I am my mother’s daughter
By Alexandra de Haan, Founding Partner of Copacabana House Ventures
Often people ask me why I am an entrepreneur. The answer is not a simple one, but it has its origins in one simple fact: I am my mother’s daughter. In order for you to understand this, I have to tell you my mother’s story…
My mother was born in the middle of WWII in Paris. Family circumstances forced her to start working early in life, and at the age of eighteen, she completed a technical course to become a bookkeeper. After a few years, the international accounting firm she worked for sent her to the head office in Amsterdam for training. There she met my father, a Dutch university student – and four years later, they got married and she moved to the Netherlands. I was born three years later and my brother three years after that. My father got a respectable steady job after getting his degree, and burdened with a new house and two kids in a country where she did not dominate the language, my mother became what many women became in the 1970’s: a homemaker, and a stay-at-home mom.
And this is how I viewed her for most of my life, up until recently…you see, my mother did something very incredible while none of us were paying attention. She had always been very artistic – sewing, macramé, knitting, and, most importantly, weaving. Her interest in weaving began when she took a course from a local artist when us kids started to go to kindergarten. Then, when I was 7 years old, she purchased her own loom – not a little one, a big humongous one, so big it took up an entire room in our house. My mother began to weave – scarves, jackets and shawls, creating all her own exclusive and exquisite designs.
Then, when I was twelve years old, we moved to the U.S. and the loom came with us. There she became a member of several local weaving guilds and started selling her creations at Fine Arts shows, fairs and galleries. Five years later my mother decided to set up a company in order to be able to deduct her business expenses and pay her taxes: her first business was born. A year later, she purchased a new and more efficient loom made in California. The thing is, my mother is not just a great weaver, she is also very business savvy. In the early days of the Internet, she launched a website for her business, to which she later also added an ecommerce app. She was also one of the first weavers to install Square on her iPad and take it to the Fine Arts fairs in order to facilitate payment processing. I can say with all sincerity that today my mother is one of the best-selling, well-respected weavers in the New England area.
You see, although I did not realize it until recently, my mother is actually an entrepreneur! But not just an entrepreneur, a serial entrepreneur! Why? Well because for about 10 years after us kids left for college she also set up a business dealing in antiques. Her antiques business did very well until the economy slowed down in 2003/2004 and she decided to close it. Then, while she was getting into her 70’s my mom realized she did not have the physical force anymore to keep on weaving (weaving is extremely physical art!). Faced with the prospect of having to slow down her weaving career, she signed up for a weeklong workshop on Eco-Dye and Eco-Print technique in France, dragging my father along. Within days of coming home, my mother was experimenting dying silk scarves with 100% natural materials, which started being sold within a year, and soon after another website was launched and another business was born!
The thing that has stuck with me all these years is how upset my mother would always become when we referred to her business as a hobby. I understand this now – I would do the same if anyone called any of my startups a “pastime”. My mother has been an entrepreneur for over 40 years. Her sales revenues fall when recession hits, she travels hundreds of miles to find the right raw materials at the right price and scouts out the best show for selling her products. She does all her own marketing, is an excellent sale person, and does all her own accounting. Except she did all this outside the boisterous entrepreneurial ecosystem, and when we were not paying attention…
So you see, when people ask me why I am an entrepreneur, why I invest, mentor and support entrepreneurs, it is because I had a fantastic role model: my mother – and I am my mother’s daughter.
Ms. Alexandra de Haan is the Founding Partner of Copacabana House Ventures. In 2000, she co-founded Mundivox, a fiber-optic broadband provider for SMEs in Brazil, successfully sold in 2014. In 2007, she transitioned back to corporate as CFO and Fund Manager of Ideiasnet, a publicly traded VC firm that invests in tech in Brazil. She also served as Board Member for several companies (Officer Distribuidora, Automatos, Pini and Padtec). She has a BS from Georgetown and an MBA from Columbia. She is a strong proponent for gender diversity, particularly regarding to women on Boards, in VC and as entrepreneurs, supporting this through her activities as a member of WCD and a mentor at Wexchange.