Women entrepreneurs telling it like it is

Three badass women entrepreneurs give their advice and tell it like it is on 33 Voices.

Jill Salzman of Founding Moms tells the world why women should value their work and raise their prices.
imgres-1Amanda Hesser of Food52 tells us why you shouldn’t ask for permission to achieve your own goals.

Corie Hardee of Union Station talks about how to demonstrate external ambition and why you don’t have to be “the entrepreneur who takes no prisoners” to be motivated.

Passover Cake

cakeI really love the annual rituals of holidays from Thanksgiving to Passover.  The meals are the same every year with just a few variations but the theme is obviously consistent.  We had a really nice Passover this year with a few new guests which is always a bonus.  Decided we would be a little more hardcore next year with the service around the meal.

One constant is the flourless poundcake.  I added a lot of lemon this year.  Makes a big difference otherwise it is pretty bland.  It is really about the berries and whipped cream.

Preheat oven to 350.  The key to this is beating the eggs enough.  They are the key to this cake.

8 large eggs at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. grated lemon zest

3/4 cup potato starch

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Separate 7 of the eggs.

Take the 7 eggs yolks with the 8th whole egg and beat until frothy, creamy and golden.

Sift the sugar so it is super fine.  Add the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest to the egg yolks and beat until fully incorporated.

Sift the potato starch and add salt to it.  Beat this in to the egg yolk and sugar mixture

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not hard.

By hand fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites.

Pour into a greased 10″ tube pan and bake until golden.  50-55 minutes.

Serve at room temperature with berries (added a little sugar to those berries) and whipped cream.


Amanda Steinberg and WorthFM

worthfm-logo_square_yellowonwhiteAmanda Steinberg came into my life in early 2011.  What I loved immediately about Amanda is her tenacity as a serial entrepreneur.  Failure has never been an option for Amanda.  I have watched it first hand.

I invested in DailyWorth and joined the board.  DailyWorth gave financial and career advice to women.  We learned a lot about these women.  They were looking to educate themselves around their finances.  There was no doubt that Amanda was on to something.  She was quite early to this game as we are right smack in the middle of the next generation of women wanting to own their own financial lives.

Amanda is passionate about gaining control of her own finances and helping other women be empowered too.  There is an audience of millennials, there is an audience of women who are bread winners who want to own their personal family finances, there are women who have lost their spouse and find themselves unknowledgeable about their financial state, there are women who find themselves divorced and completely unaware of their financials.  The market is growing daily.

What if there was a platform for all these women where they could get the financial education, services and advice that they are craving?  What if with that information they could actually save, invest in their future with personal advice that is geared towards their own unique circumstances?  That was that Amanda and Source Financial Advisors Michelle Smith began to think about.  They looked at the past 7 years of behavioral financial data of over 1 million women on DailyWorth and launched WorthFm.

WorthFm is designed to answer women’s 5 top questions about money giving step-by-step financial guidance with a bit of humor tossed in.  The idea is to break down the sense of loss many women feel around finances.   To get rid of the complexity and jargon so commonplace in financial services today.  The platform educates women to move seamlessly from financial chaos to clarity by giving her straightforward savings and investment accounts as well as the tools to build up her knowledge and in turn build her net worth.  Essentially WorthFM is helping women become secure and confident financial stewards poised to make wise decisions for themselves, their families and the world.

Amanda is the perfect person to lead this effort.  WorthFm already had 23,000 women on the waitlist.  Their average age is 43 and 25% are over the page of 55.  These women will inherit the majority of wealth in the next 15 years totaling $8 trillion.  Her timing is right, her knowledge is deep and her passion to change the world for women one retirement account at a time is contagious.

The Student Bubble Loan

imgresPersonal Capital, a company focused on wealth management emailed me asking me if I would share my thoughts on the student loan bubble.  It is only a matter of time before this implodes and there will be a slight tremor felt.

College is expensive.  If you don’t have the privilege of parents who can afford it or given the opportunity to receive a some form of a scholarship then that means borrowing the cash.  College might not be for everyone but the ability to spend four years feeding your brain with knowledge before embarking on your career is a privilege that most should take.  Yet walking away with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is not a sensible approach to beginning your adult life. 70% of undergraduates walk away from college with some kind of debt.  That is an insane number.

