2-5: "The Results Driver" - Nathalie Molina Niño

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"The Results Driver"

Nathalie Molina Niño is the CEO of BRAVA Investments and the author of LEAPFROG, which she wrote as a guide to help Women Entrepreneurs succeed.

She’s a technologist, a coder, and a business builder. She also describes herself as a storyteller at her heart.

She founded BRAVA Investments on the basis of delivering returns to investors while making a catalytic impact on women in the world.

Impact is one of the 13 themes we’ve seen show up regularly in these conversations with the best creative leaders.

Which is why this week’s theme is Impact, and this week’s episode is called “The Results Driver”.


Three Takeaways

  • The willingness to confront the status quo

  • Behave in the way you think you should

  • Balancing your ideals with action


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-5: "The Results Driver" - Nathalie Molina Nino

Hi. I’m Charles Day. And this is ‘Fearless’.

This week’s episode is called “The Results Driver”.

“When I look at investing in women, I define it as investing in businesses that take an ecosystem approach at investing in women at large. Meaning, that if two guys come to me and say, "We've cured breast cancer," I'm going to invest in that company.”

Leaders create impact. So obvious it’s crazy to waste the breath saying it. And yet, I’m struck by how often leaders focus on the short term challenges of their actions, and think less about the difference they want to make. 

Most of us live our lives through pretty short term lenses. We may dream about ‘someday’ but too rarely do we put concrete definitions around what that means.

When you run a public traded company its easy to succumb to the pressure that the markets bring to bear on a leaders ability to think beyond quarterly earnings. The reality, as we all know, is that of course that kind of thinking is the fastest and best way to slow a company’s growth and kill a company’s capacity for creative thinking and behavior -both of which require time, space and emotional freedom to explore new possibilities. 

In privately held companies, there is less pressure from the markets, but more from other influential forces. Owners, partners, individual investors with whom the company’s founders have intensely personal relationships - all create a sense of deeply personal responsibility.

Layer on top of all that the most powerful force of all, our own self-image. Who we think we are. The things we know we do well. The weaknesses and inadequacies we think we need to hide from everyone else. Sometimes including ourselves.

All of these factors, the markets, our sense of responsibility and our view of self act like coiled springs welded to short term thinking. We can pull against them all we want, but eventually they win.

But there is a force that acts as a powerful lever. Intention. Brought to bear by a clear definition of the impact we want to have.

Very, very few leaders take the time or have the confidence to define this for themselves. Those that do, make more consistent, and braver decisions and make them faster.

There’s another way to think about this. Courtesy of Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” Asked Alice
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where—" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"—so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough." 

The road to nowhere requires nothing but short-term thinking.

But if you want to have an impact, you’re going to have to decide where that lies and then pick a road that takes you there. 

What road are you on?

Here’s Nathalie Molina Niño.



Charles:

Okay, great. Nathalie, welcome to Fearless. Thank you for being here.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Thank you. I'm really grateful to be here.

Charles:

I'm going to ask you a different first question. What's your relationship with fear?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I've made friends with it. I don't think it ever goes away. I talk a lot in classes I teach, or, for that matter, the book I just wrote, The Impostor Syndrome, a form of fear tends to rear its ugly head for me when I am starting new things.

I'm oddly enough known for being good at starting new things. The one thing that I do best happens to be the thing that I think stirs up the most fear, because that's when those voices come in and say, "Last success was a fluke. You're not good enough. They're going to figure it out."

Charles:

This all might go terribly wrong.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yes.

Charles:

Nobody cares.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Exactly.

Charles:

Nobody wants that. What's made you good at that?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

A mentor who is not from my field. I think that, that's really important. Our mentors, or my best mentors have been not in my industry. She was a world-renowned, she is a world-renowned opera singer.

She once, in a fit of insecurity and panic starting something new, sat me down and said, "Everything that you have created, everything that you have done, even if it has taken different shapes ultimately came from you." She said these words. She said, "You are the source of your own supply."

Because, I think I was looking other places to be inspired, to recharge my batteries. I kept looking elsewhere. Maybe, it was the right place, right time, but those words that you are the source of your own supply, they became a mantra, the way that Buddhists will repeat their mantra again and again, and that has served me really well.

Not to lower the voices, certainly not to eliminate that voice that says, "Ultimately, you're scared." But, it has allowed me to make friends with it, and maybe because I'm an entrepreneur at heart, it's allowed me to give it a run for its money. It's a competing voice, and it's a strong voice. All I can do is fight with it.

Charles:

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about putting fear in the backseat. That she accepts it's there for the journey, pretty much in the way you have, but she doesn't let it drive anymore.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Right.

