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Musings, Meanderings and Miscellaney


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Finding a Job vs Finding a Calling

 

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Never wait for your calling to come find you.
It won’t.

A calling is borne of passion, and passion is a spark stoked into flames only by doing, not sitting and waiting.

So do something.

Read.

Take a class.

Volunteer.

Get a job doing something that matters – even if you have to take an entry-level job to get started.

But don’t wait on something to come your way that makes you happy, gives you purpose. Life is not like that. If your job is sucking the joy out of every day, then decide to take steps to change your reality. It may take time, but that time will pass whether you’re preparing for something better or just marking days off the calendar.

You don’t have to lead to be a part of a bigger vision, so if you don’t want that role, don’t take it. You can find a great deal of happiness and fulfillment in simply filling a small, but vital cog in a larger purpose. 

And if you are a leader, don’t settle for less. When you muster up the courage, commitment and vision to lead, you’ll enjoy growth of character you never knew possible. 

But whatever you do, don’t wait for your calling to find you.

It won’t.


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The Trait That Ruins Entrepreneurs

file4911265967621I don’t believe there is one single trait that, absent all others, can deliver success for entrepreneurs. It’s really a unique blend of traits and talents within each individual – as well as many outside factors – all converging at the right time in the right way. If it were as simple as a specific trait, then those individuals possessing that trait would be successful every time – and that is certainly not the case. Many a successful entrepreneur has gone on to live through colossal failures. And while there are just as many reasons for a startup’s failure as for its success, I do believe that there is one trait that, if given room to grow, will ruin an entrepreneur. When an entrepreneur stops being willing to be coached, their days are numbered – and understanding the underlying root of this resistance is vital, because the solution often depends on what is causing us to shut out the advice of others.

There was a phase early in my own journey as the founder of a startup that I was far too resistant to the feedback and ideas of those around me, and for me, it was my inexperience that was getting in my way. I had clarity on our ‘big idea’ and knew it was my job to protect our focus so that we, as a company, didn’t end up chasing every shiny thing and every dollar that looked like a possibility. But in my very worthy goal to protect my team from being pulled to and fro by contrary paths and indecision, I become implacable. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to survive those growing pains without losing momentum, and I’m grateful that the experience helped me become much more willing to hear the cautionary words of others and to entertain opposing views. I’ve learned that while it’s right to protect the goals and vision of a company, a founder must also be open to advice and correction from others and synthesize that feedback into a more refined path forward.

Entrepreneurs can also become uncoachable simply because we are so afraid of taking the step we’re being prodded to take. We can easily confuse fear with intuition and believe that our inaction is actually being wise. Intuition tells us the truth when we are missing warning signs that something is not right, but fear is a liar and operates from our weaker selves. As entrepreneurs, fear is often the thing we experience right before a breakthrough. When we start rejecting advice that is pushing us past our comfort zone, we become paralyzed by inaction and ruin our chances for success.

But when being uncoachable is driven by hubris, that is really the most destructive reason of all. Hubris is defined as excessive pride or self confidence. Hubris turns almost any trait’s value into a detriment. It changes confidence into cockiness, single-mindedness into disdain. When that happens, the very traits that initially resulted in early progress become the very traits that lead to failure. It is the difference between someone forging ahead into the unknown and choosing the road less traveled and the individual who drives over a cliff, despite the multitude of warnings and cautions along the way.

While an entrepreneur absolutely must possess thick skin and the ability to filter through doubts, fears and bad advice, there better be an understanding that in the midst of the cacophony of feedback, there may be invaluable insights and guidance that could make the difference between failure and success. When we are coachable and receptive, we increase our chances of success.

