The Inconvenient Truth, Alexandra Fenneli & Mia Abbruzzese, Podcast #151

Alexandra Fenneli & Mia Abbruzzese are the founders and co-CEOs of the new direct-to-consumer company Attn: Grace, which focuses on intimate products for aging women. We got together over zoom to discuss their entrepreneurial journey and the challenges of creating a personal care brand and disrupting the incontinence segment.

You can also listen to this on iTunes and Soundcloud.

Our next guest on PGG will be Dr. Joan Fallon, the doctor, an academic, and the entrepreneur behind Curemark.

Mental Health Should be #1

We are slowly coming out of a global pandemic. There is a feeling of giddiness in the air. But for many, their mental health has gone off the rails during the past 16 months, particularly the youth.

Sandy Hook Promise’s new PSA campaign, “The Kids Are Not Alright,” is intended to raise awareness and prevent tragedy. I am so impressed with what the leaders of Sandy Hook have accomplished since the tragedy in their idyllic town. They continue to drive home kids’ emotional, mental health issues that can turn into tragedy from violence, shootings, suicide, self-harm, and depression.

These three PSA’s give me chills. We should all watch them and pay attention to those around us who are having a tough time. The pandemic might be over but the mental health issues are not especially as a teenager.

Rolling Back to Normal

I love the quote of the day in the NY Times. This past week, Diane Swonk, a chief economist, said, “It turns out it’s easier to put an economy into a coma than wake it up.”

Here in downtown NYC, it feels like things are rolling back to normal. The laws are loosening, and in September, the theater opens. Restaurants are truly at 100% capacity, although they aren’t supposed to be quite yet. People are respectful about putting on masks when going into a store or ordering food, but the streets have many without. The stats are almost zero in NYC of people getting Covid. We have gone out every single night and even had a big party. Vaccinations work.

We will never roll back to normal. The question is, what is the new normal? We have quite a while before we see how it all shakes out, but it will. The one clear thing is that many big businesses in multiple industries are not really succeeding. Just like the infrastructure in our country, the last thirty years have been semi-stagnant. Supply chains aren’t up to speed. Shopping for clothes in brick and mortar locations still has a way to go. Grocery is too big, just like big box stores. Every one of these places got smacked during Covid. They were heading over the cliff, but Covid sped it up. Thank god, it was so painful to watch.

Everything really has changed. Covid has shown us multiple holes from childcare to a broken education system and voids we didn’t even know about, like grocery delivery. After the Spanish Flu, the healthcare system changed. It highlighted the need for a better healthcare system. So if we follow what has been brought to light during Covid, those industries will start to change. It might take some time, but to return to something that was never that great, to begin with after a global pandemic, makes zero sense.

But then again, it does seem strangely normal.

Childcare

65% of women have school-age children work. Over 3m women have dropped out of the workforce compared to a quarter of that for men. Why? It’s the children. Someone has to take care of the children. Data proves that the majority of the responsibility still falls on a woman’s shoulders. The only way to change this is by creating a much larger childcare industry. Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, she was right when she said and then wrote a children’s book on the topic; It Takes A Village.

I feel like I did a pretty good job of navigating my career alongside raising a family. I got to the other side. I can’t even imagine being home all day with school-aged children watching and listening to how they work. Exhausting.

Women should have the ability to have equal careers to men with zero holds barred in those pre-Kindergarten days. Women should have options.

I know many women who chose to leave the workforce when they had kids. I did the same thing when Jessica and Emily were 3 and 1. I basically stayed home while working, and my career evolved. Kind of like all the women did during Covid through the phone.

I know many women who just never worked in business again. They worked differently. They raised a family, kept a home, and that is not easy. But now, many of these women find themselves as empty nesters with many years ahead of them. Husbands continue to work, and the days are empty. It isn’t bad, but at this point, you can’t rejoin the workforce. Many begin to feel really lost. And all of them are smart well-education women.

They had no options. There has to be more options to have equality.

Melinda and Bill

The first time I met Bill Gates, and pretty much the only time, was in Arizona. We were on Ester Dyson’s tech boondoggle in 1995. Fred pointed him out. He was wearing green striped sweat knee socks that I wore as a teenager in camp with Clark ankle wallabies, polyester, slightly beige knee-length shorts with a side belt attached to the pants. On top, he has an oversized, burgundy crumpled like it had been in a laundry pile with a few stains here and there. Nerdy? I think so.

The rest of the time, like all of us in the tech world, we had watched with awe and fascination when Bill Gates married Linda and began the next journey with a partner. You could see the transformation quite quickly as he became more human and put himself together better—a more sophisticated geek.

Everyone knew how smart Linda was; otherwise, it would have never worked. As she blossomed, she started to notice that many women are feeling what she is feeling. Why are women still second fiddles? I love her voice for women and how she has used the foundation to make a world social impact with a slant towards social progress.

Fred and I have been together for forty years. We became adults together. We have both worked hard at finding common interests. Lucky for us our interests connect on almost everything. As two driven, passionate humans who live together, especially when one of them has become so successful, it isn’t always easy to shine.

Every relationship is an endless dance. It makes me sad to see that they couldn’t figure out how to keep dancing after all this time together.

Future of Art Fairs?

Frieze came to life again at the Shed in NYC this past week. The Shed was built with the concept in mind of being an amorphous structure. It could house theater, concerts, readings, orchestras, art installations, and even art fairs. Except for the thrill of returning to “normal” by going to an art fair, seeing the Shed become the foundation for the Frieze was the best part.

The show was small, with only 60 galleries. I wasn’t disappointed by the size but the lack of excitement. I would have expected to see new, more thoughtful work after a global pandemic and a lockdown of the past 14 months, but I didn’t. It felt somber and uninspiring.