Charles:

That's familiar?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

It is. I think that she must have gotten ... She must have more success with getting it back there though. For me, it's still very much in the passenger seat. I am satisfied with simply having hopefully the leg up and having the foot on the gas pedal and having access to the steering wheel.

But, it's still there, and I wish I could get it in the backseat. If I did, I think it would be a lesser voice. But, I've sort of accepted that it's there, and it's mostly there when I least want it to be. I think that there is definitely an irony in the idea that it's loudest when I'm doing the thing that everyone knows me to be best at.

Charles:

Your mantra, you use that every day?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I use it whenever I hear those voices. It's funny, because what's happened now is it's become muscle memory. The same way I think that the Buddhists chant. You forget what it means. When you say the same word 20 times, you forget what it means. It's become almost, yeah, like a part of my muscle memory. When I hear those voices, this is the response.

It has come to be incredibly helpful to me. I think, I always tell people, "You can have it. 'You are the source of your own supply,' not trademarked, for anybody to use." But, I think that people will find their own, oftentimes. Whatever it is that finds you at that right moment.

Charles:

Is there a method or a [inaudible] ... You talk about muscle memory, but is there something that allows you in those moments of greatest fear to stop and say, "This is the time to pull that out. This is the time to activate that mechanism?"

Nathalie Molina Nino:

In the beginning, yeah. In the beginning, it was that sense of, I'm nervous. I'm feeling like I don't have solid footing. This worked for me one time, let me try it again.

But, I think one of the things about a mantra and about something that does finally enter into your muscle memory is that it stops being a conscious thing. It starts being that knee-jerk reaction of what you respond with every time.

Then, it's taken a long time for that to be the case, but that is the case now. That's why I don't know that I've succeeded at getting it into the backseat, but I've succeeded at being able to clap back quite quickly.

Charles:

It's not grabbing the wheel.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

No.

Charles:

What's your first memory of creativity? What was the first thing that struck you as creative?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Hm, I painted, drew, sketched. My father was adamant ... My father's from Ecuador, and he's a painter who never painted. But, that was his passion, and he was adamant that I learn about the world.

He was concerned that my education in the U.S. was subpar. He's very anti-assimilationist, and he always tried to be the complement to the education that I was getting formally.

It was important for him that I learn to draw a map. That I can sketch out the mapa mundi. That I know that the Nile was the longest river in the world. That I know where everything is. I think that in his way of teaching me something, it was very academic and maybe almost tactical in nature. The strategy and maybe the way he went about it was through art, through visuals, through painting images. I think it was a little bit of a Trojan Horse in that I thought I was learning something very academic and, yet, in the process he made me love using my hands and sketching and making things.

Yeah, that was probably the first. That happened when I was roughly learning to speak probably.

Charles:

You learnt to express yourself through multiple media as you were growing up?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah, it was ... It's funny. It was a thing for him very much that there be a very visual manifestation of whatever I was learning.

Charles:

Did you continue that?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I did. I became really enamored with figure drawing, and then, later, I got into photography. I even studied at the Art Center and College of Design in Pasadena in California absolutely convinced that I was going to go down the artistic path. My immigrant parents reminded me that they didn't bust their bums to bring me to this country, so that I could go be an artist. That was not an option.

Charles:

You pointed out that they planted the seed in the first place.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Oh yeah, yeah. You could play in that space, but it was too risky to make it a career in their minds. Because, they didn't know anyone who had made a living being an artist or really in the arts or in the creative spaces.

As much as I think they were lovers of the arts, they were also concerned about having a roof over my head and stability, and all the things that immigrant parents worry about.

Charles:

What was your first career step?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

In terms of school, I studied engineering. It was engineering, law, or medicine. These were the options. I've talked to a lot of immigrant kids, and it seems that that is the connecting thread. Those are the acceptable-

Charles:

[crosstalk]-

Nathalie Molina Nino:

... careers, artist definitely not one of them. In fact, I joked once I can't remember if it was with Lin, but Lin-Manuel was the black sheep of his family until recently. They're all lawyers, and they've gone radically different paths.

Charles:

Let's hope it works out for him, right?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah, it turned out okay for him.

But, for me, I would say the first intentional career path was that. It was, okay, let's study engineering. But, I was really passionate about the environment, so the compromise was let me study environmental engineering.

Charles:

Did you care about engineering?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

No, not the slightest bit, but I was good at math and science.

Charles:

It was the mechanism.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah, it was better than law, and it was better than medicine.

Charles:

Yes, yes. Right, almost in every way from my perspective. Yeah, I get that.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

But, then, merging that with my concern for the environment, which probably started before I can even remember, made it palatable.

