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

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Lead(H)er: Jackie Swansburg Paulino, Chief Product Officer at Pixability banner image

Lead(H)er: Jackie Swansburg Paulino, Chief Product Officer at Pixability

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Jackie Swansburg Paulino graduated from the University of Richmond with a degree in communications and a desire to start her own company and work for herself. Her father, himself an entrepreneur, had passed down a sense of self-determination that drove Paulino to work for him in her first years out of college, during which she had the opportunity to open a yoga studio, help manage one of his golf courses, and partner with him to flip houses to earn her living through the first few years of her career. 

Soon, Paulino realized that she enjoyed the marketing and advertising aspects of each of these businesses the most. She took what she had learned about management and customer service through each of her ventures, combined those with her emerging interest in advertising, and landed a job at Neal Advertising, both small firms where she managed a team that ran Google Adwords campaigns for clients. 

“I was thinking of all these ideas to improve how the searches were working, but it's hard to move mountains and change anything that Google's doing,” Paulino said. “I decided I wanted to work for a small software startup where I could work in advertising but still have my finger on the pulse of what's going on and help build the product I’m advertising.” 

Pixability proved to be a perfect match. When Paulino started at the video advertising platform as a senior data analyst about six years ago, she was one of a handful of employees working in a single, small room. While the company has grown considerably since then, with Paulino now holding the title of Chief Product Officer. 

Despite the company’s size, Paulino still feels the same entrepreneurial spirit in the company that drew her to it in the first place. 

“I like that roll-up-your-sleeves, everybody-does-everything vibe,” Paulino said. “I still have that sense of entrepreneurship at Pixability, but I get to do it in a less-scary way, at a company that’s been around for 10 years and has solid footing.” 

In her current role, Paulino is responsible for four teams: account management, advertising operations, insights, and sales strategy. Each is responsible for connecting with customers in its own way, from boosting retention rates to reaching them through the purchase of social media ads. It’s that customer connection that helps Paulino keep each team organized and stocked with the resources they need to be successful.

“Everyone’s focused around our customers,” she said. “We’re a pretty small, agile company, so we’re able to bend over backward for our customers.”

One of the ways Pixability does that is by creating custom solutions for larger clients, then using those programs repeatable for smaller customers. Paulino encourages the same repetition in her team and works to automate as many of their recurring tasks as possible, leaving more time for innovation.

Thanks to their efficiency, Paulino isn’t necessarily looking to increase the size of those teams at the same rate as Pixability’s revenue growth. The company plans to develop a new self-serve product that allows for more customers to use the product with less hands-on support. Pixability also intends to add connected TV buying on top of its YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram buying. 

Paulino is enthusiastic about the prospect of helping the company become a SaaS business.

“We’re in the right place,” she said. “We’re at this great acceleration spot for the company.”

Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I like to read business books and books about other tech entrepreneurs. I also like to hang out with my dog, who just turned 13, watch sports, and play golf.

What are your strategies for managing stress?

I just downloaded the Calm app, so I’m trying to get into meditation. Working out and listening to audiobooks on Audible also help.

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

Two, and I need them both desperately!

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

I’m from the North Shore, so West Beach in Beverly is my favorite spot. In Boston proper, Night Shift Brewery is a new hotspot for our office.

What do you consider one of your proudest accomplishments?

Building a team that has a high retention rate of customers, and whose members stick around at Pixability. Building a team that likes to work here and is proud of the work we do makes me really proud.

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

It’s much more stable. I never thought I’d work for anyone else, but I’m happy to be in a good place at a growing company. In my 20s, I sometimes envied those cool startups where other people were working, so I think it’s cool to actually be a part of one of them now.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

My advice would be to start small. It’s great to work for a big company, and that’s definitely the right move for some people. But if you work at a small company like Pixability, you get to do a lot of different things. We give our younger employees a lot of responsibility. When you’re working at a small company or startup, you get to try out things you otherwise wouldn’t get to because you don’t have one job. You have a hundred different jobs, and you might like only 50 of them, but you’ll get an idea of what you’re looking for in your next role through those. I wouldn’t try to focus on one thing or get caught up with job titles right out of college. If you can work for a cool company, you should do it. Take a risk, because this is the time in your career when you can do that. Learning what you don’t like is just as important as learning what you do, so try different things and try them early.

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

About the

Pixability is the only technology and data solution provider that enables brands and agencies to ensure brand suitability, optimal campaign performance and gain unique insights video advertising on YouTube, YouTube on TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. 

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Lead(H)er: Kelly Esten, Senior Director of Product and Partner Marketing at Toast banner image

Lead(H)er: Kelly Esten, Senior Director of Product and Partner Marketing at Toast

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Every day that Kelly Esten was a municipal bond sales intern at UBS, a colleague would call her at 7:30 in the morning and ask her to pitch him a bond. He’d give his feedback on her selection and pitch, and soon, her job became more than just putting people on hold when they called to speak with a representative. It became the first major step in her career. 

Esten eventually received a full-time job at UBS’s New York and later Zurich office, traveling throughout Europe for the next three years first in the strategy and business development department, and later as chief of staff for the London branch’s head of investment products in Europe. 

“As it turns out, what they called strategy and business development I now know as product marketing,” said Esten, now the Senior Director of Product and Partner Marketing at Toast. 

At UBS, Esten developed her skills in competitive intelligence, pricing, new product launches, and other product marketing responsibilities in addition to budgeting, team management, and cross-functional collaboration. While the job was an incredible way to spend her 20s, Esten ultimately decided to come back to the States for business school. 

Esten graduated from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and, after a successful internship with EnerNOC, joined the company full-time as its first product marketing hire. She helped commercialize a software program leveraging the data from its Demand Response product from $10 million in revenue to nearly $100 million in revenue, eventually progressing to the role of Director of Enterprise Software Sales. 

EnerNOC was eventually sold, and Esten sought out a smaller, founder-led company ready to scale. She found Toast and began in her current role there in August 2017. 

