Bahamas

We have done our fair share of traveling the month of February. This winter is a bit of a mixed adventure. Our friends just moved into their place which took many arduous years to complete so we made a plan to go and hang and enjoy their new digs. It was an extremely relaxing few days which is always an added bonus.

We spent one day at Highbourne Cay and spent the night. It defines the beauty of the Bahamas. Warm and sticky with insanely soft white sand dropping into deep blue salty water and that rhythm of Island life which pulls you in quick.

The banana birds are aggressive animals, fearless of people and lovers of grapes

We took a boat out to a small island only inhabiated by iguanas. The skipper gave us long wooden skewers that we stacked up with grapes. Out of the board, onto the beach where we held out our skewers and iguanas would race out to grab the grape in their mouths. Very polite timid animals as they never fought over the stick but let the first one who had the nerve to jump out of the fray get their treat.

One evening we had dinner at Shima, located at the Island House Hotel, probably the best food on the island. The chef, Dave Rogers, who made his way here through Melbourne, is quite talented.

Wine began to flow as the dishes began to come out. Here are some of the highlights. We started with a few raw fish dishes. Always a good start. His take on a spicy salmon roll topped with a crispy popcorn fish on top. The mixture of warm rice, raw fish and that crunch mixed together was delicious.

The most creative dish that blew us all away is the egg dish. We each got an individual egg that was soft inside topped with fried sweet pieces of tamarind and a jelly sauce on top. It has to be popped inside the mouth just to let the combination of flavor and runny yolk burst in your mouth leaving a spicy tang. Warm pieces of naam to mop up what’s left in the bowl.

Shoft ribs braised for eight hours in coconut milk. Many other dishes all with flavor, spicy, sweet and tang.

Dessert of sticky black rice and bananas was a nice end to our meal.

There really is nothing like these skys.

Union Station

photo by emaleedee

One day I will write that book about each company I invested in. Everyone is so different, each trajectory takes a different arc, and timing makes a major difference.

Union Station began as Little Borrowed Dress. Nobody ever gets excited about owning a bridesmaid dress or any fancy dress for one occasion so the rental market around clothing rose to its glory about five years ago. But something happened over the past five years which is manufacturing technology changed so that making one garment cost the same as making 1200 garments.

So the cost of renting might be great for the consumer but the margins are slim for the company because of inventory management, dry-cleaning costs, life of a garment, wrong inventory, etc.

Corie Hardee, the founder of Union Station, knows more about the bridal business than anyone I know. She rode the wave starting with LBD over five years ago. The push from the start-up industry was you can’t just have bridesmaids dresses as a business so add other items, change the name, create a marketplace, blah, blah, blah, blah. Corie has gone done every path and has come out on the other side as Union Station, a place where you can buy an affordable dress for $150 or less to be a beautiful bridesmaid, feel comfortable and stick to the color theme of the wedding. These dresses are also great for events or even proms.

As the wedding industry fumbles, aka David’s Bridal and others, Corie has stayed in the game. Perhaps a windy road, but all successful companies have windy roads. I am insanely proud to be part of this company and I believe this time around, we know more than anyone else with years of experience, data and knowledge under our belt.

Check out Union Station, that just launched yesterday. Go get your swatch and start figuring out your wedding. Very excited about the next five years!

Diversity Should be #1 for Good Reason

I began investing in women over a decade ago. It was a major part of my investing thesis. Why? Twelve years doesn’t seem like a lot of time but in the world of technology it is a long, long time ago.

People Just Weren’t Listening

Through my blog, Gotham Gal, I started to talk to founders—often women—who were having a hard time raising capital, or even getting anyone on the other side of the table to understand the opportunity in their business or, more to the point, connect with them. I heard from women with amazing companies that would help women, and from women with simply great companies… yet I heard from them, over and over, that people just weren’t listening.  

I listened. And I invested.

I invested in businesses that I believed had a huge opportunity that could grow to be worth $100M or more. Of course, sometimes what I see others don’t—but nobody at that time was talking to these women.

This was the reason I started the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival with Nancy Hechinger at ITP/NYU. It was the reason I began writing a piece every Monday called the Women Entrepreneur of the Week, and then evolved that Monday piece into a podcast where I get the opportunity to speak to women founders, and I could make sure that plenty of people could really hear their voices, their passion, and their entrepreneurial brilliance.

On that podcast, I recently spoke with Nadia Boujarwah, Co-founder of Dia & Co, a shopping and styling resource for plus-sized fashion. Nadia spoke to me about the countless times that she tried to explain to (male) audiences the huge potential market—according to her, more than 60% of American women fit size 12 or above—and the importance of style to this growing segment of the population. Over and over, she was turned down. They didn’t get it. But she continued to persevere and prove that model, and just last fall Dia & Co raised a $40 million Series C.

I want to believe that smart businesses with big opportunities will always find investors. But if too few investors aren’t really listening to women entrepreneurs, then inevitably, some potentially great businesses are going to fail for lack of capital. It’s bad business to discount half the population for reasons that have nothing to do with business.

