119 Women Supporting Women in Business
Startup investor, longtime digital media executive, and author of the upcoming “The Myth of the Nice Girl”, Fran Hauser has invested in 20 female-founded startups and is known for mentoring hundreds of women around the globe. She puts on the ‘Advice WINGS’ on how, when and what it takes for women to raise angel and VC capital.
Melinda Wittstock: Fran, welcome to Wings!
Fran Hauser: Hi, Melinda.
Melinda Wittstock: It's so great to have you on, and I'm so excited about your book, The Myth of the Nice Girl. Why is it that we believe we have to be so nice all the time, and what does it cost us?
Fran Hauser: This is a topic that I started really thinking about seriously, in terms of writing a book, back in 2009, when I was president of digital for People Magazine. I had all these young women on my team, and I was doing a lot of venturing. The question that I would get asked the most by them is, “Fran, how can you be so nice and still be successful?” I just, I spent a lot of time talking to them about this, and when I looked at what books were out there, the only thing that I could really find was nice girls don't get the corner office. I thought, you know, this is interesting. I kind of, I want to write a book that talks about how you can be both kind, and strong, that they're not mutually exclusive, and that for me, being kind and being nice, it's just, it's such a big part of who I am. Even as a child, and as an adult, and it's something that I think has really served me well in my career. I think at the end of the day, business is all about people. It's about being able to influence people.
It's about getting the best out of your team. It's about having productive conversations, even when the message that you're delivering is a really difficult one, and I think that when you're kind to people, you … It just makes all of that stuff so much easier to do, because your relationship with them is based in trust, and then people want to do things for you. They want to be helpful to you. I think that the kindness is an incredible trait. I think it's something that we should really treasure, and it's not just in our personal lives, but in business, at work. I think at the same time, though, you have to be really careful of not going to the people pleasing extreme, or the being a pushover, or being passive. You still have to be able to stand your ground when you need to, and make the tough calls, and find that strength based on the situation. I think that's really kind of what the book is about, and I think what's interesting is when … I thought about this back in 2009.
Then it sort of went, it kind of got shelved for a while, for lots of different reasons, and then I came back to it in 2015, and I approached the book in a very sort of practical, actionable way. It's filled with tips, and techniques, and lists, and advice, and stories, because I'm always … I'm very operational, and I really want things to be kind of like a playbook, and I want it to be actionable. Taking a big step back, I think what I've really realized is that what I really want to do with this book is I want to change … I want to change the image of what a successful leader looks like, because I think when we picture, when we visualize a successful business leader, we think of somebody who is really smart, and strong, and competitive, and all of those things are great, and they're important, but I would also love for people to picture somebody who is all those things, and is also kind. I think that's sort of the bigger mission with the book.
Melinda Wittstock: It's interesting. On this podcast, we talk a lot about women being able to step into their authentic feminine power, and I do believe that the … You're right. The best leaders do have that kindness, and integrity, and caring, and it's something that women, we have this kind of empathy gene, but somewhere along the line, that got, we got cast in this kind of dichotomy, whether there were these myths that nice girls finish last, or that if you were strong, that you were automatically a bitch. Right, so we got kind of whip sawed between these two extremes, and so it's very hard for women to know how to be, so if you are being nice, where is the line between being nice and being a people-pleasure, to the point where you lose yourself?
Fran Hauser: Yeah. Yeah, and I think it's funny. I actually have a section in the book where I talk about that. I talk about things like nice is being … I have a section where I talk about how nice is being helpful, whereas being a people pleaser is being subservient, and there is a big distinction there. I think about when I was younger in my career, especially when you're first starting out, you really do want to be helpful, because I remember starting out Price Waterhouse, or Ernst and Young. I was staff, as opposed to managers on a team, partners on a team. I was really happy to help out. If somebody needed copies made, or if I had to do a coffee run, I had no problem doing that, and I think that made me likable, and obviously I was also very effective, and I was good at my job, but you don't want to go to the extreme of being subservient. I think subservient is if, I don't know, your boss, or somebody who's seen you're on the team is asking you to get him coffee. That's not appropriate.
That's not something that you should be doing, and I think that is more, that does fall more into the people pleaser category. I think just really thinking about in the way that you're behaving, and in your actions. It's great. It's great to be nice. It's great to be kind, but you still … You want to be confident, and you want to show that you can actually be effective at your job. You're not just going to be the people pleaser. I do think that young women especially struggle with that, because they're told, they're given advice, like, “you're too nice”. “You need to be tougher,” and I think you just really have to … If you're being given that advice, you really have to think about, and ask the person, “What do you mean by that? What do you mean, what? How am I too nice?” Really dissect it, and try to understand what they're getting at.
