The estimated reading time for this post is 10 seconds
Interview with Emily Olson, one of the co-founders of Foodzie , a passionate online community that celebrates good tasting, real food. Foodzie makes it simple for all food-lovers to have a connection to their food. She’s also an alum of the 2008 class of TechStars, an early stage tech incubator program based out of Boulder, CO. Previously to Foodzie, Emily worked for The Fresh Market, the third largest specialty food chain. She saw the flaws in the brick and mortar model for small food companies and believed that a marketplace online gave them the tools they needed to connect directly with customers and share the stories that make them unique. You can find Emily at her blog This is Me, Em and on Twitter @emilyolson
Transcript follows & video above. This is Part I of the interview.
- Could you tell me briefly about your past history in sourcing venture capital? I’m not sure did you source it for Foodzie?
Yeah we did! So my company Foodzie is an online marketplace for small artisan food companies to sell directly to consumers online. We were based out of North Carolina until we applied for a program called TechStars which I guess is the first place that we sourced a little funding for the company! It’s an incubator program that selects 10 companies out of Boulder. We came out for the summer 2008 and they gave us $5,000 per founder which is pretty much enough just enough to live on. At the end of the summer, which was 3 months, we had the chance to pitch to a bunch of investors. So they helped us over the course of the summer to really build those relationships & to get to know a lot of the investor community. And then have a chance to pitch them. So we were really fortunate to even have some strong connections even before we were looking to actually raise the money.
And that seems to be the secret doesn’t it, to have the networks & the connections?
Yeah, I think it’s all about relationships, you know. It’s just that they want to know who you are & they have so much that piles onto their desk. To have some sort of filter or someone else that you’re referred by is I mean that’s business & life in general. So at the end of the program, that ended in August & by October we ended up raising $1 million round of financing for the business.
Fantastic, well you’ve done well!
- What personal lessons being a woman have you taken out of your successes &/or failures in that regard? Well obviously you’ve had no failures, thank goodness!
Well I think it’s less about being a woman than it is being an entrepreneur. We were able to build those relationships while we were building the product & get a lot of people who were passionate about what we were building involved. I think both showing that you’ve a strong team that can execute & that you are passionate about it, & that there’s a market out there for what you’re doing. The other things fell into place & Techstars obviously played a huge part for us in getting those early connections. I think being a male or female; I don’t think it had anything to do with it.
Absolutely irrelevant? Isn’t that wonderful, wow!
I think so.
- What attitudes towards you being female have you noted from venture capitalists when you have been sourcing venture? Positive or negative?
So my team is 3 cofounders: myself & 2 male cofounders. So I think they look at us as a team. And I’ve never had any kind of indication that my gender had anything to do with any part of that. I have read some blog posts about women & funding & things like that & maybe some negative experiences that some people have had based on a woman being the CEO & maybe that not matching with the style of the venture capitalist & the way the company is run. Or I’ve seen posts about women being entrepreneurs or CEO because they could potentially have children & being pulled away from their businesses. There are all kind of perspectives but I think if you work with good investors, which I’m thankful that we’ve had the chance to do so, I think that they believe in you as an entrepreneur & believe that if you’re passionate about it, your gender doesn’t have much to do with it.
Yes that’s fantastic. It’s great that you’ve seen the bright side of things rather than all those other stories.
- What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need specifically for sourcing venture because it’s a job in itself really?
I’m trying to think specifically for a woman? I feel like again it just comes back to being an entrepreneur in general. As an entrepreneur, I think you really need to be the things I said earlier as far as having your team that has proven that you can execute on things & build something. And when we talk about venture capital there’s venture capital in all kinds of different areas of business. I’m particularly in the tech world where we were able to source money. I imagine it’s very different in different areas so I can’t speak for every type of business. But for this particular type of business they like to see that you can build something pretty quickly. That you have a well rounded team who can do a lot with that little team. Passion about that idea & I think that passion is a really important part to be able to get through. There’s a lot of ups & downs & there’s a lot of times when you sort of uncertain but if you’re passionate about the why (why you got into it in the first place) you’re able to get through a lot of those rough times. I think when you’re raising capital, they know that you’re trying to build a big business & there’s a lot to figure out! So those are just some of the core things as an entrepreneur.