The expense of college is a combination of many things and I am not sure how they get the prices down but certainly it might help taking the annual funds raised for the bigger and better facility go towards lowering the cost.  In the past state budgets would make up for some of the expensive but that is being taken away.  Wisconsin just shifted over $300m that went towards University of Wisconsin to build a sports arena so they could cover the debt on the state issued bonds.  Yes..that is the type of Governor that Wisconsin voted into power.  Princeton has raised enough capital that any kid who can’t afford going there gets to walk out on the other side debt free.  Now that is impressive.

When kids take out loans the cost of those loans are utterly ridiculous.  Banks and our own federal government are making money on loaning those kids cash.  They shouldn’t.  That alone would change the endless payments kids have to make after college.  What you borrow is not what you borrow but a lot more.  Similar to the mortgages that people take out with a kicker on the interest.  Borrowing for a home should not be the same thing as borrowing for an education.

I know people who have gone back and renegotiated their debt.  At one point some will have to default on their debt and then there will be a few more and at one point I believe there will be a tsunami.  The politicians know this is coming because it has become a topic in the Presidential race.  There is over a trillion dollars in debt outstanding in college loans and the majority of them are held by the Federal Government.  Yes, our government makes money on loaning kids cash to educate themselves.  It will be just like the mortgages that were bundled to people who at one point couldn’t afford to pay their debt instead that was debt for the banks.  Those people who defaulted on their loans had their homes taken away.  You can’t take an education away in fact we should be giving education to everyone and teach people to be better with their finances.

My guess is the federal government will have no choice but to change the system at one point once the tsunami hits.  It is probably then that we will begin to look at that overwhelming debt to send kids to college and fix the system.  We don’t spend enough on educating kids from K-12 which is ridiculous too. Don’t we want the kids in this country to be highly educated no matter what field they choose as adults?  I know I do.

Matzo Project

matzoI met Ashley Albert when I invested in Royal Palms Shuffleboard.  She is the co-founder and it was Jonathan Schnapp who I was in conversations with.  Ashley is a ball of fire.  You might have heard her at one point or your life because in her earlier career she had a children’s band The Jimmie’s, was the voice on MTV’s Daria she was the voice of Tiffany.  If you missed that perhaps you heard her voice on Lucky Charms or McDonald’s commercials or in Ice-Age.

Ashley told me about her Matzo Project awhile ago.  She was obsessed with creating a new matzo for the next generation.  One that was delicious, popped on the shelves and did not taste like cardboard.  As my sister says, nobody ever said I can hardly wait to have a piece of matzo. That might have changed with Ashley’s new product.

I do believe that over the next decade all products on the super market shelves will be reinvented.  If you were looking to buy Matzo for the holidays wouldn’t you be more inclined to choose this snarky, bright, happy looking box?  I would.

The only issue is that the Passover season is not exactly long lived but this matzo might be one to keep in the cupboard all year long with a handful of flavors and more rolling out.  Hats off to Ashley.  I love the product…and it tastes really good!  Oh and did I mention that the Jimmie’s was nominated for a Grammy?

When and why companies fail

imgres-1I remember early on working with a company that had just closed on their first round.  It was a super small seed round ($200K).  She was being very cautious in preserving the cash.  I pushed her to spend on marketing.  The only way to figure out that you have a market is by seeing if things stick.  She didn’t spend as much as we talked about but what was obvious from the spend is that there was a real opportunity out there for what she was building.

Entrepreneurs come up with ideas, build companies around those ideas, go out and raise cash from investors with the hope that someone else believes in the opportunity and market and then executes on the concept.  That is a simple metric of the start-up world.  If it was only that simple.

There are so many reasons companies fail.  The market wasn’t there.  It cost too much money to make a market as in becoming profitable is never in the cards.  The team couldn’t execute.  Many companies in one market, only one prevails and your pick wasn’t it.  A leader unable to move quickly enough to figure out the right path.  There are others but these rise to the top.

