Democracy? Or is the World A Corporation?

I don’t watch a lot of TVs, so my advertising investment is minimal.   Between the hospital and the Olympics, I have realized that the brands run the world—the large publicly traded food companies, car companies, and consumer products in general.  The narrative of all these ads is around saving the environment and being respectful to everyone, and there are few white bland men in them.  

These ads are seriously diverse and quasi hip in this weird way.  The Facebook ad is so ridiculous.  It should be an ad for their ads and certainly not the young hipsters they represent themselves as.  Showing the Olympics “in close and personal” is always annoying yet entertaining at the same time.  Keep in mind the ads are all the same.  It’s hard not to play the game of “who’s ad is this and who did it?” because all the narratives are the same. 

After coming off of reading The Cult of We Work, an absolutely disgusting display of company and board governance blowing through billions of dollars from limited partners is indescribable because it is egregious and, quite frankly, an embarrassing performance from people we all believe to be impressive in their fields.  Sure, people fuck up, but this is epic.  Hit me once shame on you hit me twice shame on me—shame on all of them.

There is nothing great about any of the above, but it defines democracy.   Things will change because the large companies realize what is important to democracy, selling the environmental issues, showing massive diversity, and dealing with issues of the day like equality.  Maybe the VC community will finally go back to why they began funding companies post-WW2 because the banks wouldn’t support long-term investments in software and infrastructure or brands.  It wasn’t their business model. Unclear what their model is today, but they should not be in the VC business. Maybe things will change, or maybe they won’t.

The world is changing, and the government is slow to catch up as usual from cryptocurrency to cannabis, but that’s democracy too.   It isn’t perfect, but it works.  It’s very messy; that’s what comes with the freedom we all enjoy.  There is a reason people are lined up at our borders.

Hospitals

I got an infection that had to be dealt with immediately. Instead of immediately going back to NYC, we went to Southhampton Hospital. Big mistake. I was there for 8 hours. At the end of the long wait for nothing to happen except to make sure I did not have an infection coursing through my veins, the intern said to me, go back to the city. He also gave me some evaluations, which he wasn’t sure about, but wanted to stick his two cents in, which were entirely inappropriate.

Sitting in an emergency room for that long is insightful into the medical world. Particularly the one that is outside urban areas. They are understaffed. They spend most of the day treating people who need care but don’t have a personal doctor. Unclear if they are equipped for anything outside a broken thumb.

There are also the TVs in each emergency room pod (behind the curtain) running daytime shows. Anyone who invests in consumer products should spend a day watching the commercials. Who knew that Jimmy Dean sausage has expanded into new categories and run ads all day long?

The nurses are the best. The doctors, not so much. Their lack of communication is atrocious. Their ability to make decisions on the fly is nil. Keep in mind Southhampton Hospital is 90 miles from NYC. All I could think about is what happens when someone gets sick in remote areas? What type of health care is anyone receiving who doesn’t have the money to get to a personalized doctor and pay for their prescriptions? My daughter has seen people crying in her pharmacy when they can’t afford the drugs. Heartbreaking is an understatement.

I certainly do not know how to fix the healthcare system but seeing it firsthand for 8 hours, with nothing to do but listen and watch, made me sad, angry, and aghast. We have given pharmaceutical companies rein to make trillions on people. Keep in mind that 80% of the staff is overweight. That certainly doesn’t send a good message.

At what point does the system just break? Or perhaps it already has.

Physical Writing

Most writers will tell you that they write every day with an implement in hand. Not typing on a computer. There is something to the physicality of writing. That creative placement of words is quite different when you physically write. I make notes to myself, but I don’t write in paragraphs.

Years ago, when I sat on the Executive Board of our kid’s K-12 school, there was a long conversation around writing. The past Principal, who I had tremendous respect for, sat on the board and was very concerned about technology in the classroom. How could kids not learn to write the alphabet?

I believe that everyone should learn to write but not having access to technology from day one of Kindergarten already puts those kids behind. I read a worthy interview that examines the connection of equity and computer science between Ron Summers and Christy Crawford, leaders in New York City’s CS4All, an initiative that Fred championed to bring computer science to the 1.1 million public school students. I loved what Christy said “it would be unbelievably inappropriate if kids in NYC didn’t have CS. Without it, we’re not equipping kids for this new civil rights movement. It’s like going to school without a pencil.”

For many, who have a tough time withholding that pencil, computers change the game. It also changes the game for teachers and students to learn at their level. It creates opportunities in the classroom for peer-to-peer learning. The demand for a technically skilled workforce is something I talked about in the mid-’90s at MOUSE and why we need to integrate technology into our schools from day one. It is now 2021, and we are still discussing this.

Covid has unlocked so many issues in education. We know from the past of our own education that what works for some doesn’t work for all. Technology changes are pushing more inclusivity to each individual and hopefully a place where education becomes more equitable.

Do we need to sign our names? Do we need to write physically? Do we need to learn how to draw? I believe we do, but if I had to choose between technology and physical writing, I would choose technology every time.

