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The VentureFizz Podcast: Aubrie Pagano - Partner at Corigin Ventures

May 4, 2020

The VentureFizz Podcast: Aubrie Pagano - Partner at Corigin Ventures

For the 172nd episode of The VentureFizz Podcast, I interviewed Aubrie Pagano, Partner at Corigin Ventures.

It was obvious that entrepreneurship was in the future for Aubrie being that she started her first venture as a child with a neighborhood door to door art gallery. After graduating from Harvard and spending time in the finance industry, she knew that she always wanted to start a company.

She had noticed a growing trend towards mass customization across different sectors and decided to start a platform for custom fashion called Bow & Drape with her co-founder Shelly Madick. 

Like with so many startups, you have to find the right product-market fit for your audience and it took lots of experiments, determination, and good old fashioned hard work before they landed on a hit - that being personalized casualwear that was fun and all about expression. Not only did it appeal to a mass audience but soon celebrities and influencers became customers. The company was acquired last year by Win Brand Group. 

For Aubrie’s next chapter, she has joined Corigin Ventures as a Partner. She is looking to leverage her combination of experience as an operator and investor to work with entrepreneurs who are reshaping the real world and layering technology over daily life experiences.

In this episode of our podcast, we cover:

  • A deep dive into Bow & Drape and the stories behind the company.
  • Why entrepreneurs might want to consider debt financing more often.
  • How Aubrie landed in the VC industry and discovered a passion for working with other entrepreneurs through XFactor Ventures.
  • All the details on Corigin Ventures, a seed-stage investment firm.
  • Advice for female & minority founders when raising capital.
  • And so much more.

You can listen to the podcast in the player below. To make sure you receive future episodes, please subscribe to us on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcherSpotify, or SoundCloud. If you enjoyed our show, please consider writing us a 5-star review—it will definitely help us get the word out there! 

Interview Transcript

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

Aubrie, thanks so much for joining us. 

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, happy to be here Keith. Thanks for having me on. 

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Yeah, I'm excited to talk to you because you have built a company which has been acquired, and now you're a venture capitalist. So we're gonna talk a lot about that. And there's a little bit of background in the Boston tech scene, obviously complimented deeply in the New York tech scene now too, so. But to kick things off, Bow & drape was the company that you had started. And I thought it was really interesting. In my research, I found a post that you had written about the acquisition and it got into some of the kind of the history of the company and one of the interesting tidbits that I just thought was fascinating was Serena Williams wore one of your T- shirts for her first date with Alexis now her husband?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yes, according to her she did. So I was floored when she told me that I had the distinct opportunity to sit down with her and chat one time and that it came up. She's been a big fan of the brand and we were talking about how the clothes are so expressive and fun, and they're so comfortable. And she told me that and I was just like, Oh my gosh, if I I cannot take any credit for their wonderful relationship, but I was so excited to have a tiny, tiny part of it.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

That's so cool. And I'm really excited to learn about Bow & Drape because you know, there's a path of to how you got there where you had like celebrities wearing your clothes and influencers and obviously, you know, people just loving your product, but it didn't start out that way. So we're going to talk all about that. But let's talk about your background. So talk about your experience. You know, like what were we like as a child like I read that you started your first company when you're six years old? So talk about that.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, very enterprising young child. I was just very energetic and curious and bossy, I would say and Yes, I was. I was definitely the leader of the pack in terms of our I lived in a little cul de sac like a dead end street and I was always getting us into trouble with these sort of harebrained ideas. And so one of the many things that I got in trouble for was I, I started, what you could call like an art collective. I basically commissioned everyone in the neighborhood for art. I was like, you need to make some clay stuff, you need to make a painting, you need to make a dream catcher. And I was like, I'll come back in a week and collect everything. And then we're going to sell it door to door and then we'll split the profits. And so we went and we made it we put a fair at the end of the street is kind of like a souped up lemonade stand. And we went door to door and sort of like a pity sold these art pieces to all of our neighbors. And so from a very young age, my mom sort of laughs about it, where she didn't even know that this was happening. She was like, Mary said, You're coming around with all these things for her to buy. So yeah, from a very young age, I was just curious about and like to build things. So that's why I say it was my first business.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

