How do you start your day?
By hitting the snooze button for 15 minutes, and then dragging myself out of bed—I’m not a morning person.
What are you reading?
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.
Briefly describe your business and inspiration for it.
FINDMINE is a retail technology that uses machine learning to scale the currently manual and tedious process of product curation (e.g., creating outfits, sets of decor, compatible electronics, ingredients for recipes, for example). FINDMINE achieves up to 40% higher average order values for retailers while saving merchandisers time.
I was inspired to create this business because of my own frustration with shopping. I’d buy a pair of green waxed cotton leggings that looked amazing; but I’d get them home and have to google “how to wear green waxed cotton leggings” or stalk Pinterest in order to figure out how to put an outfit together around it. The same thing happened when I fell in love with a white leather couch (can I match gold throw pillows with that?), when I wanted to buy a drone (what propeller blade replacements will work for this model?) or when I wanted to prepare a meal with ingredients that were in my kitchen at the moment (what can I make with a tomato, chicken stock, and fusilli?). I figured that if the store from where I purchased these items could just tell me how to use them, I’d save a lot of time, and the retailer would be able to sell me more.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I didn’t really decide—it was always a part of my plan since I was a child. Both my parents are self-employed, so working for myself has always been in my definition of success. The kind of startup I have is more of a high risk, growth company, however, versus a service business (like my parents’) so deciding to go down that path was something with which I had to get comfortable—or slowly desensitize myself to.
I started my career upon graduating UC Berkeley and working at a startup in San Francisco. That was a way for me to experience many different aspects of a company; it wasn’t necessary for me to decide from the start what my main role in the company would be since you wear so many hats at a startup. I figured it was the perfect place for me to see what I liked and what I didn’t like.
The Founder, the CEO, the Head of Engineering and my immediate boss were women. I was surrounded by amazing female role models. It didn’t cross my mind that being a female entrepreneur or a woman working in the tech/startup scene was a challenge. That gave me a lot of confidence and I started thinking more seriously about what I wanted to create. It took me years, however, to find an idea that I was truly passionate enough about to want to take the leap.
What was the tipping point for realizing you had a good business?
We have been able to get meetings with some of the biggest retailers in the world. They may not be customers yet, but to get in the door, you must have a product or idea that solves a problem they’re facing. Being invited to speak to 2,000 retail executives at the National Retail Federation conference was a BIG milestone.
What lessons have you learned along the way that you wish you would have known at the beginning of your start-up career?
Everyone is going to have an opinion, and you must have the capacity to accept opinions without letting them drown you. I wasted a lot of time going in the direction that the so-called experts thought was right for us before realizing another expert had the exact opposite opinion. If that happens, you know no one has the right answer and you have to go with your gut. If ten experts in a field all tell you the same thing, however, there is likely truth in that.
You also have to watch out for “wisdom of the crowds”. If there’s an investor interested in you only because other people are, it could signal they’re not strong or knowledgeable enough to have their own opinions—and perhaps not the type of person you want on your board. The most valuable thing I learned was to quickly evaluate the relevant advice and then spend more time with those people.
If self-doubt hits, what do you do?
Being a startup founder, it is normal to have doubts. There is no right way to do this otherwise someone would have done it before. When the doubt becomes detrimental, however, I’ll talk it through with my husband, friends, or fellow founders either to get a reality check or to vent. I also spend time trying to sit quietly while listening to the voice that says, “Everything’s going to be fine,” come through a little louder. If I practice hearing that voice more often, it grows stronger and louder.
What is your biggest fear as an entrepreneur?
My fear is that this one venture will define me. I’m a multi-dimensional person, and this will be just one of many successful ventures, or one of my many not successful ventures. But whatever happens with it, life isn’t over. I will still be smart and capable, with lots of hobbies and interests, with a great family and a group of friends. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like that though—it can be scary putting all your self-worth into a startup.
What aspects of being a start-up entrepreneur do you love and/or dislike?
I love setting my own schedule; I only do what I feel is most important to the business. I believe if everyone employed that strategy at work, corporations would be much more effective. In a startup, there’s zero time for nonsense—you feel as though every day is your best, because it simply has to be.
At the same time, as an entrepreneur there are many things outside my control, and that’s one of my least favorite parts. I’m impatient and like to see the effect my actions have on the success of my business. I know from experience—in life, as well as other startups—that you have to do great work, put it out there in the universe, and wait.
I also loved picking the members of the FINDMINE team. We employ amazing, talented individuals, who are good people at heart as well. That’s extremely important and often gets overlooked. My other dislike is the tedious things like scheduling meetings and reconciling expenses in Quickbooks, for example. I’d much rather be closing a deal, conceiving our next product or improvement, talking to customers, or building the team; but as CEO of a small startup, it has to get done.
Which books, articles, blogs have helped to shape your business and/or leadership style?
There are the current startup/business go-to books: Good to Great, Zero to One, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Brad Feld’s book on venture investing (its more like a desk reference than a book to curl up with). But I also love reading books about psychology and organizational behavior: Stumbling on Happiness, Man’s Search for Meaning, Quiet, and Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It are some of my favorites.
Are there any go-to resources you’ve found useful to run your business (service, web site, etc.)?
Docsend for sending documents, especially the investor deck or a customer pitch deck —you can update the documents once you’ve sent them so your investors/customers always have the live version.
Eshares to manage the cap table and to do a 409a valuation
Skedool is a virtual assistant that’s half robot, half human and saves tons of time scheduling meetings
What do you do outside the office to help you stay creative/productive?
I used to be a professional actress, so I stay involved on the creative side by doing Improv. I stay very active by doing yoga, dance and tennis when I have time. I believe in giving back as well, so I mentor a high school student that’s part of a performing arts program called Rosie’s Theater Kids. I also mentor aspiring entrepreneurs through Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship, employment, and training program for people with criminal histories.
What would you say to another woman who asked you if they should take the leap and start their own business?
If you can stop thinking about your idea, then move on. I pondered the underlying concept of what became FINDMINE for six years. I tried to discard the idea, but it kept resurfacing in my mind. Running a startup is an all consuming venture, and you must be sure you want to undertake such a task. So if you have an idea, attempt to forget about it. If you can get it out of your head, then it’s not meant to be. But if you can’t, take it seriously and make it happen.