Ep 59: Elena Lipson: Follow Your Heart

Diva Tech Talk interviewed Elena Lipson, Founder of Mosaic Growth Partners (http://www.mosaicgrowth.com/). Elena is also the host of THE BOOST Podcast, a podcast highlighting accomplished  entrepreneurs, athletes and healthcare professionals.  A quester, Elena has experimented with multiple paths in her personal journey, and the creation of her mission. “I started off in a corporate job in HR and marketing,” she shared, after her college graduation. “But I realized, quickly, that I wanted to do work that was more mission-focused. So, I went back to school to get my master’s in public policy.”   

Elena then moved into the world of public sector consulting, working for BearingPoint, a small firm and then Deloitte Consulting for 7 years ( https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en.html). “There, I really fell into the health tech space. Prior to that, I had avoided going into health, because my Dad’s a doctor, and my Mom’s a health policy researcher. I didn’t want to follow in exactly what they did. But then I realized I loved it!”  Like many of our previous divas, Elena said “I was really not that technical person. I was more interested in how technology could help enable better healthcare.” Elena worked in consulting for 8 years, but “I got to the point where I felt that being a partner in a big consulting firm was not the path I wanted to be on. It was a tough decision, because I was in people’s succession plans, and moving up. But I just knew it didn’t feel right.”

Elena moved over to a business development role at a nonprofit association, AARP (www.aarp.org) on the “for profit” side.  “That was a fun role, because I got to see all of the innovative technologies being developed and launched.” But the pace of that organization was “a lot slower than what I was used to,” Elena said.  “I saw all these opportunities in the market. I started thinking about what I wanted to do, next. I had this ‘aha’ moment where I realized that I was tired and burned out from working for other people.”   So, Elena decided to start her own consulting firm. “I quit my job at AARP, started Mosaic Growth Partners, and 2.5 years later, I am still rolling along!”

“I was pretty fortunate that I had a pretty soft landing when I started my firm,” Elena said. “I had made a lot of contacts, during my time at AARP. I spent the first year testing out a lot of things. From that I developed a couple of core offerings.  My firm is mostly focused on helping entrepreneurs, and organizations, in the digital health and Baby Boomer space. I focus on helping them with growth strategy consulting, and business development. We do a lot of market intelligence work; go-to-market strategy and innovation strategy work; as well as outsourced business development functions and workshops around new business models.”  Elena also launched her podcast and is in the process of launching a coaching program for professional women “to help them get the promotions, raises and respect they are looking for in the workplace.”

One of the major advantages of her entrepreneurial role, in Elena’s eyes, is “the flexibility to try new things all the time.”  Two major lessons for her is “staying attuned to the market to see what’s working, and keeping your eyes on the ‘bottom line’ all the time.” Elena foresees great developments in the healthcare industry. “I think a lot of organizations are putting the patient in the center. As technology becomes more and more pervasive, it is important that they design the experience around the patient. I am seeing a lot of user-designed research and that’s really exciting.”

As she became a business owner, Elena began to experience gender discrimination, which she had not as part of corporate America.  “I began to think about how I could give back,” she said.  “A lot what happens can be very subtle.”.

Based on her experience as a mentor to other women, Elena recently published an article to supplement her newly-minted coaching practice. Entitled “7 Things Badass Professional Women Don’t Do”, it exhorts women to put their ambitions to the forefront, in a balanced way.  Three of her key tips include:

  1. Don’t put your head down and work harder.  “A lot of what happens in the corporate world is based on your relationships,” she said. “I encourage women and men to take time to build relationships around them.”

  2. Don’t say “yes.” She noted that “many women are ‘people pleasers.’ “In Elena’s opinion, “it is critical that you set boundaries so that you can protect your creativity” and your time. She also suggested “you don’t have to apologize if you have to say No.”

  3. Don’t be a “tough guy.”  In saying “no,” you can accomplish this with “grace and finesse. You don’t have to steamroll people.”

Elena acknowledged that “this can be a tough balance” for a lot of women to achieve. “I found that women have to walk a tightrope of being authentic to themselves, but also embracing their femininity, and being assertive enough to command respect.”

One of Elena’s key themes is living a balanced life. Self-care is essential in her opinion to professional success and happiness. “When I started my own business, I realized that taking care of myself was the most important thing. If I’m not exercising, sleeping, eating right, I am not able to be my best self.”  Elena ensures that she gets eight hours of sleep, blocks out time to exercise, and has good nutritional habits. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you deal with a lot of rejection,” she said.  So being in top physical shape is a protection and enables her to “handle some of that, and deal with the stresses.”  Elena said “I really love to sleep. It just makes me feel so refreshed!”   She also takes long walks with her dog, “it’s a time for meditation, listening to music or listening to podcasts.”

