Inspirational profiles of women in
leadership roles in the tech scene.

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Lead(H)er: Joyce Bell, Chief Financial Officer at PrismHR banner image

Lead(H)er: Joyce Bell, Chief Financial Officer at PrismHR

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When it comes to acquisitions, Joyce Bell is a pro. She has a knack for joining companies poised for serious growth and helping build them up. Eventually, many of these companies have become part of something bigger. Bell doesn’t set out to get these companies acquired -- she simply makes a point of choosing to work in environments that create products of immense value. When other companies recognize that work, it’s a bittersweet transition for Bell.

“You’re very proud and very sad because you helped a company grow up, and now you have empty nest syndrome,” Bell said. “But I’m proud of the fact that multiple companies that I’ve been with have been acquired because means that someone found additional value in it. The product we built lives on.”

Bell, now the Chief Financial Officer at PrismHR, considers herself a builder. Throughout her career, that drive to create has pushed her to manage each company’s resources in a way that prioritizes growth and scale.

“I’m attracted to companies that are looking for problem solvers and people who will bring the company to the next stage of growth,” she said.

Bell began her career in public accounting at Ernst & Young, where she immersed herself in client services for a diverse array of companies but wanted to do more in terms of implementing solutions. She joined Boston Communications Group, a startup that marketed swipe phones to livery services and taxis, then moved to Cellular One to help the company expand its distribution channels. The company was eventually acquired by Southwestern Bell and then AT&T, and Bell moved on to Thompson Financial.

“Thompson was a large company with a real entrepreneurial focus,” she said. Bell managed a portfolio of companies at various stages of growth and did what she could for each one, whether it meant implementing systems or getting investors to sponsor international growth. No matter what, though, the customer came first.

When she was ready to make another career move, Bell made sure it was a big one. She dove into the world of Internet startups, beginning with Be Free, Inc., a tiny marketing company that was ready to go public and for which she hired the entire finance team. At first, Bell had wondered if making such a drastic career change would hold her back. Instead, the move opened up a new world.

Be Free survived the collapse of the tech bubble thanks to how much it had raised during its IPO, surviving enough to be acquired, too. Bell then joined Compete, a predictive analytics company that had 21 other employees. She was responsible for supporting funding rounds, determining vertical markets, and building the company’s management strategies. When that company was sold, so was her next employer, ClickSquared. Through a series of acquisitions, ClickSquared is now part of Verizon.

“At the time it was very exciting to help build it and to see how customers were shifting how they spend marketing dollars,” Bell said. “People were trying to determine where their advertising would be most effective, and a lot of it was online.”

With this insight, Bell came onboard at Brand Networks, which focuses on social media marketing, and then became the CFO at PrismHR.

“What I've learned is that I love problem-solving, and what's interesting is, no matter the size of the company, there are always new challenges and problems to solve,” she said of her career path. “Your competitive landscape is always changing, so it’s always causing you to ask whether you’re using best practices, what to do to implement them, and how to make sure the client is getting what they need.”

At PrismHR, Bell’s latest challenge is, of course, helping the company scale. Prism HR is the leading software for HR service providers, supporting their hiring, onboarding, reporting benefits, payroll, and admin processes in one convenient, end-to-end platform. The company is in the midst of its latest growth phase, and Bell is working to further develop in-house processes to make them as effective as possible by evaluating various metrics and identifying opportunities. Bell is also interested in using insight gained from how clients use PrismHR’s software to make it more efficient. Whether it’s an interface update or consolidating reports so that clients have a one-stop shop for their information, Bell is constantly on the lookout for ways to accelerate client growth.

“On the personal side, one of my objectives is to learn as much as I can,” Bell said. “I’m new and submerging myself so that I can get up to speed and make an impact as soon as possible.”


Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

For me, nature is very inspirational. I love skiing, bicycling, hiking, playing tennis, and doing yoga. I also think continuous learning is something that is just a gift in our lives and there are so many technologies makes that possible, so I listen to a lot of books on Audible. I love spending time with my family and friends as well. I’m also involved in two finance organizations and the YMCA. There's the CFO Leadership Council, which I've been a part of since its inception. I am really proud of what we do because I think it gives back to the finance community and helps people develop their skills and their network. The second finance organization is called the FEI, and I'm on the academic relations committee, where we give scholarships to college juniors that are majoring in finance, accounting, or economics. I always feel proud of the students -- if this is our next generation, we're in good hands. Then I’m on the Huntington YMCA board. We serve about seven different communities, and we are doing a lot with healthy living and social responsibility. We also do a lot with seniors and bringing them together with younger people for classes. There's a value in having the multi-generational connection there.

How do you manage stress?

I don’t consider myself a very high-stress person. I tend to be someone who takes it all in stride. My approach usually is to craft a plan of action and understand what is mission critical and who can help me get this done. I really focus on what needs to get done. Yoga and mindfulness help a lot with that. I listen to this podcast called 10% Happier, and every week they interview a meditation expert, so I feel like I’m always learning tips and techniques about keeping life in perspective from that. Meditation encourages you to create stillness in your life, so that’s something I’m trying to learn.

If you're a coffee drinker, how many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Believe it or not. I'm not a coffee drinker. It's been years since I've had coffee, but my choice is hot water. I love the warmth of it and I find it relaxing, so I drink hot water throughout the day. When I switched to it, someone said to me one day, “Are you exhausted? Because you're just pouring hot water, and you're a coffee drinker.” Well, not anymore! Fast forward years later, an old colleague and I met up for lunch. I hadn't seen him in forever, and when I ordered a cup of hot water, he said, “That stuck? And you ask for it in public?”

What’s one of your favorite places in the Boston area?

I enjoy bicycling, and there are a couple of streets that I bike in Lincoln and Lexington that really invigorate me. I find that when you’re bicycling, you see things that you wouldn't if you were driving or even if you were walking. You'll see wild turkeys and other birds, and I feel so fortunate that we have such beauty so close to the city. It always makes me grateful.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?

I believe deeply in developing people and connecting others. When the tech bubble burst and I was on the job market again, there were hundreds of people out searching. I remember feeling like I couldn’t call old connections because I hadn’t talked to them in years – I was always so focused on my deliverable that I hadn’t prioritized the networking side. People were happy to reconnect, but I promised myself that in the future I would make time to cultivate those relationships and also to help other people develop in their career. I’ll offer them my time and perspective and introductions if they can be of value. Now I'm watching them do that again with others. I love the fact that we’ve learned and helped one another grow, and I’m proud of that.

How does where you are now compared to where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

I think I’ve always wanted to be in a place where I could contribute. Every company needs something different, so I would say I’ve always had that passion to help create growth, and I’m in the right place now. Entrepreneurial companies have always appealed to me because they have that chance to innovate and try new things and refine after seeing the impact of each action.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

I would ask them to find their passion and spend time figuring out what they want to pursue. And it may be stating the obvious, but always act with integrity and treat other people the way you want to be treated. If you do that, you will always feel like you’re making a positive contribution. When I think of what’s valuable in work, especially as a newcomer in your career, it’s important to develop your critical thinking skills and an independent point of view. You tend to think that everyone else knows better when you’re just starting out because you're just absorbing and learning, but you need to develop an informed perspective. You have to learn a lot, be curious, and be open. When you have an independent point of view, you become a go-to person because people will know you’ve given that opinion thought. Invest in continuous learning.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.
 
 

About the
Company

PrismHR creates exceptional software and services for HR service providers and their SMB clients.

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Lead(H)er: Leanne Orphanos, Vice President of Account Management at Applause banner image

Lead(H)er: Leanne Orphanos, Vice President of Account Management at Applause

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When Leanne Orphanos graduated from college, large accounting firms were looking for a different kind of employee. Instead of the classic finance, business, and accounting majors they had previously pursued, these firms were interested in people with liberal arts degrees in subjects like English, history, and psychology.  They were looking for individuals who had the ability to think critically and to write, with an understanding that they would be able to learn to account on the job.

In her role at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) – then called Coopers & Lybrand– Orphanos learned as much as she could about various business models and operating principles, feeling particularly drawn to process improvement, internal controls, and risk management. With the legislation of Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) being created, she dove further into implementing internal control frameworks and driving change management programs for her clients.

“I have always had a passion for process,” Orphanos said. “I want to look at how an organization operates and figure out the best way to develop new processes, drive adoption and lead change. ”

Over the next 11 years of her career, Orphanos worked her way through NTT Data Services in various roles spanning client management, delivery operations, and managing the global resource planning and fulfillment function. She had the opportunity to manage teams across the US, India, and Canada. Now, her clients were internal ones, and she implemented large-scale systems and strategic initiatives for the company.

