Why I Participated in Bizwomen Mentoring Monday

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point this last year, I started receiving emails from complete strangers who hoped that somehow a few moments of my time might help them with the next step towards their own dreams and goals. At first, I replied to every single email that arrived, but it didn’t take long to no longer had the bandwidth to answer every question or to volunteer my time for every invitation.

I was in the midst of determining what to turn down and what to say yes to when I attended this year’s Women Entrepreneurs Festival. I posed the question to a group of women entrepreneurs, and Debra Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox, offered up some advice that helped me gain clarity. “That is the question,” she said. “What I do is come up with strategic goals for the company. Then every month I come up with what are my goals towards those greater goals and use that as a filter. So when any opportunity comes in, if it is not hitting those goals that I decided on, I’m going to tuck it away.”

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I’ve used that principal to make several decisions since that conference, and it’s worked well for me. And when I was asked if I would be willing to serve as a mentor for the upcoming Mentoring Monday, a national initiative spearheaded by Bizwomen, I again used this filter to decide. The event pairs women business leaders with women in their own community through speed-dating style sessions, and this year’s event was expected to encompass over 10,000 participants at 40 locations throughout the U.S. Because the local event in my city would host 150 attendees, I saw it as an opportunity to spend a morning sharing whatever insight might be useful with anyone who wanted to talk with me. I will admit I was a bit skeptical that anything of real value could come out of 7-minute conversations that were started and ended by the ringing of a cowbell, but I was willing to try.

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What actually happened – at least for me – was profound. When the speed mentoring session kicked off, a woman who was maybe in her forties hurried up and sat down across from me. She wasted no time getting to her point. “Here is where I am,” she said. “I’m good at my job and like it, but I’ve been at it for a long time now. I have this thing I think I really want to do, but I don’t know how to get started or whether I should give up my current security to try to pursue it.” I was expecting softball questions and, instead, ended up with someone facing a life-changing crossroads. For the next six and a half minutes we talked about life’s scary decisions – weighing worst case scenarios against the payoff, how to explore new possibilities without destroying what was currently working. We discussed the need to gain enough reference points to understand if something was a passing interest or a burning passion as well as the option of taking baby steps – and the struggle of knowing when to go all-in and risk our security for the chance to do something that really matters. I have no idea if our talk helped or not, but it certainly inspired me to see someone seriously weighing the cost of pursuing her dream.

The procession over the next hour included women of all ages from college students to retirees, all with unique issues and perspectives. Some wanted advice or access to insights based on my own journey. One woman waited in line for her turn because she thought the event would be the perfect time to sell her product to me.  I spent the remainder of her seven minutes talking about strategic sales and customer validation. I’m pretty sure my response wasn’t what she wanted, but I’m really hoping she was listening.

I found as I walked back to my car to make my next appointment, that I was energized and inspired by the dreams and goals of the women who had spent their morning talking to me. It’s a good thing to remember when our lives get so incredibly busy in the midst of growing our own companies – that while it becomes vital to protect our time to reserve the  necessary bandwidth needed for priorities, it is also important to carve out time to give back. Even when we give, we still get. For me, that takeaway was well worth my time.

 

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A ‘Glamorous’ Week in the Life of a Woman Entrepreneur

Enjoying an outing with my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews.

Enjoying an outing with my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews.

I was recently at the private opening of a new establishment with my cofounder of Hautepreneurs, a company we founded to enable women entrepreneurs in our state to think and create bigger, successful companies – a passion project in addition to our main careers – which, for me, is APPCityLife, a global civic tech platform connecting people and cities, and for Jessica, a serial entrepreneur, includes a myriad of companies like Untoxicating Beauty, a monthly subscription box curated organic and eco-friendly makeup, as well as Leverage Legal, an award-winning virtual law firm.

After negotiating schedules, it turned out that this event provided the most convenient time to connect with someone whose schedule was even more packed than ours. Thus I found myself in a somewhat surreal moment – weaving my way through paparazzi (if you can even call it that here in Albuquerque) and excusing myself through a long, snaking line of people who had, for hours already, been waiting their turn to get in.

When we finally reached the front of the line, a gentleman wearing dark sunglasses, a dark suit and an ear piece curly-quing its way to the back of his shirt, barked his question at us without looking up.

“Name?”

