Alice Lewis, "From Techstars to Shark Tank"

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Techstars and Shark Tank alumna Alice Lewis is building both a business and a movement. Her startup, Alice’s Table, offers a “business in a box” to entrepreneurial women who need a flexible schedule and want a meaningful activity. Alice’s Table helps with logistics, marketing, training and technology; the members, called “execs”, bring energy and connection with local brick & mortar businesses hungry for new things to keep their locations busy. Don’t miss this sparkling interview with her generation’s Martha Stewart.

Click here for the episode transcript.

Highlights Include:

  • Alice Lewis’ Introduction – The Martha Stewart of Her Generation

  • Building a Movement as Well as a Business – Women Connecting Across Functional & Economic Strata to Create Events that Are Fun and Meaningful

  • Alice’s Parents Are Both Entrepreneurs – This Inspired Her to Get Started

  • Being in a Musical in the 8th Grade Helped Her Realize She Has a Talent for Management

  • “I thought I was going to the art world 100%. My mom is an interior designer, but she also helps clients collect art. So, I saw that and I was like, this art world thing is really cool.”

  • "Oh my gosh, you're just another lifestyle blog, like the world does not need another lifestyle blog. Like stop, quit, Leave this. This is not a business opportunity."

  • Her First Job Was Working with the FBI & US Customs on International Art Fraud

  • “One of the things that I loved about Penn and why I wanted to go there so badly was because they had lots of majors that had many dimensions to them.”

  • “Normal People, Normal Results; Abnormal People, Abnormal Results”

  • “…like it's so scary to launch a business. How do you get over that hurdle? My response is always, if you can't get used to that pit in your stomach, just stay in your job.”

  • No Serenity in Startup Life: Gimlet Media’s Alex Blumberg Is Up at 2:45 AM Talking to His Wife About the Business

  • “Raise your hand if you recognize that we hit a target that we really were gunning for and nobody else has noticed, because it happens all the time.”

  • “So, Techstars was our first move out of the basement.”

  • “…what about this company are they doing that's not just women playing with flowers?"


Transcript of “From Techstars to Shark Tank”

Guest: Alice Lewis, Founder

SAL DAHER: Welcome to Angel Invest Boston, conversations with Boston's most interesting angel investors and founders. I'm Sal Daher and my goal for this podcast is to learn more about building successful new companies. The best way I can think of doing this is by talking to people who are doing it. People such as founder, Alice Lewis. Alice, I'm delighted you made time from your massively busy schedule to be here. Welcome.

ALICE LEWIS: Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Alice Lewis’ Introduction – The Martha Stewart of Her Generation

SAL DAHER: Tremendous. I'm so excited about this interview. Three young ladies and two other women are in the booth and very happy to be here because they wanted to meet Ms. Lewis. Alice Lewis, the founder of Alice's Table, in which I am an investor. Listeners, I'm pleased to present to you the Martha Stewart of her generation, but with a big difference.

Building a Movement as Well as a Business – Women Connecting Across Functional & Economic Strata to Create Events that Are Fun and Meaningful

Let me tell you a little story about Alice Lewis' startup, Alice's Table. It will make this difference really clear. I ran into a friend, a private banker who knew about Alice's Table because I'm an investor in the startup, and she said to me, "Sal. I needed to do an event for some women in private equity." Remember she's a private banker and has these high-powered women who are her clients. So, she had to do an event for these women, so she decided to arrange an Alice's Table event, a flower arrangement party.

She told me it was an enormous hit, huge hit. When my friend told me this, it opened my eyes about this enormous potential of what Alice Lewis had created. Alice, this company of yours is ... Yeah, I was an investor already. I think you had already been through Techstars, right?

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: I think you'd been through Shark Tank. You had investors from Shark Tank already on your company, and yet it was at that moment that it said she is not just sort of creating an event for women in the suburbs and some other women, so forth. She is going across. They have these stay-at-home moms that are holding events for high-powered women in finance and so forth. This is an amazing movement because she's allowing these women to connect to their community and to people outside the community to create a business and to do something really, really gratifying for them and the people who were involved because they don't hold these events unless they have an unbelievable amount of fun.

So, this is what Alice Lewis is creating. I'm so excited to be able to interview her today. I think really you are the head of a movement. So, it's different from Martha Stewart, and it's also not just creating a brand and all that. I think you're creating a movement and a new way for people to really connect with other people.

Now Alice, it's a tradition on this podcast to dedicate the first question to how our hugely successful guests found their path in life. How did you discover that you wanted to be a founder?

Alice’s Parents Are Both Entrepreneurs – This Inspired Her to Get Started

ALICE LEWIS: Well, I think it started really early for me. My parents are both entrepreneurs, and so I grew up in a world that was completely entrepreneurial. So, I didn't know anything different. I always thought about how to creatively solve problems and how to build things and watched them in their careers, and that really is what inspired me to get started.

