"If you want to really build a world-class company, you have to have great people, and you can only do that by having a great culture."

- Jodi Echakowitz

Jodi outlines what she looks for in a start-up

Talk Takeaways

Jodi Echakowitz, a real tech geek at heart, sat down with Jeffery Potvin as they discussed her interesting work in public relations and how her agency has supported countless start-ups and scale-ups in their PR needs. In the evolution of startups, Jodi believes that coaching and mentoring plays a huge part and as a startup, you might want to find somebody who can take an objective perspective and who can support you. She also notes that company culture is one big factor that can influence a startup’s success.

As a woman, Jodi saw a gap in women led startups and currently she is committed in supporting technology and women founded tech startups. Jodi also shared a personal start-up story on resilience and has given us her insights on the investment landscape at the time of COVID.

About

Jodi Echakowitz is founder and CEO of Boulevard Public Relations. Her agency works with technology startups, scaleups, and VC firms throughout North America, including some local companies whose names you may recognize, including TouchBistro, Bird Canada, Lane, OnCall Health.

Jodi is an angel investor in women-founded tech startups. She is also a founding member of The Big Push and an advisor to Compass North, both of which are accelerators focused on helping women-founded or led technology companies grow.

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery:
Welcome Jodi! Thank you very much for joining us today. We take no time, we just jump right into everything. So, we’re excited to have you and learn a little bit more or a lot more about what you’re looking for and how investing works in your world, but maybe to start off just to kind of give the audience a good idea of who you are and what your boat is, maybe give an idea of your past, your presence, and the future of where Jodi’s going.

Jodi:
Sounds good! So, Jodi Echakowitz and I’m a real tech geek at heart, that’s the most important thing probably, for people to know, and I’ve been involved in technology my entire career with a focus on public relations. So, that’s always been where I’ve been interested, and from the time that I moved to Canada, actually which was in 1994, I’m aging myself here, but from the time that I worked there, again working with some very early stage companies watching them grow, being a part of that, and worked in different companies until the dot-com crash. And at that time, I actually started my own business, so, that was 19 years ago. So, Boulevard Public Relations is the agency that I started and our focus is 100% on technology, and we work with startups, growth companies, VC firms, multinational and global companies, and we help them with all their integrated communications efforts. So, everything from your traditional pr, and media relations, and things that people understand right the way, through to supporting them on securing speaking engagements, writing case studies, even supporting their lead generation efforts, through content and getting content placed. So, we work in a variety of areas, when I started the business, we actually started it as a completely virtual agency. Obviously, there was myself for the first year or so and then as I brought on people, for me it was more important because I worked with startups to obviously bring in experienced people and so, we’ve grown completely virtually. My team is throughout North America and clients are also- we’re not just here in Canada, our clients are right the way throughout the US and Canada, and it’s really all about having the expertise to support them, so, and just being a real geek at heart, working with startups and scale ups, it’s amazing because I get to learn about so many incredible technologies that are out there and really have the opportunity to dive a little bit deeper into them, understanding what they are, and then helping them make sense of their story, and getting it out to the audiences and stakeholders that are important to them. So, yeah.

Jeffery:
Awesome, well it sounds like there’s a good collection of communications that are tied into what you do on a regular basis and the great thing is that you’re starting with early stage companies who probably are very well focused on building a product and have no idea or limited knowledge on how to actually get it out to the market, or even get people to engage with the product, and a bunch of other things that tie into that. What I- and I mentioned it right in the beginning, which is the communication side, how do you find interacting with these startups and early stage companies? How do you find that communication side works and how do you find their interacting with you in order to get something out into the ether?

Jodi:
So, I think from a communication perspective when you’re dealing with startups, it’s an interesting dynamic because some of them like to think they know what PR is about. Others don’t know what PR is about and they’re very forthcoming about that, so there’s an opportunity both to educate, and inform, and help them sort of learn and grow around what’s needed from a PR perspective. And then, obviously, there is those who believe this is how it is and that PR in fact stands for press release, which it does not. It just happens to have the same letters of an abbreviation, so it really varies, but the idea there is I always like to cancel startups when you start working with an agency, is you’re hiring an agency for a reason, you have somebody with expertise that understand the communication role that they’re in, and what’s needed from a startup’s perspective. You’re paying for their expertise, take the time to listen, it needs to be a two-way conversation, and a lot of times unfortunately, with a startup especially with founders who tend to work in so many different areas of their business, whether it be the accounting, the product development, to business development, to communications and marketing, they think they know it all and I really do advise them to take a step back and listen to the advice that’s being shared with them. And as long as they’re open to that two-way communication street, it usually works really well.

Jeffery:
So, it sounds like experience really kind of shines out here if as you’re kind of working through and it probably doesn’t matter what age, which group, which gender, anything that they’re coming in at. Being able to share and learn is probably a big facet of what’s going on between you and the startups you’re working with. What got you into startup world? What drove you there versus the big clients, and the big money, and all that good stuff?

