How These 10 Female Leaders Thrived In Tech and Grew Their Companies
Most often, the best advice comes from hard-won experience. It has been said that the greatest University is Adversity. Recently Authority Magazine ran an interview series with successful women founders and leaders in Tech. We asked them to share the five main lessons they learned from their experience. The purpose of the series is to share valuable advice with other women leaders or other women who aspire to leadership in the tech world.
Please enjoy highlights of their interviews below.
Farrell Rodd of Mars Incorporated
The first is that you can never under-estimate the power of perseverance . It’s probably the one trait that has served me best throughout my career.
The second is that all challenges can be turned into opportunities. Roll up your sleeves, bring together a task force, and approach a problem from different angles.
Build a team with diverse perspectives and skillsets and then lean into what you’re good at. I think we often struggle with feeling that we have to be good at everything, which isn’t realistic. It’s important to acknowledge your opportunity areas and work on them, but you’ll generally get the most out of yourself and your team if you each make the most of your unique strengths.
The other thing is finding your voice and enabling your team members to do the same . Mars describes this skill as the ability to “stand-alone,” which means having the strength to voice your opinion even if it’s not the prevailing one in the room. This can take some courage, but nothing will guarantee failure faster than an atmosphere where people don’t share their opinions. Some companies are less welcoming of this than others, but the kinds of teams and organizations that I prefer to work for will always value a good debate.
You need to have a growth mindset, a roll-up your sleeves attitude, and be able to trust others. You’re dealing with a number of different aspects of the business on a daily basis, so you have to learn quickly and not be afraid to lean on subject-matter experts. Secondly, you need to be flexible and stay calm under pressure. As I mentioned earlier, every week will bring a new situation or challenge that you haven’t faced before and it’s critical to be able to make decisions, act quickly and be flexible in your approach. When I reflect back on situations that we’ve faced — unexpected stock-outs, manufacturing problems, etc. — I think of them with surprising fondness. Despite being stressful in the moment, they brought out some truly innovative thinking and I’ve been proud of how quickly we were able to adapt to minimize the impact.
Claudia Wasko of Bosch eBike Systems
1. Product. Our strategic imperative is “Invented for life.” We want our products to fascinate as well as to improve quality of life. We also strive to use synergy effects and benefit from existing Bosch technologies in our development processes.
For example, we developed a modular, standardized and scalable portfolio based on Bosch’s core competencies — the right product line for every application, from city to suburban, from tours to mountain.
Bosch has been the inventor of Li-Ion technology and has a production volume of more than 32 million power tools per year. This competence helped us during the battery development. During the development of our drive units, Bosch eBike Systems also took advantage of Bosch Automotive Technology representing an annual manufacturing volume of more than 80 million electrical drives and related technologies such as start-stop and power-steering.
2. Sustainability & Environmental Awareness. We are motivated by the desire to develop products that help conserve natural resources. For us, that means thinking ahead, focusing firmly on the future of generations to come, and consistently pursuing sustainability as a company.
Cities in the 21st century are facing major challenges: The world population is growing, resources are dwindling, the climate is changing. Solutions are needed. Electromobility can make a significant contribution to sustainable urban development and an urban environment worth living in.
For example, pedal-assist eBikes, in particular, offer great opportunities. They help to conserve resources and reduce emissions.
3. Business Model (CANVAS). Follow the concept of a lean startup journey, constantly integrate customer feedback and iterative design to ensure a product portfolio with high UX & user-centricity. The business model Canvas has allowed us to create a very visual overview of our idea’s hypotheses which summarizes how value can be created for both our company as well as our customers. Canvas has stimulated us to think about all essential elements of our business and how they are and can be connected — key partners, key activities, key resources, value propositions, customer relationships, channels, customer segments, cost structure, and revenue streams. Start with the user, prototype and iterate, fail early, and learn fast!
For example, our development cooperation with Cannondale helped us to find a business model that worked. To get there, our assumptions, which we had identified, needed to be tested. This happened through the feedback in the development phase with Cannondale. So, the hypotheses summarized in the Business Model Canvas represented the MVP (minimum viable product). The MVP requires minimum time, money, and effort and is therefore relatively easy to quickly develop and to use as a tool to gather feedback. In case this feedback indicates that the hypotheses are incorrect, they should either be revised or pivoted to new hypotheses.
