Women’s Equality Party

c.H.79.3c1.Screen-Shot-2014-10-14-at-3.45.39-PMThe Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the US Constitution to guarantee equal rights for women.  In 1972 this was passed in both houses of Congress and then went to the state legislatures for ratification with a deadline of March 1979.  Yet in 1977 only 35 of the 38 states needed to ratify the amendment came through.  And so, the ERA was never passed.

I clearly remember this.  I could not understand what the big deal was.  How could the ERA not be passed?  It just seemed so ridiculous that anyone would not want to give equal rights to women and acknowledge that through the eyes of the law.  It was probably the first time I realized how ridiculous and out of touch Government can be.

Supposedly Senator Bob Menendez reintroduced the ERA amendment in March of 2013 under the 113th Congress that has more women than ever before.  I do hope that this makes its way through the channels to become law.

Now there is a group of women, Chris Quinn being one of them, leading the efforts of the Women’s Equality Party in NY. If 50,000 people cast their vote for WEP on election day (Nov 4) they will have formed the first women’s agenda political party with the hope that women’s rights would no longer be put on the back burner.

This is a step in the right direction.  They want to ensure that candidates support women’s issues and that women are treaty equally.

There is an event tonight at the Tai Ping Showroom, 860 Broadway, 4th floor at 17th Street between 630-830.  You can click here to RSVP and attend.  If you can’t attend at least make sure you vote for this on November 4th.

It is smart and it is about time.  #WomensEqualityParty



Prospector Theater, Valerie Jensen, Woman Entrepreneur

valeriewithplayhouseMy friend introduced me to Valerie.  She said that her energy and what she has built is worth sharing.  I emailed back and forth with Valerie and eventually got to talk to her.  There is no doubt that most entrepreneurs find a thread that leads them to starting a business.  The most successful ones are following their desires not something that they are struggling to come up with so they can start their own business.  Valerie began volunteering at Sphere an organization that helps adults with developmental disabilities achieve their dreams.  Valerie did not realize it but she has been a self-starter entrepreneur forever but it just took a few steps starting with Sphere before she figured it out.

Valerie grew up in Somers NY.  Her father owned an industrial research chemical company.  Her mother was a kindergarten teacher.  Valerie is a twin.  She is also one of the two sets of twins that her parents had.  Runs in the family.  Her sister Hope, who is one of the other set of twins, has Downs Syndrome.  She was born in 1979 and at that time there was very little support around this.  The other twin of this set was born blind.  The hospital actually told her Mother to leave her Downs Syndrome baby at the hospital when she went home.  As Valerie said, you are born with the cards you are dealt.  It was stressful growing up as the family really did not have the skills and strategies to understand Hope.  The school district was not able to accommodate Hope so she was bussed far away every day to attend school.  She did graduate high school as in NY State you can go to high school until you are 21.  Her blind sister had a totally different trajectory.  She had congenital nystagmus so she can not see what other people see.  This sister went on to graduate from Cornell University and then attended Fordham law school using a scribe to get through the program.  She now practices family law after being an assistant DA in the Bronx.

Every summer the family would leave the day school ended to go up to their house in the Adirondacks until literally the day  school began in the fall around 4am.  It was the one time of the year where there was a sense of freedom.  Their house was not winterized, they had no TV and they would hang out with the kids that were also up there in the summer.  Next door lived a young boy who she would see each summer from the time she was 7 years old and this young man would eventually become her husband.  Gotta love that.

It was not until Valerie attended a special Olympics party at someones house that she did not think of disabilities as a nuisance or an embarrassment.  It was an eye opener.  The people were amazing and she saw each of these individuals as beautiful people.  That event made a deep impact on Valerie that she wasn’t even aware of.

After graduating from high school Valerie went to Albany where she majored in English.  It was a bit of a relief to go off to college and she thought it was going to give her the ability to reinvent herself.  She was not sure what she wanted to do.  Her parents are very traditional and so the one thing that they drilled into her was that when she graduated she would need to get a job that had benefits.  Not surprising that they drove home that benefits were the key.  Valerie spent her junior year abroad in Nottingham, England.  She returned and decided to graduate a semester early.  She began to ramp up.  Right after graduating she went directly into a graduate program in Binghamton getting a degree in elementary and special education.  She finished a two year program in a year.  She wanted to move on with her life.  She got married to her childhood sweetheart and they moved to Ridgefield, CT.

