Marjorie Radlo-Zandi: “Entrepreneurship is in my blood”

As I explored the startup universe — looking at it through the lens of an angel investor — I knew I could walk into many of these companies, help the founder or founders and their team either as a Board member or advisor and put them on a growth, scale and go to market trajectory. Most important: I was […]

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As I explored the startup universe — looking at it through the lens of an angel investor — I knew I could walk into many of these companies, help the founder or founders and their team either as a Board member or advisor and put them on a growth, scale and go to market trajectory. Most important: I was excited to realize I could invest as an angel in bright, innovative startups that had the potential to positively impact the world.

So now I invest money and time in teams and missions that I believe in and actively seek out female and people of color founders and entrepreneurs worldwide who have deep passion and drive to succeed.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marjorie Radlo-Zandi.

Marjorie Radlo-Zandi is a seasoned angel investor, board member, mentor and consultant based in Boston who invests in early-stage tech, life science, veterinary, food and food tech companies, with fifty percent of her investments in women-led businesses and fifty percent led by people of color.

For more than 20 years, Marjorie led a company that reached across 100 countries, positively impacting the lives of millions by protecting and enhancing the global food supply. She later sold it to a two billion dollar publicly-held firm, and now primarily focuses her time on consulting, mentoring and impact investing in companies that make a difference in areas she cares deeply about.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start,, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Entrepreneurship is in my blood — I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My family, starting with my great grandfather and great grandmother, were entrepreneurs. He had a grain merchant business in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She had a coffee brokerage business on the lower east side of Manhattan. As you can imagine this was the impetus for generations of entrepreneurs in the family. When I was nineteen, I established the first sailing program in my college town. From there — whether in New York City, Silicon Valley or Boston — I’ve been responsible for growing and expanding new technologies to be used throughout the world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Maya Angelou

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Whether building a business, leading an organization or in one’s personal life, how you make people feel is key to building and sustaining relationships that lead to fulfillment. Trust is the backbone of any relationship. Make sure that at the end of any conversation everyone leaves feeling good. This is key, regardless of where you live or do business. The cautionary tale is true that it takes years and often decades to build deep relationships, only to be broken in a flash if you don’t take care.

How would your best friend describe you?

Someone with extraordinary EQ, globally aware, independent, highly determined and compassionate.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?

Emotional intelligence or EQ, tenacity, and independence. I’m blessed with a high amount of EQ that enables me to empathize with others, communicate effectively to my target audience, and lead in a compassionate way with a clear vision. I’m tenacious with persistent determination to commit to things and achieve goals. And I’m internally driven and independent. This dual driven/independent trait enables me to welcome input from others while ultimately making my own decisions.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

Although I was entrepreneurially driven, instead of starting a business after my MBA I chose to work in Silicon Valley tech firms that would give me the kinds of skills needed to bring about business growth. After eight years in Silicon Valley, I joined a more early-stage food diagnostic business that needed to scale. I was part of the founding team that led the expansion to over 100 countries using angel funds, and sold it to a two billion dollar player. After leading the sale, I ran this company for many years as a business unit of a public company. During the time I became a successful corporate executive, my entrepreneurial passions bubbled just below the surface.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

Some years after the sale I yearned to be in an entrepreneurial environment again. I happened to mention it to my friend John, who was a member of Launchpad Venture Group, the largest angel investment organization of its kind in the Northeast and the third largest in the U.S. He invited me to a meeting. It was a perfect fit. I’ve now been a member of Launchpad Ventures for five years and a member of Branch Venture Group for three years.

As I explored the startup universe — looking at it through the lens of an angel investor — I knew I could walk into many of these companies, help the founder or founders and their team either as a Board member or advisor and put them on a growth, scale and go to market trajectory. Most important: I was excited to realize I could invest as an angel in bright, innovative startups that had the potential to positively impact the world.

So now I invest money and time in teams and missions that I believe in and actively seek out female and people of color founders and entrepreneurs worldwide who have deep passion and drive to succeed.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

A few years after the sale of the food safety tech company I had led, grown and scaled to the public company, I realized I’d become restless and yearned to be back in an entrepreneurial environment.

