One Bell, Whistle.

This is post 10/100.

So suck it anonymous.

It was not Silas who guessed 9. He guessed 11 and so did someone else. So he can wait a few days to suck it. I agree with Aussa who says the lowball guesses are pretty good motivation.

Super local news of the week features me skipping my book group and never RSVPing. On the upside I delivered an IN PERSON RSVP to my friend who is hosting the party tonight. Those penalties offset, right?

They featured a “person of Shelburne” who I DON”T KNOW in our local paper. I will have to put that on my to do list for next week or early February. I can’t write this blog with my head held high if I don’t know the people of Shelburbia myself.

Work wise four of us are slapping together a true minimal viable product. Here is a screen shot from the temp site that we have already scrapped. It was scrapped because it had too many features. Our MVP is trying to have one bell and one whistle. I think that may be my next LLC name.

Off to lunch.

See you all on AFC championship Sunday. Which will hopefully be the second best day of the year.

Anyone have any hyperlocal news to share. This needs to be “I missed the recycling” level of update. No real milestones. That is for other sites.

 

 

 

How to get me to give you money.

What do I do? I mostly crush dreams, and sometimes throw a bit of my own money in to go down with the ship. I am an angel investor in Vermont, and this is part of the story.

Someone has a seed of an idea. That person talks to a friend or a colleague about it. Together they sketch out a more complete vision of the project, product, or program. Its all pro right now, except for the most part the team is made of amateurs.

They put together something, a pitch deck or a pilot program. They begin testing and iterating. So It is better and more clear than it was before. Also more clear? Their needs. Time, advice, equipment, space CASH. These are the early days. Days of possibilities.

So these two take the idea into the world to get feedback and support. This is casual. They talk to friends and family, build out a prototype, and carry it or images of it around with them. If they live in Vermont they might get to the point where they take it to a non profit who helps incubate business ideas, or the economic development office, or our friendly accessible local venture firm. Or just a friend of a friend of mine. If, like most emerging enterprises, you have an incomplete team, an underdeveloped marketing scheme, a smaller than necessary distribution funnel, or are not in fact poised to immediately make money, they get sent to me.

I am a VERY common first  or second step in this area. I have hosted hundreds of pitch meetings. Although hosted makes it sound as if I have planned them. This is rarely the case. Usually I am the crochety guest. You would imagine that by now I have a format that I follow, or even another person in the room, but it is usually just me. At my conference table, my dining table, a restaurant table. So the table is a constant.

These people are new at this. Maybe even new to one another. They don’t know what to expect from me, except someone told them to meet me, and now they are meeting with me. At a table some where.

So here we are. I am early, because I can’t not be early. To their credit they are usually early also. I say hello, ask them how they found me (who I should plotting my revenge on.)  It is almost always someone more formal and organized, like a VC firm, who punted to me because these folks are no where near venture ready.  So after I have my target I tell them I won’t give them money.  Just to save them time on the pitch. They laugh. I am probably not kidding, but we go ahead with the pitch anyways. By saying this I am hoping both to help them relax and decrease the chances I will write a check purely out of a sympathetic urge. Sometimes they say they are only looking for advice and then I know they are lying, except in the case of that one guy who seems to genuinely take pride in how many times we have met without me giving him money and in the end his weird reverse psychology is working and I am shoving a check at him.)

Now I tell them that I am completely unqualified to provide any help. I remind them that I have between 4-10 failed businesses to my name depending on how you count, so their best move might just be to disregard everything I say. So far no one has left so I try again, telling them that I will likely be mean at the meeting. The more of these I do the meaner I get. I do try to be funny mean instead of just mean mean, but that is probably in the ears of the beholder.

They have a pitch deck. What is a pitch deck? Well ideally it is a simple explanation of the background of the team, the problem they will be solving, the program or product that will solve it, what the competitive landscape is, what differentiates them from the competition, how they will build and test the thing, how they will identify their audience and turn them into customers and how the money that they bring in from their customers will be more than the money they are spending. And how that money will grown and be scalable.

