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Musings, Meanderings and Miscellaney


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Finding My Wings: How I Learned to Lead

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It is odd when epiphanies come. Mine happened while I was standing on a busy New York City street corner with my husband as taxis sped by and sirens wailed somewhere nearby. My roots are in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I absolutely love living there. So for me, this sense of belonging, of coming home, when I visit New York has always been a bit confusing for me. But in that moment standing beside my husband, who has not only shared the past 26 years of my life but has also been my biggest champion, I finally understood.

“This is where I learned I had wings. This is where I finally believed I could do this, that I had what I needed inside to grow into the kind of CEO I needed to become,” I said.

And, no, it wasn’t anything magical about the city that helped me find my confidence. I can clearly pinpoint it back to what I learned about myself when I attended my first Women Entrepreneurs Festival at NYU. The fifth annual WE Festival just wrapped up this week, featuring a stellar lineup of women investors from some of the biggest firms in the country and women entrepreneurs building some of the fastest growing, most successful companies around today. Attendees had the privilege of not only listening to the powerful story and asking their own questions of fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg, but also gaining insight and direct advice from successful entrepreneurs like Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox and Susan Gregg Koger, founder of ModCloth. This year’s event delivered, just as it has every year since I first attended.

In fact, I credit the beginning of my metamorphosis to Joanne Wilson, angel investor, advocate, blogger and cofounder of WE Festival. I had a chance to talk with Joanne recently and share with her the impact that her festival had on my own journey. When I applied to attend my first WE Festival in 2013, I’d already been in business for two years and had lived through the initial learning curve — my first hire, my first employee quitting, my first pivot, my first pitch as the only woman on stage in front of 500 total strangers. But when I arrived at WE Festival 2013, I was in the middle of an acquisition offer to bring on an entire team, one of whom was my spouse. It was terrifying, and I felt completely out of my league. My spouse and his cofounders were very successful serial entrepreneurs, highly trained engineers, and had worked together over two decades. I knew that the combined teams would be a winning combination, but I was filled with self-doubt and worry that I wouldn’t be able to lead the team the way they deserved.

That first conference I attended changed how I saw myself. That year, Joanne Wilson talked about the dangers of the toxic self-talk women conduct that diminishes our confidence without anyone else saying or doing anything. I realized that if a woman as put-together as Joanne had that same challenge, there was nothing wrong with me for the self-doubts I felt. It was normal, and I could combat that inner voice because it was poisoning the well of my creativity and confidence. It was a landmark moment when I learned to stop apologizing for whatever lacks there were in my past and to embrace my skills. We can all do that – we simply have to decide we’re going to stop accepting self-doubt as valid fact and get busy doing the things we are afraid we cannot do.

Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit, was one of the panelists at that year’s conference, and it was her advice to me that empowered me with the tools to be a more effective leader. After sharing a bit about my acquisition plans, I asked the rockstar CEO and engineer what advice she had for me becoming an effective leader of engineers who were more experienced, more intelligent and more degreed than I would ever be.

“You get in the cage and wrestle with them, and you don’t come out until you’re the winner. They won’t respect you if you can’t do that,” she told me.

I realized that if this very successful technical CEO had to ‘wrestle’ with her engineering team, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. Ironically, I’ve come to learn that this particular trait that is common among engineers is actually one I have come to highly value from our team, because their challenges vet our path and help avoid pitfalls. I’ve also come to learn that I really can lead, and believe my willingness to grow into this role is what allowed our team to focus on the difficult challenge of inventing the technology we needed to bring our vision to reality.

This year’s WE Festival was just as wonderful as I expected, with fresh insights, advice, and solid feedback that will help me be better prepared for this year’s challenges of expanding into new markets. Each year, I find that I’m in a different stage and still manage to gain what I need as takeaways from peers in the trenches and role models who are paving the way for those who follow. But I’m not sure any conference will ever have as powerful impact as that first year. It changed everything for me.

