Gotham Gal On Startups

The Goodwin Proctor "Founders Toolbox" blog posted an interview with the Gotham Gal yesterday. It's very good. So I'm cross posting it here.


Name, Age, Current Occupation: Joanne Wilson, 49, Blogger, Angel Investor, Mentor and Philanthropist

My start-up path: I started out working as a buyer at Macy’s and then I ran a company in the garment district. While raising my kids as a stay-at-home mom, I started helping friends grow businesses, and I ended up working with Jason Calacanis at the Silicon Alley Reporter. We grew the business from a five-page stapled magazine into a beautiful magazine. I went on to chair MOUSE and then sat on a variety of for-profit and non-profit boards. Seven years ago, I started blogging. Then I became an investor in Lockhart Steele [the visionary behind Curbed], the blogosphere took off and by that point, my kids were older. So, I became an angel investor. I returned to this because I have always liked start-ups, growth and building a company. I enjoy helping entrepreneurs.

I start my day at 7 am and I end my day at all different times.

The biggest challenge of being an investor is: You can give advice, but the company doesn’t always have to take it. Entrepreneurs will ultimately make their own decisions. You have to trust that you put your money behind an entrepreneur that you believe in.

I find that new entrepreneurs struggle the most with understanding: Their valuation. You need to be realistic about your valuation and your potential growth in the company. You have to listen to the market. If you start a business and think it’s genius (as you should) and are totally into it but can’t get anyone to fund you, then maybe you should think about why. The market is telling you something.

My role as an investor in start-ups is: Sitting on the board of directors and acting as a mentor. There’s really no one for a CEO to talk to except for their investors and other CEOs. I like to help people think in the weeds and out of the weeds. It might be giving guidance on who to hire or feedback on whether to spend money on a new campaign.

Any thoughts on why there aren’t more female hackers? Is the gender disparity in start-ups environmental or is it more complicated than that? It’s environmental from the time you come out of the womb. Boys gravitate towards blocks. Girls gravitate to the dolls. That’s a generalization but in general, its true. I look at my own kids – my son, gamer extraordinaire. My daughters used to play those games but then they lost interest. I do think you’ll see more women in programming because of where we are going as a society over the next 10 years or so.

Is New York a better city to start a company for women compared to Silicon Valley and  Boston? Content companies in New York are exploding. And content is great for women. There’s a huge support community for women entrepreneurs. We just need to find each other and connect better. I went to a TechStars event and there were 10 women there! We need to not be focused on the fact that there’s not enough women. We just need to celebrate the women that are in the community already.

How will creating a stronger, deeper community of women entrepreneurs impact the overall tech and entrepreneur community? The impact is huge. Tech is a platform. It will seep into our economy, younger children and create better, longer lasting companies. We hope that from theWomen Entrepreneurs Festival there will be conversations and mentorships that come about and that women will see from the different panels all of the opportunities that are out there.

The differences between a female entrepreneur and a male entrepreneur are: An entrepreneur is an idea maker who executes on an idea. Every person, man or woman, has differences. But companies are better off when there’s a balance of genders. Women tend to provide more of a community, an understanding and a softer ear than men. But I know men who provide those same things.

One area where women could improve is: Women don’t stand on a table and say I rule.

The best piece of legal advice I ever received was: Read the document. Just because you have a lawyer, don’t assume that they are doing everything the way that you want.

The one legal concept I didn’t understand at the outset was: At the beginning, I didn’t fully understand post versus pre-valuation and convertible debt. You have to be in it to get it. It’s like anything else – someone can teach it to you, but when you get legal advice, until you actually have to use it, you don’t fully understand it.

Right now, the books I’m reading are: I am a huge reader. I just finished Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross. I just started reading about Keith Richards…what a life that guy had. I have a bunch sitting on my nightstand.

The blogs I’m reading are: I read the blogs of all of the companies I’m involved with.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    You’re both candid and give pragmatic, street smart type of advice.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Agreed. Very straight-forward.

  2. Fernando Gutierrez

    You truly seem to be great team. I don’t know any of you personally, but for what I know, if you told us that it was you the one interviewed I think that, except for the personal details, I’d have believed it.

