Mary Elisabeth

on Fridays I burn my fears…

“What do you do?”

When we meet someone new usually one of the first questions we are asked is “what do you do?”  It’s such an odd question because it’s asking something so broad, typically expecting a narrowly defined answer, detailing our profession.

Whenever I am asked that question I carefully think about how I want to respond or I just say whatever is on my mind.  Because I do a lot of things.  We all do.  And more of what we do is outside of our professional lives (for some of us who don’t make their work their lives).  For me, my work and life interlace, so the distinction isn’t as clear.  Here are some of the ways I like to answer that question:

  • “I make gelato”
  • “I practice yoga”
  • “I write comedy”
  • “I sleep”
  • “I cook”
  • “I run”

If someone is really pressing for a more professional answer, usually I say something like “I create solutions to solve problems (or I’m an entrepreneur)”

Recently someone asked me to describe what I do for work and I used the above description.  She continued to dig deeper into my work, asking:

  • What about it is really satisfying? Making an impact in peoples’ lives (whether an employee, customer, partner, etc)
  • What about it drives you crazy?  It can be a very lonely road & there are lots of ups & downs, highs & lows. And the lows can be very low. 
  • What are your goals?  To leave the world a little bit better place
  • What is driving you?  Honestly, probably achieving. I’m highly competitive.  And making an impact. Doing something that positive impacts people.
  • What is holding you back?  Myself. I’m my own biggest hurdle. Self-doubt. 
  • Do you regret any significant decisions you’ve made about your career? If you had it to do over again, would you do it differently?  No regrets. Lots of lessons though. I live by the philosophy “no mistakes, only gifts & opportunities” 

There you have it. That’s what I do and how I feel about it.

Venture on,

<3 mel

Lots of Activity in LA

The other week I ventured to LA for the first time.  I went to meet with a particular company & learn more about the team, vision, & so forth.  After joining them for lunch & talking with them at their office all afternoon I head over to Culver City to grab a bite to eat.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Culver City Farmers Market in its final hour.  I explored the market, bought some fresh organic California strawberries, & then headed over to dinner at Native Foods.  That night I had the pleasure of visiting & staying with a friend & fellow entrepreneur.

Fresh organic strawberries from the Culver City farmers market

I started off the next day with a run in the sun.  The weather was beautiful, even early in the morning!  And since I already quickly learned that I would be driving most everywhere on this trip, it was good to get a good run in before jumping in the car.  That morning I went to Cafe Rivva in Brentwood to get some work done while enjoying a refreshing green juice (my latest culinary addiction!)  Between that & lunch with a  friend I walked around Brentwood to get a flavor for this part of LA.  It’s cool how there are different areas with separate vibes.  For lunch I dined at the Coral Tree Cafe with a friend I haven’t seen in years.  Last time we were together we were hanging out with Matthew McConaughey in Austin.  He couldn’t make it to our lunch…he was too far away in his Airstream.

That afternoon I visited another friend & fellow entrepreneur at his company, Mobile Roadie, in Brentwood.  Really great to catch up with him as well as learn more about his company.  If you’ve used the mobile app for the San Diego Zoo or Adele, you’ve experienced Mobile Roadie in action!  The company provides a platform for individuals, companies, anyone to make their own mobile app.  There’s quite a few of these types of companies out there, that I’ve seen. Mobile Roadie sets itself apart by creating a niche market entry with musicians.

Santa Monica Promenade & Palm Trees

Driving through Beverly Hills was fun.  Lined with palm trees & retail it definitely had a different vibe than Culver City & Brentwood.  I also found that “Beverly Hills” by Weezer was continuously playing in my head…except I changed the lyrics in my head from “Beverly Hills…that’s where I want to be” to “Beverly Hills…that’s where I am”.  I think Weezer’s version is better.

From Beverly Hills I drove to Santa Monica to meet with a friend & fellow entrepreneur who started Instacanvas & participated in MuckerLab.  If you love unique art, check it out.  If you use Instagram, check it out.  If you enjoy discovering new things, check it out.  Basically, check it out.  Instacanvas sells Instagram photos on canvas so you can hang them wherever you’d like!  We met at a place called Funnel Mill, where I ordered tea that came with instructions.  It was an authentic place & my tea had a 3 step process of pouring water, steeping, & re-pouring.  Great tea & experience!

At this point it was at the tail end of rush hour & I had to get to West Hollywood to meet someone to go to an improv show.  I anticipated there would be traffic so I grabbed a smoothie at Planet Raw to get me through the drive.  Well the smoothie lasted about 15 minutes & 0.0001 mile of movement.  Traffic was the stereotypical “LA traffic”.  I finally made it & met the technology ninja from Laffster at the Village Idiot for a pre-improv show tea.  Then we went to the infamous Groundlings for an improv show, “The Crazy Uncle Joe Show”.  It was fabulous!!  A friend that I trained with at The Second City met us there too.  I kept wanting the troupe to improvise the length of the show so it’d be longer & I could sit there & laugh & learn all night!  Alas, it ended & we mingled.  I met Laurel Coppock.  She was so fantastic in the show!  & I just realized she is in one of my fave recent movies, “Crazy, Stupid, Love“.  Jordan Black (you may know him from the show “Community“) was in the show.  I didn’t meet him.

