How Did She Do It? A Q&A with Lisa Xu, CEO of NopSec

Lisa Xu, CEO of NopSec

With cyberthreats proliferating, security is a top priority for all businesses. NopSec is committed to helping enterprises respond quickly to today’s threats and to prepare for tomorrow’s. The company, headed by CEO Lisa Xu, uses a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to help customers simplify workflows, analyze and prioritize security vulnerability risks, and remediate them quickly and effectively. Lisa recently discussed with Deb Kemper of Golden Seeds the reasons she started the company, challenges she encountered and strategies that have powered its growth.

DK: Tell us about the origins of NopSec.
We started as an offense-focused security company, helping businesses identify security holes and weaknesses from an offensive attacker’s view. Customers loved us and asked if we could put our intelligence “in a box” so they could reference our unique capabilities whenever they needed them.  As a result, we built a cloud-based SaaS product that combines data analytics using machine learning with augmented offensive security. It helps customers prioritize threats and vulnerabilities and then remediate the most important weaknesses.

DK: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
There are a lot of security tools generating tons of data, but it’s hard to separate meaningful information from all the noise. There is a gap from technical risk reduction to a business risk conversation.  A company can have someone gather data, enter it into giant spreadsheets and present the results in various charts, but that takes about 20 hours a month and it isn’t scalable. Deriving intelligence and insights from all that data is very difficult. You need to know where the vulnerabilities reside in order to determine the priority and decide how you’ll handle remediation and allocate resources. It’s also challenging to align teams from across the company—infrastructure, security, app development—to collaborate and focus on the right thing. Finally, how do you articulate the risk reduction to both technical and nontechnical stakeholders?

NopSec translates technical weaknesses and difficulties into a business risk language that’s easily digestible by nontechnical stakeholders such as the CEO and CFO. We show customers how they’re reducing risk and improving their security posture, as well as reducing the workload, saving time and cutting costs. This gives them a better story to present to the Board. Cybersecurity is a differentiator when companies bid new RFPs. Having a robust security program can help them win new business.

We offer a more automated intelligent approach that leverages our expertise as offensive security experts on top of machine learning. Our flagship product, Unified VRM, ingests data automatically and uses prioritization algorithms to focus on the most important areas, then delivers actionable metrics and reporting in a meaningful way from a business perspective. NopSec Unified VRM integrates with the customer’s ecosystem, using the tools they already have for detection, reporting or ticketing. The end goal is to highlight all the issues and rank them in a dashboard so companies can focus on the most detrimental weaknesses and prioritize the most impactful options to address them.

DK: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?
There’s been no shortage of challenges! We’ve had to tackle everything from acquiring customers to building the product, growing the business and scaling the team. We had to pivot from a service model focused on satisfying customers to a growth model focused on subscriptions, creating a scalable enterprise to build the business. That’s not an easy shift. What keeps us going is that we never give up. It’s all about identifying the nature of the problem– is it strategic, directional or design? Does it require resources and capital or is execution the issue? Once the root cause is determined, you continue to iterate until it’s solved.

DK: What effect has COVID had on your business?
LX: Like many companies, we’ve had no employees in the office since March, so we’ve had to embrace going virtual and operating remotely. Our staff members, who are very widely dispersed, save commuting time and have a better work/life balance as a result. We’ve broadened our talent pipeline and hired new people, some we’ve never met in person. At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was overworked, so we emphasized the importance of self-care. I’m happy to report that our team has managed to survive very well during this time.

DK: Any tools that have helped you stay connected or things you have done to help onboard remote workers?
Everything we use is cloud-based so it works everywhere. We’re big on Slack because everyone has adopted it both for business and personal use. We also use Zoom and email for onboarding new employees and Zendesk for ticketing.

To help new employees, we define the process and training material before we get them on board. We give them a weekly NopSec onboarding program, and we have regular check-ins—first daily, then weekly and biweekly. Building an infrastructure and training collateral helps expedite the process. To stay connected, we have a virtual happy hour on Fridays, which gives everyone a chance to socialize.

DK: What advice do you have for early-stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?
People are always the #1 asset. You have to attract talent and work as a team to achieve your goal collectively. Without our people, we wouldn’t have a product or customers. You also have to be purposeful and intentional about company culture. We believe in transparency, because everyone is entitled to know what’s going on with the business. If our employees see a problem or have an opinion, we want to hear about it. The worst thing is when everyone knows there’s a problem but nobody talks about it.  We’ve made a conscious effort to ask people to step up and share their views on how and where we can improve.

DK: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?
We’re getting more traction with customers, including enterprise-grade clients. On the product side, we never stop innovating. We’re always releasing new modules and capabilities, which is a great way to upsell our product, expanding horizontally as well as vertically to offer customers additional products. We are always actively working to engage with potential customers and future funders.

This is an exciting time for us, and it’s a great opportunity for SaaS-based companies to scale. We’ve more than doubled in size, both on the team and customer fronts. We understand our customers’ pain points and deliver a solution that truly solves their problems. They listen to us and keep coming back; we have an amazing renewal rate of 99%.

DK: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?
LX: The networking has been invaluable. We really engage with the investors and they leverage their networks to help us grow. One investor has been especially active in working their contacts and introducing us to the right executives in enterprise-grade organizations. On a strategic level, Golden Seeds has always challenged us to think about things differently. We touch base every few weeks. There’s a regular cadence of engagement and not just four check-ins a year at board meetings. Golden Seeds wants to know what’s happening with our business, what problems we are encountering and how they can help.

For more wisdom like this from other incredible female leaders, read more on Golden Seeds’ blog.

Using technology to safely re-open businesses in a COVID world

Caryn Seidman-Becker, co-founder, chairman and CEO of CLEAR

As the world grapples with COVID-19, businesses are anxious to get employees back to the office safely. CLEAR, a company that uses biometrics to speed travelers through TSA checkpoints, has a new solution: Health Pass. Caryn Seidman-Becker, co-founder, chairman and CEO of CLEAR, recently told Golden Seeds how Health Pass can help create a safer working environment that gives employers and employees peace of mind. Caryn launched CLEAR with Co-founder Ken Cornick in 2010, following a career in asset management. She recently spoke with Linda Yarden, Managing Director of Golden Seeds. Linda’s experience includes 14 years at Goldman Sachs and 10 years at Lehman Brothers. This is one in a series of Golden Seeds Trend Talks focusing on topics that are relevant, instructive and inspiring.

Linda Yarden: CLEAR has been a game-changer, enabling its more than 5 million members to glide through security at 60-plus airports, stadiums and other venues nationwide. How did you come up with the idea for the company?

Caryn Seidman-Becker: When we started our business more than 10 years ago, my partner Ken and I wanted to make the world a better place. We believed that biometrics could change the way people live, work and travel. 9/11 permanently changed the way people think about security, and in response, we launched CLEAR. It enables people to use biometrics rather than ID cards, tickets or other documents to clear security or gain entrance to a venue. They register their irises and fingerprints with us and we transform their unique biometrics into an encrypted code that provides touchless ID.

Linda Yarden: How do you protect the privacy and security of your customers?

Caryn Seidman-Becker: Privacy and data security have been essential to our business and our culture since day one. Our business is built on trust. The very first email I sent out in 2010 said: “We will guard your privacy.” We don’t sell or share data, and we have massive security infrastructure on the back end with a customer-centric front end. We’ve been certified by the government as providing the highest level of cybersecurity.

