Leadership, My Personal Journey

Why I’m stepping back from being CEO

I’ve loved being a technology CEO. It’s been 20 years, and the CEO journey has taken me from pride to humility, from exhaustion to exhilaration, from courage to fear and often all in the same day. It’s a fantastic job and a huge responsibility and I’m honored to have been trusted with the job not once but twice and in two very different markets. I’ve worked with talented executives, loyal investors, and customers who’ve become friends over the years.

And I’ve also always been incredibly conscious of the role I play in making it possible for other women to be high tech CEOs by simply showing it can be done in a world which is so biased against us.

But it’s time for me to step back. This has been a tough decision – and those of you who know me well will know what kind of war has been going on in my brain for the last 6 months – I’m not without ego after all! But I am very conscious that over the last 20 years I’ve traded so much as I focused on my career. Of course, my challenges are every working person’s challenges. Enough time with my children, supporting aging and dying parents, not enough sleep, not enough personal time. But I’ve become so much more aware of time passing since my mother died and now my father is 84 and far away and so I’ve decided to make different choices with my time. I feel very fortunate that I have that choice.

It’s hard, but balance is a myth if you are CEO (as I blogged in 2007). Every company deserves a CEO who is on 24/7. One who lives and breathes every aspect of the company, the future of every employee and the success of every customer. That’s just what it takes to succeed.

We’ve built a fabulous technology platform at FirstRain and one we’re proud of. It’s used by some of the biggest companies in the world and our customer engagements just keep getting deeper. I am truly delighted that YY Lee is going to take over from me as CEO – she has been with me every step of our 10+ year journey together at FirstRain. But more than that, she’s worked with me on and off across 3 companies over the last 23 years and I know she more than has what it takes to lead FirstRain through the next stage of growth. I could not be prouder of her. And I’ll be there to help her and the Rainmakers. I’ll stay involved as an active chair, work on strategy and continue to do the part of my job I love the most: working closely with our large customers.

And with the rest of my time? I very much enjoy my public company board work, and of course I’ll keep on coaching entrepreneurs and women (which I love to do), and being a feminist and a blogger. But more importantly I’ll spend more time with my father in England and with my family.

It’s not all perfectly clear to me but I’ll figure it out as I go along. I’ve been an obsessed CEO for so long now I can’t imagine too far ahead yet. But I’m sure I’ll work it out.

Career Advice

5 Ways Trust Impacts Your Productivity In The Office

Published in Inc January 8, 2015

So you want to create something fabulous and new. You want to innovate and
create a breakthrough no one has thought of before. Well, you probably
have a list of ingredients you need: a few computers, some smart people,
project funding… but there is one critical ingredient you need which
can’t be measured but will have a huge impact on your success. That
ingredient is Trust.

Trust allows your team to
move fast, fail fast and create. It’s a simple but true fact so often
neglected inside companies. Two simple issues that can be an advantage
in a culture of trust and a huge liability in a culture of politics and
mistrust: 1) how long it takes to make a decision 2) the quality and
stickiness of the decision.

1. In Development.
Think about agile development for example. One of the 12 key principles
to be mindful of is, “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give
them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job
done”. If managers don’t trust the technical team to get it right they
will slow down the development process and inject themselves into
decisions that need to be made by the engineers, often resulting is
lower quality decisions, or decisions that get made and then unmade.
Begin by hiring great people and most importantly trust them.

2. In Planning.
How often do executives posture in the annual financial planning
process and ask for more resources than they need, on the premise it’s a
political negotiation? Blustering, ego-driven demands! If, instead, you
have a team who truly trust each other then the dynamic will be quite
different. Team members will have the freedom to advocate for projects
and priorities, regardless of who gets the resources to get the project
done. Too many times I’ve seen people equate headcount and budget with
success–but in a trust based environment the focus is on the team’s end
result, regardless of where each person sits in the organization.

3. In Hiring.
As your team beings to grow, the talent you hire will have the single
greatest impact on your potential for success. The hiring decision needs
to be open, transparent and filled with honest assessment -setting up
an initial hiring process that counts on trust. An example of this
process can include: a hiring manager assigns an interviewing team,
everyone meets the candidate and then the team assembles for a “round
table.” At the round table everyone is required to express their
opinions is an open, constructive way, but maintaining the premise that
all input is OK, both good and bad. The process moves more efficiently
towards productive results due to trust from the hiring manager truly
wanting the team’s input, and that the team working towards getting the
manager to the best decision. Without trust, you see posturing, cronyism
and manipulation of the process. Unfortunately, I’ve worked in
companies where senior executives bring in friends with no interviewing
process whatsoever. Now that’s a recipe for others to trust–not!