Perhaps a good test is this: if you think everyone around you is an idiot, and everyone who shares advice with you is a fool who just doesn’t get it – especially if your own vision isn’t leading to your expected outcomes – then maybe it’s time to serve yourself a slice of humble pie and realize that they may not be as much of an idiot as you thought. You may well be in that same category yourself for summarily rejecting all feedback as beneath you. You have to want success more than you want to be right, and when that is your goal, you’ll find the humility and grace to accept difficult advice and hard truths that can help you succeed. I know from experience that hearing difficult advice that goes against what we want to be believe is painful and difficult, but I’ve also seen the results of it and know that without finding a way to be coachable, there is no way to get where we want to be.


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How the Smart Phone has Equalized Access to Information

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The smart phone is the great equalizer of knowledge access. Never before has so much information been accessible to so many for so little cost. The global spread of smart phone tech has resulted in a device which entered the market as an expensive device available only to the wealthy metamorphosing in less than a decade into a personal tool whose market penetration spans across all socioeconomic demographics.

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Growth of Available Information

When knowledge was only accessible through printed materials, the cost of publication and distribution along with the need to continually print updated information created a barrier to access of knowledge for those individuals, communities and countries who could not afford entry into that world of knowledge. And while the internet introduced the possibilities of accessing information from each other, such as Wikipedia, and from our government agencies through websites and sunshine portals, the true catalyst for the explosion of open data was the proliferation of the smart phone and the understanding that for the first time that data could be consumed in mobile format to solve problems for cities and empower citizens. Within a year of its introduction, countries across the globe began signing up as supporters of open data and delivering data feeds out to the public, spawning a new culture of organizations of entrepreneurs working to develop innovative technologies solving problems facing people and cities.

Citizen-Generated Information

Beyond access to knowledge, the changes in culture, commerce and communication are ever growing because of the smart phone. Citizens living within the confines of repressive regimes continue to access information and news despite efforts to have that access banned or suppressed, often risking arrest or even execution. Think of that as a barrier, and yet it is still a price many have been willing to risk paying because the desire to gain access to true information is that high. Smart phones have resulted in citizens documenting revolutions, atrocities, and misconduct and then sharing their footage with the world through social media platforms like Twitter and news sharing sites like reddit. The world is watching in ways that were never possible before, and it has led to a higher level of accountability from those in power.

Growth of E-Commerce

Smart phones have also served as a portal to e-commerce according to a report by ATKearny, thanks to internet and mobile commerce engines within facilitating virtual showrooms and stores as well as international transactions. When smart phone technology can deliver this kind of access to individuals all across the world, that is a great equalizer of personal empowerment and freedoms.

Connectivity is New Barrier to Access of Information

As the costs of smart phones are reduced, they continue to break down barriers within lower socio-economic communities. With the reduction in cost to manufacture hardware smart phone tech, the new barrier to access of knowledge becomes connectivity. While many other countries throughout the world have made cellular service inexpensive, this has not been the case in the U.S. The industry is still controlled by a handful of major players who have kept a stranglehold not only the pricing of service but access to it at all, although some see a new initiative by Google as a possible disruptor to the status quo. The US lost out on an incredible opportunity to equalize access to connectivity when the television industry shifted to digital delivery. The ‘old’ television waves were auctioned off to the highest bidder, creating an exciting cash infusion for the F.C.C., but none of the winning bidders have expressed any intentions of opening those up for the delivery of affordable connectivity which could deliver access to remote, rural regions of the country. The immediate monetary gain of those expensive bids killed the chance of delivering equal access to remote communities and families without means to pay for internet or mobile access. While some forward-thinking cities are providing free wifi access within specific locations within their communities, such as libraries, civic squares, and, in NYC, old telephone booths, it is still far to few and too limited in scope to be considered anything close to an equalizer.

Demand for New Education Models

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For many educators, parents and students, the immediate access of information has resulted in our current education system becoming irrelevant and outdated, especially in later grades once the foundational skills such as reading are mastered. As the global community becomes empowered to independently access knowledge and training, it begs the question of how long it will take us to demand a shift away from the current waste of tax dollars spent testing, retesting and testing some more to assess a student’s ability to memorize and regurgitate information which is already stored in the smart phone in their backpack. If those same tax dollars were spent on teaching how to find information, vet it, and synthesize it – we could foster a generation of creative, inventive students who could take that information and further innovate their own future. If our schools fostered creativity, curiosity and analytical thinking, we’d also likely see the side-benefit of less children needing medication to sit still and lowered dropout rates.