“I felt like I could have an impact within an organization of this size,” Esten said. “My last two companies have been founder-led, and I think working with the founders and executive team at this level is something really special. Everyone knows everyone’s names and what they’re working on.” 

For her part, Esten is working on the management of three key Toast teams. The first, core product marketing, is responsible for messaging, segmentation, sales enablement, and product launches. The market insights team focuses on market research, competitive intelligence, and pricing and packaging, while the partner marketing team is responsible for bringing new partners to Toast’s platform and co-marketing. The company currently has more than 70 integration and go-to-market partners, with which it brings joint solutions to restaurants. 

“Product marketing is unique in that it sits in the middle of a lot of things,” Esten said. “Done well, it connects the dots between different departments and makes sure that all of the pieces line up to make a new product launch or segment strategy successful.” 

Esten’s department has helped launch several products lately as Toast expands from a point-of-sale system to a comprehensive restaurant management platform. After interviewing customers about their unique pain points and finding that payroll, retention, and training were major areas of concern, the company purchased StratEx in July to incorporate payroll into its offerings. 

The acquisition is one of the first of many steps Toast is taking to diversify its product offerings in an effort to better serve its restaurant clients and provide them with tech-based solutions to their challenges.

“Serving a neighborhood coffee shop is really different than serving a full-service restaurant that also offers catering,” Esten said. “From a product marketing perspective, that means we continue to get to launch new products that serve specific segments. Toast has aspirations to continue providing that level of service.” 

Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I spend most of my time with my family. My husband leads a tech company in Boston, and we have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old puppy, so they keep me busy in my free time. We’ve made great friendships in the Boston area with a lot of other dual-career families with young kids, so we enjoy spending time with them, too. It’s reinvigorating to see other people going through what you’re going through. 

What are your strategies for managing stress? 

A lot of it is about having some perspective, having interests outside of work, and tackling the hard things first. When stress builds up, it’s usually when I’m putting off something that I’m either dreading doing or something that’s been hanging over me, so doing those things first is a real stress buster for me. It’s also important to make time for the things that lead to feeling less stressed. Finding balance over a week or a month instead of fitting everything into a day helps. Some days are all work and some are all play, and you need to balance it out. 

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

At least three. I love coffee, so it’s definitely necessary. 

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

One of the really fun parts of being at Toast is getting involved in the restaurant community in Boston. Since joining, I’ve gotten a bigger appreciation for the restaurant community, and working here makes you feel like you’re a part of it. Some of my favorite restaurants are Bar Mezzana in the South End, Eventide in the Fenway, and Puritan in Cambridge -- that one is actually co-owned by a Toaster. Restaurants are our favorite spots to spend time in Boston now. 

How does where you are today compare to where you saw yourself 10 years ago? 

I definitely couldn’t have named this as what I would be doing 10 years ago. I didn’t know that product marketing existed then, but I had decided that I was going to go to business school to get out of financial services and get back to the U.S. I think the spirit of what I was trying to do is here at Toast, because working for a company with a product I’m passionate about and finding an industry that I really loved were part of my goals at the time. 

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

What I get the most fulfillment out of is building a team. I had the opportunity to build product marketing teams from early stages to full-fledged teams a few times now, which I feel really fortunate about. Hiring the right people and giving them the tools and context to do great jobs, launch new products, and empower sales teams has been amazing. 

What’s your advice for recent college graduates? 

One of the things that served me really well early on at UBS was saying yes to a lot of new opportunities, like moving countries multiple times and trying out jobs that weren’t why I initially joined banking. I wasn’t in sales or investment banking or wealth management in the end, and I think that’s because I said yes to exciting opportunities that were put in front of me. 

Something that we tell newer employees on our team is to work hard, try to have a measurable impact on the business, bring some data to what you’re doing, and have a great attitude. Having a great attitude makes such a big difference, and the rest all follows. 

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

About the

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

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Lead(H)er: Ella Alkalay Schreiber, Vice President of Data Science at Hopper banner image

Lead(H)er: Ella Alkalay Schreiber, Vice President of Data Science at Hopper

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When you’re looking for the best prices on flights and hotels for your next vacation, you might want to check out an app like Hopper. The company collects 750 billion prices each month, which now include flights and hotels, to analyze and predict prices so that you get a great deal on your trip. 

Hopper’s machine learning algorithms can answer anything from “When should I book my flight?” to “Where should I go on my next trip?” 

Mastering all of that personalized data-driven advice is Ella Alkalay Schreiber, Hopper’s Vice President of Data Science. 

“What was once done by a human travel agent is now done through a machine that gets smarter each time an action is or is not taken,” Schreiber said. 

To become the leading source on travel data and advice, Schreiber and her team have collected and analyzed trillions of price points. Hopper has distinguished itself in the travel industry with its unique data-driven conversational commerce, and the data science team is constantly working on building a richer and more dynamic dialogue with their customers. This conversation and user intent data is key to the company’s ability to implement algorithms and provide users personalized recommendations. 

For example, earlier this year Hopper began testing a new recommendation algorithm which models meaningful insights into how much users are willing to pay extra over the lowest price for different flight qualitative variables like stops, cabin class, departure time, carrier etc. Every conversion strengthens the algorithm, thereby making future flight recommendations even more relevant for the specific customer, removing friction and empowering the customer consideration set.

Additionally, Schreiber and her team utilize the data to collaborate with the public relations team to serve as a trusted source for journalists when they’re working on travel stories. Her team also collaborates with airline and hotel partners to help them explore new strategies and opportunities based on Hopper’s unique set of demand and pricing data. In this way, Hopper’s data science team is delivering lasting impact for both business partners like airlines and hotels as well as travelers planning their next trip. 