The next day was my “Santa Monica Day”.  I started my morning meeting with our accountant, talking about warrants, valuations, & all sorts of interesting stuff.  Then I met with Anthem Venture Partners.  RPM & Anthem are both invested in Janrain, so I was familiar with Anthem, but had not met them until this point.  It was great to meet & talk with the Associate there & a partner, Samit Varma.

After lunch & walking through the Promenade, I went over to LA Demo Day.  Wow!  1800 people registered.  It was packed!  I caught up with a friend & also met some cool companies including Dog Vacay, Surf Air, & Eventup.  What really stood out about this group presenting was that many of them had revenue.  & if they didn’t they knew how they were going to make money.  Further along than many companies at that stage.  I was impressed with the quality.

That evening I joined RPM’s EIR & a Santa Monica entrepreneur for dinner at Upper West.  Then I headed back to West Hollywood to see some stand up comedy & another improv show at Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB).  I must say, in NY, I wasn’t impressed with the UCB show, but this one I really liked. Still Groundlings was higher ranked for me, but it’s all a matter of personal preference.  Both set of performers were very talented!  I learned a lot from watching them.  The show ended late & then my friend & I went to a cafe to chat before heading to the Hollywood sign.  As you can see from my picture of the Hollywood sign, it was dark!  Seriously, whose idea was it to not put lights to shine on the Hollywood letters?!  Whoever it was could have considered the people that would want to take pictures at 2 am.

The Hollywood Sign at Night

A couple hours later I was back to LAX boarding a flight to Atlanta & then Michigan.  LA sure was fun!  Entrepreneurial community. Smog.  Improv. Traffic.  Palm trees.  Clearly there are tradeoffs.

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

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Has your company outgrown you? Or have you outgrown your company?

It’s that time of year when I run errands in the morning, eat dinner in my car, & spend more time at the University than I do at my house…that’s right…it’s the second half of Winter Semester at the University of Michigan (UofM).  During this time, both partners at RPM Ventures teach classes at the UofM.  Marc’s class, “Venture Business Development”, is taught through the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering.  It’s a two week intensive course where students work on teams to evaluate a real business idea – everything from developing an elevator pitch, to rapid prototyping, & talking with customers.

Tony’s class “Managing the Growth of New Ventures” is taught through the Ross School of Business to second year MBA students.  This course takes place once per week for half a semester and is co-taught by Tom Porter.  This year is my second year involved with this course & my role is basically the person who does whatever needs to get done to be helpful.  I found articles for course readings, grade homework, track participation, take attendance, & brainstorm ways to improve the course for future sessions.

This week’s class included introductions and a roadmap for the course, as well as a discussion about the five stages of business growth.

  1. Existence
  2. Survival
  3. Success
  4. Take Off
  5. Maturity

The class focuses mostly on the first four stages, building a company from absolutely nothing to a company and navigating the stages of growth along the way.  There is so much more than building product when building a company.  Building team is equally if not more important.  Team, culture, strategy, are the less glamorized aspects of starting a business, but so important.  In this first class I pulled away a couple reflections:

Know Thyself & Discover Wealth

As a leader of a company, being able to be reflective & introspective about your role with the company is very important.  In light of my recent unplugging & reflecting on so many things in my life, this is especially relevant.  During quiet time to thing about life, interests, passions, I learned a lot.  In an organization, for a CEO or leader, it’s important to take that time to pause & reflect on what you’re doing from a high level & ask yourself “am I the right person to be doing this or could someone else do it better?”, “would I be better suited somewhere else in the organization?” “would I add more value somewhere else in the organization?” because someone who may be great at creating and figuring out if something works may not be the same person who takes it from 10 employees to 50 or 50 to 100 and scale the business into the next stages of growth.  Think of companies where the CEO/Founder has been the same throughout all stages…it’s very few…Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell.  Being abel to figure that out as a leader is very important.

When thinking about a leadership role in a growing company, I think there are two aspects to consider:

  1. Role, in terms of what functions you are  best at doing.  Where do you add the most value?  Where do you thrive?  Is it the operational details, making sure money is the bank, paychecks are sent out, wheels are turning day to day. Or are you more strategic, thinking about where the company is, where it’s going.  Are you great at graphic design? etc.
  2. Stage.  What stage of growth is your paradise?  What time during the company do you want to be there?  When the company is 3 people with an idea & lots of ambiguity?  or when the company has 100 people with more developed systems & lots of names & faces to remember?  Holding your role constant, if you’re doing the same role in a 10 person company, it’s going to be different (even in that same role) than in a 100 person company.

