I had the opportunity to speak last week at the ICT Spring conference in Luxembourg. My topic was next generation collaboration – a subject near and dear to my heart these days. Lots of great discussion followed – I was happy to see the genuine interest in how to best use the new technologies of Cloud, Mobile and Social to improve collaboration.
When I wrote about my transition recently, I mentioned my excitement about the possibility of working with up-and-coming startups and helping them develop their products and businesses. I also can’t seem to ever get enough of the productivity tool space – (e.g. Yahoo! Mail, Netscape Communicator, SugarSync – I’m hooked!) I get a thrill seeing how these tools and technologies can improve people’s lives. So when the founders of Catch asked me to consult with them as acting CEO I was thrilled to jump in.
I’m so impressed with what this small team has accomplished. They have an absolutely gorgeous app – so beautiful that Apple has it plastered all over their home page, store and headquarters. Catch is at the intersection of some of the most exciting trends in technology – mobile, collaboration, ideation, search, cloud and b.y.o.d. At the same time, Catch, like many early-stage, technology driven companies, has yet to figure out and implement its long-term business model.
So what is Catch? Catch is a mobile-based collaborative note taking application. While simple note-taking functionality a la Evernote or Google Keep is great, I believe that notes achieve their true power as the most natural basis for collaboration. We see this clearly in the usage patterns of Catch – all kinds of business teams sharing notes to manage projects, update status – even manage field sales teams. And the best part is it’s super light-weight, intuitive and easy-to-use.
Having a couple of months off to enjoy my family (including my east-coast children), reconnect with friends, read, hike and recharge has been great but not a long-term state for me, at least not now. I love my work and feel fortunate to have been connected to Catch and for this timing to work out.
Some exciting things in the works here that you’ll be hearing about in the weeks ahead – stay tuned!
An assumption is something we take for granted or accept as true without proof. Assumptions are a necessary and important part of life – without them we would waste a tremendous amount of time verifying every detail of life’s operations. Assumptions make daily living more practical in matters ranging from interacting with our family to driving a car and doing complex projects at work.
But assumptions can be dangerous – they can limit our options and creativity, even our growth and development. My focus here, however, is when assumptions lead us to errors in our actions and judgement with negative consequences. I’ll give an example.
Early on at SugarSync we identified the need to improve many of our written documents – marketing, support articles, product documentation etc. We were still small and only had budget for a part time contractor. One of our team members knew of such a person from a prior technical company where she also was a part-time contractor. She is a mother with young children, her husband traveled quite a bit for work and at the time she wanted a part-time flexible arrangement. This was a great mutual fit and she joined our team in this capacity. She was highly competent and well liked by her colleagues. As SugarSync grew we realized that we really needed full-time efforts on this function. It didn’t occur to us that she would be interested in such a role so we started recruiting. A couple of months later (we hadn’t hired the full-time person, in part because they didn’t measure up) our contractor gave notice that she had a full-time offer. How could this be? She assumed that we must not have liked her very much if we didn’t offer her the position. We assumed that she was not interested in full-time work or would have spoken up when the workload increased or when we posted the position. Fortunately this situation had a happy ending and she joined SugarSync full-time but it was an unnecessarily close call with a lot of avoidable heartache and time spent by both sides on recruiting.
This was a reminder to all involved about the need for extra communication and especially about the need to validate assumptions. These types of assumptions about an individual’s career goals are particularly risky and can be incorrectly influence by gender. Assumptions that were once valid can become erroneous in even short periods of time. People change, their situations change. Marketplaces and business, especially in technology, are extremely dynamic making assumptions particularly risky.
I believe that consciousness of our assumptions is one of the key foundations of critical thinking skills. Engaging in a Socratic thought process of “what are we assuming” “how did we choose those assumptions” and “what could we assume instead” can raise this consciousness and open up creative avenues for solving existing problems with new ideas.
