What is Essential?

I’m going to try something different with my writing. As I write this, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. Like many other people, I’m feeling more tired than usual, my sleep is disrupted, and I’m doing whatever I can to keep anxiety at bay. One of my go-to things is writing. But I’m really short on time. I don’t have the time to synthesize the information I’m reading and receiving. I haven’t had the time to reflect and contemplate ideas thoughtfully. I certainly don’t have the time to edit and format my posts well. So I end up not writing.

So I’ve decided to try to write, think a bit, but not over-think and to try to get the ideas down in one sitting. I’m going to aim for 30 minutes of writing each day. Let’s see how that goes. This is my first post, written with this approach, so please forgive me if it’s not very polished and doesn’t flow well. I’m working on getting better and faster at doing that with the limited time and brain capacity on a given day.

I’ve been thinking about what is essential. For years, I’ve been referring to Access to Essential Resources. It was a concept I developed as a way to think about what startups we needed. In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, only essential businesses were permitted to continue operating. It included things one might expect such as supermarkets, banks, and businesses providing transportation and telecommunications. But it also included liquor stores. And more notably for working parents, schools and organizations providing childcare were mandated to close.

Undoubtedly, with a global health crisis, the first thing we have to attend to is ensuring people are kept safe and reducing the risk of exposure to this virus. It isn’t just about individual health, but rather the stability and capacity of the healthcare system. When I wrote my book, Integrated Investing, I wrote about six categories of Essential Resources and one of them is Essential Resources for Managing Change. And that’s the category under which healthcare falls. Healthcare is essential for managing changes in our health and also changes in our environment, ecosystems, and community that impact our ability to do other things – like interact in person with others.

Isolating at home has challenging impacts as well. People are social creatures. We need connection. For some, connecting digitally or virtually has sufficed. But for the most part, not being able to connect in person has been hard and disorienting at times. Resources for Connection – such as restaurants, cafes, parks and playgrounds – are also essential. To leave them off the list of essential businesses and activities is a misnomer.

It’s May 2020, and we realize that wearing a face mask when interacting with others helps reduce the risk of spreading the virus. I wear one whenever I go out and expect to cross paths with other people. Aside from my breathing into the mask causing my glasses to fog up, it also feels awkward because people can’t see my expression. I feel hidden, erased, expressionless. Which made me think of another Essential Resource I wrote about – Essential Resources for Expression. But until we know more about the virus and have a vaccine, face masks are going to be commonplace.

The need for Essential Resources for Connection and Expression got me thinking. Here is a thing that I didn’t cover in my book – sometimes Essential Resources are enablers for other Essential Resources and sometimes we have to prioritize. Essential Resources for Managing Change takes precedence here.

In the meantime, let’s not forget that we also need Essential Resources for Connection and Expression. We just need to find alternatives and make sure that they are accessible to all.

Creativity, Movement, and Intuition

Most of us are feeling stressed out these days. In Canada, we’re in the middle of week 8 of working from home and physical distancing. Non-essential businesses – many of them service-based and small businesses – have shut entirely. Schools, playgrounds, and amenities such as libraries, art galleries and museums all remain closed. Supermarkets are limiting the number of people in their stores at a single time, creating long queues at all times of the day. Millions of people are out of work. Renters are anxious about how they are going to pay their rent. The stock market has been down. Working parents must work from home while caring for their children and maybe continuing their education if they can.

I find that when my brain is overloaded and overwhelmed, it’s difficult to think clearly. It’s not something I can think my way through to resolution. Instead I need three other remedies.

Our travel is limited, our creativity is limitless

Since my young child has been home from school, I have done a lot of drawing. I’ve been commissioned by my four foot tall boss to draw babies, fairies, and her favourite cartoon characters. We have graduated to doodling after discovering a small book of doodles I had started over 10 years ago. The requests for drawings started well before COVID19, but during this pandemic I’ve been forced to practice – a lot. To the point of me actually enjoying drawing again.

We have dance parties. We sing along to our favourite songs. I’ve learned four chords on the ukulele.

My child is missing her school friends and we’ve both really had to use our imaginations to escape the monotony of shelter-at-home life. I’ve witnessed her play make-believe with her stuffed animals and invent adventures with her imaginary pets. I’ve engaged my imagination too. I’ve made up games and stories. I conjured up a magic gate down the road that zapped us to her grandparents’ house.