I don’t think you need to figure out one before the other.  For me, I’m still trying to figure out what the function is optimal for me & even more broadly, what industry, general space interests me most.  What’s the space? What makes me tick?  Now I have several interests in broad areas & am exploring them further to discover what really could be right for me.

In terms of stage, I like the early stuff…the ambiguity, figuring things out, the creation, having a blank canvas.  I’m energized by a small team, setting the culture, & taking on the start of something with big plans. in a small team.

Transitioning Leadership

Another thing that came up when discussing the 5 stages of growth was this idea of transitioning from each stage, when you need to transition leadership.  Let’s say a leader isn’t a right fit in a company that is going from Survival to Success & that leader could better be replaced by someone else to lead the company, & the original leader could be better off somewhere else in the company (with a different role perhaps).  For the original leader it’s tough to make this transition…this is his/her baby, his/her creation. It’s very difficult.  I’ve experienced this personally with Iorio’s.  Just two weeks ago was the first time handing the reins over to someone else to run Iorio’s Gelateria in Ann Arbor.  I think our delay in transitioning leadership has limited our growth because things are funneled to go through few people & there’s not breakup of decision making at a higher level.  My biggest challenge & opportunity is preparing transitions so the company can successfully operate without the presence of the founders & early leaders.  The first experiment for this went well. Transitioning leadership also illustrates the importance of hiring people & building a team of people you trust.  It makes it a smoother transition if you trust the person you’re transitioning to.

I have also seen this play out in RPM Ventures‘ portfolio.  In particular, there is a company where the CEO is doing a lot of operational/day to day things that maybe he doesn’t have to bother himself with. If he brings in someone else, he can step into a more strategic role, which is what he loves & is really good at.  For instance, he could spend more time on things like product, vision, & leading the team in that direction.

Transitioning leadership is a common thing for companies.  Though not just high tech, as Iorio’s is a great low tech example, it is prevalent in high tech as well.

What does this all mean?

When starting a company, think about how you are going to work yourself out of a job.  How do you develop a company, build a culture, put systems in place, that will exist without you?

Sometimes the best thing you can do is pull yourself out of your company, or take yourself out of your current role, & do something else.

Have you ever transitioned leadership in your company?  What did you learn?  Do you think your company is ready for a transition?  Is your current leadership team holding your company back?  I’d really like to hear about your experiences!

Venture On,

MEL aka Venture Gal

If I Didn’t Run a Business…

A couple weeks ago I hit an edge…it was a day in which everything seemed to be pulling against me.  The day included needing to replace our iPad POS because it was dropped & shattered, someone not showing up to work on time (a big deal with a brick & mortar store), my car dying, my nose bleeding, leading to cancellations of meetings & surviving off trail mix all day.  It was the universe’s way of telling me to breath. Sometimes I go, go, go until I break.  Or have a wakeup call of sorts.

Since, I made some changes & am making more time to reflect…at least an hour a day.  On one my reflections I started thinking about all of the things I want to do & things I would do if I didn’t run a business.  Here are some things that came up:

  • own a dog
  • go to my friends’ concert with Snoop Dog (the night I was reflecting on this happened to be the night I was missing their concert)
  • volunteer
  • exercise more
  • read & write everyday
  • sleep more
  • create improv videos
  • travel more
  • try new things
  • cook more & develop more of my own recipes
  • finish writing my book
  • spend more time with friends & family

Reviewing that list in my head I realized that these are all things that I CAN do while running a business.  It all comes down to time management.  How am I spending my time.  How am I not spending my time.  How am I making the most effective use of my time without coming out of balance & reaching my “breaking point.”

I also listed things that running a business allows me to do, including:

  • meet new people
  • lead
  • create
  • inspire
  • learn
  • experiment
  • impact peoples’ lives
  • make money
  • develop an expertise
  • invest in myself
  • travel
  • try new things

Examining this list it becomes clear that there are lots of other ways to accomplish these things.  These are all things I can do without running a business.  What does this mean?  Being an entrepreneur isn’t a “job”.  It’s a “lifestyle”.  Running a business is not easy.  Consider your objectives.  If you want to “be your own boss” or “control your schedule” think again, as these are not necessarily true of running a business.  Consider aligning your interests with your business objectives.  Then these two lists become one: what you are doing.

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

Bay Area Ventures

Palm Trees in Palo Alto

Wednesday I left early in the morning from Flint’s airport, to a layover in Minneapolis, on my way to San Francisco airport.  Travel went off without a hitch.  When I arrived to SFO I took the Bart & Caltrain to Palo Alto.  Straight from the Caltrain station I walked to grab lunch with a fellow venturer at Sprout Cafe.  After lunch I checked into my Airbnb reservation on Forest Ave.  I was kindly welcomed, put my stuff away, & went for a run to Stanford’s campus.  There’s nothing like running through a tunnel of palm trees to the smell of eucalyptus.  After my run I cleaned up & went to dinner with a longtime friend Kevin at Osteria Toscana.

