140: Joanne Wilson: Gotham Gal (transcript)
If you work on entrepreneurship in New York City you know Joanne Wilson. She’s big in the New York entrepreneur world as well as in art and travel and food. She also leads a rich rewarding life. Just read any of her blog posts, listen to any of her podcast episodes. I know a lot of investors, angel investors, venture capitalists who live stressful lives. Joanne doesn’t. You can hear the happiness, the fun, the emotionally ward that she describes her life with which I think results from her focus on people, on relationships and community. As you’ll hear the first thing she does after she invests is to support them which I think is a critical part of leadership. Environmental work overwhelmingly focuses on science, politics, compliance, facts. I think environmental leaders could learn from Joanne. Actually, until they start focusing on people first, I think it’s hard to call many of them leaders. Seeking compliance, hitting people over the head with facts no matter how science backed they are or laws no matter how well-meaning they won’t get results, nor will they be enjoyable, nor will they be fun. That’s why on a personal level I could only start trying to lead an environmental sense when I find that reducing my waste improved my life so I could share this joy and fun and the people side, the emotional side of things. One of the big goals of this podcast was to bring effective leadership from outside the environment into the environment and Joanne is one of those cases. As you’ll hear she also acts very environmentally as well. So let’s listen to Joanne.
Joshua: Hello and welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I am here with Joanne Wilson. Joanne, how are you?
Joanne: Good. How are you?
Joshua: I’m very good. Thank you for meeting me here. And you know it’s hard for me not to comment you and I the past bunch of times that we’ve run into each other have almost always been in big art environments.
Joshua: And I kind of think of you as primarily an investor but I don’t thinkâ€¦. I don’t know what most people think of the primary way of thinking of you as maybe it’s as a podcaster or an investor or a blogger. But we are surrounded by art in here.
Joanne: Yeah, we are.
Joshua: And I was going to jump into this later but I feel like when I look at your work through the blogging, the podcasting, the investing I feel like some people are just out to make money. So people are out to turn on industries. I feel like there’s a statement coming out in what you do and what you say that’s in all of it. And I’m not sure if I have jumped in too deep on something [unintelligible].
Joanne: Thatâ€™s interesting. And what do you think it is?
Joshua: Well, you know I heard the following statement attributed to Kurosawa about his movies but I’ve heard it since then from others. But someone said to him about one of his movies, â€œThat’s an amazing movie. What does it mean?â€ And he said, â€œIt means the movie. If I could say it in words, I would have said it in words. And the movie is my statement and that’s what it is.â€
Joanne: That’s great.
Joshua: Yeah. And so I don’t know if you can in another way but I do feel like you’re saying somethingâ€¦ OK, let’s see. I haven’t tried to disentangle it all but I see a lot of food, I see books, I see art, I see women, I see travel. Part of it seems to be you enjoying a good life and sharing that with the world. Part of it seems to be you making the world a better place. Like as much as you love it, I’m sure you see ways it could be better and I think you want to support people who are doing that. There’s certainly thingsâ€¦ And many of the investments you’ve made are in my life. There’s a Jack’s coffee across the street from where I live now. Spoon University, just I spoke with them a little while ago at one of their events. So a lot of it overlaps with my life. And certainly, as an investor in New York City and as an entrepreneur in New York City I mean I hear you name a lot and especially women entrepreneurs like you’re a hero to many of them. And you bring other heroes of theirs out for them to learn about. [unintelligible] kind of bringing all these things together into something that’s a simple statement. I feel like it brings together into Joanne Wilson. But I don’t know, I haven’t tried to bring it all together into something. I feel like judging from the look on your face I think I’ve gotten some of the things that bring it together.
Joanne: Yeah. No, it’s an interesting concept. I mean you know Ben Leventhal once said, â€œYou’re the girl around town.â€ which I always liked but you know it’s like companies it’s like how can you describe your company in one sentence. And you know I do care about female entrepreneurs, I do care about making an impact particularly in New York, I do care about education. We’re very philanthropic. You know we want to make an impact in our in our city. We want to make an impact in the world. We want to create jobs. You know I mean and you know we love life. I mean you know and so you know weâ€™re really connected to our family and we like to collect art and mostly from young artists. And so I think the theme is really supporting early stage people that have ideas and concepts that are going to change the world.
Joshua: I feel you said people first before ideas, before concepts, before changing the world.
Joanne: Itâ€™s people.
Joshua: Can you say more about that because different investors have different perspectives here?