A friend sends me and five friends a poem a day.

With shelter-at-home protocols in place, my surroundings and sources of stimuli are more limited than usual. We are coping because of our imaginations and limitless creativity. At first, being creative took effort. But like any muscle, using it repeatedly, through training and practice, creativity and imagination become the regular go-tos. It keeps boredom at bay. It soothes my restless 5.5-year old who longs for fun and social connection. It eases the tension and believe me – there is a lot of tension.

Move forward

In the first week of work-from-home, I head outside for a walk around my neighbourhood every morning. There was one day that I didn’t do it and I was very irritable by the time 5pm rolled around. I ended up going for a late-afternoon grumpy walk.

There was a writing tip I once saw. It was something like, “If you can’t write, get up and move.” Our bodies are not meant to be sedentary. Cabin fever is described as irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from long confinement or isolation indoors. We need to move and ideally do it outside. It gives my eyes a break from the computer screen. I get fresh air.

And when I’m not outside, I’m moving inside. I can go long bouts, glued to my computer. I take my phone call standing up, while pacing the room. The dance parties I noted above? They’re part of this movement.

Studies show that moving helps us be more creative and generate new ideas. When the world is changing rapidly and with great uncertainty, new ideas help propel us forward.

No future facts

Past performance is not always a predictor of future success. That couldn’t be more true that in a situation where there is a lot of uncertainty. As Jason A. Voss, an investment manager and author of The Intuitive Investor, wrote, “There is no such thing as a future fact.” The future is very uncertain. It is challenging to analyze our way forward when we cannot analyze things that haven’t happened yet. We need to cut out the noise – through meditation or walking or whatever the practice for silencing the chatter in our minds – and listen to our intuition to guide us through this pandemic and global crisis.


None of these ideas are rooted in analysis or left-brain thinking as a way of coping or dealing with the disruption we’re facing. Instead, their roots are emotional. I wrote previously about how emotions, empathy, and empathetic leadership are at the forefront right now.

Creativity, movement, and intuition help us channel our emotions, express them, and apply them to make decisions at a time when making decisions feels challenging.

How It Feels to Be a Leader

I was feeling frustrated, angry even. I launched into a tirade of complaints about how I had been wronged and how I needed to be given something to make me feel better. If you were on the receiving end of this, how would you feel? Would you feel like listening to me, thoughtfully hearing my concerns, and giving me what I wanted? Probably not. If anything, you might dig your heels in some more and hold your position. Maybe you’d lash out at me about what I had done wrong.

This equally describes a business relationship that had gone sour, as much as it describes me trying to convince my 5 year-old child to stop pushing on a door that was squishing her younger sibling’s fingers.

I had presented the above scenario to a friend of mine and she recommended I read Never Split the Difference, written by Chris Voss, in which he shares techniques he used as an FBI agent negotiating hostage situations and how to apply them to business and life negotiations.

In parallel, a friend suggested I read How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, written by Joanna Faber, a book for helping parents empathize and negotiate with their kids aged 2 to 7 years old.

In their simplest sense, both books talk about acknowledging the emotions being felt by others (that is, the party I’m negotiating with, whether it is a challenging counterpart in business or my 5 year old child). In both books, we’re encouraged to show understanding rather than telling by saying, “I understand”, and to do it authentically. In Voss’ book, the technique is referred to as “tactical empathy”. In Faber’s book, she builds upon the principles of dealing with feelings like frustration, disappointment, anger, expressing anger without being hurtful, and encouraging positive relationships. At the root of her book is emotions and empathy as well.

This isn’t new science. Before I say more about emotions, empathy, and negotiating, let me mention Antonio Damasio, a renowned neuroscientist whose research of people with brain damage showed that emotions drive decisions. 

Eliott and the Orbitofrontal Cortex

Eliott, one of Damasio’s neurology patients, had a small tumour cut from his cortex near the brain’s frontal lobe. Prior to the surgery, he had a successful career and a management position in a large corporation. He had a family and healthy relationships with his spouse and children. After the surgery, his intellect and logic remained the same. He was able to apply logic in analyzing choices he faced, but he had trouble making decisions. Even the simplest of decisions such as what to wear in the morning, whether to use a blue pen or black pen, and what appointment time to choose to meet with Damasio took hours of analysis and deliberation. 