SAL DAHER: Okay. So, you came from an entrepreneurial family, had that model, that's tremendous. Now, go back over your life. Growing up college at U-Penn, master of fine arts at the Sotheby's Institute, your jobs, and tell us where possible, what each one of these phases in your life contributed to your starting a company successfully.

Being in a Musical in the 8th Grade Helped Her Realize She Has a Talent for Management

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, I think I realized that I was different when I was really young. I think in two ways ... One of the memories as I thought about this, that came to mind was when I was in eighth grade actually, we had an eighth-grade musical that the entire class had to participate in. I went to a really liberal school that could have had 100% participation for many activities. I was not a musical theater person, right? Just not an actor, not a performer.

 So, when the casting happened, I got my casting sheet and it said assistant director and I was like, "Oh God, I really am horrible at performing. I'm one of the two kids that's out of the performance." Right?

SAL DAHER: Right.

ALICE LEWIS: But then I actually realized my strength, which was the teachers would just leave me to manage the entire eighth grade class and go on a lunch break and be like, "Okay, perform the second chorus and we'll be back in a half an hour." and I actually did it right and had 80 eighth graders listening to me. That was really powerful for me as a young person to understand how to connect with people, how to effectively create a team that wants to work together, not kind of a battle. So, starting at a young age, I realized that difference.

“I thought I was going to the art world 100%. My mom is an interior designer, but she also helps clients collect art. So, I saw that and I was like, this art world thing is really cool.”

Then you went on to Penn really wanting to have a career in the arts. 

I thought I was going to the art world 100%. My mom is an interior designer, but she also helps clients collect art. So, I saw that and I was like, this art world thing is really cool. I've got to be a part of it, and went to Penn and wanted a well-rounded education. I didn't want just fine art. So, I studied visual psychology basically, which is visual neuroscience, art history and fine arts.

 Then went on to get my master's in art business, and actually in my master’s program was kind of the first time that I realized that I wanted to start a business. Actually, now that I mentioned that, that's actually not true. I created the logo for Alice's Table my sophomore year of college.

SAL DAHER: Already you were thinking about this?

"Oh my gosh, you're just another lifestyle blog, like the world does not need another lifestyle blog. Like stop, quit, Leave this. This is not a business opportunity."

ALICE LEWIS: I did. I created a logo for Alice's Table, and I thought that there needed to be a different lifestyle business for the future. Then I kind of got into it my sophomore year of college and was like, "Oh my gosh, you're just another lifestyle blog, like the world does not need another lifestyle blog. Like stop, quit, Leave this. This is not a business opportunity." So, I left it and when I started Alice's Table years later, went back and found that logo and said, "Key, kind of works. Table. Alice's Table. Let's do it."

Her First Job Was Working with the FBI & US Customs on International Art Fraud

But then in graduate school, I got connected to a really interesting man who was the only person that works for the Federal Reserve Bank in art. So, I did a study with him on the art trade between the US and China. My thesis paper actually was on that, and got picked up by the FBI and border control and all of these people. So, I finally, I kind of got spun into ...

SAL DAHER: You're weren't picked up by the FBI, right?

ALICE LEWIS: Sorry.

SAL DAHER: Your paper was ...

ALICE LEWIS: The paper was.

SAL DAHER: Paper was picked up. Okay. Good.

ALICE LEWIS: So, I got this call from the FBI. Right. Yeah. I wasn't picked up from the FBI, but I got this call from the FBI and I was like, "Hello."

SAL DAHER: Shades of “The Americans” here. She got picked up by the FBI.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, and I got this call and was like, "Hello." Like, "Hi, this is so and so from the art FBI unit." I'm like, "Excuse me, what's going on?" So, I ended up consulting for a couple years out of graduate school on art fraud, and art theft and art transit, which was really cool.

SAL DAHER: Wonderful.

ALICE LEWIS: That led me on my entrepreneurial journey. I started working for a couple of different art related startups, and then one day decided that it was time to go out on my own.

SAL DAHER: That is a wonderful story. It's just incredible. Let's go back a little bit to your education at Penn because you very eloquently- there's some video that we also took in the booth here with some of the visitors that we have today- and Alice was very eloquent in telling college students that they shouldn't go to one-dimensional schools where they just get training in one thing. They should get broad exposure so that they can develop. So, tell me a little bit about the curriculum that you encountered at Penn.

“One of the things that I loved about Penn and why I wanted to go there so badly was because they had lots of majors that had many dimensions to them.”

ALICE LEWIS: One of the things that I loved about Penn and why I wanted to go there so badly was because they had lots of majors that had many dimensions to them. So, they were ... I say I majored in visual studies, like what the heck is that? Right? Most people are like, "That sounds made up." and it was. Penn made up these majors that were a combination of multiple departments.

