Category Archives: Company Culture

The Female Quotient: Insights From Davos Through The March

January 23, 2017 Books, Business, Company Culture, Female Empowerment, Gender Equality, Women in Business

Last Sunday, on my flight to the World Economic Forum, I came across an article entitled, “Davos Makes Glacial Progress in Hike Towards Gender Balance”. Having since spent time on the ground in Davos, I am thrilled to report the glacier is thawing and I am confident that next year’s coverage will highlight progress being made.

To its credit, the WEF reached out to The Female Quotient in 2015 as part of its efforts to proactively change the gender ratio (less than 20% women) of its flagship event. In its second year, TFQ at Davos doubled in size and produced three full days of standing room only panel discussions. With participants including Sheryl Sandberg, Paul Polman and Cherie Blair covering topics ranging from “Why Diversity is a Business Imperative” to “Rebooting the Future” to “The Future of Work”, The TFQ Lounge was a “Can’t Miss” destination along the Promenade.

So much ground was covered in three days that a true recap could fill the pages of a Thomas Friedman book (btw, he was on a panel with us this year! #fangirl). Luckily for you, much of the content was taped and will be made available via TheFemaleQuotient.com. In the meantime, below are three topical highlights.

1) Inclusion and Equality in the Workplace – THE HOW:

The general consensus of all discussions was that we have been admiring the problem for the past few years, and now is the time to walk the talk. In the lounge, we heard from executives at some of the companies leading the way, including Salesforce (the gold standard), CA Technologies, Unilever, Facebook, Tradeshift, and more.

Devin Wenig, CEO of eBay, told us he made achieving pay parity part of eBay’s overall business agenda and implemented metrics and targets to measure progress, just as he does any core business agenda. This proved successful as eBay, one of the first public companies to publish pay data, recently announced that it achieved 100% pay parity.

To help move the conversation from lip service to impact, The Female Quotient, in partnership with Catalyst and Atlantic Media Strategies, announced the launch of “The Modern Guide to Equality.” The document, available online here, is a practical starting point for advancing equality in the workplace and is meant to become a living, breathing destination for thought and action-sharing.

2) Leadership in the Age of Millenials and the 4th Industrial Revolution

The definition of leadership, along with the traits that make for a good leader, is changing. As our world is rapidly being reshaped (demographic shifts, industry transformations, advances in technology, science, communication, etc.), we must reshape ourselves, our communities, our companies, and our countries in order to thrive and excel in this new paradigm. Gone are the days of the “carrot and stick” and “command and control” leadership tactics. Compassion, humility, collaboration, inclusion were the phrases most oft-repeated as traits required of leaders.

Indeed, whether they had read The Athena Doctrine or not, CEOs and leaders across Davos were touting the importance of feminine leadership traits. Luckily for us, the author John Gerzema is a friend of TFQ and joined us for a private dinner we threw for CA Technologies in our Lounge.

3) Getting Back to the Basics: The Golden Rule

Also known as the Law or Reciprocity or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” The Golden Rule has been a core tenet of cultures and religions since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, I think we can all agree that, in recent times, compassion and tolerance do not seem to be “ruling” our collective hearts or minds.

The good news: there is a call to action happening now – post 2016 and in response to Trump, Brexit, and increases in hate crimes, terror attacks, species extinction, etc. – that humanity band together to accept our differences and to live compassionately and sensitively toward ourselves and others. Put more simply, we’re bringing The Golden Rule back.

For more on this read our amazing panelists’ books:

“Imaginal Cells: Visions of Transformation”, curated by Kim Pollman and Stephen Vasconcellos-Sharpe.

“Thank You for Being Late” by Thomas Friedman.

As I type this I am back on a plane, heading home to LA. It has only been a week, but feels much longer. Not only has the most female-attended World Economic Forum passed, the largest Women’s March/Rally in history has taken place. Both have left me inspired, energized and with a renewed sense of hope and faith in humanity.

The March embodied so much of what was discussed in the TFQ Lounge at Davos. Certainly, it was organized by compassionate leaders across the world and reached epic participation rates (women AND men) because so many of us believe in standing up, and standing together, for inclusion and equality and compassion and love. One of the mantras of the Girls Lounge, which Shelley,  the CEO, repeats often is, “Alone we have power, together we have impact.” Never have those words rang so true.

