Building

We have built several homes and offices.  Some because we wanted to and others because we had to (aka Sandy).  Each has taken on a different life of their own.  I am quite sure if you interviewed contractors, architects, and decorators, they would tell you that each project was completely different and none of them were seamless.  It is like building a start-up, nothing is standard and each one, no matter how many times you have been involved from whatever angle, be it the founder or the investor, each one has their own paths.

I have been asked what would my advice be to someone going through this for the first time so here goes.  Culture fit is important.  You will spend a lot of time with each person and you want someone who gets you. Depending on the size and scope of the project depends on who you hire.  If you are hiring an architect, it is sometimes good to bring in the decorator at the onset.  Just like companies are better off with diversity so are projects.  Architects think about the big picture and decorators (if they are good) think about how you live.  For instance, a decorator is going to be thinking about the width of a bed and the size of two side tables in a bedroom and how that fits without a door hitting the table or a table jutting out into the doorframe.  Architects might not.

If the project is large, hire an owners rep.  That person represents you and the cost of that person offsets all the mistakes that can be made.  They oversee budgets, come to a weekly meeting and represent you.  If not, make sure you have a weekly meeting with your architect and contractor on site to hold everyone accountable.  When the job slows down more than likely the contractor isn’t paying the subs (millworkers, electricians, plumbers).  Don’t let your contractor hold the keys to the cash.  You want to approve changes and payments as they happen.  You want to be in front of the contractor on cash not behind.

Before hiring a contractor, make sure that the architect has at least 90% of the plans drawn to price.  If not, there could be big change orders down the line.  We like to make all the decisions before bidding.  Once you move to construction you are also moving from the architect to the contractor, it is the contractor you have to rely on and if the architect didn’t provide enough information, you could be the one paying for the mistake.  Architects come onsite to make sure that plans are being built accordingly but they are not great at overseeing the building of a job.  Your contractor is the person who knows how to build.

Decorators.  I am not a fan of the way most of them charge which is hourly and then 30% of the furniture purchased.  I prefer a flat fee so that you are aligned.  If you buy a $10 table vs a $100k table it doesn’t take any more time to purchase an install so why should you pay 30% for that?

The last two projects we are on now seem to appear to be working really well.  All the knowledge over the years is finally paying off.  We ask questions, we push back, we know what we want and we don’t trust anyone but ourselves because we are going to live there and we are going to pay the bill.  I’d say the biggest piece of advice I’d give is to trust your gut.  Even if you have never built anything before, it is yours so ask a ton of questions and pay attention to the details that work for you not them.

Investing in Women, BBG Ventures, Podcast#73

Episode 73: Investing in Women – Susan Lyne & Nisha Dua, BBG Ventures – Part 2 of 2 Susan Lyne and Nisha Dua are the Founding Partners of BBG – Built By Girls – Ventures, A Venture Capital firm that focuses on women founders and women-led startups. Their story truly defies what comes to mind when you think of VC’s. In this two-part episode, Susan, Nisha, and I had so much to talk about. From the unconventional way that their partnership began to incredible advice about raising money and common mistakes too many entrepreneurs make. Tons of great tips for anyone on how to get out there and crush it like a girl.

You can listen to this episode here on iTunes.

Una Pizza Napoletana and Kish-Kash

I went to two new spots upon arriving back in NYC from the summer exodus.  The first one is Una Pizza Napoletana.  The other is Kish-Kash.  Different food, different experiences, and very different prices.

Let’s start with Una Pizza Napoletana.  Space is great; simple, airy and lots of light.  We had a few of the small plates, one pie, one dessert and 3 glasses of wine.  Marinated sardines with roasted green beans are absolutely delish.  Simply marinated with olive oil and salt.

Their version of beef carpaccio had massive flavor especially with the crunch pistachio and chunks of salty Parmesan.  That night we also had an octopus, white bean salad.

Pizza is prime and definitely has the crust we had in Naples.  There are some serious pizza wars going on in NYC these days as more and more new places pop-up.  We went simple with the Margharita.