Melinda Wittstock: I love what you say about helping people, though, because by definition an entrepreneur is finding not only identifying a problem, but finding a solution to that problem, and the value creation is really in helping people.
Fran Hauser: It is.
Melinda Wittstock: At the end of the day, that is what the best entrepreneurs actually do.
Fran Hauser: That's right, because that goes back to if you're really focusing on your customer, and you're focusing on whatever their pain point is that you're trying to solve, that actually involves a lot of empathy, right? You do have to actually be empathetic, because you need to step into their shoes, and understand what the problem is, and then figure out the best way to solve it, and to create value for them. I think being helpful and being empathetic, that's a huge, that's a huge part of that dynamic.
Melinda Wittstock: Do you think sometimes we shrink from stepping up in the way that we need to as leaders, and entrepreneurs because of the fear of being cast? On your book, you have this achieving a career you love without becoming a person you hate, but sometimes that gets projected onto us, or it's almost like we're in fear of, oh, my goodness. If I'm too direct, or if I really speak up, or I really raise my hand, or whatever, that people are going to see me as this kind of pushy, kind of abrasive, arrogant, brash. These are some of the words that you have on your book cover, that we can fall into other people's projections, and so we're in fear, and so many of the interviews that I do, and the discussions we have, are about women not really being able to speak up for themselves, or sing their own praises.
Fran Hauser: Yeah. I think this is something that I am still seeing. It's 2017, and I feel like I am still in meetings where women aren't speaking up as much as men are. I share a story in the book where I spoke at a university not too long ago that was … There were mostly women in the room. There were probably about 100 people in the room, mostly women, but when I was done speaking, all these hands shot up, and literally they were all men except for one. The women came up to me afterwards, though. They were very eager to talk to me one-on-one, and I asked the dean of the business school if that happens regularly, and he said, “It happens all the time,” that men just raise their hands. The men at the college just raise their hands more than the women do, but that you do see the women going up afterwards to have the one-on-one conversations. I just, I think a lot of it goes back to the way that we were conditioned as girls. I think it really does.
I think there is this researched, this dynamic called the camouflaging effect, which happens when you're around seven or eight years old, where before then, you're very comfortable speaking up. You're in kindergarten, you're in first grade, you're really comfortable raising your hand, and then something happens when you get to that seven, eight-year-old stage, where you want to just sort of blend in, and not stand out. It's this whole idea about being the good little girl, and being polite and I think a lot of that, what it does is it actually, it forces you to kind of lose your voice. Sometimes for women it takes many, many, many years, as we're seeing, given everything that's going on in the world today, to get your voice back. I just, I really encourage … A lot of what I do is, if I'm in a meeting, and I know that a woman has something really great to contribute, I really do, and they're not contributing, I really encourage them. I do.
I will turn to them and say, “Mary, you and I were talking the other day about this very topic, and you had a really interesting observation. Can you share that with the group?” I do find, it's actually, even as I'm saying that, it's shocking that I still have to do that every once in a while, but I do. It is so important. If as a woman you don't speak up, if you are in a business meeting, and you're talking about a new product that the company is launching, or you're talking about a new initiative, if you think about … If only the guys are talking, and the women's input isn't being raised, it's not being considered, the product, the initiative, it's just not going to be as good. It's just not, so I … Anyway, so it's something that I think about a lot, and I talk about a lot, and I encourage young women to speak up, even if they feel … If they feel nervous, if they feel like they're going to say something stupid, if they feel like they're going to be judged in some way. They just have to get past all of that, and just, they do.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. I agree. Here's the interesting thing, is when we play small, and don't show our unique contribution or provide that to the world, we're actually denying people value. It's, we're actually robbing them, because everybody has their unique contribution to make, but I love the practical tip of just for all women to just do this, look around the room when you're in a meeting. If you see a woman who is not speaking, or you can encourage her in some way, or just highlight, provide that … It's almost like permission, or an invitation to speak. I think we have to be kind of a little bit activist like that to actually do that in these moments, and then-
Fran Hauser: Yeah. I think so, too, and the only other thing that I'd like to add to that is the other thing that I'll do is I will actually give … Some women who I know just have a hard time speaking up in meetings. I will give them a heads-up before the meeting that I'm going to ask them to talk about something very specific. That way they can be prepared, because I do think that some women just, they feel more confident when they're prepared, so that's another just sort of practical tip, and I do find that to be very helpful. I feel like once you speak, then you're in it, and you will speak more in the meeting. It's just about opening your mouth the first time, right, and then you're in it, so that's just, that's another practical tip.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's the muscle memory. It's interesting that you say preparedness, too, that women are more likely to need or feel the need to be prepared, and in some cases, over-prepared, sometimes to the point of such perfection that we get in our own way with that. Is that something that you've seen in your career a lot?
