Posts from musings

A journey and the next chapter

urlI have been preparing for the empty nest chapter for the last 8 years.  Someone told me to look at my daily life and color code each of my activities.  I realized very quickly that a huge chunk of my time was devoted to the family.  That was fine for then but what would happen as each kid started to move out and begin their own life journey.  They would begin to rely on themselves not me and that huge chunk of time would become smaller and smaller until Josh went to college.  So I began a new journey for myself.  I had already been blogging and essentially leveraged that into angel investing, a conference (thanks to Nancy Hechinger) and a variety of side projects.  Fast forward 8 years and I have reinvented myself back into the business world in a way that works for me.  I have been fortunate enough to be able to do this on my own terms.

Even though I was preparing I still always put family first.  When plans were being made over the past 8 years I still thought about making sure I was present until Josh flew from the nest.  This past week I started to get some inbound asks about events to speak at and even some asks for a drink.  I had a huge aha moment when I realized I could make any decision I wanted.  I did not have to be home in time to make dinner, I did not have to even come home until late at night.  I did not have to be present.  I could do a drink, I could get on a plane and speak somewhere if it worked into my schedule, I could go on a quick trip with a friend for four days and not give it a thought.  The only person I have to think about in regards to evening or weekend activities is Fred.  What a concept.

We are entering the next chapter of our lives.  No better way to mark that chapter with a journey.  To go on a trip where there are no rules or restrictions and we can literally be on the road with no responsibilities is what we plan on doing.   Fred and I will be going on a month long vacation through Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.  We are staying on the coasts.  The trip has been in the planning phases for quite some time.  We will be off the grid (as much as humanly possible).  I can’t imagine not answering emails particularly with the businesses that I am involved with but I certainly will not be as quick on the response as usual.  Anything new will be ignored (must be that way).  No board calls either.  I do plan on blogging about the trip because not only do I enjoy recording all of our travel journeys it is a reference guide for life although the kids say I shouldn’t blog at all.  We will see.

The next chapter is going to feel strange but it is the progression of life.  Seeing our kids fly from the nest and become their own individuals who can take care of themselves is insanely rewarding.  I am sure it will feel strange having an empty house but how could it not.  This journey is marking the beginnings of our next chapter.  Having a lot of feelings from bittersweet to excited to I can’t believe it but all and all it feels good and it feels right.

Linked-In

imgres-1Linked-in is brilliant.  You can keep your online resume up for the world to see.  You can link with new people and old people.  It is a smart business tool and my guess is it will get even better for different stages of people’s lives from college to volunteerism to retirement.  I would guess that the majority of people who read this blog have a Linked-in profile.

Facebook is a different model that is skewed towards your social life.  I understand them both and they are no doubt the foundation of our times.

Here is the thing.  I have a Facebook page but I never use it.  I have one to so I can see how companies we are involved with use the platform.  I have a Linked-in account for basically the same reasons.  I pretty much let anyone be my friend or connect to me.  As long as it does not flood my email box it is fine.  It doesn’t because I have set it up this way.

If you want to talk to me or reach out to me then email me.  I do not want to answer requests from Linked-in.  I am pretty public because I blog daily.  My email is on my site.  I answer those requests.  Once in a blue moon I will answer a Linked-in request but rarely.  I have taken to ignoring them.  If you really want to get in from of my eyeballs then email me directly.   Otherwise, you won’t be getting a response.   And one more thing…I love Twitter but sending me a direct message with a request won’t get a response either.

Seizing the moment

imgresAs we all begin to wind down the summer we all see our email boxes start to peter off, the social media begin to quiet down and the instagram photos scream vacation.

I have been thinking a lot about participation vs observation and the importance of the first vs the latter.  It seems to me that there has been an insane surge of observation and we are all begging for and needing a little more participation.  There are a lot of clues in trends that are happening that speak to that.

When I see families out for dinner and everyone is peering at their phones it upsets me.  When I go to a board meeting and people are on their phones more than they are participating in the conversation it angers me.  I know I will make notes to myself on my phone or look up something that is worthy to the meeting but I really do put the phone away.  It isn’t right.   Even when you go to a museum and people are just posting away and not truly enjoying the moment and the experience they are having.

