Posts from musings

Are you born with leadership skills or are they learned?

imgresSomeone asked this question the other day and I keep thinking about it.  It could be the same question about being an entrepreneur.  Are you born with those entrepreneurial skills or are they learned?

I have thought a lot about this.   I think about this when I talk to entrepreneurs.  Will this person be able to lead a team?  Are they self aware?

I do think that entrepreneurs can be given help to become better at what they do yet they must have leadership skills.  So what can be taught?

I am a big fan of CEO coaches.  They can help people learn to be better leaders even those who are built with those skill sets.  Entrepreneurs start with an idea, they lead people to believe in them, they get people to come and work for them and help them execute on the vision, hopefully money believes in the vision too and they come along for the ride and the growth.  Before you know it the company has grown up and there not 5 people but 20 and then 40 and then 50.  The skill sets needed don’t change they need to evolve.

I do think that leadership can be taught at some level.  Yet if you have young kids it is incredible how you can see the leaders emerge even at 5 years old.  You can see a bunch of other things too but all the all the skills you are born with are always there…they just sometimes need a little help coming out.

The Games We Play

Rolling-dice-006Years ago I went to meet someone who was an investor.  He did not invest in the spaces that I invest in but this one investment was a crossover and our mutual friend thought we should meet.  And so we did.

I remember that I felt like we were circling each other when I got into the office.  It was like we were about to start sparring but it was intellectual sparring.  He essentially began to tell me about how smart he was, the deals he had done, how he went about them, how it all works.  There was zero humility there.  I sat there listening and acknowledging as the thought went through my head “if you want to play this game I can play this game too”.  So I pumped up my chest and began to talk about my world in the same vein.  I call this game my dick is bigger than your dick.  It is a game that women rarely play.

There is no doubt that I am playing in the boys sandbox.  When only 4.4% of active VC’s are women that says something.  I am not a VC but my involvement and many of the things that I do to engage the companies I have invested in is similar to the way VC’s operate.  After all, I have been sitting on the sidelines for many years being involved in the backend through my husband.  There was a learning curve getting into the investment business and I am still learning every day but the curve was not as steep as it would have been if when I made my first investment and did not know the different between preferred and common stock.

There is a competition in the investment world that nobody really talks about but it is there in black and white.  Did you see this deal?  I am in that deal.  They are killers.  It is going to be my best deal.  Oh I saw that deal, you invested in them?  Hmm.  I was in that deal last week that got acquired.  I made a killing.  I was able to get out now and sell my shares, so smart of me.  I don’t need to go on but you get the point.  It is the same game, my dick is bigger than your dick.

Here is the thing, I really don’t like the game but I can play the game.  I am extremely competitive.  I do not like to lose.  I also find myself playing that game when I find myself in a room of men investors.  I always walk away thinking to myself “why did you have to behave like that”?  It is probably better to say nothing at all and just smile.  More than likely it is all my age old insecurities coming out.  I don’t like the way this game makes me feel in in the post.

On the other hand, I am glad that the game was played at the end of the year.  Gives me a lot to think about when it comes to taking some time off and mentally preparing for the year ahead.  My biggest wish that is in 2015 there are more lone women investors who I work with.  We probably play a different game but at least I find the game has more humility.

Equity vs Income

11110134-largeRecently a variety of companies that I am invested in have been interviewing some really amazing people who are currently working in companies where they make a solid salary.  They have responsibility, they are leaders in the company but they do not have equity so they are just hired help.

Making that entrepreneurial leap is a tough one but if you are an entrepreneur with a burning passion to start something it isn’t as scary as it sounds because you just have to do it.  If you are making that leap into a start-up making less than what you are currently making with equity making up for some of your income plus some well that is more difficult.

I left Macy’s when it went from a public trading company to a privately held company because I got zero equity.  I would have happily taken equity in the company that I grew in the garment center but it wasn’t the norm so instead of got a lot of cash.  It worked for me because it paid for our life but if I had been given equity I would have probably made a lot more and I would have had a different feeling of ownership.

There is a clear difference between people who are willing to take that leap of faith that they are part of something that is going to grow into something big.  They have to be willing to take that leap that they might make less cash but the equity will more than make up for that.  If the company succeeds it would have been the right call.  If the company fails then perhaps it was the wrong call but putting that kind of experience under your hat can never be taken away.  That is why the people who work up in the start-up world all have a little bit of that risk taking gene in their DNA.

I have been disappointed with people we thought were going to take a job in a company that I am invested in and then at the last minute turned it down for a counter-offer from their current companies but in the end I do believe that things happen for a reason.  Those people were missing the understanding of being an owner in something vs just an employee.

