About Abby Miller Levy
“If you were guaranteed a hundred year life, what would you do differently? How would you think about it? How would you plan for it? How would you live it?” – Abby Miller Levy
Abby Miller Levy is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Primetime Partners, which is a venture capital firm that Abby co-founded with venture legend Alan Patricof of Greycroft and Apex Partners fame. Primetime specializes in what they call AgeTech, or technology around the future of how we age. Before founding Primetime Partners, Abby had an epic career. She worked at McKinsey. She's worked at OXO. She led growth at SoulCycle, and she even co-founded Thrive with Ariana Huffington.
In this episode, we deconstruct Abby Miller Levy’s peak performance playbook—from her favorite book to the tiny habit that's had the biggest impact on her life. In it we cover:
- (00:00:00) – Introduction
- (00:02:29) – The Hundred Year Life
- (00:03:57) – Lessons from McKinsey, OXO, and Alan Patricof
- (00:07:09) – Zeroing in on the key issues and leaping into VC
- (00:15:15) – Investing as an operator, and the nonlinear career path
- (00:19:02) – Expertise vs. generalism
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Castbox, Pocket Casts, Player FM, Podcast Addict, iHeartRadio, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.
Our Favorite Quotes
Here are a few ideas we'll be thinking about weeks and months from now:
- “I think delivering value to your community matters, whether that's your peer group and the people you work with, your clients, or your consumers. If you add to people's lives, that's how you have a role in this world. Certainly as a business and potentially as a human. So I think that's the piece that I've kind of taken away from those cultures is that your job is to serve other people. And that's how you stay in your job.”
- “I think one of the lessons is to shut up and listen, when you're around people who are more experienced than you are.”
- “It's just divine intervention in a way. It's like you have no choice, but to do this thing. And I had no choice, but to start this fund, it was just too big, an opportunity. And there were too few barriers. There was nothing stopping me from doing it to be honest.”
- “Double down on what you're good at. I know we're supposed to understand our blind spots and work on our weaknesses, but ultimately you're most successful in what you're good at.”
- “I think there's no room for being a mile wide and an inch deep anymore. And I think that expertise is gratifying, but also adds value then to the rest of the ecosystem.”
The following books came up in this conversation with Abby Miller Levy:
- London: The Novel by Edward Rutherford
- Russka: The Novel of Russia by by Edward Rutherford
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
- This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite
We covered a lot of ground in this interview. Here are links to the stories, articles, and ideas discussed:
Daniel Scrivner (00:06):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The 20 Minute Playbook by Outlier Academy, where we decode what the top 1% of iconic founders, renowned investors, bestselling authors and outlier thinkers have mastered, and what they've learned along the way. In each episode, we dive deep to uncover the tools, strategies, habits, routines, and hacks that we can all apply in our own work and lives, all in about 20 minutes. I'm Daniel Scrivner. And on the show today, I'm joined by Abby Levy, co-founder and managing partner of Primetime Partners, which is a venture capital firm that Abby co-founded with venture legend, Alan Patricof of Greycroft and Apex Partners fame, which specializes in what they call age tech, where technology around the future of how we age. Before founding Primetime Partners, Abby had an epic career. She worked at McKinsey. She's worked at OXO. She led growth at SoulCycle, and she even co-founded Thrive with Ariana Huffington.
Daniel Scrivner (01:00):
In this episode, you'll learn why Abby is fascinated with research from the World Health Organization, showing that starting in 2007, about 50% of the us population will live to reach the age of 100. We talk about the implications of living to 100, including what having more chapters in your life might look like and how life changes when it's a marathon and not a sprint. Abby shares her superpower, which is her ability to cut through the noise and get to the key issue in every discussion. She shares her favorite books, including Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. And she talks about her love of history and why she owns Edward Rutherford's epic historical novels on London, China, Paris, Russia, and many other countries. She talks about why she thinks business schools are doing a disservice to the next generation of business leaders by not talking about the personal life and how we can integrate that into leading a business.
Daniel Scrivner (01:51):
And she shares why she thinks it isn't about being a specialist or a generalist, but deciding what you want to major in and what you want to minor in, making sure that you always have a major. You can find a searchable transcript for this episode, as well as our episode guide with the recap of the books and ideas we cover at outlieracademy.com/135. That's outlieracademy.com/135. With that, please enjoy my conversation with Abby Levy of Primetime Partners.