Then, in grad school I decided to finally merge that parental aspiration with some of my artistic tendencies, which, at the time, this was 1996, '95,'96, when the GIS/GPS systems were just starting to be commercial. You were just starting to see mapping software and MapQuest and these sorts of things becoming commercial products. It felt like a beautiful merging of my engineering skills and some of these visual arts that I had always loved.

I started down that path. That was a second path, and then I started my first tech startup and ended up dropping out of college.

Charles:

What made you jump into that?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

The story I used to tell is the short story which is my company took off, and I had to quit school to focus on the business. But, the reality is there was a third element, and I talk about this in the book which is why now it's sort of a new part of the story which is, that's true. The company did take off, and it became hard to manage school and the company. But, I probably could have managed those two, but then a third element came in around that time which is I got cervical cancer.

Suddenly, it became one too many things to juggle. I couldn't really just decide to make the cancer go away. I could tell that this internet thing maybe had legs, and there was something that was going to come of it. It seemed promising.

Charles:

You started taking care of yourself, but you still maintained care of the business?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I did.

Charles:

You didn't give up on everything else and-

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I gave up on school that was the one thing that I chose to take off the plate. But, I decided that at that point, even though I didn't know where the business was going, or what really this entire, what turned into a career would end up in, I could just tell. I had a sense that there was something there.

Charles:

Did the fact you were trying to build a business help you emotionally with what you were dealing with personally?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Oh, 100%, oh, yeah. I think I put all of my energy into that in fact. It was why I think that I've always put and viewed the business world as pretty high stakes.

I don't mean just money, but, the emotional connection and the sense of responsibility for the people who work for me. That sense that I'm steering a ship, and it's filled with people I care about or things that I care about or ideas that are important.

Charles:

How did you confront your illness? That scared you I'm assuming?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

It's funny. When you're 20, I don't know that I had a full sense of what death was. But, what I do know is that it chilled me out. I was a 20-year-old who just needed ... I was on a really fast pace. I started college a little bit early. I was just in a rush, and I was pretty rigid about the things that I determined represented success, and I was not going to stray from that.

Then, suddenly, this unexpected thing comes and proves to me that I'm not really in control. I think that it definitely chilled me out. It just made it so that I was a little bit more flexible and able to roll with the punches. Then, more also willing to explore what the next corner was going to show me.

Charles:

Did life look more valuable suddenly? Did it change your perception?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

It changed my perception in that it made me less arrogant about my ability to control every aspect of my personal life, my professional life, my career, and more open to possibilities. But, I don't know that it made me any less determined or ambitious, because I definitely ... I almost ... The road took a turn, but I didn't slow down as much as I would later in life.

Charles:

You clearly recovered.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles:

You built the business.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah.

Charles:

What happened then?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I built four more.

Charles:

One not being enough.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

No, because you know, anything that is both painful and sexy at the same time is an addiction, right?

Charles:

Right. I think they built a whole movie series around that and sold a bunch of books on that as well. That's my-

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Pretty sure they make a pill for that too, yeah.

Charles:

Exactly.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

That became my thing. As an entrepreneur and then, later, as an interpreneur within larger organizations that I did joint ventures with, I became a business builder, and a business builder with an emphasis on globalization.

What happened was I ended up finding myself in this space of tech globalization. I think one of my favorite projects was one of those network games, Electronic Arts and Nintendo and any of those big gaming companies.

You might play a World War II networked game and not notice, for example, that the buttons on the Japanese soldier are not historically accurate. But, the moment that we localize that game and send it to Japan, you better believe that market's going to notice that.

Or, think of the Encarta Encyclopedia, the 20-page section on baseball has to be edited way down when you go to Europe. The section on soccer has to be expanded. The section on cricket didn't exist.

All of the different things that taking technology and, especially, technology and consumer products international that became my specialty. That coupled with the technology behind it, so natural language processing, computational linguistics, machine learning, all the things that now more people talk about but, 20 years ago, not so much.

Charles:

What drew you into those areas? Because, to your point, those are very specific.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah.

Charles:

20 years ago were extraordinarily specific.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Extremely. Part accident but part interest. We had in the very first company, a client that was in the business of doing that. They were a software localization business, but they had only ever done it with traditional software and hardware, so think printers, think scanners, think software that sits on a desktop.

The internet was a whole new beast for them. Since we were an internet company, we were basically advising them and helping them move into that world.

What happened for me was just that that was back to the days when my dad was teaching me to make maps. It was suddenly my engineering skills coupled with this geopolitical awareness to, for example, teach, I'm not going to mention the name of the company, but to teach an American executive at a major consumer products company that there's no such thing as a language called Egyptian.

To be that person where your career is to basically go into mostly American companies and teach them how to navigate the world. I used to say that I was in the business of keeping Americans from embarrassing themselves abroad, which meant we were always busy.

