November 26, 2019

#8: Lisa Blau, co-founder of Able Partners

On today’s episode, Joe Vennare is joined by Lisa Blau, co-founder of Able Partners. The two discuss the boundless nature of the wellness industry, how startups can find success by breaking down long-held stigmas, and the importance of building a strong brand.

Check out an overview of the conversation below or listen to the entire episode for more.

How did Able Partners get started?

LB: My partner Amanda and I had both been investing in the wellness space individually for well over a decade. About three years ago, we started to see the growth in the category really explode. That’s when we decided to pool our capital to form Able.

I had been an entrepreneur in the wellness space and digital media. I saw what was happening on the ground in local markets, with more consumers prioritizing wellness and fitness. When I shifted over to investing, I was laser-focused on the category. 

What’s Able’s investment thesis?

LB: We focus on supporting early-stage entrepreneurs in what we define as the positive living lifestyle space. These are brands that are helping the consumer live a healthier, happier, more meaningful life. And we try to support them as early as possible, pre-seed through series A, with our sweet spot probably being seed.

We use positive living lifestyle space versus wellness, which has more defined boundaries, because we wanted to take a broader view based on the belief that you can improve the consumer’s life from many different angles. 

We have a whole thesis around community, inclusion, and stigmas. We’re very interested in what happens when you can break apart a stigma or have it splinter to see these shards of opportunity.

We have a deep commitment to mental health, and are constantly talking to entrepreneurs who are innovating to help break the stigma. We also put aging women’s health in that stigma. There’s a lot of attention on women at a certain stage in their life, and then they get overlooked. And that broadly relates to the elder care market which we’re also interested in, alongside caretaking.

How do you evaluate investment opportunities?

LB: For one, the branding and community are very important since we’re coming in so early—pre-seed, pre-revenue—when the brand is just an idea on paper. 

There needs to be a really strong team to believe in. They have to be able to build a powerful brand and surrounding community. That’s how the game is played in this digital and social media landscape, so brand is everything. 

It’s also very much about the entrepreneur or the founder. Then it becomes about the actual opportunity and the market size, competitive landscape, and any specific viewpoint we have on that particular slice of the market and category.

From there it becomes more about team, and then for us, seeing how effective we can be at helping this business grow exponentially in these early stages.

What level of involvement do you have as an investor?

LB: It varies. We’ve been entrepreneurs, so we never want to be burdensome. We’re investing quite early, so often there aren’t formal boards in place, but we take very active advisory roles. 

We want to remove roadblocks and help open doors, so we think effectively about how our networks can do so. That may be simply doing a call with another entrepreneur or a category expert to think through sourcing and product development strategies, or getting perspective from another brand that’s had success with a key retailer.

As far as putting that playbook together, we aim to make the introductions directly to key retailers early on which is important from a signaling perspective, and also grows the number of open doors.

We also make relationships and introductions on the branding and marketing side.

What advice would you give an early-stage entrepreneur?

LB:  It’s a very relationship- and network-driven business. Warm introductions are always most effective, but we have definitely taken cold introductions. 

Being thoughtful about the investors you’re approaching is a great place to start. Really research them. Look at the cap tables and the fundraising history of brands that are similar or broadly in your category. 

And then it’s all about follow-up and managing the relationship. Good follow-up really counts for something. It also helps weed out people who aren’t interested. That way, you don’t waste time and can stay focused on the conversations that could be most fruitful.

Lastly, it’s critical to get a lead investor in place. The lead sets the tone and can bring others in. While we have not historically led, we do bring a lot of other investors into the table when we like deals.

Overall, giving yourself a process to manage fundraising is critical. It’s a huge time sink. When you’re in the early stages of a business, things can slip through the cracks. 

Where do you see white space in the industry?

LB: Focusing on the aging woman, we think menopause and a whole host of products, services, community, technology, and nutrition for women 50-plus is a total white space. There’s no one really talking to her. She’s grown up and aged with a more sophisticated portfolio of brands that have been a part of her life, and we think there’s opportunity to go in there. We are seeing early days of innovation and I think we’ll see a lot of new brands coming in to really try to tackle the space.

Then, we’re seeing a lot of innovation in categories that previously just seemed not even up for discussion. We saw a makeup business focused on Gen Z men. Regardless of how they identify in terms of their sexuality, Gen Z men are interested and open to wearing concealer and improving their self-image. And we’ve seen two or three brands innovating in that space. 

Additionally, mental health is not going away and we’ll continue to see more creative ways of innovating there.

What’s next for Able Partners?

LB: For us, it’s really about finding great investments, making great returns, and helping consumers lead better lives in that process. You can invest for a great economic return and still have that be something that leaves people feeling better, being happier, and living more meaningful lives. That’s everything that we’re focused on.

We’ve been in the category long before there was broader interest. We’ll continue to be thought leaders, trying to identify the best areas of opportunity for investment and innovation going forward.

**Note: Lisa’s answers have been edited for brevity and cohesion.

About Lisa Blau:

Lisa Blau​ has spent the last decade as an active angel investor focused on consumer businesses, often in the health, wellness and active lifestyle space with a particular interest in supporting women-led entrepreneurial ventures.

Together with Amanda Eilian, she is the founding partner of Able, an investment fund focused on funding early-stage startups in the healthy living and lifestyle space, with a focus on female founders. Some of their investments include Juice Beauty, Daily Harvest, The Wing, Primary Kids, Moon Juice, Goop and Chief. Previously, Lisa co-founded VitalJuice.com, a daily email newsletter on healthy living tips and trends that was acquired by Tasting Table. She also helped build and launch Portero, an online luxury goods auction platform sold to Richemont.

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