Easy enough, right? But it requires a fair amount of extrapolation (or bullshit) because some amount of this has not been done or they wouldn’t be in a room with me.

If they are designers the deck itself is the project and it looks great.  Lately that means clean and white. If they are product people the idea is good, it probably has a name, but they likely have fundamental confusion between a product and a business . The branders know their audience, have a tagline, and usually an excellent logo. The solution folks have the “competitive landscape” and “minimal viable product” portions of the pitch nailed with fewer and fewer details as things progress. The biz guys always have huge and deep theoreticals which are too small to read from the chair. And almost always green with plenty of acronyms.

What do all of the pitches have in common? Totally unrealistic expense numbers (if they have expenses enumerated at all), the fact that they used “conservative estimates” (of the 80 billion moms on planet earth only .1% need to use our product for us to become quadrillionaires (which means I guess that the .1% is the conservative number), and the fact that they used too little orange.

That is a tip I give freely. Use more orange. People like orange.

What else might be wrong? They may have poured too much of their time and capital into it or too little. Both tricky. Too much and there is usually a sort of “you owe it to me to fund this” vibe. Which doesn’t work well for me. Too little and it is clearly how easy it will be for them to walk away unscathed. If I am going to take a risk on them they need to be taking a risk as well.

They often have the wrong ask in mind.  For non profits they can look back at past gifts and know how to target their ask. With angels it is tough to know. Even if we are registered on angel list the amount of the gift is not listed. I have given between $1,000 and $150,000 in individual checks to other people’s ventures. So asking me for $500 may feel like a slam dunk but it is really a waste of time. Anyone who asks me for $500,000 is way off. Anyone who asks a VC firm for $100,000 is way off in the other direction. If you are asking for that little their return will be proportionately small. That is an even bigger waste of time.

The most interesting to me is the group who finishes their pitch deck and then doesn’t pitch. Ideally you will go through the deck and then ask me for feedback on the product, the roll out, something. Ask if I agree with your target audience? If I tell you (and I will) that I care about how this exact idea is going to get money back into vermont focus on that.  But be careful…you need to be that most elusive thing…sustainable, and if you are reinvesting too much in the community you are not maximizing your chance to succeed. Says the pot to the kettle.

So I’ve interjected enough now so you’ve taken my temperature, adjusted things to sound a little more earthy crunchy than you would for a banker. You can tell I am not big on systems, so you emphasize how things will be nimble and responsive (for that banker you’d want to highlight checks and balances without redundancies) you need to show me you know your audience for the pitch to convince me you will know your audience for your business.

If you have any inside connections, a partnership with an established company, a media economy of scale, you should have those in there. Whatever makes you not just the idea guy is good.

Years ago my friend told me that he values the idea part of the company at 10%, it seemed low to me. We met for lunch again recently and re-evaluated. The idea is worth 2%. At most. A crappy idea with a streamlined build out and some sort of connection for distribution is much more likely to succeed than the best idea in the world that my eight year old has.

So now you do the ask. Its the hardest part. What are you looking for overall? And from me? What will this first in investment allow you to do? What is there that ONLY cash allows. No in kind, no sweat equity, no college roomate coding late at night.

Now what?

1. I give you what you ask for. Try not to look surprised. That makes all of us look like assholes.

2. I give you more than you ask for. Don’t say no. That makes me look like an asshole.

3. I give you less than you ask for with a specific direction. I want you to use this money to pay this professional person to investigate the legalities of x, write code for the mvp on such and such a platform, run a split test on your name idea v. my name idea.

4. I give you nothing.

This is when its good to have a fall back. I’ve said no to giving you money before we started. That should take the sting out of the second no. But what else can I do for you? Even though I have sat at this (these?) table(s) many many times I still want to feel helpful. I want to be an insider and a part of the start up team. I imagine I am not the only angel that feels this way. So what else do you need? Conference space? Introductions? Advice on a first media buy? I agree that cash is like oxygen and you should NEVER dilute your ask with these other possibilities until the money answer is a no.