For those asking what now? The answer is, “we keep at it.”  We stay united, engaged and activated every single day. Creating diversity and equality in the workplace will take time, as will realizing the changes we would like to see in our country and world. I will end by paraphrasing Thomas Friedman’s advice for making it through these challenging times: 1) Play the long game and avoid short-termism, 2) Wake up everyday and be a positive, active force in your immediate community, and 3) Live by The Golden Rule.

My New Year’s + Ideas for Being Your Best in 2017

January 2, 2017 Books, Company Culture, Self Work, Startups, Uncategorized

This New Year’s Eve I went to bed at 10:15. Yup, you read that correctly. I have never been asleep on December 31st before midnight…..at least not since I was a small child. And, if you know me, you know I heart ALL the things about celebrating the New Year – friends, wine, music, dancing, shouting, etc.  Well…. I love those things no matter the occasion. But this year, I purposely approached both the end and beginning of the year differently. I celebrated, just in a much different way.

On the last day of 2016 and the first day of 2017, I did a bunch of things that my 30-year old self would have scoffed at. These things, which included Tai Chi, a nature walk, meditation (which, thanks to Headspace I have been practicing consistently) and a drumming circle, culminated in my big New Year’s Eve plan – partaking in my first Sound Bath. Yup, I know I stunned many of you last August when I shared that I went to a Numerologist. And now I have been to a Sound Bath – on New Years Eve no less!

Why? 

My goal was to end 2016 and to begin 2017 with “presence.” When I shared my 30 Days of Self Work Challenge at the end of this past summer, I highlighted 5 things I was working on, with the first being “Dialing back my “doer” and nurturing my “be-er.” I also shared that meditation and spending quiet time in nature were two ways I was getting in-touch with my “be’er.” What better way to truly be present than to create time and space, in a peaceful outdoor space, to spend the final and first days of a year in peaceful reflection and mindful meditation.

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Truth be told, part of the reason I was able to “be” over the Holiday is that I had already laid out much of what I aim to “do” in 2017. So, as I floated in the hot springs bath staring up at palm trees and mountains, I was able to focus on breathing in the moment and manifesting my intentions.

Goal-setting

As a Type A personality (like many of you reading this), I am a born goal-setter who relishes the coming of the New Year as a time to assess performance to last year’s goals and create next year’s (whether company or personal).  I don’t really believe in or make resolutions, as they tend to be “loosey goosey” and fade quickly. I am, however, a huge believer in goal-setting. And as a business nerd, my personal goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound). This year I set up my goals around the “Pie” I made last August – where I prioritized the time I aim to allocate to most important areas of my life. I am not going to get into my goals here, only to say I have them and to suggest that goal-setting (short-term and long-term) is a very healthy and worthy exercise. I actually have written my goals, by category, on the first page of my journal (also a new practice) so that I review them nightly.

Intention Setting

This is the first year that I have actually written down my intentions alongside my goals.  If you don’t know the difference:

  1. Goals are focused on the future. Intentions are in the present moment.
  2. Goals are a destination or specific achievement.  Intentions are lived each day, independent of reaching the goal or destination.
  3. Goals are external achievements.  Intentions are your inner-relationships with yourself and others.

If you are like me, and tend to be constantly focused on future achievements, setting intentions is a great way to balance your “do-er” with your “be-er” and to make sure you are prioritizing fulfillment along with achievement (see Tony Robbins). My intentions are also written in my journal for nightly review.

5 Books to Read NOW!

Much of my goal, intention and activity-setting for 2017 was colored by the reading I did in the second half of 2016. I discuss some of the most impactful content in prior posts, but am adding 5 books suggestions here. Reading these will make for a meaningful and empowering start to the New Year and can definitely help you manifest your intentions and achieve your goals.

