Okay. Well, I highly recommend that, it definitely has like a really memorable branding. But you know, it’s okay that you haven’t had it yet, because , today, we interviewed Maxine Kozler, who actually was one of the first early stage investors in sweet green back in 2010, which also throwback back in 2010. Which we were what in seventh grade, we were what fangirling over Justin Bieber one direction, whereas Maxine, our guest today, was actually investing in one of the coolest brands that we know today. So we were super lucky to interview someone who is one of the early stage investors. And Maxine is actually a co Managing Director of LDR ventures, which is a female led California based venture capital and management consulting firm, super cool.
Anjana 2:31 I loved having this conversation with her because it took so many turns that I just was not expecting. And she was so fun to talk to was so cool. I felt so inspired. Yeah. And she had great insights. So we talked about her career right out of college, she gave us some tips about what to do these first couple years post grad. She actually started that in the entertainment industry where she told us she met Jay Z and Beyonce, what a life. I know, lucky girl. And we then dive into her time at LDR, founding LDR how they decide which companies to invest in like Sweet Green and Thrive Market. And we talked about their mission of really investing in female companies. And the topic of investing in women like how there’s barely any venture capital that goes into female companies. It’s at 7% right now, I believe. So we talked about not only, like ldrs mission there, but also Maxine’s personal story in investing in woman herself. Right?
Epsa 3:29 No, totally. I mean, I think this was such an awesome conversation, because we got to learn just how intentional this space is, and how when you’re investing, you’re really investing in the people in the product. Like when I think of venture capital, I just think of finance and budgets and money, finance bros, AMC GameStop. But I never think about how, okay, this space is so intentional, because you’re investing in the people and you have to back up the people that produce these products that you want to put your money in. Because you know, it’ll have like, greater good impact. And I never thought about it from that perspective. And just hearing Maxine, talk about it. And just this whole mission, she’s driving like I’m super excited for all of you to listen to this episode and just kind of look at this space from a different lens.
All right, well, thank you, Maxine, for spending your Tuesday afternoon with us. So just to kind of kick off the questions and to get started. So all of us at Reimagined are really excited just to learn more about you and your experiences thus far and kind of how you’ve led yourself to be a co Managing Director of LDR ventures. But could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your career before LDR ventures and just how you got here and just tap into previous experiences that have enabled you to be here
Absolutely. And thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here and to make this happen. So to give foundation, LDR ventures is sort of a venture capital office. But it’s really backed by our family office that I run day to day, and my co managing director is my husband. And we have a third partner. And what we do is we invest in startup companies, and we particularly invest very early. In the process, we do angel investing in what’s called seed stage investing. So we’re really getting ideas for companies that are like just starting to come up and running, or they’ve been up just a little bit enough to do proof of concept that like, yes, the market really does want what they have, and now they need money to grow and scale. But what we found more than anything is they need operational help, they need mentorship, they need someone to come and advise them just as much as they need the funding. So that leads me to what I did before. Because everything I did before was so necessary to get to this point. Um, and I definitely believe that in looking in hindsight, I can see how all the pieces laid out to this beautiful map to get here. But in no way at the time, when I was sitting in certain jobs did I think I’d get here or felt stuck in that job, and how am I going to get the big career and the big job that I really want. So the number one thing I would say is, no matter what job you’re in, you are learning such valuable things that will help to get you to where you think you want to go. Or where you eventually end up. So every job is so valuable, there is absolutely nothing wasted. And that’s also why it is so important to do a great job, no matter what your job. And the more bored you are. And the more frustrated you are, the more important it is that you do a great job at it because somebody is watching. There’s somebody with you, whether it’s internally at your company, or client you’re interacting with, who’s going to know it, who’s going to remember it, who’s going to be a future reference for you.
