Interview with Heidi Roizen (Toolbox)

December 1, 2008

Series: Entrepreneurial Toolbox

Heidi Roizen has achieved success as an entrepreneur, a corporate executive, a corporate director and venture capitalist. She has held positions of leadership within a number of industry organizations, and is a recognized and popular spokesperson for the technology industry and entrepreneurial community.In this Entrepreneurial Toolbox interview she talks about how networking is a key component of launching a company, and how people can build successful networks.

Heidi Roizen

Currently Heidi Roizen is CEO of SkinnySongs, which she launched in January of 2008. SkinnySongs introduced the first-ever collection of radio-hit-quality music in which the lyrics are specifically designed to motivate people to reach their weight and fitness goals. Roizen conceived the idea, wrote all the lyrics, then recruited music industry veterans David Malloy and George Daly to bring the project to life. The SkinnySongs lineup also includes apparel, with other products forthcoming. Roizen and SkinnySongs have been featured widely, including appearances on The Martha Stewart Show, CBS Early Morning, Oprah and Friends Radio and CNBC’s Big Idea. SkinnySongs is now available on Amazon and iTunes.

Roizen also serves as a member of the board of directors of Online Resources (Nasdaq:ORCC). Online Resources powers web-based financial services for thousands of financial institutions, billers and credit service providers, serving more than 10 million end-users and processing over $100 billion in bill payments annually. Based in Chantilly, Virginia, the company is recognized as one of the nation’s fastest growing technology companies.

Prior to founding SkinnySongs, Roizen was (from 1999 to 2007) a Managing Director of Mobius Venture Capital, a technology venture fund with $2 billion under management. In this capacity, Roizen served on the Boards of Directors of numerous private and public companies. Roizen was also elected to the Board of Directors of the National Venture Capital Association – the largest venture capital trade association in the world – in which capacity she served from 2003 to 2007. During this time, Roizen served on the Executive Committee, chaired the annual conference, chaired the Public Outreach committee, and chaired the NVCA’s MAGNET initiative on national competitiveness. She also served on the board of Great Plains Software (was NASDAQ:GPSI) from 1997 until its acquisition by Microsoft in 2001, and also served as a Public Governor of the Pacific Exchange from 1996 to 2000.

From 1996 to 1997, as Vice President of World Wide Developer Relations for Apple Computer, Roizen was responsible for building and maintaining relationships between Apple and its developers worldwide. She and her 300-person team served as the primary contact point for major partners such as Microsoft, Lotus and Adobe, as well as 12,000 other firms, emerging and established, which provided products for the Apple Macintosh.

From 1983 to 1996, Roizen was CEO of T/Maker Company, a developer and publisher of personal computer software, including WriteNow™ and ClickArt®. Roizen's principal functions at T/Maker included strategic planning, product planning and acquisitions, partnerships, fundraising, recruiting and directing the senior management team. T/Maker was acquired by Deluxe Corporation in 1994, at which time Roizen also became responsible for the management of T/Maker under the Deluxe corporate entity. Roizen was also elected to the Board of Directors of the Software Publishers Association (SPA) -- the largest software trade association in the world at that time – where she served as a director for eight years, including serving as the SPA’s President from 1988 to 1990.

Heidi Roizen has been active in numerous charitable organizations, educational institutions and nonprofit entities. She currently serves as the Co-Chair of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Women on Boards Initiative, a committee of the Women's Initiative Network. She is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Center for Women in Information Technology, and of Springboard Enterprises. She was for many years a board member of the SDForum, the largest association of independent software development professionals in the country. She is a past board member of the Stanford Alumni Association, and also served on its Trustee Nominating Committee for five years. Roizen also served on the Board of Advisors for Stanford’s Department of Humanities and Sciences. She is a frequent guest speaker at business schools across the country, and is the subject of case studies authored by both the Harvard and Stanford Business Schools. Roizen has been named to numerous ‘top’ lists, including the most recent ranking of the “Top 50 Women in Tech” by Corporate Board Member Magazine.
In September of 2008, Heidi was named the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives 2008 Annual Achievement Award Recipient.

