Melinda and Bill

The first time I met Bill Gates, and pretty much the only time, was in Arizona. We were on Ester Dyson’s tech boondoggle in 1995. Fred pointed him out. He was wearing green striped sweat knee socks that I wore as a teenager in camp with Clark ankle wallabies, polyester, slightly beige knee-length shorts with a side belt attached to the pants. On top, he has an oversized, burgundy crumpled like it had been in a laundry pile with a few stains here and there. Nerdy? I think so.

The rest of the time, like all of us in the tech world, we had watched with awe and fascination when Bill Gates married Linda and began the next journey with a partner. You could see the transformation quite quickly as he became more human and put himself together better—a more sophisticated geek.

Everyone knew how smart Linda was; otherwise, it would have never worked. As she blossomed, she started to notice that many women are feeling what she is feeling. Why are women still second fiddles? I love her voice for women and how she has used the foundation to make a world social impact with a slant towards social progress.

Fred and I have been together for forty years. We became adults together. We have both worked hard at finding common interests. Lucky for us our interests connect on almost everything. As two driven, passionate humans who live together, especially when one of them has become so successful, it isn’t always easy to shine.

Every relationship is an endless dance. It makes me sad to see that they couldn’t figure out how to keep dancing after all this time together.

Future of Art Fairs?

Frieze came to life again at the Shed in NYC this past week. The Shed was built with the concept in mind of being an amorphous structure. It could house theater, concerts, readings, orchestras, art installations, and even art fairs. Except for the thrill of returning to “normal” by going to an art fair, seeing the Shed become the foundation for the Frieze was the best part.

The show was small, with only 60 galleries. I wasn’t disappointed by the size but the lack of excitement. I would have expected to see new, more thoughtful work after a global pandemic and a lockdown of the past 14 months, but I didn’t. It felt somber and uninspiring.

There are multiple art shows on the horizon. It is really time to reimagine them. How do they engage new collectors of all ages? How do they not just feel like a gallery has just been planted in a semi-permanent space for a few days like a trade show? How do we have more conversations and interactions with the artists and other collectors? Maybe live artistic performances, panels of collectors, artists talking about their process and thoughts, schools discussing art programs.

Something to make art more human than an asset class. Art represents the times. I can’t imagine a more perfect time to hear and see what artists are thinking.

The Armory Show is coming to the Javits Center in the fall. The space is tremendous. I hope that they really think out of the box. Change must come.

Melissa Tate

When I first began blogging, one woman reached out to me from across the globe. She is an Afrikaner. She knew I was going to be in London, and she was in Europe at the time. She flew in, and we had lunch, kept in touch, and had lunch again in London a few years later. She came to the Women’s Entrepreneur Festivals too. I like hearing from her. It is nice to have a like-minded friend across the globe.

She sent me this YouTube video of Melissa Tate and said it was worth the 9 minute listen. As an Afrikaner, she is interested in her story. I watched the video, and keep in mind I actually didn’t realize who this woman was. I did a bit of research after listening to her but mailed my friend my reaction below.

Very interesting.  She is a strong female.  I can’t entirely agree that the changes taking place are negative but positive.  The message is definitely you can do anything here, and we must make amends for not spreading that love to the Black community.  It is happening; I do not believe it is oppressive.  She has been able to rise up, but I fear her message is like our black Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, or even Tim Scott, the Black GOP senator who spoke out against Biden.  They are not helping their people but dismissing most of them for not being able to rise through the ranks.  Yet, I do hear what she is saying.  Bottom line, the biggest issue is there are divides everywhere, and we need to do a better job of agreeing to disagree.

She agreed with my response and noted the importance of understanding and listening to different views. That it is something about how we grow up and who raises us. We live by what we experience or are exposed to. Those layers are deep, but we need to be ok with agreeing to disagree at the end of the day.

Listening to Melissa Tate rattles me and reminds me that we are so divided as a nation on almost everything, even though some of the divides are larger and others smaller. How do we as a nation learn from our past and move forward?

Returning to Theater and Movies

There are countless reasons to love NY, but above all, our entertainment program is supreme. Covid decimated all of it from galleries, museums, live theater, live music, and the movies. We need the arts. The arts define our times. Anything we can do to support that community is important.

Blindness at the Daryl Roth Theater is the first theater we have been to in a long time. It is one of the first shows to open. Simon Stephens adapted the book by Jose Seragamo into a 70-minute immersive audio play. If you haven’t read Blindness, do. It is a phenomenal dystopian book that was published in 1995. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, and Blindness was one of the reasons.

Set inside a city where over a short period of time, everyone goes blind except the woman telling the story who can see although feigns blindness. She tells the tale over 70 minutes during flashing lights and darkness through a set of headphones the entire audience is wearing. You feel immersed in the story. Her voice is mesmerizing. I could listen to a book on tape for hours with her voice.