Daniel Scrivner (02:23):
Abby, I am thrilled to have you on 20 Minute Playbook. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Abby Levy (02:27):
I'm pleased to be here, Daniel. Thanks for the including me.
Daniel Scrivner (02:29):
So I'd love to jump right into the questions. The first question that we always start with is if you can share a recent fascination, what have you been fascinated or obsessed by recently? What can't you stop thinking about?
Abby Levy (02:42):
I've been fascinated by the hundred year life. The fact that there's a recent World Health Organization report that 50% of people born after 2007 in the developed world will live to be hundred. So 50% of our society will be centenarians and I plan on being one. And so if you were guaranteed a hundred year life, what would you do differently? How would you think about it? How would you plan for it? How would you live it? That has been a fascination that I have shared with my peers and my community. And I think it's a real stumper.
Daniel Scrivner (03:16):
Yeah, that is a really deep question. And you don't have to give away the whole enchilada or how you've thought about that in a really deep way, but at a high level, how have you thought about what that changes, and what that means?
Abby Levy (03:29):
I think it just means there's just different chapters. There's different chapters to your own personal development, your professional development, to your relationships, to your marriage, to just how you pace yourself. If you knew you were going to run a marathon versus a sprint, what would you do differently?
Daniel Scrivner (03:50):
Probably a lot.
Abby Levy (03:51):
A lot. Yeah. So I think it reframes a lot of questions.
Daniel Scrivner (03:57):
Yeah. That's fascinating. The second question I'd love to ask you is you've spent your career working at some incredible companies from McKinsey in your early years, to SoulCycle, where you led growth for a number of years. What did you take away from the culture, values and approach of both of those companies? Because I think they're both iconic in different ways.
Abby Levy (04:16):
I think delivering value to your community matters, whether that's your peer group and the people you work with, whether in the case of McKinsey, it's your clients, in the case of OXO it's your consumers is that if you add to people's lives, that's how you have a role in this world. Certainly as a business and potentially as a human. So I think that's the piece that I've kind of taken away from those cultures is that your job is to serve other people. And that's how you stay in your job.
Daniel Scrivner (04:51):
I mean, that's a great lesson to take away. I don't think everyone takes that lesson away from business. So I love that approach in that framing.
Abby Levy (04:56):
Well, I think part of it is it really because brand, particularly at a company like OXO and even at McKinsey, our first week of training, I was 21 years old and they said, you are stewards of our brand. And the same thing with OXO is it's a brand that consumers love. And so your job is to help them love it more.
Daniel Scrivner (05:19):
Yeah, that's fascinating. Similarly, you've co-founded two separate companies. The first one was with Ariana Huffington, that was Thrive. And then recently with Primetime Partners, that's now Alan Patricof. Two exceptional people, two people that for people in the know definitely recognize those names. These are big. I would imagine these are kind of legends to work alongside. What lessons have you taken away from working with them or just being around them?
Abby Levy (05:46):
Oh, I mean, think there's thousands of them. I think one of the lessons is to shut up and listen, when you're around people who are more experienced than you are. I'm the youngest in my family, the youngest in my generation. And so I've always kind of been open and welcome to the advice of people who are more experienced and typically older than I am. But Ariana, I probably have 10 different words of wisdom or phrases of wisdom that I've carried out into the world. And so the same thing with Alan, but I think the piece that is really important with having a co-anything, whether it's a co-founder or a partner, really comes down to values and having similar values of not just what you want to build, but how you want to interact with people.
Abby Levy (06:36):
And it's been really amazing partnering with Alan because he's worked with dozens and dozens of investors in his career. And I just think we see eye to eye on so many things because we have the same values, everything down to, we had lunch today and the server comes over and they say, tap, bottled, or sparkling. And we look at each other, we're like, obviously tap, why are we going to waste money on bottled or sparkling? So those values go from expense policy all the way through to what investments to make.