Assumptions are at the heart of bias and stereotypes and recognizing and questioning our assumptions is the key to change. I believe the overwhelming evidence that diverse teams create better results is founded on the higher likelihood of those teams to overcome false assumptions and biases. Successful leaders foster an environment that challenges assumptions and associated limits. Innovative companies by definition have successfully challenged widely-held assumptions. That’s why my favorite saying on the topic is this one by Ken Olson “The best assumption to have is that any commonly held belief is wrong”
I’d love to hear any examples you want to share of interesting or important false assumptions!
The recent Yahoo policy banning working from home has become quite controversial spawning many articles and even a highway 101 billboard. Over the years I’ve managed teams using a range of policies so I have some definite views about what works and what doesn’t in different situations. And that is the key point…this is not a one size fits all theory but one that is specific to the business and it’s situation at the time.
It wasn’t so long ago that we did not have the tools to make working from home practical. As I’ve written about here previously, in my early days at Informix – pre laptop, pre internet at home, I would need to go back to the office to work in the evening or weekends. Those tools and technologies enhanced by web and video conferencing allow us to be extremely effective even when not in the office.
I’ve experienced varying degrees of remote work effectiveness during my career. When I was at Netscape (post IPO 97-03), the success of the Mozilla project and browser development in general was strongly impacted by key developers who worked remotely. Their talents would become obvious from their open source contributions and either they would participate long term as key volunteers or in several cases we hired them as employees. Most of those individuals stayed working in their locations as far away as Europe and New Zealand. We also had some star employees who had to move out of the area for personal reasons. What made these situations work well was the proven talent and work ethic of these individuals plus the open source infrastructure to manage their contributions and assess their performance. There was a critical mass of remote employees that meant that large group meetings were always set up with dial-in numbers and managers were trained to facilitate. We even had one director who effectively managed a multi-location team from Boulder. That being said, most employees were in the office most of the time and it was a very collaborative culture.
My next role, ironically given the impetus for this post was at Yahoo. I was there from 2003-2004 – during the heyday. It is interesting to note that people rarely worked from home during that time.
When I got to Check Point to manage the Zone Labs division I inherited a very liberal work from home policy. In addition, Wednesday and Friday were supposed to be “no-meetings” days. Early on my manager Eyal Desheh expressed concern about the productivity and work ethic of the team. My first assumption was that he didn’t understand Silicon Valley culture and how this could actually work. Unfortunately, his warnings were correct. The issue wasn’t the work from home as much as a lack of drive related to many typical post acquisition HR issues. The work ethic issues were far from universal but they were contagious and affected everyone and working from home accentuated the problems. I quickly changed the work from home policy for the people who reported to me. The “no meetings” policy was changed to not apply to my team nor managers in the engineering organization and it eventually fell away (although managing the amount of time spent in meetings, particularly for engineers is critical). The transition was difficult and created lots of handwringing but it improved productivity quickly and morale soon after.
When I started at SugarSync I was glad to see that our culture was one of people working primarily in the office. In January of 2009 we were 13 people – the challenge was great to just get the job done with such a small team. We couldn’t afford missteps and missed communication and collaboration possibilities by not being together. We kept that policy going as we hired – it is much easier if the ground rules are clear from the start. We designed our new office to be a very open setup to foster collaboration.
This didn’t mean it was easy – SugarSync has several people commuting long distances. We always have had flextime – working slightly earlier or later schedules to avoid the traffic but still we were generally in the office together during the main part of the day. Of course this doesn’t mean we didn’t recognize that people have life issues that require occasional work from home – a sick child, dentist appointments, plumbing emergencies but those are the exception not the norm.
For a startup in a fast moving industry such as the cloud, the work environment is dynamic and high-pressure. Challenging problems require creativity and quick teamwork to solve. I believe we were much more effective at SugarSync by being together. As the team grew the learning curve was shortened dramatically for newcomers working alongside the experienced people. Once people were working in our environment and saw the benefits of close proximity and collaboration they understood why it was needed and embraced it. One of my favorite questions to ask new hires was what surprised them the most about SugarSync – a frequent answer was how they thought we were a much larger team than we in fact were. I think this was a reflection of the team’s productivity.