  3. Antonio Tedesco

    I actually had a chance to talk to Joanne a few weeks ago about a company she was investing in. I had no idea she also invested in start ups. She was really nice and we had a good conversation.The last two posts have been interesting insight into the people with whom you are surrounded. It shows a great team doesn’t just matter for start ups.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Astute. Inherent in your comment is the idea that the “team” Fred is part of extends beyond the people he works with — which, too, translates over to startups.It seems that being part of a community is key for a startup founder.

      1. fredwilson

        to complete the team effort, i would need a post on my kids, the unsung heros in our office, the people who run our portfolio companies, and the AVC community

  4. paramendra

    Great interview. Just pitched her on Twitter. 🙂

  5. David Navarrete

    “Read the document”Priceless.

    1. fredwilson

      and so often ignored

  6. Amy Bevilacqua

    From the experience of attending the Women’s Entrepreneurship Festival that Joanne co-chaired in January, I can attest to the power of the community that she is cultivating among women entrepreneurs. She set the tone of the gathering–inspiring us to approach each other in a spirit of generosity, and many women’s lives are changing as a result.

  7. NS47

    Women in business, no more a ‘nice to do’. Nowadays it’s all about winning…if you want to succeed, have diversity in your workplace. That is how good decisions will be made.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Very important point. I hope people get this.

  8. RichardF

    “We need to not be focused on the fact that there’s not enough women. We just need to celebrate the women that are in the community already.”Great comment

  9. Erin Newkirk

    Great interview. Joanne creates value at every touchpoint.Thanks for posting.

  10. Paul Sanwald

    honestly, I already do see a lot of women in programming. my wife is a coder (we met in our college CS department) and working as a software engineer in finance I work with many, many talented women. I completely agree with your wife’s comments about what it’s useful to focus on.

  11. Donna Brewington White

    Thanks, Fred. What a treat.Especially like this quote:”Entrepreneurs will ultimately make their own decisions. You have to trust that you put your money behind an entrepreneur that you believe in.”Inherent in this comment is an attitude/perspective that truly honors the particular entrepreneur.BTW, everything I’ve come across regarding your wife points to “amazing” and further reinforces the apt description Tereza gave after meeting GG for the first time: kick-assI especially appreciate the very apparent partnership that you demonstrate and the way that each of you has obviously influenced the other in a way that represents true synergy! I know you’ve shared about this before, but hope to hear more! It is a rich example from which many of us can benefit.

  12. nithyadas

    Thanks for the cross post and shout out. Glad to hear you enjoyed my interview. Among many of the insightful points that Joanne offered, this was one of my favorites:”One area where women could improve is: Women don’t stand on a table and say I rule.”

    1. fredwilson

      that does seem to be the crowd favoritethe funny (or sad) thing is it is too often true of the gotham gall too

      1. nithyadas

        Recognizing is half the battle right?The other thing we talked a lot about is “being present” and thanks to Joanne it’s something that lives in the gray matter of my brain as a reminder.

  13. David Smuts

    I love this statement:One area where women could improve is: “Women don’t stand on a table and say I rule.”GG is spot on about the role/importance of Women in Entrepreneurship. Funny too, as I’m also currently reading Keith Richard’s book! The new flat I’ve moved into used to be a haunt of Keiths and Micks during the 60’s (but don’t ask me what they got up to here!)

  14. Dave Pinsen

    Fred,She didn’t mention you in that interview? Didn’t being married to you have something to do with her ‘start-up path’ and her becoming an angel investor?

    1. Christine Tsai

      Well, that’s a given – but just the same as Fred being married to GG having an influence on his path to becoming a successful VC. Also, as much as they’re husband and wife and a great team, they should have their own identities and be able to stand alone. It’s “Joanne Wilson, angel investor”… not “Joanne Wilson, Fred’s wife”

      1. Dave Pinsen

        No doubt she’s influenced and supported Fred, and Fred has credited her for that here before (including in his post where he described how he got into venture capital). But frankly I think it’s ridiculous that his name didn’t come up in that interview.A quote from Randy Pausch comes to mind here: “When there’s an elephant in the room, introduce him”.

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          Sorry Dave, have to disagree. In moving forward from present, the GG (already has) can make a name on her own. Besides, if there are rumblings from one side or the other regarding spouses, it lengthens the exposure time per that one interview.

        2. Dlord

          Does Fred mention GG in every interview he does? Just wondering..