When I shared my epiphany with my husband as we stood on that busy New York City street, I was reminded why he’s still my best friend after all these years. “It may have taken a conference in New York to help you see you had wings to fly, but it didn’t for me. I’ve known it all along.”


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Higher Creativity with Lower Working Memory – Surprises of ADHD, Dyslexia, Giftedness, and More

Lisa Abeyta:

LOVE THIS: in celebration of helicopter moms who refuse to accept the opinions of ‘professionals’ who deem their children lazy, unteachable, and unworthy of their interest or effort.

Originally posted on Dyslexic Advantage Blog:

juggler-working-memoryWorking memory is that short term memory that you use when we’re trying to keep information in mind just long enough to do something else, like writing down a telephone number, or the page numbers for a homework assignment. Working memory is often referred to as a mental juggler because it is what allows the brain to do many different things at once.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 5.23.34 PMDyslexic children and adults typically have lower working memory capacities, although their long term memories (especially for personal events) may be quite strong.

In the figure above (data from our dyslexia clinic), students’ WISC-IV IQ scores showed that verbal (VCI) and perceptual (PRI) reasoning scores were on average much stronger than working memory (WMI) or processing speed (PSI) scores. So that even though highly gifted students had relatively weak working memories, it didn’t seem to prevent them from excelling at higher order thinking and problem solving. If you didn’t know, there is a high…

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How Boys Learn Girls Wear Bows, High Heels and Help the Guys

“Minnie and Daisy are girls. They wear bows and high heels and help the guys.”

The two children squeezed together in the seat next to me at the gate in the airport were beyond giddy. All it took was a smile from me, and they took it as a sign for permission to speak. I travel so much these days that I tend to avoid conversations in the airport or on the plane – it’s precious time to reconnect with everyone and dig through the dark abyss I call my email inbox. Chit chat is a luxury for people on vacation and the rare trip; business travelers learn that sitting time is working time.

 

imageBut this time I couldn’t resist. Within minutes, the two had shared the exciting news that they were leaving the below zero temperatures of Chicago for Orlando, Florida – and not just Florida but to take a Disney Cruise. As they shared their excitement, I recalled the wonderful memories of my husband and I taking our own children to Disneyland – precious, happy memories. Well, most of them. My son had a few issues with The Beast getting very close. I smiled as the young girl showed me her workbooks with word searches of Disney words, and I listened patiently as her younger brother pulled out his collection of little plastic Disney character figurines and told me who each of them were. He named each of this toys – Pluto, Captain Hook, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse. He saved his last two figurines, holding them separate from the rest. “These ones, they’re, they’re … girls,” he said.

“Really?” I asked, half glancing at my inbox which was still as full as when I’d sat down.

“Yes,” he said. “Minnie and Daisy are girls. See? They wear bows and high heels.” He turned the figurines over to point out their fancy purple and pink heels. “And they help the guys.”

Just as he was ready to launch into more of his description of his girl characters, his mother called him over, and the moment passed. I went back to my inbox, but now I couldn’t focus on any of the messages needing my attention. His words kept ringing in my ears – this well-behaved, sweet little boy – and what he already understood in his own mind about what girls were for.

Please don’t get me wrong – I am not a Disney-hater, and I absolutely love that my daughter loved her Cinderella constume I hand-sewed for her one year. I’ve even pushed back against the idea that we shouldn’t call our daughters princess. I think it’s just as wrong to prevent our daughters from exploring the whimsical, fanciful side of feminity as it is to put them in a stereotype box and keep them there.

But as I listened to this tiny little man with stereotypes about girls already firmly in place, I cringed. But how could he conclude anything else from his toys? When the girl characters have their hands folded under their chin in a helpless, hopeful pose and boy characters have their arms stretched wide in powerful poses, what else is a little lad to conclude? And what little boy doesn’t fancy himself the rescuer, the powerful, brave man who wins the girl’s heart by saving the day for her? And isn’t some of that good? Don’t we want our sons to hold our daughters precious, to protect their hearts, reputations, and values? Don’t we want a bit of chivalry, the part that causes a young man to put forth the effort to treat his young date like she is the most precious gem in the world?

