Posts from musings


imgresSomeone asked me if I had ever encountered racism.  I thought about it a second and a particular event came rushing back to me.  It was a one time occurrence but it made me think about how terrible it must be to endure that time and time again just because of who you are, where you came from, what you look like from a random person who makes a judgement due to their own prejudices.

For me it was in college.  My then boyfriend had two really good friends who were from a small town on Cape Cod.  We were living in Boston and drove there for a warm spring weekend.  We were going to stay at one of the guys girlfriends house.  We both knew her and had spent time with her over the year.

We got to the house and met the parents.  I felt uncomfortable the second I stepped foot in the house.  The parents sized me up and I could see in their eyes that I did not look like their friends.  I am Jewish.

They began to interrogate me.  Where was I from?  How was it possible we all met?  I knew exactly where they were going.  I wanted to ask them what did they really want to know.  I felt like saying would you like to see my horns?  I have never felt so uncomfortable somewhere.  All I wanted to do was get out of there.  I could barely breath.

We were supposed to stay for dinner and spend the night.  I refused.  I told my boyfriend that I would not stay the night there.  I felt unsafe.  I am sure it would have been fine but I didn’t feel at ease until we were in the car and out of their neighborhood.

It is a moment that I had not thought about for years.  Yet when someone asked me if I had ever encountered racism it was unbelievable how quickly that came rushing back to my brain.  Think about how awful it must be to have to endure that often.  You probably become numb to it and put up a wall that has a hard time every coming down.

What is happening now with the Syrian refugees is what spurred on the conversation.  Most of these people are people who just want to have a roof over their head, food on their place, access to medicine and a place that they can raise their families.  Our friends became Canadian citizens after living in Canada for decades.  It was time.  The last part of the process was that you had to come in for an entire morning and discuss with groups of people who were also getting their citizenship what the most important thing about becoming a Canadian citizen is.  My friend figured economic security, opportunity to do something of value for the country.  The answer among all the people in the roof was safety.  After hearing from many of them how they had got to Canada he said he looked around the room of people from all over the globe and almost cried.  Think about that, the most powerful thing to all these people was that they were now safe.

I think about how lucky we are all to sit down to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families knowing that we have a roof over our head and food at the table. We should really be thinking about all the refugees around the globe who are looking to have the same experience as us, to be with friends and family around a table filled with food and to be thankful for the ability to lead the lives that they want to live.

Sexting in a small Colorado town..and possibly more

imagesThe news that over 300 high school students, some even in 8th grade, were involved in a sexting ring.  No surprises that the root of the “sexting ring” was the football team.  There really is no crime here because it appears as they all did this voluntarily.  Each state is different on this but what is most important is to ask the question why is this happening?

Another recent case was the prep school boy and a young girl who said she was raped.  The young man will serve some time.  What is fascinating is that he told the judge that the frat boys referred to the girls as cum-buckets.  It appeared as if they all looked at women as just objects more than anything else.  Why?

I heard of a story that happened more than 5 years ago of a young girl who had a party and asked her parents not to come downstairs while everyone was over.  The mother decided to do it anyway and found everyone downstairs naked, sitting in a circle and her daughter in the middle giving some boy a blowjob.  Why?

Social media is pervasive and kids are impressionable.  From the movies to the selfies to the ads that portray sex in a way that isn’t necessarily real.  This all comes down to educating kids.  Our kids went to a school where sex-ed starting in 5th grade and continued all the way thru high school.  Different topics based on the age but in the middle school it was the head of the school who taught it.  It makes an impact when there are open conversations because sex is a conversation.  Not everybody wants the same thing.

There are conversations now taking places on college campuses about what consent means.  It is amazing how many don’t know.  Sex education needs to start young.  We talk to our kids about drugs and alcohol.  We should talk to our kids about sex too.  We should not be shielding our children from the topic. My friend started a crisis-text line that is available 24/7 to help kids in crisis.  Maybe someone should start one for sex education.