Yeah, well it was legit. It was I mean, you made it, you had people build great products for you. And you, you know, made a production out of it. It wasn't just it was like a street fair type of thing. And then obviously, you got to get your neighbors involved when you're that age to sell product. So you knew your customer.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, exactly.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz  

You went on to study at Harvard. So you studied history and literature. So what was the thought behind those studies?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

So I got what I think was really good advice from a senior who was my roommates sister at the time, and we were deciding what we had to study and she said, girls, this is a liberal arts education, you will be fine coming out of here, do what you like, like do what interests you do not do econ do not do what you think is the right thing. And so that advice really stuck with me and hist and lit was at Harvard was an honors program where you got to study interdisciplinary Works between history and literature. And then for part of the curricula, the kids that were selected, got to actually work one on one with a professor or an assistant professor to create their own curriculum. So for a couple years, I just like, mapped out what I wanted to study, and then would one on one talk to the professor about the work. So it was really, really cool and very nerdy. And so I like went full tilt into that and really tried to make the most of my, my time at Harvard. So nothing I mean, it taught me how to think and it taught me how to write, which I think has ended up serving me well, but definitely was not applicable to my transition into finance, specifically after school.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Yeah, yes. So what did you do after school then?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

So after school, I, I was in debt. And so and I and I thought coming out of school as like, you know, someday I might want to start a business as I was always sort of entrepreneurial and spirited in that way. So I always say entrepreneur with a lowercase e because I didn't really, I don't think there was this ethos at the time of like what it means to be an entrepreneur. And so I thought, well, maybe I should work in finance, because I can get out of debt. I can learn a lot, I can learn some of this, you know, I can learn this thing called Excel. And so I came in really, with with the mind of having it be continued education for me. And so I ended up thought it was going to stay a couple years, I ended up staying longer at Fidelity Investments. So I worked at Fidelity Investments, working in this strategy group that reported through like the Office of the chairman. So it was during the 08 downturn, so we had a ton of crazy projects to work on. So you can Imagine, we were trying to spin up new interesting businesses, we were looking at buying different businesses doing some m&a stuff, we were cost cutting a bunch in the organization of figuring out how to create efficiency. And so it was actually a really good, a much, much, much bigger scale, but like really good learning as far as how big business runs, and I loved my team, so I ended up staying longer than I thought I would but got out of debt and got to live below my means and save up money so that eventually when I left I had a little bit set aside to set me up for that risk.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Alright, so so how did you get into starting your own company?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

I like I said, I always wanted to start something and I had a couple ideas that I was bouncing around for the couple years that I started to get serious about it. And the idea for Bow & Drape really stemmed from, I was really passionate about this idea of mass customization and saw customization happening in technology. I saw it happening in food and other verticals, you know, with Chipotle was one of the biggest companies at the time. And and so I thought it was funny that apparel, which was such a massive category and something that I was always passionate about didn't have a massive customization element to it there was sort of these cheap screen printed t-shirts online that you could customize. And then there was really bespoke stuff. And I was like, there. I bet if you could figure that out that women around the country men around the country would pay for that. And I thought specifically women because because I think women like the the hunt and sort of like the the curation of customization and so that was a hunch and then I it's that one business just stuck in my craw and I launched a survey for people to see if they would like it. I was mentioning to you earlier I started working for a designer in Boston at nights and on weekends just to get a sense of like how how do you how does making clothes work? How does supply chains work? 