I have been investing for the past decade yet I have had a front seat to the investment world of start-ups for the past 30 years.  One thing that became clear early on is that if you don’t have the most cards at the table as the investor it is hard to get anyone to listen to you.  I will never have the most cards at the table but I have tried to negate that by being able to whisper in the founders ear.  It doesn’t mean my voice will be the loudest it just means that I get my 2 cents in.

What is frustrating to me is seeing companies die because they blew through capital and weren’t able to figure out the market and my voice didn’t get heard.  Maybe my voice wasn’t the end all by all either but sitting on the sidelines watching mistake after mistake being made and each conversation I had was purely process and nothing else is frustrating.

The start-up business has extreme highs and lows.  The more I do it, the more I learn.  There will always be frustrations.  Seeing a company close shop when I believed that there was a business there that nobody was able to figure it out with a deep pocket of cash is very hard for me to get past.


Allyson Downey, Weespring, Entrepreneur

imgresSince I seem to have made into the women founders space Allyson was either introduced or reached out to me several years ago when she was in the early phases of Weespring.  It wasn’t for me but I got to sit on the sidelines and watch her grow even though she didn’t even know that I was watching.  She is on a listserv with me and she has become a vocal leader in the group.  I read that she had wrote a book , Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood.  I have had this conversation with more than a handful of women.  It was time to tell Allyson’s story.

She grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island.  Her step-father was an entrepreneur.  He ran a series of side businesses from an electronics business to a record store in town to the concession stand at the local bingo hall and then a business that removed all the garbage from the local beach.  He made an impact on her growing up.  Her parents had divorced when she was 5 and he was a major part of her life.  Her Mom was a teacher in the local elementary focusing mostly on reading recovery and literacy.

Allyson’s first business was when she was 8.  She had gone to a festival and saw people painting faces and was blown away.  She started a face painting business for kids birthday parties.  She created a book, like the person at the festival, with pictures of all the different faces she could create.  She used her cousin as the guinea pig.  She advertised herself at the local health club with a sheet of paper and a phone number at the bottom that you could tear off to call her.  She said it is amazing thinking back on that experience that people actually hired her to paint 5-6 year olds faces at their bday parties.

She graduated high school and went to Colby where she majored in English.  She spent her junior year in Cork Ireland for one semester.  She had a good friend in Edinburgh that same semester so they traveled for a month afterward.  In the summers she worked even selling Cutco knives at one point.  She also taught creative writing classes at the Kemp school for junior high school kids and went on to run it one summer.

After graduating Colby she moved to NYC.  She had a boyfriend there who had graduated a year earlier and so she like so many other women I know followed him.  The economy was terrible and jobs were scarce.  Her thesis advisor suggested she go get her MFA and so she did.  She got into Columbia and although she wasn’t sure this is what she wanted to do the timing was right. She moved in with three other women who were in the publishing world and quickly realized her heart was not in it.  She was going to school and working for a literary agent part time because she was strapped for cash.  Full time in school, 25 hours a week for a literary agent and 10 hours a week tutoring too was insanely stressful.

Even though it was a tough road she landed her dream job as the editorial assistant for the cookbook editor at Doubleday.  She saw it as a way to be in publishing without having to interrupt her own writing.  Low and behold she never wrote a word of fiction but she did get to work on Jean George’s and Mark Bittman’s book.  She was 23 and life seemed kind of glamorous.

It was 2004 and she got bit by the political bug.  She did not understand why people her age were not voting and began organizing cocktail parties for her peers to hear people speak about politics and register to vote.  After 5 of them she got an offer to be a fundraiser for a campaign in upstate NY.  She called her parents to see if she could come home, get her high school car and live in upstate NY for 6 months.  They thought she was insane but supported her decision.

