Posts from musings

Happy 4th of July

imgresSummer is here.  Time to relax.  Read books.  See family and friends.  Have a BBQ.  Bake a cake.  Enjoy the 4th.  Watch fireworks. Celebrate our freedom.

What’s next?

imagesOver the last couple of years I have met with many women who are my age and are thinking about a new career.  The good news is that these women want to do something meaningful that is not in the non-profit arena.  I am not dismissing the importance of philanthropic work but for some reason women tend to gravitate towards that vs the profit world once they start to make career changes.  They want to sit on those boards and make a difference.  I believe there are other ways to make a difference.

I have told this story several times but not in writing.  Years ago I spoke at an event for about 100 women. Most of these women came out of the banking and legal arena.  Afterwards two women came up and said “we want to do what you are doing.”  They followed up and we got together to talk.  They had both been financially successful in their own right and were looking to put their capital to work by angel investing.  This was music to my ears.

I talked to them about two deals I had currently committed to and still needed capital.  They were concerned that they did not know anything about the business.  I started to ask them questions. Ends up that when you are our age that you know a lot more than you realize.  Experience is worth a lot.  They got excited and started to ask a million questions from what is a note and how does it work to what percentage would they own of the business.  Once they started to wrap their arms around what it meant to invest in a start-up at the early stages they began to hem and haw.

Hem and hawing is understood.  When will we make our money back, will we make our money back, what kind of returns will we really get, etc., etc.  I finally said to them, “how much money did you spend on your holiday vacation this year”?  That was the “aha” moment.  The amount of money they were putting into these two companies in total was probably a bit less than what they have spent on their vacations.  I followed up with you are making an impact in a women entrepreneurs business.  You will help her grow her business.  You will learn about the start-up world.  Most important you will feel empowered that you were able to do this.  You will be making a difference.

They both pulled the trigger and have done almost a dozen deals with me since.  They now they have a whole crew of women who also want to do what they are doing.  I am going to put together a breakfast this fall and invite them all.  I want each of them to understand the process.  What they are investing in and why.  How they should think about it.  I don’t want to be responsible for their dollars or decisions.  I want each of them to feel empowered to do their own investing.  This is going to be fun.

 

Fear, reality and the imposter syndrome

imgres-2David Noel interviewed me at Soundcloud when I was in Berlin for an event that they put on called #Role Models.  I was excited to be asked.  The house was packed and about 70% of the people there were women.

After David and I spoke for awhile he opened it up to questions.  One woman asked me a question about fear.  How do you deal with fear?  Fear is a very powerful feeling.  It can come out of nowhere.  I can be connected to so many things.  Fear of heights, fear of amusement park rides, fear of failure, fear of commitment.  The list is endless.

It was a simple question and a great question.  I paused to think about it.  My first thought is what is she afraid of.  My answer was simple.  The only person that knows that you have fear is yourself.  You have to figure out that issue but when you go into the world do not show your fear.  Show strength.  It might take a lot to muster that up but that fear is your own making.  It is in your own head.  To not think that everyone else around you who is faking it until they make it doesn’t have fear you are kidding yourself.  Take that deep breath when you enter the room and when you leave it. When you go out and talk to the world keep that fear in check and overtime you realize that you had nothing to fear.  It was just your own baggage.

Fast forward to the next day I spoke at another event, this time women only, at the American Embassy in Berlin.  Someone brought up the imposter syndrome.  Something that many women have.  Imposter syndrome is described as something where people have feelings of inadequacy although the opposite is usually true.  There is this internal fear that they will be discovered that they actually know nothing and are not worthy of being in the job, the conversation or whatever it is.  It is a lot like fear.

I ended up having this very long conversation with my son about insecurities.  I told him that in many ways I have finally come into myself without feeling the imposter syndrome.  I have had that imposter syndrome for a very long time.  He refers to me as a rock so he couldn’t believe that I felt that way.  As he puts it, I am killing it right now.

