Posts from musings

Mother May I?

imgresI just got a huge box of my monthly mags from NYC.  Hours of fun.   The New Yorker has an article in it called Mother May I?  It is about some kids, 10 and 6, who were walking home alone in Silver Spring, MD.  Someone decided that it was not ok and called the cops.  The cops and another 5 patrol cars showed up at the home of the parents and essentially reprimanded the father.

There are so many questions I have here.  At what point did other people start deciding what is appropriate and what isn’t…aka stepping into another parents territory.  Also, when did parents stop letting kids be outside by themselves?

I remember when I was 6 years old I decided to run away.  My parents were fine with it.  I told them where I was going.  I walked up the street to the strip mall where there was also a gas station just a little father down the road.  I continued past the gas station and all of a sudden my Dad showed up.  He berated me for going past the mall and I reminded him that I was running away and could do anything I want.  I look back and actually give them a lot of credit for letting me take off at 6.  We were living in Los Angeles and it was on Roscomare Road.

The article describes a woman who started a group called the Free-Range Kids.  Her movement is committed to rolling back the helicopter era of parents.  I am all for it.  I am not so sure that our kids are in anymore danger than they were 30 years ago.  We just read more about it.  Now they actually have access to everyone with a phone so it might be safer.

Years ago when Jessica was 11 and in 6th grade I let her navigate the subway system for the first time by herself.   She had began navigating the street at the end of 5th grade. Her school has intramural basketball games and the kids would have to get permission to walk over to the high school to play.  Once they began that freedom it was the beginning of most of the kids walking the city and getting to and from school themselves.  It was empowering and life altering for them.

Jessica had something after school and her piano recital was on 57th street.  I don’t remember all the details but I decided to meet her there.  Logistically it made sense and she was ready.  She had a metro card.  We talked about it.  Fred showed up at the recital wondering where Jessica was and I told him she was going to meet us there.  He freaked.  I was confident.  Sure enough Jessica showed up with zero problems and after that she was pretty comfortable navigating her own town.

That was until she took the subway in 7th grade all the way out to the last stop on the L and called me to tell me that she probably shouldn’t be so cavalier about walking those streets solo particularly when it got dark.  She was right.  It was 2003.  She had become street savvy because she too was a Free-Range Kid.  How else do you learn?

The Balance Project

Susie Schnall is the woman behind the Balance Project.  Balance is one of my fave topics so I was happy to be interviewed for this.  I am in very good company of interviewees.  Being number 55 was an honor.  Loved the questions too.  Here is my interview below.

No. 55: Joanne Wilson, Investor and Blogger

Age: 52
Where I live:
 New York City
Job: Angel Investor, Blogger of Gotham Gal, and Co-Chair Women’s Entrepreneur Festival
Kids: Two daughters (21 and 23) and a son (18)

joanne_wilson-HR-8059Is the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
I have had several careers. I was in the retail/wholesale business at the beginning of my career and left that after our daughters were 3 and 1. I spent a few years home before figuring out the next step of my career. I ended up being involved in a company that was reporting on the start of the Internet age. It was the mid-90s. That link to the tech community is where I stayed, although shifting into an investor and blogger about ten years ago.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
What does having “it all” really mean? Life is long. Each segment of your life, even from the time you are in college, starts you on a path where the dots all connect. You learn from one experience that you bring to the next experience. And if you are lucky you have a family and make some really good friends along the way.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
Thinking about “balance” is something I have grappled with my entire career. It takes thought to have a career, taking time for yourself and raising a family at the same time. You have to work at it.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
As my children have grown up and begun to build their own lives it becomes easier as I no longer have that daily responsibility. It isn’t so much about balance but the amount of time to do everything I want to do.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance from your mother?
“Do what works for you. If you are happy, your kids will be happy.” It was life changing.

If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
I’d spend it reading, going to a museum, seeing a movie, doing something educational around the arts.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
That nothing is standard. You can create your own path.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
I am entrepreneurial. I can’t imagine having to report to someone. It has never suited me well, and I realized that early on.

Favorite books?
I am a voracious reader. There are a few faves over the years such as: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt,Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer to name a few.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished three books: I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and Diane von Furstenberg’s autobiography The Woman I Wanted to Be. All good.