Linda Yarden: How did this journey lead to Health Pass?

Linda Yarden, Managing Director of Golden Seeds

Caryn Seidman-Becker: We’d started expanding into sports, entertainment and healthcare before March, then COVID-19 hit. Much like 9/11, it transformed the way we live. Travel plummeted, and offices and businesses all shut down. People began working at home, avoiding public places, wearing masks and socially distancing. Health insights such as temperature, test results and antigen levels started to matter more, and nobody wanted to touch anything in a public place. We saw an opportunity to be part of the solution. We started up internal groups to use our existing biometric technologies to help businesses and society re-open safely. In June, we rolled out Health Pass, and we powered the National Hockey League bubble.

Linda Yarden: Are there other applications for Health Pass?

Caryn Seidman-Becker: We’re looking at a number of potential markets where ID, health, payments and ticketing come together—closed-loop environments like cruise ships or stadiums. If consumers don’t have a safe and effective way to patronize these venues, they’ll stay home. We’re also talking, on a pro bono basis, to religious institutions and schools, which we think are vital to communities.

Linda Yarden: Do you see any silver linings in the current environment?

Caryn Seidman-Becker: I think many of us are taking stock of our lives, spending more time with family and refocusing our priorities. I hope we’ll have more appreciation in the future for having the freedom to travel and visit friends and go to concerts and games.

The pandemic forced people to try things like Zoom and Instacart and telemedicine, and some of those things will stick. They can be useful in rural areas or for people who don’t drive, for example. I’m not a fan of 100% remote work forever, because I think the workplace sparks creative combustion and lets young people learn from more experienced colleagues. But I do see advantages in a mix of remote and in-office work.

Linda Yarden: As a woman in business, do you face special challenges?

Caryn Seidman-Becker: I didn’t feel singled out as a woman on Wall Street, which is a great meritocracy that’s all about hustle and getting results. When I first started with CLEAR and visited TSA, I got the sense that everyone looked at me and wondered: What does this girl know? My reaction was: “I will outwork and outthink you. I am here to win.”

In the end it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from—only how you’re going to get where you need to. I’ve seen successful companies run by people from all different backgrounds who overcame every obstacle and every doubter, and they made me believe that anyone can do anything.

Linda Yarden: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Caryn Seidman-Becker: In any business, people matter a tremendous amount. Surround yourself with people who are intellectually curious and tireless. Ask what drives them. That’s my favorite question. And show leadership. I don’t believe you can make every decision by committee. Leadership requires you to make hard and fast decisions, often with imperfect data.

Learn more about CLEAR on the company’s website.

Read more of our Golden Seeds blogs for relevant, instructive and inspiring insights.

Stories you loved: Our most popular blogs of 2020

This past year has been anything but uneventful. Covid-19 has upended our normal routines, exacerbating existing problems and creating new ones. While many businesses have suffered, some have thrived during this difficult time.

Over the past year, our blogs have addressed a broad range of issues, from helping businesses survive the pandemic to ensuring equitable funding for minority entrepreneurs. And as always, we’ve reported on many of our promising investments.

Here’s a look at five of the many blogs that resonated with our readers in 2020.

Boards step up in a turbulent economy

With society and the economy in turmoil, many companies are facing major challenges and CEOs must make tough decisions. They’re counting on the board of directors for help, but it’s far from “business as usual” in a world transformed by the pandemic.

The partnership between CEOs and board members is always important, particularly at a time when rapid change is the new norm, feedback loops are accelerated and urgent decisions must be made. Many boards are holding meetings more frequently – and sometimes less formally – and board members’ responsibilities have grown and changed.

Some ways board members are expanding their role, include:

  • Helping businesses identify and address growing risks such as potential supply chain disruption, cybercrime, credit risks and more.
  • Assisting CEOs in preparing for a range of scenarios, from best case to worst.
  • Urging transparency and regular communication with stakeholders.

Written by Deb Kemper and Kathryn Swintek, Managing Partners of Golden Seeds Funds, this blog offers advice about how boards can help ensure the survival and health of the companies they serve.

Our reflection on racial equality, access to capital

Founded in 2005 with the mission of gender diversity and inclusion, Golden Seeds has funded 200 women-led companies. While we’re proud of the progress made to date, we are still humbled by the challenges of achieving real parity for female entrepreneurs, especially black female founders.

Even after all this time, more than 85% of venture capital still goes to all-male teams, with only a tiny fraction of the remaining 15% going to black women founders.

In this blog, we talk about expanding our efforts to create conditions that foster the likelihood of funding and the support of more diverse entrepreneurs.

A principal goal of Golden Seeds is to create an environment in which women entrepreneurs are welcomed, seriously considered for funding, treated respectfully and benefit from constructive feedback. Similarly, we endeavor to create an environment for angel investors that is inclusive and productive. We must ensure our environment is equally welcoming for entrepreneurs and investors of color.

We acknowledge we are not where we should, nor want to be, and we are committed to continuing our work to improve.

Tackling the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease

Many of us, sadly, have firsthand knowledge of the devastation wrought by Alzheimer’s disease. The statistics are staggering:

  • There are more than 16 million cases worldwide, including 6 million in the U.S.
  • The disease costs the U.S. $244 billion a year in direct expenses, plus even more in indirect costs.
  • Experts say this one disease, alone, could bankrupt Medicare.

Cognition Therapeutics, a clinical-stage drug development company focused on the protection and restoration of synaptic function in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, continued to make progress in the development of a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the company received a $75.8M grant for a trial of a promising, and unique, new treatment called CT1812.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the grant for the trial, which will be conducted over five years at 35 leading academic sites with expertise in Alzheimer’s clinical trials. Early tests have already yielded some very exciting findings that suggest it can help with Alzheimer’s and also be used to treat other diseases.

This blog post, written by Peggy Wallace, Managing Partner, Golden Seeds and member of the Board of Directors of Cognition Therapeutics, features an interview with Cognition Therapeutics’ Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Susan Catalano, and CEO Lisa Ricciardi.

Doing good while doing well

Conventional wisdom says you can’t make money investing with your conscience, but a promising company called CNote intends to do just that – deliver competitive returns with 100% positive social impact.

This blog, from our “How Did She Do It” series, features CNote CEO and co-founder Catherine Berman, and is written by Gwen Edwards, Managing Director of Golden Seeds. Catherine left a high-level corporate job to launch an investment platform that harnesses finance as an instrument for social change.

CNote is enabling investors to align their portfolios with their values by offering individuals and institutions fixed-income opportunities that support Main Street America. Among its strategies:

  • Provide small business loans for female and minority entrepreneurs.
  • Drive more capital into underfunded communities, which are suffering disproportionately in this crisis.
  • Offer customized investments around themes such as gender equality, immigration and the environment.

If you’d like to make your money work for the greater good, while doing well as an investor, this blog is a must read.

Harnessing technology to aid entrepreneurs

Another popular blog addressed the difficulties facing women, minorities and veterans striving to build businesses. Hello Alice, founded by Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore, aims to give them access to the funding, opportunities and connections they need to thrive from day one.

Named after the character Alice from “Alice in Wonderland,” (who, like many entrepreneurs, “believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”) Hello Alice is making the business ecosystem more inclusive and accessible.

