Back to Berlin

waterpipes The first time we came to Berlin was December 2008 so roughly 6 years ago. The amount of construction and change that has taken place since then has been mind boggling.  Urbanization is taking place around the globe but because Berlin has essentially rebuilt itself since 1989 the change here is even more significant.

Construction will be taking place here for decades to come.  This might look like an art installation but these purple/pink pipes are for construction sites to pump out the water before building.  Berlin is essentially built on a swamp so water must be pumped out quickly in order for the site not to be damaged from the get go.

It is seriously hot here and walking around town is a sweaty experience but none the less I did.  I met with an entrepreneur from Poland in a company I am investing in call CSTM.  The launch will be taking place in October in Europe first, US next.   I am really excited about what they have built and the opportunities moving forward.

Fred and I had dinner with an investor and his wife who both of us have invested with which was really great.  We went to Katz Orange.   The restaurant is located in a beautiful open area set inside a bunch of other buildings.  Very typical of Europe where there is a large courtyard in between a bunch of buildings to create light and air.   The restaurants food is sourced locally and continues to change based on the season. trout

Our first course was mostly salads.  Fred had the marinated trout along side a  a purple potato salad with spiced rhubarb and mustard seed.  The purple potato salad was amazing.

greenbean I had the green bean salad.  A variety of different green beans mixed with greens, pecorino cheese, dried barberry and sesame crisps.  Nice light summer salad. pork For dinner there are either entrees or slow cuisine entrees for two that have been roasted for over 12 hours at a very low temperature.  The slow cooked is more than likely one of their specialties.  They have three options.  Fred and I split the pork that comes with a spicy bbq sauce on the side and a garlic yogurt sauce which we did not touch.  The pork just falls apart when you slice it.  A tad heavy for the summer months but still good. sweetpotatoes We had two sides to go with that.  Simply roasted sweet potatoes. gingercarrot Carrot ginger puree. cheese Dessert was just a mix of cheese for all of us to share.  It seems like the slate plates are the rage here too. Beautiful setting and a nice stroll back to the hotel.

Is STEM still a four letter word for women?

imgresI can’t help but look back at my own education when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  I was asked by Ravishly to write something about the question is STEM still a four letter word for women.  Here are my thoughts.

My parents were definitely not concerned or particularly interested in my education.  They trusted that I would just figure it out.  I was smart and I had to find my own way.  Not exactly what I would recommend as a parent myself but I had no choice.

I was always good at Math and actually enjoyed Science.  The apple did not fall from the tree so in many ways it is not shocking that I gravitated towards both of those subjects in 7th grade because they came easy.  My education at this point had not exactly been geared towards anything.  I spent both 5th and 6th grade at an elementary school that was trying out a new type of education.  It was based on pods.  There were a group of teachers so there was little structure if any.  Projects were set up around the open space for self-starters.  I was always a self-starter who could figure a way to get around anything so I became the tether ball and spit (card game) champion.  I basically ignored all other learning activities and so when I did get to 7th grade, in a typical junior high school structured environment I did not even know what a verb or noun was.  I kid you not.  The school separated me from the English class I was in and put me in a room of below average thinkers.  It took me about one month to crawl my way out and then I was moved into the smartest English class although I still suffered (and still do) for lack of that English training.

In Science and Math I excelled.  I was noted as the top science student in 7th grade and was sent with all the 8th and 9th graders to spend a day at the National Science event in DC.  It was a pretty big deal.  In Math I just flew through the work and loved it.  Fast forward, nobody at home really gave me pats on the back for this and by 9th grade I was lucky if I made it to Science class.  Math was always a slam dunk and I enjoyed it.   I remember taking a short course on computer programming (part of the math curriculum) and thinking this is so cool but there were just a few geeky guys who took over and I just let it go at that. By the time I got to high school I was concentrating on juggling three jobs which I took to easily.  I owned them, I made money and it gave me purpose.

