Advice for Women Entrepeneurs

Since founding APPCityLife six years ago, I’ve often vacillated between guilt and gratitude – guilt over not being a stay-at-home mom anymore and gratitude for the many opportunities for growth. I’ve made peace (mostly) with the trade-offs, knowing that there is no real balance in life for anyone. Whatever we choose as our path in life, we lose out on something else – and if we spend our time regretting what couldn’t happen, we completely miss the value of what is right in front of us.

I think accepting this truth is such a big challenge for women who feel a deep sense of responsibility to their family but who also want to launch their own business or grow it to the next level. The guilt of what we can no longer give to our family can become a burden that prevents the very success we’re seeking. But a far more insidious barrier to success comes when we give ourselves permission to use obligations to family as an escape hatch when things get scary or hard.

If I had one piece of advice to give to other women entrepreneurs, it would be this: Don’t ever devalue your role as a mother, daughter, or anything else, by using it as the scapegoat for your lack of performance as an entrepreneur.

 

I recently attended a meeting where a brilliant young woman entrepreneur was called out for her lack of preparation. The accusations were pointed, public and, frankly, over the top. I learned afterwards from several in attendance that the lack of preparation on her part (as well as several others who weren’t so publicly challenged) had far more to do with miscommunication of expectations from the person who had gotten angry with her. And had she spoken directly to that failure to clearly set goals and expectations, she would have established herself as the leader that I know she is. But when she chose to use family obligations as an escape hatch to avoid the heat instead of taking it on directly, she devalued her role as a mother and her credibility as a leader. She’s a tough, driven entrepreneur, and I have no doubt that her experience in that meeting will help her make the more difficult decision the next time she faces a similar challenge.

Another friend of mine recently expressed how guilty she felt every time she had to tell her children no when they asked to do something when she was working on her business. But here’s the thing – unless our children are newborns, they don’t need our constant attention and time. In fact, it can stifle their ability to develop a sense of independence and self-reliance. And if a woman is going to take the step of becoming an entrepreneur and sacrifice some of her time with family to build a business, she owes it to herself and her family to take it seriously enough to make it worth the sacrifice. When we play at entrepreneurship, we not only severely reduce our chances of success, we cheat ourselves and our family out of our time without anything to show for the sacrifice. When we make the more difficult decision to believe that what we are building is important and deserves our full effort, we can feel better about the time we spend on our business – and about the time we dedicate to our family.

It is so tempting to tap into that calling of “family obligations” as our escape hatch. After all, who is going to call us out for doing such a noble thing as sacrificing the time we need to spend on our company to fulfill some family obligation? It’s easy to use as our excuse to step back from the edge of growth right before a breakthrough.

When we don’t hide behind our personal obligations and actually face our fears, the growth that happens is exhilarating. And whether we succeed or fail, we learn something about ourselves – that we can make decisions as a leader and still be okay with our relationships with those around us. In fact, those varying parts of our lives can co-exist far easier when we know we aren’t using one as an excuse to avoid the other. Entrepreneurship for women isn’t an either/or proposition. It’s about finding what works and being honest with ourselves about the journey so that we can embrace the changes and the growth along the way.

Forget Snakes on a Plane – Pets on a Plane are Nightmare Enough

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I’m pretty sure I qualify for Seasoned Traveler status – maybe not the frequent flier miles that some business travelers rack up, but I’ve rarely gone longer than six weeks in the past two years with a flight somewhere. As a frequent traveler, I’ve come to appreciate the challenges that flight crews face and try my best to be respectful of the rules when flying so that I don’t add to their hassles or to those of other travelers. I’ve watched one passenger hauled off of a flight – literally; he was dragged off after refusing to leave on his own. I’ve witnessed abusive, rude passengers who were treated with far more dignity and respect by the flight crew than was merited, and I have seen my share of in-flight emergencies and dramas where passengers and crew swiftly and selflessly came to the aid of someone needing assistance.

So when I was asked to move seats from a third-row, upgraded seat on my flight home last night from New York City so that a mother and son could sit together, I got up and moved – despite my new seat being in the front row that would require my carry-on to be stored due to no under-seat storage. As a mother, I knew I would want someone else to do the same for me, so I moved without complaint.

What I didn’t realize is that I’d been re-seated next to a couple with a pet in transit.