I was in bed by 8:00 pm PCT.  Lovely.

Early the next morning I met Marc & Kevin for breakfast at Il Fornio.  This was the first time introducing the two of them, and it went well.  Afterwards Marc & I went for a meeting with Glyde.  When Marc left for another board meeting, I stuck around to work with Glyde.  We went up to Berkeley that afternoon to see some of our marketing efforts in action.  We enjoyed dinner at Cafe La Med & ice cream from Ici Ice Cream for dessert.

Cranberry Lime at Ici

On the way back to Palo Alto we stopped at Treasure Island and saw magnificent views of the city.  Though it was a late night, Friday morning I ran to a 7:00 am vinyasa yoga class at YogaSource downtown Palo Alto.  It was just what I needed.  After yoga I grabbed breakfast across the street at LYFE Kitchen.  I got their mushroom & basil frittata.  It really hit the spot!  I packed up my things & checked out of my Airbnb, walked to Glyde, & spent the day there working on more marketing activities.

For lunch I went to Pluto’s with a Glyde team member. In the late afternoon I met up with a fellow entrepreneur at Cafe Venetia.  He shared great wisdom & advice.  One piece of wisdom: “partnerships with startups are dead ends”.  He also shared with me the story of Ninfa Lorenzo.  What an incredible story!

That evening a friend picked me up at Glyde & we drove to the city to grab a bite to eat.  With another friend we ended up dining at Local: Mission.  My vote: 2 stars.  Bottom line: Slow service, nothing special about the food, & not priced to match the food & service.

The next morning my friend & went for a run from SOMA along the water to the Ferry Building area & back to SOMA.  Then we bused to Swan Oyster Depot where we were welcomed by an incredibly long line.  Considering we were really hungry, we decided to defer Swan Oyster & find something with a bit less wait associated with it.  We stumbled upon Olea.  Best unexpected brunch choice ever!  We were welcomed right in (we arrived about 15 minutes before they closed), seated at a community table, ordered, & received our food within 15 minutes.  Olea uses local, organic ingredients & the combinations were delicious!  I ordered an omelette with butternut squash & crushed pumpkin seeds.  My friend ordered clams with chorizo (listed on San Fran’s list of 100 things to try in the city).

View from the run

On the way to the TOP

After brunch we walked toward North Beach where we got gelato at Gelateria Naia and hopped in a few other stores.  On the way, we went up to the Top of the Mark & checked out the Cable Car Museum.  We stopped in Brioche & walked by Golden Gate Cafe.  There was a super long line to get into GGC, so we continued on our journey to the Ferry Building.  When we made it to the Ferry Building we decided to grab tea at Imperial Tea Court.  I got Oolong & she got Chrysanthemum.  We shared ginger almonds, which came in the shell. All pretty good & hit the spot after the gelato sugar rush & walking.

That night for dinner I went to State Bird Provisions with 2 friends & 3 new friends. It was a cool atmosphere & style of serving food (dim sum!)  The dishes I remember trying are:

  • Anchovie with golden beat, chicory, pumpkin seeds
  • Trout with brown butter, hazelnuts, & tatsoi
  • Roasted carrots, fennel, & greens with a tasty carrot/lemon juice over
  • Curried lentils
  • Grilled greens (I’m not sure of the exact greens) with dates & almonds

Anchovie with golden beet, chicory, & pumpkin seeds at State Bird Provisions

Other dishes recommended: World Peace (aka peanut milk), friend quail, pasta with crab.

Gelato from Gelateria Naia: Prickly Pear & Ginger Pear; Nocciola & Nutella

On my cab ride back I learned that the cab driver makes more money than I do in a year.  Interesting.

The next morning my friend & I jogged to brunch through the industrial part of SOMA.  We got brunch at Mission Beach Cafe.  We both enjoyed Dungeness Crab Benedict, 2 poached eggs over bay shrimp & crab, with roasted yukon gold potatoes.  Very tasty, unique, & Californian!  On our walk back to her apartment we stopped at the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative & I got some snacks for the plane ride back to Michigan & an avocado.

Before leaving I started making travel arrangements for my next trip to the Bay Area.  It made it easier to leave.  I was fortunate to grab a cab right away without needing to use Uber (saving $25).  Though the cab driver repeatedly explained to me why he prefers getting paid in cash, it was a quick ride (which was good since I got a bit of a later departure to the airport than I originally planned).  Fortunately there was no line at security, but the security people insisted on checking my backpack.  I am such a dangerous character.  Must’ve been the avocado in my bag.

Thanks Bay Area for some fun adventures.  See you in a couple weeks.