Jodi:
You know, it’s interesting. So, I’ll tell- take even sort of a little bit of a further step back into technology. So, when I was about 11 years old, my brother actually got at the time it was like an Apple 2 plus compatible computer, and the two of us we used to actually program these Dos games, and I mean I’m really aging myself now, but it was great and I just, I loved sort of that whole idea of working in technology. So, obviously getting into public relations was one thing and then I actually had the first opportunity in South Africa to work for a company that was a startup. And I loved- firstly, I loved the idea of everything that you do get involved in from the accounting, the business development, and everything else around that, and when I moved to Canada, I worked for a company called Delrina and depending on people’s age that either will or won’t know who Delrina was, but this was sort of at the cusp of before the internet really took hold and email and people were still faxing from their computers. And it was a hot company and I loved sort of seeing the growth and everything that it was going through, and the company got acquired, and from that point, I then actually moved on to a startup that was focused on photography. And photography software that kind of thing, and again being in the startup, and just sort of seeing how much a company can evolve, and it’s not just about taking an existing product, and growing, and moving it into international markets. It’s about the exciting things I think that I see in a startup from growing the team, to learning around new different- new and different products, and the opportunity to evolve as markets change. And I love the pace at which a startup moves that and, so for me kind of translating a lot of that into my role now on as a consultant versus in-house is, I’m driven by those same types of things and I also love- I mean we were- I love her like we work with startups but one of our clients we’ve been working with for 16 years, we worked with them in the very early stages, so they were a startup and we’ve worked with them from the very beginning. They’re now actually in the process of being acquired by a large company that’s owned by a private equity firm, and I think it’s just that opportunity of seeing a company grow from its very early stages, maybe the first 20 people, right the way up to something that is that could end up being a global multinational. There’s a lot of excitement there, so for me, that’s my passion but you know, that’s not to say that we don’t work with global multinationals. It’s just I love the startup world.

Jeffery:
No, that and I agree it’s very exciting especially, if you’re able to continue that journey with them and you both see eye-to-eye on kind of the future, and where the products going or at least the vision of how you can stay behind it because you become the voice for that company. So, you really have to be able to keep matching up and shifting with them as they’re growing. You mentioned that you love the pace, is there something that you guys can help drive and push into that pace? And is that kind of that real excitement side of it is that you’re almost taking the reins at the same time and I go, “We’re busy,” and you’re like, “No, not you’re not too busy for pr, this is how we got to do this,” is there a lot of that happening?

Jodi:
You know when it comes to pace, and moving things along, and sort of having their communications really run at the same speed as the business itself, sometimes there are- there is definitely a push, I’d say by founders by CEOs to say, “I really need to focus on the growth side of things and that’s really where I need my efforts to be,” and you have to really bring them back in and get them back on board again around the whole idea of, if you want to continue at this pace, you have to actually get the word out there, you have to communicate, you have to make sure people are aware of you. So, I think from that perspective, it’s a natural supporting role and absolutely, I mean we work at the sum of the creating the most crazy speeds that I’ve ever seen. I mean there are times where even an acquisition for example, there are some times where a company might be planning an acquisition over a period of two, three months. There’s other times where you get the word a week before and you have to go through, and plan all that information that has to be distributed, and all the awareness, and everything that has to be done in a period of a week. So, the pace of everything that they’re doing whether it’s launching new products, or you know introducing new people, growing their teams, embracing new markets, it’s all supported through PR and it happens quickly. That’s just the nature of the beast in the startup world for sure.

Jeffery:
Well, I like that and you mentioned that you have one company that went 16 years that you’ve been working with, and I’m sure there’s a ton of learnings that you’ve gone through with that company up, and down, left to right, everything that’s happening but there was one thing that I was told this was when I first started, literally first started my company 15 years ago or 14 years ago, somewhere in there, and this this guy owned I think they were called Mailbox or Box. They were on the- you could do all your like a UPS store but they were called Mailboxes or something. Okay, he owned like four or five of them so I’m assuming, he shifted somewhere in there but he said to me, “You won’t know you’re a business until you’ve been in business for five years,” and I never really understood that. I thought about it and for the longest time when you were a consultant for a year well for the first few years, I couldn’t tell everybody I owned a company. So, I think I went until maybe three or four until I felt I was in the right spot, and then I started to slowly tell it was only because people pushed me like, “Tell people you’re a CEO and I was like, “Well, I’m not ready to do that yet.” “You’re like you’ve been doing this for five years.” I’m like, “Well, I was told it wouldn’t be a business until I’ve been here five years. I gotta make sure this works.” So, is there a longevity that you can predict into the company? But is there also something that you kind of help, mentor, coach, these startups? So that, they can get to 16 years because you know like if one in 10 companies are successful or whatever the ratio has kind of been changed up around, is there a way for you to kind of coach, and guide? And do you believe in coaching and mentoring? And how do you feel that you can get them to 16 years? Because I think that’s a huge accomplishment.

