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Sam Safer Valentine: Museum Curator Turned VC-Backed Tech Founder
Good morning builders! 🔨
This is “Procrastineur”, a newsletter sharing the stories of people building cool things.
Welcome to the 11 incredible people who joined us this week!
It’s Thursday, September 8, 2021, and this week’s founder is Sam Safer Valentine:
Episode 1: Fashion & Museums
Sam had the opportunity during her studies at Bard College in New York to study abroad. She went to London, loved it, and returned as soon as she graduated.
In London, Sam earned Masters Degrees in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art and in Design Management from the London College of Fashion. She wanted to be an academic, to study and to share the world of Fashion with everyone.
Sam started at the Fashion Textile Museum, her first of many museums which would, a decade later, lead her back to New York.
First though, she had to start this journey. Sam taught fashion history and theory. She has written books on British textiles and on designer Zandra Rhodes.
As Sam went through a number of internships though, she realized that she was often working more and providing more value than the assistant curators. Without the opportunity for much upward movement, and what Sam describes as a very “American” level of ambition, she started to look for other opportunities.
Episode 2: Marketing
Luckily for Sam, she’s a born marketer. She has been connecting with people on a deep level all her life, and found ways to help out the advertising side of the museums. Purchasing items in the museum gift shop, for example, supports the exhibits they have available.
Sam kicked off her Marketing career at the Victoria and Albert Museum as a press marketing assistant in publishing. From there, she moved to the brand side and then into retail. Sam excelled, working her way up to the head of Brand Communications.
Sam set the vision and led efforts in retail, licensing, and publishing. She set the vision on how to communicate to supporters and built relationships with partners to sponsor major exhibitions. One such exhibit was a huge display on David Bowie and the world-renowned Selfridges department store, a historical landmark in its own right.
Back to New York
Sam’s work couldn’t be ignored. When the Metropolitan Museum of Art called, she moved back to New York to work as the General Manager of Audience Engagement and Communications. Much of the work was similar to her previous job, but The Met also sells gift shop items through eCommerce and their consumer catalog.
Sam continued working with creators and with brands. They established limited edition prints and exclusive jewelry lines. She learned storytelling on a deep level, developing products to go with the exhibits found at The Met during her time there.
Episode 3: Narratives
Unfortunately, Sam’s time at The Met wasn’t to last. She loved her job, but didn’t want to continue working in the same line of business forever.
She and an old friend from the Victoria and Albert Museum left together, forming a sales and marketing agency called Narratives. They combined their experience to work with designers and retailers and provided consultation to startups.
Narratives lasted for four and a half years, growing and building up a high level of success. They developed their own line of jewelry and had a huge Spring order coming up.
Then the pandemic hit.
90% of their demand disappeared overnight.
Consulting contracts dried up.
Episode 4: Norby
Narratives was in bad shape. Sam had a lot of time on her hands, so she started to reconnect with friends in the marketing world.
She reconsidered how Narratives should be run, and came to realize that she wanted to continue running it, but to do so in a different way.
Sam met her cofounder Nick in 2019, and was reacquainted with him through one of Narratives’ customers, Bulletin, when one of their founders let Sam know that Nick would be excellent to talk to about product management. She quickly set up a call with him, and wound up also connecting with Nick’s former roommate and previous startup buddy Steve. Together they started working on a project.
They tested their partnership by building out a simple culture calendar website and an online events newsletter. When those took off, they knew they had a group that could go the distance together.
Shortly thereafter, they took their pandemic separated lives and spent a week together in an AirBnB to work on the product together. Their private beta got a few customers signed up and confirmed that they had a product worth building.
Norby has grown into a product that makes it incredibly simple to handle marketing tasks and tools. They bundle together customizable link-in-bio, brandable landing pages, sign up widgets, newsletters, virtual events suite and even personal phone numbers for SMS marketing.
A year in, Norby has raised $3.8 million in venture capital funds and has a team of seven, with plenty of room to grow larger. You’ll see them in orbit soon.
Strategically build up your skills and toolkit. Allow for different experiences to get there.
Be intentional about creating and maintaining relationships, even virtual ones.
Not everything has to be perfect. Just getting things out there is good!
Sometimes building and scaling a business is tough. Remember “We can do hard things.” (Glennon Doyle)
You can connect with Sam on Twitter as @samerinsafer or on LinkedIn at
Word from Will
I have to start with the name. Norby. I think it’s incredible, and had to ask Sam about it. Nick and Steve both grew up loving The Norby Chronicles, a sci-fi series for children about a robot named Norby. When they talk about getting Norby (the SaaS) into orbit, they’re thinking about the robot that can jump through time and space (poorly, at times, but it all works out in the end).
Sam’s background reminds me that there isn’t a “perfect” route to becoming a founder. In fact, there’s no real path at all for many. She was a fashionista turned museum marketer and essentially stumbled into her role with Norby. What she didn’t stumble into was her work ethic and expertise. Sam worked hard to be sure that when opportunities presented themselves, she would be ready. Nobody can ignore her skills.