But, it was fun. It felt significant. It felt like we were at every corner averting some geopolitical disaster, or clients would call us to fix it once they screwed up.

Charles:

There's a real agility to all of that. You're really, in the best sense of the word, best sense of the phrase, making it up as you go along.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Oh, yeah.

Charles:

Right? Finding opportunities where people had never identified there even being a problem in some cases.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

In some cases, but, in some cases, also being a bridge, because the ability to prevent a geopolitical disaster ...

Think an operating system where every time you go into a new time zone, you go in to change the time and the date to say, "I'm in Paris." If you're not in Paris, and you're somewhere four hours away from Paris, you're still going to choose the nearest big metropolitan area as your time zone. If you're in Toulouse, you're picking Paris as your time zone. Well, an engineer that doesn't understand the geopolitics will pick Taiwan for the button on the region rather than Beijing. That will get you importation licenses revoked. That will create boycotts. That will create potentially multi-billion dollar problems for companies that an engineer wouldn't have seen, but that somebody from Beijing or from Taiwan or who's in the business of doing what we were in the business of doing would see 10 steps ahead. That was really what we were in the business of doing.

Charles:

The kind of people you're looking for to help you build and run those businesses had what attributes? What were you looking for?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Well, it was funny, those teams you had specialists, so you had people who just knew their market and just knew this one technology. The bulk of who we hired was that. They were deep, deep experts in all these different areas.

Then, there was this layer of people who I mostly worked with which was my executive team and my circle which were people like me. They were really hard to find, because they were people who were bridges. People who were multilingual but, also, multicultural.

I remember that there was a gentleman who managed our Yokohama office who on the phone, if you know anything about the Japanese language you know how impossible this is, would be confused with a native Japanese person. But, he was from the South. He was from Atlanta or something, and he had just both spent a lot of time in Japan, married a Japanese woman but, also, just had clearly an affinity and a talent for language.

More than that, because you learn more than language, you learn culture. You learn a different mindset altogether. There are expressions and just ways of seeing the world almost like a new cosmology that you learn when you learn a language.

That layer was really tough. That was a group of really exceptional people that I got to work with.

Charles:

What did you find out about bringing out the best in them? What did you find out were the conditions? What did you find out about the conditions necessary to bring out the best in them? Because, that's a lot of different skills, right?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

It is.

Charles:

To your point, deep technical expertise, in some cases, strategic recognition of broader-

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Multicultural.

Charles:

... right, multicultural, geopolitical issues.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah.

Charles:

You're talking about combining a lot of different talents.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah.

Charles:

At an early stage where that didn't happen relatively that often in businesses.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yes, you needed a layer of generalists like me who could be, know enough to be dangerous about what those issues were across all these different regions. I can roughly tell you how to navigate Windows in Hebrew and Arabic and Japanese, but I can't speak any of those languages. You needed that layer of generalists, and then, underneath that, you needed that deep, deep bench of specialists.

What I found when it came to the specialists, and maybe what I learned which might not seem so thoughtful, but what I learned is that I'm not the person to manage them.

Charles:

Interesting.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I am the manager of that top layer which less about top and bottom, but about that group of generalists who were more like me. Part of the reason is not because I have a particular talent for managing generalists, I just think that I'm not great at managing people, so if I'm going to manage anyone I probably am better off managing people that have a skill set more like mine.

Charles:

How did you recognize that? Because, there's a lot of people who spend their entire careers never realizing that.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Not easily. Once we got to the bigger budgets and bigger-size companies, you end up having enough time, energy, resources, to be able to bring in those third-party consultants who come in and do things like 360 reviews of your staff and your colleagues.

I remember one such case where the feedback came back, this was many years ago, but I'm sure that this is the natural tendency for me. About half of my staff thought I was the best thing since sliced bread, certainly, the best thing that happened in their careers. About the other half, literally, there was nothing in the middle, thought I was the worst thing that ever happened to them, and the reason they didn't see their kids, just the worst.

Of course, the feedback was, "You have an issue, and we need to figure that out." There were a whole series of things that we discovered.

The one that I often remember is that I created an environment that was not conducive to introverts. I'm an extrovert. I would do that typical thing where you would come in and do a ... I would do a brainstorming. Nobody knew, and it was last minute, and there was no agenda, because we were all going to walk in, and we were just going to whiteboard an idea and figure it out.

The introverts in the room were, of course, predisposed to fail in that environment. Had I given them an agenda, had I given them a role, had I given them a sense of what was coming, they could have done the thing that introverts do so well and built a plan and had their own time and space to think through what creative ideas they were going to bring to the table.

I didn't give them that opportunity, because I created an environment that was clearly more conducive to people like me. That was one of the things that I remember learning.

