Vice President Strategic Marketing & Global Alliances, BioConnect
I think I always knew I wasn’t destined to work in one industry, the idea of being in a one track mind sort of race never appealed to me. When I look at my first jobs I worked in a restaurant, started a painting and drywalling business, managed retail stores, started a tech loyalty business, worked in banking and built a social enterprise in fashion.
I don’t know if there was one particular pivoting point, or if it was a combination of points, but I felt that I could make a big impact by moving into a growing technology company that is on the verge of disrupting something — regardless of the industry. For BioConnect, it was disruption of identity and that was agnostic of industry.
When I was working in banking I personally experienced how much of the systems were legacy and how many processes could and needed a serious change. I’m a huge tech nerd and this allowed me to look at technology in a way that could solve a real business problem. Which, funny enough, has become one of the first pillars for a component of the strategy I’ve developed for BioConnect.
Working in financial services and close to business clients that run small to medium sized businesses allowed me to realize that the current methods of identity verification and authentication were simply inadequate and that RSA tokens and passwords were not just a consumer and average person problem but a huge reason for fraud and friction. That made me realize that in this changing chaotic landscape there was room for opportunity.
On a personal note, I knew I had a bright future ahead in banking, I had been lucky with mentors, a lot of hard work and the right attributes — young, female and diverse in thinking/background — to be in the right place for a long and prosperous future of becoming an executive at the bank. But a part of me got terrified at the idea that I could map exactly what my future might look like, with such little levels of risk… I remember calling my dad, who at the time I am sure thought I was a tad crazy, and saying I wanted to risk it all. I wanted to take a major pay cut, go work for a growing technology company and to top it all off I was gonna put my life savings and earnings from the previous business sale into this. To him it, sounded nuts, to me it sounded like music and magic… and I did.
You founded a company that created a mobile app for grocery retailers to manage pricing and inventory in real time. What did you learn from that experience, especially about business plans and exit strategies?
Three major things stick out to me here:
1) Solving business problems
I learned that even though I as a consumer was experiencing a problem — and that a lot of other consumers probably were as well – that there were two sides to this problem. The consumer side, and the side faced by the enterprise (who would ultimately front the bill). I did the research to know just how big of a problem it was to the enterprise and I think that was made the difference for me because I was able to articulate why my personal, consumer problem actually had a business impact on the enterprise.
I think that is why a lot of entrepreneurs fail — They have that “like me” effect, where they think “If other people are experiencing this problem, then it will probably make it big.” But you have to be able to articulate how you can solve an actual business problem. B2C businesses are super tough to get right and require a lot of capital, so focusing it on the stakeholders involved and how money flows through that ecosystem enabled me to move from an idea to a business!
2) The value of relationships and networks
Through that experience I gained a lot of really incredible mentors and decided to place a lot of emphasis on relationships. The thing about mentors is they force you to be self aware. They push your buttons, and the good ones will put you in your place a few times more than not. Entrepreneurship is tough, its not that glamorous to be own your boss as it sounds, all lines lead to you. If you surround yourself with great people, the journey doesn’t have to be a lonely journey. And there were moments when I didn’t get that. Entrepreneurs really struggle with feeling like they have to do it alone, but the minute you step outside it gives you a reality check. It’s one of the reasons I think relationships are so important.
3) Throw away your 3-year or 5 year business plan
I have degrees politics, business, math, and finance, and in school one of the biggest exercises they have us do is the 3-year, 5-year, 10-year business plan. But what I learned as an entrepreneur is your business is not a static thing, so your business plan is not a thing you do, it’s an exercise you practice. It’s really easy to put on a piece of paper that you’re going to secure a big partnership with a large retailer at the end of year two, but it’s another thing to actually go out and find that partnership and the right people to make it happen.
I really learned what “relentless” meant. And that planning is a framework but the plan needs to become a regiment of small goals to turn an idea into a business.
It’s also why I got so obsessed with social selling, networks and relationships, because everyone is connected in some way so you never know who knows someone who might be able to help you (and vice versa). At the end of the day we’re people, not plans.
4) Exiting isn’t as glamorous as it seems…
Lastly: exit strategies. I don’t know if I have a strategy to share per se, but I can share that letting go of your baby is really painful. It’s a really tough decision. When I look back on the experience I wonder if I should have raised the money and tried to keep going, but I had a team underneath me and we had been pushing hard for over two years, just getting by.
I decided it was better to have a small success and take the lessons I learned from the experience than it was to gamble the business (and other peoples lives for that matter) and fail.
