Posted on: 12/08/2016

Sonja Hoel Perkins on Founding Project Glimmer & Broadway Angels

Sonja Hoel Perkins

Founder - Project Glimmer and Broadway Angels


Podcast Summary

Sonja Hoel Perkins shares her passion for two women centric organization she has founded, Project Glimmer and Broadway Angels.

Project Glimmer (http://www.projectglimmer.org/) inspires girls to believe in themselves. Through the gift of beautiful jewelry, Project Glimmer lets young woman know their community cares. Glimmer has given over 120,000 gifts of jewelry since founding and will deliver another 50,000 gifts this holiday season. You can still donate to Glimmer or host a Glimmer Drive in time for the 2016 holiday season.

Broadway Angels (http://www.broadway-angels.com/) is an investment network consisting of successful women VC's & CEO's. The goal of the organization is to fund the best women entrepreneurs while also helping women break into the venture capital business.

Podcast Transcript

Scott Orn:

Welcome to Founders and Friends Podcast with Scott Orn and Vanessa Kruze of Kruze Consulting, and our very special guest is Sonja Hoel Perkins of Broadway Angels and Project Glimmer. Welcome, Sonja. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Thank you very much.

Scott Orn:

So you have an incredible background. Do you want to talk about some of the organizations that you are a member of to maybe just trace your career path? But Project Glimmer and Broadway Angels too - amazing organizations. We're fortunate to work with them at Kruze Consulting. Do you want about those a little bit? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Sure. So Broadway Angels is a group of investors who are the top venture capitalists, who are also top in technology - so C-level executives who all happen to be women. We invest in the best companies and the best entrepreneurs with the goal of making the best returns. In addition to our goal is to showcase the top women in technology and the top women in venture capital because we want to provide role models for women and girls who might want to get into venture capital as well as get into technology.

Scott Orn:

So is Broadway Angels like a club, or is it a dedicated fund, or do you guys meet once a month? How does it work? Especially for someone who wants to pitch Broadway Angels, how do they think about it? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Yeah, so Broadway Angels is a network. It's a group of people and we are all members. And members is by invitation only. To become a member you have to have a proven track record of success. So if you are a venture capitalist, you have to have a high IRR as well as a really great portfolio. If you are a technologist, you need to have either started a company or have been a founder or a C-level executive at a company that's actively investing in early stage companies. So it's companies for their public. So if you want to pitch Broadway Angels the best way to do it is to find a Broadway Angel that you know, and pitch them. Tell them that they would like to pitch the whole group and that you would do a great job. We typically don't take any cold business plans. It's a network so we try to share ideas and share businesses together. We also share due diligence. And we ultimately invest our own funds so there's multiple venture funds and multiple groups of capitals that people bring in individually.

Scott Orn:

That's really cool. Do you find personally? Like are there times when you really believe in an entrepreneur and you bring them to Broadway Angels? Do you end up pitching simultaneously with the founder or someone you really believe in or how does is --? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

We get together once every six weeks or so. The way our meeting works is we have 4 companies come in and present. They have 20 minutes to present their pitch, and then about 10 minutes for questions. Then the group talks about the company afterwards, and we decide if we want to follow up with the company. Either if through more due diligence or customer checks and things like that. So if I have a company like UrbanSitter or Rocksbox that I have already invested in, that comes in then I'll definitely let the entrepreneur do the pitch. Maybe I'll review the pitch before the investment, which is something I tend to offer all the entrepreneurs I work with. But typically, the founder does the pitch. But I'm happy to fill in the details if people have questions.

Scott Orn:

Is there a light advocating after the founder leaves? Like, 'This is so amazing. You should do this deal.' Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

No. Well, the thing with companies like UrbanSitter and Rocksbox - and there are more - is that I'm not going to show a deal to Broadway Angels that I'm not proud about. The number one goal is to have the highest internal rate of return. So when I show a deal to Broadway Angels it's my reputation. It's my credibility that I'm also bringing. I think all of the Broadway Angels do that. So nobody shows a bad deal.

Scott Orn:

That's awesome. You talked about how part of the reason you started it was to help get some of these founders get funded, or maybe also get into venture capital. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

The reason why we started Broadway Angels is because we noticed that there were no positive role models, and positive groups of women are very few in venture capital. There's lots of press that's written about how few women are in venture capital but it always tends to be negative. There is only 6% of partners in venture capital firms who are actually women. So we started it because we wanted to showcase in positive light women in venture capital. And we all wanted to work together. Most of us had been in firms, or are in firms where we're the only woman. I personally thought it would be fun to put a group of women together and just to see how it works. It’s turned out to be fabulously fun. But our number one goal is to make a return.

