Monday, September 19, 2011

Changing Hats: Lawyers Turned Entrepreneurs

           At a meeting in Silicon Valley one day seven years ago, when securities lawyer Ali Wing heard herself criticizing her client’s revenue model, she knew the time had come to change hats.   The daughter of a Montana land investor in a family of nine children, including five adopted siblings, Ali says “we were all raised to conquer the world.” After attending Lewis and Clark College in Portland, she went to work at nearby Nike for eight years, picking up valuable  marketing  skills. Then she left to get an MBA because “I wanted more finance.”  She also thought a professional law degree could help because “I was from a working class family background and wanted every advantage in my pocket.”  At Northwestern she picked up a combined business law degree and in 1997 joined  Silcon Valley  law firm Gunderson Dettmer,  whose clients fund fledgling businesses. When founding partner, now mentor,  Bob Gunderson, first  recruited her, he had told her “I would be happy to have you as a lawyer or a client.”   
Founder CEO Ali Wing
          When Ali first left law for business,  she  became  marketing head  at Gazoontite, a retailer of allergy products, But soon she became  attracted by  the opportunities presented by the growing demographic of older parents. So in 2003 she launched her company, Giggle, in San Francisco, to provide information, organic clothing, equipment, and smarter products for babies,  along with customized services to make it easier when you become new parents.  Now with products and services available both online and in 15 retail outlets around the country, Giggle offers customers personal shoppers, a baby registry, and various gear guides along with, as one recent customer commented, “a very  cool aesthetic which appeals to professional women.”
     Now based in New York, with a corporate staff of 40 and some 120 employees in the field, Ali Wing says “we’re currently in expansion mode building out an executive team.” Results make her point: last year overall sales were up 35%, with catalog and web sales skyrocketing by 70%.   Ali  sees herself as brand CEO  and considers herself “atypically operational.  I’m not a serial entrepreneur, but I do have global domination plans for Giggle. It may take a long time to build big plays, but I have the work ethic and tenacity to prevail,  though I am also quick to delegate when I have the right team.”

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Emerging Global Entrepreneurs

   Many years ago in Tanzania when Susan Mashibe was four years old, she remembers watching her parents take off in an airplane while she was left behind with her grandmother. “At that point,” she determined, “I decided if I knew how to fly, I would never be left behind again.”  Years later after getting a degree in aviation management from Western Michigan University and becoming an FAA-certified commercial pilot, Susan planned to get a job as a pilot for a US airline.   But 9/11 intervened, after which the aviation industry contracted and restrictions on hiring non natives tightened. So Susan Mashibe   returned to her home in Tanzania to explore a niche in the airline industry there. In 2002, Susan used all her savings to rent a small office in the Dar es Salaam airport to start her company, TanJet,  which provides technical and logistical support to visiting private jets throughout Africa.  Her first client was Jacob Zuma, currently president of South Africa, who was on a  visit to Tanzania.  In 2007 Susan added a  70,000 square foot hangar in Kilamanjaro where she co-founded the  Kilimanjaro Aviation Logistics Centre, a company that processes landing and over flight clearances for private jets through Africa.  More recently, she opened her third office on the shores of Lake Victoria.  She is also  an aircraft maintenance engineer who can service jet engines. Last spring Susan was selected along with 25 other women leaders from emerging countries to participate in the 6th annual Fortune/State Department Global Women Mentoring Partnership, a public private partnership with the State Dept’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit and Vital Voices Global Partnership.