Damasio observed Eliott’s dispassionate responses and his friends and family soon confirmed that Eliott appeared to be devoid of emotion. Damasio discovered in Eliott and in other patients with similar such struggles, damage to the orbitofrontal cortex, found in the frontal lobe of the brain, just above the orbits in which the eyes are located. It’s the part of the brain that affects emotions and Eliott’s inability to experience emotions meant he couldn’t make decisions. He lost his job. His relationships deteriorated and his spouse divorced him. The damage to his brain, and the resultant inability to make decisions, ruined his life.  

Emotions in Negotiations and Decision-Making 

Whether we’re negotiating with someone in a business relationship or our children, emotions drive their decisions to agree or disagree with us or to comply with or oppose our request. We’ve been led to believe that emotions are irrational and that if we leave out emotions, we’ll make better decisions.

When a person is drawn to a particular piece of clothing, or an object like a pen, or has a preference as to time of day to meet, the orbitofrontal cortex is trying to tell them that they should choose that option. We can gather information and analyze our options, however our emotions are an important and necessary input. Our emotions steer us in one direction or another – breaking any impasse that may result from balanced analysis of all options. 

Successful negotiations and effective decision-making require a high degree of empathy. Listening deeply to how others feel, understanding those emotions, and expressing our empathy authentically creates a positive feeling and could be the key to a decision we’re trying to influence. When others feel as though their feelings are not heard nor understood, it leads to a negative feeling that becomes a barrier to reaching agreement on a decision.

Empathetic Leadership

I’m writing this in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries with the best coronavirus responses have one thing in common – women leaders. Here in my country, Canada, women are leading our public health response. The empathetic leadership style of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, is being praised.

Influential men in business are jumping on the bandwagon.

To lead in this day and age is not to shut feelings out of our decisions and actions. Effective and inspired leadership goes beyond emotional intelligence and awareness. It leans into emotions and values vulnerability and empathy.

What are other ways to cultivate empathy? What are the emotions driving your decisions right now?

Stakeholder Capitalism: Investing as Taking Care of the Village

We’re nearing the end of week 6 of shelter-at-home and physical distancing orders in Canada in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. On March 26, the Province of Ontario announced that only essential businesses could remain open. Amongst essential businesses, beer and liquor stores could remain open. Even as of April 23, nearly a month later, schools and caregiving businesses are considered non-essential.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what are essential resources. In particular, I’ve wondered about what makes us happy, what the purpose of business activity is, and how these two things may be connected. For people to survive, thrive, and be happy, there are certain things in life we all want and need. We need food to eat and clean water to drink to satisfy our hunger and thirst. We need shelter and clothing to protect us from the elements, and care, treatment, and remedies to protect us or treat changes in our health such as injury, illness, and disease. We need stories, images, and sounds to express ourselves. We need places where we can connect with others, technology to connect us when we’re apart, and transportation to connect us from place to place. We need information from all sorts of sources to make decisions.

I took stock of all these things and summarized them into six categories of what I referred to as essential resources:

  1. Sustenance: Essential resources to sustain ourselves
  2. Expression: Essential resources to communicate and express ourselves
  3. Connection: Essential resources to connect and develop relationships with others
  4. Managing Change: Essential resources to prepare for or experience change or for managing change
  5. Making Decisions: Essential resources for making decisions
  6. Exchange: Essential resources for exchange

Some essential resources show up in more than one of these categories. Food is an essential resource of sustenance however we also use food to express ourselves. A building could be viewed as an essential resource of sustenance as shelter. Physical spaces are also resources for connection (where we gather) and expression (how we decorate and adorn them).

Essential resources are the things that we must access, process, and synthesize to survive, thrive, and be happy.

When I first developed these categories, I was challenged by a colleague to ensure the six categories of essential resources were mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. I endeavoured to be as all-encompassing as possible. I tried to think of essential resources from different perspectives to help us find common language and goals around the kinds of essential resources we wanted to be able to access in the world. For example, I focused on essential resources such energy (an essential resource of sustenance) and transportation (an essential resource of connection) instead of making judgements about specific forms (for example, energy from solar, wind, or fossil fuels or transportation in the form of cars, bikes, or mass transit.)

Back to my comment above, I found it curious that schools and caregiving services were not considered essential. For working parents that rely on schools, daycares, and caregiving businesses to be able to juggle work with family, these services are essential resources for managing change.

