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Stealthmode and the Rising Entrepreneurship Tide

Because Stealthmode was born in 1999, in the height of the dot com boom, Ed and I, and the other five people who also wanted to start an accelerator naively thought it would be possible to start one and get paid for our efforts by funded startups. It didn’t take us very long to learn how little capital Arizona had for startup companies.

But we found a young entrepreneur with a good idea, and actually we were able to raise $8 million for him in Silicon Valley. Ironically, months after we raised the money for him he threw us out of the company and spent a year ignoring everyone’s advice. Ed and I were too new at the accelerator business to put our feet down the way we should have — all our previous businesses had been bootstrapped.

.At the end of the year, we had already been through the dot-com bust, and the company was out of money with no product. Limelight Networks bought the infrastructure assets built for pennies on the dollar. No chance we could have raised any more for this founder.

In the midst of our enthusiasm, we conveniently “forgot” that we were in Phoenix, rather than in the Bay Area. Stealthmode did have a few private clients but we quickly realized that most startups could not afford us and that we would have to do something else. Our other friends went back to lawyering and accounting, but I reached out to the Kauffman foundation, which was offering a program at that time called Fasttrac.

I decided we would try to become their southwest affiliate, and I went to Kansas City to train in their methodology. At the same time I was doing that, my friend Joan drew my attention to a city of Phoenix grant for technical assistance to entrepreneurs. Joan, who is always full of good ideas, suggested Stealthmode apply, and on a lark I applied to it. Just put it out there, I thought.

We got it. No one was more stunned than I was.

That began about 15 years of facilitating workshops and coaching for would be entrepreneurs all over the valley. Every city wanted entrepreneurship programs after we started the one for the city of Phoenix and we kept on saying yes, although at some point Ed decided he was tired of doing them and dropped out, and I took on another partner, Phillip Blackerby, who was ready to teach entrepreneurs forever.

This work was not super remunerative, but it had the incredible byproduct of helping me feel I was doing something much more useful than running a marketing business. It put me back on firm ground: mothering.

By pivoting the way it randomly did, Stealthmode not only survived crash, but the great 2006 real estate recession, which caused an awful lot of people in Phoenix to be laid off and made our classes swell.

By now you must realize that I don’t take the time to plan anything — I just try things. Ed tells me we work well together because when it’s necessary to do something, I just jump, always landing in a field of clouds, while he is still packing his parachute. But this is why I love Ed. He looks at things completely differently than I do.

During those years, our friend Rob Dunaway suggested we start a not-for-profit to extend our capabilities. Again, something I knew nothing about but was willing to experiment with. In 2005, Joan, Ed, Rob and I founded the Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation.

It was important to me because my foster kids had bombed out in the education arena, and I realized that the only hope for them to achieve upward mobility was to become entrepreneurs. I thought that if I could make them into entrepreneurs they would have at least a fighting chance of keeping themselves in the middle class. OTEF has a mission of providing entrepreneurial services to the disadvantaged, including released felons because my foster son had gone to prison for three years during this period and found himself the victim of everything we as a society fail to do for released felons. Last year, we even got a grant from Craig Newmark.

Unfortunately I’ve never had much luck making felons into entrepreneurs because they don’t have the luxury of completing their skills once they get out of prison. All they want to do is get a job, although that’s the worst thing for them given the current climate for employing released felons. Most of them can sell, and many of them understand rudimentary cash flow and accounting, but they really didn’t understand marketing, hiring, or how any of those skills fit together to grow a business. Fifteen years later, thing are somewhat different, especially since Shaka Senghor became a celebrity ex-felon by writing his amazing book, “Writing my Wrongs.” I wish I’d known him in the early days of OTEF.

But while we failed with the felons we succeeded with domestic violence victims, autistic children, autistic adults, and other disadvantaged populations. We work by partnering with other organizations who already have those needs. The foundation is now 15 years old and just received a grant from Craig Newmark to continue this work.

Casting about for ideas on the best way to fund OTEF, Joan and Ed and Rob Dunaway and I settled on having an entrepreneurship conference for which people who could afford it would pay, the speakers would donate their time, and the proceeds would go to OTEF.