Sex is out there on the web in force and based on what happened in the town in Colorado, there wasn’t a lot of conversation going on.  Decades ago people would laugh and say that they heard about sex from their older siblings or a kid at school, but now they heard and learned about it on their phone.  Probably not the best place for an education on sex.


564668481400006f023cac76I can’t stop thinking about Paris as I am sure many others can’t either.  How could people have so much anger at the world to kill innocent people?  What happened that made people want to be a part of a terrorist group where their lives are so unhappy that becoming a human bomb and killing themselves doesn’t matter?  Where do we go from here?  How do we unite as a world to stop this?  As parents how can we feel safe for our families?

The questions are endless.  It is impossible to wrap my head around this.  My heart bleeds for every person who has been touched by this heinous crime.  I am at a loss as most of us are.

Portrait of a Modern Family

images-2There was a great article in the NYTimes this week called; Stressed, Tired, Rushed; A Portrait of a Modern Family.  It was based on a new piece of research from the Pew Center survey.  Nearly 50% of all children will grow up in a family where both parents work.  That is a huge shift from decades ago, 30% difference compared to 1970.  60% of children now live in households where the parents work either full or part-time. The shift has a lot to do with economics but it also has to do with women pursuing their own careers and not wanting to get off the work train for life.  There are also a slew of options for women that were not available 30 years ago.

Not surprising is that college educated parents had the hardest time of trying to do it all.  They are finding it hard to be a caring and present parent, be productive at work and also have a relationship with their spouse.  There are only 24 hours in the day.  The majority of the workplace structure has not caught up to the world we live in today.

Women still do the lion share of the work in the family even though they carry half the income weight.  There are plenty of companies being built to make life easier for the family such as Hop Skip Drive or Kitchensurfing or the beauty of Amazon prime.  Some companies are waking up to flexibility in the workplace too.  Yet this is a social dilemma that should be thought about more and pushed to change from a Government policy perspective too.

Every working mother founder that I spoke to after reading this article all said the same thing.  They felt that they were not doing anything well.  That they weren’t able to be the parent they wanted to their kids, they couldn’t be the partner they wanted to be to their spouse and they rarely saw friends yet they were growing companies and that is one of the hardest things to do hands down.

What is the answer?  Childcare is a huge issue.  How can we get all companies to have a facility at work that is affordable?  Should their be tax incentives to companies to do that?  How do we create environments where there is flexibility in your job as long as you get the job done.  I see so many medium staged start-ups employ people who work in other places of the country as part of the team and sometimes lead a team even though they do not come into the main office every day.  It works because of technology.  We are probably seeing the movement to urban living because of all of these statistics.  Men want the same balance in their family/work life now more than ever before.

It is complicated.  It is stressful.  There is not a magic bullet here but it is a huge social issue that is only getting bigger.  The average age of people in the US is 37 years old and that is prime time of parenting.  That means that this issue is bigger than we realize.  It is time for companies to be truly innovative around this topic.  It isn’t just about longer maternity/paternity leave or flexible vacations it is about help.  Maybe it does take a village to raise a family and that village should be the company.

How do prepare for a career at 22?

imagesI went to a dinner party this past week for 20 people that I was invited to from my friend who sits on the board of the New School.  The New School is a liberal arts school that sits in downtown NYC where 5000 undergraduates attend and 5000 others take graduate classes.  They only house the freshman for one year and then they are on their own.  So not only are you taking a variety of creative classes that go towards 135 different degrees you are getting a lot of your education just by living in NYC.

I have always been intrigued with the New School.  There are 5 schools that are each creative and unique that sit under the umbrella of the New School; Parsons, Eugene Lang of Liberal Arts, College of Performing Arts, The New School for Social Research and Adult Bachelor’s, Creative Writing, Media Studies, Language and Milano.

The conversation this evening was about how do we prepare the next generation of graduates for their career.  These days the kids on campus are way ahead of the curve when it comes to knowing about the variety of opportunities out there.  There are almost too many choices.  The college placement office that I showed up in before graduating had me sign up for the variety of interviews with companies that showed up on campus.  The idea is that I would have a job upon graduation and I did.  Now the only ones that show up range from Goldman Sachs to Verizon but they are not from Facebook, Foursquare or the slew of start-ups that kids are interested in.  The world has changed.

