Next Wave of Multi-media

If you don’t get California Sunday Magazine, I highly recommend the subscribing to this media outlet. Long form stories by a wide range of impressive journalists who write true stories of interesting life stories, stories of people in today’s world across the globe.  That includes a gay men’s choir that has traveled in the South with the hopes that there will be less hatred, to the community of people living in the post world of the California fires, to teens and social media.  On top of the publication, there is Pop-Up Magazine which are live performances in theaters across the country where these journalists, authors, and artists read their stories and each is mixed with music and visuals creating a unique multimedia experience.

I went for the first time two years ago (note that I said first time because I will go again and again) in Brooklyn when they first began these performances.  It has grown.  I saw it again this past week in downtown LA.  The stories were different, the journalists and artists were different and even when the show went to NYC the following week, there were a few new ones in the mix.  It is ever changing.

In LA, we went with my brother, my sister-in-law and my nieces who are a senior and sophomore in high school.  They loved it.  The pieces are thought-provoking and they stick with you for days.  Hats off to Douglas McGray, the co-founder, and editor-in-chief in creating a platform and elevating it in new ways to explore interesting topics and concepts in print and venues.

Will This Time Be Different?

Here we are again, watching a community, family, and friends destroyed by a random act of violence by an unhinged person who was able to walk into a store and buy a gun that can kill a lot of people quickly.  I don’t understand why we all don’t want to stop this.  That it seems to be ok that 33,000 gun deaths are year is a price we seem willing to pay.  The trail of people who have known these victims as friends or were family that has been left to grieve continues to grow.

Each time we become numb to the media circus around these tragedies.  I hope I never had to witness one in the media again but they keep coming.  Will this time be different?

I am extremely impressed with the survivors of the Florida shootings this past week who have quickly galvanized around this by shouting out no more.  They are taking to the streets, they are taking it straight to the Government with speeches and social media.  These people get how to play the media game and they are using social media as a foundation to push for change.  Many of these kids are also almost if not already at voting age.  They have the ability to round up their peers across this country to say we are not going to let this happen again, we are going to call out the corruption of gun lobbyists in Government, we are going to get behind new politicians who want to lead the next generation with new laws, fewer pay-offs and people who actually represent their constituencies vs themselves.  They are already putting together a march on March 24th in Washington.  If this galvanizes all high school students and more around one issue, that will cut across party lines, that will be a sight to behold.

I just feel that among these young adults who can run circles around everyone on social media, the articles that are being written, the conversations that seem to be taking place, and where we have got to in Government, that perhaps, just perhaps, this time will be different.

Embracing the Unknown, Jessica Koslow, SQIRL, Podcast #54

Jessica Koslow is the owner and chef of SQIRL, one of L.A.’s most popular cafes that has led to a cookbook, a jam company, a pop-up venture in New York City, and soon enough, a much-anticipated second location on L.A.’s West Side. Jessica and I sat down and talked a lot about a question that comes up for many entrepreneurs: ‘how do you make that big leap out of security, and into starting your business?

Here is the transcript below.

Joanne: I’m Joanne Wilson and this is Positively Gotham Gal. Small, meaningful conversations with women entrepreneurs about their approach to life, business, and everything in between.
Joanna: Jessica Koslow is the owner, visionary, and chef and everything else behind Sqirl, one of LA’s most popular cafes that started with the jam company and led to a cookbook and they’ve had a pop-up venture in New York City and soon enough a much anticipated second location on LA’s Westside. Jessica and I sat down and talked a lot about a question that comes up for many entrepreneurs, how do you make that big leap out of security into starting your own business? So, you came on the scene with a jelly. You know? Out of nowhere.


Jessica: It’s true, it’s true.

Joanne: I mean, it is true. It’s like, “a jelly?”

Jessica: It’s really humbling to say that, too. You know?

Joanna: I mean, it’s pretty amazing. You know?

Jessica: Right.

Joanna: And then like everyone is like Sqirl, Sqirl, Sqirl. Have you been to Sqirl? You know? Have you seen the lines at Sqirl? It’s just like, who is this girl? But let’s go back, back. Where did you grow up?

Jessica: I grew up here. I grew up in Southern California, in Long Beach, California and I grew up figure skating since the age of 5.

Joanne: So, did you like ‘I, Tonya?’

Jessica: I loved ‘I Tonya.’ I was like did they superimpose Margot Robbie’s face on to Tonya’s body? Probably. Or someone else’s body? But it also brought me back to that point in time.

Joanne: And figure skating in Southern California?

Jessica: So, actually some of the best figure skaters in the world or in the United States are from Southern California.

Joanne: Who knew? Okay.

Jessica: Because this is a place that you do it because it’s a sport and you want to win not because it’s a pastime. So, if you’re into figure skating, you’re into it because your deep in.

Joanne: Okay. And how long do you keep that going for?

Jessica: I was skating until I was in college. I was on the US team for 4 years.

Joanne: Wow.

Jessica: And I never really understood what food was during that time. It was for fuel, it wasn’t to explore.

Joanne: So, it was a very different passion.

Jessica: Exactly.

Joanne: Yeah, it kept you going. Just as a complete sidebar, being in something that is a very structured female-oriented sport that you were in oh, not that there’s not men in figure skating, have you of course been watching this whole gymnastics thing that’s rolled out?

Jessica: You mean with the doctor?

Joanne: Yeah.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: How crazy?

Jessica: How sad?

Joanne: Beyond sad and all the people that were held accountable and did nothing about it.

Jessica: Yeah. I mean, what’s also interesting is West figure skating we never had a doctor. There was never, again, because I was on the US team, there were I mean there were hoops that we had to go to but there was never like a specific physician. Maybe it’s different now but I can’t even imagine in our sport but in gymnastics to have that happen is appalling and sad and I have been watching it.

Joanne: Yeah, yeah. Well, he got…

Jessica: Did he get life in… I mean, he’s never…

Joanne: 175 years.

Jessica: Yeah, he’s never seeing the light of day.

Joanne: No, ever again. He doesn’t deserve to see the light of day.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: He actually deserves worse than that.

Jessica: Yeah. He does. But I feel that Judicial System frowns upon death these days so, you know, but I’m sure the rest of his life in prison is pretty much like death.

Joanne: Yeah, I think that’s actually a better way than death.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: So, go back, so, figure skating all the way through High School?

Jessica: Yeah, all the way through High School, some of college.

Joanne: And where do you go to college?

Jessica: I went to undergraduate in Brandeis in Massachusetts.

Joanne: In Massachusetts, right.

Jessica: So, I moved across country.

Joanne: Much colder there.

Jessica: Very, very cold and I was skating there as well and then stopped and once I finally stopped, I started…

Joanne: And why did you stop?

Jessica: Well, I think two things. One is that I did a sport that no longer exists in the world. It’s called school figures and they’re intricate Figure 8 patterns in the ice and I won nationals and I won the last us competition in the world at the time. I think they’ve kind of brought it back to life but it’s really more of a pastime now. So, that was like 2000 and once that ended that focus had to be put into something else and that was food.

Joanne: And were you contemplating your plan be at that point or had that been in the works somehow at all?

Jessica: No, you know, when you’re like 20, plan B is plan A. You know?

Joanne: Right, right. It’s just an evolution.

Jessica: And I still think I’m going through that, wow, have I really thought about a plan B? Now, I really need to think about plan B and plan C. What does that look like? But, yeah, maybe I’m still 20 inside.

Joanne: I think we all are to be perfectly honest with you.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: As someone who is much older than you…So, skating ended…

Jessica: And I met a friend in Massachusetts who owns a cranberry farm and we would go out to Carver Mass and see the bog and pick…

Joanne: Very Massachusetts.

Jessica: So Massachusetts. But it was really this, it was a beautiful moment of seeing what I could do or explore outside the world of what I thought was my future and I always, also my mom is a single mother, she’s a physician, and she always was very strongly in favor of higher education and so, because of that, that was really a plan B. That was, the back end was look, as much as your figure skating, your schooling is just as important if not more so. So, get in there and get to cracking.

Joanne: Nice Jewish mother.

Jessica: Yes, nice Jewish mother.

Joanne: Exactly. And so was your mom a cook? Was she into cooking?

Jessica: No, it was like the opposite my mom. My mom like burned steaks and potatoes are really overly salted and, you know, the thing that she’s really great at tapioca pudding from box.

Joanne: Okay. It works.

Jessica: Cornbeef that came out of a bag but everything else was like, keep it away.

Joanne: That’s hilarious. And so, you saw these cranberries…

Jessica: Yeah and it’s not so much that. The cranberries might be a metaphor for the change of my life. You know? And starting to really dig into food systems and exploring what food was for me.

Joanne: And is that how you went about it in terms of educating yourself? You know, what is food? How is it helping?

Jessica: Mhmm and also just what does it mean to be food from Massachusetts? What does it mean to be food from California? As I kept coming back here to go to school, or after Massachusetts I moved to D.C. and then to Atlanta and, you know, I went a number of places in the United States.

Joanne: And did you work in restaurants along the way?

Jessica: Yeah, I did. After grad school, I was in grad school in D.C. and I moved to Atlanta and…

Joanne: And what was your grad school?

Jessica: It was media theory. I went to Georgetown and I did media theory.