Just Do It

This is what I tell every woman founder I know who is in a relationship or married and who wants to have children: just do it and do it now.

I sit on the board of a company whose founder took that advice and got pregnant. She told me first, before letting the board or even the company know. She had planned everything around how long she would be out, how the company would be managed during this time, the whole shebang. I told her do not do that.

My advice: Just simply tell them you’re pregnant, this is your due date, how excited you are, and that’s it. No need to micromanage your pregnancy for the company. This is life. It will play itself out just fine. After all, men don’t go to these lengths when they have children, so why should women have to come up with all these excuses and strategies?

She took my advice, the board said congrats, we moved on with the meeting, and the same thing happened when she told the company. She went on to have a second child as well. Guess what? The company is doing just fine.  

I have invested in many founders who have had children while building their companies, and guess what? They become even better leaders and managers. But none of this is shocking to me, and that is the reason I have done all of this.

Diversity Works—And So Do Women Entrepreneurs

I am not being philanthropic when I help women entrepreneurs to rise up. I believed that I would make a solid return on every single woman I invested in.

I am thrilled that many institutional investors have begun to see the light: making a full-on commitment to investing in more women, bringing on more women partners, and pushing companies to have more diversity. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to google “diversity + business” and see the slew of articles around better ROI, better cultures, happier workers, and more to understand that diversity works and so do women entrepreneurs.

What is most amazing to me about women founders is their survivor mentality. I am invested in some women who are building their businesses with very little capital because they are profitable and are in it for the long-haul. I have invested in others that are starting to hit their stride, and although they were not at a valuation of $90M in two years, they were there in six. It takes time to build a solid business, and I applaud every founder who has the constitution to plow forward against all odds. I see that tenacity in women founders. I also see and admire their transparency and honesty with their investors.

Perhaps it is because I am not a VC but an angel investor, who sits in the unique position of being a consigliori to each of the founders I invest in, but they all ask questions and are honest about the good and bad things happening in the company. I have seen women founders speak up at board meetings and say that something is not working, rather pretending that everything is fine. In fact, time and time again, at the start of a business women tend to be so honest and forthright about their model and numbers that they come across as demure.

Yet I can name ten women founders—if not more—who as their business starts to grow and they surpass that Series A take on a totally different persona of power. They have learned that they own it and that they get their business better than anyone else at the table. I had one founder turn down capital from a top VC because she knew that they did not truly get her business—all they saw were the numbers, and those are very different things. It was a bold move, but in the end, she trusted her gut and figured out how to make it work with the right set of investors, who might not be name brands but understood the cadence of her business.  

Diversity: A Non-Negotiable Term

I have invested in men, too, but they are all committed to diversity because they believe in it and understand how it makes them better founders. If every investor would make it a non-negotiable term that the companies they invest in must make diversity a priority, the results would be huge. It might not be easy to do, but it can be done. Many of the companies I have invested in have done it.

We shouldn’t be looking at changing the ratio of women entrepreneurs because it is a buzzword of this moment, or because it looks good—but because financially, it works.

Maybe this is the moment when incremental change tips into transformation, and everyone starts listening to women entrepreneurs. I hope so. I’ll still have plenty of investment opportunities: there are enough great women entrepreneurs to go around. And there will be still more if investors start paying attention to them.    

This piece is also published with Techstars today.

You Don’t Need a Recipe, Alison Cayne, Haven’s Kitchen

Alison Cayne is the Founder of Haven’s Kitchen, a cooking school and event space in New York City. Alison’s journey is so inspiring — in this episode she gave me the story behind her return to grad school after having five children, and how she rose above her own lack of self-confidence to become a powerhouse entrepreneur. Alison’s story is proof that like the best cooking, you don’t need a recipe for success.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here.

WSJ Secrets

I met Veronica Dagher at an intimate breakfast that was put on by UBS’s private wealth group. It was a group of extremely smart women who are investing their own capital and running their own lives. Impressive. Particularly liked the conversations we had and the woman who runs the breakfasts. I also got to meet Veronica who invited me to be on her WSJ podcast called WSJ Secrets of Wealthy Women.

We had a great conversation that you can listen to on iTunes here. Veronica does her research and asks great questions. I have listened to a variety of her podcasts and there is always a good tidbit in each one.

Catch-A-Fire

One of the most important things that many don’t talk about in the start-up world is the “why”? Why are you building this business? What is it that is fueling your desire to build this?

I met Rachael Chong, the founder of Catch-A-Fire, for breakfast years ago. Her passion and desire to build an company that would be a place for people to connect and do projects for non-profit organizations in their specific fields was fierce. She saw the need and importance early on. She wanted to build something that would make a difference not something she could build and sell. She is committed to that mission today as much as she was when we first met.