You had to show your vaccination card, temperatures were taken, and everyone had to wear their mask and chairs set up six feet from each other except next to your friends. Being in a theater with strangers and experiencing a really well-done live show felt fantastic. During the end of a global pandemic, dystopian theater points to the reminder that you never know what would happen.

Our next experience was going to the Film Forum. One of the gems of downtown NY. A non-profit theater supporting independent films since 1970. We watched a film I have tried to watch find streaming most of Covid and missed at Sundance two years ago. The Truffle Hunters. A documentary film in Piedmont, Italy, where the 80+ year men still hunt truffles like they did hundreds of years ago. It is a beautiful film.

No popcorn, no soda, not even Milk Duds yet, so that is a bummer. But sitting in a theater, even if there were only 6 other people there, watching a film on the big screen made me just long for more.

Connecting the Jobs to the Jobless

Will the non-profit world ever figure out how to stop being fiefdoms? Why must they try and reinvent the wheel when others organizations are doing the same thing? For instance, some incredible internship programs are being run in NYC. Why doesn’t every non-profit that represents underserved teens in NYC partner with the best organization getting these internships so that corporations know there is one go-to spot that will help place the right kids in the right jobs for the summer? Instead, we see multiple non-profits working on their own internship programs. It makes no sense.

Right now, the restaurants that have survived the pandemic are trying to survive without a full staff. I wrote about this last week. Some restaurants can’t open sections due to a shortage of employees. There are plenty of people in underserved communities who would be thrilled to have a job. I know firsthand that many of them would never even conceive walking into certain neighborhoods looking for employment.

There should be a job fair for restaurants and other companies that need employees. Get the communities who live in NYCHA or other areas through the city that have not had access to jobs to attend. There could be a one-day training event to teach some basic rules and then even a follow-up for the people running the job fair finding out how is it going, is there anything we can be of help with, just a support system to integrate a whole new group of people into the workforce. We should be doing this for the incarcerated people who are having their records erased for selling cannabis. We can’t just open the jail door without any help returning to the job force.

As NYC starts to emerge from this pandemic, this is something I have been thinking about. I am frustrated about where to turn and how to get this done, but I know there is a huge divide here. We need to figure out how to connect the jobless to jobs.

From Jenny to Jing, Jing Gao, Podcast #150

Jing Gao is the founder of Fly By Jing, a line of Chinese spice and condiments inspired by her hometown of Chengdo. We got together over zoom to discuss her entrepreneurial journey, and the challenges of creating a high-quality, modern, female-led Chinese food brand.
To learn more about Fly By Jing, you can visit the website.

You can also listen on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Our next guests on PGG will be Alexandra Fennell & Mia Abbruzzese, the new direct-to-consumer company Attn: Grace, which focuses on intimate products for aging women.

Entrepreneurship is not the panacea

Entrepreneurs have been around since the beginning of time. At the core, all human beings have an entrepreneurial spirit—some more than others.

I have said this before, The Social Network, which came out in 2010, had an impact on this belief that entrepreneurship is the savior of everything. Facebook created massive wealth for many, and the movie exemplified competition, male empowerment, intellectual banter, and a winner. People began to believe that teaching others how entrepreneurship can be game-changing has become the norm.

It has been over ten years since I saw The Social Network, and a lot has changed. We now have real data that shows that entrepreneurship is not the panacea. When I was the Chairperson of Hot Bread Kitchen, we ran a program awarded to us from the EDC. It was a food incubator for entrepreneurs. People were working on consumer products, some building catering businesses, and more. We were helping underserved food founders. It felt really great. It was a big idea.

I know how difficult it is to build a business in this arena and actually pay your rent or find a time to have a life. In the tech world, you generally can raise some cash and pay everyone a decent wage, or the business never makes it, and it is generally a quick death. Food must have friends and families cash support because the money out there is minuscule at this level. Essentially everyone who went through this program was excited about the prospect of working on their dreams. Here’s the truth; the failure rate of every entrepreneur who attempted to build their business after this program that not only taught multiple skills and created a great community failed.

Andrew Yang had a big idea with Venture for America. It is a post-college two-year fellow learning and working in start-ups. Hoping that all the graduates become an entrepreneur. It worked for some but certainly not for all—a lot to be learned, just like what we learned at HBK. I, too, believed that entrepreneurship was the end all be all.

The data is now clear. We need to find better ways to help this community of underserved entrepreneurs with career programs. I believe if you have entrepreneur running through your veins, then you will figure it out. No program is going to help you get there. You get there because you can’t do anything else and how we support these founders must be rethought out. We have to stop pouring capital into a system where few succeed but one where everyone succeeds.

Retail is Slowly Changing

When I hear the ads espousing the new retail, I cringe. Many are from the same old companies who have come out of bankruptcy doing the same thing with a decent campaign. There are fundamental changes that have to take place. You can’t put lipstick on a pig.