Joanne: And climbed steps.

Jessica: Yeah, I climbed a lot of steps. Yeah. I felt really out of place in D. C. because it’s so political.

Joanne: It’s a weird place.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: I mean, I grew up outside D. C.

Jessica: I see.

Joanne: So, then you left?

Jessica: I left Georgetown and moved to Atlanta and once I got to Atlanta I said, I’m out, like I have been kind of under the mom thumb, kind of doing the path that I thought I was supposed to take…

Joanne: If you were going to be in the food world?

Jessica: Well, if I was going to be an academic.

Joanne: Okay. So, you went after the Academia originally?

Jessica: Yeah and then afterwards I started cooking in kitchens and my mom was like, I put you through higher education, I’m giving her an accent she really doesn’t have by the way, but, you know, like the mom, I’ve given my life to put you through schooling and this is how you are repaying me? Your $10 an hour job working as a pastry cook? And I couldn’t have been happier.

Joanne: At the end of the day that is what mothers want. I just want you kids to be happy.

Jessica: Right, right. But, I don’t know, my mom wants to show me around.

Jessica: Now she can.

Joanne: Now she can.

Jessica: Now she can. Now, the whole thing was, you know, I believed in you the whole way, and I’m like you kind of, maybe. But underneath it all, I think she’s just worried.

Joanne: Yeah.

Jessica: She was worried about, look, this is a path of unknown, this is a challenging future for you. What is your next step? How are you going to make this climb from being a $10 an hour pastry cook to maybe having something that is your own? And I felt like I needed to be honest and let those things evolve. I needed to figure out how to develop the idea and what was really passionate for me and turn that into a tangible thing.

Joanne: Was your mother entrepreneurial?

Jessica: I mean, she’s a dermatologist. She has two offices. I would say so, yeah.

Joanne: Yeah, 100% and your father? Do you have a relationship with him?

Jessica: I don’t have a relationship with him and I would say he’s probably not entrepreneurial.

Joanne: Okay.

Jessica: I’m more interested in his family. His parents had grocery stores in Richmond, Virginia called Koslow’s and they also, my grandfather was the head of Rich Foods. So, he did all of the canning and packaging and they always said don’t get into this business.

Joanne: Well, you know, there’s so many people in the Chinese food business that are the second generation of Chinese food restaurant owners that have been told the same thing.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: I mean, usually what you see is what you end up being.

Jessica: And what’s so funny is it almost skips a generation because these kids, my father and my aunt, they see how hard my grandparents worked and how maybe they weren’t home all the time or that struggle of just the operations and so they’re like, I’m out, I’m not, that is definitely not my path. I’m like, wait a minute, that’s beautiful.

Joanne: Right. That looks great.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: That looks phenomenal. So, was L. A.  in the forecast? Or just, you know, you threw out a dart and that’s where you ended up?

Jessica: It was New York next and New York was, I got scared. I left food and I got a job at Fox as a digital producer and worked on every American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance and 24 and it was just something totally else. I don’t know how this landed on my plate. My background in academics and a little luck landed me at News Corp. So, I got my job transferred out to L. A. after a couple years in New York and the job kept me here where I was working in the offices here and then I started cooking again at night. So, I was baking at night for this place called The Village Bakery and I was doing their midnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m., go home and sleep a couple hours, and then I would end up at the Fox lot.

Joanne: Wow.

Jessica: Yeah. And that was obviously not going to work forever.

Joanne: But you obviously had this insane passion for cooking or you wouldn’t have beaten the hell out of your body like that.

Jessica: Yeah and I also think that there is, I know how many people are dealing with this, this moment okay I’m in a role that pays me really well, I have benefits, maybe I have health care, but this isn’t what I want to do or I know there’s something more for me.

Joanne: Oh, yes.

Jessica: I know so many of these, I mean, I have so many friends in this boat who are like, how do you make that leap out of security?

Joanne: It’s hard.

Jessica: It is hard.

Joanne: It’s hard to dive into that, you know, into the pool head-first. It also, I see people who are like I paid off my student debts and I’m just going to go and do what it is I’m passionate about for a while. And, you know, this whole concept of, you know, 50 is the new 30 or 40 is the new 20 …

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: I mean, it’s bullshit.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: Because at the end of the day we are still at that age and there’s a point where you start to have a mortgage, you get married, you start to have children, and, you know, you can’t afford to just, you know, not pay the rent.

Jessica: Exactly.

Joanne: Or put food on the table.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: And so, there is a point where I think that we become more creative and there’s more opportunities and, you know, you get up every day, you should love what you do.

Jessica: Yeah and that was a moment where, once I left Fox, I paid, even when I started Sqirl and I started the jam company, I paid myself $500 a month for about a year-and-a-half. I had saved enough money that, I at least wanted to give myself a salary to make myself feel bad I was worthwhile, that I was taking that leap into this thing.

Joanne: That’s great advice, by the way.

Jessica: Yeah, I think so. You should feel valued by yourself. Even if it’s $500.

Joanne: It doesn’t make any difference, it’s I’m getting paid for my value. I completely agree.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: Because, you know, sometimes founders spend years and don’t make a penny.

Jessica: Or they just put it all back in the company and even today I still, all the checks that come in, even if they are for me or an appearance or something I’m doing, it all goes into Sqirl. I own it 100%.

Joanne: Right.

Jessica: I don’t have any investors there and yet I see it somehow. You know?

Joanne: Right.

Jessica:   I think giving yourself a value when you go, when you start is really important to keep your morale up about what you’re doing.

Joanne: I totally agree, I think that’s amazing.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: So, here you were working basically 20 hours a day and sleeping four, maybe.

Jessica: There was definitely some like, is that a rainbow?

Joanne: And so, at what point did you say, Okay, when I walk in this week on Friday, I’m resigning and here’s where I’m going?

Jessica: Well, it was actually the other way around where I was let go and the reason why…

Joanne: Well, that actually makes life easier.

Jessica: It made it but, that was, it was also this time where it was 2010 and it was the height of the recession and Fox had gone through three layoffs and they were like going through their fourth and so it was basically the entire office shuttered afterwards. I have a friend that just left her post at New York Magazine and I’m like, good for you that you just made that decision to leave.

Joanne: Yeah, golden handcuffs are tough.

Jessica: They are tough.

Joanne: They are tough.

Jessica: So, having them sawed-off was really the best thing that happened to me.

Joanne: I had the same experience. I was fired and then it was like I’m never returning to that industry.

Jessica: Look at me now.

Joanne: Yeah, I was like I’m never going back.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: Because it sent me in a completely different trajectory. So, Fox Did you a solid.

Jessica: They did me a solid and what’s so funny is, my manager, she loved me and I love her. I knew that this was a decision that was based around here financial cuts and even today like they’ll be something that happens on Facebook and she’ll be like I’m so proud of you. You know?

Joanne: That’s great.

Jessica: You know that it was the right thing.

Joanne: Right, it had to get done.

Jessica: It had to.

Joanne: So, where were you? You were laid off.

Jessica: I was laid off and I was just like, all right, well, thanks for making a decision and I’m just going to go cook. So, I cooked, I moved to Australia, I started, I was staging in Australia at a place called Dench, and then I came back.

Joanne: Okay.  And where is that? Is it in Sydney? Melbourne?

Jessica: Melbourne, yeah.

Joanne: I mean, it’s interesting, I mean, that you say Australia because your food is very reminiscent of Australian food.

Jessica: We get that, we have so many Aussies that come in…

Joanne: That doesn’t surprise me and we were down there years ago but there’s something about your food that is very clean and healthy and interesting to flavor palates that, to  me, remind me of Australia.

Jessica: You know, to the States, daytime eating wasn’t really a thing. You know? We were kind of stuck in the same like hollandaise pancakes, french toast but when I got to Australia, I was like, wow, everyone’s really about like vibrant all day eating and hangs. I was like, this is a different scenario than in the States. It was in the back of my mind as all right there’s so many parallels to California whether it’s the light, the produce, some of the produce.

Joanne: The sky.

Jessica: The sky, the sun. It did impact how, I was like, wow, there’s all of these places, like the local, where’s the local here? And at the time, when I opened, well, I opened the cafe in 2012.

Joanne: Okay.

Jessica: The local didn’t really exist. It was a corporate coffee shop called Intelligentsia in Silverlake.

Joanne: Right. And also Silver Lake was just starting to become a mecca for new living.

Jessica: It’s true. I mean, I dug a hole from Greenpoint where I was living and I popped up in Silverlake.

Joanne: So, you opened up, you found this place which is the tiniest little spot.

Jessica: I know. It is.

Joanne: And you also didn’t make it that you’re going to have this full on restaurant with tons of people to sit. It was sit on the corner, sit out on the bench. If you’re lucky you can grab three or four stools that are available here.

Jessica: Yeah, it’s true.

Joanne: And you come in and get your food and you hang out with, you know, out on the streets.

Jessica: Yeah, it was, it’s 800 square feet inside. It’s probably 1000 square feet all in. I found it on Craigslist. it was $10,000 to buy out the business and it was $2,500 a month for rent and I…

Joanne: Which is amazing.

Jessica: It’s amazing and also terrifying.

Joanne: Right.