1) The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
2) The Internet to the Inner-Net by Gopi Kalliyil
3) The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (well-worth a re-read once a year IMHO)
4) Designing Your Life by Stanford Professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
5) Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

These books are chock-full of insights, suggestions and exercises for designing all aspects of your life. Shout out to Tim Ferriss for saving us all a bunch of time and effort by consolidating the thoughts and practices of myriad successful folks across the topic areas of Healthy, Wealthy and Wise.  (Note: 80+% of the Titans in Tim Ferriss’ book meditate)

I couldn’t possible share all the take-aways I plan to implement in the New Year, but I will share one that I just came up with on my “Presence New Year’s” trip. I am sharing it: 1) to hold myself accountable, and 2) because I think it will be a great way to check in with yourself – your work self, your friend self, your relationship self…..your whole self.

Something to do starting NOW

Journaling can be tough. What the hell do you write at the end of the day? Some days there’s lots, some days…. not so much. One element I am adding to my end of day journaling (if you have yet to commit to journaling, you will once you read Tools of Titans), is a nightly review of how I did with the Four Agreements. I read this book 5 years ago and just gave it a re-read. This is profound stuff to live your life by. And Founders, this is stuff to build your company culture upon.

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Stay tuned for more posts on things I am trying out this year.  Some will work, some won’t. The goal is to find what works for you and stick with it. Also, if you have new practices you are testing out in the New Year, please share!

Lastly, if you are in need of a break from the cortisol-inducing startup world in 2017 (mini-breaks and saunas are also popular amongst the Titans), I suggest checking out Two Bunch Palms.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
#dobetterbebetter
#manifestthebest
#crushyourgoals

My 30 Day Self Work Challenge / 5 Ways to Recharge and Realign

September 9, 2016 Company Culture, Entrepreneurship, Female investors, Self Work, Startups

If your summer social feeds were anything like mine, you saw lots of folks enjoying sun-filled beach vacations. You also saw lots of “30 Day Challenges” (Whole 30, 30 days of Push-ups, 30 days of Rose, etc.). I dig challenges, so I decided to do one of my own, dubbing it “30 Days of Self Work.”

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Why did I decide to prioritize “self work” this summer?
You may be guessing that I was unhappy, but I wasn’t. The convergence of a great many things (turning 40, illness/loss experienced by friends and family, attending the United States of Women Summit, several amazing travel experiences, this election) had begun to really impact the lens through which I view the world, myself and my purpose. As happens over time, my passions, perspectives and priorities were evolving, and I realized I needed a “tune-up”.

Over the course of August, through various activities I will share later, I began to solidify what I needed to work on to be the best version of myself I can be, and to serve myself and the world in the best way I can. They are:

1) Dialing back my “doer” and “thinker” and nurturing my “be-er” and “feeler”
2) Giving time to all the dimensions of life that are important to me
(which entails learning to say “no” without feeling like a horrible human)
3) Focusing on Fulfillment, as opposed to Achievement

Why am I writing about my experience and why, on earth, am I sharing it?
I am writing this 1) for me (and to hold myself accountable), 2) for anyone with whom this may resonate and help on any level, and 3) because my dear friend, and badass startup founder, Kat Markov, suggested I share my experience (particularly when I told her I made an appointment with a numerologist).

What I did?
Disclaimer: I am fully aware that creating a Self-Development Summer Intensive is exactly how a “doer” and achievement-obsessed person would tackle growth. Baby steps folks;) In this case, the ends justified the means.

Since I decided to embark upon this journey, I also decided to be completely open to any suggestions that came up along the way. As my friend , the wise soothsayer Ara Katz, said to me, “It doesn’t matter what type of work it is, it only matters that you are doing it. Whatever works for you, is a good thing for you.” So now, without further adieu, I am sharing my “Toolbox for Getting Real and Growing.” Take some of these practices or leave them. Everyone has their own path:

1) I did brand work. Yup, you read that right. When is the last time you wrote down your (not your company’s) core values, mission statement, and vision statement. Other great questions to ask yourself: What do you stand for? How do you define who you are? How do you want to impact the world? This is a challenging and powerful exercise. If you are not doing things – in either your professional or personal life – that align with your values and goals, it is time to make changes. Thank you Liz Heller and Robin Fisher Roffer of Big Fish Marketing for showing me the way.