Elena also values mentoring. “I don’t think I would be where I am in my career, today,” she said, “without the great mentors that I’ve had, both men and women.” Elena also stated that “It’s been very important for me to mentor others. When I’ve mentored other people, I’ve gotten so much out of the experience and have learned so much from them.”  She noted that she has had both formal and informal mentoring relationships but has benefitted most from those that are organic, “relationships with people that really feel natural, and you are just the right fit, from a chemistry perspective.” She said: “I would encourage people to reach out to mentors, but if it doesn’t feel natural, don’t feel like you have to work with that person. Just keep trying to find the right person.”

Elena’s final words of wisdom for striving women are “you need to be confident in yourself; no one else is going to be able to give you that. Part of that is really understanding what your natural talents are, and making sure they’re aligned to the work you’re doing.”  Additionally, she emphasized “just be really open to trying new things. Just be open to where the experience will take you.”   Elena Lipson can be reached at elipson@mosaicgrowth.com.  

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Ep 58: Janette Phillips: Believe in Yourself; Do the “Extra”

Diva Tech Talk was delighted to interview the multifaceted and tenacious Janette Phillips. In her childhood, Janette was “studious” and “took all the science classes I could,” including Accelerated Chemistry, Physics and Science Seminar (an independent science-oriented curriculum) in high school. Her intellectual interests took a turn in college, when she matriculated to the business school at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (https://www.umich.edu/), although she had an overriding interest in philosophy. (“I like to think about the world, how it fits, how people work together…”).

Post-college, “It was in the 80’s, when the economy was a disaster!” and Janette felt lucky to land a job at Michigan Bell Telephone, which later morphed into Ameritech and then to AT&T (https://www.att.com/), after the consolidation of the Bell companies, the subsequent divestiture of portions of that monopoly, and then the reunification of companies. “I was hired as a market administrator,” she said, “which is the implementation portion of networks, and phone systems.” Janette felt blessed by her company’s comprehensive training program, and 6-month orientation.

Janette was convinced that Michigan Bell had put her in the wrong role, initially. On the first day of training, she thought: “I am in the wrong room. I should be over there with the account executives.” But she said. “It took me about three years to switch to sales. I had to prove to them that I was good. Within two weeks of entering my training class, I sold a phone system to an advertising company on the 10th floor of our building.” This underpinned Janette’s belief in herself, and her ability to successfully sell. “If you want to get somewhere, even if you are not officially ‘trained’ in it, just go!”

Initially, in that first job as a Market Administrator, she met with customers, after the sale, to ascertain their needs, and help get their systems operational. “Back then, there were paper data sheets.“ she exclaimed. “It was the precursor to computers. We had to fill out the data sheets for every user, for every feature on every phone. And then work with the installation technicians to make sure it went in properly, on time, and that everyone was happy.” She acknowledged that “I do have a lot of project management in my personality. So that role was a good base.” After two years doing that, Janette finally moved into the sales arena and worked for the next 14 years at Ameritech in a sales capacity. “At the peak of my sales role, I handled the General Motors (www.gm.com) account.”   

Janette worked closely with EDS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Data_Systems/), --- then owned by GM, prior to its acquisition by HP (www.hp.com) --- and was responsible for the telephony segment of their large computerization efforts. “GM was much bigger than they are now. They outsourced all their communication systems to us,” Janette said. “They had 200,000 voice ports, across the country.” Daily, Janette was managing a team that concentrated on the $25 million, annually, in recurring revenue that GM represented to Ameritech. She handled everything from the small key systems to the large SL100 central office type systems that controlled large locations like the GM Tech Center and manufacturing complexes in Flint, Saginaw, Lansing and others. “It was very complicated,” Janette said, acknowledging that her biggest sale at GM was a 2-year sales cycle. To accomplish that, she worked with EDS and hired Deloitte (www.deloitte.com) who “helped us do the financial modeling” for a new 7-year, fixed rate, $270 million-dollar GM contract, doubling the annualized revenue on the account to $50M. Janette was proud that “it was the largest single sale Ameritech had ever made. It was a team, but at the beginning, it was me; nobody believed in it.” Her lesson from this was: “It doesn’t matter what level you are in a company; how low you are on a totem pole. You can accomplish a lot!” And her second lesson was to consistently deliver. “Over at EDS, they could see, that if I said something would happen, I could get it done. My word was my word.” Finally, for would-be sales professionals, Janette’s advice is “to be a good salesperson, you have to know how to execute.” To meet GM’s needs, for a cutover of services, for example, “the biggest problem was inside my own company,” Janette exclaimed. To accomplish what her customer wanted: “I just became the cheerleader and the translator. I am too much of a bulldog sometimes, but you have to be.”

