Joanne Wilson is an angel investor with a varied career. But she may be best known as Gotham Gal, the moniker she adopted for her popular blog, where she writes about everything from food to the amazing entrepreneurs she meets—many of them women. In fact, Wilson is a longtime champion of women founders. She's cultivated a portfolio of women-led companies and, six years ago, co-founded WeFestival, which American Express OPEN is sponsoring for 2016, a two-day festival for women entrepreneurs that is part networking event, part enthusiastic celebration of women business owners. (Women entrepreneurs and investors are invited to join the festival's online Slack community.) I caught up with the go-getting Gotham Gal to talk about her work and passion for women entrepreneurs.
How did you get your start as an angel investor?
I've had many careers. I had been in the tech industry in the '90s, when people were just beginning to realize that this thing called the Internet had legs and there was an opportunity to build businesses on a brand new platform. I went home to raise my kids for a while and figure out what's next. And I returned really as I was watching the next generation of the Web unfold.
There was one particular company that I was obsessed with, Curbed Media. I was reading the blogs Eater, Racked and Curbed every single day. I said to my husband [venture capitalist Fred Wilson], 'This is genius. This is the next generation of content. And it's really unfortunate that you would never invest in this because I think this is brilliant.'
He came home the next day and said, '[Curbed founder] Lockhart [Steele] is raising money, you should invest in him—you get this business, you know how to make money, this could be your next career.' So I called Lock and said, 'Let's have lunch. I want to invest.' He was a young entrepreneur and I was trying to figure out what it meant to be an investor as an angel, without LPs [limited partners], how involved do I get… And it was an amazing experience. We sold to Vox a couple of years ago.
So it was a really great experience. And once I did one, you know… a lemonade stand on Monday and chain by Friday! I made a decision not long after that I really wanted to support women. And so, here we are, 90 investments later and 70 percent women founders, and a very, very involved investor. In many ways I get more involved than many VCs that I know!
And when you started there were very few women investors or angels...
Oh, totally. And, by the way, what was an angel? No one knew what that was 15 years ago. It was really the beginning of angel investing.
What are you passionate about?
I'm very passionate about making women better business people as well as creating diversity. It is like a mission to me. I want to see more women succeed.
How can women entrepreneurs find investors?
It's important to find investors that you connect with and that understand your business. And now, it's like startup nation! There are so many different businesses. And there's so much money out there—and you can find these people. Most [angels] generally are excited about everyone's business. It might not be for them, but they will look and give feedback. If you spend time on CrunchBase or LinkedIn or a variety of different things, you can find people. I'm in the 'blank' business, you go online and do tons of research about people who were early stage in those type of businesses—you'd be surprised what you can find.
How can women network better?
Listen, women are different. Two weeks ago, I was invited to a dinner for investors in Los Angeles. I show up and I'm one of 50 people in the room and the only female. There was one woman I thought was going to be there and was looking forward to seeing. I emailed her and said, 'What happened?' She said, 'You know, I had to be with my kids.' And that in a nutshell describes the difference between women and men.
—Joanne Wilson, co-founder, WeFestival
I do think that's changing as a new generation of men are being told, 'You are going away for your paternity leave.' And so they're connected to their families from the get-go. And their responsibilities shift. But at the end of the day, only women are having children. And there are innate characteristics, so women tend to make family and friends a priority over business sometimes.
Men have different networks as well, right?
They do have different networks. They're just different animals.
A lot of attention is on the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley and how that impacts who gets venture funding. Is that changing?
I do think that a lot of people in the Valley react to data. The good news is, the data shows that women have better ROIs on their companies. There are fewer women entrepreneurs, but the numbers are clear: Women have better success than their male counterparts in building their businesses. And companies where there is gender balance have happier, better cultures and environments and end up being more successful businesses. [Ed. Note: Many studies, such as this 2015 study by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, have linked gender diversity with better financial performance.] I could have told you that 20 years ago. I don't need any data.
That's also true for diversity in general.
I agree. I have made a very concerted effort to invest in women and to invest in diversity. If you don't see it, you can't be it. I believe it's important to support people who are role models in communities where you don't see a lot of entrepreneurs.
Any tips or advice for women entrepreneurs?
It's really important for women entrepreneurs to sleep. To take time out to breathe, and get their head out of the weeds—to surround yourself with people that can help you move your business forward but also to find peers and mentors. Being an entrepreneur I think is one of the hardest things in the world. It's one of the loneliest. Because there's no one to really talk to about or commiserate with in your own company about the daily frustrations that you want to keep from your team. So find people that can be your supporters, role models, cheerleaders and care about your success.