The rest of my high school education is pretty much a blur. Perhaps if I had a mentor or someone who took me under their wing when it came to Math and Science then things would have turned out differently.  I just did not see the importance of Math and Science at that point.  I was interested in business and business only.  I knew I had a head for it and it was a ticket to bigger things.

Kids k-12 these days understand the importance of learning technology.  I believe people should follow their passions.  I had a passion for Math but nobody set me in that direction.  Not so sure if I had a passion for anything except for making money than expanding my brain and with that my horizons.  I read books like a fiend but otherwise that was my own education.  I didn’t get much direction but eventually I figured it out.

We are seeing more organizations make sure that they become those mentors to young women through Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girls Develop It, Skillcrush and Webgrrls just to name a few.  It is fantastic.

So, is STEM still a four letter word for women?  Absolutely not.  S can also be for seeing their future, T can be for the importance of understanding technology at any level, E can be the importance of education, end of story and M can be the importance of mastering the language of technology.

I still believe you have to have passion for it and if you do, stick with it because STEM levels the playing field and that is the key to a better future for women.

NewCo returns to NYC

originalI participated in the OpenCo conference last year in NYC.   They have now changed their name to NewCo and are returning to NYC October 1-2.

What I really like about this conference is that is an “inside out” event.  The city becomes the event space.  Attendees can will go to companies around the city who have signed up to be a host.  They will spend roughly an hour touring the offices, talking about their product/vision and that is a bonus for the company and the attendees.

Companies that have participated in the past were anything from small start-ups with 10 people to Google, Dropbox and a museum.

NewCo is currently looking for mission driven companies to participate this fall.  You can apply here.  The application is due by July 29th.

Highly recommend opening up your doors to this.  It is smart and different.  The proof is in the pudding.  This year they will have more than 750 companies participate in 8 cities.


Undress Me

I posted the first video that Tatia Pilieva did called First Kiss where 20 strangers met each other and kissed for the first time.  There was something sweet and clumsy about the whole video.  I loved it.

Now she has build on this theme with Undress Me.  20 strangers meet for the first time, undress each other and crawl into bed.  It is kind of brilliant.  Definitely worth the watch.

24 hours in NYC…culture, culture, culture

heartFred and I returned to NYC from a week long conference on Saturday evening. I am really not in the city for the majority of the summer so getting in our culture fix was top on the agenda.  We got home around 515pm and were sitting in a theater by 630 to kick off the weekend.

Our first film of the weekend was Obvious Child.  Loved the movie and btw a Kickstarter project.  A story about facing reality and growing up.  The main character gets pregnant and makes a decision to get an abortion.  A real film about issues that are never that cut and dry.  So good.  We then walked over to Perla for dinner which is always a good call.

Got up early, had breakfast, went through email and read the paper.  We decided to make our way uptown to go see the Jeff Koons exhibit at the Whitney.  This is the last retrospective that will take place in the Whitney on 75th Street as they are moving downtown to the west village where the new museum will open on Gansevoort and Washington.  It will be twice the size downtown and I am really looking forward to it.   A few years ago I went to Koons studio on a private tour where I saw some of his latest creations.  I would have liked to see the Whitney take over the entire museum and put some of his latest work in there but regardless it is an exhibit absolutely worth seeing.

It wasn’t quite lunch time yet so we headed to the Met to see the Gary Winogrand exhibit.  I have seen his work before so I was looking forward to see how the Met curated his photographs.  I really enjoyed it.  Some of the quotes on the walls were great.  “There is nothing more mysterious than a fact clearly described.”  When it comes to his photos around the Vietnam war.  “The world isn’t tidy; it’s a mess.  I don’t try to make it neat.”  Best is “I am trying to make interesting pictures of whatever.”

After the MET we walked back down towards the Whitney to eat at one of the classic lunch places on the upper east side.  We eat the same thing there everytime.  Arugula salad, thinly sliced parm, canned tuna and slices of tomato.  Highly recommend.  Killer coffee.  Very European place; Via Quadronno.