The smart phone has been the conduit for equalizing access to information. But it is only the beginning. By supporting the continued growth and spread of mobile technology throughout the globe, we continue to empower and lift up more individuals. The imperative is on us to educate our children in ways that empower them to continue the momentum of innovation into the future.

 


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5 Things I’d Like to Tell My 7th-Grade Self

  I recently was invited to keynote at a Microsoft Digigirlz Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And while I was very honored to keynote the event, I struggled a bit with what to say. I kept thinking back to what I was like in 7th or 8th grade and wondered what that girl would have wanted to hear. And finally, I decided that was the girl I needed to talk to. Here is the advice I would have given to the 7th-grade Me:

Never, Ever Play Dumb

I’m not sure when it happens, but somewhere beyond those first early grades when we, as girls, raise our hands high and eagerly answer questions in class, we somehow learn how to play dumb so others around us don’t feel bad for not knowing something we know. I know I did this – a lot – and I never felt good about me when I did.

As girls, we do this thing of pretending we don’t know an answer so the guy we’re with doesn’t feel bad that maybe, just maybe, we might be smarter than he is. Or we stay silent about how easy we thought a test was when our girlfriends at lunch are all saying how hard it was. But here’s the thing: if someone has to think you’re dumb to hang out with you, you’re making the choice to hang out with someone who will never like you for who you are, for all the special, unique quirks that is the wonderful version of you that lies awake at night imagining great adventures or ideas. So be true to that girl. She deserves it. I’m not saying to rub anyone else’s nose in how smart you are; I’m not saying that at all. I’m just asking that you make a promise to yourself that you’ll never, ever pretend to be dumb to make someone else feel better. Just be you, be humble, and be nice.

Be Adventurous

Have you thought you wanted to be a part of a sports team and decided to try out only to discover halfway through the season that you really didn’t like it all that much? Well, if your mom is anything like mine, you had to finish out the season so you didn’t let your teammates down. And then the next time you were curious about something and wanted to try it, you thought about getting stuck half a season doing something you didn’t like and, instead of exploring this new curiosity, you held back and decided it wasn’t worth the risk of getting stuck with it if you didn’t like it.

Well, those lessons are good for us – about not letting down teammates, about keeping our word and living up to our commitments. But we also need the freedom to explore new things in a way that lets us back out if we don’t like it. How will you ever know if you don’t try it? Find ways to explore things that you’re curious about. There is nothing at all wrong with dipping your toe in the pool to decide first if you like how the water feels; you don’t have to commit to diving into the deep end or doing nothing at all.

Check Your Stereotypes at the Door

How do you decide what it takes to be a good doctor or teacher or artist? What does a doctor look like? How about a teacher or artist? We build up these stereotypes, and we try to put ourselves – and everyone else around us – into this box that easily defines who that person is, what their role is, and what skills and traits they should have to be good at that particular role.

Don’t put yourself in box by deciding that you don’t fit the stereotype of what someone in STEM looks like. And don’t decide that it is all you can be if you do fit that stereotype. There are so many approaches to doing things that integrate across different disciplines that the possibilities are endless. Find something that strikes your passion, that you can’t stop thinking about how to solve that problem, and go do that. If you love art, don’t think you can’t be a part of STEM. You have no idea how much we need artists in this new digital world – artists who know how to think outside the box, to imagine how to communicate through color and lines and thickness of letters or shading to evoke just the right experience for someone accessing a website, a mobile app, an interactive kiosk in an airport that needs to appeal to multiple ethnicities and cultures. That is no easy task, so bring your talents to help solve problems that excite you.