Then try to keep me on the hook.

Maybe I will write you a check the next time.

Just don’t call me about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First In and Out

Which game show is it where you have to identify mashups of familiar phrases? Like Easier said than done is good. Easier said than done. Done is good. Now that I’ve insulted your intelligence by breaking down my post title I can go back to insulting myself…my real forte.

So I was going to try to write around the particulars so as not to upset my friends at Burlington City Arts, but I am pretty sure I am the only jackass in this story. I tell it to try to learn something.

4th floor gallery
4th floor gallery

For almost a decade Doreen Kraft and I have had lunch once a quarter or so to shoot the shit (my phrase) review the local arts scene and very occasionally tap into me as a supporter of BCA. She knows (because I tell her) that I prefer to support the arts by buying art, that my gifts to NPOs are smaller than they once were because I am focusing on social ventures, and that I don’t actually have that much money. Nonetheless we generally enjoy lunch, she often has an incredible partnership story to share and I can make her laugh.

A few times we get into it a little more deeply and we talk about pieces of their mission that I feel could be boosted by programs or events. Like most small scale donors I talk about my particular areas of interest, and like most skilled fundraisers she indulges me in highlighting the importance of my ideas. One of the things I wish for in our community is to cultivate the next generation of art colletors. If they become supporters of the visual arts scene in general that is a positive byproduct. But what I really want is for Shelburbian moms to take their pottery barn budget and use 2/3 of it on original artwork. Selected correctly this will enhance their homes and lives in a way no mass produced ceramic cornucopia can. AND the artist might well be able to support him/herself by, you know, making art. Something that, despite the “my 1st grader could have made that” attitude, most of us never even dream of doing.

Your first grader is a: a child who has yet to lose his imagination, b: someone who through the school system and various enriching activites actually devotes time each week to looking at, talking about, and making art, and c: actually has an art teacher. Put your kids at home without materials, prompts and instructions and you are probably back to stick figures, but I digress. (Don’t cut art, it allows them to see the world differently, shape imaginary outcomes, and let off frustration in a completely beneficial way.)

BCA has plenty of great educational programs, but my interest is in making Burlington a city where it is viable to live as an artist. The ways that an art infused city enhance our daily lives exist below your general radar I would expect, but they are everywhere. Not just public art, but temporary expression, what the bathroom looks like at Lucky Next Door, signage, painted junction boxes, and tumbled marble from an international sculptor gathering decades ago hidden in the overgrowth of your walking path.

So 2 years ago we talked about a CSA, community supported art share, where members could pay a super affordable price, attend opening events and select art off the wall for their homes. The logistics were tricky, would BCA commission the work, or go into backstock. Would they be limited edition? Would the selection be first come first served? How broad did it need to be to appeal to most of the share members tastes? Could taste shaping be baked into the events? I was part of these early discussions.

Then I stopped taking phone calls. This might sound familiar to those of you who have tried to reach me. There are about 12 people I will speak to on the phone in this world and I’m pretty sure none of them are work- like. Well, I talk to my accountant right now because of the audit, and my money manager’s manager because of ML bizarre (bizarre only to me obviously, almost everyone else agrees that sending account numbers, passwords and wire details through email is dumb) security laws, but even with those two I think my phone people fit in the bakers dozen.

So Doreen has been calling me for a year, while I put off lunch due to a mix of depression and other activities. A few months ago she took to emailing me, so I actually answered. She would ask to break bread to talk about the gallery and catch up and I would reply with gibberish about properties and activities. Basically I was an asshole. But I figured that wouldn’t really effect me. If people want money or ideas or both from me they can work with my quirks and schedule.

So yesterday I get a long lovely email with a bunch of attachments crediting my idea, telling me they have moved forward, inviting me to the opening, crediting me with connecting her with some of the money that they have received, and asking me to be a founding member. Pretty good formula. Appreciation, credit, more credit, optimism, invitation. And me? Panties = bunched.