Is it always better to be together in the office? For certain tasks that require extended, uninterrupted time, working away from the office can be more productive (assuming you have an appropriate environment for concentration at the alternate location). Some roles, like sales or field support by their nature are not in the office. Many people have critical points in time where they need more time away from the office perhaps due to a health or other personal issue for them or a family member. Allowing them to work remotely allows key people to stay with the company and maintain project continuity.
So what’s my net on this important debate? For me it’s clear. If at all possible, have the team primarily working together in the office during work hours. If there are critical hires you can only make (or keep) it might be worth considering exceptions recognizing the consequences and need to manage around them. For a company in crisis or a turnaround situation (like Yahoo) or where there is reason to believe there are productivity issues (again like Yahoo) having everyone much more together in the office may be one of the keys to the turnaround. For a fast growing startup in a very intense space requiring collaboration and team problem solving working in the office together is important.
Does this make juggling work and personal life less easy – perhaps. This is why companies need to be reasonably consistent. If the reports of Marissa Mayer’s in the office nursery are true I would find that to be insensitive to the other parents of babies who are coming to the office without that close access. We must, after all, lead by example. The example that I tried to set was to work hard and collaborate together during the workday. When not in a crunch time, to leave early enough to have a few hours, including dinner, with the family and then, if needed, get back on line after the kids went to bed (or were doing their homework independently). As managers and leaders we need to figure out what works best for our businesses and our teams. These observations are what I have found to be most effective.
I’ve written quite often on this blog about transitions – they are a natural part of life and any business ecosystem, and embracing change is part of making the most of new opportunities. 2013 marks a transition for SugarSync, and myself. We have launched a search for a new CEO.
SugarSync has undergone a wonderful transition over the last several months. SugarSync 2.0 launched successfully to great reviews including PCWorld and PCMagazine. I couldn’t be more proud of this product. Our team of designers and engineers took our highly-rated core sync foundation and rearchitected the user experience for simplicity while continuing to innovate around sharing. The goal was to better serve an ever-expanding set of users, including businesses and larger enterprises who are rapidly moving to the cloud. Consumerization of IT is real and we are experiencing this phenomenon first hand at SugarSync.
Simultaneously, the mass-market consumer space is experiencing a competitive environment that poses challenges for any company who wants to invest in growth. SugarSync is in a prime position to continue our growth trajectory serving business customers in addition to consumers. From a product perspective, our strategy remains strong. The vast majority of upcoming features will serve both audiences extremely well.
From a company prospective, SugarSync needs to evolve its strategy to better serve business customers. This means dramatically expanding SaaS channel opportunities and corporate sales functions, among other changes.
After quite a bit of thoughtful introspection, I came to the realization that SugarSync would be best led by a CEO with deep and recent expertise in this type of SaaS enterprise environment. After further discussion with our board of directors, we agreed to begin the search for a new CEO for SugarSync.
It’s impossible to fully express my gratitude to and appreciation of the entire SugarSync team. What an amazing group of professionals and technologists. I will continue to serve as CEO and Board member during this transition and will do everything in my power to support the Board and new CEO. After four years of building such an exciting business, I am committed to doing everything possible to make sure we realize SugarSync’s maximum potential.
Of course, this was an extremely difficult decision. I have often said that while I did not give birth to SugarSync (for that I need to thank its visionary founders), I adopted it and have loved it as if I were here from the start. I joined the company during one of the most challenging economic times in Silicon Valley’s history. We were near bankruptcy, the broader economy had melted down and employees were fleeing – we were down to 13 people. I’ve loved pouring my energies into rebuilding the team, launching a successful freemium model, signing and launching many major partnerships with global companies such as Samsung, Lenovo, and many others. We’ve raised multiple rounds of financing at increasing (more than twenty fold) valuations, and so much more. SugarSync increased its user base five fold last year and experienced a dramatic increase in our revenue. We were proud of achieving 99th in the 2011 Inc500 with $11million of revenue and have continued to exceed a 100% growth rate. More importantly, the business is in an excellent financial position to continue strong growth. I’ve been honored to be a part of this team.