          1. Matt A. Myers

            I’m not sure if he does. He does give strong gratitude to her often though.Perhaps women’s partners acknowledging how big of a part they have in their personal lives, family life, overall success in a regular basis would be empowering.Increase the mentions, increase the exposure, increase the comfort-level of other partners doing the same – make it the norm?I can understand that it could take away in some ways from the directness of a message, adding a ‘distraction’ to it – but overall I imagine it would have a positive effect on society.Many people thank a God at the end of speeches – why not thank your family and immediate support instead? I know some do, but in business interviews it’s generally around numbers, and not family or feeling.

        3. Tereza

          It would be totally inappropriate for me to speak for Gotham Gal but, hey, what the hell, I’ve had a few glasses of wine. Fred won’t say it and she won’t say it, so I will. My observation…It’s got to be very tough to be “Fred’s wife” or the wife of any successful person in the public realm.It’s crazy how often outsiders assume the things you accomplished rode exclusively on the coattails of the husband. It happens every single day. I promise.And it doesn’t happen the opposite way. Listen to the words “Tereza’s husband” –> You’d never assume that my husband’s successes came because he married me. Hell no. You assume his successes were his own doing. But people alway wonder whether the wife acheived a success of her own accord, and what her husband/father did to get here there. For some people, there’s no amount of success or credentialing that eliminates that question.I’m not going to point fingers but I’ve seen and heard those questions. It’s bullshit.So, to me, the minute those kinds of assumptions drop away is the moment we can start being way more vocal about all the awesome support we do actively appreciate from our husbands, and all the other men who are cheering us on. Because, actually, I think that’s what we want to do. We are so thankful for their support. Truly.I’ve met Joanne a few times and respect her immensely in each of her life roles. I don’t sense for one second that she doesn’t totally appreciate the opportunities made available by Fred’s success. She’s one of those vivacious ‘take any situation and make the best of it’ kind of people, and I really feel that even if Fred weren’t super-successful, she’d be doing this anyway. She’s that kind of person. With the contacts and resources she has plus the force of her own personality and very hard work does excellent things for the betterment of many people.After years of being the kids’ mom and Fred’s wife, she’s forging a new path as “Joanne”. A whole lot of us are the better for it.I have a sneaky suspicion that that includes Fred. 🙂

          1. fredwilson

            that’s pretty much exactly right. and i hate being the elephant in her room.

          2. Deirdre

            Oh yes. Well said.

          3. Erin Newkirk

            “After years of being the kids’ mom and Fred’s wife, she’s forging a new path as ‘Joanne.’ A whole lot of us are the better for it.”So true. I was fully aware of who Fred Wilson was when we were pitching potential investors/advisors. But it was Joanne’s blog that introduced me to the Wilsons. It was Joanne I wanted to have coffee with. It was definitely Joanne I wanted to pitch.

          4. Dave Pinsen

            “It’s crazy how often outsiders assume the things you accomplished rode exclusively on the coattails of the husband.”I didn’t assume that or write that. I do think it strains credulity to suggest that Fred had nothing to do with GG’s start-up path.”And it doesn’t happen the opposite way. Listen to the words “Tereza’s husband” –> You’d never assume that my husband’s successes came because he married me. Hell no. You assume his successes were his own doing.”I don’t know anything about your husband, so let’s use another hypothetical. Say Carly Fiorina’s husband started a hedge fund investing in tech companies. If he were interviewed about how he got into the tech investing business and didn’t mention his wife once in the interview, I’d be surprised by that as well.

    2. fredwilson

      well to be honest, being with her (before we got married) had something to do with me becoming an investor. i grew up in an army family. never met an entrepreneur until i went to college. her family, on the other hand, are all entrepreneurs. her mom, who recently passed away, was another inspiration

      1. melissatran

        I read GG’s post about her mom & thought her story and GG’s generosity in sharing her thoughts and feelings about being her daughter were amazing.