Scott Orn:

That's awesome. I read stuff before where having more women involved in decision making, especially in partnerships or politics, actually makes the outcome much better. It's been scientifically proven. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Yeah, they say that. There’s lots of published research on the importance of diversity. Not just only women, but also minorities where when you have a diverse set of points of view, you tend to get better outcomes.

Scott Orn:

Well, helping women and helping underrepresented people is a big part of your life. Do you want to talk about Project Glimmer a little bit too? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Also having a diverse board and a diverse set of investors isn't helping women, it's actually helping the companies and helping the guys.

Scott Orn:

And helping the IRR, like you said. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

And helping the IRR. So it’s not all about that. So I personally think that it is the responsibility of every person and every woman who is successful to bring other women and people up with them. I’ve chosen women, just because I am a woman and there are so few women in venture capital and so few women in technology - two areas that I know very well. I’ve chosen to focus on that, that way. I think Broadway Angels were bringing women up with us in terms of inspiring women and girls to get into venture capital and to get into technology. Because people say that there is so much importance into having role models. So we just wanted to provide some more role models in addition to making great investments.

Scott Orn:

Also that power role model is really beneficial to men too. Vanessa know this that my mom was also a successful entrepreneur for 25 years, who started her own business and ran it very successfully and had a great outcome. I actually learned business through watching my mom. We talk about this all the time. It's probably no coincidence I ended up marrying a very successful entrepreneurial woman. Like that it helps. It's not just about the companies that you're helping, and also the IRR. It actually helps everyone. It helps the whole family. It helps the next generation Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Yeah. It’s good to have role models for boys and girls, and all kinds of people.

Scott Orn:

And then Project Glimmer is a different kind of organization you're a part of. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Sure. So Project Glimmer inspires at-risk teenage girls and women to believe in themselves by letting them know their community cares. I started Project Glimmer after attending a lot of conferences like the Fortune Most Profitable Conference, and seeing women on stage saying, ‘Gee, the reason why I'm here is because my grandmother believed in me or my father believed in me, or I had a teacher who believed in me.’ And I put together a formula that if somebody like a girl believes in herself, she will be able to change the world. And if a girl doesn’t believe in themselves there is no way she is going to get out of her own way. So I thought how can we help more girls and women to believe in themselves? Believe it or not, at Project Glimmer we give holiday and birthday and Mother's day gifts. And we give them to women and girls which happens to be beautiful costume, jewelry and really high end makeup. We give them to girls and each gift comes with a card that says, 'We believe in you.' Because there are many people in our communities that really don’t have anybody that believes in them. The girl whose parents are in Mexico and she’s staying here with relatives so she can get the best education she can in the United States. Or the girl who maybe has lost her mother to drugs or prison or something like that. Who is going to believe in her? We want to believe in them because everybody is valuable – everybody in our country

Scott Orn:

How do people get on to Project Glimmer? Just the women and young girls you're helping -how do they get on the list or how do they become a recipient? Is there a process there? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Yeah, we have a process. It's pretty simple. It’s a very efficient business model spoken from a true venture capitalist. So our gifts are small. They are easily shipped and easily distributed. They also have a very high margin. So when people give us gifts like the Kendra Scott or the Bomb or Rock Spocks. They have a pretty high margin. So it’s not like trying to get people to give you cartons of milk which has low margins, but then how do we distribute the gifts is also one of the brilliant parts of our business model where we actually work with existing 5o1c3's which are non-profits that serve women and girls. We don’t have to go out and find the girls. We don’t have to whet them to make sure they qualify. We work with really great organizations like the Homeless Prenatal Program or the Compass Family Services, or the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program, [oo:10:0] or Toys for Tots, Rosie's Place, Women’s Lunch Place. We work with a lot of organizations throughout the country that have already done the whetting for us.

Scott Orn:

So it’s almost like business development, you reach out to them or they reach out to you. Then they have a list of people that need help. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Well, it started out with us reaching out to them because nobody knew about us. But now a lot of people reach out to us. I didn’t know anybody at the YWCA of Oakland but now we’re involved. We’re also involved in Sleep Train where they have this diverse program for foster kids. We really like to give gifts to foster children because they clearly are not at home with their parents every night.

Scott Orn:

That's awesome. My brother works for Sleep Train and I know that's a big charity. They donate. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

I would like to talk to someone at Sleep Train, because they're doing such a great job at the Foster Program children. They have such a higher chance of becoming homeless and not going to college and things like that. So we want all the foster kids and all the at-risk kids in our community to know that we care.