4. In Time.
While running a young, growing company or a highly innovative team you
will most likely be making hundreds of decisions a day. Risky decisions
with limited input. And truthfully you know you won’t get them all right
(although you do have to get the majority right). If you are working
with a team who you trust, and who trust you, you can move that decision
process quicker. You can be transparent, share your thought process and
quickly poll for advice. When you make a mistake, your team has your
back. In a political environment where information is power, decisions
take much longer because it’s not shared so openly. In a nutshell, trust
allows a team to identify problems quickly and without fear–no
baggage, no personal positioning. It’s incredibly efficient.
Trust takes time to build, which is why people who work well together often stay together from company to company.

5. In Fun.
Unless you are a master manipulator and play office politics for sport,
teams that trust one another are just more fun to work in. Having that
professional comfort allows for more laughter, more shared wins and more
support when the going is tough. Given how much time you are going to
spend working with one another, why not invest the time and effort to
build trust so that work is fun?

My Personal Journey

It’s All About Me! at Defrag 2014

Broomfield, CO – on a cold morning in November… I was invited to be a keynote speaker at Defrag 2014 which is a terrific conference of interesting ideas, and even more interesting people.

Personalization is such a key aspect of creating a great experience for our users that I took the tack of total selfishness – It’s All About Me! This is what creates the magic for our users. When FirstRain can ask you just a few questions, and then read your mind, it’s an enchanting experience.

Here’s my presentation:

Loved the tweet stream following my presentation – on Storify here:


The Best Mistake I Ever Made

Asked by a journalist the other day “what is the best mistake you ever made” I had to think for a moment. There are so many – where to begin!

But as I pondered the question, there is one decision I look back on and think “What was I thinking?”

I became CEO of a raw software startup at 36
when my children were 2 and 4 years old. My husband was working long hours
running a small consulting business and I thought I had no limits. I could do
anything, and I wanted to run my own company. I wanted to show that a woman
could run a very technical software company in the semiconductor industry – where
there were no women at the top at all. And I wanted to lead.

Six months in I felt I had made a terrible
mistake. I was totally exhausted every single day. I barely had time to see my
kids in the week and I had bronchitis month after month. I had 2 nannies
working shifts, I gained weight and I would lie in bed awake every night
wondering how I was going to survive, never mind win. I think my marriage only
survived because we had already been married 15 years at that point and my
husband is truly, authentically supportive of my career.

And yet… it was one of the best things I could
have done, and I loved it. I loved being CEO, I loved building a company, a
team and working with customers. I became fast friends with our nannies and my
kids turned out just fine. They are confident, independent and have endless
very funny stories about their crazy mother and the experiences they had
because of my job. They traveled with me all over the world, they went into the
office with me at a young age learning by watching and they have a strong work
ethic as a result of the exposure they had. And we are close, very close.

So was it a mistake? Some days I think I took
a huge risk assuming I could do it all and have it all. But when young women ask me about that decision as they think through their own I’m encouraging. Children are resilient, good men are supportive and while you can’t have it all you can certainly have your fair share.

Image: Alamy

Career Advice

Do all CMOs have to be data geeks now?

Written by me in the The Economist Group today

Few would argue against data’s importance in marketing today. Data is
essential to every marketing decision now, and the techniques used to
transform that data into actionable market insight can make or break a

this, some data-intensive companies now require their CMOs to have a
background in data science—but will we get to a point where all CMOs and
senior marketing leaders have to have a background in data science? Or
will tools continue to emerge that will help marketing leaders better
interact with big data and enable them to make strategic decisions?

As the Internet and sheer amount of available data expand, companies
are rushing to take advantage of it—but they are finding themselves
overwhelmed, and many marketing organizations are reacting by hiring
data scientists. In fact, data scientists are in such high demand that a recent McKinsey study found that there would be a deficit of up to 190,000 data scientists in the U.S. alone by 2018.

Because so many marketing decisions are data-driven these days,
having someone adept at finding relationships, identifying anomalies and
making predictions based on data can be key to an effective
go-to-market strategy.  CMOs absolutely need to understand how to
interpret data. To quote a column by Computerworld Executive Editor Julia King, “Data science is all about predicting the future.”

The particular responsibility of choosing and driving strategy based
on where the market is headed lies with the CMO. But if the CMO arms
herself and her team with the right tools, she doesn’t need to be a data
scientist—and she doesn’t have to fill her bench with data scientists,

Senior leaders will find more and more that cloud-based apps—like
emerging personal business analytics and marketing automation
solutions—will become their go-to tools to solve their big data overload
problems. These solutions will allow the business user to make better
real-time decisions, helping them to embrace not just analysis, but also
synthesis of the data.

