Transformation

imgresI had a conversation with a very good friend of mine the other day about transformation.  Transformation is defined as the operation of changing.  That is a pretty broad description as it can be about a handful of variables.  Companies go through transformations when their original business plan changes or when they go from 5 employees to 20 to 200.  Homes go through transformations when a new family moves in or a room is redone or even a couch is moved.  Getting your hair cut in a new way is a transformation.

I could go on and on about transformation.  More than likely that conversation helped me think about how my life has transformed over the past decade.  It has taken on another level of transformation since becoming empty nesters this past September.  Over the past ten years as I shifted into a new career, one that I have created and built without a clear path except the desire to do something that I love has been transformative.  In many ways only over the last six months have I felt that I have come into myself.  I know longer feel like I need to reassess my balance but just enjoy the path I am on.  If things change then I can transform into something else.  That is empowering.

We are living a bi-coastal existence that is transformative into itself.  Our relationships with our children have changed into the next stage because they are adults.  All of this feels so good.

I heard Fred tell someone that I do four things well maybe more.  I write a daily blog, I invest in start-ups and get involved, I put on a festival every year and I am slowly building a real estate empire on the side.  All of these things happened over the past decade.  It sounds like crazy that someone could do all that (and there is more) but for me it works.  It has been a transformative decade.

Having that conversation with my friend continues to ramble around my head.  The importance of this conversation is really to think about where you are and how do you get to where you want to be.  You have to work at it but sometimes you are just working away and all of a sudden you look up and you realize that you have transformed.  You have made a dramatic change or even a subtle change.  I have always loved change.  Perhaps that is why I am kind of obsessed with transformation.

Tradition

imgresTradition is well so traditional.  I don’t consider myself a traditional person at all but there is something about traditions.  Traditions can be anything from making sure that you never change the Thanksgiving meal to making brisket every year at Rosh Hashanah to wearing the same shirt to the Jet game every Sunday.

Recently my niece had her bat mitzvah.  I did not have a bat mitzvah but for many reasons we decided that our children should each have one.  Watching each of them go through the process at 13 years was incredible.  Between all the homework, the friends, the sports, their day to day lives they also had to prepare and study to be a bat mitzvah.  There is something about the process that is empowering.

My brother talked about the tradition of Jews doing this for thousands of years and it really stuck with me.  It forces each 13 year old to learn how to speak and read Hebrew (essentially that was their only language thousands of years ago).  Then you have to get up in front of the entire community and prove that you can read and of course sing in Hebrew.

We are reformed Jews so our connection is more about who we are not so much about going to synagogue.  Yet as I get older and go to these events I do realize the importance of tradition.  Carrying that torch from generation to generation is important.  I am not sure that all three of our kids are thrilled that we “forced” them to do a bat/bar mitzvah but in hindsight I believe as they get older they will truly see the value.

As Teyve spoke and sang about it on Fiddler on the Roof….tradition also keeps rattling around my brain.

High Valuations?

imgresI have a thesis and it is strictly around how much money I put in at the beginning, the amount I want to own of the company and that is directly connected to the valuation or cap.

I am about to go on a rant.

10 years ago the valuations were very different.  In the past decade I’d say on average the first round of most of the companies I invested in had a $3 – 5 million cap.  Considering that the entrepreneur had spent some serious time building out the company, gaining traction, flushing out the product, etc. I was ok with that valuation.  I figure if we all believed that the potential was there that it was ok to start at this price.

Fast forward.  In the past week I have talked to more entrepreneurs that are raising rounds post their “friends and family” of $300-500K with new valuations at $6.5-8m.  Keep in mind the majority of friends and family rounds have no cap on them. Companies are saying that they need $2m now not $750K but a bigger chunk of cash to grow.  Really?  There is something to be said for being scrappy with $750 and proving out the model before going in for the big check.