In reply to Doreen’s last ditch email (last ditch because she has been trying to see and or talk to me for a very long time) I bang out a two sentences…I’m not giving you money I’ll try to make the opening. (Steve and I have a standing Thursday sitter, so this is super do-able, but first I seem to need to act out a bit.) Then I text my friend Kerri who is standing working her butt off in the gallery instead of putting her kids to bed. I tell her I think BCA has mishandled me.

Then after I do both of those things I stop and think. Actually I am not yet thinking. I am still feeling the full on bunch of the panties.

Steve and I stand at the sink washing up after dinner. He does the washing I rant next to him, slamming down pots almost close enough for him to reach. “So I gave them this idea, and then I get invited to the opening the day before.” The suds from the dishes smell good. I lean in a little closer. Steve continues his rinsing. “So you never returned her call?” “No!” I answer in outrage, “it was a CALL!” “mmm hmmm.” “I think that if someone wants something from me, ideas, money, connections, the least they can do is NOT CALL ME.” “But then she emailed” Steve reviewed. “Yes, she emailed, but she didn’t tell me why she was emailing, she said she wanted to have lunch and talk about some things, I didn’t know it was the idea I cared about.” “OK, fine, but do you always have to be so rigid about phone calls?” Standing there I am thinking that I obviously have to be MORE rigid about phone calls if people are still calling me. I have rerecorded my home message leaving the cell number, but I am pretty sure I need to somehow disconnect the cell message telling people text or nothing. I am lost in this train for a minute, so thrilled that iOS 7 agrees with me and allows me to answer and incoming call with a text reply. Those are the best. I mean, like, 8 years late, but still. Steve has not lost his train of thought. ‘Do you really think, you can be angry when someone made every reasonable effort to contact you, and, you just didn’t answer, I’m not trying to challenge you…” I mean he was OBVIOUSLY trying to challenge me, and although I feel myself digging in to the whole phone thing it is at the same time that I am letting go of the gallery opening. Scraps of conversation are coming back to me, Kerri telling me about her progress. Sarah mentioning it at her studio. I have blocked them out. They didn’t integrate into whatever I was focused at the time. I realize that what I am really upset about is that my checking in and out of things whenever I want has left me out of the loop on this one. I’m not sure I would have given the money, or if I would have even had any ideas to make the event better (fuck that I’m SURE I would have had the best possible ideas in my opinion.)

Fuck.

So this is a long, public apology to Doreen and Kerri, who while trying to manage 1,000 projects also had to deal with a grumpy friend/donor with particular odd communication rules that also happen to be a moving target.

It is also something about IP and founding, and first in stuff. As much as I work on letting go of attachments (or I used to, and imagine I will again someday (see how unattached I am to that practice? go me)) I still have a tether of connection to my ideas and how they are executed. This is dangerous. I need to give them freely or not at all. If I want to manage the way an idea comes to life I should not share it. Thats on me. This idea was always best for BCA, even if the details are not as I would have chosen them (and I don’t even know maybe every detail is how I would have done it.))

These questions have been in my mind lately as contracts come across my desk that limit future consulting work because of a current gig, (non competes) and I write checks to help fund start ups and then try to direct my money towards the exact instrument that I want explored. I seem to want it both ways. No limits on me, but with overreaching oversight. I want this imbalance to be negotiated without contract or paperwork. I want to be first in, first out, and with the outcome I imagine but don’t help execute. Seems like my recipe is a bit off. It might need some tweaking.I’m pretty sure non competes in Burlington Vermont are utter bullshit though, just saying.

If anyone is free tonight in the BTV area come join me celebrating the 4th floor gallery at City Arts…I’ll be the one with the egg on my face.

Money Matters

Amongst taboo topics: money.

Listening to Oliver wonder why we shouldn’t talk about our savings and earnings I understand his confusion.

I liken it to gender and race, explaining that we shouldn’t categorize people based on facts that they can’t control. He rebuts that we can control how much money we have.