Thus began eight years of the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conferences, bringing out of town venture capitalists and founders from Silicon Valley to Arizona to “expose” them to Arizona. Among the amazing people who came to Phoenix at their own expense to help out were Gary Vee, Chris Brogan, Matt Mullenweg, Bill Reichert (Garage Technology Ventures,) Dave McClure (500 Startups), Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures) and Robert Scoble. Thanks, guys. And yes, we had many women speakers, but no keynote with that star power. It’s not as if we didn’t try, especially with a woman running the conference. There just weren’t that many at the time.

As conference organizers we had two goals 1)fund the OTEF programs, 2)swell the rising tide that would lift all boats for Arizona entrepreneurs, something Ed and I believed in 1999 and still believe in two decades later. And believe me, the Arizona tide has risen. To mix a metaphor, it was a heavy lift.

We forgot, however, to make the conferences profitable, and after 8 years of fighting the headwinds, I got discouraged and gave up — probably right before they could have become successful. But they were work, and I was done.

Because of all these activities, Stealthmode found itself in an informal economic development relationship with Phoenix and all the cities around it, although that wasn’t really something I intended. What I really intended was to create jobs to make my children come back home and live in the same city I did.

After each one of them went to college she stayed away, Chelsea in Chicago where she got a job and Sam in LA where she went to law school. Asking either one of them why they wouldn’t live in Phoenix produced this response: There are no jobs here for us. I set out to use Stealthmode and the Internet to create jobs.

Did it work? That depends on who you ask. For me it didn’t because both of my children still live elsewhere. For the community it may have, because after a long hard slog of about 15 years the tech community in Arizona took off, not so much because of me as because of a combined effort to diversify the economy that was undertaken by almost the whole community after 2006 caused havoc in Phoenix, and because of the Software as a Service (SaaS) movement, which loosened geographical boundaries and lowered the startup costs for entrepreneurs.

I even went so far as to follow my daughters out of town, buying a home in the Bay area when both of them briefly ended up there in 2005. My older daughter was married and pregnant, and I dreamed that I could become part of the Bay Area startup community and move my business interests up there.

And did that work? That also depends who you ask. I made great friends, had lots of fun, developed a great network, brought Social Media Club to Phoenix, and broke myself paying for two houses. I ended up short-selling my house in El Granada in 2011 before I became totally destitute and heading back to Phoenix having learned the lesson of trying to be someone I wasn’t. (a rich person)

Somewhere in that time frame, I began to come to grips with my advancing age. A year after Gerry died, his prediction about my back came true. He had x-rayed my back one day and told me I had the worst degenerative disk disease he had ever seen in a person my age. Since I was a runner and had completed half a dozen marathons and countless 10ks without pain, I pooh-poohed him.

And then one morning I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to hold on to things to straighten up.

I went straight to Barrow Neurological Center, where Volker Sonntag, a famous surgeon, agreed to see me because I was an important community member. Sontag kept me waiting an hour, waltzed in with a stream of epigone in tow, and told me after five minutes that if I didn’t have back surgery I’d be incontinent and paralyzed. Admittedly I was laying on the floor of one of his consulting rooms at that time, but I still thought he could have talked through some more options.

When I contemplated the six-month recovery from the complex surgery he suggested, I decided I would look for another alternative. I found it in yoga.

The first time I walked into a yoga class, probably around 1998, the teacher put us in a forward fold from which I couldn’t rise up. I was as inflexible and tight as a drum. But the alternative was extensive and scary surgery, so I became a yogi. Eventually my pain vanished, I coached a team of rising young yoga teachers from LA on how to run a business, and I became a lifetime committed student of yoga. I even took teacher training, although I’ve never taught a class.

I wasn’t all moonlight and roses between yoga and me. After all, I had been a tournament tennis player and a marathon runner, as well as an entrepreneur. I was very competitive, and I was in classes with people far younger than I was. As a result, I ruined my left hip trying to balance on one leg with poor alignment and in 2006 after about seven years of pretending I was a kid, I had to have a hip replacement. That same year I also had a retinal tear while swimming, and had to have cataract surgery. All these procedures took place in the first year I was eligible for Medicare. It’s like I limped across the health insurance finish line to Medicare, which welcomed me with open arms.

My Love Affair with India for the Past 20 Years

Of course when you become interested in yoga, you soon get interested in India, where it originated. India has been a destination for me four times, and I still don’t think I know it.

But it always teaches me something. In 2009, it saved my mental health.

