Allyson Redpath, Founder of Citrine Angels | Washington, D.C.
Monika Samtani: We are really excited to sit down with a very impressive woman today. Allyson Redpath is the founder of Citrine Angels, a D.C. based group that provides early stage investment opportunities and education to female investors. With her company, she hopes to motivate women to invest and help them through the process, so they can actually go out and do it.
Allyson Redpath: Thank you so much. It’s wonderful to be here.
Natasha Samtani: We are so happy that you're here. I've met you before! I went to a meeting — your launch of Citrine Angels! Super excited about it. The first thing I wanted to ask you about was choosing the word 'citrine.' It has a special and appropriate meaning, but I had to look it up just to understand. So how did you come up with the name and what is the meaning behind citrine?
Allyson: Yes. Well, it took a lot of thinking and a lot of googling to try to find the right name, and I wanted to find something that sort of related to our mission, empowerment, and growth. And I eventually hit upon the word citrine, which is actually is a gem. It's a crystal, very often seen on bracelets and necklaces, but it symbolizes prosperity and is said to manifest it. And that's really our mission at Citrine Angels, manifesting prosperity for both entrepreneurs and investors.
Monika: That is so perfect. That name and the idea of manifesting. That's really a buzzword. All of that just makes sense to me, and makes me want to learn more about what you're doing. But I want to go back to learning more about you and your journey leading up to why you started this. So tell us where you grew up, and when you were growing up were you already on that path to business?
Allyson: Well I grew up about a mile away from here actually.
Monika: We're in the suburbs of D.C.
Allyson: Yeah, yeah. And it was actually farm country at the time, so there was a lot of cows and horses and going down to the creek to pick wild blackberries, that kind of thing.
Monika: I used to get tadpoles and try and see them become frogs. And yes, I did take horseback riding lessons right next door to my house at a farm. We both grew up around here.
Allyson: Yeah! So it was like that. And I actually did have very early exposure to business, because my dad was a financial advisor. Whenever there was a snow day or something, we didn't have babysitters, so I would go to the office with him. I actually started talking to clients when I was probably ten! He was in a very small office, so I would answer the phone and he would show me how to look up the stock prices on the screens and things. Clients would call up and I would say, "Hi, this is Allyson, this is Bob Redpaths office. May I help you?" And they would say, "Hey, how's the market doing today?" And my dad said if I knew, I could tell them because I knew how to look. But if I didn't know, I should just say the market is mixed, which of course it always is, right? So the clients loved that.
Monika: It was rare back then for women and girls to really understand money, be independent minded that way, and you knew it at ten! You had that male figure in your life, making sure that you understood it, which is pretty wonderful.
Allyson: The other thing that I had in terms of early exposure to the financial world was that when I was in high school, my dad went to work for a woman called Julia Walsh. She was an icon in the D.C. financial world for a long time, because Julia had four kids and then she got married to someone who had four kids also. So, she had eight kids and then her husband died, and she had no way to support herself and her eight kids. Back in those days, the world was very different, so what’d she do? She went to work as a financial advisor and started her own brokerage firm. When I was in high school, on Saturdays it was all hands on deck sending out a mailing. I would go to the office and Julia and Beth, and the people he worked with, we'd be in a conference room stuffing envelopes. To me that was normal. That was, “yeah, of course women run brokerage firms. Right.”
Natasha: It sounds like this is going to become an incredible movie.
Allyson: Yeah. I think my life could be a book or a movie. But then the other thing that was happening, just sort of related to that, I don't know if y'all are familiar with it, there's a show called Wall Street Week. It was a TV show that aired on Friday nights with Louis Richard Rukeyser. And Julia Walsh was a regular guest on Wall Street Week on a panel discussion, talking about what had happened in the stock market that week. So my dad would always be like, “you have to come see, Julia’s on Wall Street Week again!” At the time, I didn't realize how incredibly unusual that was. But that was my normal. So when it came time to pick a college, my dad talked to me as a financial advisor and he said, “look, I have a lot of women clients who are getting divorced, and they have kids, and they haven't worked, and they have no way to support themselves.” I guess the divorce rules were different back then. And he said, “they're not getting any money and they're in big trouble. Do not let that happen to you.”
Allyson: So he said, “you have to have it, you're going to have to choose a college. You have to have a career, you have to be a something.” He meant like a doctor, a lawyer, a CPA.
Monika: Not just anything, something really solid.
Natasha: Something that you always have, you know, to fall back on.