Roizen holds an undergraduate degree from Stanford University (1980) and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business (1983). Roizen resides in Atherton, California with her husband, orthopedic surgical oncologist David G. Mohler, M.D., and their teenage daughters Niki and Marleyna.

Heidi Roizen

Transcript: 

An Interview with Heidi Roizen Founder, SkinnySongs

Date: December 1, 2008

Heidi Roizen: SkinnySongs [music]

Lucy Sanders: Hi everybody, this is Lucy Sanders, CEO of the National Center for Women and Information Technology, or NCWIT. With me today are Larry Nelson from w3w3.com and also Lee Kennedy, who is the founder of TriCalyx, a Web 2.0 company as well as a NCWIT board member. Welcome, everybody.

Larry Nelson: I am so happy to be here.

Lee Kennedy: Thanks, Lucy. It's great to be here, to kick off our new series.

Lucy: Our new series, we're very excited about our new interview series on Entrepreneurial Toolbox. We've lined up some great interviews to speak with people about the skills that entrepreneurs need across a wide range of topics, including networking and making mistakes and learning from them and getting funding and all that kinds of things that entrepreneurs tend to worry about. We are extremely excited about our first interview. It's with Heidi Roizen, the CEO and founder of SkinnySongs. Hi, Heidi.

Heidi Roizen: Hello, how are you?

Lucy: We're doing great. We're very happy that you could join us for our first topic, networking. We know there's absolutely no better network person than you.

Heidi: [laughs] Glad to be here.

Lucy: We're really thrilled to have you here. Before we start talking about networking, why don't you tell us about your new company?

Heidi: Well, SkinnySongs is just almost about a year old now. It was just basically a crazy idea I had when I got on the scale about, oh, about a year and a half ago, actually, and hit an all time high. As a venture capitalist, all time highs are good. In weight, all time highs are not so good. Just really, I was trying to solve the need for myself. I was out looking for motivation to keep my head in the game about losing weight and getting in shape and heading to the gym and not reaching for those M&Ms at the conference table. I went out looking for music to motivate me, and I couldn't find any. So I thought, well, there's a need and I know I'd buy it. Let's go out and see if other people would be interested in this, and let's find a team and put it together and create a CD like that. So SkinnySongs is the result. It's the first of its kind. It's all pop music. I jokingly say it is not a mid-life crisis vanity project although anybody who is a venture capitalist and suddenly comes up with a music CD, that's always the fear. But fear not, I do not sing on this CD. I do not perform on the CD. [laughter]

Heidi: It's all done by fabulous musicians. The producers are industry music veterans who have 40 number one hits to their names, and I'm incredibly proud of the music. SkinnySongs is the first product. I'm actually currently just putting the finishing touches on a book that is along the same lines as the music, and so life is very interesting right now.

Lucy: A book?

Larry: I like books.

Lucy: Larry just finished a new book as well.

Heidi: It's hard to write a book. That's all I'll say. Larry, I'm sure you can relate, but I never understood how hard it was to sit down every day and write a book. I have new admiration for anyone who can do it.

Larry: That's not as difficult as going through the editing process.

Heidi: Yeah, I'm dreading that.

Lucy: Writing a book. Well, Heidi, I'm sure your network helped you start SkinnySongs and maybe you can spend a minute and tell us how it helped.