We answered, he checked his clipboard, and turned to a woman nearby, giving her instructions as to whom we were meeting. As we were waiting for our dinner companion to free up, a friend commented to us that she found our lives exciting and glamorous. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I laughed out loud. I’m not saying I don’t love what I’m doing or that I haven’t enjoyed some incredible opportunities and experiences, but glamorous? Being a founder of a startup – especially as a woman – is usually anything but glamorous.

After her comment, I decided that perhaps it was time to share a few snippets of my week so that others get a view of what it is like to do what I do. I have no idea if this is what it is like for other women growing companies, but I’m pretty sure their lives are just as crazy busy and full of the regular messiness of life.

Monday

It is 4 PM when I realize I have completely forgotten about parent night which starts at our high school in just a few hours. My day began at 4:30 AM, and I am so not in the mood to scurry from one end of the high school to another and back again to follow my son’s schedule and hear the same thing in every class: I am your kid’s teacher, this is my name, this is how you can reach me, I don’t answer my phone during the day so don’t bother calling, this is how I grade, and this is what I think of the class your kid is in. But I go, because I need to meet them, and because my son needs to know I want to meet them. I am not as available for the school with this child; I can’t volunteer for bake sales or drive kids places; my schedule just won’t allow it. I walk home from parent night feeling a bit like a gladiator who gets to live another day.

Tuesday

In the middle of a meeting, I realize that I forgot to pick up my kid’s band uniform from the dry cleaners, and he needs to be in it by the end of the day when he rides the bus with his band members to an event. I text my older son who is currently on campus at the university and ask if he has time to get it. He bails me out. I go back to paying attention to my meeting. After my meeting I listen to a voicemail message from the school nurse reminding me I still haven’t turned in the form they need on file.

Wednesday

I spend the day buried in work. Somehow without me noticing, the clock skipped from 10:30 AM to 4:52 PM, and I am nowhere near finished. I take a break long enough to throw some clothes in the washer, yell upstairs to my son to come set the table, and stare into the refrigerator as if by doing so something will magically appear that I can serve for supper. I peel away the wrapping on a frozen clump of ground turkey and drop it like a rock into a cold skillet and fill a pot with water, setting it to boil. It isn’t until the noodles are almost cooked and the meat almost ready that I realize I don’t have any marinara sauce. I used to be a food writer, spending days tweaking a single recipe. If I have thirty minutes to put supper on the table now – that is a good day. My teenager recently told me, “Someone at my school was saying something about this business lady they read about, and I realized they were talking about you. I don’t see you as a business lady. I just see you as the lady who used to have time to make homemade pizza but doesn’t anymore.” We can all live without homemade pizza, but I hear the wish behind the words and purpose to make him pizza later in the week.

Thursday

I attend a community event where I receive an award. I sit among my peers feeling incredibly grateful for this honor, making sure to savor this moment of my journey. It is far too easy when building a startup to not actually celebrate milestones or awards or special occasions but to see each as a goal to check off of a list in order to move on to the next. The fear of losing momentum, of not building more success on top of the last success can often inhibit our ability to fully celebrate the good stuff. I text my husband that the event has run long, and I won’t be home in time for dinner. He heats up something for the family and is putting the food away when I finally get home. As I’m standing at the sink cleaning dishes from a meal I didn’t even get to share with my family, wearing my favorite apron to protect the nice dress I’m still wearing, I joke that where I am at this moment is closer to the true reality of a woman founder of a company instead of the glamour that others see when they simply read the blurb in the paper the next day about the awards ceremony. And it isn’t that I don’t have help – my husband has been incredibly supportive; it’s that I can’t let myself off the hook. I don’t want to give up being mom, and so I push to try to do it all, even when it means doing dishes in a fancy dress at ten o’clock at night.

Friday

I finally make pizza for the family and look forward to a chance to relax a bit and decompress. Instead, I find my mind wandering, and I begin to making mental checklists for the weekend, for the team next week, for upcoming deadlines. I find it hard to let it go, to actually think about something else. In quiet moments, whether they hit at 2 AM or 9 PM on a Friday night – I end up with my thoughts back again with our company. I feel lucky to have a spouse working in the same startup. While it means that some days may end up feeling like a 24-hour board meeting, it also means having a spouse who gets the obsession, the intense focus – it becomes a shared thing rather than something that can tear a couple apart when only one is building a company.

