Excited to be an Investor in The Wing

It means a lot to me to find financial opportunities investing in companies that I can be really proud of--education companies like Tinybop and Tinkergarten, or companies at the forefront of fair labor practices like Homer Logistics.  There are others that haven't launched that I'm equally as proud and excited about--and now one more has launched.  

I'm thrilled to be an investor in The Wing--a Home Base for Women on Their Way.

Having a portfolio where half the companies have at least one female founder or person of color has made me think a lot about our culture.  It has been a learning experience around language, power dynamics, perception and the value of listening.  The same can be said for being a witness to this election cycle--where the double standard is fairly obvious.

The Wing is a home base for women.  It’s a multi-purpose space designed to make women’s lives easier, born out of the belief that magic is created when women gather together and take up space.
Located in the Ladies Mile Historic District in Manhattan, The Wing contains all the practical essentials: plenty of place to work, strong caffeine, strong wifi, a clean shower, changing rooms, and an all the electrical outlets your dying phone could ever need.  Moreover, it has a community built around diverse perspectives, support and empowerment.  Members of The Wing are shaping our culture, our politics, and our technology everyday.

The Wing was actually the first brick and mortar space Brooklyn Bridge Ventures has invested in, closing a month before our investment in Ample Hills about a year ago.  Both spaces are about narrative and experience.  As someone who works in a space designed to make people feel at home more than they are at work, I can appreciate firsthand how creativity and productivity stems from comfort.  People, more and more, want to work in places that bring out our truest selves--not places that remind you that you are at work.  Plus, having a shower at a workspace is a godsend for a workout regimen forever getting interrupted by work.

Audrey and Lauren have now taken the first steps in creating an amazing platform to change the face of how women connect and influence society.  Professional networking, for hundreds of years, has largely been a male construct, transactional in nature, urgent, and disjointed.  Relationships built at The Wing, on the other hand, will have the space to grow and develop over time, leading to entrepreneurship, impact and influence.  Informative and inspiring event programming will compliment the experience of the space itself.  

The goal for The Wing is to build a supportive, empowering and diverse community--and while the physical space looks great on day one, its culture and values will develop over time with the help of its community, and feedback from members and non-members alike.  

As an investor in female founders, and founders of color, I've listened to perspectives of what the investment world looks like to those who don't hold the power, who don't have insider connections, and whose presence isn't the norm.  

And that's why I felt incredibly fortunate to have been asked to invest in The Wing about a year ago, adding to an already diverse portfolio of founders and companies at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures

Inspired by founders like Audrey and Lauren, or Chantel from chloe + isabel, Daniela at goTenna, Christina at Ringly, Nicole at eCreditHero, and others, I've strived to create an investment platform that is the most accessible fund possible.  I am deliberate and intentional about what events I attend, what communities I speak to, and how I connect with founders.  I've eliminated the need for warm intros, or the requirement for technical founders--or even technical companies.  I'm looking for venture returns wherever they can be found--in companies run by a wide variety of founders whose capabilities I've taken the time to get to know, rather than judging by a resume alone.  My performance since I began leading deals in 2010 is top quartile, and the vast majority of my investors just came back to support a second Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund, showing that diverse portfolios can win.

I am looking forward to seeing Audrey and Lauren tackle all of the tough, but interesting challenges growing this company will present.  It is important that The Wing not only embraces women outside of spheres of influence, but maintains enough connections to influential women to make the community exciting and worthwhile to join.  Their aim is to keep diversity in mind at every turn.  

It has been a fantastic learning experience to be a part of this company over the past year, to have Nisha Dua at BBG Ventures as a co-investor, and I hope to continue to be a supportive resource for the entire founder community.


Thanks to Nisha Dua, Nicole Sanchez, Mae Karwowski, Rachel Sklar, Jalak Jobanputra, Miriam Bekkouche, Michele Serro, and Cindy Gallop for reading various meandering iterations of this post and helping me focus on the most important thing--being a supportive investor to a great company with lots of potential.

Do Androids Get Songs Stuck in Their Heads? My investment in Amper Music.

This weekend, Heathens by Twenty One Pilots has been stuck in my head.  It has such a great sound--and I wanted to figure out what else I could listen to that sounded like it.  I don't mean bands that are liked by other people who like Twenty One Pilots.  I literally mean songs that sound like it...  or maybe just remixed versions of it.  I wanted to engage with music, but I can't, because I don't have the ability to manipulate the "source code" of the song.  

But a computer could--and what if a computer could interpret my suggestions in order to manipulate creative works.  Throw in a harpsichord in the background.  Make those staccato guitar riffs louder.