So, it was a fine art degree, art history and visual neuroscience. So, how we see what we see. The theory was that in order to be a well-rounded, whichever of those three want to be, you need to understand all three. So, I thought that that was a really great way to go to college because I knew I didn't want to be an artist, and I knew I didn't want to just study art history, but the combination of the three would give me great problem-solving skills for the future. I think as you approach college, really what you're looking to do is creatively solve problems. If we can come out and have learned how to creatively solve problems, we're much better at developing the world that we need in the future.

SAL DAHER: But in art history, you had sort of a traditional training in art ... in the history of art and the different historical periods and so forth, which is, which is really it's important to have that understanding of what's come before you.

ALICE LEWIS: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: And, this incredibly rich store of visual images that exist, and just make sense of it to understand what it is, which is just really wonderful. 

I want to also harken back a little bit. You mentioned earlier that you knew you were a little bit different from other people.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah.

Normal People, Normal Results; Abnormal People, Abnormal Results

SAL DAHER: Precocious in your executive function, the development of your executive function, this is something that I picked up with my business partner, Robert P. Smith for many years, and that is normal people, normal results, abnormal people, abnormal results. If you are going to build a business, if you are going to build a brand, if you're going to build something really unusual, you have to have an unusual level of focus and dedication.

You're not going to live a normal life. There's a tradeoff. People talk about you follow your passion, do whatever. It's not true. There are sacrifices and I think it's really very important for us to highlight to people that you have to look at these tradeoffs very clearly because if you're going to build a business, there will be sacrifices, there's a cost, there's also tremendous reward, and you have to make that calculus, that calculation and figure out if you're willing to accept the cost for the reward that's going to mean.

ALICE LEWIS: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: Meaning that you're going to be eating, breathing, talking, Alice's Table all the time, all the time.

“…like it's so scary to launch a business. How do you get over that hurdle? My response is always, if you can't get used to that pit in your stomach, just stay in your job.”

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. It's funny, I oftentimes get the question, how do you make the first step in launching a business, like it's so scary to launch a business. How do you get over that hurdle? My response is always, if you can't get used to that pit in your stomach, just stay in your job. Don't quit because the pit in your stomach when you start is nothing compared to when you have hundreds of people relying on you for the food on their table, right? It's a whole another pit in your stomach.

SAL DAHER: Yeah. To quote an earlier guest on this podcast, Matt Singer, he's the co-founder of Videolicious, a video platform. [Matt Singer’s interview: https://www.angelinvestboston.com/ep-27 ] He said that each stage in a startup, you think that you're going to have a magic carpet ride to happiness. If I achieve this, then I'm going to be happy. Everything's going to be fine and so forth. Then it's not like that because you achieve that goal and things ... you up the ante.

ALICE LEWIS: 100%.

No Serenity in Startup Life: Gimlet Media’s Alex Blumberg Is Up at 2:45 AM Talking to His Wife About the Business

SAL DAHER: There's even more things at stake and so you're never going to have a happy carpet ride in your startup. It's always going to be a struggle. It is an enormously difficult thing to do. You have to be really an exceptional person. You have to ask yourself, "Am I up to this?" Because if you are, it is a grand thing. It is an amazing thing, but at the same time, Matt is really right. There's none of this. I mean, I was listening this morning over the breakfast table to a podcast from Gimlet. Alex Blumberg, started saying the same thing. He's up at 2:45 in the morning with his wife and he's thinking about Gimlet and she's thinking about Gimlet.

ALICE LEWIS: Well, and to me that the target always moves, right?

SAL DAHER: Yeah, it's always moving.

“Raise your hand if you recognize that we hit a target that we really were gunning for and nobody else has noticed, because it happens all the time.”

ALICE LEWIS: I always say to my team, stop us when we've hit a target that we used to hold ourselves accountable to. Raise your hand if you recognize that we hit a target that we really were gunning for and nobody else has noticed because it happens all the time. Because we say, "Oh my gosh, if we just get to 100 women in the field, we'll be an incredible company." Then at 90 we forget that that was the target, and the target's 500, right? And, you're like, "Oh wait, that was a goal. Let's stop and celebrate."

SAL DAHER: Very important.

ALICE LEWIS: Because there's no end point.

SAL DAHER: The reality is that people who start companies are restless people. They're not people who are content with things as they are. Excellent. This is really, really good.

ALICE LEWIS: One other thing on that.

SAL DAHER: Sure.

ALICE LEWIS: I think recently I've been getting the question, when did you know you are a success? That is my least favorite question I ever receive because it's like, "What are you talking about? Whose Kool-Aid did you drink?" Because it does not feel that way and it's not going to feel that way 10 years from now. That's not who I am. That's not who founders are.

SAL DAHER: I'll bet you if you ask Warren Buffet, "Are you a success?" He'll say, "I won't be until my transition to the new leadership at Berkshire Hathaway is successful. Until I'm in the grave. Then I'll be a success."

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, that's just not how we feel.

SAL DAHER: I've haven't spoken to him to ask him that, but I suspect ...