Next stop was the IFC theater in the village.  We went to see Boyhood.  One of the most unique films.  Boyhood was filmed over a 12 year period.  The audience essentially watches the young boy, Ellar Coltraine and his sister, Lorelei Linklater (the directors daughter) grow up over a 2.5 the course of the film.  The movie is about growing up and relationships between parents, kids and friends.  An amazing film.

Dinner was the finale where we celebrated Bastille Day ( a day early ) at Montmartre.  Those 24 hours is exactly what I love about NYC.  Food, culture, people…and all at our finger tips.


Financial commitments send a message

images-1Investing in the start-up world has many facets.  There are all different types of investors; angels, VC’s, micr0-VC’s, private equity etc. Most investors have different strategies, thesis’ and levels of involvement.  Some change over time and others remain consistent.

At the VC level there are a few unwritten rules that go under the heading “it is the right thing to do”.  The number one rule, IMHO, is to treat the entrepreneurs you invest in with respect.  You might not necessarily approve of the way that they run their business or some of the decisions that they have made but if you have made financial commitments to that business and the business is succeeding then it is important to continue your financial support.

I have seen one business that was moving the needle upward, was early to the game and had an opportunity to sell.  The entrepreneur passed on selling the business for several reasons.  After that happened the investor deciding to not support the entrepreneur going forward and in the process bled the company dry.  That in turn left the entrepreneur in a place of having to rebuild without support.  That sucks.  I know that the investors reputation was mildly hurt but when someone has millions and millions to invest it is hard for people to not attempt to go to that well if need be.  You don’t have to continue participation but don’t fuck the entrepreneur.  The entrepreneur has had a much more difficult time.  I hope that the entrepreneur has insane success because success is the best kind of revenge.

Over the last few years more than a handful of VC’s have put money into the first round (seed) of capital in a company essentially as a placeholder.  I get it.  You learn from those businesses, you spread the wealth, etc.  Here is the thing.  Those companies end up growing and when they go out and get their next round, particularly when it is well deserved, those VC’s have decided for whatever reasons that they are not going to lead or even participate it sends a terrible message to the next set of investors who are excited about what they see.

You would think that it would be irrelevant but it isn’t because it is human nature to question yourself.  If a top VC is not going to support the next round then new investors start to wonder…am I making a mistake?  That is the signal being sent from the VC. I believe the VC’s that had made that first round commitment to a company should be supporting the next round if the entrepreneur has proven that they have the ability to raise cash because of their successes.  Walking away is not the right thing to do.  Also, entrepreneurs generally remain entrepreneurs.  The next time they build a company you want them to go back to you because you did the right thing by supporting them, not necessarily leading, but sending a financial signal of support.

Most angels put money in the first round.  I like to continue putting money in as the company grows and raises more money.  At one point it becomes expensive but I want to participate in follow-on rounds.  It shows everyone involved that I support the growth that has taken place.  It sends a clear signal of support to the entrepreneur too.  It takes time for these companies to grow.  To me, it is the right thing to do.

Brad Feld wrote a similar type post about this called What Happens When Your Actions Don’t Match Your Words.  His post is just a different dialogue about what I am writing about today.  I firmly believe what goes around comes around.  People work really hard in this business to build their own personal reputations.  Entrepreneurs work really hard at building their companies.  There should be a happy medium working together and always doing the right thing on both ends.  I try to live by that rule.  There are so many others who I believe to be great investors and I would hope that they would live by that rule too.


detroitI am fascinated with Detroit.  Perhaps because I spent a few years of my childhood in Ann Arbor but more than likely it has to do with the demise of a city and with that the incredible opportunity to rebuild.  How does Detroit become a thriving community again?

There have been a series of articles in the NY Times on Detroit..  There was one recently called The Path Toward Recovery.  Fred and I were discussing how does Detroit become a blossoming community again.