Valerie landed a job teaching at the elementary school in Somers she had gone to.  Being a student one month and then being a teacher of second graders the next month was an adjustment.  Weirdly enough her colleague and mentor was her second grade teacher.  She stayed three years before she had her first son.  She decided to stay home and raise her kids.  She had one son and a set of twins (boy and a girl).  The oldest son was two and a half when she had the twins.  She had zero help, her husband worked crazy hours and looking back she realized she was person without a mission or any plan.

When her kids began school she started to volunteer at Sphere.  This was around 2003.  The organization was helping adults with disabilities enrich their lives through education and the arts.  She had heard this group was doing musical theater at the church across the street from her house.  Valerie started showing up every week.  The director would constantly be late and before Valerie knew it she was taking charge.  She began directing their plays.  Then in 2005 the board of Sphere asked Valerie to take over and she has run it ever since.

A few years ago she shifted from theater to live movies.  She realized that the chances of employment after 21 for the people at Sphere was slim to none.  She would see them go from happy adults to sad people.  The Special Olympics is great but it is seasonal.  Once these adults get up there in age it becomes very difficult.  Valerie began growing the programs to run 12 months a year.

She built the program to have a cooking class, a jewelry class, the movies they were making but what she realized is that the people attending the programs did not need more classes they needed jobs.  80% of people with disabilities are unemployed yet they are smart, dedicated employees.  Valerie started thinking about business opportunities.  She was struggling to figure out what that would be.  Her town definitely had donor fatigue.  While she was working on this she read a story in the local paper about the library expanding into the movie theater next door that would be knocked down.  It was her aha moment and she knew what she would do.

She got the funds together to buy the building before it was knocked down.  She called it the Prospector Theater.  She changed the mission to provide employment training for people with disabilities to help them find jobs.  The employees are called prospects.  The goal is to help those prospects tap into their abilities and then hook up with the right networks for jobs.  She is turning their passions into professions through teaching them production skills on sound editing, working on public announcements, selling their art, jobs for movie sets, etc.

Valerie is incredibly passionate about helping people with disabilities find happiness through employment.  She is a ball of energy.  She should honestly get an award for what she has done for so many people.  It is interesting how her family history, the cards that she was dealt, ended up as something she came back to make a difference.  A seriously impressive big hearted woman.



Vengo and the NYU Entrepreneurial Lab

vengoFrank Rimalovski is the Executive Director of the NYU Entrepreneurial Instititue  He has made quite an impact at NYU connecting them to the entrepreneurial community and helping NYU put some money back into some of their entrepreneurial graduates.  One of the companies that came out of NYU and that Frank and I both work with is Vengo.  Vengo is more than a vending machine it is a billboard that delivers products.  We had a board meeting this past week which took place at the new Mark and Debra Leslie eLab.  What a fantastic place.  There also happen to be two Vengo machines in there (see above).

productsvengoI bought my Vengo products.  Plenty of candies too which I held back on.

optionpoolWhat I love about the lab is it feels like a start-up.  The architecture, the offices, the communal spaces have that shared work space vibe.  This is one of the shared spaces.  I happen to love the clever names that they used for each spot.  This is the option pool.

bootstrapThe conference rooms each have names too such as VC, Bootstrap and Pre-money.

pitchroom Even the elevator has a name.

exitstrategyAnd so does the bathroom.

downstairsThis gives you an idea of the open feeling of the space.

stairsI particularly love the stairs.  When you go up you can see the quotes from different brilliant minds who really understood or understand the start-up space.

Hats off to Frank for creating this at NYU.  It is really fantastic and I am pretty confident that the impact it will make will have a very long tail.

