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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Amit Knaani, Co-Founder/CPO of bob

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Amit Knaani, an amazing female startup founder and an entrepreneur with experience in building SaaS and FinTech products. Amit is a Co-Founder and CPO of hibob.

hibob


What makes you do what you do?

It’s a complicated question of course, but I’ve always been fascinated by how and why people do what they do. Being a product person is a bit like being a naturalist or anthropologist. I want to make products that will have an effect on people’s lives, and I want people to love using them. My professional motivation initially comes from there.

Having spent many years in technology I now have a complete understanding of how technology can work to better and simplify people’s lives. To free them up from the burden of complexity and give them time to do what they really do. Take hibob for example, my latest startup. I have no experience in HR whatsoever, but I know how to build products which take an existing complexity and make it simple, to disrupt existing practices and reinvent them for the next generation. This is now my fundamental motivation.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I didn’t start with a master plan to get here! Originally I wanted to be a photographer and I was on track for a Ph.D. in photography and cultural studies. Then, all of a sudden, I understood that this was going to be too theoretical for me. I had discovered the world of online forums and communities whilst working as a photo editor for a news site, I promised myself that my next job would FORCE me to spend all day in online communities, and that’s what happened!

So my way to product management was a winding road, based in psychology and the need to know why people do what they do, how they communicate online, and how it affects their lives; how online text, pictures, and visual entities become a language of their own, and this is still what drives me. I was lucky to get into the product world and I’m still in love with my work.

I’ve met lots of people that have pushed me to be better, and I’m always on the lookout for new techniques and interesting combinations of the above, it’s a never-ending search.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

When I met my business partners I was at a personal and professional crossroads, and I needed a new challenge. Being able to affect the way people manage their employees and deal with the human side of organizations was something I couldn’t resist.

As a single mum it was even tougher to make the decision to commit, but my girls are now 14 & 12, and I had never stopped work to have kids. They were there from the first day of my career and I knew I could do it with them. Also, I’m lucky enough to be working with my best friends, and that’s priceless.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I always wanted a mentor but never had one. I’ve met loads of amazing people over the years and have great friends who come from different industries that I can consult with. The one time I had something close to a mentor was when I worked with ooVoo. I became really close to an amazing woman who was the HR for the company. She was (and still is) strong, super smart, funny, and very very supportive. I learned a lot from her.

Being a woman in a very male-dominated industry can be tough. All my bosses were men, and even if they were the best men ever, I still couldn’t find a female character I felt I could identify with. However, I do have an everlasting role model in the funny and crazy Liz Lemon from 30Rock (http://30rock.wikia.com/wiki/Liz_Lemon)! She doesn’t take s*it from anyone, she is a mum, a friend, a boss, a teacher, and a devil all in one. She might look all confused, but at the end of the day, nothing can happen without her.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

I could talk about my team forever. I’ve always understood there are lots of things I can’t do, and part of being a grown-up manager is to understand your own limitations. So, I’ve always made sure to hire people that are so much better than me. I try to find passionate people, who care like I do. It may be harder to manage them as they demand attention and respect, have never-ending daily challenges, and even create a healthy tension between strong smart people with strong opinions and tons of creativity – but I believe that this is the only way to do it. I’m totally in love with my team, and it’s been like that in every company I’ve worked with.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

My team includes four women, my company as a whole is 48% female, and our Chairman (Lady Barbara Judge) is a woman. That wasn’t a deliberate decision – they were just the best people for the job. I believe in giving people opportunities and to have faith in their capabilities, just like those who gave me chances when I was starting my career.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

I wish I knew the answer! I think it’s all about the people, and my way is to always move between great people. I try to help others and to make them better, and it always comes back to me. I think you should never stop searching and never stop learning- from your industry and from others. Always look around you, and always search for more.

Advice for others?

Currently, I’m a Co-Founder and the Chief Product Officer of bob, a great young startup that aims to change the way that businesses manage their people. My advice? It’s similar to what I wrote above – be kind, be passionate, and never give up. You don’t need a dream, you need to live in the now and love what you do, otherwise, it’s not worth it.


To learn more about bob, please see https://www.hibob.com/.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

Callum Connects

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings

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Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@malcolmABM

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Pam Weber, Chief Marketing Officer at 99Designs

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Pam Webber is Chief Marketing Officer at 99designs, where she heads up the global marketing team responsible for acquisition, through growth marketing and traditional marketing levers, and increasing lifetime value of customers. She is passionate about using data to derive customer insights and finding “aha moments” that impact strategic direction. Pam brings a host of first-hand startup marketing experiences as an e-commerce entrepreneur herself and as the first marketing leader for many fast-growing startups. Prior to joining 99designs, she founded weeDECOR, an e-commerce company selling custom wall decals for kids’ rooms. She also worked as an executive marketing consultant at notable startups including True&Co, an e-commerce startup specializing in women’s lingerie. Earlier in her career, Pam served in various business and marketing positions with eBay and its subsidiary, PayPal, Inc. A resident of San Francisco, Pam received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MBA from Harvard Business School. Pam is a notable guest speaker for Venture Beat, The Next Web, Lean Startup, and Growth Hacking Forum, as well as an industry expert regularly quoted in Inc., CIO, Business News Daily, CMSwire, Smart Hustle, DIY Marketer, and various podcast and radio shows. You can follow her on Twitter at @pamwebber_sf.

