Frustrations of early stage investing

imgresI had a moment this past week.  I got angry and frustrated at investors who seem to come together as a group. I only shared that with two people involved in this particular raise and then one who I have known forever who happened to be my next call.  The most difficult part of early stage investing is raising capital.  Certainly some companies get quick momentum and raise rounds quickly while others find it a real slog.

I have been at this for about 9 years.  Everyone has their own thesis and sweet spots.  Many (although early stage investors) have a hard time making leaps into the unknown but want to invest in companies that are using formulas that they have seen work in the past.  I have found that there are few who like what I like or see what I see.  As my father says, that is why they make vanilla ice cream.  He prefers chocolate.

Many of the companies I invested in 4 years ago who slogged it through are now raising solid Series A from great investors.  After each closing my conversations with the founders usually start the same way…remember when you couldn’t get anyone to believe in your vision and essentially believe in you.

Someone asked me why I get up and do this every day.  What is it that makes you feel like you are doing something worthwhile.  It is those founders who had different visions that nobody else saw but for some reason I did and was willing to throw our capital and my force behind it that have gone on to raise that big check and are growing significantly month after month.  That is insanely rewarding.

With that comes the growth of economies and jobs which I really believe in.  One of Fred’s first investments was in a Buffalo company.  They grew to be the second largest employer in Buffalo at that time.  Creating jobs is powerful.

I am over my temper tantrum but it part of the journey as an angel investor.  Onward.

Cassia

imgresCassia is not an easy reservation to get in LA.  Our friends were able to get us in.  The first seating was 530 but somehow she was able to get it to 630.  Although on the west side of LA people are generally eating earlier than later.

The “family style” share seems to be big in the new spots that we have been to since we arrived.  The issue is that family style only works when the plates are reasonably big.  The family style menus should have less options and you can get it for 2 or 4 or 6.  The size of the plate changes.  Sharing one of the multiple appetizers just doesn’t work when there are 2 bites.  Cassia actually worked perfect sharing everything for four.  I think because my experience has been that sharing plates have been on the small size is that we over ordered here.  Although the food is the best I have had (except for the superior sushi) since we got here.

pateWe began with the Vietnamese pate.  Rich tasty and the bread is delicious.

grilledcheeseKaya toast is the thing to order here.  Signature.  Decadent oozing grilled cheese sandwiches with a bowl of coconut jam and an egg on top.  Mix up the jam and egg and slather on top of the sandwich.  Honestly one piece of this is enough for lunch.  It is worth indulging in.

salmonSmoked salmon dip with pickled shallot, horseradish and grilled Country bread.  I used to make a salmon dip so I have to say I was happy to try this.  Lots of bread for a first course but we managed.

cauliflowerDeep fried cauliflower with a light crush to be dipped in fish sauces.  This was really delicious.

porkbellBeef cheek curry with jasmine rice, sambal, kaffir limes and peanuts. Lots of rich intense flavors.

broccoliA side of Chinese broccoli with a caramelized fish sauce.  On the lighter side and delicious.

beefcurryGrilled pork belly with pickled kolhrabi, carrots, herbs, green leaves and shrimp toast.  The pork just pulled apart and the lettuce made it almost like a deconstructed pork bun.

fishA whole grilled sea bass with tumeric and dill.  Really well prepared.  The fish had been deboned keeping the head and tail on.  Easy to serve.

All and all a really fun meal.  Definitely going back.  Other things on the menu to try!

 

Medical Marijuana

weedCalifornia was the first state to establish a medical marijuana program.  In 2010 Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill reducing the charge of possession of an ounce of weed equal to a traffic misdemeanor.  Also in 2010 Proposition 19 (to regulate, control and tax cannabis) was defeated by 53%.   Proposition 215 which enabled the medical marijuana act eventually established an identity card for users that would be issued through doctors.

What is the most interesting but not surprising is the findings of how much money would be generated if the complete legalization of marijuana was in effect.  That number is $1.3 billion in revenue saving the taxpayers $1 billion a year in prosecution, arrests and imprisonment.   In addition Gov. Brown signed three bills in 2015 creating a system for the oversight of growth, manufacturing and sale of medical marijuana which is aimed directly are bringing that $1.3 billion in revenue.  It has taken 20 years to get to this.  No doubt leaders in this space.

Essentially what has happened in California and I assume other states who have not completely legalized marijuana but have opened up access to be issued a license by a doctor for purchasing weed legally. Bottom line, anyone can get a license.

There has been evidence that many of the weed drug dealers who have now been put out of business have moved into harder drugs which creates a whole new set of issues. I would love to see how much money is generation in tax dollars for the state of California in 2015 alone and how it effected by bottom line of the budget and see the changes after the bills that Gov. Brown signed are totally working which should be around 2018.