Fran Hauser: Absolutely. Absolutely. I see that, I feel like men are just more comfortable, especially when I was at Time, Inc. They would just walk into my office, and just have a conversation with me about something that they're thinking about, maybe it's a new opportunity that we can capitalize on as a team, or it's an issue that they're seeing. Whereas I always found that women were more likely to get time on my calendar, and come in with something prepared, whether it was a deck, or a write-up, or … Whereas they could have just saved a whole bunch of time, and just had a conversation with me. You know what I mean, before they spent all that time putting all of this thought into making this perfect deck, and I also see that with entrepreneurs, truthfully. I always tell the story where I was at one of the New York City-based accelerators, and I was doing open office hours, and I met with five different founders. Four were male; one was female.
They all had follow-ups that they basically walked away with, things that they needed to get back to me on, or materials that they needed to send me, and all of the men got back to me same day, and the woman had actually took her two weeks to get back to me. In her email, she said, “I'm sorry it's taken me a little bit longer, but I really wanted to make sure that I had everything tied up in a bow before I sent it to you,” and it was really unfortunate, because I felt like I had lost the momentum, in terms of being excited about her business, because two weeks had passed. Whereas the guys, the stuff that they sent me, it wasn't as polished, maybe it was just an email, maybe there were even some typos, but they got back to me right away, and they really capitalized on that momentum.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, so it doesn't have to be perfect, and especially for entrepreneurs, because you really need to get your product into the marketplace as fast as possible. I know Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and PayPal before says, “If you love your product, you're shipping it too late,” right?
Fran Hauser: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: You've really got it into the market, and even when you know that it's not yet your completed thought, and it's not pretty yet, and it doesn't have the bow wrapped around it, there's so much that you don't even know about your product, or how people are going to react, and so you really need that customer feedback. Do you find that the women that you've invested in in your portfolio, do they tend to struggle with this, or are they in your portfolio because they know that they've got to be able to move quickly, and really seize on the opportunity without making perfect the enemy of the good?
Fran Hauser: Yeah. I think most of them know that they need to move quickly. I think I've definitely had situations with a few of them where they sort of got into this analysis paralysis mode of overthinking, and I … Those are the moments where as an investor, as an advisor, as a mentor, it's really important that you step in, and encourage them to, and help them get unstuck, and really just sort of focus on, what are the key features here? What's the key value proposition, and not get bogged down with minor features or details. Yeah. I feel like I've definitely had a few situations where women have been in those situations, where I've really tried to be helpful to them.
Melinda Wittstock: It's interesting. What are some of the things where you think that we … We talked about perfectionism, and we've talked about fear of speaking up. What are some of the other areas that you've found that women, I don't know, where we get in our own way, whether it's in a corporate environment of taking that journey to the corner office, or as female entrepreneurs?
Fran Hauser: I think one of the things that I'm seeing is that I feel like we're harder on ourselves. I just feel like we're … I've even seen this with myself over the course of my career. We're harder on ourselves when we fail, when we make mistakes, whereas I feel like men are just kind of more likely to kind of brush themselves off, and try again. I remember a situation where, back when I was at Time, Inc., we were pitching the CEO and the CFO for some money to invest in a new product, and we … The meeting didn't, it just didn't go well, and we didn't get the investment. I just walked out of there feeling so defeated, and my peer, who was this just great guy, I started with oh, we should have done this, we should have shown more comps, we should have done that. My peer was just like, “Fran, we know what we need to do. Let's just go do it, and get back in there, and ask for the money again.” I just, I do feel like, I don't know. I feel like we're harder on ourselves, and-
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's easy to make it personal, or feel like it's some sort of failing, or some sort of proof of where we're not good enough. I think we get triggered that way sometimes because there's an underlying or subconscious belief that we're … We don't value ourselves as much as we should.