Saturday

With a business trip coming up the next day, I spend the entire day getting ready to leave. It isn’t the packing or prepping for the meeting that takes so long – it’s getting everyone else ready for when I’m gone. I make sure there is enough food to heat up so the 14 year old has supper if his brother gets in late. I make sure everyone’s laundry is at least clean, if not folded. I go over my high schooler’s schedule and talk to him about what he needs to do while I am gone. I make sure he has found a ride home from the game so that I don’t have to worry while I’m gone. And when evening hits, I decide that packing can wait for the morning. I share a flurry of back and forth emails with a potential investor and schedule a time to meet when I am back in town.

Sunday

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)

Lawrence and I hanging out with Chris and Aileen Gemma Smith at 500 Startups in San Francisco.

This is usually our day, the day we set aside, but we don’t have that luxury this particular Sunday. An early meeting is scheduled on the West Coast for the next day, so my husband, who is traveling along with me this time to address the technical aspects of the project, and I have to fly out a day early. We land in San Francisco late afternoon and spend a nice evening visiting with friends that we met earlier in the year in New York City and who are now part of an accelerator in the Bay Area. We talk about startups and open data and civic tech; it is a nice evening sharing common interests with friends. We check into our hotel late that evening and prep for our meeting before calling it a night.

Monday

A new work week, and it starts all over again. There is no place to get off of this ride, and if there was, I wouldn’t want to take it. I love what I’m doing, and I love what our team is building. We’re solving big problems with global reach, and we’re meeting the challenges necessary to not only keep our company afloat but to build it quickly enough to meet the growing demand. It’s not what I would call glamorous by any means, and we have all sacrificed a lot of personal time and money to make it happen. But when you’re in the middle of something that sparks your passion and where your vision sees the end game, you don’t see the sacrifice – you just see the value of the journey.

 

Why Successful Women Should Stop Hiding Their Emotions

Kym Hampton

Last year, at the National Girlfriends Networking Day main event hosted by New York Times in New York City, WNBA Star, Plus-Size Model and Actress Kym Hampton displayed some very raw emotion as she shared some of the downright cruel and horrifying experiences she faced during the early days of her career, both as a basketball star and as a plus-size model. She was part of a panel of highly successful, influential women including Loretta McCarthy, Managing Partner for Golden Seeds, LLC, Lesley Jane Seymour, Editor-In-Chief of More Magazine, Soledad O’Brien, the Emmy Award-Winning Journalist.

Almost 2000 miles away, our Albuquerque NGN Day attendees watched as those stories unfolded on Livestream Video, and there was hardly a dry eye in the room. To witness the pain these women experienced, and to see how raw those wounds still were after years of success – it was an extremely powerful moment of clarity for all of us and helped launch one of the most intimate, honest and catalyzing conversations among our own local panelist discussion which followed the Livestream event.

None of us saw the panelists’ tears and vulnerability as weakness. These women had, in their own pinnacles of success, made it possible for other women to be their true selves and not leave half of who they were as women at the door in order to be considered credible, equal or successful. They made it that much easier for women everywhere to be true to themselves without risking disdain, disrespect or misunderstanding in the professional world.

I make it a habit to consume articles from around the globe which address the challenges of women seeking venture capital, and imagine my shock and disappointment when I recently read Less Emotion, More Action Needed in Female-Led Startup Movement written by Laura Braverman, a columnist for USA Today and Upstart, as a follow-up editorial to a local SOAR women’s networking event held in the Triangle area of North Carolina, a hotbed for startup activity over the past decade. According to her piece, “IDEA Fund Partners and Bull City Venture Partners are two of the most active investors in town and BCVP has never backed a company with a female CEO (though 60 percent of its companies have one on the management team) and at least 95 percent of deal flow comes from male-led companies.”

Braverman wrote, “The tide won’t change until the women in the room can move past the storytelling and take advantage of the insights, experiences and knowledge of investors giving up their time to help move the needle. In the hour-long presentation, the panel received few questions about how to build more attractive businesses to fund, and more comments and stories about how hard it is to get funding.” She went on to say that women “need to prove that any bias is unfounded”.

I promise you, if I’d been in the room, there would have been even more emotion about the inequity of investments than was already witnessed there that night, although mine might have been more on the edge of anger than tears. I’ve been at this long enough that I’ve learned that anger usually brings power, whether that is fair or not. I don’t like it, and I don’t like having to project anger when what I feel are tears, but I’ve been growing a business in the middle of a male-dominated industry, and I’ve had to adapt even when it isn’t fair or reasonable.