Another thing that I learned, again, not in any nice way, was we were in the process of possibly being sued by our biggest customer. We were super late and as a result of our being late, the product couldn't be launched to market.

There had been four attempts to recover and to right the ship, and none of them had succeeded, and so I came in for the last ditch effort to turn this thing around. Parachuted into Dublin, I remember I was living in Blackrock, if you know Dublin at all.

I made the executive decision to bring everybody from our outsourced office in India to our engineering team in Amsterdam, everybody was going to come under the same roof where I could see them, and we were going to turn this thing around. After about four months of working on that, we succeeded.

The customer was happy. Files were getting ready to ship, the actual delivering of software especially pre-launch software is pretty convoluted, and so it was time to start delivering the files. On that day, the one guy who knew all the passwords and knew exactly how to deliver everything didn't show up to work and called in sick.

Charles:

Ugh.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles:

Oh my gosh.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

This is 26-year-old Nathalie, 26, 27 year old Nathalie who just busted her ass for four months, living practically on a cot in an office in Dublin, working weekends and nights and every possible hour, I was not going to let that delay our delivery at that point. I instructed my team to go to his home and bring him into the office by whatever means necessary.

Charles:

26.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

They did. They brought him in. Of course, he was under strict instructions to teach four other people how to do this, so that ...

Ultimately, it was management failure on my part. There should not have been one person with the keys to the castle. But, that's the situation. We made sure to fix that. Four other people now knew the process. By the time, he left, we were in good shape.

Next day, I was having my morning stand-up with the team, and I remember that a woman walked in on the team and started her sentence by saying, "Hey, Nathalie, I just got a call from Stephen. It turns out he's calling sick again today."

Midway through the sentence, I stopped her, and I was like, "Who cares? We've got four other people that can deliver the files. I don't care. I don't want to know," and then just tried to move on with the meeting.

I remember she took a deep breath, and she started her sentence again and went, "What I was trying to tell you, Nathalie, is that Stephen called in sick again, this time from the cardiac ward."

Charles:

Wow.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

That's when I realized that I had been raised by humble parents with humble beginnings who taught me to be kind and all of these sort of basic things that I never really incorporated into life in my profession. I had bifurcated personal life with professional life, and professional life was about winning, and that's what I was doing. That somehow I had lost my way.

I think that in that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I had put profits over the life of a human being, fundamentally, and I had lost my way.

I wish I could say I had an epiphany, and then I've been an amazing manager ever since. If anything what it taught me is that that's the shadow side, and that that's never going to go away. That left to my own devices and gone unchecked I have the capability of reverting to that always.

I think that was one of those moments where I realized, "Okay, I have many strengths, managing people probably not one of them. I can do better. I can improve. I can be conscientious, I can make sure to constantly be looking at that shadow side and avoiding it." But, it doesn't come naturally to be that person who can sit patiently with somebody and talk to them about why they're upset that they didn't get the office with the big window. I am not the manager to go to with that complaint.

But, that's why when I build teams, I try to make sure that that first person I hire is that person, is that empathetic, patient, people person. I'm much more of an idea person.

Charles:

You've taken that recognition and talent and turned it towards helping women, fundamentally. That's the focus now of your career, of your life over the last number of years through BRAVA, the investment group that you manage and lead and, obviously, through your book, Leapfrog.

Talk to me about that transition. When did that realization that you wanted to devote so much of your life towards empowering and helping women come about?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

It snuck up on me somewhat in that I left tech pretty burnt out after about 15 years in the industry, stepped down from my last company, again, this time for, because my body insisted on it. I had adrenal failure, basically.

I had a doctor who was fantastic who said, "This is, I could treat you. You have various different infections and allergies and different things, and I could treat each of those things. But, the fundamental root issue is that your immune system is shot, and it's shot for stress-related reasons."

My first reaction was, okay, well, let me take a vacation. I'll take a couple months off, problem, solution, right?

Charles:

Right.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Super simple.

Charles:

Right.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

She, I remember brought out a chart which maybe as an engineer she knew would work. She showed me my adrenals versus the normal adrenal levels. She said, "This is not somebody who needs a two-month vacation. This is not even ... " This was 2010. She says, "This is not somebody who's had a tough year. We've all had a tough year." 2009 was a tough year.

She said, "This is somebody who's levels are so far off it makes me wonder what you've been doing for the last 10, 20 years. It makes me want to ask you about your childhood. This is something that's going to require a lifestyle change, not a vacation." I moved to the one place in the world where I feel the least stressed and the most happy, which was New York, which nobody understands.

Charles:

Clearly, clearly, totally logical.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

It is for me. New York is the rhythm, I'm not from here, I wasn't born here, but New York is definitely the rhythm that my body and my brain works at.