To be clear, I am a pet owner, and I love our dog, so this isn’t about not liking dogs or even being allergic to pets  – although I think both are completely reasonable objections that should be considered valid by the airline industry. If we can be asked to not eat peanuts on a flight when someone aboard has an allergy, why is it ok to allow pet dander to float about the cabin – and suggest that the person with the allergy be reseated or rebooked – or carry a life-saving epi-pen instead of requiring the owner with the pet to re-book?

But, as I said, my complaint isn’t about either of those things. And this isn’t about service dogs, whose owners are usually quite careful to prevent their pets from socializing with others while the animal is working. Besides, the ADA Act  specifically allows service animals on board, so it really isn’t even a question.

CMgCgNvUAAAhdWr.jpg-largeWhat finally provoked me into writing this piece is my frustration with the airline staff who allowed passengers to sit next to me in the front row with their pet in complete violation of their own company’s policy – which clearly states that passengers with pets cannot be seated in rows without storage under the seat. Not only were these passengers seated in the front row, they were allowed to keep their pet carrier on their lap during takeoff and, once the seatbelt signs were turned off, they were allowed to store large duffle bags in the walkway blocking my exit from my own row. And this doesn’t even begin to cover my annoyance that these passengers were not required to keep their beloved pooch in its carrier during the flight. Instead of addressing any of these issues, the attendants happily chatted about how darling the dog was and how wonderful it was to have a pet.

No, I didn’t complain, so this isn’t about flight attendants who blatantly disregarded the complaints of a passenger. I honestly wasn’t sure what the rules were regarding pets on planes, so I tolerated it. But after a little research today, I have learned what the flight attendants should have already known – that the furry passenger who shared his dog breath with me for three long hours should have never been in that row at all.

I do realize I am tilting at windmills here, as there is no way the airline industry is going to give up the very lucrative fees charged to transport pets. And it does explain why peanuts will be kept off a flight (no money lost) but pet dander will not. Most airlines state they are happy to re-book any passenger who complains about boarding a flight with a pet on it, but, seriously, who among us can afford another day stuck in a hotel somewhere or for our schedule to be further disrupted just to board a different flight which is still not guaranteed to be pet-free? I certainly don’t have a solution, but I do know that I shouldn’t have been trapped next the furry traveling companion who made last night’s flight one I won’t soon forget.

Watch New Mexico Rise: A Conversation with Peter Ambs, CIO, Albuquerque

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Peter Ambs, CIO, City of Albuquerque, NM

How do you implement twenty years’ worth of innovative technology in record time?

Start with a Mayor that has the innovative vision and drive to upgrade years’ worth of obsolete, archaic business systems and processes while simultaneously creating an innovative, entrepreneurial ecosystem that spurs community economic development.

Shortly after taking office, Mayor Richard Berry of the City of Albuquerque, recognized the need to modernize and create efficiencies in how the city works internally and provides services to its citizens. Through his initiatives, Albuquerque became an early innovator of the smart city movement, establishing one of the world’s first open data policies and portals as well as promoting unique purchasing processes which spurred departmental adoption of new technologies and made it easier to collaborate with startups and innovators in civic technology.

I was thrilled when our Albuquerque-based startup, APPCityLife, was invited to collaborate with the city prior to the open data launch. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of seeing those efforts pay off with significant savings to the city, better processes for addressing the needs of citizens, and greater transparency. It has also generated broader community interaction and served as part of the catalyst of change for the city’s entrepreneurial community, resulting in commitments and collaboration with organizations like Living Cities, the Kauffman Foundation, Bloomberg Cities, and Code for America.

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I recently visited with Peter Ambs, the City of Albuquerque’s CIO. He is the visionary behind the overhaul of the city’s IT infrastructure as well as the implementation of innovative initiatives such as creating an open data portal and has been a significant driver in New Mexico’s rise. The challenge to innovate, he says, began from the top.

“In the very beginning of Mayor Berry’s tenure, he made it clear that we were to embark upon a mission of improving and optimizing the inefficient and obsolete business systems that were in place and creating a drag on the organization,” says Ambs.  “We were also to create an atmosphere and culture of innovation that would radically transform the government/citizen relationship – we needed to better connect our citizens to City government.”

Lofty goals are important places to start, but turning goals into completed milestones is no easy task. Ambs describes that process. “To do this, we have put digital processes at the core of how we do business and provide city services. By upgrading and implementing functionality within the City’s business systems, we have been able to digitally streamline the Financial, Human Resources, and Procurement process to fully achieve automated workflow processes,” says Ambs. He says those upgrades are already paying off. “Payroll process times have been cut in half, and the time to compile and publish financial reports has been reduced by months.”