Joanne: Yeah. I mean listen, there’s certainly no doubt that I want to succeed financially and all these investments arenâ€™t philanthropic. I mean a perfect example, the other day I was talking to my daughter about this artist that I met through a friend of mine who graduated from Columbia Art School maybe a couple of years ago and I went and I saw his studio in Brooklyn and I thought he was extremely talented and the woman who took me there is in her 80s and she has been collecting art her whole life. She has an incredible eye. And I was like, â€œWow, I really want to support this guy. He’s pretty amazing.â€ He just graduated and then he ended up getting into a very elite program in Amsterdam and in order to pay for some of these things he needed to sell some more work. And I bought another piece because I wanted to support his journey and now he’s coming back to New York and he showed me some of his new work. And I was saying to my daughter I said, â€œYou know that in many ways is philanthropic.â€ And she said, â€œIt is not philanthropic. It’s like a startup. You are supporting his career and you’re getting something for it.â€ And I was like, â€œWow, that’s really interesting. I didn’t really think of it that way.â€
But you know that’s always been important – people first. And I think that a lot of investors think about making money but they don’t think about necessarily creating jobs and thinking about the economy and thinking about helping that founder succeed and create something that is an amazing vision. And that’s more what I think about and I really believe that if you think that way, you’ll have better success and you’ll feel better about yourself every day.
Joshua: Say that someone gets investment from you or you buy their art or you support them. You support them as a person. I’m curious what it’s likeâ€¦ Now there’s a relationship that extends over time. What’s it like on your part? How is it like for the others if you can have a sense of that?
Joanne: I mean I keep in touch with you know all the founders that I’ve invested in whether they’ve had success or failure. There’s a couple that it’s like they failed and I found it extremely upsetting because I felt that it was something that should have succeeded and it was a complete disaster on their end in regards to how it was managed. But at the end of the day I’m an investor. I’m not running that company. I can’t get in there and say, â€œGet out of that chair. I’m taking this thing over.â€ You know that’s not my role and it’sâ€¦
Joshua: I’ve been squeezed out.
Joanne: It’s very hard now. I think it’s hard to understand what your role is as an investor, particularly as an angel investor. But I’ve maintained those relationships. I think it’s very important. When we started collecting art very early, I made sure that I met all the artists. Now I haven’t done that but I like to support and watch and see where they grow. I think that that’s sort of that goes under the same heading which is supporting young founders.
Joshua: Do you have a sense of what it’s like from their perspective? So Joanne invested in you. I’m sure they’ll go tell their friends but then there’s also a relationship with you that begins.
Joanne: Yeah. I don’t know what they think. I mean I think they feel supported. I think they feel that they have access and an ear. I think they feel that I will be there if they need me be it good or be it bad. They know that I’m totally honest and they can trust that I’m looking out for them and not quitting over something that isn’t real. You know I think that you know what you see is what you get.
Joshua: The things that you see that you bring – support and access and things like that, it also reminds me of a timeâ€¦ But you also it sounds like you tell them the things that maybe they need to hear but other people won’t tell them because it’s difficult to say.
Joanne: For sure, yes.
Joshua: Which I associateâ€¦ To me that means friend. Like friends are the people who tell you stuff that others don’t tell you because they’re not close enough. When I was first getting started, we bounced a check and we had a board advisor guy came in and he was very calm and direct and said what we needed to hear. And as he walked away it felt as if he’d yelled at us but he didn’t. He said it totally calm and cool. Have you had conversations like that?
Joanne: Oh, yeah. I mean but I’ve also had conversations where I’ve said to someone like, â€œYou can’t dress like that. That’s inappropriate dress like you’re in the finance business, you’re a finance startup, you got to dress like a finance person.â€ Or I’ve said to people, â€œYou’re representing the fashion business and you are not dressing appropriately. Let’s get you something to figure out how to do it. I’ll take you shopping. You can’t look like this.â€ You know I’ll say, â€œThe reason your product isn’t selling is because you’ve got great technology but the product looks like ****.â€ I mean I’m very honest and I think that people appreciate it because it’s nothing they probably don’t know. I’ve had people come back to me even with business plans that I’ve not invested in that I’ve said, â€œWhy are you raising money? Like you’re making cash. If I were you, I would do this, this, this. This is just my two cents.â€ They came back two years later and said on the same thread, â€œI just want you to know you were the only person that said that to me and I took it to heart because I wasn’t able to raise cash and now fast forward we’re doing twenty-five million dollars a year and we’re making money and I don’t need to ever take anyone’s money.â€ And I was like, â€œThat’s great.â€ So I think it’s very hard for investors to be brutally honest with people on the other side of the table but they really want someone to say, â€œNo, this isn’t for me but I like you and I like to keep up with you.â€ I don’t know why they can’t do that.
Joshua: I think a lot of VCs theyâ€™ll give the advice, they will be brutally honest but in a high-minded way or not sanctimonious but they’re like trying to show how much they know and it’s as much making them look good as it is helping the other person. I feel like you’re putting them first.