Schreiber first entered the field of data science in Israel, at Outbrain, the world's leading performance-driven discovery and native advertising platform. She was a data scientist in the recommendations group, where they served personalized content recommendations to over 500 million unique users. Her transition to Hopper from there was an organic one, as Outbrain’s recommender systems are similar to the algorithms Hopper serves. At any given moment, there are thousands of potential recommendations Hopper could be offering a single user. The key to success is reaching the right user with perfect flight recommendation at the right time. 

“As a data scientist, it’s important for me to work in companies where the value proposition is the data,” Schreiber said. “I wanted a company that didn’t compromise, and strives to be the best in that field.” 

When she began at Hopper as a data scientist in 2016, the team consisted of three people. Now, Schreiber manages a team of 20 within the 300-person company.

Hopper team

Schreiber is committed to ensuring that her team retains its communication, processes, and impact as it and Hopper continue to grow. They’re currently working on implementing new machine learning frameworks to help support both the flights and hotels side of the business. With these advancements, Hopper can extend and improve its conversation in the company’s signature user-centric and data-driven style. 

“Hopper is always evolving,” Schreiber said. “The opportunities and challenges are huge, and the more we grow, understand the industry, and collaborate with users and airlines, the more interesting our environment becomes.” 

Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice) 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I love going diving -- that’s usually my preferred type of vacation. I scuba dive all over the world. I studied 10 years ago on an island in Honduras, and since then I’ve spent almost every vacation in a diving site.

How do you manage stress? 

I focus on causality and action items. I think understanding the root cause of the stress and talking to my team helps me deal with it. Taking time off is good, too! It’s important to have an escape. 

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

Too many! I think four cups a day now. We have a really good coffee machine here. 

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

I love the Esplanade. There’s a good beer garden along there to have a drink, watch the water, and relax. It’s also dog-friendly, which is perfect. 

Hopper Lead(H)erWhat do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments? 

Establishing this team at Hopper and building it from a small startup to where it is now has been my proudest so far. Finding amazing people in this space has taught me so much. We’re looking for people who are inherently curious and are exceptional problem solvers. Everyone on our team is very independent, so we’re looking for people who are self-sufficient and ready to take on and own challenges. We spend a lot of time collaborating with other teams. In addition to having the right technical skills, members of the data science team must have strong product intuition, business judgment, and the ability to articulate their findings to non-technical people. 

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

I didn’t know I’d move to Boston and lead a team like this! Every day at Hopper is a fascinating day -- there are so many ideas, projects, challenges, and new hires. Every day I feel fortunate that this is my job. 

What’s your advice for recent college graduates? 

Make sure you work in your passion. Work in something that you think about all the time. When I’m hiring, I’m always looking for people that have passion, curiosity, problem-solving skills, and good communication. If you have all that, you’re unstoppable. 

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

About the

Hopper is the award-winning mobile app that doesn't just let you book flights and hotels from your phone - it also tells you when is the best time to buy. No spam. No ads. No popups. No time wasted. Just the confidence that you're booking smart and saving money.

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Lead(H)er: Courtney Cunnane, Vice President of Demand Generation at SmartBear banner image

Lead(H)er: Courtney Cunnane, Vice President of Demand Generation at SmartBear

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Courtney Cunnane may have fallen into demand generation by accident, but staying in the field for the past eight years of her career was anything but. Cunnane began in B2B marketing for technology companies like Exchange Solutions and Allurent, then began to stretch her role for nearly 10 years at Experian. 

While Cunnane was a marketing programs director for Experian’s data quality software division, she focused heavily on using marketing as a driver of growth, particularly through generating leads. Without intending to make it her specialty, Cunnane was becoming an expert in demand generation. 

“The longer I did it, the more I really liked that area of marketing,” said Cunnane, now the Vice President of Demand Generation at SmartBear. “I love figuring out who is our target audience and why they need our product. What problems do they have? How can we help?” 

Cunnane had previously spent a few years at each of her employers, so remaining at Experian for almost a decade came as a surprise. When she was ready to embark on the next phase of her career, she knew she wanted to continue in demand generation and work at a company that still had plenty of room to grow. She found the perfect role at SmartBear, where she leads a team of 20, including six current open roles. 

The demand generation team pursues the same questions Cunnane did at Experian: Who needs what we have, and how can we make sure they know we have it? They work to increase awareness of SmartBear’s software testing, developing, and monitoring tools using feedback from sales and marketing teams to determine how well strategies are working and how new potential customers can be reached each day. 

Rather than go back to the drawing board and create an entire demand generation department, Cunnane counted herself lucky that SmartBear had a massive level of engagement with its target market when she joined five months ago. The awareness was there, and it became Cunnane’s job to go through leads with a fine-tooth comb to find the highest quality picks and generate more. 

“There’s enough to build on that you’re not completely starting from scratch, but there’s a lot of work to do in terms of developing the processes and strategies that will help us get from where we are today to be the massive organization we want to be,” Cunnane said. 

Cunnane is supporting this growth by helping implement systems that will allow SmartBear to replicate processes on a larger scale as efficiently as possible. She’s also structuring her team differently, giving each person a more specific role and hiring for brand new positions when necessary. This level of detail helps create a high-performing, motivated, and engaged team in which each member can take ownership of clear goals. 

“I want to be in a position where I feel really proud of having built a team that understands how each person contributes to the overall results and feels really good about the impact we have on the business,” Cunnane said. 

Quick (Q)uestions and A(dvice) 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

I have two little guys at home, a four-year-old and a one-year-old, in addition to a pretty busy job here. I don’t get free time as often as I used to, but I do like being outside, so I’m usually at the beach with my boys, letting them run around. 

How do you manage stress? 

For me, it’s mostly about maintaining perspective. It definitely helps to remember what really is important at the end of the day in terms of both how you’re thinking of your own accomplishments and also in terms of the company and the results that we’re looking for. I try to take a step back and remind myself that we can’t necessarily make everything perfect all at once, and we really need to have perspective about what we need to do and when we can do it. It’s about balancing, having strong expectations of myself and my team but also giving us all a break if things don’t go as planned. 