Very fortunately, as a result of living in the Bay area and networking, I met an American man who worked for an Indian startup, Jiva Ayurveda. I was drawn to him and to the Indian family with whom he was in business. India was pretty backward at the time, but not the Chauhan family. They owned a school, a pharmacy, an ashram, and an Ayurvedic healthcare consultancy that they ran out of a Faridabad call center. They had already gotten a grant to work with MIT on what I now realize was an early form of remote patient monitoring.

Remember, this was before Health 2.0 became a “thing.” Jiva’s Ayurvedic doctors sat on telephones outside New Delhi and patients in remote areas of India were able to call the doctors on cell phones. A woman in each village was given a phone and charged people for calls to the Ayurveda doctors, who made their living on both the consultations and the prescribed herbs and pharmaceuticals. It was a real win-win, for rural India, for the individual women who were put into business with their phones, and for the company, Jiva Ayurveda. I thought it was brilliant.

I had been to India twice before by that time, both times with an Indian friend of mine from Intel who has since passed. The first time I saw the Dalai Lama, the second I bought a cow for an ashram run by one of Ghandi’s last living disciples.

But there can never be enough time spent in India. Each of my previous visits had been completely different than the other. This one, my third, was the first one for “work.” When my Jiva friend called me and said “we finally have the money to invite you down to India to consult with us,” I was thrilled, because I had no work at home anyway.The end of 2008 had seen all of my private clients disappear into the recession and I was once again afflicted by my fear of starvation. It didn’t help that I owned two houses with two mortgages.

Although Jiva Ayurveda could not pay me they could pay my expenses and then they offered to barter Ayurvedic treatments with me. I accepted. A few days after I arrived at the ashram-like “med spa” where I was staying, I had my bartered appointment with the Ayurvedic physician Dr. Partap Chauhan. It proved to be life changing.

If you have never been to an Ayurvedic physician you probably don’t know that they can diagnose you by staring at your hand, looking at your eyes, and having you stick out your tongue. After what looked to me like very rudimentary diagnostic procedures, Dr. Chauhan said to me “you are very stressed.”

Really? I thought. I let him have it with both barrels, all 5’2” of me screaming “of course I’m very stressed.” In parentheses I was thinking “you buffoon!”

I told him everyone in America was very stressed. “All the banks have collapsed, I just lost $50,000 in a new bank investment, many people are homeless, and I have lost everything. I have no clients except you. “

He’s staring at me as though I were nuts.

He said to me. “are YOU homeless?” And I had to answer “no,” because at the time I owned two houses. And then he said “do you have children” and I said yes. He said, “will they let you starve or live in the street,” and I said “no.” He added that no one in America should ever starve because there’s enough land there for everyone to grow their own food. He blew apart all my exaggerations.

“So what have you lost?” he went on. “You have lost nothing but your expectations. Everything you lost was on paper. Everything that is not on paper you did not lose.”

In a split second, my life changed. I would never again be able to blow things out of proportion like that. He was more than a physician, he was a Godsend.

That trip to India re-set my life. After that I went after life with much more courage again. I began to travel even more. I had already traveled to China, India, Europe, Costa Rica, Africa, New Zealand and Mexico on yoga retreats or with friends who were going and wanted companionship. My friend Lucie’s daughter moved to Shanghai for a few years, and I went there twice with her, revealing to me how quickly China was changing. I remembered the vacant island of Pudong from one trip, and the completely operational financial center on Pudong from the next one.

My friend Fred’s daughter trained for the Lake Taupo triathlon and I went with Fred as part of her crew. Another of my friends was organizing trips to Uganda and Rwanda to meet with NGOs who were helping with the AIDS epidemic in Africa and I went there.

But my big love affair is still with India, perhaps because its spirituality meshes with my own.

My first trip to India, well before the Great Recession, was with a former colleague from Intel, who was going on a “roots trip.” Sri also had a friend who was one of the last living followers of Gandhi, and he was also hoping to meet up with that friend.

I was sitting in a deli having lunch with him and my daughter Chelsea, when Sri told us about his upcoming trip. I said off-handedly, “I’ve always wanted to go to India.” Sri said, “come with me.” Chelsea and I exchanged glances, and I said yes. I would be going to India with a native.

I almost missed that trip because it wasn’t until the day before that I learned you need a visa to go to India. Phoenix didn’t have an Indian consulate, so I had to quickly fly from Phoenix to San Francisco and stand in line at the Consul’s office to get a same-day visa. Sri assumed I would know this, and I hadn’t bothered to find out.

