Posts from musings

Who are the real tastemakers of the future?

imagesSomeone sent me the article in Fast Company with the title “female shoppers no longer trust ads or celebrity endorsements”.  The data is out there that women control 85% of the purchases made online and that includes clothing, tickets, computers, food and more.  Kind of makes you wonder why anyone would invest in an ecommerce start-up that doesn’t have a woman at the helm.  Women control the economy of the internet.

What we are learning and again not surprising is that the millennials are not swayed by advertising or celebrity endorsements.  They follow social media and their decisions are based on recommendations from friends or people that they follow.  Social responsible products are also high up there on the list.  We will see more companies give a piece of their revenues to social good.  We will also see companies create opportunities within their walls for their employees to give back such as a day building homes for under-served communities or a project for a non-profit etc.

This generation group up with ad placement in everything.  They also grew up in the heyday of celebrities that were hailed from chefs to musicians to actors as a tastemaker to trust when it came to purchases.  I am happy to see that it is waning.

When our kids were young, early teens and tweens, we’d go to a movie many Friday and Saturday nights as a family and out to dinner.  I remember walking out of one film almost a decade ago and Jessica said to me “did you see all those product placements in the film?  Lots of coke.”  She then asked me “how much do you think they all paid for that?”.  I was floored that she was so acutely aware of the products being pushed at her at that age.

That placement, those fake tastemakers, start to make brands feel unauthentic.  The long tail of that is a generation of new products are being made and old products are losing market share as each day passes.  As an investor, it certainly makes you think even more about the future.

the Unicorns?

images-2Many people have been chiming in on the unicorns and what it is doing to the state of investing.  It has become part of the echo-chamber in the tech industry.  Mark Suster went off on a rant that I concur with.

Companies take time to grow.  Pushing money down the throat of a company to grow quicker or to just grab more real estate without a path to actual profitability (ever) is scary.  At one point those companies either explode into oblivion or they have something worth something to someone and find a way to exit.  Although the people who put money in the last few rounds more than likely will lose their shirts.  I find this behavior fascinating and it is fueled with this desire to create another unicorn.

I had this conversation with someone who comes in very late to the investment process.  He is top of the charts smart and understands actual valuations when it comes to the Series D+ rounds.  These rounds are not about gut they are about real numbers and an analysis of what the real trajectory is and of course the real valuation.  In the past those rounds are not so out of touch with the public markets that smell bullshit and have zero interest in buying into it.  For some reason we are seeing a lot of people jump in super late with blinders.

I have been spending time talking with a handful of investors who look at consumer products.  Most of them have been in that arena a long time.  They get how long it takes to build a company and they are willing to ride that long wave.  They are also happy to bet on companies that might be worth over a hundred million dollars that can be profitable.  Those might not be unicorns but I’ll take that kind of investment any day of the week.

I am not convinced we are going to see a bubble burst because there are a bunch of companies out there that are building intelligently and are working their asses off year after year and it shows.  There are plenty of losers too but time will prove that they aren’t or that they are.  There are no shortcuts.  Once in awhile there is a hit on something that just explodes overnight but that is rare.

One founder I invested in met with a possible investor a few months ago.  He asked her if she could guarantee that there would be an exit in 3 years tops.  That is what he expected.  She asked me what did I think about that.  What did I think?  That it is utterly ridiculous and an investor like that is expecting some kind of miracle.  My suggestion…tell that guy to take a hike.

Restructuring my time

imgresI know it is an extremely difficult thing to just no.  It is also tough to say this isn’t working for me or it is time for me to move on.  Most people let things linger or just say nothing at all.  I can’t do that.  It isn’t in my DNA.  Restructuring my time is just like getting through my list.  Otherwise they just hang over your head.

I joined a large board (non-profit) and I was very wary even when I said yes.  I was honored to be asked and intellectually is seemed really interesting.  I knew it wasn’t for me after the first meeting.  I stuck with it for a year but not going to each meeting.  I don’t like to have my name on something without doing the work.  I resigned after a year.  I wasn’t excited about going to a meeting.  That is a bad sign.

Large non-profit organizations usually get everything done in committees.  The Highline does a really good job at that.  I have been involved in three committees there and they have really been a help to the organization.  I am not good on large committees that just seem to be meeting just to meet.  I am not good at rules or following the purview handed to me.