Her latest role, at Applause, represents a refreshing change of pace. She continues to draw on her past experiences in client service as the company’s Vice President of Customer Account Management.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to apply process improvement and account management strategy at a fast-paced, high-growth company, like Applause.”

Applause takes its customer success seriously, and the idea that everyone is responsible for that success – regardless of their role – pervades the company’s philosophy. Orphanos describes her job as providing the glue that binds customer needs and company actions together. She and her team ensure that customers receive the maximum value from Applause, overseeing the adoption and renewal process of Applause’s services and monitoring customer health.  Changes her team identifies can be made quickly at Applause, due to its size and culture.

“When you’re at a larger organization, you can’t be as nimble in decision making,” she said. “In a company that’s smaller and high growth, you have the opportunity to plug into something, establish new processes or organizational models, and drive change.  The scale is much more manageable and the organization has fewer barriers to overcome.”

Orphanos has been at Applause for about six months now, and she’s looking forward to what lies ahead. She’s working on new programs and strategic initiatives that will positively impact both internal operations and the value delivered to Applause customers.  She’s excited to continue to support an environment in which she and her coworkers can drive meaningful business impact, while still being able to have some fun.

“I want to be in a workplace where you can enjoy the camaraderie,” Orphanos said. “Let’s identify a challenge and go after it, together.”


Quick Q(uestions) & A(nswers)

What do you like to do in your free time?

I have three kids, and so a lot of my free time is spent with their activities, whether it’s going to my son's baseball and football games or my daughter's basketball and soccer games.

How do you generally manage stress?

I definitely think seeking the work-life balance has been a journey at different phases of my life. At each chapter that I’ve passed through, I have tried to be self-aware about where I want to be now.   Am I where I want to be? How do I go out and achieve that balance? I think the biggest lesson that I've learned is that no one can prescribe the work-life balance formula. You have got to seek it within yourself and say, “This is what it is for me.”  It's trying to be in the moment. It’s not perfect, but you need to find your own version of what works.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Probably two, and I’m usually drinking iced coffee.

What do you consider one of your favorite places in the Boston area?

Probably the Cape --somewhere by the beach is my happy place.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?

Two years ago, I set a goal to ride the Pan-Mass Challenge. I think all of us are affected by cancer in some way, and it was a cause very near and dear to me. I set out that year doing a sort of reflection, and I did it because it wasn’t for me, it was something bigger than myself. I had ridden a bike before but never a road bike. I made the commitment and then I had to go figure it out.  I rode in honor of my twin sister’s 10-year breast cancer survivor anniversary, and I rode with a group of friends from NTT on team Morse Force, a dear friend, also a breast cancer survivor. It was an amazing experience that was obviously deeply touching and personal.

Is this where you thought you’d be 10 years ago?

Being in environments where I could help build things and contribute value and be a part of something that seems fun has always been my goal. I am enjoying where I am at and it has been a great journey to get here.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

I would tell them to take initiative, seek a mentor, learn what you can, and have a lot of energy and a can-do attitude. Take control of the opportunities that are in front of you, and don’t expect them to fall into your lap. Over my career, I’ve seen that it’s the people that have high energy and a can-do attitude that others want to bring along with them. They see the potential and want to make a personal investment in mentoring. It becomes a win-win.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.

Images courtesy of Leanne Orphanos

About the
Company

The crowdtesting, usability and research company. Helping brands deliver great digital experiences to their customers – from web & mobile to IoT & beyond.

 

 

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Lead(H)er: Sarah Hill, Director of Project Management and Proposals at Eze Software banner image

Lead(H)er: Sarah Hill, Director of Project Management and Proposals at Eze Software

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You might enjoy your job. You might even say that you love it. But do you love your job as much as Sarah Hill loves hers at Eze Software? That’s unlikely.

“I love the people that I work with and the people I work for,” Hill said. “It’s such a great place to be, and I really can’t say that enough. There have definitely been some bumps in the road, but I am just so happy to be at this company.”

Over the course of 15 years at Eze Software, Hill has worked her way up from QA analyst to her current role as Director of Project Management and Proposals. Her department is the go-between for engineering and product, and Hill sits at mission control. She helps manage scrum masters, program and portfolio managers, and operations within the company’s Boston and Hyderabad offices. The data that Hill’s team collects is used to determine where each team and program can grow and which resources are needed for the best results.

Hill discovered her passion for project management early in her career. She initially considered product management and took on a business analyst role created for her within that department, where part of her work entailed answering requests for proposals. When it came time to choose between a new role in project management or one in commission management, Hill chose the former.

“I was managing a team at that point, and I realized that I loved helping people,” she said. “I loved growing people’s careers and finding out their strengths and weaknesses to help them thrive within the company.”

Hill took on various project management roles from then on and now oversees the entire project management division, which includes a system of program managers for each of Eze Software’s product offerings, a team of scrum masters, a portfolio manager, and an operations team.

Hill’s career hasn’t been without its challenges. However, as she likes to remind her team, there’s an opportunity in each one. Throughout her tenure, Eze Software has made the switch from Waterfall to Agile and gone through several acquisitions, the most recent one by SS&C, and each change has brought its own personnel and leadership changes.

“We’ve grown significantly from when I first started, but one of the things that we continue to do really well is trying to maintain that small company feel as much as possible,” Hill said.

To that end, the company supports a large number of committees focused on employee interests like company culture, community service, women’s empowerment, allyship, and environmental issues. They’re one of the many things that Hill appreciates when it comes to connecting employees across more than just their work.

Over the next year, Hill is working to make connections of her own that will ensure her team’s success. She’s hoping to make her team’s voice heard as a member of the research and development team, and she’s also looking for ways to bridge the gap created by time zones and physical distance with the Hyderabad office.

“I’ve been reaching out to some of the other companies within SS&C to really understand what their processes look like and see what we can learn from each other,” Hill said.

On a personal level, Hill is working on her public speaking skills to ensure that she’s always representing her team and the company she loves in the best way possible.

“This place just has a very special spot in my heart,” she said.


Quick Q(uestions)&A(dvice)


What do you like to do in your free time?

I love spending time with my family. I have a six-year-old, a dog, and a husband, and we spend all of our time together. I love beach walks with the family and any sort of nature or outdoor activities that we can do together.

How do you manage stress?

I went to a stress workshop recently where I identified various trigger points, which helps me understand when my body is starting to react negatively to situations. When I realize that I’m getting to that point, I try to step away and take deep breaths. I try to never respond immediately when I’m stressed. I always try to put things in perspective, recognize the triggers, and only respond when I’m in a clear state of mind. I also go to a chiropractor -- that might help, too.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Two -- one before I leave the house, and then one as soon as I get to work. That’s it. Because if I have any more I’ll be up all night. They’re very strong coffees.

What’s one of your favorite places in Boston?

That’s a tough one! I would say the Freedom Trail, but I spend a lot of time at the Children’s Museum.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?

My greatest accomplishment so far is building up the PMO team within the company. It’s been the most rewarding thing by far. I’m so close to the team I work with, and we’ve created a sense of family within the company. It’s a challenge to go through the hiring process, but finding the right candidates that work well and then identify opportunities that play to their strengths and coach them through weaknesses has been amazing. As I’ve watched my own career grow over time, I've been able to watch the team's careers grow and coach them as well. I am a stickler for poor performance, and I won't tolerate it because I think that it has an impact on the team dynamic as a whole. It's been really important to have difficult conversations as soon as possible and taking coaching opportunities so that the team feels empowered and comfortable making the right choices that are really going to help their careers and help the team. We definitely can do more together than individually, so it's really been great working with such motivated and passionate and smart individuals.

If you talk to my boss, he'll tell you that I'm like a mama bear protecting her cubs at all times. I am protective of my team, but I also will do whatever I need to do to make sure that the team is getting the feedback that they need so that they can continue to grow and improve. It's really why I made the decision to go into to follow the people management course.

Is this where you saw yourself ending up 10 years ago?

I never set out to work for a tech company. When I graduated from college, I wanted to be a famous actress, but I can’t act to save my life -- I moved to L.A. for three months and decided it was not for me. So I came back and moved out to Boston on a whim, and this company just reached out to me. I thought I would end up in finance, but I’m so incredibly happy with the choices I’ve made along the way. I can’t imagine what life would look like if I had gone in a different direction.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

I would say that it's really important to be yourself. I was so nervous when I came into the interview here. I met with the CEO during my second interview, and I never met a CEO before, so I had this huge picture in my head of what this person would be like. I felt so under-qualified. I had just graduated from college. I knew how to use computers, but I wasn't an expert and I didn't take a lot of computer science classes. The CEO could see my nerves, and he was so nice and told me to just relax. We stopped talking about the company and started talking about his family and our values. I wound up getting the job, but believing in yourself and being confident can take you so far. It’s also important to be open-minded about different opportunities and find opportunities that really match your skill set, so work to identify your strengths and find opportunities that align with them.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.