Jessica: How can I afford this, you know? I was just making jams at the time and in my head I was saying, look, I’m 7 minutes from my home to work. That is a quality of life that is hard to find in Los Angeles, to find a place that’s close to home that you can live your life and be in the restaurant industry is pretty pretty rare.

Joanne: Yeah.

Jessica: So, I’m going to take it. And at first, I, my first accountant said look, by the end of the year you’re going to be done. You’re not going to make it.

Joanne: How uplifting.

Jessica: How uplifting. I know. Maybe it wasn’t like that, maybe I’m giving her like the dark, like that dark…

Joanne: Accounting side to her?


Jessica: Yeah, yeah. But it was definitely a moment of, okay, doing this beautiful product of jam is not enough. As many classes as I taught, as many relationships that I went over within my community of farmers and chefs, it wasn’t enough.

Joanne: Right.

Jessica: And so, at that point in 2012, I knew that I needed to figure out how to evolve and I also think a scary thing or an interesting thing is that having the jar allows you to hide behind your product. like, I didn’t have to be on Yelp, I didn’t have to be out in the open and talking to people, having people walk through the door and give you an automatic judgement. I mean, that is what everyone does these days and you have to be ready to be a 4 or 3 or 2 star. You know?


Joanne: Yeah. But you also did something else a lot of women don’t do and they should do, is you didn’t call it by your name. Because you can’t…

Jessica: You call me by your name, I’ll call you by mine.

Joanne: Exactly because you called it Sqirl and you can sell Sqirl. Like the woman behind Tate’s, the cookies, her story is she originally was called her name and she had these terrible investors and they completely hosed her but she had the building and the whole thing crumbled, no pun intended, and she came back and she put the name Tate’s and she said it was literally just a complete game changer for my mind because my name wasn’t on that door anymore.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: It was Tate’s. It was like this company, it was mine but it was this different kind of an umbrella.

Jessica: Yeah. I think there’s something powerful about figuring out why you why you name something, what you do.

Joanne: How did you come up with Sqirl?

Jessica: Sqirl is, squirreling things away is an old-time preserving term and it’s a girl who’s squirreling.

Joanne: Okay.

Jessica: So, the spelling is a little off other. The other backstory is that my…

Joanne: Which is the ingenious, by the way.

Jessica: Yeah, yeah because then, you know, you get a lot of jokes, I love squirrel, is there a squirrel in here. You’re like, oh, God, I can’t. But it does take it away from the animal and kind of puts it into an action.

Joanne: Completely.

Jessica: And that was good when for the cafe as something that is preserving California produce and fermenting California produce and being a part of this community. It feels like the right name for the cafe.

Joanne: And so you went from the jams, you open the cafe, and how soon did you become profitable?

Jessica: The cafe became profitable by May of 2013. So, when I opened the cafe, I had a partner. The guys who have go get ’em tiger were doing the coffee in the front and then they left in May and I took over the entire thing.

Joanne: And boom.

Jessica: And boom. Yeah and I think they’re, now they have a number of places and they’re profitable as well but we needed each other to kind of get our ideas about who we are, what we wanted behind us.

Joanne: Right.

Jessica: And, actually, it was a really great, I think it’s hard to have a partner in a space like that…

Joanne: I think it’s very hard.

Jessica: Because there’s so many different ideas about like how to operate, especially how to be welcoming to people, like your idea of front of house service might be very different than someone who only has done like cafe culture. So, as someone who worked in fine dining, I know and respect and expect a certain level of service versus kind of what I was getting when it was this co-thing but it was a very beautiful time of growth that even like the customers who are still coming in like they revel in that moment. You know?

Joanne: I’m sure.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: Yeah, I think that for anyone being in the space with multiple partners is very, very difficult and we’re going to see more of that because, you know…

Jessica: And it’s something that I just, that’s why I’ve turned down any kind of like Grand Central Market or, it’s just, it’s hard.

Joanne: It is very hard and, you know, the retail brick-and-mortar space is becoming much more difficult to draw in a customer and so how do you become something that is concept oriented that is curated with a variety of brands versus one so that people are continuing to come.

Jessica: Right.

Joanne: You know? Food always draws, right? People have got to eat.

Jessica: Right.

Joanne: People don’t have to shop.

Jessica: It’s true. Although, man, I went to Juicy today. I got like two side salads and I love Travis and I think his food is really clean and classic and I know where it comes from and it’s one of the very few restaurants that I go to in Los Angeles because I trust it. But it was $15 for like these two scoops of side salad. I was like, this is also a challenge, is how do we feed people in the future at a price that brings people in?

Joanne: Well, you know, we can look at, which is the one, is it Local, that they charge different prices in Beverly Hills than they charge in, you know, East L.A.?

Jessica: Oh, really?

Joanne: Yeah. It’s a fast dine, you know, like fast-casual.

Jessica: I don’t know what that is.

Joanne: And I love that.

Jessica: I love that, too. That’s great.

Joanne: Because that speaks to my social side which is, you know, we know…

Jessica: Know your clientele.

Joanne: Right, know your clientele and understand if your rent is going to be $1,000 in East L.A. and $5,000 a month in Beverly Hills then you can serve the same product but the prices should be accordingly to the audience so that everybody can have healthy food. You know?

Jessica: Interesting.

Joanne: It’s just an interesting thought box.

Jessica: I like that.

Joanne: Yeah.

Jessica: I want to know what that place is because I don’t know, I’m like I need to go there tomorrow.

Joanne: I’ll look it up and I’ll remember. It’s great and I remember reading about it.  they just raised money and I reached out to him because I had written about him and he emailed me and said thank you so much. I said, listen, I love what you’re doing, I mean to me that’s a brand-new paradigm.

Jessica: That’s great.

Joanne: And I think it’s really intelligent.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: And then they’re raising money but he’s out of my price range but I said, you know, I only wish you success because to me that is, that makes us more of a community build as, you know, I had our kids in the school.

Jessica: Because people in East L.A. can also afford to eat it.

Joanne: Exactly.

Jessica: And they can experience what people in Beverly Hills are eating.

Joanne: And they can experience healthy, good food.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: You know, I think that’s really important. So, Sqirl’s now been open for…

Jessica: I mean, Sqirl started in 2011 in March.

Joanne: Right.

Jessica: So, we’re coming up on 7 years.

Joanne: Seven years and in between you wrote a cookbook.

Jessica: I did, yeah, and I have another one coming out next year.

Joanne: And you sell your products, your consumer products, your jams to, I mean, I’ve seen them all over the place.

Jessica: Yep.

Joanne: So, you have really two separate businesses.

Jessica: Yeah, I do.

Joanne: Are you making all the jams here still?

Jessica: We do.

Joanne: That’s great.

Jessica: We still make them all so we control that product from start to finish. I think it would be interesting to have a smaller line that we co-pack that’s for hotels and restaurants.

Joanne: Right. But you need to…

Jessica: Well, that’s different.

Joanne: That’s a different story, right. So, a different level and a different business.

Jessica: And that’s what’s so, people are always like why don’t you do the small jars? And you’re like, it’s another layer.

Joanne: Yeah, it is another layer.

Jessica: You know? And every layer takes a little time.

Joanne: And every layer needs people that are attentive to it 24/7.

Jessica: Yeah. That’s true.

Joanne: So, you can’t just have the same people do the same thing.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: You need to bring in another person to oversee that or it ends up not what you want it to be.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: So, that’s a whole thing too.

Jessica: So, recently we’ve taken over the entire building…

Joanne: Right.

Jessica: At Sqirl so instead of just having 800 square feet we have 5000 now.

Joanne: Which is a huge difference.

Jessica: Which is a huge difference but that…

Joanne: I’ll have to go back down and take a look.

Jessica: Yeah, but that’s why, and I don’t know if the last time you were there I had the next door space?

Joanne: You were talking to me that you were about to literally sign that week on the next door space.

Jessica: Wow. Well, it’s been a while since you’ve been over.

Joanne: Yeah.

Jessica: Because that’s been, but now we’re doing Sqirl Away.

Joanne: That’s great.

Jessica: So next to Sqirl is Sqirl Away which is more of like a convenience, take out, everything is pretty done. But, you know, we’ve taken, we’ve gone, we started small with what we could afford and since then we’ve evolved and it’s kind of been amazing to see that evolution of what Sqirl is.

Joanne: Which is amazing and what’s really amazing is you still own 100% of your business.

Jessica: It’s true.

Joanne: And I think when we spoke you were also talking to a variety of people that wanted to partner with you.

Jessica: For the next product. And I think also because of Sqirl Away, at the time I didn’t have enough finances to build out Sqirl Away, the second iteration, but now since I’ve waited a couple of years and gained the entire lower level of the building, I’m good.

Joanne: You’re good, that’s great.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: And there will be more.

Jessica: So, time, if you’ve got time then it’s on your side.

Joanne: I think that most people don’t think about that.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: Right? I mean, I’ve known so many founders that five or six years in, you know, all of the sudden boom and these things don’t happen overnight and when you own them by yourself and you take time to build the platform oh, which you’ve done, you know, going to the next level certainly is difficult but because you own it you have a very different conversation with people that want to be involved with you.

