Biz2Beach 2011

I recently had the honor of participating in the inaugural Biz2Beach event held by Callfire, a kickass Silicon Beach cloud telephony company.  The event was dubbed as an “unconference”, and it made for a terrific experience.  In lieu of having a speaker or panel of speakers talk at an audience, discussion leaders sat at round tables with no more than 10 attendees.  There were 8 tables/topics and attendees were able to rotate to 4 tables.  It was more like a co-working, ideas-sharing day for all kinds of entrepreneurial folks.  The event ended with an amazing meal atop the Huntley Hotel at sunset.  Kudos to Kim Kohatsu and all the Callfire folks for pulling of such an unique and worthwhile day!

Below is an interview with yours truly, published by TalkTech Communications (thanks Rebekah Iliff), about my startup life and the importance of people to the success of any business.  Not gonna lie – I don’t mind being called a Startup Rockstar.

Robyn Ward has been consulting, advising, and working at early-stage Tech/Internet businesses in LA and NYC for over a decade. Most recently, she was VP Business Development at fast-growing LA startup, Docstoc. Currently she works for BetterWorks, where she is known as the “Startup Rockstar,” responsible for business development and sales.

At the upcoming Biz2Beach event hosted by CallFire, Robyn will speak about fostering a positive and productive work environment for employees, including the BetterWorks next-generation platform that makes it easy and affordable for SMBs to recognize, reward and motivate talent.

I sat down with Robyn to find out a little bit more about BetterWorks, but also learn what she believes is important for finding success in the startup and small business environment. Needless to say, I now understand where her nickname comes from….total, and utter…Rockstar.

RI: What is the background of BetterWorks, how did the idea get started, who are the key players, etc?

RW: BetterWorks was founded by Paige Craig, Zao Yang, and George Ishii, who combined their experience in consulting (investing in and advising) over 50 startups, and SMBs. Paige was a prolific Angel investor, Zao was one of the founders of Farmville, and George had extensive experience, from his early days of PayPal, of making simple UIs focused on user-friendliness. Pulling from these various experiences they identified the need for an easy, affordable solution for the “smaller guy” to recognize and reward employees. Now at over 30 employees, I can say that the “secret sauce” of BetterWorks is how we hire and engage talent. So we literally walk the talk. This is my 5th startup and I can honestly say we have the most cohesive team and culture, it’s truly remarkable.

RI: What is your role there? Give me your day to day?

RW: My main focus during the first 5 months was on the company’s launch stage – how do we best position and differentiate ourselves, marketing and sales, understanding what is resonating and fine tuning the pitch. I was also responsible for signing on alpha clients, relaying to product team what can be fixed, and what to add. I now spend the lion’s share of my time figuring out partnerships and alliances.

RI: What are some of the challenges you face as a startup and small biz?

RW: One of biggest challenges is hiring the right team and keeping the right team. Regardless of the recession, it’s still a hot market for startups and tech.  This is one of the things the BetterWorks Perks platform is built to address. It’s not about an idea, it’s about execution (human capital); managing growth plus hiring really good people that fit the culture. For many new startups, another challenge is knowing how to “get out there” and tell the right message so that the brand looks unified and “buttoned up.”

RI: What do you find inspiring?

RW: I come from a small biz background, so I know what we are doing is helping people, so I am inspired daily by BetterWorks and the stellar team. In general, the entrepreneurial environment is inspiring to me; I’m not an artist, a cook, or a fashion designer…but I know how to put together a company. Another thing is this whole shift towards “social innovation” and all of these inspiring platforms that are popping up built to create social change. I’m so excited to be a part of this shift and to be involved in the startup world here in LA…there is so much going on!

RI: On that note, what excites you about the LA tech scene?

RW: The thing I love about the LA tech scene is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are so many industries in LA. Obviously, Hollywood is a leading industry and the one that LA is most well known for, but there are so many others that are innovating left and right; automotive, green tech, energy, B2B platforms.

What I think is fun about the LA tech scene is the surfer-come-CEO…waltzing into his Venice office fresh from a jaunt in the ocean. Second to that is the CEO in dreadlocks. I mean, it’s just so cool and fun…people obviously embrace the “Silicon Beach” culture.

RI: Thoughts on females in tech?

RW: Well, I’m on the business side of tech and not a female technologist per se, but I think that encouraging more girls to explore science and math early on would be beneficial…and this is an issue that women and men together need to address.

In general, as far as women in business goes, I would like to see more constructive relationships built between women. We need to come together and work diligently to redefine our roles in business, but also support each other in what we are doing. It’s also important that we take the mentorship of young women seriously. This is an extremely important step, but we need to stop talking about it and do it.

RI: What are a few of the topics you’ll be covering at Biz2Beach?

RW: I’m going to focus on the importance of people – instead of talking about technology, my role is to talk about how to build and maintain teams and culture …recognizing and appreciating your folks. So, I will encourage attendees to answer questions like: What is our culture? How are we rewarding? How are we communicating to people that we value them? What are the little things we do in between and how do we let them know they are the most important thing and are the biggest assets?

RI: Ok I have to know; iPhone, Android or Blackberry? Hmm?

RW: I will NOT lose my personal Blackberry. BetterWorks paid for my iPhone, so I carry it, but hate it. I do love my iPad, though. I carry it with me for demos.

Follow Robyn on Twitter: @rmward
Follow BetterWorks on Twitter: @betterworks

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