I answer that like everything else that is complicated.

I mean it is public record that our house is on the market for 1.5 ish million. Like many things I share more about my personal finances than most polite people. So here it is for you. Second to food money is the most complicated relationship of my life. In part I believe because we don’t talk about it enough.

I grew up in Newton, Mass. When I was really really little we lived in a garage in Sumerville nicknamed Slumerville and/or scumerville. Now Sumerville is the Park slope of Cambridge which is the Brooklyn of Boston. If you follow. Then it was scummy.

My father was savvy about real estate and bought and managed several multi families (one of which had our home sweet garage in the back.) while he ‘worked’ as a sculptor. Eventually in his real estate scoutings he came across a Newton Victorian with a decaying carriage house (studio!) and moved us there. I don’t know if it had been abandoned, or just maltreated, but there was super cost effective renovation going on, and when we went to visit the house my only questions was where the workers would sleep.

So between real estate and other investments my family lived a pretty close approximation to an upper middle class life. We rarely ate out, drove mid level cars, and vacationed at a summer house reminiscent of our garage, but I lived in Newton…so that meant brand name jeans, cabbage patch kids,  a large selection of tween luxuries. I even had my own phone line.

When I was in eighth grade my grandmother died and left us money. I never knew exactly how much money, but she left a fair amount, like a millionish dollars to me in trust until I turned 35, and a bunch to my father.

From then on we were 1% ers before I knew the term. We built a large house on a lake in Newton, we flew at least business and often first class, and whatever my father wanted he bought. Now this made my mother uncomfortable, but he didn’t really factor that in.

He had odd tastes though, so he would buy sports cars, and art, and gold fingernails, and hired a full time personal assistant, ostensibly to help with his sculpting (and they were all artists themselves) but he used them to take out the garbage and buy him classic cokes. Between money, age, and non-conformist views he isolated himself on lake ave. Emerging to battle the sprinklers, gardeners and site seers who would walk up our drive thinking it couldn’t be a private home.

Amongst other questionable decisions that I championed at the time my father broke my grandmothers trust when I went to college, so I entered Brown with a credit card and a larger than average checking account. That worked out pretty well while I lived on campus. Sometimes I would foot the bill at a dinner, or buy my roommate a sweater but I spent within reason. This was the start of the time that I used money to help buy friends, a practice I am 99% over, but always fear will come back. I cringe as a write this, but the examples are myriad and embarrassing. For the most part I just made people uncomfortable, because my friends have never been the sort to want to be bought. It just took a while for me to recognize that.

Post college graduation I moved with my boyfriend to Brookline, the fancier version of Newton, and rented a nice apartment for above market rate. I had a job, it would turn out to be the most money I have ever earned, and had a paycheck and then whatever my money was earning. At the time my account was throwing off 40,000/ month. Per MONTH. So that year I lived like a mini version of Leo D, renting out all of Boston Billiards for my friends, writing BIG checks to local non profit, generally spending with no plan and no regard for the future.

We moved to Vermont where we couldn’t find an apartment that suited us, so I bought a house. Naturally. We were both unemployed. So we lived on my trust fund. I began working for the school system, got recruited to grad school and became a teacher. Around this time my dad got sick and died, I got married and divorced from my college boyfriend, and I became very depressed.

My self medication was shopping. Not only did I buy big ticket items like a second house (check out the view) 65 inch HD TV when there was not a single HD channel, but I shopped catalogues like it was my job. Between shopping, supporting our household while in grad school, and continuing to give to both Mass and VT non profits I was spending down my account. My father was dying, my mother was caring for him (not that I would have listened to them anyways.) My money manager worked out of the Twin Towers in NY. I was probably his lowest net worth client, and we had never put together a plan to disregard. So I did whatever, and didn’t open the statements.

For six years I earned a teacher’s salary which mostly was relevant because it gave me benefits.

