I first met Liz Lange, above left, years ago when we were working at Vogue and have followed her career as she grew her maternity line into a global brand (her current licensing deal with Target has the largest apparel market share in the US). Today she sells her line, Completely Me by Liz Lange, on HSN, and now with partner Audrey Kirdar, above right, has launched a female-based V.C. fund called Navy Lane Capital. Both Liz and I met former investment banker Audrey Kirdar through mutual friends. Audrey, who spent 15 years in the finance industry working at Rothschild, Morgan Stanley and most recently as Managing Director at Financo, has worked with brands ranging from Walmart, and Kering to Steven Alan and Opening Ceremony. Together, they make a formidable duo. Why? Because today’s typical V.C. funds are male-dominated and what’s often missing when male-dominated V.C.s invest? An emotional attachment to the brand. Because growing a business is not just a numbers game. Audrey and Liz (who both have exquisite taste) look at every investment from two angles: 1) is it a company that has great business potential, and perhaps more importantly, 2) is there a genuine appreciation and love for the brand. Here they share thoughts on their business with TFI:
Tell TFI what Navy Lane Capital is and why you started it.
Liz: We’re starting a female founded fund to invest in entrepreneurs, but not female entrepreneurs necessarily. As a former entrepreneur, I find entrepreneurs are always coming to me for help and the things they need most are advice, guidance and introductions, and money. In the past, I’ve been able to loosely give them advice and make intros but not give them money, and there has been a lot I would have loved to invest in. We’re raising funds specifically to investment in entrepreneurs we believe in; those who are open to the idea of having some real hands-on help. For me just investing money is no fun at all, I’ve gotten to a stage in my career and my life where I want to love what I’m doing, which I loved when I was building Liz Lange. So I’m looking specifically to spend time with a few entrepreneurs and be as hands-on as I can be for the ones I believe in.
Audrey: Essentially Navy Lane Capital is not just capital, we are strategic money. We plan to work and collaborate with the entrepreneurs. Having spent over 15 years in finance, I find there is a huge white space for companies looking to raise one to ten million dollars. That’s where we come in. I grow consumer brands. We collaborate and work with the entrepreneur to help them get to the next level.
What made you decide to partner together?
L: When we met, we met through another entrepreneur who was thinking about doing a different venture, but then we realized that what we were really passionate about was investing in these consumer brands that we love. And we have complementary skill sets. I think that either one of us alone would not be as additive as we could be together.
A: Yes, together we have the entrepreneur, the financier, and the operator with our third partner.
L: Another point I would make is that when I was raising money for Liz Lange maternity many years ago, I found that I would go into meetings–and it would usually be a group of men, they would say to me ‘Liz to be honest, we’ve never heard of your brand but I asked my wife’ or ‘I asked my assistant or associate and she loves your brand so we’re just excited to meet you.’ It used to strike me, even back then, that the people that should be investing in these brands, are the people who actually understand them and love them first hand.
We want to invest in brands not because we just like their financials but we love the brand and maybe come to it organically because it’s a brand we’re using or loving.
How do you think being a woman in your business is a benefit?
A: As the fund invests, we certainly are very methodical about different financial benchmarks and parameters, but as women we know the product and we are passionate about it and that’s a huge criteria for us. It’s a huge differentiator as well.
L: I think so. We want the coming together of brands that we are natural users of, fans of, and they have the right financials.
What kind of brands are you looking to invest in?
A: Beauty, apparel, food, accessories, in could be tech for instance where tech meets beauty.
L: It could be even what you’re doing, a consumer-oriented site.
What are the key factors that make a strong brand and lead to their success?
L: For me it’s a brand that’s differentiated itself, that I can see people are naturally being drawn to. I’ve never understood the whole concept, we hire some famous bloggers and we try to get influencers to get people to like our brand. I think that great brands speak to people without any of that. So its’ a brand that has found it’s natural place in the marketplace even if it’s very early, an entrepreneur or management team who I believe in, who I think are smart, who have the background to do it, or even if they don’t have the background, who strike me as very on it, for lack of a better word. Certainly in our case, the entrepreneur and management team have to be open to working with us. Some entrepreneurs really just want the money and then say ‘let me do what I do and I’ll report back to you in six months’. I totally get that, and it could be a great brand but it wouldn’t be for us.
A: Brand authenticity are words we’re often using when we’re looking at different brands. And the brand being pure. And that’s from a more financial perspective. Pure meaning they haven’t licensed the brand out, they’re not in different financial relationships, so the brand is really clean. We’ve met over 80 companies at this point….
TFI: Wow, that’s a lot.
L: There is no shortage of companies that need money at this level.
A: Yes, there are a lot of companies that need money and really no one providing that capital. [To work with us] I think an entrepreneur needs to know what they don’t know, be able to ask questions and collaborate. We certainly don’t claim to know better, but we want to have an open dialogue.
We’ve participated in a couple of deals already. One is Core Hydration, the other is Carbon 38, which is online athleisure.
TFI: Why these two brands?
L: They met all our criteria. We were really in love with them. I feel like any brand we invest in, we have to fall in love with.
With the digital landscape everything is changing so much, how does that affect what you’re doing?
L: I think that’s what’s very exciting about it, and that therein lies the opportunity. Things are moving so quickly, and there are so many emerging brands that I think are truly responding to the issues and problems that are going on now. Retail is currently broken. And I think there are people who are coming up with creative solutions on how to fix it. Any time there is a flux, is a time for great opportunity.