So…what’s next for me? SugarSync was a turnaround situation based on an idea and a dream from the original founders. I have some startup ideas of my own and I’m excited to invest time vetting these possibilities to understand their true potential. In addition, given my experience leading both direct-to-consumer and partner-oriented successes at SugarSync, I am being approached by several companies to advise or help lead the charge to solve similar go-to-market challenges. I want to be able to give those opportunities due consideration and I’m really looking forward to helping make a difference in start-up successes.
And finally, as readers here know, I’m deeply passionate about supporting women in startups and technology. Silicon Valley is more welcoming to women entrepreneurs than ever before in my 20+ years here, and it’s an exciting time to support this new generation of leaders. I’m looking forward to having the time to take a more direct and active role in supporting their success.
As CEO of SugarSync I haven’t had the time to participate fully in the broader conversation of women in technology and, even more interestingly, envisioning new experiences on the internet – I look forward to doing that in the coming months.
I’d like to take one last opportunity to thank the amazing SugarSync team, our dedicated board of directors, and most importantly, all of our loyal customers. This has been an amazing and humbling experience, and I’m grateful for every second of it.
A politically active friend of mine posted her invitation to the inauguration on her facebook page which got me thinking about the inauguration process. The key element is the public statement of the Oath of Office “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” January is typically also the time of year for personal oaths. We often commit publicly to our new years resolutions. Also, businesses will establish and commit to their plans for the year.
The concept of oaths or swearing is interesting. Why do we ask politicians to swear things? Why do we feel the need to swear things? With an oath we are promising now to do something at a future time. On the surface this doesn’t seem to make sense. Just as we know now more than we knew a year ago, we know less today then we will know in the future. In essence, by swearing, we are saying that I believe that my decision now is better than my decision will be in the future.
Well, in the political example it is easy to see why this is the case. The politician knows that in the future they will be tempted to not do the right thing so they are committing publicly in advance to, hopefully, keep them on the right track. A simple analogy where I frequently face this concept is with exercise. I know now that it is good for me to exercise in the morning, however, when the alarm rings my judgement might be clouded to think that I am better off sleeping J. Therefore I make a promise to my hiking buddies in the evening that I will meet them early the next morning. The most famous literary example of this is in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus knows that he will be seduced by the Sirens so he instructs the sailors tie him to the mast when he goes by the island. So in fact his decision was better earlier than later just as my exercise decision was better at night then the next morning.
But unfortunately there are many situations where we know less than we will know in a future date and for some reason we still make a promise. And then circumstances change or we change. Or, we are right about what will happen but we are wrong about how we will feel. A good example of this is the expectant parent of their first child. He or she feels committed to their job and plans to come back to work after that child’s birth but after the beginning of that new parenting experience has a change of heart and doesn’t want to return to work full time. The oath is made with good intention and commitment but will not be fulfilled.
I’ve always appreciated that Judaism recognizes the human fallibility involved with oaths, in fact, dealing with this fallibility is a core of the liturgy. One of the most famous prayers, Kol Nidre, is chanted to absolve you from vows you will make. Tradition recognized our intentions may outstrip our ability to fulfill and this need for annulment.
Commitments are important. They are at the core of all of our relationships – with our children, our spouses, our friends and our coworkers. Any exceptions must truly be exceptions or the relationships break down. Nobody wants to be friends with someone who doesn’t take their commitments seriously. We need to be able to rely on our colleagues. Does he or she consistently do what they say they will do? We need to be able to trust in that.