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So I think that's important right there. So you like because you had no experience in apparel and fashion. You, you were interested in it, but that's different than actually manufacturing and supply chains and, you know, selling to consumers or retail. So you volunteered your time to learn kind of the craft. So what did you Learn over that stretch?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

I learned about lots of different facets I learned about the design process I learned about sourcing I learned about the actual manufacturing because we actually made the clothes in her apartment so I'd go to her apartment in the south end and would help her you know, steam open seams and sew on buttons and so I was so getting this really deep hands on view of what it was like to create clothes and started to understand what is the wholesale market like how do you sell this stuff. How do you get line sheets ready to sell into retailers and so it was kind of this in my opinion, I was like, this is amazing opportunity like that. I'm basically doing this for free. I'm getting like a free education. Um, and so it was a way for me to also dip my toe in and really try and do it in a way but also not not fully commit to it. And so that was important to me to to build up the confidence to really take the plunge into doing it full time.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz  

Now this is for context. This is 2012, correct? 

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yes.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

And how did you get started? Because Originally, the company name was Zora. And you did a whole Kickstarter campaign. So how did you how did you get started?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, so yeah, so the business, the business took almost until 2015 to really get to what Bow & Drape was. So we it's a very, you know, common pivot story. But we first I said, Okay, if customization is something people want, I want to test that, but I don't have any money. So what if I create a marketplace? So I actually with with my boyfriend at the time, and then a friend who became my CTO, we designed a marketplace where we could take existing designers and an input flow for people to customize their designs, and I got these designers contracted to say yes, they can customize our dresses. And then we would facilitate these custom pieces to go out to the consumer and so it was an easy inventoryless way for me to test, what kinds of things do people want to customize, how much will they pay for it, like I, I say this a lot to other entrepreneurs, it's like, just getting in market and starting to see what people will pay for is like the best way to test. And so, um, so that was Zora. And then through that process, we found that it was actually pretty hard to manage all these different designer supply chains. And so much of our time was actually spent on the designer relations side, helping them manage the orders, helping them manage customer service, because their supply chains weren't set up for customization. And so that was sort of the big key for me coming out of that was okay, there's demand like we had sold like 100 dresses or something like that. But the sticking point was in the supply chain. So it's like, I think maybe if I want to do this, I might have to do this myself, I might have to vertically integrate and create my own supply chain so that then I can sell to people in a more frictionless way. And so then that's sort of how Bow & Drape was born and so we launched a Kickstarter with that idea in mind. That was okay, what if we created our own supply chain with our own brand for customization. And at the time, I was still hooked on this idea of dresses. So I had, remember I told you, I sent out a survey to people, which was a big learning for me. I think surveys are again, like no indicator of purchase intent. They, you know, of real purchase intent. And so everyone said, Oh, yeah, I want dresses. I want dresses for special occasions like weddings. And so we're really hooked on that. And so the original Bow & Drape was all about customizing dresses and special occasion wear and so that's what the early Kickstarter was about. And we worked on the business for about the Kickstarter was successful. But it was a lot of my personal network. And we were finding that we just weren't getting the sort of the momentum, you you can feel momentum in a business I think and for there's this interesting tension Where it's like you have to create your own momentum. And you also have to feel the momentum drafting off of that. And so we didn't feel momentum in this idea of dresses. And so we started expanding out into different categories. So it was like, maybe it isn't dresses, like maybe that was wrong, maybe it's, maybe it's separates, maybe it's pants, maybe it's tops. And so as we started to experiment with different bodies, we found that our T shirt, we launched a  T shirt and the T shirts started doing like exceptionally well, it was just a T shirt, where you could customize the color, the neckline, whether it had a pocket, and you could put like a little embellishment on it. And so we're like, oh, there's, there's something there. And maybe we had and at the time to this was now 2013 You know, there's a big cultural shift. Like I don't know if the last time you wore a suit or dress, you know, when you went into business mean, there's a huge cultural shift happening here. People just we're getting more casual. I think a lot of it was you know, Silicon Valley and the impact of the tech industry, but we're like, okay, let's embrace that. And so then we launched in the fall of 2013, I believe, a sweatshirt, a sweatshirt with sequin letters on it that I had actually used those sequin letters in high school to make clothes and I thought it was this kind of kitschy, fun expression of a staple piece. And it, it just went off like it was, it was so clear that that was what the business was going to be. We had sold thousands of them within the first couple months, celebrities started wearing them. We couldn't keep them in stock we had at the time. You know, it's like you iterate through all this stuff in the background, these sequin letters at the time. Now we have this whole process for it, but at the time, we were actually gluing each letter on with like, industrial fabric glue. And so we had a warehouse just full of T shirts just drying, like with all these sequins, so it was like totally unscalable To start, we're like, Okay, this is it. We just got to make this work. I give my co founder a lot of credit for making that. Not the way that we did it forever. But, um, but so yeah, so it um, that's really when the business became what is now Bow & Drape, was when we really retested into the sweatshirt and saw that it was really about casual pieces that are all about expression, and fun and very giftable. And that was sort of like the secret sauce that made the business fly.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz  