Personally I’d try to take more equity any day.

Good entrepreneurs deserve good investors

Shyster 1(1)Recently two people came to see me and talk about their business.  They are in the food business.  I have found that each entrepreneur is different and that many people in the food space are not particularly strong when it comes to the business end even though their product may be off the charts.  This is one of the reasons that incubators like to see co-founders who are not necessarily even in equity but each play different roles where strength is needed.

I won’t share the name of the company but it is a type of retail store.  Their product is over the top amazing.  When they opened a line was formed and honestly never stopped.  They had stumbled on to something unique and delicious.  Possible investors started calling and knocking on their door.  They didn’t take those calls but kept their head down putting out a delicious daily product.

Fast forward, for whatever reason, timing more than likely, they decided to take on an investor.  A pair of investors who came together who would help them create a holding company, put money in the business and allow them to roll out their concept into different locations with the idea that eventually they could just continue opening up multiple shops across the country on their own or they could go down the franchise path.  It all sounded good but it wasn’t.

These investors were shysters.  For those who do know this yiddish word, a shyster is word for someone who acts in a disreputable, unethical, or unscrupulous way, especially in the practice of law, politics or business.   They put 1/3 of the money that they had agreed on in the holding company, they took 40% of their business, they told them that if they needed more cash that they would charge them 4% interest, they wanted to take a salary for themselves, they began to sign contracts for the business to expand in locations without the entrepreneurs knowledge, they put up a website that they had no idea about and all of a sudden got angry phone calls from people who had filled out the catering and delivering of the product daily and they’d show up at the stores and hang out behind the counter.

Granted the entrepreneurs made some seriously bad decisions in getting into bed with these investors but I also hold their lawyers accountable in allowing them to sign up for this.  One of the entrepreneurs just wanted to hold his nose and move forward but to me the writing is on the wall that these investors just want to bleed them dry because they have zero concept on how to build a franchise brand.  The other entrepreneur was besides herself.

I recommended they speak to a smart lawyer and one who had the ability to really see the holes in the contract.  I gave them a bunch of other advice but the whole meeting left me so angry.  Being able to build something from scratch, with sweat, tears, no sleep and a vision is one that should be applauded with an investor that supports not abuses.  If I ever saw those investors I’d have a hard time not going off on their abysmal display of taking advantage of people who worked hard to build something unique.  In the end, if they can’t get these shysters out the whole thing will crumble.  There is no doubt that the entrepreneurs fucked up too but it is a disgusting display of people with pockets of cash taking advantage of creative people who didn’t get the right advice, didn’t have the right lawyer and obviously didn’t know what the hell they were doing on the business end.

If you aren’t sure, ask questions.  If it doesn’t smell good, it usually stinks.

What is the future of education?

imagesEverything around us is evolving through technology and the world we are living in will look very different in ten years, the same will hold true for education.  So what is the future of education?

Decades ago our public school system was one of the best.  People went to college with hopes that the degree would be the key in getting the right job and perhaps making more money than their parents did.  Much has changed.  Our public school system is far from nimble.  There are layers and layers of costs that take away from the cost of actually educating a student.  Many teachers are far from innovative and are tenured so we are stuck with them until they retire.  I never was a fan of the charter school system as I thought we should fix the system we have but the reality is I know better.  The only way to fix something inside is to start outside.  New Orleans is a perfect example of what happens when an entire education system is completely wiped away and starts from scratch with charter schools that are funded by the state, it works.   They are actually educating kids in New Orleans without the layers of corruption and money spent poorly.  They are also being innovative in how they teach kids of this generation.

The cost of a college education is exorbitant.  The debt that has been taken on by individual students is just waiting to come back and bite us all in the ass.  The lenders have used those college loans as an opportunity to make money.  We should allow students to take out loans and charge them interest rates that are based on the annual inflation rate and cap them if it gets over 5%.  Getting out of school and getting an entry level job ( that is if you can get a job in your field of choice ) and pay the type of monthly bills back to the lender is strangling most graduates ability to function on their income.  That is not a good thing.

Will more kids graduate from high school and go to a two year program that is geared towards their field of choice such as being an electrician, being a plumber, being a mechanic, being a program entry person.  Vocational schools can be a really great place for the right person and doesn’t leave you laden in debt.

More people will take classes online and there will be a time when you can get your degree through a MOOC.   That is a very good thing for the global world because many of the students online don’t necessarily have access or the cash to go to a place for high learning.

How about the top schools in this country vs the schools that are not in the top 25?  My guess is that the top schools will always have people that want to go to them but I do believe that they will all have to become more innovative in how they are run.

