Everyone says I'm going to do it again, like an addict looking for the next high but I'm not so sure. Whenever I'm on an airplane now I don't think of the meetings I am going to, but how fast until I am back home. I wash my face daily and get more than six hours of sleep a night, I often go to bed by 10pm and wake up at the times that I used to go to sleep. I'm no longer a founder and as sad as it is, its refreshing to realize I escaped the entire experience alive. Becoming an unfounder wasn't an overnight experience, its probably the same way someone from an addiction must think about how long it has been since they were clean and while I don't know the exact day I stopped being a founder, I consider it to be November 5th, 2013, the day I was checked into a Manhattan ER and hooked up to a I.V of powerful antibiotics while a ConsumerBell attorney texted me in a flurry about a recent legal settlement and the entire room smelled like bleach from the saline and meds being pumped into my body. "I am done" I told myself and not in the frantic ways I had done before but in a calm, exhausted exhale. Besides I had signed an employment contract days earlier, this time I meant it.
So what I want to say in a non-whimsical way is that being an unfounder is quite the opposite of how it all started and way less romantic, but its nice when meeting other founders who need help and you can offer them advice and they explain, "No but really you don't know how it is" and you calmly sit there and think, "Yes, yes I do."
Every year there seems to be an incredible opportunity to shape and inspire budding entrepreneurs, especially women and especially in tech and this Spring I got the honor of all three in one event for Cornell's first annual Johnson Women in Technology Conference hosted by Citibank in New York City.
Back in 2012 I lectured at Yale's Entrepreneurial Institute in a program titled, "Putting a Price on Yourself" and in 2013 I joined Kristin Luck and several other amazing ladies on a panel at Barnard College discussing Miss Representation the documentary and what it means for women who are breaking barriers in various careers and industries.
alhambra high school, march 2014
What was most interesting to me about the JWIT program (Johnson Women in Technology) conference was that it was founded by female entrepreneurs in the Cornell MBA programs and focused specifically on technology. This was very cool as I met other amazing women working on technical projects at big firms like Sabre, EBay, Accenture, Adobe and more (My exact panels were Trends and Innovations in the Tech Industry and East Coast tech versus West Coast tech). The finer touches of the conferences were solid and the talent pool intimidating with who was there but it really got me thinking about the larger picture:
While I am "from" San Carlos, CA and spent most of my childhood hanging out with my father at his startup (at the time called eBiocare.com which was later acquired) and graduated from Carlmont High School, what most people don't know is I spent most of my high school hours on campus at Alhambra High School. I played four sports (Tennis, Basketball, Cross-Country and Track) and was active in many clubs. I had high hopes of attending an Ivy League school and was pretty set on Dartmouth (for the writing program and nature), Harvard (for the competition and access to resources) and Cornell (rigorous programs and in New York state proper) I wasn't able to go to any of these schools because when my father passed away my Junior year of high school my home life and school life was completely thrown on its head with court hearings, probate hearings and general chaos that ensures with the patriarch of a family is gone and money is involved.
[And which is also why later this year I am opening a foundation in my father's name to help grant scholarships to those affected by ill-parents. The program will be run through the Stogdell-Silverman Foundation and will start for the 2015 school year]
TOP CALIFORNIA GRADUATE
teaching passion, one high schooler at a time
Sometime in high school I found myself attracted to computers, taking classes that involved excel or making widgets or what-have-you. I even took some c# and java classes as a teenager. Luckily growing up in the Bay Area we always had access to "cutting edge" technologies and at Alhambra I was able to take several classes with computers and the same technology teacher I had back then (which seems REALLY far away given that it was 15 years ago now, ouch) is still teaching so on a business trip through SF I made a commitment for "Tikkun Olam" or "To give back" or "to repair the world" and given a small presentation.
Despite all the world travels and fancy events, my highlights this year has been helping High School kids understand what it means to start a business, how to calculate ROI, track tasks and projects, scope a mobile app idea and leverage technology to further their career. I'm not sure all who I inspired that day but I hope that I planted the seeds of tomorrow innovation and moreover I will continue to do so until a field of minds come marching towards new tech. You will get tired of seeing my handwriting.
So, its now April 1st 2014 and I have helped launch a webinar series at Koombea helping educate future developers and founders, been featured by Adknowledge as on of Top 23 Global Marketers, created a scholarship, helped the FDA with community outreach, supported the launch of a first ever NY Fashion Tech Accelerator program, attended four tech conferences, talked to high schoolers, talked to MBAs, competed in a couple regattas, traveled over 40,000 miles and advised almost a dozen start-ups on product-market-fit and how to launch their apps and all just for this year. I mention this because the world is infinite and there is more information available online than ever before and cheaper (if not free) than it ever was. So while I work at Koombea and help scope and design and assist others with their amazing app ideas and solutions I have to ask: what have you done today to change the world? What will be your mark?
