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Natalie Wood is CEO of The Thought Net which is a Thought Leadership Consulting Firm located in San Francisco, CA. They help companies build their brand to become effective market leaders and corporate social citizens via thought leadership programs that leverage new trends. She founded and built MizBiz.com, Inc. 1998 – 2001 an online business and financial services portal for women-owned businesses that served the small business market. She was also Business Director, Technology West Coast at The Economist Intelligence Unit from 2008 to 2010. Natalie can be found at TheThoughtNet & Twitter @thoughtnetinfo.
This is Part I of the interview.
Transcript follows & video above
- You have already contributed greatly & broken the ground for women startups with your past startup MizBiz.com. Could you briefly tell me about your vision for that company and the services that you were offering women entrepreneurs & startups?
Sure I got the idea for MizBiz.com back in 1995 & it took me a good 4 years to get the company funded, both private angel investors & venture funding. Through that experience I really realised & learned about what it takes to get venture funding. Also how hard it is when you have a new idea around new technology & you’re approaching a new market. I was going after women business owners who were starting or wanting to grow their businesses. At that time on the internet there really weren’t that many women online and so I was trying to show a growth pattern of women actually coming online & using the internet to buy products, to do business & came up with this idea around MizBiz which was a community site that helped women get information – we had an online advisor group. We had business products, web hosting & we were starting community events & classes.
You were so ahead of your time, remarkable.
Oh my goodness, it was a lot of work! I went through 3 different development teams. I got angel investing along the way. I put all of my money & time into it & finally around 1998-1999 I got my financial guru who came from one of the top 8 large financial companies who said ‘You’ve done a great job here, you just haven’t really got heard!’ And so he helped me going out with the rest of my team, engineers & marketing people, to go out & get venture funding. I would say that part of the process of getting venture funded is that you really have to understand & learn a new language. Because you have to go out & present financials & an idea & with most venture companies they call it the ‘aspirin syndrome’ they want you to provide an aspirin to a pain point. And if there isn’t a market that already exists (its good to have competition) you have to show what’s happening how is that market going to accept your solution & how are you going to grow that over time? The biggest thing is that you can’t be defensive or you can’t just shut down. I got the opportunity over a period of time to do terrible presentations to vcs & get totally rejected & then you pick yourself up by the bootstraps & say ‘Ok let’s give it another try.
You learn from every attempt I imagine?
Oh totally & finally you get to this place where you get a thick skin & people will come at you with very difficult questions ‘Why do you think that this is even gonna make it?? This idea doesn’t seem like it has any merit to me, blah, blah, blah. And here you are this is your baby whether you’re a man or woman. This is your idea, your baby, you’ve nurtured it and its like removing yourself in a way to say ‘Well here’s why & here’s the financials and here’s the reasoning & just remain kind of in a zen-like state. That’s important because anyone who’s going to invest in you, they want to see that you can comport yourself in a manner that’s going to be calm & rational. And they don’t want people who are going to be extremely emotional. What I’ve also learned is that there are businesses that you may not want to get venture funded.
- I understand that you are now running a new startup The Thought Bank. Could you briefly tell me what you’re doing there?
Yes, well I’m pretty excited about this, it is my third business & its a Thought Leadership Consulting company. After MizBiz business I went back into the corporate world & worked at different jobs and one of my last jobs was at The Economist Intelligence Unit doing Thought Leadership Consulting. So we did a lot of research mostly for larger companies around ideas that help the market & help business people, more of a business to business environment. I’m now doing that on my own & I’ve got a team that I’ve pulled together & we’re doing Thought Leadership Consulting. I’m really trying to create Thought Leadership Initiatives to help companies take a look at how they can help their market & their customers & creating content around that & using social media to create a distribution channel in some new media fashions. So it’s pretty exciting because it actually ties back into lead generation.
And again you’re a bit way ahead of the rest of the pack too? But hopefully this time you won’t have to be a sacrifice to that.
Yeah right I don’t want to be a sacrificial lamb. And I’m not going after vc funding.
- What personal lessons being a woman entrepreneur have you taken out of your successes &/or failures as a result of your experience?
I would say that one of the biggest ones is that you need to learn about what paradigms you live in. When I say that I mean that we all live and think in paradigms, it’s the kind of structure about how you operate in the world. One of the paradigms that I used to live in is that I thought that doctor equaled man. And whether or not you know it, you can say gosh I’ve got a lot of doctors that are women & yet I still thought doctor equaled man. How I relate this idea is that in my decision making process I would always want to do some sort of consensus taking, and get a second opinion. Yet even if I really felt strongly about something, I would defer to somebody who I thought knew more than I did & would take their opinion & let go of what I thought was the right thing to do. My paradigm was thinking that was the only way to manage the decision making process. As you go through building your business one of the most important things you have to realize is that you need to trust your own experience & your own gut. Having been through this, I now think and operate differently. I collect feedback, kind of like how Obama manages his administration, trust in my knowledge and then make my decision. But what I’m going to do is make the decision based on my own experience! And it’s important to say to yourself, OK go ahead & do it! So doctor can equal woman. You can rely upon yourself & say yes and believe that well I might just have the best opinion here! It’s not always easy & you don’t always see it because being in a paradigm, until you get out of that paradigm you don’t even know you are in it!
Thankyou, Great wisdom.
- Now what do you think are the possibilities for women sourcing venture because obviously there have been some changes since MizBiz days? You may have been ahead of your time? Although women startups still only account for about 8 to 10% of startups that successfully source venture there has been a lot of press & organizations helping to change the general awareness about women entrepreneurs particularly in the last year. So what do you think the opportunities are now?
Well I think there are more & more opportunities for women to source venture capital. And I think that women have to understand what that means to their business. I have been going to lots of different events that have been hosted by law firms that are looking to get more women as clients who are starting new businesses. That’s exciting! Part of that get out & get funding, women need to realize whether they are they a match for venture funding? Is your company a match?
They want businesses to grow exponetially & to have this huge target. So you really have to understand if you are a woman going out for venture funding, do you fit into what a venture capitalist is looking for? And there are different options You can go for traditional vc funding if you can fit your business model into what they’re looking for. Another is that you can take a look at alternative types of funding. There are funds who will fund you for the business but not expect to get a huge return. So you can have a business that grows at a healthy rate and maybe all you need is initial angel funding or you might want to try some of the new funds that are out there.
And also you’ve got the debt based model?
Yes you’ve got the debt based funding & in this climate right now you’re going to have to put up a house for collateral or something because you’re going to have to have money to get money. Bottom line is that there was an article a couple of months ago in The Atlantic monthly ‘The End of Men’ about women are starting businesses more & more & there are going to be a lot more women rising in the ranks of business but also starting their own businesses. So it is happening, it is coming, there is a shift & a transition that is taking place. And I think women are now over 50% of the graduating classes from law school & as women start entering more & more into these different areas they’re going to start getting more venture funding.
So what you’re saying is that its definitely different than your MizBiz days?
Oh my gosh yes. It was rare when women got funded and you really had to have a company that had a buying customer audience that could go into the Billions.