Biggest food vice? All food is a vice. I was raised to enjoy good food. Going out to the latest restaurant and cooking good meals is part of my daily life. Figuring out how to keep my eyes smaller than my stomach is the challenge.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
I sleep a good 8 hours a night. Sleep is important.

What do you read every morning?
I read The New York Times front to back every morning before doing the crossword puzzle.

My kids: are my greatest joy. Watching them grow into young adults, building their own friendships, seeing their never-ending curiosity for life and knowledge is beyond words.

Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the things I am most proud of is my endless support for not only entrepreneurs but for women entrepreneurs. I have not only supported women through investing in their visions (70% of my portfolio companies are started by women) but have co-founded with Nancy Hechinger the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival celebrating women entrepreneurs

Lots of tasting in LA

I have said many times that I am insanely spoiled when it comes to food.  My Mom was an excellent cook, my Grandmother was an insane baker.  I love doing both and have been practicing both since I was young.  We live in NYC where the food is so good that sometimes the meals are better here than the countries that the recipes are derived from.

We are out in LA until the weather thaws in NYC.  I miss my city but I do not miss the cold.  Maybe it is just old age of I have just become a wimp.

We are making the food rounds in LA.  I do not want to shoot down everywhere we go but have yet to have that many great meals.  I did love Rustic Canyon and thought Smoke Salt Oil was good too.  We are on the westside of LA so driving 45 minutes for a new place seems utterly ridiculous to me so we aren’t doing much of that.

farmhousestoreWe drove to the Brentwood Country Mart and dined at Farmshop.  Loved the space.  Nice local place to pick up cheese, wines, sandwiches, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Didn’t love the food.

scallopsHad the scallops for dinner.  Nothing we had was over the top.  Maybe it isn’t meant to be.

gjunaI have also been to Gjusta, the third spot opened from the expanding Gjelina empire.  I loved Gjelina when it first opened.  The space at Gjusta is amazing.  Maybe we got the wrong thing but I was not blown away by the salads or the rotisserie chicken that made me thirsty the rest of the day.

shoreWe took a ride up to the Malibu Farm for lunch.  The location is amazing.  You overlook surfers heaven.

malibustoreThere is a small shop across the way that you can wander in to if someone holds you a spot on line.  You have to stand in line and order at the register.  They give you a number to take with you and place on your table.  Eventually your meal comes.

saladThe food wasn’t great.

I continue to seek out new places.  Is it the NYer in me that is having a tough time?


Spend time in places where you are uncomfortable

imgres-2I have been making the rounds in Los Angeles meeting companies that I am invested in out here.  It is really nice to have an in-person meeting in their hood vs mine.  I am also going by the offices to meet with the team.  I admit that I do not do that often enough in NYC.  It is truly about time and I believe that I do know how I best serve the companies that I invest in and although it would be great to meet everyone it is not always that easy.

I was at an office this past week and we were talking about entering unfamiliar territories.  It reminded me of some incredible advice I got years ago.  Not sure who gave it to me but it has served me well over the years.

When I was an assistant store manager at Macys in New Rochelle I was responsible for a third of the store.  My territory was all of women’s apparel and cosmetics.  It was really the ultimate job.  I absolutely loved having six managers report to me.  I got to teach them the ropes and that included everything from analyzing their businesses, getting rid of dated inventory, turning their floors around daily, speaking with their buyers, doing scheduling, etc.  It might have been one of my favorite jobs ever.

I was a cosmetics manager and an assistant buyer in Young Collector which is essentially moderate priced women’s clothing.  I understood cosmetics from a management perspective in the store.  I understood Young Collector as a buyer.

The advice I was given was simple.  The person said that you will more than likely spend all your time in cosmetics because it is comfortable and you understand it.  Don’t do that.  Spend as little time as possible in cosmetics.  You can get done what you need in that area in very little time because you already know it.  Spend all your time in the areas that you nothing about.  Put yourself into places where it is uncomfortable.  You will learn from that and in the end you will come out on the other end more knowledgeable and seasoned about a lot more than you did walking in.