Earl grey.  Hot.  But, for music.

We're doing that in creative fields already.  I built this website through Squarespace's interface and I didn't have to touch any of the actual code.

That's the way I think of what we now call "artificial intelligence".  For all practical purposes, it's an interface--one that can make leaps where my instructions may not have been particularly precise.  It's something that can catapult not only productivity, but also creativity.  

As phones and other web services have exploded the amount of audio and video created, the need for music to support it has far outpaced our ability to create it or source it through search.  There just aren't enough musicians in the world to add complementary music to all of my Instagram clips, people's GoPro videos and all the baby's first steps captured by Canary--at least, not if you want it all to be unique.

What if you could tell Spotify to play something you've never heard before...  No no, something faster...  with more drums...  and a wailing guitar.  

What will the soundtrack for VR look like when you're not just watching a movie, but creating it on the fly.  You're going to want different music depending on whether you choose to jump off the virtual canyon in your virtual squirrel suit or drive the race car.

That's why I'm excited about Amper Music, a company that just came out of stealth after Brooklyn Bridge Investors backed it over a year ago.  

Amper is a company built by musicians for musicians.  It's not just a "put a quarter in the jukebox and spit out a wave file" toy, but a tool built for professionals whose power can be integrated into a wide variety of consumer applications as well.  

Drew and his team have composed for a wide variety of well known films and shows--and in Amper they set out to replicate how a human would go about their composition work.  That's why users will be able to get not just the audio output, but they will be able to manipulate their work as well--because it's not just rendering, but it's actually writing music.  

Amper is a companion more than it is any kind of replacement.

One day, no vocalist or musician in the world will start from a blank sheet of music.  The computer will "pair program" with them--riffing back, helping them explore sounds, mixing inspirations, etc.

It will also help create more composers as well.  How much more exciting would piano lessons have been if I could have skipped a few pages in the practice book and used a computer to help me compose real music?  That would have inspired me to keep going with my work rather than keep playing boring scales over and over.  

Amper's AI composer is API-ready and is looking to work with media creation platforms of all kinds.  Media companies are already using it and they're open to adding new beta customers.  If you have any kind of music needs either to compliment media you create, or to jumpstart what your own users create, contact Drew at drew.silverstein@ampermusic.com

How come VCs are... jerks?

That was a question posed to me by a new analyst at a venture capital fund.  

Admittedly, I finished this person's sentence after their long pause... but the word "jerks" was agreed to as the direction they were taking the question.  

While there are lots and lots of really kind, generous people working in venture capital--the recently retired Howard Morgan, Hunter Walk, Brad Feld, and Karin Klein for example--it's really tough to argue that there isn't widespread jerkery.  

At least, that's how a lot of entrepreneurs feel.

So what gives?  Why do VC's get such a bad rap?  

I've got some theories:

1) Don't blame the playa, blame the game.

Entrepreneurship is a very personal endeavor.  You sink your savings into something, take a pay cut, risk friends and family money into *your* idea.  That's literally your baby--and 98% of the time, a VC will tell you that your baby is ugly.

It shouldn't be surprising that more than a few people are going to take issue with that--no matter how nicely we say it.  

That being said, there does seem to be something more going on here than just being a professional party pooper.

2) Self selection for judgemental power seekers.

The media portrays the job of a venture capitalist as one of "picking" a winner.  We're "kingmakers" whose investment has the "Midas Touch."  Forget the fact that a VC's job is more akin to that of a NASCAR passenger, perhaps occasionally pointing out a track hazard or cheering the driver on, but certainly not the main component of success.  

From the outside, VC seems like a pretty cushy job where you give a Chuck Norris-like thumbs up or thumbs down every so often--not exactly the kind of thing that someone who wants to be a social worker, missionary, or early childhood educator might want to do.

That's probably why the vast majority of applications for VC positions tend to be from males.  Generally speaking, women are more inclined to listen well, work with others and to offer help--so when the job gets seen as just a lone, final yes/no, where you bark out advice after listening to a founder for five minutes, that might seem less interesting.  Perhaps if we spend more time talking about board participation, counseling entrepreneurs on decisions, helping them solve problems and working hard to recruit people, the type of people who apply to the job might change.  

3) Access to money.

VC, in large part, is done by people with access to money.  Generally speaking, we're a bunch of "haves".  We disproportionately hangout with other "haves", too.  Not only does that create a filter by which people judge investor actions, but it colors our perspective of the world, too.  It can be too easy not to appreciate the struggle of others and to appreciate how hard it is to accomplish the things that we see people do.  

"You should just bootstrap this."

"Learn how to code and build an MVP."