Images courtesy of Sarah Hill and Eze Software

About the
Company

SS&C Eze works at the cutting edge of technology to deliver integrated, innovative investment management solutions, and we'll partner with you as a platform for growth. 

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Lead(H)er: Alison Aldrich, Vice President of Partnerships at Privy banner image

Lead(H)er: Alison Aldrich, Vice President of Partnerships at Privy

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Alison Aldrich was going to be a teacher. Instead, she’s the Vice President of Partnerships at Privy, a Boston startup that helps online stores and publishers convert more customers.

Alison (center) at a trade show with fellow Privy employees.

Aldrich’s journey began at the Happiest Place on Earth: Disney. She worked in public relations for the company’s Parks & Resorts and Cruise Line divisions before moving back to Boston to get her master’s in education. After choosing to defer her acceptance for a year, she took a job at Carbonite, then in its startup phase, instead.

“I thought I would just try it out for a little bit,” Aldrich said. “But in a startup, you’re so close to the work that when you change a button on a website or send out an additional email you can actually see how that was impacting the business. I just got hooked.”

Though she had been hired to write blogs, customer emails, and advertisements, Aldrich found herself taking on any job that needed to be done at Carbonite. She built and oversaw an in-house creative team, worked as the company’s Director of Brand Marketing and Director of Creative Services, and moved over to channel marketing when she was asked to build out the new function. It was the perfect challenge for Aldrich, who was accustomed to growing new teams and operations already and led to a new career focus in channel and partnerships. After eight years at Carbonite, Aldrich joined Klaviyo, an eCommerce email marketing company that creates highly-targeted marketing campaigns for its clients.

Aldrich built an agency partner program at Klaviyo, opening up a new source of revenue for the company. She also worked with Klaviyo’s technology and integration partners, which is how she came to meet the team at Privy. Aldrich saw an opportunity to make an even bigger impact with her work at the early-stage company and joined to help it build out a channel program.

“Going back to that smaller, earlier stage startup is what really got me excited,” she said. “I love to build something from nothing.”

Privy gave Aldrich the chance to build and manage more facets of a company than ever before. She’s responsible for overseeing all partnerships within the company, which include affiliate partners, strategic agencies, technology and integration partners.

Aldrich recently launched the Privy Partner Program to support strategic agencies that are looking to help their clients grow their email lists and reduce abandoned carts. Understanding how to support drastically different types of businesses, which range from independent consultants to multi-office agencies, is a key part of building a successful program. It’s also what drives Aldrich and pushes her to continue to learn from the partners she works with.

“I never view it as a job,” she said. “It’s something that I’m a part of and something that I really want to create and build and help be successful.”

Aldrich is committed to helping Privy thrive and doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. She’s excited to help Privy grow through the channels she’s building. Though when it’s time to move on, she’ll likely find herself in a similar role where cutting-edge technology and strong teammates combine to impact a small company. As for her own role, she’s happy to do whatever needs to be done to ensure success.

“I’ve run creative teams and done a lot in marketing, and now I’m working on partnerships, which is more on the business development side of things,” she said. “ I feel like I have a lot of different skills to offer a startup, so I see myself just playing the role that they need me to play at that point.”


Rapid Fire Questions


What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to travel, and I still love Disney. We probably go three or four times a year, and I still have a lot of friends down there. It’s like my happy place. My parents are also in Florida, so it's nice to visit down there.

I also have two young kids at home, so there isn't much free time to speak of. We have tons of family in the area and that's what you can find us doing most weekends -- being with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and just making sure that our kids are around all their loved ones. We want them to take advantage of being close to family.

How do you typically manage stress?

I think that fortunately, I don't get too stressed out. I try to keep everything in perspective. I think having kids helped me realize that things like jobs are important and they're stressful, but there's more to life than just your job, which I don't think I realized really before having children. I like to get massages, and because I like to travel, I look forward to that as a reward that also helps put things in perspective.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

I’m trying to wean myself off of coffee, so I try to limit it to one. It may be a very large coffee, and it has to be iced, but just one. I’m trying to get down to one small cup a day and then drink water with lemon the rest of the day.

What’s one of your favorite places in the Boston area?

My favorite place is the Boston area is most definitely Fenway Park. I'm a big baseball fan, and you can't beat the history or the energy of the ballpark.

I also really like this little park in our town called Ipswich River Park. It’s a great balance of walking trails and playgrounds and places for kids to enjoy, so I really enjoy that. Going to the North End and having a good meal is also something I love.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

I’m really proud of the program that I was able to build over at Klaviyo. We were vastly outpacing the benchmarks of other partner programs that we had set for ourselves, and that helped us make a really big impact on the business. I look at that and everything that the team was able to do there, and I'm certainly very proud of it.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

Not at all. When I was in college, I wanted to go to ad school and be an advertising copywriter. Even when I started at Carbonite, I thought I was going to be a creative director someday. I never for the life of me envisioned being in channel marketing and being in a VP role where I’m heading up partnerships. This is not at all where I thought I was going to be, but I guess that just goes to show that being open-minded, tackling opportunities, and trusting in mentors and people that can help you learn the skills that you haven't learned before pays off.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

I think some people come out of college and have always been set on what they want to do, but there are a lot of other jobs and titles out there that are great gateways. I knew coming out of college that I wanted to work for Disney, and so that really worked out for me, but it might not have. To be so dead set on one company or one job title really blocks you up, so think about the different skills that you have and be willing to apply for things that you don't necessarily feel you're qualified for. Even in the position that I have now, I see different jobs and think, I can’t do that. I’m not qualified for that. But when you see that, start thinking about the relevant skills and really trying to believe in yourself. Be open to new opportunity, and be open to things that you didn't necessarily think you wanted, but never take a job just for a title or just for a salary. Really make sure that it's something you're passionate about because if you’re passionate about it, you're going to give more to that job.


 
Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.
 
Images courtesy of Alison Aldrich and Privy
 

About the
Company

The email marketing platform for Shopify & Wix stores that need the tools & coaching to grow from $0 to $1 million in sales. Used by 500,000+ small ecommerce brands around the world.

 
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Lead(H)er: Marybeth Sheppard, Senior Vice President of Marketing at SevenRooms banner image

Lead(H)er: Marybeth Sheppard, Senior Vice President of Marketing at SevenRooms

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Picture this: When you show up for your dinner reservation at your new favorite restaurant, the host welcomes you back and greets you by name. Your server asks if you’d like a glass of that wine you enjoyed so much last time, and mentions that while the night’s special has dairy in it—you mentioned you had an allergy to it last time—a dairy-free option is available. Have you suddenly become an A-list celebrity without knowing it? Not quite. This restaurant is just using SevenRooms to make you feel like one.

SevenRooms is an integrated reservation and seating platform that makes everything from organizing reservations to making guests feel special that much easier. It’s an approach that Marybeth Sheppard, the company’s Senior Vice President of Marketing, takes to her own career, as well.

“I've always been in these roles where I’ve needed to take a very integrated marketing approach to manage the whole lifecycle,” Sheppard said. “How do we make sure the industry knows who we are and what we do, how do we get leads to talk to sales and engage with us, and how do we make sure they know how to use our product in a way that meets their needs?”

Sheppard earned her bachelor’s degree in communications at Seton Hall University, where a love of writing eventually became a love of marketing and the wider range of activities that fell under that umbrella. After graduation, she took a full-time role working in non-admissions marketing at her alma mater, running events including capital campaign launches designed to raise $150 million and speaker and gala events attended by such luminaries as Hillary Clinton, Kofi Anan, and Toni Morrisson.

Though the work was rewarding, Sheppard had always wanted to work at a marketing agency. She found her opportunity in Zer0 to 5ive, a B2B tech marketing agency. The experience allowed her to get a behind-the-scenes look at how different types of companies worked, from financial services to education.

“Working at an agency is a very intense experience,” Sheppard said. “You’re really working for another company’s success when you do.”

After six years, Sheppard decided to go in-house again. She was looking for a B2B company with a household name, and she found her match in Seamless, the popular food ordering and delivery site. There, Sheppard handled corporate business account sales and restaurant and delivery driver marketing. As she grew into new roles, so did the company, and Seamless eventually merged with GrubHub, with the combined company IPOing shortly after.