So how do we foster both of these very conflicting attitudes – the need to allow our children to explore fictional, larger-tha-life stereotypes and the need to foster respect for equal rights and support for women?

I started this same morning in our nation’s capitol visiting with Congresswoman Michelle Grisham of New Mexico. We talked about the challenges of empowering women in our state to take on larger roles in building corporations capable of changing economies, of holding up powerful role models to inspire women to explore new roles, of our desires for our daughters to have more opportunites and better support to not have to choose to either raise a family or contribute to the brain trust of our state. When we leave women no palatable options for balancing their professional careers and raising a young family, most women will choose to sacrifice their careers to focus on their family – and while this is a completely valid option, it cheats our state out of years of their contributions to the growth of businesses, industries, laws, and inventions. What if more women had access to on-site daycare and better options for flexible work schedules that would allow them to balance both without being so exhausted and burned out? I left her office inspired and hopeful for the young women in our state – that with enough of us banding together to evoke change, we might lift our own state’s economy and opportunities.

imageI spent the next hour touring the Capitol Building Visitor’s Center – with a few behind-the-scenes opportunities – and I marvelled at the women honored throughout the buildings – women who changed our history, who changed attitudes, who changed the course of history. It left me both in awe of their courage and willingness to walk a much more difficult path because of their own convictions. It also left me a little weary that we are still talking about this issue at all.

But as long as little boys grow up believing girls are for wearing bows and high heels and helping the guys, we’re likely going to have this conversation for quite some time to come, because I, for one, am not willing for that to be the stereotype perpetuated into yet another generation.


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In The Trenches: 36 Things I’ve Learned as a Founder

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Over the past five years, I’ve accrued a lot of advice – some of it invaluable and some not so much – as well as lessons learned the hard way. I’ve also collected quite a few notes and reminders along the way. These are not irrefutable truths; they’re simply my observations from my own journey. If nothing else, I hope they’ll help you define your own.

1. If you know it is foolish to learn to drive a car from someone who has never been behind the wheel, use the same yard stick to decide who gives you advice about your startup.

2. There is nothing wrong with learning that you don’t like working for a startup, building a startup, or being an entrepreneur; choosing not to leave a well-paying job to chase a dream is a completely valid decision.

3. Don’t expect anyone else to understand your decision to walk away from security if you choose to launch your own company, but if your spouse doesn’t, think twice about your decision; marriage is tough going no matter what, but it needs both of you pulling in the same direction if you’re going to weather the stress of building a company from nothing.

4. Don’t believe your feelings when you hit the lowest lows or when you arrive at the highest highs; it is the balance of those days that are a better measure of whether you’re coping with the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship.

5. Don’t confuse someone giving you investment with success; investors tell you if they believe you might have it right, but the customer is the only one who can tell you if you’re actually doing it right.

6. Don’t take investment until you absolutely need it or until not taking it will mean not growing fast to meet market demand; there is nothing wrong with bootstrapping.

7. When taking on family or private investment, founders can still retain control of the growth, pivots or exit of their company, but once institutional capital is invested, a countdown begins and is determined by the investors’ timeline. Be sure your team understands that timeline and the outcomes before accepting venture capital.

8. Some money is far too expensive to accept – whether it is from family, angels or venture capitalists; not all investors bring the same value, and some investments come with so much baggage or future problems that it isn’t worth the runway it buys.

9. If you take on investment that turns out to be more problems than it was worth, don’t expend energy on regret; focus on using the funds wisely to get out to a better position so you don’t ever have to make that kind of deal again.

10. If you find yourself facing a quandary, use your investors as a resource. If you have quality investors, they’ll be invaluable in helping you solve your problem, and if they’re not, better to know that as well.