Don’t Make it Hard for Other Girls

This one is so important. There is this part inside all of us that we want to create this environment where we feel comfortable, and we can unconsciously make it harder for other girls if they don’t fit inside of what we think our world should look or feel like. The next time you’re talking about something that’s a higher level idea and a girl you may think isn’t all that bright or isn’t interested in topics like yours – the next time one of those girls asks what you’re talking about, don’t dismiss her. Tell her. If she isn’t interested, she’ll disengage on her own. But don’t be the girl who doesn’t let girls outside of the stereotype into the smart girls club.

Mayim Bialik, who plays a scientist on Big Bang Theory, actually just became a neuroscientist in real life. But she pretty much fits that stereotype, right? What about Alicia Keys? Do you picture her as brilliant – smart enough to discuss ‘hard’ topics? She graduated at 16. And Elizabeth Banks graduated magna cum laude from UPenn. The point is that we sometimes jump to snap judgments about others based on what we see on the outside, but most of the time we’re wrong. Don’t be the girl who makes it hard for other girls to feel welcome in STEM.

It’s Your Life, So You Get to Choose

Don’t ever live someone else’s dream or become the character that someone else believes you should play in this thing called life. Even if it is that you are so good at math that everyone keeps telling you that you have to go into something that uses math – as if you owe it to math. You owe nothing to math. You owe everything to being true to yourself. So if there is this thing inside of you that says I may be good at math but I love art – then listen and explore that idea. Maybe you’ll land back at something in math but maybe you’ll do something really cool with art that no one else could have ever imagined without your incredible math skills. And if you’re a fantastic artist but you are curious about how cells break down and become cancerous? You have no idea how your ability to imagine things visually may play into this whole world of discovery around science and curing diseases. Don’t live someone else’s dream or let others define your life or your interests. Your unique view of everything around you may be just what the rest of the world has been waiting for. Anything is possible – so embrace your curiosity, embrace those around you, and explore your interests so you can contribute something amazing to the world that can come only from you.


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Helping Jen Thrive

Screenshot 2015-04-27 16.18.30Sometimes you just know someone is special. I knew this about Jennifer Lake the first time I met her. And then I saw the amazing photography she volunteered to do for Hautepreneurs. And then she volunteered to shoot headshots for our first year of finalists for the HauteHopes Scholarship Fund. And then Jen started working for us part-time at APPCityLife as a web developer.

With each interaction, I’ve affirmed a little stronger my opinion that Jen is one of the rare ones among us that will shine no matter what she faces – and she is facing a lot right now: constant pain, a trip to NYC for yet another surgery, and medical bills that are rapidly piling up.

View More: http://maryandroy.pass.us/jenandtrevorThe purchase of a specially designed t-shirt will help Jen defray some of those costs … and who among us couldn’t use a bit of a message like “thrive” from someone who’s learned to do it no matter what?

Buy your shirt HERE

Please share this post. Let’s spread the word and help Jen face this battle for her health with our support!


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How Urban Tech is Disruptive Government Procurement

(originally published on What’s APPening)
IMG_6565I spent the past few days with our COO at the Smart City Startups Festival in Miami, Florida, interacting with some of today’s most visionary, innovative urban tech startup founders who are disrupting almost every facet of the urban landscape. All of the startups showcased at the summit have the potential of changing the future of our cities. Some are implementing solutions which are quite ingenious in their simplicity, like Loveland Technologies, which makes ownership of land parcels transparent (and raised funds through creative sales of inches of Detroit land parcels through “inchvestors”, and Vizalytics, which filters through the cacophony of data to help small businesses quickly understand what policies, work orders, or inspections will directly affect their business. Other showcased teams are immersed in big ideas like those of, BRCK, whose rugged tech is bringing internet access to remote regions of the globe. It was an incredible honor to have the opportunity to demonstrate how our own company, APPCityLife, is helping deliver powerful mobile apps in cities which can change the way people interact with their city, from being able to get to a job on time by using a real-time tracking app for transit to finding out about distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables at a local food bank.