Joanne: I’m totally putting them first. I mean I was at an event the other night that I was interviewed forâ€¦. It was mostly in the food industry and my daughter was in the audience and she’s very business oriented and she’s in the tech world, the food tech world. And afterwards she said to me, â€œIt was so great to hear you because you are so honest and it’s refreshing to hear someone say, â€œThis is good, this is bad, this doesn’t work, here’s a story.â€ And you know I don’t hold back and I think that it’s appreciated in an area where there’s a lot of white noise and a lot of machinists. You know you don’t really know where people stand, â€œThat was so great. I loved your business. You know definitely get back to me when you start get to hear.â€ And then you never can hear from them again. You know it’s like there’s nothing wrong with saying, â€œThis is just not part of our thesis. I think you’re great but I don’t like this business.â€
Joshua: OK. You say honest but a lot of times some people say, â€œI’m just going to be honest. I am totally honest.â€ And it’s like a preface to being a jerk and you can be honest and be a jerk and if you’re jerking, you can be honest, be helpful andâ€¦
Joshua: Yeah. And I think that that it’s more than honest. There’s something else. Itâ€™s putting the other first. I don’t know. Can you feel what I am missing?
Joanne: I think it’s caring. I think it’s you know being respectful of your fellow man. I think it’s havingâ€¦ I mean the word is likeâ€¦ As I think about the political landscape right now. And I think about people not caring about others that haven’t had as much success, financial success or education or whatever it is. It’s like we should care about our fellow man. And I feel that way in general. I feel I’ve been extremely lucky. I have an amazing husband, an incredible family, great friends it’s just like I care about people. And I feel like I don’t throw anybody under the bus and we should be respectful of our fellow man. It’s like someone that can’t get health care, someone thatâ€™s sick, someone that doesn’t have a house over their head, someone that’s homeless. You know these young kids who are like living through the homeless shelters I mean we should feel emotional about these people, we should want to help with these people. And to think that you know I’m not paying my taxes because you know I don’t care about those people you know it’s like they haven’t done well because they’re stupid like that’s just not OK. We’re all in this together. Fred and I’ve said a million times we like paying our taxes. We pay taxes. That means we had a good year. You know I mean who else is paying for the roads?
Joshua: Yeah. yeah. And you said you’re philanthropic. But what I see is a lot of investing in a lot of fine art. You could be patronizing about these things but you’re helping people helpingâ€¦ I feel like youâ€™re helping people help themselves like they come to youâ€¦ People don’t get to you looking for a handout. They’re saying, â€œI’m doing something successful. You can help me get to the next stage.â€ And they by and large seem to do that. There have been some that didn’t work out as you mentioned. A lot of people care and then they donateâ€¦
Joanne: And then you never see them again. But we’ve also done other things. I mean you know Fred years ago I meanâ€¦ Oh, God, I think it was over 10 years ago. I mean there was only one computer science class in the entire New York City public school system which is absurd. But now you know through CSI NYC there are computer science programs in pretty much every high school and junior high school all the way down to the elementary in regards to curriculum being taught and teachers are being taught to teach these programs. And you know that’s something my husband started and got behind. I mean I did mouse before that which was you know creating programs that there were IT people in the school and now it’s in the high school and the junior high school and lower school because everything’s changed and all those kids, ninety-nine percent of them go into higher education. And the next one was making sure that there’s computer science in these programs so that these kids can learn about the future.
And like you go see these kids and they’re going to college and they’re you know doing amazing. Well, they might not end up in the tech world but we’re giving them the tools so that they can compete in a world that these kids aren’t going to be not as successful as the kids that come from money. And that’s something we really care about because if my kids were only spending time with people that looked just like them, that had as much money as they it’d be boring.
Joshua: In the back of my head I’m constantly thinking, â€œI wonder if I can bring this into like what ties it all together? And first it was people, but now I’m thinking community it seems influencing community norms like building up, supporting community, beliefs and norms and goals that that are helping each other. Is there something tying it together or is it just kind of you’re living a life and doing what makes sense?
Joanne: I don’t know if I thought about tying it together. I mean I’ve always been one of those people who are a very big picture thinker like you know I went and did that whole test and you know are you good at. I am very good at seeing things future. I’ve like a very good nose for even artists or restaurants or businesses or things that are coming down the pike. I just have a good like guttural sense. And so you know I think that all those things I’m interested in, I’m curious about but I also I mean I love life. I love enjoying all the things that I get to be able to enjoy.
Joshua: So then the rest of the VC world doesn’tâ€¦ I donâ€™t know. You are an angel investor?
Joanne: I am an angel. I’m not a VC. I don’t have LPs. Thank God, I never wanted to have them. I think as I started really making a name for myself in the angel business I had plenty of people want to throw cash at me but that was just not something I wanted to ever do. I oversee our own capital and invest our own capital and that includes real estate but I don’t want to be in bed with people that are asking me why are you doing that or why are you there, why are you doing that.
Joshua: So venture capitalist I feelâ€¦ I mean one of their primary responsibility is to return money to their investors.
Joshua: And how does that affect the venture capitalists?