And in what year was that at the point where you finally had that moment of, wow, this is the product.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

So it was at the end of the holiday season, 2013 to 2014. 2014 was a year like okay, we have to we have to start to turn the ship toward this like this is the answer. And so then for 20, basically all of 2014 because we had I don't know how much you know, but a pair but it's like you have to buy your fabrics in advance. You have to like So it's like we actually had a bunch of stock already for the spring season. And we were like, okay, there's this big decision of do we do we just cut all that and try to just scrap it. We'd already done a photo shoot, and just go straight into this route, do we launch that stuff? Like, we're trying to figure out which direction to go. So it kind of took until like the end of 2014 to really stick the direction. And I think that was a learning too. I think in hindsight, like, if you know that you have a winner just like plow into it. I think we spent we lost a lot of time trying to accommodate this sort of old version of Bow & Drape in this new version. And I think in hindsight, I would have just scrapped all that been like whatever 80 grand down the drain like we will make that up if we just market this one thing that's clearly working.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So like, were you still doing dresses too and like, I know you're doing like 3d 3d printed accessories and things like that. You're definitely doing lots of experimental things. 

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

We were doing lots of experimental things. And the 3d belts were almost a way of the 3d printing stuff is not really scalable. And at the time, it wasn't really cost competitive. But it was a way for us to establish credibility as somebody who understood customization. And so it was as much a marketing piece like we didn't blow out of 3d printed belts. It was it was more of a marketing angle to be like, we understand customization were the go to for customization. We're sort of on the forefront of all this stuff. So yeah, so we did that we did dresses, we kept doing dresses in 2014 until basically the end of 2014, where we're like, Okay, we got to stick it. And then from 20, the end of 2014, until when we sold the company we were really focused on the more we focused in, the more successful we were.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz  

Now you move the company eventually to New York, which, you know, if I was building a fashion brand, I would be in New York to the epicenter of it all. So, you know, like, how did you keep them company going as far as you know, raising capital or like it like how did you, you know, focus on that investment side of things.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

