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

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

The Future of Health Care in a Post-Pandemic World: An Interview with Dr. Laura Forese of New York-Presbyterian

Dr. Mary Lake Polan

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated a major shift in health care that has been underway for years, pushing new technology and innovative practices to the forefront. These trends were recently explored at a Golden Seeds Trend Talk. Golden Seeds Managing Director Dr. Mary Lake Polan interviewed Dr. Laura Forese, Executive Vice President and COO of New York-Presbyterian about these developments. This is one in a series of Trend Talks focusing on topics that are relevant, instructive and inspiring.

Dr. Mary Lake Polan is professor of clinical obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, her alma mater. She has practiced and taught medicine internationally and was previously chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Dr. Laura Forese is executive vice president and COO of New York-Presbyterian which includes 10 hospital campuses and is affiliated with Columbia and Weill Cornell medical schools in New York. A pediatric orthopedic surgeon, she graduated from Princeton University and Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.

Dr. Laura Forese

Dr. Polan: What devices, diagnostics and therapies have changed or become more desirable because of COVID-19?

Dr. Forese: Everyone has become more comfortable with telemedicine. If you can find a silver lining in the pandemic, that might be it. We had been moving in this direction, because the public uses digital technology in all facets of their lives, and we expected health care to follow. Of course, we didn’t know that the pandemic would push everyone in this direction. Even physicians who were convinced nothing could be as good as seeing a patient in person have begun to see the benefits of technology. Patients don’t want to visit a doctor’s office if they don’t have to, so they’re asking for virtual visits.

Dr. Polan: Are there specific areas where telemedicine has big advantages?

Dr. Forese: At the beginning of the COVID crisis, we were admitting patients who weren’t that sick, but as it became a tsunami, we realized we could send some patients home with oxygen monitors and follow up frequently, advising them to go to the hospital or call 911 if their oxygen saturation dropped below a certain level.

Having smart devices that communicate with hospital systems electronically will enable us to expand this approach, giving us accurate and actionable data. We see applications in almost every field of medicine.

Dr. Polan: Do medical devices have to be cleared by the FDA so you know the data is reliable?

Dr. Forese: Generally speaking, we do look for FDA approval of devices but, sometimes, we are conducting our own research to determine if the data is reliable.  We need to know we can trust data and act on it. If a device or test doesn’t provide the right specificity or sensitivity, we can’t use it. It’s the reason randomized trials are so important, both for diagnostics and therapies.

Dr. Polan: There seem to be gray areas around artificial intelligence (AI) and patient care. Do you see AI and smart devices—such as a monitor that can detect a chemical imbalance in a patient’s blood or sweat—playing a part in health care?

Dr. Forese: AI will play a growing role in medicine in the years ahead. We’re still in the early stages, but smart devices and machine learning hold great promise. A device that enables a layperson to take sophisticated measurements that normally require trained experts has enormous potential anywhere. Take an echocardiogram, for example. A smart device could tell the patient exactly what to do and how to do it, and determine when it has captured a valid image.

Even in the hospital, a smart monitor could alert a nurse to abnormal readings or output. Having technology handle the routine part of a test would free up practitioners to work at the top of their capability, specializing in what they do best. There will always be a need for a physician’s clinical judgment, but it’s important that we consider the evidence-based science.

Dr. Polan: Do you believe that AI will affect the odds of doctors pursuing certain fields of practice, such as radiology or surgery?

Dr. Forese: During nearly four decades in medicine, I’ve always heard predictions that certain fields will become more or less popular or go away. The reality is we will have all these fields, but they’ll be different. What orthopedists and radiologists do today is different than what they did 40 years ago. In the future, we’ll do what humans are best positioned to do and let machines do what they’re best at.

Dr. Polan: When I was practicing in Africa, we used handheld sonograms for patients in the field. What role are mobile diagnostics and therapies playing here?

Dr. Forese: The whole concept of point of care is changing, especially in the COVID world. The New York-Presbyterian mobile stroke unit is one example. The longer it takes to resolve a stroke, the more damage there is, so we tell patients to get to the hospital immediately. We need to determine the type of stroke and see if they need a clot-busting drug. We can speed things up by going to the patient and doing the necessary intervention there.

New York-Presbyterian’s mobile stroke unit uses a scanner that transmits data to a neurological radiologist who can assess the situation and authorize the paramedic to administer the right medication. It has saved numerous patients from the devastating consequences of strokes. Currently these are big machines, but as devices get smaller and imaging gets smarter, this will be the promise of the future.

We’re looking for other opportunities to use technology in this way and studying how to integrate mobile devices and data into our existing systems, including both electronic health records and billing, with the necessary cybersecurity.

Dr. Polan: Will telemedicine ameliorate or accelerate inequities in health care?