I remember coming here and feeling at peace, because, on the West Coast, I had to be this engine that propelled everyone forward. Whereas here, nobody needs me to remind them, to cajole them, to push them. That's just not a thing.

Charles:

They're asking if you can keep up.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Right, and so all that to say that I thought that I had left tech for some me time, for an opportunity to heal, to take care of my body, to re-evaluate how I manage stress, and I decided to take a couple years sabbatical.

When I landed in New York, I realized that I was the engineer who could tell the story of pretty complex technology, and people would joke that I was often the chief storyteller in the company. I thought, "Well, I'm here. Why don't I spend a year or two actually honing that skill. Why don't I get involved and really learn how to be a storyteller, truly."

I thought what better place than New York, what better industry than the theater in New York City. I applied to Columbia's theater school, and for no reason except that they clearly have a sense of humor, they said yes.

I studied playwriting at Columbia, and while I was there, I met this woman named Katherine Colbert. She is the attorney who went to the Supreme Court twice, but, most notably in '92, and she argued this case Planned Parenthood versus Casey which is a landmark case that any lawyer would recognize, because if they got their degree anytime after '92, they would have studied it. It's a case that ultimately saved Roe v. Wade.

I got to know her. She was running a center for women leadership at the time at Barnard, and we became friends and, ultimately, co-founded the Center for Women Entrepreneurs. Part of the reason, and maybe that's really the answer to your question is that I don't know that I had thought that that was going to be my next thing. I was just focused on getting better, having some me time.

What ended up happening was by being on campus and by being surrounded by people who ultimately knew what my background was, is that I came from tech, I had this generation, this next generation of young, brilliant women coming to me saying, "Can you help me get into tech? Can you help me get a job at Amazon, Microsoft, Google, whatever?"

I started to feel really guilty. I started to realize that as hard as it had been, tech had treated me decently well, and I had left the industry no better than I found it. In fact, when I stepped down, and, today, we have half as many women graduating as engineers as we did when I was starting.

The numbers are going the opposite direction. The culture definitely went way south, not that it was optimal when I was there, but, it is far, far worse now, and I felt guilty. There was this next generation of women who were asking me to help them get in there. All I could think of was, "I just fled. Why would I ask you to go in there?"

It was that, that ultimately motivated me to go back. I needed to go back though in a way where I thought that I could help. Some way that I thought would be more productive. Ultimately, she and I, Kitty and I decided to start the Center for Women Entrepreneurs that sits at Columbia inside of Barnard.

Not necessarily thinking that that was going to be my next thing, really, just thinking that, that's what I was interested in at the moment. What it took ultimately is working with hundreds and, now, thousands of women entrepreneurs to realize that yeah, this is it. This is my calling.

I feel like having spent 15 years in industry and not leaving it better than I found it means that I have to go back, and I have to make sure that this time around I am doing that. Now, being where I am not being subjected to the whims of VCs and all the things that earlier in your career you really are largely answering to.

I can be much more cheeky. I can be more direct. I can be the one that goes and gives keynotes and says uncomfortable things to people. I can speak for the 22-year-olds that can't. I think it ultimately happened by doing.

Charles:

Your focus today is to some extent, to a large extent I think through BRAVA funding women, because they are an under-invested in, under-recognized, under-supported group of entrepreneurs.

Given that reality, what have you learnt both through that lens and, also, through the lens of the class, of the initiative to support women entrepreneurs? What have you learnt about the things that women have to do differently to be successful? That they don't instinctively do, or that they have not been brought up to do because of the way culture works.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

One of the most surprising things that I've learned, because I was coming from a place of thinking, for example, that we have a pipeline issue. This is what you hear a lot of the time. The reason that women are getting to 2.5% of venture capital is because we have a pipeline problem, et cetera. I was coming to it with some of these biases. What I discovered was quite the opposite. We don't have a pipeline problem. It turns out women are starting more business than men in the United States, and it turns out that eight out of every 10 of those is started by a woman of color. Keep in mind that when people cite that stat of about 2.5% of venture capital going to women-led businesses, they're not mentioning that .2% goes to women of color.

The single most entrepreneurial group in this country are getting-

Charles:

Is the least funded.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Absolutely. Those were some of the big things that I learned is that it turns out we don't have pipeline problem. It turns out women don't need to be taught to be entrepreneurial. They are more entrepreneurial than anyone else, especially, women of color who are the ones that are the least funded.

What I figured out is that we don't need to work on women's ability to take risks, to make that job, to start businesses. What we need to do is get out of their way and remove some of these obstacles that are keeping them from being the next billion-dollar corporation. That is one problem that women and, especially, women of color have is that the majority of them are stuck at owning businesses that make less than a million dollars a year.