Stakeholder Capitalism

Writing about responses to COVID-19, Byron Loflin, Global Head of Board Engagement at Nasdaq, wrote in Fast Company recently, “Executives atop [global] companies and many others are acting for the community at large, not just on their shareholders’ behalf.” He went on to wonder whether this marked the end of shareholder primacy. “Thanks to a mix of technological advancements, increased and sustained efforts to improve corporate culture and employee inclusion—combined with the global nature of business—the last 30 years have paved [the] way for a more inclusive concept: stakeholder capitalism.”

Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman, a signatory of the Business Roundtable’s letter, said recently that “the best path to sustainable earnings growth and corporate success is to attract and retain great talent, to provide value-added products and services to our clients, and to have positive and productive supplier relationships. Therefore, the two concepts–creating shareholder value and creating community value – go hand-in-hand.” Friedman’s thesis was simple: companies are not left to choose between their shareholders or society. They must serve both.

In the Economist, Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, shared his predictions for the future post-COVID-19. He also remarked about a potential shift from value investing to values investing. “When pushed, societies have prioritised health first and foremost, and then looked to deal with the economic consequences. In this crisis, we know we need to act as an interdependent community, not independent individuals, so the values of economic dynamism and efficiency have been joined by those of solidarity, fairness, responsibility and compassion,” he said. “All this amounts to a test of stakeholder capitalism. When it’s over, companies will be judged by “what they did during the war”, how they treated their employees, suppliers and customers, by who shared and who hoarded.”

People-Focused, Capital-Enabled

Instead of maximizing shareholder returns being the singular goal of investing, I believe we should optimize “taking care of the village”. By village, I mean ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our communities, our planet, and future generations. “Taking care of the village” means ensuring that all the members of the village – stakeholders if you will – have access to the essential resources they need to survive, thrive, and be happy. It is the idea that to have a happy, thriving life, we really do realize that we are interdependent and that operating in isolation is not good for our well-being. It takes a village to do the things that matter. This concept of investing as taking care of the village was a focal point of Integrated Investing, a holistic approach to investing that I developed and wrote about almost half a decade ago.

In a village, there are multiple stakeholders whose interests must be met, and there are future generations who will inherit the village from us.

This means making investment decisions with the village in mind. It means evaluating whether the people we invest in have the same aim and mindset, and it means assessing whether the businesses we invest in serve the goal of taking care of the village. In this approach, we choose to invest in businesses that meet our needs and those of our families, our neighbours, our communities, and future generations, while also taking good care of our planet.

Cost/Benefit Analysis for All Stakeholders

Integrated Investing is a holistic methodology for investing that encapsulates the “why” of investing, mindsets and values guiding investment activities, decision-making that integrates information from analysis, emotion, body, and intuition, and practical tools needed to put all these components into practice.

One of the practical tools from the Integrated Investing toolkit for evaluating investment opportunities is extending the analysis of costs and benefits beyond the walls of a business, applying the analysis to all stakeholders, and doing so in reference to essential resources.

From Integrated Investing: Impact Investing with Head, Heart, Body, and Soul (2016)

Investing as taking care of the village is a focal point and guiding principle of Integrated Investing. It recognizes the village is made up of far more than just shareholders, just as stakeholder capitalism aims to do.

Pandemics, Downturns, and Emerging Managers

It’s been really hard to write. Everything routine has been disrupted by COVID19 and things have become more uncertain, ranging from the macro in terms of global economic and social systems to the micro like what is my 5-year-old going to ask me to draw today (first it was “water babies”, then fairies briefly, now a range of endangered and exotic animal friends from Yoo Hoo to the Rescue. My drawing skills are improving greatly.) I found comfort in knowing that I wasn’t the only person having trouble focusing and thinking.

Part of me knows that the road to cognitive recovery is to take small steps forward. Nurturing a habit of writing (or of exercise, good sleep hygiene, gratitude or whatever it is for you) helps make a daunting task or significant change more doable. It’s not even so much about breaking down a big goal into smaller goals but rather putting in the effort and building momentum through the accomplishment of smaller, aligned and appropriate tasks. In this case, it’s writing and getting in the word count. This might not contribute to the books I want to write or the cases I need to make to influence decisions related to my work, but getting words out of my brain and onto the screen is exercising my thinking and writing muscles. I hope one day my thinking and writing brain will be strong again. 