We raised a friend and family round in 2013. And we closed a seed round shortly thereafter. So we raised what at the time was a seed now, I think it would be considered a pre seed, everything is sort of moved, but I think we raised like, five or 600 K, to get us going. And then we raised another couple million over a couple more tranches. And so we went the it was, it was challenging to we went through the whole you know, I went down. I went down to San Francisco, I went down to Menlo Park, I did the whole Sand Hill Road thing I and what I found was, you know, having hundreds of conversations was that the the people who really got it got it right away. And and I think being the learning was that was seeking out investors that might already be open to this rather than trying to convince somebody who's maybe a tech investor that this is like an interesting new application of tech. And so the more focused we got there as well in terms of seeking out retail experts seeking out people in trade, seeking out people who really understood the market, the more successful we were. So we ended up raising a few million dollars. And then we also leveraged debt really effectively. So we got the business profitable. And that's something that on the VC side, a lot of people don't talk about, but we probably raised more debt than we did equity in funding the business because it's, you know, as you know, it's like, it's silly to pay for inventory with equity.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Well, then, so that's a good point. So people never talk about debt. They always talk about venture capital. So what do you do? Do you go to a bank and get a lone like I like? Like, no one Talking about debt. So what is that process like?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Oh, and there's no real roadmap for it. And I think part of that is because like I've said this before, where I think it's because like VC sort of hold the mic. And so it's in their best interest to talk about how like, that process works for really high growth companies. And so, um, so debt is a, it's kind of the Wild West, and we did all kinds of creative things. I think that's really the name of the game, in terms of fueling of business is just anything that sticks. So we were, you know, we started very early banking relationships where maybe we wouldn't get a loan right away, but it was like, let's establish relationship and tell us exactly the hurdles we need to get over to get a revolving line or to get credit. So that was like, the first thing is not being afraid to have those relationships and have people say no, just to like, Get familiar. We did a lot of creative things with our investors. So we had a lot of really good investors. Where we had a couple really big, we started to sell into wholesalers like that. Like Nordstrom and bloomingdales, and there's some big POS that we needed to fund. And so rather than go back out to the market with our insiders, we would say, Hey, this is a dumb thing to dilute everyone. What if we build this in as a note, like it's a short term note, we'll give you guys preference on it, maybe we'll give you warrants on it. Like we got really creative with the type of structures for short term capital where we knew it was repeatable, and we could pay it back. And if you're in wholesale or like, not just selling direct online, that's easier. And now and then eventually, as we got big enough and got profitable, we started to go to some like middle market debt, where people were actually securitizing our debt and like, and we were able to get credit lines that way. But now in the market, there's also even more options. Like, you know, there's there's different interesting kind of factors. There's a company called Dwight that does really interesting factoring. There's clearly Bank, there's, there's lots of different assembly brands that are, I think are attuned to all these options kind of weren't available when we were raising debt, but they're really attuned to creative structures for brands to be able if they have repeatable revenue patterns to underwrite against that. And so I think for for inventory companies for whether it's hardware or soft goods, I think it's like a really important strategy for a founder to be thinking about early on. Like as I talk to entrepreneurs, as they get bigger and bigger. I asked like, what is your debt strategy? I just don't believe in like raising just equity to fuel your inventory.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

Interesting. Yeah. So that's, that's good value. Add that you have that experience of all the different vehicles to fund a business as an investor and helping coach entrepreneurs because that's a whole nother podcast. I mean, I'd like 1000 questions but, but but I'll focus on, you know, kind of the story here. So it did end up getting to the point where the company was acquired. So I'm always fascinated, like, how does that happen? Did somebody just reach out and say, Hey, we're interested in what you're doing? Or like, how do you know things like that happen?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, one of my investors, Jeff Blur said, companies are bought, they're not sold. And that really ended up being the case where I think, and a lot of people don't really talk about acquisitions and like how that happens, but I think it's you have these two kind of intersecting trajectories where your company has a very specific value proposition in the market that you're trying to sell. And you have to sort of intercept a company where you are exactly meeting a match of their priorities, and it has to be like their top part. It can't be like priority 3,4, or 5 like, and so it's a little bit of luck and timing in that way. We're like we had we got to when we went up to In the market, we had a couple people were kind of circling around the company. And we were like, okay, let's strike while the iron is hot. And we talked about this with some people before, but we really were at a crossroads in our company where we were profitable. And we were gonna raise a bunch of debt to open stores. And so we were like, okay, we can either raise the debt open the stores be in this for another five years, or we can sort of take this asset that we have, maybe find a really great partner to scale it, and then go on and do something else. And that was like a really hard decision to figure out which one was going to be the most, the most successful. And where we ultimately netted out was we were really scared given our caste position at the time because we, that's a whole other thing, but we had we had, we had an issue with one of our three pls, and there was a big dip in cash flow, because they short shipped a bunch of stuff. And so there was a dip in our anticipated free cash flow so we were like, okay, we're not going to be able to do as much this year as we thought, do we just try this year and see where we get? Do we try and sell because we're still like, we're still sitting up high? Or you are like what do we do? And so it's a very complicated as it was not an easy decision to try to risk adjust, like, what's going to be the best thing for this company? Um, I digress a little bit, but like, but I also don't think people talk about that. It's like, it's not just this like, Oh, it's so fun. Like, let's sell like a lot of times. It's this really tortured decision where we were sitting. I remember sitting with our Excel models open, like drinking wine at like the wine bar downstairs, like three of us, just figuring out like, what do we do? What does our cash flow look like? Can we pull this off? Like, can we pull these plans off? Are we going to get 80% of the way 20% of the way and so on? We said, Okay, let's entertain these conversations. And so that process and we actually brought on a really great banker who used to be at City to help us with that. And that was hugely instrumental too. And so we kind of circled up all the people who had talked to and ran a process and then that's how it ended up happening. But there were a couple people we are really close with, but again, to my point, like, we were probably priority three or four on their list. And so like some of the like, one of the deals that we wanted to do like didn't get done and so for when I think we were always really like, what they want to do with when as a holding company to grow brands is like we are so aligned and vision and we fit in their wheelhouse. So it was just like such a good match that that it ended up being the best option for us.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