I explained to him, just like I said to the woman at Soundcloud, what you see is not always what someone feels inside.  The key is figuring out that feeling from early on because the importance of feeling you belong at the table is just as important as sitting at it.  At the end of the day, fear is a real thing.  So is anxiety, depression and everything else that is indescribable but lives in your own head.  Much of it comes with your DNA.  Figuring out how to work past those feelings are not easy but you are the only person who is aware of them.  Nobody else.  Remember that.  Also, work on making your head healthy.

FDR said the most eloquent thing about fear.  “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”   He was spot on.

Equal Rights for everyone

slide_436062_5714050_freeI was getting in a cab in Paris when I found out that the Supreme Court passed marriage equality nationwide.  I started to cry.  I was seriously overcome with emotion.  We are finally moving forward as a nation from gay rights to healthcare to the slow evolution of legalizing weed to taking down the Confederate flag and that says something about where our nation is going.  I hope that gun control is next.

IMG_8031My daughter sent me this.  The numbers are staggering.  Let’s hope that there is a movement afoot and this is just the beginnings of change in our country.

I am celebrating this past week but we have to remember there is still a journey ahead of us.

The next generation is here

imgres-2I am a fiend for cultural information.  That is a broad theme.  I pay attention to the ads, the fashion spreads, the home design trends, the food trends, etc.   There is no doubt that the next generation is here.  There is a look and vibe that many refer to with the word Brooklyn in the description.  That was cutting edge a few years back.  Now it is part of the masses.  This is being driven by the millennials desire to stay cutting edge and baby boomers wish cash to spend.  It is the new modern.

Walking around the city and seeing the large chains take over each block is disheartening but is it what is happening now.  Those chains are even companies that were not that long ago start-up brands such as Vince, Warby Parker, Chipolte, Rag and Bone, Lululemon, West Elm and Steven Alan.  They are capitalizing on the urbanization of the globe.  The real estate owners are jacking up prices as cities become more crowded and cash is flowing in.  It is gentrification coming at us fast and furious.  There appears to be very little room for creativity unless it is in the outskirts of major hubs.

What we really need is to put serious capital into our transportation system so that people can afford to live in areas that have access to cities.  That connection will pull the creativity to other places.  This generation is here.  They are living their lives differently than the last generation.  They have a look, a vibe, a feel and a way that they want to live their lives which includes how to raise their families, spend their money, eat their food, consume products and travel.

I can’t help but try and peek around the corner to see what is coming up next…

7 Words to describe yourself

imgres-2Paul Holdengraber has been creating interesting conversations at the NYPublic Library the last several years.  His salons are unique and really interesting.  Paul loves to think big and he definitely is honest about what he gets and doesn’t.  That is why I think he loves putting on these events to challenge his own thinking.

One of the things he does is when he introduces people he uses 7 word autobiographies to describe them.  A twist on the age old bio.  I was at something the other day and the entrepreneur said something about living with a tough loving mom and a nice father.  That was a short description but it said a mouthful.

What are the 7 words you would use to describe yourself?  It is a good exercise to go through personally but also for your business.

Here is an attempt at my own:  Curious, Energetic, Bold, Mother, Optimist, Connoisseur, Trend-seer

Change is good

imagesI can come up with a million reasons why I love change but I do have a hard time understanding why everyone doesn’t embrace change.  Change is inevitable.  Change is happening everywhere.  Cities are changing, homes are being rebuilt based on how we live our lives now vs 30 years ago, our businesses are being shifted due to technology and the environment that they have to compete in, educating students is changing because the students are different than they were 30 years ago, styles are changing as they always do and that is from home decor to haircuts to clothing.

There is a shift across the globe into the next generation.  Just take a look at the ads and the consumer that they are geared towards.  That says it all.  The millennials are the next generation who has influence over the way we consume everything from style to food to products to educating their children.  They are the next generation of leaders.  I hope that they are not as cranky about change as some past generations and that they embrace it as we should embrace theirs.