There are start-ups like Planted that are helping kids who graduate find the right job with the right culture fit and opportunity.  There are plenty of companies who connect with kids on campuses that they refer to as college ambassadors that push their products or get kids on their platforms.  Social media is connecting directly to these kids and most colleges aren’t even aware of it.  I happened to speak at Education Uncubed this week and spoke about this topic.  More than a few heads were nodding in the audience.

Right now the importance of writing code is high on the list but ten years from now it might be just standard and there is something else that becomes the winning ticket.  This generation and the ones to follow will live to be 100 years.  That is a long time to think about a career.  Our work lives and our personal lives are blurred because of technology.  Both women and men are thinking about how do I work somewhere that will respect my desire for balance between family and a personal life.  These thoughts all come into play when kids set out for their first job.

What are the skills to teach?  Communication should be high up there.  Perhaps the jobs of today did not exist 5 years ago such as a customer acquisition specialist or a back and front end product person but regardless they all have to speak to each other and be able to communicate, not only through Slack but in person.  This generation and perhaps many in the future want careers that make them happy and that is anything from a chocolate maker to a web designer.  Shouldn’t they be able to walk out of school understanding how to live on their income?  How about how to cook, sew on a button, do laundry and bake a chicken?  Maybe they should have been taught that at home but these are certainly life skills.

The debt right now on student loans is overwhelming.  Something will break.  Some kids might choose not to go to college but to go a trade school or just start out on their own entrepreneurial path by starting a company.  At the end of the day, I do still believe that a liberal arts education (by the way that could happen in high school too) teaches the skills of reading and writing and allows one to educate themselves on a breadth of topics are important food for the brain.  That knowledge will carry one forward into whatever endeavor they pursue.  More than likely it will be several endeavors over the course of this generations life and that is an exciting opportunity to think about.

How do you fix the school system?

imgresI told Fred to read The Prize by Dale Russakoff.  It tells the story of the efforts to transform the Newark school system.  The book starts out telling about the generous gift of $100m from Mark Zuckerberg and his now wife and their desire to make an impact in education.  Cory Booker and Chris Christie were ambitious in their promised goals to Zuckerberg.  They promised major transformation in 5 years.

I have spent time in the school system through my work with Mouse and through Fred’s efforts to bring a computer science education to every student in the NY public school system through CSNYC.  Here is one thing I know is that nothing happens in 5 years.  Building a successful tech company takes more than 5 years so turning around a system that is so entrenched in a bureaucratic mess is impossible.  I could say that the donors were hood-winked but more to the point is that they were all just too optimistic vs realistic.  Throwing money at something is not the end all be all.

The kids in these under-served communities are not receiving the education that they deserve (although some are because of wonderful teachers in some schools) but they are coming from a world that makes it difficult to succeed.  It isn’t just about teaching kids to read and write but it is also having to help them deal with issues from family members who are incarcerated, family members who have been killed, drug abuse, dangerous neighborhoods, lack of housing, etc.  It is heartbreaking and it isn’t fair because these kids deserve to succeed.  The reality is in the streets.

I have seen organizations that have come into underserved areas and pluck 10 kids into a violin program because they were the lucky few and they end up being focused and performing at Carnegie Hall.  More than likely these kids have a better chance of graduating college and getting a job.  Were they that talented?  No but they were given the tools to succeed and somebody watched over them to show up every day.

I read another book this summer called The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.  I am still thinking about that book.  This young man was raised by a single Mom whose father was involved until he ended up in prison for committing a murder he didn’t commit.  This kid was brilliant.  He went on to Yale but he didn’t fit in there.  He didn’t hang out with his dorm buddies.  He hung out with the people in New Haven.  He had the package to get out of Newark and forge a different life for himself but he just couldn’t get there.  Yale took the kid out of Newark but he couldn’t take Newark out of his life.  The title says it all.  As I read the Prize I could not stop thinking about this book too.