Here’s a quick overview of how this free digital platform works:

  • It develops a unique profile based on user input.
  • It then uses artificial intelligence to build machine-learning algorithms and decision trees that present personalized recommendations specific to that user.

It’s encouraging to know there are such efforts underway to make the business ecosystem more inclusive of companies owned by women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, military veterans and those with disabilities. Give this “How Did She Do It” blog, written by Gwen Edwards, Managing Director of Golden Seeds, a read.

These are just five of the many blogs we’ve posted this year. We found these stories inspiring and hope you’ll check out these and other blogs highlighting the work of Golden Seeds and many of our companies.

Learn more about the work of Golden Seeds and how we propel women entrepreneurs.

World Economic Forum honors three Golden Seeds companies: Cadenza Innovation, otto by DEVCON and Kalion

We’re pleased to announce that a major international organization, The World Economic Forum, has recognized three Golden Seeds companies for their impact on society, validating the vision that drives our organization: supporting women entrepreneurs who can change the world.

There are many ways to acknowledge outstanding women entrepreneurs including last month’s Global Entrepreneurship Week and Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. However, few companies have the honor of being recognized as global transformers by the World Economic Forum. We’re extremely proud to have three companies we have invested in receiving such high distinctions.

The World Economic Forum has honored two Golden Seeds companies as Technology Pioneers that are shaping the future through the design, development and deployment of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, biotechnology and more: Cadenza Innovation in 2018 and otto by DEVCON in 2020.

For Cadenza’s founder and CEO, Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, it’s the second time since 2010 that she and her same founding team have earned the prestigious award, and it is believed to be the only group to achieve that distinction. Long active in the Forum, she most recently served as chair for its Global Future Council on Energy Technologies.

Pioneers are early- to growth-stage companies chosen from a field of hundreds of candidates. The Technology Pioneers community is an integral part of the larger Global Innovators community of startups at the World Economic Forum.

“These pioneers are developing cutting-edge technologies all over the world,” said Susan Nesbitt, who heads the Global Innovators Community for the World Economic Forum. “Beyond their innovations, these firms are contributing greatly to improving the state of the world.”

In addition, the Forum singled out a third Golden Seeds company, Kalion, adding its chief scientist and cofounder Professor Kristala Jones Prather to the Global Future Council on Synthetic Biology. This field combines biology, engineering and technology to transform industries and overcome global challenges.

“Synthetic biology makes it possible to design the building blocks of life,” the Forum said. “This ability promises to revolutionize economies and societies, particularly with regards to the production of energy and medicine.”

Golden Seeds is proud to support these three outstanding women-led companies who are working on solving some of the biggest challenges of our time.

Cadenza Innovation: Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO of Cadenza Innovation

Established in 2012 by a team of lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery experts led by Lampe-Onnerud, Cadenza Innovation has developed a safe, low-cost, high-performance battery technology platform for license to global manufacturers. The company’s patented supercell serves as the cornerstone of its novel architecture and provides unparalleled simplification in battery pack design. That, in turn, substantially reduces production and manufacturing costs, overcomes safety issues and improves energy density.

As Lampe-Onnerud explained in an interview with Golden Seeds, the product is initially targeting the utility/grid storage and electric vehicle markets. It has enormous potential beyond that, too. “It will open a new manufacturing paradigm for players that make other mass-produced devices,” she added.

With nearly three decades of experience in the global battery industry, Cadenza’s founder expressed appreciation for the World Economic Forum’s unwavering commitment to facilitating access to lower-cost, abundantly available, environmentally sustainable energy to combat climate change.

Otto by DEVCON: Democratizing security

Maggie Louie, CEO and co-founder of Otto by DEVCON

Otto by DEVCON is an Atlanta, Ga-based software company that protects companies and consumers from online threats through automating (otto~mating) and democratizing web security. Founded in 2017, otto by DEVCON is a global innovator in JavaScript Security Software and DevSecOps tools, for managing real-time runtime application security. Its no-code to low-code software integration is transforming security paradigms. Founder and CEO Maggie Louie explained the company’s mission: “We know the only way that security can keep pace with innovation is to make it ubiquitous. Democratize it­ – make security for everyone: fast, easy and accessible. In the new world of COVID-19 and remote everything ­– work, eLearning, meals, shopping ­– online threats will only continue to grow. By providing consumers with free protection and developers with free tools, we are able to use this virtuous cycle to rapidly advance our threat intelligence for commercial use across all industries. Closing these online security gaps ‘in-browser’ is essential to hardening the security of the web and disrupting the business models of crime.”

The World Economic Forum’s selection of otto by DEVCON as a 2020 Technology Pioneer validates the importance of the company’s mission to protect modern freedom in our ever-connected world, which it called one of the most important challenges facing society, globally.

In an interview, Louie told Golden Seeds that more than 75% of all websites have JavaScript flaws opening up risk and vulnerabilities. These security gaps can lead to attacks that steal credit card information, login credentials, install trojans and inject malicious code. The average cost to a single company for a single data breach is $3.9M. Five billion records were compromised in 2019, costing U.S. organizations more than $1.2 trillion from data breaches alone. The first quarter of 2020 has been one of the worst in data breach history, with over 8 billion records exposed.

Kalion: Promoting “green” chemistry

Professor Kristala Jones Prather, Ph.D., Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Kalion

In 2011, Kalion was founded to create biologically friendly compounds for industrial use. This industrial biotech company produces a compound called glucaric acid, which offers the possibility of replacing environmentally polluting chemicals with a biodegradable, nontoxic, sugar-derived product. It can be used not only in pharmaceuticals and energy drinks, which are the current markets, but also for other products due to its varied enhancement properties from improving corrosion destruction, fabric strength and coating adherence properties, to name just a few.

Kristala Jones Prather, chief scientist and cofounder of Kalion, explained: “The enzymes that biological organisms use for chemistry are much more selective, allowing for a vastly superior purity of our final products. Higher-purity molecules generate less waste during your production process and greater value in your final products because of the superior performance from the highest quality polymers.”

One of the biggest challenges was educating investors about the potential in glucaric acid and its marketability. Her experience with Golden Seeds was a refreshing change. “When we sat down with Golden Seeds, in walked a team member with one of my papers,” Prather recalled in an interview. “She had a background in biology, had researched the science and was excited to learn more. That’s my experience with Golden Seeds—they’re interested.”

Golden Seeds celebrates these innovators and is proud that the World Economic Forum has recognized these companies as global players in their fields.

Read more of our Golden Seeds blogs for relevant, instructive and inspiring insights.

Closing the Funding Gap for Female and Multicultural Entrepreneurs

Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley
Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley

Funding is critical for new businesses, but female and multicultural entrepreneurs struggle to obtain capital. The vast majority of investment money goes to traditional founders rather than women or people of color. At a recent Golden Seeds Trend Talk, two Golden Seeds members – Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, who heads up the Multicultural Client Strategy Group, and Stephanie Fowler, a 25-year veteran of Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank and Founder and Managing Partner of the boutique investment firm Morgan Capital Partners, LLC – discussed the funding gap and solutions to the problem. This is one in a series of Trend Talks focusing on topics that are relevant, instructive and inspiring.