Dr. Forese: Health care equity is critical, and New York-Presbyterian is dedicated to improving it. We serve communities all across the New York region, and some residents don’t have access to broadband or aren’t comfortable with technology. We’ve been working with schools and libraries to address those issues. Among other things, we’re considering giving patients tablets to take home if they don’t have one. And, we’re exploring software that can translate 250 languages on the fly. Our goal is to level the playing field and correct these inequities.

Dr. Polan: In your position at New York-Presbyterian, you’re responsible for so many people and so many resources—you’re a prime example of the leadership role that women have been playing during the COVID crisis. What’s your take on this?

Dr. Forese: I’ve always worked in fields that are typically male-dominated, and being in the minority, I’ve been acutely aware of many different perspectives and welcome them. It’s important to consider multiple viewpoints when making difficult decisions during a crisis. That’s become part of my leadership style, and I’m fortunate to be in an extremely supportive environment. One of the things I love about health care is that you’re part of a team that can make a big difference every day. That’s been especially relevant during the past few months.

Learn about Golden Seeds work.  

Golden Seeds celebrates 15 years of investing in women-led companies

Watch the retrospective video of this 15 year milestone here.

Click on the above image to watch the celebratory video.

Our work is far from done. But as it’s been 15 years since Golden Seeds was launched, it seemed like a good moment to reflect on just how far we’ve come since that time.

In 2005, under the leadership of our founder, Stephanie Newby, we began to realize our vision of achieving gender parity in investment and entrepreneurship with the creation of Golden Seeds, an early stage investment firm dedicated to championing and investing in women-led startups. Fifteen years ago, we set out to create an environment in which all women entrepreneurs would be seriously considered, treated fairly and have a real shot at getting funding.

Since then, we’ve made incredible strides. We’re now one of the largest angel investment networks in the country, having had more than 870 investors in 34 states over these years. We were one of the first organizations to actively promote the myriad research that shows all companies are better when they are gender-diverse.

We are particularly proud of our national footprint. In addition to operating our flagship New York office, Golden Seeds now includes seven additional chapters across the country, bringing mentorship and investment opportunities to women-led startups in Arizona,  Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, New Jersey and Silicon Valley/San Francisco. We offer angel investors the opportunity to participate on due diligence teams; invest in promising startups; attend training sessions, national forum meetings and syndication calls; and join meetings in any of the organization’s chapters throughout the U.S.

Over our 15 years of pursuing gender diversity the total investment by Golden Seeds exceeds $135 million in nearly 200 companies. Those companies have gone on to raise more than $1.2 billion of additional capital, further advancing female entrepreneurs. We have invested in nearly all industry sectors, with emphasis on enterprise technology, healthcare and consumer products/services industries.

While Golden Seeds – and overall investment in all-female founding teams – has made tremendous progress, we recognize the challenges that remain ahead. Venture capital (VC) investment in all-women teams in 2019 was $3.3 billion – a mere 2.8% of all venture capital invested in the U.S., according to PitchBook. Eight-six percent of all venture capital investments last year went to all-male teams.

“We would not be here if not for Golden Seeds,” said Susan Catalano, Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer at Cognition Therapeutics, which recently received a $75.8 million National Institutes of Health grant to fund a clinical trial for a therapeutic to treat early Alzheimer’s disease. “They’ve brought a wealth of experience to our company and provided access to organizations that I don’t think we would have been able to access without their help. They were the folks who had a vision as big as we did. Everything the company does is historic.”

“Golden Seeds has meant viability for our company,” said Rosina Samadani, CEO of Oculogica. “They are your partners. Right from the beginning, they introduce a structure around how to think about your startup. They keep their eyes and ears open for new investors, as well as clients, customers and other partners that you need. They really are an extension of the company.”

We believe that Golden Seeds reflects a business community as it should be – one where it’s equal for men and women who work alongside one another to build great companies. Above all, it is an important sign of progress to see many organizations – from angels to family offices to institutional funders – are actively investing in women entrepreneurs. We are grateful to all of those individuals and organizations who have helped us during this fulfilling and exciting journey.


To learn how to become involved with Golden Seeds and help empower female entrepreneurship, contact us today.

Board rules: Examining the differences in serving on large and small private boards

Editor’s note: Kathryn Swintek, Golden Seeds Managing Director and Managing Partner of Golden Seeds Fund 2, recently received the prestigious honor of being named private company director of the year for 2020 by The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). A longtime Golden Seeds investor and fund partner, she serves as board chair at ABI Bank and as a director on the boards of Open Road Integrated Media, Oculogica, and Turtle & Hughes.

For the past 20 years, I’ve served on several boards – large and small private company boards, a public board and nonprofit boards – and I have learned each board experience is unique, which presents myriad learning opportunities. While there are several differences in responsibilities for the various types of boards, there are three pillars of a director’s fiduciary duty that exist regardless of the board: risk oversight, talent oversight and strategy oversight.