So it’s super important. So I started in the entertainment industry. I started like 18 or 19 years old in college, I interned at a radio station. And then I got a recording studio for the band, the cars. And they had a lot of like famous celebrity friends, anyone who came into Boston would stop by the studio. And then it were for record producer, then I worked for record labels. So I was in the entertainment industry, specifically music as the whole beginning of my career. And that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. And the short story isI was in the lobby at the recording studios that I worked for. And that’s where all the Songwriters hung out. And the Songwriters get paid through publishing. It’s a copyright. It’s an intellectual property. So they’re mostly getting paid by their publishing deals. So in hanging out with them, like literally my job was to entertain them and get coffee. And I thought it was all kind of cool and fascinating. And I would talk with them. So by like 19 or 20 years old, they had taught me what copyrights were, what a publishing deal was even showing me contracts and like what you had to pay attention to in the contract. And two things, one, it once I graduated, it gave me a lot of value. Because it was a skill set. Like literally, I had the skill set. And it wasn’t that glamorous at the time. Like nobody cared about publishing, everybody wanted to work for the record label and hang out with the celebs and record albums and go to concerts. And the publishing was sort of like this, not a cool thing at the time. And really, it’s like a tremendous moneymaker. And right now it’s like the only moneymaker in music besides touring, which actually, that’s even cut off.
So I did something that was unglamorous at the time, by the time I left the music world was the most valued piece of the whole industry. And I actually had developed this real, very real skill set in an industry that, you know, if you can talk a good game, you can do really well. So to actually have a skill set that was valued was also like I could always get a job and I could always, you know, just jump right into a situation.
But what learning about intellectual property, and the value of the brand is what basically I got from that whole experience and all those years. And yes, I met Jay Z and I met Beyonce when they first started dated and I have pictures of me with them.
That’s so cool. Oh my gosh.
Yeah ccommercials for Super Bowl campaigns and, you know, had the NFL like bringing me to box seats, and you know, at different at the Giants games. So I lived in New York at the time, I’m trying to think of like all the super funds, and I’ve been to the Grammys several times. I was working on all the music for the Dave Chappelle show on Comedy Central, so I got to go to tapings of the Dave Chappelle show.
But it’s an industry that is absolutely run on the fact of the cool factor. It’s so cool. And there’s so many people that want to be in it, that you will make half to two thirds doing a job in that industry than in any other industry. So if you’re a marketing manager, in music, or even entertainment, you’re making half what your friend who’s a marketing manager and an advertising agency makes. And you’re probably making a third, of a friend who’s like in pharmaceuticals marketing. So that particular industry is run on the fact that it’s so cool, and you do with these really awesome things, that you’re willing to take less money, and it’s only this couple percent at the top, they’re making the bulk of the money. And you I mean, in finance, too, you can say that, but you’re still getting a pretty hefty amount as your base. But even within finance, venture capital, today, is the music industry of Finance. It’s the cool hip job to have. But if you’re coming in as an associate at a venture capital firm, you’re gonna make very little money. And there’s really a huge jump between you and becoming a partner. There’s like sort of no steps up to jump there. You have to do a lot of lateral moves.
Right? That is a really cool, that is a perfect analogy with like your previous experiences.
Okay, wait, let’s go back to the beginning. Because I am very curious, what did you major in in college? Where did you go for college? How did you get into the as both of us? I don’t know how much how you’re pretty involved in kabale. But you know, from the business school, most of us know people who are in tech, who are you know, at one of the big accounting firms. I don’t know, a single person in the music industry. So I’m curious. I wish Yeah, seriously, I’m Jay Z, Beyonce, what a life.. But what I mean, where did you go to school? What was your major? What was your first in.
So I’m like, the opposite of everybody else. I know, in venture capital, I am definitely like this one off situation. And my husband is a little bit, although he does have a finance degree. And he’s a multiple over and over again, entrepreneur.
I went to Boston University, because I needed to be in a city. And, I was General studies for the first two years. And then when I had to declare a major, I’m like, Okay, well, what would I want to do for two years? Um, I said, Okay, I guess I could watch movies. So I became a film major, wow, of that. But I had started interning pretty early in, like my life, where my internships, and I got hired at, like, every internship. So it’s one of those where I was so dedicated, I just thought I had always been totally obsessed with the entertainment industry. But funny enough, in high school, I like my dream was to be in finance. My dream was totally to be like a deal maker on wall street or somewhere, you know, private equity or something. But I never equated that to getting a specific education around it. I think I looked at it as if you’re a good deal maker, you just, you know, what, you need to know how to make deals, and you need to how to spot talent and negotiate. And taking accounting didn’t, you know, fall into my realm of something I thought I would need?
Yeah. So yeah, but I like I said, I don’t know anyone else like me, per se in the business. I mean, I know one or two people who came from entertainment, but they’re like lawyers.