ALICE LEWIS: Totally.

“success is becoming, it's never being.”

SAL DAHER: ... success is becoming, it's never being. You're always becoming. There's always a step away from failure. It's a very meaningful activity. You can't say that it's always a happy activity.

ALICE LEWIS: No, you can't.

SAL DAHER: No, but it's just loaded with meaning and consequence. It's just wonderful.

ALICE LEWIS: It's a challenge every day.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

ALICE LEWIS: I never want to be bored in what I'm doing.

SAL DAHER: There's no such thing.

ALICE LEWIS: Every day I go to work and I'm like, "Are we going to have a company tomorrow?" No.

SAL DAHER: No.

ALICE LEWIS: And, that's awesome.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, it is. You have to be able to handle that.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, absolutely.

SAL DAHER: You have to have a cardiac health to be able to handle that and all that.

ALICE LEWIS: Stomach it.

SAL DAHER: And the stomach and so forth.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: But let's go on to Techstars. So, what did Techstars do for you and your company?

ALICE LEWIS: Techstars was an incredible thing for us. Pre-Techstars, we were in my in-laws’ basement. My father-in-law had a company many years ago and he had saved the desks. I dunno why he thought that someday he might use them. So, I pulled them out of the closet and had put them down in what was their exercise room, and moved the furniture out, and we were a company now.

“So, Techstars was our first move out of the basement.”

So, Techstars was our first move out of the basement. Me and two other people. So, it was really that moment and really important for a company like Alice's Table, which is women, but also particularly creating lifestyle businesses. You can not be taken seriously pretty easily, right?

SAL DAHER: Absolutely.

ALICE LEWIS: We're a flower arranging class business, right?

SAL DAHER: Air heads.

“…what about this company are they doing that's not just women playing with flowers?"

ALICE LEWIS: So, Techstars I felt was very important for us to be taken seriously to say, "No, we're building the technology to be able to do this. We're building the infrastructure around all of those pieces." So, once we had Techstars on the resume of the company, people actually started listening and saying, "Wait a second, if they find it interesting, what about this company are they doing that's not just women playing with flowers?" So, that was critical.

I think the next thing that was critical for me as a manager was Mentor Madness, which is the kind of month-long period where mentors come in at a rapid clip into Techstars and just pitching the business over and over and figuring out what the questions are, what do people ask? What are the pitfalls? Really takes your business through an intense boot camp.

SAL DAHER: You're beating a drum that I beat here all the time.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: Pitch, pitch, pitch, pitch. Present your ideas everywhere, and don't be afraid that Google's going to copy your idea and so forth.

ALICE LEWIS: Right.

SAL DAHER: Okay? 

“…stealth mode is the most ridiculous thing ever because everybody has good ideas. It's about the execution of the ideas.”

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, at stealth mode is the most ridiculous thing ever because everybody has good ideas. It's about the execution of the ideas.

SAL DAHER: Completely about the execution.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. I think it's really people go, "Oh, I can't tell you what I'm doing, but I've got a great startup coming." I'm like, "You know what? Everybody's got ideas. Okay? And even if the person next to you is trying to do the same thing, you guys are ... have to every single day make decisions with imperfect information, so your companies are going to take two vastly different paths. Don't worry about it."

SAL DAHER: Yeah. This is very true, and this is one of the questions that when I thought about investing in Alice's Table, how is she going to differentiate herself from other people who are in the business? She doesn't have patents, which is a typical moat, talking of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffet, but her moat is unbelievable execution. She is a precocious ...

ALICE LEWIS: Well, thank you.

SAL DAHER: A person with precocious executive ability and is really, really good at getting stuff done on time, and if it doesn't work, coming back at it, and back at it and also being someone who can get along with people, which is sometimes a big problem.

Weekly Team Meetings: “I don't want you to bring anything to the table that's good. I want you to tell me what scares you in your world because I can't know everybody's world.”

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, it's important. Well, and I think it's really important the part about looking at things and figuring out what's wrong with them. I think some entrepreneurs can get caught up in, "Oh my gosh, we're growing. That's awesome. Things are going really well." I consistently, every single week have a meeting with the team, what's not working this week. I don't want you to bring anything to the table that's good. I want you to tell me what scares you in your world because I can't know everybody's world. So, I'm scared that flower costs are too high. Okay, let's talk about that. Why? How can we fix it? I think consistently doing that every single week is incredibly important because we can get lost in the big KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] of what's going well, and we're growing. So, consistently focusing on improvement.

SAL DAHER: So, you really want to know the reality. You want to take the red pill so to speak, and know exactly what's going on in the company, and not just be in the illusion, which happens. I mean, I've seen CEOs go off every reporting period, "The things I don't want to." but they are vanity KPIs and they get into trouble.