Fran Hauser: Yes. Yeah. We don't value ourselves. There's a little bit of the imposter syndrome. Yeah, I think there's all of that, and I just … I feel like it's just not productive to get into this, I should have done this, I should have done that. It is productive to do a postmortem, and to really observe, and kind of look back and say, “Okay, here's what I would do different, but … ”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. What can we learn?
Fran Hauser: Yeah. What did we learn? That's great. Absolutely, but not to wallow in it.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely.
Fran Hauser: It's just so unproductive.
Melinda Wittstock: I've found myself doing that, and every now and again, just even yesterday, a contractor that we have just did a terrible job, and oh, my goodness. Long, long story, but in that context, I was filled with oh, what could I have done differently? I felt, even knowing better. I can still fall into that trap.
Fran Hauser: Right. I still do it. Right.
Melinda Wittstock: One of my investors, who is a man, just said, “Oh, my goodness. Stop blaming your … Nothing to do with you.”
Fran Hauser: Right. Get over it.
Melinda Wittstock: Right? Every now and again, we need mentors around us, both women and men, who can do that. It was funny. I had JJ Virgin on the podcast a couple days ago, and she said very early in her career, one of her mentors made her put a rubber band on her wrist. Every time she had a negative thought, or one of those kind of self-loathing, could've, should've, would have, or oh, that must mean that I'm not good enough, or whatever, she had to snap the rubber band.
Fran Hauser: Oh, my god. I love that.
Melinda Wittstock: On her wrist, and …
Fran Hauser: That is awesome. You know what? I think what else we do, truthfully, is we could take the smallest little blip, or failure, or whatever it is that you want to call it, and then you start projecting into the future, like oh, my god. This is a disaster. I'm going to get fired, or this product is just, it's going to be a total failure. We have this projecting that we do, that's just … It's the worst. It's like when people tell you, “Don't project with your kids.” If you see that your child, he's in kindergarten, and I don't know, maybe he's really quiet, and he's having a hard time in school. You don't want to project into his adulthood, and picture him having issues, right? That's just not productive. It's the same thing here. Don't project into the future. Just take it for what it is, learn from it, and move on.
Melinda Wittstock: Back in the day, and this is a really interesting generational question, because a lot of us got used to being … I'm dating myself here, but got used to being the only woman in the room, and certainly as technology entrepreneurs. Not that long ago, even five years ago, often, I was the only woman in the room. It's amazing to think that that's the case, because things are changing so quickly now, but it was really difficult to find female mentors. I always sort of yearned for them, but there weren't that many, or the ones that were there perhaps were too busy or too focused on pioneering themselves that they didn't have time, or didn't even know perhaps how to help. I perceive and as you've suggested as well, this ecosystem is really changing. Are women showing up for each other fully or more or in a way that's better? What can we do to make more of that happen?
Fran Hauser: I think absolutely, yes. I think women are showing up more for one another. Especially in investing, and in the tech space, and even in the media space, I would say, which is really where … I kind of sit in the intersection of tech and media. I just, I feel like there are so many … I think about my days, when I'm in the city, and I'm meeting with people. So many of those meetings are with other women, and we're talking about how we can be helpful to each other. I had a great meeting yesterday morning with a friend of mine, Tina Exarhos, who she was the CMO at MTV, and now she's over at NowThis, and she's also an angel investor, and she and I are both investors in Tiffany Pham's company Mogul, and we love Tiffany, and we were both just kind of talking about, oh, you know what? We should get together with Tiffany and the New Year, and just sort of see how things are going, and see how we can be helpful to her. I feel like every meeting that I walk out of, I always have sort of my to-dos, and the woman who I'm meeting with has her to-dos.
It's all about being helpful to each other. Literally, I think I had like four or five meetings like that just yesterday. I met with Erica Keswin, who's writing a book, and she wanted to just sort of pick my brain on the marketing, and the launch plan, and so I think it's … I think what we're all … I think we are showing up for each other in these one-on-one situations, but also in terms of all of these incredible networks that have been created, I think … My friend Samantha Katz, who's an angel investor, started this network called Invest and Imbibe, and it's really fun. It's a bunch of female angels, and we get together. We share deal flow, and the imbibe part is she and her husband, they own a gin distillery in Brooklyn, so we always get … Which is really fun, because we always get access to whatever the latest and greatest spirit is, but it's fun. We do these get-togethers every couple of months, and I just … I feel like there are a lot of these networks that have cropped up over the last few years.