Allyson: So I went through the thought process. I was like, okay, so I actually am really squeamish about blood and gross things. So, doctor, no, that's not gonna work.
Monika: My dad's a doctor, he made me work in his office and I fainted one day when I saw blood. So I feel you, sister.
Allyson: Then actually I thought, okay, lawyer. Well, at the time, my mom was working at a law firm as a law clerk during the day and going to law school at night, and was exhausted all the time. We also had like no cleaning help or no babysitting help and you know, it was really big stacks of books and dark circles under the eyes. I was like, yeah, I don't want to do that.
Natasha: Monika’s laughing because I applied to law school this year and decided not to go.
Monika: We'd been talking about that too, so that's funny that you say that. So that was a no for you.
Allyson: That was a no. So, all right, what's next? Business? Oh, well, I like business. I go to the office. That seems fun. I like it. And math is really easy. Well, it was very easy for me. Then my dad said, “well if you're going to go to business school…” he'd talked to his friends and I actually wanted to go to Georgetown because I wanted to stay near home. I still wish I could've gone to Georgetown on some level, but my dad was like, “Wharton undergrad is the best business school in the country, so that's where you should go.” And he was paying. It was a terrifically valuable experience and that's kind of how it started.
Natasha: So it sounds like you were guided in the direction of business from a young age, even if it was unbeknownst to you when you were ten that you were on this path. I graduated from college a few years ago, and I think one question that a lot of my peers had when it comes to getting your Master’s is if that’s something that you entered your career knowing that you wanted to do, or do you feel like it kind of came across naturally when you were done with undergrad?
Allyson: I didn't really even know what I was getting myself into at that point. It was kind of like, oh, dad says I need to earn money and this is how to do it. Okay. I showed up at Wharton freshman year coming from the countryside and a small private high school. And a lot of people there were seventeen year olds walking around carrying the Wall Street Journal. And I remember being in a conversation just sitting out on the grass with a bunch of people. And they started talking about “you know what Henry Kaufman said last week?” And I was like, well, who's Henry Kaufman? And they said, “you don't know who Henry Kaufman is? He's the head economist at Solomon Brothers.” I'm like, I'm seventeen. I don't know who economists are. That's what the culture was like. So you know, it was people who are really, really into this and very knowledgeable. So it was a very steep learning curve. And I learned through my college years that there was sort of a track at the time, the business track in the financial world was how you got your undergrad degree. You worked two to four years in a finance or investment bank, you got your MBA, and then you worked on doing something bigger and better. That was the track. So I was like, that's what I'm doing, and that's what I did.
Monika: Weren’t you like one of the only women there at the time? I can’t even imagine what that was like.
Allyson: Wharton undergrad? I want to say there were 20, 25% women at the time. And it tended to be a lot less in finance and accounting classes. Business school was similar actually, because there tended to be more women in marketing.
Monika: Did you feel that you were welcomed? Did you feel the opportunity was there for you or did you feel a little overwhelmed by the 75% men?
Allyson: Again, that was normal. It wasn’t actually hard to adjust.
Monika: There's something to be said for that, right? Where you go in saying, well, it doesn't really matter how many women are here or how many men are here. I'm here.
Monika: And I've got this opportunity and I'm going to do well.
Monika: Now, I want to know. How did you think to start a company today that assists in providing an opportunity for female investors? What's the story around that?
Allyson: Well, I went straight from undergrad to New York and worked in investment banking for a lot of years. And when it came down to actually doing auditing, I was kinda like, I don't really know if I want to do that. And I elected to do something different, and that was to go work in equity research. I ended up getting a job at Goldman Sachs doing investment research and that was a two year program. So, when I was done with that program, again, I had sort of a decision point. Is it time to go back to business school? And again, I wasn't really sure. So, you know, it's like there was a vague plan, but each step I sort of reconsidered and said, “should I definitely be doing this, should I be doing something different?” And then I actually, I went to work at a French bank called Credit Agricole for two years. I realized that I really did want to do something different, and a great way to do it was to get an MBA, which is something that I had in the back of my mind for a while, and ended up going to University of Chicago. Some of the biggest, brightest names in finance had stepped on the same steps that I was using. It was just wonderful.
Monika: So far it’s like the perfect story! Seamless. So, what did you do with all this and your MBA?