Stephanie Fowler: The disparity in funding for multicultural and women founders wasn’t talked about much when Morgan Stanley asked you to address the problem six years ago. Where did you start?

Carla Harris: In 2014, the chairman of Morgan Stanley James Gorman said no large investment firm on Wall Street had successfully engaged with multicultural constituents, and he wanted to be the leader in that space. It was my job to figure out how to do it. The first thing I did was create an event for senior executives from the African American, Hispanic American, Asian American and Native American communities. It tapped into a real appetite in the market — every year, there’s a waiting list.

The second step was creating the “Access and Opportunity” podcast to elevate the conversation around the inequitable distribution of capital. When you ask people who distribute capital why they don’t have more women or people of color in their portfolios, they say they can’t find anybody. I wanted to put together a playbook to show them how. I also wanted successful entrepreneurs to explain how they got funding so other founders could try those avenues.

Stephanie Fowler: What led to the launch of Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab, and how has it been working?

Stephanie Fowler
Stephanie Fowler, Founder and Managing Partner of Morgan Capital Partners, LLC

Carla Harris: I participated in an event called Power Moves in 2014, where I met female and multicultural founders of tech companies in education, medical, health care, consumer products and more. I realized that Black and Hispanic businesses combined serve a market with almost $4 trillion in spending power, and as the leading global investment bank, we needed to be playing in that space. Morgan Stanley participated in the Power Moves conference until it was discontinued, then in 2017 set up our own Multicultural Accelerator Lab. We invest in technology and technology-enabled startups with women and multicultural founders and C-suite executives, and our track record proves that we know how to pick winners. Most traditional venture capital firms succeed with only one company out of 10. In our lab, only one out of 10 don’t work out. In fact, it’s been so successful that Morgan Stanley is doubling the size to include 20 companies a year. We’re also increasing the amount of money we can invest in each to $250,000, and we’re offering follow-on investments to companies that are too advanced for the lab.

Stephanie Fowler: Given that the funding gap wasn’t in the forefront at that time, did you encounter challenges to your efforts to address it?

Carla Harris: I give the chairman a lot of credit. He told me his goal and gave me a blank piece of paper to create the vision. Some of the Morgan Stanley people agreed it was the right thing to do but didn’t expect it to make any money. I said, “Hold it right there. If the only reason we do this is because it’s right, there’s a problem. You’ll never get everyone to agree on the right thing to do, which is why we haven’t gotten further with diversity and inclusion in general.”

But business people can agree on the commercial thing to do, so this has to be commercially relevant. An investment bank’s super-power is taking capital from people who have it and giving it to people who need it — not because we like them and want to help them, but because it’s a commercial imperative for us. There has to be an equilibrium, so both sides get something out of the deal. With that mindset, you’ll have different people on your investment committee and different objectives. So that’s what we drove toward.

Stephanie Fowler: Tell us about “The Trillion-Dollar Blind Spot,” a whitepaper that detailed the reasons for the funding gap, its economic impact and actions to achieve more equitable funding in the future. How did your experiences with the lab influence it?

Carla Harris: “The Trillion-Dollar Blind Spot” gave us real data to put out there. If everything is anecdotal, it becomes an excuse for people not to embrace it. The fact that the companies in our lab were so successful time after time proved it wasn’t an anomaly. That’s because we treated the lab as we would any fund and put together the right investment criteria. We learned that you have to insert yourself into the ecosystem so you become a trusted partner. My research showed that many female entrepreneurs who were turned down by other accelerators didn’t go back because the experience was so horrible. It was important to us that we position ourselves as a safe space. So we committed to doing more than just giving these companies money; we would invest our time and expertise in them. That’s the message we want to get out to other VCs. If you really want to find multicultural and women founders, this is how you have to show up in the marketplace.

Stephanie Fowler: What do you recommend to VCs who want to invest in diverse companies but say they can’t find them?

Carla Harris: The first thing is to make sure you have diversity on your investment committee. Many of the VCs we’ve spoken to don’t have any women or people of color on their committees. The second is to access the network and connections people have within diverse communities. The third thing—and the most profound, in some ways—is to rethink your definition of expansion risk.

All VCs set aside a percentage of their portfolio for investments outside their core competencies, for things they have no experience or expertise in. Take cloud computing and ride-share services, for example. They were unfamiliar ideas 20 years ago, but now they’re huge vertical industries, and early investors are reaping the rewards. We’re urging investors to put women and multicultural businesses under the risk expansion umbrella. You might not know about these spaces but put down a marker and see how things evolve. The hair-weaving industry is an example. Traditional investors don’t know anything about it, but artificial hair is a multibillion-dollar market. Categorizing something like this as risk expansion gives VCs a comfortable, familiar way to invest in businesses owned by women and people of color.

Another message we’re trying to get across is that there are extraordinary yield opportunities in investing in a female or multicultural founder. It takes tremendous grit and resilience for them just to get in front of a VC’s desk. That proves they can get things done, so an investment in their company has already been significantly derisked.

Stephanie Fowler: What advice do you have for female and multicultural entrepreneurs interacting with potential investors?

Carla Harris: Traditionally, a woman or person of color faces difficult obstacles, like prejudices or stereotypes, others often don’t face. You need to underscore your expertise, show how conversant you are about the industry and your competition—why you’re better than anyone else out there. Answer every question and try not to get emotional about questions that are microaggressions. Just jump right over them.

Learn more about Carla Harris here. Learn about the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab here.

Learn more about the work of Golden Seeds and how we propel women entrepreneurs.

How the pandemic is transforming the restaurant industry and the way we eat

Marie Molde, MBA, RD at Datassential
Marie Molde, MBA, RD at Datassential

COVID-19 has brought dramatic and often unexpected changes to almost every aspect of our lives—including our views on food and restaurants. Fewer of us are dining out, and safety and sanitation have overtaken flavor as the top priorities for those who are. There’s growing interest in single-serve packaging, contactless ordering and deliveries, ethnic cuisine and functional foods. These and other current trends, and the future outlook, were the subject of a Golden Seeds Trend Talk in October with Marie Molde, a registered dietitian and food industry expert. Marie’s firm, Datassential, provides trend software, predictive analytics and consumer insights to the food industry. This is one in a series of Golden Seeds Trend Talks focusing on topics that are relevant, instructive and inspiring.

We’ve all seen the headlines about restaurants shutting down and consumers staying home to make sourdough starter and bake banana bread. There’s no question that the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have caused major upheaval in the restaurant business, overhauling the way Americans are cooking and eating. But it’s less clear how that’s playing out.

To find out what’s really happening and to see how things are evolving over time, we’ve surveyed over 80,000 consumers and several hundred restaurant owners and other foodservice operators over the past eight months. Our research has revealed some interesting trends.

In April, 68% of those surveyed said they were avoiding restaurants because of COVID. Since that peak, concerns seem to have eased, as now only 40% are now steering clear of restaurants though this may increase in coming weeks as we head into winter. If more restrictive regional restrictions are put in place like the current ban on indoor dining in Illinois and San Francisco, we may also see an increase. Spending patterns confirm the shift to eating at home: 45% of consumers said their biggest spending cuts are in dining out and clothing, while only 18% said they’ve cut spending the most on groceries.

After examining all the research, we’ve distilled some key lessons from the pandemic.