I also just feel like a lot of my meetings end with, how can I help you? How can I be helpful to you? I say that, and whoever I'm meeting with says that. I just think we're really there for each other in a big way, but very different than it was even 10 years ago, certainly 20 years ago.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, my goodness. Yes, and so backing up a little bit to your journey to become your corporate stellar career rise, from the time that you started that journey to getting the corner office at Time, Inc., which is such an extraordinary accomplishment, what were some of the biggest challenges that you had to overcome on your kind of route up the corporate ladder, getting through glass ceilings, that sort of thing? What were some of the most challenging things, and how did you get around those challenges?
Fran Hauser: I think for me, because I've always been on the digital side of the business, even when I was at Time, Inc., I didn't start in print. I think there are a lot of people who started in print and then moved over to digital. I was always in digital. I was at MovieFone. I was at AOL, and so I think being at a company like Time, Inc., where their core business is print, and I was really there along with some other amazing people, to transform the company into a digital one, I think one of the biggest challenges I had was just getting people to believe that digital was a, it was a real thing, that it wasn't going anywhere, and that there was real money to be made there. Especially back when I started at Time, Inc., god, I guess it was probably 15 years ago now, and looking at a brand like People, People Magazine, which was by far the biggest, most profitable brand at the company, and really leading the digital efforts there on the business side, I think the hardest part was just really getting people to believe in it, to believe that there was a real potential there.
I think we started really small, and you get some early wins. You build a website that, where you start breaking news on it, and you show that, oh, wow. People are actually showing up to read that news, and then they like the site so much that they're actually coming back, and then you start showing that there are brands that are really interested in advertising, and marketing their message on this site. You start generating a little bit of revenue, and I think it just … For me and for the whole team, it was just really about showing that there's the ‘there there’. This is important. We have to pay attention to it, and even for people that were just completely focused on print, it took time, but over the years, they really started getting excited about the platform, and how they could use it from a storytelling perspective. That took time, but I think like anything, it's sort of like these small wins. I say that even if you're starting in a new job. Always think about, is there a way that you can just show an early, small win?
Then that gives you confidence, and other people then will start paying attention, so I think that was really kind of the approach that we took. Over time, obviously the digital business at People became a really big business, and a really important business for the company. Because of that, then I ended up being given more. I was given more brands to oversee, which was really super exciting, but I would think for me, that was the biggest challenge, for sure.
[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]Deliver results, and at first, those results may not be all that meaningful, because it's a start, and then you just keep building on that. #WINGSPodcast #WomeninBusiness @fhauser[/tweet_box]
Melinda Wittstock: Right, so I love what you're talking about, because it really is an entrepreneurship, or an entrepreneurship within a larger corporation, where you're handling a lot of change management. It looks like you were just delivering results; just deliver results.
Fran Hauser: Deliver results, and at first, those results may not be all that meaningful, because it's a start, and then you just keep building on that, and then frankly the other thing that's really important when I talk about speaking up is making sure that you're communicating those results, and that people know that there's some good stuff going on here. I think there are ways to do that without coming across arrogantly. I feel like it's always like, as long as you're congratulating and recognizing the team, that it's a team effort, and by the way, even back then, it wasn't just the digital team. There were so many people on the print side of things that, if you think about most of the content for the website, it was coming from the print side, so it was a huge team effort, and not having it feel like print is over here and digital is over there. I think that was also a really important part of it, was just email, sending emails out. Every time there was a win, sending an email out to the whole entire team, and really making everybody feel great about it. It goes such a long way.
Melinda Wittstock: That's something that women are very good at doing. We can really get great results by inspiring people, attracting, and really making sure that the whole group is really happy, and flow at an ease, and it's a different approach.
Fran Hauser: It is a different approach, and I think also related to that, I think one of the biggest challenges, when you're working in digital for a traditional media company, and technology is centralized, and you are fighting for those technology resources, one of the things that I think about often is Mitch Klaif who was the CIO. He was running technology for Time, Inc. I had such an incredible relationship with him, and I always made an effort to really, to spend time with him, and to thank him, and I think a lot of times those jobs, they're such thankless jobs. It's what's going wrong. It's always like this is wrong, that's wrong, especially with IT. If a system goes down, or whatever it is, but I feel like with Mitch, because I took such an interest in him as a human being, and because I was just always so grateful to him. We couldn't build any of these products without his team.