That's great. Well, congratulations. I know it's, it's a you worked on it for for eight years, right and as you just shared, it was a lot of blood, sweat and tears figuring stuff out that like all these things that you know, finally to get to that point, it's a it's quite quite the road and in your medium posts about the acquisition, you said something where you're like, one of my investors said this to me, you're giving up if you sell the company, real entrepreneurs don't give up. So what does that mean? And like, how does that influence you as we're gonna segue now into you as an investor?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, I have to say, I was so happy to be able to write that, because I remember at the time, I was almost in tears. I remember coming back from that meeting, and I was almost in tears. And my co founder, Shelly was like, Ef that guy. Like, what is it? What are you kidding me? you've sacrificed your entire life to keep this thing going. Like what is he talking about sitting up on high that you're like giving up? And so yeah, I think for me You know, if you're really passionate about your business and really do make sacrifices for one run through walls, like, on good entrepreneurs, like take their decisions really seriously. And I think good investors have like, should trust their entrepreneurs that they are making a very, like, tenured, careful decision. And so for me, that was a really catalyzing moment where I was like, people are nice when things are nice. But like when interest don't align, like people's true colors come out. And so for me, I was like, wow, if I ever get the chance to be on the other side of the table, like, I will never be that kind of investor. And I think partly because I lived through it because I know and can empathize with how hard some of those decisions are. But also because I'm just like, not an asshole.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