I made the plane to India, however, and after a short visit to the Delhi neighborhood where he was born and a quick tour of Delhi itself, Sri informed me that there would be a change in plans. We had a chance to meet Dwarko-ji (his friend) on the way to Dharamshala and perhaps meet the Dalai Lama himself. Sri had been part of the great Indian diaspora of the 80s, when all the smart kids became doctors and engineers in the states. Delhi was polluted and dirty, and Sri’s neighborhood was uninspiring. I could see why he had left it to come work at Intel in the U.S.

And of course I wanted a chance to meet the Dalai Lama, if possible. To do that, we had to take an overnight train to a small town called Pathamkot and then ride in a rickety truck over narrow, one-way roads into the Himalayas to get to Dharamshala. (Now the route is on Trip Advisor, and one is advised to take a taxi between those two destinations. Then you had to know where you were going.)

The Delhi train station was unbelievably crowded, as almost all of India was. We bought our tickets, and I slept in a fold-down berth nose to nose with a perfect stranger, a Sikh who slept in his turban. At the beginning I was scared to death. Knowing nothing about Sikhs, I entertained fantasies about being knifed in my sleep, but I managed to do it and survive the trip. I don’t think I know anybody personally who has gone to India under such primitive conditions, because when we got to Pathamkot we stayed overnight at an ashram that had no running water, no bathrooms, and no electricity. The beds were just stone slabs with one-inch mattresses. Sri explained to me that it was an ashram for people who ran other ashrams and needed a rest. They were used to the Spartan accommodations. Now I could do that, too.

Supposedly, we were meeting Dwarko-ji there, but that never happened because Dwarko-ji had beaten us to Pathamkot and was already beyond it on the way to Dharamsala. We were effectively chasing him through the Himalayas. So we got into what looked like a cross between a bus and a truck and rode the rest of the way. The bus had no windows and the dust was inescapable. But I realized I would never get to do this again and I couldn’t exactly back out in the middle of India anyway, so I looked out and enjoyed the cows in the road and the monkeys running alongside.

When we got to Dharamasala, where pilgrims go to meet the Dalai Lama and to study Buddhist meditation, we stopped at the Vipassana meditation Center. Vipassana is silent meditation and the people who were there had come from all over the world to do it for weeks. I wasn’t ready for weeks of silence, but I did sit down and meditate so I could say I had done it, and I listened to the amazing sound of the Buddhist monks chanting in the Dalai Lama’s private quarters. They sounded almost extra-human, producing a hum more like vibrations than people repeating words.

I did not meet the Dalai Lama that time, but I did meet Dwarko-ji, who was in his 90s and still very active. He made several trips a year to the US to raise money and get volunteers for his work. My friend Sri was one of his biggest supporters, and was helping him with a succession plan to assure the continuation of the ashram after he died.

Dwarko-ji ran the ashram as a farm in Bihar, one of the poorest provinces of India. Parents who could not afford to feed their kids sent them to Dwarko-ji’s farm to learn how to be farmers and also to make antibiotics from cow urine. I was so impressed that I volunteered to go back to India with Sri the next year to visit Bihar during Dwarko-ji’s annual “eye camp,” an event where physicians from all over the world came to perform cataract surgeries on poor Indians who had been blinded by cataracts.

The eye camp trip was completely different from the Delhi trip. Delhi had been a city, however dirty crowded, and primitive. It had some beautiful sections that had been built by the British and were maintained with cheap labor. But Bihar, where Dwarko-ji lived, was India’s least developed province, a gang-infested jungle through which it was not safe to travel. Although tourists came there, like to Dharamsala, because the temple of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha supposedly received enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, was there, it was generally considered hazardous.

Sri told me we could travel there because Dwarko-ji was known and respected and had made peace with the gangs. And yet, outside the temple at Bodh Gaya, as we were admiring its beauty and I was staring at the Bodhi tree having a spiritual experience, a pickpocket stole Sri’s wallet.

The disappearance of Sri’s wallet broke the spell I had been under from realizing I was at the spot where Buddha received enlightenment. All of a sudden I realized we were in a place far from safe, a place that was very beautiful and equally dangerous.

When we arrived at Dwarko-ji’s farm, Sri and Dwarko-ji had to make arrangements to replace the contents of Sri’s wallet while I watched the children plowing furrows. Skinny cows pulled the plows. Here we were in the 21st century, and these kids, some very young, were learning ancient techniques of farming. I asked Dwarko-ji why he didn’t get one of his supporters to buy the ashram a plow, and he said it would teach the kids a skill that would be useless to them when they returned to their families. They had to learn how to use what they had.

