Transition Time

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.

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No Excuses Please

I had the true pleasure of speaking at the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival last week in NY.  It was a great conference organized by Joanne Wilson aka GothamGal and Nancy Hechinger of NYU’s ITP program.  I always find gatherings like this refreshing and energizing.  Here are a couple of pictures from Wednesday morning.wefblog2

The attendees (almost all women) representing all ages and ethnicities, were bright, ambitious and fun to talk to.  The vibe was great – lots of exchange of ideas as well as mutual support.  A significant observation I made, however, was regarding the speakers.  There were 26 speakersall women.  Mostly entrepreneurs but also several venture capitalists.  The entrepreneurs were from a range of industries, stages and sizes of company, several of them quite substantial.  The investors were primarily early stage but covered a range as well.  A large percentage of the women (many of whom have young children) traveled cross country to participate in the conference.

Women 2.0 has published the agenda for their annual conference on 2/14.  They have a great lineup of (mostly) women speakers as well.

These conference organizers didn’t seem to have any problem filling their program with quality, qualified women speakers.  The women are there.  They are willing to speak.  They will do a phenomenal job.  This idea that there is a choice between quality and diversity is simply another false dichotomy.

My message to those who say they cannot have a gender-balanced conference agenda, you are simply not trying hard enough.  Perhaps you are suffering from an unconscious bias. Perhaps you are unlucky to have interacted in your career only with a narrow group that is not diverse.  Whatever the reason it doesn’t matter – the good news is this problem is proven to be solvable, no excuses please.

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ITP’s Women Entrepreneur Festival Open for Application.

The NYU Tisch School’s Interactive Technology Program (ITP) is holding it’s third annual Women Entrepreneur Festival this coming January.  I am thrilled to be speaking as part of this great program.  More information about the program is here.  I encourage those interested to apply early.  Last year there were over 600 applicants for 300 spots.  In their words the goal of the WE Festival is “to sow the seeds for a community of women entrepreneurs; to expose women who have not yet taken the entrepreneurial leap, the pre-entrepreneurs, to women who have.”

Thanks to the organizers – Joanne Wilson aka Gotham Gal and Nancy Hechinger of ITP.


Why Diversity

There have been several great studies and related articles recently about the improved business results that come from diversity.  According to Credit Suisse Research Institute, over the past six years, companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of share price performance.  According to a recent study by Dow Jones Venture Source having, a higher proportion of female executives at a venture-backed start-up improves the company’s chances for success.  Specifically:

  • “In comparing successful versus unsuccessful companies, the overall median proportion of female executives is 7.1% and 3.1%, respectively, demonstrating the value that having more females can potentially bring to a management team.
  • We also see that a company’s odds for success (versus unsuccess) increase with more female executives at the VP and director levels.”

The study, based on a very large database of companies (n=20,194) contains a wealth of other interesting data, in particular the fact that companies grow their percentage of female executives over time.  I encourage those with an interest in this topic to read the entire study.

So this is great news and hopefully the publicity about this news will cause people to examine their companies, investments and open more doors.  I’ve always assumed that diversity led to improved results and am thrilled to see such compelling data.  The question still remains though as to why.  I can think of three possible explanations.

My first thought is that perhaps the dramatic absence of diversity at the unsuccessful companies reflects a management team and board that is almost by definition (complete absence of women when there is available talent) horribly biased and closed minded.  This parochialism then impairs their business judgement leading to poorer outcomes.

Another theory assumes significant bias for women during their careers and that those who make it to the executive ranks are higher performing than their peers.  This reminds me of the time (December 1987) our family took a vacation in Israel and Egypt.  One of the highlights was the sightseeing we did in Cairo before heading south for a Nile river cruise.  Before we left a friend gave me a tip to ask for a female tour guide.  She explained to me that competition for the government licensed tour guide positions and discrimination against women was so fierce that any woman who managed to get a position would be particularly well qualified.

Both of these theories don’t ring true to me.  I’m sure the first one exists (hopefully not in large quantity) but there could be other explanations for the absence of women.  Regarding the second idea – it is not clear to me that the biases against women are so strong before the executive level that this would lead to such a positive selection bias.