Great advice that can certainly be applied to start-up businesses.  Entrepreneurs who get product should push themselves to spend time in sales.  Entrepreneurs who get sales should push themselves to spend more time in product.  In the end they will be smarter about their business and the people who are working for them

Texting and driving

imagesThere are so many rules to driving on the road.  Do not drink and drive is the number one thing that parents say to kids when they first get behind the wheel.  MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) began in 1980 by Caroline Lightner whose 13 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver.  They have been the forefront on educating the public about drunk driving.  Drunk driving has been cut in half since they began.  I am not a fan of the law that this group pushed through congress to move the drinking age to 21 from 18 as the long tail affects of that on college campuses have not been positive.  Yet I am a fan of sobriety checkpoints, breathalyzers and drunk driving laws.

Fast forward 30 years the landscape has changed.  People are educated on drunk driving.  There is now Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and others that has created access to hiring a driver to take you somewhere and home without ever having to get into a car after having a drink.

There is also texting.  I recently read a book called A Deadly Wandering, A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention.  An excellent book about a young man who killed two rocket scientists in Utah because he veered into the left lane when he was texting.  Every other chapter tells of the toll that accident took on him and the families of both men who were husbands and fathers in the car that he hit.  The other chapters are about the research that has been conducted for years on attention.  The effect of technology on the brain and the desire to get that text and read it.

So when our kids began to drive they already knew that they shouldn’t drink and drive.  What we drove home more than anything is don’t text and drive.  It only takes a millisecond of taking your eyes off the road and having an accident that could be tragic.

I have heard so many stories of texting tragedies on the road.  For what?  What was the importance of that message vs taking a human life or your own.  It couldn’t wait?  Maybe it is time that MADD think about adding on to their agenda.  They have educated the public in countless ways.  This issue could be worse.

I am a founder, I just got funded and I am pregnant

imgres-1More than a few times had I have founders tell me almost sheepishly that they were pregnant.  My answer is always the same, congratulations that is fantastic.

Then comes the concerns.  How should I tell my team?  Should I prepare everyone for the time I am gone?  How do I tell the board?  What should the maternity leave policy be because we don’t have one.  What what what what?

Women are having children later.  They are having children in their prime working years.  I have told countless women not to put their personal life on hold for their business life.  They will regret it.  Hundreds of years ago women were having babies while they ran the farms.  They were back bailing hay and churning butter in no time.  The content is just different.  They figured it out and we can too.

My advice to all of these women on how to tell your company, your board or the team is just state the facts plain and simple.  I am pregnant, this is when I am due and back to work.  We live in a world where our business lives blur with our personal lives.  A mother will come back to work if companies embrace them instead of punishing them.  Help families figure out childcare…one of the biggest problems in returning to work.  Let men stay home for an extended time too.  We should support families.

Women can get pregnant and have children.  That is the circle of life.  Men can not.  Being able to bring new people into the world should be a positive not a negative.  Companies should figure out how everyone can feel good about that.  If they can it will be a win win for everyone.

the art of a phone call

imgresI read Mark Suster’s piece called It’s Soft King More Effective to Pick Up the Phone and started thinking about what he wrote.  He is right, millennials are totally allergic to phone calls.   Yet sometimes you have to just pick up the phone.  Email and text can communicate but nuances are lost particularly when you need to get a point across in a particular way.   Many times I end up having my first conversation with someone on the phone about their business.  It is not the easiest if you are not phone friendly.  There is a skill to it.  Focus, listen, answer the questions, engage as if the person was sitting there in front of you.

I had this conversation with my daughter.  She had interviewed over 50 people on the phone.  At the beginning it was not the easiest thing but she got better over time.  She is a texting generation kid.  Quick, short, to the point.  I love to hear my kids voices but I can tell that phone isn’t their most favored way of communication.  It doesn’t come easy talking into some instrument with some other voice on the other end.

I grew up with the phone.  We had one phone number in our house.  I remember as if was yesterday when we go the second line.  It was a gift for Chanukah.  This phone starting ringing.  My sister, my brother and me went crazy running around trying to find the phone.  We finally found it tucked under the bottom stairs to the basement around the corner from our TV hang out room.  The cord was long enough that we could actually pull it into the room.  I would spend hours and hours on the phone.  My sister spent so many hours on the phone with camp friends in the off -season and my Mom freaked when she got the bill.  Who knew talking on the phone could be so expensive.

Just like kids face time or skype each other and talk endlessly to the point where it is if they are just hanging in the same room together it was the same thing with the phone.  I would spend hours talking about nothing.  Sometimes we would just breath.