Then I left teaching because I had opened the waiting room and needed to run it. Why did I open the waiting room? Because I bought the building (a good idea) and rehabbed it (could go either way) and wanted a nice bar to meet my second husband (no comment.) When I couldn’t find anyone locally to rent the space I imported friends of friends from Boston. They helped make a hip urban place. I had never worked in a restaurant and I owned it. They knew what they were doing and they operated it.

There was friction.

After the business break up I left teaching to run the restaurant/bar/music venue that I now owned. That went about as well you you would expect. I had an incredible staff, except the cocaine dealer and a few nut cases, and I proceeded to befriend them (not necessarily the best idea but I was 26 and lonely) I ran that venue the way I ran my life. Big bold ideas: health care for wait staff! weekly arts projects with visual and performance art! Local and organic without the prices to match!10% of sales to non profits! Fresh flowers! One of a kind artwork! Handcrafted tables, check presenters, blah blah blah. It was a joy that made money for lots of people around me. When I closed the doors I had lost $800,000.

So now I was down to much much less money, so naturally I went to work for non profits. I earned very little but established some great systems and events while also have time with my little little boys. The Strut fashion show was my idea. There are lots of others.

When I operated the waiting room I gave back through the business so some of that 800K took the place of my annual philanthropic giving. Now I was back to having to write those checks from my family account. I mean, the waiting room account was pretty much just funded by my family account anyways…but some things were going to have to change.

During the time I operated the business my mother bought a lake front lot in sheburne and steve and I rented the ranch house from her. This, along with the original gift from my grandmother, and the art collection from my father, is what has allowed me to maintain a higher than average quality of life even as I pump money into the local economy way beyond the ratios most people advise.

After I left the non profit world I found myself unemployed, with a house renovation sponsored by my mother. Steve made a really good for Vermont but not impressive for the whole world salary, and health care for the first time since teaching came from someone other than me, or whatever S Corp I was currently running.

It was around then that I took stock of my spending, and my family and made some big decisions.

1. I am currently spending money at a rate that we will never be able to afford this life.

2. Investing in local companies (which I had done 40x by then), buying local art, buying local food, and giving time and money to non profits were practices that I wanted to continue.

3. My actions show me that I don’t want to build traditional wealth the way lots of other people do.

4. I don’t want my mother to be supporting our life AT ALL.

So I was left with either scaling back to the right sized life, which would mean ceasing #2, and living much more modestly in every way. Or liquidating my one remaining asset. So I sold the art.

I have raised about 4 million from art sales. A full half of that went to the IRS. Don’t get me started/you are welcome. First I paid off the mortgage on my house, and had my mother sign it over to us. Then I bought two properties in Florida, one that could be considered an income property and the other a lovely little mistake. (Also currently on the market.)

Then we shopped for a house in Shelburbia. And although I continue to state that I could have would have gotten a smaller more modest house than we did we still cut the price in half and the carrying costs by 2/3. If that lake house had sold we would be able to maintain our lives at this level for a pretty long time. Currently though we have 4 properties with their associated property taxes, utilities and debt service. And despite win win apps, marble jar, Refresh Collections, and I’m sure there was at least one other venture in there, I continue to pay to work rather than get paid to work.

So I drew a line, kids need to have fully funded college accounts, and we need to have 1 million in the bank. A sort of symbolic symmetry that re-sets me to where I started Freshman year of college.

Despite paying to work lots and lots of my real estate investments have made money, and as crazy as my see saw of gain/lose gain/lose has been my average annual income comes in around the same as Steve’s not including any money my money makes.

I have used the pronoun “I” through this, because early in our relationship Steve and I established that outside of the college funds and the million dollar safety net everything else is mine to grow, use as angel funding, or toss down the drain. He cringes for sure when I tell him about each 80,000 check. However he lets it go, saying that he believes in me. Im not quite sure why given my track record, but it is nice to hear.

So there it is, my sordid money history. Which includes lots of lucky inheritances. And a more cavalier attitude than most. I wish there was a way to follow the money trail, and see some of the good that has come out of what are apparent losses. It hard to attribute full responsibility to any one of my investments or ventures, but there have been successes.