Daniel Scrivner (07:09):
So well said. I'd love to switch gears and talk about the areas where you think you have an edge or a superpower. And I know superpower can maybe seem like a loaded word, but the way that I kind of think about that is we all have a couple areas in life. It could be how we're wired. It could be what we're attracted to. It could be just elements of our personality that are ingrained in us. And that show up in the way we work day to day. What do you think of as your superpowers or areas where you have an edge and how does that show up in your work?
Abby Levy (07:36):
Well, I think I can only share what I've heard from other folks because it's hard to have perspective on yourself, but actually it was just today that one of my colleagues kind of said to me that I get to the key issue very quickly. And I think one of the benefits of having started my career in consulting and frankly, I'm the daughter of a small business owner, is that I've always kind of been able to get to the key issue, whether that's on advising a friend with what choices they should make in their professional life to evaluating a business. I kind of hone in on, this is the thing you need to figure out versus always trying to know everything about everything.
Abby Levy (08:19):
And so I think in that sense, it's been helpful to the people I've worked with, they've asked me, "Well, what's Abby's point of view?" Because I can oftentimes assimilate all the data and look through the noise and kind of see the force through the trees. So that's what I would kind of say is probably a superpower is just getting to the critical issue pretty succinctly and not always right, but a good direction to look at.
Daniel Scrivner (08:47):
Yeah. You can get in the ballpark very quickly and you can obviously sort through signal and noise.
Abby Levy (08:52):
Yeah, I would think so. And then I think the other piece that I'm kind of proud of is I think generosity's really important in life, but also in our business of investing. And so when I started Primetime, I was new to being a venture capitalist, not new to building a business. I mean, Primetime is a startup, but I think I really am very comfortable giving before getting. And I think that's something that I teach my kids and is, I wouldn't say superpower, but I think it's a value that can become a superpower because it's authentic.
Daniel Scrivner (09:30):
I want to ask one more follow up, question something you just said about Primetime being a startup, you have had some enormous successes and some enormous experiences in your career. What gave you the comfort to be willing to take the leap and kind of hit replay, go back to a small company where you're starting from day one and building it from scratch? What gave you the conviction, and just the ability to take that leap?
Abby Levy (09:55):
I didn't think it was a risk. There is no leap. I mean, I don't want to get too much about Primetime, but it's such a no brainer. And it was just all I thought about in the shower, anytime I met somebody .at a certain point and I'm sure a lot of founders who are listening recognize it, that it just becomes a bit of an obsession where it's not a risk. It's not a leap. It's just divine intervention in a way. It's like you have no choice, but to do this thing. And I had no choice, but to start this fund, it was just too big, an opportunity. And there were too few barriers. There was nothing stopping me from doing it to be honest.
Daniel Scrivner (10:39):
That's really, I think it's a wonderful perspective to have on it. One of the things I love to do is ask guests about some of their favorite books. When you think of books that have had an out sized impact on you or books that you give away, that you recommend to others, what comes to mind?
Abby Levy (10:53):
I mean, there's a couple of different pieces here. I mean, I love historical fiction. So I'm saying for pleasure, I often share... No I'm serious. I think we learn a lot from history. History's always been my favorite topic. And so there's books, the author Rutherford wrote books on London and Russia and Alaska. And so you kind of understand life through this much longer lens, especially as Americans with such a short history, just a much longer lens. And so I usually recommend historical fiction, but within the work world recently with Primetime, I've been recommending two books. One is Atul Gawande's book on basically preparing for and thinking about death. And the other is a book called Ageism: A manifesto. And it is a book that really speaks to how we're not aware of all the bias around aging and older people globally.
Abby Levy (11:59):
And both of those books have said tone for me of how I think about the types of businesses that we want to support at Primetime, which are really very much focused on the user experience of aging. And so really shifting the narrative from this kind of different population. We talk about seniors as if they're other and both of these books really focus on the human experience of aging and deciding how we want it to be versus prescribed by the institutions around us. So those are books that we've shared with our LPs. Those are books that I often talk to and the number of people in the age tech community that are aware, read them. I mean, most people have.
Daniel Scrivner (12:45):
We'll try to get those books into a couple more people's hands we'll link to those in the show notes of this episode. One of the questions I wanted to ask was, as you kind of mentioned a few minutes ago, you're new to venture investing, but you've had a lot of time building companies in different spaces and in different spans of your career, how has that length of time and those set of experiences informed the way you've approached investing in working with founders?