Lesson 1: Goodbye fear, hello caution

Fear peaked in April, when nearly 70% of survey respondents said they were very concerned about COVID. After some ups and downs over the spring and summer, the rate is currently hovering around 53%. That suggests Americans have moved past the emergency mode and become less fearful, adopting more of a cautionary mindset. More than 80% say they know what they need to do, and 60% report that precautions such as wearing a mask and maintaining social distance have become second nature. Many are venturing out again, and grocery stores rank first among places they feel safe visiting. When dining away from home, consumers feel most comfortable at restaurants with outdoor seating. They’re warier of buffets or places where people are clustered together, such as food courts.

One telling statistic reveals a major shift in attitude about dining out. In the thousands of surveys Datassential has conducted over the past 20 years, taste and flavor have consistently been the #1 thing consumers look for in a food and beverage experience. Not anymore. Since COVID, cleanliness and sanitation have moved into the top spot, pushing taste to #2. So we’re counseling our customers in the industry to focus on overt sanitation and visible cleaning measures—not just now, but in the future as well, since 76% of consumers say cleanliness will continue to matter more than it used to.

Other trends are also apparent. We’ve learned that people want tamper-proof and single-serve packaging for utensils and the components of a meal. This reverses the move toward sustainability, which is taking a back seat to safety, at least right now.

Lesson 2: Our future is accelerated

It’s clear that the pandemic is accelerating trends. There’s a big move to contactless interactions. Consumers prefer ordering a meal at a drive-through window or by phone, online or through an app. They’re also opting for contactless deliveries and curbside pickup, as well as contactless payment methods such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. There’s even a new alternative to salad bars: a low-touch robot called Sally, which will customize and dispense a salad.

On the home front, we’ve seen an uptick in grocery deliveries. When consumers do shop in person, they are going off hours to avoid crowds and are willing to pay more when they can’t find their normal product choices.

The passion for cooking is picking up steam and there’s a new crop of foodies, especially among millennials. We think this will continue, and baking from scratch is likely to remain popular. There’s a growing sense of food boredom, though. More than half of those surveyed said they’re tired of comfort food, and three out of four crave new experiences. There’s rising interest in ethnic cuisine, reflecting global influences. Consumers are most likely to experience new dishes and flavors at restaurants, which continue to drive trends and take the lead with innovation despite the pandemic.

Aside from food-safety and operational updates, adding healthy menu items tops the list of new measures that restaurants are taking. This summer, for example, Chipotle introduced cilantro-lime cauliflower rice as a grain-free option. It’s interesting to see a major chain launch a health-forward option in the middle of the pandemic.

Eating habits are evolving as well. Though 69% of Americans identify as meat eaters, 31% want to reduce their red meat consumption. While vegans and vegetarians account for only 3% to 8% of consumers, 58% aspire to eat more plant-based foods which reflects a lot of pent-up desire, with nearly 200 million Americans aiming to increase their intake of plant-based foods. That’s especially true among Generation Z, representing teens and 20-somethings. There’s growing interest in the flexitarian approach, which combines small quantities of meat and animal products with more plant-based foods.

We’re seeing stronger emphasis on healthy eating in general and a focus on local, natural and organic foods, as well as functional foods that offer health benefits such as improved sleep or better skin. This is sparking a convergence of food and beauty products, evidenced by the beauty retailer Sephora’s new food section and Jamba Juice’s smoothie for skin health.

Emerging foods include chia seeds, bee pollen, turmeric and the next big “green” food–seaweed. Classics are being reinvented: Peanut butter is giving way to almond butter, and oat milk is challenging almond milk. Mushroom coffee is a hot trend. In tracking the lifecycle of trends with our “menu adoption cycle,” we see that CBD and charcoal-based products are at the earliest stage, inception; turmeric is further along, in the adoption stage; aloe is now proliferating; and kale has become ubiquitous.

Lesson 3: Unprecedented mindset shift in collective consciousness

The popular wisdom used to be that you are what you eat. Now, it’s you eat what you are, meaning that personal values impact food choices. We see that continuing after the pandemic, with a desire for greater transparency in the supply chain and a passion for clean food and products sourced locally or made in the USA.

When we polled consumers, 77% said the pandemic has made them want to know more about a food’s supply chain. That’s especially true among millennials, higher-income consumers and families with children. In addition, 71% would buy food that is locally sourced. They would even choose shopping local in exchange for the convenience of getting everything they want in one shopping trip.

Finally, there’s an upsurge in the importance of “Made in the USA.” Our surveys showed it’s the #1, most important thing to consumers, above all-natural, organic, non-GMO and other attributes. In fact, it is even more important now than it was before the pandemic: 70% consider it of top importance now, up from 56% before the pandemic.

Given all these trends, we’re hopeful about the future. Headlines have exaggerated restaurant closures and can easily be misleading, but our universal foodservice operator database suggests that as of October 30th about 8% of restaurants are permanently or temporarily closed. I’m very optimistic that the restaurant industry will bounce back, because the dining out experience satisfies so much more than our need to eat, including paving the way for exciting new trends in food and beverage innovation.

Learn more about Datassential on the company’s website.

Read more of our Golden Seeds blogs for relevant, instructive and inspiring insights.

How Did She Do It? A Q&A with Sara Happ, Founder & CEO of Sara Happ, Inc.

Sara Happ, Founder & CEO of Sara Happ, Inc.
Sara Happ, Founder & CEO of Sara Happ, Inc.

With nothing but mixing bowls, spatulas and a desire for flake-free lips, Sara Happ created a first-of-its-kind product in 2005, launching a business that is now a huge success by any measure. Her company, Sara Happ, Inc., sells a range of lip products – including the lip scrub that started it all – in high-end beauty boutiques, major department stores and online.

Sara recently told Golden Seeds’ Carolyn Fikke how she identified and addressed a hole in the beauty market and parlayed that into a multimillion-dollar enterprise over the next 15 years. On her journey, she overcame numerous challenges and found the support she needed to turn a great idea into a thriving business.

CF: Tell us about the origins of your company.
SH: I was working at ESPN and thought that sports and media would be my career, but I always loved beauty and read about it all the time. My favorite beauty editors kept recommending toothbrushes or washcloths for exfoliating lips, but I thought, “There are scrubs for the face, hands, feet, so why not lips?” I Googled it and there were no results, which sent chills up my spine – there are results for everything!

So in 2005, I set out to make a lip scrub in my kitchen. I showed my product to independent female-funded boutiques in Los Angeles and they all bought it. Then Reese Witherspoon became a fan of the product, and in 2006 People Magazine ran a story about us. My website crashed because of all the traffic, and I made seven times my salary in one weekend. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card orders to fulfill, I realized this was my new job and I left ESPN.

CF: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this need?
SH: We focus on one thing – lips. Any cosmetic chemist will tell you the lip industry is broken. My research convinced me that putting good chemistry behind lip products could change the market, so after my lip scrub was selling well, I set out to create a lip balm.

Unlike the scrub, it didn’t fill a hole in the market. There are tons of products out there, but 98% of them are made to dehydrate lips. That’s why women will say they have 15 different products, but their lips are still flaking or they’re addicted to their lip balm. The more you use, the more you need it. That’s brilliant for business but not kind to the consumer. After working with a lab in New Jersey for three years, I created our hero product, the Lip Slip Balm, a disrupter. Women became obsessed with it because it worked.