Events, places, relationships, art sales, etc.

The next chapter is pending. Hopefully I will post something later this week, my aim is to create a sustainable way to reinvest in our community, using one big initial investment (social venture endowment style.) In the mean time I have cancelled the catalogues, completed the college funds, and called the realtor. Three of the four properties are on the market. If you throw enough darts you will eventually hit the bulls eye.

So thats my story. At least so far. Oliver tuned out a long long time ago. He doesn’t have my demons, or my imagination. He saves with gusto. Leo on the other hand…

I’d like to hear in the comments:

1. Your complicated relationship with money.

2. How you talk to your kids about money

3. Whether any of my expenses or investments have effected your life. I’d LIKE to hear positively, but I will also listen to negatively.

 

 

 

 

Tangled up in…

Its one of those full full full moments. I never write in these, because the threads don’t seem to untangle themselves. But I want to now.

A friend’s father is dying and I stood with her today, October sunlight streaming in across her face as she told how much dying was like being born. The messy-ness. The dependence. That we focus on the positive of birth and the negative of death but it really isn’t so cut and dry really. It is all nature.

I have written about death a lot. Even on this blog. Fish Death. Steve’s dad’s death. My dog’s death.

Today I am more interested in the tangles. Driving in that same sunshine I feel the poignancy of the leaves clinging to the trees. This is Vermont…they are doomed. But beautiful in their finite-ness. I have seen these leaves every day all season. I watched them unfurling in the spring. Today is different. I see each leaf. Some of you live without seasons.  I like them. Measuring time through cyclic change, and how each stage makes the other more meaningful. Grey makes sunshine brighter. Heat makes cold colder. You get it. Today I am primed to feel it. The almost gone leaves, waiting for whats next, but still feeling what is here RIGHT NOW.

A few days ago the first ever boy that I loved messaged me on Facebook. I hear that this happens. I hear that it can be fun, creepy, or destructive to marriages. So far this has been none of those things. But it has still taken me back.

He said. “I just can’t take it anymore…I have to say hi.” What a big build up… Hi. Hello. I remember him. The only red head I have ever spent time with. Bigger nose than mine. More acne than me. Funnier, more confident, and much much more musical. That mattered a lot at camp Encore/Coda folks. I really do think I loved him. I can’t remember a single conversation. I do remember that with him sitting on the “beach” was the first time I ever felt like me. It was the first time I left myself and really tried to see me through another person’s eyes, and what I imagined he saw and what I felt about myself lined up. It would have been faster to say I felt like myself with him. But it was more than that. I felt like I knew myself with him.

Can you believe it has been 25 years he asked. Fuck no.

We are old. I wrote back. We are and we aren’t of course. To have memories that are 25 years old is the sort of thing that happens to older people. People who have lived some of their lives.

Last month. Or this month. Lets say last month. I traveled to PA to give a speak at a conference. It was on what used to be my most expert topic: my father and his rock collection. It has been a decade since I spoke about him publicly, and in his honor I did not plan. I made some slides and said what came to mind as I looked at them. I was a breathe away from calling him an asshole on stage. I called him a provocateur instead, but I’m pretty sure the audience was able to crack that code. He was alive to me again.

Really how did he do it? He dropped out of the only high school that didn’t kick him out and was virtually illiterate. He trusted his own views so strongly, so intensively that he resurrected an art form from across the world. He convinced scholars to study them and the greatest museums to display them. He was so mono focused and borderline megalomaniacal that he began sculpting these ancient pieces himself. Pretty sure that his hand would add value.

One of the many questions that occurs to me repeatedly without resolution is something about doggedness. But beyond doggedness it is about believing in yourself or your mission so strongly that you ignore context and proportion. Here is an example. I worked for a small non profit. This was SMALL. I was the only employee (executive director, directing no one). One day the founder read of a million dollar local gift to the ECHO center. A non profit which houses an aquarium and research facilities for Lake Champlain. I can look up the stats but I won’t, just trust me. In every measurable way it was hundreds of times larger than our 501c3. The founder read the little article out loud to me. I began to distractedly celebrate the gift to ECHO when I saw her wrinkled brow. “Why didn’t we get that gift?” she asked me. And she meant it.