Heidi: Sure. I think that, again, building and maintaining a network -- and of course the interesting thing with SkinnySongs is a lot of the people that I needed to have work with me were not people from the technology field. So it isn't like the past 25 years of my life that the people that I needed to work with were a lot of the same people I've been working with. The first thing that I needed to do was do research on the music industry. And for that, I was fortunate that there are people in the technology industry who are also in the music industry. Probably the most well known one is a gentleman by the name of Thomas Dolby, Thomas Dolby Robertson. You may remember him from the '80s as the guy who did the song, "Blinded Me with Science," a very well-known song. Thomas was not only a Grammy nominated musician, he also was the CEO of a technology company here in Silicon Valley and I met him many, many years ago when I was working at Apple. Thomas was someone I kept in touch with over the years, and when I decided to get into this music thing he was one of the people I called. He was super helpful in terms of helping me understand where music really gets made, and he said, "Don't go down to open mike night at your local bar to find musicians." It's all done in Nashville. You need a top producer, and he was the person who really helped me understand what I needed to go look for. That said, that's not his genre and he didn't really have a lot of contacts for me. Then, in another one of those twists of fate, two of my former Mobius partners had invested in an indie label company, and I had met the person who was the CEO of that indie label company. And so when I decided to do this, that was another person that I found, again, through Jason Mendelson and Ryan McIntyre, my partners from Mobius, a gentleman by the name of George Daly. George was very intrigued by the idea and really got excited about the concept. Once I had George in the deal with me, that really opened up an avenue to a tremendous number of other music professionals, most importantly, David Malloy. David is based in Nashville. He produces for people like Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers. If you're a "Dancing with the Stars" fan, he's the producer of Julianne Hough's album, which was one of the top performers in the country charts this summer. So David is just like Nashville royalty. And again, through George I got David, and George and David had worked before together. And David was a little skeptical at first, but once he got into the project he really sunk his teeth into it, and he ended up producing seven of the 10 songs on the album and writing six of the 10 songs with me.

Lucy: Wow. Well, you know, maybe, "Blinded Me with Science" should be NCWIT's theme song.

Larry: I think so. I agree. I'll vote on that.

Lucy: I'll have to go back. Now, I know someone in my network that can help me do that.

Heidi: And remember, it's "She blinded me with science."

Lucy: Oh, even better [laughs]. Well, I heard you say once before that networking is not stalking. And I wrote that down, and I remembered it for a very long time. It gets us into our questions now about what is a network. What's your definition of a network?

Heidi: Well, I have some pet peeves about the whole networking thing. First of all, networking is not stalking. And second of all, networking is not "monkey-barring," as I call it. It's not just that everybody is a rung, and I'm going to use somebody to get to someone else. It's one of the reasons why I think that some of these early experiments with social networking sites, for example, a site like LinkedIn where they used to let you connect to someone who was six degrees of separation removed from you and now it's really come down to my own opinion. If there's more than one intermediary, I'm almost just as good cold emailing them as I am going through a network of a friend of a friend of a friend kind of thing because I just believe that the context becomes lost in that sort of process. To me, it is very useful to use a site like LinkedIn, and I use LinkedIn extensively. I was just on it yesterday looking for -- I want to do a development deal with SanDisk, and I needed to find somebody at SanDisk. And so I used LinkedIn to find people and find my connections to them. But I do think when you're building and utilizing a network, a network is really give-and-take, and a network is building an affiliation or a knowledge base of other people with whom you can work where you are willing to give something for what you're asking. And I think that that has been the foundation of my own. When someone says to me, "Well, how did you build your network?" I never set out to build a network. I set out to get to know interesting people with whom I could do business, and over time I keep in touch with those people. I do more and more business with them, and that's how it works. I never think about it as a network per say.

Larry: Well, I don't know if you'll remember this, but the last time we interviewed you for the Hero Series, I asked you if you would introduce me to Bill Gates, knowing that you're family friends and all. [laughter]

Larry: Yeah, so now, so that kind of leads me to the next question. What types of relationships are in your network, and then how do you avoid, besides just saying no, how do you avoid compromising them?