But it wasn’t just about upgrading; it was also about bringing in innovation, says Ambs.

“We performed the process improvements while innovating at the same time.  We needed to radically innovate while optimizing operations.  Again, Mayor Berry was central to this as we stood up the transparency and open data portals to match his vison of openness and accountability in government.  By publishing ‘open data’, we spawned the dawning of ‘civic tech’.  We moved data that had traditionally been stored behind city firewalls and made it available to the public. By making this data available, citizens and civic tech developers can take this data and synthesize it into meaningful information which helps create a smarter and more livable city.”

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I also had the opportunity to hear Amb’s view of our own company’s role in the city’s adoption of civic tech. “APPCityLife was at the forefront of this movement, creating a portfolio of civic apps for Albuquerque.  A good example is ABQ RIDE, which provides real-time bus location and route schedule information and has transformed how our citizens receive information about our public transportation system.” The app also features route-specific filtered push notices for delays, emergencies or route changes and bike route mapping.

The city worked with several early civic tech startups as they explored new avenues of innovation, including See Click Fix, who collaborated with the city to deliver 311 services to citizens via a mobile app. “The ABQ311 app is another example of how we have digitally connected citizens to City services,” says Ambs. “Early on, Mayor Berry told me he wanted an app where he could take a picture of a situation that needed a City service  – like a pot hole or graffiti – and have that ticket entered and assigned to the City Department responsible for remediation.  We now have that app and many more that provide information and access to City services and amenities.”

Ambs’ long-term plan has allowed the city to move quickly.

Says Ambs, “We adopted the attitude of ‘two-speed’ IT, where one IT area focuses on the running of the business, keeping the lights on, and the other area focuses on innovation and disruptive technologies.  By bifurcating IT this way, we have the ability to go fast (innovative) while not jeopardizing the business of running the City.  We also tend to get the buy-in and sponsorship much better when the business owners (the Departments) own and sponsor their innovation projects; IT becomes more of a facilitator.  A good example of this is our Planning Department, running and owning the new application to allow for online permitting, licensing, and business registrations.”

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It was because of the city’s creative approach to innovation projects that our own company was able to build a globally-focused end-to-end mobile platform  for civic app development.  Through apps like ABQ BioPark, which features cool new tech like beacon integration and Roadrunner Food Bank‘s game-changing food finding app, we’ve continued to add civic-focused features. The platform’s rapid prototyping and open source templating features make it possible to quickly and easily integrate mobile and spur innovation to a wider network of cities and govtech companies.

What is most exciting is that Ambs says open data is just the beginning.”We are just now scratching the surface of what open data and innovation can do to create a smarter and more livable city,” he says. “We want to see Albuquerque and its citizens enabled with a raised digital quotient that will sustain innovation such that civic tech companies such as APPCityLife and others can flourish and provide economic mobility to our citizens.”

It’s been a privilege to have been even a small part of the changes happening in Albuquerque. Thanks to the committed efforts of many in our community like Peter Ambs, we’ve made the leap not just into the present but are moving full steam ahead into the future of civic tech. It’s exciting to watch New Mexico rise.

This post also published on What’s APPening® and Huffington Post.
Note: APPCityLife has worked with the City of Albuquerque since 2012.

Why the Traffic Stop of Sandra Bland Should Scare Us All

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Today I am wading into some uncomfortable waters, not because I like controversy, but because it matters.

I’ve just watched the full video of the arrest of Sandra Bland, a civil rights activist from Chicago who was starting a new chapter of her life with a job in Texas when a traffic stop by Officer Brian Encinia quickly escalated into a series of events that ended in her untimely death in a jail cell, with Mr. Encinia under criminal probe, and her death, initially reported as suicide, under investigation as murder.

This video scares me to death.

Not because I think every police officer is bad. I do not. By and large, I believe most care about the welfare of those within their community and work hard to protect the public while risking their lives to do so, conducting themselves with a high level of professionalism under difficult circumstances. I have deep respect for the many within our communities who serve with integrity and who uphold the law with compassion and professionalism.

But there has been an increased number of incidents where police officers have not controlled their own emotions but escalated a situation because of their own confrontational, aggressive behavior, looking a lot more like they’ve been trained for combat than civil service.