4. Digital Business. Create an IoT ecosystem! For example, at Bosch eBike Systems we have two missions (#1 is our core product business, #2 is providing digital services) and one overall vision: We are an IoT enabled Bike company.
We needed to onboard digital talent. We are constantly in the process of digitalizing existing ecosystems (e. g. lifetime digital bike experience, B2C user subscriptions, B2B2C offers) and building cross-divisional innovation platforms
5. Third-party co-operations and partnerships. Focus on your core competencies, keep focus and establish co-operations in areas outside your expertise. For example, Bosch did not have any access to bike dealers, our logistic infrastructure has been developed to ship high delivery volumes to a limited quantity of customers, but not to provide single spare parts to thousands of bike dealers. Our market entry strategy includes cooperation with a service partner, a company that is very well connected within the bike industry and is experienced to serve the needs of the bike retailer network.
Dr. Lucienne Marie Ide of Rimidi
1. Know what problem you are solving. For industries like healthcare, there’s plenty of opportunity for improvement. Understand where you are uniquely adding value to the ecosystem and focus on doing that really really well.
2. Hire curious people who want to build and grow something with you. In entrepreneurship, you don’t know where the journey is going to take you, so it’s important to ensure you have the right people on the bus with you. If your team is committed to the mission and journey, they will be willing to help the business grow and adapt as needed.
3. Listen to your end-users. It’s easy to do all the talking when you are in sales mode, but you will get a lot more out of listening — even with prospects who don’t buy your product. Always ask the ‘why’ and really listen to the answer.
4. Understand the difference between “nice to have” and “must-have” products. A clinician might think particular data visualization is beautiful, but if using the product doesn’t tie back to a core, measurable improvement, and business objective, then you probably won’t make it into next year’s budget.5. Remember we are all people with our own stories and many shared challenges. 2020 has certainly reminded us of this. Treat your people, your partners, and your clients with respect, patience, and empathy.
Anita Darden Gardyne of Onēva
1. It will take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We founded Onēva in 2014 and are just now thinking about monetization.
2. You are going to get told no a lot. You’ll ask, “Will you give me a million dollars?” You will hear, “No.”
3. You won’t have all the answers. You aren’t in school anymore. As things go better you make faster decisions with less information. You never have all the answers. For me, it is about connecting my heart with my stomach with my brain. And having trusted advisors on the team that can have answers and experience when I don’t. For example, recently my existing investors, led by Chris Yeh, just renegotiated their contract terms with me. I didn’t have the answers to that and had to depend on the village. I was lucky to have Chris available to do that.
4. When it rains, it pours. If it is raining and pouring you know you have a shot at being a unicorn for real.
5. Have a background in technology. At 17, I started working at AT&T's engineering dept. The reason I was able to build the tech was that I had the pleasure of working as an engineer and coding back in 1983. I came into tech as PCs were hitting the market. I got grounded in systems, telecom and spent years at Bank of America and Wells Fargo. By 25, I had an MBA and a pretty good tech background. There is nothing like being prepared with academic and tech experience.
Maria Zannes of bioAffinity Technologies
1. Know your business. Know your market, your competitors, your customers, the key drivers, and exactly how your product fits in this environment. Never stop evaluating your business. We conduct an annual competitive analysis in which we evaluate the published scientific and economic data for more than 100 companies that claim to be in our field. That is just the starting point. Never consider yourself an expert.
2. Follow the science. Businesspeople rightfully seek to control a situation, but that does not bode well in the science field. Mother nature has a way of surprising you. Innovation is essential to a biotech company, but it does not reveal itself if you have a limited view of a successful result. Instead, develop a hypothesis and understand it is just that, an educated guess. Test that hypothesis by every conceivable method until you are sure of the result. I mentioned that our science team was researching the mechanism of action by which porphyrins preferentially label cancer cells. We had a hypothesis, based on the literature, and we tested it to find we were wrong. But as we followed the science, we made a remarkable discovery that has led to novel approaches to kill cancer without harm to healthy tissue.
3. Focus on your team. A diverse, inclusive, and welcoming work environment is key to success. As a CEO, one of my most important tasks is ensuring that our employees have the tools they need to do their best. When the company was first established, we held a team meeting and asked the type of company bioAffinity should be. Respect, support, and an inviting environment were at the top on everyone’s list.