Heidi: Well, saying no is an important part of being in a network and understanding that different people have different amounts of contact and pressure and whatever in their lives. And so I think you have to have a sensitivity to the fact that, for example, one of the guys who now has one of the biggest targets on his back is Jeff Raikes, who is the CEO of the Gates Foundation. Jeff is a good friend of mine, and one of the things I said to Jeff when he became the CEO of the Gates Foundation is, "Look, people are going to approach me because they know I know Bill and they know I know you. I can either turn everybody down, or if you'd like to educate me about what you're specifically looking for in the context of the Gates Foundation I would be happy to get educated so that I can be a better channel to you". But one of the reasons, for example, I turn everybody down who wants to get through to Bill Gates, is because everybody wants to get through to Bill Gates. And one of the reasons I can maintain a friendship with Bill and Melinda is that I don't just become yet another conduit for people who have requests for them. You know, that may sound like I'm throwing the baby out with the bath water, because there are people who certainly have very good and worthy things they want to bring to the attention of Bill Gates, and I understand that. I mean, my husband and I have our own charity that we are heavily involved with, and even with that one we've never asked Bill and Melinda for any funding because I just don't think it's appropriate for the context of my friendship with Bill and with Melinda. So I think you do have to be sensitive to those sorts of things. I think you have to constantly be saying is there a win/win in making this connection. For example, if there's somebody looking for a job and there's somebody with a job posting open, I always feel like it's a good thing to put those two together because you never know if that person is going to be the right person for the position or whatever. So any time I get a request from someone saying, "Hey, I hear there's an opening at XYZ Corp, you know the hiring manager. Here's my resume. Can you send it in?" I usually think that's a pretty good thing to do. There are other times when you look at the ads and think this isn't a win-win. And there are times, and not everything has to be a win-win in the sense of financial benefit or something. A lot of times it is a pay-it-forward thing. A lot of times I get a request from a graduate student who says, "I'm working on a project and I'd really like to be able to be in touch with so-and-so," or you or whatever. I may make that introduction and say, "Hey, I don't think there's anything in this for you, but we like to support students," or this is a pay-it-forward kind of thing. So I use my own filter and my own common sense and my own knowledge of each of these people in my circle to determine whether it's appropriate to forward it on, and I will do it. If I turn people down, I generally will tell them why, and I think the Bill Gates thing is a perfect example. When people ask me to make connection to Bill, I say no and I say, "Don't feel bad. I don't even ask him for money for my own charity". This is the rule I set, and for better or worse that's the rule. And that's what keeps that relationship intact, in my opinion.

Lucy: Before we leave this particular question, maybe, a follow on. When people make requests of you, what kind of guide lines do you think - when you're really tapping in the network and you're asking. On the other side of this, in terms of asking for help, what kinds of things have you seen that were just outrageously horrible? What kinds of things do you think are the right way to ask?

Heidi: I have to say it's remarkable to me how little outrageously horrible stuff there is. I think most people have a pretty reasonable sense of this kind of stuff, and every once in a while you'll see an over-ambitious person who is just out of college who wants you to write a recommendation for his site, and you've never heard of the person before. You just hit the delete key or say, "Gee, I don't even know you. How could I possibly write a recommendation? How could I endorse you on LinkedIn?" I got one of those from someone; I didn't even know the person. So once in a while, you get some stuff like that, but I think most people are pretty reasonable. The pet peeve I have is people ask when they haven't really formed what they really want, and they don't do a very good job of doing the homework to make it easy for you to fulfill their request. And so, for example, if someone says to me, "Hey, I'm fund raising. I'm an entrepreneur and I'm fund raising. I'd really love it if you could - do you know any VCs that you could introduce me to?" and I say, "Well, tell me about your company" and they send me 50 megs of material. [laughter]

Heidi: When you have fleas and you do the carpet bomb, it's the carpet bomb of information. And I have to send them back something and say, "Look, give me six sentences as to why a VC should open your file. And oh, by the way, in the first entre to a VC you don't send them 50 megabytes of data. That's just shows a lack of understanding of how the process works". And so I do believe if you're looking for something, if you're looking for someone to make a connection, helping them understand why there's a win/win in it, if there is, or helping them understand if there is no win/win and you're doing this for being a good person, why this is helpful, at least, to the person you're doing it for. And then giving that person the information they need to make that connection efficiently and effectively with the right amount of information.

Pat Nelson: Sorry to interrupt, but we're out of time. Heidi, you're a fascinating woman and the perfect choice for launching this new series, The Entrepreneurial Toolbox on the National Center for Women and Information Technology Show. Be sure to join Lucy Sanders, Lee Kennedy and Larry Nelson next week with Heidi Roizen for the conclusion. This is Pat Nelson signing off for w3w3.com. Remember, you can listen 24/7 at NCWIT.org or w3w3.com. Or you can download this podcast to take with you for any time listening. [music]

Pat: Hi, this is Pat Nelson at w3w3.com and the National Center for Women and Information Technology with the newest powerful listen and learn series, The Entrepreneurial Toolbox. We're back with part two and Heidi Roizen, Silicon Valley's top venture capitalist and an every woman's guide to success and happiness through SkinnySongs. Let's get started.