Allyson went to work for a 26 year old Democrat woman who was running for Congress in a Republican district.   Despite the fact that this woman loss significantly Allyson got noticed. She was offered 5 job opportunities for major campaigns.  She took a job with the Spitzer campaign and become number 3 in the fundraising group.  Over the next two years she worked her ass off trying to build up her own profile without stepping on anyone’s toes.  She was to raise money from the women’s movement for Spitzer which in hindsight is hilarious.  It isn’t easy getting $250 from a woman (it is consistent in start-up fundraising too) but Allyson targeted upstate where the other two fundraisers were in the city.  She raised $5m over a year and a half.

Not surprising she kept on taking on more and more responsibility.  When it was time for Spitzer’s NY convention she rented out the baseball field in Buffalo bringing on Jimmy Fallon as the emcee with a line-up of Natalie Merchant and James Taylor put together in a mere 8 weeks with a $1.5m budget.   What she loved about the political world is that there were zero constraints on your age, if you could get shit done you were given responsibility.  While Spitzer was just entering the office the conversations began around the post campaign and they asked Allyson to run his re-election campaign.  She took it on with the goal of raising $6-8m the first two years he was in office and $12-15 the next two years and then there was the spectacular downfall.

Allyson was so stressed that she was having novocaine shot into her teeth because she was mashing them at night during that time.  The downfall was in many ways a massive weight off her shoulders.  She went out and had 75 interviews in a month to see if anyone was interested in her.  Her question was consistent to everyone…if you were in my shoes what would you do next?  The common response among women were get a MBA which she found surprising but realized that these women needed outside validation that men did not.

She applied to Columbia, got in and went in thinking it was necessary medicine but discovered she loved it.  She said when she was in the MFA program she would always get hit on by the MBA assholes and now she was one.

After graduating she went to Credit Suisse because many fundraisers easily transitioned into wealth management and she did too but then she got pregnant.  Twenty weeks into her pregnancy she had complications and the doctors order was go home and directly to bed with the order to stay off her feet for the rest of your pregnancy.  She called the team leader wanting to know who she should talk to about working remotely from home.  She heard nothing.  Then she emailed and heard nothing.  She couldn’t believe it.  She had this rocket ship career where she had always excelled and now she was being treated like shit.

Her doctor suggested she email again and cc him on it.  She did and someone from HR finally called her back.  They gave her insurance info to fill out for medical disability.  She was scared and freaked knowing that her career at Credit Suisse was over.  She was home, depressed and couldn’t believe that she was being discriminated against for being pregnant and having to lie on the couch.

Allyson had a healthy baby and four months later she is wondering now what.  She begins to talk to non-profits and charter schools about raising money.  She gets 3 job offers and takes a job at New Leaders which is essentially Teach for America for principals.  She becomes the executive director of major gifts.  A head hunter told her she would be super bored if she wasn’t leading the charge.  She had figured that she had a baby, she did not want to be stressed and wanted to leave the office at 5pm every day.  Within four months she was bored out of her mind. I know that feeling because I did the same thing.  Just because you think that taking a back seat is the best thing to do at one point if you aren’t a back seat person it just doesn’t work.

It was being bored that the idea for Weespring started.  She began to jot down ideas.  Her husband was in business school at the time.  The two of them began to work on Weespring on nights and weekends.  Incorporated and up to her ears in the business she went to the annual business retreat with New Leaders.  She knew she’d never be happy there.  She went back to her hotel room, called her husband and said I have to quit.  She did and two weeks later they were accepted into Techstars.

It was 2013, she raised about $800K for the business.  She wasn’t sure what the model was quite yet and it was really hard to raise anymore money.  After two years of being scrappy and making that cash last the business began to make money.  2016 they were in the black and very mindful about how to build the business without needing to raise more cash.  Allyson is really glad that she raised only from angels.  They allowed her to figure it out.

In 2014 she decides to write the book.  She knows the publishing industry and she wanted to write about something that would help other women who have children during their careers.  As for Credit Suisse, they worked it out but she refused to not tell her story.  Hopefully they learned from their mistakes too.

I’d never count Allyson out.  I love that she figured out Weespring and continues to build the business.  She defines the multiple women who I have watched and invested in…essentially failure is just not an option.

