International Women’s Day is celebrated annually around the world on March 8th. To commemorate IWD 2015, Google’s Boston Office hosted a panel featuring accomplished Boston women to highlight the successes of women worldwide.
The panel, moderated by Google’s Financial Services Head of Industry Heather Liddell, included:
Speaking to a rapt audience, each woman had her own unique story to share of her career journey and the numerous challenges encountered along the way.
Addie Swartz began her foray into entrepreneurship selling apple pies from her family home at the age of 12. After selling $2,000 of pies, both she and her family decided it was time to move on. Years later, Addie found her first job serendipitously via a marriage announcement in the newspaper as a uranium analyst.
In Addie’s own words, “A good entrepreneur is constantly optimizing and trying new things. Yes, even if that includes analyzing uranium.” Moving on to Bain & Company, Addie continued her career at Disney, Reebok, and Lotus, before starting her first true entrepreneurial venture, Bright Ideas. Today she heads up ReacHIRE, an organization focused on retraining women re-entering the workforce.
Bettina Hein started off her own career as a serial entrepreneur by founding START, an organization that cultivates entrepreneurship in European countries where startups are not as widespread as in the US. The organization still exists today.
“I’m an organization builder. I love helping innovative new companies grow,” Bettina explained onstage, recounting how she became Co-Founder of the speech recognition company SVOX in 2000. The company went on to sell for $125 million, with technology that is still used in automobile dashboards today. Following a subsequent stint at MIT as a Sloan Fellow, Bettina founded Pixability in 2008. And after a few successful pivots, Pixability emerged as the rapidly growing YouTube ad buying and video marketing technology company that it is today.
International Women’s Day was created not only to celebrate the existing successes of women around the world, but also to empower women new to the workforce through strong role models. Throughout the panel, Sarah, Addie, and Bettina got the chance to share key pieces of advice pulled from their own experiences.
Addie Swartz: “Focus on your big idea and stick with it, even if that means a few changes along the way. Pivots are part of the process. We all have things that happen in our lives; we all get derailed from our ‘life plan’ at one time or another. If you knew what the future had in store for you in advance, more often than not you’d be terrified. But women are tougher than many people give us credit for.”
Sarah Fay: “I have learned over the years that if someone reaches out to talk to you, don’t say no automatically. There has to be something you could talk to them about; one new thing you can learn from them. Stay open to the broader community, because you never know where your next opportunity could come from.”
Bettina Hein: “Entrepreneurship is satisfying, but comes with its own set of challenges. In a single day, you can win a major new account, but can also get turned down by a promising investor. I’ve learned over the years about the ‘entrepreneurial roller coaster.’ As an entrepreneur, you eventually learn how to weather constant volatility and put it all in context. To keep it all in perspective, ask yourself, ‘Is it just one bad day? Or is my organization actually facing serious trouble?'”
The panelists also had tips on hiring the right people and keeping organizations on track and moving forward.
Sarah Fay: “The best way to inspire your organization is to get the smartest people in the room and bang out a course for the company together. It’s a myth that the CEO goes up to the mountain and then comes down enlightened. It takes a diverse team. I listen to all ideas, no matter who the ideas come from.”
Bettina agreed: “All good entrepreneurs need enough naiveté to see things differently, enough chutzpah to be unafraid to shake things up, and enough perseverance to keep things going when times get tough. Those new to an industry are frequently the ones who spot opportunities industry veterans do not see. Diverse teams are stronger; they promote cross-pollination of techniques and ideas.”
Addie Swartz: “I always started my companies with ideas I was personally inspired by, and then recruit others who were equally inspired. Hire people who are excited to give their all to your company. Get the best people you can afford to drive the success of your startup, because when times get tough or during future pivots, they will become your life rafts. Measuring someone’s passion for an open role is just as important as measuring their skill set. Look for follow up emails; look for smart questions. You want to hire someone who cares.”
To learn more about International Women’s Day, visit the official IWD website.