That’s when I could see the importance of the cow to Indians. They drank the milk, ploughed the field, and used the urine for antibiotic production. Nothing could be more useful.

When I asked Dwarko-ji what I could do to help, he said he needed another cow. When I said I’d be happy to donate a cow, he took me to a cow auction, held in a dusty open field, where everyone in the area who had a cow to sell had brought it. Dwarko-ji was a real expert at appraising cows, and he explained to me what constituted the best investment. First of all, the cow had to be a real Indian cow, not some import from elsewhere. That was because of the quality of the urine Indian cows produced. My head spun as he enumerated all the other qualities he thought essential in the perfect cow. We ended up not buying a cow at that auction, as none met his standards, and I left him with $250 cash for the next opportunity. Been to a cow auction? Check.

The next day it was time for the eye camp itself, which turned out to be in yet another dusty field not far away from the cow auction. Most of Bihar at the time was a bunch of dusty fields, except for Bodh Gaya, which was a tourist and pilgrim destination.

When we arrived at the camp early in the morning, as far as I could see there were already squatting men women and children in patient queues waiting to have their cataracts removed. Nutritional deficiencies mean that in India people get cataracts way younger than they do in the United States, and at this eye camp, run by Dwarko-ji and his friends, Americans and other foreign physicians volunteered their vacation time to remove cataracts from poor people in the province of Bihar who could not otherwise afford surgery. The sheer number of waiting patients was overwhelming, and the surgical conditions extraordinary to say the least.

In this dry dusty field, people waited squatting for days in line until it was their turn. They were then called to a table in an open tent, where the operations were performed in the open air. Astoundingly, these doctors had done thousands of surgeries in the dusty conditions without a complication. The day after their surgeries, the patients, who had travelled from all over this part of India, and were still in the dust, had their bandages removed and headed “home.”

These doctors and their patients made it look no more complicated than taking out a splinter.

Bihar was somewhat scary, but incredibly worthwhile. I was fortunate to know Sri, who unfortunately died of malaria a year later after returning from a trip to Africa, where he was planning to organize another eye camp.

He had come home and fallen ill. He went to a hospital in Chandler Arizona where no one understood malaria, and they sent him home from the ER telling him he had the flu. In vain he and his daughter tried to explain the concept of foreign travel and malaria to the American doctors, and by the time they diagnosed him correctly and began to treat him, the disease had progressed too far.

I was devastated.

The Stealthmode Vision

By the time we hit the bottom of the Great Recession, Stealthmode had been in business helping entrepreneurs for almost ten years. I had become a yoga practitioner a year after Gerry died, and had been on yoga retreats in Mexico, Hawaii, Malaysia, Thailand and Costa Rica. I had been to Uganda and Rwanda visiting micro-entrepreneurs.

I had made 2 very successful angel investments (50x and 10x) in Richard Lang, one of my former community college students, and one moderately successful investment in New Times, whose founders were smart enough to buy back all the outstanding stock before the company really took off, aggregating alternative media all over the country and becoming Village Voice media and later, controversially,

I made the investment in New Times the way everyone should make an angel investment, out of faith in the founder and with the realization that I was very likely throwing my money away. But I had been the first film reviewer for New Times, receiving no money but all the free movie tickets I could use. John Hardaway and I saw every movie of consequence in American film during the 70s, including Butch Cassidy, Five Easy Pieces, and Easy Rider. We had two babies at the time, and the premieres of these films took place at midnight, but we were there. I just don’t remember how we did it, when now it is a struggle for me to stay up past 9 PM.

So it wasn’t such a stretch for me, once I lived in El Granada in the beginning of the 21st century to become friends with Dave McClure, a member of the Paypal Mafia who started 500 Startups. I think we met at one of Mike Arrington’s parties on the grounds of August Capital. Those were legendary for both their size and their “guest list.” Arrington was the founder of Tech Crunch, and for a while he dominated the Silicon Valley scene with his technology journalism. He was opinionated, probably still is, and ultimately burned out on the California scene. He moved away and became an investor.

McClure was also colorful, and I still think he is a genius. He developed a theory of angel investing that involved writing a check for $25,000 to just about anyone with a promising idea. More conservative investors referred to McClure’s philosophy as “spray and pray,” but 500 Startups has had many big exits, and McClure’s idea formed the basis for current seed funds.