Jessica: So, I have a lot of friends who are also incredible female entrepreneurs and they, male entrepreneurs as well, and every start January they do kind of a lay of the land for their year plan and or five year plan and that’s something like I don’t do. I have this idea about where I want to go but I don’t do that component of the work and I wonder maybe this would have happened a lot sooner if I had taken the, you know, would of could of.

Joanne: Yeah but here you are.

Jessica: Yeah.

Joanne: You know? You’ve got a wonderful, profitable business. You’re looking to grow, you know, in a new area in L.A. and, you know, you have jams on shelves, you have a cookbook, you’re in magazines, and anyone that’s in the food world knows who you are and knows what you’ve done with that restaurant, and in many ways what you’ve done is what a lot of people that you talked about earlier that aren’t happy in their business life and really want to do something and, you know, the romantic vision is to do what you’ve done.

Jessica: Yeah. Also, my industry, people tend to push, I have to open something else, I have to open, what’s my next thing, what’s my next thing.

Joanne: Yes, they do and that’s a big mistake.

Jessica: And it is a big mistake. I have, there are a lot of people that I really love and I’m like, man, you moved so fast can you find that next location and, you know, why are you, like, fish sandwiches on the pier? Really? You can do better.

Joanne: Well, that’s interesting because I think that in the end most of them end up dying because out of that and the amount of people that are coming to talk to me about their businesses, we’re like, wait a second, your profitable, building a nice business, why are you raising money exactly because this isn’t a billion-dollar idea, you know, maybe it’s a 5 or a 10 or a 50 million dollar idea. So, why don’t you just grow it because no one else is doing what you are doing? And they’re just like, oh, people have said that. It’s like you don’t want to deal with an investor if you don’t have to. Anyway, thank you so much for coming on our show today.

Jessica: Thank you.

Joanne: I mean, it’s really amazing what you’ve done and it all started with the jam.

Jessica: The jelly.

Joanne: The jelly, all right.

Jessica: Thanks for having me.

Joanne: Our thanks to Jessica for joining us on the podcast this today. You can check out Sqirl by visiting them in Silverlake or going to their website at sqirlla.com and, by the way, it is sqirlla .com.

Cupcake, Jigsaw Puzzles and the brain

When our kids were young, for their birthdays, I’d take cupcakes to their classes with plenty of candies, icings and such for each kid to decorate their own cupcake.  I was always fascinated to see how each kid decorated their cupcake.  Some were simple, just icing and one candy perfectly placed on the top.  Others were masterpieces of perfection and others attempted to make sure that every single item I brought ended up on their cupcake.  Each represented the kid in so many ways.  I am sure the teacher probably nodded yep to herself (it happened to be a woman each time).

We have been doing jigsaw puzzles over the years at the beach and on the mountain skiing.  It is a fun backdrop to gathering around the table, talking and working on something together.  I have been getting the finished pieces framed for the ski house as every ski house needs a full-on wall of cheesy stuff.  What is fascinating is how everyone’s brain thinks.

Some start off with separating the pieces by color, others by doing the entire circumference of the puzzle first, others just dig on it and figure it out as they go along.

How people think, how people behave, how people work on things as simple as a cupcake or a jigsaw says a lot about how their brain thinks.

NRA

I have written too many times about guns after innocent people have been killed by a lone crazed gunman.  We are the only civilized country in the world that is killing each other because of access to guns.  I understand we come from a culture where people brought up their families in areas far from others and having a gun was protection.  I understand that those guns were also used to kill for their meal.  I also understand today that only 3% of people in this country own a gun and in some states almost anyone can buy a gun easier than buying alcohol.  I don’t know the answer on how to separate the two but certainly Australia has figured it out as there has not been one mass shooting since they enacted an extremely strict law back in 1996.

What I do know is that the only reason we continue to see mass killings from one person with a gun in their hand or stupid killing in homes when a child finds a gun is in many ways similar to our opiate crisis.  It is about greed, cash and money in politicians pockets.  I know many non-profits and ventures funds who will not take cash from the Sackler family because that money to them is blood money.  All of those organizations who refused that cash are fine without it.  Why our politicians don’t have the wherewithal aka the guts to say no to NRA money is beyond me.  It speaks clearly to why we have an incompetent group running the White House and weak leaders in the House and Senate who can’t get anything done.  We got here through lobbyists who have put money into those hands to get their agendas passed and our elected officials have happily taken it.  The NRA’s agenda is to make money not keep anyone safe just as the Sackler’s agenda is to sell and market legalized heroin so that the purchases of more drugs continue and keep their pockets full of cash.  It is vile and it speaks to the sad state of affairs of our country.

No parent should have to worry about their kid going to school.  No person should have to worry that if they are in pain that the drug that they take to get through it will send them down an life of addiction.  This is not what our country should be about.  The saddest part of all of this, is that nobody in our Government will change a thing and we will continue to have mass killings in normal everyday places, we will continue to have an explosive opiate crisis and we will be having this same conversation over and over again.  Keep in mind that today opiates are killing more people than guns.  The only thing we can do is vote against politicians who take money from the NRA and others who are making America a place where we are killing each other for the sake of money.  Remember that recently Paul Ryan was given $500K from the Koch family after he passed the tax plan.

Sad for all of us.

What is the Future of Food?

I sat down with a founder in the food space this past week and we lightly touched upon the future of food.   That includes everything from restaurants to kitchen appliances to what we consume.  Who would have thought that food would have been such a tremendous disruption point.  There has been a lot of capital put into new consumer products, delivery services, new fast casual restaurants, bio-science of protein products and more.  When major shifts are happening in verticals, there is always the first round of companies that push us in new directions but most of them fail.  It is the second round of companies that are usually the most interesting and have a higher rate of success.

Let’s start with delivery.  Kozmo proved that people want delivery back in the 90’s.  Unfortunately it was a different time and the amount of capital that had to deployed to make it work outside of NYC (where it was making money) was extremely difficult.  Fast forward to the last few years, we have seen the rise of food delivery services that are still struggling to make ends meet yet the demand is insanely high and will continue to grow.  Where this all lands, is up for discussion, but no doubt that food delivery (and any delivery) is here to stay.

People are starting to care more about what they put in their bodies.  The rise of new consumer products on your grocery shelves are gluten-free, vegan and short shelf-lives because of the fresh ingredients and from new food entrepreneurs vs. large enterprise companies such as Nestles and General Mills.  Generation Z is going to want those products more than anything else.  It is still insanely difficult to build a brand inside grocery when grocery chains still operate from something out of 1960.  From trucking to stocking the shelf to constant discounts, it is not a way to manage a business in 2018.  There are opportunities in this arena and many of these young companies are figuring out how to sell directly to the consumer so they can own that consumer although remember that 97% of the people still walk into the grocery store for their products.

The amount of new fast casual concepts grow daily.  Will we see those rise to the top and destroy the market share of McDonalds and TacoBell?  Time will tell but my gut tells me yes.  It will probably take awhile for many of these places to take over in the midwest but it is only a matter of time and of course capital to make that happen.  The customers in those regions read about all these places but nobody is serving them and they should.

How about the meat and fish products that are being recreated as plant based products.  Shrimp that tastes like shrimp, looks like shrimp but isn’t shrimp.  Is the future a T-bone that looks like a T-bone, tastes like a T-bone and actually has the texture of a T-bone?  There are certainly more than a few companies working on this.  My fear is if we get there, our country will be overrun by cattle.  If you ever driven across the US, it is unbelievable how many cows live here.

Smart appliances are evolving.  Soon your refrigerator will realize that you are out of butter based on how much you generally keep in your fridge and tell Suri or Alexa to order it and your robotic housekeeper, Rosie, will take the package when it comes and replace it in the fridge.  The only thing you will see is the bill unless of course you just use online checking and pay little attention to the funds that go in and out of your account.  Ovens are able to do everything from steam cooking to convection to just plain old baking.  What’s next?

The craziest thing I saw was the robot that is programmed to cook gourmet meals by simulating top chefs (ab0ve).  When will the cost come down to the price where everyone will have their own personal computerized chef that comes with a toque monogrammed with the family name.

The food space is changing.  Ten years from now we will all be eating, shopping and consuming everything in the food space in a completely different way….or perhaps not.  Only time will tell.

Soccer

Kathy Carter is running for the Presidency fo the United Soccer Association.  It was brought to my attention from a women’s online platform that I am part of.   If Carter won, she would be the first female to ever oversee this organization.  From what I have read, Kathy started playing soccer at 7 and has continued through college and her adult life.  To see a woman at the head of a major sports organization would certainly be a positive direction for the sports world.  She appears to have the chops currently being the President of Soccer United Marketing.

What made me think of this is that when our kids were young, and we lived in the burbs, I ran the soccer division.  I was the only woman coach so overseeing a group of pumped up Dad’s took on another set of issues.  Let’s start out with that these kids were 4-6.

I was a camper and I always loved the competition of the games.  I also played intramural sports in high school, coached kids from elementary school to junior high school while running the back office of the Montgomery County Recreation Department.  We ran a variety of sports for after school activities in over 20 schools from soccer to flag football to basketball.  Most of the coaches were either kids like me or parents.  So I was not new to the management of the sports world.