Who is pushing up these valuations?  Accelerators and egos.  I can’t decide what is worse.  The insane valuations that means that the next valuation will be bigger, the expectations are much higher and the exit needs to be bigger and bigger and bigger.  Or the swagger and cockiness of some of the entrepreneurs who are getting feedback from investors who are telling them that they should definitely raise that much.  I know what happens.  I have been in those movies.  Many investors say definitely and do nothing.  They don’t write the check, they don’t move forward and then that entrepreneur has to rethink the raise, the people they are talking to and everything else.  The entrepreneurs then come back with their tail between their legs.  The first step is important and when you have little traction, a barely proven product and really zero revenue then the valuation should reflect that.

Maybe I am just talking to some of the wrong entrepreneurs.  It isn’t about the amount you think your company is worth today it is about what you make it worth. I would be applauding an entrepreneur that started low, raised enough that allowed them 18 month runway, did it again and figured out the model to the point that their valuation then reflected what they had built.  I have always said if the company is proving itself there will always be an investor.  Now I fear that you don’t even have to prove yourself to find an investor.  Is that a bubble?  I am not so sure but it is certainly not a good thing.

How do these companies get to the valuation with very little in hand?  I just don’t get it and I am pretty sure I never will.

Christy Frank, Woman Entrepreneur, Frankly Wines

20120803christyfrankwinestoryAn entrepreneur is a person who operates their own business that comes from their own idea and generally takes on risk to do it.  Someone who reads this blog introduced me to Christy Frank.  Christy is an entrepreneur who figured out what she really wanted to do which is owning and running her own wine store, Frankly Wines.  I love that she figured it out and is doing it successfully.  In many ways, Christy is the type of entrepreneur that keeps our economy going.

Christy grew up in Tiffin Ohio which is basically an hour and a half away from any airport.  She was surrounded by cornfields.  Her parents were both teachers.  Her father taught music at the local junior high and high school.  Her mom taught developmentally disabled children.  Neither of her parents were from that area but had gone to college there and never left.  Everyone knew them.

After graduating high school, Christy made her way to Cornell University where she majored in Government, Economics and International relationships.  She didn’t have this burning desire to leave Ohio but she got into Cornell and off she went.  She even spent the majority of her summers in Ithaca working for the safety department dispatch for library and escort services on campus.

At Cornell Christy took some of the classes at their hotel school.  There is one wine class that everyone must take as a junior if you are in the hotel school. When you turn 21 you can take the class even if you aren’t part of the hotel school.  The class has roughly 500-800 people in it depending on which semester you take it.  It was an incredible class and Christy loved it.  She found that she loved talking about wine.

After graduating Cornell she went to a 9 month masters program at the London School of Economics because she always assumed she would do something in finance and economics.  She returned to Boston when the program ended landing a job at Fidelity where she worked on security and data for trading systems.  She was working with all the desks on compliance.  She didn’t love it but the money allowed her to buy wine.

She began to think about how do I continue to be drink and learn about wine without paying for it.  Boston has a wine expo and Christy would go every year.  Every night she would walk home from work she would pass a wine store that she loved.  One day she passed it and saw there was a job sign in the window.  She wound up taking a job there and working on Sundays.  Sundays turned into Saturdays and Sundays and then turned into Wednesday nights too.  They told her if she could be there at 5pm during the week she could talk with the distributors and help them decide what to buy.

Around this time her husband (who she had met at Cornell and was in Boston too) and Christy decided to apply to go to business school.  They both got into Columbia and made the move.  Christy was thinking that wine was just a hobby.  She needed to figure out a career that would make her happy.  She knew finance and consulting but she did not know marketing so that is what she would learn in graduate school.

She got sucked in her first year and worked for Knoll the summer between her two year program.  Also to note there was a huge wine club at school she became part of but still nobody thought of that as a career.  At Knoll she loved the chairs and forgot about wine.  Christy graduated biz school in 2000 which was the beginnings of selling everything on the Internet.  After the two years were coming to a close she still had no idea what she wanted to do.  There was an interview on campus with LVMH and although she had zero interest in fashion it was her experience in wine and Knoll that interested them.