Do you think this changes financially how you invest as well?
A: When we look at businesses we look at their growth strategy. We look very carefully at the wholesale channel and not being so dependent on that given what’s going on in the retail environment.
L: I also think it’s hard today for a brand to tell their story through a wholesale environment. I think direct to consumer is very important. But I do believe in brick and mortar and I do believe in stores—it just can’t be a brand’s main revenue.
What has been your biggest success before that you bring to the table?
L: I think creating, building and ultimately selling Liz Lange Maternity. That 10-year period was probably the most gratifying experience of my lifetime. Of course, there were a lot of little benchmarks, and fall-off-my-chair exciting moments within that build.
A: Being a banker for 15 years and having bought and sold so many companies I really like working with the entrepreneur. Their business is everything they’ve done in life, so to help them have success in their next step is for me a huge success. There have been so many deals where we’ve doubled the purchase price. At the end of the day, these entrepreneurs put in their blood sweat and tears into their business and to help them monetize that and bring that success is success for me.
What was the hardest part?
L: For me, being an entrepreneur was learning how to have thick skin. Things feel very personal when you build your own brand, particularly if they have your name on it. But you learn that it’s just business. When buyers say, “that’s not selling” or the ‘customer doesn’t like it’, it was hard for me.
A: The hardest thing for me is moving on. And I don’t think this is the same for every investment banker. But it’s something that people have said about me, as both a positive and a negative, but you become so close to the entrepreneurs and you believe in them and the deal is done and you move onto the next.
One attribute that helps each of you succeed:
L: Optimism. To invest in entrepreneurs and to be an entrepreneur, you always think that every problem has a solution and everything is possible and anything can be worked out. It’s not that I’m terribly naïve, but I think to be a successful entrepreneur it requires almost a touch of naivety—a true belief that even though the odds are overwhelmingly against you, you can beat them.
A: Social and emotional IQ. You meet so many different types of people when you’re in business. I like to put myself on the other side, in their shoes, before making decisions or problem solving. Understanding their perspective and that you’re not always right.
Three adjectives that describe you:
A: Dedicated, ambitious, honest
L: Optimistic, energetic, obsessive
Three adjectives that describe Navy Lane: Female, Passionate, Collaborative, Driven (ok it’s four).
Best business advice you’ve ever received:
L: To shut out the naysayers. Before somebody does something new, nobody ever thinks it’s a good idea. So if you are going to go for something, it’s almost like putting on earmuffs and blinders and you’re just heading towards the goal. You’re not listening to all the negativity and the ‘I don’t want that product, I would never use it’. When Xerox first started and made the first copy machine, they were told in every meeting ‘who would ever want to make a copy?’
A: Be indispensable.
Any role models?
L: Even though I don’t consider myself a feminist, there are women who I admire who have broken through in different ways. A lot are in the beauty industry. l really admire Helena Rubenstein, Estee Lauder–both Jewish women and immigrants who built businesses and had their husbands working for them. I find that to be super cool. Mary Kay, I read her biography, she’s incredible. And the woman who was first female CEO of a publicly traded company, Mary Wells Lawrence. I die over her.
A: Not to be cliche but my dad; he defines hard work. He grew up in an orphanage and ended up becoming both a rocket scientist and an orthopedic surgeon.
More from Audrey:
Life goals: Take things day by day.
Daily goals: Working out and making it home before kids go to bed.
Daily ritual: Wake at 6:30; kids on bus; work out at SLT; head to work.
How do you unplug? Probably should say meditation/yoga but really kids in bed, sweats and my favorite TV show.
Hidden talent/hobby: Pop-a-Shot (arcade basketball hoop game).
Do you collect anything? Handbags!
Daily read/sites you follow: Pure Wow
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: Marni Jacket
Favorite charity: One’s dedicated to children
Heels/Flats: I wish heels…but flats.
Pastels/Primaries: Black and Navy
Cats/Dogs: Neither unfortunately, for my kids!
More from Liz:
Life goals: Try to be less Type A.
Daily goals: Serenity (I often think of the Seinfeld line “Serenity now” as so many things annoy me.)
Daily ritual: Morning latte from Joe’s, making breakfast for my kids, working out at the Fhitting Room, blow outs.
How do you unplug? I rarely unplug but I do take a lot of short baths (my husband calls me the human tea bag) and they relax me (temporarily). Online shopping is my happy place, TV in bed at night.
Hidden talent/hobby: Candy Crush Soda, online shopping (not sure if it’s a talent but I can find anything online!)
Do you collect anything? Vintage fashion photographs, vintage jewelry
Daily read/sites you follow: Pure Wow, Infatuation, The Skimm, BOF
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: My apartment
Favorite charity: Anything related to cervical cancer—I’m a cervical cancer survivor.
Morning/night: Both—I rarely sleep.
Truth/Dare: Definitely truth—I am no daredevil and I have zero tolerance for dishonesty.
Heels/Flats: I have to say heels as I am always teetering around in them, but I do love flats too.
Pastels/Primaries: Primaries: Black, navy, white, charcoal, camel, red.
Monet/Mondrian: Neither, I’m more Alex Katz, Allan McCollum.
Cats/Dogs: Dogs! Big dogs in particular. Our 50 pound golden doodle Rosie is the love of my life.
photograph by Rebecca Greenfield for The Flair Index
To see Audrey and Liz’s Flair Fives, click here.
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