The changing landscape of music and education

images-1I spent the first semester of my junior year in college in London.  It was an incredible experience.  It was the first time I had been outside of the US.  It began my life long obsession with travel and that includes traveling in my own home town.  I made it a point to spend one day a week exploring new neighborhoods and going to a new museum.  It opened my eyes to the world.

The other thing to note that back then music traveled slower.  What was the latest and greatest that semester became the latest and greatest the semester I returned to Boston.  There was a delay of about six months in jumping over the Atlantic.  Now of course there is zero delay.  You can find and listen to music from all over the globe on Soundcloud and other music sites.  Technology has given musicians a platform to share their sounds with the world without having to land a deal with a record label.  Their audience might be huge or small and community can be built around that.

One thing that I was always fascinated by while I lived in England was how the country bred so many musicians.  Was is because of the education system?  I always thought it had to do with the youths reaction to the economy.  Britain’s first king was back in 924.  So the history is long.  At one point Britain ruled the world with their fingers in colonies throughout the globe.  Art comes from within but no doubt art can be reactionary to ones surroundings.

I happened to see this channel on NPR that highlights Americans from across the country playing their own music.  I doubt that there is anything on there that will go mainstream (although Death Cab for Cutie has a piece on there) but it is worth noting the surge of creativity happening across the US in music.  I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with the curriculum being taught in our public schools but a reaction to the world around us.

We are seeing a lot of creativity this days from music, food, art and companies being built.  It is a combo of open platforms of technology to built on and the mortgage downfall in 2008.  Whatever the reason, it is something I have been thinking about.

A project and interviews

images-2We are undergoing a few projects here at the Wilson house.  There is one that has become a bit of a family collaboration which is a really good thing.  Part of the process has been interviewing architects.  It has been really interesting.  We met four groups in one day.  I can’t help but compare it to the start-up world.  Although we talked about the same thing in each meeting, the conversations were all completely different and we learned a lot from each meeting.  Just like a founder goes out and talks to investors, from the angels at the start to the VC’s when different series take place, each meeting is different.  You connect with some, you don’t connect with others and you learn a lot along the way.

There were two comments made over the course of the day that I continue to think about.  We commented to one architect how his work does not have a theme, that most of his work looks different and that there appears to be a process to each that created different environments.  He said his biggest fear was losing that pursuit of new, new ideas and new concepts.  He told us a story about a good friend that he went to graduate school with who became a professor.  There was a professor that they both revered in graduate school.  His friend now teaches at the same institution that they went to.  He commented to him the other day “Remember that professor that we thought was so incredible and really inspired us well guess what, he is stuck in the 80’s”?  The architect that we were speaking to said that is his biggest fear becoming stuck in a time warp.

I think that the constant creativity and desire for pushing the envelope is something I always look for in an entrepreneur.  To be able to evolve your product, your team and your business is so important otherwise you hit a wall.  Most people hit walls at points.  People stop listening to new music and are super comfortable listening to the same artists that they listened to 30 years ago.  Some people are comfortable in the same haircut that they had at 20 for life.  Some people are happy with the same clothing that they wore in college even at 50.  I get it but from a business angle I want to see someone who is happy with change, they crave it.

Then this architect made a comment that really resonated on many levels.  He basically said that if he doesn’t feel uncomfortable during the process then he isn’t doing his job.  I believe that every founder should feel uncomfortable as they grow businesses because that forces you to be creative.  It is the mistakes, the failures, the sleepless nights, the uncertainty that creates great companies.  There are so many factors when you build something and if at every turn you feel completely as ease then you are not pushing for more.

What is the most interesting is how each architect went through the process of an idea to a home.  All the same but all so very different.  It was a fascinating day, a lot of think about and a great start to a long process.

Dietland

imgres-1Dietland, written by first time novelist Sarai Walker, is an interesting novel on many levels.   There is a crescendo through the book that slowly reveals itself to be more than a book about a 300 pound woman named Plum who is the main character of the book.  It is a feminist manifesto.  I would call it a femifesto.

The beginning of the book focuses on Plum who weighs 300 pounds and hides behind everything except for the skinny persona that she ghost writes for under for a teen magazine, like a Dear Abby column.  She answers questions to young women about rape, abuse, self destruction, lack of confidence etc.  She herself struggles with weight and the belief that her weight bleeds into everything else that is wrong with her life.  Regardless she is obviously intelligent and funny not whiny.