At LVMH Christy worked in the futura program which no longer exists today.  They hired a bunch of MBA students to rotate through different parts of the organization so they could understand and learn each one eventually falling into the one that made the most sense.  Christy ended up in the wine and spirits group working on a variety of things including cognac and a new rum launch.  Then she had a child.

After having a kid it was really hard to go back.  Work was intense and the hours were long.  She knew that first year back after having a kid was going to be an insane amount of travel and decided to take a step back.  They asked her not to leave as a lot of changes were happening in the organization.  They had taken three different divisions in spirits and merged them all into one.  They had a serious wine portfolio.  She realized it was that wine background that landed her the job at LVMH in the first place so she put herself up as a candidate for this new division.  She did that for three years and learned everything she could about wine inside a large luxury corporation.  There was no other jobs she wanted there.  She always loved retail.  She gave the company three months while thinking about opening up her own place.

She was going to take time to do market research, look for a space and plan accordingly.  The first week being on her own she walks by a store in her Tribeca neighborhood that has a for lease sign in the window. Within two weeks she has signed the lease without any business plan, no thoughts on best practice.  She just did it.

Frankly Wines has now been open for 7  years.  The walk in and buy a bottle is the core of her business.  When she opened she wanted to keep it small and make sure it was located in a good foot travel location.  2008 was tough but she was new, small and organically growing.  She has yet to have down year.  Christy carries small vintners, quirky wines and also classics.  She is going to start doing more on the web and working with wine classes.  She also has three kids and her youngest is 6 1/2.  You do the math.

Christy owns her own life on her own terms.  That is what I call a great woman entrepreneur.

 

do the hustle

Time and time again people ask investors the question which is what are they looking for when they invest.  My answer is pretty much the same each time.  I invest in people.  People who have a fire in their belly, that will stop at nothing to succeed, who are curious and tenacious.  I also have to like the business too.

There are so many stories that I can all tell about companies we invest I have invested in.  The company is hanging on by a thread then capital comes in the door and everything changes.  They company continues doing the same thing over and over again and one day they lean a little bit to another side and the business takes off.  One person joins the team and everything changes.  Story after story after story.  I learn from each one.

Sometimes I think about the game whack-a-mole although that game might be a better analogy to just growing the business.  Just when you think everything is running along at a good clip something pops up out of nowhere.  The day to day exhaustion and problems seem to settle down as a business grows but there is always a little mole out there waiting to rear its ugly head.

I heard my husband speak the other day about how great entrepreneurs hustle.  This past week I have been blown away by a few entrepreneurs that I work with. Their hustle blows me away every single day.  The song, The Hustle, which was part of my childhood keeps rumbling through my head so I just needed to post it.

Sqirl and a day in Silver Lake

Sqirl is the one spot that everyone talks about going to in LA.  Have you been?  Are you going?  I spent the day with my friend in Silver Lake and our first stop was Sqirl.  We got to sit down with Jessica Koslow who is the entrepreneur behind Sqirl.  Super sharp innovative and is great in savory and sweets.

toastricottabloodorangeIt was fascinating sitting at Sqirl for a few hours to watch the rhythm of the crowds.  Pretty much always crowded with a line but between the meals there is a very short lull. We tasted a bunch of things.  We began with a toasted brioche lathered with freshly made ricotta and blood orange jam.  Let’s just say that if I wasn’t sitting there with two other people tasting a bunch of items that I would have slowly savored every bite of this and devoured it myself.

rice:egg:ricottaRice bowls are abundant in LA.  The runny egg and whipped feta cheese mixed in with this sorrel pesto rice makes this quite the savory treat.

kalteChopped kale with pine nuts.

potatoes:greens:ginerRoasted sunchokes with greens and a ginger sauce.

english thingI can not remember the name of this but it is off the charts.  This is made with brown sugar, apricot jam and butter.  It is like an English pastry.  Over the top.

wildshopauraAfter Sqirl we drove over to Otherwild.  A funky shop that sells everything from books to jewelry to candles.  They happened to have a tent in the store that day where people were having their aura photos being taken.  Think mood ring.

valeriepetitfoursValerie’s is down the street.  I picked up her cookbook and a handful of petit fours that she is known for.  Really delicious!

dreamcollectiveNext stop was Dream Collective with a mixture of jewelry and ceramics.

clarevAround the corner from that is Clare V. known for her handbags.

tomatoesOur last stop was where we walked up to the farmers market that happens twice a week in this location.  Happy to have picked up some cherry tomatoes.

spicestationThe Spice Shop is there too.  Could have probably spent some serious time here.

