An Interview with Ellie Cachette – The Power Woman Behind the $1B Fund that Invests in VC Firms

Originally posted at ThriveGlobal

Ever wondered where venture capital money comes from? Ellie Cachette is the money behind the money. She is the founder of Cachette Capital Management, her own fund of funds with $1B set for investing into venture capital funds. She’s the gal VCs stand in line to talk to!

I sat down with Ellie to learn about her story and was blown away by how rough of a start she had and how inspiring her journey is.

H: Tell me about the early days, where did you grow up and what did your childhood look like?

E: I was raised in the Bay Area and we ended up there because my father had a blood disorder called Hemophilia, the Bay Area was at the time cutting edge for medical. So we moved to get access to doctors and hospitals for his health, for the best chance of life. Later though his Hemophiliac medicine became infected with HIV, it was horrible. The company (in his case) was Bayer Pharmaceutical and they knew there was HIV in their products yet still delivered it to patients because it was cheaper to offload the product than recall an expensive and lengthy product to make. My father and many other Hemophiliac patients (about 20,000 in the US, 100,000 globally) were infected with HIV.  There were several class action lawsuitsof which many people died before winning, my father got his payout a couple years before he passed away. The Bay Area became also an epicenter for HIV and AIDS treatments so we stayed.

Soon after the news came (of my father’s HIV) in the late 1980’s my mom left us and my dad (newly HIV positive) was forced to raise me by himself. By the time I was nine years old the tables started to turn, and I was taking care of him because he was sick either from the HIV or his HIV medications or both.

About my father: he was a self-educated entrepreneur, he had his own consumer biotech startup that he had launched in the Bay Area during the mid 1990’s, it was actually quite innovative for its time delivering medicines to people’s homes. I learned important lessons from my dad as he taught me how to have no fear, to live life and that I was just as equal as any man. He would often say even early on that I was bound to do great things, that I was a “fighter” and people would “read about her in the headlines someday.” It was probably wishful thinking or perhaps an observation.

When my father passed in 2002 I was a Junior in high-school and became a legal orphan because I did not have a guardian other than him, so I could not access my own savings accounts and was kicked out of my house by his then girlfriend. There’s also another story here of fraud and deception where my trust money was stolen (the lawyer who assisted me with that case won a prestigious legal award this year called the Clint Hockenberry Award for his efforts in activism). It was really a hopeless time where I was fully on my own, but I basically crammed in community college classes my senior year of high school and got my bachelors degree from Humboldt State University as quickly as possible because I could not afford much longer than that. Neither of my parents ever graduated high school so it was important to me that I got a college degree despite the lack of support or setbacks.

H: What did your early career look like? Where did you gain experience?

I started working in tech in college (because I needed the money) so when I graduated it made sense to continue on that path. I remember while having a job as a product manager for a Romanian company my boss called me an entrepreneur and it struck me as odd, but planted the seed in my mind and unlike others in 2007 I was not afraid to work in Europe and this would pay off later on.

At some point I was hired by macys.com and that was my first job fully in “consumer products” because before that I was doing mostly financial or insurance software products, very technical things. At Macy’s they wanted me to start looking for startups they could buy, apps which could be integrated and as I was doing that I realized that I had to build something of my own. I thought OK well my options are: I can stay here at a corporate job and sit in meetings, or I could go build something. In 2009/2010 I started exploring what I could build if I did build something on my own. The idea I ended up focusing on was ConsumerBell, a software product to assist with product recalls as it related to my dad’s story but I saw the market for the need growing with online commerce and goods shipping to people’s homes (Amazon). This product was definitely ahead of its time and I couldn’t raise money locally as everyone in Silicon Valley said that my idea was “cute” or more of a nonprofit.

I then applied for TechStars Boston and ConsumerBell got in. Before heading to Boston I took a trip to New York to check things out and basically stayed, never doing TechStars or even making it to Boston. Everybody in New York thought my startup was a good idea and I was offered free desk space on Park Ave with some angel investors willing to support me. It appeared as a female founder I had a lot more support in New York vs. Silicon Valley, however this probably had to do with the start of the tech wave in NYC so the market timing was right. So I moved to New York. I will always remember packing up my apartment in California (my boyfriend at the time dumped me for all this startup madness) and I knew probably two friends in all of Manhattan, so I was shaking uncontrollably as I put my stuff in boxes. Was I nuts or what?