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Anyone who has tried to raise investment capital knows that even when you have everything right – the team, the concept, the revenue, the projections – it is a very difficult process where only about one company among every 100 business plans submitted to a venture capital firm actually gets funded. If you’re a woman founder, you can count on it being even more difficult, since women-owned companies in the U.S. only received about 13% of that venture capital in 2013. So when you have a room full of women who have already discovered just how difficult it is to get their businesses funded, and a panel of local venture capitalists are addressing an audience that clearly understands that most of the panelists have no intention of funding their companies, I’m not sure exactly what could be expected as the outcome other than strong emotion and tales from the audience about their own difficulties finding capital. Isn’t the time better spent trying to impress upon him the error of his thinking than asking him for advice – when his advice is going to be biased based on his stated opinions?

It is an interesting concept that women fear the tears of another woman entrepreneur, believing that these tears will perpetuate a bias of women being weak. Why is it that anger and outright bad behavior are far more acceptable among men CEO’s and founders of startups than are tears among women? Tears are an outlet of emotion, whether that emotion is anger, sadness, fear or something else. And it’s usually a far less destructive outlet than it is when those same emotions are vented through anger. Why is it seen as a sign of strength for a male founder to have bursts of anger like it is some kind of badge of honor but when women release their emotions, everyone works very hard to shut them up? The recent firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the Executive Editor of the New York Times has sparked a national conversation surrounding equal pay and whether Abramson was fired for discovering she was paid less or for her management style, which was described as “pushy” and “brusque”. On a male counterpart, wouldnt those traits be described as “to the point” and “driven”?

Self Talk by Rachel Abeyta

We will be hosting our second Albuquerque event for the National Girlfriends Network Day on June 4, 2014, at our corporate offices for APPCityLife, and I, for one, am going to work very hard to make it one event where women are free to be vulnerable, honest and able to be true to their full self as a woman. It should be possible to be real – and really successful. If more women like Kym Hampton were brave enough to share the vulnerable, emotional side of themselves in national, public arenas, it would go a long way in making editorials like Braverman’s less common.

Can An All-Male Panel of Speakers Really Help Women Make A Difference?

IMG_2583Ok, so let me just preface this following post with the caveat that I know absolutely nothing about the group whose event came to my attention recently. And I am acknowledging up front that there might be a completely plausible explanation for why the organizers chose the speakers they did for their upcoming event. I haven’t spoken with them, so I really don’t know. But what I do know is that it just didn’t sit right with me that a group would create an event focused on women and then invite only men to speak at the event.

I recently came across an announcement for an upcoming event in my city that promised to highlight why Women Make A Difference. As a cofounder of Hautepreneurs, a networking group created to elevate the game of women entrepreneurs in our state, and as the founder of APPCityLife, a mobile development company focusing on the civic space, I was intrigued. I love seeing women support other women, so I thought at first that this might be a group I should connect with and support. It was then that I saw the lineup for their all-day event:

Key Note Speaker: Wayne Story
Presenters: Rob Winestein, David Crum, Mike LeMoine, Ron Patel

Is it just me, or does it seem incongruous that every single presenter and the keynote speaker is male when this is an event organized by women with a theme of Women Make A Difference? I’m not questioning any of the qualifications of the speakers. I am sure they have a lot to share that would be of value to any business owner.

But what doesn’t make sense to me is why the organizers couldn’t find a few woman to address the group as well? I know of several highly qualified women – including both of my Hautepreneurs cofounders – as well as journalists like Megan Kamerick, whose TEDxABQ talk on women went viral, women entrepreneurs like Nerissa Whittington of bigbyte.cc or Kyle Zimmerman of Kyle Zimmerman Photography, women civic leaders like Ann Lerner of the Albuquerque Film Office or Agnes Noonan of WESST – all of whom would have made riveting speakers with plenty to share.

I firmly believe that the only way opportunities, pay, and advancement for women will grow is if the conversation includes men and women. We cannot change perception or build support in a vacuum, and while I have enjoyed many a gripe session with my fellow women entrepreneurs and appreciated the commiseration – and while I certainly don’t think women’s groups need men to participate on panels to validate any of the issues or concepts discussed, I do know that when men are a part of the conversation and sit on panels for women-centric issues, it changes men’s perspectives and often builds consensus and support for changing the opportunities and playing field for women. That is why we worked so hard this past year to make sure the Women In Tech luncheon during ABQ Tech Fiesta Week included several male panelists to balance out perspective and generate a deeper, richer conversation about the challenges and opportunities in front of us.