ALICE LEWIS: I think what's interesting is that if you look at the scary stuff every single week, it's not so scary. If you wait and all of a sudden, your team comes to you and they're like, "Hey, wait a second, look at this. It's really bad." It seems insurmountable. So, that consistency I think is important because then you face the problem. You don't say, "Oh my gosh, that's too scary. Let's focus. We're good."

SAL DAHER: Yeah, small scares at a time.

ALICE LEWIS: Keep yourself scared consistently.

SAL DAHER: Consistently, yeah, with small scares instead of having one enormous scare, "We're dying." That goes with what I urge entrepreneurs that do all the time is to report, for the really early stage, report monthly. Later than that, maybe every two months> Then eventually quarterly. If you're a VC funded, you're going to have to report quarterly anyway. That is really, really, really essential because you give bad news to your investors, a little bit of them time as well, so this is the counterpart of that. It's all connected.

Now, tell us, I love founding stories. Tell us how the whole idea of Alice's Table came about please.

The Founding Story of Alice’s Table

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. Back in college, I knew that there needed to be a new kind of lifestyle business, that the way that our culture had evolved was really different than just reading blogs and reading content online. People wanted to be engaged and involved, and content has always been my theory. So, we've kind of gone completely digital at this point and we've gone completely online with a lack of ability for people to connect to each other, and women in particular are connectors, and they're community driven and interaction is really key. So, how could we bring these blogs and different content streams, TV, et cetera, to life in the flesh.

Also, the other piece that was important to me is saying people are really busy right now. People have a lot going on in their lives. We're now expecting women to work and be in charge at home, and have kids, and all of these things so we're not going to come home at night and bake the perfect pie like Martha Stewart used to do. It's just not gonna happen. But I would like to go out with my friends and have a glass of wine and come home and be like, "Look at what I did. I'm capable of this if I just had all the time in the world."

So, that was really always in the back of my head. I was actually working for a startup here in Boston. I had worked for a couple startups after graduate school. It was the most incredible experience to be the first hire at a couple of different startups because I learned what I was capable of from the standpoint of I was thrown into like, do marketing. Wait a second, do product management. Wait a second, do this, and had no idea what any of those things were, but failed forward.

So, I had my feet wet in figuring out a business. One day it struck me. I was actually out, we had just gotten a brand-new dog and moved to a house and my now husband and I had like moved to this house, had this dog, and I'm the most driven. The thought of me ever staying home I think gives my husband and I like agita. I could just never do that. I was struggling. I got this new puppy, trying to work startup hours going, "I can see how women out of the workforce."

That was a total light bulb moment for me of saying, wait a second, if I, the most driven person I've ever met can see the faint glimmer in the distance of why you might step out of the workforce with just a dog, let alone a human, then I get it.

“…we've got to figure out a way for women who want flexibility to participate and build a business…”

I started doing research on this vast population of women that decide - I need flexibility - and they're highly-educated, they're highly connected, they're incredibly talented people. So, that was the moment where I said we've got to figure out a way for women who want flexibility to participate and build a business, because that would be really powerful. If we could capture those women where they are. Let's not try to bring them to a business, let's not try to bring them to part-time jobs, let's get them in their environment and say, "Hey, here's a way to make money and lead in your community."

SAL DAHER: And, do entrepreneurship at the speed that that suits you.

ALICE LEWIS: Exactly. Exactly.

SAL DAHER: So, you don't have to be a tech founder ...

ALICE LEWIS: No.

SAL DAHER: ... with this insane life.

ALICE LEWIS: No.

SAL DAHER: You can have a little bit of the excitement of creation, and of building a business and yet be controlled.

ALICE LEWIS: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: You have a certain number hours a week you can dedicate to that, and the old adage that it's the dose that makes the poison. Nothing is never a poison, nothing is always a poison, it's the dose that makes... So, something that is wonderful to do for two hours may not be wonderful to do for 24 hours.

ALICE LEWIS: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: So, that's the same thing. I mean, I love to walk, but I, if I had to walk for 24 hours, I would collapse.

ALICE LEWIS: Right, you'd probably not.

SAL DAHER: You're allowing the people to dial back the dose of entrepreneurship in their life, which is just fantastic. Going back to the story in the beginning of this podcast of the impact that you had in the lives of these very sophisticated women in private equity, and also in the life of this woman who held this tremendous event that was such a success, and this is repeatable success. This is not success that happens once as a lark, just amazing.

Alice Lewis Tells Us What Alice’s Table Is About

Maybe it would make sense if you could tell me a little bit exactly what goes on with Alice's Table because we kind of talked around it a little bit. So, please tell us what Alice's Table is about.

ALICE LEWIS: With Alice's Table, we basically deliver a business in a box to women across the US. So, a business in a box to us means the materials that they need as well as the technology, and the back-end services, and the training. So, we take women across the US and we teach them how to teach flower arranging classes in their community. So, they teach flower arranging classes at bars and restaurants. They sell tickets online through our platform, but they also do private events so they can go in to do corporate events or other things like that.

