Posts from musings

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.

Teaching confidence

imgres-1DNA is a funny thing.  I see things in our kids that sometimes just freak me out.  It can be in their mannerisms or how they react to something or just a look in their face and I think wow that reminds me of me or Fred.  The other thing is that as our children have become young adults I see that their are essentially the same people from the day they came out of the womb.

Someone asked me what have I done to give our daughters confidence.  I have to say a flurry of things went through my head but the one thing that was constant is treating them (even from the time they were really young) with respect.  What I mean by that is that we taught them how to do many things with an understanding that they would and could figure it out.

I will share a few stories that went through my head.  When Jessica was in elementary school, I believe 2nd grade, she had a project where they had to build a castle.  She figured out what she needed, we got the supplies and she built it.  We didn’t built it, she built it.  I remember we went to the school to see all the castles one night and it was so obvious that no kid really built their own castle.  Jessica knew it too.  We praised her because she learned a lot that night but most important she built it, nobody else.  That was a confidence builder.

I’d take the kids to McDonalds (shocking but true) when they were young and we lived in the burbs.  It was the entertainment for the evening or afternoon because of the ball pit.  I let them order their own food.  If they wanted something else, I’d give them the money and tell them to go up and order it themselves and get it.  I trusted to them to do it and believe they could.

I remember when our kids moved to NYC at 8, 6 and 3.  We got on the subway to go to school and there was definitely a look of fear when we got down there.  They stayed very close to me.  I acted as if it was no big deal.  Within less than two weeks, we’d get on, they’d find their seat and acted like they owned the place.

At an early age, probably two, we taught them each out to shake hands and look someone in the eye.  Shake hands like you mean it.  Don’t be afraid to challenge an adult if you don’t agree with what they have to say but be respectful.  Express yourself.

Emily was definitely much more wary of new stuff.  Dropping her off at a new school in a new city after moving back from the burbs was a big change for them.  To me, it was just normal.  It is how I operate.  I move from one thing to another with out giving it much thought.  I remember leaving her in class and she looked at me with big glossy eyes begging me to stay.  I looked at her and said, suck it up, you will be fine and you don’t want me to stay when no other parent is.  I will return.  She made a friend in a few minutes and she was fine.  That was certainly a confidence booster.

When Jessica was 12 she had a piano recital on 57th Street.  I don’t remember why but we had to meet there but we were all coming from different locations.  I told her how to take the subway and she did it for herself the first time.  Fred freaked but I knew that she would figure it out.  She did.

Always encouraging with a very loose boundaries yet there were boundaries. Cleaning up the basement after their friends came over every night and then they eventually figured out that their friends had to clean up with them before they went home.  Eating what was made for dinner, end of story.  Never doubting their abilities to find themselves and succeed.  Doing their homework by themselves unless help was needed but I never asked to see their homework, I just expected they would get it done.  They did.  Respecting that they have their own lives and they have to meet their own challenges.

I guess the best people to ask would be our girls ( and Josh ) what we did, if anything, to instill confidence in themselves.  I know one thing, that both our girls stand up for what themselves, what they believe to be right and they don’t take shit from anyone.  Maybe it is in their DNA, who knows.  Maybe it is in the way we raised them.  More than likely it is a mix of both; nature vs nurture.  I know that we are seriously proud of the people that they have become but then again we have always been proud of all three of them.

Greed and real estate

images-3There has been a lot of conversation in the twittersphere about a variety of restaurants closing down in NYC due to the rent going up. It has become too costly for those restaurants to pony up for a new lease with a higher rent.

A variety of things went through my head when I saw Bobby Flay’s tweet;  A note to NY landlords. Good restaurants are closing all over the city because the rents are impossible to pay. Stop turning NYC into a mall and then a few days later with Union Square Cafe??? Who’s next?

I have seen more than a few restaurant investment opportunities over the years and IMHO they all come down to three components.  How much is being raised, how many seats and how much is the rent.  Of course, good management and good food would be important too but those are things that don’t always turn out even if you believe that part wrapped up.  Being a good chef is different than being a good chef that can teach a crew in the kitchen to execute on your recipes day in and day out whether the chef is there or not.