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

NY: Concrete Jungle Where Dreams are Made Of

IMG_20120106_221616

I flew to NYC Thursday morning & grabbed a quick breakfast on my way to BountyJobs HQ.  I spent the day Thursday & Friday catching up with the rockstars at BountyJobs, meeting new hires, learning about new processes at the company, & working on RPM’s valuation & annual reports.  In doing so, I met many new faces, learned a lot more about the BountyJobs’ team, & was inspired & re-energized.  I loved working from the BountyJobs office because there was so much activity & the people are great!

Thursday night I had tickets for the Colbert Report, so I headed there after working that day.  Got in line & when we made our way to the front the ticket check-in chick said they didn’t have any seats left.  I said “you don’t understand…I just flew from Michigan to see this show”.  She apologized.  Total bummer.  The upside – to compensate, they gave me VIP tickets for another show.  That means I’ll be back to New York (& get some other VIP perks as well =)

Lemons turned into lemonade Thursday night though because I met up with some fellow University of Michigan alum at Bukhara Grill.  Word of advice: don’t ask your waiter if the dish you ordered is a side dish (after you see it come out in a tiny bowl compared to the other platters of food).  He will may just stop serving you water & stalking your every action.

On Friday I had breakfast with a venture friend (at Le Pain Quotidien) & then headed to BountyJobs for the day.  Again, I got to spent time getting to know the BountyJobs team & working on our annual reporting.  For lunch I went to Crisp with a BountyJobs’er.  The conversation was definitely better than the food.

Friday evening, after a pit stop at Eataly, I went to Madame X for a Women 2.0 Founder Friday event.  The event was packed & I met several people.  In particular I met Kelly, Deborah, & Veronika of Women Innovate Mobile, a startup accelerator for women-founded companies in mobile technology.  Kelly told me about the event in the first place & it was great to meet her & her team.   I’m looking forward to helping out as a mentor.

Saturday & Sunday were fun days in the city.  Saturday morning I went to brunch at Prune with some fellow University of Michigan Alum.  Prune was underwhelming.  We walked around & discovered an indoor park in NYC!  What a clever idea!  Fortunately it was in the 60s that day, so we could actually enjoy outdoor parks.  I visited a couple gelaterias (one of which was closed. lame La Cremeria).  I walked a lot!  I love walking in the city.  So much to see & discover.  So much energy.  After meeting up with an entrepreneur & a shopping spree at Eataly I walked to dinner at Quintessence, where I enjoyed lots of delicious food & reflection.  On my walk back to go to sleep (even in the city that never sleeps I needed sleep) I stopped by McSorley’s Old Ale House, NYC”s oldest continually operating saloon.  It’s so old (1854) that Abe Lincoln is on the list of former customers!

Indoor Park in NYC

One of the highlights of my trip was the NBC Studio Tour on Sunday morning.  I ran to 30 Rockefeller Plaza & enjoyed seeing the set of Jimmy Fallon, Dr. Oz, & especially Saturday Night Live!  For those of you who know me well, you know I love improv & would love to be on SNL!   Now, I know some of the inner workings…well on that path to being on the show.  No Tina Fey sightings, sadly.  Bottom line: NBC Studio Tour: One of the best tours ever!

Then back to Michigan on Sunday afternoon.  Thanks New York for the good time.  I miss you!

Venture On,

MEL aka Venture Gal

Oh how I love the city by the Bay

On November 29 I ventured to San Francisco for 5 days. My time was great combination of work, fun, spending time with people I care about, eating great food, & exploring the city.

Tuesday I left Michigan for a brief layover in Las Vegas (my first time in Vegas & enough time to play my first slot machine). I arrived in San Fran after 9 pm Cali time & by the time I went to bed I had been awake for 23 hours straight!

I put $1 in the Red, White, & Blue slot machine at the Las Vegas Airport

I didn't win. Boo!

Wednesday morning I walked to the office of one of our portfolio companies, Giftly. It was a beautiful walk & a great way to start the day. Sunny, crisp air, & lots of activity downtown. Giftly’s offices are a great example of a fun & open workplace. Lots of windows. Open tables. A large conference room. Dogs. & Giftly spirit. Marc (RPM Partner) & I met with Giftly CEO Timothy Bentley, & we also got a chance to meet some of the Giftly team – Dan, Mills, Nish.

After meeting with Giftly Marc & I drove down to Redwood City for an Xtime board meeting. Going from meeting with Giftly, a company at a very early stage, to meeting with Xtime, a company that is at a much different stage, was really interesting. It was quite a contrast in looking at what the key areas of focus are, where time is being spent, & what the needs & concerns of the businesses are. The board meeting went long, a result of great discussion & lots to talk about. It was dark when we left to return to San Francisco, & I had planned to go explore the city that evening, but ended up falling asleep at my hotel as soon as my head hit the bed. The results of a long & full day!

Thursday morning I went for a run around the city. I stayed in the Chancellor Hotel on Powell Street in Union Square & for my run I decided to go to Lombard & make a big loop. That put me going straight uphill for the first part of my run. Great workout – definitely challenging!