Janette believes that Ameritech invented the concept (now implemented throughout the technology industry) of Voice Managed Services. After the GM sale, Janette was promoted to supervise the Managed Services Department for Ameritech, regionally. “We did a big deal with IBM (www.ibm.com), which was another huge accomplishment in my career.” Then life intervened, and Janette became pregnant with her first daughter. “I married ‘late’ and had my child ‘late’,” she said. “And this job was really grueling. I was traveling to Chicago every week. I chose to walk away.”

Janette had two daughters in a 2-year timeframe. But she missed working and, “When Michelle (her daughter) was about 1.5 years old, I went to work for Nortel (www.nortel.com).” She took on a Nortel support role, working on automotive accounts including Chrysler (www.fca.com), General Motors, and Ford Motor Company (www.ford.com). “I did that for about a year, but my heart wasn’t in it, because I had young children.” Janette acknowledged that, for her, “it’s difficult to juggle young children, with a big job. It’s one thing if you have a job you go into, where you punch the clock and then you go home.” Children, like “big jobs” are “24 x 7, too!” Additionally, Janette saw that “Nortel started slipping down a slippery slope.” So, Janette took a Nortel buy-out.

“I love to work. I just love being productive.” So, Janette and her husband decide on an entrepreneurial path, and created a regional pulmonary rehabilitation clinic business. Her spouse was her “silent partner” as Janette, for 5 years, actively managed Valley Hill Therapy Centers, a two-clinic business, employing 20-plus people. “We were very good at what we did,” she said. But “If you are not a doctor, nor a hospital, it is very hard to be profitable, because Medicare dictates how much you get paid. There wasn’t enough margin in it. We were very successful, but not profitable.” With her data background, as Janette was building the business, “we created our own ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. It handled patient care, employee records, charting, electronic medical records. I sold the business to Botsford Hospital, now part of the Beaumont (www.beaumont.com) and they still use my homegrown system for patient charting.”

For three years, Janette then became the first Executive Director for The Michigan Council of Women in Technology Foundation (www.mcwt.org ), a Michigan nonprofit whose mission is to make Michigan the #1 state for women, and girls, in technology. “I was hired because I had a very strong business background,” she said. “I understood women in technology. I understood how to run a business. And I am good at projects.”

After that, Janette moved to her current role: Director of Business Development, for Chrysalis Global Consulting (www.chrysalisglobal.com) --- a certified Woman-Owned Business (WBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and a Small Business Enterprise (SBE), headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.  “I find clients who need help. We take them by the arm, and walk them through the process” of implementing and communicating to client staff about new software, and “we stay on the client side, advocating...” for her clients to selected vendors. In addition, Chrysalis, who is expanding beyond its “sweet spot” (the aviation industry), does a lot of things: “business process optimization and everything around ‘how does your business run’ and how can we help you make it more efficient, and automated.” Janette was hired to assist Chrysalis in diversification into other vertical markets beyond airlines and airports. “My role is to find business in Detroit. We now have clients in automotive, public sector, finance and healthcare.” The size of the Chrysalis prospective client varies; “whoever needs our support,” according to Janette is a prospect. “You have to be making a big investment in something to warrant a consultant, but it’s so helpful” she said.

While Janette experienced some issues, as a woman at Ameritech, the challenges did not set her back in her career. “I just didn’t care. Sometimes, in working with men, the younger you are, the harder that is. I wanted to do what’s right for the client, for my own company, for friends, for organizations. The rub is that people don’t give you enough credit for what you know or what you can accomplish. I think it’s a more natural assumption for us. But it’s just about the work. I focus on the work.” An acknowledged “workaholic”, Janette said “I just love to work. I’ve got to be doing something.” And her driving force is “making a difference in an organization, whether that’s as a member of the organization or as a volunteer.” She also noted that “I always have a life jacket on. I am always prepared.” A life lesson for Janette that she tries to impart to her two daughters is “you have to stay true to yourself. You have to do what you like. Recognize who you are; figure out where you want to get to; get out of your own head, and go! Just go.” Janette acknowledged that her husband has always been very supportive. She noted: “You might need to find a partner who is supportive and lets you be you.”