Is that the attitude that gets incredible things done? Or is it dangerous? I don’t have a final answer. I ask it all the time. I think it can be one, the other or both. Like most things it depends on context and timing.

Meeting with a start up the other day I was pushy. I wanted that founder to suffer for his product. The other, more level headed advisor at the table talked us down. It doesn’t matter what your line is, he said. Just that you know what it is. Second mortgage? Family relocation? Getting money from mom? Whatever the line. Draw it. As an investor I want that line to be one step from the grave. But is that attitude the one that builds healthy companies? Certainly not always. I’m at the stage in my angel investing when companies are starting to show their stripes. Some winding down, some ramping up. Many repositioning, responding to the market. I used to think it was crazy that corporation merited near personhood status in the eyes of the law. Now I understand. They are born, they grow, they die. The teenagers talk back.

I used to imagine that the story of the rocks was the story I would tell. He made them magical. It is not. They speak more softly to me now. I have begun to see the physical objects as clutter, and my connection to them is about a shared history with my father, not the objects themselves.

Walking down the school hallway after reading with each of my son’s classes I felt so lucky.  The light, the fact that the panes of glass stretched from one post edge to another, so I could see from the hallway right out to the school garden. What great glass. How much better than a window. I am inside and outside. My body warm. My mind able to travel. Go architecture. Go school board for building the not cheapest possible hallway. Go me for noticing.  How lucky to be in this hall, and have my kids in this school, and have my kids, and be alive.

What a day today was.

Reading with kids, working on my own schedule, watching the film shorts at the Firehouse Gallery, arguing with a startup founder, Really caring where to put the carpet seams. This is it. I am not in Somalia fishing without a net. I am not in a hospital room waiting for whatever is next. I am here getting to live it. Whatever it is.

 

The (not so) secret side.

The push and pull of creating solutions for global markets while still staying rooted to a state like Vermont with emerging financial and technological resources  is not a new story. It is the (not so) secret side of doing business in a small community, great support and exposure, which often leads you scrambling for the local resources to support your growth.

One of the main features of Seven Days’ technology issue highlighted Draker Laboratories, a privately held Burlington Vermont Company. I was one of the early (and small) investors in the company. This is the (not so) secret side of my career. In and amongst the software on winwinapps’ balance sheet is a (not so) small handful of companies that I have helped fund in a minor and occasionally (not so) minor way.

Draker’s work building monitoring for alternative energy systems is admirable, as is their stated goal to stay Vermont based. It will be interesting to see where they are in a few years. IBM, and Dealer.com notwithstanding, most tech companies seem to need to reach an escape velocity at a certain level of success.

You don’t need to have a tech company to play both sides of this global—local tug of war.

Tonight Steve and I start our second round of the Parenting on Track course. I have watched Vicki’s commitment to her family and Vermont play into the steady but (not so) exponential growth of her company. She has reached so many families and changed so many lives. Yet not at the numbers that she SHOULD have reached.

It shocks me that I can still get myself into a room with her. This woman has “it.” Not only does she have real information, but her presentation style is celebrity worthy. Love her or hate her (and I can tell you it is mostly love) everyone responds to her. The first time I met her for coffee to pitch my marble jar app my husband asked me twice. “Really?” “Vicki is meeting with you really?” Her core audience is more than a third of the worldwide population, her message is vital, her program works, and she is still mixing live classes into her offerings. She should be global by now, not local. Fingers crossed Steve and I will be taking our 3rd class through a webcast only, because Parenting on Track will be the common toolset of families everywhere.

The Vermont brand is strong. Is the Vermont hold just as strong? Can we go global and stay local? Is this the (not so) secret side of business in Vermont?