But, that's clear. That's a simple one. Women don't get loans despite having the same qualifications as men, same thing with VCs, so many other things that are clearly the sort of things that keep companies small.

Charles:

The thought structure or the belief is or the evidence it sounds like is that a man running that business would have much greater opportunity to grow it than a woman running that business.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Absolutely.

Charles:

The system is designed to help the man grow that business. The system is designed to oppose the woman building or growing that business.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yes, on the receiving end. On the very early, early days though, we also have to consider the fuel at the start. Women are making, if you're a Latina in this country 55 cents on the dollar. Already, you have lower earning, which means you're less likely to have a few thousand dollars in your bank account to invest in that first company.

The average American family doesn't have $5,000 in their bank account. The VC model of requesting that people first raise their friends and family round is ludicrous actually for most families.

The people who tend to take on the majority of the economic burden in these families are women. They tend to take on the majority of the cost of sick children, sick parents, sick spouses. Then, you couple that with the lack of opportunity, with the fact that 3% of women of color are in the C-suite in the Fortune 500.

All of these sorts of things ultimately make it, so that, to begin with, they're starting off with under-resourced businesses. Then, take that and couple it with the lack of access to loans and VC and all these other things, yeah, it all points to a small miracle that women are as entrepreneurial as they are.

Charles:

Extraordinary, actually.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah.

Charles:

Yeah. What have you learnt about how to help? Other than, clearly funding-

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yup.

Charles:

... they need. What other help do they need? What help can we provide them?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Sure. The answer to that is really the thesis of my company, our investment thesis, which is I looked at the space of investing in women, and I saw a couple of things.

One of them is I saw that for the last 10 or 15 years that the industry's been in existence, really in earnest ... Even though the headlines and the press right now makes it seem like it's only in the last year or two that everybody's been focusing on investing in women, the reality is, is the industry has some history.

If you look at that 10 or 15-year history, what you see, unfortunately, is you see a pattern much like the Silicon Valley pattern. Silicon Valley VC are known for pattern matching. White men investing in other white men, who went to same colleges, and look and taste and smell and everything the same.

Well, it turns out the women over the last 10 or 15 years that have been in the industry of investing in other women are largely white women investing in other white women. That was problem number one.

Then, the other problem that I noticed is that there was this insistence on requiring that the companies be founded by women, by a woman, which makes perfect sense on the surface. We want to invest in more women founders.

But, my concern is this, my concern is if you're in the micro-business stage, you are so far from being ready to stand in front of a venture capitalist and ask them for a couple million dollars. You might not even know what venture capital is really.

You're busy running a restaurant, running your nail salon in micro-businessland. You haven't even had the time, and, certainly, you don't have the resources to think about how I can turn that into a franchise that then gets into every city in the world and becomes a billion-dollar corporation.

Charles:

Right. You're trying to open the door and close the kitchen at night. It's literally a-

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Totally.

Charles:

Yeah.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

My concern is that we have this valley of death. Where we have this massive amount of entrepreneurial activity, but it's nowhere near ready to be in front of the places that you have to be in front of to truly scale these business.

It's not just VC. It's also loans. It's lines of credit. It's all these things that help companies scale.

Taking one person from that community and turning her into the next Sara Blakely who founded Spanx or turning her into the next Oprah, taking one person and plucking them out and turning them into a billionaire, does not magically trickle down and help the other millions of women that need help.

If you think it does, then you believe in trickle down economics, and I call bullshit. Reagan was selling that in the '80s, none of us bought it. I'm not buying it now, even if you put a pink logo and curlicue fonts on it.

Charles:

It's still being sold.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yes, I suppose it is.

Charles:

Tax cuts for billionaires will improve the lives of the working-

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Ugh.

Charles:

... class, right?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yes.

Charles:

Yeah, there you go.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

But, it's not a thing. It really isn't a thing. When I look at investing in women, I define it as investing in businesses that take an ecosystem approach at investing in women at large. Meaning, that if two guys come to me and say, "We've cured breast cancer," I'm going to invest in that company.

I will invest in that company long before I invest in, say, the next Sara Blakely who invents the next version of Spanx. Not because there's anything wrong with Sara Blakely, not because there's anything wrong with Spanx. It was a great investment for anybody who got in on something like that early.

But, the reality is, is that made Sara Blakely a billionaire, great. That doesn't change an ecosystem. It doesn't change the state of millions, if not billions of women that need to be taken out of survival mode and into whatever the next step is going to be which is why we often say that BRAVA is in the business not of making women or a woman a billionaire, and, instead, we're really focused on taking a billion women and lifting them up.

