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

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Lead(H)er: Gillan Hawkes, Head of Product at 6 River Systems banner image

Lead(H)er: Gillan Hawkes, Head of Product at 6 River Systems

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What does one do with a degree in comparative literature from an Ivy League school? Why, you work on Wall Street, of course! At least, that was Gillan Hawkes’ answer. With so many of her Princeton classmates choosing between careers in banking and consulting, Hawkes parlayed the analytical, listening, and critical thinking skills she had mastered into an associate role.

“It was certainly not a planned journey to go work in banking, but it was a great thing to have done because I think it did round out more of the financial and business side of my education that I didn't formally get,” Hawkes said.

After a few years, Hawkes knew that she didn’t want to spend her career in banking. Not knowing where exactly she wanted to go instead, she took some time to get her MBA at the London Business School, which she chose because of its international focus. The education and the following years in consulting ultimately led Hawkes to discover that she most enjoyed working with a combination of strategy and operations.

Her first retail job, in which she worked to help an oil and gas company develop its gas station retail offerings, pointed her career in the direction of retail.

“We're not all shopaholics, but we all consume stuff, and it was a light bulb moment—I can have a career doing something that just comes naturally,” Hawkes said. “We all do some sort of retail experience every day.”

London kept calling, so Hawkes transitioned to a job at Tesco, one of the largest retailers in the world. There, she developed and implemented multi-channel strategies that helped successfully relaunch the retailer’s online business.

“We've got stores, and we've got a digital experience, so how do you blend all of them and make them compelling and interesting and easy for customers to float between those channels?” Hawkes said. “That was where I thought I’d stay forever because I loved it.”

What she loved less and less, though, was the size of the retailers for which she developed those connections: The Home Depot and Staples are enormous, and with that breadth comes plenty of layers to sift through before change can happen. Hawkes needed a new challenge, and she found it in startups.

She stayed at the first startup she joined, Divert, for almost two years. There, she led the recycling and sustainability company’s customer solutions unit. The department identified business opportunities, built products and services, and operated them with large retailers like Target and Safeway. Hawkes also helped scale and combine teams into single units.

Since catching the startup bug, Hawkes has no plans to return to the corporate world. Startups offer a whole host of new challenges, and as head of product at the Waltham-based 6 River Systems, Hawkes is working in an entirely new side of retail. The robotics company improves fulfillment services for manufacturers, 3PLs, and retailers, keeping her close to the industry she loves while allowing her to expand and apply her skills in different ways.  

“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,” Hawkes said. “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.”

Looking forward, Hawkes knows she’ll continue to work in retail, and almost certainly within the startup space. The ability to manage and build high-performing teams has always been important, and Hawkes hopes to rise to the challenge of providing her teams with the same level of mentorship she receives throughout her career.

“I have some solid ground under my feet, but a lot of kind of unsolid scary, exhilarating things to continue to learn as I go,” she said.

Rapid Fire Questions

What do you do in your free time?

I like to read and run and sometimes do both at the same time via fun podcasts. I listen to New Yorker Radio Hour right now, and TED talks are always a go-to. I'm always looking for new suggestions to keep me interested!

How do you typically handle stress?

Running! Plus I guess I'm a to-do list kind of person, so for me to put it on a piece of paper and make myself do it and cross it off helps me manage the stress of my workload. Also, just stepping back and getting perspective on things at the end of the day helps. I'm lucky in my health and my family and their health, and so I think making sure I keep things in perspective is essential.

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

I drink two, but I think “real” coffee drinkers would hate me because I pour all sorts of hazelnut flavor into it. Coffee people probably wouldn't let me into their coffee drinker club. Like, how can you do that to my hand-pressed coffee? But this is my thing.

What’s your favorite spot in Boston?

I love running near water, so anywhere where there's water and a path next to it, be it the Charles or Walden Pond or any body of water really. I think that the combination of a place to run and look at water and hear the sounds & see the sights that usually go with water is a beautiful place to be.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments, unrelated to your family?

I think probably being someone who actually would be happy working and living and dragging my family with me to anywhere in the world where there's an interesting thing to do. I think a lot of people feel a bit hemmed in and constrained and fearful of picking up and moving across the world. That's something I grew up doing as a kid and continued to do throughout my career. I'm proud that I want to continue to be open to doing that forever. I would love to have a bona fide excuse to see the world instead of just my vacation time.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

Absolutely not, no! I think that's the joy of it. I think I want to be doing stuff that I never thought I could be capable of doing, and that's where I want to be.

What’s your advice for recent college grads?

Don't have a path, don't stick to anything you think is sensible. Don't be stupid, but make opportunities happen, and be open to doing things that you didn't think you could be or should be doing or whatever. You're capable of it, and it might be a little harder, but I think the adage of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger—I believe in that. Every new experience fills up your toolbox and will make you a better person, leader, contributor every time you do something that takes you out of your comfort zone.

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

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Increasing throughput, decreasing training time and delighting customers: we're leading the way to faster fulfillment.

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Lead(H)er: Shelia Anderson, SVP & CIO at Liberty Mutual Insurance banner image

Lead(H)er: Shelia Anderson, SVP & CIO at Liberty Mutual Insurance

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When your career is one long learning experience, you become a person who embraces change and seeks it out each day. Shelia Anderson has done just that throughout her career, choosing to work in technology largely because of the constant exposure to change.

“I love learning continuously, and I think in this career there’s that opportunity,” she said.

Anderson’s most significant change to date is her move from San Antonio, Texas, where she worked as USAA’s Vice President and CIO of Property and Casualty, to Boston, where she’s taken on the role of Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Corporate Functions at Liberty Mutual. For the past nine months, Anderson has been working on providing IP services to Liberty’s legal office, financial departments, and employee experience operations.

Before her time at Liberty and USAA, the Louisiana Tech University graduate worked her way through the ranks at Electronic Data Systems, where she gained solid technical skills before Hewlett Packard acquired the company.

“I had the opportunity to work with a lot of different companies, which was a fantastic way early in my career to gain exposure to a lot of different industries and develop my skills across all of those,” Anderson said.

She worked on her executive master’s degree through the company’s executive rotational program, then used her new knowledge to develop Grant Norton’s advisory consulting practice. She found her way to USAA after about three years at Grant Norton, then heard about the new opportunity at Liberty Mutual and decided that this was the next stop on her career journey.

Through hands-on technical roles and navigating the Internet boom, Anderson has continuously used her love of learning to guide her as she considers how to deal with the rapidly changing technology industry.

Anderson met with James McGlennon, Liberty’s Enterprise CIO, and felt that his leadership style and her skill set were a perfect match.

“After I had the opportunity to meet James and his vision and leadership style, it made me want to be a part of the team here,” Anderson said. “I think we have a great leadership team focused on a lot of change inside of Liberty.”

Though she’s only nine months into her tenure, Anderson has hit the ground running. She’s in the process of preparing her team to face the newest disruptors in the industry, from understanding how to handle autonomous vehicles to increased consumerization and how buying habits are changing based on the availability of technology.

“I think one of the biggest responsibilities of any senior leader, whether you be in technology or not, is to be sure that you establish the right environment and culture for your teams to be successful,” Anderson said.

To that end, she’s worked on building a leadership team full of people who she knows will be up to the challenges these new disruptors are presenting. Anderson has also overseen the transition of her team’s operating model to a full Agile model, which she hopes will foster a stronger relationship with the team’s business.