      2. Dave Pinsen

        I understand that, and you have credited your wife for her influence and support in your investing career on this blog before. I also read GG’s moving post about her mother on her blog, so I can understand why you would include her as an inspiration as well. But that doesn’t explain why GG didn’t mention you at all in that interview.That said, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to make an issue of it, and I can understand why entrepreneurs on this blog seeking angel funding wouldn’t either.________________________________

        1. fredwilson

          she has to stand in my shadow way too much as it is

  15. Dave W Baldwin

    GG, good interview and keep the push going regarding females as you are- suggesting it is a wise idea to expand the collaborative via a mix of guys and gals. I’m so happy proponents are going that route vs. whining about it and trying to force special favors.By the way, my local robot team was 2 guys, 2 gals. On the way home from the state tournament, one of the gals asked for some information regarding my gig. I explained the design focusing on young ladies and gave the example dialogue that shows comprehending ambiguity… I paused and asked, “Do you get what that means?”…. she responded, “Oh my God!” She is just a HS Freshman.She could keep up on her texting, appeasing one of the guys in the back seat and understand the path to AGI. Women are true multi-taskers.

  16. andyidsinga

    thanks GG! Fred, I kindof like the Q&A format ( even for regular post? ) – we should have some more of these with Qs from the AVC communitaaay .

    1. Tereza

      Yeah! Q&A is a very powerful format! 🙂

    2. fredwilson

      i agree. how would i implement that kind of thing? invite an AVC regular to send me a bunch of questions?

      1. nithyadas

        I’m doing these interviews as part of a series on our Founders Toolbox blog, so if the AVC community has questions or suggestions for people they want to see interviewed would love to hear them.

      2. Fernando Gutierrez

        You can use Google Moderator. It lets you set up a group of anything (in this case questions) and let other people with a Google Account submit and vote. You could start a series of crowdsourced interviews. Obviously, you should be the first!I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty to set up a Q&A with Fred Wilson and included some questions of my own. I’ve set it up so no anonymous questions are allowed and it can only be accessed through this link: can give you the ownership of the series so you can a have all control. Just tell me in which email address you want to receive the invitation.

        1. fredwilson

          i don’t mind but i am not going to commit to use that platform

      3. andyidsinga

        simplest way is to write a post : ”call for Qs for subject X’ then let the community respond to the post in disqus. Its a hack of sorts, but this community can haz hakz :)Imho keep it on this site as this is where the avc community is 🙂

      4. Tereza

        Sure. A few ways.One is with you as the interviewee, and you pick one (or a series of) AVC regulars to ask you Qs. It’s also fun to hear what newbies want to know.Alternatively you could have a guest interviewee and have us submit questions to you, or even pick a regular to run the interview, if it’s an interesting mashup of personalities.Wasn’t there a video interview of you last summer-ish, before which you told us in advance we could send over questions that the journalist might ask? That archive might be a start.

  17. Conrad Ross Schulman

    After following the Gotham Gals blog posts, my favorite part is seeing all the food she eats.I have an idea for the Gotham Gal: How about a network similar to tumblr where the user posts what he/she ate that day. Post breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks and everything in between!

  18. Tereza


  19. ShanaC

    So how do we get women to stand on tables and say “I rule”

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Give them whatever Charlie Sheen’s taking?On a serious note – success? Success will lead to confidence? Women being celebrated will lead to and instill the feeling of success in other women too, which will have the same effect; Hopefully not to the degree of Sheen – but kudos to them when they can get as much media attention. It’s too bad media focuses on Lindsay Lohan in such a negative light so much – and in fact it is fairly detrimental to society as a whole as its validating the behaviour.

      1. ShanaC

        A) Imposter’s syndrome is really common among women.B) I agree about the Lindsay lohan commentC) I think we have a new problem, among men (or as many men as before) not reaching enough.

    2. Tereza

      I think you have to just F-ing do it.:-)I RULE!!!!hahaha

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Ya you do!

      2. andyidsinga

        Ha! thats totally awesome T!

      3. ShanaC

        You could never get me on a table if you tried

    3. andyidsinga

      Start encouraging them when they’re 8 – 15 🙂 When thy’re 15 – ?? remind them its never too late to start. 😉

  20. David Shellabarger

    I recently watched a TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook talking about woman in the workplace. I found it really interesting and insightful.

    1. Tereza

      Glad you re-posted that one to give it more visibility, David. It’s an excellent talk.She effectively points out important things women need to do to advance our cause.I’ve said this elsewhere but one of the reasons I think things are really moving for women in tech right now is because there are awesome men supporting us.And to reciprocate for this super support we have to recognize it’s a two-way street — there are key ways we need to step up to the plate, too.

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      That’s an amazing talk. I’ve just emailed it to a bunch of people, not only women.