Plum has been saving to get her stomach stapled.  Her belief is that if she becomes thin everything wrong with her life will be fixed.  She ends up meeting a woman whose mother had started a Weight Watchers type of company that Plum had attended in her earlier years.  Her mother died and now her daughter is attempting to change the perception of self that each women who went through her Mothers program felt.  Her program clearly stated that you will only be happy if you are thin.  Her daughter feels that everyone should feel good about themselves and how they look no matter what.  Fat is not a four letter word.  It is an inspiring theme.  It is also a theme that appears to resonate with this generation.  Embrace who you are.

Fast forward, Plum gets pulled into a mysterious underground of women (or woman) that are operating under the name Jennifer.  This group wants to change the way that men (and women)  portray women as objects.  They want to change the way that women are treated; force magazines to stop putting women in scanty clothes on covers, stop porn, avenge rapists and adulterous men.  They want social change.  They could be categorized as terrorists but in their eyes they have been terrorized since they came out of the womb from not being paid as much as men for the same job, to having to justify some man not being arrested for sexual abuse or even rape, to walking by a construction site and being whistled at to watching women’s breasts drive by daily in an ad on the local bus.

The underground group starts to create change.  This movement is beyond pushing the boundaries but it characterizes a movement that is happening now.  Women who are graduating college today have had enough of not having an equal voice, equal pay, equal rights, and equal power.  Sarai Walker has written a thought provoking smart book that says a lot more than the paper it is printed on (or for that matter electronically written on).

A worthy read.

Lizzy Klein, Super Duper, Woman Entrepreneur

imgres-2I was introduced to Lizzy Klein by Nancy Lublin, a woman who I truly respect.  We also seem to have the same taste when it comes to women and business.  I took a look at what Lizzy is building (and has built), Super Duper, a platform where you can purchase the same high end brand make-up products for less.  The reality is that your favorite Chanel red nail polish is more than likely made at the same plant as the private label products sold by your local drugstore.

I spoke to Lizzy about her career.  Her career has always moved upward and forward.  Her experiences have all been interesting.  Then she came to that crossroad where she thought about all the information she has acquired and perhaps it made sense this time to do it herself.  This is a story about evolution as much as it is a story about becoming a woman entrepreneur.

Lizzy grew up in Columbia, Maryland when it was a really rural town.  She said she went to high school in the cornfields.  Her parents were both civil employees.  Her father worked for NSA most of his career.  Her mother worked for the EPA.  Lizzy spent her summers at camp until she began to work in summers including a stint in high school at the cosmetic counter at Woodward and Lothrop.

She graduated high school and went to Cornell where she majored in textile and apparel management.  She did not go abroad but spent one semester of her senior year working for Marc Jacobs as an intern.  He was at Perry Ellis at the time perfecting the grunge look.  For the girl coming from Maryland who ended up at Cornell which was an eye opener being in NYC and working in the fashion industry was even more so.

After graduating in 1992 she took a job at Guess Jeans with the Marciano Brothers.  She just knew she wanted to be in the business  fashion.  One of the things that these jobs required, unwittingly, were results.  As a merchandiser everything is based on results.  It is one of the things that I have always loved about the business.  You can sink or swim quickly.  You become scrappy.  Lizzy would show up in a store and think about how to drive more sales from the second she hit the floor.  Do we do give aways to employees, should we set up a separate store inside a store, should we show the merchandise in a certain way, etc.  She oversaw merchandising for NY, Connecticut and NJ.  She quickly realized that she was working about 3 times as hard as everyone else in her job because of the territory she oversaw and realized it was never going to get any better.  She left and took a job with a competitor, Pepe Jeans.

At Pepe she moved into sales.  She wanted to understand the business from a different angle.  It was a little crazy back then.  There were drugs, drinking and anything else you can imagine in the workplace.  The jeans business was a wild business back then.  I remember that from my Macy’s days.  She stayed for about a year until they evolved into something else and she got a call from Time Warner.

Her uncle had a business in the cable industry and had passed on her name.  Time Warner was launching Dream Shop that was part of Catalog One, on demand television shopping.  Nobody there really understood merchandising.  She had a great woman boss there who realized that Lizzy was underutilized.  She told her bosses that they should think about taking this concept of  on demand shopping through TV and put it on the Internet.  What started as Catalog One became something else.  She worked with Razorfish to execute on a plan.  She began to work with multiple catalogs and put them on line.  It was one of the places where you did everything from soup to nuts.  One day you would be working on Unix and the next day you would be working on customer service.  It was a wild ride and a great opportunity.  The only problem was her Mom was probably their number one customer and that was certainly not sustainable.