Jodi:
Yeah and so, when it comes to coaching, and mentoring, and supporting startups through their evolution, I definitely think that it’s an important thing. I think if you- if a startup works or any company actually works with consultants, those consultants essentially act as coaches to the company anyway. It’s not just about actually hiring somebody who has a title of coach or mentor or anything like that, they’re actually doing that along the way and so, I definitely think it’s something that’s important. I mean for me, personally, even in my own business I’ve had a coach that’s worked with me. I’ve had mentors that have worked with me and I’ve seen sort of the evolution of my own insights that I have not only about myself and the business, but the bigger landscape of things that I had no idea about. So, I think it’s definitely something that’s important but taking the time over the evolution of a relationship with somebody who is working closely with you, and taking the time to really listen to them, to hear their feedback, and then evolve what you’re doing internally, to support that there’s something to be said about what kind of success you can achieve through doing that. So, I always say and this is actually one of the reasons why I like to work at the CEO level as well, it’s not just for, especially from pr, it’s not just about putting your marketing team in front of a PR consultant, when you have the CEO who’s involved and you’re actually going out there, and you’re speaking with them, and you’re providing with guidance, they’re learning. And then what they do is they kind of share that top level down guidance to their team and it makes the CEO look good, makes them really come across, well, as you know, it’s very natural that they look good, that they understand the role, and they’ve had a learning opportunity in an area that maybe they wouldn’t have if only their marketing people had been involved. So, I definitely say yes, anyone that you hire as a consultant and no matter what part of your business is, essentially a coach for you, focusing on that part of the business and then absolutely take a look outside of that, find somebody that is you know, they can support you and just to actually even go beyond that, I kind of think about some of the groups that exist like Pure Scale. Pure Scale is you know one of many groups and I know that there’s a whole lot of others, there’s tech, and there’s a few others that exist, and the whole idea there is actually connecting you with others that are in the same role as you. Basically, they would have like these CEO round tables so, sometimes coaching and mentoring is not just again coming from a consultant or somebody that has a coaching title, but it’s actually a from a peer. So, I think there’s a lot of different ways to think about it and to actually absorb the learnings that you can get from others.

Jeffery:
Oh, that’s great! And I do think that those groups really do generate a lot of ideas, a lot of value, but it also creates accountability. I think sometimes when you’re in an early stage company and maybe, this is the reason why you have the chip on your shoulder, you think you know more than anybody else because you’re doing something maybe unique in your space, is that you report to yourself until you’ve raised funds and I think there’s this lack of accountability side to it. So you become accountable to your shareholders, if you understand how that process works, if you don’t, you’re accountable to yourself, and I think these groups create that accountability especially, consultants or coaches that are brought in that, really helps feed that. You mentioned that you want to make the CEO look good, I love that line because I think sometimes we forget that when we work for a business the CEO is the person that’s driving the sales. They’re the ones driving the business the strategy, where it’s going to be, what helps you define the CEO that you can support and back in order to work with that company?

Jodi:
So, I think there’s a few things especially on and it’s probably different in different fields, from a PR perspective. When I’m actually working with a company and they’re looking for PR support, typically, it’s not the CEO that’s reaching out on the very rare occasion, it may be. It’s often somebody in marketing, or you know somebody who’s handling a million different roles in the startup, and who’s been tasked with finding a PR agency, and one of my first questions is always will your CEO support your PR efforts? Do they understand what PR is and what the benefits are? And if yes, I will take the conversation further. If no, there’s often no point in having that conversation because I really do find that when you have the support top-down from a PR perspective, it makes your work that much easier you can make them look good, but they also have to just support and trust that you are an advisor and somebody in the business that can really help them shine, not just that personally, but the business itself. So, I think from a PR perspective, you really have to have a CEO who’s committed to pr, understands the strategic value, not just the tactical value.

Jeffery:
And how much does this and I’m kind of assuming that it’s all works. This way, how much of it translates into the same way? You’re looking at this to make an investment, is it identical format? Like there can’t be much change because if you’re drilling them for x you’re going to be looking for y. Anyways, so is that all kind of in the same ballpark?

Jodi:
It is pretty much it. You know, I don’t remember who said this but I’ve seen a lot of times that there’s a quote that says, “You’re not investing in a company, you’re investing in people,” and from my perspective, I definitely look at the founder and the CEO and I want to try and get a little bit of a good understanding as to what are they like as a person, how do they deal under pressure? You know especially in a startup that is evolving, that has to pivot at a moment’s notice because of things like COVID or how well are they actually conditioned to be able to do that, can they handle the pressure? And what do they like as a person? Is it somebody that has a lot of ego that wants it to be all about them? Is it somebody that would rather shine a light on their team as opposed to themselves? So, I definitely take a look at the CEO and the founding team as part of my decision making. It’s a big part for me, for sure.

Jeffery:
And when you’re doing that, is that shaping? Is this where your investment side comes in or is that coming after like are you looking at the company and then saying, “Hey, we’ll do work for you, but I also want to invest”? Or is it two separate things that are coming into pitching? You’re like, “You know what, I don’t mix business with pleasures. So pleasure is investing. Business is business so, I’m not going to invest in you because I want you as a client,” or do you mix it all up? How does that work?