That startup, ConsumerBell, kept building different products and different thingsand we eventually sold the assets and I wound it down. We had some pretty interesting paths we could have taken but shutting down had a lot more to do with several weird circumstances including an advisor and main customer committing suicide; then unrelated another employee’s wife committed suicide about five weeks later. At that point it was just too much losing a main customer, advisor and social structure around to continue. I shifted from ConsumerBell to a soft landing as a VP at a mobile development company that I had been working with for years, it was easy on the mind because my background was in product so I helped publish things for founders around MVPs and oversaw the launch of probably 50 startups over the course of a year.

Once I was on my own I got many offers to build apps or startups, more than I could count. It dawned on me that I was pretty much a VC or founder-for-hire at a minimum. Because I was attracting a lot of founders and new app ideas, this started to put the development company in an interesting position where I was getting 30-50 app ideas (serious bids to build them) a quarter. We could no longer take on every proposal we wrote or every idea pitched and thus the demand was high (ideas) but supply lower (developers). We had to start selecting which ideas seemed like they had the most chance at success or funding, which basically turned the whole process into something like a VC.

H: So it sounds like at this point you started transitioning to Venture Capital, how did you end up starting a fund of funds?

E: Yes, well originally I wanted to become a partner at a VC firm. So I went back to some of the funds I knew and every single one of them was like yeah okay so bring me investors, bring me money, and then we’ll put you in charge of marketing. One VC firm even went into how I should freeze my eggs on interview #2! Shopping around for the right VC firm was brutal, but I still helped several firms along to pay-it-forward to learn more about the space as a whole because knowledge is power. I would make reports for well known funds, help with VC fundraising pitchdecks, scout startup dealflow and learn different mechanical pieces of VC. I knew I had skills which were valuable for companies– sometimes more so than capital itself– so I was eager to learn how to convert this knowledge into a path of becoming a partner, but if raising money as a female founder was tough, try becoming a partner at a VC firm!

Then I had some luck. While helping about three Silicon Valley based VC funds with various things, fundraising or diligence or marketing, I stumbled across european pension funds. I was traveling in Germany for a diplomatic conference and before I knew it briefly met some people who were asking me if I knew anything about tech or venture capital. Do I know?! Of course I did. Upon their request I started sending them any of the materials I had and was more than happy to explain how the VC ecosystem worked. Then something crazy happened: they said yes. They said they wanted to invest. I called the VC fund I wanted to work at the most to start the process and quickly stumbled across a problem—the ultimate problem— these “people” of the European pension funds had a minimum commitments of anywhere from $50MM to $200MM which simply doesn’t work if you have a VC fund whose total fund size is say $150MM. I was incredibly frustrated, how did I find TOO MUCH MONEY? This ended up being one of the biggest professional blessings of my life. A puzzle to solve.

From August 2016 through December 2016 I started doing research and spent an obsessive amount of time researching this whole fund-of-fund paradox. What is it? Does it exist? How many other pensions and banks are out there frustrated? Should there be easier and better access to venture capital for pension funds? True to my personality I honed in an unnatural amount of time to see if there was something happening on a global scale and there was. I reached out to several mentors and started crafting draft ideas of what a FOF (Fund of Funds) strategy would need to look like to be successful, and ran simulations to figure out if something like this could or should be built. On New Years Eve (2016 entering 2017) one of my mentors, Howard Morgan, gave me feedback that he thought this particular FOF strategy could work! Caroline McCarthy (who is on my board of directors now) was in my apartment for NYE and we started jumping around and screaming with joy. Let’s do it!

By March of 2017 I was in meetings with several Dutch government associations who also thought my FOF idea was a good one and it turned out my expertise in venture capital (plus software and company building) was useful for Europe. I also had experience working in Europe, so before I knew it, like within weeks, I was living in Netherlands with an office space in The Hague, to what would be the early building blocks of CCMFI or rather Cachette Capital’s first fund. I still live in Netherlands to this day and as it turns out there isn’t just a couple Dutch or European pension funds who need help getting into venture capital, there’s hundreds, almost thousands of European pensions who are shifting into venture capital. It’s pretty exciting times. Atomico recently released a report validating this point which is a great read.