She was then recruited by MSNBC in a job around content.  Lizzy cared more about commerce than content but wanted to learn about that angle.  She took the job as a content manager for MSNBC.  She would provide content for television programming and her counterpart in Seattle was creating new content.  They were quasi-producers.  She takes credit for the first time that Tom Brokaw said and you can go check this out online.  The content online that he was driving viewers to was the top ten dangerous driving spots which were relevant to you in your area.  They had created an interactive map.  It was the first time that any major network said you can go check this out online. Nobody really had a sense then of how big that was.

She was then recruited to work at Starmedia, which she says was the wildest ride of her career.  I can attest to that because my husband was an investor in Starmedia.  I knew all the players.  They were all smart, driven and believed that they were changing the world.  Lizzie was the director of Ecommerce.  She came on just as they were starting to partner with companies in Latin America.  When her boss went on maternity leave she took over all of content and ecommerce with the plan that she’d move into biz dev when her boss came back.  That side of the business had 300 plus people working all over Latin America. What they did was continue to restructure based on some of the men in Latin America who could not deal with reporting to a woman.  She finally had enough and told them.  They then put Lizzy in a job where she could start to source out companies to purchase.  She found a software company in Canada that powered one of their competitors that they ended up buying because they needed that software.  This was a time when they had raised an insane amount of money and were just rolling up companies into the main company, Starmedia.  Fast forward, the economy tanks, the ad market tanks, the company gets into major financial trouble and it is time to go.

It is 2001.  Her father dies suddenly.  It was a tough year and the wild ride needed to come to an end.  After three years at Starmedia it was time to take a year off.  She returns to the business world in 2002 taking a job at About.com.  At About.com she worked on advertisers paying for placement ads based on the content.  They owned a few patents around this.  It was gave her great experience and a deep understanding of the search engine marketing world.  About.com was acquired by Google who did not buy the team but the product.  She stayed just doing some consulting work before ending up at Waterfront Media in Dumbo.

Waterfront Media became Everyday Health.  The model was all subscription based.  Lots of product challenges.  WebMD was already in the market and so they had to be different.  They became the top 5 health property today with a lot less money than their counterparts.  The business was internet publishing which looked a lot like the book business.  Running a web development company just was not that interesting to Lizzy as working with customers and so she moved on.

Zagat recruited her to be the General Manager of Interactive.  Being the head of product was interesting because Zagat had an interesting brick and mortar business but they were yet to figure it out online.  She was there a few years before they sold to Google.

She left Zagats to go work at Folica.  Folica is a private company in the cosmetics space.  She helped relaunch the brand that was driven by paid search.  She realized that they were never going to get the big players to give them products such as L’Oreal so even though it is a profitable business it was time for her to leave after two years because she got the call from Seamless.

Seamless gave Lizzy the opportunity to work with a product that she already personally using in a big way.  It was extremely challenging opportunity as they were working with an old technology platform but when you have a passionately engaged audience it makes the experience unique.  It was the smartest group of people she had worked with since Starmedia and it felt great to be back with that.  Someone gave her some advice during that time which is you only have to right 51% of the time.  It transformed the way she did her job.  I love that advice.  Lizzy saw the merger of Seamless and Grub Hub coming.  She knew she would no longer be in the board meetings and so it was time to move on.

This is when she thought to herself about how many companies she had worked at and how she worked so hard to make them all successful.  She talked to so many people about possible CEO roles.  Super Duper had been in her head for about the last 5 years.  Perhaps it was time to just do it herself.  She started building the product last October and launched it in March.  It is about bringing transparency to the beauty product industry.  She has had press from Pop Sugar and Allure.  The app is free and has been dowloaded over 7500 times.   The question is where does this business go.  How does it grow into something big.  Lizzy is working on figuring that out now.

What I love about this story is the evolution of Lizzie’s career.  I can totally relate to her thoughts about making others successful with hard work and know-how.  At one point, as Lizzie discovered, it is time to do it for yourself.  Here is the beauty of that.  It is doesn’t work there is always a very lucrative fall back situation in all the companies that called her for possibly being a CEO.

 

 

There is a movement going on

images-3One of the best things about summer is that as a family we do a lot of hanging.  People laugh when I say we don’t leave our beach house but it is basically the truth.  The house becomes an endless vacation to unwind and talk.  The kids bring their friends, we have big dinners, drink lots of wine, read a lot of books and many discussions around culture, politics, books, business and more.