Overall, the soccer program ran seamlessly but there was one particular game that I coached that still sticks in my mind.  Perhaps after all those years of coaching kids was the reason I was undefeated because I certainly did not have a stacked team.  Emily was 5.  Two men were coaching the opposing team.  There were two kids on their team that they kept yelling at them by shouting their names over and over and over throughout the game.  “Get the ball to the goal, run, run, run, score score”.  My kids were shell-shocked at the tone of these coaches (fathers) voices and so was I.

I went over to the men and asked them to put it in check and that it was not appropriate to yell at these kids like this.  They were not happy with me.  They stopped although it wasn’t easy for them.  In the end, we won the game.  I went over to shake their hands and I was thinking this guy it not going to shake my hand but perhaps he will punch me in the face?  He shook my hand, begrudgingly and barely looked me in the eye. Trust me he was pissed.  Fred was aghast.  He was thinking about smacking those guys around.  I am 100% positive that if I was a male playing against them it would have taken on a very different tone.

So, when I read that Kathy Carter is running for President of the United Soccer Association, my brain immediately went back to the kids days of soccer where I had to deal with unacceptable male egos.  Their behavior certainly makes a direct impact on their sons who are now in their mid to late 20’s.  Teaching young men to respect the other gender on the other side of the table needs to start very young and I can tell you it certainly did not start out on the playing field that day.

Getting men who are uncomfortable, comfortable

I read about the survey done by Lean-in.org and then someone sent me the findings post the sexual harassment reports that men managers are three times as likely to be uncomfortable mentoring women, twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman and senior men (not sure what denotes senior) are three and a half times hesitant about meeting a woman solo at a work dinner and five times hesitant about traveling with a junior woman.

These findings are interesting on many levels.  They were done by Survey Money so people (men) did them in the privacy of their own place so we can assume they are true.  On one hand, I wonder why men who have upstanding behavior would feel uncomfortable so I have to believe it is the ones who are either insecure or fearful of themselves in these situations biting them in the ass.  Quite frankly, the latter is scary and doesn’t say much about the men that took the survey.  In fact it says that these men are the type of men that I make me wonder who kicked them up the ladder.

Mentoring young women is an extremely important part of achieving equality in the workplace.  It is essential to bring young women up the ladder where they are learning from their male leaders and counterparts and of course their female leaders but the reality is there are more male leaders.  By mentoring young women it helps them gain respect and move into more powerful roles.  I appreciate the PR campaign that is being tweeted out by some major male CEO’s saying Men Commit to Mentor Women #Mentor Her/lean-in.org but not exactly sure how that is going to move the needle.

What do we do with the men who feel uncomfortable in these roles?  We need to come up with solutions so they do not feel uncomfortable.  Mentor two women at a time.  Don’t close a door when it is just a male executive and a female executive until you feel comfortable.  We should absolutely be highlighting powerful men who have mentored women through their careers and show how that has been impactful to the women and even to themselves but that is just amplification.  Shouldn’t we be teaching men and women how to behave in business situations from a young age? To learn what is is responsible behavior in the workplace?  What we should be thinking about is how do we get the men who feel uncomfortable, comfortable?

Stop Apologizing for Being Women , Lizzie Francis & Kara Weber, Podcast #53

Lizzie Francis and Kara Weber are the Founding duo behind Brilliant Ventures. Their serial entrepreneurial credentials, amplified by a network of go-to-market experts with skin in the game, and a second proprietary network of the most accomplished, amazing and connected women in LA, make for the perfect set of assets to this investment firm. Lizzie and Kara really attribute their success to their fantastic partnership. They told me all about how they met, and what prompted them to quit their jobs and ‘stop apologizing for being women.’

For those who want, here is a transcript of the podcast.

Joanne: I’m Joanne Wilson, and this is Positively Gotham Gal. Small meaningful conversations with women entrepreneurs about their approach to life, business, and everything in between.

 

Lizzie Francis and Kara Webber are the founding duo behind Brilliant Ventures.  Their serial entrepreneurial credentials amplified by a network of go to market experts with skin in the game, and a second proprietary network of the most accomplished amazing and connected women in LA.  I have to say, many times I refer to them as the mayors of the tech world in Los Angeles.  Lizzie and Kara really attribute their success to their fantastic partnership, and they told me all about how they met and what prompted them to quit their jobs and stop apologizing for being women.

 

Lizzie: We are talking about….

 

Kara:Life.

 

Lizzie: We’re talking about serial killers, right?

 

Joanne: Correct.  So Brilliant Ventures, which by the way is a brilliant name.  I always refer to the two of you as the female mayors of the LA tech world. It’s come full circle in regards to entrepreneurs, and then going out and raising capital that is investing in women, which is awesome. I’ve known you, Kara, since the mid-90’s.

 

Kara: Yeah, I think so.

 

Joanne: Wow, that’s kind of crazy.  Lizzie, I just got to know you.  I want to go back in time, how you came to be and what your history is.  Let’s start with you, you’re from the Los Angeles area?

 

Lizzie: My mother was born and raised here actually and ended up on the east coast just after World War II because she was in internment camp.  But my mom was born in City of Angels Hospital, 1940.  I have come full circle by coming back to Los Angeles, but no I was born and raised in Washington D.C.  I’m a west coaster who has come back from the east coast to her west coast roots.

 

Joanne: Did you go to college in that area, or did you leave Washington?

 

Lizzie: No, I went to upstate New York. Kara and I both chose incredibly cold locations for our college experience.  I went to Cornell University.

 

Joanne: You went to Cornell?

Kara: Yeah.

 

Joanne: Then what did you do after Cornell?

 

Lizzie: I decided I really liked the cold, so I went straight to Chicago.

 

Joanne: Which is so cold.

 

Lizzie: It is so cold.  I was actually part of that first internet wave, which was before the first crash, that worked in investment research for a company called Zacks Investment Research.  We did the first round of lead generation, because that first cohort of people who were trading online, we would sell those leads to brokers. Traditional broke restaurants, which was really interesting conversation to have back in 99-2000 with people who didn’t understand that the internet was going to actually disrupt the entire financial services sector.

 

Joanne: Right, or the whole world for that matter. Yeah.

 

Lizzie: From there, ended up parlaying that into a great startup in LA called Lower My Bills, which I ended up selling to Experian, which also did leads in the consumer space, and at the time was the largest online advertiser.  That’s where Kara and I collided in LA, because we were both recent transplants to Los Angeles through a mutual friend, my closest friend from childhood and one of Kara’s best and closest friends when she moved to Los Angeles.  We, at the time, were these two weirdos who were in the tech space.

 

Joanne: You were in the financial tech space.

 

Lizzie: Yeah.

 

Joanne: I mean, totally unsexy, but at least you were warm.  You went to school in, where was it?

 

Kara: I went to Williams.

 

Joanne: Williams, right.

 

Kara: Williamstown, Massachusetts, with beautiful Berkshires.

 

Joanne: Beautiful town.

 

Kara: Gorgeous town.  I ended up living there for nine years.

 

Joanne: That’s right.

 

Kara: Because I started my first company there with college classmates and one of our professors.  We built the company in Williamstown, or as my friend Bill Peabody who really was the founder of it said, we were doing something.

 

Joanne: It was…?

Kara: Tripod.  He said, we were doing something.  I’m not sure we were building a company, but we were….

 

Joanne: I remember talking to you out there thinking, what are you doing?  Why are you living there?

 

Kara: I’m so grateful that I did, that was a magical time in my life.  It was my first moments out of college, I was from suburban Pittsburgh.  Anything that wasn’t suburban Pittsburgh was exciting to me, because I was a grown up, I was an adult.  The same way any young person in college, or maybe right out of college, has that experience.  I feel incredibly grateful, not only that the first company I …

 

Joanne: It was a success itself.

 

Kara: We sold it in February 98.  We got to ride it for two years.

 

Joanne: You did.

 

Kara: Yeah.

 

Joanne: We can point to a handful of companies that succeeded, and that would mean succeed equals exit, and Tripod was one of them.

 

Kara: For sure.  During that time, I met this cute actor who lived in New York, since I started commuting back and forth from the Berkshires to New York which was my life for a long time.  Moved to New York to be with the cute actor, he had just done this pilot for this show, something about Sex in the City.  I had no idea what it was, I thought it was some dirty HBO show.  He couldn’t leave New York, he sure didn’t want to move to the Berkshires.  I ended up moving to New York, did my … I always love talking to people in the digital space about what they did between 2001-2004.

 

Joanne: Because a lot of people from the original, which you both were in, went home and never ever came back.

 

Kare: Or went to business school.  I mean, the stories are always amazing.

 

Joanne: Or went to large companies and started their own businesses that had never needed funding.  They were just entrepreneurial, never came back, or a lot moved to LA.

 

Kara: A lot moved to LA.  That’s what we did, because that same year 2001, not only was the internet exploding and not in the good way.

 

Joanne: Imploding.

 

Kara: Imploding, thank you.  People with science degrees probably would have said imploding.  Both the Writer’s Guild and Actors Guild were threatening to strike that year.  The internet had imploded, and my actor husband…  There was no production, production had been shut down.

 

Joanne: That’s right, I remember that.

 

Kara: What should we do?  Let’s go to LA for a year or two.

 

Joanne: And here you are?