When she began to crave a new challenge, Sheppard again knew just what she was looking for. She hoped for company with a New York headquarters, where she could be right in the middle of the action, and for a role that continued to combine hospitality and tech.

“The hospitality industry, with its energy and its excitement, has a way of getting into your blood if it’s something you love,” Sheppard said.

SevenRooms was a natural next stop. In addition to checking all of her boxes, the company also offered Sheppard the chance to work with passionate, driven, and kind founders who had a strong vision for their company.

For Sheppard, her colleagues are often the most exciting part of working at a startup. When each person’s contribution can make such an impact, the workday becomes that much more rewarding.

“You really build a camaraderie with your colleagues around the fact that you’re building something together and that you’re part of the reason that this growth is happening,” she said.

Sheppard looks forward to the many opportunities these connections can bring and is eager to get involved in new projects that her colleagues might someday develop. Her immediate focus, though, is helping SevenRooms bring Amazon’s Alexa into the restaurant industry. In October 2018, SevenRooms received funding from the Alexa Fund, which sponsors programs designed to use voice enabled technology in innovative new ways.

“I don’t really know what that’s going to look like 10 years in the future,” Sheppard said. “But I can tell you, I’m super excited for it.”


Rapid Fire Questions

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to cook, host, and entertain. It’s probably why I’m so drawn to hospitality and restaurants. I love to think of a big meal and cook it up for friends and family. If the weather’s nice, I’ll go play tennis or go to the beach, but cooking is year round.

How do you typically manage stress?

Luckily I’m not a very stressed or anxious person. I was born with a positive outlook, and I tend to remember that and use that. When I do get nervous about a project or other situation, I have learned that it helps me verbalize it to the people who can help do something about it. The sooner you can do that and talk about it to the people who have the ability to impact it, the better. All it takes is saying, “Hey, I’m starting to think about this. What are your thoughts?” Just being stressed for the sake of being stressed doesn't do much. I like to be action-oriented.

If I’m stressed about a personal thing, I try to ask myself, “What's the absolute worst thing in the whole world that can happen right now?” We all know that whatever it is, it would never happen. Once I ground myself like that, I can manage almost anything. I even joke with my children—freaking out is always the worst response. It always makes things worse, and calm heads always prevail.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Two big ones, but they’re decaf, so I get to cheat a little bit. I don’t drink caffeine in theory, but I do drink a ton of decaf coffee, and there’s a little bit in there.

What’s one of your favorite places in the New York City area?

My happy place is Cape May in New Jersey. It’s a Victorian landmark city, and it has these big houses, an amazing beach, and great restaurants and bars. In the summer, we spend as much time there as we can. It’s just a two-hour drive from the city. In the city, there’s nothing like Long Meadow in Prospect Park. If I have an afternoon or a day to spend somewhere, that’s probably my favorite.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments so far?

I think one of the things I’m most proud of is the relationships that I’ve built in my career and the number of people who are willing to work with me again. When people who have worked with you before know the results you’re able to produce, and how you react to good things and bad, and they want to work with you again, I take a lot of pride in that. If people are reaching out to you, that means you’re doing something right. Your professional network is invaluable.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

Control what you can control. What I mean by that is, for example, I may not always be the smartest in the room or the person who went to the fanciest college, but I’m on time. I work hard. I try to be the most prepared person in the meeting. So take the time to send the thank you notes and build those relationships and work on the things that don't have to do with the fact that you don’t have a Harvard MBA and someone else does. A lot of succeeding has to do with just working hard, showing up, paying attention, and listening. Do what you say you’re going to do. Be easy to work with. All of those things make an impact, and I think that’ll take them very far.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.

About the
Company

SevenRooms’ Guest Experience and Retention platform helps hospitality operators create exceptional experiences that boost profitability and repeat business.

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Lead(H)er: Heather Ames, Co-Founder and COO of Neurala banner image

Lead(H)er: Heather Ames, Co-Founder and COO of Neurala

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Most artificial intelligence programs require more hardware, memory, and technology in general than a mobile device can hold. But in today’s increasingly mobile-first world, this limitation could be preventing some major breakthroughs in the AI field.

In 2006, Heather Ames and two fellow graduate students at Boston University decided to do something about it. The team patented a method for running neural networks for AI systems on mobile devices, then founded Neurala to hold the patent and do some consulting work on AI technology.

“We knew we were ahead of the market,” Ames said. “Today, we’ve evolved significantly from a patent holding entity to a company that’s really trying to push the envelope and commercialize AI beyond just service-based companies.”

While the AI market has developed more slowly than Ames would have hoped, Neurala has blossomed into a leader within it. The company’s Brain Builder Platform is making it easier for organizations to rapidly build and deploy AI. Its patented program uses less data and less time to analyze information, provide accurate solutions, and continue learning. It can find a missing child using just one picture, manage drones, help fight elephant poaching, and edit photos.

After several years of offering customized AI solutions to its clients, Neurala is scaling up by giving those clients -- most of which are not AI experts -- the ability to build the technology to meet their exact needs themselves.

“Every customer has its own unique problems and data sets, so providing them with a generalized solution isn’t going to solve the problem. We need to give them the tools to build and maintain those solutions themselves.” Ames said.

It’s one of the many ways that Ames and the Neurala team are working to help people view AI as a resource in their toolkit, rather than the sci-fi nightmare that some may think of instead.

“It’s so far away from anything that’s going be learning to take over cities,” Ames said. “We just need to be mindful of how we use it and always ask ourselves what we’re doing to make sure that the system is approaching the problem in the appropriate way.”

AI trained using historical criminal cases, for example, is likely to carry over racial biases currently at play in the criminal justice system, perpetuating that bias and further ingraining it into the system.

Questions like these have always interested Ames, who began her career as a graduate student at Boston University’s CELEST Science of Learning Center. She eventually worked her way up to become the center’s managing director and, throughout her tenure, focused on increasing diversity and creating mentorship opportunities in the field that would allow graduate students to pursue applied AI opportunities.

“Because we were on the cutting-edge technology side, it was important to me to guide students into career paths that weren’t necessarily just academic, but rather would allow them to see how their work can actually have an impact in products and technology.”

As a co-founder, Ames has been able to continue promoting impact not only with Neurala’s product, but also within the company itself. Through the highs and lows -- Ames was once forced to use her own savings to make payroll after a government shutdown prevented the necessary funds from coming through -- she’s used her role as a co-founder to assemble a talented team and create a company culture that focuses on more than just the tech.

“What I find most rewarding is really being able use my position to focus on the people that work here,” Ames said.


Rapid Fire Questions


What do you like to do in your free time?

Well, I’m eight months pregnant with my fourth child, and between that and balancing the company and my kids, there’s just not a lot of time in between. I don’t have free time, but if I do, I usually sleep!

Heather Ames with her children

How do you typically handle stress?

As all responsible adults should, especially if they have highly stressful careers, I have a therapist. I also try to have a sense of humor and a positive attitude, which I think just comes with experience and maturity. I certainly didn’t feel that way when I was 16, but I’m grateful for what I have in my life and try to keep that in perspective. The last thing I do is listen to my favorite podcast during my commute. It’s called My Favorite Murder, but it keeps me calm.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Unfortunately just one because of the pregnancy, but if it wasn’t for that, I’d drink three or four or five a day.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?

I think getting this far with Neurala has just been such an amazing journey, but I think the team we’ve hired here is maybe an even bigger accomplishment. My team is so amazing. They’re strong leaders, they make me laugh, and we have a good time together. I wouldn’t want to be here with any other group of people, and I think they can really take it to the next level.

What’s one of your favorite places within the Boston area?

Lately, I just go to work and to my kids’ school, so my favorite place right now is just my bed at home!

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, we were in the early stages of Neurala. This trajectory isn’t far off from where I thought I’d be, but it’s surprising that it’s taken a long time for hardware and the AI industry to evolve during that time. It’s gone a bit more slowly than I would like, but that’s okay because we’ve been able to stick it out. So I think that I’m right where I want to be, I just wish that the market was ready earlier.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

This is a great time to explore the things that you enjoy. My parents worked because they had to work to take care of their families. They couldn't get a job just because it was motivating. It was just about getting a job. That's very different right now when you can actually get a job doing something that you enjoy. You can and should check in with yourself all the time and ask, am I motivated. am I enjoying my job, do I feel appreciated and respected? That's one of the greatest things I think about today's workplace culture.

The other thing is for the women out there, there’s always this question of waiting until you have an established career to have children. While that’s a viable path to take, it shouldn’t be your only deciding factor. No matter what time in your career that you have children, it’s going to be disruptive, and it does change who you are as a person. Those fears shouldn’t be driving your life decisions. Seek out a culture in a work environment that appreciates women as effective workers and leaders as well as mothers.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.
 