If I said, “You know, Mitch, I really need your help. We're struggling with this. Do you think you could put some resources on this to help us?” This goes back to the nice thing, right? I think that's something that it just; it serves you really well. It has to come from an authentic place. Obviously it shouldn't be fake, but for me, it was very authentic. I really did care about him as a human being, and that also really helped my business.
Melinda Wittstock: Fran, what made you make the transition from corporate to investing, and investing in so many female entrepreneurs? What was the spark that made you want to go do that?
Fran Hauser: After having been at Time for about 10 years, and the business was changing. You see what's happening to the magazine publishing business now, and I felt like by the end of my tenure there, I was in a really big role overseeing many, many brands. I felt really far removed from the product, from the brand, from the people. I felt like my job had become a little bit more administrative. It was more like preparing the budget, and presenting it to the CEO, and the executive management team, and then cost reductions every six months, which was just really not fun, thinking about head count reductions, and I felt like it was more about that versus building and growing and investing. I just sort of had to take a step back and think about, what is it about my job that I really love, and the thing that I realized was that I just really loved meeting with startups. I spent a lot of my time meeting with founders, and trying to figure out ways that we could work together, and be helpful to one another.
Through that, it was actually … I don't know if you know Soraya Darabi
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Yes.
Fran Hauser: Soraya, I really credit her with sort of this epiphany that I had around moving into investing, because I had met her through a mutual friend, Greg Clayman and Soraya at the time was at a startup. I think she was at Food Spotting. She was thinking about launching her own thing. I had become a mentor to her, and she said to me, and this was like five years ago. She's like, “You know, Fran, we need more female mentors.” She's like, “Me and my friends, who are in our twenties, and we're launching these businesses, we just, we look up, and there aren't that many women there.” Melinda, this goes back to the point that you made earlier, right? We need more women like you in our lives, and I started taking on advisory roles with companies while I was at Time, Inc. It was sort of started as this side hustle, which was great. I love it, because it was just something that … Obviously I had to run everything by Time, Inc., to make sure that they were comfortable with these advisory relationships.
I also started doing a little bit of investing while I was there, and I just … I really loved it, and at the same time, my boys were toddlers, and I just felt like I wasn't seeing them as much as I wanted to, and I felt like they were getting to an age where they needed me more. I wanted to create a more flexible lifestyle for myself, and I wanted to stay engaged in media, in tech, and I just thought investing would be such a great way to do that. I'm at a point now where I have 20 companies in my portfolio, and 17 of them are female-founded, and it's just something that I'm really enjoying, and it also gives me the time to do things like write the book, or get involved in nonprofit initiatives that I care about. It's actually, it's worked out really well, I have to say.
Melinda Wittstock: It's so funny how the ‘side hustle’ sometimes turns into the thing.
Fran Hauser: I know. I love it. I love it. I always encourage women to have a side hustle, because you never know.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, well, it's interesting, because in the side hustle, you're not putting any … What's the word I'm looking for. You're not putting any pressure on it or any expectations on it. It kind of is free to fly, and flow, and it's interesting because this podcast is a result of a side hustle, to do with a book that I've interviewed you in the book as well, and I found that interview so inspiring and so wonderful to talk to you, and I'm so excited to share this book that comes out towards the end of 2018. What's so fascinating is that I had all these ideas about, oh, I have to scale and build Verifeed, and I've got to sell that company before I can do the book, before I can do all these other things. In the summer time, I just go, wait a minute. Why? That's an assumption. I don't even know where that assumption came from, and I'm just going to start. I'm just going to start my side hustle, and so the side hustle is becoming more and more my gig.
Fran Hauser: I just love it, and you know what? It's so clear to me when I talk to you that it's bringing you so much joy, so I'm so happy for you, that you're doing this, and I think also we do make these assumptions of, oh, there's no way that I can do that, and that, by the way, that's a scarcity mentality, right?
Melinda Wittstock: Yes. Yes.
Fran Hauser: That's your scarcity versus, right, scarcity versus abundance, and one of the things that I've really found, even with my book, is just like anything, surround yourself with great people who can help you. You're not going to do it alone. I have an incredible group of people who I am loving working with them, and I feel supported, and I feel like I have the resources, where we can really build something great, and launch it in a really great way. That's the other thing, too. It's that whole scarcity versus abundance, right, so I love that you decided to do this. Just makes me so happy.