This is the time of year for commitments in business as most companies go through an annual planning cycle. At SugarSync we agree on the annual plan typically at our January board meeting. This is always challenging given how dynamic our market is but we do it. Annual plans and milestones are important as they serve as benchmarks – how are we progressing? Do tactics need to change? Do strategies need to change? Ideally the plan (and goals for employees in general) should be an “achievable stretch”. If the team thinks it’s impossible they will be frustrated and the plan can be a disincentive but if it’s seen as an achievable stretch that plan will encourage people to go the extra mile.
It’s important to meet your business commitments – customers, investors, employees are all watching this. Fred Wilson wrote a blog post just on this a few weeks ago stressing how important it is for startups to deliver on their promises. But plans can be wrong and a smart board will know if the goalposts were set to close or too far. More importantly, focus on those goalposts should not keep us from observing closely if the game is completely changing and adjusting accordingly.
In startups and fast-growing markets decisions must be made without full information and as we learn more we adjust – either fine tune or even pivot. Business planning is not like the exercise example, we certainly know much less now then we will in the future. We want our future decisions to leverage maximum knowledge.
As 2012 comes to an end, it’s easy to look back and marvel at what a great year this has been for the Cloud market. Nearly two thirds of online adults are now using some form of Cloud service, and the amount of people using file sync and sharing services grew from 9% to 15% from 2010 to 2012. Large players like Apple and Google took notice of this rapidly growing market, and validated it with the introduction of their own (albeit, platform-limited) service offerings.
Here at SugarSync, we focused on evolving our service to match the evolving needs of customers that have a more mobile lifestyle than ever before. We recently launched SugarSync 2.0, a complete redesign of the SugarSync desktop, Web and mobile experience, to greatly simplify the use of the Cloud no matter where you happen to be using it. And we continued to sign massive partnerships to drive distribution and add value for our customers worldwide.
But where is the Cloud headed in 2013? Was the Cloud boom that we saw in 2012 a fluke, or was this year’s growth simply a precursor of what’s to come? Based on everything we’ve seen this year, and the insights I have of what’s coming up, I put together my top five predictions of what to expect in the Cloud market in 2013.
Mobile will continue to be the primary driver of Cloud usage
In 2012, SugarSync saw a dramatic increase in customers who came to us via our mobile apps. But that’s not all – regardless of whether a customer came to us through our mobile apps or by signing up online and downloading the desktop app, the most popular use of the Cloud amongst customers was the ability to access and share files via their mobile devices.
Part of this could be attributed to the fact that SugarSync has the broadest set of mobile apps on the market (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile – with Windows Phone coming soon), which is critical to our strategy of being a completely platform-agnostic Cloud provider. But this trend was not exclusive to SugarSync – the same could be said for the Cloud industry as a whole. In fact, a recent Forrester report shows that 58% of Cloud users access the Cloud daily or even hourly via mobile devices.
And all the signs (continued growth of mobile device sales, increased IT spend on mobile technology, analyst projections for mobile growth, etc.) point that this will be a dominating trend for the Cloud in 2013. IDC recently projected that mobile devices sales will grow 20% in 2013 to a staggering $431 billion. And as more people adopt powerful smartphone and tablet technology, the need to keep content in sync across those devices for greater efficiency and productivity will continue to increase.
The Consumerization of the Cloud
Just as the iPhone was seen as a “consumer” device until it became so popular that people demanded the ability to use it at work, the same is happening to the Cloud. One of the best things about the Cloud is the ability to continually access and work on any of your files on any of your devices, no matter where you are. While many SMBs and enterprises have not yet adopted company-wide Cloud file sync and sharing services, many of their employees are already using Cloud services to simplify the sharing of large files. And for an increasingly mobile workforce, the Cloud has become an essential tool to keep connected to their work – regardless of what device they have in their hands at the moment.
Consumers are using the Cloud to dramatically increase their productivity at work, and so my prediction is that many more businesses will adopt the Cloud in 2013 in an official, company-wide capacity.