Mulino a vino

Mulino a vino opened to just a little fanfare.  The chef, David Scabin comes directly to us from Piedmonte where he is known for his creative scientific menu at Combal.Zero.  When we traveled around Europe we did not get there but it was definitely on the radar.  When I saw that a new restaurant opened up in our neighborhood from Combal.Zero I figured we should give it a try.  They are absolutely touting the Michelin star piece in their marketing although after just having eaten in several Michelin star restaurants IMHO it is not something worth touting.

restaurantThe restaurant is located under ground level so there is this intimate den feeling.  One room is a dining room.

barThe other is the bar.  The wood, the tiny European touches make you feel like you are somewhere in Piedmonte which is really nice.

san danielleThere are 13 things on the menu and you can order them in small, medium or grand portions.  Really nice for sharing.  We began with San Daniele’s Miracle.  Focaccia buns stuffed with prosciutto di San Danielle, tomato carpaccio and burrata.   The perfect Italian sandwich.

chickpeaThe next thing out was the chickpea pancake with tomato carppaccio and mozzarella foam.  The pancake was a bit thick and room temperature.  The other ingredients were basically like the last thing we had.

pastadonutOur next was the Bombolone Cacio & Pepe.  A hot salty pasta doughnut filled with pecorino cheese and black pepper cream.  A bit bready and not as fully stuffed as I would have liked to see it.  Everything kind of tasted the same.  Ever listen to some new music from an artist and you begin to think that all the songs sound the same.  That is what we were feeling about now.

ravioliThe ravioli that was filled with roasted chicken, potatoes and ricotta tossed with sauteed mushrooms and burrata cream did not wow either.  We were all expecting large raviolis to split vs this small bowl of tiny pieces.

octpNext out was the roasted octopus with cherry tomatoes, black olive and potatoes.  The octopus was really well cooked and the tomatoes were simple no shot of real taste.

lambThe last was the rack of lamb.  Roasted lamb with sauteed yellow and red peppers topped with a brodetto sauce.  Way way too heavy handed on the sauce.  I was hoping this would be the killer dish.

The place is relatively new.  The menu is interesting although each dish is not so different from the other.  I was disappointed.  The service is fantastic so I feel like maybe they just have more than a few kinks to work out in the kitchen…or maybe not.  Apologies on the terrible photos.  It was just that all the songs sounded the same.

the investment life.

VC-Stock-ImageI don’t know if I have come in to my own as an investor or somethings just piss me off but it could easily be a combination of the two.

I am always learning in this business.  I have certainly learned that nothing is standard when it comes to investing. A few things happened recently that I truly learned on.
I have a thesis which is that I want to own 1% of the company from the very beginning which based on that amount I like to put in I pretty much have to put money into the very first round.  Not an idea but a real live product that I get excited about and an entrepreneur I believe can grow the beginnings of something into something larger.  That means hiring a team, raising money, thinking out of the weeds, making tough decisions and being completely out of their mind focused on success.
I always get a side letter that insures that I can continue to invest to keep my pro-rata share at every capital infusion until I choose to opt out.  At one point I have too much exposure (probably around the Series B) and then I choose to pass.  Then I look at the amount I have in the company not as a percentage but as a dollar amount that will hopefully have a multiple exit.  It is purely a head switch.
So here is how I screwed up.  I forgot to get a side letter with a company I invested in.  At the beginning I wasn’t on top of this but I finally figured it out.  I think that I was in between figuring out the side letter thing and this company might have been the last one without it.  Alas because one of the things I have noticed is in SF they like to raise notes over notes over notes.  What that means is when they finally do get their Series A and the note converts into stock what you believe you own is not what you own.  Needless to say I was pissed, I had a pissy fit and then I blamed myself.  Lesson learned.
Move forward on to other things that piss me off.  There are a few investors out there, not angels but funds that I refer to as micro-funds that love to get some sweet deal that is better than everyone else in the round because they can write a larger check.  It is that or they demand some kind of advisor shares on top of their investment.  Everyones money is the same in each round as far as I am concerned.  Some investors are more active others and some are completely passive but that money helps the entrepreneurs get to the next stage of their business.  The good news is that in my side letter I negate getting screwed by the micro-VC who comes in with their better terms than everyone else in the seed round.
So returning to reality after being off the grid for a full on month has been quite a whirlwind.  Perhaps while I was gone I found my voice but maybe it is just the last 9 years of investing and seeing some really not great stuff out there that I just do not like and I just help not holding back my anger.