There are multiple art shows on the horizon. It is really time to reimagine them. How do they engage new collectors of all ages? How do they not just feel like a gallery has just been planted in a semi-permanent space for a few days like a trade show? How do we have more conversations and interactions with the artists and other collectors? Maybe live artistic performances, panels of collectors, artists talking about their process and thoughts, schools discussing art programs.

Something to make art more human than an asset class. Art represents the times. I can’t imagine a more perfect time to hear and see what artists are thinking.

The Armory Show is coming to the Javits Center in the fall. The space is tremendous. I hope that they really think out of the box. Change must come.

Melissa Tate

When I first began blogging, one woman reached out to me from across the globe. She is an Afrikaner. She knew I was going to be in London, and she was in Europe at the time. She flew in, and we had lunch, kept in touch, and had lunch again in London a few years later. She came to the Women’s Entrepreneur Festivals too. I like hearing from her. It is nice to have a like-minded friend across the globe.

She sent me this YouTube video of Melissa Tate and said it was worth the 9 minute listen. As an Afrikaner, she is interested in her story. I watched the video, and keep in mind I actually didn’t realize who this woman was. I did a bit of research after listening to her but mailed my friend my reaction below.

Very interesting.  She is a strong female.  I can’t entirely agree that the changes taking place are negative but positive.  The message is definitely you can do anything here, and we must make amends for not spreading that love to the Black community.  It is happening; I do not believe it is oppressive.  She has been able to rise up, but I fear her message is like our black Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, or even Tim Scott, the Black GOP senator who spoke out against Biden.  They are not helping their people but dismissing most of them for not being able to rise through the ranks.  Yet, I do hear what she is saying.  Bottom line, the biggest issue is there are divides everywhere, and we need to do a better job of agreeing to disagree.

She agreed with my response and noted the importance of understanding and listening to different views. That it is something about how we grow up and who raises us. We live by what we experience or are exposed to. Those layers are deep, but we need to be ok with agreeing to disagree at the end of the day.

Listening to Melissa Tate rattles me and reminds me that we are so divided as a nation on almost everything, even though some of the divides are larger and others smaller. How do we as a nation learn from our past and move forward?

Returning to Theater and Movies

There are countless reasons to love NY, but above all, our entertainment program is supreme. Covid decimated all of it from galleries, museums, live theater, live music, and the movies. We need the arts. The arts define our times. Anything we can do to support that community is important.

Blindness at the Daryl Roth Theater is the first theater we have been to in a long time. It is one of the first shows to open. Simon Stephens adapted the book by Jose Seragamo into a 70-minute immersive audio play. If you haven’t read Blindness, do. It is a phenomenal dystopian book that was published in 1995. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, and Blindness was one of the reasons.

Set inside a city where over a short period of time, everyone goes blind except the woman telling the story who can see although feigns blindness. She tells the tale over 70 minutes during flashing lights and darkness through a set of headphones the entire audience is wearing. You feel immersed in the story. Her voice is mesmerizing. I could listen to a book on tape for hours with her voice.

You had to show your vaccination card, temperatures were taken, and everyone had to wear their mask and chairs set up six feet from each other except next to your friends. Being in a theater with strangers and experiencing a really well-done live show felt fantastic. During the end of a global pandemic, dystopian theater points to the reminder that you never know what would happen.

Our next experience was going to the Film Forum. One of the gems of downtown NY. A non-profit theater supporting independent films since 1970. We watched a film I have tried to watch find streaming most of Covid and missed at Sundance two years ago. The Truffle Hunters. A documentary film in Piedmont, Italy, where the 80+ year men still hunt truffles like they did hundreds of years ago. It is a beautiful film.

No popcorn, no soda, not even Milk Duds yet, so that is a bummer. But sitting in a theater, even if there were only 6 other people there, watching a film on the big screen made me just long for more.

Connecting the Jobs to the Jobless

Will the non-profit world ever figure out how to stop being fiefdoms? Why must they try and reinvent the wheel when others organizations are doing the same thing? For instance, some incredible internship programs are being run in NYC. Why doesn’t every non-profit that represents underserved teens in NYC partner with the best organization getting these internships so that corporations know there is one go-to spot that will help place the right kids in the right jobs for the summer? Instead, we see multiple non-profits working on their own internship programs. It makes no sense.

Right now, the restaurants that have survived the pandemic are trying to survive without a full staff. I wrote about this last week. Some restaurants can’t open sections due to a shortage of employees. There are plenty of people in underserved communities who would be thrilled to have a job. I know firsthand that many of them would never even conceive walking into certain neighborhoods looking for employment.

There should be a job fair for restaurants and other companies that need employees. Get the communities who live in NYCHA or other areas through the city that have not had access to jobs to attend. There could be a one-day training event to teach some basic rules and then even a follow-up for the people running the job fair finding out how is it going, is there anything we can be of help with, just a support system to integrate a whole new group of people into the workforce. We should be doing this for the incarcerated people who are having their records erased for selling cannabis. We can’t just open the jail door without any help returning to the job force.

As NYC starts to emerge from this pandemic, this is something I have been thinking about. I am frustrated about where to turn and how to get this done, but I know there is a huge divide here. We need to figure out how to connect the jobless to jobs.

From Jenny to Jing, Jing Gao, Podcast #150

Jing Gao is the founder of Fly By Jing, a line of Chinese spice and condiments inspired by her hometown of Chengdo. We got together over zoom to discuss her entrepreneurial journey, and the challenges of creating a high-quality, modern, female-led Chinese food brand.
To learn more about Fly By Jing, you can visit the website.

You can also listen on iTunes and Soundcloud.
Our next guests on PGG will be Alexandra Fennell & Mia Abbruzzese, the new direct-to-consumer company Attn: Grace, which focuses on intimate products for aging women.