  They are important works that I hope have been acquired by major art institutions who will show these works for years to come using art to push all of us to think about our past.

Mary Corse at Lehmann Maupin was next.  Her work is also being shown in LA now and she is going to have a museum retrospective sometime next year.

Hauser-Wirth created a fantastic book store with a bar last November.  We finally got there.  The gallery is definitely thinking out of the box in their approach to the art world.  Their gallery in LA is a perfect example of that.

Maya Lin’s show, Ebb and Flow, at Pace is worth seeing.  A mixture of pieces all connected to how water flows.  I really like how Lin brings her architecture roots into her work.

Leon Polk Smith at Lisson Gallery drew us in.

These works on paper by Nathalie Boutte at Yossi Milo need to be seen in person.  They are a mixture of historic photos that are cut into tiny pieces of paper that flutter.  This picture doesn’t do the work justice.

Louise Fishman at Cheim Reid.

Lin Tianmaio at Galerie Lelong, a Chinese female artist.  There are many different words through out this rug piece.

Photos by Herman Leonard at the Robert Mann Gallery.  We happen to have this piece that we purchased easily 15 years ago in a gallery in New Orleans.  It still makes me smile when I see it.

Water colors downstairs and these amazing rugs with pieces of pottery hung around the walls by Polly Apfelbaum at Alexander Gray Associates.

I wanted to go see the new basement addition to Chelsea Market so we walked down 10th and stopped in the Story.  Such a brilliant store, a concept we will see more of.  This installation is all around Beauty.

What is more brilliant is the developers behind Chelsea Market.  The new downstairs is built to accommodate a lot of people.  The wide aisles, the stores that are not behind doors, and a huge staircase to get down there.  Another 13,000 square feet will be the next addition to this.

Dickson’s Meat Market will continue to keep their space upstairs but that space will eventually be only for sandwiches and ready made food where the butcher will be downstairs.

Buon Italia has always been one of my favorite stores in Chelsea Market.  Fresh mozzarella to pasta to imported Italian goods.  They moved from upstairs to downstairs into a beautiful new space.

Thrilled to see Anne Saxelby open a store here.  She is seriously the Queen of Cheese.

The hot shop from Williamsburg

The Manhattan Fruit Exchange that not only provides fresh produce to consumers, it also provides goods for many local restaurants.  They have a huge new spot.

Upstairs there aren’t many changes except more places to sit and eat.  Stopped by Seed + Mill to taste the soft sesame ice cream.  Not a fan of halvah but have completely changed my mind after eating theirs.

We got home and nodded off for awhile before making our way out to two bar stools calling our name at Tamarind for some delicious Indian food.

Such an amazing day in my beloved concrete jungle.

 

 

A fork in the road?

Sometimes we don’t know when we took a different fork in the road but we can look back and note when the new direction began.  Bruce Springfield wrote the line “there is something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear” in 1966.  At that point, it was clear that something was happening in America and right now we are seeing that not only in politics but in female empowerment.

I remember when my mother read the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.  That book spoke to her.  Looking back, she was lost in a marriage with 3 kids and not exactly sure how she got there.  She was insanely entrepreneurial and at that point, she began to figure out a different path to get her back into a career.

This past weekend I walked into a store called Bulletin.co (Bulletin Broads). on Prince Street in Nolita.  The store (there at 2 and one more coming including an e-commerce shop) is dedicated to Feminism, aka girl-power products.  There are cards, art, t-shirts, coffee mugs and alike that essentially say “I am woman here me roar”, another music line but that one was written by Helen Reddy in 1971 and she was not interested in returning to the woman of the 50’s and 60’s.

A woman asked me about investing in women and their frustration in not finding as many as she wants to support.  I told her to just wait.  Change started about 10 years ago in the start-up space.  We are going to see more women in the limelight that began building companies in that time but you have not heard of them because that is how women operate. But sooner than later those companies will have exits, they will go public or be sold and my hope is their names become household business names.  Those shifts change the dynamic again for the next generation.

Ellen Pao’s book, Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, that recants her lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, a VC firm comes out this month.  I am looking forward to reading the book.  I have heard more stories than I need to from women in how they have been treated in the workplace and around raising capital but those not in the industry have not.  Reading Ellen’s book will have a long tail for the next generation of women who read the book.  The short-tail is women have begun to feel empowered enough to say “I am not going to stay silent anymore” when something inappropriate happens.  We saw a VC firm go down, 500 Startups founder leave and male partners including talking heads at Fox news be cut off and out of their organizations for sexual abuse.  That’s big.

This has all been sitting on the back burner mildly simmering for the past decade and we are now watching women bring it to a boil.  They are entering the door with a different head because of all that has come before them.  Seeing a store sell products to feed this fire makes me believe that we have entered a new normal for what gender equality is going to look like in the future.