4. Work with integrity. Everyone in business at one time or another faces a decision to take the longer and more challenging road or cut corners to get a quicker and initially favorable result. There is an even greater risk in groups that are similar or in organizations where one person holds most of the power. It is not just the person, but the organization in which that person works that can drive integrity. I remember early in my career I was asked to withhold information from a client. I was very young, but I knew it was wrong. I refused. It was empowering to stand up, even if I risked my job.5. Keep your shareholders informed. Our company’s shareholders are our bosses and we treat them as such. They have invested in our work and I take that very personally. We are a private company, but we issue quarterly updates. Everyone has my cell phone number. Honestly, I always enjoy speaking to our shareholders.
Debbie Reynolds of Debbie Reynolds Consulting
1. Focus on the customer’s problem, not your solution. Having the most phenomenal product or service will not make your company successful. If you can, speak to the problem that the customer is trying to solve. Convey that you understand the customer’s problem then show them how your product or service can solve that problem. For example, in an initial sales meeting with a potential client, you should start your presentation focused on the customer’s problem that you can solve. Beginning with the problem makes potential clients more eager to listen to your solution.
2. Establish your credibility early. To be taken seriously in any business endeavor, you must first establish your credibility to get future clients’ attention. There are many ways to develop your credibility, like using customer testimonials, highlighting sales, showing years of experience, demonstrating expertise, show scholarship through teaching, using peer recommendations, etc. For example, start-ups and well-established companies should always have statistics and accomplishments to share with potential customers to show they can handle their needs.
3. Find your niche. Companies must be able to understand their competition and discover how they can differentiate themselves. Many companies with great ideas fail when they cannot convey why customers choose their company over other competitors. Make sure that you can answer what makes your company unique to succeed. For example, when a potential client is evaluating your company, they need to understand why they should select you over a competitor. It is your job to make it clear why your business or service will fit their business needs.
4 . Be patient. It takes a long time to become an overnight success. Many successful entrepreneurs have taken years to develop ideas into successful businesses. For example, many people do no see the entrepreneur’s late nights or time away from social activities to build a business and a brand. Still, these small steps will get you far later, so your success will be assured because you were prepared when opportunities present themselves.5. Learn how to accept NO gracefully. Not every business or sales contact will say YES to doing business with you. In fact, most will say NO. Be prepared to handle a NO gracefully and move to the next potential, YES. Although rejection is painful, the ability to move forward makes all the difference if you want to be a successful entrepreneur.
Susan Cook of Zaloni
1. Be authentic and humble as you approach every decision, meeting, presentation, and one-on-one conversation. Trust and respect are more important than having all the answers. Being true to yourself and your people is the best way to gain the advantages of both. Your leaders hold the keys to unlock solutions, though it often requires willing collaboration and debate to unearth them. Having the respect and trust of a diverse, skilled leadership team results in their willingness to help you with the toughest questions and the thorniest challenges.
2. Hold yourself to the values and standards you’d like to see in your teams. I don’t know a CEO that isn’t stretched for time, and, in the race to meet deadlines, it can be tempting to abandon little details that matter — character-reflecting details in the way you follow-up on requests, show up on time, prepare for a meeting, or communicate by email, to name a few. Approach each interaction with the integrity you expect from others, and, when you make mistakes, own them. While most days seem like a constant stream of demands for your direction, thoughts, or decisions, each individual employee may see only that one single interaction with you, and it matters. Honesty and character are not on a sliding scale, once tarnished, they are unlikely to be fully recovered.
3. Communicate the “why” at all levels of your organization, not only with your direct reports. Give context about your thought process and decisions, beyond simply the final message. Being transparent with your team builds trust and loyalty as employees experience being admitted to, and co-conspirators of, company direction.
4. Employ rigorous measurement, hold teams accountable to results, make the results visible (good and bad), and don’t focus on the activity. Ensure everyone has what they need to be successful. Especially in a tech start-up, the temptation is huge to try to build your technology to be all things to all people. When your resources are constrained, the bigger decision is not what to do; but rather, what not to do. If you don’t obsess over the tangible measures, such as ARR growth, customer usage, or release dates, you could find yourself and your teams overly busy but not achieving results.5. Find value in your work-life balance. We all know how important it is to have interests that refuel you outside of the office. In order to get more out of time away from your laptop, spend mindful time recognizing both what empties you out (for me — tough decisions, Covid-19, working from home, the daily news, pitching investors, managing expenses and cash) and then what fills you back up (for me — mentoring younger employees, closing a big deal, laughter, time with family, exercise, seven to eight hours of sleep). Be purposeful in trying to balance your calendar, avoiding too much of what empties you out, and choosing to focus free time on the specific activities that fill you back up.