In NY, Cuomo has created something called Start-up NY that gives tax benefits to new businesses.  It sounds good but communities are not just built on businesses that are given incentives.  There is no doubt that Detroit needs incentives to build businesses but to build real communities you need culture, restaurants, homes, services, grocery, education facilities and more.  Tony Hsieh is working on this in Las Vegas.  It is an impressive undertaking and a lot to learn from what he is doing.  He is essentially building a community by touching on all of these things.

The Baltimore harbor was transformed through incentives.  The city sold homes to people for a penny and gave them a year to start fixing up their homes.  This took place in the late 70′s early 80′s.  There are countless homes that have been abandoned or foreclosed in Detroit.  What an opportunity for young people or young families to get homes for next to nothing and all they have to do is to fix them up.  That could be a start.

There are countless people who are unemployed in Detroit who worked in the car factories and now are essentially unemployable.  Why not create a job program for them so they can learn skills to work in a new environment. Then continue to follow-up with them as they get placed in companies like non-profits such as Prep for Prep does for underserved kids that are placed in schools to help them propel their lives forward through getting a good education.   They follow them through K-12 and then continue to have a relationship with them in college and even post-college.  They want to make sure they are succeeding.  Give companies a reason to build by giving tax benefits such as if 10-15% of the work force they hire are people who are in a program that helps train these unemployed people to get jobs.  They end up staying in the community and succeeding vs floundering.

Be strategic in planning.  When NY city rezoned the area of lower Manhattan called Hudson Square it was transformative.  There is now a balance of commercial, residential, education, retail and food facilities throughout the neighborhood.  A booming community.

Give restaurant owners incentives to open.  Bringing people in from the suburbs to eat in downtown Detroit creates a desire for more of this.  Urbanization also creates a reason for their kids to return to the area that they grew up in and put down their roots.

Fixing Detroit is definitely not a one prong solution.  There need to be reasons to want to return and build besides the young socially responsible people who are building farms and getting people engaged.  That is one step but there are many more.

Jenny Haeg, Custom Spaces Real Estate, Woman Entrepreneur

imgresSomeone I totally respect told me I should connect with Jenny.  She was in NYC and we got together to talk.  Jenny is smart, fearless, has a great nose for business and is knee deep in the real estate business, a business she started called Custom Spaces.  My kind of girl.

Jenny grew up in Eureka, a small town about 5 hours north of San Francisco. Her father is is an attorney.  Her mother is a psychologist and has her own practice.  Jenny remembered her Mom spending time while she was growing up getting her degree while working at the Estee Lauder counter at Macys to help pay bills.  Her Mom was always about women empowerment.  Not surprising that Jenny ended up so fierce.

After graduating from high school Jenny went down to LA to go to USC where she majored in business and communications.  She had spent her summers in Los Angeles with her Grandparents so knew LA.   Jenny always worked.  At 10 she started a babysitters club so it was not surprising that she is a totally motivated entrepreneur.  Her parents wanted her to go to California Poly but she chose USC and put herself through the school paying for 50% with a scholarship and the rest out of her own pocket.

Her sophomore summer she landed an internship at Kushman and Wakefield where she stayed through college.  She was offered a job when she graduated and she turned it down.  She knew she was good at real estate but she wanted to leave LA and move to San Francisco.

Jenny moved up to San Francisco and landed a job in a boutique real estate firm that began her journey.  She was the only woman in an office with 25 men.  She was the first woman they had ever hired and their firm began in 1990.  She was hired in 2005.

In her first year she was named Rookie of the Year.  After a year and a half she was given a VP title because of all the deals she had done.  VP is all about the amount of deals you close.  Here she was a VP among a group of 50 year old white guys.  It was not pretty.  She got harassed all the time.  Just as her parents taught her she always stood up for herself and didn’t take their shit.

Jenny started looking around SF and realized nobody was focusing on the tech industry.  Everyone around her thought helping those companies find space was a tremendous risk.  She was single, she saw the future and decided to do what nobody else was doing which was focus on tech.  She would close a deal and not only would her male peers give her a hard time about the companies calling them other names they would ask her to give up some of her commission to the other males in the office who had families to support.  Good for her, she refused to give up what she had earned.