H: Can you talk more about your fund strategy? How do you source your deals (VC funds)?

E: To be honest it was actually not as hard as I thought, because (shocker) VC funds want money! Once word had spread that I was on the LP/FOF side, everybody was pretty excited to work with me. By the time I moved to Netherlands in 2017 I had already been given at least 50 VC pitch decks, the floodgates were open. My fund has now gone through over 300+ VC funds so I think it’s safe to say we have dealflow.

However, this flood of inbound potential investments started to teach me the nuances of venture capital and things I had never thought of before: some VC funds I really liked weren’t fundraising and others I didn’t care for had room in their funds. Timing, fund size, focus, region and other variables started to come into play. What was our (Cachette Capital) specific strategy? Did our fund have a focus? What were banks and pensions most comfortable with, what did they want? What’s the best mathematical position we could take as investors into venture capital funds? What’s the actual process of becoming an LP into a VC fund (remember I had been on the VC side but I had never LP-d into a VC fund). Turns out all this is solved by math and copious amounts of legal paperwork.

In the end our fund decided on a couple core things: the fund would be $1B in size because anything smaller would not be diversified enough for pensions to acquire the risk , we’d focus on early stage venture capital because of its quick movement and traction with smaller check sizes into startups, and we’d be fully global, investing across Europe and the U.S. Ironically and to this day less than 2% of our fund has any current or future commitments to San Francisco based funds.

For the most part the hardest piece of building this fund has been compliance and paperwork. In our case because of our fund’s size and who our LPs are, we had to spend six months simply building out the LPA aka the “Limited Partnership Agreement” which is like your fund’s rule book, it’s a big contract for your investors. Then you have investing into the venture capital funds, they also have their own LPAs and often there’s issues or edits that need to happen on that side to make the funds able to work together. Managing a FOF sometimes feels more like a lawyer than mathematician because you can’t pick one thing to be good at you have to be good at everything. The other thing (in our case) was timezones and languages: our fund is spread across several timezones from San Francisco to Zurich and we did this legal work in three languages: Dutch, German, English. We also have to be careful what we say, do and invest in because we have “the people’s money” which I take seriously, plus there’s other regulators at play so its certainly hard to sleep when there’s always gears to change and the pressure to perform is astronomical.

Much of my story really has to do with consistently taking opportunities and having the grit to live through it. There’s a lot of luck and hunches mixed with politically navigating relationships in venture capital. On a daily basis I’m handed huge problems which turn out to be small, and small problems which can quickly become huge. On one hand it seems like it all happened overnight, yet in February of 2019 we will celebrate our two year anniversary. Which means that in twenty-four months we found a product market fit, setup offices in Europe, designed a fund from scratch, designed a firm from scratch and became trusted enough to scale venture capital across not just Europe but all of the world. We’ve deployed (invested) several million dollars to date with a big year lined up for 2019. And I even learned Dutch.

Not bad for a girl who couldn’t make partner at a VC fund, huh?

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Product Management: What I Learned About User Data, Research and Actionable Steps

As I research product management disciplines and best practices to become a better PM entrepreneur, I came across content from Laura Klein that got me hooked. This post is lessons learned form her presentation on Quantitative vs Qualitative Research.

User Data, Research and The Actionable Steps:

If you use data well you could build better products, but if you use data badly you can screw products.

Quantitative data doesn’t replace design or listening to users, it only gives us info on what we have built.

The data can help inform design – understand what’s working and what’s not. Inform research – give us feedback on product decisions.
Metrics can help understand whether our decisions helped or hurt user behavior. It tells us what we should be investigating…

Quantitative Data: WHAT (we should be investigating)
Qualitative Data: WHY (it happens)

For example, a checkout funnel (It’s more of a sieve):
For software as a service or e-commerce products.
Steps can be:
100% is incoming (100 buyers)
Create account -20% (-20 buyers)
Select plan -10% (-8 buyers)
Payment Info -50% (-36 buyers)
Address -33% (-12 buyers)
Confirm -25% (-6 buyers)
Thanks & Up Sell = 18 buyers

Users had an intent to buy something: 100 came in, entered the check-out funnel (we spent effort on acquiring users probably through google ads/FB/referrals), then they started falling out and only 18 purchased.