Five years ago I would have told you I was totally anti-Charter school that we have to fix the schools that we have. I can’t help but equate the system to the start-up world that I know so well.  How do you cause disruption?  You do it through building outside not inside.  You build brand new companies that think differently.  I think there needs to be a balance but charter schools educate a kid for less and many of them are almost militant and too structured but certainly we will all see the statistics years from now but something has to change.  The public school system is overwrought with unions, bureaucracy, aging facilities, etc. and the majority of the budgets deemed for education don’t go towards educating the kids.

Bottom line is that philanthropy in the school system must start from the ground-up not the top down.  It is the educators who are in the trenches every day that understand exactly what is needed for the kids that they are working with and the homes that they come from.  Like a company, the CEO creates the culture and environment to succeed.  In the school it is the principal who sets the tone and expectations in the school.

I will be thinking about this book for a long time.  Education is essential, it can change the game but the social issues are also insanely important.  Throwing money at the system must include all those parts and most important it must be strategically placed at the bottom to move up through the system.


It’s not you, it’s them

imgresI always take the opportunity to speak to young women who are on the investment side.  It is not easy being a woman as an institutional investor.  We have all seen the data that roughly 6-7% of VC’s are women so you can begin there.  Partners in VC firms usually get together on Monday for an all hands meeting of an update of the portfolio and new deals that are being looked at.  After Monday everyone is on their own.  The week is spent at board meetings, meeting with possible investments, talking with the companies that you are already involved with and more.  Women love to be part of teams and it can be lonely without a daily team.  As an investor it is essential to find community in other places to fill that void of wanting to be part of a team.

Women tend to cross their t’s and dot their i’s.  They don’t always put their foot on the gas until they feel that they are on solid footing.  Perhaps that is why it takes longer for many women founders to build their businesses.  Women also network differently.  They are more interested in going home to their family, having dinner with their friends or having some alone time after a long day vs going out with the “guys” for a drink.  I applaud companies that create environments for after workday activities to get everyone involved because most women would choose not to go.

This past week I spoke with a woman who is making a go of early stage investment in Tokyo.  She is from the states but decided to build her career in Japan.  She is coming across many of the issues as she raises capital that we all hear about but until you have experienced them first hand it is unfathomable.  Men who are happy to meet but would prefer to do it in the evening for a drink, or ones that hit on you even though they are married with kids, or ones that make insanely inappropriate comments.  Some of them start with when do you plan on getting married and having kids as if that is will change their investing intellect.  I could go on and on but I will not.

We touched up on the article that was written on Lenny by Jennifer Lawrence.  She wrote something in Medium about this.  Lawrence realized when the emails at Sony were hacked and made public that she was being paid less than her male counterparts.  I doubt that Lawrence didn’t negotiate for what she thought was fair and well-reserved.  Just like many women negotiate for salaries that they believe that they deserve or capital for their companies or valuations that they believe to be fair based on the other companies around them.

Women love the word I am sorry.  We should take it out of our vocabulary when it comes to our behavior.  Sorry should only be used when you need to apologize to someone else about something that deserves an apology not anything else. When you are negotiating with mostly men on the other side of the table it isn’t easy.  You can be thought of as too aggressive or pushy.  But here is the thing that all women must keep in mind when they realize that they have not been treated equally….IT IS NOT YOU, IT IS THEM.

All of the points I write about above connect.  Women must continue to push, ask, challenge, invest, lead and remember that it isn’t you, it is them.

The power of being there

images-1There are a lot of books, conversations, articles, you name it about being an investor, sitting on a board, etc. but sometimes it is just about being there.  One of the most important things that founders should look for when they go out there and raise the first round of capital is one person who is outside the company but cares about the success almost as much as you do and is the person who can always be there.

I will see more than a handful of investments that I am in succeed in getting a series A this quarter.  Some have already been announced and others are happening but not for public consumption.  It is exciting to see each of these founders pull out of the box and move into the next stage of their businesses.  New investors come in and that brings in a new set of experience to rely on.  For me it means that those businesses are starting to grow up.  My involvement with them will change but being there won’t change.