I wouldn't look at all the fancy news articles about tech millionaires or pay too much attention to all the negative energy in the world but if a scrappy gal from the suburbs of SF can accomplish so much in just a few months why can't you give that one idea a crack or find a way to make someone else's like more beautiful today?
"Yad B’yad" or "Hand in Hand" we are in this together.
Well not exactly today but the process is pretty far along and we will be done soon. It is sort of sad, passionless rouse that also makes sense: I am the most expensive asset to my startup, but my startup is becoming too expensive to be an asset.
I feel like I should make a Medium post-mortem detailing how I feel and go viral or be the top blog post for November but there's a week left in the month and I am so focused on the future that I barely have time for yesterday let alone for the past few years which are already gone. I thought about making a Slideshare with lessons learned in 'snackable' bites of information, but then realized those hours spent helping a startup or non-profit execute would be better spent. My energy cannot be contained. After pouring hours of blood and tears and airport layovers and tough decisions I can actually breathe for a minute and execute on other ideas and do it well. I owe a lot of people a lot of favors but its nice to know that I now have the time to do so. What a blessing.
So what's next? I don't know. There's a couple startups that interest me, there are a few positions on the VC side of things that have sparked my neurons. At the end of the day I can UX / UI wireframe like a beast and love overseeing integrations between old and new systems. I also have a much deeper understanding of markets than my previous successes could allude to. I also like to write and would like to dedicate more time to that.
Next year I have a slightly different set of priorities but I still plan on dedicating time to health and tech communities.
For some reason it feels good to make changes before holidays and before a "new year." Knowing me this makes sense as I always like to get a head start.
R.I.P ConsumerBell, it has been one wild but amazing time.
There comes a time when every entrepreneur must face tough decisions but even the right and fruitful decisions can feel nerve-racking the same as when someone asks, "What's the price?" and the voice in your head says, "everything."
Sometimes its a moment of desperation or a moment of jubilation. The Goosebumps come, popping up on your arms and legs because as much as you can trick your mind you can't trick your body. Your body probably knows more about the future than you do. The way that animals can sense an earthquake.
While some founders try to burry their Goosebumps with long hours or medication I embrace them as signs of something new to come, something changing and if we weren't in it change things, if not everything then what's the point? No matter how calm the surface or hectic the Goosebumps come, as signals that you are alive and can make it. They are the a needed physiological symbol, a reminder of the strength hiding beneath the skin that cannot be controlled.
Just as the feeling of taking that very first customer payment, or first investor check, or the first time giving a grand speech. Its about saying and doing what you think is right and the Goosebumps know.
I like Goosebumps, they remind me I'm on the right track.
In a case of something like "Where in the world in Carmen San Diego" I find myself back in NYC. While my family and yacht club, not to mention America's Cup activities begin, I watch from afar in a city that has challenged me but always been good to me. When I first left San Francisco for the Big Apple back in 2011 I left almost abruptly. Okay, entirely abruptly. I left a fully furnished apartment, a half dissolved personal relationship and garaged car to chase Esther Dyson and try to get legs to my idea of what ConsumerBell would be. I likely skipped too quickly on the relationship I was in (he is now married) and definitely left things hanging with my family. When I eventually flew back to SF I simply packed my apartment and flew back to NYC within 48hrs. WORK TO DO.
Flashforward to last fall, I was coming to SF often; mostly to be around the smartest founders I know (Isaac Hall, James Tamplin, James Smith, Kathryn Minshew, my CTO Wing Lian and VC Gus Tai) and maybe to help lick some wounds too and find another co-founder per the urging of Mitch and Freada Kapor who only invest in local companies.
I found myself getting locked into a lease for an awesome SOMA apartment which wasn't all that bad, and by locked I mean my apartment in Gramercy had no power and I was under the siege of Hurricane Sandy with no cell or power but I knew my landlords in SF were forcing me into a lease. Okay, time to move.
1) It gave me a place / home to be in SF and
2) I lucked out with an awesome NYC ex-pat female founder roomie Cheryl Yeoh. The stars seemed to align to my ignorance and I was so quickly "back" in SF that it was all of a sudden it was a permanent move. After announcing I was back in SF, I spent tons of time with family and catching up with the yacht club, and in hindsight closing some personal chapters that were needed. I gave myself a couple years on the west coast before heading off to grad school abroad or some totally drastic life change.
But life changed.
I still spent a good amount of time flying back to NYC often sometimes even every few weeks and for weeks at a time. Some of our biggest leads and potential acquirers on the East Coast and then I wanted to be with my "friends" kept me coming back. All my friends in SF were either having babies or running startups. All my friends in NYC were exactly were I was: still hustling. So after all the drama of being locked into a lease I was quickly released and my solid SOMA lease became un-renewed in a month that was packed with traveling plans and all of a sudden my "couple year plan" turned into a brief stint without time to find the next place. I had dreams that I would meet "Mr. Right" out in San Francisco but it turned out that I knew everyone in SF and any awesome exs were already hooked up. Add my traveling and time spent back east and its true: you cannot build a life where you are not at.