What happened?
Go back to the funnel and investigate the steps:
 the step where we’re loosing most people is Payment Info -50% (-36 buyers). So we start asking ourselves what are the reasons? Might be payment options are not clear or they don’t feel secure, or something else.

Don’t come up with reasons! if you really want to understand inflection point: you need to do two things:
1. Find it. Quantitative research: funnel numbers helped us find the inflection point.
2. Need to understand it: why it’s happening? Qualitative research: interview users and do A/B testing.

Using Quan and Qual Together
Step 1: Identify the biggest problem!
Use funnel metrics!
(Quan): In order to identify the biggest problem, we look at funnel metrics and try to identify the largest hole in the usage flow.

Step 2: Understand why!
Observational usability testing!
(Qual): watch people use your product! Look for when they get stuck. You would pay particular attention to the people who get stuck on the payment page.
Based on your observation of between 4-6 people (that’s the correct number of people to support this sort of observation user study).
You would come up with reasons. Some reasons that surfaced up:
– Didn’t have payment info handy
– Confused by specific question/wording
– Looked for promo code (saw the promo code box and went looked for a code)

Step 3: Propose Solution!
Create solution hypotheses!
After you’ve observed the problems, you need to figure out: solving which of these problems is actually going to fix your Payment Info -50% (-36 buyers) problem?

When we want to test if a change was successful, we need to know what success looks like, and equally we need to know what failure looks like. Create a list the possible negative consequences of the change as well as the positive ones, so that we can predict what’s going to happen as we implements that solution.

We pick one of the reasons to test with, the promo code:
Trigger: People looked for a promo code (they see the box)
Solution: Easiest solution is remove promo code entirely
-Solution hypothesis is: If we remove the box there will be an increase in conversion.
-What might go wrong? A decrease in acquisition or revenue. (the reason in the promo code might have been to convert price sensitive people, or to promote sales) That’s why when we change something we want to keep an eye on other metrics that might be effected by our change.

Step 4: Learn & Iterate
Learn:
 How would we know if we were right?
A/B test of the checkout flow with and without the promo code! 
We are going to do Quant test if just removing the promo code fixes things without hurting.
So we create two tests: one with promo code and one without and test the funnel again.
Quant test came out positive: we’re losing less people and haven’t seem much decrease in acquisition.

Now we need to run Qual test to check if what’s happening is for the reason we thought.

We keep testing, iterating and learning until we are happy with the results and until metrics look the way we want them to look!

Then when we’re done we can go back to the steps and identify a new problem looking at our quantitative data again!

In brief, the steps are:
Step 1: Identify the biggest problem 
Use funnel metrics
Step 2: Understand WHY
Observational usability
Step 3: Propose solutions
Create solution hypotheses
Step 4: Learn and Iterate

A different way to find out: 
Step 1: Identify the biggest problem
(Qual) Interview current users
Call customers to discuss what issues they are having using your product, or what alternatives they are currently using.
Another one to generate hypothesis is call former users to find out why they are former, what caused them to leave. You’ll learn a tremendous amount on how to improve and what caused people to leave.

Step 2: Understand what
Since we started with the why, now we have to understand what?
(Quant) Study relevant metrics- the idea here is to take what we learned in the qual and try to predict how it might effect the metrics.
Why would we bother to predict what metrics will change? You want to know if I fix that problem for the user, what metric do I expect to improve?
For example: If we think that fixing a problem is going to fix retention that’s great, but if we only have 3 users maybe retention is secondary and user acquisition/conversion funnel is first.

To identify which part to examine, you can use this framework by Dave McClure AARRR: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral
If you fix something you think is probably going to effect revenue, then check revenue metrics.
Or if it’s what we saw amongst power users, it’s very likely going to effect retention.
Or if it’s a problem we saw with brand new users as part of the on boarding process, well that’s going to effect engagement.
Or if you want to implement comments for example- don’t focus on how many people comment, but if they comment do they buy more stuff? Think in terms of if I count/measure it should be towards a specific goal: purchase increase, time spent in the app increase (engagement & retention). What happens that matters and moves the needle?

Step 3: Propose solutions
Create solution hypotheses – what you think will go right and what you think will go wrong.