Solutions whose analytics are easily embeddable into existing
platforms and apps, and which provide clear visualization and
collaboration tools, will ultimately help leaders strategically grow
their businesses without requiring a team of onsite data scientists.  By
choosing the right solutions, CMOs can save themselves the headache of
searching for a team of data scientists, but reap the same benefits
quickly and economically.

Equality, Leadership

Three things you can do to hire women and change your company forever

Posted in the Huffington Post

Our world is changing very fast, and the role of women is changing
fast with it — and, mostly, for the positive. We have more women in
power, more women in the workforce, more women in control of their lives
but there still aren’t representative numbers of women at the top of

And yet, we now know that diverse teams make better decisions. We know women make 85 percent of consumer
buying decisions, and so, if you sell anything to them, you probably
want women in your decision structure. As a CEO, if you’re making
strategy decisions, and hiring decisions, you want a diverse set of
opinions around you to advise you. It’s time to pro-actively bring women into your workforce.

why would any company build an all-male leadership team now, or an all
male board, or a board that is mostly male with one token female? The
most often-cited reason is that there are no qualified candidates —
what baloney! When Twitter filed for its IPO with no women on the board
(despite the dominance of women on social media) the reason given was:
“The issue isn’t the intention, the issue is just the paucity of

It’s just not the truth (as the NYT kindly pointed out
to Twitter at the time). There are women available to hire, but you
have to be determined to build a diverse leadership team to make it
happen because the easier path (less work) is to hire people just like
you: men. You have to be willing to do the extra work, find the diverse
candidates, and open up your job spec to change your company for the
future — and for the better. It’s just good business.

Here are three roles where you can change the numbers:

Board of Directors: Mostly male still. Women hold only 16.9 percent of board seats,
10 percent of boards have no women on them and those numbers are barely
changing. If, as many boards do, you set your search criteria
narrowly… for example, must have been a CEO (that cuts most women
out), must have prior board experience (that cuts most women out), must
be retired (the women in the workforce are newer and so less likely to
be retired) then, presto! all you see are male candidates.

solution here is to open your search up to operating executives who are
not CEOs. They are in related industries in powerful operating positions
like CIO, GM or CFO and probably have no prior board experience. But
everyone starts somewhere, and there are excellent training programs you
can go to to learn how to be a public company director.

Software Engineers: Mostly male still. And with hiring practices like the “Bromance Chamber
at DropBox not surprisingly! Twenty percent of CS majors are girls, and
the best technology companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel et
al) both compete to hire them and invest in programs like the Anita Borg Institute
to learn how to both recruit them, and retain them. But the best
companies also reach outside the rigid spec of pure computer science.

the solution is to be open to a wider set of candidates, without
compromising quality. Open up to girls (and boys) with math majors, or
double majors in math and computer science — those who wouldn’t make it
through the narrow filter of typical CS hiring processes, but who are
likely smarter, harder working, and need just a small amount of training
to be fully effective for your company. Facebook even runs a summer
intern program for students without technical degrees, knowing they can
train them and wanting the very best brains for their engineering teams.

Sales People:
Mostly (white) male still. A lingering bastion of the smart,
golf-playing male in a crisp white shirt. When challenged on the limited
number of female candidates being presented, most recruiters will whine
and complain about the limited pool.

The solution: Deliberately
ask your recruiter to do the extra work to find the diverse candidates.
At my company our sales recruiter did, and we found excellent female
candidates immediately. It’s been my experience that women sell just as
well as men, so why not get a mixed team in place so you see the selling
challenges from more than one perspective?

In all these cases,
you are not trying to hire women. I’d never compromise the quality of
the hire for race or gender. Many women would (quite rightly) be
offended if they thought they were only being hired because of their
gender. What you are doing is insisting on a diverse candidate pool and a
level playing field for those candidates. And, in my experience, that
leads to stronger candidates, to gender balanced teams and, as a result,
to better decisions.

At my own company, FirstRain,
where I am CEO, our board is 50 percent women. My senior leadership
team is half men, half women. That’s no accident. If you are determined
to see diverse candidates you will — and have absolutely no compromise
on quality — quite the reverse!


Triathlon teambuilding

Over the years I’ve found that real teams form when you have an intense experience together, or repeated intense experiences that force you to be authentic and completely present – and so your true self – because you are reacting to the intensity. This happens on deals, it happens on tough product releases, but it’s the most fun when it happens outside the office. In a competition for example…

Yesterday 16 Rainmakers competed in the Cupertino Splash and Dash with me. This is a 1 mile lake swim followed by a 3 mile hill run up on the Stevens Creek Park. Most doing the race were triathletes looking for mid week training but we’ve done it in relay teams for several years now.