2) I cut back on the countless articles, books, podcasts, and videos on the tech /startup space I consume daily. I supplemented my reading with content on personal growth and development that I read in 30-45 minute allotments in the morning and evening.

In the age of the Internet, social media and the smart phone, this is VERY hard to do. Nuzzle, Pocket, Facebook, Twitter, TechCrunch, Pando, The Information, The Verge, Upload VR… I read them all, often. I love reading about tech and innovation and, of course, it is part of my job. I didn’t stop reading about my industry altogether, I just checked myself from doing it incessantly. Like when I wake up at 2 am and read for an hour, which I put the kibosh on for good!

In addition, I deliberately re-visited impactful content I had consumed in the past, as well as sought out new information from people I know to be experts in the self-development space. Interestingly enough, I found that shifting my focus opened me up to discover (or at least pay attention to) all kinds of amazing pieces relevant to my “challenge.” I consumed so much important, impactful content that I cannot share it all. Below are some of the folks that helped me get in touch with what I wanted to improve upon and how I might do so.

James Altucher
I stumbled upon an amazing Medium post by James Altucher a few months back. James is a hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, writer, and podcaster. To be honest, I had no idea who he was at the time I read the post, but I knew it spoke to me so I followed him. During my 30 days, Medium suggested other posts by James, as well those under the topic of “Personal Growth” (thank you, Medium!). At this point, I have devoured an insane amount of Altucher content, all of which has been super helpful.

One of my favorite posts is called “I Miss Nothing.” You can read it here. Best quote of the article: “Stillness ultimately creates, Doing often destroys.”

I also read a great post titled “13 Things I learned from James Altucher.” They are all gems but the first one will stick with me far beyond these 30 days:

“Acknowledge that it’s not your external life that needs to change (you have little control over that), but that external changes flow from the inside.”

I also suggest reading James’ books, “Choose Yourself” and “The Power of No.”

Brene Browne
I revisited Brene Browne’s Ted Talk on vulnerability. It resonates with me on so many levels, as Brene is a self-proclaimed Type A perfectionist. This is a Ted Talk I will visit frequently as I am working on allowing myself to be more vulnerable. If you also need to work on this, watch and bookmark this video NOW.

Tony Robbins
Admittedly, I have never quite understood the phenomenon of Tony, but his documentary hit Netflix the first week of my “challenge.” In addition to being a sucker for a great documentary, I figured it was time to learn why millions of people, including many successful business leaders I revere, swear Tony helped them better their lives. Watching “I Am Not Your Guru” blew my mind. It helped me to recognize that to better understand myself I’d need to go deep into my childhood. This exercise is not to place blame, but to understand some of the driving forces of your life and to release what is not working for you. I had never really done this in a concerted way so this took some real work, which ended up being real helpful.

With my newfound admiration for Tony Robbins, I sought out more from him. I came across this podcast he did with Tim Feriss. So much of what he says really hit home for me. The gist is that “We get the science of Achievement, but don’t pay enough to the Art of Fulfillment…… its an art because it is different for everyone.” He also says, “the principal that makes us fulfilled is growth because we are most alive when we are growing and growth gives us the ability to give and feel like we are making a contribution to the Universe.” Amen Mr. Robbins.

3) I made a pie. No, not that kind – I cant’ bake (or cook for that matter). More specifically, I made a pie chart. It consisted of the things in my life that are most important to me. Mine were: Family, Friends & Dog, Job/Career, Love Life, Fitness & Health, Travel & Fun, Service, and Learning. I first drew the chart according how I have spent my time in the past. No surprise here that the career slice of my pie was exceedingly large. I then drew my chart according how I want to allocate my time going forward. I now have a visual in my head , and on paper, to check myself if/when I fall out of balance.

4) I went to a Numerologist. Don’t really know what a numerologist is? No worries, I didn’t either. The fact that it floored several of my friends when I revealed I was doing this should tell you that I am not a numerologist kinda gal. That is, I wasn’t. But I am now.

I have since learned folks like Pythagoras and Gallileo believed in numerology. Seem like smart dudes, right?