These three pillars are relevant to all types of companies and organizations, but their complexity — often greater with the size of the entity — will dictate differences in how fiduciary duties are carried out. The structure of the board, its committees and processes will vary with the type of company.

Let’s examine these differences in private early stage and private mature companies.

Early stage

Kathryn Swintek

First, we’ll explore early stage companies, specifically those that have completed one or two rounds of institutional capital raising.

The board of an early stage company is generally comprised of a mix of what are called investor directors and one or more independent directors. Investor directors are elected by the shareholders of a specific class of shares while independent director(s) are elected by all shareholders and will generally be selected for her or his relevant industry knowledge.

I have experience on four early stage company boards as both an investor director and as an independent director. The size of an early stage company board generally ranges between three and five people, with five representing best practice in my view. These boards operate either with no committees or with one or two, generally finance and compensation.

Early stage companies are unique in that they have limited time in business and generally a small customer base. Mistakes at this stage, however, tend to be more costly than for other companies, as they have limited capital resources with which to course correct. Directors of early stage companies assist with guidance and by bridging the experience gap, through their prior and current business and board experience. The work of a director is a mix of fiduciary and advisory with numerous impactful decisions required as milestones are achieved or missed.

Risk oversight will tend to be dominated by close supervision of financial performance against plan and ensuring adequate liquid resources to execute the strategic plan. Talent oversight will generally focus on participating in the selection of C-suite executives to round out the team. At times, these duties include replacing C-suite executives as the company moves from early stage to growth stage, and always include determining equity grants such as the recipients, structure, quantity and terms.

At this stage, a director’s personal networks are more important than for more mature companies, such as referrals to potential clients, talent and supplier introductions. Directors will generally play dual roles: fiduciary and advisory, with the additional time commitments required, compared to other companies, in fulfilling them.

As early stage companies meet their milestones and move to the growth stage to support execution of their strategy, board composition changes with new investor and independent directors often replacing earlier-stage directors with new skill sets, notably those related to achieving an exit. The experience sought in new independent directors will generally include mergers and acquisitions as well as IPO transaction experience.

Mature private companies

Expect to find greater process and structure on boards of mature private companies. The size of the board is generally a minimum of five people and the board works with standing committees: audit, compensation, and nominating and governance. These companies can also create a separate risk committee to oversee cyber risk, regulatory risk, environmental risk and more recently also reputation risk.

While early stage companies generally embrace and benefit from the lower cost of market entry and business process functionality provided by advances in IT, more mature private companies can be challenged to disrupt themselves and their legacy systems and processes. Directors play an important role in assisting mature private companies to make the leap to onboarding new systems and procedures. This can include participating in the selection of new executives to bring new capabilities and designing new compensation plans that align with an evolving strategy to seize new opportunities as well as assisting with designing a framework through which to assure ongoing focus on innovation.

Boards of mature privately held companies will also periodically bring in third-party experts for various consultancy assignments, including to assess the control environment, cyber risk exposure, and the company’s compensation plan. Findings can prove most helpful to boards in ensuring any needed improvements are made, preserving stakeholder value.

The value of bringing best practices together

I have found that experience as a director at a variety of organizations — early stage, large mature private, public and nonprofit — is valuable in bringing best practices to all. Innovation that takes center stage at early stage companies can assist a director in ensuring that more established companies have appropriate tools in place to drive innovation and have access to knowledge about newer business models that may disrupt their industry or be onboarded to support their company. The emphasis on structure and process at public companies to ensure compliance with SEC rules and exchange rules, and to optimize value assist a director in exposing their benefit and getting adoption by private companies on whose board(s) they also sit.

A director improves her effectiveness in three principal ways:

  • Participating in continued education — there are many opportunities offered by organizations such as the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), Directors and Boards, consulting firms and law firms. Certifications on specific areas such as cyber-risk as well as deep dives on specific topics for an audit committee, compensation committee, nomination and governance committee are all on offer.
  • Staying informed on industry evolution – this can be done through targeted reading, participating in the industry or an adjacent industry as well as taking advantage of general learning opportunities. Directors need to ensure management is seeing 10 and 15 years into the future and laying the groundwork today to compete successfully in that changed environment.
  • Sharing her network – this includes serving as an ambassador for the company, making warm introductions to potential clients, suppliers and talent.

Ultimately, the degree of effectiveness of a director depends on the effectiveness of the board as a whole. Companies that are intentional about diversity in experience and expertise on the board, chairs or lead directors who foster collaboration, and directors who are respectful and open to different viewpoints are well positioned to face challenges and capitalize on short- and long-term value-enhancing opportunities.