Vanessa Kruze:

Right now it's the holidays, which arguably has got to be the most hectic time of the year for you. So I’d love to hear just a little bit more about which organizations you're specifically partnering with right now, and what the next couple of weeks are going to look like for Project Glimmer. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Yeah, well it's funny. People are like, 'Oh I'm so sorry. I'm so busy. It's the holidays.' I totally understand that, I totally do. So we will give over 50,000 gifts across the United States for this Christmas holiday season. On New Years we’ll give New Year’s gifts and Mother’s Day gifts, birthday gifts and graduation gifts and things like that. So this season has been about collecting gifts. We worked with vendors who'll give us gifts that are new. We take last season's products and we'll take this season's products too, if somebody wants to give it to us. We also have these wonderful programs called Glimmer Drives, where anybody can do a Glimmer Drive. You could do one at your office. You could do one with your friends with your book club. You could ask your friends or colleagues to bring to you previously treasured jewelry that you don't wear anymore, or new make-up, or $20 gift cards. Then you can either box them up yourself. We can get you the boxing materials. And then choose the 501c3's in your own organization or your own community that you feel are worthy for the gifts that serves women and girls. And just tell us what you did. So we call it Project Glimmer in your town and you can do a Glimmer Drive there. We also have really special events called Boxing Joy, which are community events where we have volunteers throughout the community that come together, put the boxes together, sort the gifts. Determine which ones are teenage girl worthy and which ones are mature women worthy. And let's just say that the teenage girl gets the cooler.

Vanessa Kruze:

Wasn't there one year when we had $50,000 or $60,000 worth of purple and green hair extensions? Then there was nail polish Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Yeah. We are really lucky to have Sephora as one of our donors and they tend to have really cool buyers. So we look at things that maybe a mature woman wouldn't

even understand:

why you'd want one of these hair extensions or this color nail polish. But we tend to put a bunch of beauty products in a gift so you maybe have 5 or 6 things that count as one gift, because we have a couple of rules. We are very strict with our rules for the gifts. The first rule is that the intention of the giver is just as a important as the actual gift. So if you have a gift and you want to give it to Project Glimmer or girls through Project Glimmer, and your intentions are to wish her a very happy holiday season - great. If you have stuff and you're like, 'No I don't really need this, because nobody wants it either. Let’s just give it to Project Glimmer.' We don’t want it either. It's really important. The second rule is that no gift can disappoint. So if there’s something like a cat pin – not that I wouldn't like a cat pin- but I wouldn’t want that to be my only gift. So if we find some things that maybe aren't as cool as we may be thinking, so we end up giving those to goodwill, because our gifts as the San Francisco Firefighters Chief says to lend his weight are --we give the good gifts. And literally, when we have our volunteers come together we say, ‘Would this be a gift that you would want for your holidays?’ People’s taste can be different, so it’s not just your taste. That's where the mature woman category comes in, but for the teenage girls everything's got to be really cool.

Vanessa Kruze:

Do you see Project Glimmer growing even further or do you feel like it’s just reached a comfortable space right now? What do you see for the organization for the next --? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Well, Project Glimmer has grown tremendously in the last 6 years. It's been unbelievable. Our first year, we gave away 800 gifts and we thought we had boiled the ocean for the holiday season. And then this year we gave 50,000 gifts for the holiday season in addition to the Mother's Day, birthdays, graduations and all kinds of things. We used to just serve the San Francisco community and the Bay Area community, and now we are across the United States. So I see Project Glimmer growing quite quickly because it's pretty easy to get involved. We have really great community engagement where people want to do it. It’s easy to do Project Glimmer in your town, where even if we don’t have a warehouse space in your town, we are looking for people to manage cities on behalf of Project Glimmer on a volunteer basis where they can manage Glimmer Drives or manage Boxing Joy events. It's one of those types of charities that is easily viral and easily accessible. Little kids come to Boxing Joy events. It’s kind of fun where we have a Goodwill pile and if the kids would like to partake in the Goodwill pile, they're happy. Maybe we'll have a statement necklace that’s missing a few stones. It turns out little kids don’t care so much. They leave happy in addition to learning how to give and how to participate by giving in community affairs.