These changes that take place with every new generation represent the now.  You can just look back at old photos of anything and pinpoint the time it took place.  We are constantly evolving and that is a good thing.  It is not always easy for older generations to embrace that change even if they were all about change at a young age.  Fighting against a changing tide is exhausting because the tide always wins.  Instead we should all enjoy the wave.

My Grandma was so into every new season of fashion.  She’d relish the new look each year and was totally into what people were wearing now, how interiors and architecture changed, and essentially the new new now now.  I love that she was like that until her last day.  Maybe it is innate but everyone should embrace change.  Otherwise it is becomes boring when you don’t move forward.

Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT said something that I really liked about change when it comes to what is happening today.  Technology doesn’t just change what we do; it changes who we are.  I think that can be applied to anything when it comes to change.

Marketplaces

images1Marketplaces have been on the rise on the net for quite awhile.  Marketplaces have grown by helping singular brands build their revenue and their names without having to put a lot of money into their own website.  What is interesting is that as brands have caught up with their need to build their own website one has to wonder how deep should their site go?  It dependent on how big that brand is.

Two marketplaces that I have been using for quite some time are 1st Dibs and Farfetch.  They are both significantly large companies at this point.  What they have in common are a few things.  They capitalized on businesses that were way behind the times in regards to getting their businesses up on the web.  They both realized that creating a one stop shop for all your needs in each of their spaces makes sense for several reasons.  They have helped all the stores on their sites leverage their businesses.  They have built one marketplace brand and so when you shop there you do not feel as if you are shopping at several stores.  You can search for a specific item and it comes up regardless of where it is from.  As far as I know there are thousands of stores on both 1st Dibs and Farfetch but it doesn’t feel that way.  They have got out in front of the curve where brands are now starting to think about building their own website.

I would tell a large brand such as Rag and Bone or West Elm that they do need their own site.  That many customers probably go directly to their site because they want to see what they have specifically.  For other brands who are small and unique that it doesn’t make sense to spend time and money on their sites but to work with marketplaces.  Sure they should have a site but they don’t need to have deep ecommerce.  It takes away from the business at hand.

Hey Gorgeous is seeing that now.  The up and coming brands want to be on their site because their customers continue to come back again and again because the experience is a good one (and obviously the product is good too).  It isn’t a marketplace but it is a singular store brand geared towards a specific customer making it a one stop shop. Venuebook, a totally different marketplace that highlights venues in a variety of cities to book for events, dinners, etc.  If you are a planner that needs to book several places a month you are not going to spend time going to hundreds of individual sites.  You want to go a marketplace that is the leader in the area.  Take a look at Architizer, you can find architects across the globe on there.  Mouth isn’t a marketplace but it sells top indie food and liquor products so it is a one stop shop too.

These days everyone needs a website.  The question is how deep should that site be.  I am suspect of any business that doesn’t have a site these days but I completely respect simple sites that direct me to a killer marketplace.

The changing of education

imgresEducation is changing.  The good news is that there are many people working on new ideas, new companies and concepts to make a change in the way that we educate our children.  There are online platforms, there are charter schools, there are after school activities around STEM, curriculums are changing, etc.  There is also a looming college debt crisis coming our way.

If you look back at the history of education in our country there has always been times of innovation.  New thoughts on how to educate children.  Some work, some don’t.  I was part of one of the shifts in the early 70’s where my elementary school was formed around a group teachers that taught an entire grade with very little structure.  There were projects set up around the free-flowing rooms.  I took full advantage of this curriculum by doing nothing instead of being motivated to learn as much as possible.  I became the number one spit player including tether ball champion.  This did not bode well for me entering a classically structured junior high school  starting in 7th grade when I didn’t know what a verb, noun or adjective was.  I was placed in the English class with people who were clearly challenged but that is where I tested.  In about 2 months time I went from the not so smart class to the smartest class in the grade but I was doing a lot of faking it until I made it.  Those grammar issues still remain with me.

