How did Built.io get started?
I remember a conversation with my co-founder 10 years ago after the “dot com” craze had passed. As entrepreneurs, we were contemplating the next big thing. He believed that everything would become Internet-enabled and would run on this new technology called “cloud computing.” At the time, we both worked for large enterprise companies that made complex software. We set out to build a company that would simplify the way software was built, managed and connected. That’s what we did with Built.io.
Why did you think the world needed Built.io?
I spent a lot of time working at big companies and marveling at how long it can take to get things done. This resulted in a determination to find a better way, a faster way and to help established companies accelerate their business. I founded Built.io together with our CTO Nishant Patel to apply cutting edge technology to help companies grow their business and solve big problems – by innovating faster. We spent the first few years as a services company, building custom digital solutions using cloud, web and mobile applications for large enterprises – long before most companies even knew what these buzzwords meant. Along the way we realized we could help our customers innovate more quickly as a product company, so we built out a digital platform that today helps the world’s leading brands to connect their business and provide groundbreaking digital experiences for their customers, employees and partners.
Were you always interested in tech? To what do you attribute that interest in STEM?
One of my life mantras is to “Never Be Boring.” This is why I believe I didn’t find tech; Tech found me. At university, I majored in French and Mass Communications. Outside of being a math nerd most of my life, I didn’t really have any exposure to STEM and what STEM meant for me. I started my career in public relations in Denver, CO where I graduated from university. I quickly learned that I liked PR, but I wanted to take my PR skills to a fast-paced, exciting field. At the time, there was a lot of talk about the “dotcom” world and Silicon Valley. I decided that I wanted to be in that world. I applied to a few jobs on a Wednesday, got on a plane and interviewed for a job on Friday and by the following Monday, I had packed my bags and driven to Silicon Valley. I never looked back.
What do you think would encourage other young women to pursue careers in STEM?
Earlier exposure to the enticing world of STEM is the best way to engage young women to pursue related careers. Research shows that 74% of middle school girls express interest in STEM subjects, but when choosing a college major, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science. I’ve even started my own foundation to help spark entrepreneurial interest in young women at an earlier age. Luckily there are several organizations, resources and tools available dedicated to exposing young women to science, technology and engineering. Some of my favorites include:
a company that builds construction toys for girls. I loved this idea so much that I backed them on Kickstarter three years ago!
an organization that inspires girls to discover a passion for technology, science and engineering.
- Girls Who Code
a nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors.
You have been known to be a big supporter of female entrepreneurs. Did you have a mentor? if so, how did that shape the path you have taken in life?
I have several business mentors! I like to think of these individuals as my “Personal Board of Directors” as they are not only business mentors, but champions for me as a growing individual and leader. My personal Board of Directors consists of a couple of my current customers, two former colleagues that are in leadership positions at large companies, my best friend, my husband, and three other people that have successfully scaled their business(es).
While this is changing rapidly, it sometimes seems as if Silicon Valley is still a boys’ club. Do you find that to be true and how does that affect you?
I strive to help Silicon Valley become a level playing field. We are far from it today and it has an impact on every female entrepreneur. For example, males are 63% more likely to raise capital than women, all other things equal. Research also shows that 95% of venture deals and dollars are going to companies with not one woman in the top management suite. So while an equal playing field is not yet in sight, there are a few key players in the industry that are helping to move the needle in the right direction. Two women who I greatly admire to this effect are Sharon Vosmek and Lisa Lambert.
- Sharon Vosmek is the CEO of Astia and the Astia Fund. Astia is transforming the way businesses are funded in the here and now, providing capital, connections, and guidance that fuel the growth of highly innovative, women-led ventures around the globe.
- Lisa Lambert runs Intel Capital’s Diversity Fund and founded an organization called Upward, an organization that was created to help women move UP in their careers. Some may even say that she’s successfully started to create the “old girls’ network.”
What do you think is the biggest hurdle women face when choosing to become entrepreneurs?
[quote_left]I believe one of the biggest hurdles women face is the “Impostor Syndrome” in which one is convinced that they are a fraud and do not deserve the success they have achieved.[/quote_left]I believe one of the biggest hurdles women face is the “Impostor Syndrome” in which one is convinced that they are a fraud and do not deserve the success they have achieved. I’ve seen this in myself and many high-achieving women I know and admire. This false sense of insecurity impedes successful entrepreneurs from approaching influencers in their network, from successfully raising funds, and from being strong negotiators. To be successful in business, you have to hustle. Women who are hustlers and navigate their business with confidence stand out and win.
