Sunday, November 23, 2014

Keynote at The Refinery: Investing in Women Led Companies - Two Nos and a Yes

Keynote at The Refinery: Investing in Women Led Companies - Two Nos and a Yes

I was honored to be invited to give the keynote at the first Demo Day (well Night actually) for The Refinery. This is a Westport, CT based accelerator focused on women led companies. Kudos to founders Janis Collins and Jennifer Gabler for all that they have achieved with this program.

I wrapped up my talk on "Why Invest In Women" (the main thrust of my talk was actually "Why on Earth Not?") by explaining why I personally favored diverse founding teams crucially with one or more women. I think I surprised some in the audience by posing three possible justifications - of which two were nos and one was a yes.

This is (roughly) what I said:

"You may think I am investing in women led companies because the funding environment for them is inherently unfair. Yes I do think it is inherently biased and I do want that unfairness to be remedied. Indeed I hope what I am doing can contribute to that. But it is not why I am investing in women led companies."

"You may think that I am investing in women led companies because I have three daughters and I want the future environment for them to be a better one should they chose to be entrepreneurs. Well I do most certainly want a more equitable environment for them. Indeed I hope what I doing am can contribute to that. But it is not why I am investing in women led companies."

"I am investing in women led companies because, first and foremost, I am an investor. Not an impact investor. Just an investor. I am not investing in social enterprises. Just scalable no nonsense for profit businesses. My objective is to achieve an above average return on my money invested. By investing in companies with diverse founding teams including women the facts and investing experience suggest that I am more likely to achieve that objective. So yes, that is why I am investing in women led companies."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Women's Startup Lab: Japan comes to Menlo Park

Women's Startup Lab: Japan Comes to Menlo Park

Having lived in Asia for seven years and traveled extensively in the region I was lucky to experience first hand the different cultural and business perspectives that have helped power so many successful economies in the region. So it was inspiring for me to speak to someone bringing their insights and energy from Asia to the startup scene here in the US.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ari Horie, Founder and CEO of Women's Startup Lab (WSLab) on her most recent visit to New York. In Ari's case her refreshing take on the operations and objectives of the startup accelerator she founded and runs is born of her upbringing in Japan generally and succeeding as a woman there specifically. (Ari fist came to the US as an exchange student at age 18 - speaking no English.)

WSLab is a conventional accelerator in the sense that it is a three month long on site program in Menlo Park taking cohorts of about 12 startup teams per class through a program designed to increase their odds of success as businesses - so putting them together with technical, marketing and other experiences coaches and mentors, developing pitch skills and making introductions to investors etc.

Needless to say per it's name this accelerator prizes diversity and supports women entrepreneurs specifically - each team must have at least one female founder. But more than that Ari brings her own passion to bear when it comes to the power of teamwork and specifically group learning. She calls this her: Magic Happens “Hito” rule. In addition Ari wants WSLab to send graduates on their way who are better entrepreneurs, yes, but also better leaders. So leadership development training is a an important of the accelerator's activities.

You can learn more about WSLab HERENote that applications for the Winter 2015 Class (starting in early 2015) are now open.

Also Ari was named one of the "CNN 10" Visionary Women earlier this year - you can reach more about that (and hito) HERE

And you can follow WSLab at: @wslab and Ari at: @arihorie

Finally ... nothing to do with WSLab but I love this picture of traditional Japanese cherry tree blossom ... with a big city twist!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

My latest investment: Validately - a really neat tool to assist in UX design

Validately: Validate demand or usability on a clickable prototype or live feature

I recently invested in Validately. thought I would share some of the details because in todays fast iteration/lean development world it is a really neat tool for most anyone to use - early stage startup or more established business - to quickly test out UX features ... before spending the time and money to put them into production. Emphasizing Validately's appeal as lean development tool Steve Blank, whose book: "Fours Steps to an Epiphany" arguably launched the whole lean startup movement, is also an investor.

CEO and co-founder Steven Cohn is happy to do a quick demo so ping him at if you or someone on your engineering team wants to learn more directly.

Here is the a more detailed take from Steven on what Validately is all about:

Product value statement: Only build what customers will use!

How: Validately is a rapid user feedback platform to test demand or usability on a clickable prototype or live feature! We also offer free education and consulting on Lean User Testing best practices.

Process Education: 
  • Our blog (Lean User Testing Tactics) has some great lessons.
  • We also offer Free consulting to select customers. We can review existing tests, plan a new test or discuss organizational testing process.
Product Features:
  • Recruit. Test on our targeted panel (including Consumer & B2B targeting options) or on your customers (using our free recruit widget).
  • Record. We record every mouse click, page scroll, text input box that your testers do and playback the recording at your convenience. We support our own prototyping tool, as well as InVision, Axure and HTML prototypes. It even works with live HTML sites (no messy browser plugin required).
  • Analyze. Filter results using our funnel & exit reports or graphs of qualitative responses.
  • Affordable. Priced to let your team test and learn without thinking about cost.