Jodi:
So, I actually keep them very separate. I know that there’s a lot of PR agencies that will do work you know, in exchange for equity, and for me I typically don’t do. I don’t take that kind of approach because I think when you- if you’re a CEO or founder and you have a business and, you’re getting services in return for equity, you don’t sort of really feel that on a month to month basis. It’s kind of this thing in the side and I don’t know that you necessarily truly value the kinds of services that are coming in. so, I’ve always kept them separate and however, when I’m working with when I choose to invest in a company and typically, I put the word out there and if people know that I’m looking for investments and they’ll come in with the referrals. I’m happy to support them, and provide that mentorship that coaching and support. From a PR perspective, I would hope that they look to me for that part of the expertise that I’m able to deliver and to support them I’ll review their documents, I’ll make edits to things, I’ll provide strategic guidance to them, but I don’t do it the other way around. I don’t start with them from a place of them being a client and then investing. Although, there have been situations where you start working with a client, somebody maybe that you’ve known for a really long time, they have a great idea, and you just, you trust in this person and everything they’re doing because you just know, you have a history with them. And then, you see the technology, you’re just completely blown away, and you’re like, “I need to invest in this,” but I definitely try and keep that separate.

Jeffery:
No, that’s you know, everybody has their own little process. So, I think at the end, you have to really value what the two things that you offer which is investing and your service, right? So, if you can count between the two..

Jodi:
Absolutely.

Jeffery:
And then that allows everybody else to understand your balance too because if you know, one month they raise rates or do something different. Well, then you have to accommodate that each time, so you probably have a good way of dividing those two pieces out and making sure that you’ve got a good story going forward.

Jodi:
Absolutely.

Jeffery:
In the, I guess, in the 19 years that you’ve been operating and running the business, I’m sure you’ve come across lots of cool tech and lots of interesting owners and CEOs, is there something that you can save from the ones that you have seen success? The one that you said is on the verge of closing a deal, is there something you can pull out of there that you really think stands out that early stage startups could really focus on? And you’ve seen this as they grow, is there some advice or some insights that you would say to a startup that you know, “What if you’re gonna start a company, make sure you do these three things because they’re gonna help you in the future, or they’re gonna help you at least tread better at the beginning”?

Jodi:
I would say, I mean, if I go back to this one particular company, one thing that I would definitely say for sure is culture. It is just they have a phenomenal culture, and it’s just been ingrained in terms of their approach, and everything that they do from the top-down. A lot of times, I think CEOs and founders kind of pass off anything to do with culture to people who are you know, maybe in senior levels in some way, but they don’t see it from the top-down. But I think they’re so focused on product, and getting the product to Market, and business development, and sales, that they actually forget about the people aspect. And I would say those companies that are successful are the ones that look to their people as being their most important investment. They invest in their people, they invest in everything their people do, whether it’s you know health care, and for an American company. or providing them with vacation time that’s not only you know, offered but encouraged making people actually do that, or hiring based on different criteria, and sort of building some kind of a DNA around their hiring practices, and what the company looks like. I think for me, that’s a very big separator because anyone can come up with great technology, and develop it, and build it out, but if you want to really build a world-class company, you have to have great people, and you can only do that by having a great culture.

Jeffery:
No, I like that. Culture does make a big difference and it’s usually led by the CEO or the at least the top management. Hopefully, in time but did you find that when you were working with this company at the beginning that they were trying to struggle with culture and trying to understand what that meant and how it actually helped drive their business? Because it seems like as you kind of mature in your business, you start to bring in different elements which would take the stress of doing 400 jobs each. So, do you think that there’s a- is or is there a tool or is there some way to balance that culture aspect to it? Is it the “work hard” culture where everybody works 20 hours a day? Or how do you shift to make that really an emphasis inside the business?

Jodi:
So, it’s a really good question when it comes to culture. I think oftentimes it’s- it comes from the top-down. The CEO often has whether it’s even if they’re very young, they often have something that they’ve grown up with or some kind of nurturing that they really appreciated and valued and they look to carry that through. I think in terms of being able to establish what their culture looks like because a lot of times as you say for companies, they’re looking at running a million miles a minute doing a million different things, but I think when you come at it from a human perspective, it’s becomes a natural part of the business. It’s not just about how you do things, but it’s how you encourage people if you as a startup, and you’re working, you have a development crunch, and people are working 20 hour days or over weekends, and how do you actually encourage them to do that? So, that it’s not they’re not doing it because they have to, but they do it because they want to, and all of that really stems from setting a baseline for what you expect. But the kind of and what you expect as a leader, but also the kind of environment that people are working in, and so for this particular company that I’m referring to their culture has just always been one of working really hard, but seeing the rewards for it and I think people were so encouraged by the kinds of rewards that they would see, the kinds of results that were being delivered to clients, and it’s a natural Motivator for people to continue doing that. So, I don’t know if I’d go beyond that but I think definitely, sometimes people want to actually put it into a particular practice and say, “This is what our culture is going to be like.” I don’t agree with that, I think culture happens naturally, and you determine as a leadership team, what do you want your culture to be? What do you want people to know you by? And I think that’s where it has to begin.

Jeffery:
I think that culture is a huge aspect of business and if you get it wrong then it can cost you a lot more problems in the long haul, but one of the things you mentioned which is kind of what’s going on now, is the environment. And you’re saying, “Put yourself into this really good environment.” Now, that based on investing, you’re gonna invest in more virtual based companies nowadays, I suspect yourself being a virtual company. So, you might actually have a whole different mindset on how virtual companies work and how you can invest in a company virtually, how do you see that environment rolling out now that it’s going to be kind of all over the place? Can you still build up a great culture with being separated in different regions, countries, and things like that?