Anderson has also been doing her part to make the culture of technology as a whole a little bit better by working with Liberty’s Women in Technology group, which focuses on attracting, retaining, and mentoring women in technology roles throughout the company and beyond. The group’s activities include hosting a three-day summit for women tech students, panels within Liberty, and sponsorship of the Commonwealth Institute of Women’s Leadership and various impact studies. Women in Technology also participates in several conferences each year, from the Simmons Leadership Conference to the Grace Hopper Celebration conference.

To Anderson, this work is helping bring about necessary changes to both Liberty and the world of technology as a whole. Forbes recently named Liberty one of the best places to work for women and one of the most diverse places to work, and Anderson sees vast potential going forward.

“The numbers of women pursuing technical fields is less than 20 percent,” Anderson said. “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.”

Change can be difficult, but Anderson is ready to face it and to lead her team into the future. She’s seen the other side of change throughout her career and knows that with change comes the opportunity to be better for both the employees and the customers of the companies she’s led through it.

Rapid-Fire Questions

What do you like to do in your free time?

Since I just moved to Boston and since it’s been summer, I’ve loved enjoying time on the beach. Any time to get away to the beach is something I love. Being less than one hour to the Cape is amazing. I didn’t have that – I moved here from Texas, so the closest beach was about five hours away, and the water was very, very hot.

How do you typically handle stress?

I try not to allow myself to get too stressed, but when I do, in the moment I like to decompress and take a time out and enjoy reading. I’ll try to read something that’s encouraging. When I have more time, I exercise a well. I try to get exercise in every day – I think that’s a huge stress reliever for me, and if I don’t get that exercise in, I can tell. That’s part of what I do.

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

I’m trying to be better with this, so two. I am a big tea drinker, being from the South, so I’ll do one or two with caffeine, and beyond that I’ll do decaf or green tea.

What’s your favorite spot in the Boston area?

For me, being where we’re located in Back Bay, one of my favorite spots if I can get out at lunch for a minute to walk around is Boston Common. That’s an area that I enjoy. Back Bay is beautiful. Just getting out and walking around, there are so many interesting little spots along the way.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments, unrelated to family?

When I completed my masters, just because of the situation at the time. I had two children in middle school, I was working full time, I was traveling internationally, and I was able to complete a masters in the two-year timeframe. I was the mom at the soccer field with the books on the weekends. I would say the thing that I’m proudest of is also keeping my sanity while doing that. It was honestly my second or third try to get through my masters, just because life and work had gotten in the way previous times, so I was very focused on getting that done. I had a very supportive work environment also which made that possible for me. That’s why that’s something very important to me as a leader because I know that oftentimes people have all of these things going on, and it’s important to be able to support people through their personal goals, as well.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

Absolutely, I would say yes. I have always seen myself progressing in leadership roles and seeking out challenging opportunities. I think I’ve been able to do that. I would say it’s not so much the status of the role and the level, but more being able to work in a company environment where I enjoy what I’m doing, where things are changing, and I’m able to keep learning. I definitely have been able to do that. It has at times required a move out of one company to another, but I think along with that it’s been pretty exciting.

I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more and to move. Learning about a new company in itself is a challenge just because you do have things to learn about the culture and how things are done. I think for me at the same time, a move from Texas to New England couldn’t be any different. Those are all great opportunities.

What is your advice for recent college graduates?

My advice to recent college graduates would be focus on learning as much as you can. I think the earlier in your career you can work on building your personal toolkit the better. Focus on building those skills out, gaining a lot of different experiences, and I think in the long run that’ll help you in your career. I think sometimes early in your career you may not understand how some of those skills will develop and help you for that job that may be the next two or three out. Focus on building your skills, don’t be afraid to try new things. At the same time, start developing skills around your personal brand and building out true people in your network that you can use as confidants or mentors or coaches as you go forward.

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

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At Liberty Mutual, you’ll help lead our digital transformation to deliver immersive and secure experiences for our employees, customers, agents, and brokers using cloud-native tech, scalable microservice architecture, and next-wave software delivery methods.

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Lead(H)er: Emmanuelle Skala, Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Toast banner image

Lead(H)er: Emmanuelle Skala, Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Toast

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Emmanuelle Skala advocated for driving customer success early in her career. Since then, she’s thought of little else besides how to make sure customers have the best experience possible when interacting with her companies even though she spent most of her career driving sales and only recently is formally heading up a Customer Success organization.

“To be a strong executive, you have to be customer-facing,” said Skala, who is now the Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Toast. “Understanding customer needs is the soul of your product development team and your messaging.”

Emmanuelle Skala
Emmanuelle Skala, SVP of Customer Success at Toast

Skala graduated from Carnegie Mellon, where she says she learned less about the subject that would ultimately become her career and more about critical thinking, problem-solving, being business savvy, and dealing with stress. As a double-major who was heavily involved in extracurricular activities, she also figured out early on how to work well under pressure.

“My college experience influenced the way I think and work,” Skala said.

Her first job out of college was in the strategic planning department at Intel, where she developed skills strong operational skills. After a two-year break to get her MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, Skala spent seven years at Endeca Technologies and has worked in software startups ever since.

“The mindset of operations is critical,” Skala said. “Whether it’s analyzing metrics, process improvement, and or driving efficiency, it’s relevant to Intel and high-paced startups.”

Skala has sought out companies that focused on innovation, high growth, intelligence, and a sense of fearlessness when it comes to failure. Companies like this can push the envelope, she said, while remaining paranoid enough to identify risks and improve more quickly than if they were overly cautious or too reckless.

Skala applies that mindset to her interactions with customers, always asking herself: How do we make the go-to-market model more efficient without sacrificing customer experience? “It’s sometimes at odds, but it’s exciting and challenging,” she said.

Skala plans to take that cross-functional perspective with her throughout the rest of her career, continuing to represent the voice of the customers while reflecting the brand back to them for a consistent customer experience.

She also has a bucket list item she’d love to check off: teaching sales, growth, or entrepreneurship at a university. As a member of four advisory boards and a director on a public board, she’s already got a head start on shepherding the next generation of entrepreneurs through the business world. “I want to have a broader influence to more budding entrepreneurs,” Skala said.

Rapid Fire Questions

What do you do in your free time?

For me, working out consistently is critical to my sanity. I also prioritize spending time with my kids. Monday through Friday is mostly about work, and I pour myself into my family on the weekends. I also use every ounce of her vacation time - a change of scenery and dedicated focus on family is a top priority.

How do you handle stress?

I try to zoom out and ask, “Can my stress be made insignificant by looking at the bigger picture?” I have little to complain about, but that learning to understand my triggers and removing myself from the few stressful situations that do crop up has been helpful.

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

I  prefer one cup of tea in the morning rather than coffee, but that’s not what gets me going. I run on adrenaline.

What’s your favorite spot in the Boston area?

There’s no one answer to this question. I love living in the Boston area because we have access to the mountains and the ocean and the city. A few favorites across the varied New England area landscape include Martha’s Vineyard, VT Skiing, and the coast of Maine.  In Boston proper, I love the energy and culture of the North End.

What’s your greatest accomplishment, aside from family?

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.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

This is exactly what I envisioned. I’ve been reasonably deliberate about the growth I’m looking for. By looking for problems to solve and scale to reach, then setting long-term goals, I have taken the opportunities that best fit into my plan for career success.

What is your advice for recent college graduates?

A well-rounded person is one who has tried many different things over the course of their career. Specializing too early is not the path for a vibrant career. Give it a year or two, and don’t be afraid to zig zag.  Success is not linear.