 

Kara: I fell in love with LA so quickly and so powerfully, and I’ve thought about it, Lizzie and I have talked about it a lot over the years.  The women I met here in LA were very different from the women I had known in New York.

 

Lizzie: Listen, I have spent now, this is my fourth winter here, and I reconnected with people I didn’t realize were here, but I’ve met a lot of really new interesting women.  It’s a very different relationship in different people.  It really is than my New York friends.

 

Kara: Yes, it’s completely different.  My experience was that every one of the women that I quickly was drawn to and befriended was an entrepreneur in one form or another.  Whether it was our mutual friend Kristen, who introduced us who’s a writer, and learning the realities of being a writer or actor or director and how you are….  You’re running a business. You are your business in a way when you work in that field.  I can go through a long list, but then meeting Lizzie and literally feeling like there was one other green alien in the city and I found her.  I had found the other green alien in the city.

 

Joanne: When you guys met, you just became friends, hung and talked?  Or did you start talking about we’ve actually have had this experience together separate, but this tech experience, and maybe we should figure out what we should do together?

 

Kara: Do you think we would raise more money for our next fund if….?  How should we answer that to raise the most money?

 

Lizzie: We never talked about anything but the future of technology, ever.    Sadly, no.  Because of the fact we were the only two people we knew who had the same past and were actually continuing to ride through that first terrible down market, which had upsides and implosion in other ways.  We did really counsel each other about where we saw things moving and changing.

Joanne: Right, because you all believed.

 

Lizzie: We believed.

 

Kara: We all believed.  We all just knew that everything was overvalued, and the mortgage industry sort of got in the way.

 

Joanne: Yeah.

 

Kara: I remember when I got here, and everybody said, why don’t you go be an assistant at one of the agencies or studio with a director?  I was like I just sold a company.  What are you talking….? No, I’m not doing it.  I remember meeting with a, LA had very, very few digital head-hunters at the time, still has a shockingly small number of established ones, but meeting with one of them at the time who said, oh, the internet.  You want an internet job?  He said, that didn’t work out, that’s over.  I remember very clearly in that moment thinking, it hasn’t begun.  It’s not over.  I’m sorry, what are you talking about.  I didn’t even know it, Gil Elbaz and Eva Ho, and everybody were off in the building creating AdSense and really changing the world and the future of the internet in that way.  It was a very different time, but we connected, and I think it has been a core of the success of our partnership, which any partnership is always a gamble. Ours has been, really for me and I know you would say the same, really magical in how fantastic it’s been to partner together and be working together.

 

Joanne: You guys connect really well.

 

Kara: We connect really well, and I think we didn’t start talking about tech, but about who we are in our lives.  Right after I met you, I went through some really challenging personal stuff and family stuff.  We’ve been through life together, not just the professional, but we have this…. It was almost that we were friends, but then we realized there was this deeper layer because of our careers versus we met through our career and found a deeper layer.

 

Joanne: I think about other partnerships that I know are in the venture world that are institutional investors.  As you are, you take money from an LP, you are an institutional investor no matter the size of your fund and your thesis.  I don’t know how many of them are really personal friends, because business relationships are funny.  You meet the right business person, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you know how many children they have.

 

Kara: Yes, that’s right.

 

Joanne: I don’t know if that’s women different, or men.

 

Kara: I was going to say, I think that’s….  We ask people how many children they have.

 

Joanne: I do too.

 

Kara: We are definitely…

 

Joanne: Women want to know things.  You connect differently.

 

Kara:We made a conscious decision to be women, we’re women.  This is why we’ll never be … I’m not calling them out specifically.  I could say 10 names, I’ll say Excel.  We’re never going to be Excel.  We’re never going to be a primarily white male led Silicon Valley fund.  We’re never going to be that.

 

Joanne: I actually think one of the things I notice when I started investing is that women would tell me things.  Then they would say, god, I’ve never had this kind of conversation with anyone.

 

Kara: We hear it all the time.

 

Joanne: Right.  I’m sure it’s the same thing because you’re asking them, and you’re connecting, and they feel a comfort that they don’t need to be on-guard when they are talking to you, even though you have money to give them.

 

Kara: That’s right.

 

Lizzie: It’s not an act.  I think for us, what was so eye opening about that is when we actually look at people that we invest in, is at the stage where it is really a lot about the people and a lot of character they have.  For us to actually really pull back the layers and the approach that we take, we get to meet a lot of great people, and really get to understand what makes them tick, and that really helps us when we make our decisions.

 

Joanne: For sure.  When did you guys decide, you know what, we’re talking to all these amazing people, maybe we should start a fund and see that we should invest in all these women and brilliant people?

Lizzie: Actually, it’s a long answer to this but it’s worth it.

 

Kara: It’s worth it to us.  We love telling our own story.  We can talk about it all day.

 

Lizzie: Kara and I have been talking about doing something, whether or not it was…   I think at the time we were more geared towards let’s start a business, get a more traditional sense that we know.  We both started multiple companies.  Let’s build a venture backed business, and let’s think about something we really want to do.   About four and a half, five years ago, we went to a magical place called Miraval, which–

 

Joanne: It’s in Arizona, right?

 

Lizzie: Yes.

 

Joanne: I went there with my daughter last year.

 

Kara: Did you do the horse thing?

 

Joanne: We did do the horse thing.  We both are not horse fans.  I remember when she was a kid, she hated the stink and the whole thing of the horses.  So, we both decided we’re not doing the horse thing, but we did go …

 

Kara: Ropes course.

 

Joanne: We did… what’s it called when they shoot you across and you’re ….?

 

Lizzie: We did that too, where you hold the bar and shoot…. I forgot what it’s called.

 

Kara: Ziplining.

 

Lizzie: Ziplining.

 

Joanne: We did ziplining. We did want to go to the drum thing, because you can get out your anger. We did a lot of stuff where you sat by the pool and chilled and talked and had massages.

 

Kara: Really important work.

 

Joanne: Yes, it was very important, we had a great time.

 

Lizzie: I think what you just nailed was you take time out of the routine that you’ve created, which is manic, and you leave your kids at home and you leave your 24/7 jobs at home.  Kara had just had one company go public, and just sold the other one to AOL, and had been on planes, trains, and automobiles nonstop 24 hours 7 days a week and just had stopped it.  Because she realized she did actually have two children and a husband.

 

Kara: I was a quivering heap of humanity at that point.

 

Joanne: That’s hard to keep up.

 

Kara: Yeah, and the pros of it are less than cons at some points in your life, right?  When you’re 25, it’s fun.

 

Joanne: Right.

 

Kare: Less fun when you’re 40.

 

Joanne: Sure, and also if you have children.

 

Lizzie: Yeah, you miss them.

 

Joanne: That makes it the hardest, it’s hard on the relationship with your partner and it’s hard on the relationship with your children.

 

Kara: It’s amazing, when I think about that time, when I think about it in telling my professional story or my timeline on my professional life, I think about the fact that Rubicon Project went public in the beginning of 2015 which was four months after AOL bought adap.tv for 450 million.  I left Rubicon, gone to adap.tv to take them through their IPO.  I got there, sat down, and helped Tim Morse who was CFO start writing the S1.  We were ready, and then AOL swooped in, which in retrospect thank you, Lord, Tim Armstrong, for appearing in that moment.  But when I think back on that time, from a LinkedIn profile sense, from explaining why and why I understand startups, literally in a four-month period I had an IPO and a major exit.  It was insane.

 

Joanne: You start hyperventilating when you start looking backwards?

 

Kara: When I look backwards, I don’t think about that.  It’s not like oh my god, remember that time I went to Singapore for 14 hours?  It’s a 42-hour round trip flight.

 

Joanne: Right, that’s what you had to do.

 

Kara: That’s the reality.  The headlines aren’t your day to day.

 

Joanne: You guys took off went to Miraval, and you chilled.

 

Lizzie: We did.

 

Joanne: And talked.

 

Lizzie: We had this realization, because we stopped and took a pause, that if you sort of, I think, all of us grew up in a way that you weren’t rewarded for actually being a mom or being realistic about ….

 

Joanne: You were newly pregnant; did you say that already?

 

Lizzie: No. I was newly pregnant and looked 20 months pregnant.

 

Kara: It was amazing, she invented a whole new kind of pregnancy.

 

Lizzie: I did.

 

Kara: She did 23 months.  It felt like 10 years.

 

Lizzie: We just realized, why are we apologizing for the reality with these amazing….

 

Kara: Why?

 

Lizzie: Exactly, reality women and we had these successful careers, it’s not feasible to fly 42 hours to do a 14-hour meeting and still have a meaningful relationship with your family. It’s very hard, really difficult.  I was at the time gestating, which had taken many years to do, our son Jackson.  It was an exciting moment, I thought you know what?  I just do not want to go back to that and miss out.  It’s taken me years and many doctors, and a lot of money to get this little person in me.  What are we doing? What is this rat wheel?  From there we promptly did not do anything, but at least planted the seed and talked about what we’re going to do much more seriously.  After Jackson was born, ….

 

Joanne: To create something around your lifestyle?

 

Lizzie: Exactly.  We just decided…

 

Joanne: A lifestyle you wanted to live.