Some of the feedback I’ve had since I’ve been doing these interviews, both from some venture capitalists & some entrepreneurs is that women need to be more bold as far as & particularly sourcing venture. But also being an entrepreneur, because there’s much more risk entailed in that. I even read a blog post the other day where an entrepreneur, well actually it was a comment on one of those articles that you’ve been speaking about. And he said that basically you have to be an explorer to be an entrepreneur because you’re often in uncharted territory, in fact most of the time really. And that mainly men are explorers. I actually don’t agree with that. But I just wondered if you’ve had any thoughts about that perspective about risk, being bold and confidence, these issues seem to be things that people have shared with me?
Yeah no, I think that’s a great thing to bring up. I do think that you have to have confidence & you have to be able to be bold to say what you believe & to stand behind it & to have opinions & be confident that you’re no inferior for any reason. That you can stand there. I guess for me this business came out of an idea that came from previous work I was doing. So when we talk about strategy & things that surround the direction of Foodzie, whether it’s our board or other investors or mentors, it’s like: ‘Why wouldn’t I have an opinion just like anyone else!’ But I think that comes from a certain, yeah you have to have that kind of perspective, you have to have that kind of personality. I was lucky enough that when I was in high school, I had a really strong female personality that was my chemistry teacher. She was incredibly smart & challenged me more than I ever had been in high school & made me feel that I could do anything. So I think that probably helped serve me well to know that this is one of the smartest, most talented teachers that I’ve come across & she’s a woman & she’s telling me I can do anything! And that’s now almost 10 years ago, more than 10 years ago.
So that’s interesting because many people do say that to me that the role model piece is quite major & that as women we haven’t got as many successful role models. Some women might not have been as lucky as you to have someone when you were young that you could look up to & give you that confidence that you could also achieve great things. That seems to be a critical piece!
Yeah reflecting back, it’s been a while since then. Also my dad, I played sports growing up & there’s so many things about that competitiveness. On Thanksgiving going & playing football with the boys out there, I never felt that sense of ever being inferior, that I could always hang. So I think that I’ve grown up with a sense of equality.
So you’re saying your father sort of encouraged you, didn’t put blinkers on the fact because you were a female. That you could do whatever you needed to do!
Yeah I think it started with that. A strong female role model early in high school helped. So I have a partner in life, Rob, who is also my cofounder. Our relationship is very equal, in our personal relationship. So that carries over to the business, that carries over to other relationships I have with probably men in business & venture capitalists. So maybe it’s all those things?
- In your opinion what percentage of women would qualify then as regards having these qualities? Could they be developed? If so what are your ideas about how this could happen?
Yeah I think that there’s a lot. Women have a certain perspective on the world. They go through life in a different way than men do & they can solve different problems. So I think women are equal. Because the core of entrepreneurship is being passionate enough to solve a problem. So I think that women just have a different set of problems that they’re more capable of fixing or solving than men. But I think there are certain skills or personality traits that can be coached to teach women. Maybe some of the things we talked about before? I think having that confidence that you can do it & don’t apologize. I think women often apologize too much for things & I guess that goes along with being bold. Have an opinion, say it & don’t feel bad.
And I’ve even had feedback during the course of these interviews that some women don’t like to ask for money. And of course that’s a big stumbling block, if you’ve got to go for venture? So there’s a lot of bridges to cross for some women? But what you’re saying is that most of those things, that you see as qualities or strengths that you need to be an entrepreneur & also to source venture, that they’re things that you could be coached in?
Yeah I think there are some things inherent, if you look across entrepreneurs as a whole. There are some things that are inherent that you have to have to be an entrepreneur. I think that’s male or female. But if females have those things to be an entrepreneur, yet they maybe lack some of the confidence or some of those things? I think some of those things can be taught by role models, yeah I do.