Joanne: I think they’re all affected differently by me and I think you know nobody talks about that per say which is as you’re a venture capitalist or your private equity person or whatever kind investor you are that you take money from outside people. Your job is to return that capital. I think some of them think more about that on a constant basis. You know I’m going to invest in this. I’m almost going to follow people in terms of investments that are not very forward thinkers. There’s others that are like I’m going to be a super fricking forward thinker because I believe the more forward I am, the more crazier investments I make the chances are I am going to have better success at returning the fund. So I think everyone thinks differently and has very different theses. Some work, some don’t. And many if you look behind the curtains of certain VCs, I think you’ll see that one big company of that one particular fund paid back the whole fund plus some. You look at other VCs, you’ll look behind the curtain, you’ll find out they might have invested in 20 firms in that one particular fund but actually only two of them failed but one just made the money back. One did one and a half times. The company that went under and they merged it to another business and they own stock in it and they made sure all the employees had jobs. And then one was like a 15-times. And so you know those are the kind of firms that I think are more interesting because they’re not like you know, â€œScrew all the rest. I’m going to focus on this. This is my winner. I’m going to pay back the fund.â€ I think it’s the VCs that really care about the people that they’re working with and the people that are working for that company.
Joshua: I’m going to try to from the perspective of an entrepreneur and who’s gone to VC funding and between institutional and angel, and as a professor who teaches at NYU, I teach lots of students coming through. I mean I really think now I teach more initiative than entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is a subset of initiative because you don’t necessarily need to get that money.
Joanne: That’s true.
Joshua: You donâ€™t need to even start a for-profit or even a non-profit. And there’s analogy that I use in this book that I’m writing. I want to try it on you to see what you think of it is thatâ€¦ Have you seen the Westminster dog show on TV?
Joanne: I love it. Yeah.
Joshua: What do you think of it?
Joanne: I think it’s great. I mean I love dogs. So I think it’s fun to watch and it’s interesting. It’s a very fascinating culture of people that are obsessed with these dogs that take them all the way. It kind of reminds me of like Miss America Pageant but it’s different. It just shows like how many different slices of life out there that make people happy in communities that they want to be part of.
Joshua: The reason I bring it up is that I think from the perspective of looking at it of like all these contests and things like pitch days and business plan competitions and things like that I see a lot of Westminster Dog Show in venture capital and I think we’ve turned entrepreneurship into Westminster.
Joanne: That’s interesting. I think we’ve turned it into the Oscars. I mean Americans love awards. I mean you think about these parents you know that they’ve got their kindergartners out there on the fields playing soccer and everyone gets an award. Even the kid that never leaves the bench and sits there on the grass picking the grass. I mean that’s absurd. That’s not how the world works. I mean I talked to someone a couple of years ago and everyone got a part in the play. Everyone. Like what are you teaching these children? That doesn’t make any sense to me. There is always going to be cream that rises to the top and ones that down. And so what I think that’s happened in the world of entrepreneurship is that maybe it’s the long tail of the Social Network movie but in Facebook is that everybody thinks they can be an entrepreneur.
You know it’s like in your 20s or your 30s everyone’s going to be entrepreneurs like everyone is going to be a doctor or everyone’s going to be an accountant or there’s really great entrepreneurs have to have fabulous ideas that are fitting voids in marketplaces that are going to create businesses. That’s a great entrepreneur. You know they filled a void. They might not be the person that takes it all the way to wherever it goes a publicly traded company, an amazing company that does a hundred million dollars and they own. I mean there’s a million different ways to build and where these companies end up in the end but that’s a real entrepreneur. And now everyone thinks so and it’s almost mainstream. I think that if you walk into a room of 400 people in any urban city in this country and said, â€œHow many of you have invested in a startup?â€, everybody would raise their hand. And the problem is everybody thinks if you put money in, it just works, they grow, they do great and it doesn’t work like that.
Joshua: I’ve certainly [unintelligent] in these experiences making me a better entrepreneur in the long term. And it reminds me of something someone said a long time ago when coworking spaces were just coming up they said, â€œThese coworking spaces make it so easy to get a space.â€ That was one of the barriers was one of the things that you had to do to get an office space to have enough money to pay for your rent and so forth. And every barrier that goes down you get more people through who won’t be able to handle the next big thing. Some of these barriers early are useful. It sounds like something like what you’re talking about.
Joanne: Yeah. I mean I think that even now you’re saying and I wrote about this this week which is a CEED round is in a two and a half million-dollar round. CEED round is seven hundred fifty thousand dollars to continue to provide your model. Something happened along the way. We still have open source products so that you can build something. Are these people taking that much money because they’re building a consumer product? Great but then is that really a VC business? I think that’s more PE business. Everythingâ€™s very blurred. Everythingâ€™s changing. Everyoneâ€™s creating new products for the next generations. You know [unintelligible] done. You know it’s a new Zeit Geist but you have to also be very smart about the reality of what companies trade out in the public markets so that if you’re investing in something that is already overvalued that you’re investing it 10 times earnings and then the publicly traded markets companies in that particular vertical trade it two times earnings you have to ask yourself the question â€œWhy is this going to be any different?â€ And I think that it’s inflated and it’s scary and it won’t continue.