Just like all companies, it takes time to get in the groove and figure out the model. Working with Foundations and Enterprise companies have been key for the organizations as much as the people volunteering their time and organizations they work with. Skill-based volunteer matching is becoming even more important every day. Proud to be an investor in this company.

I love this quote from someone who works with CAF. “Grateful for this opportunity and already have and will continue to utilize Catchafire for as long as it is available to us. It is such an amazing resource…both in terms of tangible projects, and just as important, access to experts in fields in which we don’t have expertise”.

Brunch at Olmstead

I admit when it comes to breakfast and brunch on the weekends I tend to prefer the comfort of my home, in my pajamas, reading the paper and drinking endless cups of coffee. But Emily and I were hanging on Saturday and brunch was in order to begin our time together.

We went to Olmstead. I have been to Olmstead a few times for dinner where the food is creative, delicious and the attention to detail down to the napkin is impressive. Going in the day time was a different vibe as the light from the huge front glass window to the equally as large glass back window sends light streaming through the place. I noticed the colors, the waitstaff’s white shirts, and black waist aprons. The beauty of the liquor bottles behind the bar. The cadence of the kitchen. It wasn’t as frenetic as the evening because it’s brunch when people are just starting to wake up to the weekend.

We drank multiple cups of coffee out of the clever mugs with the chef’s super dork character on them. Our hardest decision was what to order as every single thing on the menu looks delicious. After a bit of back and forth we honed in on our picks. First out was the house-made elderflower yogurt with honey crisp apples and pistachio granola. The yogurt is really creamy. I just love how this is served. The package of granola, a jar of honey and pieces of apples. All spread out for you to create your own personalized dish.

House gravlax served with whipped scallion ricotta, everything crackers (a take on the everything bagel) and a few pickled beets on the side. An extremely sophisticated way to enjoy the decadent heavy bagels, lox and cream cheese delight.

This might have been my favorite. Butternut squash bread served with clotted cream and meyer lemon jam. A crusty top that is like a delicious muffin that breaks open revealing soft warm melt in your mouth bread with pieces of squash. I honestly could have eaten the entire loaf by myself.

When you see egg rolls on a brunch menu you think eggs stuffed inside a roll but not at Olmstead. It is a true Chinese egg roll stuff with bits of smoky bacon, cheddar cheese and eggs with hot sauce and duck sauce for dipping. It is pretty genius.

Last was the donut. A light airy warm donut stuffed with just a small amount of pear jam and lightly doused with confectioners sugar. Talk about a treat. Donuts are usually not part of my repertoire but if you are going to dig in well this is the place to do it.

I can hardly wait to go back in the spring for dinner when the garden starts to sing. Might have to do brunch again too.

Circular Economy

Climate change is on everyone’s mind these days. How can it not be when it is 40 below in Chicago one day and the next week the temperature hovers in the 50s. The importance of taking care of our universe should be top priority from food waste to plastic that never disappears.

I am seeing more and more products devoted to recycling old materials to make furniture or fabrics or bottles. The circular economy isn’t new but the importance of thinking that way is now more important than ever.

I met someone the other night after a talk I gave who is committed to green creating single-use items that gradually decompose so that these products aren’t sitting in garbage piles for eternity. Her bags decompose in 180 days vs 1000 years. That’s smart.

Twelve years ago someone sent me a package of brownies from Vermont to get my take. The brownies came in a box loaded with those awful styrofoam pieces that keep things intact when shipping. There was a card that said that these styrofoam pieces should be tossed in the sink because they disinigrate with water. I couldn’t have been happier seeing those pieces melt in my sink. I told the founder to bag the brownies and make the styrofoam pieces but they were stuck on brownies. I told that story to the founder of Commit to Green, and she told me she’s already working on it.

Changes in Brooklyn

I began my career in King Plaza, Brooklyn. We lived in Brooklyn when our kids were young before making our short (although too long) journey to the suburbs. The neighborhoods today do not look like they did back then. Then they were grungier, dirtier and not as safe. Every time I walk around Brooklyn I am always amazed on how much has changed. I go often so I am sure everyone is sick of me saying it.

I was out in Prospect Heights over the weekend. There are so many pregnant women and young children who 30 years ago would have never chosen Prospect Heights as a place to set down their roots. We have seen urban areas around the globe change. I tend to think of the changes in Brooklyn directly related to the Bloomberg years. Yes gentrification but also a larger safer cleaner urban footprint for people who are there and new people to settle down in.

What happens when all of these kids get to school age? Is anyone in the local and state Government pulling any data on how many more kids live in these Brooklyn neighborhoods vs 10, 20 and 30 years ago? Are there enough public schools? There is certainly aren’t enough private. Con Ed didn’t rise to the occasion to the shifts in BK population and certainly, there wasn’t much forward planning on the subway or public transportation. I am assuming this issue is happening in other urban and even hip rural areas vs the suburbs which is not the place of choice for many of this generation.

I have not read any data or info on planning for this. Wondering if anyone is working on this issue as it isn’t something that happens overnight.