In her community life, the highly philanthropic Janette gave back and continues to give back to the greater community by participation, as her girls were growing up, in school PTO, and currently, with the Rotary Club (www.rotary.org); and now as a member of the Tech Committee for Southeast Michigan’s Automation Alley (www.automationalley.org), and the newly-minted NEW Tech Group which she hopes will serve will serve DPSCD (Detroit Public Schools Community District www.detroitk12.org ) “to help them with technology, mentoring and as the liaison to outside organizations” that can assist in sparking students’ interest in tech and also strengthen “the soft skills: things like public speaking.” She is also involved with Detroit’s Mercy Education Project (www.mercyed.net ) providing a pilot program coaching women who will soon obtain their GED to assist them in discovering who they are, what they enjoy and which jobs are best suited to them in the working world in order to advance to the next level of their lives.

Janette’s cogent advice for girls and women in the tech field is exactly the same as she hopefully, inspired her daughters with: “You need to enjoy what you do. Make sure that whatever you are doing gives you energy. Pay attention and think. And finally, work first, play second.” Janette Phillips can be reached at jphillips@chrysalisglobal.com.

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Ep 57: Farnoosh Brock: Position Yourself Powerfully

Diva Tech Talk was delighted to interview engineer, tech expert, author and leadership coach, Farnoosh Brock, who shared numerous lessons in personal development and career pivoting.

Having completed her master’s degree in electrical engineering at Clemson University (www.clemson.edu), Farnoosh first worked as a design engineer at then technology startup Atmel Corporation (http://www.atmel.com/)  for a year, before joining Cisco (www.cisco.com), where she spent the next 11 years of her career. “At that time, I started in a very technical space,” she said. “But I also had the opportunity to move around, in other roles, such as sales operations, project management, program management.  I worked with executives on their communications. I did technical writing. I got a lot of experience and am really grateful for that.”

Eight years into building her Cisco career, Farnoosh began to feel restless.  “Something was missing.”  So, she began exploring alternatives, and “I stumbled on my passion for writing,” she said.  That led to blogging and to podcasting. “For two years, it was nothing but a hobby.”  But the light bulb went off for Farnoosh when she attended a blogging conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2010.  “That changed everything.”  There she met bloggers she had been reading/following, and social media enthusiasts and experts.  “I had a huge mindset shift at that conference. I realized, for the first time, that I could do something different than my corporate career.”  Coming home, she decided “to take my hobby seriously, and turn it into a ‘side hustle’ with no impact to my career.”  She started her first newsletter; and she immersed herself into studying how to run a business, which was “something I absolutely fell in love with.” After that, “there was no looking back.”  As Farnoosh kept creating, she found much material emanated from her own experiences as well as the experiences of her prospective readers.  Eventually she consolidated and named it: Prolific Living.  “My writing voice changed. I started to create valuable content, through teaching, and wisdom, and breaking down concepts that I found useful.”  Much of the material is meant to inspire entrepreneurship, empower startups, and stretch human potential. “I talk about business a lot, but I also have a lot of content around career, because career advancement was one of my passions when I was in the corporate world.”

Farnoosh emphasized that “if you feel you have an itch to do something, that has nothing to do with your career, and it is a strong urge, I recommend you follow that.”  Addressing the fear that may accompany becoming an entrepreneur, Farnoosh said that a key to being successful in starting a new endeavor is to “have one person in your life who believes in you, unconditionally, other than yourself.”  She observes: “There is no map when you start your own business.”  For that reason, she also suggested that would-be leaders always “work with a mentor or a coach. It will accelerate your progress.” To select that coach, Farnoosh said ask yourself “how do I learn best” and ascertain what you need in terms of your strategy, your current weaknesses/strengths and the style that will help you grow, and reach your next level. “You need to look for someone who has walked down a path similar to the one you want to walk.”

Farnoosh centers much of her coaching around “positioning yourself powerfully” so you can take charge of your career, and lead it. There are some simple elements to this process:

  • “You are not selling; you are serving.”  (See yourself differently.)

  • “Connect the dots from your work to the bottom line effect.” (Articulate your impact).

  • “Create a circle of influence around you.”  (Assess your reputation, by surveying your peers, and extend your visibility if your reputation is sterling.)