I met my numerologist, Josh, at Le Zinque – a hot spot in Venice, not a tie-dye gypsy tent. He came highly recommended from my friend Leslie, who assured me he was not “hippie dippie” and that I would like him. She was correct. Josh is a math and science guy, who became obsessed with numerology 20 years ago. After exchanging pleasantries, Josh asked for my full name and birth date, which he wrote at the top of a plain sheet of paper.  He then went to work, like a mad scientist (err… numerologist). He began calculating numbers all over the sheet and then circled many of them, drawing lines across the paper to connect like numbers. It was all quite fascinating. Then, he looked up and proceeded to tell me all about myself. It would be apt to say, “he had my number.” He even called out certain years in my life that were years of transition/transformation. And he knew I was in one of those years right now.

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Of course, visiting a numerologist isn’t going to magically change you. But anything that helps you get real and examine your personality traits and behaviors can certainly be helpful in making decisions and changes.

I have now referred a number of friends to Josh. All have been blown away by their experience. If you are open to trying it, message me.

 

 

5) I spent time with myself and nature.  Even as a single person, it’s tough to get alone time – at least quality alone time. Time where you can sit in stillness and just breathe and be present. In LA, we have alone time in our cars, but that is usually filled with planning the day ahead, business calls, road rage, and the occasional 80s rock song sing-a-long. The same goes with gym time. While I am a fitness nut, and love what it does for me physically and mentally, the group classes I take don’t really provide for peaceful introspection. During my “challenge”, I cut back on my group classes and opted for walks along the ocean and hikes in the mountains by myself. At some point along my scenic route, I would pick a peaceful spot to sit and meditate. Now, I have tried to meditate before and it has never stuck. So I am trying again and will keep doing so until I am the girl pictured below realizing all of the many great benefits of the practice.

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Special thanks to Headspace for making something so difficult a little bit less so. Wish I was an investor!

During my “30 Days of Self Work,” I also did a bunch of other things that made me happy, made me feel grateful and made me….just feel. Things that involved the heart over the head. This included family and friends time, attending a wedding on an estancia in Argentina, dancing, and spending lots of time with babies and small kids (admiring their endless curiosity and excitement).

My challenge is now complete. I feel grounded, recharged, and more creative. Most importantly, I feel more in tune with what is important to me both personally and professionally.  It was an amazing 30 days, but the hard part begins now – with how to continue the work and sustain my current peace of mind and perspective. The key is to make it a priority and to make myself, and becoming my best self, a priority above all else. There is nothing more important than continuing to grow and to focus on living a fulfilled life. As the saying goes, “you only get one shot, make it your best!”

Less Talk, More Action (My Trip to DC)

December 29, 2015 Company Culture, Entrepreneurship, Female investors, Technology, Venture Capital, Women in Business

I have been in the startup community (NYC and LA) for nearly 20 years, first as an operator and now as an investor. There has always been a diversity issue (a very big one) so I am, of course, thrilled that it has been getting so much attention as of late. Though I am eager to move from talking about it to ACTING to eliminate it.

I am a strong believer that each of us is responsible for putting into the world more than we take out. That each of us can, and should, make a positive impact – whether that means on a community, industry, state or global level. Obviously, it is easiest to make a difference locally, in an area that you are passionate about and familiar with. Starting out in early-stage tech in the late 90s, I have countless stories about being the only woman in my company, at a party, or at a conference. Because of my experience, I dedicate a good deal of my time to advising and mentoring both my female colleagues as well as the many existing and aspiring female founders I meet. I want more women to join / start / invest in tech startups. The more women that do so, the more that will follow in their footsteps (see my post “Choose Possibility”). Of course, we should all want this, not just women, as the numbers show that companies with women in management report higher returns on equity and better net income growth than those lacking female leaders.