11. Don’t gossip. Just don’t. You’ll burn bridges with those you throw under the bus and anyone else who decides you are not high enough quality of character to deserve their interest, support or time.

12. Never, ever hire out of gratitude. EVER. Neither of you will end up grateful or even happy if you hire anyone who doesn’t fill a real need in your company.

13. It is not your job to give someone fifty chances to step up and do the right thing, and your investors are trusting that you won’t waste their money on someone who has proven to be a problem.

14. Don’t fire an employee when you’re angry; it could end up being a rash decision that hurts your company’s ability to meet milestones.

15. If you have any inkling that someone is stealing, doing drugs or sharing company secrets, consult a lawyer before a confrontation; you’ll be able to position your company to come out with the least amount of damage.

16. You will never be sorry for telling someone you appreciate their effort or sacrifice, and while praise will not pay their rent, it banks a lot of good will against difficult times in a startup.

17. If you’re generous with telling your team what they did right, they will hear you better when you have to point out what they did wrong.

18. If your startup is a side project to your regular job, don’t lull yourself into complacency by thinking you have all the time in the world to work on it at your own pace. Someone else is out there building something very similar, and they’re going for it with all of their time and money – if you don’t feel the heat, it’s because you’re too far away from the fire.

19. If you are going to be brave and visionary enough to call others on their baloney, be sure beforehand that you’re tough enough to weather the consequences.

20. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from those ahead of you or too selfish to help those following behind.

21. Not everyone who is highly visible lives in a walled garden, and you won’t know if someone is willing to help if you don’t ask.

22. Don’t squander any opportunity someone else makes possible for you; they will definitely remember if you blow it off, and it will be the last time they want to help you.

23. It may seem rude, but it is kindness to not waste even an hour of someone else’s time when you know you have nothing to offer.

24. If you want to connect one of your contacts with someone else you know, ask before you share their information; it could put all of you in an awkward position if that person isn’t willing to help, and it will definitely leave you with less access to that contact than before.

25. Helping others can sometimes be a feel-good distractor that prevents you from working on your own problems and solving your own challenges; be careful about being too generous with your time.

26. The secret to social media isn’t to have the most followers and chasing that goal is probably the most ineffective use of your time with the exception, possibly, of watching cat videos on YouTube.

27. Be authentic, engaging, and interesting if you want to make useful connections on social media.

28. If you can’t figure out how to effectively use social media, emulate Marc Andreessen; he is probably the classiest, savviest user on Twitter today, using his network to challenge the thinking of others as well as his own and engaging with those he knows well or not at all.

29. Using your network well can extend your reach far, far beyond your current circle, but it won’t happen if you’re sending canned messages out into the ether and focusing on your image instead of your interactions.

30. ‘I don’t know’ is a valid response, so don’t pretend to know what you don’t; when your gaps are discovered, you’ll look like a liar and a fraud instead of an insecure entrepreneur feeling inadequately prepared for the question at hand.

31. Build a team that fills in the gaps of each other and of your areas of weakness.

32. If you’re bad at numbers, then make sure someone on your team is good at numbers – and that it is someone you can trust implicitly.

33. If you don’t know how to market, then don’t build an entire team of highly technical individuals who don’t know how to sell; you’ll likely end up with a killer technology and no customers or revenue.

34. No one expects you to be the smartest person in the room, just that you be the one with the clearest vision and ability to lead those around you.

35. Don’t call yourself a successful entrepreneur until you have the numbers or exits to prove it; better to be considered humble than not be taken seriously.

36. Just because it’s written in a blog doesn’t make it so – including this. Think for yourself, question what you read and don’t let someone else’s facts become your own without a lot of due diligence.


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6 New Years Resolutions for Women Entrepreneurs

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As a woman entrepreneur, I’m making a different set of New Year’s Resolutions this year – a set of purposes that I think might also inspire other women in the workplace. I am sharing these resolutions to help challenge the status quo and push myself and other women to hold ourselves accountable and to serve as a guide as we work to help other women find success.