  • If your reputation is not ideal, Farnoosh believes you should face that and deal with it, directly. “Start with the person you most dislike, or don’t get along with in your circle. Challenge yourself to improve your relationship with them. Then repeat that.”

  • Ensure that you begin with a positive and complete picture of yourself and your strong contributions to your work and mission. “If you don’t have a high opinion of yourself,” Farnoosh said, “it is hard to position yourself powerfully to someone else.”

  • “Know your ‘blind spots.’ When necessary, make the right adjustments.”

  • Above all: “Cultivate trust, every day. The more trust you have, the more powerful your position will be as a colleague, as a leader.”

Discussing the building of trust, Farnoosh counseled: “When you are starting a relationship, show interest. Then always ask yourself:  what is it that this person wants to get out of the relationship or partnership? And focus on that, first, before you focus on yourself.”  Additionally, she exhorted: “You want to be a deep, deep listener. Make someone really feel heard, and understood.”

The universal conundrum is that “Most of us already do a good job,” Farnoosh said. “But, how do we tell our boss, and others, where we want to go?” By being able to position ourselves powerfully, she asserted, we smooth our own journeys, and accrue the strength to forge our own unique paths.

In reflecting on her own Cisco career, Farnoosh said: “My blind spots really got in my way. My attitude wasn’t great.  I didn’t know how I was perceived. I sabotaged myself. My lesson is raise your self-awareness, hold your tongue, and control your moods. Have a great attitude.”  

Discussing gender inequality in the technical field, Farnoosh also shared that sometimes “you see it where it may not exist.”  Her counsel, for women, is “be curious, not defensive.”  She firmly believes that “trust is one of the main foundations” of successful careers, and women can be agents of change if they can learn to simply keep open, curious attitudes when encountering perceived discrimination. “Be curious, ask questions, don’t be defensive, and see yourself as an equal to your male counterparts --- until there is reason to see it differently. Then address it, accordingly.”

Farnoosh recommends the audio version of widely-acclaimed Dr. Stephen Covey’s timeless Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as highly useful for the Diva Tech Talk audience.

In closing Farnoosh imparted last words of wisdom: “slow down; take care of your body; don’t sacrifice family or personal relationships for career.”  As a yoga enthusiast she also regrets that she didn’t start her yoga regimen even sooner in her life!  And finally, “trust yourself more.  You do have the answers. You know the right decisions. Use both your heart and mind. Trust that it will all work out.”

Please feel free to contact Farnoosh Brock through her website: http://prolificliving.com.

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Ep 56: Laura Bilazarian: Not You Can, but You WILL Win

Diva Tech Talk was inspired by our interview with former investment banker and social entrepreneur, Laura Bilazarian, CEO and Founder of Teamable (https://teamable.com), an innovative company accelerating any organization’s ability to hire top talent, in today’s challenging environment. Teamable helps companies implement “smarter recruiting through social networks,” according to Laura. “We ‘connect the dots’ between open jobs and human social connections.” As a side benefit of the company’s methodology, some customers have addressed the need for greater diversity: tripling their hiring of women and minorities in leadership and other positions. “It’s easy to find people, but it’s not easy to find the right people for the right team. We are able to find a ‘needle in the haystack’.  We can unlock human potential at an earlier stage” said Laura.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business (https://www.wharton.upenn.edu/ ), the fascinating Laura began her career in investment banking -- and even made her home in Vietnam at one point. Similar to Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates (two notable tech industry superstars), Laura often found her interest in getting great grades in her college courses waning in favor of doing “deep dives” into subjects that fascinated her. “I couldn’t stand attending class,” she said. “But I would read all the required material, and beyond. I didn’t really get it until I began to understand what an entrepreneur’s mind really was. I was curious beyond the structure of getting an ‘A’.  I didn’t do such a great job on tests, but learned stuff that now is in Teamable.”

Graduating Wharton, with a degree in economics, Laura wanted to work at Google. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have the guts to go there without affirmation from my classmates.”  So her first job was at Miller Buckfire (http://www.millerbuckfire.com) an internationally recognized investment bank helping clients address complex transformation including recapitalizations, acquisitions, sales, divestitures, debt and equity financing transactions. “I traveled the world, and ended up doing private equity in Vietnam,” she said.  “I sorta hustled my way into that job, by going door-to-door, looking at mailboxes, to figure out what companies were big in Vietnam. I reached out to the biggest ones.”  