The Cloud will become an expected service on every piece of hardware
With more smartphones and tablets being sold each year, and with predictions that more people will access the Internet via mobile devices than PCs by 2015, it is not surprising that more and more people are utilizing the Cloud to maximize their mobile devices. Not only does the Cloud provide the benefit of anytime, anywhere access to all of your content, but it also solves the critical problems of storage space and the lack of file system that plague many mobile devices.
In 2012, SugarSync partnered with Lenovo to integrate SugarSync into every Lenovo laptop and tablet that ships worldwide. We also partnered with Samsung to integrate SugarSync into their AllShare Play service, which is shipping on every Samsung smartphone and tablet worldwide. These deals are an indicator of the hardware industry’s deep belief that the Cloud is bringing value to their customers, and as such, I predict that the Cloud will ship on every single smartphone and tablet that ships within 2 years, with 2013 being a banner year for these partnerships.
The Cloud will blend our work and personal lives, while keeping them separate
The elusive “work/life balance” is becoming far less elusive these days – and you can thank the Cloud for that. It used to be that your work laptop was for work only, and if you needed a personal file while you were at work, you had to wait until you got home to access it on your computer. These days, however, you can quickly attend to urgent personal matters (sending a tax form to your accountant, pulling up an important medical record, etc.) no matter where you are. Likewise, you’re no longer chained to your work device, so you can handle urgent work matters from anywhere, too. In the middle of a project, but also need to be at your child’s soccer game? No problem – you can easily track your colleague’s progress on the project you’re collaborating on, and access, work on, and send the project along right from your mobile device.
There also used to be a concern about what content you have saved to each of your devices. In most cases, you don’t want sensitive personal documents or content stored on your work devices, and your company typically doesn’t want work files being saved to your personal devices. If you have a Cloud solution that lets you choose what content you want sync’d to each individual device you have, then you can easily and effectively separate the content that is sync’d to each of your devices – work on work devices, personal on personal devices. And of course, everything remains accessible via the Cloud – but you don’t have to worry about whether things are being saved in the appropriate location.
The Cloud will be our primary method of collaboration
Gone are the days of sending large file attachments back and forth – both in work and in personal situations. With the Cloud, you can easily share files (and even entire folders) with no file-size limits, enabling the simple sharing of anything via a simple link. And if you have a Cloud solution that enables you to share as both View Only (meaning the folks you share with can view, but not edit or delete your stuff) as well as Add/Edit (which enables all parties to access and edit documents with each other), then the Cloud becomes the most efficient tool for collaboration.
Think of how many projects you work on with your colleagues, family, or friends – from work documents that require multiple levels of editing and approvals within an organization, to a couple planning their wedding who needs an easy way to share all of their contracts and wedding ideas with each other and their wedding coordinator. Rather than sending bulky attachments back and forth in email and constantly dealing with version control, you can instead share folders with your collaborators, and everyone works on the same documents, in the same folders. Everyone else in the folder is notified when a change is made by another collaborator, and the Cloud even saves previous versions so you can revert back if needed. This can literally transform the way teams work together, and for that reason, I predict that 2013 is the year when we see the true death of the attachment and the Cloud rises as our primary form of collaboration and sharing.
What are your thoughts? What do you think will be the guiding trends in the Cloud in 2013?
Like many others, I’ve been glued to the news following the conflict in the Middle East. After working for an Israeli company for 4 years I have many friends in Tel Aviv plus family in Jerusalem. I fear for their safety and mourn the bloodshed that has occurred. I feel very angry about the rocket fire against Israel that occurred prior to this current escalation. That fear turned anger continued as I even found myself thinking it’s the “fault” of those in Gaza for “starting” the violence. But that limbic emotional cycle was interrupted.
In the midst of watching the news I was checking my Facebook page and saw updates from two of our Palestinian TechWomen Alumnae. They are currently in Gaza, without power and are not far where the bombs have struck. Gaza is relatively a small geographic area so their proximity to violence is not surprising. Their anguish was apparent in the posting and just as I can picture my Israeli cousin Lexi trying to entertain 3 children under 5 in a bomb shelter I can similarly picture Hwayda and Lama, afraid, in the dark with the sound of bombs nearby. Rola who interned with me here at SugarSync is from the West Bank originally. Though most of her family is now in Amman she still has family both in Gaza and in the West Bank and I’m sure they are anguishing over their safety.