Jodi:
I think so. We’re actually working, it’s very interesting we’re working with a number of companies that actually enable virtual collaboration in a variety of areas. For example, on-call health, they have a virtual care platform that enables healthcare providers to provide services to communities far and wide using a safe and secure platform, and so for them this is really something that they’ve been doing long before the pandemic even started because that was really a natural evolution. The fact now that you have companies like shopify, and open text, and others, obviously, all tech companies that are moving to much more of a virtual model, I think all it’s done is really taken what has been a natural evolution and accelerated the timelines for that. So, when it comes to investing, I think the whole idea here is how can a company firstly pivot to support the new reality, and the new norm of the life that we’re living in. And I have actually a great company that’s doing just that. So, this company is Artery and they are a great investment, really great founders, and they are focused on bringing culture and creativity to people, and they’re doing this by bringing together artists and performers, the audience and then the location. But think about it, if you kind of think of a house party or a house concert that you’re hosting, and all of a sudden you’re in the middle of a pandemic, there goes your business model. So, how do you actually evolve? So, I think the thing for me in terms of investing and looking at things from a virtual point of view, if you have a great founder and somebody who is doing – who is firstly very nimble in their approach to business, and identifies the opportunities to pivot their business to support the current reality, but also engage in both their traditional model in the future as well as the current realities, I think that’s a huge opportunity. And so, for Artery for example, they brought all their events and everything online. They’re hosting these showcases virtually and their attendance has been great, but in the process of doing this, it’s inadvertently opened up what they’re doing to something that was typically more regionally oriented. So, they were hosting showcases in Toronto, in New York, but now you have people from BC, from California, from all over that are able to participate and I think very naturally for them for example, it’s going to actually allow them to expand globally much quicker because so many more people have been able to participate and see what the virtual side has been like, and then bring that into the you know, the in-person world. So, from an investing perspective, I think it always again it still comes back down to investing in people that I think can adjust their model to to whatever the current reality is whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s you know, a seasonal issue, who knows what it may be. But I think that’s the idea and for me it’s not about making an investment in a company that’s virtual or not. I think when you have the right people involved whether you’re virtual or not you will be able to create a great culture, you’ll be able to establish a business that is successful, especially when you have great technology that people are interested in, and you’re truly and meaningfully addressing a gap that nobody else is even touching.

Jeffery:
Now, that’s some a great insight. If you take this environment, and how startups can form and adapt to what they’re in, and how they’re working, have you found that you’ve had to adapt and change in making virtual investments? Or do you have a tactile thing where you need to have that entrepreneur in front of you at least once before you make an investment?

Jodi:
You know what, because my business you know, because my business has been virtual from the get-go and I’ve been on the receiving end of a potential new business, a new client, where we actually went in, they knew we were virtual and ultimately we lost the business because we were virtual that sort of being on the receiving end of that has allowed me to really open my eyes to doing business generally in a virtual way. So, I am not adverse to doing a virtual investment. I think people over zoom and yes, there’s a lot of zoom-fatigue and all that kind of thing but I think the idea of connecting with people and being able to make especially a one-on-one connection with somebody even if it is virtually, you can still have the same kind of conversations, you can still ask the same kind of questions. So, from my perspective, no, there’s no sort of change in that area. However, the one thing that has changed for me is I made actually a couple of investments in January and then of course you have this new swirling around COVID and you know January, February, and then obviously you know, March being locked down and just around the uncertainty of the market that we were in, I actually said, “You know what, I’m going to put things on pause for new investments for now. If the portfolio companies that I’m working with are raising new funds over this time, I will absolutely continue and do follow-on realms.” But I wasn’t actually about to do it, but it had nothing to do with virtual. It had more to be- it had more to do with preserving cash making sure because things are so uncertain, I wanted to make sure that we’re in a good position going forward, and to see us through the pandemic.

Jeffery:
Well, that’s great and very forward thinking, and you need that. So, we’ve kind of gone through this nice little journey, you’re working with startups, how you work with them, the pr, the marketing, believing in the team, believing in the owner, all the way up, we’re hitting all these different areas, do you have any really good stories or at least one good story of a heartfelt startup or CEO that just came from nothing and you were like blown away by it and you were you know, we thought, “Man, there’s no way these guys are gonna make it,” somehow, they pull the cat out of their hat and boom! Now, they’re just chugging along and, or it could be anything, maybe it just they fell apart and no one likes a doomsday story, but is there anything that you’ve got that kind of just summarizes all this experience into one nice little package?