What I loved about that story is I think a lot of college students and people our age fall into this it like way of thinking were your first job out of college is it like, it’s, we put so much importance on to this first, like maybe two years that we say, you know, at a place and I think it stresses everyone out when we realize like, it’s not exactly what we wanted.
And so it’s really cool to hear your story of this is such a vastly different industry that you were in than you are now. Which kind of leads into our next question of was there like ever a specific moment or excuse
In any of your previous roles that inspired you to dive into venture capital, or the investment space, or just start your own company
Um I think well, then I, when I finally did leave the music industry, I went to a toy company called Melissa and Doug toys, which had been pre just previously purchased by a majority share of a private equity firm. And it was interesting, because they’re already, you know, really big, they were doing hundreds of millions in revenue. But they’d never done PR, they’d never done marketing, they never had a public face, they just made sure they were in the stores. So it was great, because it was this mix experience of getting to do all these things for the first time, but already having a beloved brand. So like that made it even easier. But it was really looking at the numbers, we need to scale this much like it was I had this incredible boss, who was the CMO. And he really defined with the numbers, like we need this much growth month over month, you know, we’re trying to beat these numbers. And it became like a fun game, like a super fun game. So that everything we did it’s like, how is that going to grow the number, you know, we have awareness, or we have goodwill, but, um, like I said, it was blessed because the brand was already loved. And they made products that I could feel good about, they were like a no tech, they would create a play base. So I felt good about it. But you know, I had this whole world to open up for them. So just that growth, how do you grow a brand? You know, how do you interact with your customers for goodwill, but also to have them spread the word, it just really showed me about investing. And that was around the time that we were offered our first investment. So then the other side happened, where we just started getting up, but we were evaluating companies for other people, and whether or not they should be going into deals. And then one of the people said, Hey, you know, we’re gonna go into this deal, would you like to too? And that was our first investment that was 2010. And it was, at the time a little company called Sweet green that made salads. And they had two locations. And we checked it out, and we went to go see them. And we met the founders, and we’re like, they have something here, they definitely have something here and we wrote a check. And it was just super exciting. It just, we we just got such adrenaline and juice over it to like, be involved with this thing that we could feel it, we could feel something big was gonna happen with this, and that we could be on the journey. And at this point, we were a mix of still really young enough to be on lines and be involved. But at the same time having some experience that we could also help as a mentor and advisor as well.
By we You mean you and your husband or?
So my co managing director and that awesome CMO at Melissa & Doug, is my husband.
Um, so yeah, so my husband and I just, we just wrote a check. We were married at the time.And we just wrote a checkr. But it was it, was just off to the races from that moment on. We were like wow, we don’t have to start a whole company, we could just invest in somebody else who’s doing it and just advise and help them and share our experience. And my husband had opened and sold so many businesses already. But then he was at big corporate places. So we had this great mix. And I just to me everything was the branding and the IP and like what do you really own at the end of the day? So it sort of blended together?
Yeah, gosh, wow. Well, speaking of just like growth and the branding, and like identifying sweet green back in 2010, I want to like backtrack a little bit. So you and your husband just invested in them. Could you kind of explain how you two initially got started with wanting to invest in companies like sweet green? or How did you kind of identify like, the spaces you wanted to invest and consult and help mentor?
And yeah, no excellent question, because and to this day, we have still pretty much carried through with a very disciplined approach. And we were commented on that by one of the people who invest with us, because they brought us a deal, like much later stage than we invest. And I just said, You know, I don’t know how to even evaluate that. Because that’s not what we do. So I just need to pass purely on like I really can’t make a good judgment call.And it’s not a learning curve thing. Sometimes you’re learning a new industry, and that’s just a learner. But I was like, that’s just not our game. And I know enough about that game to not dip my toe in it when it’s so far beyond what we do. So, to this day, we invest in what we know. And then gratefully as operators in our own careers, we’ve gotten into several different industries and type, type of businesses where we have a lot of personal experience behind us. So we know a fair amount. But yeah, we basically invest in what we know, both in the industries, and at what stage that’s the thing. So this seed stage I talked about, it’s like the businesses up and running. There, they’ve made some revenue, but mostly, they just show that they understand who their market is, and that they’re bringing something different to the market that nobody else is quite doing. And that they get where the opportunity is to scale it. And that’s our sweet spot. That’s we can come in, we can write a check, we can give them money, but it’s also where we can work with them the most to help them scale. To that point where then it’s like, okay, now you just really need 5 million for marketing, you know, you’re gonna be raising 10-15 million at this point, because you’re gonna keep scaling if you just keep dumping more money into like opening up a new facility or something like that. So we have our sweet spot, we have exactly our point at which we know we can help.