Union Square!

After my morning run I got ready & headed out to walk to my first meeting of the day…a early stage company located on Townsend Street. It was between a 1 & 1.5 mile walk. I stopped at Bio (aka Crepe o Chocolat) on O’Farrell Street to pick up a morning snack. I got some soup (so I could drink it as I walked) & some chocolate. They had a lot of sweets to choose from, as well as juices & tea. I was not impressed by the service. In fact, it almost drove me away to stop by Starbucks or another cafe instead. *Note: I am a customer service snob.* I was in a hurry though, so I grabbed my food & was on my way. I enjoyed walking & seeing the city by foot. On my way I saw a billboard for Huddle.  Billboards for tech companies…a sign of the times.  The meeting went well – another example of an early stage company with a cool office vibe. Less open environment, like Giftly, but the team was friendly & there was a lot of windows. No dogs, that I saw.

After that meeting I took a cab to a board meeting near the Embarcadero. The cab driver that took me from point A to B was the first cab driver I have ever met that actually knew about venture capital. Only in San Francisco.

The board meeting for Mirror.me went well. I enjoy working with this company because it’s early & there’s still a lot to figure out. Lots of creation & lots of opportunity for my involvement. If you haven’t figured it out already, working with the portfolio is one of my favorite things about working at RPM.

After the board meeting, Tony (RPM Partner) & I headed to visit with a friend & entrepreneur at his office. Marc met us there, so it was like we were meeting back in Ann Arbor…except in San Francisco in a beautiful office with glass tables, lots of windows, well decorated, & great location. Drool. It was so great to catch up, meet the folks there, & then visit more across the street at Rickhouse.

That evening I went to dinner with two friends at Anchor & Hope on Minna Street. I honestly don’t remember what exactly I got to eat…I know I had a salad first & then a nice filet of fish served over sautéed brussel sprouts. Tasty!

Friday morning I went for a longer run through the city. It was one of those great mind-clearing, thinking type runs that I didn’t even listen to music during the run. I soaked up the San Francisco sun, thought about life, & breathed heavily going up hills! After my run I checked out of my hotel & headed to meet a friend for lunch. We went to Paladar, a Cuban restaurant on Kearny St. So tasty! My friend & I shared Mariquitas & Mojo (house made plantain chips with garlic dipping sauce). I got a Five Green Salad & Yuca Al Mojo (yuca with garlic, lime, & olive oil). My friend got Ensalada de Camarones (shrimp salad sandwich). After lunch I walked around a little bit & then parked at Starbucks for the afternoon to get some work done. I find that I am more productive working in coffee shops than I am in an office. Not sure why.

That evening I met a friend & fellow University of Michigan alum at Nook for Happy Hour, followed by an improv show at Un-scripted on Sutter St. We saw “A Tale of Two Genres”, a play on Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” & the genre they did it in was the movie “Cocoon” (a movie my friend & I have not seen). It was pretty good. Long-form. I prefer short-form (think SNL skits). Still a great time & great visiting with my friend!

Saturday morning I made my way to the Ferry Building (I walked from Hyde Street, so about 1.5 to 2 miles, with my suitcase & backpack. It was a trek, but such a great walk through Chinatown & the Financial District. Chinatown was pretty cool in the morning…so much activity! A huge contrast from the dead Financial District. Right before getting to the Ferry Building I encountered the Occupy San Francisco there. Huge! Biggest one I’ve seen yet.

The Farmer’s Market was happening at the Ferry Building. Incredible! So much fresh produce, locally made products, & unique California treats from walnuts to persimmons. I got an apple, some plums, some persimmons, a pomelo (looks like a big grapefruit), some dried fruit & California walnuts, & other treats. and of course I sampled all sorts of tasty treats!

I met a friend & fellow UofM alum & we explored the market & Ferry Building shops. Blue Bottle Coffee had long lines the entire morning! We grabbed lunch at Ferry Plaza Seafood. We split a dungeness crab (we asked for a small one, but check out the size of that sucker!) & a steamed artichoke (one of my must have’s when I go to California). The crab was so fresh – it came straight from the boat & didn’t even make it to a tank before our table.

Then I made my way to my second lunch at The Slanted Door  with some friends. Still full from my first lunch I got a Grapefruit & Jicama salad with candied pecans. Pretty good. Fancy place. Glad I experienced it though.

The rest of the day I explored with a friend the Ferry Building & the Mission area. In the Mission we went to Bi-Rite Creamery, where I got chocolate coconut dairy-free ice cream & a strawberry pineapple popsicle. We also went to Tartine where I picked up some treats for my friends/hosts that night.

That night I went to dinner with some other friends at A16 on Chestnut St. in the Marina. Very tasty Italian food, but most importantly it was a great time visiting with friends!