Jodi:
Well, I think so. I think one thing that is really important to me when you’re looking at investing is just really again, what the founders are able to do. Their enthusiasm and so one of the one company actually that invested in January is a company called Thrive Savings and they’re a great little company and they were actually in the process of doing a funding round. They were supposed to close their funding round like February-March time frame and of course, you had this pandemic heading and they were supposed to be launching. They had already developed a great base of thousands of individuals that were ready to get on their platform and start working with them and then you have this pandemic that kind of comes in the middle of it and quite honestly, these guys have not stopped what they’re doing. They have continued from the word go to look at what else can they do in the meantime, so they’ve really taken the opportunity to engage with these thousands of people that have signed up and already, and we’re anticipating launch, and let them know what’s coming. They have all that they’ve done is they’ve taken the time to harden their technology, to harden their platform, build new partnerships, and really look to this as an opportunity to even build them out in a further position today when they’re ready to launch as compared to when they might have launched back in march. So, it’s just, I think it’s that resilience, that for me is the story for me that is so interesting is when you see these founders who- they don’t give up. They just continue to look for the opportunity, they want to go out there, and they want to do the things, the great things that they’ve set their mind to and then I have you know, there’s another company that we’ve invested in who had some issues along the way and we’ve actually invested in a few rounds for them. And they’ve had some issues along the way around what is their product market fit, and they didn’t just give up and say, “Okay, well you know, it’s not a fit. We’re just going to call it quits,” and they’ve spent the time either had to do the hard work, they had to lay off some people, and really look at how are they actually going to do this, and they took the time to speak to customers, speak to prospects, to speak to their investors, just really get a little bit more of a sense as to what are they missing to the point where they pivoted their business and their model. And their pivot was so timely around COVID that they have seen, I mean, where most companies maybe have seen a downturn in business, they have just seen growth in the two to four hundred percent range around some of the metrics that they’re measuring because of the fact that they did the hard work up front and so, it’s just being- as being a founder is not just an easy you know, upward climb that you know you’re gonna get there. It’s kind of like that iceberg picture, right? It’s like you’ve got the iceberg but really underneath is just this massive chunk of work that you have to do. And so, I think I’ve been very grateful and lucky that a lot of the founders that we’ve invested in have been resilient and they’ve done the work. They don’t you know, even in the face of any kind of adversity, they’re just pulling through and making things an opportunity instead of a you know, instead of a negative.

Jeffery:
That’s awesome! And I love stories, so hearing that there’s different ways and people have to shift their mind, I love the word “resilience” because it really does focus on I like to use and I know the word’s probably wrong, but I like to invest in a CEO that’s almost Psycho. I want her or him to just think like they want to know everything about this market, nothing’s taken them down, they’re going to go hard, or they already are going hard, and they’re going to continue that cycle. And I think it makes- that’s the resilience it really puts a mindset in but that’s where I think if we go back to your comments on culture, I think that’s what builds that first initial culture which is that hard work we take. No, we’re going to figure this out, we’re going to get around this, nothing’s going to break us, or in the case of one year companies where they pull back and said, “You know what, we’ve got an opportunity here to test, build, make everything a little bit stronger, a little bit better, and we go to market better when this is ready to go and put it in the market at the right time.” So those are all that strategic planning and understanding, and I’m sure the coaching helped. So, those are great insights for sure, so I guess we got a couple more questions and then we’re going to do this rapid fire stuff which I love because it takes no thought process. It’s just ramble and see what happens, but I think so the last the maybe the last question that I want to kind of touch on before we go into the rapid side of things is, as an investor, as a business owner, is there something that you find that you really love about the investing side that keeps you coming back and what is that because not only are we just trying to, we love startups but I’m also trying to entice more people to say, “You know, maybe I should get into investing because it really does bring x, y, and, z whatever that might be,” and maybe you can give the audience a few ideas on what that might be?

Jodi:
You know, it’s from a very selfish perspective and again to be an angel investor, you have to be willing to invest and lose everything that you invest in and that’s the mindset that I’ve gone in with, but selfishly it feels so good to give back and so, for me, I’ve had so many startups you know, take a risk on us, start working with us, allow us to actually support their business. And so, for me to be able to give back to founders that need the support, and my particular thesis is around supporting women founded tech startups, and that’s definitely been an area where I’ve seen a huge gap just over the years and obviously, we work with VCs as well. So just sort of seeing there’s not a lot of women founded tech startups that get the VC funding that actually sort of get to where they need to be, and so I made a decision around investing specifically in women and when I can see these women succeed and not all my investments are women founders or CEOs but when I can see them succeed, to me there is just something so powerful in that emotion of pride. And just it’s really incredible and you know, I’m Jewish and I think there is a big thing about being Jewish around what we called Sadaka, which is giving and for me being able to do that and help women in the community support their businesses grow and I was inspired by some of these stories around people that were really on their last dollar, and they received a small amount even like five thousand dollars in an angel investment. And now, you have these companies that are just doing incredibly well and somebody that’s willing to take a chance, and for me that’s what I’ve been willing to do. And it’s just, it’s a really good feeling for me, inside, to be able to do something good.

Jeffery:
I love it, yep! I’m on board. It’s good. No, I appreciate that and I love the idea about giving back and helping where you came from and helping the startups. The same, we have the same philosophy, I’m a huge fan of it and that’s the whole reason we started this whole network was to help give back. But I think that it takes a lot of people like yourself that also have that vision to go and figure out how can I give back and of course, being able to break it down into female or different cultures I think is massive. I love being agnostic, for me, it’s- it all feels great when you’ve helped the company and I know some investors look at this you know, they’re on the last five bucks, good. Now, I’m ready to invest because I know they’re going to be hungry. I guess everybody has their own way of doing it but I think at the end of the day, it’s you invest in the best people to do the best job, and then you support the hell out of them and I think that that’s what brings a lot of success and hopefully they learn from you because I can tell you, that in all the years that I’ve been doing this, the great thing that I heard back is that a lot of people always say to me, “I want to be where you are because I want to invest and help startups when I get to my age of this..” whatever. I’m like, “Awesome! You can do it now. Just help people like it’s not like you got to wait till you’re at some level. It’s just go help, like there’s a million ways to help someone succeed and it’s- it takes a million people to help that grow, and you have to think like that instead of thinking that “I have to hit this tear in life,” you don’t, just go help.