Yeah. So kind of going off that I was looking at LDR on LinkedIn, and I loved just the description. I’m going to pull a quote real quick. So it says, we embrace diversity, inclusion, diverse teams and female founders, we look for operationally savvy entrepreneurs, Game Changers and market insiders to address systemic and behavioral trend changes. And obviously, we can talk about the D&I aspect of it later. But I want to touch on the systemic and behavioral trend changes part of it. How do you identify that?
OF the trenches? Of the founders or just the type of businesses we go in?
Like the type of businesses you go into? Like, what does it mean to have a systemic and behavioral trend change?
Okay, perfect example, we are just finishing the paperwork on our newest investment. And it is a company called source. Now I say it’s this chocolate candy that has vitamins in it, or it’s a vitamin company, but it’s a little delicious, amazing chocolates,
say less, I’m in
love to get you some samples.
So they’ve made unbelievably delicious chocolate candies, all clean, dairy free, vegan, absolutely amazing. But they’re, they’re the new form of supplements. So forget gummy vitamins, these are like, this is a completely new way of doing it. Their efficacy is more because you’re chewing it. And so you’re ingesting the vitamins differently. They have a b 12 and a collagen to start and they’ve got like five more coming out. But I just looked at it. And I said, Oh my goodness, you’re going to change the whole game, you’re going to change the entire game, because whether it’s you’re looking at supplements, and like the gummy, we’re all they did they change the whole way, you would take a vitamin for kids for adults by chewing the scumming. So I see it in a similar form. And then on the flip side, I stand there in the chocolate aisle. And all the chocolate brands are trying to be more than just talk chocolate. Like maybe it’s sourced from somewhere really exotic in the world, or the cocoa beans are picked by all the women in the village and this funds them to actually be able to survive.And then some of them talk about like the percentage of dark chocolate and the antioxidants in it. Or you know it has goji berries in the chocolate and that’s so both the supplement world and vital proteins was also a huge game changer. That changed when people became aware of taking collagen and this whole method of doing it through powder in whatever you’re drinking.Like I said, the gummy world changed it. And then on the flip side, chocolate and candies have also said we’re gonna have to be more than just delicious. We need another purpose to us. Smart sweets also did an incredible job and was just purchased after like five years of being around for an incredible amount of money from a PE firm. So I was introduced to this company, I tried the product and I looked at it and I said oh my god, they’re going to change the whole game of chocolate and supplements.
I feel like that is such the sweet spot now because there’s been such a rise and people really putting a focus on their health and also, when you were introduced to that company, I’m curious, are you now at the stage where you’re being introduced to these types of companies more? Or are you kind of finding them on your own? Like, how are they being brought to you?
Maxine 25:24 That’s an excellent, excellent question. And it was, it was very deliberate how we did it.So we invested privately for many years, and, you know, just through our personal networks, and once you invest in one deal, that it right, you know, and you write checks, so you start to get deal flow deal flow, basically, um, and it was happening, but it just wasn’t happening enough, or we were just like, well, we would want to see a lot more deals before we would decide what we’d want to get into. So we officially became LDR. Um, I gotta have to think it’s like five or six years ago now. And we said, okay, we’re going to, we’re going to go public, we’re going to make this like our public face, so that people know and people in the industry and will now know, you know, because we already have a history of it. So it’s good. We’re not starting from scratch. So we launched a website. We started, my husband and I both started on the speaking circuit. So we did panels, and we did incubators, and we mentored at different accelerators. We hosted and sponsored a lot of events in the industry. So we very proactively, then let it be known that we were out there, we were investing, we were mentoring. And we put a tremendous amount of effort into it. So now, five years later, six years later on, it’s just a matter of keeping up with the network. So it’s like all the major accelerators, and a lot of the new ones, they’ll come to us and say, like, Hey, we’re having a demo day, or more. So I get very warm introductions, either from other investors that hey, I found this great deal. I’m going in & wanted to show it to you in case you want to go in, or even hey, it’s not right, for me, we’re passing but I know you do this.But the other greatest source we have is the other founders. So either people we’ve invested in or just even mentored will constantly refer to us. So yeah, most of our deals absolutely come word of mouth. But we worked very hard to build the network to be known. And we still do we still do.