I had a conversation with an editor at Eater about the importance of sitting down for a meal with friends and family.  I continue to think about it.  Why is it important to sit down and have that meal.  I think it comes down to seizing the moment.  Participating in conversation.  It could be about anything from books to movies to the meal you are having or the political landscape but those conversations are important.  People tend to look back at those times with fond memories.  I have yet to see anyone look back at a snap chat, an instagram or a blog post with fond memories.  It is the human connection and those human conversations that I find much more interesting and memorable than the screen of my phone.

Hoping to seize the moment often as the summer winds down.

How to fix the gender balance in start-ups?

unnamedWhen I started angel investing I made a commitment to invest in women.  Almost 70% of the 60 plus investments I have made over the past 8 plus years are either led by a woman entrepreneur or one of the co-founders is a woman.  It has been a very wise decision.  For all of these woman I have invested in their internal motto is failure is not an option.  Not that there is nothing wrong with failure because we can learn a lot from failure but every single one of these women are tenacious, smart, good at leading teams, ask questions and listen to the advice, analyze data and have carrots dangling in front of their noses.  My biggest hope is that all of these women have incredible exits on their businesses because that will make a statement to all the people that dismissed their ideas and their business models.
I thought a lot about the question that was posed this week.  A few things came to mind because it is not just about gender balance in start-ups but gender balance in every business.  Hearing the Becky Hammon was named to the the co-captain of the Spurs is a huge step in the right direction.  To read data that was quoted in the Atlantic that a study of hedge funds owned or managed by women found the funds to have a 8.95% return rate handily beating the 2.69% return rate generated by an index of typical funds sends a clear signal about the value of women.  To read that when Google extended their paid maternity leave for women to five months that their attrition rate decreased by 50% was such a smart decision.  Even an analysis from Fortune records better earnings for women CEOs than their male counterparts.
All of these facts should be talked about in every start-up when they think about who are they going to hire and what is their team going to look like.  Making a decision from the very onset that they are going to have 50/50 balance of men and women employees.  Five years ago I started a conference with my co-founder, Nancy Hechinger, called the Womens Entrepreneur Festival at the ITP division of NYU.  We celebrate and showcase women entrepreneurs.  Women network differently, then run their companies differently and they think differently than men.  We should applaud that.  That is why having a balance of men and women in start-ups is actually one of the real keys to success.  Those successes will hopefully make an impact on the next generation to come so we can stop having these conversations about gender balance. Tossing a universal childcare program in with that would also be a step in the right direction.
This was an article I wrote for the WSJ earlier this week.

The future of home design

imgresI am spending a lot of personal time in the home design space.  Have a few projects underway.  There are a few things that I am very good at that helps the projects to move forward at a pretty rapid clip.  I can make decisions in seconds and never look back.  I can see what a room should look like in my head.  I then walk around that room in my head for days and am able to filter what looks good or doesn’t look good.  I know that for some that is not easy to do.

Here is what I wish was out there and perhaps it is under development somewhere.  I want to be able to walk into a room and have it scanned into an app with the correct dimensions.  Then I want to be able to take pictures of furniture I want and drop it into the app and move it around the room.  Pull things in and out.  Add a carpet, take out a carpet.  Change the color based on the fabrics that I want to use to cover the chairs.  Pull in the right appliances.  Grab a caesar stone color to swap out the kitchen.  Even add the backsplash tile.  Toss in a chandelier.  Throw a blanket on the couch.  The whole works.  Essentially a doll house on line and instead of pulling from a basket of goodies I am pulling from sites or photos of information I have for the room.

If you really want to take it to the next level you could buy those items after placing them in your room right on the app.  I am swapping things in and out of my head on one project.  Another project is done but not installed yet and I literally walk through that house every single night in my head.  I have done this before and when I see the rooms in person with everything in them they are pretty much what I saw but how come I have to wait for the full on visual.  Why can’t I see it evolving through out the process.

Can somebody build this?

Changing world of Retail

images-1My career started in retail.  Invaluable experience.  My first summer job in college was working at Neiman-Marcus and I carried around a tin box that gave me the ability to take cash, write receipts and process credit cards.  It was far from seamless.

This past week I invested in Sourceasy.  Investing in companies that I understand at a deep level makes sense.  The manufacturing industry still manages in an offline world.  I can just see the variety of patterns hung on a hanger with a bunch of strings attached.   Manufacturing should be seamless.  As creative people are starting their own brands dealing with the operational aspect of the business is a bear.  Being able to hand off that operational piece of your business and get your products back to you as you watch them move through the process through technology is brilliant.