Joshua: So now we heard glimpses of you investing in people but you also know the back you know everything going on in business as you read the discounted cash flows and you compare with public markets, things like that. Did that come through experience investing yourself and learning through hard knocks orâ€¦? I mean you have to know these things. You can’t just go and say, â€œOh, I want to invest in peopleâ€ â€œOh, I want to invest in people too.â€ Or I guess that’ll probably be a big learning experience for people where they would lose a lot of money. I would guess. Am I seeing depth that isn’t there or is that depth there and if so, did that come through school or through experience?
Joanne: It is purely self-taught. I mean even art it’s all self-taught. I never took an art history class in my life. I mean I went to college and I was a retail finance major. I had to make money the minute I walked out the door that college and it was like going to trade school. So all of this is really just learned and curiosity and paying attention and learning from good experiences and bad experiences.
Joshua: I presume you know Beth Comstock. So I was just talking to her and her book she’s like It’s like a prizefighter. You just keep getting hit but you just don’t go down. And it sounds like you’ve gotten hit a few times.
Joanne: Yeah. I mean and I’ve gotten hit. The truth is the hits have been the best thing that’s ever happened. I mean you know if you can pay attention to those hits and remember them as red flags, then when they happen again that they fly in front of your face and you’re like, â€œOK. I remember why and what happened.â€ and youâ€™re becoming a better investor.
Joshua: OK. So now for people who are listening to this who would like to follow in your footsteps be that to become an investor as you are or a podcaster or a blogger or whatever they want to do, those hits are going to be what they learn from, where they learn the most. Could you offer insight to people who haven’t yet gotten hit? In principle, you want them to get hit so that they learn but it’s going to hurt and maybe they’re tentative. What can help people either put themselves in a situation where that’s going to happen where they’re not going to learn or prepare themselves so when it does happen to get through it? Because it’s so easy to give up at that point. Like you say, â€œI will withstand anything.â€ but then when that actually happens the emotions change and everything gets all… It’s very easy to forget what you said like, â€œI will handle anything.â€ and feel like you knowâ€¦. Any insight there?
Joanne: Well, you know listen, I think for years as I started out investing very similar to my life is leading up to that is I can fix anything. I can fix anything. I can take over anything. I can make anything succeed, if I just like, Iâ€™ve brute force. And I realize you know you can’t do that. I think that was a great learning lesson. The other thing is I’ve learned is that just because you like the business you have to look at the person. So now you know people come in and I think, â€œGod, this is really smart. It’s unfortunate it’s you because you’re not capable of building this business, you’re not scrappy enough, you’re not tenacious enough, you’re not flexible enough, you’re not agile, you’re not curious enough, you’re not going to be a good entrepreneur, you’re not a good entrepreneur.â€ So I think that’s important you know and I’ve invested in some where I like the business more than I thought the person could succeed. And I thought you know it’s OK because it’s such a great business. It doesn’t work that way.
It’s like in sales. You can have a ****** product with an incredible team and you can do amazing and you can have a great product, an incredible product with a ****** team and you’ll fail. And so I think that can be applied to entrepreneurs as well. So a really good entrepreneur you might not like the business or it might be exactly what you think but there’s a hole there and you know it is them. So I’m seeing now people that even e-mail me it’s like that. This person is amazing. She’s so impressive and I’m thinking, â€œBut this is the dumbest business.â€ That doesn’t work either. There has to be sort of the perfect storm there that the business is smart and the person’s amazing. So I think that’s one thing and I’ve learned a lot from that.
Joshua: Part of me wants to keep asking more questions about this business of things. I want to switch from leadershipâ€¦ In my head this has been the leadership in this area. I want to switch over to the environment. And if you don’t mind my switching…
Joanne: No, go ahead.
Joshua: When you think of the environment what comes to mind for you? Because it is a lot of different things to lots of different people.
Joanne: Well, what comes to mind to me is that I do believe that we are going to fix the environment and the spot that we are in now in regards to you know what’s going on in the Arctic in terms of melting ice, what’s happening with like the climate change. And the reason I do is because one of the greatest things about people and particularly this country is that the next generation always fix the last generationsâ€™ ******. And you can go back in history and look at it. And even the beginnings of the Internet. You know that internet changed what didn’t work last time and now we see you know millennials what they did and you’re going to see Generation Z will be different than the millennials and what they care about.