My "soulmate" was not presenting himself in my hometown as I had expected. Instead there were flakey, peter-pan offers of happy hours and tech meet ups but nothing substantial that involved a sleepover or meeting my family. Granted me flying away every other week didn't help either, but I also didn't want to stay for superficial SF-style plans which like the rain forecast generally fell around 9% of occurrence. NYC was guaranteed to be there. I once even flew back from LA in time for a concert (date with someone) only to have him show up 2 hours late complaining about his own job. Another time I flew back from NYC for someone bugging me about when I would be "in town next" only to have him schedule something a week and a half after I got back in SF.
Why couldn't we have calendared that from NYC? Why did I have to be "back" for a date 9 days away? I wasn't getting it and that's okay.
Kathryn after finishing Y-Combinator moved back to NYC and just as I saw my routine in SF it wasn't exactly something worth living or expanding my reach: Monday thru Thursday I woke up at 5am PST to answer emails and requests from back east including our investors, and worked out close to 3 hours a day, which meant by night I didn't want to "party" nor could I anyways as I was exhausted from getting up early. Then there were the weekends: If I wasn't on a boat for Race Committee for St. Francis Yacht Club, I was with my family out in Discovery Bay usually thursday or friday night. My "life" was something like a healing mode of normal, to remind me of what I have but it started to inspire me once again of what I needed: more professional traction and while Silicon Valley is the mecca of fundraising it is not the mecca of hustling, NYC is.
So while "living in SF" I spent most of my time in NYC.
May rolls around (count the months: "technically" I was back in SF Nov '12 til May '13) and I'm losing my SOMA apartment right before America's Cup with zero time to find a new one and my first true vacation ever lined up (St. Maarten) and my NYC apartment is gone. Okay universe. I get it, I will stop planning. But is NYC where I need to be? Maybe I just need a road trip. And similar to a road trip I took with Leslie Bradshaw a year earlier I decided to pack up my things, put them in a guest bedroom in a family members house and hit the road. Why not? I'm single, un-attached and as long as I am available during EST hours my startup should be fine.
I was only suppose to be in NYC for a week.
Then my cousin in Orlando broke up with her boyfriend. Then our sales team in Orlando started to fall apart, then my flights to other cities were worthless and the idea of going to Miami to visit Leslie seemed less appealing when I had shit to figure out. I did have an AMAZING offer to participate as a Fellows for Cisco Live in Orlando which I kept on the calendar but as the dates got closer one of my investors ushered me to an annual Product Liability conference in Chicago I attend every year. By this time I had a sublet in Midtown West and was working on opening our Park Ave office as well as some other not so fun business items for ConsumerBell and after I got back from Chicago I realized I needed to focus: all traveling cancelled. Even Cisco Live which I sorta regret.
Since then its been one miracle after another. Another opportunistic door opening and I find myself signing more and more important things on behalf of ConsumerBell. One particular founder has been blogging that his startup is dying in 30 days, yet I feel like I'm the startup that won't die. No matter how many hours I spend in yoga or how many breaks I need- I still work more than the average bear and our mission still very compelling.
I've had bouts of suicidal thoughts. I have a couple physical health issues too from working too much going on. But guess what, all my doctors and therapists are here in NYC.
Yet, its different this time back in New York. I'm not afraid to call it home. I'm not on an airplane every other week and I'm not pretending to have two lives. I have one, it is here. I have family, it is there. They are not in the same location but I am not trying to be in two places anymore or two people.
I have spent so much of life planning, planning for all the right steps and even though I seem to always make my goals they never happen in the order that I predict. So I stop being a project manager and start being a person.
Big step. A year ago I would have told you I was miserable in two cities.
This May it will have been seven years since I graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Political Science. Humboldt State was a phenomenal education and experience that I wouldn't change for the world. During my time at HSU I studied Political Science, English and US History. When I wasn't at work at Humboldt Merchant Services (now owned by Moneris Solutions) downloading Verifone Omni 3630's and setting up new gateways for ecommerce accounts, I hiked the hills of campus or raft guided on the seven rivers nearby. Humboldt was good to me and in my opinion one of the most underrated schools on the west coast.
April 19th 2013
This April I will be presented with the same award as Ken Fisher at Humboldt State University which amazes me to think that in six years I accomplished a mere dream (which also is scary, be careful for what you wish for!).
MY PRESENTATION HAS BEEN UPDATED ONLINE:
The Power of Dreaming
Lastly, while I feel honored for this award I can't help but think about all the other milestones moving forward. 2012 was filled with personal and professional changes including my cross country move back home to SF.
וִיהִ֤י נֹ֤עַם אֲדֹנָ֥י אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ עָ֫לֵ֥ינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָ֭דֵינוּ כֹּונְנָ֥ה עָלֵ֑ינוּ וּֽמַעֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֝דֵ֗ינוּ כֹּונְנֵֽהוּ׃
“May the beauty of my Master, our God be upon us. And the work of our hands established for us, And the work of our hands, establish it.” Psalm 90:17