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

Images courtesy of Emmanuelle Skala and Toast

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We empower the restaurant community to delight guests, do what they love, and thrive.

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Lead(H)er - Alana Aubin, Vice President of Life Business Unit at EverQuote banner image

Lead(H)er - Alana Aubin, Vice President of Life Business Unit at EverQuote

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“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!” Alana Aubin, Vice President of Life Business Unit at EverQuote, exclaimed.

Originally from Canada, Alana moved to Taunton, Massachusetts when she was nine years old. She attended Taunton High School where she excelled in academics, played trombone in the band, and served as swim team captain.

Although she now runs a successful business unit at a tech company, she initially sought out to be an actuary.

“When I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my career or even what major I wanted to pursue. However, I was really interested in math, so my AP Calculus teacher encouraged me to look into becoming an actuary. That suggestion helped inform my college search.”

Alana Aubin EverQuote
Alana Aubin (right) with her younger sister Colette (left)

Looking to attend an engineering school focused on science and math, Alana attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). She liked their top-notch academics and the fact they were NCAA Division III for swimming.

“I started as a regular math major and then transitioned into actuarial math. The actuarial math advisor was excellent, and the classes were interesting. After junior year, I got an internship at an insurance company. Over the course of the summer, I realized that the actuarial work moved too slowly for me and the corporate environment felt stifling. It was a great experience overall, but it showed me that I needed something more fast-paced,” Alana explained.  

At this point, Alana was almost done with her actuarial degree, so she decided to finish and stay at WPI for another year to get her master’s degree in financial math.

“WPI had a great master’s program that I could complete in just one extra year, so I got my master’s of science in financial math. I learned a ton about portfolio analysis, which I found really interesting, but I also knew I didn’t want to work for a bank or on Wall Street. Towards the end of my program, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I got lucky. One day I ran into my study-abroad advisor from junior year and he asked what I was doing after graduation. When I told him I didn’t have a plan, he connected me with a WPI alumnus at EverQuote (then called AdHarmonics). I came in, interviewed, and was hired as a quantitative analyst!” Alana said with a smile.

When Alana joined EverQuote, they were only about 25 people. She worked as a quantitative analyst on the search engine marketing (SEM) team where she was responsible for getting consumer traffic from Google and Bing.

“I didn’t know that quantitative analyst was a job you could have! I loved it! I thought it was so exciting to do something today and see the impact tomorrow. It really played to my skills of data analysis, problem-solving, and coming up with new ideas and questions, like how can we optimize this, how can we do that better, how do we get more volume, how do we pay less for this? I enjoyed it.”

Since she first started, EverQuote has grown significantly. After spending two years on the search engine marketing team and being promoted to Senior Quantitative Analyst, Alana became a manager.

“At that point, there was one other person on my team, so he started reporting to me. I was a little worried about the transition from a peer relationship to a managerial one, but he was great at his job and a fantastic teammate, so we did it more like a partnership. We had a lot of trust in each other. A couple of months after that, three new college grads joined the team, and that’s when I realized, ‘Oh wow, I have to teach them everything I know.’ It was completely different from anything I had done before.”

When I asked Alana if she had always envisioned herself becoming a manager, she explained that it was a path that she’s still wanted for herself.

“I hoped I’d make a good manager because I had taken on many different leadership roles in the past and was the captain of the swim team in high school and college. I felt like I’d been preparing my whole life to lead people, coach them, and get more out of the group as a whole.”

After her time as a manager, Alana was promoted to director. Initially, mobile and desktop SEM were split out, but she took on the entire department in her new role. She also had to think bigger picture and longer term.

“To think more critically about how my department fit in with the rest of the company and figure out how to expand my sphere of influence was very challenging. I felt like I’d been on the ground level doing campaign management or directly supervising campaign management for a long time and it was hard to develop that new perspective. It didn’t come naturally to change my mindset like that.”

Last year, Alana was promoted to Vice President of SEM. In addition to added responsibilities, she now was responsible for a team of managers.

“Two of my team members became managers themselves, so they had their own direct reports. It was much different because I was trying to give advice and help them develop their leadership skills, which is more nuanced than teaching technical and analysis skills. I also wanted to give them freedom but also make sure they felt supported, which was challenging at first.”

After working as VP of her department for a while, Alana realized she’d been on the SEM team for about four years, and she wanted to try something new.

“Last summer, I went to my manager, and I told him I was starting to feel restless. We have a lot of automation to help with repetitive tasks, and there are always new problems, but it seemed to me like I was continuously solving similar problems and I just wanted to try something different.”

This past November, Alana moved over to head the Life Insurance business unit. She loves doing more cross-functional coordination and working with the consumer acquisition, business development, and product teams, helping them with different analysis and projects.

“Our CEO calls me the CEO of our Life Insurance vertical. It’s very cool. I feel like I’m super busy but also very engaged. I’m glad that I spoke up and said that I wanted to do something different because I am happier at work now and more excited about what I’m doing. Since it’s a new position, I’ve been able to help define the role of a vertical lead as well. It’s fun! I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of EverQuote. I can’t believe it all goes back to that one professor and his amazing recommendation!”

Rapid Fire Questions

BS: What do you like to do in your free time?

AA: I spend most of my free time focused on swimming. I swim on a masters swim team called Charles River Masters, based at Harvard. I practice several times a week, race in meets periodically, and have been doing a lot of open water swimming the past few years. I’m looking forward to the weather warming up so I can swim outside more! I also coach once a week and volunteer for US Masters Swimming as the Communications Chair for New England and on a national committee.

Alana swimming
Alana swimming butterfly at a Masters swim meet

BS: How do you manage stress?

AA: Swimming is a such a good stress reliever. Generally, I default to various fitness activities to help with stress. I like to bike a lot, do yoga, and lift weights at the gym. That physical release is really important for me. The New York Times crossword is a great mental break for when I can’t get outside.

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

AA: I drink one cup of coffee a day. I keep trying to wean myself off of caffeine completely but I can never stick with it. We have cold brew on tap, too, which is extra potent and extra delicious.

BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?

AA: I might say the bike lane. I love cycling, and especially cycling to get around. I picked that up when I was in Copenhagen my junior year; everyone there bikes everywhere. There are definitely some areas of Boston where it’s not that nice or safe to bike, but there are also a growing number of decent bike lanes. It’s usually faster than driving or taking the T, plus I love being outside.

BS: If you had to choose one thing what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

AA: That’s a tough question! I guess I don’t really have one big thing, but I’m really proud of how I’ve been able to continue swimming and improving after college. I’ve been able to beat most of my personal best times from college in Masters swimming, which is pretty unusual, and I continue to challenge myself with different events and open water races. This summer I’m competing in the Boston Light Swim, an 8-mile race in Boston Harbor, which will be my longest swim to date.

BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?

AA: I don’t think so, no. Let’s see, 10 years ago I was graduating from high school. At that time, I knew I was going to major in math, maybe actuarial. I didn’t even know that this job existed, but I’m really happy with how it’s turned out.

BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?

AA: I think I would have to say, in life and especially at your job, if you have an idea that you think is great then you should try to make it happen. Have confidence in yourself because there’s a good chance that nobody else has that idea. Believe in yourself and speak up about your ideas. Go for it!

Brianne Shelley is a Contributor to VentureFizz and an Account Executive at ezCater. Follow Brianne on Twitter: @MuddleandMix.
Images courtesy of Alana Aubin and EverQuote.