And so I do believe that humanity will save itself. That’s number one. But when I do think about the environment I think about real estate and building because we build a lot of things. And so for instance we just built a house for ourselves that is completely carbon free. We have solar panels all over the roof. We also have geothermal heating and cooling and it’s incredible. We’re building an apartment building. It’s a passive building. It has as well as solar panels. It also has laminated wood that they’re doing in Europe. Weâ€™re the first building in all of New York to do this. And essentially, we’re also using blueprint power in terms of running our buildings so that we can have all of our tenants know what they’re spending their energy on so that we’re educating our tenants. So if you’re paying ten dollars a month you know why you’re paying ten dollars a month. If you’re paying ninety dollars a month you know why you’re paying 90 dollars a month. Because we’re all going to becomeâ€¦ These buildings will become their own electric power stations and we’ll sell it back to the grid and we will be seriously carbon free. And I think that’s what I think about. And that was very important for us to build something like this and so we are one of the first buildings in New York like this and we’re going to do it again and again and again because I’m like you were talking about having no trash. I think that it’s important to be very smart about energy. I don’t understand why we’re drilling for more oil. I don’t understand why we’re not forcing the industry to have all electric cars. We have electric cars, all of our cars you know that we drive all the time are electric. Why wouldn’t you do that? I mean it doesnâ€™t make any sense to me. And so those are the things that I think about when I think about the environment and energy and we’re participating in that.
Joshua: I have to come in on the building stuff because not many people are building buildings, I was just in Houston where I was visiting a research agency and their building wasâ€¦ They were so proud. There was geothermal, it was all passive and solar on the roof and putting on more. And something that a lot of people look at as a pain or something that they feel is distracting from what they really want to do becomes a source of pride and interest and looking to the future. And I feel like the people who act seem to look at what people feel should be done. The people who are acting are like, â€œThis is great.â€ People aren’t acting they’re like, â€œWhy you tell me what to do?â€ Or you know, â€œWhy you doom and gloom and all that stuff?â€ I feel like acting makes a big difference.
Joanne: We have to be proactive. And I also feel, if you do it right… I mean listen we tried to do geothermal about eight years ago, it was ridiculously expensive. You know now solar is cheaper than oil, gas. Gas. So we’ve made that shift. And so more people are going to be using these products because at the end of the day it saves them money. They might not be caring about the environment but we’ve got to get to the point where it becomes a smart business decision to do these things. And the only way that you can do that is if you’re willing to have others like us absorb those costs and prove to people, â€œLook it, after three years we make all the money back. We are you know our own power hub and all of our tenants don’t have to pay these prices.â€ And so I think that’s a super important. You’re not paying four hundred twenty dollars a month to heat your apartment. You’re paying zero.
Joshua: And I feel like the tenants are going to see on a monthly basis their power use. I think more in real time than just a bill that comes fromâ€¦ I got mine from kind ofâ€¦
Joanne: Yeah. It’s totally real time.
Joshua: And do you know about this experiment? I don’t knowâ€¦ It wasn’t on purpose. There was some place in Europe. They built a bunch of houses and one group was using a lot less power than the other even though the houses were identical. And then it turned out thatâ€¦ I may get some of the facts wrong, I have to look this up, but that one the group that was using less power their electric meters were in the kitchen.
Joanne: Yes. I read about that. And they could see every single day what they were doing or what they were using which made a huge difference. And that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing. And I was adamant that we give that to our tenants because that it might only be a few tenants but eventually these tenants will go on with their lives and they’ll go somewhere else and educate themselves and hopefully when they build a house or they move in to a house in the suburbs, they will be like, â€œYou know what? We’re going to spend this money, we’re going to make this solar, we’re going to do this and this and this because you know we learn from our experiences. We know how we are using energy in the world.â€
Joshua: And that awareness is not a burden. For me it’s kind of fun.
Joanne: I think it’s amazing. As you were saying at the beginning how do you tie yourself back to all these things. It’s about educating other people and helping other people I think and also you know helping our environment and you know leaving a good thing in the world.
Joshua: You didnâ€™t mention caring this time but I think alsoâ€¦
Joanne: It is caring.
Joshua: Yeah. I think that to me the environment is an intermediary between other people. I care about animals, I care about trees too. Something people elevate, I care about them a lot more than I care about other living creatures. Maybe that’s a little biased mind but I don’t mind it. And it’s about people.
Joanne: It’s about people.
Joshua: And so one of the things I ask guests on the show is given what you your environmental caring is unique. Everyone’s different. I invite you at your option to do something to act on one of these values that one of these things you care about that you’re not already doing. And some people have something that theyâ€™ve thought of, most people don’t. But a couple of constraints or something’s constraining and something’s not constraining. One is you don’t have to fix all the world’s problems all by yourself overnight because a lot of people feel like, â€œIf I do something but no one else doesâ€¦â€
Joanne: If youâ€™ve saved one life, you’ve saved the world, right?
Joshua: Yeah. And but it’s not something already doing. And something with a measurable difference, not awareness or education, valuable as they are. Something where you can measure the carbon or the plastic or the mercury or whatever. Would you care to do something that you are not already doing and then share the experience?