Step 4: Learn and iterate.

The process works not only for products but for many other functions like services, processes, sales process- identify the steps where people fall in your sales pipeline and improve it.

For sales pipeline:
Step 1: Identify the biggest problem
Look at your sales pipeline
Step 2: Understand WHY
Interview people who said no
Step 3: Propose solutions
Create solution hypotheses
Step 4: Learn and Iterate

General practice:
When you’re trying to identify features: people are not good about predicting the future, but they are good at talking about stories from the past and the problems they have. Make sure to optimize your questions to that.

One thing to ask is how they have attempted to solve that problem in the past? How are they solving problems now? What product have they used to solve it?

Talk to enough people to find patterns in problems… that’s what you should design a solution for.

Statistics:

  • If you’re doing an A/B test (a split test): If you get to 300 people actually converted in each branch, then you’re safe with statistical significants.
  • For usability test the number is 5 people. If you’re not starting to see really strong patterns after 5, fix your recruiting, fix your personas, get new people and do it again.
  • You want to predict from the next set of 5 what you’re going to hear and should keep doing testing with sets of 4-5 until the problem or behave becomes predictable in a certain way.
  • Write it down, what’s your prediction? What do you think is going to happen? Confirm it with the data!
  • Focus groups: don’t do 12 people in one room, do 12 people interviewed separately. Observational testing will give you much better information. Focus groups are also incredibly hard to run well. One-on-one interviews win!
  • Create screener survey – it’s method of recruiting the current people for your surveys. (Screener questions: Keeping out the riffraff).
    For example: I want a left-handed dentist who lives in Boise: You write a survey to identify your testers:
    Q1: What do you do for a living? Dentist
    Q2: With which hand do you write? Left.
    Q3: Where do you live? Boise

Working on a product that doesn’t exist yet:
Understand the user journey: talk to x number of users to understand what the problem is.
Understand some key concepts, can use quantitative to make sure that the educated guess is the right one.
In user centric design methodology: do the needs finding, and then do design, then prototyping.
What’s missing (and the lean startup was designed to address) is you have to do some sort of an evaluation test: you validated the problem, now you need to validate your solution idea before you build something.
You need to figure out the smallest possible thing that you can build to validated if your solution is in the right direction (you can run concierge test, you can run wizard of oz test).
You have to validate that the solution direction you’re going is good. It’s the MVP concept: the small great thing that you can build that your users can use as a solution.

Qualitative-vs-Quantitative

 

What the IDF Bootcamp Taught Me About Becoming an Entrepreneur

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was founded shortly after the State of Israel was established in 1948. It ranks among the most battle-tested and highly-trained armed forces in the world. The IDF’s security objectives are to defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the State of Israel; deter all of Israel’s enemies; and, curb all forms of terrorism which threaten daily life.

Serving in the IDF is mandatory for all Israeli citizens both men and women, you join the military when you turn 18. Israel is the only country in the world with a mandatory military service requirement for women. Women serve two years, man serve three years.

At the age of 18, many teens around the world finish high school and transition to their joyful life in college.

Serving the military at that young age forces you to obtain discipline, take responsibility and learn the system. In your early days (at bootcamp) you spend time learning Krav Maga and training at the shooting range, instead of studying for exams and drinking at the neighborhood bar.

Weapon training image, that’s how it looks like at a shooting rang.

 

Instead of having a college graduation ceremony, you have a weapon swearing-in ceremony.

Me at the Weapon Swearing-In Ceremony. Holding an M-16

This also reminds me of the awful quality of mobile pics at the time. iPhones weren’t around yet.

 

Though it has always been outnumbered by its enemies, the IDF maintains a qualitative advantage by deploying advanced weapons systems, many of which are developed and manufactured in Israel for its specific needs. The IDF’s main resource, however, is the high caliber of its soldiers.

At the end of the day, to run a smooth organization, the IDF relies on the discipline of its soldiers and a working system.

“Nothing can be more hurtful to the service, than the neglect of discipline; for that discipline, more than numbers, gives one army the superiority over another.” George Washington, general orders, Jul. 6, 1777

Entrepreneurship

Becoming an entrepreneur means creating something pretty much out of nothing. The business begins and ends with you. While that can sound pretty awesome, it also means you have little guidance. You have to create the map, the directions to get there and the destination. It’s easy for doubt to creep in.