It's really just an entertainment, fun, exciting thing to do at night. Women get together for a birthday party, or a bridal shower, or a corporate entertaining event and have a good time and bring home a beautiful flower arrangement at the end of the night.

SAL DAHER: That is wonderful. So, tell us where you are right now. So, you're across the United States, you have hundreds of execs. These are the women who hold the events, they're called execs. Tell me about the dynamic of things that's going on right now at Alice's Table.

ALICE LEWIS: Absolutely. So, we were on Shark Tank in January, which basically brought us from 100 execs to 250 in six weeks, which was a little bit of a learning curve, but we got it done. We now have about 320 women across 44 states teaching flower arranging classes.

So, there's a wide range of people. There's everyone from millennials that want something creative to do on the side, to women who have been stay at home moms for 17 years who want to show their kids that they still have got it. They want to show them that they can still get back into the workforce and have an incredible opportunity to build something themselves.

Then we also have retirees who say, "Hey, I'm retired. I want something fun, creative, different to do, and it'd be nice to have some extra money in my retirement as well." So, it's a wide network, and really what we're doing now is building a community, is letting these women talk to each other and facilitate that connection so that we all grow together, because I think it's really important that together we teach each other, and continue to grow. I learned so much from our execs. What works in Arizona, doesn't work in Boston, what works in California.

SAL DAHER: You hold events where all the execs meet, like conferences?

ALICE LEWIS: We do. Yeah, once a year we have a big exec conference where everybody comes to a city and we do new trainings, but also just let everyone connect in and meet each other. It's really beneficial. It's amazing to me how much people want to connect in person, and the value that that has.

Alice Lewis’ Experience on Shark Tank

SAL DAHER: That's really fascinating. So, how was it being on Shark Tank? You told a little bit of what it's done for Alice's Table, but how did your cotton on to it anyway?

ALICE LEWIS: Actually, that's funny. It was during Techstars Mentor Madness. Somebody said to me, "Have you thought about going on Shark Tank?" and I looked at them and said, "Well, no, we're a real company." That's like, I don't know, it seemed like ...

SAL DAHER: It's, that's showbiz.

ALICE LEWIS: Right. Like people have a cookie business, and we're-

SAL DAHER: We're a Techstars company.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, come on, and they were like, "So, you don't believe in free advertising?" I was like, "Point taken. Touché my friend." So, that night I went on sharktank.com or whatever, ABC / Shark Tank, and filled out the Apply Now page and I got contact. I then thought nothing of it, right?

SAL DAHER: Right.

ALICE LEWIS: Just it's one of those things you fill out, and who knows? Two weeks later, I got a call from a producer. They were like, "Hi, is this Alice?" I'm like, "Yes." They said, "We'd love to talk to you more about being on Shark Tank. Is now a good time?" I was in the grocery store, late for an event. I tend to over commit myself to everything. So, I was going to some dinner and I was like, "Oh sure, I'll bring the cheese plate. I've got nothing else to do." As I'm in the grocery store trying to buy cheese.

They call me, and had a nice conversation. That was the first lesson in like sometimes it's okay to say like, "No, I'm not available right now." They're like, "What's that noise in the background?" Like, "Oh, I'm just in my office." Check out at the store.

SAL DAHER: Kling.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: My office has a cash register. Yeah.

ALICE LEWIS: So, that was how I got on.

SAL DAHER: And, you exploded your number of execs in six weeks.

ALICE LEWIS: We did.

SAL DAHER: I suppose they've also helped you in other ways as well.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: I know that you're holding an event at the Spanx headquarters down in-

ALICE LEWIS: We are. Next week.

SAL DAHER: Yeah?

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. We're excited. So, we made a deal with Mark Cuban and Sara Blakely. So, it's been really incredible to have two very different investors come in and be helpful. So, Mark has the infrastructure of an investor. He's almost like a VC on his own right. So, he's got an infrastructure behind that, and Sara is really just an incredible entrepreneur who built Spanx with $5,000 of savings. So, to get her perspective and learn from an incredible entrepreneur has been amazing.

SAL DAHER: That is wonderful. That is wonderful. Coming up next, I will ask stellar founder, Alice Lewis, what tips she has for funding a startup. First, I wish to ask the listeners to do me a favor. You see the Angel Invest Boston podcast has great guests such as Alice Lewis, is professionally produced with the help of Raul Rosa, the sound engineer and is free of commercials. The only thing we ask in return is that you help get the word out.

Please tell one founder of ... or one angel about us. I'm not asking for two or three, just a single one and leave one review on iTunes, or a rating on iTunes. It helps us get found, and Alice, please, if you can, also do a rating for us.

ALICE LEWIS: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: Alice, what have you learned about funding your startup that you think other founders should know?