Do you believe work-life balance is an achievable goal?
I have subscribed to the “Glass Balls vs. Rubber Ball” theory introduced 20+ years ago at a Georgia Tech commencement speech by Bryan Dyson, then the President and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises. He explained: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.” I try to remind myself and my colleagues about this on a regular basis. We all work really hard, but we certainly make time for the people and things that are important to us.
In light of that, walk us through a typical day in your life.
One thing of note is that there is no such thing as a “typical day” when you are an entrepreneur. No days ever go as planned, and there is never a dull moment. One routine that I stick to fairly consistently is my morning ritual. I wake up between 4:30am and 5am almost every morning (including weekends). My mornings are a time to tackle thought-intensive tasks, or approach projects with a new perspective. I consider 5-8AM my power hours, and try to get through one significant undertaking before 8AM each day. The rest of the day is dedicated to making myself available to customers and unblocking things for my team so they can hit their goals and take the company forward. Ideally, I will carve out at least one hour a day to perform what I call “winning outreach.” This entails calling or writing to someone in my extended network that will likely have some influence over a problem we’re trying to solve, a connection we’re trying to make, or a deal we’re trying to close.
A lot has been in the news about tech companies stepping up in making big strides in maternity and paternity leave? Why do you think the tech industry is on the cutting edge of these innovations and do you think they’re doing enough? It’s great that the tech industry is making significant strides in offering stronger parental options and benefits. From lengthier parental leave, support for fertility planning, or just extra stipends to cover the cost of childcare, it’s important that companies are giving parents the flexibility to choose what’s right for them and their families.
Sadly many people are quick to judge and exercise their opinions about parental choices. Most recently, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to return to work after two weeks of maternity leave sparked industry-wide debate. Male business leaders are rarely questioned when they return to work within weeks of an equally significant life event. How new parents choose to balance work and family is a very personal decision for every parent, regardless of their gender or their role in a company. It is commendable that companies are finding creative ways to support new parents through these kinds of decisions. Certainly we can do more, but it’s a step in the right direction.
What books, art or media have had the greatest impact on your life?
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss is my favorite book of all time. It’s literally timeless and applies to men, women and children of any age. The excerpt I like to recite to all the young people in my life is “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
What resources do you draw upon to motivate yourself through life’s challenges?
- Champions. One of my greatest lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is to surround myself with champions. Every entrepreneur has her own ecosystem made up of colleagues, customers, partners, friends, and family – almost like a personal board of directors. I believe there to be a direct correlation between success and the extent at which members of your core ecosystem are your champions.
- Tuesdays at Noon. Every Tuesday at Noon, San Francisco administrators test the emergency alarm system, which I now use as a marker for a notable time each week. Every Tuesday at Noon, I deliberately try to “let go of all things negative, retain all things positive, and march forward to a better week, and a better me!” Though this started as a personal habit, it’s become a company-wide event, across multiple time zones.
What advice would you give to your 18-year old self?
- Never be boring.
Life is short. Enjoy the people, places and challenges you enjoy as often as feasibly possible.
- Exude positivity.
Focus on the positive – be it a challenging situation, or the uncooperative person right in front of you.
- Remain curious.
Actively seek new ideas, diverse points of view and learning opportunities.
- Be compassionate.
Learn what matters to people, across friends, family and employees, and work hard to deliver related opportunities.
- Chase a better you.
Never stop learning. Never stop growing. Always look ahead at the next big thing.
Are there any resources that you would suggest to young women who would like to follow in your footsteps?
It’s never too early to start establishing your “Personal Board of Directors.” This should consist of people who are supportive of you ambitions and help unblock the things that are in your way. This starts with friends, family and teachers when you are young, but grows into an ecosystem of all the players in your network that have been a champion for you during your journey. Your Personal Board of Directors can change and evolve as you navigate through the various stages of your life.
I am a Founder of a foundation called 4B Global which aims to inspire and empower young women to unlock their potential as leaders. Early next year, we will be releasing two programs “Junior Executives” and “Hotseat” that young women can leverage to further their journey as an entrepreneur.[su_follow_guest twitter=”https://twitter.com/NEHASF”]Neha Sampat[/su_follow_guest]