 

Lizzie: It was lifestyle, but it was also a bit of having felt as women in technology, like it was a perpetual game of square peg round hole.

 

Kara: I think on that trip, we didn’t mention your sister was with us too.

Lizzie: Yeah.

 

Kara: Lizzie’s sister Margaret Francis is phenomenal, she’s a VP of Product at Heroku.  She one of the only VP level at the sales force organization.  Margaret is amazing too.  She was going through her own major life event at the time, you were newly pregnant, I was a quivering heap of humanity.  It was a very powerful time where we had to be stripped down to just who we were, because we were too wiped out by what…. We had to be real, we had to be honest about it, we just thought what if we didn’t try to not be women?  What if we didn’t try to…. I mean, quite frankly I admire her so much, but I always held Sheryl Sandberg in this place of shouldn’t I be going the Sheryl Sandberg route? Shouldn’t I be trying to be that where I’m a very senior executive at a very big company and have major influence over people.  To realize, just like Excel and the boys starting the venture funds, that’s not me either.

 

Joanne: Well, it’s an interesting topic.  Sheryl is someone to look up to for many women in regards to her job and her level and influence over one of the largest companies in the globe.  Yet, she’s not an entrepreneur, so it’s a very different role.  If you read her book, it’s the one that she had been interested in since she came out of the womb, and that’s who she is.  But I think most of the women I talk to, and that you talk to, and who you are, are entrepreneurs, it’s a very different mindset.  You can own your life at that level, and you’re certainly intrapreneurial, because if you’re not you can’t have that role.  But it’s very different when you are jumping into the pool by yourself in order to create something for yourself.

 

Lizzie: We actually embrace that, to your point around and Kara’s point about why we apologize for being women.  We said, we can start something, we love being entrepreneurial, but we can actually jump…. We also are at this point in our careers where we are really good at what we did.  Yes, and if felt like not dialing it in, but don’t we want to learn something new?  We want to be intellectually challenged.  We thought, okay, let’s be entrepreneurial.  Let’s jump to the other side of the table, and let’s learn something new.  We’ve raised hundreds of millions of dollars between us from venture capitalists, let’s change the narrative and use our narrative to do that together, and that’s what we did.   We agreed to do it one morning after I accepted a job.  Called Kara immediately after I accepted and said, I made a terrible mistake and I don’t want to do this.  She said, we start tomorrow.  I called him back and said, I’m not taking the job and I actually have a much better person for you, and he actually ended up taking the job.  We met, and I still can remember, we went to End Street Kitchen in Santa Monica, toasted and started on our values.  Just talked about what are the values we want.

 

Kara: We still at that point…. We had been talking venture for a long time, but we….  Listen, if some great business startup concept came to us, we would have done that too, right?

 

Lizzie: We did sort of do that, actually.

 

Kara: Well, accidently.

 

Lizzie: Along the way.

 

Kara: We might have accidently also done that.  But literally, we just said, okay, let’s not start with what we’re going to do, let’s start with how we’re going to do it.  That I think, getting back to the partnership, and the kind of people we are ….

 

Joanne: Also, that really creates your thesis.

 

Kara: It really does.

 

Joanne: I think that the most successful firms that are investing in companies, it could be PE, it can be microfunds, Angels, I don’t care what it is, you need to have a thesis.  Because without a thesis, you don’t become an expert and you don’t have something that you can stand to.  If you fall back on that thesis again and again and again, it helps you make the right decisions.

 

Kara: Absolutely.  The day we decided, because originally, we were going to be all a female founders founder built by girls, something along those lines.  We actually realized through a great conversation with Mark Schuster who listened to our pitch.  I’ve know Mark for years, we went and had a casual conversation with him, took him through what we were doing.  At the end, very Mark style, he was like can I be your pitch coach?  We said, sure.  He was like, it sucks.

 

Joanne: That’s hilarious.

 

Kara: He said, you came in here and told me a story about investing in women that any two women who’ve been in this business for a few years can come in and tell.  That’s not what differentiates you.  It’s amazing how we’re both marketers and we would say the exact same thing when it comes to yourself – doctor heal thyself.

 

Joanne: Yes.

 

Kara: He said, what I know about you guys is that you’re the two marketers that anyone in LA and anywhere would ….

 

Joanne: Would acquire.

 

Kara: Consumer businesses all want to hire Lizzie, and enterprise businesses all want to hire Kara.  You guys understand…  He said, marketing.  Then we met with Ann Winblad the next week and told her the story.  She said, it’s go to market.  You guys understand how to take entrepreneurial ideas to market.  When we were able to leverage that, the substance not just being women, it’s who we are as our values, our experience, and then put the overlay of we understand commerce.  She understands the front end of it, I understand the back end of it, and we focused in on that transforming the future of commerce thesis, with a strong and conscious bias.

 

Joanne: So, you had to formulate your thesis.

 

Kara: Towards brilliant diverse leadership teams.

 

Joanne: It also helps you formulate how you’re going to pitch to LPs and what separates you from other people they’re going to invest in.

Kara: Our whole life got easier after that.

 

Joanne: Right, because you were articulate.  It was very easy because that’s what you’ve done.

 

Lizzie: Also, as marketers, it’s what we’ve done building brands our whole career.  How do you get your value proposition crisply out there? How do you tell the story?  As soon as we did it, it just felt so natural.  Instantly, like a second skin which is amazing.

 

Joanne: This is great.  You started raising money, which is always fun.  I actually have to say, I’ve raised money all the time for every company I’ve invested in, but that’s a different thing.  I think it’s really healthy for venture funds to raise money, because then they know what it’s like for their companies to raise money, and it’s just not pretty.  It sucks, and it’s very hard particularly on your first fund but the key, as we know, is that you want to have the right investors that are interested in you for your third fund, because they’re not fly by night LPs.  They’re long term investors and they’re interested to make sure that if they’re going to do it now, they know they’ve got four funds to invest in.

 

Kara: Absolutely.  My mom who is a remarkable woman, one of the first women at Yale Law School, minority, was in class with Marian Wright Edelman and Eleanor Holmes Norton when it started.  The only job she’d get after law school was in the government, and then she joined a law firm as a partner in D.C.  The piece of advice I always remember that she gave me about her own business, because she’s a business woman too, was it’s very hard for us to bring in associates who are all bright and brilliant and intellectually curious and great at their craft and take them on the journey where they realize at the end of the day 80% of their job is sales and 20% of it is the hard-intellectual work.  It’s what cut the wheat from the chaff is that they moved associates into partnership.  I think the exact same thing applies to people who are, as I’ve discovered, starting their own investment firm.  We’ve raised so much money behind concepts we love, business we’ve built, but they’re all easier when it’s an idea.  It’s easy to get someone excited about function, or SaaS technology that’s going to change how they make profit and margin their business.  To have to sell yourself….

 

Joanne: Is very different.

 

Kara: … is a very different skill set.  People have warned us beforehand about how hard it was and how you had to just become sales people.  I remember thinking about my mom’s story and how much that applied, because we’re marketers which is a really nice bow and a nice way of saying sales, which we’ve done our whole career.

 

Joanne: I don’t care what field you’re in, if you’re an artist, you’re a product person, musician, anything.  Yes, the cream rises to the top, but if you’re a salesperson, that is really a very key component in order to getting your work out there.  It just is.  All right, so you guys decided let’s go, figured out your thesis.

 

Lizzie: Well, we practiced, I should not say practiced, we first did something we raised money for an SPV.  We wanted to really understand….

 

Joanne: I remember you did that. I hate those.

 

Lizzie: Actually, we liked it.

 

Joanne: I think it’s very frustrating because you’re herding sheep on a daily basis when you find those businesses, and you can’t commit.

 

Kara: Here’s the thing.  We found a great one, it was a wonderful deal and it’s a wonderful company.  I’ll tell you what it is in a second.  What was deceptive about it was that it was very easy to sell.  We raised a lot of money in ….

 

Joanne: For that particular company.

 

Kara: … in one week for that company.  Based on that, we thought if we can do this….

 

Joanne: We can do it for anyone.

 

Kara: Our fund is going to be … God, how are we going to handle it when people want in.  We’ve hit our hard cap, people started talking to us about the hard cap.  Do you remember that?

 

Lizzie: I do, that’s funny.

 

Kara: That’s so funny.

 

Lizzie: We did prove a point in….

 

Kara: The hard cap is the end of the rainbow.  We’re climbing through, where is the…

 

Lizzie: Our hard cap changed a lot.

Joanne: That’s okay.

 

Kara: Our hard cap got softer and softer.

 

Lizzie: But it did prove that idea we had that it’s easier to sell a thing to people, a great business idea, than it is to sell an investment firm.  Once we nailed down the thesis to your point, and had done this for fundraising experiment, which went…

 

Kara: By the way the company was Tamara Mellon brand which is a luxury footwear company direct to consumer founded by named after its founder who was the founder Jimmy Choo.

 

Joanne: Exactly.

 

Kara: Everything about ….

 

Joanne: had a success.

 

Kara: This was an easy win.

 

Joanne: A slam dunk.