In order to stay motivated and find order in the chaos – you have to develop discipline and put systems in place, so you can run your startup more efficiently and reach milestones faster.

Examples: IDF Bootcamp

Discipline and Systems

I remember my first day in the bootcamp of the IDF, where you stand with other soldiers in a row with your hands behind your back.

The commander yells at everyone to put their hands in a diamond shape behind their back above the belt line. You just put your hand behind your back with one hand on top of the other, “who cares how my hands are set, I did what they asked, put my hands behind my back”.

Well, if your hands are not set in a perfect diamond shape above the belt line, the commander starts screaming at you to put them in a perfect diamond shape and doesn’t leave you alone until you do.

At that moment, you truly learn how fucked you are for the next few months, and what attention to details is all about ☺.

Establishing good systems requires attention to details and discipline. It’s not easy at first, but then as you get used to it, it becomes second nature and an unbeatable competitive advantage.

Schedule

When you are in the bootcamp, the schedule is very strict. I remember we had a schedule for everything: morning wake up, breakfast, morning training, learning, gun cleaning, etc. If you are even one minute late to any of the sessions, you and your entire troop gets the blame and is yelled at by the commender. You learn to be accountable and plan your time — to be on time.

As an entrepreneur, since you are the one who sets your tasks and schedule, it’s very easy to get distracted and surrender to different temptations during the day. It doesn’t help you accomplish your tasks, and causes procrastination.

You have to train yourself to be your own commander, so each day you can complete the tasks you set for yourself.

  • Create a list each day for the tasks you want to accomplish and prioritize them. Look at your list during the day to mark off the tasks you already completed, and the ones that you still need to work on. Make sure to create a new list at the end of each day, to get yourself ready for the next day.
  • Establish hours for work and for rest. Since as an entrepreneur you work all the time and don’t have defined 9am-5pm, it’s important to create a daily time frame and hold yourself accountable to it.
  • Write down your ideas. As entrepreneurs we have awesome ideas come to us when we least expect them (driving, showering, in the restroom). Try to record them at the first opportunity you get. It’s very easy to get distracted when something else comes up and that cool idea that you just had a minute ago suddenly slipped your mind.

When you feel lazy at times and want to cut yourself some slack, remember this quote: “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” — Jim Rohn

Product

When you receive a weapon in the bootcamp, you have to ‘own’ it. Be responsible for it 24/7. Which means you are required to always have it in your sight. When you go to sleep you hide it under your bed, when you go to shower you take it with you and put it just outside the shower. You develop a habit of thinking about it and keeping track of it, it becomes your “precious.” It’s a lesson in responsibility and it trains you to always be prepared.

As an entrepreneur, your product is “precious”. When you are building it, you have a responsibility for creating the best possible product you can and be prepared to adjust to feedback. It’s important to know that if it’s a consumer facing product, you want your users to develop a habit of using it.

Which means that you should look closely at habit-forming mechanisms. Personally I like to follow Nir Eyal’s blog Nir & Far.

By Nir’s system, a product needs to have an experience that is designed to connect a user’s problem to the product’s solution with enough frequency to form a habit. The system has these four basic steps:

A trigger, an action, a reward and an investment.

If you train your team to pay attention to those mechanisms, it will become easier to recognize what works and adjust functionality to increase engagement and retention.

Customer Service and Feedback Loop

As your customers use your product (say it’s an app), you want to maintain a system to stay top-of-mind with them.

Sending emails on a regular basis with clear, concise communication is a great way to keep your users in the loop and make them feel updated with the product’s and the company’s latest news. It develops trust.

MailChimp and Mandrill are great for setting up those regular email campaigns.

Asking for feedback is also great for customer service — you let your users know you care about what they have to say and at the same time you learn about their needs to better enhance your product.

The mechanism for that is pretty straight-forward; if it’s a mobile app, have a Send Feedback screen. Make sure the emails are received by you or someone on your team who can respond quickly. If you receive an issue from a user, make sure to solve it fast. If it’s a suggestion, make sure to reply with a thank you. If you can send over some sort of a perk like a t-shirt or any other swag, it will hold some serious wow factor for that user, and it will go a long way to increase your word of mouth.