This weekend someone brought up what is happening in the Los Angeles art world.  The art world in Los Angeles is burgeoning.  It is a combination of things.  Cost of space, growth of the downtown area, new opportunities and with that a community of young artists is built.  There is also the ability for many to pursue their dreams without coming from a family with deep pockets.  You can figure out how to make it work through the shared economy.  You can get funded through Kickstarter, you can rent out your place on Airbnb for a few nights to make your monthly nut work, you can become a part-time driver for multiple companies and then there is always the classic waiter/waitress/bartender job but that isn’t the only thing anymore.

That conversation turned into  that we all see that there is a movement afoot.  It isn’t only with the arts.  It is with food.  It is with music.  It is with new companies.  It is with non-profits.  It is with everything.  People are ready for change.  It could be the long tail of the banking industry disaster, it could be the advent of technology, it could be the knee jerk reaction to hovering helicopter parents who pushed their kids to be something that did not necessarily fit with who they are.  Whatever it is we are definitely living in a time where change is happening.

You can see it in the political arena too.  Gay marriage has been legalized.  Weed is slowly becoming legal in every state.  The confederate flag came down.  People are calling out police for behavior once swept under the carpet.  Women are calling out sexual assaults on campus and pointing directly to the ones that did it without fear.  Going to college is changing based on the overwhelming debt that people have to take on.  We saw the MFA’s at USC protest, walk out and perhaps the closing of the program.  GW just announced no more SAT or ACT’s needed to apply and other schools have come before them.  We are seeing people of all ages come out and support Bernie Sanders on one side and Donald Trump on the other.  That is a reaction from nasty politics where money has taken over our system.  It isn’t so much about the people but about politicans staying in power and the people with the deepest pockets making that happen to benefit their own agendas.  People have had enough and with that comes a change in behavior.

You can’t have a movement without history.  We discussed what is happening with McDonalds.  For the first time in the history they are closing more stores than opening them.  How J. Crew is losing market share and profits.  How this generation would rather buy from Amazon Prime than walk in the store for a pair of sneakers.  How everyone in our house under 30 is reading from paperbacks vs kindles.

Bottom line…there is a movement and I am looking forward to see where this all goes.  Let’s hope gun control is leading this movement towards change.

Defying the Odds

I was inspired that Obama walked through a jail and then pardoned more than a few people who he felt had served their time.  Second chances are important.  Then Catherine Hoke of Defy Ventures shared this video with me.  I had to share.

Ratatouille

ratatoI am going to work on better photo taking of food this summer.  Summer is where I do a lot of cooking and in turn post a few recipes.

A good ratatouille is a combination of great produce and the kitchen sink.  You can add or subtract anything you want in it.  Here is the one that I made this week.  I might have to make it again but I can guarantee it will never be quite the same.

One of the key things is to sauteing each vegetable separately and then setting it aside in a large bowl until the bowl is filled with each vegetable you want in the dish.  At one point I added some red chili flakes to the oil to spice things up.  I also put in a new bunch of basil leaves with stems into each batch of vegetables.  Both of these things add flavor.  Salt and pepper as you go along too.  In the end I tossed in cold chopped tomatoes and chopped fresh basil.  You can serve this room temperature or warm.

In a very large deep saute pan cover the bottom with olive oil.  These vegetables are in the order of what I used below.

Large eggplants

Small eggplants (thin long pieces that came from an organic farm)

Sweet onions cut into cubes

Small green and yellow squash (small short round pieces that also came from an organic farm)

Red peppers cubed

Corn kernels (cut from the cob)

Tomatoes

Basil

Great with anything!

 

ROI of women

imagesI have read many articles about the impact of women in businesses, women-led businesses and of course women in general.  Someone asked me the other day if change is afoot.  I said if we are having the conversation then something is happening.  We weren’t even talking about the frustration of women entrepreneurs and women in business a decade ago like we are today.

The frustrations can be the same as men when growing a business but not when it comes to raising capital or someone being dismissive about taking time out for a family, or getting pregnant or the sexual comments that get made time and time again in a meeting.  As an optimist I feeling good about the future of women in business.

I have said several times that when more women take a company public, sell their companies and become household names because of that, things will change.  There are plenty of women entrepreneurs coming up the pike who are going to get there and that will change everything for the next generation of women.

One woman that I invested in a few years ago who is an incredibly determined driven entrepreneur sent me this information yesterday.  It is really interesting and also not surprising.  More than anything it was good to see written by someone in black and white by someone who is an analyst.  The information is below.