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

Only one, but a pretty strong one -- I usually have a double cappuccino first thing in the morning. 

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

Castle Island is one of my favorites. I spent seven years living in South Boston, and for me, Castle Island is always an awesome spot. You can walk half a mile from where you are in the city and be surrounded by water. I like being out there in the evenings or on the weekend when there are lots of people out and about. It’s pretty easy to get to and very unique in the city. 

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments so far? 

I’m really proud of the fact that over my career, I've been able to stretch in a bunch of different directions and have had different responsibilities across different areas of marketing and product lines. I've even moved across different businesses and of course, have recently shifted into an entirely new space. I’ve spent a lot of time building up my marketing expertise and consider myself a marketing expert and can bring that over to other businesses and product lines, so that feels really good at this point. 

I’m also proud of having helped people on my team develop their own careers in the direction they want. I’ve been able to help people identify where they want to get to, develop the plans that will get them there, and then be able to see them achieve those goals. 

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

I think 10 years ago, I would have said marketing is the area of the business that I like being in, so that feels pretty consistent. I think it’s different in terms of how I'm just starting something new. Earlier on in my career, I had been at a couple of different companies for two to three years and would not have predicted that I would have stayed at my last company for almost 10 years. Now I'm starting in a totally new space with a new company and building from there. I also didn’t expect to be doing this much advocating for my team and telling the story of what we do, because I'm someone who hated public speaking and getting up in front of crowds. Now I do that a lot, and it’s something I really enjoy because I feel strongly about the value of the work that the team does. That's something I don't think I would have predicted.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates? 

Try lots of different things, but spend time identifying the things that you like. I don't think that you have to have a path defined or need to be moving in any specific direction, but I think it's really important to take the time to consider, as you’re in a role, what feels good and what satisfies your professional goals. For me, I always liked when I got to focus on storytelling and getting a message out to an audience, especially when it was connected to marketing or sales. It’s important to give yourself a break and not expect that you have everything figured out all at once, but start to develop the list of things that are important to you both in a current role and then in the career path that you eventually decide on. 

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

Images courtesy of Courtney Cunnane

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Smartbear's tools are built to streamline your DevOps processes while seamlessly working with the products you use – and will use

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Lead(H)er: Meeta Mathur, Vice President, Experience Design at MineralTree banner image

Lead(H)er: Meeta Mathur, Vice President, Experience Design at MineralTree

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Meeta Mathur began her design career more than 20 years ago in print and television advertising, where she put her degree in graphic design to good use. When the Internet arrived, her career took the first of several turns that eventually led her to a career in management and UX design leadership.

“It’s been a constant series of evolutions over the course of two decades from web design to information architecture to user experience design, to now managing the entire process,” said Mathur, who is now the Vice President of Experience Design at MineralTree, where she manages a suite of AP and accounts payable automation software.

As the Internet gained traction, Mathur moved into web design for PC Connection, which led to roles in information architecture as both a full-time employee at BigBad, Inc. and a consultant for various other companies, including H&R Block, Sapient, and Keurig.

The final turn in Mathur’s career came when she became a senior user experience designer at WSI Corporation, which provides weather-driven business solutions to media, aviation, and energy trading companies. There, Mathur designed new storm tracking features for the company’s proprietary software, which helped TV broadcasters track live weather data on geographical maps.

A little over a year later, Mathur became the associate UX director at Roundarch Isobar, where she worked for nearly two years before joining MineralTree in April 2013 to oversee the entire user experience and visual design process.

After working at larger companies, Mathur has welcomed the opportunity to connect with her coworkers on a personal level and build a strong rapport with them. She knows the motivations, goals, and preferences of many of her colleagues, making it easier to understand their perspective when they give feedback or present during a meeting, and giving their work as a team greater meaning.

Mathur has also been an active mentor over the last few years of her career with at least half a dozen mentorship roles at organizations within the Boston area, including Ladies Who UX Boston and #Mentor100kWomen. As she progressed through her own career, Mathur considers herself lucky to have found a few people willing to advise her along the way. But she wishes that she had encountered more mentors who actively volunteered their expertise, instead of finding them through happy accidents.

“I’m sure that if I felt this way, there were many more people who felt similarly,” Mathur said. “I’ve been there, I’ve lived through that, and I know what it’s like when you wish you had somebody whom you could turn to for advice at times, so I want to meaningfully give back and influence the careers of others like me.”

While mentorship remains a focal point of Mathur’s career going forward, she’s also interested in ensuring that MineralTree’s user experience and design team scales in line with the company’s growth. To this end, Mathur is planning to create more specialized roles and functions within the team to help it have an even greater impact on the company’s product design. Ideally having people on board that she describes as “T-shaped” – having deep knowledge in one aspect of design and having breadth of experience in a couple of adjacent areas.

“We want to make sure that the behavior of the application itself is based on our customers' motivations and pain points,” Mathur said. “Our design is based on the user’s mental model, which is what ultimately makes it easy to use and intuitive, and we want to make sure we can keep iterating that experience based on user feedback.”

Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy spending time with my family and children. We go for walks, ride bikes and visit the neighborhood farm stand for  ice cream. I also enjoy doing a little bit of painting and traveling. I recently started a painting based on my recent travels to Spain.

What are your strategies for managing stress?

The usual – watching a little bit of TV, consuming some online content, and other mindless stuff to relax.

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

I’m actually not a coffee drinker, but I have about two to three cups of tea. I only have coffee once in a blue moon.

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

I absolutely love the city of Boston. It has so much to offer, especially in good weather. There are so many fun neighborhoods to walk around. In Concord, I love going to the Great Meadows wetlands because you get to see  migratory birds and other wildlife. I also love going to the Cape in the summer.