Maybe it was all the years of phone calls that taught me the skills of networking.  Who knows but the art of communication is never going away.  We might all be using different devices but you do have to figure out the best way to communicate clearly on each one.  Sometimes it is important to just pick up the phone or skype because the message doesn’t come across quite as clear when it comes to a text.


images-1There is nothing like getting validation.  It can be about anything.  For instance…you look great today, this is an amazing meal you made, I love what you did with your house.   It could also be like this when it comes to business.  Your business mades sense.  You are on to something.  You are doing the right thing by moving in that direction.

Not sure why but for some reason but women crave validation in a very different way than men.  This is purely an observation I have made.  I see it at the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival.  Having a room of 400 women applauding each other at some level creates this inspiring powerful feeling that women definitely do well with.  Men are happy to get it but they don’t need it as much to empower them.

On the other hand, the women of the millennial generation are very supportive of each other.  When I was growing up in business women had very sharp elbows.  Maybe because I was at an all-women’s college but I even see that women’s friendships now are different than they were.  Women cheerlead each other in a way that feel good.

The many women entrepreneurs I work with reach out to me when it comes to working through different things.  Sometimes they just need validation that what they are doing makes sense.  It is like getting a second opinion.

Perhaps more men do this than I have noticed but it just happens differently.  Personally, as a woman, nothing wrong with a little validation now and then.

When did we start buying so many clothes?

imagesThis past week we went down to LACMA (Los Angles County Museum of Art) to see a few exhibits.  One of the exhibits was Hollywood Costume Exhibit.  It was fun to see all the different costumes that actually had been worn on movies from Wizard of Oz to Stars Wars to The Titanic.   Some of the displays had the actors talking about the impact that the clothing made on shaping their characters.

Meryl Streep had a section with the clothes she wore from many of her movies. She’s such an incredible actor.  Anyway, she said something that really stuck with me.  She spoke about the outfit she wore in Kramer vs Kramer.  They made a decision that as a woman who just left her family, had very little cash, that it really made sense for her to stick to one outfit.  Makes sense.  What Streep said added was that in those times nobody had lots of clothes.

Made me start thinking.  I always liked clothes and fashion.  Those roots run deep.  I think of the days in the late 70’s and my Mom’s wardrobe.  She wore a lot of stuff over and over.  It isn’t like today where people have a lot more clothes.  Nothing really happened around the idea of sustainable clothing.  Not even sure what that would mean.

There is an abundance of stores and more than there ever was vs the 70’s.  The department stores owned all the market share then.  The Gap started in 1969 and was expanding heavily in the mid-late 70’s.  It ate into the marketshare of department stores.  Other concepts of singular free standing stores started to surge.  There were the teen stores, the mens suit stores, etc.  It diminished the market for the department stores who then started the discount craze of one-day sales and alike but all those clothes and options changed the way people shop.  How much they shop and how much they buy.

Not sure where I am going with this but it would be an interesting research topic to see based on income how the consumption of clothing has changed.  At one point people wore the same jeans until they literally fell apart.  Some still do but not like they did.


imgresFrank Bruni wrote a piece in the NYX this past Sunday titled The Vaccine Lunacy.  I love his editorials but this one was so spot on and the title in itself says it all.

I have written about this topic before.  Why has mostly an upper middle class group of educated people made the decision that it is ok not to vaccinate their children?  Are they not clued in on history?  Are they oblivious to the reasons that vaccinations exist?  Is it the fear of autism although if you look at the odds vs how many people get immunized it is almost nil.  Is it an attitude of I can do whatever I want.  I am a crazy overbearing parent who is so entitled that I can choose whatever I want for my child?  I could continue forever but I will take a breather.

I honestly do not know the answer but there has been an outbreak of measles recently in California that has spread to other parts of the country because of people not immunizing their children.  I can’t help myself but rant on this one.

There was a tweet that I retweeted over the weekend that I thought was appropriate.  If my kid can’t bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn’t be able to bring preventable diseases.  

When you take your kids to school they make you have all your medical records on file at the school or your child can not attend.  I believe that some people might get a pass from a doctor for “religious beliefs” in regards to not getting their kid immunized.  If your kid isn’t immunized then you should be forced to home school them.  It is not ok to expose the rest of the world to these parents insanity.  Their kids will eventually grow up and most of them will realize that they have left them exposed to diseases that should have been wiped off the planet a long long time ago.