Allyson: I wanted to do something that was very proactive, because I realized when I was doing research that a lot of it was observing what other people were doing, assessing it and helping our clients. But that was for their business. We were helping the salespeople so that they could write tickets. We were helping the investment bankers so they could get deals done. I wanted to do something that was more proactive, and something that was project oriented. I decided to go into general investment banking at a company called Schroders, which is a British investment bank. In that role, I worked on a lot of different types of deals for a lot of people. We were just sort of in a generalist pool. I got very fortunate that someone that I worked with put me on the Starbucks team. I was like, Oh my God, I love this! It was just a very exciting time in the company's development, because we were raising money for them pretty much every year as they were building out their stores. So I really enjoyed that and ended up working with a lot of consumer companies, doing dedicated full time on food and beverage in particular.
Monika: So you loved that. It was, again, seamless. A perfect transition from business school.
Allyson: Yeah, you know it might sound seamless and perfect, but there was a lot of difficulty along the way too. A lot of soul searching, because I have a creative side too. “Should I be an accounting major, or get my masters in art history?” It was like that a lot of times.
Monika: So, now you've got all this experience and of course there's been, you know, some soul searching. What were you thinking about in terms of that soul searching? Was there still something that you felt was missing that you wanted to do and accomplish?
Allyson: Yes, and I didn’t really know what it was, part of it at least was that I wanted to do something that has a social mission that I cared about. When I was living in New York, I actually was on the board of a nonprofit for several years and doing financial work as well, like on the audit committee and the finance committee. And I really enjoyed doing work in a financial context that had a social mission and a larger purpose.
Monika: But what led to the idea of Citrine? I mean, it's a company that assists in providing an opportunity for female investors. Along the whole journey - this career path of yours - what was it that was going on in your mind that led to this point where you said, we need to help women?
Allyson: I was very often the only woman in the room. I encountered quite a lot of resistance, I will say, from various people that I met along the way. Clients and people at meetings would say, “oh honey, can you get me coffee?” Which I'm sure a lot of women have gone through. There's also a little bit of an attitude like, “well, you can't possibly be good at this ‘cause you're a woman.” But that actually just sets me off.
Monika: Instead of bringing you down, it makes you stronger.
Allyson: Absolutely! I'm not gonna let you chase me out because I'm a woman. I don’t think so!
Natasha: When you did you feel that attitude towards you, was it more so in certain situations when maybe there was a feeling that you might've been a threat because you're a woman?
Allyson: Well, first of all, it was pretty much everywhere. It was pervasive. You know, a lot of people thinking, “I'm not going to take orders from a woman.” So, you know, I had to find a way to make it work.
Natasha: I can imagine it's exhausting.
Monika: But it's almost like there's two ways you can take it, right? When you hear comments like that, either you're gonna let it bring you down and make you afraid, or you're going to say, no, wait a minute. I know who I am inside. I know what I have up here, and I'm gonna make my path. I'm going to make sure that I prove them wrong. So what do we need to do as women here?
Allyson: Oh absolutely! When I would get an attitude from people, I’d know it was wrong. I’d remember Julia Walsh. I’d think, I'm here today doing things, so that can’t be true.
Monika: So then with Citrine Angels, is that how you came up with this idea of helping women learn about investing?
Allyson: Actually, it came about indirectly. When I moved back to Maryland, I started talking to companies about doing CFO work for them. Basically, helping them with capital raising, exit strategies, and valuation. I was coming in and saying, you “do you help need help negotiating contracts or financial projections?” And the answer kept coming back: raising money, we need help raising money. That's the big need. At the same time, I was getting very involved in the early stage ecosystem in the area, and going to a lot of events, and I was actually pretty startled and sort of dismayed that I was very often the only woman in the room. I thought, Washington D.C. has one of the highest proportions of successful accomplished women in the country. But where were they? I’m going to all these events and they’re not here. I just sort of threw out the idea to somebody one day and I said, well, is there an angel investment group for women? It seems like there should be or could be. And he's like, ”oh yeah, this is D.C. I'm sure there has to be. I'll look it up, I'll get back to you.” And there wasn't. So, it was sort of born out of personal frustration. It was kind of like, well I'll do it. This should happen. So I thought, well, how can we make this group very welcoming and supportive? Well, make it all women. We're doing something that's a bit different than most other angel groups. We have a very extensive education program. We partner with law firms, accounting firms, people who have expertise in areas that are useful for investors to learn as part of our group.
Monika: Just in case somebody doesn’t understand what angel investing actually means, give us the basics on what that means. And again, what does Citrine Angels hope to do as a company and organization?