Post-dinner I made my way to my friend’s apartment & we visited for awhile before going to bed. I called up an Uber in the morning & headed to the airport for a long day of travel. I was impressed with Uber.  The cab promptly arrived & the service was great.  And it was so convenient to pay via credit card before getting in the cab.  The morning was beautiful making it even more challenging to leave “The Golden State”

Thanks to my friends & RPM for making my time in the Bay Area great!

I found a penny today (heads up), so if it is lucky maybe I will be in California again soon!

Venture on,

MEL aka Venture Gal

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Defragging Defrag

On Tuesday, 11/8/11, I flew to Colorado for the 5th Annual Defrag Conference in Broomfield.  I was fortunate to win a scholarship from the Kauffman Foundation, as a woman in tech interested in attending the conference.  Thanks Kauffman!  In summary,
  • Defrag was awesome!  I learned so much & met so many great people
  • I love Colorado!

My Generous Host/New Friend & I in front of the Defrag Ice Sculpture/Shrimp Chiller

Why was Defrag awesome?

  • I met so many great people.  I ran out of business cards and walked away with dozens of new relationships & friends.
  • The conference opener was a Star Wars themed introduction.
  • The swag bag included a really nice fleece jacket with the Defrag and Box.net logos, flask, iPad case, & other useful & high quality goodies.
  • I learned a lot!  My 3 key takeaways from a technology/opportunities standpoint:
    • Big data is more about how the data is used than about the data itself.  Data is becoming a commodity, so the ways in which data is used are becoming increasingly important.  And it’s not about exploiting data it’s about getting humans to interact with data in new ways.  Data is becoming active.  So rather than searching for data, the right information is constantly trying to find you.
    • Purchase graph – you think social graph is important.  Tapping into the purchase graph is far more powerful.
    • Content is easily ignored so improving content is more important than distribution & right now content sucks.

If you’re really interested in learning more, contact me & we can chat more about what I learned!

Reasons I love Boulder:

*note: I spent most of my time in Boulder, & was only in Denver Friday evening, Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning.

When traveling to new places if there are great people, great food, & a great environment I am satisfied.  Boulder went above & beyond with several additional qualities that made it harder to leave!

 

The People
A fellow conference scholarship winner volunteered to pick me up from the airport & she was so friendly & welcoming.  During the conference I stayed with another conference scholarship winner & his housemates in Boulder.  I Googled him before deciding to stay there and I knew anyone who received the scholarship would be a quality person.  My expectations were blown through the roof though, as my hosts were so welcoming, kind, and hospitable.   They welcomed me to work out of their office, where they work on Varsity Framework, & treated me like a friend, as opposed to just a guest at their house.  Similarly, everyone I met in Boulder was kind & welcoming with open arms.  I left with several new friends!

 

The Food
  • My first night in Boulder I was spoiled with dinner at The Kitchen.  It was a topic dinner on “Leveraging Social Networks to Create Change” organized by Gist.
  • The following night after the conference, my host and new friend recommended The Kitchen Next Door, the restaurant directly next (& affiliated with The Kitchen)

Pumpkin Stew from The Kitchen Next Door

  • Whole Foods. Boulder is home to several Whole Foods & during my visit I visited two of them.  The bigger of the two is bigger than the Whole Foods in Ann Arbor.  My friend & I grabbed dinner there after a long day at the conference.  The following morning we went to the other, smaller, Whole Foods, for breakfast.  They have an outstanding, & very affordable, oatmeal bar, stocked full of steel cut oats, fresh berries, nuts, & other tasty toppings.  I got a full big bowl & it was only $2.96!  Paired with the view of the mountains from the store, this start to the morning couldn’t be beat!
  • On Friday morning, my friend & I were walking to his office when we ran into another Defrag’er downtown Boulder, got to talking, & he invited us to breakfast.  We went to Lucille’s, winner of best breakfast in Boulder.  Waiting outside the restaurant was several other Defrag’ers from Spot Influence & Flow (another reason I love Boulder – small enough to run into people you know & big enough to meet new people).  Lucille’s serves a New Orleans style breakfast & even though my friend & I already ate breakfast bowls at Whole Foods, we split pan fried trout topped with poached eggs & served with spiced potatoes.

The Tech Community

  • Considering I spent much of my time at the Defrag Conference I got a focused view of the tech environment in Boulder.  There were tons of local entrepreneurs, tech companies, events, & support.
  • Atlas is a coffee shop on Pearl Street in Boulder.  It’s a very common space for coders & entrepreneurs to spend their time cranking out code, design, or other work.  The morning I went my friend & I got Earl Grey Lattes – earl grey tea with almond milk, steamed, & vanilla agave to sweeten.  It was delicious!  I’m more of a green tea fan, but this converted me.  It didn’t need the sweetener though, so next time I visit I will get my latte sans agave.