There is another organization that I have been involved with forever and I am beyond proud of everything that has been accomplished while I was there.  The last board meeting I went to was just perfect.  If I was giving it a rating it would have been a 10.  Started on time, did an activity to get everyone on the board connected again, gave the latest and greatest updates with some exciting notes for the future, the whole senior team came and gave short updates too. The meeting ended on time.  It was a perfect storm.  My time was done.

I just got asked to be on another board.  I love what this organization is doing.  They have product fit.  Nobody has been able to figure out this product.  Am thinking about what the commitment means, and it is makes sense to do something else.  It is hard to say no.

I am invested in a bunch of companies who are really pulling out of the gate.  I sit on those boards.  I will probably exit a few.  It is time.  My work is not done but it is sometimes time to hand the wand over to the next.  New blood is needed.  It really comes down to me restructuring my time.  I don’t think I will be any less busy.  I will just be working on other things.

the future of Women’s health

imgres-2Technology is changing how the medical profession looks at everything.  Not surprising is that I am seeing a variety of new businesses crop-up from some really brilliant women who are coming out of the top medical schools.

I invested in Clue not only because I used the platform and was blown away by Ida Tin but I could see the future of this platform.  Not only will women be able to track their periods, they will share this information freely with their doctor, they will be able to put other relevant medical information in the app about their bodies from disease to exercise and the data around each person will be different.  That is relevant because each of our bodies are different yet we are generally all lumped into one category.

The importance of being able to monitor our own health needs is powerful.  Every stage of a women’s life there are different things that come to the forefront of their mind.  Childbearing is one that rings loud and clear.  Each woman’s body is different.  Some women go through menopause in their early 40’s and some don’t go through menopause until their late 50’s.  That is a huge gap.

Someone said to me the other day that they were told that they should think about freezing their eggs at 24.  24??  24 is supposedly when your eggs are at their peak but I have had friends get pregnant without any help from a fertility doctor at 40 while others have had problems at 32.  That information is readily available through testing but not so easy to get a doctor to do it for you unless you find yourself having a hard time getting pregnant.

There will be many generations of change in this arena over the next decade.  As an investor it is about betting on the right one.  As a woman, I am thrilled to see products come to market that will allow each and everyone of us be able to detect endometriosis to infertility to genetics in the privacy of our own home.

A Toxic Work World

imagesAnne-Marie Slaughter wrote an opinion piece for the NYTimes this past Sunday titled A Toxic Work World.  The tag line sums it all up…only the young and childless can keep up.

I was fortunate to have Anne-Marie speak at the WeFestival as our keynote a few years ago.  The talk she gave was the same one she gave at Ted a month or so later.  It is a worthy watch.  She talks about the importance of companies changing the workplace to embrace women who are having children vs losing them in numbers.  Girls are outpacing boys in school all the way through graduate school.  Yet if they have families many of them leave because of the lack of champions inside the workplace to help the family unit raise a family while still making a difference at work.  It is not only about changing the workplace but it is shifting the attitude.

On another note but completely related I saw Cindy Gallop come in on my twitter feed retweeting The New Web reporter Lauren Hockenson’s rant about The Dreamforce conference over the weekend.  As Cindy wrote, “my stomach churned”.   Gayle King asked Susan Wojcicki if all 5 of her children were from the same husband.  King also asked Jessica Alba, who was also on the panel, if her company was a suitable fallback from her acting career.  They both fielded questions about maternity leave, how they remain present in their families lives and if they could invent a stylish shoe.

The other panels were filled with men from the CEO of Microsoft to Benioff of Salesforce to Travis Kalanick of Uber discussing their billion dollar companies, new products and philanthropic arms.  Did any of those men field off questions about their abilities to be home with their children or if their kids were from the same woman?

Both Alba and Wojcicki should not have been so forthcoming and happy to answer these inane questions.  They should have each said to Gayle King (who gets a huge shame on you) not only am I not going to answer these questions they are personal and have zero to do with business.  We are here to discuss business just like every other panel is.  This questioning is insulting to every single woman in the workplace and at this event.  If you want to talk about how we are figuring out how to retain women having families who need a support system from their companies then let’s talk about that.  If I was on the panel I might have just said “are you fucking kidding me”.