When things are stressful or I’ve experienced something disruptive, I find that sticking to routines and daily habits helps me get through it. Others have given me this advice in the past: make those calls, write those emails, thank people in your network, and help others if you can.

I’ve been in a transition from emerging fund manager to investment manager. I have the potential to launch a new fund investing in private equity and venture capital funds. I hope to write more about that in the future. But in the meantime, my attention has been on the pressing challenges experienced by emerging fund managers due to COVID19 and the resultant economic downturn.

Emerging fund managers might not seem like an urgent area of need, but my theory of change has always been about who makes decisions about capital. COVID19 has most negatively impacted under-resourced and under-capitalized people and communities. The intersection of new fund managers, women, and people of colour is where change is needed and my fear is that it is these fund managers – emerging ones – that will also be most negatively impacted by COVID19, thereby deepening the cycle of under-resourcing and widening inequality gaps.

There are two very striking issues I’ve seen: 1) emerging managers on the cusp of first or final closes that have experienced their fundraising momentum and timeline interrupted and 2) emerging managers with valid concerns of being completely denied investment. 

In the Middle of Closing

People are overloaded and overwhelmed with decisions right now. If you’re trying to close your fund, keep structures, terms, and information simple. Make it easier for investors to say yes. This has always been true, but couldn’t be more true now.

In times of uncertainty, I think people will double down on what’s familiar to them. COVID19 introduces risk that is global and incredibly uncertain. This is more than investors losing confidence in one particular industry or asset class. This is more than part of our economic system – like financial services and credit – being disrupted. This is a health crisis AND multiple industries are impacted. Entire ways of working, living, learning, and connecting are interrupted. The divide isn’t between equities and fixed income nor between technology and real estate. The divide is between capital and labour. There is so much uncertainty that people are retreating to low-risk situations and that may mean focusing on the familiar. 

Investors with capital appear to be taking one of three approaches: 1) wait and see, 2) doubling down on the people they believe in and 3) open for business, but cautious. If you need to get a fund launched, you need to segment your potential investors even more diligently, so that you may concentrate your efforts on those investors that believe in you and your thesis.

On the point above about investors doubling down, investors are focusing on existing portfolio funds – the people they know and believe in. Some may double down on areas such as gender-lens investing perhaps because this is where they have been investing (and therefore is familiar). Some may be very future-oriented and looking for new (and possibly bargain) opportunities – this may very well be their default mode of operating during volatility and crisis. Anyone that was on the fence about an entirely new endeavour, risks little by saying “No” at this time.

Samir Kaji of First Republic Bank remarks about family office and high net worth individuals investing in venture capital funds, “Emotional anxiety remains high, particularly with those that started investing in VC post 2009.  I’m seeing soft commitments from this group dissipate VERY quickly with GPs I’ve talked to.”

For fund managers that are approaching a first or final fund close, if viable, close on whatever you can even if it is less than your target. Stay in the game, stay alive.

Asset Allocations

Large institutional investors have asset allocation targets meaning their private equity and venture capital strategy, if they have one, should fall within a percentage range of their total portfolio. The impact of COVID19 on public markets means allocations to public equities and fixed income are likely lower than their targets and allocations to private equity and venture capital is higher than targeted. This will also have an impact on funds currently raising and it’s worthwhile reconfirming the availability of capital to invest in this sector (and your fund).

Samir Kaji notes, “Institutional investors have asset allocation targets to deal with, and are generally unlikely to make any 2020 investments outside of A) Existing managers B) Those they have been tracking for some time C) NO Brainer funds (i.e. top GP from a good firm, or top .1% operator, etc.)”

Emerging Managers – Leading Edge or Death Knell?

Angelo Calvello wrote in March 2020 in Institutional Investor, “As could be expected, large, established managers will weather the storm. Many independently owned active managers, however, will be forced out of business — some because of poor performance, but others who generate good returns will also shut their doors because of cash-flow problems.”

In January and February 2020, the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association surveyed more than 40 global institutional investors and family offices to get their perspectives on emerging markets. 96% of those surveyed felt that there were advantages to investing in emerging managers over established firms. Respondents cited innovation, ambition (hunger to outperform), focus on unique investment strategies, greater ease to align economic incentives and negotiate terms, and greater likelihood of forming meaningful strategic partnerships as being the key benefits. 