Those are the sorts of businesses that I want to focus on. If they happen to be founded by a woman, all the better. But, if not, and they can prove to me that they really are putting that system's change into place and doing it at scale, then, really, that's what I care about.

Charles:

Between the lens that that provides you, ooh, between the lens that that provides you, I've got to wrap this up in the next five minutes. Let me ask you one question, and I have two wrap-up questions for you.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles:

Between the lens that that provides you, and your book, Leapfrog, which talks about 50 ways that you can leapfrog the process, essentially, leapfrog the status quo for want of a better description. What have you identified about the way that the most successful women leaders show up? What are the characteristics?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Oh, yes, there are about 63, men and women, but, mostly women, in the book who embody that leapfrogger mindset. The short answer is they're cheeky.

They're Kat Cole who dropped out of her undergrad. Then, saw that she was on her way to be CEO of Cinnabon but, probably, wasn't going to get the job if she didn't have a college degree.

She went to Georgia Tech and said, "You're going to give me an MBA," just because she's cheeky. "Not my problem that I don't have a bachelor's. You're going to let me into your MBA program, and I'm going to get an MBA."

She did, and, sure enough, she made it to be CEO of Cinnabon. Now she's the President of the parent company that just, that owns Auntie Anne's, Carvel, Cinnabon, and recently bought Jamba Juice.

It's people like her. It's people like Nina Vaca who's an Ecuadorian immigrant like me who never took a penny of venture capital, and whose company this year is going to hit a billion dollars in revenue.

It's the fastest-growing, woman-owned company in America. At a time when the dominant narrative is that if you want to grow your company, and you want to grow it fast, you have to take VC. That's just a thing. Nina Vaca proves otherwise.

It's just example after example of women and men who are like that, who just said, "Screw your rules."

Charles:

Interesting. I'd love to talk to you more about that. How do you lead? Having learnt that you don't lead on a day-to-day managerial level, how do you lead?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

I believe that people don't work for money, ever. They might take a job, because you're giving them more salary than what they were making before. But, I believe in my heart of hearts that in order to get the maximum that you can get out of somebody, you need to inspire them.

While I know that I'm not a great direct manager, I try to infuse both in the company and the belief system of the company and the decisions that we make and the stances that we sometimes have to take, which are tough stances, I try to make it the sort of place that inspires, so that people might even wake up one day and say, "I don't like her, but I sure as hell believe in her."

Charles:

What are you afraid of now?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Huh, I'm afraid that we who are in the business of lifting up women and of giving women the tools to be economically self-sufficient, of putting women in the forefront of everything that I do, there are a lot of us on the same mission. I worry that with all the work that we're doing to lift women up and to bring them with us, that no amount of that work will change a society that isn't ready to receive women as leaders or to see women as leaders.

You can create and build as many leaders as you want, but if they're arriving into a circumstance and a world and a culture that isn't ready to accept them, then it's tough. That's what worries me, and that's why I'm not in the business of culture shifting. I do it a little, I dabble.

I'm really in the business of things that I can measure, but I have a ton of respect for the people in the creative world that are in the business of this more amorphous thing that's really hard to measure. It's really hard to track. It's culture shifting.

Charles:

Hm, so interesting. I wrap every episode with three takeaways that I've heard that I think contribute to you being a fearless, creative leader, using my language.

The first thing that strikes me is your willingness to confront the status quo both, I think initially from outside the system where you were developing new thinking, new ideas, new services, new insights, new capabilities, and now, I think from what I would describe as more inside the system where you are battling the institutional bias against change. You seem equally adept and equally fearless in terms of both of those vantage points and your willingness to figure out how to do that.

Second strikes me you clearly have a conscience. That you are stopped in your tracks by the recognition of, that you're not behaving in the way that you think you should from some I think pretty powerful reference point to the way you think people should show up in life. This notion of giving back as well I think is striking.

Then, I think the third part of that though is that you're not an idealist which I think gets in the way for sometimes the people who have a conscience. That you recognize there is a higher purpose and a higher calling, but that you don't have to get stuck on the theoretical ideal about the way to do that.

Your point I think about investing in ways that help women without necessarily that having to be through women is very powerful. I think a lot of people get stuck at that notion that to help women, I'm going to only invest in women and, therefore, limit the impact.

Do those three resonate with you?

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Yeah, the way that you just described it, the third one, is interesting, because we call it outcomes over optics. Because, I think we live in a world that focuses a lot on optics, sometimes, at the expense of the real outcomes. That's huge. That's a big part of what I try to use as my measuring stick every day.

Charles:

Yeah, well, in a world that's filled I think with [inaudible] of optics over outcomes, it's refreshing and important to have people who are invested and committed to the other way around.

Thank you so much for being here. I've loved this conversation.

Nathalie Molina Nino:

Thank you for having me.