Last year, I had the good fortune of meeting a “soul sister” by the name of Shelley Zallis. Shelley built and sold an online research company and, for the past few years, has been producing “The Girls Lounge”, a destination for female executives to connect and inspire one another, at a handful of major industry conferences. As everyone does, I immediately fell in love with Shelley. I believe our meeting was kizmet, as we met right at the time I began to think about gender equality on a national and global (not just tech ecosystem) level and right at the time Shelley was just beginning to think about how to build her Girls Lounge into a much bigger initiative.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 4.23.35 PMJust before Christmas (and exactly one year after our first meeting), Shelley invited a group of 35 female executives to join her on a trip to DC. This was a venerable crew of badass women from Fortune level companies including IBM, Viacom, iheartmedia, Unilever, The New York Times, and Caterpillar (to name a few). I was honored and elated to be invited.

 

The purpose of the trip was to bring women from the public and private sectors together to begin to formulate a plan for moving beyond articles and studies and into creating an executable corporate roadmap for achieving gender equality. The first day we met with Megan Smith, the CTO of the USA, and discussed/brainstormed topics ranging from STEAM education to how to involve big media companies in bringing greater visibility to workplace diversity. The second day was spent with US Treasurer, Rosie Rios. She is the woman behind the initiative to get a female on our currency (if they see it, they can believe it!). Rosie had McKinsey & Company come in and present to us. If you don’t already know, McKinsey has a partnership with LeanIn.Org and, together, they produced a study called Women in the Workplace 2015.

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The study is a short read, chock-full of charts and to-the-point summaries – definitely worth 15 minutes of your time. Check it our here. I will provide you with the take-away sentence that is most important: “Based on the slow rate of progress…it will take 25 years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than one hundred years in the C-suite.” 

This is absolutely NOT OK. That’s four more generations of our daughters being passed over for high-visibility projects/promotions, feeling like they cant take reasonable maternity leave without it impacting their performance reviews or career trajectory, and working just as hard (if not harder) than the guy next to her while earning 77 cents to his dollar.

The good news is that workplace diversity and gender equality are hot topics today. You can’t peruse the tech pubs on any given day without an article on this topic. And there have been a multitude of high profile articles on diversity (or lack thereof) in Hollywood this past year. These are the two industries in which I play – I am hoping, and assuming, the same goes for all industries.

The bad news is that we are at a stage where many companies are just providing lip service when they are publicly claiming diversity is a priority. In fact, according to the McKinsey study, “74% of companies report that gender diversity is a top CEO priority, but the message is not reaching the majority of employees. Less than half of workers believe that gender diversity is a top priority of their CEO, and only a third view is a top priority for their direct manager.”   One example here is Twitter. Twitter joined alongside several Silicon Valley heavyweights in releasing their diversity numbers (which were beyond dismal) and proclaiming that diversity was a key priority. Recently, an employee (now ex) posted this resignation letter that went viral stating that he was leaving the company because he believed its diversity initiative was more talk than action. To be fair to Twitter, tackling diversity in the workplace is a huge task and one that won’t happen overnight.  The company did release an apology letter and just this past week announced that they hired away Apple’s Worldwide Director of Inclusion and Diversity.

There have been lots of folks hired in the last year with fancy titles like the one above. But what can and will these people actually do to implement change. That’s where we are back to the good news. There are action items that can be taken – and companies like Facebook (go Sheryl), Salesforce, Netflix, Goldman Sachs, and Intel are leading the way. What we need is for these major companies to be transparent about what is and is not working – and to track and report their progress – all the way down to the bottom line.  We must prove to CEOs (and shareholders) that diversity strengthens a company in every aspect, including financially.

And this is where The Girls Lounge (consisting of leaders across multiple industries) and Megan & Rosie come back in. Having corporations and organizations tackle this issue in silos is a sure way to get to 100 years before we create the change we want to see. I will not share the plan for more unified action here – as it is still under construction and it is not mine to share. But it includes bringing together companies, organizations, and the government to evaluate, promote, and enact best practices for eliminating the gender/race wage gap, building corporate practices that promote diversity and eliminate discrimination (including changing Family Leave Policy – for more on this, watch this TED talk), and tackling the very difficult subject of unconscious bias.

As Shelley likes to say #TogetherWeCan  
As I like to say, let’s #GetShitDone   

Stay tuned….
And be sure to follow The Girls Lounge: Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

Notes:

 

biz2beach

Biz2Beach 2011

September 8, 2011 Business, Company Culture, Entrepreneurship, Startups

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