Likewise, Cambridge Associates published a report on venture capital in January 2020 noting that top returns are not confined to a few dozen firms. New fund managers (managing their first or second fund) and developing fund managers (on third or fourth fund) consistently rank as some of the best performers.

Both studies were conducted before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, so whether or not these views continue to hold true have yet to be seen.

Near-term Focus on Grantmaking

Foundations are facing a lot of demand and pressure from the grantseeking side of their organizations. When there are communities around them struggling to stay healthy or to keep the roofs over their heads or are facing increased violence or precarity, attention must go towards current spending.

It makes sense to me to focus heavily on spending during a time of crisis and once new routines and some new sense of stability, foundations and other capital holders can think about planting the new seeds for the future. We have to plant new seeds, as investments, to rebuild surpluses and resources, and the thoughtful application of capital is needed to weather these kinds of storms in the future.

The current health and economic crisis feels very different to me than the dot-com and the 2007-08 financial crisis. Our health is at risk. Our main streets are ghost towns. Our ability to connect in-person with each other is disrupted. The inequality gap is exacerbated. Yes, there are opportunities, but close to a million Canadians filed for employment insurance in the first week of the COVID19 lockdown (more than 30 times the number in the same week the previous year). Our way of life is severely negatively impacted and that requires a pause and thoughtful reflection about what’s next.

Career Changing During or Just After a Recession

Sandi Lin, CEO of Skilljar, wrote a post on LinkedIn that caught my attention. She wrote about job-searching during two recessions (2002 and 2008).

In her post, she noted the lack of supply of jobs and the rise in demand by job-seekers. “In a downturn, not only are there 10x fewer jobs available, there are 10x more candidates, who are 10x more qualified for the position than you,” she warned.

It gave me pause for reflection. I started my career in the aftermath of a recession. The trough of the 1990s recession in Canada was said to have been in April 1992. The economy was in the early months of recovery as I began interviewing for my first co-op job in the fall of 1992, as a first-year student at the University of Waterloo (in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, the birthplace of an early form of smartphone called Blackberry). Competition was fierce for positions in the audit departments of the then-Big 6 accounting firms. We were told that not everyone would get a coveted audit job that counted towards our professional accounting designation. 

I managed to secure interviews with Deloitte & Touche and KPMG. I got off to the wrong start by missing the off-campus wine and cheese event hosted by Deloitte for its prospective candidates. Eighteen years old and interviewing for a professional role for the first time, I felt tense and outnumbered in the Deloitte interview as I was evaluated by not one person but two. I felt like I failed to impress in the KPMG interview. And to top it all off, my winter coat was stolen from the lobby coat rack.

I was shy and reserved back then. Too much time has passed for me to remember how I answered the interview questions and what set me apart. I had no exposure to professional work environments and no coaching nor mentoring from my parents due to their lack of experience in this domain. My older sister went as far as sharing her CV template, but that was it. 

Despite the tough economic environment, I received offers from both firms, joined Deloitte & Touche in January 1993, and got a new coat. Were it not for the co-operative work program at the University of Waterloo and the participation of accounting firms in on-campus recruitment, I might not have fared so well in the post-recession job market. It made a world of difference for someone like me.


In 1999, I moved to the UK on an international secondment with Deloitte and two years later, I was working in their corporate finance advisory team. It was the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York and the dot-com bust. There were lay-offs and several of my colleagues lost their jobs. It didn’t go unnoticed that many of them were women, across all levels of experience. Despite that, being at a multi-service professional services firm sheltered me from the effects of global security concerns and vaporware. As IPOs fell out of favour, my corporate finance team took a public company private. We advised on small and mid-sized management buyouts. As advisory work slowed, we were deployed on restructuring work. As dot-com busted, real estate boomed.

I had a background in auditing real estate investment companies, but my job at Deloitte Corporate Finance had a bit of a hedge because I worked on both real estate and private equity deals. In 2003, a couple of years after the dot-com bubble burst, I went long on real estate, so to speak. A former flatmate introduced me to a recruiter that specialized in real estate investment banking. I interviewed with a publicly-listed property company, a real estate private equity firm, the corporate finance team of an international real estate services firm, and an upstart real estate investment banking of the then-number 2 German bank, which was the team I ended up joining. I rode the wave of real estate lending and mortgage-backed securities until 2007. 