I Won’t Apologize For Having An Opinion
This next year, I resolve to never again share my opinion after using a disarming phrase like, “I’m sorry but” or “I don’t know, but maybe” – even if I am the only woman in the meeting. Actually, especially if I am the only woman in the meeting. I won’t apologize for having a differing opinion or for disagreeing with the consensus of those in attendance. I will remember that I have a creative, thinking brain that has just as much to offer, and if I am intimidated into not sharing my ideas, I’ve cheated our company out of having the opportunity to hear all of the ideas that our team has at their disposal. I will advocate for my vision with the same vigor as do my colleagues, and I will be as respectful of their ideas as I expect them to be of mine. But I won’t back down simply to get along; if I believe I have something of value to offer, I will have the courage to speak up with authority and not after apologizing for having an opinion at all.

I Will Be Authentic
In this upcoming year, I purpose to be true to myself, to be authentic. I won’t pretend to be something I’m not in order to fit in with others in the workplace, and I won’t hide my talents for fear of intimidating those around me. I will embrace all aspects of being a woman, from being feminine and liking feminine things to talking about my children at work. I will not hide the fact that I am a mother or that I am incredibly proud of my kids. And when I am feeling exceptionally brave, I will tell people that I am leaving work to take my child to the doctor’s or to volunteer at their school instead of making up some excuse that won’t be judged as harshly by others in the office.

I Will Have the Courage to Call Out Bias
Someone once said that part of leadership is speaking out when convicted even if no one else will and when no one else may agree. I will commit this year to calling out the bias I see that is blatant, that holds women back or fails to put them forward simply because they are women. I will challenge those in the media who fail to provide fair and balanced coverage of women – whether those in the media are my friends or complete strangers, because I understand that if I choose to not rock the boat when I see clear bias, it makes me a hypocrite for letting the lazy, status quo of biased journalism remain unchallenged.

I Will Stop Being So Prickly
And as much as I promise to be courageous enough to challenge biased media, I also purpose this year to keep myself in check. Sure it’s hard pushing through the bias and unequal playing ground, but if I allow myself to become prickly and bristle at every unintended comment or every news story that doesn’t include a woman among those included, I become part of the problem and stop being part of the path forward. I will understand that sometimes bias isn’t bias but just how things worked out that time and will be tolerant, since that is what I am expecting of others towards myself.

I Will Support Other Women
If I have several options of services providers or products – and among those choices are women-owned businesses – I will commit this year to support those women whenever possible. I won’t harm my company or my team by choosing women-led companies with inferior products or poor customer service, but I will make a conscious effort to support more women-owned businesses whenever I can. Why? Because women need other women to have their back, to help them get started, to help them get traction. It is not an equal playing field yet, and if we don’t help each other whenever we can, how can we get our own noses bent out of shape when other women don’t support us?

I Will Protect Other Women
I will protect the reputations of other women whenever I can. When given the perfect opportunity to throw a woman under the bus – even if I truly dislike her – I will refrain. I won’t stoop to gossiping about the failures in her personal life, with her children, in her previous work, or in any other aspect. This does not mean I won’t share information with a colleague or friend when I believe that person to be a liability, but I will even do that with discretion and careful consideration. I will not allow myself to believe that her choice of clothing or hairstyle, her size, her level of beauty or the quality of her smile are ever fair game for mockery. I will weigh a woman on the merits of her actions, her quality of work, her integrity, her work ethic, her honesty, her ability to deliver – the very same merits I would use to judge a man in her position.

As a woman entrepreneur, I have been on the receiving end of women who helped me, who offered a fresh perspective, a new opportunity, and fresh hope with nothing in it for themselves. I have such deep gratitude for these women, because they have lived by a moral code that has allowed others to benefit from the residue of their own successes. It’s a good standard to hold myself to in this coming year, and it’s one I look forward to. If I can help someone else have an opportunity that would have not come their way – that will be the best successful New Year’s Resolution I can imagine.