Blueberry Pie

Just making the bottom of the pie is easier. This recipe is such a win. If you don’t want to make pie crust, you can pick up a crust at the store and pre-bake it.

My standard pie crust is 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 sticks of unsalted butter cut into small pieces, 1 tsp. Kosher salt, 1 tsp. sugar and 5-6 Tbsp. super cold water. In a Cuisinart pulse, the flour, salt, butter, and sugar until the butter looks like small pebbles. Then add the water and pulse a few times until it comes together. Divide into 2 balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and sit in the fridge for a few hours. I still used this recipe even though I only made one crust, and I made one big ball. The key is the Oxo pie crust bag. One of the best products in my kitchen.

Pre-bake the crust. After rolling it out and pricking the bottom with a fork, and putting in the pie pan, cover with tin foil or parchment paper and pour baking beans in to hold the crust down while baking (I have a bunch that I use repeatedly). Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or so. Take the tin foil and beans out and let bake until browned. Then let cool.

The filling is simple. 4 cups of blueberries, 2 tbsp. Cornstarch, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tsp. Lemon juice, 1 tsp. Salt. I used Rose Levy Birnbaum’s recipe.

Take 1 cup of blueberries in a deep saucepan and add 1/2 cup water, bring to a boil. Lower the heat and constantly stir for 3-4 minutes. The blueberries should pop. Add the cornstarch, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Continue mixing for another few minutes until it gets thick. Add this to the other 3 cups of blueberries in a bowl and thoroughly mix. I let this sit in the bowl for about an hour while the pie crust chilled. Pour into the crust and let sit for another hour or more before serving.

I topped the blueberry pie with whipped cream before serving. Insanely good.

Simone

Think back to being a young kid. A young kid who had a home life with three other siblings that had been in and out of foster care at a young age. You find yourself drawn to a sport that you can personally excel. It is a place that makes you feel good. At this point, you aren’t thinking about the expectations that come with the territory.

I can’t help but think about founders who are not thinking about HR, taxes, payroll, expectations from investors, and their own personal stress put on themselves to succeed when that idea takes place. Or the realization that if they succeed everyone who jumped on their bandwagon believes they, they they were brilliant, but if they fail, all on the founder.

Can you even imagine what it feels like to have the entire world talking about you and expecting you to get the gold? The stress of that is mind-boggling particularly when you are already the most decorated American gymnast and the most dominant in the sport.

Putting the world on your shoulders can’t be easy. If you listen or read social media and the press judging every move you make, that has to be hard. Yet when you go to bed at night and close your eyes, you are by yourself in your own head attempting to power through whatever pressure you must bear.

I am sure her fellow team members were disappointed with Simone stepping out of the arena for the group competition but they aren’t her. Just like none of us are the founders who succeed or fail or for that matter anyone else. Everyone deals with stress differently and it goes back to the early days of one’s life. Many founders have found themselves overwhelmed when an idea that they have nurtured with few people turns into a company of 200.

As for Simone, being honest with herself and her team mates should be applauded. We have to stop the judgement and rancor. The only shoes that fit are the ones on our own feet.

Technology

Technology has seeped into every industry. What happens when every vertical run on top of a tech platform? There is still plenty of room to go. How will that change everything else?

Will we be able to understand our individual bodies in a completely different way when prescribing drugs or plant-based medicines?  Will we be able to lower the cost of medicine and healthcare? Will we begin to have a global world where it doesn’t matter where you lived to do your job?  What will the impact be on the American economy?  Will this change how we live?  Will we live more like Europeans with smaller fridges and living space?   Will we shop locally?  Will the malls become social community country clubs?   Will cryptocurrencies help connect the world and take down banks and bad Governments? Will social media settle into something more positive? Will education transform so everyone across the globe can be educated with ease?

We are in such a strange, strange place.  Just thinking about what we will look like in a decade is mind-boggling?  Things move quicker than they did in the 50s.  It doesn’t take twenty years to see a massive impact change.  I hope that technology changes everything so that the market shifts push more equality and nobody lives below the poverty line.

We need change in a positive direction, and I believe that technology will get us there.

Economics

In college, I took my first economics class. I loved it. It just made sense, particularly the law of supply and demand. Simply put, if the demand outweighs the supply, prices go up. We are seeing this right now, particularly in consumer products.

When I worked in the garment industry, we did business with Walmart. They wanted what they wanted and figured out how to get it no matter what. It wasn’t a great way to do business. Regardless, their customer wanted to pay almost the same cost of the material and labor of an item, leaving zero for profit margin. Oh, and keep in mind they also wanted it made in America.

Spoiler alert, Americans can’t survive on the same hourly wage as people in China or Vietnam. Sad but true. Even Italy got hosed when all their beautiful ceramics began being knocked off in Chinese factories. What happened during that time is we began making massive amounts of product in other countries. Americans want to have their cake and eat it too, but it isn’t possible.

Fast forward, we have a global pandemic, and the supply chain becomes a nightmare. At the same time, we have almost 40% of Americans anti-trade. The red hat, Make America Great, is about keeping everything here. The reality is, immigration is the cornerstone of our country. The majority of products being made overseas are what we wear on our backs and put in our homes. The supply chain has been disrupted by COVID and also by the last administration.