Yeah, that makes sense. Because I mean, each time you invest in a company, like more often than not, you’re investing in the people because they have to drive that mission and hone it forward. Which kind of leads me to my next question. I know, on your website, I was just taking a gander. And you guys mentioned a lot of, there’s two phrases that really stuck out to me, and I wanted your take on like the people and investing aspects. So on your website, you mentioned you invest where meaning and money ntersect and that your approach is organic and synergistic. Love those phrases, they speak a lot to me, but I was wondering what does that mean to LDR? And how has that helped you identify the people and companies you want to invest in?
Maxine 28: 10
Absolutely, absolutely. Well, the meaning and money, I have to give full credit to my husband. That is his catchphrase. Because especially for his career, he every day almost has to make a choice. Am I going to do this for the money? Or am I going to do it because it brings meaning into my life? And then finally at LDR, it’s well why can’t it be both? Why can’t I bring those two things together? So the company now that we invested in years ago and have been with for a long time, my husband stepped in as the CEO last year, and it’s called law champs. Law champs.com and it matches the consumer with attorneys for anything you need personal professional, that’s so cool, free for the consumer to come on and find an attorney anywhere you are for whatever your needs are. So if you’re starting a business, you need to establish an LLC, or get a partnership agreement. It’ll find an attorney, you know, in your state that you can work with or you’ll get multiple choices of attorneys. So this is one of the areas where my husband looked at it and especially stepping in a CEO. He said this is the merger of meaning and money, like yes, it’s a tech company. We want to scale it, we want it to be incredibly successful. But it has meaning because we are democratizing access to the legal system. So somebody in the middle of Alabama, which we got a lot from who is getting divorced or is having a custody issue. Week instantly we can match them with attorney choices so they can work on these major life issues. Or especially with entrepreneurship. If you do not get your legal paperwork done right in the beginning,you are going to pay for it so dearly, two or three years into the business.So we just felt like we, with this business, we are truly helping people. And we’re helping the people in the middle of the country, or in the middle class. And so it’s like, okay, that’s the intersection of meaning and money. I love that so much. Yeah, that’s incredible.
So, going back to, you know, your mission of empowering female founders. I wanted to ask what this is, this is a stat that I’ve heard thrown around a lot this last year, especially that women receive 7% of venture funds for startups and black and Hispanic woman make up about 3%. A, like what are your thoughts on that? How are you trying to fix that, in a sense, but what is the case for investing in female led or founded startups?
Got it. First of all, those numbers are wonderful to hear. I’m super excited, because I think it was four years ago, when the whole the whole Silicon Valley scandal started happening. And then the Hollywood scandal started happening. Women were at 2% of venture funding, so that’s huge. And like two, three to four years, they’ve gotten up to 7%. That is big, like that’s changed, that will stay. That’s not like, oh, one year, everyone started just funding women, because it became the thing. And then they went right back to business. It has methodically been moving up over the past three or four years. So that’s actually a really good thing. And even with the Latin community, that was a fraction of a percent, it wasn’t even a whole percent at the time, and women of color have terrible stats. But that’s actually an improvement. The other thing is there’s so much Angel funding that goes on with women run businesses, that it doesn’t get reported to technically that numbers higher in just terms of people investing in female founded businesses. So you know, those numbers are based on what’s getting reported in the pitchbook. And crunchbase. You know, not someone who just privately took, you know, an equity stake in their business from an investor.What I have dedicated myself to do, and I have other female ambassadors that I’ve done it with, we all came to the same conclusion. Conclusion, there;s more there’s more men in venture and private equity, and they write checks to other men. So we said, well, the easiest way to start working on this is we need more women writing the checks. So we have proactively gone out to women in our network, high net worth women, whether they’re in finance, or they’re lawyers, or doctors or marketing executives. And we basically said, Hey, you want to write your first check, you want to write a check to a female loan business, I’m going to show you 10 of them, and you tell me which one you like. And that’s what we’ve methodically been doing for the past few years. So I created what’s called an SPV, a special purpose vehicle. So that each person can decide whether or not they want to go into a deal. And then we have a different group of people per deal. But that way, people and women, specifically, they can say, Hey, I’m gonna write that first check. And I want to do it about something I feel passionate about, I love the product, or I love the site. And I love the founder. And I believe in the founder, and I want to write a check. So I do that through LDR. So that’s the way myself and a lot of other female investor friends have worked on it, is we’re just getting more women to write checks, and they’re all writing checks to other women.
