In the very early 1990’s, whenever the Apple guys wanted to showcase great software to showcase themselves, they would invite the two women who had probably first founded companies focusing on software for desktop computers in the Silicon Valley, Heidi Roizen in the US (who started T/Maker with her brother Peter Roizen in 1983), and me (I had started ACI/4D in France in 1984 and in 1987 in the US). We had to be hyper-professional to command attention (and we knew our thing in and out), because as women we were de facto the glaring oddballs – all the more so as neither of us wore the “professional look” uniform: grey, beige faded pink, or dirty-pale-blue suits. The male formal trend that had hit the Apple world in the early nineties had not deterred us from wearing colorful clothes (this may have been one of the main advantages of the female scarcity in our world). These gatherings were great fun because of and thanks to Heidi – and if she wasn’t there because of a specific focus on data management, I was bored stiff.
I remember marveling at her ability to schmooze, to network, to make people smile and sometimes laugh, and altogether at her relaxed demeanor that looked like black magic to me, a French woman molded within a wholly different educational framework and vastly different set of social conventions. Yet, something truly transcended all transatlantic difference – her genuine kindness and spontaneity, and her ability to create an all-out party feel in each and every environment. So it’s no wonder we always kept in contact as both of us moved on. After she sold T/Maker in 1996, she became the VP of World Wide Developer Relations at Apple, and then, from 1999 to 2007, a VC with Softbank Venture Capital (later called Mobius). Over the years, she was just the same to me. Bright and quick. Lively and funny. The same “joie de vivre.” Only one thing really changed in her … her weight. Frankly, I had not realized how much this had bothered her until she started her new company, Skinny Songs. Quite a turn indeed!
Starting a company to lose weight: People start companies for all sorts of reasons. Because there has to be “a better way.” Because their old company wouldn’t develop something they feel is critical. Because they feel that they have come up with the unique idea that will revolutionize the planet. Or because they need something that they can’t find… Lots of inventions started this ways. Some of them are big. Some are small. Some are downright different. Even at a time, two years ago, when an Amazon search was already offering hundreds of “products tagged diet by customers,” Heidi couldn’t find a way to get back to her weight comfort zone, around 160 pounds. So, to be able to lose about 40 pounds, she created a company that would help her lose weight – and many other people too.
Needless to say, most of the time, when you start a company, you also take the risk gaining weight, whether you are funded or not, because the least of your worries is usually what you look like. As health conscious as the Silicon Valley may be, when you work like hell, you end up eating anything that comes your way because you are always in a hurry to get back to your computer. You have a hard time resisting late night coke and pizza parties at the office, etc. The more broke you are, the more likely you are to gain a pound at a time. Nutrition and exercise are the last thing on your mind.
Navigate inside and through this zoomorama (you can zoom-in/out the pictures and videos as well as see them in full screen).
Now, when you start a company to lose weight yourself, it’s a whole different story. You can’t simply hire skinny and sun-tanned professional models. You have to talk the talk and walk the walk. You have to be the living example that what you offer does work – all the more so as the field of weight loss and diet program is encumbered. Type “weight loss” on Google and you get 90M occurrences! When you type “weight loss motivation,” you get down to more manageable number (around 266,000), but it’s still a lot. However, I looked at a few of them: they are as deterring as the weight loss and diet programs that most people dread in the first place. Neither the techniques nor the verbiage had worked for Heidi – who had tried everything, including the expensive torture of upscale spas and health retreats. As convinced as she was that she had to have a healthier lifestyle, she came to the conclusion that she needed music to stay motivated as she was progressively losing weight – and couldn’t find what she wanted. So, she started to write the songs she wanted to hear – not a trivial effort for a non-musician – and teamed up with George Daly, a veteran music industry executive, also founder and CEO of About Records, as well as David Malloy, country music songwriter and record producer and A&R executive, along with additional artists.
SkinnySongs is more than a company, it’s a platform for Heidi to help people understand that losing weight is not a goal by itself and that the purpose is not to suddenly go from size 14 to size 4. “Most of the books or programs that women consider do not allow them to exist in the real world,” Heidi says. “They are about perfection and lack reality. How much is enough, that’s the point I try to make. I address the people who don’t care for diets, but want to take care of themselves.” What I like about Heidi’s approach is that she is never prescriptive, and that she will never fall into any form of weight loss bigotry. She loves life too much and nothing will deter her from making a really good cocktail (but she has ways to make it less calorie-rich). Watch out for the book she is currently writing, Can’t Buy Thin.
Heidi’s first company: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T/Maker
David Malloy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Malloy
George Daly: http://www.aboutrecords.com/managementteam.fsp