Fred went to MIT that is all about progressive learning.  You learn through taking things apart and put them back together.  Some of that is project based learning.  Our kids went to a K-12 progressive school that had no interest in rote memorization.  This type of learning allows you to gain knowledge by taking a deeper dive into exploring the subject matter.  There is a lot of data around this type of education and we are just starting to see colleges make the changes that come with that.

Having a teacher stand in the middle of a classroom vs standing in front of a black board is the first one.  Using technology as a platform to build on for any class.  Creating physical spaces that can be used for learning outside of the classroom.  It is important to use all space in learning facilities even if it means adding some chairs and a table for people to sit down an engage in conversation in a random nook that nobody uses.

I find it frustrating when people believe that their education 30 years ago worked for them so why does anything have to change.  Each generation is different based on the way the world changes.  We are living in a technology age where information is coming fast and furious and that changes the way we think, the way we should be educating our children (not as much the information but the technique), the way we look at education policies on college campuses from the drinking age to the legalization of marijuana, the way we think about curriculums for the future as our children will be competing in a global economy and most important how to teach kids to educate themselves for life.  Progressive project based education teaches people to challenge and engage after leaving school to look at the world in a more positive way.  Rote education is just spitting out memorized facts that doesn’t challenge you to think, explore and ask questions.

Education will be in a very different place in 10 years.  More data is being published on what works and what doesn’t.  In order to keep moving forward we need to continue to always think about each generation by evolving education curriculums including the spaces that are used for teaching to be ahead of the curve not behind it.

 

Private markets

perplexedsign3-300x199I got together with someone I have known since the mid-90’s.  He had a successful outcome with his business and has gone on to have an interesting career still connected to the technology industry.  Once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur as he is starting to think about his next company.  It is always good to see that.

We had an interesting conversation about the private markets vs the public ones.  We both lived through the technology boom and bust in the late 90’s.  It wasn’t pretty but many of us saw it coming.  Valuing companies that had nothing but smoke and mirrors at prices comparable to profitable publicly traded companies just didn’t add up.  When things don’t add up they usually don’t stay where they are.

We are living in a technology era where the advent of technology is creating change in every sector of our lives.  It is exciting.  Many are starting to talk about the “bubble” but I am not convinced there is a bubble as much as there will be a time to recalibrate.  There will still be many new ideas and companies to enter the market but the valuations will be more in line of what they should be worth.  The escalation of valuations have to do with so many different factors from ego to accelerators to ownership to competition.  It is easier to create those type of numbers in the private market.  The public market place is more of a reality check to what the company is worth.

My guess is that we will be seeing a lot of private money get lost.  Some companies will just close their doors while others will just change their valuations in down rounds and continue to build into a meaningful business based on real worth.  The impact will be felt particularly in the crowd funding arenas where many have followed supposed leaders in their investments.

I heard from someone the other day who wanted some advice and a bit of a reality check on her investment strategy and expectations on some crowd funding sites.  The way she worded it was as if she expected a certain return and just wanted to understand the time frame.  It scared me.  Investing in start-up companies is a huge risk.  It is important to look at a portfolio with not one or two investments but multiple where you put in the same amount of cash in order to mitigate your risk.  You never know who will be the winner but you do hope one will pull out of the box and pay for all the companies that might not have succeeded.  You can also see zero returns and all losses.

I have been at it for a decade and certainly behind the curtain for a long time.  I am still learning.  I believe in the companies that I have invested in but who knows maybe it will turn out that I am a terrible investor.  I made bad choices.  That is why as an investor it is important to make your own decisions, do your own diligence and trust your own gut.

The public markets are based on real facts, real earnings and a real audience.  It is great to see so many companies grow and change the landscape of our economy but the private markets are starting to make me feel a little on edge.