Jodi:
100%

Jeffery:
And make things a lot better, so but I love it. And I’m glad that you were able to share all that. So now, we’re going to jump into the rapid fire and then we have the one last question which is the crystal ball of all things. So, we’ll get into that one but let’s jump into the rapid fire ones, all right? Let me see, what’s your favorite part of startup investing?

Jodi:
Meeting new founders and seeing new technologies, for sure.

Jeffery:
Okay, love it! How many companies or dollars do you invest per year?

Jodi:
I’ve never actually set a particular number. I’ve never had a number. If the right deals comes along, I’ll make an Investment.

Jeffery:
Done. Do you have follow-up investments and is there a perfect a percentage of your portfolio that you will make sure you do that with?

Jodi:
So, I do make follow-up investments and I’ve done that actually only with one company so far, and about to do it with another, but I’m definitely in for supporting that and it’s not that I’ve allocated money specifically for that but I do know that it might in the back of my mind. I want to support them on an ongoing basis.

Jeffery:
Love it. Any verticals that you focus on?

Jodi:
Technology, for sure and women founded tech startups. Although, I’m definitely with everything that’s gone on with black lives matter, and all that kind of thing. I’m definitely wanting to actually make a difference there as well and I want to start doing some investments in black founders as well.

Jeffery:
Perfect! Any notable portfolio companies that you’d like to share?

Jodi:
I’ve already shared a few of them, but I love all my com- all my portfolio companies. I think they’re all doing great things, everything from Artery and Zoom to Zoom.ai to thrive savings, just doing some really great things. So, I’ve no particular one that stands out over the other.

Jeffery:
Okay, what’s your timeline for investments when you make an investment, if someone comes to you they can expect within 24 hours? You’re making money off for them or what is the time frame?

Jodi:
So, typically it’s usually a few weeks. It might be you know, I’ll meet, I’ll do my due diligence, research, trying to understand more about the company, make a few calls, but most amount of referrals so, and I do trust the referrals that I receive. So, it’s usually pretty quick.

Jeffery:
Okay, do you look to lead rounds?

Jodi:
No.

Jeffery:
Okay, how do you take board seats?

Jodi:
I haven’t yet but I’d love to.

Jeffery:
Noted. Do you have other ways which I think you’ve mentioned a few before as well, but other ways you help startups outside of just money?

Jodi:
Absolutely. So, I’m one of the founding members of an organization called the Big Push and it’s also- it’s a business accelerator that’s focused on supporting women founders and leaders of tech startups. So, I provide time through that. I’m a mentor for tech stars, I’m an advisor to the program that was launched between Queens university and Else Park. So, I’m involved in that. So, yeah there’s a lot of other ways that as you said, it doesn’t have to be about money. People don’t have to wait until they get that level, so I love to be able to give back to the community. So that’s definitely part of it through mentoring, advising, and being a support for them.

Jeffery:
I love it. Last question, was based on the- you mentioned this, but based on the environment we’re currently in, have you pulled back in any way looked at things differently on investments?

Jodi:
So, I’ve definitely put things on pause, but again if the right opportunity did come up to me and was the right time, I would take a serious look at it but I haven’t been proactively pursuing investments over this time.

Jeffery:
Okay, last question and thank you very much for those rapid fire questions. They were pretty rapid and they were bang on! They were really good, thank you! Crystal ball, so based on the last the next 12 months and 36 months, where do you see the investment community? Where do you see startups going? Do you see specific verticals that people are looking to invest in or yourself? How do you kind of envision the next 12 to 36 months?