Laura had been a lifelong athlete.  In the early throes of her career, she also played professional rugby, on both a national and international basis. “Kudos for my mom for pushing me into that sport.” Her rugby-playing, on the #1 award-winning national U.S. women’s team, strengthened skills including her ability to work in teams, problem-solve, and a penchant for staying calm under pressure. She discovered: “You make a mistake in rugby, the penalty is damage to your ACL!”  Laura learned a “life lesson” from this period: “What stops you from coming in first is your own mental state.”  She quickly moved to the declarative sentence. “Instead of saying we could win a national championship, I started saying we WILL win.  Everyone was scared to say it at first. But it made all the difference.”

As she got deeper into investment banking, Laura said “at some point, I just felt that the work was meaningless. Being on Wall Street, you get burned out, moving money around, zero sum game. A few people, only, had access to capital.”  

Then, some key occurrences changed her life. “I read Mother Teresa’s letters to God (Where There Is Love, There Is God) and I had a period of introspection.  What is another way I can impact the world?”  The daughter of an Armenian father and Jewish mother, Laura “grew up learning about the Armenian genocide and the holocaust, and that had a really big impact on me.”  Laura’s brother was a news reporter in Armenia, and she was inspired to “do something there.”  She traveled to Armenia, and observed that “tech is a place where you can all win together. We could all use data to connect people to the right work.” She conceived the concept, that became Teamable, and launched a Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) campaign around it. “What is so brilliant is you can sit there, with your mind, and make something that adds value.”  

In Armenia, Laura was “inspired by the talent there, and wanted to give them something that would bring access to the global market.” She continued to pursue investment banking, co-founding a fund devoted to Armenian companies; and Teamable’s development and data science activities also all take place in Armenia. “Doing the right thing is always great,” she exclaimed. “If nothing else in a small country, they look at you having some measure of success and they have hope. And hope is a more valuable currency than currency!”

While running the Armenian fund, (which she subsequently left) and raising money for her own company, Laura’s investment banking background has been invaluable. She had insight into what investors were looking for and the questions they would ask. “I think that’s something that every CEO should learn,” she said. “Do something, like financial modeling, to really understand ‘where are the levers’ in your business. Not all levers are created equal.”  

After founding Teamable, Laura said that at first “I wouldn’t call myself an entrepreneur.  I felt like Super-Poseur.” But like her rugby career, she said “I started saying it, because once you say things you have to make them happen.”  Her three co-founders are all technical whizzes – Armenian data scientists and crackerjack programmers.  “The hardest math we did on Wall Street, they were doing in 5th grade.” The prototype system her Armenian co-founders first showed her was “the perfect predictor of team quality,” she said. “I was blown away.

The same approach to recruiting that they created, based on 15 years of social media interconnectedness, would apply to Wall Street --- getting the right people on the right teams.”  Laura moved operations to San Francisco; met with myriad Silicon Valley denizens including the top analytics team at Google; and continuously began to validate the approach and build the Teamable company and customer base. She pitched a number of times, including her first successful round at well-known Greylock Partners (www.greylock.com/), where they found an angel investor willing to take a chance on Teamable. “I took the whole team with me,” she said. “People who didn’t have a part of the pitch, I put them on ScreenShare, because part of the mission is having access, and I wanted them to see what is was like being in those meetings.”

Highly egalitarian, Laura said that it simply became obvious that, when pitching to investors, she should initially take the title of CEO. “I really don’t know when I earned it,” she said. “Maybe it was with the first money raised, or the first customer signed.” (NOTE:  40-person Teamable has raised over $5 million in its A round of investment, and has over 90 customers, to date.  The company has quadrupled in size since February, 2017).

Besides giving everyone access to as much information, learning, and connections as possible, Laura stresses that “really being honest” in terms of feedback is crucial in the Teamable culture. “I want it to be radically transparent,” she said. “With software companies, you can make adjustments quickly. If it sucks, it’s ok.  We’ll make another plan.”   She also prizes a hard work ethic.  “Everyone’s smart. Everyone’s talented.

Where you make the margin is work ethic.  It’s discipline. It’s going above and beyond.”  Finally, she is creating an environment focused on hyper-growth. “Never feeling comfortable; continuing to challenge ourselves.”  On the personal level, Laura admits that her past two years were unbalanced and “a little dark.”  But she thinks it is the direct cause of Teamable’s current success. “If you maniacally commit to anything, for two years, you will succeed,” Laura said. “I think doing what you love, you cannot have work/life balance at least for 2 to 3 years.”

