Joanne Wilson is a power woman. People in the New York startup world know Joanne as a prolific, hands-on, involved angel investor and a mentor of early stage startups. What sets Joanne apart really is that she puts her money where her mouth is. Joanne has invested in over 40 early stage companies so far, 75% of which are in women-led businesses. Her investments include successful companies like Blue Bottle Coffee, Food52, Nestio, TaxiTreats, DailyWorth, Kitchensurfing and Curbed.
Joanne is also a very popular blogger. Millions of people from different parts of the world connect with Joanne everyday through her blog. She has been blogging daily since the last 10 years, she writes about all things she is passionate about – technology entrepreneurship, women in tech and entrepreneurship, angel investing, books, world travel and food. Joanne is the quintessential example of a modern woman who is not afraid to call the shots and command her own life.
We at HerStory had the pleasure of catching up with Joanne Wilson. Let us find out more about her thoughts on women in entrepreneurship and why she is excited about investing in women.
Below are edited excerpts from the interview:
HS: You have been blogging everyday for the last 10 years. What keeps you going?
JW: Writing is a great practice. It makes thinking clear. Blogging has been the foundation of my career in the last 10 years. I have been very disciplined since childhood, and that helps sticking to the routine.
HS: You have had multiple transitions in your career. Tell us a bit about that.
JW: I went through many career transitions before I got to where I am now. At the age of 20, I had started in the retail world. And the retail experience taught me a lot in terms of how to run a business. I ran a business in the garment center. I stayed at home with my kids. I helped my friends build their companies. I got involved with companies in the tech industry. I chaired a non-profit. I have always been interested in growing businesses. I started blogging 10 years ago because I wanted to stay connected to the tech business with hope that it would turn into something. Fast forward, my blog connected me with entrepreneurs and gave me a platform to begin angel investing.
HS: What was your childhood like? How has it shaped you?
JW: I was born in California. We lived in LA and Michigan for some time. My parents got divorced when I was 15 years old, which had a big impact on me. We went from being financially very fine to not being so fine. My mother was an entrepreneur. She raised all of us from the very onset to be completely independent. If we fell off the fence she was there to prop us back up vs any hand holding. I knew it was important to take care of myself and always had three-four jobs starting at the age of 15. I never stopped working until at one point when I had kids. I was determined to never have to worry about someone having to take care of me. I always wanted to command my own life.
HS: About 75% of your investments are in businesses run by women? Was that a conscious decision?
JW: I met a lot of women when I started angel investing. Many were having issues with people not being able to understand their businesses. The ability to have another woman to share their experiences with is important. I realized there was a huge gap. So I made a conscious decision to invest in women. Not that I don’t invest in businesses run by men, but in many ways the male run businesses have to be one slot up because I want to be supportive of women entrepreneurs
HS: How are women different from men when it comes to running their businesses?
JW: Women are more open to listening. Women are in it for the long run. They are willing to put in the time and take the long road to success. They are very methodical people. They care not only passionately about their companies, but the people who they are working with, which I think is very important because when you are doing that you create a better environment for everyone and hence create a better chance of success for everyone.
HS: Are there any sectors where women start up more?
JW: Traditionally, we have been seeing a lot of e-commerce and fashion businesses. I am happy to see more women led businesses enter other verticals besides these categories. I am a generalist in regards to investing, but if you break things down and see where I have invested, you will see investments across food, real estate, commerce, content and technology. These are businesses that I can get excited about. The last three investments I did were in the medical arena.
HS: You also chair the Women Entrepreneurship Festival in New York. How did that happen?
JW: Nancy Hechinger, my co-founder at Women Entrepreneurs Festival, has been a friend for quite some time. She is a professor at Interactive Telecommunications (ITP) department at NYU, which is a little bit like MIT Media Lab with more of a bend towards the arts. She was teaching a bunch of classes where there were more men than women. ITP has always been 50/50 men/women. She said that the dynamics in the class are completely different when it is not 50/50. She wanted to do an event around women entrepreneurs. We had breakfast, discussed it and the rest is history. That is how the festival began. We recently hosted the fourth annual edition of the festival. We are very excited about the impact the festival has had in the community.
HS: What is your hope for the next generation of men and women?
JW: I would hope that we will reach an equal relationship in regards to raising families and having jobs. I would hope that we will reach a point when men will be the ones deciding to stay home and raise their families and we will all applaud that.
HS: Looking back at your successful career, what is your advice to young women?
JW: I think you should really believe in yourself. You should be comfortable with being yourself. You should think about where you want to be in the future, and work accordingly. If you are working in a corporate organisation, and you wake up three weeks thinking I don’t want to go to work here, you don’t belong there. Life is too short. Maybe because of my personality or whatever, I was never good at kowtowing to people and I was never good at politics. I always felt that I was an equal and I deserved a position based on my merit, and that came across in my interactions with everyone. I urge women all over to believe in themselves and pursue what they want with gusto.