Lucy: Before we leave this particular question, maybe, a follow on. When people make requests of you, what kind of guide lines do you think - when you're really tapping in the network and you're asking. On the other side of this, in terms of asking for help, what kinds of things have you seen that were just outrageously horrible? What kinds of things do you think are the right way to ask?

Heidi: I have to say it's remarkable to me how little outrageously horrible stuff there is. I think most people have a pretty reasonable sense of this kind of stuff, and every once in a while you'll see an over-ambitious person who is just out of college, who wants you to write a recommendation for his site and you've never even heard of the person before. You just hit the delete key or say, "Gee, I don't even know you. How could I possibly write a recommendation? How could I endorse you on LinkedIn?" I got one of those from someone; I didn't even know the person. So, once in a while you get some stuff like that, but I think most people are pretty reasonable. The pet peeve I have is people ask when they haven't really formed what they really want, and they don't do a very good job of doing the homework to make it easy for you to fulfill their request. And so, for example, if someone says to me, "Hey, I'm fund raising. I'm an entrepreneur and I'm fund raising. I'd really love it if you could --- do you know any VCs that you could introduce me to", and I say, "Well, tell me about your company and they send me 50 megs of material. [laughter]

Heidi: When you have fleas and you do the carpet bomb, it's the carpet bomb of information. And I have to send them back something and say, "Look, give me six sentences as to why a VC should open your file, and oh, by the way, for the first entre to a VC you don't send them 50 megabytes of data. That just shows a lack of understanding of how the process works. And so I do believe if you're looking for something, if you're looking for someone to make a connection, helping them understand why they're a win/win in it, if there is, or helping them understand if there is no win/win and you're doing this for being a good person, why this is helpful, at least, for the person you are doing it for. And then, giving that person the information they need to make that connection efficiently and effectively with the right amount of information.

Lee: So, Heidi, when you think of all the networking you've done through the years, was there one example where you made a big networking no-no, and if you did, how did you recover from it?

Heidi: I think you make mistakes all the time, and I think there were a couple situations where I was trying to network. If you get to know new people in the context of SkinnySongs -- and I would go on one of these sites and find they were connected through someone. And I'd find out, you know, for example, it was a client relationship. I think this is something, for example, PR people are in an awkward situation when, hey, they're PR people for a living and you ask them to make connections for you and you're not paying them. That's not really fair. So you have to be sensitive to those sorts of things. I think also you have to be ready to accept a no and do it gracefully. Sometimes, if I'm in a hurry or whatever, I'll make a request and I won't give the person an easy out. For example, this morning a big magazine contacted me, and they wanted to do some success stories on people who have used SkinnySongs to lose weight, but they want people who are new and don't appear on my website, which literally means I have to cold email people. Of course, this magazine wants before and after pictures. So I'm taking fan mail and I'm emailing these people, and realistically not all of them will have actually been successful losing weight. My request might even be embarrassing to them when they receive it. They might think, "Oh my God, I wish I'd never written this woman a piece of fan mail because now I haven't lost any weight and now she's asking me to be in a magazine." After I sent the first few out with the request, I thought I'd better word this explaining it's perfectly OK to say no, I'm going out to a number of people. The weight loss doesn't have to be extreme. It's really more about the story, trying to frame it and trying to make somebody feel comfortable, that saying no is OK because I think if you back someone into a corner and, obviously, in these cases the connections are quite weak. But I think it's all the more important with someone you know pretty well to make sure that you give them permission to say no and know that you're going to be perfectly OK with that.

Larry: One of the things, I guess, I would really like to mention in terms of a thank you from my wife and I, we decided that we wanted to go on a diet, and it synched right in with SkinnySongs. Pat and I just absolutely love it. It makes us feel good.

Heidi: Oh, great.

Larry: I didn't know for sure what was all going to happen, except so far I've lost 35 pounds and she's lost about 25 pounds.

Heidi: Wow, that's terrific, Larry. And we're happy in the process.

Heidi: I'm going to ask you guys to be in one of these magazine articles.

Larry: Oh, sure.

Lucy: Yeah, you could have the his and hers.

Heidi: Oh, boy.

Larry: Ai-yi-yi. And we do have the before and after, too.

Heidi: Oh, I'm excited. Expect to be hearing from me the next time I get one of those requests.

