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Meet Trailblazer Victoria Lakers

Today we’d like to introduce you to Victoria Lakers.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I currently find myself at the intersection of finance and entrepreneurship, with a focus on building sustainable impact businesses and helping more women sit on both sides of the table, as investors and entrepreneurs. For my “day job”, I serve as President of my management consulting firm Frank M&C, which generally serves as an outsourced CFO for our clients helping with capital raising, investor relations, and accounting systems. However, for a number of clients, this scope has broadened to include sales and marketing and operational management.

Outside of that, I recently joined Tech Coast Angels (TCA), the largest angel investor group in Southern California, to build out my investing skills, and am chairing the annual Quick Pitch event which TCA holds with the San Diego Venture Group, as well as planning various women investor events for them, including the Tuesday San Diego Startup Week Keynote with Arlan Hamilton. I also cofounded a women’s speaker series, Changemaker Chats to highlight inspirational female CEOs and founders and build a community of driven women. I also serve as a mentor, pitch coach, and judge for various accelerators, including San Diego State University Zip Launchpad (which helps launch companies from SDSU), Mission Edge San Diego Accelerator and Impact Lab (SAIL) (which helps non-profits and purpose driven companies develop revenue based models), and Resolution Project (which empowers social entrepreneurs globally with funding, mentoring and access to world class resources), and DOING WIT/Smart City Saturday (a partnership with the City of San Diego and The Design Lab at UCSD helping teens develop leadership skills.) I am also on the Board of Directors for the San Diego Air & Space Museum seeking to join together the vibrant startup ecosystem with the innovation of space.

I have had a somewhat circuitous career but have found it to have provided a great basis from what I’m doing now. I graduated college with a degree in marketing and finance and while my dad was pushing me to follow his footsteps in investment banking, I was excited to realize that people would actually pay me to plan events. I moved to DC with the idea of doing events for an association but was offered the opportunity to start an event department for one of the hottest clubs there. No one was there to teach me what to do, so I bought books on selling and figured it out along the way bringing in amazing events like Chanel’s launch of Chance Perfume and Major League Baseball. I learned to sell, create contracts and marketing documents, as well as how to execute large scale events.

From there, I moved to bigger and bigger venues, culminating at Tao, the third highest grossing private owned restaurant at the time. I loved being there but wanted a new challenge, so I decided to try the other part of my degree, finance and set my sights on private equity or hedge funds. My timing was spectacular as it was 2008, and I was job searching with no finance experience against hundreds of ex Bear Stearns employees. To counteract this, I asked everyone I knew in finance to make introductions to their contacts for informational interviews. One was with the head of marketing for private equity giant Apollo. After chatting about the TV survivor for a large chunk of a meeting, I was sure I had wasted his time but it turned out he liked my enthusiasm and willingness to learn, and after interviews with the rest of his team I was hired. My time there was an amazing learning experience as the investor’s relations team grew from 5 people to over 40, Apollo’s assets doubled to over $75 billion, we went public, and launched many new funds and strategies. Missing some of the entrepreneurial spirits, I left to build out the investor relations for a $400 million fund investing in water resources. I loved the water and impact space but I’d also yearned to build my own company and so decided to finally make the leap. Because I had viewed Apollo as such great on the job learning experience (a real life MBA), I wanted to apply the same principles to entrepreneurship.