Suddenly my feelings of anger changed. Rola, Hwayda and Lama are brilliant kind women who I came to respect during their time here. This is a human tragedy on both sides and both sides of this conflict deserve empathy and security. Rola and I ventured to talk a bit of politics when she was here. It was difficult and we disagreed on several topics but it was good to hear the other side and associate it with a human being who I respect. It is hard to maintain hate when you are reminded of friendship.
As you get to know people personally you are reminded of their humanity and hence, how we are more similar than different. A political or religious difference is smaller than the shared experience of family and community. Familiarity does indeed breed empathy.
I believe that familiarity leading to empathy is the fundamental basis of the success of the gay rights movement in the last 40 years. The willingness of gays to be open about their orientation has been the key. As people realized that gays and lesbians are their friends, family, and coworkers whom they loved and respected many of the stigmas began to go away. I’m not saying that discrimination based on sexual orientation does not exist – it does – but the pace of change and improvement is unprecedented.
Unfortunately, for what I believe is the same reason in converse , we have not seen similar change regarding choice. The percentage of those who are anti-choice has remained constant or even gone up in the last 39 years since Roe v. Wade. I don’t think religion is the difference from the reduction in homophobia as there are religious dictates against both homosexuality and abortion – I think it is the private nature of abortions. For completely understandable reasons, our friends, coworkers and even family members have kept their abortions private and they will likely never come out of the closet. I believe this is appropriate but it means less social and political impact. We will need to find other ways to build empathy for those in this situation.
More than ever before we need a bigger dose of empathy in our society. Either to build bridges across political parties so that our government can function, to step away from violence and war in the Middle East and even just to be kind to all of our neighbors. This is a change I would really be thankful for.
I wrote previously about being a TechWomen mentor. After three weeks Rola Issa wrapped up her project at SugarSync at the end of September. We celebrated with dinner at our home as well as some cultural indoctriniation attending my son’s high school football game. She then spent two additional days in various training programs at Google and Fenwick & West then all of the women in the program went to the Grace Hopper Celebration in Baltimore. Several program participants from last year presented papers. After Grace Hopper the group traveled to Washington DC. They got to take a tour of the White House and visit some of the more important sites in the Capital.
I met up with the group on Monday. They were at my masters degree alma mater Georgetown for a leadership training day with Barbara Fittipaldi. Barbara had some great techniques to encourage the women to think big in terms of their plans and goals – to get beyond self-limiting thinking.
Tuesday and Wednesday we had a variety of briefings at the State Department. One of the most interesting to me was regarding the web communication and social media strategy and operations at the State Department and White House. We heard from Macon Phillips, White House New Media Director and Victoria Esser, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. Both of them have private sector communications backgrounds.
I found it really interesting to learn about the size and scope of the State Departments web presence. The main website gets nearly three million unique visitors per day. They are present on all of the major social media platforms in multiple languages. For many years technologies such as phone, fax and email had enabled a greater centralization of diplomatic functions in headquarters but it seems to me that the advent of social media has changed that trend to one of greater decentralization. Most of the Twitter and Facebook presences are managed in-country by the local embassy. I think this is a healthy phenomenon – particularly in this era of real-time communication and the importance social media has played in such political changes such as the Arab spring.
There were also representatives from both major parties who briefed the group on their Foreign Policy initiatives and did some education for the TechWomen about the US election process e.g. electoral college. Things got a little sticky during the Q&A when several of the TechWomen pressed on our Iran policies. There was clearly a sentiment amongst some of the TechWomen that nuclear non-proliferation policies were unfair to developing countries and many of them had a very different point of view as compared to almost any mainstream point on the US political spectrum as to the origin of the conflict in Syria. The speakers were fairly deft in sidestepping some of this given the public forum. Actually Rola and I had some very open and frank conversations about Middle East politics. Her family, as is common in Jordan is Palestinian. We didn’t always agree but we could discuss the topic respectfully which was such a great opportunity for both of us.