McClure started something else that heavily influenced Stealthmode’s vision: Geeks on a Plane.

Geeks on a Plane was a travel and entrepreneurship experience that flew a planeload of founders and investors to various places outside the US to explore opportunities. With Dave and his crew, Ed and I went to Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, and China on one trip. On the next trip we went to the Middle East — Dubai, Turkey, Israel and Jordan — and on a third to Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

There’s no way we could replicate the opportunities we got from those trips. We coached entrepreneurs, heard ideas, made friends, learned how cultural differences demanded special products, and discovered that there is also an underlying “gestalt” at any given time that affected everyone. We learned where the global entrepreneurship opportunities were, and how to invest in them, although I never did. Everywhere we went, we judged pitch contests and were treated like visiting royalty because we were from Silicon Valley.

Although I was already at everyone else’s idea of retirement age, during the first decade of the 21st century I was probably more active than at any other time in my business life. Besides all the trips I took, I commuted back and forth between Phoenix and El Granada and invested heavily in getting to know how Silicon Valley worked. Of course I was spending money wildly on travel during those years, even as I was trying to negotiate myself through the Great Recession at the end of the decade.

Somehow the Recession that crippled Phoenix and forced people to walk away from their homes didn’t really exist in the Bay Area. Instead, up there it was the start of what was first called Web 2.0 and later the social media era. The most important things in my life were making sure the Social Media Club got to Phoenix and deepening my understanding of Twitter and Facebook, as well as a myriad of social platforms that didn’t survive the consolidation of platforms: Friendfeed, Foursquare, Plurk, and Path.

I became friends with Robert Scoble, who also lived in Half Moon Bay, and allowed him to guide me through things none of my Phoenix friends knew about, like Twitter lists and Facebook advertising. One night as Scoble’s +1 at an event a VC firm held in a Phoenix resort, I met Mark Zuckerberg. He was standing by the pool, awkward and shy, and I asked him if I could get on Facebook, which was until then limited to people from colleges. He told me I was fortunate because Facebook had just released the limitation and opened itself to the general public, and I ran home and signed up. I gave no fucks about privacy back then — it was all about connection. For a few days, I might even have been the oldest person on the platform.

I felt the same way about Twitter. I had been blogging since Ev Williams started Blogger, and when he sold it and started Twitter, I signed up for that as well. I immediately acquired 10,000 followers, because that was easy in the beginning. Being early on those platforms has given me a lifelong social media edge.

People like Ev Williams and Mark Zuckerberg were my heroes. They were entrepreneurs, and their businesses grew so fast that I knew I had a lot to learn from them. Moreover, they represented a new stage of technology that idealistically thought it was connecting the world. I was enamored of their youth and vigor even as I was getting my hip replaced and my cataracts removed. They connected me to the future. Ever the optimist, I found it difficult to find their flaws.

It was like when I ran the Arizona Future Society at Rio Salado Community College, only on a bigger scale. Combined with the trips, I now realized I was playing on a global stage. It was so cool to go to Arrington’s parties, to coach people young enough to be my kids, and to be respected for what I knew about entrepreneurship and technology. I was blessed, although I never could figure out why.

In retrospect, I realize it was because I took risks very few people my age would have. My friends in the real estate business in Phoenix were winding down, while I went to SXSW in Austin every year for six years, feeling that I was winding UP. For a while, I was an attendee at a variety of tech and social media conferences. Another way to spend my retirement money.

However, in 2011, I decided I shouldn’t stay in the Bay Area anymore.As I observed the Bay Area’s culture changing from experienced to youthful, I became aware that I might be aging. And the entrepreneurs were changing from “change the world” to “become a unicorn,” It was all about money, and it was too big a stage for me to continue to play on.

By that time, too, one of my daughters had moved to London, and she was the one who had given birth to my only blood grandson (my extended family of step and foster kids had given me 14 other grandchildren for whom I also felt responsible.)I knew I was going to want to spend more time in London, and I really didn’t have the riches to maintain two households and leave them empty while I was in London. It made more sense to develop business in London, which I did, although not much and not profitably. Just enough to defray my trips.

So I sold the house in Half Moon Bay, and moved back to Phoenix full time. Of course my network by this time was all over the world, and the internet was fairly well advanced, so it really didn’t matter where I lived. I actually lived on Facebook and Twitter.