As a result, I decided that my first company would be a franchise where I would learn the necessary skills and then subsequently apply them to my future companies. My husband and I choose one that gave us a great deal of leeway, however. While it was massively helpful to have people to coach us through the buildout, hiring and product development, I ended up winning a huge electrical sign project (the largest new center project in franchise history) which was largely out of the scope of their franchise support. Luckily, one of the other franchise partners I’d met at a conference mentored me and we completed the project on time and budget. I’m extremely proud of this as I had no idea how to permit, manufacture or install an electrical sign when I won the project. We went on to be one of the fastest growing new centers and I sold it a couple of years ago. Now, I seek to apply this combination of institutional experience with the lessons I learned from building and selling my own company to help other entrepreneurs through consulting, mentoring, and planning educational events.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
While I have been lucky to have relatively smooth transitions in most of my previous changes, the move to San Diego was a challenge. I left my husband, our perfect NY loft, my comfortable hedge fund job, and a strong support group of friends to move to a city where I knew no one to start a business I knew nothing about. As the “advance team” I worked through the permits, construction and hiring the team for our new business, as well as working all hours to ensure our huge project went off without a hitch, while my husband at the time remained in New York. Then, a week before we opened our store, my now ex-husband decided entrepreneurship and San Diego wasn’t for him. Suddenly I was dealing with the end of my marriage while learning how to run a brand new business with massive overhead (retail rents, employees, etc) with no local support group. It was definitely the biggest challenge I’ve had to face and I fell into a depression. Luckily, during the hours I was capable of pulling myself together each day, I was able to use all my sales skills to develop new clients and that focus on sales saved us. I also tried to focus heavily on routine and process to help my employees when I was out selling or just having a bad day. In hindsight, I think there were a few lessons I learned. First, was that my husband and I enjoyed the idea of each other rather than understanding what each of us really wanted in life, communicating well, and determining a plan that really worked for both of us. We are still close but just have different ideas of how we wanted to live. I encourage people to really understand their partner’s life goals and be open about communication. Secondly, I should have looked for support earlier. I joined Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program in my second year in business and it changed my life to be around other people facing similar challenges, and I thank the program for some of my best friends. Lastly, I believe the adage that sales solve all problems (obviously with the addendum of them being profitable sales). I think the ability to sell is a vital skill for everyone, be it selling yourself as the right fit for a job or a promotion, growing your company, raising money and so much more.

We’d love to hear more about Frank M&C.
I think I have a unique combination of skills, including finance and capital raising, sales and marketing, and experience having scaled departments and companies. I also have experience in varying size companies which helps provide context for all I do. Now, I help companies implement systems for scale, be it building out a sales and marketing system including a CRM, formalizing their accounting procedures, crafting their investor messaging pre and post investment and more. While there are great people that specialize in each of these areas, I am able to tie it all together for a cohesive plan which is vital, especially in smaller companies. Aside from my consulting company, I am extremely proud of creating Changemaker Chats in San Diego, with my co-founder Anna Crowe.

After I sold my company, I was looking for female role models to inspire me to the next level and all I saw was amazing men on panels. I learned so much from them but wanted to see people like me (i.e. female) aspire to. In attempting to solve my own problem and using my event planning and community building skills, we started a speaker series highlighting successful female leaders and entrepreneurs. So far, our bimonthly chats have featured Kristin Carroll, CEO of $40M a year Rescue, The Behavior Change Agency, Merrilyn Dutta, Head of Business Operations for Illumina (and most senior woman), Jackie Reed, CEO of $100M restaurant company TS Restaurants with 2400 employees, and Kristin Kahle, Founder and CEO of NavigateHCR which has scaled to over $7M in under 3 years. Our next chat features venture capitalist and operator Nina Saberi. All these women are exceptional while being amazing human beings and the community we’ve built with our speakers and attendees is fantastic. These chats also paved the way for a series of women-focused events from Tech Coast Angels helping teach more women how to invest in early-stage companies and more female entrepreneurs to secure funding. As part of this, I am moderating a keynote panel for San Diego Startup week featuring Arlan Hamilton, recently dubbed “America’s hottest VC” for her homeless to venture capitalist story, Jenn Kercher, President and General Counsel of Section 32, one of the largest local funds, as well as other amazing local investors.

Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
I have a list of favorite books here: Among them, I recommend Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up, and Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, By Jocko Willink, Leif Babin. For podcasts, I love How I Built This, Masters of Scale and Silvia’s Mah’s SheInvests.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Credit: BizTalk Radio

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