There was one other store we wandered into that has a nice mix of women’s clothing.

We hit the spots that we wanted to see.  I have been out there a few times now.  It was good to drive around and see the neighborhood.  There is definitely a Brooklynesque feeling to the area but it is really spread out which makes sense.  It is LA after all.

 

Keeping the Garment Center alive

imgresI have written so many times about the ever changing landscape of NYC including the boroughs.  As we travel we see a changing landscape in every urban area we visit.

One of the neighborhoods that is seeing a serious change is Sunset Park.  I had the pleasure of meeting with Bob Bland who is the brains behind The Brooklyn Design Hub, Manufacture NY.  It is a 160,000 square foot space that was funded in part by the City of New York to keep the manufacturing business in NYC alive and redefine the future of apparel and wearable tech.

The garment center is part of a long history of NYC generating billions of dollars in sales.  Time has changed the industry.  At one point everything was starting to get made overseas but that is changing.  There is a balance based on the business.  I am watching that first hand at Makers Row.  We are all watching it at Etsy.

The cost of real estate in NYC continues to climb.  This oasis in Sunset Park is allowing many of those manufacturers (not the brands but the actual cut and sew shops) move to a location where they can get more space for more money.

The Brooklyn Design center is a win win for everyone.  It keeps people employed who have had jobs in these companies for decades, it keeps an industry that is vital to NYC to stay in NYC and it transforms a neighborhood.

I am a huge fan!

Marc Kushner, Architizer Entrepreneur @TED

Marc did this talk awhile ago but I finally was able to grab the code and put it on my blog.

I am a huge fan of Marc and I believe that I was the first dollar in his company Architizer except of course his family.

Ani Tzenkova, Trendland (and more), Woman Entrepreneur

urlMany of us get content that we opt into delivered daily to our email.   I know I get countless emails daily that I open and depending on the info I either scan or read every single word.  One of the emails that I have been getting for quite awhile is Trendland.  When one of the entrepreneurs that I am invested in asked to introduce  me to Ani I was psyched.  She sent me an email before we spoke about two new websites she had launched as well; Designdose and Styledose.  Both have the same cutting edge content.

Ani was born in Bulgaria.  She immigrated to the US in 1989 when she was 5 years old.  Her parents mission was to get to the US.  Her father attempted to swim across the Danube two times .  The second time it worked.  Once he got to the other side he settled in Austria and called for the family to join him.  Bulgaria did not care about her Mom and the kids.  First her Mom went and the kids stayed back with the Grandparents.  The Grandparents had a hard time letting go and finally the parents said enough already send the kids to us.  They did and the next day the border was closed.  Close call.

In Austria they were living in a boarding house filled with immigrants.  They were there for one and a half years before being able to get to NYC.  In NYC they landed in Harlem.  It was a scary place.  After one week the parents said enough and migrated across the country to Los Angeles.  Once they got out to the valley in LA they began to hustle.

Ani’s father was a general surgeon in Bulgaria and her mother was a dentist.  Her mother went back to work as a dentist and her father took the entrepreneurial route working with doctors and started businesses in the food space too.

Ani was sent to a Catholic School in the valley, Sherman Oaks.  It wasn’t the right place for her or them.  She had this vision that she was going to go to Notre Dame.  Her parents decided it was time to move to the Pacific Palisades to complete high school.  In high school Ani started a clothing business.  She was producing skirts and dresses in a variety of colors.  On demand clothing.  She became friendly with all the local shops.  It was a nice profitable business for a 15 year old kid.