As a mother of a teenage son, that absolutely terrifies me.

Whether he is out with friends or attending school, since more public schools are housing armed officers on premises – including his, I can’t imagine that I am alone in worrying that my kid could end up in a domino-effect of escalated reactions by an authority figure which results in terrible consequences. One only has to read about the young boy with autism who was physically forced into a trash can by his teacher or about the 1,600 students in a single school district in Louisiana who all within a single year now have arrest records for such reprehensible behavior as throwing Skittles on the school bus, carrying a cell phone or using bad words to understand that extreme responses to minor incidences are already a problem in some schools.

2472344B-343C-4C95-9AF9-1376999663A9There is growing outrage over these extreme consequences resulting from out of control authority figures, and yet, especially when it comes to our police, we  understand that the difficult task of keeping order means that sometimes force is absolutely required to address dangerous situations which threaten the lives of citizens and police officers. And the increased awareness is also, in part, a result of mandates for greater transparency which has led to more dash cam recordings shared with the public as well as the proliferation of cell phone cameras and platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Reddit. Open digital platforms have resulted in rapid, real-time sharing of evolving events, turning the world into active participants in the court of public opinion. Dante Barry, the Executive Director of Million Hoodies for Justice, recently shared his insights at the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC on this new age of powerful platforms generating powerful movements like #BlackLivesMatter. Barry presented many counterpoints addressing the need for judicious protections of privacy and rights as new technologies are adopted.

But even more important than technology, I believe the impetus is on us to address the human factor as well. The behavior of some of the authority figures caught on video is downright scary. When we understand that the person standing inches away from our vehicle may be a consummate professional with proper training or might be someone who quickly escalates to force, we, as citizens, end up having to decide when we are pulled over whether to push back when we believe our rights are being violated or to accept the possible violation of our rights as the necessary price of not possibly ending up in jail or dead. And when we have to teach our children to not question what is being decided about them by a teacher, principal or police officer for fear that any sign of resistance my trigger this kind of escalation, what kind of adults are we going to produce? Is the answer as simple as implementing new training techniques which focus less on ‘combat preparedness’ and more on behavioral techniques? Is the solution much less attainable due to systemic problems which run much deeper? I honestly don’t know the answer. I just know that somehow we have to find a way to stop the extreme escalations by those in authority positions which result in devastating, irreparable tragedies for everyone involved.

The Hidden Cost of Quitting

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We’ve all heard some version of the saying that begins “when the going gets tough…” But the reality is that when things get difficult, even the tough find it very tempting to look for reasons to give up. And to be fair, quitting can be the right decision – but the hidden costs of that choice mislead us into thinking that the relief of giving up is worth the disappointment of not finishing.

When we come upon a massive barrier to accomplishing a goal, the level of desire to gain whatever we see as the ultimate reward is directly related to the price we are willing to pay to overcome the barrier.

If our goal is to earn a specific degree in college, it isn’t the degree itself that keeps us going through the difficult classes or enormous financial costs – it’s the ultimate reward of a coveted lifestyle or opportunity to work within a specific field that forces us to dig deep in the difficult moments where quitting seems to be so much easier than continuing. The degree is just a piece of paper; it’s what that piece of paper makes possible that we see as the ultimate reward.

If we’ve chosen to become an entrepreneur, it is rarely the job itself that we see as the big reward; it is seeing our idea becoming a reality, our solution to a problem put into action that fuels us to give up so much to see that vision through to fruition.

But, whatever the goal, when things get difficult, we begin weighing the cost in front of us with the value of that ultimate reward. We start to doubt whether we are actually capable of finishing the goal, whether we’d really like the results of finishing, and we begin to think of ways to lessen the goal to something that wouldn’t take nearly as deep a toll on us financially, physically, emotionally or mentally. We allow ourselves to rationalize why quitting would be better. We would have more time again. We wouldn’t be so broke, because we could do something easier to make money right away. We would have more time to pursue a hobby. We could put all of our energy into a new interest that looks easier to do and like a lot more fun that what we’re trying to accomplish now. The reasons, really, are limitless.

Quitting brings instant relief. The pressure is off. The fear of failing is over since quitting isn’t the same as failing (or so we tell ourselves). And the temporary disappointment we feel and that others may express will pass. Besides, it’s not their life, it’s ours, so if we’re ok with the decision, everyone else can just get on board or keep it to themselves. Ah, yes, it is so alluring to quit.