That’s how we differentiated ourselves. Our mission is to do lips perfectly. If you have a team of chemists and a team of marketers and their entire job is to figure out what is missing or broken in the lip market and what consumers want, you have a business.

CF: What challenges have you encountered in building your business? How have you overcome them?
SH: Fifteen years ago, when I was starting out, there wasn’t the same level of support for female founders that we have today. Men ran most industries, including cosmetics. They held all the positions of power and owned the labs. It was tough to be a young female trying to convince people who’d been in the industry for decades that I had a viable business. They thought I was adorable and young and crazy, and it was hard to break through that barrier.

Women were my biggest cheerleaders. Even when I wanted to work with the lab in New Jersey to create our lip balm, it was the women who pushed me through. To convince the lab to work with me, I asked the head of sales at the lab to take my product home to his wife and her friends, and if they didn’t like it, I’d stop calling him. They loved it, so he agreed to make it. But once I had a product, it was tough to convince retailers that they should carry a product from an unknown like me, going up against big names like Lancôme, MAC and L’Oréal.

Finding peers was also a challenge. I tried reaching out to executives at the big companies, but they didn’t have time for me. Ten years ago, I reached out to Alli Webb, who founded the Drybar hair salons, and bareMinerals founder Leslie Blodgett. I told them I admired what they’d done and asked for their advice. Both have been trusted advisors and friends ever since.

Now there are great organizations like Golden Seeds and the F Project, a social-impact initiative aimed at raising the profile and economic success of female founders. Los Angeles is full of female founders who share information, best practices and advice. Though not having that early on was a hindrance, it’s made me appreciate everyone — men and women — who are now out there supporting women. Women are narrowing the gap in leadership roles, but 86% of venture capital funding still goes to men. You can’t tell me only 14% of good ideas come from women. We need more investors like Golden Seeds to believe in women and invest in them.

CF: What’s coming up next for your company? Any recent milestones?
SH: One of the things I’m proud of is that we kept our entire team employed this year, despite COVID-19, with no layoffs or furloughs. We sell directly to the consumer via our website (, online and in stores like Ulta and Neiman Marcus and on QVC. Sales have taken off on QVC, and our products are selling well online. Next year, we plan to double down on our QVC and Ulta business because the market demands it. We also just launched in China, mainly with the investment Golden Seeds made in us. That was pivotal for us.

CF: What advice do you have for early-stage founders?
SH: At first, I tried to create my company alone because I thought it was my responsibility to do everything – even things I’m not good at – partially because money was a factor. So, if I couldn’t hire an accountant, I became the accountant. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll be shocked at what people are willing to do for you. The first time I asked a lawyer to help pro bono, he said, “Of course.” Then I gave equity to an accountant for assisting me. And the help I received from the female founders of Drybar and bareMinerals was amazing. There is such a strong founder base out there. Reach out to five people you admire who have crushed their vision. Learn about their stories, respect their time, and you’ll be surprised at how much they’ll give back.

CF: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds and how its network has helped you?
SH: Before Golden Seeds, we never took funding. I bootstrapped the company and ran it profitably for 14 years. It wasn’t until Golden Seeds came into the picture that we felt comfortable accepting money because you believed in our vision. My president, Peggy Fry, and I had gone into so many rooms of male investors who asked us questions they’d never ask another man.

Golden Seeds was the first to commend us for the success we had because we were female, we were our own consumer and knew our audience. You recognized that being a woman was an asset, not a liability. We went from being a small indie brand to a company able to play in the big leagues. Everyone at Golden Seeds and in its network of investors believes in women and supports them. We were closing our last round of financing when COVID hit and the economy became dubious for everyone. Yet the investors at Golden Seeds honored their commitment, which truly speaks to the power of your network.

For more wisdom like this from other incredible female leaders, read more on Golden Seeds’ blog

Building a strong brand that can survive a crisis

The retail and fashion industries are experiencing massive upheaval in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deirdre Quinn, co-founder and CEO of Lafayette 148, a global fashion brand led by women for women, recently discussed the challenges with Golden Seeds member Paula Bennett. Deirdre shared the strategies that have enabled her brand not only to survive but to thrive, continuing to open new stores and launch new lines during a tumultuous time. Paula has many years of experience in the fashion and retail space, most recently as President and CEO of J. Jill for over 10 years. Previously, she was with Tiffany & Co., Calvin Klein, Eileen Fisher, Bloomingdale’s and more. This is one in a series of Golden Seeds Trend Talks focusing on topics that are relevant, instructive and inspiring.

Paula Bennett: Tell us about your background and the experiences that led you to found Lafayette 148.

Deirdre Quinn, co-founder and CEO of Lafayette 148

Deirdre Quinn: In fourth grade, my mom insisted that I take sewing lessons, and I fell passionately in love with making something out of a piece of fabric. I was lucky enough to discover at that early age what I wanted to do with my life. I went to design school, started out in a garment factory and then worked for Liz Claiborne, Donna Karan and Escada. You have to work for great companies to know what great is.

During a stint in Hong Kong, I learned about fabrics and international cultures, which was invaluable. But I didn’t want to live on the other side of the world away from my big Irish family, and I wanted to build something of my own. So, I came back to New York and in 1996, I partnered with a factory on Lafayette Street that did great work. We named the business after the factory’s location in SoHo and focused on quality fabrics and small lots that we turned quickly. We knew we had to be better than the big brands in order to compete with them. It was a wild first five years.

In our first year of business we opened five retail stores and then closed them. My business partner, now deceased, was a smart man who figured out that when there’s a problem, you have to fix it fast. Little did he imagine we would eventually grow to have 29 stores and counting. On this journey, I’ve learned the value of the power of a brand, and the importance of creating a company culture that reflects your core values.

Paula Bennett: What does the Lafayette 148 brand stand for?

Paula Bennett, Golden Seeds member

Deirdre Quinn: Our core values are kindness, intelligence and integrity, and our people are genuinely kind and hard-working. As a company that is owned and run by women, we are devoted to the women we dress. We are women dressing women. We know who they are, and we’ve never changed our focus.

I believe in welcoming every woman to our brand, and we exist to serve them all. We don’t say, “If you’re not young and skinny we don’t want to dress you.” In fact, we offer 58 sizes. And our team encompasses a wide variety of ages. Our designer is 40 years old, my former chief creative officer is almost 80 years old and I just turned 60 this year. We can outfit the mother, the daughter and the grandmother.

Paula Bennett: You’ve driven Lafayette 148’s progress for more than 24 years, which is an incredible achievement in this business. What part has vertical integration played in your success?

Deirdre Quinn: Handling the whole supply-chain process in-house — from sourcing to manufacturing and retailing — isn’t a strategy for everyone, but it works for us. I’m not a designer; my background is in manufacturing. Running a factory is tough, and it’s a huge responsibility. We have 1,200 sewers whose families are relying on us. Taking care of them isn’t easy in tough times like these, but it’s enabled us to become what we are. There are zero limitations on what we can do, because we do our own manufacturing. In the early years, we did a little private label, but now we don’t make products for anyone but ourselves. I realized it was much better to focus all of our energy on building our own brand.

Paula Bennett: Tell us about the challenges you’ve faced with the pandemic, and with previous crises such as 9/11 and the 2008 recession.