Joanne: I don’t know about that. Itâ€™s conscious in my mind constantly because we’re building these buildings you know and so I don’t know if there’s anythingâ€¦ I’m [unintelligible] we just had it like big glass water things everywhere so that we’re not drinking out of bottles anymore and you know little things that we can do with all of our lives. You know I’ve always carried a bag in my purse so that when I go to the grocery store, I don’t have to take a bag and another destruction, like little things like that make a huge impact. And I think that I’m doing those things.
Joshua: It is one of the bigger challenges is when I have guests who are less environmental have more stuff they could do and the people who are more so it’s harder for them to find stuff.
Joanne: Yeah. I mean I think even just carrying a bag around with you at all times makes a tremendous difference. I mean it’s such a little thing but it’s a big thing.
Joshua: Yeah. I’m bringing this empty Tupperware because I’m going to an event later with it. I know thereâ€™s going to be like food leftover at the end that they are going to throw away. I’m going to have my… I don’t if I’m showing off for what because I know that they are going to have plastic over there so I have to bring my own cutlery so that I don’t have to get the plastic stuff.
Joanne: Thatâ€™s actually a good idea. I hate the plastic stuff. It kills me. I mean years ago someone sent me these brownies they were making in Vermont and they were like you know, â€œTry these brownies. What do you think?â€ And with these brownies they sent this box full of these you know those little like awful styrofoam things thatâ€¦
Joshua: The peanuts?
Joanne: Oh my God. They kill me and they’re just awful and they last forever. But these peanuts he had something in there and said, â€˜â€These peanuts throw them in the wash in the sink and just put water on them and they disintegrate.â€ The brand is worth that good. And I emailed the guy and I said, â€œThis is your business?! I wish that every box I got had these peanuts.â€ Like they kept everything perfect. Nothing broke. It came beautiful. They’re packing these peanuts and I put them in the sink and they’re gone.
Joshua: My grandmother used to send and she would use popcorn. She’d just throw some popcorn in there and that was her packing peanuts.
Joanne: That’s really funny. That’s a good one too. But I was like, â€œThatâ€™s the business!â€ If we could literally like replace all this styrofoam with this stuff, I mean that alone would be tremendous.
Joshua: What was the personâ€™s response?
Joanne: He’s like, â€œI like my brownies. I want to build a brownie business.â€
Joshua: So someone out there listening to this, seize the opportunity.
Joanne: You know I mean it was amazing stuff. And I’ve seen them here or there but not at the point, not at mass.
Joshua: So yeah. It does seem like there’s a lot of opportunity.
Joanne: And I think a lot of people are working on this stuff. I really do. I’m involved in some businesses in regards to food waste but I’m not involved in those kind of type businesses like the Styrofoam but you know if I said I’d like to see more of those businesses, I’m sure they’ll all flow into my box. But I do believe down to my toes that there are people out there working on these things that are going to make a massive impact that we will see in the years to come.
Joshua: So I tend to agree. And I certainly like you I want to spur them on and encourage them. I’ll still nudge a little bit but one more timeâ€¦ I mean because you did mention lowering the plastic.
Joanne: Yes, itâ€™s awful.
Joshua: The odds that something changedâ€¦ If something changed the odds of me coming just after I are very low unless you’re consciously finding new things and if you’re constantly finding new things, then there might be something anotherâ€¦. Maybe it’s not low hanging fruit but medium hanging fruit.
Joanne: Maybe. There might be. Maybe I invest in one of those companies, I don’t know. Maybe that’s what I should be doing, looking for them.
Joshua: Does anything come to mind?
Joanne: No, no. I’ve been really sitting back on my heels these days. I think that the entire industry is overvalued and there’s a lot of replication. The industries that I would really want to invest in you really have to spend 24/7 and educate yourself and I have too many other things going on in my life to just spend my time doing that right now.
Joshua: OK. Well, now I can’t help but ask. Anythingâ€¦ What is it? No advanced notice but any secret inside scoop on what’s coming in Joanne Wilson’s life?
Joanne: I don’t know. I’m working on that. I’m definitely giving myself some space. I’m working on a bunch of real estate things right now that I’m really enjoying and I love the podcast. I really love talking to these women entrepreneurs, I think. I did three of them yesterday. You know all completely different women with different stories that I really just have insane passion for. You know maybe it’s a maternal instinct to me whatever it is and I want to support them. I don’t necessarily want to support them financially. The financial road is extremely painful and very difficult as an angel when you can’t get institutional investors to get as excited about your ideas and the founders that you have supported as you are. And I find it just very frustrating. I think that’s one thing that I is the takeaway over the past 12 years is that you know when it works it works but when it doesn’t and I know it should work and I know that this person is fabulous and their business is great and there’s not enough capital for them, I find it frustrating. Or you know VCs and itâ€™s all like well, there is this one’s the winner in the space and you know that’s where we’ve put all our money and ends up being the loser and this other person still out there making it work. That is my most frustrating thing about the industry. And soâ€¦
Joshua: Is that the winner takes all part orâ€¦
Joanne: The winner takes all. It’s what many investors see as the right investment. I mean that’s why there’s vanilla ice cream. You know what one person thinks is right another person doesn’t like so that’s why.