Images courtesy of Heather Ames
 

About the
Company

Neurala is a pioneer in vision AI software.

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Lead(H)er: Kim Rose, Vice President, Customer Success & Support at Buildium banner image

Lead(H)er: Kim Rose, Vice President, Customer Success & Support at Buildium

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Kim Rose has used one deceptively simple principle to guide her through her life, inside and outside of her career: Humans first, then everything else.

Now the Vice President of Customer Success and Support at Buildium, Rose put the motto into action when she took an eight-year break in her career to raise her children, then again when she joined Carbonite as a QA engineer. Technology had changed drastically since the last time she had dealt with it in a professional capacity, but Rose assured her interviewer that not only would she figure it all out, but that he could easily fire her if she didn’t.

“I was simultaneously projecting this great amount of confidence while I was also feeling pretty scared,” Rose said. “But he couldn’t really argue with that logic.”

Her role as a QA engineer pushed her to develop a deep understanding of how Carbonite’s customers needed the company’s computer backup software to work. As she transitioned through different internally-facing roles in the company, Rose began to miss that connection and sought out more customer-facing roles. Her natural problem-solving abilities, combined with the support of mentors who believed in her, ultimately resulted in a nine-year career at Carbonite that includes two vice presidential roles.

Ready for a new challenge, Rose joined Databox, a startup led by a colleague from earlier in her time at Carbonite as the company’s Vice President of Customer Success.

“I wanted to infuse the organization with my philosophy on customer experience and the humanity of doing business with small business customers,” Rose said of the decision.

Working at a startup like Databox and Carbonite can be messy, which is exactly what Rose enjoys about the environment. The daily mandate to find and fix problems appeals to her natural problem-solving abilities, and it was only a matter of time before Rose found another exciting venture at which to continue her career.

She found that opportunity at Buildium, a Boston-based company that provides cloud-based property management software -- and so much more -- to clients across the country.

“I was very pleasantly surprised to meet the team here and realize that their commitment to customer service wasn’t just words written on a wall or on a mouse pad,” Rose said. “This is part of who we are, from a DNA standpoint.”

Whether customers are looking to scale their businesses or just gain time back for a real vacation, Buildium is committed to helping them meet those goals. When a natural disaster strikes, staff from all levels of the company make calls to ask impacted clients how they’re doing and if there’s anything they need - and have donated money and supplies to customers throughout the country. New babies are celebrated with onesies, and losses are commemorated with flowers. If Buildium knows that a client’s life has changed, the company will be there to offer support.

It’s why clients regularly stop into the office on their business travels to say hello and meet the team that has paid such careful attention to their personal and business-related needs, something that Rose says she’s never experienced at other companies.

Rose’s own team is instrumental in fostering this human-first environment at Buildium. Before her arrival in August 2016, there was no formal customer experience department at the company. Rose has created one from scratch, focusing on three main goals.

First, her team provides customized onboarding and training for customers based on their goals, they look at the customers’ success as their success, and want them to get up and running as soon as possible. Once onboarding is complete, Rose’s customer success managers check in regularly to understand their progress towards their goals and continue to see where Buildium can help them achieve their results. Finally, the customer care team provides 24/7 automated and phone support with a team of product experts who not only solve problems but also take the time to listen to customers’ needs and talk about whatever may be going on in their worlds. Relationships are the focus from day one, and that makes a real difference.

From left to right: Buildium VP of Marketing Michelle Burtchell, Buildium CEO Chris Litster, Rose, and Buildium VP of Sales Ben Nadol.

While the metrics are there to show that customer satisfaction and retention rates are high, a customer-first approach does so much more unrelated to stats.

“It just makes you feel good as a human,” Rose said.

She’s looking forward to continuing to grow her team at Buildium by encouraging them to try new things, fail fast, and learn from the experiences. Everything may not work out on the first try, but as long as she and her team are learning, those mistakes are more than okay.

“What’s important to me is that I continue to learn,” Rose said.  “And the more time I spend with customers, the better. I hope to always be working in a role in a company where customers are truly seen as the lifeblood of the company and where a customer-first strategy is our compass.”


Rapid Fire Questions
 

What do you like to do in your free time?

I have two boys and I love spending time with them. Now that it's winter, we do a lot of snowboarding, which is something we've taken up only over the last five years or so. It’s new, it’s fun, and we love it. It allows me to spend time with them and also get time outside in the fresh air, adding hiking and snowshoeing to our activities when we can.  In the summer, I love being near the ocean - I live near the water, and it calms me down, so I spend a lot of time walking, running, and hanging out around the water.

Kim and her two sons

How do you generally manage stress?

I've actually taken up riding the Peloton bike, which I didn't think I would like because I tend to like the outdoors, but I love it. I can understand the obsession with it. Another great thing about the Buildium team is that we ride as a group in the MS ride every year. Last year we had 68 riders, and we raised over $100,000. I'm signed up for that again this year and looking forward to it, but will need my Peloton to help me get ready for it. We are aiming for 100 Buildium riders this year! That would be pretty amazing!

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

What’s funny is that I can take it or leave it. I’ll go for the walk to get a coffee almost any time somebody wants to go -- I like the break, but I don’t necessarily want a cup. At home I rarely drink coffee, so for me, I fuel with water and get coffee opportunistically as it happens. I know people who won't leave the house without a cup of coffee, but I'm sorry to report I don't own a coffee maker.

What’s one of your favorite spots in the Boston area?

Hands down, my favorite spot is Chatham. It's my refuge. It's a beautiful seaside town, and I love to go there in the summer, but I also love to go there off season in the winter and the fall. It's just a beautiful, peaceful little New England town.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?

I think it’s the team we're building at Buildium. Having had the privilege to work with the talented folks that we have on the team and watching them grow into leaders is something I'm incredibly proud of. We started at nothing, and we have almost 60 now. Being able to scale that team without losing the human touch has been so important. I’m a coach and teacher at heart, so watching people grow into amazing leaders and seeing everybody really embrace the customer-first experience is also something I’m proud of.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

Ten years ago, I was still a QA engineer at Carbonite. I was starting to gain momentum and have different opportunities given to me, but I don’t think I could have envisioned this particular path. I was I was starting to really embrace and love the customer interactions and feedback and work that I was doing back then, but I don't think I could have ever imagined where I would be today. I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunities I’ve had.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

This one is easy for me to answer because my oldest son is a sophomore in college and we talk about this all the time. I always tell him to pay attention to the people around you. People matter, whether they’re your colleagues, your customers, or strangers you meet. Be a good human and a good teammate. Assume the best intentions. Learn from the people around you. In the conversations that we have here between my colleagues and the people on my team and our customers, we're constantly learning something that we didn't know from some angle of conversation.

I think when you’re starting your first job and are getting into the workforce, you tend to be focused on the paycheck, the role, and the tasks. If you can pay attention to the people that you’re affecting and being affected by, you learn a tremendous amount more than you would otherwise. My colleagues at Buildium are some of my closest friends, so I would tell recent graduates to thank their lucky stars if they’re able to work with people they love. I definitely consider myself lucky in that area.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.
 
Images courtesy of Kim Rose and Buildium

About the
Company

Buildium is a property management software-as-a-service (SaaS) company headquartered in Boston. 

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Lead(H)er: Kristin Simonini, Vice President of Product at Applause banner image

Lead(H)er: Kristin Simonini, Vice President of Product at Applause

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Kristin Simonini, the Vice President of Product at Applause, spent the first few years of her career in consulting and human resources. She supported recruiting efforts, helped build software, and used a variety of strategies and products to solve her clients’ problems. Eventually, Simonini realized that she could speed up the entire problem-solving process by placing herself one step further back, getting her hands dirty, and working on the products themselves.

While working at WebHire, a recruiting software company where Simonini had set up a business process consulting team, the product manager went on maternity leave. Simonini saw her chance to make the switch from consulting to product by filling in, but first, she had to come to terms with a reality check.

“When you get on the other side of the fence, you learn that pretty quickly that you can't just come in and execute on every idea you have,” Simonini said. “There are trade-offs. There are new business ventures and strategic initiatives you need to account for. There are considerations that you didn't have visibility into before moving into the role.”

It was the right opportunity at the right time, and Simonini has worked in product ever since. She’s honed her skills throughout her career, working primarily at software-focused companies like Brainshark and EdAssist before moving to Applause.

The company provides crowd testing and digital quality solutions for its clients, which operate in a range of industries, and Simonini’s team maintains the platform that supports it all. This includes the processes to find and match t testers to projects, support integrations with third-party tools like bug-tracking systems, manage test cycles, and process payments to the community.