I went to get my license.  There are licensed doctors in storefronts that are easy to find.  You fill out paperwork asking you information about why weed would be of help to you.  You get to see the doctor. I saw a man.  He took my blood pressure, listened to my breathing, asked me a few questions if weed helped anxiety, stress etc.  Then the examination was over and he said I passed the text and my license was issued.  It took less than 5 minutes.

The stores are all regulated.  You have to show your drivers license and your issued license from the doctor.  Then you are given access to the backroom where you can purchase weed, hash oil, edibles, accessories etc.  The strains are all different.  If you want something to make you feel mellow they have that.  If you want something that gives you a lot of energy they have that.  If you want something for sleeping they have that.  The choices are endless.  The weed is off the charts giving you the best high you can get.  Regulation has many upsides.

It was a pretty seamless experience.  Impressive actually.  The winners in all of this are patients, activists and actually the California budget.  The losers are the anti-marijuana groups and outlaws.

I am all for what California has accomplished as other states have followed in their footsteps in different ways.  Thrilled to be part of the system.

is it time to bring back the ERA?

imgresRaise your hand if you remember when the ERA was not ratified in 1979 due to 5 states rescinding their ratification.  I do.  I remember how upset my Mom was and how it just seemed so impossible that in 1979 there were not equal rights.  It was Phyllis Schlafly, a highly educated (Washington University and Radcliffe) right wing conservative who mobilized other conservative women because she felt that by passing this law that it would disadvantage housewives.  Frightening is the only word that comes to mind.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to the Notorious RGB at a small dinner and this came up.  What is amazing about RGB is that she is not only is she all about the law but perhaps because she is older she has zero problems speaking her mind.  It was amazing just listening to her speak about how when the cases get to the Supreme Court that they have been vetted so intensely that the decisions by each judge are usually made prior to the actual case being heard.  I had no idea.

She talked about the ERA too.  130 out of 143 countries around the globe have gender equality laws in their constitution.  We do not.  We pretend to operate like we do but perhaps it is time to get a case up to the Supreme Court.  108 Women sat in the served in the 114th Congress (January 2015).  That is 20% of the total membership.  Why don’t these women get together and bring back the ERA?  I know the Notorious RGB would be routing for this.

The passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a step but it is time to one step further.  I think it is time….and perhaps the ERA will force companies to close the pay gap and a variety of other inequalities.

Another week in LA

A few highlights of last week.  My friend picked me up and was determined to take me to Pie ‘n Burger in Pasadena.  It was fun.  We drove up and back to Pasadena mid-day so no traffic.

burgerpiesThe place is super old school.  One long counter with wooden chairs that rotate.  There are a few tables but it is really all about the counter.  The menu is not too big but considering the place is called Pie ‘n Burger that seems to be logical.  A pretty good burger with lettuce, cheddar cheese, soft bun and russian dressing.  An order of fries on the side.  Then the pie to take home.  If you bring your plate back you get $1 off the next pie.  I brought the apple pie home.  Supposedly the best.  Great spot.

broccoli1Then we went to Hatchet Hall later in the week.  Again, the family style but the portions are really not for family style.  The service was super slow.  Outside is very civilized and inside is super loud.  The best thing we had was the grilled broccoli with melted raclette and breadcrumbs.  Not looking to rush back here.

dudleyAs the week continued we did brunch on Saturday morning at Dudley Market.  Adorable place with a good menu and good food.  The eggs are so yellow they are almost orange.  Farm fresh!  Also lots of olives oils, jellies, and other products to buy including fresh eggs to bring home.  Certainly returning.

eisenhowerdeskThe art shows were all weekend.  The show at the Santa Monica Hanger (Contemporary Art Show) is small with good galleries.  We loved these pieces.  I had seen them earlier in the week on the blogs.  This is of Eisenhowers desk.  Soon it will be in our office.

We also made our way downtown to the art show at the Convention.  Not great but insanely crowded.  Art has become a bigger part of the cultural landscape here and it is a welcome sign.  It was obvious from the crowds that they are filling a much needed hole.

sushiWe wrapped up with an omakase at Kiriko.  The sushi out here is always incredible.

Los Angeles is a wonderful place to spend our winters.

 

 

Black Lives and Bloodshed

JooHee Yoon

 

The fear that seems to be growing like fire across America has created a gun society that I do not want to understand.  Fear breeds hate and ignorance.  Somehow America, a free country that is the most powerful in the world with democracy as our back bone, has become divided through lies, anger and power that has been fueled by the people in our Government who seem to have zero desire to unite for all.  That is why we have the cast of characters running for the Republican nominee.