Deirdre Quinn: With every disaster, you have to figure out how to work smarter. You have to be able to pivot. After the terrible events of 9/11, we had to shut down manufacturing in lower Manhattan, so we built a factory in China. During the 2008 recession, we mailed 11 million catalogs and it helped drive business to our website.

With the pandemic, everything has changed. On March 17, the five department stores we supply canceled all orders we hadn’t shipped. Try sitting on 77,000 pieces of merchandise with no idea what to do with it! I felt like Houdini, in a straitjacket with chains, underwater—but we had to get out of it. We quickly opened three pop-up shops to move that inventory, which took the pressure off. We moved our whole New York operation to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2018, which saved us $4 million a year in rent.

Our executives stopped drawing salaries, employees took pay cuts and half the company was furloughed. Along with everyone else in the Navy Yard with a sewing machine, we started making gowns and masks for healthcare workers. One Friday, the city called us requesting gowns and masks, and by Saturday night we had the patterns ready. That’s the kind of thing entrepreneurs can do. We problem-solve from the time we get up until we go to bed, and that’s how you survive.

Paula Bennett: How has technology changed the way you work now?

Deirdre Quinn: Technology has sped everything up. We gave the Fashion Institute of Technology space in our factory to set up an innovation center and they’re teaching us about new technologies.

Our designers no longer travel to our factories, because they can do it all remotely using technology. We’re making patterns and doing fittings on the computer. We are creating smart factories and one sewer can produce a whole garment, rather than focusing on one specific aspect of it. With the restrictions of COVID-19 in place, there are no in-person markets, so we’re hosting virtual showrooms instead. It’s different, but the show goes on.

Paula Bennett: How has your business model changed this year?

Deirdre Quinn: We’re relying less on selling through department stores and selling more direct, and we’ve gone from mailing 11 million catalogs to 3.5 million. We’re shifting to digital and social media and adding employees in those areas. We’re opening four new stores in the U.S. and three in China this year, including adding a line of shoes. We are also investigating brand extensions into home goods such as pillows, blankets and customized products. At the same time, we’ve tightened up our inventory. It’s better to be sold out than to have products sitting on the shelf. Looking ahead, we’re exploring sources other than China and addressing sustainability issues, which are becoming very important.

Paula Bennett: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Deirdre Quinn: You have to be passionate about what you do, and be driven by it. You also have to surround yourself with great, like-minded people. I’m the leader of the band, but the band, itself, is critical, and the team that supports me is awesome.

Also, patience and persistence are key. It took us 22 years to get into Bergdorf Goodman, but now it’s a great partnership. You also have to be practical. Don’t spend beyond your means.

Finally, keep learning. It’s easy at some point in your career to feel content with the way things are, but it’s a new world. Take what you know and learn how to be faster and better, and you’ll be well-positioned for the future.

Learn more about Lafayette 148 on the company’s website.

Read more of our Golden Seeds blogs for relevant, instructive and inspiring insights.

How Did She Do It? A Q&A with Anjali Midha, Co-founder & CEO of Diesel Labs

Anjali Midha, Co-founder & CEO of Diesel Labs

With the ‘streaming wars’ raging and platforms proliferating, it’s clear content is king. But how do the growing ranks of competitors know what their audiences want? As veterans in the media analytics space, Anjali Midha and her partners saw the emerging need for a data-driven approach to managing and optimizing content portfolios in an on demand world. Targeting what they recognized would be an enormous market, they founded Diesel Labs, an audience and media content analytics venture. By measuring “every atom of content” in Anjali’s words, Diesel Labs helps producers figure out what will resonate, and devises winning content strategies for new and target audiences.

Anjali, CEO and co-founder of the four-year-old company, recently spoke with Sheila Narayan and Karen Teller of Golden Seeds about the fast-moving content business and the role Diesel Labs is playing.


SN and KT: Tell us about the origins of your company.

AM: We have been studying the interactivity between content and audience engagement for as long as social media has been around. Our team spearheaded the practice of social TV analytics at Bluefin Labs, an MIT Media Lab spinout company that was acquired by Twitter. Following the acquisition, I spent a few years overseeing media and agency research and analytics for Twitter. When I saw the content landscape being disrupted by the changing behaviors of audiences, I left and started brainstorming with my co-founders Mike Fleischman and Russell Stevens. We knew the world of content was on the cusp of explosive growth, and the industry would need tailored, sophisticated analytics to support it. That’s how we came to create Diesel Labs in 2016.

SN and KT: What market need are you solving, and how is your approach different from how others have addressed this?

AM: As a media content analytics company, we measure engagement with every atom of content, from YouTube videos to TV shows, movies, video games, celebrities, brands and so on. We’re systematically organizing the content ecosystem and mapping the relative relationships between everything. Part of the reason we’re taking this approach is that the lines between different types of content are starting to blur — we’re seeing TV shows based on podcasts, and even movies screened within video games for example. Other firms, such as social listening companies, specialize in understanding engagement volumes and topics of conversation. At Diesel Labs, we deeply profile the audience and, importantly, connect the dots across the entire content landscape. For instance, we can tell you what percentage of those who talked about “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu are also listening to podcasts, playing Animal Crossing, or engaging with the newest Netflix show.

The way we consume media content has changed. In the last 12 months alone we’ve gone from one major streaming platform to nearly ten. It’s extremely challenging and competitive, and the stakes are staggering. Media companies collectively spent over $120 billion on content last year alone.

There are two main metrics that matter: keeping existing viewers or subscribers happy (as measured by churn) and attracting new ones (growth). In order to move these metrics in the right direction, they need the best insights about audience preferences and tastes, emerging trends and reactions to existing content. That’s where Diesel Labs comes into the picture.

Our clients include media and production companies, major TV networks and streaming platforms — pretty much any firm that plays a role in the content lifecycle. We help them figure out which shows to license and even what kind of content they should produce in order to hit their business goals. We tell brands where their audiences spend their time. We offer insights on talent, on music — helping them decide who to cast in a show. And we help clients raise awareness for their products.

SN and KT: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?

AM: Figuring out how and where data plugs into the creative, artistic processes of Hollywood is a challenge, especially now that content is being produced at an unprecedented scale. To overcome that, we have to be nimble and fast-moving. Our design and product-building aesthetic is flexible and customizable. We’ve built our data infrastructure to support exploring the unknown. We get harder and harder questions every day given the speed with which the media landscape is evolving, and we have to be ready for anything.

SN and KT: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?

AM: Recently, some of our data was published in Variety, the daily ‘required reading’ for everyone who works in media and the content space. That’s a huge step toward making Diesel Labs a household name. Our next milestone will be doubling the size of our team by the end of this year. As a small company, each new person brings something special to the table and can immediately influence who we are as a company and a brand. I’m really enthusiastic about where we are and how the remainder of the year is coming together.

SN and KT: What advice do you have for early stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?

AM: You’ve surely heard this advice before, but assemble the best team you can. I don’t think we’d be where we are now without the day-to-day dedication of our core team. As a founder, it’s common to hear that the highs are incredibly high and the lows are incredibly low. But we don’t really talk about how you often experience both in the same day, even sometimes in the same hour. When you’re dealing with successes and challenges at the same time, a great team is essential to help keep everyone sane and the energy high.

SN and KT: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has our network been helpful to you?