Being Authentic

imagesA group of amazing people who I have had the pleasure of meeting through the investing world came up with this great idea of doing founders breakfasts.  As small as the start-up tech community is many of the founders do not know each other.  The concept behind this breakfast is to get a group of founders we each know (rarely is there any cross-over) get together and discuss what is top of mind in regards to the trials and tribulations of growing a company.

The breakfast this past week one of the men brought up something that I have never heard uttered out of a mans mouth.  He said he is hiring people that are better engineers than him, better at many more things than him and his fear is that he will be discovered out that he essentially knows nothing.  It was amazing.
Women, for whatever reason, tend to have this inner voice saying to think there are days when they feel like someone will realize that they are totally faking it.  They know nothing.  It was seriously refreshing to hear a guy come out and say that.
Then the conversation turned into creating a culture in your company.  It was really interesting to listen to each entrepreneurs transparency, leadership and expectations with their team.  It was really interesting to hear what works for one might not necessarily work for the other.
What I believe this all comes down to is the importance of being authentic. Everyone does it differently.  There is no right or wrong way of how you build the culture in your company.  Company culture is essentially an extension of the entrepreneur who started the company.  I think the key is being authentic.  Be true to who you are because it will come across to your team.  When you are not authentic that comes across too.  Be yourself because it is a helluva lot easier than pretending to be something that you aren’t.  Also…on a side note, I have thought for years I be would found out that I have been totally faking it.

Generational differences

imgres-1When Elvis came around and kids went gaga their parents freaked.  When the Beatles came to town and kids went bananas their parents freaked.  The generational differences between the youth and the older adults seems so vast and almost comical looking back at it.  It appears that this generation of parents and adults are much more connected to the youth.  There is a blurred line of parenting vs a friendship which is a whole other blog post.  Yet as technology has encroached on our life through social media the lines appear to be more divided than you think.

Perhaps some people move forward and others don’t.  I do not know if it is about curiosity or it is just innate.  My Grandmother was still reading Vogue at 85 and paying attention to the latest fashions and buying them.  I have always been interested in the latest and greatest from fashion to food to home design to music to technology to trends.  Personally I think it keeps you young.

Yet there are many people I know who are still listening to the same music they listened to in college, that are wearing the same clothes, have pretty much the same haircut, etc.  There are others who are all over the latest stuff and because of that they can connect with the youth.  They are using social media, they understand the impact it has on their businesses and the world around them, they are paying attention to the culture and the shifts.

It is almost the start-up vs corporate America.  The big corporations, at least some of them, seem to have a disconnect but at some level realize that they do and are not sure how to move forward.  Someone told me a story about going to do a freelance job for a huge corporation around marketing and branding as they move forward into 2015.  They actually asked if they could help them get into the hip stuff.  It made me laugh because I know exactly what they mean.  They understand that there is a movement but they aren’t quite sure how to get on that band wagon.

It is almost a digital divide that is purely generational from the users and the non-users.  My guess is that back in the day some parents thought Elvis and the Beatles were awesome.  At least I hope so.

Aviva Goldfarb, The Six O’Clock Scramble, Woman Entrepreneur

imgresI have a good friend who is probably the most plugged into what is happening than any person I know.  I always ask him for a list of all the things he reads every day and he laughs.  He is always sending me info and links.  I have grabbed some of the daily gets over the years.  He is also into the food scene and told me about Aviva and what she had built.  I was curious and scheduled a time to speak with Aviva.  Her entrepreneurial energy is clear within seconds of talking.  The Scramble is a daily meal planner that filled a void in her life and it ends up that it filled a void in many other lives too.

Aviva was born in Chicago.  She lived there until she was in 5th grade when her parents decided they wanted to live somewhere with better weather and an easier commute.  They packed up the family and moved to Santa Barbara.  Her father was a psychiatrist and a lawyer.  Her mother was the at-home Mom.  Growing up they traveled a fair amount in a pop-up Winnebago camper including annual trips to a Dude ranch in Tucson.