It can’t just be women who are pushing for this change, it must come from men too.  We all come from a different place and that is why gender equality in the workplace is so important.  Men need to speak up on this just as much as their female counterparts.  Perhaps one day we will see just as many men choosing to stay home because their spouses are the ones who are more suited to the workplace.  If and when those men choose to be the ones to figure out the balance of work and the ability to just show up for a  3 day work week with zero support in their companies to provide that, we will see change take place, guaranteed.

As for Gayle King…shame shame shame on you.

Women raising money

imgresIt is harder for women to raise money.  It just is and it pisses me off.  I actually tell women founders to bring along their male CTO’s to the meetings because it will be easier to raise the cash.  I preference that with “I hate to say this but…”

There are multiple reasons why it is more difficult.  When more women are on the investment side of the table it will begin to get easier.  As more women build big companies, it will begin to get easier too.

Here is some advice I have given to women pitching.

1 -Don’t ramble.  Keep it short and succinct.  State the facts.  There is nothing wrong with a pause in the room.

2 – Always be selling.  When you pitch assume that the people on the other side of the table are going to fund you.  It changes the dynamic.

3 – Be bold.  If you feel the temperature in the room is lukewarm, then wrap it up.  No need to waste your time or theirs.  If you feel the love in the room then engage the investors like they are old friends talking about your business.

4 – Never apologize.  So what if the product isn’t perfect, the deck isn’t perfect.  Guess what..only you think that.

5 – Be confident and show confidence. You know your company better than the person on the other side of the table does.  You don’t need to be validated.

6 – Keep your cards close.  Don’t share who else you are talking to unless of course this is super early and you are hoping for as many angels as possible to come in.  If you have investors starting to do diligence then share that but don’t share names.  It pushes a sense of urgency into the conversation.  It makes you the master of the game.

7 – If you do have senior men on your team then bring them with you.  I am hoping that in the future I will tell men that bringing a woman with you is key.

I do feel like there is a movement happening.  Women would love to have a woman lead their rounds.  I am seeing more than a handful of women start to raise $8-10m and that is not only good for the start-up world, it is good for the next generation of women coming up the pike.

Sayings that resonate

imagesI had been involved with an executive search.  It is a fascinating experience.  We have had the privilege of meeting with some really interesting people.  Some of their tidbits have really resonated with me.  Of course each of them apply to any company particularly a start-up.

My favorite line was that someone said that they were given the autonomy to fail.  That is big.  I am a big believer in that.  Micro-managing doesn’t do anyone any good.  It doesn’t let your employees grow and it doesn’t create a healthy environment.  Giving autonomy is giving trust.

Then I heard someone say we were encouraged to be curious.  Curiosity is the key to life.  It keeps you engaged and your mind active.  Particularly when it comes to children.  All children should be encouraged to be curious and ask as many questions as possible.

Here are a few others.  Constantly manage your environment.  Never let a good crisis go to waste.  No generation can take a vacation from history.  Good managers think dimensionally and hire people better than them.

I am loving all of these bits of wisdom.   Particularly the one about autonomy to fail.

summer starts to wrap-up

imagesI understand the need to acknowledge each year on a particular date and January 1 is it.  Personally I think of the beginning of the new year as post-Labor Day.  Maybe it has to do with the school years being part of my psyche.  Perhaps the onslaught of magazines telling me the new books, new restaurants, new stores, new art shows, new looks and more that I should be on the look out for.  I really think it has to do with the ease of summer and the movement from that back into the hustle and bustle of life in my beloved concrete jungle of NYC.

I always take time out about now to think about the year to come.  I can’t help but reflect on the past year.  Last September Fred and I embarked upon a new life that is called being “empty nesters”.   We had discussed how we were going to live ad nauseam prior to the day of reckoning.  We took a month long trip last September to acknowledge our new world.  We spent our winter in LA.  We did a fair amount of traveling and hanging our hats in Paris.  We spent time on the slopes and we spent time at the beach.   We ended up spending about 5 months this year in NYC.  We followed the plan that we set forth.