It's such a different perspective because as an investor and regardless of the type of investor you are, there's some amazing ones, there's some, I guess, middle of the road ones, and there's some that maybe aren't so great, whatever, doesn't matter, but they're running a portfolio. And you're the entrepreneur that that is what you've put your blood sweat and tears in over eight years, versus one of the many companies that you're, you know, hoping that certain percentage, return the fund and create the returns for your, for your LPs and then the ones that kind of like just lay flat, and then the ones that you know, have a negative return or something, but it's just a different emotion.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Totally, you know, and I just think there's like a there's a there's a grace to knowing the sort of like finality of what's going to happen like I actually got the opportunity to sit in on like Chip Hazard is involved is a partner flybridge is involved in X Factor, and one of the X Factor companies got acquired, and it wasn't a great outcome. And just watching his reaction and The grace that he had to sort of be like, you know, I get it and like asking kind of just like the questions that he needed for his portfolio, but like trying to be supportive was such a different reaction where, you know, I think there are, there's not just one reaction that someone can have. And I think that, as an investor, you kind of have to expect that 90% of your companies are going to be in that position. Like, you know, you're that's the power laws that that venture goes by is that you're going to have maybe 1 to 3 winners, and you know, that a lot of these other ones, despite, you know, I'm struggling are not going to get to this like, you know, billion dollar exit. So anyway, so I just think, um, I think that you don't have to be an entrepreneur to get that. But I think being a good steward of capital is really important in an ecosystem.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now you mentioned X factor, which was kind of the segue of you starting to identify opportunities for X factor to well, you were one of the X Factor partners, which was a vehicle established by flybridge to support women entrepreneurs, right. So you were doing this while you were still running Bow & Drape?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So x factor is a $10 million fund. It's now on fund two. But Anna Palmer, who's an entrepreneur and Chip sort of had this idea coming out of the last election of how to sort of write the VC industry. And they thought this vehicle could give access to more women where they thought there's a real arbitrage opportunity where women are sort of underfunded, then they also thought to have this dual purpose of giving female founders who historically get less venture capital and so maybe take less money off the table give those entrepreneurs at bats investing so that if they wanted, they can graduate into, you know, being more full time investors in the ecosystem so it kind of creates this, you know, if you're left out of capital to begin with, like don't have capital deploy yourself to become an angel investor, like it creates this this catch 22 So, um, so it was a really awesome opportunity. I loved the idea of the mission. And at the time, I actually thought I actually didn't think I was like investing because I had such terrible experiences with investors. I actually thought, Well, I can check the box and tell everyone I tried it. And that'll be it. And I just really loved working with founders, they loved the it scratches a whole different itch and intellectual curiosity and other side of my brain that operating doesn't. And and I think it's, it's so fun and rewarding to be able to help people get from zero to one and so especially as a founder yourself, so yeah, I started to do that on sort of nights and weekends as a hobby. And it became I was really passionate and was one of the more active members. And so it's sort of surprised me in terms of how much I really enjoyed doing it.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Well, the the the concept worked out well, because you did make several investments. And you're now a partner at Corigin Ventures. So talk about Corigin, like what's the what are the details on the firm, and you just announced a new fund. So there's a lot of exciting things happening there.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yes, I am so excited about origins. So David and Ryan are the two other partners, David Grove Goldberg and Ryan Friedman. And they are both young, really talented partners who are all all of us are ex operators. And so that was really important to me to join a firm where that again, that empathy and that line of sight into the entrepreneurial journey was there and, and so the cornerstone for Corigin is that, you know, we're this we're a seed stage fund in New York, we lead seeds in you know, 500 k to a million dollar checks. And we're pretty now industry agnostic, where we really just are, you know, our secret is that we're looking for sort of one on one founders that we think we can spot because we were founders ourselves. And we're really going after anybody who's transforming and reshaping the real world. And so by that, we mean really talented entrepreneurs with unique market fit, where they are layering technology over daily life experiences, to reshape the way that people live their lives. And so that can be everything from we've done a lot in the prop tech space in the consumer space and in the in different marketplaces to activate different parts of life and so we're just really Excited to help people at that early stage again, get to the series A, and be a good partner along the way. That's sort of no BS.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Well, it's it's helpful to have that operating experience and that empathy of running a company and what it's like to be, you know, a founder and being on the other side of the table. Now, what is the 99% economy that that I saw mentioned out there?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Oh, yeah. So this is what I'm excited about is, I call it the 99% economy, which is really looking toward not necessarily luxury are things that are, you know, daily life experiences that are for the 1% or things for people necessarily at a desk job that a white collar worker is like, I think a lot of those industries have really benefited from technology and we're sort of the first ones to and so we're we're really excited to look is beyond those to areas of the economy that have been overlooked historically that are sort of, like I said, everyday experiences so, you know, new forms of care, for instance, where whether that's new forms of child care, elderly care, addiction and cessation programs, like what are what are these areas of life that have sort of been the underbelly of the economy that people have overlooked with technology, you know, where our, there's such big parts of the economy around, you know, blue collar workers and construction and those industries are, you know, I forget the exact set, it's like, it's over 10% of, of GDP is around that area. And so it's like, bringing technology to those projects and to that workforce is something that we're really interested in, where it can hugely benefit and create scale, and so that's how I like to think about it. It's about creating accessibility and in transforming daily life with technology.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