  21. Matt A. Myers

    I made a longer post that I’m proud about so posting it to my blog -Celebrate WomenI hope some people will still see this and be able to read it. :)P.S. Sorry it took so long to post … I was having fun all afternoon doing Acro Yoga! So much fun playing with other adults. 🙂

    1. Tereza

      nice post Matt!

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Thanks. Not sure many people will read it at this point … but it’s out there now

        1. melissatran

          I will.

  22. J.R. Sedivy

    Great interview, I particularly enjoyed this quote:”You need to be realistic about your valuation and your potential growth in the company. You have to listen to the market. If you start a business and think it’s genius (as you should) and are totally into it but can’t get anyone to fund you, then maybe you should think about why. The market is telling you something.The market doesn’t lie.

  23. Rebecca Healy

    What I assume Joanne meant in reference to gender disparity in start-ups is that young boys and young girls are influenced or pushed toward cars or dolls as a result of social and environmental factors, not that we intrinsically gravitate toward one or the other (if that were the case, it would be biologically pre-determined). Taken out of context, “boys gravitate towards cars, girls gravitate to the dolls” is quite destructive to the women’s movement.And I should hope that we do see a heck of a lot more female programmers – whoever controls innovation will define our society, and despite any crumbs that may have fallen off the table in the last few decades to satiate our desire for equal rights, white males are still decidedly in charge.

  24. leigh

    Have huge respect for Gotham Gal and the support she is giving to changing the ratio.Having recently had a boy who is now two (And previously a daughter who is now 15) I won’t dispute innate gender differences. They are obvious and yes, from birth.However, her comment ” It’s environmental from the time you come out of the womb.” is disappointingly simplistic and continues to pound the myth that “it’s just cuz girls aren’t into tech and business” as the basis for the complex reasons that there aren’t more women founders.My co-founder of our now defunct start-up Vanessa Williams (CTO) speaks rather passionately on this subject and has hundreds of links she’s sent me over the years. Here’s a couple that give a good look into education and work environments as two critical areas for change.…So i agree with GG that it will change in the next ten years – really it has to – but to ensure that change we have to have more realistic and deeper conversations about the underlying reasons as to why it is the way it is, beyond “Boys gravitate towards blocks. Girls gravitate to the dolls.”

  25. Gotham Gal

    to leigh and rebecca in regards to the simplistic answer that boys are boys and girls are girls is taken out of context and not so simple. women should embrace being women. we aren’t men and men aren’t women. we all bring something completely different to the table and the combination is what creates successful companies.

  26. Nicole Yang

    Hey Fred, thanks for posting Gotham Gal’s interview. Two points I’d like to expand on:”An entrepreneur is an idea maker who executes on an idea.”The first job of the entrepreneur is to find that one big problem they want to solve. The dearth of women entrepreneurs means that there are vast tracts of unmet needs out there just starving for some entrepreneurial juice. It’s not so much that guy entrepreneurs don’t know of some of these opportunities, but to create an ‘Apple’ quality solution requires the entrepreneur/marketeer to really live and breathe the challenge and savor the dog-food. Besides, entrepreneurs tend to go after what they know.”Any thoughts on why there aren’t more female hackers?”This point used to be valid, but given the advances in programming languages and frameworks, it’s getting more to be an excuse than a barrier. Marketing and understanding how successfully launch a product into the marketplace is my strong-point, and from everything I’ve seen, this has to be true of at least one founder in every team. But that’s not an excuse to wear a non-technical co-founder hat. From my experience, you can’t successfully lead a team if the people following you don’t believe that you understand them and can help them hit their full potential. Also, the majority of your early team is going to be developers and you simply can’t risk being out-of-the-loop. Back when programming was rocket-science and you’d need to take a class just to get to “Hello World”, the cost of building up some tech cred seemed prohibitively high. However, with modern frameworks like Ruby on Rails, any ‘non-tech’ person with the determination can google a tutorial and learn to build a simple web service in a couple weekends. That’s pretty darn affordable. So going forward, “I don’t know how to code” will increasingly sound like “I don’t want to bother to learn”… something unacceptable in an entrepreneur and a leader.Whoa! That’s way more than I intended to write, but you can tell that this issue hits a nerve. :)It’s a great time to be a woman entrepreneur!PS. if you’re a woman entrepreneur who’s sick of wearing the “non-techie” dunce cap, PM me at nicole(at)whoisnicole(dot)com and I’ll send you my notes on how to get up to speed.