I love that. That is incredible. That’s just like making room for others at the table, you have to start somewhere. And truly, if that is really where you have to start, you just have to start writing those checks, but then crack kind of creating that space where like, because I’m sure it can be like intimidating and uneasy at first having to know you’re investing X amount of money, but then knowing who and what and why you’re investing. That kind of helps push it forward
Really, and it is the tone. I don’t know if someone would say it’s the tone of venture capital, the tone of the world that myself and my fellow female investors, and I mean, some of the female investors that I work with, they’re at huge funds. They’re at like massive, massive funds. Some of them started their own funds, and some are just Angel check writers, but they like to get everybody or they started their own accelerator or a female founder. So everybody’s in it, but it is the most inclusive, supportive environment that I’ve ever seen. And I’ve actually like become so used to it now that I don’t know any other way. But it is it’s like the opposite of you know, if you had like a bad Junior High experience, or certainly in the entertainment world, definitely when I was in it where, you know, women were fighting for that one position, or you can all succeed together, like the the nature right now is absolutely we all succeed together, the only way we’re going to succeed is if we will. Because every female founder, I know, either her one of her purposes for being successful in selling their company, or I can name half, half a dozen of them already that I know that the second they sold and actually made some money, they immediately started funds and started writing checks to female founders. Like it is a huge passion for women who start businesses to immediately then invest in other women starting businesses.
Anjana/Epsa 35:50 That makes me so happy. I know, I just felt so inspired. I’ve never really like looked into this space as much it just kind of when I like approach, venture capital, I just think it’s very finance. That’s just kind of what it is. But hearing you speak about the mission, and like the things people invest in, and how supportive this community is, definitely makes me want to like research it more and kind of learn more about what people invest in, and why and like smaller companies that have grown because of the environment that you’ve created, and things of that sort. And feeling very inspired this Tuesday afternoon.
Like I’m like ready to change my job? No, I’m ready. I’m ready to not do audit.
But you need those, you need like, you need someone in there who can look at a spreadsheet. Yeah, that’s like sometimes the thing that is the most missing. Like someone had a skin problem, and they want to formulating their own organic moisturizer. But you need that partner in the business who can look at the spreadsheet. Yeah, there’s your P&I. And so those skills are so valuable and needed. So it’s like, put those five years in after college, learning those core skills, learn marketing, go work for some company where you’re doing digital marketing, and you have a multi million dollar budget that you get to play with and learn with, then go start your own company with that knowledge and experience.
Yes, totally, totally. So our last question in just a sentence or two, Maxine with the stats that we’ve discussed, and just the opportunities that are being created? How can we, as of right now continuing to reimagine opportunities for investing and women led startups and companies.
And I would say that the number one thing is asking women to write checks and help other women. But it doesn’t have to just be a check. Definitely mentorship is probably the most important thing. So someone who has started their own business before and can just give you some lessons. Someone who’s a lawyer, an accountant, who’s a CFO, anyone who’s had any kind of business experience can just give you such valuable feedback, that it’s going to save you months, if not years, so everybody can contribute. And the number one thing I would say to a female founder is ask for help. Ask everybody because even if you get one piece of advice from someone, and you’re getting 20 people giving you information, you know, that’s like a whole consulting, you know, experience right then in there.
So yeah, anybody can contribute, whether it’s money or advice, and you cannot be afraid to ask for advice.
Great. Thank you so much for your time. Maxine, this was really really valuable. Input advice. We just loved hearing your story. I think a lot of our listeners will be very inspired by it too. I think.
Just don’t all quit your jobs, Your parents will kill me
Don’t worry, financial stability for right now.