Highly recommend leaving room for the tiramisu for dessert.  Perfect balance of espresso, cream, and mascarpone.  There is a slight crunch with a soft cream underneath the shavings and powder of chocolate.  We were in an out in about an hour.  So not a leisurely long meal.  Total cost including tip was $160.  It got me talking about the expense of NYC as we left the restaurant.

Later in the week, I met my friend for dinner at Kish-Kash.  Kish-Kash is the latest restaurant from the owner of Balaboosta, Bar Bolonat, and Taim.  All of them are good and Bar Bolonat is going under a short renovation right now.  Kish-Kash is all about the hand-rolled couscous.   Super casual spot decorated with blue Morrocan/African tiles, big pillows on the benches around the walls and two long communal tables down the middle including a few seats at the window overlooking the street.

Like Una Pizza Napoletana they only have wine.  My friend and I were really hankering for a vodka so we reverted to our youth and brought a bottle of Vodka in a brown paper bag and added it to the fabulous Strawberry Pomegranate Ice Tea while we looked out the window.  Figured it was the most conspicuous spot.  We started with the cauliflower.  Perfectly cooked with just the right amount of crisp served over tahini and roasted pine nuts and pickled golden raisins tossed over the top.  Savor this dish.

Eggplant is also a winner.  Roasted eggplant that is soft enough that no knife is needed.  Cut in large chunks serves over a roasted pepper tahini and pickled red onions.

There is a variety of mains that are served with couscous.  We had the spicy fish and the Moroccan vegetables.  Both with different sauces but the concept is the same for all the dishes.  I know because I went back again and had the chicken later in the week.  The main courses are simply cooked with really intense flavorful sauces served over the top alongside the couscous.  We also had the pickled lemon vegetables and they gave us a small dish of spicy harissa.  I’d go back again and again.

We had two appetizers, two main course dishes, a dessert (also a winner of a deep-fried couscous with a fruit compote), a beer, an ice tea, and a side all for $80 including tip.  Figure one less appetizer and two alcohol drinks short of what we had at the pizza place.

What I keep thinking about is the huge dichotomy of each meal’s cost and how to make a restaurant work in NYC with the exorbitant rents and more important, the cost of labor.  It isn’t easy to make it work when you are paying $15 an hour for someone to wash dishes although I do believe in paying people a livable wage.  Not sure what the answer is but it is hard to survive in this city without good food and the right price for the experience you have.  That is why Brooklyn is where most of the new creative spots are opening because the rents make it work.  As new spots open in Manhattan, we are going to start seeing creative ways to make it work.  We have to.

 

 

Jail

White collar crime has hit a 20 year low under Trump yet hit an all-time high in the Obama years.  We only know of the crime if there is a conviction so obviously convictions are down.  Are less white collar crimes being investigated or are they just harder to prove?

The Trump White House appears to be laden with people that have committed white-collar crimes.  Many of the people who have been convicted seem to have operated under the radar for years.

The question that was discussed around the table one night is why do white-collar criminals get to serve out their time in fancier jails than other criminals?  Their sentences are lighter and although not violent, most of the crimes could be construed as worse.

There is a lot of data out there that bad people will commit crimes no matter what and making the laws tougher won’t change behavior.  I wonder if people who commit white-collar crimes knew that if they got caught they would end up in Rikers vs the country-club prison for a few years that we would see a decline in those type of crimes.

Are we not all equal in crime?  Shouldn’t jail be jail?

USPS and DHL

DHL is the prime shipping company in Europe at least that has been my experience.  Every European vendor where I have purchased something uses DHL to get the item to the states.  Fun fact, sometimes DHL hands over the item to USPS or another shipper when it lands in the US.

I bought a bunch of posters from two different art sites to be shipped out to the beach.  At the beach, we do not get USPS unless you have a POBox.  I had one during the years the kids were in camp for letters but once camp ended so did the POBox.  We only get Fedexp or UPS out east.

In the comments section of the purchase, I told both vendors that we do not get USPS out east.  One of them wrote me back immediately and told me that they could not control who DHL handed off the package too once it hit the states so I told them to send the package to my billing address.  The other one told me that they had zero control over what happens. They obviously did not read the fine print. I had a bad feeling about this so I reached out to them several days after the purchase and my hunch was right, they shipped it so we had to just wait and see.