What Alice Lewis Learned from Funding Her Startup

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. First of all, I think the most important thing for people starting businesses to know is that nobody comes into it knowing how to fundraise. I felt when I first started like, oh my gosh, all the other founders know how it works. Ask questions. There are people in the startup community that will take the time to say, what's the difference between a Seed Round and A-round and a B-round, and who should you be looking for, for investors at this level. I think ask those questions. you're not expected to know that as the founder of a business, you're supposed to be good at being a founder of a business.

I think that was something that I was intimidated about at first. Like how do I raise money? I should know this, I should know what all of that means, and learned that it doesn't really matter if you're authentic and you're working really hard, people are going to tell you when and how you should raise money.

I think the other thing that's important to note is that there's a culture of using how much you've raised as a metric, and I think it's a dangerous thing to do. I think it's important that funding and capital into your business is fuel for your growth. It's not a KPI of we've raised a million dollars.

SAL DAHER: So, we are successful because we raised a million dollars. No.

ALICE LEWIS: Congratulations.

SAL DAHER: It's just like you've put another burden on yourself.

ALICE LEWIS: Right, and so I've really viewed it consistently as what's the fuel we need to get to the next level with this company? Put that into dollars and cents, give yourself a little bit of leeway because my dad used to always say to me growing up, the one thing you should know about projections is they're 100% wrong.

SAL DAHER: Yeah.

ALICE LEWIS: And, it's true, right?

SAL DAHER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

ALICE LEWIS: So, your projections are 100% wrong. Hopefully you get better and better at modeling them, but they're never right on target. So, know that and get the capital or the fuel that you need to build that business.

SAL DAHER: That is extremely wise. That is so, very wise. Very true. Your dad's point about projections is very true, which just brings to mind what Eisenhower, General Eisenhower who planned the D-day invasion and so on. It was certainly had executive abilities, he became president after that. He used to say, plans are nothing, planning is everything.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. I love that.

SAL DAHER: It's the same thing with, projections are nothing. Projecting, planning is everything.

ALICE LEWIS: Is everything.

SAL DAHER: So, you're always planning, you're always trying to figure out where you're going to be going even if you know those plans are not going to survive contact with reality. It's another saying in the military, no plan survives combat, contact with the enemy because things always go awry, but if you haven't planned, there are many things you can foresee ahead of time that make your situation when circumstances change survivable.

ALICE LEWIS: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: So, this is why the five-year projection and the pitch deck, people say, "Well, why would you ... We know it's going to be wrong." Yeah, we know it's going to be wrong, but we want you to put that there so that you've thought about it. We know that you're going to be thinking about it, be thinking about five years out because when you have a startup, all you think about is tomorrow, what's right in front of you, and we need you to be able to think beyond that.

“…your approach doesn't entail pestering all your relatives to buy…”

Now Alice, take a moment and tell us about how Alice's Table helps its execs bring in business, highlighting the fact that your approach doesn't entail pestering all your relatives to buy overpriced serrated knives like some of my young relatives have done to me. I still have some of that as the entire family. Still a little bit financially traumatized from those expensive serrated knives that they give these ... They come and cut rope with those. Bring your knife from the kitchen. You can't cut rope, and they have the serrated where they cut a tomato. You can't cut a ... because. So, this amazingly expensive knife. So, it doesn't entail pestering your relatives and all your friends.

ALICE LEWIS: No.

SAL DAHER: So, how is it that you get business for the execs of Alice's Table?

ALICE LEWIS: It's a great question. So, one of the things that I think is really important is I coach all of our execs to say, look, we know you're really connected. Like you've signed up, and we know that you have lots of people around you. If you think of them as the way to grow your business, you're going to have a very small business.

Alice’s Table Execs Build Alliances with Existing Brick & Mortar Business Eager for More Activity

They'll come to a flower arranging class, they'll think of you for birthday parties and bridal showers and whatever, but that's this big [i.e. small]. What we've done instead is said there's an infusion of value from third party businesses. So, what that means is go to a restaurant that has an off night, their Tuesday nights are slower. Hey, you market it, I'll market it. Together, we'll bring in 30 guests and we'll teach a flower arranging class.

“We're really lucky that right now, brick and mortar is struggling…”

We're really lucky that right now, brick and mortar is struggling, so we go to retailers all the time and we say, "Hey." Big retailers that you'd know the names of say, "Oh my gosh, we're dying for ways to bring our customers into the store so that they have two hours of shopping experience." So, we teach our execs how to go out to West Elm and say, "Hey, West Elm, let's partner together. You market to your customers and I'll do a flower arranging class within your space. They can shop and they walk home with this beautiful arrangement in a West Elm vase."

So, really, we're teaching our execs to say, yes, you can throw home parties and we hope you do because that's a great portion of your business, but think bigger than that. What are the companies and the other places that you can get value from?