I learned an exit is not as glamorous as it sounds.But hey, I survived and it wont be my last rodeo that’s for sure!
Currently you focus on market strategy for biometrics as it relates to identity. What attracted you to join BioConnect?
This goes back to the first question, it wasn’t an easy decision for me and I thought long and hard about it. Part of my decision had to do with the vision for BioConnect – a view of identity and a technology that transcends all industries and the other side had to do with the people – how the business is run and how the team is motivated.
There were two main things that drove it:
1) Technology company on the verge of disruption, agnostic of industry
BioConnect isn’t a startup – we’ve been around for 7 years but the industry is really taking off and especially in finance. As I mentioned in the first question, I had this gut feeling that through all my various experiences, I wanted to be working for a tech company that was on the verge of disrupting something that isn’t limited to one particular industry.
The vision that drives BioConnect is unlike any other company I’ve come across and I wanted to be part of making it happen.
2) Opportunity cost of pushing myself
I had met Rob (Founder and CEO of BioConnect) as a client of mine at the bank and he was a big factor in my decision.
At the time, I was lucky to be surrounded by the right mentors and I left a very secure job with a great future ahead of me that I really could see.
Even though I saw that executive life and salary, I looked at it as an opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of boundaries and being in an environment where I would push myself. This is the only place where I felt that I was pushing my own boundaries and Rob provides that.
Rob and I are intertwined by shared values and a shared idea to change the way the world operates. Because those two things are aligned, I see myself here.
Immutable identity, along with identity confirmation, is a challenge in the industry. What can biometrics do to resolve that challenge?
Well, that’s a big question!
First let’s define immutable: unchanging over time or unable to be changed. There are unique things about you that might change slightly over time — your fingerprints might wear off slightly, your heart rate might change as you’re younger or older, but the beauty in the technology used is that it captures those discrepancies and lets you be who you really are. So while your biometrics do slightly change over time and aren’t immutable by definition, they’re immutable in the sense that they belong to you and only you.
So when I think about the challenge of identity in all industries, its that society, enterprises, everything really are intrinsically wired to use proxies for identity verification and authentication. Because of fraud we’ve made sure that these proxies can change over team — we can reset your password, reset your username, replace your stolen or lost card, but that is because those things fundamentally aren’t who you are.
So when I look at biometrics I get really excited that we can enable people to be who they really are and interact with existing infrastructure because now there are form factors that allow that to happen.
Do I think biometrics is a solution for the enterprise and consumers today? Yeah,I do think so.
Earlier in your career you worked in the equities and commercial banking space in banking, which you called quite the boys club. One thing you mentioned during our conversation was the difference in the cost of customer acquisition between the men and women on the team. What do you mean by that?
This is a fundamental problem with traditional industries and women going into traditional industries. I call it a “Boys Club” because I remember the day when I was told, if “you don’t golf or can’t stomach ‘other activities,’ you’re done”.
But what I realized over time and started to measure was my client acquisition cost as one of my data points to prove that this impressions was BS.
I was the only woman on a team of over 15 guys who’s membership in the Boys Club was their way of doing business development. I decided instead to focus on social channels, relationships and networking to attract, retain and gain clients and at the same time I tracked my corporate spending. I found clients on LinkedIn or Twitter and met up for a casual lunch, coffee or dinner and it blossomed from there.
I also learn that knowing your stuff inside out and listening to what people want was sometimes more powerful than any lunch or business development activity. I made the decision to become a thought leader; research and data became my best friends.
My closing ratio was about 6x higher than the average guy on my team and I spent about 1/8 of their cost to do business. Not only did my method result in a better CPA, but there’s also the consideration of the opportunity cost of the fact that golf just takes longer than lunch!
So the argument to be made here is to not let your corporate expense account or the “way we do things around here” dictate how you can do business. You don’t need to be good at or want to golf or “other activities” in order to do well at business development. Be you! Find the groove, be genuine and measure it. So when they ask, you can say, “Oh baby, I’ve got you some data!”
There’s a good deal of buzz about Bro Talk in the financial industry lately. You’ve been on the receiving end of your fair share of it. Can you tell us about a few of those experiences?
Yes, this isn’t unique to the financial industry, however. I’ve been slipped hotel keys, been told I needed to get married to seem older even when other people (men and women) were present at time these things were said. They didn’t say anything because they didn’t want to upset the apple cart.
And that’s really the issue I want to address here. Not the fact that it’s done and it’s awful — sure true- it’s that the other people in the room just watch it happen. What I really want to get across is this behavior isn’t a women’s issue — Women need men to support them and I’ve been lucky to have really fantastic male mentors who have done that for me and continue to do that for me.