There are wars on our own streets and homes with the access to guns that are killing the youth.  If it wasn’t real it would look like we are in a movie.  But in a movie, the person really doesn’t get killed, they get up after the scene is shot.   The real tragedy of guns are happening in underserved communities across this country.

This editorial written by Trymaine Lee in the NYTimes really cut straight to the heart.  No matter what you believe this editorial opens up ones eyes to another side of anger and guns.

Black Lives and Bloodshed

 IN my early years as a police reporter, I often pulled up to a crime scene minutes before the homicide detectives arrived. Too many times to count I’d find a young black man my age or younger dead with a halo of blood or brain matter splashed on the pavement. Often there were shell casings sprinkled around freshly fallen bodies.

Some were killed over turf, some out of revenge. Many were victims of the deadly grind of the drug trade. Others were killed by the police. A high number were innocent people caught in crossfire, many of them children.

I learned to identify family members by the level of grief they’d show. Inconsolable wailing, unsteady feet, breathless delirium — a mother or sister. Angry, with balled fists and tears — a brother or close cousin. Girlfriends often ran in after the police had arrived, and the crime scene was set, clawing at the police tape. The best friends and homeboys stayed close but not too close, trading whispers before leaving the scene on clouds of three or four people at a time, vengeance bubbling up in their minds. The fathers always seemed stoic, either numbed by the pain or resigned to the way young black male life was so easily lost. They, too, had been young black men once.

In many of their faces I’d seen the faces of my own family, people I loved and who loved me. I saw my own mother’s tears and could imagine my older brother and his boys with guns tucked into their waistbands, ready to squeeze off shots had I been the one with a bloody halo.

Over more than a dozen years I’ve evolved from a run-and-gun street reporter in Philadelphia and New Orleans to a national reporter flying across the country to cover social justice issues, high-profile incidents of shootings by police officers and the growing Black Lives Matter movement. But no matter the cause of the bloodshed I continue to chronicle, the tool of the garden-variety thug and beat cop alike remains essentially the same. The gun.

The toll of gun violence in our most beleaguered, depleted communities is great. And we’ve recently arrived at yet another moment when the issue of guns has been thrust into the national political dialogue. President Obama just weeks ago rolled out executive actions aimed at, among other things, closing the so-calledgun show loophole and the flow of illegal weapons to people who shouldn’t have them. What followed was much what you’d expect from the partisan debate over guns. Conservatives rebuffed calls to make it the slightest bit more difficult to buy firearms. Many liberals said the president’s actions didn’t go far enough.

As politicians tangle over how best to manage the country’s obscenely huge and growing arsenal of privately owned guns, the rat-a-tat of gun violence continues to bleed us all.

For those of us keeping tabs on the impact of guns in black and brown communities, there is no solace. This exhausting dance between black death and black scribe is as much a performance in journalism as it is a perpetual act of catharsis.

My family has experienced its own measure of gun death. In the mid-1970s, a couple of years before I was born, a disgruntled prospective tenant murdered my grandfather over a $160 security deposit. Decades later a young woman put a bullet in the back of my stepbrother’s head. Years later, two cousins, brothers, would be touched by the plague: One was shot down and the other is serving a long prison sentence for a separate incident, a botched robbery turned murder.

An act of gun violence is central to the story of how I came to be, too. In 1924 my maternal grandmother’s family joined the Great Migration north from Georgia after a white gunman killed her older brother. He was just 12 years old. The family eventually landed in New Jersey, but violence followed. In 1951 another of my grandmother’s brothers, this one younger, was shot and killed by a New Jersey State Trooper. He was just 17. Years later, when my grandfather was killed he left behind eight children, including my mother.

Many times when I sat with victims’ families and slowly drew out their stories and their tears, I have to believe, they saw me as one of their own. They often shooed away white reporters, but shared with me intimate memories of their loved ones. They dug up old yearbook photos and rattled off their dead boy’s — they were almost always boys — hopes and dreams. They didn’t shy away from their shortcomings, criminal or otherwise.

Years ago, in Philadelphia, I met a 19-year-old named Kevin Johnson who weeks earlier had been paralyzed by a bullet to his spine. A group of teenagers had pressed a gun to the back of his neck and demanded the basketball jersey off his back. He refused and one of them pulled the trigger. The day I met him he’d just started talking again and his family had smuggled me into his hospital room. Medical tubes and wires snaked from his body, tangling his lanky, limp brown frame.

“God wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle,” Kevin told me. “I’m going to try and live a regular life.”

His mother and I traded a look over his hospital bed, knowing his life would be anything but regular. A few years later, under the weight of catastrophic injury and medical complications, Kevin’s body finally gave in.