What I learned in the early days of retail was turn, turn, turn.  If a product isn’t moving within a week or two then mark it down and move it out.  Take the loss and fill your floors with merchandise that is moving.  You can’t do that if you don’t have access to companies that can produce new inventories quickly.  That is why places like Zara and H&M succeed because they can react to trends and they are continually putting new merchandise on the floor and online.  Old does not work especially for this generation where we see new all the time.

The other company I an invested in is Makers Row.  Makers Row is a marketplace (with a little more thrown in)  that connects brands with US manufacturers.  They are making manufacturing easy and they are also helping US manufacturing plants be busy again.  In the mid-90’s everything moved to China.  No longer because each area has taken on what they are best at.  The dollar is also not as strong against other currencies anymore which at one time made manufacturing overseas a slam dunk for everything.

Another investment, Parachute Home.  Building a brand around selling directly to the consumer through an online platform around a specific vertical such as the bedroom and bathroom can be done.  Warby Parker did it with glasses and it changed the prices and in turn built a solid loyal base of consumers.  Parachute Home is doing the same thing.  Beautiful products at prices that can not be beat.  They will relaunch their site in again in September with a variety of new products.

True Gault is all about changing our shoes.  Being able to manufacture shoes that are specifically made for your foot is amazing.  Merging technology and fashion to make your feet happy.

Other ecommerce platforms that are just beginning.  Hey Gorgeous for women size 8+.   A supportive community with great style and clothes.  Le Tote where you can get a new box of clothing and jewelry chosen for you by you every month for as low at $19 a month. Unlimited styles that goes into your monthly rented box.  After all your best purchase is your last purchase.  Little Borrowed Dress where you can rent beautiful bridal gowns in a variety of colors for your perfect wedding.  Number one is they make the process simple and stress-free.  Eventually a place that will be your one stop shop for everything to wear but the brides dress.  20×200 where art is affordable for everyone.  Great pieces that look good next to an original.

Even as I write this post I realize that I am entrenched in the retail/consumer products arena because not only do I get it, I believe in how the internet is changing the way we shop, the communities we make around those purchases, the simplicity of being able to purchase on line, the importance of the rental business and how technology platforms are changing manufacturing.  All and all it is pretty damn exciting.

Childcare is key

imgresThe first Womens Entrepreneur Festival took place almost 5 years ago.  We provided day care the first year.  We might have done it on a Saturday which is why we thought it was essential to have childcare.  It was essential.  It is actually always essential.

I can not tell you how many people that resonated with.  I even recently got a note from a woman who has attended for several years noting how many people she had met and has built her own community through the festival.  She also mentioned that her son still talks about his day at the conference.  Having childcare allowed her to attend the festival without having to worry.  It also gave her something to talk to her son about because they attended together.  A total win win for everyone.

There was an article in the NYX recently about Child Care for the Overwhelmed.  There has also been a few editorials written in regards to the insanity of parents being “ratted on” to authorities about things that I am not so sure would have been called out even ten years ago.  For instance, someone takes their kid on an interview because they have no other choice.  A parent runs in to a store for 5 minutes to pick up something and leaves their kids locked in the car.  Not locked in the car for 8 hours but 5 minutes.  You get the point.

People who are having a hard time making the numbers work every month particularly working mothers need safe local care for their children.  It is just not readily available and many of the ones that exist are not monitored for their services and facilities.  Even large companies with thousands of people working for them just expect you to figure out health care.  How many parents can hardly wait until their kids begin school full time so they do not have to worry about where they are and how they will be taken care of 8 hours a day so they can get to work to make an income to keep the family afloat.

I know Obamacare has been controversial although I am a huge fan.  If 40% of the American workforce will be categorized as freelancers then certainly having accessible insurance is of the utmost importance.  Otherwise the drain on our resources will continue to be huge as most of the money spent on healthcare is done when someone gets sick not having a check-up.

There should be something passed for the ability to have national Childcare program.  It is broad state by state but we have to recognize the millions of people out there who are scrambling to make ends meet and have zero support system for their children so they can earn the resources that they need.

Is STEM still a four letter word for women?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Financial commitments send a message


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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