We talked at length about the value and compensation women in the industry deserve, and how prevalent it is for salaries to fall short of that mark. You had an interesting response to a request for a raise once. Tell us about that.
This kind of goes back to the last question. This isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a society issue that completely involves men. I once asked for a raise and the response I got was, ‘You don’t have a family, you don’t have kids, so why do you need a raise? Do you want more shoes?’ Just awful.
I recently wrote a blog post about this (The Reality of Working Women) on my LinkedIn. It doesn’t have to do with education, number of women in the working world. It’s a quantity versus quality issue. A sufficient quantity of women are working, but they still aren’t earning quality pay. The expectations are out of wack and assume that the issue is a woman’s issue. This is a system issue.
These are my 5 steps towards changing the reality faced by women at work, which I write about in my post:
- Make sure women’s ideas are heard
- Challenge the likeability penalty – Women often face double standards when it comes to assertiveness in negotiations and leadership styles. They can be seen as rude and ambitious rather than confident and tactical, as men would be seen. Take Jennifer Lawrence’s essay, for example.
- Celebrate women’s accomplishments
- Encourage women to go for it – Women, more than men, feel that they need to reach a certain level of expertise in their field before accepting a promotion/new job. It’s also common for women to think good work won’t go unnoticed, but that’s not always the case. (More can be found on The Huffington Post)
- Give women direct feedback
At BioConnect you work closely with the CEO. What have been some of the mentorship lessons you’ve learned from that relationship?
Rob is amazing. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. He is someone who is willing to give me control and at the same time teach me the ropes and push me. He stretches the boundaries of what I can accomplish — And as such has created such an incredible platform for the people in his company (we call ourselves BioConnectors) to really grow and develop our true potential.
I’ll shed on two main lessons:
1) Self awareness and potential
Rob has taught me to be self-aware, to assess my capabilities and to really keep pushing myself. I would argue that I’m actually held to higher standards than I would have been in a corporate job, but I’m not constricted by the standard corporate rules of how many years you’ve done a job or age. Rob has placed a big emphasis on that not being the definition of your potential.
Rob has incredible experience growing large corporations from his past at IBM, Oracle, Siebel and other tech companies. One of the biggest lessons Rob has taught me is to develop and support win-win strategic partnerships. You don’t grow a corporation by not assessing the long-term value of partnerships.
A lot of people look at partnerships for the selfish reason – how is this going to benefit me? Rob has continued to teach me to develop and maintain partnerships that are sustainable overtime because they accomplish a shared goal – how do I make you win and make you money over time. That is how this is going to be sustainable.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Similar to my industry answer, I don’t think I can single handed point at one person, trend, book I read, or leader. I have never been able to fit any box or parameter society has created, and I think the fact that post tough teenage years I learn to accept that, it has enabled me to be influenced by what I was curious about, want to be like, or didn’t understand. What influences me is always evolving.
And I think I have to go sentimental on this and say in a strange way my parents, they have influenced and given me values that have define how I make decisions such as who I let into my life, which impacts how I think, act and what I do.
I also think growing up with my parents being so conservative, because they came from poor families and debt, has made me aspire and push the envelope, and learn that I am okay with having nothing, or losing it all. Because what it’s inside of me, will make me learn and find out a strategy into finding my ways back into having what I need, or finding a way how to.
Who do you consider to be strong women leaders in the Fintech space?
Blythe Masters– this women.. oh my. I am obsessed. She knows her stuff inside and out, and I couldn’t agree more with her regarding the approach and potential of blockchain as a change agent.
The list goes on!
What do you see as the 3 leading future trends for Fintech?
- Blockchain: I think I would be silly not to bring up. I am obsessed with it, but I think we are far from a commercialization stage on this hype curve. But super believe in the value and the principles from a system perspective.
- AI & Mass Customization/ Collaboration: Maybe that’s actually three trends! But this isn’t a far-into-the-future trend, I think a universal ecosystem for banking and products isn’t far out, where we will actually see collaboration of fintech and banks center around the consumer, and enable the consumer to have choice and information. Millennials and Gen Y want to have customized advice, perceived value and understanding to make choices.
- Biometric Authentication: Maybe bias, perhaps.. but hey I am in it! And I see the trends and need for data security and identity increasing everyday, when we bring IoT into Finance and Banking, the need for an adaptive and omni channel authentication that can be both task based and consistent will be key to enable collaboration of multiple service providers: banks, fintechs and others, in a frictionless way for the client.