I believe the truth must lie somewhere in the dynamics of the diverse team itself.  I started researching this topic and came across this Cornell study. Why Differences Make a Difference: A Field Study of Diversity, Conflict, and  Performance in Workgroups.  First off it is interesting the lack of recent studies – this one dates from the 90’s.  I found this study and several of those that predated and led to it to be fascinating.  They break down diversity into 3 components,  informational diversity, social category diversity and value diversity.

Not surprisingly, informational diversity (diversity of, for instance, functional, job and practical experiences) is positively correlated with performance.  Value diversity, due to heightened conflict is negatively correlated with performance.  Social category (e.g. age, gender, race) diversity was less clear.  Counter-intuitively their study showed positive correlation between morale and social category diversity.  Perhaps social category diversity itself is positively correlated with informational diversity which leads to improved performance.

I believe strongly in the benefits of informational and social category diversity.  Avoiding hiring a large percentage of team members from a particular company (though it is a natural tendency) is critical.  I believe that social category diversity helps insure some extra informational diversity plus make day-to-day life in the company more socially interesting.  It is not easy to achieve this – in fact it likely takes extra effort by the stakeholders, particularly to achieve this while ensuring similarity of values and goals, but the results are clearly worth it both in terms of the results and enjoyment along the way.

TechWomen in Washington DC

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

And on the deck overlooking the mall

The Benjamin Franklin Dining Room


When I learned about the TechWomen Program of the US Department of State I knew immediately I wanted to be involved.  Readers of this blog know of my early career goal to be a diplomat.  I have long been interested in the Middle East and have visited Israel, Egypt and Jordan.  While I love what I’m doing now and the international experiences my career has afforded me (I’m writing this post from my hotel room in Seoul) I do sometimes find myself missing the work I thought I would do in the international development field so when “extracurricular” opportunities to be involved pop up I’m thrilled.

The goal of the TechWomen program is to empower high-potential technical.  The program “brings emerging women leaders in technology sectors from the Middle East and North Africa together with their American counterparts for a professional mentorship and exchange program at leading private investigation companies in the United States”.

I applied to be a professional mentor several months ago and was thrilled to learn in July that I was matched with Rola Issa from Amman, Jordan.  Rola works in a software company as a database expert and had traveled throughout the Gulf states for her company on key projects.  She was interested in focusing her internship, however, more on the business and marketing side of Silicon Valley.  I assured her we had plenty of potential projects.  Entry into the program is highly competitive for the TechWomen so I was not surprised at Rola’s competence and initiative.

Rola arrived last Wednesday.  After several days of training they had Sunday free.  I invited Rola to join me for my usual Sunday morning hike with friends.  We enjoyed a gorgeous morning at Hidden Villa then lunch and some errands in downtown Los Altos. Monday was the first day of work as part of our marketing team on a project.

In addition to the internship, the TechWomen are paired with a cultural mentor and participate in several formal training programs (including an gender equality programs in windshield replacement houston tx shops).  They will all be attending the Grace Hopper Conference in Baltimore as well as educational programs in Washington, DC.  The program culminates with a visit to the State Department and meeting with Secretary Clinton who is the program sponsor.  I’m looking forward to a fun few weeks!

Moms working Full Time – the Norm not the Exception

Since a picture’s worth a thousand words this blog post can be short.  Take a look at this chart from the US Department of Health and Human Services website:

Many, many American women to the tune of 10’s of millions are today working full-time while caring for their children under 18.  This number has increased nearly 50% in the last 40 years.

The attention drawn by the Anne Marie Slaughter piece and others are distracting people from this reality.  Most mothers “have it all”, not a mythical idealized “all” but a sleeplessly busy “all” of full-time work as a key breadwinner for the family and loving care of their children.  For many the work is fulfilling and enjoyable, for some it isn’t, just as it ranges for men.

Don’t be fooled by Atlantic headlines or even perhaps your social circle.  The question is not if but how.  And that’s where we should focus our energies – not in debating the “if” but in solving the “how”.  How can we make sure these parents and families live in a society and community that provides the structure and support needed for their health and happiness.