But what we don’t take into consideration nearly often enough is the hidden costs of quitting. That temporary disappointment we feel in ourselves? It’s not temporary. It’s permeates every facet of our psyche and has a powerful effect on our future decisions. When we find a new goal for ourselves, we begin that goal with the knowledge that we might quit without reaching it. It makes it harder to begin again and easier to quit the next time. When we measure ourselves up against our competition, we secretly believe that we may not go as far as they will, because we might quit when they’re still committed and willing to pay a higher cost to get to success. We start making smaller choices, safer decisions, and we start seeing ourselves as less-than.

Sometimes we will fail. But the long term cost of failing isn’t nearly as devastating if we’ve given everything we could to try to achieve our goal as it is when failure comes by quitting. And, yes, sometimes the right decision is to quit. Sometimes the price is too high. Sometimes we weren’t realistic when we set out to achieve some goal. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right. Sometimes a need arises that supersedes our desire to accomplish a goal. And when that is truly the case, the challenge will come in reminding ourselves of the actual facts of why we quit when we begin to doubt our ability to see something through to the end. In those instances, we must remember that sometimes the sacrifice of giving up is the right price to pay to meet a higher need.

But far too often we tell ourselves we’re quitting to meet a higher need when the reality is that the cost of continuing just looks far too expensive. It gets harder before it gets easier. It looks more impossible right before the solution becomes clear. And we will never, ever know the incredible joy and satisfaction of success if we quit when we’re on the dark side of difficulty.

The next time you’re tempted to give up on a goal, ask yourself if it is worth living with that choice the rest of your life. Ask if the future regret will be worth the relief now. Your answer may surprise you, and it may be the fuel you need to push through when the going gets tough.

 

On Anger and Thriving in the Startup Pressure Cooker

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As the founder of a tech startup, I’ve certainly had my share of experiences where the choice to let go of anger has been the only way I could maintain the emotional and mental resources needed to weather the extreme highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Anyone who has been involved in a startup understands that the pressure to deliver on a vision with limited or nonexistent funds, personnel or supplies brings out the best – and worst – in each of us.

We say things we don’t mean. We say things we absolutely mean but might have had the wisdom to keep to ourselves under other conditions. We do things we regret. And, at some point or another, we end up on the receiving of those same experiences.

Sometimes the blame for the fractures in our relationships lies squarely on our own shoulders, and when it does, feeling angry is wasted emotion. It’s far more productive to serve ourselves a slice of humble pie and offer up an apology.  When it comes from an honest place, an apology opens the way back to peace. Building a startup is emotionally draining, even in good times, and making sure we aren’t weighted down by unresolved issues – especially when we hold the power to make amends – is vital. But it is the wounds which are result of others’ betrayal or wrong behavior, the ones which we cannot repair, which often disrupt our peace, cloud our judgment, and distract us from our goals.

One of the most important traits we need as an entrepreneur is the inner calm to persevere amidst the intense emotions of the startup pressure cooker, especially if our journey is made more difficult by the actions of another.

If the damage to our reputation or company rises to the level of needing to take action against it, then we shouldn’t waste our energy on anger. Immediately consulting a lawyer will clarify the available options, but the decision to take legal action is a serious one. While it may feel empowering to fight back, there is a high financial and emotional cost attached to public court battles, and every moment spent on resolving conflict through the courts is time not spent growing the startup or supporting our team. Sometimes legal recourse is the right course of action, but it is a decision that should only be made after very careful consideration to all factors involved.

But, by and large, most of the difficulties we experience with others do not rise to this level. That in no way changes the amount of pain and anger we experience. Whatever the conflict, whatever the cause of the anger, if we hold onto it, we will be the loser, because anger drags us down, changes our perspective, diminishes our drive and energy, depletes our hope for the future. If we allow it to grow, anger will eventually cloud our own vision and destroy our ability to lead our team forward to success.

So just let it go. Every single time anger once again surges to the surface, make the conscious decision to just let it go. We can choose to focus on the future, on the positive and not allow our painful experiences along our journey to cloud our own vision. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone else on our team to preserve the emotional resources needed to achieve success.

And when we make the choices that allow us to preserve our inner peace, the reward is that the sweet savor of success isn’t marred with the bitter aftertaste that comes with lingering anger. And isn’t that why we began this journey of entrepreneurship in the first place?