But here is where the rub lies, at least for me. To host an event by women for women and put together an all male panel? I truly do not understand that. I wish I did. For far too long, women have been kept from the table and not been given a voice in their own destiny. We have made amazing strides in the past few years about changing that conversation and the opportunities for women to not only be heard but hired. This just feels like a step back, and I’m not sure why we’d want to do that. I want to reiterate that I know nothing about the organizers, their group or their backgrounds. I can hardly imagine that their goals are anything less than making a positive footprint in our community. But I feel compelled to express my dismay that in today’s climate, that an event could be organized without balancing the representation of speakers across both genders. I am truly baffled.

I was recently talking with one of my cofounders at APPCityLife about what a good blend it has been to have men and women filling leadership and employee roles within our company. There is a variety of viewpoints and experiences that have not only made our workplace richer but better for the balance. It has been an amazing opportunity to work with strong men and women, and I am constantly amazed at the gender-blindness that there has been within our team. When there is mutual respect for the opinions, talents and unique leadership of men and women – that is when there can be real growth and synergy.

The organizers are right about one thing. Women really can make a difference. But leaving their voice completely out of the room during an event to highlight this mantra – that is hard to understand.

Resisting the Seduction of Inadequacy

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For a week now, I have fretted over an answer I gave recently during a taped interview for our local PBS television station. I was invited to join a roundtable discussion that would air during Women’s History Month (March), and the other women invited carried impressive resumes and careers; all seemed so much more eloquent, poised and lovely than me. When I was asked whether what I was doing now was something I had always dreamed of doing, I answered honestly. And ever since, I’ve been kicking myself for not being more eloquent, for not having a better answer, for not saying something that might inspire a new generation of girls to pursue tech.

I don’t know. Maybe my answer could have been better; it probably could have been more poised. In fact, I’m sure of that.

But after listening to an amazing speech by the lovely actress Lupita Nyong’o (shared in its entirety at the end of this post), I am reminded that even at my age, I am still doing exactly what she describes – giving in to the seduction of inadequacy. There is great temptation in focusing on our inadequacies, in tearing ourselves apart over the things we want to change about ourselves. We can’t possibly challenge ourselves to move forward, to face our fears, to try even scarier things if we can convince ourselves that we couldn’t even handle the challenges we’ve already faced. We can fall into complacency with the “truth” that we tried but just weren’t good enough, and then who can blame us for not changing the world if we can’t even change one little thing about ourselves?

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

Who knows – maybe I could have found a more polished answer, but the truth still has value in its unvarnished form. The truth is that I never once dreamed of living the life I am. I never thought it was possible. I wanted to be a mom. It is all I ever wanted, and I embraced motherhood wholeheartedly. I have absolutely no regrets for the time I spent raising my children. It was time well spent. So, no, this new journey I’m on is not one I dreamed of. I didn’t think girls who weren’t really smart (I didn’t think I was), who couldn’t do math in my head (unless it’s calculating the discount on a dress I want to buy, I still can’t), and who didn’t get started on a career until their forties – I never, ever thought my journey was even possible for a girl like me.

That does not mean I am not pursuing passionately and whole-heartedly this new journey. I’ve stretched myself so far since I launched APPCityLife in 2009 that I could give Gumby a run for his money. I’ve learned (and learned and learned some more) every time I find something else I need to understand to meet a new challenge or obstacle. There are still times I wake up at 3 AM and wonder what kind of a crazy person launches out into a new industry with the goal of changing the way cities communicate with the people who live there, but then I get up and go look in the mirror to affirm that this is the kind of crazy person who does that – who actually does that. We have already started to change the way cities interact with the people who live there, and I couldn’t be more excited for the future of our team at APPCityLife.

So when you listen to my answer on the upcoming PBS interview with a few of the New Mexico Technology Council’s Women In Tech 2014 honorees, I may not be the most polished. But I’m ok with that. I was invited to have a seat at the table with some pretty amazing women, and for a girl who thought this kind of opportunity could never come in her lifetime – who still has to resist the seduction of inadequacy, that’s enough for me.

Note: the PBS In Focus interview will air on KNME at 7 PM MST, March 6, 2014. View Details and link for online video