Melinda Wittstock: I am so happy, too, and I decided that my moonshot, quite like you, is that, and I like moonshots. I like when women go big. I decided, you know, I want to invest in 100 female-led and run companies in the next 10 years and I am going to start this way, by contributing to growing this ecosystem where we can do this, and do this together. Maybe it's like the yellow Volkswagen thing. If you're thinking about a yellow Volkswagen, suddenly you're going to see a whole bunch of them, but all of a sudden, I'm connecting to all these amazing initiatives, like the one that you were mentioning, and there just seems to be something in the air this year where we go right back to where we began this interview about women finding their voice, and finding their authentic power, and it's so amazing to be part of it, and to actually step into, as I am now, mentoring a lot more women as well. It's so inspiring, and I am so grateful to you for what you're doing for all the startups that you've invested in.
When you're looking for someone, a team, or a product, or a company to invest in, what are the primary things you're looking for?
Fran Hauser: Yeah, so I feel like this has changed a little bit for me over the last five years that I've been investing. I feel like now it's really important to me that the product is something that I can get personally excited about. I think, so that's just on a personal level, because remember, I'm not investing on behalf of a venture capital fund, right? This is my own money, so that's actually become more and more important to me, that it's something that personally excites me. I also really, I look at the founder, or the founders, and I visualize myself spending time with them, and I think about, is that going to bring me joy? Am I going to really enjoy hanging out with these people? Am I going to learn from them? Am I going to be able to create value for them? I had such a great conversation. It was two days ago, with Iman Oubou,who is the founder of Swaay Media. We sat down for like two hours at the Wing, and just talked about everything related to her business, and I had such a great time with her.
I just really enjoyed it. So smart, such great ideas, and I was thinking about, wow. This is a big part of, it goes back to people, and relationships, and how do you spend your time? I think that's just another basic thing. Are these people that I'm going to want to spend time with? Look, on the financial return side, what's really important for me is can I clearly see the exit? When I think about the business that's being built here, and the assets that are being built, are these assets going to be of value to a larger more established company. By the way, do I personally have relationships with those companies where I can help, where I can help make those introductions? I do have to be able to clearly see the exit. Sometimes I'll meet with founders, where I am personally excited about it, and I love the founders. I think they really have what it takes to build a successful business, but I just can't see the exit. It feels like it's more of a lifestyle business.
That's how I think about it, in terms of evaluating, do I invest or not?
Melinda Wittstock: Fran, what you say about the exit is vital. You really can't take money unless you're going to be getting to some sort of exit, because your investors want to, 3X, 5X, 10X money. You have to have done that math and see a path, but I love what you said about having a personal connection or just the likability factor, because taking on for a founder, taking on investors, it's really important that they qualify those investors, that they actually like the investor, and the investor likes them, because you're in it for a while, like a marriage.
Fran Hauser: It is, and look, I've seen, I've seen it with a couple of founders where they were just so attracted to the money, and they didn't really do their due diligence on the investor. They didn't spend enough time with them, and it's … It turned into a not-so-great situation, because now you have to live with this person, and it's just … Whether it's a negative energy, whether it's the distraction of having to answer emails from this person every single day, the micro managing, whatever it is, sometimes it's hard because you need the money, and you really want to take the money, but you really do have to take a step back and think about your personal connection with this person. Do you think it's going to work, and also do back channeling, and referencing. Talk to other founders that this person has invested in, and get the real deal on what is this person like as an investor? Am I going to enjoy … It's not just about enjoying it, but it's also like, are they going to add value? Are they going to be helpful, or are they going to be a distraction?
Melinda Wittstock: That's right. A really important question: Some money is too expensive.
Fran Hauser: Yes. That's right. That's right. That's right.
Melinda Wittstock: Fran, as we wrap up, I want to make sure that all our Shero listeners can find you easily, and I know that you're … You've got a newsletter that you're building up, so how can people sign up for your newsletter? How can people find you online, or on social media and connect with you?
Fran Hauser: Yes. Definitely, so my website is franhauser.com, and there is a signup for my newsletter there, and also on Twitter, I'm @fran_hauser.
Melinda Wittstock: That is wonderful. Thank you so much for such an inspiring interview on Wings of inspired business.
Fran Hauser: Thank you, Melinda. It was totally my pleasure. Thank you.
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