Corporate events. We do tons of corporate events. Like the private equity women example, so corporate entertaining, those types of things. So, it's teaching execs saying if you're selling jewelry for your friends, there are only so many people you can sell jewelry to, and people don't actually want to come to the event. They're coming because their friends ... Actually, I was talking to a woman yesterday and she said, "Well, most people come. I've found that if I go to my friends' houses who have just renovated like redone a kitchen or bath, everyone's nosy and wants to see it, so they'll come to the party." That's not sustainable. You got a lot of renovations to do.

SAL DAHER: Yes. Yeah.

ALICE LEWIS: So, let's get value from third parties and let's have businesses actually do our marketing for us. That's incredible.

SAL DAHER: Yeah. You get value from third parties because you're creating value for them.

ALICE LEWIS: For them.

What Alice’s Board Does for Her

SAL DAHER: This was really wonderful. So, tell us how your board helps you as a CEO. I know that you have money from Shark Tank, you have to have a board. A lot of startups at this stage might not have a board. So, tell us what your board does for you.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. So, I think for me it's just getting second opinions. It's getting opinions on people that have an invested interest in the business who care about your success looking consistently at your company and saying, "Have you thought about it this way? Have you thought about it that way?"

Oftentimes, CEOs can isolate themselves and say like, "I know what's right, or I think so hard. I work so hard that I have to know what's right." and having second opinions or outsiders say, "Did you think about this?" If you're open to it and if you actually listen and take the time to listen, I think it pushes you to be better.

The Future Plans for Alice’s Table

SAL DAHER: That is awesome. That's awesome. What are the future plans for Alice's Table?

ALICE LEWIS: Right now, we're in the process of building more mentorship programs for our execs, so allowing them to a mentor and motivate each other so that they can grow their businesses even further than they've been able to today because there is a time cap in the amount of parties that you can hold.

Then we also envision having future product lines. So, thinking about how we stage those out and how we continue to grow, but I also think it's really important to get our flower arranging class business to larger scale than we are today first. I think oftentimes startups are pushed to say what's next, what's next, what's next, and to actually consistently do what you do best. Even better, get it to scale, get it to a place where it's sustainable and a business that's working, to then add components in, is important. So, I'm really focused on that.

SAL DAHER: So, scale and intensity is the answer.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: It's not spreading out the different verticals and so forth, but it's really scale and intensity.

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah, and that's something that Mark Cuban has actually kind of helped me with, of saying like, "Why do you ... Why now?" Like, why do you need another product line now? Do this, do it well.

SAL DAHER: Yeah. There's so much scope in this.

ALICE LEWIS: Right. There's plenty of runway. There's plenty of room to do all of that stuff. Get to a place where people in more cities than just Boston know what Alice's Table is.

SAL DAHER: Great. Alice, as we wind up our interview, would you take a moment and tell us about something that you think it's important for people to know about Alice's Table, about you, whatever. Just ...

ALICE LEWIS: Oh man, that's a hard one.

SAL DAHER: Whatever… you know?

ALICE LEWIS: I guess what I think is really important is that I believe that Alice's Table and most startups that are doing really interesting things are thinking about the future of community in our society, and thinking about what it means for people to connect in person and have time together. I actually think Julie Rice, who is one of the co-founders of SoulCycle is super interesting about this. She just went to work for WeWork, and is thinking about how do we bring people back together. We used to have neighborhoods that were connected and then we had church communities, which served a religious purpose, but more importantly served a community purpose.

SAL DAHER: Community purpose, yeah.

ALICE LEWIS: So, I think what's important about Alice's Table and other companies is that we're thinking about what is that community group of the future, and how do we create that in a way that lets people connect in person because digital connection is not the same. In person connection is important.

SAL DAHER: Yes. We discovered that. I think maybe your generation will grapple with this idea that digital connection is not a real connection, that you still need to use the digital world to create genuine connections between people.

ALICE LEWIS: Right.

SAL DAHER: Yeah, that is so, so important. I guess the idea is work takes up so much of your time, so you are creating a type of work that by necessity has people building community. Integrates, instead of you being in a little cubicle doing a spreadsheet, you are connecting with people marketing your business, and so forth.

This is the Martha Stewart of her generation, but she's doing it with a difference. She is really creating a movement towards community and I really applaud you, Alice Lewis for the wonderful things that you're doing.

ALICE LEWIS: Thanks so much for having me. It's been fun today.

SAL DAHER: Great. I'm so glad you made time in your busy schedule to be here. It's just amazing. Listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast, please review it on iTunes. Make sure you applaud that being so digitally savvy, right Alice?

ALICE LEWIS: Yeah. Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: Write to me at sal@angelinvestboston.com with critiques or suggestions. Do sign up for future in-person events. This is Angel Invest Boston, conversations with Boston's most interesting angels and founders. I'm Sal Daher.

I'm glad you were able to join us. Our engineer is Raul Rosa. Our theme was composed by John McKusick. Our graphic design is by Katherine Woodman-Maynard. Our host is coached by Grace Daher.