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

I definitely think it’s the redesign of MineralTree that we did in 2013. The product has now been in use for six years, and it’s often cited for its ease of use. We’ve grown the company significantly during that time from Series A funding to a $50 million Series C round, and from having about 20 or 30 customers to several thousand customers. The team is rapidly growing and closing in on a 100 employees, and we are still actively hiring for several positions. I would say this is definitely one of my proudest accomplishments.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

My career has evolved much. Twenty years back, there was no Internet, and even if you go back about 15 years, we weren’t really using smartphones. So much has changed in terms of technology and what is now considered ease of use. There’s been a lot of rapid-learning that has to be constantly re-learned to make sure you’re calibrated with changing times all the time. User mindsets are constantly changing with evolving technology and it’s important to stay ahead with this constantly evolving landscape. That’s just part of this career. Even toddlers today know that everything can be swiped! Those people are one day going to grow up, and what I’m doing today is going to evolve again because what they expect out of their product is going to be vastly different than what this generation expects. 

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

Hard work never fails. Work hard and work smart. Try to learn and acquire new knowledge whenever you can – there’s a lot out there, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I don’t know if I’d be able to keep up if I started my career now. I was lucky to start my career when I did and grow it along with all of this tech. So you need to be able to put in the work to make it in this field. And make sure you get your own “personal board” of mentors, because you’re going to need them.

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

About the

MineralTree provides modern, secure, easy-to-use Accounts Payable (AP) and payment automation solutions to organizations that have a painful number of invoices and payments.

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Lead(H)er: Heather Hartford, Chief People Officer at Acquia banner image

Lead(H)er: Heather Hartford, Chief People Officer at Acquia

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A Human Resources department may seem like a foundational element of any company. But for some start-ups in the tech space, the talent and human resources teams may be not built out until the company has reached a certain size. Companies like this often find themselves lacking a people-first mentality, which can make it difficult to create a strong culture that drives employee engagement, retention, and performance.

How do you fix such a problem? You call Heather Hartford.

“You can work anywhere, but more importantly, what are the compelling factors that differentiate where you work compared to any other company in the marketplace?” asked Hartford, the Chief People Officer at Acquia.

Over the course of her career, Hartford has worked to make sure employees are able to answer that question with confidence and excitement.

Hartford began her career in marketing at Gardner Preston Moss and Hill Holiday before moving into a Director of Advertising role for Marshalls at TJX, and her transition into human resources and talent organizations happened when she was tapped for an unexpected opportunity. 

Hartford had been at Digitas LBi for a few years when the CEO decided to take a new approach to people management at the company and brought on a new Chief People Officer to help. The CPO promptly asked Hartford to make the switch from marketing to recruiting. If she could sell Digitas to clients, she reasoned, she could sell it to potential employees.

Hartford was uncertain about the new role but went ahead and accepted it on a trial basis, with the understanding that she could return to marketing in a year if necessary. She never did. Instead, Hartford eventually became the General Manager of Digitas’ Boston office and then its Head of Global Talent Operations. In her last role, Hartford traveled extensively to help expand Digitas’ global footprint through acquisitions of several small agencies around the world.

That role helped remind Hartford of how much she enjoyed working with smaller companies and building teams, and she eventually left Digitas to consider her next move. After a short break, she joined Rue La La.

“It was a team of smart people who were disrupting an industry, so I loved it,” Hartford said.

Rue La La also presented an opportunity to enter the startup space with the benefit of a developed infrastructure. As Rue’s Chief People Officer, Hartford infused her people operations strategy and vision at the company while learning more about what it meant to work at a startup.

“The notion of ‘failing fast’ was a pivot for me,” she said. “At an agency, it’s all about transforming great ideas into programs with flawless execution to deliver results to your clients. There is no ‘fail fast’ on a client’s dime.”

But the freedom to take bigger risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and come back stronger appealed to Hartford, so when it came time to move on from Rue La La, she was drawn to the opportunity to build a new people strategy at Acquia.

“I joined Acquia because they had a lot of the right ingredients when it came to people, but they weren’t sure of how to activate them,” Hartford said. “I believed the company would grow and flourish for a long time after it developed some stronger strategy and vision.”

Hartford helped solidify that vision by rebuilding the talent team’s internal brand and building trust and partnership within the organization. Since then, she’s cultivated a company culture that values employees and gives them more than a paycheck in exchange for their work by encouraging managers to give the people on their team opportunities to grow that help them create careers, not just fill jobs. 

“We believe in the player-coach model, which includes transparency and mutual accountability,” Hartford said. “We’re not armchair managers. We get involved.” She went on to say, ”Our app managers are coaches. This means guiding rather than telling."

Hartford herself is involved in every aspect of Acquia’s people management, from developing a strategy and hiring to traveling around the world to meet with teams and better understand their needs.

When Acquia recently acquired a company (Mautic), Hartford ensured that new employees felt they were part of something bigger, integrated, inspired, and connected. 

“People are our lifeblood,” Hartford said. “They’re not just billable hours – they are our talented team members who are making a difference. In order to create a world-class customer experience, you must first invest in your most important customers -- your people”

Quick Q(uestions) and A(nswers)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love going to the beach and spending time there with family. We have a house in Maine, so we go there often.

How do you manage stress?

I always try to make time for myself. That’s a big one for me. I started doing pilates over the winter, and it really helps with my headspace.

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

I have two cups of coffee in the morning. It’s a nice ritual to get started.

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

I love the Common, and I like walking through it to get to the Public Gardens. My son goes to Northeastern, and at first, I wondered why he wasn’t going away to see someplace else. But it’s been really fun to discover the city through him. I commute in from Andover, so I always saw Boston as a place to work, not play. It’s nice to walk through the Gardens every day now as a way to clear my head.

Heather Hartford

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments?

I’m really proud of how we’ve pivoted the mindset at Acquia to think of people first. I truly value the opportunity to create transformation, and I’m proud of our evolution, commitment to world-class experiences, and the people-centric culture we’ve built together.