The magic is in the details. Remember, if you have an opportunity for a conversation with your users, you have a chance to delight them! If you do, you’ll spread good karma and strengthen the awesomeness of your brand.

Be disciplined. Put systems in place. Be the leading soldier in your own [startup] army.

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Finding Diamonds in the Rough

This year’s independence day weekend I helped my relatives clean the garage. While sorting through piles of old books I stumbled upon a small black covered book named “God’s Little Instruction Book for Graduates”. I am not a religious person and was about to gracefully put the book in to the Goodwill donations pile. But then, my curiosity took over and I opened it up to quickly see what it was about. What I discovered was a pleasant surprise! Each page had an inspirational quote to a life lesson… As someone who loves inspirational quotes, it was like finding diamonds in the rough. I ended up spending the entire day reading the quotes and taking pictures of the best ones. Here they are. Enjoy being inspired 😉

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Minime in 3D

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So, there is this magical co-working office space called Hacker Dojo. It’s the best kept ‘secret’ in the Silicon Valley. It’s in Mountain View (close to Castro St.), it has all the amanitas a startup needs and the rent is super affordable (very unusual for the Mountain View/Palo Alto area).

In this magical place there is a magical room called the pink room (or the Maker Space ;). Where magical things happen! (3D printing, laser cutting, robot making).

I’ve been fascinated with 3D printing for a while now, and when the opportunity came to participate in a 3D project, I didn’t think twice.

The project was to learn about the 3D printing process and test a 3D printing machine from Formlabs.

First, we were given instructions on how to use it. Then came the scanning and printing. We were a group of 3 people from team VentureOut; Helena, Adonis, Sean.

Here is the story told by pictures:

Welcome to the pink room

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Let’s show you around

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Now it’s time to get scanned

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You can even increase or decrease the size of a character :)

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Then you put the liquid material (resin) in the printer

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3D printer in action! (kinda reminds a scene from the Terminator :))

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Anddddd, it’s alive!

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3d need to cut

Now we gotta clean it up and cut the courts (the spikes support)

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Next is to solidify the characters under a UV light

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And that’s it! We have our own 3D minimes! :)

healthy

Eating Healthy While Running a Startup

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During your day as a startup founder, you don’t really want to spend time cooking. You just want to grab something quick to to fill up your belly so you can get back to work.

While doing so might save time, you forget that you have to keep yourself healthy to perform well. Staying healthy will therefore have a positive impact on your startup.

Here are some tips I found helpful to maintain healthy eating habits while not spending too much time on preparing meals…

– Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. It will not only keep you fresh and alert, but it will also fill you up and depress hunger. Water-rich foods like soup, salad, fruit, and vegetables will also fill your belly without contributing excessive calories.

– Thoroughly chewing your food increases what researchers call “oro-sensory factors,” which send satiation signals to your brain, helping you feel full on less food, according to a 2009 study by Dutch researchers. Study participants who chewed each bite for an extra 3 seconds ended up consuming less.

– Bread: Always pick whole-wheat over white for the extra fiber. Look for at least 3 grams in each slice.

– Greek Yogurt is great for breakfast or as a snack, you can add granola to it which will make it extra yummy and healthy.

– There are a lot of vitamins and nutrients that can be cooked out of foods. To avoid that, just save time and eat it raw!  Raw foods can be anything from fruits to veggies to even fish ( sushi :) ).

Make sure to schedule a day each week to go to the grocery store (my favorites are Trader Joe’s and Sprouts) to stack up on all the ingredients you’ll need to quickly put together meals. You can make quick and simple things like sandwiches, veggies & meat snack plates, salads, etc. Some of the items I buy are tomatoes, mixed greens, mini carrots, hummus, celery, apples, oranges, turkey meat, grilled chicken (great for salads), almonds, avocados, whole-wheat bread, greek yogurt, granola, healthy energy bars (like Kind).

Also, taking vitamins is a great way to keep your immune system strong, thus not wasting time on getting sick :) I like taking Vitamin C and Omega 3 fish oil. When I do feel like I am getting sick, my secret ‘vitamin’ is garlic :) I chop half a clove to small pieces and swallow it just as it was a pill. Works like magic.