Jodi:
So, essentially- so I think because of COVID I think we’re going to see a lot of med tech companies emerging to solve problems and it’s not necessarily problems around. It’s not just a vaccine because I think that you’re gonna have your large pharmas. Pharma companies and as well as obviously, there are some Israeli startups and others that are working on it but I do think that there’s a lot of things that doctors are uncovering now that have impacted communities of people that have been diagnosed with COVID. So, whether it be you know, emotional, psychological, physiological, you know even impact on the heart, whatever it is and so, I think that there’s going to be a lot of med tech companies that have emerged from this. And so, I’m definitely wanting to keep an eye out for that because I think it’s a very interesting space. And I also think that you’re gonna get a lot of companies that are looking to address the new norms that we’re facing today. So, if you think about the companies that are I mean, obviously, zoom for example, and not zoom my investor but zoom the platform that we’re using right now, for this conversation like they obviously just skyrocketed throughout the whole pandemic, but I think there’s so many other opportunities and gaps as companies start to move to more of a virtual model for their teams, and how can people actually solve those issues. So, I think we’re going to be seeing a few companies emerge focused specifically on that because especially with I think multiple wave coming down the line with COVID. I think this is going to be very much a new norm for all of us, so what are the gaps in addressing this new norm? So, I’m definitely keen to see that, so I think there’s going to be a good number of companies around that. The other thing that was interesting actually and I hope to see more of this is I think it was probably around March a maybe the April time frame, we saw for example BDC talking about their program to do matching of angel investments and I know for example, I think it was in Saskatchewan maybe, or Winnipeg, I don’t even remember where it was, but there was actually a tax credit for example, for angel investors who are looking to support early stage companies, and I am hoping that one of the things that we also see coming out of this pandemic is more support and programs like that to encourage more angel investors to actually support the startup community. So, fingers crossed. I’m hoping that that’s something that will happen as well and I think the other thing and I kind of mentioned this is an area of interest for me, I think also with everything that’s been happening with black lives matter. I’m hoping that there’s also a lot of renewed interest in investors supporting minority groups and it’s not just sort of your black and indigenous or you know, people of color but even when I think about the LGBTQ community. I want to see more support for that and for example, even for me when one of the areas that I so give back that’s not an investment is venture out you know. I provided a prize for their latest cohort and its PR consulting services. So, again getting involved in that community, so I’m hoping that through everything that we’ve seen and that’s happened in the last three, four months that there’s a lot more goodness that comes out of it for from a technology startup and investing community perspective.

Jeffery:
I love it! So, those are some great points from medtech, virtual, fill and gaps, BDC that’s Edmonton so, outside there they do offer the financial support which is dollars to add in for your tax side in Ontario to take away. So you don’t actually probably lose money on every investment but and I like the best part which is more goodness. That is key. I’m gonna use that one that’s brilliant. Well, Jodi I think that one while we were talking, I think I just created something cool but outside that I was just thinking that outside of all the great material you’ve brought through this journey which was phenomenal, there was a lot of great things that I learned from you and learned in this conversation. Hopefully, everybody else will get the same learning but I think that we actually may have actually met on a phone call about two years ago when you mentioned the Big Push. I think we were on a call about the fund and how to set up a fund, if I remember that was correct and it was with..oh my god, what’s her name?

Jodi:
Sharon?

Jeffery:
Yes! It’s not, it just clicked. I was like oh my god, we’re already on a the cubs so that’s kind of cool like it didn’t even didn’t- I didn’t put two and two together until you just mentioned that so that’s fantastic, that’s amazing!

Jodi:
You know what one of the things that I love this tech community here in Canada is so tightly interwoven and people support one another and people connect and want to do what they can to help. And I love it because this is not the first time where you kind of make a recollection that you’ve actually worked with somebody or you know that somebody was introduced. I love it, it’s great.

Jeffery:
That was awesome! So, to kind of end everything up. I want to thank you for joining us, we’ll let you know when everything gets posted all that good stuff but I want to give you the last word. So, is there anything you want to say to an investor, potential investor, or to a startup? Any advice, any final thoughts? But I leave it to you to share the last moment.

Jodi:
What I would say actually one thing that’s kind of interesting that I would say for a startup is there was a company quite a probably about a year ago, maybe even two years ago that I was really interested in investing in and they decided that they wouldn’t take an investment from me because they had met with an advisor who suggested that the minimum investment that they take is a $50, 000 investment and I was really I was bummed. I thought you know, this was really a great company that I wanted to invest in and what was interesting obviously, through a turn of events probably about eight months to a year later, they came back to me, and said, “We’ve actually made a mistake and we are open to a lower investment.” At that point I kind of felt like I’d already been burned and I chose not to invest. So, one of the things that I would say to a founder is, don’t make a judgment based on a minimum amount of an investment because sometimes an investor can bring way more than money to the table in supporting you. So, think about that when somebody says, “You know, you have to have a minimum investment amount, what are you losing because of that?”

Jeffery:
I love it! Well, Jodi, that was fantastic! I thank you again and we will send the information and update you soon but I appreciate all the insights.

Jodi:
Thank you for having me. Really appreciate it!

Jeffery:
You’re awesome, you’re rock star! Done, this is good, thank you!

Jodi:
You’re welcome.

Jeffery:
That was fantastic! A lot of high energy! Man, so much great information, insights, feedback, coaching, mentoring, all for it, help people out. I love the bring more goodness, I loved her last word which was you know, sometimes you got to think about all these different components, don’t put yourself into a box. You’re a startup, think about how you’re going to expand work with the people that are interested, and want to be part of your company. Don’t push them away just because of a number. It doesn’t fit? Man, open up be a little bit less stringent. You’re trying to build a company and all these different people are going to help you grow that company and the more people that you can bring in, the better off you’re going to be. So again, culture, working with the right people you know, focus on that product, the launch, utilize the pr, the marketing side, when you can be resilient. Oh man, I love that word “you gotta be resilient,” “crazy inside,” you gotta go hard work your butt off but anyways, that was Jodi Echakowitz. Fantastic, I’m so glad I realized and recognized that we had chatted one time before and we’ve already been on a panel together. So, she’s fantastic and I love the insights, tons of notes again, big fan, yeah. Enjoy your day, thank you!

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