You know how they say when the student is ready the teacher appears? I happened to chat with my colleague and friend Dr. Dorothy Phillips, who had worked at Waters, the public firm that acquired the company I led.

Dorothy had recently been honored as the first African American to graduate from Vanderbilt University with a lifetime achievement award and two fellowships in her name. Growing up in the segregated south, Dorothy always thought outside the box. After earning her Ph.D. and a successful career at Waters, she joined the board of the American Chemical Society — this was her second act.

Speaking as a trusted friend, Dorothy stressed how important it was to plan for one’s next act and encouraged me to discover what that could be. That conversation turned out to be the jolt that booted me out of my restlessness. My friend, John, whom I mentioned earlier and was the person who introduced me to the world of active involvement in early stage companies, blew my mind open when he talked about consulting, mentoring and angel investing, and that I could participate in each of these areas.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

I uncovered two skill sets — mentoring and early stage company evaluation in multiple industries. While leading VICAM, the food diagnostic business unit of Waters, I mentored my team to achieve their personal goals along with the company’s overall goals. Now I intentionally mentor and consult early-stage company founders and their teams — all in different industries — to shoot for the stars while ensuring they keep their eyes firmly on building and scaling the business.

At Waters, I evaluated companies in our industry that the corporation potentially could acquire. After joining angel groups Launchpad and Branch, I quickly realized I had the skills to evaluate a broad range of early stage companies across many industries. But now the stakes are much higher, because my decisions impact the personal financial interests of others in my angel investment group as well as my investments in these young companies. Another way I manifest my skill sets: I join the company board as a director or advisor in order to keep my eyes on how a founder and team are progressing and offer targeted suggestions for them to consider.

How are things going with this new initiative?

I’m deeply focused on finding, vetting and investing in new ventures, in the U.S. and globally, and sitting on the board or taking on an advisory role. I’m publishing my ideas and writing a book about leadership in early-stage companies, and spreading the word about diversity — that funding needs to go to female founders and ventures founded by people of color. I seek out startups with products and services for impact.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I was fortunate to learn from many talented leaders. The best wasBart, who taught me about strategy and how to build a worldwide business. This wonderful person faced the challenges of being Black in a mostly white male Silicon Valley culture that was — and still is — not very welcoming to people of color or women. Despite the barriers Bart faced, he gave his time generously to me and to others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Now that I was out of the corporate structure and on my new journey, it became clear to me pretty quickly that I would invest for impact with both my head and heart. Torigen Pharmaceuticals was the trigger. This startup uses a dog’s own tumor cells to create personalized immunotherapy. It’s highly effective, kind to animals, easy to administer, and costs a fraction of traditional chemotherapy and radiation. When I invested in Torigen my standard poodle Sabrina was already ill with cancer, and unfortunately too late for Torigen’s treatments. Had I known about this company when Sabrina was initially diagnosed, she would likely be alive today. It gives me great satisfaction that my investment will help the company treat many dogs stricken with cancer. This company’s female founder and CEO was recently named to the 30 under 30 in Science 2020 by Forbes Magazine.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

As a first time angel investor, I needed to get up to speed in investing. I was deeply knowledgeable about the industries I had worked in, and needed to learn to trust that I could apply that knowledge to evaluating early stage companies across many industries. Being exposed to numerous startups, scouting for these companies and hearing their pitches, plus my time as an angel investor, learning from my angel colleagues and participating in education programs at Launchpad Venture Group, made me a better and more confident investor.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

Just as I was beginning my transition from corporate to solo, a friend of mine returned from a conference in California raving about Roberta Guise, an extraordinary British-born woman she met there. Roberta is an accredited delegate and speaker who represents San Francisco at the UN Commission on the Status of Women and has a global perspective from living on three continents. When I reached out to Roberta she graciously gave me important advice on developing my brand so that I could be a messenger for how I want to do good in the world. She’s helped me succeed with this transition, and I’m forever grateful!