When she saw the tech opportunity she spent the first three years focusing on business development essentially getting to know all the people who were launching businesses in the community.  In 2006 she met Jack and Ev at Twitter and came to Jenny to help them find their space.  Nobody wanted to help them without a term sheet but she did.  Needless to say it all went up hill from then.  Then came Dropbox, Uber and others who called on Jenny to help them find space.  She had become the go-to real estate person in tech.  Her plan was working.

She stuck with the company she was working for awhile but one day she closed a deal, got the commission and said goodbye.  She started Custom Spaces in her apartment.  Working out of her closet with a white board and desk she launched Custom Spaces.  She jumped in 2011 and hired her first employee in 2012.  Through out this time she has been angel investing in some of the companies that she has met.  I saw her portfolio.  IMHO she has a very good nose.

Fast forward Jenny now has 7 employees, all women ( gotta love that particularly in her industry ).  The deal flow is ridiculous as she is the agency to go to for commercial space.  She is taking it year by year at this point.  What I love is that she spent all that time learning her trade in a male dominated office who were all happy to rag on her but not smart enough to work like she did and see the opportunities out there.  She is tough, smart and driven.  My kind of girl.  So if you are looking for any space in SF, Jenny is the person to call on, hands down.  You might want to peer over her shoulder to see who she is investing in too but for right now that is just a passion.   Looking forward to watching Jenny grow.  Just a hunch that world domination of the real estate market might be in her future.


Superba Bakery

The first time I went to Superba I stuffed myself.   The food is delicious and although there was so many places with a clever take on seasonal food, I thought Superba really did an excellent job.  Then along comes Superba Bakery.  Another hit.  Great space, wonderful LA vibe, insane baked goods and breakfast too!  We had dinner the one night we were in LA and came back the next morning for breakfast.  I see this as a local spot in my future.

We began with the toasts.  Huge fan of the toast concept.  Gives the chef a creative platform to experiment and try out new things every season.

avacado toastWe tried three of them.  All really delicious.  Avocado, pickled Fresno pepper, radish sprouts and sea salt.

heiloom Heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes with micro greens.

hotjellytoastHot pepper jelly with fresh herbs.  This was really different and outstanding.  I assume they make the jelly on the premises.  The jelly has a real kick.


In between the toasts and main courses we had one appetizer.  Fresh peaches, burrata, prosciutto and a thick balsamic vinegar.  This just screams summer is here.

burgerEach day there is a special that is noted on the menu.  I have always been a fan of that.  Makes the place feel local just on that alone.  They call it “nightly supper”.  My nieces both went for the burger which is Monday nights supper.

lambSomeone had the lamb.  Rotisserie leg of lamb thinly sliced with small dollops of a carrot yogurt sauce for dipping.

beefThe butchers steak.  Great cut of meat but a little sweet with the mixture of bone marrow bordelaise and onion agrodolce.

arcticcharSomeone else had the pork which was a roasted porchetta but the picture came out awful.  I went with the arctic char that is seared with snap peas, rhubarb and mint.  Really good.

bfastSuch a nice night.  Oh yes, breakfast.  They don’t make anything until 8pm but serve pastries, coffee and granola before then.  I heard the hazelnut cappuccino is a worthwhile try but I went for the standard black coffee drip. Fresh fruit with greek yogurt over a nutty granola.  Perfect way to start the day.

Looking forward to my next trip out to LA.

Mario and Fred

We met Mario Batali years ago through the kids.  Josh and his son were friends.  I have always been a fan of his.  He loves life like no other, he is incredibly smart and he is a lot of fun to hang with.

When Mario asked Fred to be on his show Fred asked me what I thought.  I told him to go for it.  It will be fun.  Here is the show.  I throughly enjoyed it.  I plan on watching the rest of the series.  Good stuff.

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