It’s a tall order, particularly for a team that barely existed just one year ago. Simonini helped create the team from scratch when she arrived at Applause in February 2018 and is now going into 2019 with a fully-staffed and highly-talented group.

The same problem-solving mentality that led Simonini to product helped her tackle the enormous task of helping build a product team at Applause. To her, it’s all part of the challenge -- and reward -- of working at a startup.

“When you're talking about an early stage or start-up organization, you have an opportunity to really make an impact and see the results of your team's efforts,” she said. “If my team can be responsible for coming up with that next market disruptor or new offering to guide sales strategy, those are the kinds of opportunities I’m on the lookout for.”

To Simonini, these opportunities are major breakthroughs that will advance not just her own team’s success, but that of the entire company. She’s always been a problem solver, and impacting a core challenge or initiative wherever she works will always be a top priority.

“The next big step is to do something that’s not just tactically moving the business up the chain, but making 10 big leaps ahead on the chain,” she said.


Rapid Fire Questions
 

What do you do in your free time?

I have an eight-year-old son, so  I spend free time with him doing whatever activities he is interested in and exploring new places together. He’s a Cub Scout, too, and I’m the treasurer for his scout pack.

Kristin Simonini with her son

I'm also heavily involved in a fundraiser called Cycle for Survival that focuses on rare cancer research. We have our r local event a week from Sunday and have raised a lot of money over the years. It’s a special cause for me because my husband had a rare form of cancer that we lost him to. So when I have free time, I like to support that organization through activities and PR and whatever else I can do to help.

How do you typically manage stress?

Stress is almost a constant for me. I take a few minutes at the end of the day to read a book before bed because I find it is a chance to escape to something more mindless. I can disconnect from the day and not go over in my head all of the things that I might be doing otherwise, whether that be work-related or on the home front. I like things that are pure fiction like thrillers. I also find the beach to be great therapy for stress.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

I have two cups of coffee each day-- one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.

What’s one of your favorite places in the Boston area?

A big favorite of ours is the Museum of Science. It’s a fantastic place for an eight-year-old kid to have in his backyard -- there are so many great things to explore and learn about.

I also got married there, so it’s very special in that regard. We were one of the first weddings they hosted. It’s got an amazing view of the city, great food, and you can’t beat pictures with a dinosaur on your wedding day. I always recommend it for people who are trying to find something a little more out of the box.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?

I really pride myself in my strengths as a manager, and I think when you're getting started in your career, you don't know if management is going to be right for you or if you're going to have the right skills for it. So a great accomplishment for me was when I was leaving a company, and  I was sharing that news with the folks on my team. One of my product managers kind of welled up and said, “You know, this is really unfortunate on so many levels professionally, but you’re also the most human manager I’ve ever had.” I got welled up with that too. That’s the best thing someone could have ever said to me -- not “Oh, that was a great product release,” or “Customers really loved this feature.”

That's something to hang my hat on, because it's important for me to make sure my team knows that yes, we work hard and we get our jobs done, because we play a critical role in the organization, but at the end of the day we’re here for our family and our health and our life outside these walls. That’s what we’re living for. If the teams that I build and grow over the years feel that they have that balance and that I’m able to support them, that’s my accomplishment.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

I’m kind of where I would have dreamed to be earlier in my career. I don’t think I expected product organizations to get to the level they have. Historically, at least in my experience, product was buried deep under marketing or engineering. I feel like it’s really been a turn in the last decade or so that product has elevated and has a seat at the table with the leadership and executive teams. That's so critical, because we always understood that product was the hub and connected to absolutely everything that the business was doing, but at the same time, it didn't really have a voice in bigger discussions. So this is exactly what I would have wanted for myself, looking back 10 years, and what I would have wanted for product managers overall.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

I think a lot of people come out of school and haven’t quite figured out what their path is yet. My advice is to find your passion and identify your strengths. Maybe find a mentor that can help bring you up in some areas where you just don’t know what you don’t know yet. Networking and building connections is huge, because that’s how people find opportunities. Depending on yours area of interest, I would say also get involved in related groups for that. If product management is your passion and you’re in the Boston area, you should be part of the Boston Product Management Association and go to some of the meetings, network, and hear about what’s happening. That’s going to spark some area of interest and maybe shed light on things that you didn’t realize were out there but that are great opportunities. The earlier you start the better, because it’s great exposure.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.
 
Images courtesy of Kristin Simonini and Applause

About the
Company

The crowdtesting, usability and research company. Helping brands deliver great digital experiences to their customers – from web & mobile to IoT & beyond.

 

 

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Lead(H)er: Layla Shaikley, Co-Founder and VP of Customer Experience at Wise Systems banner image

Lead(H)er: Layla Shaikley, Co-Founder and VP of Customer Experience at Wise Systems

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Layla Shaikley’s career has taken her to the stars and back. While studying architecture at Cal Poly Pomona, Shaikley took a class on designing buildings for Mars that allowed her to bypass traditional structure and create unrealistic, avant-garde buildings. While she was more interested in testing the limits of design than on actually building on Mars, Shaikley’s work in the class landed her an internship at NASA designing robots.

“It was so outside of my wheelhouse,” said Shaikley, who had dreamed of building United Nations resettlements for people who had been displaced by conflict or natural disasters. “It was insane, and I fell in love with technology and the idea of working within technology while I was there.”

But NASA was never the end goal. Shaikley has family in Baghdad, and after seeing the devastation of war there, she remained committed to creating better living conditions for refugees. She continued her architectural studies with a master’s degree at MIT, where she took a class that asked one question and changed the course of her career: How do you impact a billion lives? The answer, as it turned out, wasn’t in her dream job. Shaikley took an internship with UN-Habitat. While she remembers the experience fondly, it made her realize that she didn’t want to make a career out of it.

This realization came at the right time. Surrounded by people who were also trying to change a billion lives with their ideas, Shaikley connected with her future co-founders of Wise Systems.

“I think the only thing that really remained throughout my various degrees and career anticipations was my passion for design and designing big systems,” Shaikley said.

Using her love of technology and desire to use her creativity to impact the world, Shaikley and her co-founders have dedicated themselves to improving transportation of goods and services across countries, no matter their infrastructure or lack thereof.

“It's really critical to have that type of movement in a city along with the data that comes with that movement, and we consider that as the lifeblood of any city,” Shaikley said.  

To facilitate that movement, Wise Systems translates data from delivery routes and times, scheduling, traffic, and more to optimize routes and deliver its customers’ products and services as quickly as possible. The software creates these plans through its machine learning capabilities, which allow it to analyze historical data provided by customers and collected by Wise Systems itself.

Shaikley’s current role at Wise Systems is in customer experience. She’s responsible for everything from how the product is designed to how customers interface with the company’s product and support teams and aims to make every customer interaction an inclusive one that leaves them as happy as possible.

Outside of work, Shaikley’s interests are as varied as her career. She’s the co-producer of the viral #Mipsterz video, which she created with her friends to show how their slice of life as Muslim women looked. Shaikley makes a few appearances in it, skateboarding in stiletto heels. She’s also on the advisory board for The Secret Life of Muslims, a Peabody and Emmy-nominated documentary web series.

Shaikley is committed to growing Wise Systems and continuing to innovate there, but her plans for the more distant future, as usual, could be anyone’s guess.

“Anything that could keep me on my toes and creative and excited will work,” she said. “Who knows what that will be, considering the lack of connectivity between all the previous things I’ve done until this point. If you have a crystal ball, let me know.”


Rapid Fire Questions

What do you like to do in your free time?

This answer changes literally every year, and I think it has to do with some sort of painstaking curiosity I have. Some years it’s painting, other years writing. One year I co-produced a viral music video. This year is figuring out how to raise a newborn daughter. It’s literally spending every spare second with her – I could just stare at her for really incredible amounts of time.

How do you typically handle stress?

I truly believe there's nothing that an organized calendar, a little bit of fearlessness, and some strategy can't solve.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

One latte, period. Very unexciting. I'm very system oriented, so I find what works and stick with it. Just one latte before noon.

What’s one of your favorite spots in the Boston area?

I’m a coffee snob, and I really love local Cambridge coffee shops coupled with loud music and designing. I like Loyal Nine, or Curio Coffee. I’ll just sit there and unwind in these cafes in any given after-hours moment.

What would you consider one of your greatest accomplishment?