"Raise money from your family first."

We're not jerks.  We just live in a white privilege filter bubble.  

4) We're told we are smart, even if the jury is still out.

Success in venture has a lot to do with luck.  Even people who make successful investments over time have benefitted from luck--mostly around timing and scale.  To continue to get dollars to invest, you have to get lucky enough, early enough to make it look like you know what you're doing.  If Canary hadn't taken off right away, and been within the first year of investing in my first Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund, I might not have been able to raise a second fund so easily.

It would be super easy for me to think that meant I'm smart--when in reality, it takes *years* for most companies to be built.  Most VCs are out there for six or seven years before it looks like you've got more than one surefire hit on your hands.  Just because you flip a team six months after you funded it doesn't exactly make you the King or Queen of determining which companies will be the impactful ones.  

The industry tends to paint the same picture--calling people "top VCs" without paying much attention to what their track record actually looks like, or understanding that being the last one into Airbnb doesn't make you a genius.

Tell anyone they're smart over and over again and eventually they'll get a big head about it.

5) We *are* jerks.

Some people in VC are, in fact, jerks--both men and women.  They're just not nice people and no one ever seems to hold them accountable, unfortunately.  The main issue as I see it is that they don't respect an entrepreneur's time and effort enough to be honest--honest about their willingness to invest, their motivations, or their reservations.  

Bonus:  Founders make it too easy for us to be jerks.

Our inboxes are filled with "I've got the best idea ever, but I just thought about it yesterday and have taken no risks to figure out whether my thing is a thing, so you should give me money."  While many founders are super hardworking, thoughtful and have a great story, a lot of them, frankly, are wannabees who are just as egotistical as VCs get accused of.  Those founders are insufferable and it often takes a huge amount of patience not to be just a little bit snarky to them.  

So that's why VCs are jerks, in case you were wondering.


In Hardware, You're Only as Good as Your Next Product: See goTenna

When hardware maker Quirky went out of business, Ben Einstein at Bolt had this to say:

"A good company builds one product, learns from its customers, and iterates to make that product exceptional. Each step in the process is designed to refine a product and find the often elusive “product/market fit” that is the basis for all successful startups. Imagine if Apple built the first app-free iPhone and then moved on to the Apple Watch, or GoPro only sold one version of its camera and then decided to launch something totally different."

Iterating as a hardware company, of course, isn't the easiest thing in the world.  Design and production cycles are long, and you can't upgrade the physical parts on the fly.  That's why so many companies never make it to a second product.  Take Nest, for example, that wowed the world with its thermostat, but never followed up with anything consumers really felt the same way about.  

Often times, the challenge is coming up with a first product that people like that you can deliver in a reasonable amount of time, knowing it won't have everything you could ever hope to build.  The tricky part is doing that while not distracting yourself and diverting too many resources away from a product that more closely reflects your long term, ultimate goal.

That's why I'm so excited to see a Brooklyn Bridge Ventures portfolio company, goTenna, launch its new product, goTenna Mesh.

goTenna Mesh is the first 100% off-grid, mobile, long-range consumer-ready mesh network device, which will be available internationally. The announcement comes along with the launch of goTenna’s premium service, goTenna Plus, and the release of the goTenna open Software Development Kit (SDK). 

goTenna Mesh pairs with any iOS or Android device to allow users to text and share GPS locations, up to several miles away depending on terrain and elevation. This is the first goTenna product that will be available outside the United States and it will be sold in pairs for $179 but is available in limited quantities at promotional pricing (starting at $129) today on a preorder basis before shipment begins later this year. 

Check out their video for more info.

Unlike traditional networks, a mesh network gets stronger as more people use it.  goTenna Mesh is smaller, sleeker than goTenna’s flagship product, and provides even greater utility thanks to the introduction of mesh networking. By automatically and privately relaying your message through other users if your recipient(s) are not within point-to-point range or are otherwise obstructed, you can effectively double or triple your range and be likelier to get a message through in difficult situations. 

goTenna Mesh is anchored by intelligent mesh protocols (named “Aspen Grove”) that deliver a 100% off-grid, entirely mobile, long-range mesh network. Such a technology has never been achieved outside hulking military tactical systems that cost tens of thousands of dollars per unit. 

Congrats to the goTenna team on a huge accomplishment for their customers.  This is the product that Daniela and Jorge had in mind when they first started the company--when goTenna was just a box full of wires that sent a text across a table to another box full of wires.  I'm excited to have been their first VC backer.