I took a career break starting at the end of 2007 until mid-2009 during which time I consulted for a former client and volunteered in the café of a community centre. In 2010, three years after the phrase “impact investing” was coined, I did pro bono work with an impact investment fund. I started an independent consulting firm so began my entrepreneurial journey at the intersection of impact investing and startups. 


The 2007-08 financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed were probably the toughest years to recover from. From 2007 to 2012, I wasn’t just job-searching, I was soul-searching. Writing this in 2020, part of me feels like I am still recovering from that time. I’ve never paused to reflect on what life really looked like for me during and after the Great Recession because I’ve been in survival and pursuit mode ever since then. 

In 2010, I cast a wide net and explored many different kinds of roles I could imagine myself doing, to try to figure out where to go next, what I’d enjoy doing, and where there was demand. The roles I interviewed for spanned a wide range, including head of business and finance for a progressive think tank, CEO for a social purpose real estate company, in-house corporate finance role for a Paris-based publicly-listed resources company, a role at a Dublin-based “bad bank” working out distressed loans. In the end, I embarked on a big adventure that meant relocating back to Canada, immigrating my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and accepting a role as an investment manager at a Canadian credit union. 


A job got me to Vancouver, but it was founding Pique Ventures, a boutique impact investment firm that anchored me to stay. Candidly, Pique has been bootstrapped through a wide variety of long and short consulting contracts. It was the wickedest lesson in life and business in all senses of the word. I sharpened my technical skills and forced me to hone my leadership skills. I learned all the things I didn’t know when I started my consulting firm in the UK – business models, marketing and sales, hiring and firing, innovation, and more.

One of the most valuable skills I discovered and am continuing to improve is how to find product-market-fit. Anytime you start something new or make a change, you do a version of finding product-market-fit, whether it’s launching a new product or service, raising capital, or finding a new job. In hindsight, I realize that I’ve been practising finding product-market-fit for years:

  • In 2002/03, when I left Deloitte and interviewed for jobs
  • In 2010, when I was interviewing for jobs
  • Launching Pique Ventures and finding investors for its first fund, Pique Fund
  • Most recently, in 2019 when I relocated to Toronto and interviewed for jobs

I’ve advised hundreds of entrepreneurs on raising capital and finding the right fit of investors is like finding product-market-fit, where their ventures are the product (or more specifically, the equity securities in the ventures are the product) and the investors are the capital market.

I’m not going to make a list of the Top 5 Lessons for Job-Seekers During a Recession, but certainly understanding the process, mindset, and skills needed to find product-market-fit are very useful in times of change, uncertainty, and discovery. 


Sandi Lin provided some thoughtful advice in her post: “Careers are long. Always treat people with respect. Practices like ghosting and badmouthing will follow you forever. If you generally believe in your job, company, leadership, mission, manager, and have earned respect in your role –  recognize that’s a wonderfully special and rare situation.” You may already have product-market-fit in the job where you are right now.

20 Women

This International Women’s Day 2020, I’d like to celebrate 20 women – some of whom are close friends and some of whom I admire from afar. These women have supported me through a particularly challenging time in my life and career or they inspired me through their words and their leadership. Take a fleeting moment to hear their stories. Or follow them and their work and be uplifted, just as I have. In alphabetical order:

  1. Alli Riese. Alli and I have spent more time apart in different cities, than living in the same city, yet that hasn’t impaired our friendship. She introduced me to the book Tempered Radicals last summer and I feel she truly understands the challenges we navigate as working parents, aspiring changemakers, and persistent leaders at this stage of our careers.
  2. Aubrey Blanche. Aubrey is a leading voice and champion of diversity and inclusion. @adblanche
  3. Autumn Peltier. Everyone should stop in their tracks and listen to Autumn Peltier, who has demonstrated so much leadership and courage. She advocates for universal water rights, especially for indigenous communities. @StephaniePelti3
  4. Carolyn Van. Carolyn is a cherished voice in tech in Canada. She recognizes that women of colour, including women of Asian descent, are underrepresented in tech in Canada and speaks up about it. @CarolynVan
  5. Carrianne Leung. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of exposure to Chinese Canadian authors, let alone authors that are women. Carrianne is the author of That Time I Loved You, a collection of short stories including one about two Chinese middle-schoolers who come of age in Scarborough, a neighbourhood of Toronto, Canada. @kayee13
  6. Crystal Lo. I loved working with Crystal. She is a wonderful real estate financier and impact investment professional.
  7. Danielle Fergusson. Danielle is a strong voice and advocate for livable cities. @dfergusson
  8. Danielle Graham. Danielle is amazing at organizing communities and creating partnerships. She’s a champion of diversity in tech. @daniellebgraham
  9. Jay Pitter. Jay is a welcomed voice in urbanism and placemaking. @Jay_Pitter
  10. Jennifer Li Chiang. Jennifer is a determined tech CEO and new parent. I love her creative persistence.
  11. Jessica Regan. Jessica perseveres while building an impact-focused technology venture that is helping to reduce CO2e and food waste.
  12. Karlyn Percil. Karlyn says emotions are data and I couldn’t agree more! @KarlynPercil
  13. Kieran Snyder. Thank goodness for Kieran and her venture, Textio. She knows words and language matter and has the data and augmented writing technology to prove it. @KieranSnyder
  14. Laurel Douglas. I admired Laurel’s leadership as CEO and have learned so much from working with her. @WECldouglas
  15. Lally Rementilla. Lally’s entrepreneurial leadership and career path from finance executive within technology companies to financier of IP-backed technology companies inspire me. Such a smart move! @lallyrementilla
  16. Ruchika Tulshyan. Ruchika is a diversity and inclusion expert and champion of women of colour. @rtulshyan
  17. Soraya Chemaly. I am reading pages from Soraya’s book, Rage Becomes Her. I feel so seen. I love her writing. @schemaly
  18. Susan Washington. Susan is a trusted friend and coach. I’m so lucky to have met her and benefited from her sage advice. @WashingtonGrp1
  19. Tania Lo. Tania filled a gap in the startup ecosystem, creating a network of contract CFOs and other C-Suite leaders to help companies achieve their goals without breaking the bank. Tania was also my biggest confidante during one of the hardest years of my life. @tania_lo
  20. Vanessa Lebourdais. Vanessa is entertaining school children into being Planet Protectors. As a CEO, she brings creativity to tackling climate change.

And a bonus: My mom is understated, but when she speaks up it’s with words of support, trust, and encouragement. I have never heard her boast nor draw attention to herself. She took risks. She took care of her daughters. She is strong. She is courageous. I don’t think she lived to her full potential. I can only hope that I make her proud.

Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday and today I’m relaunching my personal website and blog.

I can think of at least two occasions when I’ve written with conviction – once was starting in 2012, when I took the first steps towards writing my first book, Integrated Investing.

The second time was at the start of 2016. I had a one-year-old child and a 57,000-word draft manuscript. Pulling myself out of the lulls of that postpartum period of child-rearing and with no more writing to do in connection with the book, I felt compelled to keep up my writing habit somehow. I committed to writing at least one answer a day on the question-and-answer site, Quora. After about 3 months of writing and perhaps close to 100 answers, I was selected as a Quora Top Writer. About 3 months after that, I had my first answer syndicated in Inc. I was hooked on writing.

On both occasions, I was recovering and reflecting after a significant change in my life.

In 2012 I was recovering from a trans-Atlantic relocation, a new marriage, and the commencement and abrupt ending of a job. I wrote to bring some order to the ideas swirling in my head. Writing was anchoring. I wasn’t sure who I was in 2012. Just as quickly as I had vacated the office of the job for which I moved to Vancouver, I had a name for the business I launched – Pique Ventures. If Pique Ventures was the container for my business ideas, my writing – and at the time, Integrated Investing – was the vessel for the broad and varied ideas I had about investing, startups, and impact.

In 2016 I was recovering from having my first child, launching Pique Fund (25 days before giving birth), and the commencement and abrupt ending of my part in launching an impact-oriented accelerator. Writing on Quora connected me to the Bay Area somehow. My perspectives on venture capital were valued and for a while, I probably believed I was a venture capitalist.

In 2020, I’m recovering from having my second child, a cross-country relocation, and the commencement and abrupt ending to my attempt to raise a second fund. I am working on a second book and admittedly part of me is scared about writing it. I have lots of ideas in my mind – about career paths, job searches, and starting over. About impact investing, gender-lens investing, and alternative investments. About power, negotiating, and decision-making.

Since I started writing with conviction in 2012, I published Integrated Investing, had several more Quora answers syndicated, and had three op-eds published last year in Business Insider, Next Billion, and Toronto Star with my own byline. They won’t be my last.