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

I didn’t think I would be in tech. I loved the agency world, and I knew I could always go back if I wanted to. The industry has a long way to go in regard to people, but it’s changing, and it’s exciting to be a part of that change.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

Take it in bite-size. I always tell my son to be curious, work hard, and don’t worry about the future. Nothing is guaranteed to come in five-year increments. My own career path has not taken me where I thought I’d be, or within the time frame that I thought I’d get there. Worry less about getting from point A to point B and follow your passion, because the rest will follow.

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

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Whether you are a dreamer, doer, maker or builder, we make it possible for every Acquian to thrive and make a lasting impact.

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Lead(H)er: Maria Paula Saba, VP of Design at ALICE banner image

Lead(H)er: Maria Paula Saba, VP of Design at ALICE

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Maria Paula Saba went to a traditional design school in Rio de Janeiro, where her classes focused on teaching subjects like book cover and furniture design. Then, a one-off project done in collaboration with a computer science class changed her life. 

She and her classmates designed a multi-touch interface, which is commonly found on iPhones and similar devices today but was new technology at the time. 

“That’s what sparked my interest,” Saba said. “I knew I wanted to work with technology, but that was very hard to do back in Brazil.” 

Saba hadn’t realized how much she wanted a career in tech until she moved to the United States for that career in 2011. She entered a training program at Siemens, but the experience left much to be desired. 

“I would design things, and the developers would tell me what I had designed wasn’t possible to make,” Saba said. “But then when I asked them why, they’d usually tell me they weren’t going to explain anything because I wouldn’t understand.” 

When Saba was offered to apply for a full-time position at Siemens after her training program ended, she didn’t do it. Instead, she went to NYU to pursue a master’s degree in the university’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, which welcomed creatives and engineers alike. There, Saba learned how to connect design, coding and other technologies. She wanted to make sure no one would ever dismiss her with the phrase “you wouldn’t understand” again. 

Maria Paula SabaAs part of her thesis project, Saba created a programmable bracelet that she hoped would help get girls more interested in coding. The thesis eventually became a company, called Jewelbots, which sold thousands of units. While she found the work fulfilling, Saba began to miss having a more consistent income. 

She mentioned this to Dmitry Koltunov, Director of the Startup Leadership Program that she was attending and co-founder of ALICE. The company’s software functions as an operations platform for internal communication and task management for hotel front offices, concierges, housekeeping staff, and maintenance teams, while guests can send text messages or use an app or to access information and services. At the time Saba and Koltunov spoke, ALICE was hiring for its design team, and he offered her a role as a design lead. 

Saba soon became ALICE’s Director of Design, and is now its Vice President of Design. In this role, she’s responsible for running the product design team and ensuring that their work creates a cohesive user experience throughout the platform. 

“A lot of my job is talking to the users and validating the designs we put out before we even develop them to make sure we’re going down the right path before investing our resources,” Saba said. 

Saba knows that her skills in design, coding, and technology are equally valued at ALICE, a refreshing change from some of her other roles, and credits the attitude to the startup’s reflection of her own values. The fast pace of startup life itself is also a welcome change. 

“In a corporate environment where things are already established, it takes so much energy to change anything,” Saba said. “In a startup, you’re creating the environment that you want to work in.” 

During the rest of her time at ALICE, Saba is focused on making an impact in as many ways as possible. She’s built a strong, talented team—including some remote members working from Brazil—and hopes to keep them as engaged and interested in the work as possible. 

“After ALICE, I think it’s just about doing that again and again with different projects and problems,” she said. 

Quick Q and A 

What do you like to do in your free time? 

I have a dog, and I love to spend time with her and teach her new tricks. She’s very well trained. I also do aerial silks, which is a kind of acrobatic dance. I started back in Brazil and then continued here. When I lived in New Jersey, there was no place to take classes, so sometimes I’d go to New York for it. Now I can practice once or twice a week. I also like to travel and want to go to as many places as possible. 

How do you handle stress? 

Silks is one way. I started that when I got a little bored with yoga, so exercise helps. Meditation and mindful meditation are also good. I use the Headspace app, which my sister introduced me to, and it’s been so helpful to have that guidance. 

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

I actually drink tea. In Brazil, the tea culture is not big, so when I got here I learned more about tea. I usually have one black tea in the morning, and I like the ones with some kind of flavor. I found a new berry flavored tea that I’m obsessed with. 

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

I live in Williamsburg, and there’s a new park by the waterfront that I love. It has a beautiful view of the city skyline and a dog park, so my dog also likes that. It’s built where the old sugar factory was and was designed by the same architects as the High Line, so it’s really beautiful.

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments so far? 

I’m very proud of Jewelbots. I never knew I could do something that would get that big. It started as a school project, and now it’s reached so many girls. I think people were happy with the product and with what they were able to do. 

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

Ten years ago, I wasn’t planning to move to the U.S. I was starting to become interested in technology, but I didn’t know I would go so far to pursue my career. I met my husband in Rio, and I had told him I was moving and he could join or not, but I was going for my career. I had no idea I would do something like that and be so determined to make a move of that magnitude. I was so attached to my friends and family. Now, 80 percent of my team is based in Brazil, so I created the opportunities that didn’t exist for me 10 years ago. I couldn’t work in technology in Rio then, but I have interns from the school that I went to that are able to have that experience from where they are. I’m quite proud of that. 

What’s your advice for recent college graduates? 

I think the biggest lesson that I learned in my master’s program is, don’t be afraid to learn new things. In my program, my professors told me that they weren’t going to teach us technology, because technology was going to change. In five years, everything is going to be different. They wanted to teach us how to learn. If you can learn how to learn, you have so many opportunities ahead of you. You’ll commit yourself to learning if you really want that new job. It’s can be really tough because not everyone is a self-learner, but we have Google. Someone else has had your question, so if you don’t know how to do something, Google it. Look for references on web forums. To be able to do that gives you independence. Things are always changing, and there’s no reason to stop learning just because you got a job.

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

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The leading hotel operations management platform that allows you to improve communication, task management, and guest satisfaction in one solution.