Laura characterizes that women leaders have “unique competitive advantages that are and aren’t talked about.” In looking at her own advantages, she stated: “People usually trust me.”  But she also sees the well-documented disadvantages women face in raising institutional funds. In true winning fashion, she sees that as a positive challenge.  “You have to be more strategic.”  In terms of Teamable, Laura only met with 5 venture capital firms for her Series A round, because she targeted (“reverse pattern matched”) those who would be the best partners, with the best technical view of, and affinity for, the problem that Teamable was created to solve.

Ever an ambitious learner, Laura is spurred by her technology colleagues and her access to Silicon Valley brain trusts. “I took the whole machine-learning course on Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/) at 2x speed, over a weekend.”  Lean Startup  is a book that Laura would recommend any would-be startup founder reading. “I can’t stand anything that seems like a problem,” Laura summed herself up and affirmed that “It’s super-scary to leave what you’ve done. But you can do it!”

Please feel free to contact Laura at: laura@teamable.com.  

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Ep 55: Theresa Ancick: Possibilities Present Themselves

Diva Tech Talk was thrilled to interview musician-turned-technologist, Theresa Ancick, now Manager, Enterprise Business Intelligence at Beaumont Health Systems (https://www.beaumont.org), the largest health system in Michigan.  Theresa’s predilection for technology is genetic, since her father was a second-level executive at Michigan Bell (acquired by AT&T www.att.com) in the troubleshooting department. “He was a very logical-minded, smart person,” Theresa shared. “I think I inherited a lot of his logic.”  In high school, Theresa took one of the first computer programming classes they offered, and aced it. “The other thing I did well in was total office procedures.  And considering where I wound up in life, it’s interesting those things showed up so soon.”

After high school, Theresa sang in a band, and traveled around the Midwest. “I had a lot of fun.  But my friends were graduating from colleges and getting married.  I went ‘oh my gosh, I think I might be a loser’ and decided to get off the couch and try and get a life of some sort.”  That new career life began with a brief stint as a waitress, “while I tried to figure things out.”  Then Theresa selected a job “specifically in computers” at Electronic Laser Forms, a now defunct company in Fraser, Michigan, that focused on producing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage forms for prospective home buyers.  She made a financial sacrifice to do that to learn more about computers “because I felt it was going to get me farther in life, ultimately. It was a big risk for me. I was a lot more fearless back then.”  Theresa used that first job to learn everything she could.  “I dove into every nook and cranny of the program, of the company, and soaked it all in.”  

Next, Theresa was hired by Gentry Machinery Builders, in Troy, Michigan to automate that small company’s accounting system.  “They had a complete manual accounting system. So, I started automating the accounting, even though I had no experience with it. Then I started gaining my confidence. I started having really big results.”  Theresa learned everything she could about Gentry’s accounting system (payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger) as well as how to quickly computerize all the functions and reports.  “And I was installing modems, and small networks and things like that” she said. “Tony Robbins (https://www.tonyrobbins.com)  talks about discovering what your passions are; when you get involved with something and lose track of time. I remember getting on my computer at home at 11 PM, and then looking up and …omigosh…. it’s 4:30 AM in the morning! I was in such focus. I loved it.  It was like putting puzzles together.”

This quickly blossomed into Theresa’s first entrepreneurial venture, when the vendor who sold Gentry their computers (Michigan Computer Solutions: http://michcomp.com/)  recognized her talents; suggested she provide the same services to other companies in the machine industry; and referred her to her first new customer. She proceeded to automate that first customer’s accounting systems, but the owner was initially alarmed and gruff.  “The first month it didn’t balance,” she lamented. “Then I figured out that his CPA had miscategorized something. I pointed it out and stayed positive. He was so thankful that he sent me to every one of his friends! Within two weeks, I had to quit my ‘day job.’ “

Naming her consulting company, Accura Business Services Corporation, Theresa did not look back, (“it was a wave that took over me”).  She created a template that included both an external audit trail, and an internal audit trail.  She could modify it according to her client’s needs, and give them a workable system to use “I was very popular in the tooling industry but I also served landscape companies, libraries, restaurants, you name it.  I served over 200 companies, with their CPAs.  It was an education I would not have gotten at Harvard.  I saw companies that were wildly successful, and I saw why.  The inner workings of a company --- it’s a fascinating place to be.  I learned so much.”  