I like to tell myself that I’ve served as a conduit for the last whispers of lives lost too soon. That I am capturing, in a crucial way, the sad mundanity of American gun violence. But sometimes, it seems I’m little more than a peddler of pain. A cog in a much broader story that seems to give short shrift to black death and too little scrutiny to a gun industry that profits while so many perish.

My days glued to a police scanner are long behind me. The fever of chasing gunfire and sirens has broken. I’ve mostly traded covering individual tragedies for covering a movement that wants those individual tragedies to actually lead to some form of positive change. It feels as much like a natural progression as it does a sort of masochistic calling.

There are more than 300 million guns in America. Almost as many guns as there are Americans. And each year about 11,000 people are killed by guns wielded by others. An additional 20,000 or so use guns to take their own lives. While gun violence has fallen since the bad old days of the late 1980s and early ’90s, far too many people — in poor black communities in particular — remain trapped and traumatized by violence.

Last month, I was in Chicago, where through the first two weeks of the year, according to the Chicago police, homicides are up 113 percent and shootings are up nearly 200 percent from the same period last year.

I met a woman whose 20-year-old daughter was killed a couple of years ago, trapped in the crossfire of a gang shootout. She held her daughter’s funeral on what would have been the girl’s 21st birthday. There have been no arrests in her daughter’s case. Investigators haven’t given her any updates and they’ve all but stopped answering her incessant phone calls, she said.

“She just lost her life for nothing,” the woman told me, cradling a heavy gold urn filled with her daughter’s ashes. “I take her with me everywhere I go, because before she was killed we spent every minute together. I’m going to keep carrying her with me until her death makes sense.”

As that mother waits for closure, the bodies of the 90 or so people who are killed each day by guns in this country will continue to pile up. Whether we’re carrying them in an urn or not, the burden of their weight belongs to all of us.

Trymaine Lee is a national reporter at MSNBC, a fellow at the New American Foundation and is at work on “Million Dollar Bullets,” a book about gun violence in America.

 

Barbie evolves

Digital Studio - Tim Hout 12.17.15 (2015-12-17) 201603 > Barbie Selects Caption: Glamour March Barbie

If you missed it last week, Barbie has several new figures and faces.  She also has a host of new jobs from President to computer engineer. Certainly Barbie has evolved.  Bravo to Mattel.

Backlash around Barbie’s physique has amplified over the past few years.  That noise has also been about the media’s depiction of women from massive amount of photoshopping of photographs to sexual objects including gaunt runway models.

The voice from women is growing.  Women come in different shapes sizes and colors  Women deserve equal pay.  Women are growing companies and leading major companies at leaps and bounds.  This generation is demanding this and much more.

An interesting time of change.  This generation of young children playing these new set of Barbies validates the diversity in the world and that is a step in the right direction.

Let’s go Trudeau

Justin Trudeau created a completely balanced (50/50) cabinet.  He understands women by saying “Study after study has shown that if you ask a man if he wants to run for office his first question is ‘Do I have to wear a tie?’, but a woman will ask ‘why me’?” And he noted at Davos how it was even more important to make sure his boys were taught to be feminists than his daughters.

Damn, I’d love to meet his wife.  I hope he is insanely successful in Canada.  It would be a tribute to change in a very positive way.  Doesn’t hurt that he is quite good looking.

Barneys New York returns to 17th and 7th

barneys-warehouse-downtown-store-nyc-chic-of-the-old-block-04Barney Pressman opened his first store in 1923 with the $500 he got from hocking his wife’s engagement ring.  He sold mens suits at discounted prices.  His son, Fred saw the future of luxury and in 1973 told his father we need to shift into something else.  His father agreed.

The store was redesigned and became a luxury destination store.  When I moved to NYC in 1983 it took me awhile to actually walk into Barney’s  It was so exquisitely New York.  It was intimidating.  I eventually made my way in shopping mostly in the Co-op.  Yet on occasion I’d walk down those Andree Putman stunning spiral staircase in the middle of the main area of the store.  I felt exquisite walking down those stairs.  They were aspirational.

Fast forward, Fred passed on and the sons took over the business.  They were not as savvy as their father and grand-father.  It was utterly depressing to watch Barney’s close downtown, move to Madison and 61st and then attempt to expand their unique brand around the globe.  They filed for bankruptcy.  After that the company went through several hands.  Fred Pressman was probably rolling in his grave.

There are so many layers to this story but I am thrilled that Barney’s is returning to it’s original spot.  The Madison Avenue store will remain.  It changes the game for my uptown Barney’s fix.  My passport can remain in the drawer for those now rarer than ever journey’s that would bring me uptown.