It’s the team that we built at Wise. It blows my mind every day. I work with people who know a lot more than I do about a lot of things, and on top of their experience and intelligence, they're just awesome. The culture is this really unique and incredible mix of fun and curious and hard-working. Everybody speaks growth, yet it's a really friendly and gossip-free environment. It's really remarkable, and I would say it’s always a proud moment when I take a step back and look at everybody who's assembled and been a part of this.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

No! Ten years ago, I was in architecture school interning at a firm in Hamburg, Germany but still drinking lattes! That's the only thing that's remained. I guess I knew I'd be doing something creative, and building a company has been the most creative thing I've done to date, but I would say it was a hard left turn.

What is your advice for recent college graduates?

I would say definitely overreach. When I was in architecture school, had I not overreached with no background whatsoever in the technology space outside of a short internship at NASA I wouldn’t have assumed that I was capable enough to build and design product interfaces using the same software I design buildings out of. When I was in architecture school, had I not overreached, I would have never aimed to get an internship at NASA – again, as somebody who had no experience in that space. I think that overreaching has gotten me particularly far, and really, if you don't ask, you'll never get it. So, I would say especially when you're young in your career, just overreach and do the unimaginable. You'd really be surprised by what people believe you can do as well.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.

Images courtesy of Layla Shaikley and Wise Systems

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Wise Systems provides an AI-driven Dispatch and Routing software that helps our customers compete successfully in an increasingly dynamic world.

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34 of the Top Leaders in the Boston Tech Scene - 2018 Lead(H)er Recap banner image

34 of the Top Leaders in the Boston Tech Scene - 2018 Lead(H)er Recap

It’s a great time to be in the tech industry, particularly in Boston, and women are leading the charge.

As part of our Lead(H)er series, I’ve had the great privilege of interviewing so many incredibly talented women who are founders or executives at some of the fastest growing companies in Boston's vibrant startup scene.

They’ve told us about everything from the challenges, successes, and surprises of their careers to how many cups of coffee it takes to get through a day, so take a look at our list of the talented women we’ve spotlighted this year.

Each of these stories are inspirational and as we are closing out 2018, we decided to provide one snippet from each interview and a link to read through the full interview.


Jan Bruce
“Starting my own company wasn’t a lifelong goal. I didn’t get started in the world of work thinking I wanted to be an entrepreneur. What happened is, I eventually thought, ‘I can do this, there’s a need for this and I can do this better.’ I think those are also three things that really motivate entrepreneurs."

Click here to read Jan's story


Michelle Burtchell

Michelle Burtchell, VP of Marketing at Buildium

“Marketing is like a massive puzzle. Every single company is different, but you can use some of the same skills from one to the next. Even as you add to your marketing toolkit, you still have to learn the best way to put those skills - and your new ones - together. The best marketers never stop trying new and different things, and they never stop learning. That’s a pretty amazing way to spend your day.”
 
 
Also, Buildium is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.

Sara Radkiewicz, Head of Product of TVision Insights (now Head of Product at CarePort Health)

“Brightcove was my first startup, I got this bug about having an impact and wanting more impact. For me, the bigger a company gets, the harder it is to have the impact I want. I left there to go to a startup in an earlier phase and I just kept getting earlier and earlier. I want to be there from the beginning to find the product market fit and what that looks like. It’s really the hardest thing I’ve done in my career and I love the challenge. I’ve done it at two companies so far.”

Click here to read Sara's story


Jane Price

Jane Price, Senior VP of Marketing at Interactions

“There were only two of us in the marketing department when I started at Interactions, so my job’s been to build the team along with the core messaging and the Interactions brand. We’d been kind of the best-kept secret in the Massachusetts tech market, so we started with the basics of building the brand and awareness, then putting in place a high-performing demand generation and customer retention strategy. I always end up having a diverse and busy day where I’m constantly going from deep tech to some more creative types of tasks. I’m constantly using both sides of the brain and I wouldn’t have it any other way."

Click here to read Jane's story

Also, Interactions is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Colleen Miller

Colleen Miller, Senior Director of Product and UX at Toast

“I think I’ve always been a problem solver. I love crossword puzzles and analytical types of tasks. Once I started working at Harvard Business Publishing, there were just so many great problems to solve and analytical challenges about building a new eCommerce business. My transition into the tech space was a little bit unusual, but it was being at the right place at the right time and falling in love with the work."

Click here to read Colleen's story

Also, Toast is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Sandy Kreis, Director of Labs, North America: Lab of Forward Thinking (LOFT) at John Hancock / Manulife

“I didn’t anticipate coming back to Boston so quickly, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity at MassCEC. I worked in the innovation and industry support team, tasked with creating a policy to build up the ecosystem around clean energy innovation in the Commonwealth. We worked on so many unique projects, from connecting startups to large corporates looking to source innovation to creating a program to fund Greentown Labs, which has grown into the largest clean energy incubator in the world.”

Click here to read Sandy's story


Katie Bickford

Katie Bickford, Vice President of Sales and Customer Success at Starry

"Pick your first job wisely. I know that there’s a lot of grief that’s given to millennials for not taking whatever job they can get. I actually think what I’ve seen in the upcoming generation is the desire to find work that matters and find work that they care about. I really admire that. My feeling about the first job you take out of college is you actually start to find a groove. If you just take a job in insurance even though you don’t care about it, once you’ve been there for a year or two, that’s where people see you fitting in. That’s where you’ve built experience, that’s where you’ve built a network, that’s where you have value in the marketplace. I think that you should take the time to find something that you’re inspired by."

Click here to read Katie's story

Also, Starry is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Andrea Valente ERT

Andrea Valente, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at ERT

"I find that connections with customers can happen in a lot of different ways. My sales style is much more consultative — I really like to partner with my customers to determine how I can contribute to their success. I think that the relationships I establish with my customers are different than my competitors and because of that it has informed how I lead Product Development."

Click here to read Andrea's story

Also, ERT is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Eliza Becton

Eliza Becton, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Bevi

“Moving forward, we will have to constantly ask ourselves the same question -- how do we work smarter and move faster? It’s a lot to do, but it’s a great challenge and fun to think about the sustainability impact that we are making. Right now, we’re saving about 2.5 million bottles per month. I feel lucky everyday that I get to work on something that I truly care about that has a real impact."

Click here to read Eliza's story

Also, Bevi is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Kate Shamsuddin

Kate Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Definitive Healthcare

“Definitive Healthcare is such a special company for so many obvious reasons, and I’m lucky to have joined when I did. This company created a space for me to grow up in, professionally speaking, and I am so grateful to call it home for where I really built up my career. I’ve learned a ton. I’ve learned how important it is to be nimble and responsive to the market. I’ve learned how critical it is to really walk in the shoes of your buyers and more importantly the shoes of your clients. I’ve learned what it means to be part of running a hugely successful business and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it!”

Click here to read Kate's story

Also, Definitive Healthcare is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Alana Aubin

Alana Aubin, Vice President of Life Business Unit at EverQuote

“I love how anyone at EverQuote can have an idea and execute on it. I think when you’re working somewhere and you’re new, especially when you’re right out of school, it can be very intimidating to speak up. Working here has taught me to be more vocal. I’m thankful to work in an environment where expressing ideas is part of the culture!”

Click here to read Alana's story

Also, EverQuote is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Estelle Mense

Estelle Mense, VP of Marketing of BlueSnap

"Being at BlueSnap feels like I’m riding a bike where working at a large corporation is more like driving a tractor trailer. We’re much more nimble and can change directions quickly. But if we come to a steep hill with our bike, we don’t have as much power. We’re clever though, we make it work."

Click here to read Estelle's story

Also, BlueSnap is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Teodora Stain

Teodora Stoian, Business Technology Leader at Amazon Alexa

“While Europe lagged behind as a technology adopter, the U.S. was driving the innovation market. I had many theories on why that was, ranging from education, which in Europe is more theoretical to risk appetite. A failing startup in Europe does not get you a badge of honor. I wanted to experience firsthand the key drivers behind this apparent disparity and to understand whether Europe could begin to apply the same principles. This was one of the biggest drivers in my decision to move to the U.S.”

Click here to read Teodora's story

Also, Boston's Amazon Alexa team is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Elisabeth Carptenter

Elisabeth Carpenter, Chief Operating Officer at Circle

“In every job I’ve had, I’ve learned a lot, but this one blows the other ones away in terms of learning about the actual industry itself because it constantly changes. It has its own vocabulary and its own way of thinking about things. Not only is Circle a great company with great people in a great industry, but the amount of learning and mind-bending is phenomenal. It’s just so exciting.”

Click here to read Elisabeth's story

Also, Circle is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Karen Hutchinson

Karen Hutchinson, Director of DevOps at Agero

“Sometimes in the software industry, you don’t feel that you’re helping the world at the end of the day. Here at Agero, when our applications help people in need on the side of the road, it’s gratifying to think that our cutting-edge technology is actually useful and can even save lives.”