Kate Cassino of Hobsons
1. Build a winning leadership team . You need a mix of industry experts and functional leaders that also reflect the diversity of your field, including gender, ethnicity, and across the age spectrum to ensure you are looking at issues from multiple perspectives.
2. Foster a culture of innovation . Make sure to encourage employees to “think outside the box” and solve problems in different ways. You always need to be disrupting yourselves or you will be disrupted otherwise.
3. Drive constructive accountability . Everyone needs to do their part if you want to win, so you need to set an expectation that everyone is accountable. But be clear about your accountability measures and incentivize employees in the right ways.
4. Deploy a “run, grow, transform” strategy and mindset . Spend time thinking about how to optimize your current business (run), seek ways to expand your work with existing clients (grow) and extend into new markets or market segments (transform). All three are critical to continued success.5. Strengthen the core . A business needs to have a strong foundation of people, processes, and objectives in order to be successful. The fundamentals are not glamorous, but you can’t build for the future on a weak foundation.
Marina Aslanyan of SmartLinx
Don’t ever build a company for sale. Build a company to drive value for customers.
It’s never too early to establish operational excellence. Start the right way, and you’ll end up saving a lot of money along the way and be much more successful when you need to scale.
Don’t take shortcuts and be ready with your product before you introduce yourself. You only have one shot when you want to enter the market with your company, so you have to be ready on all fronts. It’s very hard to go back to the market when you’re just trying to establish yourself and say “Sorry, I made mistakes the first time and now I’m back.”
Don’t underestimate the value of a go-to-market strategy . Many times it’s worth much more than the product itself. It’s most important to understand how you’re going to provide a valuable service to the customer that will make them want to stay with you.
Keep your financial model top of mind . How you want to run the company and what you want to be when you grow one. Make sure that the metrics that are critical to the success of the company are established and tracked early. Otherwise, it’s very hard to go back later to reestablish them and figure out where you fit.
Laura Ipsen of Ellucian
People . In my experience, the people are what really make a company successful or not. One of my first priorities when joining Ellucian was to assess and make changes to my leadership team in order to execute against our strategy. We have a great mix of deep higher ed experience, technology experts, and a shared commitment to our customers.
Culture . A tech company needs a hybrid culture that reflects both technology and the market you serve and unifies employees around a common goal. For us, we’ve developed a people-first culture with attributes of both a higher ED culture and that of a tech company. This combination strikes a balance that will help us to reimagine the future of education with our customers.
Innovation . Silicon Valley taught me about the power of innovation to “change the world,” a mantra I heard often from my mentor and then Cisco CEO John Chambers. At Ellucian we’re working to deliver the next generation of innovation for colleges and universities, and we are committed to partnering with our customers to reimagine the future of higher ed.
Customer-first mindset . I believe to be successful there needs to be commitment across the organization so that no matter what a person’s role is, all are contributing to creating a “customer for life” experience.
Customer Retention. Rather than approaching this from a tactical standpoint or looking at specific initiatives, I really prefer to look at the customer strategy from the perspective of the entire customer journey — that is, how we engage customers from the cradle to the grave (and yes, sometimes there is a grave, but if you manage well through the grave, you’ll find that these customers often come back). When a company has made the decision to invest in customer success, there are three levels of maturity to consider as you work to drive value and create ‘stickiness’: Retention, Use and Adoption, and Advocacy.
Customer base. Beginning with a focus on retention, you need to look at protecting your existing customer base to ensure they are renewing year after year. Your customer success team should be reaching out and engaging with the customers in a consistent way. Using metrics including indicators such as Net Promoter Scores and really using the data to understand gaps and potential trouble areas, teams should constantly be working to improve the customer experience.
Use and adoption. Next in the customer journey is the Use and Adoption stage. This is when you need to be upskilling your team to understand what your customer owns, how well are they using the features to drive their ROI or meet their goals, and helping them to get the most value out of their investment. In doing this, you are working to make the renewal a non-event — in other words, you become so integral to their success that there is no question about whether or not they will renew with you.
Advocacy. The final level of customer success maturity is Advocacy. At this point, you are building deeper relationships through targeted programs for those at the highest level of a company or institution, through advisory councils and executive sponsorship programs. At this point in a customer relationship, you have a customer that has become a true advocate for you and your solutions.