But there are a few bright spots. A new hotel in Lake Como will have completely shoppable suites designed by architect Patricia Urquiola. Just like restaurants are beginning to find other means of revenue, such as a wine club or curated products that you can also buy there, hotels should be selling anything in the room. If you love it, order it and take it home or course be delivered.

The other brilliant bright spot is Popup Grocer. A 30-day pop-up carrying hundreds of the most innovative products that you won’t necessarily find at your local grocer. Grocery still runs like it is 1953, and the brands of the past, such as Coke, Pepsi, and General Mills, own the shelves. There was a short burst of innovation in the ’80s, but it is time for more. The entrepreneur behind this is Emily Schildt.

A while back, I wrote about the Future Perfect installing an entire brownstone in the West Village. Everything was for sale. There have been others who have done this, such as the Line. I read about an entire shoppable living concept launched by Kelly Behun.

Brown’s new retail concept in London is about inviting people in the store, like your home, where you can experience, shop and chat. An in-store app that shows only what is available in the store, making the experience seamless.

There are more direct-to-consumer brands launching daily, but I am looking forward to more innovative retail concepts as we get out of our homes. We might all shop online but the reality is good in-store experiences will always exist. The time is ripe for new brick-and-mortar innovations.

Why Be A Bully?

Reading about Scott Rudin this week just made my stomach turn. There were too many “screamers” when I worked at Macy’s out of college. I’d hear the same thing from friends in other industries. People would be abusive, they would scream, they would take pleasure out of making you feel like shit. Why?

I told a founder a few months ago; it doesn’t cost you anything to be kind. You catch more flies with honey. Maybe it is just fear of failure. You can’t micromanage a growing company. You can’t expect anyone to work as you do. Everyone works in different ways, and as long as they get it done, that is all that counts.

I have always been a fan of giving people very long ropes. Expecting that they will do the right thing. Being positive and praising work well done. When there is an issue, it is about being transparent and honest, not being nasty. It doesn’t get you anywhere. We have witnessed several founders of start-ups publicly be called out for atrocious behavior. Perhaps with Scott Rudin, we will begin to see even more, and honesty, it is about time.

I have heard countless stories over the years of bad management but the ones that infuriate me are the ones where someone in upper management, particularly a founder, bullies the people who work for them. It creates an unworkable culture. The reality is that is not how you build a successful company. That is how you build a miserable place. Goals are met when everyone is a champion.

It isn’t easy for someone who is being bullied or put in a position where they are sexually harassed, but it is just as important for each of us to stand up the second something is wrong. To stand up and say, do not talk to me like that. Would you want someone to talk to you like that? Or do say, do not hit on me. Do not say these things. I realize how fearful that is, but nobody needs that shit.

I remember saying something to a founder years ago who made all the employees come in when the city was shut down from locations far away. It was absurd. I asked her how she would feel if the tables were flipped? Bottom line, we should all treat people with the respect they deserve. When you treat people well, the results are far better.

The Country Divide

Seeing intelligent, artistic, articulate leaders rise to the top of each industry is a breath of fresh air for those who have left-leaning or even moderate views.  For the Trumpians, not so much.  They see nothing of themselves in these leaders. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the Trump crowd. The only Trumpians I got are wealthy people who don’t want to pay taxes, although I find it repulsive.

Seeing Amanda Gorman on the cover of Vogue and seeing Black leaders rise to the top of every conversation is a breath of fresh air vs. anger running at the Capitol steps. Now more than ever, I get it.

Unfortunately, many GOP leaders are poisonous and flaming the fuel that sets a deep line of division down our country.  Unclear what they stand for but power, and they are quite good at speaking to anger. The anger comes from a multitude of things; lack of opportunity and education. Many see their children leave the nest and their cities and not remaining at home.  It’s a false belief that things were better in the past, but the reality is this has been a slow crescendo, probably about 400 years.  The people that have been overlooked and are finding themselves not returning to the system. Many of those people didn’t go to college.  Their jobs are being replaced, and the cost of making ends meet isn’t easy.

The Trumpians are fighting to have their voices heard thru anti-vaccinations, blaming terrorists and illegal immigrants for their issues.  It is all about mistrust. The people who have stepped in to represent them are just feeding on them and taking advantage so they can be in power.  It’s all so awful.  The Republican Party has lost its way through greed and power, using people who have been ignored and undervalued to prop them up with rhetoric and anger. Nothing good comes from them. Agreeing to disagree can many times be beneficial. Where did that go?

When I see the many intellects and new leaders on the cover of magazines and talk shows, which I applaud, I do understand the anger now more than ever. Suppose you can’t imagine connecting to them or thinking of them as a role model that fuels an underlying frustration.

The saddest part of it all is that the people who pretend be their leader saying that he understands their demise is Trump. The biggest snake oil salesman that ever exists. The fire he has created is proving to be hard to extinguish.