Will people will want to get a history degree with a minor in some abstract field?  If they are taking out a loan that they have to pay back my gut is the answer is no.  They will want something more practical.   Having more professors be collaborative in their teachings with professors from other areas might make a difference.  After all one of the most amazing things about a liberal arts education is expanding your mind to think differently.     Seeing a Computer Science professor collaborate and teach a class with an English teacher around tech and content could be one example.  Teachers can only be innovative when tenure is taken out of the equation.  They are forced to do research, write papers and publish books that are read by few people but are just the standard process of what it means to be a tenured professor.  What if professors were just reviewed annually based on innovation, thinking out of the box, getting kids excited and not publishing a damn thing.  IMHO tenure should go.  It would change everything.

What if every college got rid of single sex fraternities? Based on what is coming out from under the rug on many college campuses across the country it seems like we are going down that path.  It would create more inclusion between both genders who could live under one roof.  This generation is the perfect generation to push for that change.  They feel more empowered to say things, they are more collaborative with each other and they are well aware of the world that we live in and how hard it is to chart your course outside of college.  It is important for a student to think about what goes on beyond the university.

This conversation can continue on and on but it is time for a major change in education.  I’d like to see one major educational institution take a bold stand and stop tenure, rethink their curriculum, get rid of single sex organizations and be a leader.  While they are at it they should push to change the drinking age from 21 to 18.  If you are 18 you can vote and be drafted.  You are going to drink at 18 when you get to college so let’s make it legal so we can have open honest conversations and some rules and regulations on campuses about binge drinking.  Otherwise it will continue to create havoc on campuses across the country.

Education tends to move at a tortoise speed and the time is now to be bold and make some changes in education.

Hitting the Wall

hit-the-wallI have had so many different careers.  It is probably why I like start-ups because I am always looking to try something new and do something different.  It is also why I like real estate projects.  There is something that thrills me about the start and the growth.  In real estate, I do like closure.  In start-ups I like to opt out when the growth hits that point where the next level of growth is not as much about problem solving but a bit more like intelligent cruise control.  Not the best description but it is the time when it helps to bring in some experienced institutional investors.

This fall we took off for a blissful month.  We realized that we could take it down a notch and could still take the Wilson business on the road.  I am doing a fair amount of traveling this fall and perhaps that is why I am truly starting to hit the wall.  Maybe it is also the beginnings of seeing what life is starting to look like with our kids out of the nest.  Who knows.
Angel investing is something that many do without any involvement.  I do not think I am capable of that.  Yet in the world of angel investing you have to make a lot of bets each year for the model to work.  Maybe it makes sense to start thinking about only doing so many a year with the hopes that the ones from the year before get a little more mature.  I don’t know.  It isn’t like I am talking to all these businesses daily but I am aware of what is going on in all of them, some more than others, and of course I am always available, focused and am happy to help, talk and do whatever I can do for the entrepreneurs I have invested in. I also sit on several boards from start-up to non-profit.
The real estate is a whole other life.  One I rarely speak about but takes up a lot of space in my head.  Growing a portfolio takes time, management and obviously a lot of thought.
This past week I have been wondering am I hitting the wall?  I admit it is exciting to have built a new career and feel like I am making an impact on businesses and women.  That feels great. I have always been competitive and I always like to win but how much do I need to win?
Maybe I am describing something that many others feel but don’t talk about.  It is probably a feeling that most early stage entrepreneurs feel.  That feeling of there aren’t enough hours in the day, I won’t be able to get it all done, am I crazy to be doing all this, how do I take it down a notch, can I take it down a notch?  it feels great to be able to focus on thinking about businesses which I truly do love (start-up, real estate, and the rest) but I think that once this year ends, I am going to spend some time trying for a little more balance.
Practice what you preach, right?

It’s Brooklyn

Brooklyn1My first job out of college was running the cosmetics department for Macy’s in Kings Plaza Brooklyn.  I’d drive out there every day instead of taking public transportation which was a subway and a bus.  The hours were long and late so a car was definitely the way to go.  We were lucky that we had one which at one point became so dilapidated that we had to pay a tow truck to take it away and he was concerned that there might be a lean against the car.  But that is a whole other story.

I’d drive through Brooklyn many days instead of taking the main routes back to NYC.  Fred and I would also venture into the different neighborhoods to check them out and at one point lived in Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights.  So many of those neighborhoods were not places you would want to venture into at night or even day. A lot has changed.