AM: I don’t have the words to express how fortunate we are to have Golden Seeds in our corner. We’ve had the privilege of working with numerous seed-stage firms all over the country, and Golden Seeds stands out among them. Just for starters, the leadership team and the folks who ran the due diligence were extremely thorough, patient and transparent about the process. I genuinely don’t think we would have been as successful in this round without the guidance and advocacy of the Golden Seeds team.

In addition to all the wonderful support from leadership, individual members have been thoughtfully reaching out with everything from warm introductions to timely and relevant news articles. Everyone has been supportive, proactive and helpful. Having worked with so many firms, I know this behavior is unusual – and it’s fantastic!

Learn about Golden Seeds work.

Get Ready for Tomorrow: Top Trends Reshaping Our World

Edie Weiner, co-founder, president and CEO of The Future Hunters
Edie Weiner, co-founder, president and CEO of The Future Hunters

The world is changing at an unprecedented pace, carrying enormous implications for every aspect of our lives—from the economy to technology, education, politics, healthcare and the very structure of society and civilization. Renowned futurist Edie Weiner explored 11 of the most critical trends at a recent Golden Seeds Trend Talk hosted by Golden Seeds member and venture partner Kathryn Swintek. Edie is co-founder, president and CEO of The Future Hunters, one of the world’s leading futurist consulting firms. Her comments, summarized here, provide a roadmap to what lies ahead. This is one in a series of Golden Seeds Trend Talks focusing on topics that are relevant, instructive and inspiring.

If you feel like time is moving faster than ever, it’s not your imagination: The world is changing more rapidly than at any point in human history, causing time to speed up and compress. We call it “templosion.”

What once took years, decades or eons is being condensed into a fraction of that time. With genetic engineering, for example, scientists can accomplish in a few minutes what would have taken nature hundreds of thousands of years. And while the agricultural era lasted for millennia, the industrial era lasted only 200 years, and the post-industrial gave way to the emotile (emotion and motility) economy in a matter of decades.


At The Future Hunters, we believe trends will progress along three distinct pathways over the next five years, all affecting humankind simultaneously.

The first is epidemiological: COVID-19 will be with us as long as we live on this planet, affecting everything from scientific developments to healthcare, geopolitical conditions, massive migration and the world economy.

The second is preparatory or remedial: The pandemic has highlighted the need to address the healthcare system, socioeconomic disparities, governance, supply chain issues, public services and much more.

The third is opportunistic: We are leaving behind everything that was proven and accepted as normal. We are reimagining products, services and systems of all types; establishing new goals and metrics; expecting different outcomes. This is what we at the Future Hunters are most excited about, and where we are focusing our attention.


Within this framework, I’d like to focus on 11 emerging trends that we see as the most critical.

1. Starting over.

We’re going back to square one in almost every way imaginable. COVID-19 didn’t cause this, but it has sped up the process. We’re rethinking even the very basics of physics and biology.

In medicine, there’s new understanding of the gut biome, the influence of genes and the notion that engineering underlies the body’s interconnected systems. Wearable technology, home self-diagnostic tests and the expanded role of nurse practitioners and telemedicine are changing the landscape.

Language is evolving to remove gender-based concepts. In education, the role of teachers may evolve into guides who help students think critically about what they learn by experience through virtual reality and video games.

2. Public vs. private capitalism.

Traditionally, there have been three economic models: socialism, communism and capitalism. Now capitalism is cleaving into two: the familiar private version, in which business owners can focus on individual profits, and public capitalism, which considers the good of the whole. Public capitalism still allows free markets to operate but employees, investors, consumers and insurance companies can set boundaries and influence decisions to benefit society and the planet as well as the individual.

3. Intergenerational cauldron.

With life expectancy climbing, the older population is expanding and societal tension is mounting. The younger generation sometimes feels that seniors are consuming more resources, leaving the young with fewer opportunities and an environment in crisis. They also observe that older generations are making political and economic decisions with long-lasting impact, feeling that they have less understanding of contemporary technologies and viewpoints than those who will have to live with the results.

 4. Visual literacy.

Communication is taking new forms as people convey ideas through videos, memes, emojis and GIFs rather than words. That requires “fluensee,” the ability to interpret visual messaging. Education in conceptual communication is critical to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication, especially now that technology makes it possible to create fake images, video and audio that appear to be real.

5. Trust.

Trust is emerging as the newest luxury, something that is much-wanted but in short supply. Because of advances in artificial intelligence and reduced vetting by news sources, we can no longer believe everything we see and hear. We will need experts we can absolutely trust to tell us the truth, confirming and interpreting information and helping us use it.

6. The rise of the neohumanic work force.

Intelligent, learning robots are here. It’s already possible to operate robots remotely, having them function in a workspace or perform surgery as if the person were actually there.

Neohumanics will begin displacing higher-order workers, even board directors, in the belief that they can better assess risks, more quickly provide systemic feedback, and come up with less biased and more sustainable solutions. Some disagree, stressing the importance of the human factor. There are serious questions about the ethical and knowledgeable oversight and liability of neohumans, as well as the idea that at some point robots may be taxed to replace the income tax paid by the human workers they supplant.

 7. The rapid spread of popularism.

This differs from the traditional idea of populism, which is based on the dichotomy between ordinary people and the privileged elite, usually driven by a charismatic leader. By contrast, popularism is about issues, not haves and have-nots. Both camps may unite behind charismatic ideas (about gay rights, immigration or the environment, for example) that develop from the ground up.

8. Betting on the DICE: Distributed Income Compensation Enterprises.

There are more DICE in the game as new methods of compensation become more common. More companies are hiring dispersed populations to offer goods and services. Examples include crowd-sourced software, viral influencers, online coaches and eBay sellers.

Advances in technology such as block chain and virtual currency are fueling the move to distributed compensation. As more workers join the gig economy when they lose traditional jobs, this raises the question: How do we regulate fair compensation and the value and quality of delivered goods and services?

9. Enviralmentalism.

We’ve coined this phrase to reflect the worldwide public urgency surrounding climate change, noise pollution and light pollution. There is rising ecological anxiety, especially among the young, and the big question is: Will these become political issues that bring out younger voters? This is also becoming a major driver behind public capitalism and impact investing.

10. Technopsychology.

Mental health is under stress globally and depression and anxiety are climbing, due to COVID-19 and issues such as social injustice, migration, gun violence, gender imbalance and shifting cultural norms. We need an entirely new field of study to address those psychological problems as well as addictions, sleep disturbance, and fears of hacking and ID theft.

11. Feudalism 2.0.

Landowners used to rule workers and their lives, but nowadays those who own and generate data are ruling over digital serfs. Omni algorithms dictate hiring and firing, bank loans, insurance rates, criminal justice and much more. The algorithms reflect the biases of those who create them and the norms they detect in chats and social media. There is growing demand for candor and transparency across the tech industry and regulation of data usage.

These trends are some of the most important we’ve identified, but we encourage everyone to look at things with fresh eyes, as if they were children or aliens from another planet, and envision a different future. Read science fiction and subscribe to publications about subjects you know nothing about. Read respected political publications that don’t align with your views so you can understand opposing ideas. The extremes inform the middle, and it is the centrists who must decide what makes sense for our future by evaluating the extremes and finding the right balance.

Learn more about The Future Hunters and Edie Weiner here

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