As an investor it is important to know what you bring to the table.  Everyone has the ability to bring multiple talents from analyzing finances to creating work org charts to a big rolodex to big picture thinking.  Yet knowing what you do best and can bring all day long to the party is best suited for everyone at the table.

Maybe it is my maternal compass but one of the things that I like bringing to the game is just being there.  I will never write the biggest check but I am great at being the biggest cheerleader, the one to call to get a reality check, to be brutally honest or think strategically.

Being a founder is insanely hard.  The path is long, the grind is tough.  Nobody really understands how difficult it is until they are in the throws of a start-up.  There really is value in making sure you have someone who understands the start-up arena and can just be there.  I love that role and my guess is that it has played well in my investments.

What is going to get people in the stores?

imagesThere is so much conversation around the millennials and how they purchase, shop, entertain, live, etc.  I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about it with others who are looking at many of the start-ups to invest in.  In the last few weeks I have been looking at the changes taking place in the home decor market…an industry that estimates over $65 billion a year spent on.

I walked through the Paris flea markets when I was there and noted how many people were looking, buying, talking, eating and drinking.  It was just as much entertainment as it was a desire to get something for the home.

Macy’s just renovated the 34th street store with multiple pop-up stores in the store that incorporate activities from 3D printing to technology driven displays to blow drys.  It is like going to a party for the afternoon.

Restoration Hardware is launching their new concept of modern design where you can discover, talk to an expert, put everything together and have it show up at your home and installed.  It is pretty damn smart.

I am seeing companies where everything is curated down to the vase on the table and with one click…it is yours.  It is decorating with ease.  There are experts in marketplaces to hire whereas in the past only the very top end of the market used decorators that is now changing.

Concept shops are popping up everywhere.  They are geared towards life style.  Books, art, clothes, food, accessories and even dog bowls.

Ecommerce plays such as Warby Parker, Bonobos and others are figuring out their brick and mortar play with their online store.  Do you just see the goods in the store, perhaps try things on and get home to a beautiful bag instead of shlepping it home or is the store more conceptual to help with future store planning.  Will there be more virtual experiences in store?

I saw a great quote from Andy Warhol…a man certainly before his time.  “All department stores will become museums, and all museums will become department stores.”

Retail is changing dramatically.  It is the millennials who are forcing the change.  They are the ones carrying the cash.  They want ease, quick satisfaction, entertainment, extension of their own personal brand, the ability to discover and to be delighted at the same time.  It is a big market out there to capture and we are just starting to see the changes that are going to come.


Balance is an eternal struggle

images-1One of the things that I always loved about Europe is that they always seem to put their lust for living ahead of work.  For decades it appeared to work but as the world is seeing now that their way of life was based on smoke and mirrors.  Yet there is still something about the lust for family and the balance of life/work in Europe that although not perfect does leave us with the desire to figure out what is the balance there.

Maternity leave is starting to create some conversation as large companies are changing the rules to benefit young families so that they do not have to choose between work and family.  That is a very good thing.  The addition of universal health care would be a huge added bonus.  If we all embraced the concept of universal child care instead of it falling directly on the backs of families struggling to work and watch their kids the stress level of most young parents might go down.

Bain & Co just put out a study that they did asking 1500 MBA’s and graduate students about their careers and obstacles ahead.  What was great to see is that men are almost equal to women with the desire to raise their families as equals to their partners.  The fear is how are you able to be a supportive parent/partner and be successful in your career at the same time.  You could be if there were support systems for families such as universal childcare mixed with the creation of cultures that applaud family first.

The more conversation about this topic creates change.  Preparing people with strategies to do this through classes in higher education that also talk about being efficient with your time could be a step forward.  There is something between the balance of working hard and playing hard and being a present partner and parent that might be easier in the next decade.  When a company starts rewarding people for going to their kids soccer games or working from home when their kid is sick or forcing people to take vacation what will be realized is that people become better employees because they are happier having found a healthy balance for their minds and families.