There will probably be a few tweaks this year and more changes as we evolve but the plan was a good one.  We will stick with it.  We are lucky that we can keep the Wilson family businesses running from wherever we are.  It allows us to work hard and play hard.  A combo that we have always thrived on.

I usually start to think about more play than work this time of the year.  That I should take it down a notch.  I do not feel like that this year.  I am super excited about all the companies I have invested in.  I am particularly thrilled to see a few of them pull out of the gate and get some great new mature institutional investors on board.  I am excited about connecting with more women angel investors too.  The biggest thing on the agenda is WeFestival that will be held at 1 WTC in April.  We (that would be my sister as part of the we who has become my partner on this) hope to bring that on the road to other cities and built an online community of women around that.  On top of that we are embarking on some big real estate projects to mix things up.  No rest for the weary over here.

What is the most exciting, as always, is seeing our kids grow in their worlds.  I have the kindle loaded up with the new releases for fall, the restaurant and exhibit list set, plans for fall travel in the queue and I am pumped.


Shopping malls evolution

imagesSpending a tremendous part of my life in shopping malls I am fascinated by their evolution.  Enclosed shopping malls filled with stores were first built in the late 50’s and started to speed up the development in the late 60’s.  I grew up shopping at the Montgomery Mall in MD.  On occasion we would go to Tyson’s Corner but it was overwhelming compared to the intimacy of the Montgomery Mall.  I’d spend hours there.  Not sure what we did but kids hung out at the mall.  Then I ended up working in retail when I graduated college and landed in the Kings Plaza Mall.

Over time the department stores that were the anchors of those malls started to lose their market share to singular vertical operations such as Gap, Ann Taylor and others.  Then Amazon showed up and everything changed.  People still shop at the mall but the reality is that people between 18-34 are most likely to make purchases online.  As those people get older with deeper pockets they begin to spend less time in shopping malls.  They are shopping for convenience…and you can for clothing, electronics, groceries, music, etc.

So what happens to all that great real estate?  We spend so much time on our computers and our mobile phones that it is not surprising that people crave community.  Music festivals, museum exhibits, dinners at home with friends and family have become staples.  Malls are going to have to create reasons for people to go to the mall.

The North Park Mall in Dallas has started to rotate art installations like a gallery does.  They also did a two week stint of free ballet classes from a master.  There are interesting pop-ups started to take place at the Roosevelt Mall in LI.  That mall is bringing in new restaurants, weekend deals and points.

There are also many of the ecommerce brands that have started to realize that they need to have brick and mortar along with their mobile app.  It builds up the brand, builds up the customer loyalty and makes for a better balance sheet.

Bottom line the malls are trying to figure out that there has to be something of interest to draw people in besides a desire for a new pair of jeans.  Brick and mortar must become an experience worth having.


imgresI could not let yesterday go unacknowledged.  It was a huge day for me.  I am trying to take it all in.  I knew the day would come.  It was in many ways a typical day yet all day long we both knew how the day would end.

The woman who has been an intricate part of my life, our family life, retired.  She had been with us over 15 years.  She has been one of my biggest cheerleaders.  She allowed me the ability to do so many things.  She came to us when Josh was 4 and I was moving into being an at-home Mom for awhile.  She watched me juggle being a Mom while figuring out how to return to work in my own terms.  She was my right hand person.  She kept us organized. She knew where every thing was.  She knew how to do everything from sewing to fixing jewelry.  She loved being with me in the kitchen baking, cooking, canning and tasting. She loved our dogs probably more than anything else.  She took serious pride in being our back bone and enjoyed every minute of it.  She was always there for us.  Everyone should be so lucky to have someone like her in their lives.

I am quite aware that not everyone has the means to have someone in their lives to keep their home life humming so we can focus on other parts of our lives.  It is a luxury.

As she said to me yesterday just as she did 15 years ago, it was never about the money.  I wanted to find a family that I could become part of and make their lives better.  She found that in ours yet it was truly a mutual love affair. Our entire family feels insanely lucky to not only have had her around but to have had a relationship with her.  She taught us all more than she realizes.

It was time for our next stage.  She helped raise our family and now they are all young adults.  She let me know that she is always there whenever I need her and I told her the same thing.  We both cried.

It was really a big day.