What I thought was interesting, I saw a stat out there that said 50% of investments for Corigin in 2019 were made into underrepresented founders. So that's that's an impressive stat too.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, and I can't take any credit for that. I wasn't on board yet. But I do think that it exemplifies that the team is really just focused on like I said, like extreme founder market fit, and who's the best person to run the company. And I think the team does a good job of checking their bias at the door to really understand who's the right person and so, obviously, I think they, they believe in diversity. You know, they hired me as a partner. And I think it's one of the many reasons that Corigin can out shine is because we have a really diligent process around like what's the right founder to attack this market? So I think we can see potential in people maybe that get overlooked other wise.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

So what are you most excited about now that you are a partner at Corigin, like, what are you most excited about in terms of being a VC?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

I'm really excited about supporting our founders, our existing founders. And there's a bunch that are about to go live and so we're really excited to help them in our new fund. I am excited about I mean, gosh, this whole it's a weird time honestly, to be a new investor. 

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

It could be a great time like this, you know, 2008 2009, Airbnb, Uber Slack, all these great companies were born out of that era.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Totally so I do think there will be a lot of opportunity so so I'm excited to see what will happen in a post COVID world and how consumer behavior will shift and evolve and how new habits will form in retail in what I call sort of the homebody economy. I think people will get used to a lot more, having their creature comforts at home and living virtually looking at, you know, interested in new forms of care and coaching virtually that I think is to the next evolution of the telemedicine movement. And yeah, I've been really interested to just kind of see what shapes up. So I think that we're in a moment that will have lasting ripples in the way that consumers behave.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

Yeah, no doubt in education and so many industries are just transforming as we speak based on COVID-19. And

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Yeah, it'll be so interesting to see how people socialized virtually it'll be interesting to see how work places of all we've talked a lot about, you know, the square footprint per employee has shrunken down over the last few years. You know, what sort of the we working of the world and now with concerns around sort of distance and sanitation, like how our workplace is going to evolve physically and to evolve and expand, how sanitation is going to work, how our supply chains going to work as far as traceability. Yeah, there's so many interesting things that I think will evolve out of this.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz 

There was a company in New York that was a startup I think it was 2011 called turntable and the whole concept was a virtual club kind of thing where there was like a big DJ booth and somebody would be like Disney as the DJ and they would play music and then you join it into these rooms which 2011 like they raised from I think first round capital and Union Square they they were ahead of its time like that would be in like very popular right now. Someone needs to bring turntable back is my mantra right now.

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

Bring turntable back. I would I would tune in, I need a little party in my life right now.

Keith Cline, VentureFizz

Now what what advice would you give to other first time entrepreneurs like especially females and minorities, like around raising Capital Like what? What advice do you give to folks?

Aubrie Pagano, Corigin Ventures

There are a couple of things that I say. One is just finding your own voice, your own confident voice.  I think a lot of the the times, I struggled with what is the voice that I should have in those meetings vs what is my voice, and I think staying true to yourself while being able to be confident in the message that you have is really important because I think that shines through. I say to paint a very big vision. What I have seen and I think there is some data to back this up, is that systematically, in particular women, are more pragmatic in terms of the way that they approach their business and that has been proven on the back side where female founders sort of outperform dollar for dollar in terms of capital put in vs capital put out. But what that means in the beginning is that they can be gun shy about painting a vision and how big something can get. And so I really encourage other females founders when you are painting a vision paint the biggest possible world that you can hang your hat on. And so the analogy that I always give is, I could have been pitching Bow & Drape by saying, hey we are this cute customization company that sells sweatshirts online. What I would say is we are the destination for millennials across America if they want anything in their life to be more personal. Whether that is stuff for home or to wear on their body, like we are their go to source. It widens your view on what it could be so much with just that one tweak. And so I really encourage people to think about that because really good, VC’s will discount what entrepreneurs say, and so if you are already discounting yourself you are setting yourself to a lower standard than other entrepreneurs are. So that is what I encourage on the pitching side, and I think otherwise that is it, I don’t think that there are really any other tricks. 


Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter: @kcline6.