Abby Levy (13:09):
It informs everything. I mean, the number of times a founder is so excited to have an investor. Who's been an operator. I mean, it's pretty typical. And I was the same when we raised money for thrive was when you had an investor who had experience, whether it was in B2B sales or product build, it's an easier partnership because you have that tap into that knowledge. So I think there's a piece of this that having been a former founder and operator makes the relationship with founders easier because I have walked in their shoes, but I have some empathy for it. And also I'm very tactical because I know it's all about who we can introduce you to, to help you get the sale, your job. And also because I do proceed to series A. Our job is trying to help folks get the sale, because that's what you need to get going.
Abby Levy (14:10):
We're pretty tactical and focused on that. I think the other piece is just being comfortable with the experimentation. I got asked a lot of times around what's your minimum check size? What is your minimum ownership amount, all these things that I think other funds, probably maybe to their benefit have a much stricter paradigm. And I think because this is fund one of a first time fund, we are learning by doing, we are in, I'd say 12 different categories. We've done incubations to series B. There's no founder we won't talk to. We process, but it's flexible. And so I don't know if that's good or bad, it's certainly time intensive. But I would say, I think part of that is just our common spirit of viewing Primetime as an entrepreneurial venture, as much as it is an established investment fund.
Daniel Scrivner (15:15):
I want to ask two closing questions. And the first one is a little bit earlier, you talked about approaching life as if it's chapters. And one of the things that kind of stood out to me looking at your background, I'm sure maybe looking back, it seems linear, but from the outside, looking in, it does not seem linear at all. And so some of the questions that bubble to mind, one, how have you thought about an approach to your career and part of the reason I'm asking that is I'm a big fan of non-linear careers but I think a lot of people think there's risk in doing that. So I'd just love it if you could share your experience on how you've approached your career and the moves within it.
Abby Levy (15:47):
Gosh, I wish it was planned. It was not planned. I think there's a couple of things that only in hindsight, am I able to look back on and find as kind of threads. One is to double down on what you're good at. I know we're supposed to understand our blind spots and work on our weaknesses, but ultimately you're most successful in what you're good at. And the places where I've had the most trouble in my career are when I was doing something that, not that was stretching me, but actually was just not what I was good at. The majority of my day, wasn't what I was good at. And we all know that, I mean, I was president of my sorority. I was president of my senior class. I've always been in sales. I mean, that's what those jobs are. They're social and they're in sales. And guess what investing is, it's the biggest sales job there is. You're selling founders and you're selling the next round of funders.
Abby Levy (16:43):
And so I think recognizing that, that has always leaning into what you are naturally good at and go back to your childhood and say, what are those things that I gravitate to, I think is one of it. I think the second piece that I didn't plan for and wish I had planned for is I always knew that having a family was important to me. And actually when the new, this is maybe a decade ago, the new Dean of Harvard Business School, my alma mater came into town, was meeting one on one with some alumni. And he said, do you have any advice? And I said, I think we're doing a disservice to this next generation of business leaders by not talking about the personal life and life choices they want to make. Every case, whether it was at Stanford Business School, Harvard Business School never touched upon the leader's personal life.
Abby Levy (17:33):
And by not talking about your personal life, you are doing a disservice to folks to not have them think about those decisions in concert with their professional life. And I don't think I would've chosen a different career. I was always bound for business, but I think it was only in reaction to wait, I have three kids. I have a husband who works all the time. How are we going to do this? It was reactionary versus planned. And so it's not a gender issue. It's not being a mom or a dad. And in some ways it's been a wonderful byproduct of COVID, but everyone has been starting to think about this integration of work and life. It's not about balance, it's about integration.
Abby Levy (18:10):
And so I do believe that I ended up making choices because I was thinking about how to integrate the two. But I do wish I would've had a better lens at a younger age to predict forward, which also then dovetails with this 70 year career notion, which is if you're living to a hundred, I've got a 70 year work life, not everything has to be done at age 28 or 29. And so I'm happy I have the perspective I have now at being almost 48 of what my next 30 years of my career is going to be because I'm looking at it from this life work integration and how to think about it. But I would definitely... I don't know if that answers your question, but I do think that it's something that by default I had to do, but wish that there was more predetermination with it.