What makes you do what you do?
My dad always told me make sure you choose a job you like because you’ll be doing it for a long time. I took that advice to heart and as I explored various roles over my career, I always stopped to check whether I was happy going to work every day – or at least most days :). That has guided me to the career I have in marketing today. I’m genuinely excited to go to work every day. I get to create, to analyze, to see the impact of my work. It’s very fulfilling.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I had a penchant for numbers and it helped me stand out in my field. This penchant became even more powerful when the Internet and digital marketing started to explode. There was a great need for marketers whose skills could span both the creative and the analytic aspects of marketing. I capitalized on that growth by bringing unique insight to the companies I worked with, well-supported with thoughtful analysis.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?
I’m not sure this is relevant to my situation as I had been a marketing leader in various start-ups and companies. I took on the role at 99designs because I was excited by the global reach of the brand and the opportunity the company had to own the online design space. I especially liked the team as I felt they were good at heart.

The challenge I’ve faced in my time at 99designs is how do I evolve the team quickly and nimbly to address new challenges. The work we do now, is very different than the work we did a year ago and even the year before that. There is a fine line between staying focused on the goal ahead and being able to move quickly should that goal shift.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industry or did you look for one or how did that work?
There is no one I’ve sought out or worked with over my entire career as my “mentee” needs have changed so much over the years. There are many people who have helped me along the way. For example, one of my peers at eBay, who was quite experienced and skilled in marketing strategy and creative execution, taught me what was in a marketing plan and how to evaluate marketing assets. As I have risen to leadership positions over the years, I often reach out to similarly experienced colleagues for advice on how they handle situations.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
I learned early in my career that it rarely hurts to ask for advice. So that is what I have done. Additionally, there are people that are known to be quite helpful and build a reputation for giving back to others in advisory work. Michael Dearing, of Harrison Metal and ex-eBay, is one of those people. I, as well as countless others, have asked him for advice and guidance through the years and he does his best to oblige. Finding mentorship is about intuiting who in your universe might be willing and whether you are up for asking for help.

That being said, generally, I have found, if you are eager to learn and be guided, people will respond to the outreach.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I generally look for a good attitude and inherent “smarts”. A good attitude can encompass anything from being willing to take on many different types of challenges to working well amongst differing personalities and perspectives. Smarts can be seen through how well someone’s done in their “passion areas” (i.e. areas where they have a keen interest in pursuing).

I try to hire those types of people because in smaller, fast-growing companies like many of the ones I’ve worked in, it’s more often than not about hiring flexible people as things move and change fast.

Once those people are on my team, I try to keep them challenged and engaged by making sure they have varying responsibilities. If I can’t give them growth in their current job or in the current company, I encourage them to seek growth opportunities elsewhere. I’d rather have one of my stars leave for a better growth opportunity than keep them in a role where they might grow stale.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I consciously support diversity. When I am hiring, I am constantly thinking about how to balance the team with as broad a range as possible of skill sets, perspectives, etc. to ensure we can take on whatever is thrown at us, or whatever we want to go after.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
I’m going to assume a great leader in my industry to mean a marketing leader in a technology company. I think a great leader in this industry is not afraid to learn new tricks no matter their age – it’s the growth mindset you may have heard about. I have a friend who inspires me to do this – she purchased the Apple Watch as soon as it was available, and was one of the first people I knew to use the Nest heating/cooling system. She’s not an early adopter by most definitions, but she adopts the growth mindset. This is the mindset I, too, have sought to adopt. In my field of marketing, it most recently has meant learning about Growth Marketing and how to apply this methodology to enhance growth. Independent of your industry, I think a growth mindset serves you well.

Advice for others?
I have been at 99designs for 3.5 years. During that time we’ve invested in elevating the skills and quality of our designer community, we’ve rebranded to reflect this higher level of quality, and have improved the satisfaction of our customers. Our next phase of growth will come from better matching clients to the right designer and expanding the ability to work with a designer one-on-one. We have the best platform to find, collaborate, and pay professional designers who deliver high quality design at an affordable price, and it’s only going to get better. I’m excited to deliver on that vision.

Pam Webber
Chief Marketing Officer of 99designs
Twitter: @pamwebber_sf

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