Aviva always thought of food as a way to save the world.  When they lived in Chicago she made granola and sold the bags door to door to raise money for Leukemia.  This was spurred on after seeing Brian’s Song.  She started spaghetti dinners to raise money for the homeless.  She’d also have tables at carnivals to collect food cans for shelters.  She was socially conscious and raised money through food.

After graduating high school Aviva moved back east and went to University of Pennsylvania where she majored in political science. Always working to put money in her pocket she would type papers and edit them for people.  During her summers Aviva would work in food (waitressing/hosting) and would also take an unpaid internship in journalism.  She did not spend a year or semester abroad but did spend one summer in Argentina working for the Associated Press.  It was an interesting summer as Argentina was having their first democratic transition in 60 years.  That experience made her want to be more of an activist than an observer when she graduated college.

After graduating college she got a job in DC working for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  She worked in the social justice office as an intern with a stipend learning how DC worked in regards to the Jewish response to political issues.  She stayed for a year before taking another job at an organization called Families USA working towards healthcare reform.  They were involved in helping Hillary Clinton attempt to get healthcare reform passed.  She stayed four years there doing media relations.  After that she went to work for a PR/Media company doing media relations for non-profit companies.  Quite frankly she was burnt out.  She had met her husband the first day of her first job in DC, they were married, living in DC and she was ready to have a family.  Aviva figured she would have a family, sit back and take some time before deciding what to do next.

While she was home she got into healthy cooking and wrote a cookbook that she self-published with her best friend.  They sold 1000 copies through a website she had built.  She was starting to develop more recipes and started to think about writing another cookbook. It occurred to her that it wasn’t the recipes she needed as much as a weekly plan for the week so she could shop for everything at once instead of scrambling to figure out what to make that day.  It was 2003.  Aviva asked herself the question; how do you enjoy a meal with your family every night without feeling angst about what you are going to prepare.  This is when she put the Scramble on line and figured it out.

It was really when the online world was taking off.  She used her media relations to get PR to drive people to the site.  The users drove income to the site which she put back into the business.  Her service allows you to take their affordable recipes and create a grocery list for the week.  The recipes are simple with just a few ingredients and marketed towards families on the run.  How to get a healthy affordable meal on the table in 30 minutes.  Aviva wanted to build something for the majority of the market.

Their customers are across the country.  When you join you get weekly plans that can be customized for your family.  It is the tool for them to plan, shop and cook.   One of the most important goals is to have happy customers, a good reputation and the right product fit for them.  They have just begun to take a step towards ramping up.  All these years the business has continued to grow organically and thru PR such as the Today show that Aviva appears on.  They are now starting to do paid acquisition that most start-ups do from early on.  They are beginning to look at their ads and if they are cost effective.  All that will help The Scramble build partnerships with large food companies.

Aviva is an impressive entrepreneur.  She began the Scramble when nobody was in this space.  She is starting to look at the company with her eyes on the next steps of building more members.  Based on what she has already accomplished I can’t imagine that she won’t figure it out.

Chocolate caramel clementine tart

tartI shlepped back from our trip a variety of food related items.  Two of them were a bottle of chocolate caramel from Auer, the oldest chocolate shop in Nice and a bottle of clementines that have been soaking in Grand Marnier from Provence.

We had friends over for dinner and I wanted to whip up a quick dessert.  I had puffed pastry in the freezer so it made my life simple.  I defrosted it in the fridge that morning.  I made a shell with the pastry, baked it and let it cool in the late afternoon.  Then I took the jar of chocolate caramel and brushed it over the bottom of the tart.  Then I took the clementines and spread them over the top.  I baked it for about 20 minutes at 350 to set it.

It was delicious.  You could do this with anything.  Chocolate sauce, sliced bananas, sauteed apples, etc.  Makes for a quick and yummy dessert that people think you spent hours on.

Octoman is here!

Our friend Steve is just an all around passionate human being.  His love of life can be contagious if you are in contact with him.  He reinvented himself over the past few years in the food wholesale food industry.  The man loves food.  Here is his latest video as he continues to figure out how to get his product out to the world.  It is a fun watch.