Now we find ourselves with a lack of supply and plenty of demand. Until we all get vaccinated and realize that we have been and need to be a global trading world, we will see inflation in the short term and possibly longer.

Kindness is Key

With Covid, every day seems to be a shooting target. We are living through such strange times. Every meal, the discussion eventually moves towards what has changed, where are we going, when will this end, and how will our lives be different. The answers change daily.

The one constant is that people want to keep their good friends closer than ever. The desire for in-person human connection is understandable. The strangest thing is the lockdown felt like we were treading water. In this weird way, when I see people now, it is as if I saw them yesterday.

More now than ever, kindness is key. It doesn’t cost anything. It is free. Being mean, frustrated, or angry when anxiety runs high isn’t helpful. Hospitality is clearly understaffed, entrepreneurs continue to build businesses, and thanks to the anti-vaxers, we might have another lockdown.

Be kind, say thank you….it’s free.

Hood Code

Yesterday I had the privilege of talking to Jason Gibson, the founder of Hood Code. Jason grew up in Queens in the New York City Public Housing buildings (NYCHA). Like many of his peers, he found himself making plenty of cash, as he said, “working business on the streets”. Eventually, he found himself arrested and sentenced to 5 years in jail.

He served 35 months and made the best of his time figuring out his life, himself, and how to never return. He told me that jail is jail, nobody helps you there, you are just locked up. Painful but true. He started reading about the titans of today and how their access to technology at a young age was key. He taught himself to code, found a non-profit organization to give guidance when he got out.

His guiding light was to return to the NYCHA community and give kids (8-14) access to a computer and learn how to code through Scratch. Most parents have no access, and no idea about writing code, and neither do the kids. He hopes that this opportunity of learning to code will empower the youth of his community to subvert the school to prison pipeline to the school to career.

Jason works as a developer 50 hours or more a week with a pro-bono law office acting as essentially an agent to help formerly incarcerated people stay out of jail. Jason wants to see Hood Code (great name btw) get into every NYCHA building (they all have community centers) in afterschool and summer programs right next to the basketball and art classes run. He is spot-on; there should be a coding class too. The big picture is to help the kids who can get into college do so, and the ones that can’t help them secure developer jobs.

Jason is amazing, inspiring, and making a serious impact in his community. He even texts the parents of the kids he teaches now every night to make sure they show up the next day. He got his 5013C and is now a full-fledged non-profit organization. Being able to give him the full amount he needs right now at the end of our call made my summer. Gotham Gives will connect him to the organizations we have been supporting for years through our family foundation with hopes to fulfill his dreams.

Just like any industry, disrupting from the outside is the key. He grew up in NYCHA, he understands the reality of his community, and there is no doubt he will change many kids’ lives.

If you are inspired, please give. Every dollar truly counts. He is making lemonade every day.

Condo Mayhem

What happened in Florida shouldn’t happen, period. A building shouldn’t fall down. Someone said to me, who was not born here, said this happens in third-world countries where corruption is rampant. Remember watching the YouTube video of major buildings in China being put up in a few days. Would you want to live there?

I shudder to think about the people who live in Florida in the condominiums still standing.  Building regulators and insurance companies are swooping in to look under the hood. Undoubtedly there will be repairs needed, and the cost will be high. What happens when you can afford to buy the condo, pay the monthly fees, but when there is an assessment, it throws off your money management to the wind?

As the story unfolds, and it will take time, the cost to fix the structural problems associated with the building was delayed due to the massive cost. The question is always, who is to blame and who should pay for this? Should the developer? Why me? What happens to people who are now homeless, must continue to pay their mortgage and were living their best life, and now find themselves living on the edge in a hotel?

There will be tremendous debt to fix the buildings still standing. It needs to be monitored, or it will become a serious problem ten years from now when the gig is up.  We have watched that in our history through the mortgage crisis.  But this is what we do.  We leverage.  It is very American.  We live beyond our means, and the banks take full advantage of that.

Many years ago, we were in Madrid and met up with an old friend from high school. Her father was a diplomat, so she and all of her siblings spread out around the world. Her husband, who was a Spanish banker, was shocked that she had credit card debt. In Spain, at least at this point, they did not have credit cards. Credit card debt was unacceptable. They lived vastly different than Americans.

Millennials are not into debt, and Generation Z is definitely not. We might all take a lesson from this. The desire of the next generation to live within their means will force housing to change.  Developers leverage themselves with banks. They usually put down only 10% to buy a building or a plot of land and take the other 90% in debt to build the property with the hopes that they can then sell it, pay the bank back and make some money in the transaction. When there is a downturn in the economy, and when you only have very little skin in the game, it isn’t such a big deal to walk away.

Many lessons to be learned in Florida. I hope that we do not repeat lessons that should have been learned from our past about highly leveraging our bank accounts to live lives that teeter on the edge. I have never understood living large with debt. We had nothing for years and lived hand to mouth; the thought of seeing a huge credit card bill would have given us too much anxiety.