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

Fortunately, Launchpad Venture Group, the angel group I belong to, has many educational programs for new angel investors. I’ve attended many of them to build up my knowledge of investing and develop a deeper understanding of AI, Edtech, Cleantech, SaaS and Life Sciences, plus business valuation and other relevant topics in investing.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Lead By Asking Questions vs. Statements: Sandra Kassing, a global talent development leader I had the privilege to work with, passed on this key piece of advice many years ago: As a leader, continually ask your team targeted questions. Instead of suggesting, for example, how something could be improved, ask questions that help them come to a solution through their own thought process. Her wisdom helped me engage my team as an entrepreneur, and now guides how I help early stage company leaders with their development.

Those Challenging Personalities Won’t Last Long: Challenging personalities will eventually leave an organization. When hiring, look for the “red flags” of disruption. Some examples: evasive answers during the interview; they don’t make eye contact; excessive focus on “me” vs. team accomplishments; and reluctance to give past manager and direct report references.

Looking back over my career I’ve known disruptors. In each case the challenging personality was asked to leave. That’s because disruptors upend team morale, hamper innovation and take up too much oxygen. Tap into your experience and wisdom, and you’ll realize the “shelf-life” of a disruptor is short-lived.

How can you as a leader filter out these challenging personalities? Enact a 90 day probation period. If a disruptor made his or her way into the company, they can easily be encouraged to pursue other endeavors during their probation. If you’re not in a decision-making capacity, know that this person’s tenure likely won’t last.

You are never too experienced to stop learning: The best leaders continually learn, ask questions, and remain humble. You can achieve some of your best learning through others’ experiences and practicing curiosity. Cherish people who share their insights with you, and never be afraid to ask why.

Seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness:

Strong leaders know that asking for support is a sign of strength. When leaders can’t admit they need help to improve, that lack of humility and vulnerability become an obstacle that hinder the organization and one’s own success. Acknowledge when you need help, and seek it out. At the company I led, I needed to project our potential revenues and market size over the next seven years. I was fairly confident about years 1–3, and needed assistance going out further. Around the same time I read an article that quoted an industry expert. His comments about market size resonated, so I reached out to the expert. We ended up hiring him to conduct research for us, and I was able to fill in the missing projections. Recognizing where I needed help and being willing to act boldly made a significant difference to the accuracy of our projections.

Turning over the keys to your business is life-changing

The transition from entrepreneurial, creative fast-moving private business setting to the reserved, quarterly earnings-focused public company was like a mental earthquake that shook up what I knew about leading a business. I wasn’t primed or ready for how different things would be when I turned over the keys of privately-owned VICAM to publicly-held Waters. For example, public firms are subject to rigorous governance and oversight of their finances. Small, nimble private companies focus on growth, scale, go to market strategies, and in the case of my company, healthy financial returns and return on social impact.

We need both types of companies — private and public — in our wonderfully diverse and exciting economy. And if you’re an entrepreneur planning to sell your company to a well-heeled public firm, be prepared to immerse yourself in a new vocabulary, financial strategy and culture for your company to be successful under the new public company umbrella. Big firms like Apple, Google and Facebook regularly buy successful startups. In many instances the founders stay on for a couple of years to lead the transition, then leave. A primary reason for leaving: they yearn to be entrepreneurs again.

Despite the radically different business environment at Waters, I loved my role and the team in the company I led, and stayed on after the sale because I also deeply revered the product — food safety diagnostics — and the difference it made in the lives of people across the globe. Eventually, my entrepreneurial spirit broke loose and I left, pivoting to my current role as angel investor, mentor, board director and advisor to early stage companies..

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I am committed to inspiring and helping build diverse entrepreneurship in communities and countries challenged by gender and racial inequities, chronic poverty and conflict. Whether in the U.S. or globally, entrepreneurs facing poverty and discrimination frequently lack the capital, network and expertise to start enterprises. I encourage funders to mentor and consider investing in diverse founders with promising ideas for substantial social or environmental impact and sound financial return.

What do you want to be remembered for the most?

By leading, mentoring and funding, I enable diverse entrepreneurs around the world to bring to market products and technologies that impact and make people healthier and more prosperous.

I want to be known as a compassionate person who encourages empathy, respect, trust and reciprocity, and help others understand that what they do is much bigger than themselves.

How can our readers further follow your work online? or my website

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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