I see the Brooklynization of cities across the globe.  The next generation has taken control of areas that needed some serious TLC.  Jonathan Butler Demby started Brownstoner sometime around 2006 when Curbed began.  Brownstoner wrote about the ins and outs of Brooklyn real estate among other things. Jonathan and Eric saw what was happening in Brooklyn and began the Brooklyn Flea in 2012 where they took the concept of a flea market and applied that with food (which was starting to dominate the Brooklyn start-up scene) and created a place for people would go to shop and mingle.  Out of that came Smorgasburg completely dedicated to food.  It is truly was brilliant and in many ways I think of both Jonathan and Eric as the self-appointed mayors of Brooklyn.

Fast forward, they both bought a building in Crown Heights and built a beer hall along with co-working spaces and singular places to rent for companies to put down their roots.  The beer hall is called Berg’n with food from Asia Dog, Mighty Quinns, Pizza Moto Slice Shop and Ramen Burger.  When I first saw the idea I knew it would be a success.  Located in Crown Heights surrounded by big open streets and beautiful brownstones.  The timing was right.

The other spots that have transformed areas of Brooklyn is the Royal Palms Shuffleboard in Gowanus.  An awesome large space with shuffle board in the middle of surrounding cabanas, a food truck of the night and dozens of games that can be used to play that evening.  It is a local community spot.

Another spot is coming to Gowanus is called Threes Brewing.  Besides brewing a variety of their own beers which are fantastic there will be food, coffee and music from breakfast to late night.  Opening 12/1 and certainly local beers at your favorite bars soon.  It is a great space with a big outside area in the back with a bar and a grill.  The building spreads back and forth from one street to another.

We are investors in all three.  It feels so great to know that each of these spots are creating local watering holes for the neighborhoods of Brooklyn.  The neighborhoods are filled with young people, young families and a DIY vibe that stems from the young tech communities and the food purveyors.  It is great to feel apart of
that beat of the street in areas that not long ago felt vacant.

Let’s hope for change in the medical world

imgresOn Friday night I started coughing about 9pm.  No idea where that came from but I was obviously getting sick.  Could be that I have run myself ragged the last month, it could be the change of weather, it could be a variety of things.  That night I woke up a few nights wheezing.  I was a bit concerned.  The next morning Fred said you were wheezing all night long.  Ugh.

We were out at the beach so I made sure I was the first person at the local clinic when it opened on Saturday morning.  It is a great clinic that I found out later has been run by several groups.  It is changing hands one more time in January and being run by the hospital in Southhampton.  It is hard to make money on the clinic and each group got tired of all the back end of running the business vs the real business at hand; treating patients.

Anyway, I got in quickly and saw a young energetic doctor.  She called in some meds and gave me a treatment while I was there.  It was really efficient.  We started to talk about how difficult it is to make money as a doctor and how these clinics, although great, are financial losers.  She was working at the clinic on the weekends and worked somewhere else practicing medicine during the week.

I told her about Captureproof.  Captureproof is HIPAA approved (which is key for doctors) so she could track and follow patients through the app after the initial visit which based on the results that CP has got it cuts down on the second visits by 80% and saves insurance companies almost 80%.  That is a win win for everyone.  The doctor wanted to understand how she would get paid on the second visit if it was through a photo and a quick message.  I didn’t know the answer but I am assuming that she will gets paid a co-pay based on the insurance.

This doctor has $300K in debt.  She went into medicine because she loved it and wanted to help people.  We need more people like her and yet our medical system remains a mess.  She is not only dealing with providing care she is dealing with the front end of a business to make sure she makes money.  That includes chasing down insurance companies for the co-pay.  It is utterly ridiculous.  We need to make doctors lives seamless so they can concentrate on what they set out to do and that is not being a business person.

I look at Captureproof, and have been part of the journey signing up hundreds of doctors including Blue Cross Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente.  I hear the data that comes back to help make the medical world more affordable and seamless.  This is the beginning of a massive change that will happen over the next ten years.  Technology will hopefully allow doctors to be doctors and make sure that every one has access to preventive healthcare.  At least let’s hope so.

The future of transportation…

imagesTransportation is changing.  You still need a vehicle to get from point A to point B but what type of vehicle is in question.  Electric is in our future and so is a lot more.

One of the greatest things about city life is that you don’t need to own a car.  The public transportation system is good and could be better but it exists underground and above ground.  Citibike announced a huge expansion this week in and around the boroughs of NYC.  Then of course there is Uber.  There is also Hailo, Lyft, Sidecar and a few others but Uber seems to have taken NYC by storm.  There is something brilliant about being able to order a cab or black car from your phone, get the information on the driver and then track their trip to pick you up.