The first vendor who reacted changed the address and I got the package.  They were right about not being able to control who DHL gives the package to once it hits the states.  They were also right that DHL usually hands off most packages to USPS.  The other vendor sent me down a rabbit hole that I went through because more than anything I was curious to see how the system works.

DHL couldn’t reroute the package for the vendor or for me.  I had to wait for it to hit the states.  I tracked the package and saw the tracking number was not on the USPS site.  I decided to call USPS and see if they could reroute the package.  I called them.  I was on hold for an hour and a half to finally be told that there was nothing they could do, not a note they could make on the computer, zero until the package was completely handed off even though they had the tracking number.  Makes no sense.

I went online, and with the tracking number, I was able to sign up for tracking info.  In a few days, I got an email saying the package had arrived from DHL, USPS had it and it was going to the beach. It doesn’t take much on DHL’s end to know that the address does not receive USPS but obviously, they don’t care.  I knew that calling was worthless so I went to the USPS site and wrote an email, describing what happened and if they could reroute it that would be great otherwise the package would be bounced back to Germany.  Massive cost on them.

Not shocking after the hour and a half wait, I never got a response to my email although the site clearly says that you get a response within 24 hours.  Instead, I got a tracking email telling me that the package was in NJ going to its final destination.  I have no idea what that destination is.  It could actually show up this week or go back to Germany.  No address of what the destination is.

USPS employs 640,000 people.  They are estimating that their financial loss for 2018 will be $1.2 billion and ended 2017 with $15 billion in debt on their books.  DHL is another story.   My story is just a glimpse into serious waste and mismanagement.

Management and Vision

Management is a skill and it doesn’t always coincide with being a visionary.  It is super hard to separate both when visionary skills are the beginnings of a start-up.

This past week I was in a board meeting where the founder had both.  She has built a company with an incredible culture.  Many of the employees have been there since 2015.  They love the company and they obviously feel connected to the culture as the company continues to grow.

There are two things that struck me that I am starting to see from founders.  One is more self-awareness.  She brought on an incredible female COO who is taking over a lot of the management issues so she can be out there in the world talking about the company and the vision.  Having a solid number two can make all the difference.  Knowing you need one is even better.

The second thing was the type of company she wanted (including her co-founder) was important from day one.  One that is truly diverse.  When the Chief Product officer presented we saw the work org chart with photos of each employee.  I had them pause and look at the photos.  The last two programmers they hired were women.  There were 12 people on the product team’s chart and a myriad of faces.  They have worked hard at that and this diverse foundation is built throughout the company.  They will continue to hire making a conscious effort to ensure diversity in the company.

The success of companies is sometimes just a perfect storm.  Having a leader who understands management, aka culture and treating people with respect and helping them grow as individuals is so important while being a visionary at the same time is just not the norm.

I am going to steal a line from my daughter’s weekly posts playbook which is revealing the company (restaurant in her case) at the end of the post.  The company here that I am proud to be part of is Sweeten.

Built By Girls, Focusing on Women, Susan Lyne and Nisha Dua, Podcast#72

Susan Lyne and Nisha Dua are the Founding Partners of BBG – Built By Girls – Ventures, A Venture Capital firm that focuses on women founders and women-led startups.  Their story truly defies what comes to mind when you think of VC’s. In this two-part episode, Susan, Nisha, and I had so much to talk about. From the unconventional way that their partnership began to incredible advice about raising money and common mistakes too many entrepreneurs make. Tons of great tips for anyone on how to get out there and crush it like a girl. Stay tuned for next week when we dive into Susan & Nisha’s own battles with raising capital and how they pushed through it.

You can listen to this on Itunes here.

Carnitas and salsa

The summer construction project continues but the concept we dreamt up has been executed on.  We are essentially running a small boutique hotel for ourselves.  All the amenities including the ultimate shower projects in the outdoor shower down to multiple guests that are our children’s friends.  We had dinner for 13 last night around a long outdoor dining table filled with wine, conversation, and carnitas.