Allyson: Angel investing falls into the category of what would be called alternative investments. Those are investments that are not correlated with the stock market, or have very low correlation with the public markets. And that's very useful from an investment standpoint for diversification. It can be very risky. It's not the kind of thing where you just make one or two big investments and hope it works out. You really need to be very careful about diversification. And just to be clear, we're not in the business of advising people specifically on investments. We're not a broker dealer, we're not in the securities business, really. We're really more of a matchmaker and a facilitator of information between investors and founders. Angel investing is early stage investing in smaller companies that are still growing, and are not big enough to go public or get venture capital investment yet. It’s not the earliest stage when a company is just starting. We come in after that.
Monika: So you're looking at these companies that are a little bit further along in terms of time. It's not like you're saying, okay, you've been around two, three years, now you're ready. It's more that stage where everything's in place and maybe they’re making some money.
Allyson: Yeah, it should be far enough along that you've kind of proven to some extent that your product works and that you have a market for it. So if you have all the pieces in place to take the company to the next level, except money, that's a good fit for angel investing.
Monika: So that answers the questions about the founders. But now the question is, you're talking about those who may be interested in actually investing. What if you're that person who's really interested in all this, how companies are built, but don't have a lot of money?
Allyson: We are facilitating people like law firms and accounting firms to match them up with investors who are interested in learning about these things. For example, understanding how to read financial statements and understanding what they're telling you is almost like a different language. As an angel investor, you have to know what that is, or at least have a sense for what that is, and know what questions to ask. The other thing we're going to do is have a session on what's called due diligence. So that is, if you're interested in potentially making an investment, you're like, “oh, this is a really interesting company.” Well, what information should you be asking for? Projections, competitors, references?
Monika: Let’s say you meet investment qualifications, then you learn about what it means to invest and all those basic tools, then you’re paired with people who are pitching to you as founders?
Allyson: Yeah, similar to a lot of other angel groups, we’re going to have monthly pitch meetings where we will find three companies to come do their presentations to our members. Then we’ll have an opportunity to have a group discussion and ask questions for the founder. After the founders are done, we’ll have a discussion with just the members about what they think of the company. I think that is going to be super interesting because a lot of the people we have joining are very experienced in a lot of different fields. So you know, when you have somebody come in who's an expert, everybody is in the room talking about what kinds of questions and other things that they have about the company, then I think that's going to be really useful for everybody.
Natasha: So you've created this incredible space where you're creating opportunity for both investors and startups, and just women in general in this area and beyond. Does it extend outside of the D.C. area?
Allyson: We feel that it's important for investors and founders in this process to meet each other in person, particularly for people who haven't done angel investing before. You know, it's very difficult to make a decision if you just see somebody on a screen or over the phone. So we are focusing on investors in the Washington D.C. area. For founders, it can be a little bit further afield. Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of female founded companies in the D.C. area proper. I really wish there were more, and that's one of the reasons we're doing this. But we're going to go a little bit further for sourcing potential investments, all the way down to Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, north to Baltimore or Wilmington, maybe even Philadelphia, and everywhere in between. So basically, anyone within driving distance who wants to come in person to our meetings.
Natasha: What's your vision for the future of Citrine Angels?
Allyson: I think it could potentially be quite big. A lot of the other angel groups in the area are around 50 investors. So I really think we should be able to get to at least that and you know, possibly, possibly a hundred. I'd love to see that.
Natasha: So if a potential investor meets the requirements, or if a founder hears your interview today and is interested in getting in touch with Citrine Angels, how can they do that?
Allyson: Our website is citrineangels.com, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natasha: Awesome. And we have a question that we ask all of our guests because the answers are usually pretty diverse. Allyson, what does it mean to be powerful?
Allyson: You know, it's funny, I actually don't think about that much at all. There was one incident that happened many years ago that kind of sticks in my head, because it was surprising to see people's reactions. When I was working at one of the investment banks, I was walking down the hall and passed a group of guys laughing and talking. I was the Vice President at the time. I heard one of them say to the other, “oh man, you're such a woman.” And I was pretty far away from the group at that point, but in my head I was like, hang on. And I spun around, kinda did a 180, and started walking back towards the group. It was funny because they all ran, they scattered just as I started to walk the path towards them, except for the one guy who was talking! He just stood there, and I walked up to him and I said, “I don't think that's an appropriate term to use as an insult.” And he said, “you're right. I'm sorry.” And I walked away, but their reaction said it all, right? Like, I didn't even have to say anything to most of them. It's a powerful thing. It was funny.
Natasha: I love that story.
Monika: Thank you so much, Allyson Redpath of Citrine Angels, for being with us today. We're super excited about what's to come with your company. Thank you again, Allyson.
Allyson: Thank you so much.