How Did She Do It? A Q&A with Michelle Bacharach, Co-Founder & CEO of FindMine

Michelle Bacharach, Co-Founder & CEO of FindMine

Pulling together a complete, polished look can be a challenge — whether you’re shopping for an outfit or furnishing a room. Fed up with purchases that didn’t work, Michelle Bacharach longed for expert advice that would elevate her wardrobe and décor from ho-hum to a homerun. From 2010 to 2016, while working full time in product management and digital marketing, she pondered solutions that would enable retailers to provide the guidance customers craved without breaking the bank. The result: FindMine, an artificially intelligent-driven content creation engine that acts as a personal stylist. By harnessing machine learning and deep data mining, FindMine gives brands, such as BCBG, The Shopping Channel and Adidas a scalable, cost-effective way to satisfy customers, boost sales and increase profits.

Michelle recently spoke with Carolyn Fikke and Tracey Riese of Golden Seeds, who led the due diligence team for this investment, about the inspiration for FindMine, its evolution and the reasons it’s succeeding. She also offered some surprising advice to would-be entrepreneurs.

CF/TR: Tell us about the origins of FindMine.

MB: I always found it frustrating when I bought a skirt that sat in the closet because it didn’t go with any of my tops, or a couch that clashed with the lamps and rug in my living room. I’m not a fashion expert or an interior designer, so I didn’t know how to make those products look good after I purchased them. I wanted retailers to help me, but eventually I realized they don’t have the resources to give millions of customers advice on all of the products they carry. After obsessing over it for six years, I figured out how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to provide expert guidance in a scalable way that doesn’t demand more resources and involve astronomical costs, and in 2016, FindMine launched.

CF/TR: What market need are you solving and how does your approach differ from others trying to address this need?

MB: FindMine automates and scales content creation so that 95% of a retailer’s products come with guidance on how to “Complete the Look.” We do the same thing a merchandiser does dressing a store mannequin with coordinated pieces and accessories. Those complete outfits sell out quickly because shoppers don’t want things in isolation.

The staff doesn’t have to do any of the work, so merchandising teams experience a time savings of 99%. It’s scalable and cost-effective, with clients experiencing a 2 – 10% increase in total digital revenue. And, our AI-generated looks have been proven to be indistinguishable from those done by human experts. Our approach is very different from personalization or a recommendation engine, which simply holds a mirror up to the consumer without adding expertise or a point of view. If you’re shopping for a couch, for instance, you might see a bunch of other couches, or if you’re browsing through black skirts, you’ll just get more of the same. “Complete the Look” offers expert guidance from the brand’s unique point of view. The brand isn’t commoditized, and the retailer builds trust with customers.

CF/TR: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?

MB: At first I thought of this as a consumer problem that needed a direct-to-consumer solution, but there were issues with that model. We would have had to raise a lot of money, which wasn’t the right approach for a first-time entrepreneur. But the biggest challenge was trying to solve the problem with limited resources. Eventually I realized retailers have a much larger problem than consumers. Once we focused on the B2B approach, it all came together. We never had to pivot, because we anticipated the challenges before we launched. It took several years to get there, but I’m glad we did that exploration in advance while we were earning income working for other companies.

CF/TR: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?

MB: We built our product as an API (application programming interface) for retailers to create content on the fly. Many use it in emails, on landing pages and product pages, and in chats. But our clients are always asking if they can use FindMine for other tasks and we’re encouraging them. It expands usage, our revenue goes up and we’re becoming stickier with that brand.

For example, let’s say you call a retailer’s help line to find out what bathroom trim lines fit certain valves. The call center agents are limited by their knowledge, which often varies, as well as the resources available to them. They usually go to a knowledge base, but somebody has to create that content. Some of our customers are now using our API to create that knowledge-base suggestion, so agents can be more productive and the customer receives more consistent service.

CF/TR: What advice do you have for early-stage founders?

MB: This may sound strange but I often tell would-be entrepreneurs: If you’re thinking about starting a company, don’t do it. The reason I give this advice is that I spent years thinking about FindMine, because I couldn’t shake the idea and get rid of this obsession. You need that kind of passion and staying power. If you can heed my advice and forget about your idea, it’s not meant to be. If you can’t help yourself, then do it. A lot of people glamorize entrepreneurship, but it isn’t all that glamorous.

CF/TR: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds and its network.

MB: We had conversations with Golden Seeds for about three years before they invested in us. They took the time to become familiar with us and gave great advice. During those few years, we raised other financing, initially from friends and family, and developed a clear idea of what we were going after and how we wanted to use funds. We were much more interesting to investors at that point, and Golden Seeds invested in our third round. I like the fact that it’s a network of experts with diverse perspectives, not like a traditional VC firm with a smaller partnership. When we reach out, our questions don’t go just to one point of contact, but to multiple ears, and that’s really valuable.

Learn about Golden Seeds work.