Women’s Growing Economic Influence

U.S. women accounted for about 47% of total hours worked but only 42% of wages earned in 2013. Despite this, women influenced approximately 80% of U.S. consumer spending in 2013, suggesting nearly a 2x multiplier of earnings vs. purchasing power.  Women’s earnings in the US economy have been growing faster than men’s for the past decade and this trend should continue for the foreseeable future because it is being driven by several trends, including:

  • Since 1960, women’s participation in the work force has grown from 35% to 53%.
  • Women’s wage gap narrowed from 62% of men’s pay in 1979 to 82% in 2013.
  • The disparity between college educated women and men has widened, with 44% of women 18-25 versus 38% of men attending college. College graduates in the US earn $2.1MM over their lifetime, nearly double the $1.1MM earned by the average high school graduate.
  • Women are having fewer children, later in life, which keeps them in the full time labor force longer.
  • Women’s life expectancies are elongating, reaching 81 years in 2013, 5 years longer than men’s.

 

Because men in many households turn their paychecks over to women to spend, 80% of women state that they are the primary decision maker for “most” or “all” purchasing decisions. According to a 2013 study, women in the US accounted for 89%-93% of spending in the following categories:

  • 93% of Food Decisions
  • 93% of OTC Pharmaceuticals Decision
  • 92% of Vacations
  • 91% of New Home Purchases
  • 89% of Bank Accounts

 

Investment Implications

We are buyers of companies that focus on products and services that target women, especially online time-saving applications. We are most optimistic about social and mobile online alternatives.  In our coverage universe, investment ideas from this work include:

  1. Since 2002, women have spent 25% more money in 14% less time, aided by online shopping. This bodes well for online shopping solutions like RATE and TRIP.
  2. Women spend more time on social media, and their purchase decisions are highly influenced by their friends. This elevates the value of social sites. We recommend FB.
  3. Women use mobile devices more than men, so companies with mostly mobile revenue, like P and FB, should garner more upside as women’s purchasing power grows.
  4. Proliferating screens make women harder to reach for advertisers. This should increase the value of NLSN, SCOR and RENT because they measure audiences and find women.
  5. Women are aging, which increases demand for financial services like RATE.

 

more on Dream, Girl

I met Erin when she began the journey of making this film, Dream, Girl.  I wanted this film to get made from the very get-go.  I reached out to her when I watched the Kickstarter campaign get underway.  I tweeted, I shared and gave her advice on how to hit her goal.  I was thrilled when she did.  I was also honored to be asked to be in this film.

Erin came back to me with the updates on the film and asked if I knew some people who would be interested in putting money into her film to get it over the line.  I said I would and I have pulled in a few other women.   This video was just released about the film, there will be more before the actual film is premiered.  Every time I watch one of these clips I get teary.  They are powerful and that is why I got involved.

If you watch this and feel the same way and have any interest in supporting this film financially…there is still some room for a few other investors.  Reach out to me directly.  Now watch the clip.

Toro

One of the best things about NYC in the summertime is that you can pretty much walk into most restaurants and get a seat.  Toro is not far from our apartment but have yet to get there until now.  The place is huge so it is impressive how booked they have been.  Kind of has that 80’s big restaurant feel with a now decor.  There are two rooms.  One in the back were the kitchen is and then one in the back where the bar is.  They probably have 150 seats in there including the bar.  Toro is another restaurant that has come from Boston.  Supposedly the one in Boston is small and intimate like most tapas bars are.

jambonThe menu is really large.  My guess is there are some really amazing things and some just ok things.  I’d go back and try some different things and possibly sit at the bar next time.  Some of our tastes were really good while others were just ok.  We started with the classic Iberico Ham.  It was good  We should have ordered some cheese to go with it.  I would have been interested in trying other hams too.  They have them all.

spoonsOur next treat was a spoonful of caviar, sea urchin, quail egg and iberico jambon.  It was the egg that made everything come together.  Obviously rich but it all worked.

bocharonesWe are suckers for boquerones, aka marinated sardines.  When we are in Spain we attempt to eat them daily and sometimes twice a day.  These just did not cut it.  Super small, coated with a salty dressing.

tunaYellowfin tuna with soy, spicy cucumbers and an avocado cream.  The tuna wasn’t sliced right and that made it not as good.

octoBoiled and then grilled octopus with charred onions and tiny potatoes.  The potatoes were amazing.  Crispy on the outside and soft in the inside.  The octopus was meaty yet buttery and the onions on top worked.

duckDrum legs.  The concept is great but the duck was cooked too long.  Tasted a bit like pastrami.

sunsetWe strolled home (that was the point) just as the sun was setting.   It was ok not great but I’d go back and try a few other things.  There are probably some winners in there…perhaps the paella.