While disappointed that Secretary Clinton wasn’t able to meet with our group we enjoyed a formal luncheon in the Benjamin Franklin dining room at the State Department where we were addressed by Assistant Secretary, Ann Stock. She talked about the various programs that were part of the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.
Overall it is hard to imagine a more educational program being prepared for the TechWomen – from entrepreneurship, leadership, technology, women in technology and public policy I believe they got a tremendous amount of training in 6 weeks. It is certainly rewarding to participate in people-to-people programs such as this one. How much leverage there is in a program such as TechWomen is hard to know but I do think it can have an impact with the participants and their first level contacts on both sides. I’m glad I and the rest of the SugarSync team was able to be a part of this program.
In the Loy Henderson Auditorium for our briefings
A friend sent me this Forbes article – 30 Under 30 – with the question – why the focus on youth? It is a really good question. My first thought when I read the article was where was I and what was I doing before I turned the dreaded 30, after which, implicitly in this article – one’s accomplishments become theoretically less impressive.
So let’s turn the clock back to just before 30. December 1993 – I had three children (Adam was born when I was over the hill at 31) ages eight, five and six months. I was working at Informix as a sales manager for the Central American, Caribbean and Andean regions of Latin America. Steve had just bought two Miller beverage distributorships (in Watsonville) and was finishing law school at Berkeley. We lived in a ranch house in a family-oriented neighborhood of Los Altos, CA. The kids were doing well – the boys immersed in school, sports and music and Margot was thriving and, thankfully, sleeping through the night. Life was great but “x” busy. I put an “x” because even in synonym.com I can’t find a word that adequately qualifies busy.
The physical energy and lack of sleep required to keep up with three kids and a job with intensive travel is something that could be hard for me to maintain today. However, the mental energy and stress of a startup is something that I would not want to have shared with my young children. So for me I’m glad for the order in which the different stages of my family and the different stages of my career occurred. More importantly, I always knew I wanted to have several (well actually four) children. Waiting until one’s mid 30’s (or later) post entrepreneurial success to try to have a family is playing with fire and sadly I’ve seen many of my female colleagues get burned. You can be an entrepreneur at any age. You can’t get pregnant at any age. And BTW, one can maybe be a dad at any age but is that what you want?
In my case, however, I was not deliberately working in a big company rather than being an entrepreneur. Frankly it didn’t occur to me to jump ship at that point. I was on an incredibly exciting and steep leaning curve at work. Learning sales (I had switched from marketing to carrying a quota), learning to do business internationally, learning fluency in Spanish and Portuguese (for more details on the logistics see here). As long as the learning stayed steep and the company environment positive I was happy to stay (It turns out that I am using all of those skills today, but that was a previous post). So while I am enjoying entrepreneurship more than big company life, those big company jobs were pretty exciting, I developed skills, networks and great friendships.
Our American society, not just in business, does glorify youth. I probably will not be able to change this and anyhow, I must acknowledge that it is jaw-droppingly impressive what the 30 people under 30 in the article above have accomplished in such a short amount of time. There may be some advantage to youth in their ability to imagine or identify major innovations. Perhaps because they have learned fewer limitations or perhaps there may be some innovation advantage to having lived only in the Internet-enabled world.
Nonetheless, here is what my personal value system says we should glorify for entrepreneurs. It should be simply what they have done and how they did it – not how old they were whey they accomplished it. Did they create a product or service that improved people’s lives? Did they make a great return for their investors? Did they treat their customers fairly and with respect? Did they take care of their employees and support their personal and family goals? I think the most important criteria is not how old or young you are or the color of your skin, religion or gender. Did you build something of lasting value? Were you (and your team) mensches* in doing so. That is my goal at SugarSync.