Click here to read Karen's story

Also, Agero is hiring. Click here for all the company's openings.


Alo Mukerji, Chief Operating Officer at coUrbanize

“I didn’t want to be in a particular box. For someone with my skill set on the market research side, you first understand the market, and you can influence the way you’re making decisions about those needs if you can learn that early and start building out the platform from there.”  

Click here to read Alo's story


Dana Cordova

Dana Córdova, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Janeiro Digital

"I think my advice would be to worry less about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and more about just figuring out how you can become a linchpin for that company and how you can make yourself indispensable. Make yourself invaluable to your employers, and opportunity will find you. I always have younger people come to me asking, do you think I should take this role, do you think I should take that role, how do I find a mentor? I really do mean it when I say that those choices matter to a certain extent, but I believe becoming indispensable and working hard matters more."

Click here to read Dana's story

Also, Janeiro Digital is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Erin Kutner McCafferty

Erin Kutner McCafferty, Investment Professional at The Yard Ventures

“I really enjoy the learning aspect of it. [McCafferty's role at The Yard Ventures.] We’re not sector specific, so I do get to see a lot. It’s kind of hard to make an investment decision in an area that you don’t have experience in, and you only have two weeks to do due diligence. It’s the part that I like, but it’s the part that can be difficult sometimes.”

Click here to read Erin's story


Priya Sapra, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Product Officer at SHYFT Analytics

“I think I would say that has been a recipe of success for me—not sitting still, being relentlessly urgent. I wish I could say there was a very logical approach, but I think it’s just being impatient, looking for the next challenge, and not being afraid of what happens if it doesn’t work out.”

Click here to read Priya's story

Also, SHYFT Analytics is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Tara Haas

Tara Haas, Senior Vice President, Chief of Staff, and Head of Innovation at LogMeIn

“I’m passionate about the lab regarding being able to empower the entrepreneurs in the organization to do and explore things that they’re passionate about really. It’s very customer focused, and I’ve spent most of my career being in roles where it’s all about understanding customer problems and finding unique ways to solve them, so I’d love to spend more of my time in that space, continuing to help LogMeIn and entrepreneurs and small businesses explore and solve their problems using technology.”

Click here to read Tara's story

Also, LogMeIn is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Emmanuelle Skala, Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Toast

"I’m proud of the fact that as a female in tech, I’ve been able to rise quickly to executive status across a variety of different companies. A lot is working against us, and it takes more effort, patience, and confidence to overcome a lot of obstacles. Now, I’m trying to figure out what steps I took to get this far so that I can help other women find success, too. I’m trying to connect the dots."

Click here to read Emmanuelle's story

Also, Toast is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Anne Beckett

Anne Beckett, President and COO at Hopjump

"When I was in graduate school I figured out that I wanted to work in an organization where I could make a difference. In reality the career I found at Cogo Labs, and now at Hopjump, is way better than I could have imagined. I couldn’t have seen then the opportunities that I’ve had, and definitely not the ones I have now. I never expected to become as addicted to startups as I did, and never expected to have so many opportunities within Cogo Labs and Hopjump to build something that I think will influence the daily lives of Americans, and hopefully people around the world, one day."

Click here to read Anne's story


Marci Cornell-Fiest

Marci Cornell-Feist, Founder and CEO of BoardOnTrack

“I believe in the power of the network. Even in communist Laos, which was so isolated, it didn’t even have a bridge to Thailand … people want to learn from each other, and networking and competition can improve performance. You connect, you get better, you see how you compare to others and grow from that. You look around and ask, ‘Hey, what are they doing? Maybe we should do that, too.’”

Click here to read Marci's story

Also, BoardOnTrack is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Lindsey Bleimes

Lindsey Bleimes, Director of Engineering of Wayfair

“I could talk about our catalog all day. It’s fun to get into the details about our products and how we talk about them and display them. It’s different in how we sell a bed versus how we sell a ceiling fan, you have to make sure people are comfortable with what they’re buying.”

Click here to read Lindsey's story

Also, Wayfair is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Sarah Travers

Sarah Travers, CEO of Workbar

"My advice would be to take risks because at 22 years old, it’s hard to figure out what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. Don’t try to pigeonhole yourself into thinking that there’s only one thing that you should be doing. I come from a family where my father and siblings are either doctors or lawyers, and I thought I’d follow in their footsteps."

Click here to read Sarah's story

Also, Workbar is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Shelia Anderson, SVP & CIO at Liberty Mutual Insurance

“The numbers of women pursuing technical fields is less than 20 percent. While that’s great for that 20 percent, I think for organizations looking to have that diverse mindset and diversity of thought really, that’s going to be tough because we’re all competing for the same 20 percent. Programs like this encourage young women into looking at and continuing to pursue careers in technology.”

Click here to read Shelia's story

Also, Liberty Mutual is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Kristen Tyrrell, Chief Operating Officer at Catch

“I have always worked with companies whose mission I agreed with and aligned with. It almost sounds silly to say, but I think think it is a bit of a shift from how the Boomers and Gen X entered the workforce and what they thought the purpose of a job was. I think more and more people are looking at our role and responsibility in society and the types of things that we build.”

Click here to read Kristen's story


Gillan Hawkes

Gillan Hawkes, Head of Product at 6 River Systems

“I think the very apt analogy of building a bike while you're riding is what I love about where I am today, and frankly about most startups. There are some inflection points within a company where you go from everyone sitting in the same room to several dozen teams that you're trying to keep coordinated across different locations. The trick is getting the right amount of structure, and the right amount of support as a company grows without it being constraining or stifling. Navigating that successfully I think sometimes means success or failure.”

Click here to read Gillan's story

Also, 6 River Systems is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Berni Fisher

Berni Fisher, VP of Product at M.Gemi

"If I could tell it differently, I think I’m most proud of how I lead. I feel like I'm good at helping other people see the potential in themselves. I feel like that's a payback service, as the pay it forward mentality. I literally would not be here right now if it weren't for the people who taught me how to do what I’m doing, who saw the potential in me. To me, that is the biggest accomplishment I can give, is to let other people see what they have and help them get to their best potential."

Click here to read Berni's story

Also, M.Gemi is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Cindy Klein Roche

Cindy Klein Roche, Chief Marketing Officer at Cybereason

“I like a really hard puzzle, which is what I have in cybersecurity, but I only like it when I get to lure other people who are smart and unafraid to do it with me. I love starting from scratch and then tracking people from past lives to come join me in whatever problem I’m trying to tackle.”

Click here to read Cindy's story

Also, Cybereason is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Dorit Levy-Zilbershot

Dorit Levy-Zilbershot, VP of Product Management and R&D at Attivio

“You want to create a place where people are empowered to propose new ideas and are motivated to excel from within. This is not an exact science, and everyone is different. The key is to listen and communicate often to create a path that aligns one’s respective goals with those of the company. A successful employment journey is one that presents the opportunity to develop new skills and gain new experiences at the same time. Seeing someone grow year over year is definitely my biggest satisfaction as a leader.”

Click here to read Dorit's story

Also, Attivio is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Tricia Chang

Tricia Chang, Head of Product at Photo Butler

“There's so much that I love about product. It encompasses the impact each feature, every variable that you introduce has on an overall business. All of it is very analytical and critical, but there's also a creative part to it too. How do you design a product? How do you want it to look and feel to users? How do you optimize your conversion by placing a button in a particular area? It plays towards what I really love doing which is, how do I tackle a problem and how do I solve it?”

Click here to read Tricia's story


Julie Hogan

Julie Hogan, VP, Customer Success at Drift

"Don't be shy about asking someone, 'Could I go with you to work for a half a day just to see what the office environment is like?' I took small, unpaid internships that were only a few hours a week so that I could still work full time during the summers. These taught me a ton about what kind of work environment I wanted to be in, which eventually led me to the world of startups, and I’ve never looked back."

Click here to read Julie's story.

Also, Drift is hiring. Click here for all of the company's openings.


Jennifer Gormley

Jennifer Gormley, Senior Director for Change & Enablement at BCG

"I started off my career thinking,'Okay great, I'm going to work in magazines. I'm going to really obsess about print design and do all of the things a print designer does.' And it took too long for me to feel like there were 15 other avenues of my work that I should be exploring. Design is design. I could have easily, at any point in my career, gone on and been designing toothpaste boxes and doing physical product design or video or any number of other things."

Click here to read Jennifer's story

Also, BCG's Product Business Unit is hiring. Click here for all of the department's openings.


Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.

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