Get outside every day for a few minutes to breath fresh air and soak in on some sun to optimize your vitamin D levels.

Have fun and keep it up.

What-Matters

You Are Already Naked. There Is No Reason Not to Follow Your Heart.

-updated May 13th, 2018-

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.

Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”  –Steve Jobs.

When I was twelve years old my father died, it was sudden, unexpected, and very sad. I remember not fully understanding, hoping he would come back and that I would wake up from the nightmare. It never happened of course, and as an adult I came to the realization that he’s just gone and will never come back. Whatever memories he left with me is what I have to cherish.

This makes me deeply understand the meaning behind Job’s words: Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Seeing such a close person die, makes you feel naked, not having anything to lose by following your heart, doing what you think is right, and being genuine with yourself and others.

Fear is in our nature, but knowing when to take calculated risk and ignoring ‘dumb’ fear is something each entrepreneur should be able to do. After we are gone, all that is left is the memory of us. So make this memory count for you and others. Create something meaningful, be kind to friends, people who you’ve just met, and people who you don’t need anything from. Smile and make eye contact. It will give people a great feeling, and it might just make their day.

Back in 2012 I started my first startup VentureOut because I wanted to see the product in the world. I barely knew what startups were, but I felt like I just had to build this thing because that’s where my heart was. There are so many things that I’ve learned since starting out. I think that there is a reason why first-time entrepreneurs end up building epic companies, i.e. Jobs, Zuck, Gates, Brin & Page etc. Because they don’t spend enough time in the ‘industry’ to sink on fear or doubt. They just have something awesome in mind that they want to see in the real world, and they go for it full speed! By the time they realize the mechanics, it’s too late, their intuition helped them figure out where they’re headed and how to proceed despite all challenges.

It’s this blind drive and realization of ‘nothing to lose’ attitude that ignites entrepreneurship. Execution creates new streams of drive and motivation, recharging your batteries.

Then, once you’ve built something, make sure you take it to it’s maximum potential–make it the best it can possibly be! It will take time, yes, and a lot of guts. But we live only once, this is your opportunity to reach your maximum potential and make a dent in the world.

Now go out there! Do what you’re passionate about.

I’m now working on VoxSnap, it’s my second startup. And although this time around I’m much more experienced, wise, and understand the “game”, I still try to retain that first time feeling of no limits, of everything is possible and no fear.

What-Matters

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Hacking Cancer With Wheatgrass Juice

This is a true story about how drinking wheatgrass juice helped my grandma flight and concours breast cancer. Originally posted on my wheatgrass magic website.

Year 2008.

Rosa was 72 when she started to feel some sort of lump inside her body under her left breast. She noticed that it made her breathing difficult.

Several months before that, her granddaughter started growing and drinking wheatgrass juice.

One day Rosa came to visit her granddaughter and was curious about this green grass her granddaughter seemed to juice and drink. “Helena, what is this thing you’re drinking she asked (in Russian)”, Helena explained that it’s called wheatgrass juice and it has enourmase health benefits. Rosa wanted to try it out, so after a thorough explanation and demonstration, Rosa gathered all the ingredients and started growing and drinking wheatgrass juice as well.

After a month and a half of drinking the juice, Rosa suddenly discovered a tumor on the surface of the same left breast. She couldn’t feel the lump inside anymore, so she concluded that this tumor must be the original lump coming out to the surface.

When she went to the doctor, he checked the tumor, and sent her to do a mammogram.

After the results came in, the doctor confirmed it was a breast cancer tumor and she needs a surgery to remove it. He was surprised that she found it herself because it was an aggressive tumor, usually can only be found inside the body and not on the surface. He didn’t see any roots and the surgery would be enough to get rid of it.

Rosa had the surgery and the tumor was successfully removed. The doctor was also surprised to find no spread or branches of the bad cancer cells, which are common with these types of aggressive tumors.

For precautionary measures Rosa was still asked to go through chemotherapy treatments, and even during that time Rosa recalls that the nurses were surprised to see such good blood results.

Rosa finished the treatments successfully and went back to her normal life. She embraces drinking wheatgrass juice as part of her every day routine.

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Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, 2013

The happy lady on the right is my grandma 😉

* If you find yourself wonder and having questions about how wheatgrass juice works, read this.