LA Venture: Joanne Wilson on How to Tell Good VCs From Bad
On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, angel investor Joanne Wilson discusses the death of the department stores and her journey from department store management into cannabis investing.
Wilson, who runs Gotham Gal Ventures and a blog of the same name, is among one of New York’s best-known angel investors. Wilson built her career at Macy’s when department stores dominated retail, but she’s since turned her sights to angel investing and investing in female founders in particular.
Wilson’s angel career is mostly based in New York, but she spends her winters in L.A., where she’s made some deals as an angel investor, and said she's still figuring out her style.
"I think every city is different. In terms of the tech venture, I've found the L.A. community to be extremely embracive and thoughtful, and helpful and actually much more intimate," she said.
Wilson got her start in retail at 15 years old and over the years she watched as big players like Macy's went from having their pick of the “best and brightest” minds of their era to losing out to the web and the ecommerce experience.
She made her first angel investment in 2007 and after over 130 angel investments, she eventually turned to the cannabis industry.
"Six to seven years ago, I really wanted to start investing in [cannabis],” said Wilson. “And I found most of the people that were behind it were such cowboys, you know, they saw an opportunity, but they really didn't know how to run a business."
Her aim now, she said, is to transform the cannabis shopping experience from having customers wait in line “like they're standing outside waiting for their social security checks” to a more community-minded concept, akin to walking into a wine store.
As for staff, Wilson said she's committed to hiring people out of New York's public housing and providing jobs to formerly incarcerated New Yorkers.
Wilson said her time as an investor has helped her see both the good and the bad sides of venture capital. Not all successful investors are actually good at it, she added.
"The good VCs if you open up their doors and really peel back the onion, you will see that they didn't make money on one company. They made money on 80% of their companies. And the ones that fail, they figured out a way to merge them into another company or get everyone to get a job. They really care about all of them. Whereas the bad VC, that might own 10% of the company, doesn't do s—."
dot.LA Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.