I would hope that the next Presidential administrations will take a hard long look at investing huge amounts of capital on transportation.  As urban areas become more expensive there is a need for high speed trains.  Why can’t someone live two hours outside of the city and still work in the city.  It shouldn’t take two hours to get from one location to the other, it should take 30 minutes tops. That is a game changer.

The cities can not afford to build underground but with less cars on the road but they can certainly afford to build rails above ground.  Why isn’t there a railway that moves freely around Brooklyn and Queens.  It would also be a game changer for the neighborhoods that have already changed dramatically where the transportation is far from seamless.

Cars.  Zip-car changed the need to rent a car or even own a car in the city.  It was the beginning of the shared economy although the cars are owned by Zip-car they are shared by many with the ease of entering your info into your phone and finding a car near you.

I am an investor in Scoot.  Scoot is the zip-car of electric scooters.  When you travel in Europe scooters are everywhere.  They make a lot of sense for large cities when people need to get from point A to point B without a car or a bus or a subway.  Basically a motorized bike.

Here is the future.  You live 2 plus hours outside a major urban area, let’s make it NYC.  Financially it makes more sense for you to live there and you actually prefer the solitude and community.  You jump on the bus or share a car or take your bike down to the train station in the morning.  You get there around 8am, jump on the train and you are in the city by 830.  Your office is on the other side of town and you much prefer being above ground and being solo.  So you walk over to the 40 Scoots parked right outside the train station and jump on one.  You choose the Scoot on Wednesdays because you generally move around a lot on Wednesdays for meetings and it is the most efficient way to get around the city.  Thursdays you take a Citibike because you just go to the office and back and you like the exercise.  You run your errands and at the end of the day instead of going home you decide to go meet a friend for dinner just outside of the major city hub, let’s say Brooklyn.  You park your Scoot and leave it there for the next rider and jump on the ferry to get across the river.  Once you are there you jump on the railcar and go a few stops into Brooklyn where there used to be zero transportation.  You have dinner and get back on the railway which takes you into Queens where you can pick up the train that hooks up with the train that takes you home for the night.  Although if you are really not in the mood you might just Uber it to the train in the new fleets of electric vehicles that have been deemed mandatory in the city because there are no longer any gas stations.  Or you decide to just stay in Brooklyn for the evening and had planned ahead by booking an Airbnb the night before and packing a small bag for the night.  If you forgot something you could always get Postmates (driving their Scoot) to get it for you and meet you at the restaurant before getting to your Airbnb.

This is not so far around the corner.  It might be bumpy getting there but I believe that we will get there sooner than we think.

The hook-up generation

No-means-No-300x172We have all read about the escalation of rapes that have taken place on college campuses.  There are so many conversations to have on this topic.  Are college campuses educating incoming freshman about safe sex and rape.  It is refreshing to see that women are actually coming out and saying this person raped me vs sweeping it under the carpet.  Unfortunately most campuses are not equipped to deal with the aftermath of these abuses as they would prefer to continue to sweep a rape under the carpet.

Education is obviously key. Sexual education should begin at a very young age and in many schools it does where as in other schools there is none.  Sex is one of those topics that parents rarely talk about.  They realize that they should talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol but when it comes to sex many just want to know if they are using birth control.

The reality is that once your kid reaches a certain age they are more than likely going to become sexually active because of the hook-up culture that is essentially the long tail aftermath of the sexual revolution.  Birth control has given women the same opportunity as men when it comes to having casual sex.  Because both men and women are having one night hook-ups there seems to be this broken communication around when no means no.  What is incredible is because so many women are now empowered to have casual sex and feel comfortable about the one night hook-up that they also feel powerful enough to say I have been raped.  They are not holding back but putting it out there because they realize that they were raped, it is a crime and it is not ok.  I applaud every single one of these women who have come forward.  However the system has to get better at gathering information and investigating rape.  After all, in our country you are innocent until proven guilty and you have to prove a crime in order to prosecute those individuals.

Let’s go back to the importance of education.  Young men ( and women ) have to understand that no means no.  Make sure that you are both consenting to having sex.  Communicate and if  someone is so wasted that they can not communicate I would take that as a no.  Second is use protection.  Third is sex is a two way street.  These are conversations that should be taking place at home not only at school.  Respecting each other when it comes to sex is an important lesson to learn young.

Colleges should be talking about rape, educating incoming freshman about no means no and understanding that there will be repercussions, prosecution and immediate suspension if someone was found to have raped another individual.  Colleges should be safe places where you can go wild among friends and are free to have a one night hook-up without fear of being raped.