Emily noted, “Mom, you still have it” referring to a last minute dinner party for 13.  My response was that cooking skills get better with age.  It doesn’t hurt that at the end of the summer everything tastes so damn good.

Carnitas:

6 lb. pork shoulder

1 cinnamon stick

1 tbsp. ancho chili powder or one ancho chili (I went with the ancho chili)

3 bay leaves

1 tbsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. chili powder

5 shallots cut in half

Score the fat on the pork shoulder, and if possible cover with Kosher salt and leave it in the fridge for a day.  Not essentially but an added bonus.

Preheat the oven to 280.

In a large roasting pan, pour oil over the bottom of the pan and brown the pork shoulder on the stove.  If you didn’t salt the pork shoulder in the fridge overnight, make sure to rub kosher salt all over the pork before browning.  Brown the entire shoulder.  Set the pork shoulder aside when done.  Pour out the oil out and then put the shoulder back into the same pan.

Add all of the ingredients above into the pan and pour in water about 2/3 of the way up the sides.

Put in the oven and let it roast for easily 5-6 hours.  You want the pork to come off the bone when it is done.

I served pickled red onions (sliced red onions boiled and then simmer for 10 minutes in white vinegar, a bit of sugar and a bay leaf), guacamole, tomatillo salsa and fresh salsa.

Fresh salsa at the end of summer is so good.  Chopped tomatoes (including small cherry and golden), chopped cilantro, chopped sweet onions, fresh lime juice and kosher salt.  All proportions work.

Such a good night.

 

Saving the Planet

What are we doing as individuals to save the planet?  Emily asked that the other night.  We are seeing the havoc we are wreaking on our planet.  Water levels are rising, the summers are getting hotter and the winters are getting colder, the icebergs are melting, and much more.

How do we all do our part?  Lego just announced that the companies first sustainable blocks will be made from plant-based plastic that comes from sugarcane.  Many clothing manufacturers are turning to recycled materials.  States are requiring (or allowing) groceries to charge for a bag making consumers think about bringing their own bag to the store.  I think we should ban styrofoam as a product but that is another conversation.

What are we doing?  We are using solar panels in every single project we are building.  In one of the projects, we are using geothermal power for heat and air conditioning.   We drive electric cars.  We are building a passive building including energy sources that will essentially allow us to be able to use our own electricity.  I have invested in companies like Evrnu that transforms textile waste into new fibers.

I am a big believer that the generations of today will figure out ways to fix the faults of the generation before.  Change always wins and change is what pushes us forward.  When it comes to the environment, we also all need to do our individual part to make sure that our planet is here for every generation to come.

To the trade??

I am a lover of interior decor.   It is something I have loved and been interested in since I was in high school.  I grew up in a very modern house that had a living room with two deep red walls mirroring each other, a thick purple shag carpet, a glass sculptured Pace table that centered the room with an l-shaped white boucle couch that wrapped around it with a funky white leather chair that sat across from it.  The carpet that ran through the house including the stairway that had hanging steps was a deep red.  It was quite mod.

Companies the provide the rugs and textiles have always been “to the trade” meaning that a consumer can not walk in and buy 10 yards of fabric to redo their chair and get the “30%” discount that is given to designers.  Not exactly sure why that began but decorators usually get paid by the hour including a percentage of the amount of furniture and product they buy.  It is generally 30% so the industry fuels each other.

I have never understood it.  If a designer buys $20 of furniture or $500k, the hours of ordering it and installing it are the exact same.  Now with sites like 1stDibs and others, the design industry is starting to change.  Decorators are having more clients want to pay a fixed fee for their services.  Decorator marketplaces have emerged so everyone can use a decorator.  Pinterest has become a design heaven.

It is time for the middle person, who is essentially the decorator, not be the only person who can buy from companies that have only sell “to the trade”.  They could reprice all of their inventory at the price it should be, aka 30% off, and sell directly to consumers who want to buy 10 yards of fabric.  I am not sure if there is a new disruptive model out there that is in start-up mode or has already launched but I believe it is about leaders of these companies reinventing their model.  Just like retail has to reinvent itself, the companies in the design world should be reinvented too.

There are too many start-ups who are playing in that field putting pressure on the big companies to change direction.  It is time.