Scott Orn:

That's amazing. Just giving advice a little bit, you started a non-profit and it's super successful now. To the people who are thinking about starting a non-profit - are there a couple of things that you remember from the early days that were really helpful for you or things that you were like, ‘Oh my gosh, if I had just known X, Y and Z.' Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

It was funny. I was a partner at Menlo Ventures for 22 years and I had a support staff and I had lots of people helping me do things. And when you are an entrepreneur and you start two things - I started Broadway Angels and Project Glimmer at the same time. It was challenging. I learned how to do things like how do you get a website made, and how do you design a logo. Obviously, I was lucky to find Kruze Consulting to help with both of those efforts. What I would say is if you want to start a non-profit; that's great. But I would say that both the success of Broadway Angels as well as the success of Project Glimmer was almost accidental. I would not picture myself sitting here six years later as the founder of a very successful nonprofit or a house hold name Broadway Angels, among the investment community. It turns out we had a really good market. People were really interested in seeing women investing. They also were really interested in helping girls and their communities feel better about themselves. And so let the market take you. Do some branding. Get a good logo. Get a good name. Make sure you get the URLs, and all that. But see where it goes. I always said with Project Glimmer especially, if it's only important to me then it's not important. And so every year I was hoping that it wouldn't be important to anybody. But it is. It's very important. We ended up having to really step up our fund raising, because before we were just relying on donations of gifts. But then with back up and support and working on partnerships and things like that. We had to hire an executive director, which we did - a fabulous woman named Christy Shea. We also have people that help us with marketing and PR. We're still very, very efficient non-profit where our cost per gift given including the cost of the gift, including distribution, including boxing, including all over head and management is $3 a gift, which is really amazing. An average retail value of the gift is about $50. So we are literally giving away millions of dollars worth of gifts every year.

Scott Orn:

That's amazing. Also it seems like you've make these references a couple of times. You think of this business as a venture capitalist would, or as a super entrepreneur. You've called it a business multiple times and not a non-profit. It's sharp and be efficient and do things the right way.

Vanessa Kruze:

How can we lower costs as much so that the recipient gets the most out of this organization and this business. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Yeah, and we really want to make it an efficient business model, because that's how businesses survive and that's how non-profits survive. We do need to raise more capital for more operations. We really run on the shoestrings. And hopefully somebody who is listening will come up with ideas on how to do that, because it really does matter.

Scott Orn:

Just a kind of wrap-up here. Do you want to talk about how someone could get involved? Right this minute, it's the first week of December, if someone out there either wants to do a hosting party, or wants to make a donation or maybe they work at a retailer who wants to host something, or donate. How can they get involved? Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Absolutely. Best way to get involved, first go to our website. Look at our new video, which is amazing - a little clip about what we're doing. There is a section about ways to get involved. So you can have a Glimmer Drive, where you could ask your friends to donate appropriate gifts for Project Glimmer - jewelry, previously treasured, new jewelry, new makeup or gift cards. The next is you could attend one of our Boxing Joy events. The events will be on our website and they'll show you where to go, and what are the hours. You can also attempt to do a corporate Boxing Joy event. We do a lot of community organizations for businesses. For example, Twitter is one of our great supporters and Twitter wants to get their employees together to do something for their community, and they do Boxing Joy. You can donate. There's a Donate Now button probably on every single page of our website. You can do that. Next year we have our pre-holiday lunch. It's always the week after Halloween. Put that on your calendar. It's sells out pretty much almost the same day we put it up, because we have a lot of repeat table buyers. You can do that. If you are a business, that has gifts that you'd like to donate on our web page there are addresses of where you could send the gifts either to our warehouse, or if it's a smaller package it can go to a different address. So there's just all kinds of ways. Everybody can get involved. It's just one hour of their time, for Boxing Joy or it's just giving one necklace, ring or piece of jewelry. And that's a great way to get involved, because back to our mission where it is to inspire at risk teenage girls and women to believe in themselves and letting them know that their community cares. Getting the community caring is such a big part of our mission. It's not just a onesided, 'We send gifts to at-risk girls and women,' but we are literally coordinating the community to think about the poor kids and women in our society. So there are tons of ways to get involved. Large and small.

Scott Orn:

That was amazing. You're an amazing woman. It's Project Glimmer. By the way we have been a part of Project Glimmer for a longtime and it's amazing what you've built that. Touching 50,000 people this year is fantastic. And that's probably just the holidays. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Just the holidays. You all have been incredible supportive, and also all of the people that have supported us so far have carried Project Glimmer. I'm the founder but it would not have been successful without all of the help and support of our volunteers, our donors, our service people. We just have this incredible community effort and it's pretty awesome.

Scott Orn:

So go to Project Glimmer. Type in into Google and check it out. Check out the video and hopefully you'll can get involved this year. There's plenty of time to get involved before the holidays. Sonja, thank you so much for coming by. I really appreciate it. Sonja

Hoel Perkins:

Thank you.

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