IMG_3988But the invention of cool urban tech doesn’t mean it’s going to be available to you, the citizen, any time soon. One of the biggest barriers to getting this tech into the real world remains the challenge of navigating archaic government procurement policies. If you think waiting in the customer service line of a Department of Motor Vehicles is a practice in frustration, try pushing a single contract through almost any city government. But there is good news. Because the clamor for better tech is now coming from within and without government agencies, some civic leaders, organizations and entrepreneurs are exploring alternative paths to engage with urban tech startups.

Nonprofits like the Knight Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Living Cities, Bloomberg PhilanthropiesNew Cities Foundation as well as many others funding programs aimed at disrupting solutions for select issues such as education, entrepreneurship and economic development. In addition, organizations like Code for America have also helped to disrupt through advocacy, by forming brigades of volunteers within communities to address local issues, and by deploying carefully selected fellows into select cities each year to address a particular need. Other organizations, like Citymart, are focused on disrupting the procurement process itself. With several successes under their belt within the European community, the Barcelona-based company has opened an office in New York City’s Civic Hall and signed on several initial cities to participate in a series of challenges which invite innovative urban tech startups to submit solutions with the chance to move forward with a larger contract should an initial pilot prove successful.

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And then there are the city administrators who are choosing to disrupt the way they work with urban tech startups. One nugget of advice often shared by government administrators is for startups to work for free. I have to admit that the advice that startup founders should work for cities for free can be a bit disconcerting, if only because it is almost always given by someone who not only stands to benefit from free tech but is certainly not working for their own government agency for free. While this model does have its benefits, there are also drawbacks that must be taken into account. When a startup is delivering a service for free, they are far more likely to run out of cash and leave a government agency adrift with a non-working technology – and no one to hold accountable. Additionally, entering the market with a free model may help startups determine the willingness to use a technology, but that is not the same a willingness to pay for that same technology. When founders give away services to any customer, government or otherwise, it is very difficult to begin charging at some later date. We’ve seen this free-first model pay off in very big ways, but it takes setting up clear boundaries ahead of time as to what parts of service will be free, how long the free model will last, what next steps will be possible if initial free phase is a success, etc. When a free-first model can prove a startup’s ability to deliver and the city’s ability to save money or deliver services better, it can be an excellent opportunity to get a foot in the door and disrupt the status-quo. But when it is not set up with clear expectations and end dates, it can eat a startup’s budget with nothing to show for it.

Here are a few additional ways we’ve found to be successful in disrupting current procurement policies to get new urban tech into the hands of the people who need it. When startups devise business models which generate revenue from sources outside of government, it becomes a win-win for everyone around. In addition, proving future savings to a government agency can be a good way for urban tech founders to gain early customers. If new tech will streamline processes, improve efficiencies, or encourage citizens to embrace more affordable options – and if the startup can track the data needed to prove those cost savings, every sale after the initial pilot will be easier. And lastly, when founders take the time to understand the problems a city department is facing – what their biggest headache is within a specific task or as an agency – and when a startup can show that their tech will solve that problem, founders can gain the buy-in and willingness from the government to find money or babysit a contract through procurement processes to gain access to that pain-reliving solution.

Of course, the bigger issue is the procurement policies themselves. Most have not kept up with emerging civic tech. But we cannot afford to wait for politicians and legislators hash out the nuance of new policies. Working at the slow pace of policy change is not an acceptable solution for anyone. Until better procedures manage to gain enough votes to become law, those of us within the urban tech community must continue to disrupt not only the way cities interact with the people who live there but the way cities work with urban tech startups. As a society, we cannot wait for legislators to get up to speed and pass laws that make sense for this new world of smart cities – there is too much at stake. When we have the power to lift entire communities out of poverty by delivering better city services like reliable transit or helping deliver needed supports like food-finding apps to food banks, there is a moral imperative to find new ways to foster urban tech startups and deliver the successful solutions throughout the world.