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We are the largest online Auto Insurance marketplace in the U.S. We're helping end distracted driving with our safe driving app, EverDrive.

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Lead(H)er - Kate Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Definitive Healthcare banner image

Lead(H)er - Kate Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Definitive Healthcare

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“When I started college my plan was to become a doctor, plain and simple. So I started down that path, and it was just after I finished all the pre-med requirements I decided to pivot. I realized that there were other ways to get involved in the healthcare industry that didn’t involve a white coat,” Kate Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Definitive Healthcare, said. 

Originally from the greater Boston area, Kate grew up in Hamilton. After high school, she enrolled at Emory College for her undergraduate degree down in Atlanta, GA. 

“Like many others, I instantly fell in love with Atlanta when I started college in 2004. Both my parents were pretty shocked when I chose to go relatively far from home, yet they were thrilled to see college was off to a good start and that I had the chance to be part of a community outside of Massachusetts. While college served up no shortage of fun, I was there to study and graduated with a major in anthropology and a minor in public health. At the time both degrees felt a bit random, but they worked well together and were two things I found equally interesting.” 

Although she loved her time in Atlanta, Kate decided to make the move back north after graduation. Upon arrival in Boston, she prepared for and attended a series of job interviews with the rest of grads of ‘08 and was lucky to land an offer from RTI International

Kate Shamsuddin Definitive Healthcare

“Keep in mind 2008 was a tough year. The job market was anything but strong, and it was the first time I had to find myself what they call a “real” job. Things were a bit tense. It wasn’t the first time the economy dipped, but it made for an enduring process,” Kate explained.

As a Health Policy Analyst, Kate focused on research projects centered around the Medicare program. During her time at RTI, she enjoyed applying the public health curriculum that she learned at Emory and learning more about the healthcare system and many of the things that needed to be fixed.

About one year into the job, she started thinking about going back to school for her graduate degree.

“I wanted to figure out if healthcare was going to be the mainstay, or if it may be fleeting. The idea of returning to school meant I needed to think long and hard about the opportunity cost of taking myself out of the workforce. It felt like one of the biggest decisions in my life, granted I was just shy of 24, but I ultimately decided to go to public health school. I started my master's program at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2010.”

Kate describes her two years in graduate school as remarkable years in her mid-twenties. She loved the university, who she was surrounded by, and the chance she was given.

“The academic programming was everything I expected it to be and even a bit more, but school marked a really nice chance to continue to build out my Boston-based network. My program hosted people from all different walks of life. Everyone had their own unique story and their own excitement about what lay ahead, whether that was professional or personal. It was nice to stitch together the experience, weaving on my own. A significant portion of the value in going back to school was the people I met while I was there.”

When Kate graduated in 2012, she decided to pursue a position at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. With the help of her connections from a prior internship, she jumped into a Strategic Services position at the association out in Chicago.

“I moved out to Chicago and worked on the product development team. I got to work on a lot of great programs that helped service the customers of Blue plans across the U.S. For example, I got to work on the national telemedicine strategy and following program development. Telemedicine wasn’t new in 2012, but we got to think about how you reimburse for it and market it to consumers since it is a great way to receive care.”

While at the Association, Kate liked that she had a bird’s eye perspective. She found a big part of her experience was learning how to come up with clear value propositions and how to effectively communicate strategies.

“In order to get 37 plans to listen and buy in, you had to have a pretty tight story around recommended action and why it was compelling to move in that direction. The biggest takeaway was making sure you had an intention behind every decision and a story supported by values to succeed in making a change. It was also important to make sure you had the ability to influence key stakeholders alongside the political will.”

After a few years in Chicago, Kate felt she’d tapped out on her opportunity and was itching to make a move back to the east coast to once again be close to her family. In the fall of 2014, she moved on back to Boston.

“When I came back to Boston, I connected with an old friend and colleague from RTI who had taken on a key role at Definitive Healthcare. He encouraged me to come in and meet with the CEO, so I interviewed at Definitive. My motto at the time was to take all interviews, but this one struck me right off the bat. I quickly learned about the business they were in and what they were looking to achieve. My initial conversations felt really good, and it was in my gut that Definitive would be a solid match. The decision was easy. I joined the company right after the interview at the start of 2015.”

When Kate first started at Definitive, there were just about 30 employees. She originally joined to help think about product strategy. Today there are more than 200 employees across the company.

“At that time I joined, we needed another member of the team who could build out the product pipeline. That meant thinking about core questions—what new data was important to bring into our database and what new products did we want to include in the portfolio—that would support our effort to win new business and capture market share while also maintaining our client relationships through renewed partnerships.”

Since the start, Kate’s role has evolved pretty significantly. Although she still supports product strategy work, she’s shifted to think more about corporate strategy for Definitive Healthcare at large.

“I now think about how Definitive Healthcare can position itself for continued growth by working across each of the functional groups to ensure the scale with our explosive business. Together we think about short, medium, and longer-term strategies that tie directly to our company’s goals. That might mean a focus on how marketing can build up the funnel to support our growing sale team or the ways in we need to evolve our customer success strategy to support 1,600 or so marquee clients on our product platform.”

“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!”

Rapid Fire Questions

BS: What do you like to do in your free time?

KS: I love spending time with my family, in particular, my two nieces and nephew. My elder niece is just shy of four and the other two are 8-month-old twins (my sister definitely has her hand’s full). The little ones are like the Three Stooges and always put a smile on my face.

BS: How do you manage stress?

KS: By going to the gym. I’ve always made a commitment to regular exercise since it gives me a true break from the day where I don’t have to think about anything. Whether it is a 20-minute run or a fun spin class, working out is a good way for me to release stress. I keep it on my calendar and make it a priority to follow through. When the gym doesn’t do the trick, a nice martini now and again will.

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

KS: When I’m on my best behavior, three. When I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll drink four cups. My only cardinal rule is no coffee after 1 PM.

BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?

KS: One of my favorite places is Crane Beach. It’s up on the North Shore, pretty close to my parents' house. The beach is part of larger conservation land, so it makes for a beautiful scape almost all year round.

BS: If you had to choose one thing, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

KS: My greatest accomplishment is the collection of small things I have been able to squirrel away over the years that influence who I am and how I conduct myself. It was the feat of financing grad school, moving to the Midwest, running fun road races, building great teams, and getting feedback that I have helped someone in their career. Perhaps one day all these things may be trumped by one large event, but I imagine my collection will continue to grow, and that I am grateful to look forward to.  

BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?

KS: Absolutely not. Ten years ago, I was probably at the point of figuring out if I wanted to go to medical school, which is clearly quite different than working at Definitive Healthcare. Ten years ago I would not have imagined I’d be where I am today, but I would not rewrite it at all.

BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?

KS: Don’t put pressure on yourself to think you need to know exactly what your career is going to look like. The reality is you’re going to try out a lot of different jobs. Some of them are going to be great and some of them may not. Figure out what it is you like and what it is that you don't like from a professional perspective and carry that with you. While it may feel stressful and like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, keep in mind that life is all about trial and error and everyone will ultimately land where they’re meant to be. Also, don’t be afraid to work hard. It will bring you great things when done well.

Brianne Shelley is a Contributor to VentureFizz and an Account Executive at ezCater. Follow Brianne on Twitter: @MuddleandMix.
Images courtesy of Kate Shamsuddin.

About the

Provider of the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and integrated data on hospitals, physicians, and other healthcare providers.