In the 80′s Columbus Avenue was booming.  People actually went there as a destination location for restaurants even if they lived downtown.  What happened was the real estate landlords got greedy.  They saw what was happening and raised the rents to a point where every Mom and Pop store or local restaurant closed.  What came in was an influx of nation wide chains because they can afford to pay the rent even if they are losing money in that location.  It is a branding opportunity as much as it is a brick and mortar location.  It was sad to see because at one point the big national brands pulled out when the economy had a downturn and the store fronts remained empty.  Perhaps if the landlords had figured out how to keep the locals there then the storefront would have remained open.  Who knows.

One restaurantier who will go unnamed wasn’t buying if that the imminent closing of Union Square Cafe and WD-50 had anything to do with rent but that they were just not doing the same type of revenue that they were doing years ago.  They had lost their customer base and it is a good way to close shop by blaming it on the rent.  That is up for debate.

What I don’t know is if the landlords of these buildings have used their buildings as collateral to pull out cash so they actually need to raise their rents or if they just see an opportunity to make more cash.  I believe there has to be a balance.  What makes NYC so unique is that it defines capitalism.  Supply and demand work here.  It is also an incredibly creative place and it would be really sad to see chains take over each block.  I can live in other areas of the country to go shop in a mall.  I really do not want to do it in NYC.

Call me naive or crazy but if I was the landlord I would try and find a happy medium.  It is good for the neighborhood and in turn good for NYC.

Happy Birthday America

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My father traveled all over the globe when we were little and would come back saying we are so lucky that we live in America.

Reading the headlines around the globe in the last few months is so utterly upsetting.  The young girls in Nigeria are still missing.  The escalation of anger in Israel and Palestine just gets worse.  Syria is in a civil war.  South Korea has had one tragedy after another.  The Ukraine is in turmoil.  At least when the Malaysan plane went down a few months ago there was international unity to find the plane.

There needs to be a superhero Government.  Conceptually the United Nations was supposed to be that.  An entity that cared about the people, that saved the children, that saved the day, that saved Governments from themselves. Politics seeps into everything and there is no doubt that the United Nations is one political animal.

Don’t get me wrong, our country has plenty of its own issues.  Immigration, a overly conservative Supreme Court that appears to be disconnected from the majority of the people in our country, the education system, etc.  I could go on and on.

There are issues everywhere.  I am lucky to be born in the US.  We are free, I get to vote, I can travel freely, I still believe that although nothing is perfect that being a US citizen is a privilege.

Happy Birthday America…and I am hoping for that super power Government that supports the good will of the people around the globe.

Why do women say they are sorry?

When I saw this piece by Pantene I immediately thought about the Womens Entrepreneur Festival a few years ago.  I started out the morning asking women to stop saying I am sorry.  Sorry for what?  Sorry that I am interrupting you, sorry that I bumped into you, sorry that I don’t agree, etc.,  It is something for whatever reason that women do and they need to stop it.

Year ago, in the mid 90′s I was at a conference that Fred was invited to.  I knew all the people and they said I could participate too.  It was a small event, maybe 60 people.  At one point about 30 people sat around a conference table discussing a topic.  I tried to get my point across but just couldn’t seem to jump in the conversation.  Needless to say it was the tech industry in the mid-90′s and it was mostly all men.  The guy I was sitting next to was someone I really liked and did business with.  He saw how frustrated I was and whispered to me, stop starting with “I think”.  Women do that.  Just state your opinion and you will jump in much easier.  Really?  I tried it his way and the next thing I know, I took over the floor.

I learned a huge lesson.  That goes with never saying I am sorry.  Watch the video.  It is spot on and shows the difference it makes by leading with no apologies.