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Why a Childhood Scolding Turned Out to be Such Good Advice

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I was recently asked to contribute the essay below as part of a series for HuffPost Icon Next, entitled ‘The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Received For Achieving My Career Goals.’ You can read the essay here.

Wouldn’t it be nice when something significant was about to be said, if a bright sign would appear alerting us to this fact? As close as I’ve ever come to this actually happening was in college. In the middle of a mind-numbingly boring lecture, my professor would change the cadence and volume of his voice and announce, “Now write this down. It will be on the exam.” I would scribble whatever came out of his mouth next and then wander back in my mind to some place more exciting than my current surroundings. Thanks to his early-warning system, I managed to pass the class with a B despite retaining very little of the content he shared in class.

When I was recently asked what the most important advice was that I’d ever received, I was hard pressed to come up with a single answer. How does one start with a question like that? Nary a day goes by without some form of advice being shared, so how does one choose that one thing that rises above all the rest as being the most pivotal, valuable words of wisdom?

It’s likely a lot easier to recall the worst advice – especially when there are scars to remind us of our foolhardy decisions. Most of my Worst-of-All-Time Hall-of-Famers begin with phrases like They won’t be mad; you should do it or It won’t hurt. Really. Nothing good ever happened when I opted to believe advice that began with that kind of logic.

And some advice, as inane and obvious as it sounds, pays off every single time. For example, the advice to use my manners – that’s been pretty useful. Seriously. It has resulted in many a positive result and has helped me inspire colleagues to try a proposed course of action which places them far outside their comfort zone. When I was told that please and thank you are magic words, it was good advice. They hold incredible power to change the attitudes, minds, opinions, and decisions of those around us.

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But when I consider what it is that I come back to time and again when I am in the midst of a struggle, whether it is in my personal or professional life, it would have to be the words of my great-grandmother, Zelma Carder. She was a larger-than-life figure of my childhood who walked straight out of a Zane Grey Western novel and into my life. She’d lived this incredibly difficult but exciting life. She homesteaded in the barren, windswept prairies of northern New Mexico in the 1800’s, survived the Dust Bowl years despite losing almost everything she owned except for a grand piano (which now sits in our living room). She traveled in a Conestoga wagon (with her grand piano in tow) to live as a migrant worker, picking cotton alongside her husband and children to survive the desperate years after the Great Depression. She learned to carry the heartbreak of burying several of her family, including her own child, during a flu epidemic in the early 1900’s. She crocheted rugs out of bread bags and turned butter tubs into the most wonderful doll beds filled with satin beds hand stitched from old night gowns and covered with colorful crocheted skirts. She was a true pioneer of sustainability, the ultimate conservationist. The stories she told me were the things of grand novels, and she was, by far, the strongest, bravest, fiercest, most stubborn woman I’ve ever known.

While visiting her when I was maybe six or seven years old, she scolded me for crying after losing a game to her. I had no idea at the time that her words would ring in my ears every time I faced a situation where I felt I was being treated unfairly or had an uphill battle to reach my goal. As I sat in my chair across from her, trying to swallow my tears, she said, “No one in this life is going to feel sorry for you. If you sit there feeling sorry for yourself, you just decided to give up on yourself. And then you’re the loser, not because of anyone else, but because of yourself. If you’re going to play, do it because you love the game. And then when you win, you can celebrate, but even when you lose, you’ll still be the winner because you got to play the game you love.”

Especially now as I serve as CEO of a startup, her words spur me to grow, be courageous and focus on the vision of the future I know is possible. While our team deploys and refines our technology that is impacting the lives of others and has the potential of impacting lives across the globe, I know I’m in this game because I love it. But on the hard days, when everything goes wrong, my great-grandmother’s words remind me that it’s up to me to dig deep, toughen up and find the courage to brush off the disappointment and push forward to the next pinnacle where the view of the future is clearly visible once again.

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