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Lead(H)er - Eliza Becton, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Bevi banner image

Lead(H)er - Eliza Becton, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Bevi

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“Water has always been an important and constant part of my life. Growing up outside of Boston, I spent a lot of time sailing out on the ocean. As a result, I was naturally interested in sustainability and ocean stewardship,” said Eliza Becton, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Bevi.

But Eliza’s path to founding her own company wasn’t directly from sustainability. She grew up loving both art and science and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Yale. After working in New York for a few years at an engineering firm, Eliza quickly realized that she wanted to work on something with a mission while also utilizing her creative skills.

“Fortunately, I soon discovered industrial design and went back to school for a masters degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was completely life-changing. It taught me how to ask the really hard questions like why are we doing what we’re doing? As a result, it was not just about creating things for the sake of creating them. It was about purpose and people and user-centered design,” Eliza said.

During research for her masters thesis, Eliza learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an ever-expanding, floating mass of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“That was really shocking to me and got me thinking about how I could design a product that could eventually replace those plastic bottled beverages. How do you create something that’s easier to use, more convenient, and more enjoyable for people?” Eliza asked.

She completed her master thesis with a product design concept that aimed to eliminate bottled beverage waste. After graduation, Eliza went back to Boston to work for startups as a designer, but she always kept this concept in the back of her mind.

And then plastic water bottles started showing up in the news. The town of Concord, Massachusetts, banned bottled water as did many school campuses. Eliza realized that this was the time to pursue her project, if she was ever going to do it.

“About this time, I was introduced to Sean Grundy, Bevi’s CEO, through mutual friends. He was an MBA candidate at MIT Sloan but also a sustainability nerd, like me. We met for coffee one day and spent hours chatting about our ideas. He was crazy enough to work with me and together we began entering business plan competitions. We eventually convinced Sean’s roommate and close friend, Frank, to join as our third co-founder. Sean and Frank Lee met in China before they even started at Sloan, both while working on water-related projects abroad,” Eliza said, describing the catalyst for her future company.

Bevi Founders
Bevi's founding team: Sean Grundy, Frank Lee, and Eliza Becton.

Bevi incorporated in August of 2013. By then, they had proven to themselves and others through several successful business competitions that it was possible to use design and technology to change user behavior from relying on bottled beverages. When they first started out, the Bevi team was doing really crude market tests with cardboard boxes and trying to get people to pay for things as early as possible.

“It was really embarrassing and we failed a lot, but we learned and moved on to the next idea or iteration. Those small failures were very important to understand and learn from,” Eliza remembers.

In the spring of 2014, Bevi was accepted into the Techstars Boston program, which became their early big break. With access to amazing mentors and peers, the team felt really lucky to learn what they did there. Techstars pushed the team a lot and they came out of the program finding Bevi’s product market fit—commercial offices.

“Once we figured that out, our first product, the Standup Bevi, started to take off in sales. People actually liked it -- they wanted it and were willing to pay for it. It felt like things had finally clicked. Our next challenge was figuring out how to scale. We kept improving our product for performance, reliability, and costs,” Eliza said.  

In the fall of 2017, the company released their second product, the Countertop Bevi. Launching a product with a more established, bigger team was a much different experience, than the original product which was built with a team of just five people.

“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,” said Eliza.

Rapid Fire Q&A

BS: What do you like to do in your free time?

EB: Well, I have a two year old son so I like to spend my free time with him and my husband. I also enjoy cooking a lot. It’s kind of my new creative outlet these days, since I’m not doing as much design as I used to.

BS: How do you manage stress?

EB: [laughs] Not very well! I mean again, creativity is a great outlet for that. I think when I’m really stressed, I also try to make an effort to exercise or be outside. Additionally I enjoy seeing friends. Everyone has their own challenges in life so it’s nice to be able to talk to someone, be there for them and forget about your own stuff.

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

EB: I’m actually pregnant right now so I try to limit my coffee for hydration purposes. On a regular day, though, I drink maybe three to four cups.

BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?

EB: I love being on the water so I really enjoy the seaport. Sitting at a restaurant on the water is pretty amazing. The smell of the ocean, the fresh air—I love it.

BS: If you had to choose one thing other than family, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

EB: I’m really proud of Bevi, everything we’ve done and all the amazing people I get to work with every day.

BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?

EB: No way! In fact, I would love to meet someone who fully anticipated where they were going to be in ten years and congratulate them on that. But I almost feel like I would be doing something wrong if I were living up to all my plans in life. I don’t know if I had even thought about where I wanted to be in ten years, ten years ago. I knew I wanted to be doing design. But other than that, I didn’t have any plans. I just wanted to feel like I was making an impact on the world and I feel like I am.

BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?

EB: I feel like I’m lucky to have found what I want to do in life that also makes me happy. I’d recommend finding whatever that is for you and to consider paths that maybe aren’t as conventional. I’ve seen too many people take the safe route and do what their peers are doing, and one day they wake up realizing that their job isn’t fulfilling for them. If you have a vision for the career that will make you happy, go for it and work hard to get there. If you don’t yet know what will make you happy, take the time to understand what you really care about and find fulfilling. The saying is true: life is too short to waste your time doing something that you don’t love.

Brianne Shelley is a Contributor to VentureFizz and an Account Executive at ezCater. Follow Brianne on Twitter: @MuddleandMix.
Images courtesy of Eliza Becton and Bevi.

About the

We’re a Series C startup using intuitive, user-centered design to disrupt the bottled beverage industry and create customizable beverages at the point of use.

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Lead(H)er - Andrea Valente, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at ERT banner image

Lead(H)er - Andrea Valente, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at ERT

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

ERT Corporate Challenge Race
Team ERT ready for the JP Morgan Challenge!

When Andrea started her career in sales, she had no idea she'd eventually shift gears to a role leading technology and product development. After high school, Andrea attended Georgetown University, where she received her degree in Government. 

“I loved college. I received a terrific education that helped me explore new opportunities, build skills to think critically and understand new ideas and new ways of thinking. That experience prepared me for my career.”

Andrea took her first job at a large New York City-based construction firm doing technical support. Shortly after, she went into her first sales role selling local area network (LAN) technology on Wall Street. 

“I had the opportunity to learn how to put solutions together for clients who were really at the forefront of utilizing new technology to support their businesses. I think that’s what first got me interested in crafting solutions and supporting clients’ goals. It’s one of the most exciting things about selling technology and building products.” 

After this, she sold Apple’s first-generation Macs to architecture and research firms.

“We were a company that introduced Macs into the enterprise and also sold the NeXT computer. I had close brushes with Steve Jobs in that regard. It was kind of cool. As a matter of fact, I still have one of the original operating systems from the NeXT computer — it’s one of those nostalgic things you hold on to,” Andrea smiled. 

Armed with this experience, Andrea transitioned into delivering managed services for clients. She started to grow her career leading larger organizations, helping to deliver new technologies to customers on the enterprise side. 

Almost three years into that title, Andrea felt it was time to get back into her previous position. 

“After working in services, learning that craft and getting good at it, I decided to go back to sales. Having the experience and credibility around delivery really informed my sales process and I ended up developing solid strategic relationships with clients because I had a diverse background.“

Andrea moved to Boston during the mid-part of her career, but she spent most of her early years growing up in New York and Maryland. She now considers Boston home. Switching things up again, Andrea took her next role at a small startup called Phase Forward in Boston. As an early employee, she worked on the service delivery side to help life sciences companies adopt electronic data capture technology for clinical trial studies. 