Fueled by Earl Grey Lattes, Entrepreneurs, Creators, & the like Work Away at Atlas

  • Clearly The Foundry Group is part of the community in Boulder.  Jason Mendelson & Brad Feld were involved with Defrag & there were several Tech Stars companies represented there as well.  The support for tech entrepreneurs is so much that Boulder has attracted folks from all over the country to come start their companies there.  After speaking with several entrepreneurs about highlights of the community I learned that it is pretty vibrant, but there are still areas left for improvement.
  • Codespace is a co-working space in downtown Boulder.  Something notable about this space – it is FREE to work at.  Yes, you read that right.
The Health
I won’t generalize & say that everyone is healthy in Boulder, but I will say that most people I met are very conscious of health & super active (more so than folks I know in Michigan).  It’s not that fat people are discriminated against so much as it is the wonderful atmosphere to be healthy & active.  Outdoor recreation, healthy restaurants, friends that are active & healthy, FREE yoga classes at Prana.

 

The Environment
  • Beautiful mountains (which were referred to as hills when I considered them mountains)
  • Crisp air.  Much drier than Michigan air, so it didn’t seem to feel as cold & damp.
  • Sun!  Apparently Colorado gets 300 days of sun each year.  That’s a lot of vitamin D!
  • Dog friendly!
  • Chill – people are down to earth, friendly, relaxed, & up for adventure.

Mountains *ahem* Hills in Boulder

Will I be back to Boulder?  Yes.  Will I ever live in Boulder?  Possibly.  I’d put it in my top 3 places I’d like to live in the U.S. (from the ones I have visited so far).

To all my friends in Colorado (new & existing) thank you for helping to make my experience awesome!

 

Venture On,

 

Mary aka Venture Gal

Meeting Marathon

The past couple weeks have been like a meeting marathon….in a relay marathon though.  Momentum builds up as you prepare for the big day (ie your turn to run) and then when it’s there your running as fast as you can, trying to do everything in your power to perform your best (ie you’re running).  As you finish the meeting the adrenaline still remains for a bit, but the momentum dies down and your energy slowly fades (ie you just finished your leg of the race and you handed the baton to the next runner) and once the entire race is over the entire team debriefs (ie celebrates & gets a massage) and is on to the next challenge.

I make that analogy because it does resemble this time of year at RPM Ventures.  In October we held our annual meeting and earlier this week we held our advisory board meeting.  Both are important but serve different purposes.  The former to update our investors and the latter to well…get advice.

In a previous post I explained why I enjoy our annual meeting!  In fact, I compared them to Christmas (I like the marathon relay a bit better).  Besides the points mentioned there, I also learn a lot at the annual meeting.  This year I was caught red handed taking lots of notes (part of my job, but also to record all the nuggets of wisdom).  Here are some of the things I learned and was reminded of at this year’s annual and advisory meetings:

  • VIP = Vesting In Peace (This article explains it simply as when someone “work(s) for (a) stable company increasing in value, and … doing as little as possible until … stock options are worth something”)
  • Go after businesses that are not obvious
  •  Find key influencers & have them do your marketing for you.
  • As an entrepreneur, share all news with your board.  Good & bad news.  As a VC, don’t overreact to bad news because that will drive entrepreneurs to stop sharing the bad news.
  • Please don’t buy billboard ad space for your tech company.
  • In a board meeting, include the most important topics first.
  • VCs have LPs.  This is an overlooked aspect of the VC industry, especially from the perspective of entrepreneurs.  Similar to how an entrepreneur has a responsibility to his/her VC investors, VCs have a responsibility to their investors as well.
  • Big companies have a lot of cash.  What they will do with that cash…time will tell (and maybe some really good fortune tellers).
  • “Jack of all trades & master of none”. To be or not to be?  Not for RPM.
  • When it comes to building successful companies it is all about the people.
  • Surround yourself with smart people, learn from them, & you might not need another degree.
  • Take care of what’s in the cupboard now” before taking on new challenges.
What are some things you have learned at big meetings?
Venture on,
MEL

Annual Meetings are Like Christmas

RPM’s annual meeting was a little over a week ago.  I love our annual meeting at RPM Ventures for a few key reasons:

1.  It is a busy time at the office which means there is lots of activity and things to do.

2.  It is a group project.  The entire team at RPM works together to make the annual meeting possible – all doing whatever it takes to reach our end goal.  Spending an entire day brainstorming, planning, executing is very energizing!

3.  I get to solve problems in the heat of the moment.  Sometimes there’s a last minute hiccup or something wasn’t as expected and needs to change (e.g. table placement, missing name tag, whatever).  Though these often are minuet details, the small problems still require creative thinking quickly.

4.  The meeting itself.  Meeting new people and seeing people I didn’t see since the year before.  So many of our attendees are amazing people with incredible stories and wisdom to share.

5.  The end result.  Seeing all our hard work pay off is a great way to spend a day =)

Next up – advisory meeting & quarterly responsibilities.

Venture on,

MEL