Daniel Scrivner (19:02):
Yeah, no, I think you did an amazing job. I think one, it's a point no one else has made. And two, I think it's a wonderfully made point, which is that at the end of the day, we all are whole beings. We all have to juggle all of these areas of our lives, ideally well. I don't know many people that want to be a bad husband or a bad wife or bad parent, but those are the things you grapple with when not everything is kind of considered as a whole and as being holistic. It's an incredibly great point. The last question I'd love to ask you is if you could go back to the start of your career or maybe this is even when you're in college and you're preparing for your career and you could whisper some words of wisdom, words of advice, maybe a reminder in your ear, is there anything that you would tell your younger self?
Abby Levy (19:45):
Well, I mean, one thing I would say is maintain my contact book and CRM better cause there's people I've known or worked with when I was younger in my career and didn't keep in touch with them. But LinkedIn has solved that. No, I think I probably would talk a bit about continuous learning and expertise. We live in an environment where increasingly people can access information anywhere, anyhow, access people. Again, I mentioned LinkedIn, it's my favorite place to be on social media. So therefore becoming an expert in something or some things. That can be hobbies, but it can also just be within your professional domain. I think there's no room for being a mile wide and an inch deep anymore. And I think that expertise is gratifying, but also adds value then to the rest of the ecosystem.
Abby Levy (20:40):
And so maybe because I started my career in a place like McKinsey, where you were forced to become an expert quickly on a lot of things, I have found that now that expertise is what I look for when I hire people, when we work with people. And I encourage folks and I wish I had become an expert earlier in the place where I'm focusing, but I am building upon that now. And I do think that expertise matters.
Daniel Scrivner (21:08):
I'm going to ask one more question, which I'm typically not supposed to do, but I have to on this one, how do you balance expertise and being a generalist? You talked about not being a mile wide and inch deep, but I think something I grapple with, I assume something a lot of other people grapple with, is this idea of how much to be a generalist and how much to be an expert. Do you have thoughts there?
Abby Levy (21:30):
Well, I think I do have thoughts there. I think you need to, it's like a major and a minor. You need to pick your major and whatever that is, so for example, Primetime, it's going to be around consumer behavior of an older population. I mean, that's what we're building expertise in and we're minoring in everything else. So you better invest heavily in your major. And it's like a language. You're fluent and you're proficient. To be fluency, takes time and effort and proficient takes exposure. And I think Daniel, if you were pushed to say, what are you an expert in? You would come up with a couple things that you are an expert in. And you're certainly an expert in what you're doing right now on this podcast. And so that creates value for yourself and for the world. So I still push towards everybody has an expertise in something.
Daniel Scrivner (22:25):
You can't just minor in everything and have no majors. I mean, which makes sense.
Abby Levy (22:29):
And I think very few people who are successful do that.
Daniel Scrivner (22:35):
Yeah, no, it's not a thing. Well, I could ask you a million more questions. We'll stop you here for today. Thank you so much for coming on Abby. This has been so much fun.
Abby Levy (22:42):
Thank you for having me. This has been fun. Yeah.
Daniel Scrivner (22:46):
Thank you so much for listening. You can find a searchable transcript for this episode, as well as our episode guide with the video version of this interview and a list of articles, books, and interviews to go deeper on aging and age tech at outlieracademy.com/135. That's outlier academy.com/ 135. And you can learn more about Primetime Partners at primetimepartners.com. For more from Abby Levy, listen to episode 136 of Outlier Academy where we profile Primetime Partners, which is the venture capital firm that Abby co-founded with venture legend, Alan Patricof, which specializes in age tech in the future of how we age. To listen to that episode, simply visit outlieracademy.com/136. That's outlieracademy.com/136. For more from Outlier Academy, follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn. Subscribe to our YouTube channel at youtube.com/outlieracademy and visit Outlier Academy for more incredible investor interviews, profiling in effects, Greycroft, Panera capital, the compound King's ETF, dry house capital, and many more incredible investment firms. We'll see you right here with a brand new episode next Tuesday.
On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
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