 

Why I invest in women

imgresI did a recap on my investments before writing this post.  Roughly 60% of the investments I have made over the past 8 years have been in women entrepreneurs who are either solo or the co-founder.  I am pretty sure that I am doing significantly better than most when it comes to supporting women.  I really make a conscious effort to support women entrepreneurs even if I do not invest in them. The lawsuit that hit the air waves yesterday about Tinder really made me take pause.  For any of you who were not on their regular information channels yesterday, Whitney Wolfe the co-founder of Tinder (and it appears from many points of proof in the legal documents – everything is public knowledge – that she was the reason behind the name, the launch and a lot more) was mentally and sexually harassed for years.  Wouldn’t be surprised to see more women reading that and thinking to themselves, wow that sounds like what is happening to me. The most amazing thing about the technology industry, which is essentially the “it” industry these days is that young dynamic smart people can build a business, turn an industry upside down and get the funding they need to do it just by giving up a piece of their ownership for the upside of building something big.  The downside is that many, of course not all or who would I invest in, of the people building these businesses are young, arrogant and have zero experience in managing people.  Sometimes I even wonder how their mother would feel if they witnessed some of their behavior. I admit that I have talked to some of the “bros” that every article wrote about yesterday.  One group in particular that when I got off the phone with them I was flabbergasted.  BTW, they exist in many industries but I am focused on tech because that is where I spend my time.  The frat mentality is we are so superior to everyone around us that you best get on our band wagon now or you will be sorry is essentially the message they put out.  That swagger becomes a cancer within the company which is why there are more than a handful of companies in the tech industry that do not have one woman on the team.  Unfortunately there are many investors out there who actually connect with that attitude. So why do I invest in women?  The list is long but the most important reason is that I believe that the more women that rise to the top as successful entrepreneurs proving their businesses to be worthy investments the more women will be invested in.  Of course the thought is with more women being successful the less we will see young men behave in the manner that appears to have happened at Tinder (older men too).  Let’s all hope that a few years from now that investors are seeking out women to invest in and that this type of behavior is vilified.  That as investors we will dismiss young men who behave in this manner, quickly and appropriately vs ignoring the frat boy mentality and turning a cheek for the next supposed big idea.

Co-founders?

images-1I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on the start-up community on how many co-founders survive the first stage of growth.

Co-founders are usually not equal.  In general there is one person who takes more equity and leads the team yet many investors and incubator programs want to see co-founders.  I get it.  When you are solo there is an echo chamber in your own head and people want to see a team.  You really do not want to lean on someone who is part of the company to discuss how to deal with investors or managing the group.  The team is great for a brain storming strategy around the vision but it stops there.

Why many companies co-founders part ways is simply because as companies evolve the expectations of that co-founder are not met due to their expertise not being needed anymore or what they were supposed to manage  is not essential at this time. Why pay that salary give them that stock if you are going to need to hire someone who fits the needs of the company when cash and stock is tight.

The most important thing is divorcing amicably.  It is not easy but in the long run makes for a better working environment and I do believe never burn your bridges.  I have seen many boards fearful of getting rid of a founder or getting rid of a co-founder because the team will leave or it will kill the company.  What usually happens instead is the team lets out a sigh of relief because they are just as frustrated if not more than the investors or the co-founders.  I firmly believe that if you are honest and transparent that people know that it is not working out.  They might not want to but at their gut they know it.

As our lives become more blended between our personal and business lives the parting of ways becomes even more difficult.  When you spend 24/7 with someone in a start-up you end up as friends.  It is hard not to.

There is something to be said for that quote in the Godfather, “It’s not personal sonny, it’s just business.”

 

27+ years

Today Fred and I have been married for 27 years.  We have been friends for over 33.   That is a very long time.  I still remember when we first met, the first summer we spent together, the beginnings of our journey.

I can mark each time of our life with a title.  College, cross-country trip, move to NYC, starting our careers, moving to Brooklyn, having children, moving to the suburbs ( probably the most difficult time in our lives ), moving back to the city, new careers, etc.  There are many many more but those are some of the headers.  Now we are moving into the next chapter; empty nesters.

I really believe the key to our success is simple.  First of all we are good friends.  We have total respect for each other. We are both insanely competitive.  We love living our lives the same way; work hard and play hard.  Family has always come first.  We both enjoy the same things from travel to the latest restaurant to live music to the arts to skiing.  Most of all we enjoy each others company.

27 years, well 33 actually, seems like a long time but honestly I still feel like we are in many ways we are the same people we were when we first met just younger.  Much has happened along the way but in many ways we have just been having one endless conversation.

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