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The Moment I Decided Christmas Was the Most Horrid Holiday

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I remember the exact moment I decided Christmas was the most horrid holiday ever conceived. I was 19 years old and attending college full time while working at a local department store. On this particular night, the day before Christmas Eve, I was running the cash register. It was nearing the end of my shift, and the long lines of customers waiting to purchase their selections was finally a more manageable size. My feet hurt after standing in high heels for eight hours, and I couldn’t wait to go home.

Two women near my cash register were sifting through a middle aisle display – a massive, waist-high cardboard box filled with prepackaged impulse gifts. The women were on opposite sides of the box, their children standing beside them. At almost the same moment, the women discovered a cabbage patch doll buried near the bottom of the box, likely hidden there by a shopper who had hoped to return to purchase it later. This was the year of the cabbage patch doll (I still have no idea why), and both women pulled at the doll which was still attached to a display box. At first, their struggle was silent, both pulling and tugging while trying to continue to hold the hand of the child beside them. But when neither were willing to back down, the tug of war turned into all-out war, with children forgotten and both hands now on the doll itself. Even when their children started to cry, these women didn’t stop pulling on the doll.

I called security as the altercation escalated. Everyone nearby stopped to watch. The women were now pulling with both hands, their feet planted against the side of the box and bodies torqued outward for better leverage. And as they pulled harder, they screamed obscenities at each other.

And then the doll ripped in half as stuffing flew high into the air. The children stopped crying, eyes wide and mouths agape as their heads turned upward to witness the disembowelment of the store’s last remaining cabbage patch doll. The women both fell backwards, landing with a thump on their hind ends, each holding their half of a now very deflated doll.

There was silence from the crowd that had gathered within the store, and the Christmas jingle playing on the store’s loudspeakers seemed uncomfortably loud. The silence was broken when the daughter of one of the women, maybe five years old and with tears streaming down her face, spoke up.

“I didn’t want it that bad, Momma. I don’t want anything that bad,” she said.

I don’t know what happened to the women or their children. Security came and escorted them all away, and I went back to ringing up the final purchases of the evening. But it was in that moment that I decided that Christmas brought out the worst in people. It made rational, reasonable women behave like toddlers as they succumbed to the pressure to make a miracle happen, to have that year’s coveted toy under their Christmas tree.

But over the years, I’ve realized that it wasn’t Christmas that brought out the worst in those two women. They brought it out in themselves. That’s who they chose to be in that moment, no matter what time of the year it was.

Christmas season isn’t just about gifts. It’s about finding a way to celebrate the end of another year, no matter what it held. It’s about cheerful music. (Except for maybe the song about the drummer boy. For the life of me, I have no idea how that one came to be, or how it has survived this long, but that’s just me.) It’s about beautifying the wintry world around us as glowing lights and luminarias transform entire neighborhoods. Christmas season allows us to connect with others and celebrate relationships (and create some pretty embarrassing memories if we forgot the rule about not drinking too much as the office party). Christmas is the season for being with family, whether we like them or wish we’d gotten in a different line when they were handing out families. Either way, we’re reminded of our roots and our place in this world. We’re given an excuse to put off the heavy cares of life, if only for a few days, to find the good in life and in each other.

The uglier side of this holiday will always be around, because it’s part of human nature – the wanting more and the burden of feeling compelled to give more. But it isn’t the holiday that’s horrid – it’s what we choose to see in it and do with it. I’m so inspired by those who find this season a good excuse to help out those in need, to donate a little bit extra to their local food bank or shelter, to visit a nursing home to sing a few songs, or to share a plate of cookies with a neighbor.

Christmas isn’t horrid at all. It really is whatever we decide it will be and whoever we decide we will be.

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