Phoenix still needed a fair amount of development to be the tech town I wanted it to be, so I went back to trying to make it one while writing and consulting to support my community service habit, which had developed into a major addiction. I had been a partner in supporting the Arizona Software Association, now the Arizona Technology Council, and the Social Media Club, and the Arizona Technology and Information Council, and on and on.

I looked for the holes. It was obvious: diversity. So I started the Women Entrepreneurs Happy Hour, a coaching business for women, and joined the founding team of Golden Seeds, a women’s investment group. My foundation, the Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation, which started in 2005 but was largely ignored after the Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference years, came alive with a series of projects that involved partnering with other organizations, and through it I also worked with women.

I also spent a couple of years being depressed. I did not want to be aged out of things, considered old, or actually indisposed — not to mention dead. What could I do?

I became fanatic at following the anti-aging movement and doing everything it said to do: in 2011 I became WFPB (Whole Foods Plant Based), which largely meant giving up processed food and anything with a mother or a face. I never lost the weight everyone else did, but I had an unbelievable amount of energy and not enough places to put it. Among other things, I also started a Facebook group called Aging Revealed to call attention to some of the cliches associated with aging.

I spent most of my time taking yoga and going to the gym, walking the dogs, and dining with friends. Since Bergie (Gerry Kaplan) died in 1997, I have had one steady date, his former medical practice partner Fred Salamon, who has generously accompanied me to dinner every Saturday night so that I never feel unpopular. On other nights, I can sometimes have dinner with Ed Nusbaum, with whom I’m celebrating 20 years in business even though we hardly do any actual business together, other than just serving as a sounding board for each other.

On most Sundays I brunch with my old high school buddy Dan Pochoda, who never married. In fact, you’d be surprised how many boy friends — in the most literal sense of the word are available to me, since I seem to know many single men. Fortunately, no one has asked me to marry them since Gerry died, nor would I. I have learned all I need to know about marriage.

For a while, I was living alone and not enjoying it much. I was a regular at the bar at Hillstone in Phoenix, where the bartenders are awfully close to my age although the clientele is not. Then one day about ten years ago, I met a gorgeous Gordon setter named Tucker in the park near my home. Tucker’s owner, Max, became a friend. Max was renting a condo from a woman who allowed herself to be foreclosed upon in the middle of the Great Recession. I’m sure that was a good decision for her, because she was undoubtedly very upside down in the house, but it threw Max and Tucker into the street just as Max had been laid off.

Max and I had a conversation in which he confided to me that he was going to have to get rid of Tucker because he was going to live in his car for a while and he didn’t want to do that to the dog. Remember me? Foster Mom? I invited Max and Tucker to stay with me for a while as Max regrouped.

That arrangement lasted few years, until Max got a job as a tech support admin at a local community college, which gave him a paycheck. He immediately bought a house out of a bankruptcy and moved out on me to move to his own place. As Tucker was a member of my pack, Max often came by even when he didn’t live with me.

That lasted until the real estate turnaround, when a group of investors buying up single family homes offered Max three times what he’d pay for the house. One day he called me and said “how would you like to have a roommate for a few days.” By this time Max came equipped with a two year old German shepherd, as well as Tucker. I had three dogs myself, but I said yes. That might have been 2016. It’s now 2020, and the five dogs have moved house with us to a home that backs up against the Grand Canal in Phoenix, where I can walk various combinations of dogs without much fear of retribution from my neighbors, who have multiple dogs. Dog friendly and diverse, my neighborhood is. I couldn’t be happier with my little house.

I bought it a couple of years ago when a dear friend offered to give me a private loan. That was probably the only way I could have bought another house, since I had sold my last home before the recession (good decision), sold my Half Moon Bay house during the recession, and was a self-employed person in an era where mortgages required, above all, pay stubs. But as the karmic universe smiled on me, I became a homeowner once again.

Looking back on my life, I’ve been up, and I’ve been down. I’ve been very close to bankrupt more than once. But I’ve always managed to catch myself. When my children were growing up, there was a toy called Weebles. I still remember the commercials: “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” When I am most in danger of sharing the fear, frustration, and anger of my neighbors, I remember I’m a Weeble. To be a Weeble is to be self-sustaining.




Francine Hardaway’s Blog About Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Life

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francine hardaway

francine hardaway

Co-founder, Stealthmode Partners, helping entrepreneurs succeed

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