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18 of the Top Leaders in the New York Tech Scene - Lead(H)er Recap banner image

18 of the Top Leaders in the New York Tech Scene - Lead(H)er Recap

It’s a great time to be in the tech industry, particularly in New York, 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 NYC'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.

“What’s been really fun as the business gets bigger is that the challenges change for myself and my co-founders,” Choi said. “Today, it’s really thinking about the next phase of growth and how we keep the foot on the gas."

Laura Zax, Vice President of Marketing at Splice

“I was really passionate about change at scale,” Zax said. “I fundamentally saw two levers for change at that kind of change. One was government, and that wasn’t a route I was going to go at this stage in my career, and the other was the corporate world. I had to figure out how business works, because it shapes our lives unlike any other force.”

Xiaodi Zhang, Chief Product Officer at 1stdibs

“I wanted to be a sponge and to learn as much as possible from those around me,” Zhang said. “I’m a big believer in the idea that you need to spend 10,000 hours on something to become an expert.”

Devra Prywes, Chief Product Officer at Applicaster

“Having an app suddenly means that wherever you are in the world, geography is not a factor in terms of access to information, entertainment, or education,” she said. “I see the work we’re doing now being able to help break down these borders to help people connect with content and  form communities.”

Joanna Lin, Head of Marketing at Simon Data

“I love having the ability to understand everything about the organization and be a part of what the business is trying to accomplish every day,” Lin said. “Everyone is working so hard to get to the same place, because we know that we’re all building it together and have a part in it. At the end of the day, if we’re successful, it’s a group win.”

Lillie Green, Head of Product for Wix Experts at Wix

“Part of what I love about working in product management and in the tech space, in general, is that there’s always something new to learn,” Green said. “It’s always changing, and for me, that’s what really keeps me excited and drives me to really build the best products we can.”

Tu Nguyen, VP, Head of Finance and Analytics at 1stdibs

“I learned from experience that I get the most out of taking the biggest risk and exploring the unknown,” Nguyen said.

Lindsey Fielding, Vice President of Marketing and Growth at YieldStreet

“I really love building, and enjoy early-stage companies where there's not really much there,” Fielding said. “It's sort of a blank slate to really think through what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’re going to do it.”

Lindsey Andrews, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Minibar Delivery

“When you’re creating a startup, one day will be the best day ever, and then something bad will happen the next and take you to the lowest of the low,” Andrews said. “I feel like Lara and I are really happy to have each other. Having someone to be a sounding board, to rely on if you're having a bad day, and really having that partnership to do it together has made it easier to weather the storms.”

Jessie Lazarus - Head of Mobility Business Development at CARMERA

“I think working for great people who trust you and will have your back is important. Someone in college once told me to choose classes based on the professor, not on the syllabus, and I think that’s how I’ve approached jobs. Work for people who will let you step beyond your qualifications because they trust you and will give you the freedom to learn, grow, and even mess up. Bosses who have your back is key.

Dorothy Chang, Vice President/Head of Marketing & Communication at Paxos

“I think the hardest thing you can do is to develop a more long-term perspective on life and realize that your first job isn't the end-all, be-all. I think a lot of people spend a lot of time worried about what that first job means for them and whether they’re making the right choice or not. But you’re 22 years old, and there's no way to know the answer to any of those questions until you do it. You just have to dive in, and then as you continue to grow, you'll learn more about life, what is best for you, where your strengths are, and what your desires are. You can figure all of that out as you go, so don't stress. Just go for it and keep putting yourself in a position to learn and grow and have the kind of impact you want to have on the world.

Amy Jacobowitz, Head of Content at Getaway

“I think the benefit of working in the world of advertising is that it has some of the most creatively-minded people and smartest people who are really trying to tackle things strategically,” she said. “It got me into a different mindset.”

Marybeth Sheppard, Senior Vice President of Marketing at SevenRooms

“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.”

Jackie Trebilcock, Managing Director at New York Fashion Tech Lab

“There’s new things happening all the time, and we really don’t know what the next thing will be. That’s the exciting part.”

Marie Myers, CFO at UiPath

“I had this opportunity to create a big startup in less than 10 months, which was a pretty exciting experience, to say the least,” Myers said.

Neha Kumar, Director of Product Management at Oscar Health

“I’ve had amazing, strong, female leaders that supported me through each step of my career,” Kumar said. “They saw something in me and gave me opportunities, so now I’m doing the same.”

Dana Cordova

Shivani York, COO at InRhythm

“In business, so much is about empathy and relating to people,” Shivani said. “It took me a while to realize that. People want to not just be heard, but they want to feel like their ideas are valuable.”

Stephanie Manning, Director of Platform at Lerer Hippeau

“I really had to hustle for that first job, and I wish I knew how many applications I had to send because it would be a funny number to look at now,” she said.

Cara Reisman, Head of Betterment for Advisors

“I liked being able to collaborate across teams and translate big-picture ideas into execution in order to scale client-focused businesses,” Reisman said. “That’s how I came to Betterment.”

Laila Zemrani, Co-Founder and CEO of Fitnescity

“People want to take actions to learn more about their health,” Zemrani said. “We just needed to make it easier for them.”

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

Lead(H)er: Laura Scott, COO at Takeoff banner image

Lead(H)er: Laura Scott, COO at Takeoff

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If you’ve ever ventured into a Trader Joe’s grocery store on a Sunday evening to do your grocery shopping for the week and felt like the entire neighborhood had the exact same idea, you know all too well how stressful this necessary chore can become. Amazon’s Alexa can manage our homes, and we’re so close to self-driving cars, so when will the robots make grocery shopping easier? They already are, and if Laura Scott has anything to say about it, they’ll soon be helping shoppers all over the world.