Instead of Notre Dame, Ani went to Parsons.  She studied fashion but decided after a year it was too narrow minded for her.  She decided to major in fashion and communication.  Soon after she got to NYC she met her husband.  He had been commissioned to launch a denim brand in LA so right after graduation they returned to LA together.

In LA they opened a show room together.  They traveled and scouted out the young happening fashion designers graduating school and would incubate them and get their goods into the specialty boutiques.  It was working out great until the market crashed in 2009.  They decided if they were really going to make this work then they had to be in NYC.  Four years of LA was good but it was time to make a move.  They moved their showroom and concept to NYC.

During the transition into NYC they began to think more about digital.  Her husband was launching websites and Ani had her fingers in everything around the fashion world.  It was then that they decided to launch Trendland.

Trendland started to grow out of the gate.  The market they captured was an influential group of eyeballs.  They could see that they were making a global impact.  They built out the team for Trendland while working on interesting projects.  As Ani said, Trendland has never been about them but about Trendland.  What they had built was a unique agency/shop.

They have really enjoyed being under the radar and financing the business themselves.  They do consulting for brands and through that have launched a collective with other people.  It gives them the opportunity to do different things all the time.

It was time to grow.  They are seeing the mixture of content and print collide.  Content is being consumed differently.  Their new concepts are about filtering out the noise and being the authority.  They are creating a media company known for aspirational culture and design that can be used as a tool too.  The content that they are curating can be used for professionals as well as consumers.

Ani is super creative and of course I have already signed up for the two new sites to get daily info.  I am looking forward to seeing how those sites grow as a tool.  What is most impressive is that through hard work, side gigs and being scrappy they were able to do this all without any outside investment.  I hope that they can continue doing that.  Not every business needs to bring in investors. If you can figure out how to do it without investors then more power to you.  You own it on every single level.  That is more powerful than anything.

ChiSPACCA

winesIt took us 45 minutes to get there but I am sooo glad we went.  ChiSPACCA feels like home to me.  You walk into a small room where you can get Mozza to go (their other restaurant) and other items.

kitchenThen you walk into the restaurant and there is an open kitchen.  Off to the side there is a small window and inside is all the cured meat that they make.  The cured meat is off the charts.

olivesWe began with a bowl of marinated olives and chunks of pecorino cheese.  Great starter.

pickleWe also had a plate of pickles that included pickled carrots, fennel and cauliflower.  Could we bottle these to buy?

meatplatterThe cured meats continue to change.  Everything on this plate was delicious.  The first item is like a crab cake made out of pork.  Warm pulled pork baked to a crisp with a spicy hollandaise sauce.  The next thing is a brick of cured pork almost like a chunky pate.  That pot of goodness is pork to be slathered on bread.  The next three are cured meats and one of them is sprinkled with fennel pollen (one of my favorite things to use on roasted pork)

focacciaBread for the plate.

burrataSoft oozing burrata with snap peas, carrots and mint.  Really tasty and the peas just popped in your mouth.

beetThis salad is more on the bitter side but also really good.  Shaved beets, radishes and carrots with some greens.

branzinoWe split the whole Branzino.  Simply prepared with lemon and herbs.  All the mains are roasted in the wood burning oven.

steakThis is out of this world.  Prime dry aged New York rib on the bone. All 42 ounces of it.

spinachWe got some spinach on the side that was sauteed with shallots.

butterscotchbandDessert was essential.  Last time I was at Mozza we had the Butterscotch Budino.  It is so delicious.  Was happy to see it on the menu.  I made it at home one night.  Rich butterscotch pudding.

chocolatecakeCocoa nib caramel tart with whipped creme fraiche on the side.

gelatoThe gelato is rich and chunky.  Chocolate and mint.

All and all one of the best meals we have had in LA.  I need to go back with more people just to try the beef and bone marrow pie.  The people next to us got it and I was tempted to ask for a bite.