Theresa gave up her own company after the birth of her daughter, who suffered from the very rare “Caffey disease:” infantile cortical hyperostosis.  No insurance company would cover her daughter, so she accumulated significant debt.  To qualify for family health benefits, she took a job at the Help Desk at Macomb-Oakland Regional Center (https://www.morcinc.org ).  This turned out to be another karmic opportunity, since MORC had just become an official nonprofit, and was struggling to adhere to nonprofit financial requirements, and deal with Medicaid billing.  Theresa dove into their billing system, based on her recent experiences and her penchant for “just figuring things out.”  In 9 months, they stabilized the MORC processes; moved from their antiquated tape-to-tape system; and became the one of the first mental health non-profits in Michigan to fully automate their billing system. These advances helped MORC achieve $4 million above projected annual billings that year, due to the efficiencies built into the new program.

Theresa worked at MORC for 10 years, eventually becoming its Director, Applications and Data Management. Along the way, she became aware of data warehousing and its intrinsic benefits to any business or non-profit operation.  “It was this intriguing thing on the horizon,” she said. “I kept my ear to the ground.  Groups were forming. Very exciting time in technology!  Things began to emerge with the Data Warehouse Institute.”  To further explore that technology, Theresa moved to work at Oakland County Community Mental Health (https://www.occmha.org/ ), where new data warehouse initiatives were starting.  “I worked with one of the best database administrators ever,” she said. “He took on the ETL and programming piece.  I took on the mapping and definitions.  And then we incorporated dashboards and reports, and started delivering business intelligence to Oakland County.”   She saw this as her “perfect job,” a place where “we had fun, and worked hard.  There was a lot of respect; we became aware that the more we built each other up, the better we all were.  We were all successful.”  Simultaneously working as a consultant, Theresa took on a similar project at Saginaw County Mental Health, where she triumphantly demonstrated she could produce a single interactive report that comprised all the data requested from 12 different reports. Theresa was extremely complimented when the remark was made: “She gave me a report that I didn’t even know I could ask for!”

Eventually Theresa led an 11-person team responsible for state-of-the art business intelligence and billing systems for OCCMH.  After her daughter made it to her healthier teenage years, Theresa also went back to school at Baker College for her degree. “I have such fond memories.  It was exciting to be 48 years old, and immersed in college with a bunch of 20-year olds,” she said.  

She left OCCMH, (“it was time”) and enjoyed a period of “bopping around.”  As a contractor, she worked for Blue Care Network, an arm of Blue Care/Blue Shield of Michigan (https://www.bcbsm.com/ )  and then for Sun Communities (www.suncommunities.com ) , concentrating at both companies on business intelligence projects.  She migrated to Credit Acceptance Corporation (www.creditacceptance.com) as Manager, Data Warehouse (“they have a very sophisticated system; I was always learning.”).  From Credit Acceptance, she just recently moved to Beaumont Health System: “I feel like I am moving to an opportunity that was meant for me --- the impact for data analytics to have a positive effect on human lives.”

Theresa did experience a certain measure of harassment during her career. Because she was a contractor, “I had to learn how to manage misbehavior in a way that the perpetrator would still see me in a positive light. As I got older, I got more comfortable being a woman, as my professional expertise and reputation grew.  Sometimes, I would just wait for someone to get more comfortable.  I learned the art of demonstrating my capability.”

Theresa’s entrepreneurial advice to others considering starting businesses is multifaceted:  learn to delegate, “think bigger,” stay in learning mode, when you need to know something ask for help, and “when you hire somebody to do something, get out of their way.” Along the way, she saw companies falter because “they tended to micro-manage and they couldn’t get into the next thing.”  In addition, for any career, she strongly recommends that everyone get a variety of mentors to assist and guide them; and “learn how to speak with dignity and respect at all times. You can put exactly what you want out in the Universe fearlessly, and the possibilities present themselves.” Theresa is very emphatic about the importance of human cooperation.  “Collaboration skills are not identified or taught. How you frame things are so important to me.  I grade my staff on how well they collaborate.”

A consistent giver, Theresa does food drives for the Gleaners Community Food Bank (www.gcfb.org/ ).  As an open mic host, she also organizes two major fundraising events per year for multiple sclerosis.  Additionally, she works with the St. Vincent and Sara Fisher Center (https://www.svsfcenter.org/ ) to provide GED testing for people who cannot afford it (“a cause very dear to my heart”). Theresa defines her vision of perfect happiness as being with her grandchildren, and her guitar in a house on a lake (“surrounded by rainbows and unicorns”).

Please feel free to contact Theresa Ancick at tancick@gmail.com or on Twitter @DivaoftheData.

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