Joshua So since you spoke so enthusiastically about the podcast so Positively Joanne Wilson.
Joanne: Yeah. Positively Gotham Gal.
Joshua: I’m sorry. Positively Gotham Gal. Can you say a few words aboutâ€¦ Because I want to motivate people starting things and I like people taking initiative. Can you talk about getting it started? Because people who are listening to this are thinking about starting something.
Joanne: Right. Right. For sure. So first of all, we had a podcast in the 90s, believe it or not called Positivity 12 [unintelligible]. The whole family would get together on Sunday, we’d sit around the table, everyoneâ€™d bring the music they’re listening to that week and what they did in New York this week you know what happened in New York and what happened in their lives and it was fabulous. We did it from family every week and then we stopped. And so fast forward when I co-founded the Women’s Entrepreneur festival my co-founder was very frustrated with the lack of women in her classes. She was a professor at ITP which is generally 50/50. And she found that the women, there was less women in her classes that particular semester. And she’s like, â€œThere’s just not enough women entrepreneurs out there.â€ And I said, â€œYes, there is.â€ Women network differently. Women run their businesses differently. You know there are gender issues.
And so, we started this Women Entrepreneurs festival and so I said you know, â€œI’m going to use my blog as a platform to write about women entrepreneurs every Monday.â€ And so every Monday and there’s you know they’re all out there. I wrote about women entrepreneur of the week and it was great. And then I sort of got to a point you know a couple of years ago it was the most difficult write of the week and the most time consuming and I was like you know, â€œI really enjoy the conversations,â€ and podcasts were starting to happen. â€œYou know why don’t I do a podcast?â€ And so I talked to my daughter about it. She’s like, â€œAmazing.â€ And then I texted Alex who’s my assistant and I was like, â€œWhat do you think?â€ She’s like, â€œOh my God. I was just talking about that with Rachel.â€, who’s her wife and Rachel’s my producer. And so we’re like, â€œLet’s do it.â€ So we started this podcast. And so it’s continuing on the theme of highlighting female founders women entrepreneurs. You know it also goes to the theme about me. I really interview most people that nobody knows you know that are successful in their own right, that are really interesting people that maybe you’ll know them in five years. But I’m not interviewing women that are you know already top of the food chain.
Joshua: So youâ€™re supporting in a different way and having fun.
Joanne: I love it.
Joshua: I’m sure the listeners can hear the smile on your face and the spark in your eyes.
Joanne: I love it. It’s so much fun. And I am inspired by those women. I mean that’s what it really is. They inspire me. They inspire me what they build. I met three women yesterday. One started a company in candles called Otherland. She was insanely inspiring. Another woman started a company around women’s health care called Ask Tia. And another woman runs a program at Yale that has taught women for 20 years how to be political candidates and how to run campaigns. And all three of them were so different. But it was insanely inspiring and I’m still thinking about them today.
Joshua: Is it all in person or do you do it online?
Joanne: I do it in person.
Joshua: Okay. Yeah. Oh, so it’s New York women.
Joanne: Yeah. No. I do them when I’m in L.A. as well. You know I mean so we haven’t done it virtually yet. Maybe we will in the future but right now I like the in-person.
Joshua: Sounds really exciting. It sounds like youâ€™re living a great life. You’ve paid your dues to get there. Anything I didn’t think to ask to bring up or anything to say to the listeners?
Joanne: No. I don’t think so. I don’t know what my next thing is going to be but I’m definitely going into another mode and I’m really kind of enjoying it.
Joshua: So we should all subscribe to Gotham Gal andâ€¦
Joanne: You should all subscribe to Gotham Gal to find out what I do next.
Joshua: And I’ll leave an open invitation if you come across something you think you know, â€œI’m going to do something new environmental and I will document this with Josh.â€, then I leave you an open invitation and let me know. And because I love to bring that on and give you a chance to share that with others and hear how you changed things and how things go for you.
Joanne: OK. Fair enough.
Joshua: All the best. Thank you very much.
Joanne: Thank you for having me.
I didnâ€™t press Joanne on taking on a new challenge. Partly that’s because when I walked in to meet her before recording, she started telling me about how she was reducing plastic in her office already. Partly also because during the conversation as you heard she mentioned how she and her husband are building the environmentally sustainable house as well as the buildings for others environmentally and sustainably. And also, because I run into her around New York and have a feeling she’ll act on her environmental values anyway. So the next time that I see her I’ll ask her if she’s done anything new since then. If so or possibly if not, Iâ€™d still invite her back to see if she’s willing to come back on and talk about whatever challenge she’s taken on since that.
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