 

Lizzie: Then we just started shaking the trees, our personal network trees.  I will tell you, I would probably grade us at an awkward D or maybe even like an easy F on some of those first conversations.  I cringe when I think back about them.  It’s not that we didn’t feel comfortable discussing our thesis, I think it was such a different pitch than anything we’d ever done.  But to your point, we found fantastic LPs who believed in us and believed in what we were investing in, and are waiting for the results, but believe enough…

 

Joanne: It takes a long time to.  I think that is one of the, I don’t know if they’re dirty little secrets or romantic fallacies, which is that it takes 10 years to show that you are a good investor.  Obviously, once in a blue moon there’s some incredible hit.  I’ve met some angels that just hit the right team at the right time. I have to say, some of them that I know I understand why they invested in those, and I understand why they came across their desk.  For me, that wouldn’t be of interest.  It’s like, yeah, that’s a money maker but I’m not interested in just knowing …  It’s a money maker, there’s more to it.  That’s the same thing for both of you.  Why don’t you talk about what your thesis is?

 

Kara: Yeah, and I think you really keyed in on something Joanne that I think is so important.  A lot of this stuff we’ve been talking about today and the conversations in general lately are about …. Sorry, seems like I’m going off course.

 

Joanne: No, you’re not.

 

Kara: But it’s about how we do thing differently as women, or maybe more broadly as people who didn’t come to it through the track.  We didn’t go to business school, get degrees in finance, work at Goldman, and then go into venture, or whatever the track.  I don’t even know what you call it.

 

Joanne: I don’t think there is a track.

 

Kara: There isn’t a track.

 

Joanne: It’s actually really hard to get into venture.

 

Kara: It’s really hard.  What I noticed about all of these things is that knowing who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, what your thesis is, is so focusing and helpful.  How many times have I sent you stuff and you’re like oh my god, no.  It’s like you’re not really an entrepreneur unless Joanne Wilson has smacked your ass down. It’s like, no, I’m not doing that.  But I think what’s great about that is you are beautifully unapologetic, such an inspiration to us in that role.  You’re beautifully unapologetically doing what you’re doing.

 

Joanne: Yeah.

 

Kara: You’re doing it your own way and on your own path.  I think that is so advantageous, because I think what happens when you get into the venture capital industry world is people are like I don’t want to miss the great deals.  Of course, but have you ever seen a company that you’ve passed on.  I know the answer, this is a leading question.  Have you ever seen a company that you passed on end up being wildly successful, having a major exit, and thinking good for them I’m still okay with my decision?

 

Joanne: Absolutely.  I never look back.  I’ve seen the couple and I’m like I think I talked to them at the beginning.  I go through my email and I’m like wow, I did.  I’d still pass on it.

 

Kara: Exactly, because you….  I think there is this …

 

Joanne: It’s also a perfect storm.

Kara: Of course.

 

Joanne: We’re looking at deals that are so early.  I think the hardest thing about these early stage deals, not that it’s not difficult in later stage deals, but more early stage deals is the capital.  The reality is, unless you have a $50 million fund that you can say no worries.  If you get into trouble, I believe in you.  What you’ve done in the past 18 months is amazing and I don’t know why these people don’t see the same thing I do, which happens 99% of the time.  I’ll write you the check, not a worry.  For me, I am not in the position to do that.  That has been my largest frustration over the past decade, and makes me rethink my thesis, because it’s exhausting for the founder, but it’s also frustrating for me as an investor.

 

Lizzie: Yeah.

 

Kara: Yeah, absolutely.  I think that’s right.  Our thesis is bringing together capital and our expertise, our deep understanding of how do you bring these companies – technology and data driven companies – in and around commerce to market.  We’re really looking at the companies transforming the future of commerce.  We think about that in three ways – we look for three substantive aspects of these early stage businesses – and we invest in the seed and preseed visits.  One is transformation around people, commerce around people.  By that we mean, separate from assessing a team which is of course critically… in terms of what the company is doing. Are they meeting or newly meeting or better delivering on the needs of new emerging or previously underserved audiences?  Great example of that is a company we invested in recently with Arlan Hamilton for Backstage Capital called Haute Hijab.  They’re based in New York.  They are bringing a westernized brand approach to the hair covering scarf that many observant Muslim women wear, the hijab.

 

Joanne: Right, I’ve talked to them.

 

Kara: The Muslim population is expected to grow 70% in the next 30 years.  I mean, talk about emerging.  Emerging is a funny word because ….  but growing, fast growing.  Right now, Muslim women are observant covering their hair, successfully running medical practices, attorneys, and starting business, and not really having a right.  It’s really not the right thing, and it’s not something stylish at the level of everything else she’s wearing.  They started that company, so that’s a great company in the people category.

 

The next category we look for around transformational commerce is products.  People who are bringing or applying technology and data to deliver product in new better way.  I would put Parachute Home in that category.

 

Lizzie: RevCascade.

 

Kara: RevCascade with what they’re doing now.  Skylar Body, you know, Cat Chen in the way she can create value out of data and technology in selling her natural care fragrance line is incredible.  That’s sort of the product focus around commerce.

 

Then the third is process, that really gets to the fact that we invest not only in consumer facing businesses, but enterprise and business B2B companies.  Those are companies like Happy Returns, which is tackling the logistics around all the returns, what I call the pile of boxes that we all have in our houses it seems like these days.  They’re addressing the pile of boxes and turning that into a more positive experience for the consumer, but a revenue center versus a cost center for the modern commerce retailer.

 

Joanne: Are you mostly focused, is it LA focused?

 

Kara: We’re a lot of 60s and 40s, 60 LA, 40 New York.

 

Lizzie: I think there’s a really close tie between LA and New York.

 

Joanne: You can pretty much cut the middle of the country and smoosh those two, which appears what Trump wanted to do.

 

Lizzie: That might be the only thing we agree on. I’m down, let’s do this.

 

Joanne: Certainly, that seems to be…. Those are the two state he really decided he didn’t like.  There definitely is a synergy I think between New York and LA and has been forever.

 

Lizzie: Do you feel like there’s that same string between Boston and San Francisco, likewise LA and New York?  That’s where we split our time.

 

Joanne: Yeah, that makes sense. Asia is booming too.  I don’t know if any of you speak Chinese.

 

Kara: Right, we should work on that.   Let’s add that, we’re going to do that.

 

Joanne: You can go do Duolingo.

 

Kara: We’re going to do that.

 

Joanne: And play around with that.

 

Kara: Note to self, tweet Joanne tomorrow in Mandarin.  Joanne, we nailed it.

 

Joanne: That’s great.

 

Kara: These are all visions and pie in the sky.  We said on our list of values that we didn’t publish was build some business that will eventually need an office in Paris.  Is that so wrong?

 

Joanne: No, it’s okay, it’s okay.  I totally get it. Thank you guys for coming, Brilliant Ventures, brilliant.  It’s nice to see where you guys are versus where you were a couple years ago.

 

Kara: Oh, that’s nice of you to say, thank you.  It’s good to hear that.  Sometimes when you’re in it, you’re not sure if you’ve, no, we have.

 

Joanne: You have, you’ve raised money, you make investments.  Yeah, you’re venture people.

 

Kara: It’s been incredible.

 

Lizzie: Thank you.

 

Kara Thank you so much.

 

Joanne: Thanks guys.

 

Our thanks to Lizzie and Kara for joining us on the podcast this week.  You can learn more about Brilliant Ventures by visiting their website brilliant.ventures.  That is brilliant.ventures not .com.  Thank you to all of you listeners for joining us this week.  Stay up to date with Positively Gotham Gal.  You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.  You can subscribe to our podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes.  See you next week.

 

Another week in LA

The weekends are almost always meant for exploring whether we are in LA or NYC or anywhere.  Ollie is definitely settling into the LA life.

We made our way down to the Craft and Folk Art Museum.  They are having an exhibit called Movements in Contemporary Clay.  We have bought two pieces from Matt Wedel, an artist I discovered through a friend.  His work is front and center and it was great to see this piece.

The other artists in the show included Cheryl Ann Thomas, a local LA sculptor.

Anthony Sonnenberg, from Texas.

Afterward, we made the drive, and again drive is what LA is all about, to Salazar, a place that we missed out on going to last winter.  It is not a place that we’d drive to for dinner but definitely can do for lunch.  It would easily take us over an hour to get here on a weeknight if not an hour and a half.  It is set on an open lot of a busy corner.  It’s so great.  All sitting is outside making it extremely dog-friendly as the ones above hung next to our table.

It is really a beautiful little spot.

Good guacamole.

Delish tacos.  All the meat is made from the mesquite grill.  The lunch menu is a bit lighter than the dinner menu.

Deep fried pork skins were the special of the day.  We drove back on roads not the freeway to Venice.  It is quite amazing driving neighborhood to neighborhood from one end of the city.

I love the Mar Vista Farmers Market on Sunday.  Some new additions to the market.  The woman behind this came to American 3 years ago from Latvia.  She was a doctor there and couldn’t find the right bread in LA so she began making her own.  The breads are incredible.  You can order them online.  Each of the breads can last almost 10 days.  Latvian Dark Rye, Sweet & Sour Rye, French Sourdough, Sweet Sourdough and more.  Delicious!

As always the citrus is so good.

Strawberries.

Raspberries.

A local band even played for us this week.

Caught this sign on the way out.  Definitely one of my constants every week while I am here.  I always love the farmers market.