Larry: OK. All right. Let's kind of snap back to this entrepreneurial situation. Let's say you were talking to a brand new entrepreneur. They haven't really started a company before, but now they've got one. It's technology or something else. What would you advise them to do in terms of networking as well as some of the pitfalls to avoid?

Heidi: Again, networking is not an event-driven thing. It's not something that you go out and do and then you're done. It's sort of a lifelong component of building your career, and frankly so many of the people in my network are all my personal friends. I think it's a lifelong component of building an interesting life. It's to go out there and meet people and form relationships with those people. I think in any of the industries that we're in, if you look at the technology industry, there are a number of trade associations. And that has always been something that I did as part of my - I don't necessarily want to call it networking strategy - building relationships and learning more about the industry. When you become a member of the trade association -- and in both my days as a software publisher when I ultimately became president of the Software Publishers Association with the NVCA, National Venture Capital Association, I was elected to their board. Well, first of all, it's a very interesting way to get to know a little bit more about your industry. It is a way to give back to the industry and to do some constructive things, and you build relationships outside of what your immediate business needs might be that ultimately can come in very handy for you as well. I would definitely credit my affiliation with the two trade associations in my industry as things that really helped me build out my network. In both of those cases, I worked on behalf of the Software Publishers Association. I think I was on their board for probably eight years, and with the National Venture Capital Association I was on their board for four or five years. These are not quick hits. They take a lot of work, and you don't get paid for them, but I think they're very, very valuable things to do. I think the other thing, when you say pitfalls, is you have to think about when you're going out to meet somebody, what do I have to offer? And I think that people have more to offer than they think they do, and people forget that deep down every other person you connect with is a human being. They probably have children, and they have hobbies and passions and causes they support. I think you can build a relationship with a person by looking a little bit more deeply at the whole person. My sense is, and I tell this to graduate students all the time, you always have something to give. I had one case where a graduate student said, "Well, I want to be able to meet with you a couple times and talk to you, but I don't want to waste your time. But I know you're into fitness and I'm a personal trainer. Do you want me to train you a couple times?" I said, "Sure, why not?" I've had people offer to babysit. I tell people if you really want to get to know someone, find out what charity they're involved in and agree to sit at the table doing the name tags for their annual fund raiser or something. I think there's a lot of ways you can give and contribute to get to know someone. Again, I don't want this to sound like you're stalking, but it's really finding a common ground with somebody on which to build a relationship.

Lucy: Heidi, you've given such great advice for our listeners today. Thanks so much for taking the time.

Heidi: Oh, my pleasure.

Lucy: Is there anything that our listeners can do to help you out with SkinnySongs?

Lee: We're networking now.

Heidi: Yeah, www.SkinnySongs.com. Tell a friend. Buy a copy. They make great holiday gifts. [laughter]

Larry: They are fantastic.

Heidi: I'm excited about SkinnySongs, and I'd highly buy it. I think it's a great thing, and I just love knowing that if someone goes to the website they can go listen to the music. If they like it, they can buy a copy and all the artists will thank them for that.

Lucy: Well, it's a wonderful company and you've given us such good advice on networking today. Here's what I've written down, and I think your next book should be about networking.

Heidi: [laughs]

Larry: Yes.

Lucy: And NCWIT will publish it for you [laughs].

Heidi: It's a deal.

Lucy: Listen to this, it's great. Networking is not event-driven. It's not stalking. It's not monkey-barring. I love that one. Form a succinct request when you ask. On any request give people an easy out. You know, that's great advice. And networking is about building an interesting life. It's not about how many business cards you can hand out at a mixer or something.

Larry: That's a fact.

Lucy: And look at what you have to offer. Look at your whole person and see what you can do in terms of building those relationships. What great advice. See a book, a book!

Heidi: Thank you.

Lucy: Here I go again. Well, thank you so much, Heidi.

Lee: Thanks,

Lucy: I want to remind listeners that they can hear this podcast at w3w3.com and also at the NCWIT website, www.ncwit.org. Thanks all.

Larry: Thanks a great deal.

Heidi: Bye-bye.

Lucy: A great inaugural interview. [music] Transcription by CastingWords