Last day in Paris, on this trip

cafeWe really just spent the day walking, talking, eating and shopping.  Started our day at Cuisine de Bar where I have had countless lunches but today we did breakfast.  Kicking off the day with a cafe au lait of this size is crazy.  The rest of the day including some my favorite activities.  Seeing what is happening on the streets of Paris is always interesting.  Lots of sneakers.  Lots of silver.

Colette has always been on the cutting edge.  There is a reason to walk into that store every time I come to Paris.  That is how retailers need to think.  The mannequins that stand on the 2nd floor are being re-dressed almost daily.  They are showing a look to wear and highlighting fashion of the moment.  I want to see what they are thinking.

At Colette they had an art installation from Blair Chivers.  They are always bringing in artists to participate in a store event.  His pieces covered the walls of the third floor and you could buy them.  Another reason to go back.  Barney’s could take a cue from this.

Even at Bon Marche, something similar to what Bloomingdales does, is create and curate different concepts.  Draws the people in.

cabbageOur last meal was at Bistrot Paul Bert.  We actually have reservations for the original Paul Bert down the street but walked into the bistrot and they were happy to seat us.  I have been to the bistrot a handful of times.  It was always good with a great vibe.

The vibe is still great.  I never thought I could have a bad meal in Paris but I was wrong.  I believe they just brought on a new chef.  We could have ordered separate appetizers and entrees instead of going with the chef’s 4 course meal but that is what I have done there before and it worked.  It doesn’t work anymore.

eatThe dishes were either ridiculously conceptualized or salty or just not good.  The desserts were seriously inedible.  Such a drag.  Just bad.  Alas…Paul Bert is off the future list.  I do love this EAT on the bathroom wall.

Got up the next morning early and made my way back to NYC.  It was nice to be back in Paris.  I could tell that there were less tourists on the street.  The airport was quieter than normal.  It is sad that terrorism has rocked cities across the globe.   If people fear going to those cities in the aftermath that essentially means the terrorists won.  It is sad and disturbing on so many levels that terrorism has become part of our daily lives.

Spring in Paris

I am pretty sure that yesterday was the last gasp of winter.  Monday we walked and walked and walked.  The weather was just perfect.

eggsWe began the day at Eggs & Co.  Their specialty is eggs cooked in a pot of cream with your choice of toppings. We had gruyere on top.  Nothing like a light meal to start off the day.  The eggs are sitting in a pot of thick warm cream.  Woah.

keitoOur next stop was the Grand Palais.  The exhibit is of Seydou Keita.  Keita was a photographer in Mali who photographed the people of Mali in many of the same clothes, accessories, etc.  An unbelievable exhibit.  I wanted to buy a piece of his work (the one above) almost a decade ago.  We decided to pass but I always pined for that piece.  As Fred said to me, you can’t have them all.

outdoorsAfter the Grand Palais we began to walk.  We strolled over to the 2nd and stopped in one of my favorite stores in Paris, L’Eclaireur.  Then continued strolling down Rue St Honore to Colette.  Colette is one of the first concept shops.  Sometimes it is unbearably crowded in there but for some reason I feel compelled to stop there every time I come to Paris.

palaisWe continued to Palais Royale where the construction is finally complete.  It is just a magical courtyard.  This is a new addition.  We were starving and instead of going somewhere and having a bite we just sat in the Tuilleries and got a snack.  The weather was just off the charts.  Everyone was out in force enjoying the spring air.

chorizoWe walked all the way back to our place and took about 30 minutes to get ready for dinner.  Dinner was at Jones.  Jones is the new Bones.  Bones was one of my fave restaurants of the last few years in Paris.  They decided to call it a day and reopen as Jones.  More options on the menu and my guess it always changing.

burrWe had sliced chorizo, burrata with bottarga, bread and shisito peppers.

duckWe also had an asparagus dish and duck over potatoes and roasted broccoli on the side.  I have always noticed when we are in Paris that many of the menus are roughly the same because they are all sourcing based on the season.  Gotta love that.

cheeseA little cheese before we dipped out.  There was a big group celebrating a party in front of the house where the bar is open.  They were bringing out huge legs of roasted pig.  It was pretty awesome.

One more day to go and back to NYC.