After some time, Andrea moved into sales at Phase Forward and became one of the top sales reps at the company. Then one of the firm’s executives asked her to run the Professional Services organization.

“I really had to think long and hard about it because I was very happy in the sales job, but I decided to do it. What drew me to the opportunity was the challenge to build a high performing team, to be able to serve our customers in very strategic ways, and to deploy our technology to help them meet their goals,” she said. “Aside from just helping them as clients, the mission of being able to help advance human health was very important to me.” 

Phase Forward was ultimately acquired by Oracle, and at that point, she joined OpenPages to run its services organization; after a year and a half, the company was acquired by IBM. 

“I’ve been through a number of acquisitions,” Andrea laughed. “After OpenPages, I did a bit of consulting for a couple of start-up firms, which was a lot of fun. And, I had an opportunity to learn about many different technologies that were emerging from MIT. Then, I got a call from PHT, which was a provider of electronic data capture solutions used in clinical trials.  They asked me to run their service delivery organization. Shortly after I joined, the person I reported to left to go to Oracle. So I took over as Chief Operating Officer.” 

Andrea had to quickly adjust and step into a new role, as she now had responsibility for product management, engineering, service, information technology and customer care. 

“About a year later, we ended up selling PHT to ERT, which is where I am today. As I mentioned, I’ve been through a number of acquisitions, and they’re always interesting because they obviously involve a lot of change. Helping teams manage through this change, understanding your new role in an organization and learning to participate in a very productive and positive way is what I’ve learned is most important in these situations.”

Andrea with her ERT R&D team in Wurzburg, Germany.

Today Andrea is the Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at ERT, a global data, and technology company that supports the Life Sciences industry.  She’s responsible for global technology product development and information technology across the entire enterprise.

Rapid Fire Questions

BS: What do you like to do in your free time? 

AV: I spend my free time with my kids. Since I travel a fair amount right now, that sort of limits my ability to do some of those things that I like to do when I have that spare time. I’m a musician. I play jazz, so I’ll put a plug-in for the John Payne Music Center in Brookline, where I had the opportunity to pick up my instruments again and get real joy in playing. I’ve had the opportunity to play with some great people over the years. So when I have the time, I do that. I’m also teaching my son the trombone. I’m a music savant, and my colleagues tease me about that quite a bit. If I were to say what my love and deep passion is, it’s music. 

Andrea playing on a Sunday afternoon at Ryles.

BS: How do you manage stress? 

AV: I’m a very early riser — 4:30 AM every day. I have a routine: I get up early, I center myself and do some meditation. Then, I have coffee with my dog next to me, and we have our quiet time together. It allows me to think about how my day is going to be and to think about how I’m going to manage through whatever it is I’m facing that day. You know, two kids, a full-time job — all of that stuff tends to create a lot of churn. Having time to myself allows me to just sort of center and start my day on the right foot. It’s a really important thing to have time for myself. I think people should purposely make that time and not forgo it. 

BS: How many cups of coffee do you typically drink a day? 

AV: I drink two. My husband and I have coffee battles since we invested in a really nice machine. Two to start and then that’s it for the day. I tend to not go past that. 

BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area? 

AV: I would say that I’m a huge fan of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for a number of reasons. The diversity of that museum allows for such introspection; there’s also a lot of interesting music that plays there, so that draws me to it. I don’t get there as often as I like, but I would certainly say that it is one of my favorite spots. Outside of Boston, but certainly not too far, we have a house up in Maine off the coast of Portland on an island in Casco Bay. We spend a lot of time there. Talk about stress relief! You get on the ferry, and you leave all your worries behind. It’s my favorite place, it really is. 

BS: If you had to choose one thing other than family, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment? 

AV: When I’ve had someone who has worked for me send a note to say, ‘You made such an impact on me and my career and I can’t thank you enough.’ I can’t think of anything better than that. That’s just thoroughly rewarding — having a positive impact on people’s lives to me is as good as it gets. 

BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself? 

AV: Yes, I think so, although maybe the place and the situation might be slightly different. I think, in general, this would probably be where I thought I was going to be. I would say running an engineering organization is a little bit of a curveball, but I think in terms of running a business, running an organization, I absolutely do believe this is what was meant to be and what I’ve chosen to do. 

BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate? 

AV: Well, as we’ve talked this whole time, you can see the world is your oyster to some degree, unless you’re very committed to a professional field, whether it’s medicine or something very specific. But even then, I think you can find opportunities to try different things. Certainly early in your career is the best time to do it. Don’t necessarily think that what you’ve chosen today is what you’ll be doing, three, five, seven, ten years from now. Receiving the opportunity to try different things gives you the ability to really decide what you want to do. 

Andrea with her family enjoying NYC.

Brianne Shelley is a Contributor to VentureFizz and an Account Executive at ezCater. Follow Brianne on Twitter: @MuddleandMix.
Images courtesy of Andrea Valente and ERT.

About the

ERT is a global data & technology company that minimizes uncertainty and risk in clinical trials so that our customers can move ahead with confidence.

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Lead(H)er - Colleen Miller, Senior Director of Product and UX at Toast banner image

Lead(H)er - Colleen Miller, Senior Director of Product and UX at Toast

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Colleen Miller, Toast
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,” explained Colleen Miller, Senior Director of Product and UX at Toast.

Colleen grew up in Brighton and attended Boston College where she studied French and Psychology. She got her first job at Harvard Business Publishing working in Customer Service.

“This was back in ‘96 when people were trying to figure out eCommerce, how to transition content offline to online, monetizing the web and things like that. My boss at the time said, ‘Does someone want to work on this new website thing?’ and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. As a person who was interested in the web and what was happening there, I raised my hand. I ended up taking a project manager role and working to get the first version of Harvard Business Review and case studies online.”

In order to tackle her new role, Colleen dedicated her free time to coding. She spent her nights learning HTML and Javascript and created the first intranet at work. She worked with a web development firm called TVisions (now Isobar) on building out the eCommerce site and learning product management.

“I think for me with HTML, it was just another language. You have to understand the syntax, you have to understand how things are formatted. You have to practice it. I think it was kind of a natural thing for me to pick it up pretty quickly. I stopped that piece after a while because I realized I could concentrate on what I was more effective at, driving things forward, being organized, having a plan and working with engineers to help them understand the business side.”

After eleven years at Harvard, Colleen decided to pursue her passion for eCommerce and user experience at Upromise.

“Upromise helps families save for college. I worked on a project to overhaul their online shopping experience. They have an online shopping portal where consumers can shop online and get a percent back in a college fund for their kids. I spent about four years there. I started out as a manager and ended up as a VP. I went through the ranks there and got some of my first management experience there with some great mentorship.”

Staying in the eCommerce industry, Colleen transitioned into a Product Lead role at Staples. She oversaw Staples Business Advantage, the B2B arm of Staples, where she had the opportunity to design and develop their mobile experience from the ground up.

“I worked in the Staples Velocity Lab in Kendall Square and had the opportunity to build out the team, hire the folks that I wanted and really start mobile first. I worked on their iOS, Android and mobile web applications there. Once I got mobile up and running, I transitioned to running the desktop eCommerce site.”  After several years at Staples, Colleen read an article about the changing landscape of restaurant technology and what Toast was doing. “That’s when I reached out to one of my LinkedIn connections, Steve Fredette, who was one of the co-founders of Toast. He & I had worked together when I was at Upromise and he was at Endeca.”