Scott is the COO at Takeoff Technologies, a Waltham-based company that turns 10,000 square feet of existing grocery stores -- about an eighth of the location’s space -- into tiny warehouses staffed by automated fulfillment robots. Instead of having a person do your shopping for you or getting groceries sent over from a warehouse on the outskirts of town, which usually happens when you order groceries online, Takeoff’s bots pick up to four orders at a time from 15,000 SKUs right in the store and deliver them to a single employee through a series of racks and lifts. This employee can then bag the goods and send them off for delivery. Despite the tech involved, the whole operation costs grocers half as much as it does for consumers to shop for themselves.

Takeoff wasn’t operating any sites before Scott arrived in October 2018. Two months later, it had two -- the first of their kind in the entire world.

“Now we're going to be building that blueprint and refining it and perfecting it so that we can literally launch multiple sites a day in every corner of the globe,” Scott said.

It’s an ambitious goal, but Scott has the experience to help make it a reality. She’s been in management and operations throughout her entire career, beginning with the Woodstock Soapstone Company, which sold factory-direct woodstoves and gas stoves primarily through catalogs and later the web. Scott then earned her MBA from Dartmouth University and returned to Woodstock for another six years before joining Wayfair as the then-fledgling company’s Director of Supplier Operations.

At the time, Wayfair was struggling with fulfilling orders. The majority of orders weren’t delivered on time, and for about 10 percent of orders, Scott said, items customers had purchased weren’t actually in stock. Scott created a supplier team out of 25 former customer service representatives with the goal of helping suppliers ship smaller quantities of inventory on time and improving the customer experience. Once she and her team resolved that issue in the U.S., they turned their focus to the company’s European and Canadian operations. Shipping rates and backorder numbers improved dramatically, and while Scott was proud of her work, she missed the challenge of solving problems.

Scott took the summer off after leaving Wayfair and enjoyed the break, but when her kids went back to school, she realized how much she wanted to go back to work. After some searching for the right move, Scott landed at Takeoff.

“What I loved about Wayfair and now love about Takeoff is that we’re solving problems when there’s no blueprint,” Scott said. “You can’t call anybody or look this up online, because nobody knows how to do this. I don’t know how to do it either, but I know how to put the right people into the room to dig into problems and figure it out.”

Like she did at Wayfair, Scott is looking to create a recipe for success. This time, she and her team are working to figure out how to install Takeoff’s mini-warehouses as quickly as possible in grocery stores around the world.

“The level of rigor that you need to have behind that process of getting a site up and running and training retail clients is huge,” she said. “When you think about going from launching one or two sites here and there to launching multiple sites per day in different places, that’s impressive. I’m very excited.”

Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice)

What do you like to do in your free time?

I have two kids and a husband, and anything that gets us outside is ideal. We lived in Vermont and New Hampshire for a while, so even though I’ve been in Boston now for 10 years I miss walking in the woods, hiking, and being in nature. Having a dog is fantastic because it reminds us every day, if not every weekend, to get out and get to the water or mountains or something. Boston actually has a pretty decent array of walks in the woods, and all the towns have some sort of conservation land or area with trails.

How do you manage stress?

I think there are two things that help the most. One is getting outside. I bike to work, run, and swim. Even getting outside for just 15 minutes for a quick walk is a huge help. That always helps me get my head in the right place. When I have something that's really weighing on my mind, the best thing for me to do is actually talk about it with somebody else. Somehow the act of verbalizing what's going on and how I'm thinking about it and the options that I see works. Half the time the other person doesn't even have to say anything -- I just need to talk at someone for a minute!

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

I’m not a coffee drinker - I don’t really do caffeine. I tried to like coffee in high school when it was cool, but I thought it tasted so bad! So I never got into it.

What’s one of your favorite places in Boston?

My favorite place in the Boston area is Hull. It's a 25-minute ferry ride away from Boston, but you feel like you are in a completely different universe. It has an amazing beach, and it’s got big hills and cliffs into the water and a cute downtown shopping area. It feels like it moves at a different pace. Most people don't know about it, so it's sort of a Hidden Gem.

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments?

About six months into my tenure at Wayfair, we reached a moment where things were still not going great with the supply chain. We had a meeting about our strategy with suppliers, and a lot of the proposals that were on the table to solve these problems relied on implementing some sort of penalty, like chargebacks for late shipments. I had talked to enough suppliers at this point to know that they weren’t shipping late to be malicious -- they just didn’t know how to drop ship. Their entire business was about shipping full truckloads of furniture to places like Jordan’s, and we were asking them to ship one bedroom set to Joe and Jane Doe in Belmont. So I gave the team some examples about why I thought penalties were the wrong way to go and why we should partner with the suppliers and be the retailer who helps them figure out how to do this. So they gave me some more time to try that strategy, and it paid off. I get asked all the time about why Amazon isn’t crushing Wayfair in this space, and I think the answer is that the relationships that we built with those suppliers are incredibly strong.

How does where you are now compare to where you saw yourself ending up 10 years ago?

That would have been right before I joined Wayfair. I was the general manager of a small, family-owned manufacturer of wood stoves and gas stoves -- we’re talking a $7 million business. I had no idea that Wayfair was going to become what it did, so it's hard to say where I thought I’d be. I knew I wanted to be working in tech and eCommerce in some way, but I never expected anything like this!

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

I would say, don’t overthink it. A lot of people worry about taking the best, most strategic first job out of college, but they’ve got a long road ahead. Focus on whether you’re joining a company where you like the people, feel like you’re going to be challenged, and feel comfortable with whatever you’re selling or doing. When you find that place, dive in with both feet, and don’t hold back. I think a lot of people are used to professors giving you assignments and checking in on you, but when you go into the working world your boss probably isn’t very aware of what you’re doing or thinking about it often. New grads might expect the kind of management that they've gotten from their professors, where their professors have a lot more insight into how they're doing, and then they sit back and wait for their boss to recognize that they aren't being challenged anymore. They don't speak up, and I think that’s a problem. You have to tell people what you want to be doing and what you need.

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

About the

Takeoff is helping grocers thrive in eCommerce.

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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.

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