I can't wait to see what's next! ;)

This is Not the Trump You are Looking For

Early on in this election, my dad was a Trump supporter.  He was tired of politics as usual and decided that he wanted to vote for an "outsider"--someone who speaks from the heart, who isn't burdened by special interests, and who could shake things up.

When shoot from the hip Donald Trump stepped up in the election, he appreciated his style.  Trump ran circles around a really awful field of Republican contenders who didn't know what hit them, gaining popularity with a lot of people who felt the same way.

Over time, though, lines were crossed--lines of common decency.  Trump went from pushing around the Washington elite to pushing around everyone.  The election seemed to fuel his ego and bravado.  Right around the time Trump criticized the Khan family who had lost their military son, my dad had enough.  He realized Trump wasn't someone he wanted representing this country.

I get that feeling of wanting an outsider.  Politicians don't ever seem like they're working for the people anymore--and part of that is because you always feel like you represent "the people".  The truth is, there are a lot of people who don't want what you want, so it's very likely that anyone could ever get elected and fully represent everything you want.

Second,  there's a really unfortunate truth to this country.  It is very hard to get elected President without being an "insider"--either Washington or big business.  Perhaps if we elect another actor like Ronald Reagan (who was also Governor of California), that won't be the case, but for the most part, if you have national name recognition, it's because you were elected to a nationally visible post, or because you have boatloads of money to market yourself.  

Unfortunately, having boatloads of money usually means not everything you do is going to be acceptable to the American public, as we're finding out with Donald Trump. 

Trump has expertly lead his companies in and out of the bankruptcy process multiple times--pulling payments out for himself, leaving lots of creditors and small business people left holding his bag.  It's almost like someone somehow getting out at the bottom of a roller coaster and somehow always getting back on at the time--only around for the good parts but never quite being around for the ones that aren't exciting.  While his companies go up and down, Trump shields himself from the bad parts--sometimes legally, sometimes less so.  

Trump isn't like Elon Musk, Mike Bloomberg, or Sarah Blakely whose wealth comes from the kind of entrepreneurship where companies are created from scratch and money is made off of equity or revenue.  Trump makes "deals" not companies.  He licenses his name, he flips buildings and he signs contracts.  These are ways to make money that really only enrich himself, not lots of working class people.

The other thing about being a Washington "insider" is that while you may owe people some favors, you also know how the system works.  The US Government and the whole international landscape is incredibly complex.  Do you think it would be easy to be President if you didn't understand what ethnic groups are clashing in the Middle East, what they want, and for how long they've been going at it?  Do you think you could understand what to do about China without understanding how their government works, what's allowed and what's not, and how their economy functions?  To be President, you practically need a PhD just to understand the rules of the game.  

Not having this basic understanding is like saying you could play baseball because you could run really fast.  There's way more at stake than that--and Donald Trump has shown time and time again that not only is he unprepared, his ego gets in the way of him even caring to know it.

Not reading the instructions might be funny or cute when you're putting together your kids' toys the night before Christmas, but there's a lot more at stake here.  Trump is woefully underprepared to be President, and he doesn't even care.  

This is where things get scary.  Someone who thinks they can rule through sheer force of will, and not play by at least some rules, might be willing to change the rules to suit his style.  We've already seen evidence of this.  He has disdain for the First Amendment--doesn't want anyone criticizing him.  He doesn't believe in Freedom of the Press either.

If you go back through every single dictator in history, controlling the press and not letting them do their job might as well be the first thing in the dictatorship playbook.  If you're smart, you should be very very wary of anyone who wants to mess with Freedom of the Press.

Look, there are a lot of things wrong with this country.  We have too big of a gap between the rich and the poor.  We have an immigration policy that makes little sense--smart capable people have to wait to get in or can't get in at all, and sure, there are probably some other people who shouldn't be here.  These issues require complex solutions because they are complex problems.  They need intelligences, empathy and thoughtfulness.  

The willingness to tackle problems isn't enough.  You have to do it right and in line with the values this country stands for.  Maybe one day an outsider will shake things up in a good way, but Donald Trump isn't that guy.

If you really want to see an outsider in the White House, I'd start looking now.  Take the time to understand how someone accumulated their wealth or what values underpin their success.  Recruit someone smart, innovative, kind, and empathetic into the position--someone who not only you can respect, but who respects us--who respects what this country is all about.

Donald Trump respects the dollar, mostly when it's in his own pocket.  He's obsessed with recognition and being accepted, because his family used to be a bunch of socialite wannabes from Queens.  That's what this whole thing is about--not about real solutions to real problems.  It's a popularity contest he's been fighting his whole life.

If you like what he has to say, let him say it on a media network that he clearly wants to start, but don't elect him to run a country that he has zero qualification to handle.