Colleen was drawn to Toast because she found it to be the perfect blend of two things she loved - technology and restaurants. She was energized by the passion the leadership team showed when she met them in person and their enthusiasm for helping their restaurant customers succeed.  

“They have some great stories about how they started in a basement with three or four guys and an idea. Then after spending a lot of time at different restaurants, they discovered they had greater pain points they could solve for them, and pivoted to another idea. I got very excited about the opportunity to lead a team there. It wasn’t just about the game-changing technology, it was also about being a partner to the restaurant and helping them grow their business. My product and design team is amazing. I’m very fortunate to be here,” Colleen smiled.  

Colleen’s day to day at Toast is pretty diverse. She oversees a team of fifteen people in product and design. Her daily tasks can range from design reviews, discussions with large enterprise customers, new product research, quarterly roadmap planning or one on ones with her team members.

Toast Team

“We’re doubling the size of the team—we’re hiring like crazy. We’re also taking on more customers. In fact, more customers are knocking on the door than we can even get to right now, which is a really good problem to have! We’re working on some really exciting new products and projects on the software and hardware side. Lots more to come from Toast, keep an eye on us.”

Rapid Fire Questions

BS: How do you manage stress?

CM: I do hot yoga and that really helps. I sweat it all out!

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

CM: One… it might be a big one though.

BS: What do you like to do in your free time?

CM: I have two kids, they’re teenagers so they keep me pretty busy. I like to travel, and I like to exercise. I like to keep up with new technology so whether it’s going to meetups or talking to people in the community, just those types of things.

BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?

CM: Hmmm that’s a tough question. I was going to name a few Toast restaurants but I don’t want to leave anyone out! I love Portland, Maine. I think it’s a great town with all these great restaurants and breweries within walking distance. Always fun to visit for a weekend.

BS: If you had to choose one thing, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment other than family?

CM: I always pride myself on the teams that I’ve built. I think building teams that work well together and enjoy working together is a great accomplishment. When you’re hiring, it’s another type of puzzle. What skill set will add to the team, who will bring out the most in this team, what will make this team productive. Some of it is psychology. You really have to get to know the people, learn their strengths and adjust accordingly. I like to understand what makes them tick, learn how they like to get feedback, and their working style. Those are all soft skills that I feel like people overlook sometimes. People will ask me ‘Your team loves you! How do you do it?’ The answer is, don’t overlook team dynamics and their effect on results.

BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?

CM: Probably ten years ago, yes. Probably twenty years ago, I was still thinking I’d be living in Paris somewhere. But once I got into the product side, I had always seen myself leading a team for a company that I was really excited about.

BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?

CM: I think there are a couple of things that come to mind. One is to volunteer for opportunities that come up, things that are going to stretch you, things that you might not know anything about, but you’re interested in. I wouldn’t be in my position if I hadn’t done that. Also, be authentic. I think that’s something that has helped me throughout my career. I think that if you’re authentic, open and honest with the people you work with, that builds trust, and trust is an important part of any team. Working in a number of different companies in a male-dominated tech industry, you’re going to hear from lots of different people that you should try this, do this and be more like this person. Obviously, you take some of that feedback if it’s relevant and apply it. But bottom line is, just be true to yourself.

Brianne Shelley is a Contributor to VentureFizz and an Account Executive at ezCater. Follow Brianne on Twitter: @MuddleandMix.

Images courtesy of Colleen Miller and Toast.

About the

We empower the restaurant community to delight guests, do what they love, and thrive.

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Lead(H)er - Michelle Burtchell, VP of Marketing at Buildium

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“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.” Michelle Burtchell, VP of Marketing at Buildium, explained.

Michelle has been in marketing for over a decade but it took her some time to figure out her career path. Growing up, she moved around quite a bit, attending three different high schools in four years. When it came time for college, she studied communication and criminal justice at UMass Amherst.

“UMass is a really great school. I met a number of lifelong friends and there was a lot of really great stuff that came out of there. However, I definitely didn’t know what I wanted to do going into college and I would honestly say I still didn’t know when I left,” Michelle smiled.  

After graduating, Michelle moved in with her mom in upstate New York and got her first job at the Pepsi Arena as an assistant marketing manager.

“It was like TD Garden but in Albany, New York. It was a pretty cool job. Although it didn’t pay very well, I learned a ton and I had an amazing boss who I’m very grateful for. He taught me so many things about life, not just about work. To have a strong mentor like that coming right out of college is really important.”

While at Pepsi Arena, Michelle got her feet wet in marketing for the first time. She helped market events from Bruce Springsteen to minor league hockey, learning how to adapt her messaging and the channels used to reach different audiences.   

With two years of experience under her belt, Michelle decided it was time for a move. Looking for a change and feeling landlocked in Albany, she started looking for new positions in Boston.

“I ended up working at the Boston Herald and stayed there for about two years in outbound sales—cold calling. It was a hard job. There weren’t computers and you had to write down your number of calls. I quickly realized that sales was not for me, but as a marketer, I recommend that other marketers get on the phones and dial for at least a year. It really thickened my skin and I now have an appreciation for how hard sales is. Being able to pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone who’s never heard of you before is just a skill you never want to lose,” Michelle explained.  

From there, Michelle took a development role at a nonprofit called Triangle where she marketed and fundraised for people with disabilities. Although she had a great experience during her year there, she ultimately knew she wanted to go back to the corporate world.

“I ultimately decided to leave Triangle and went into marketing at StrideRite. I worked as a brand marketing specialist there and really got to know the retail business. After about a year and a half, I heard about this little tiny company (at the time) called Constant Contact that was looking to hire marketers. I ended up taking a position there and had my longest stint of about seven years. While there, I built out my marketing “know-how” and operational experience throughout the entire funnel. Being part of such a strong marketing team and a well-run company fueled my curiosity, and I discovered my passion for growth stage tech companies.”

After almost a decade at Constant Contact, Michelle decided it was time to pick her head up and figure out what was next. In order to figure out her next move, she decided to take a break from work and spend some time meeting new people in the Boston area.

“I told my husband that I was going to leave my job and I didn’t have another one lined up. It was totally crazy but I needed to figure out who I wanted to be when I grew up! I ended up setting a goal to meet five people I didn’t know every single week. Sometimes those coffee conversations with complete strangers can be some of the hardest things to do, but each meeting was worth it. I learned about different roles, different size and scale companies, and really had a chance to see what Boston was becoming. There are amazing people in the Boston scene - we’re a top player when it comes to tech and talent, that can’t be underrated.”

Once she felt she’d had enough time to herself, Michelle had a brief stint as the Chief Marketing Officer at Happier but ended up accepting the VP of Marketing position at Salsify several months later.

“Salsify was really my first take at being the head of marketing and having the chance to build and grow a marketing function within an organization. I was excited to partner with the founders and help build the company through early growth. I’m so proud of my time there and what the company is doing today.”

Michelle ran Salsify’s marketing for about two and a half years and then made the decision to move to Buildium.

“I made the decision to leave for Buildium - the opportunity was one I couldn’t turn down, and the chance to work with some of the CTCT mafia again was just too irresistible  But every time Salsify gets a win, I’m the person cheering the loudest from the sidelines. They’re a solid company and I had the chance to learn from really great people. Ultimately I landed here at Buildium because I’m a data driven person and like working in small business markets. It’s so rewarding to offer products and services to people who are really trying to support their passion, similar to the market I served at Constant Contact.”

Michelle explained that although no two days are the same at Buildium, her number one focus is building and supporting the marketing team. She also works every day to make sure the marketing organization is tied in as close as possible to the customer and they’re always providing value.