We fielded 8 relay teams yesterday. 8 swimmers and 8 runners. Turns out a couple of the swimmers had never swum in a lake before. One of them thought it was going to be in a pool. So this was a big challenge, standing on the mud flat at the edge, realizing they actually had to swim two half-mile laps of the lake. I found myself giving a pep talk on what it would feel like, how to pace yourself, how to see the buoys despite the sun, all in the 60 seconds before the gun. They were a very courageous set of new swimmers.

Our cheer group collected at the finish line to whoop and holler each runner in (one of the rules is if you want to eat bar-be-que at my house you don’t have to compete but you do have to cheer). All our runners had done it before and so they were stellar and we had everyone in by 7:30pm – at which point we rolled down the hill to my garden to cook, eat and drink. Not quite as intense, but still fun, especially with the pile of young kids in my pool swimming with the dog.

I’m so proud of FirstRain – it take a lot to race if you don’t do it all the time and the intensity and joy once we had finished was spectacular.

Chanting “Go FirstRain” together!


Defining success

Invited to answer a few simple questions about success and leadership I found myself having to think hard. To really think about how to get such a complex concept across simply – and be truly authentic.

My answers are here (and if you know me personally some of these will make you nod knowingly):

1. How do you define success?
Achieving happiness while making a positive difference to the people around you.

2. What is the key to success?
To know what you want to make happen (in work or out of it) and then go after it. Don’t stop for anything or anyone.

3. Did you always know you would be successful?
I knew I had the chance to be successful but I didn’t know if I could
pull it off. I still worry about it every day. I’ll probably worry about
it until the day I die.

4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fear. Fear of disappointing my father. Fear of what people will think about me if I fail.

5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To be truly interested in the well being of other people. Life’s not
easy for anyone and a little caring and kindness goes a long way.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Wandering around art galleries, gardens and ancient ruins in Europe.

7. What makes a great leader?
The ability to inspire people to be greater as a group than they can be
alone. It’s a combination of ideas, brains, beliefs and charisma – and
good old fashioned guts.

8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
Seek a path that you are totally passionate about. If you love what you
do you’ll be good at it. And, if you want a great job, take a good look
at Tech. It’s the future.

Thanks for the opportunity Jason.

Career Advice, Leadership

Top Five Dos and Don’ts When Employing Interns

Like most Silicon Valley technology companies, we hire interns at FirstRain. Sometimes they are active graduate students looking for work experience and interesting problems to solve while finishing their doctorate, sometimes they are in the final few months of a bachelors and want to try on a job to see if they enjoy it, and sometimes they are full time students working for the Summer. In all cases having them in our company is a huge win for us. So far every one has been an energy source, working hard and doing good work while allowing us to foster potential future employees (we like to hire our interns if they’re good).

But it’s important that being an intern is good for the intern, not just for FirstRain. I’ve got young friends who interned for free (at other companies, not FirstRain!) – long hours where they felt taken advantage of and that doesn’t seem fair. So here’s my (somewhat tongue in cheek) list of the top Dos and Don’ts for employing interns…

Do – hire the very smart ones and load them up with work. It’s a win-win. You get a lot of great work done at reasonable cost, they get to experience that incredible satisfaction of conquering a mountain of work. Yes conquering the mountain is fun in the end, trust me.

Don’t – take them out drinking and flirt with them. A challenge for some of you I know, but a friend of mine did that and even though he thought it was harmless she complained and his career with his company went sideways for 2 years.

Do – give them a plan for the time they are interning with you. What you expect them to learn, why, what you hope they’ll be able to do with it afterwards. This is motivating and gives the work a purpose.

Don’t – sit them all together and just expect them to work it out. One of the things you want them to learn is how to be productive and professional in an office. That means teaming them up with one of your professionals who’ll be there to mentor them.

Do – make the work you have them doing interesting and relevant to their ambitions. A brilliant PhD student in big data analytics – give her your hardest problem and watch her impress you; a creative and smart new graduate in marketing and design – show him your visual brand and all the things you don’t like about it and support him as he tells you all the ways he’ll bury your ideas with his own.

Don’t – expect them to read your mind. If you’re not getting what you want go and talk to them. Could be they are intimidated by you (always hard for me to imagine but I guess the title VP or CEO can be a barrier) and you need to help them get what they need to complete the task you’ve set them.

Do – stretch them. Let them try things they’ve never tried before. For example Facebook is running a summer intern program this year for non computer science students, teaching them how to code. They’re expanding their potential labor pool and introducing a bunch of structured thinkers to a whole new career. A great idea.

Don’t – treat them differently. They are with you because they want experience. Give them experience. Include them in company all hands, let them shadow you in meetings, treat them like employees so they know what it’s like.

Do – feed them. We call it the FirstRain 15. Hey, interns should be able to eat too much great food every day and gain weight too.

Don’t – let them hug you at work when they’re happy. It sets the wrong impression. Even if one of the interns is your kid. Seriously.