“We’re a mission driven company. We believe in doing business in the way business should be done and that’s true throughout everything that we do. Buildium has the solid foundation of a company that’s been in operation for over a decade, but is innovating and building like a startup.  It’s a pretty unique situation - really smart people, fun and complicated problems to solve. We’re also hiring like crazy.”

Rapid Fire Questions:

BS: How do you manage stress?

MB: For me, managing stress is about getting to the core of what the stress is all about. It’s making sure I take the time to take a breath, work through it, and have some alone time to figure out how I can best react to drive to the outcome I think we need. What can I do to solve it? I’m action oriented, I want to find the solution. And if it's something I can’t change, I figure out how to put it in a space where I can manage it appropriately, but not let it take over. It’s about being real with myself, honestly.

BS: How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?

MB: If you couldn’t tell, about 7,000! I have about five... I cut off at three o’clock though.

BS: What do you like to do in your free time?

MB: I have a six year old son so I don’t have a ton of free time. My favorite thing to do is really anything with him -most recently I’m learning how to play Minecraft. He’s obsessed and I can’t figure out to win, but it’s still fun!

Michelle Burtchell and family
Michelle with her son, Jack, and husband, Adam

BS: Where is your favorite spot in Boston?

MB: I love going down to the Seaport. There’s this bridge where they sometimes have art hanging and it’s the most beautiful walk. There is such good energy over there, it’s just this addictive vibe.  

BS: If you had to choose one thing, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment other than your family?

MB: I’m really proud of the team we have at Buildium. I’m proud of the teams and what they’re able to accomplish. That feels like I’m taking credit for it but I’m not, it’s just amazing to see what people are capable of when they have the space to do stuff.

BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?

MB: Oh god no. Ten years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I don’t know if it was ten years ago or eight years ago but I had set my sights and said I wanted to be a CEO of a company. I don’t know what’s to come but I still aspire to be a small business owner. I love technology and community. I think it would be something to own a small, local business.  A place that creates a safe environment for people to relax, get to know each other. I don’t know what that will end up being, but if I do it right, that would be the result.

BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?

MB: Don’t worry as much about title, focus on what you can learn. Take that through your entire career, not just the first role but through everything single thing you do. Focus on what you can learn. I don’t think you’ll regret anything if you can look back and can define what you’ve learned and taken with you on your next adventure.

Brianne Shelley is a Contributor to VentureFizz and an Account Executive at ezCater. Follow Brianne on Twitter: @MuddleandMix.

Images courtesy of Michelle Burtchell.

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

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Lead(H)er - Jennifer Hogan Mahoney, Vice President of Customer Success at SmartBear banner image

Lead(H)er - Jennifer Hogan Mahoney, Vice President of Customer Success at SmartBear

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“I realized I wanted to be in customer success after I realized the impact customer success can have on relationships, both internally and externally. It’s interesting just how powerful relationships can be - it leads to customer expansion and transforms how a company views its customers,” said Jennifer Hogan Mahoney, Vice President of Customer Success at SmartBear.

Jennifer grew up in the tight-knit community of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. After graduating high school, Jennifer went to Assumption College and pursued a degree in communication and education.

“Halfway through college, I changed my direction and thought I wanted to be a teacher. Although I was uncertain where my life would lead me, upon graduation I decided to take a teaching opportunity. This was a great experience, but ultimately I realized I wanted to be in a traditional business environment.”

She moved on to start her career as a sales support person for a private healthcare system in Waltham. Moving on from sales support, she became an account manager at Tufts Healthplans where she first got to experience the impact of relationship management. Once she spent several years in the space, she decided to switch things up.

Ultimately her career in Customer Success truly started when she was recruited to Picis, a high acuity software used in operating rooms. She was their Client Service Director and the main relationship point of contact for the customer.

She went from managing a single software platform at a 600 person start-up vendor to managing multiple platforms and technologies across an 80K person corporation when the company was acquired by Optum. Jennifer’s role expanded into managing larger customers at an executive level. She learned how customer success can benefit an organization by allowing for expansion and growth opportunities.

“I managed the Boston market. I love Boston so it was great because I spent a lot of time in the city working at a lot of hospital systems such as Partners, Boston Medical Center, Hallmark Health, Stewart, Cape Cod Healthcare—all the major health systems. Additionally, I was also part of the pilot program evangelizing one point of contact for the customer, across all products and technologies. This gave me an incredible amount of insight into the importance of continuity for the customer, and continues to drive my strategy today.”

Again, Jennifer’s role expanded when Optum divested their clinical applications to Harris Computer, a Canadian company owned by Constellation Software. Looking to put various healthcare companies together with a set strategy, they asked Jennifer to develop a customer success platform and program that was built with scale in mind.

“I started with the Picis business unit and rolled out a customer success platform that included customer success managers that were located in North America and Europe. I managed the strategy from net promoter program to leads, sales pipeline, and managing customer relationships. Once I had the program solidified for Picis as part of Harris, that program was presented to more of Harris’ businesses as a proven method not only to retain but also to improve customer adoption.”

After almost three years with Harris, Jennifer joined SmartBear, where she is currently the Vice President of Customer Success.

Customer Success team at SmartBear
SmartBear's Customer Success team on an outing! 

“I took the opportunity to come into SmartBear and develop the customer success organization, which is growing in scale and scope internationally. After just under a year, we have global customer programs in support of our strong customer-first strategy.”

“Our customer success teams engage with every functional area of the company. They are the champions of the customer internally, working with support, product management, leadership, and development. We’re able to operate with a feedback loop, being the voice of the customer for feature requests, product enhancements, and overall customer requirements. We also work with sales and marketing, having developed strong relationships with our customers to showcase our product portfolio and support the brand.”

Jennifer is known for having mantras that she instills in her team, a few favorites are “bad news doesn’t get better with time,” “come with solutions not problems,” and “do something amazing.”

SmartBear is currently 375 employees and growing. They have a fast-paced collaborative culture and seven offices worldwide. Their global HQ is located in Somerville at Assembly Row with beautiful views of the river.

Rapid Fire Questions

BS: How do you manage stress?

JHM: I have an acoustic mix on Spotify that I listen to. When facing a stressful situation, I put my headphones on, take a step back before addressing the situation at hand.

BS: How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?

JHM: I do a double shot of espresso and that’s it!

BS: What do you like to do in your free time?

JHM: Spend time with my two boys. As you can imagine they have very busy schedules with school, sports, and friends; so if we have any free time I just like to snuggle and watch a movie or take a walk around the pond.

Jennifer Mahoney, SmartBear
Jennifer and her family on vacation in Disney World.

BS: Where is your favorite spot in Boston?

JHM: Anything Back Bay, sign me up! From the architecture to the local coffee shops, even just a stroll by the river is enjoyable.

BS: If you had to choose one thing, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

JHM: My greatest accomplishment is being a mom! I am lucky to have two amazing boys and a supportive husband who enables me to balance it all.

BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?

JHM: Surprisingly, yes. Ten years ago I was well into my career in Customer Success and had the vision of running the team.

BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?

JHM: Stay focused, keep an open mind and take all opportunities that come your way.

Brianne Shelley is a Contributor to VentureFizz and an Account Representative at BlueGrace Logistics. Follow Brianne on Twitter: @MuddleandMix.

Images courtesy of SmartBear.

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6+ million software professionals and 20,000+ companies in 194 countries use SmartBear products to build and deliver the world’s greatest applications.

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