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Women on Top in Tech – Emily Rotolo, Founder/CEO of SimpleForms

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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 our interview with Emily Rotolo, Founder/CEO of SimpleForms. My company actually just went live on a crowdfunding website to bring accredited and non-accredited investors the ability to invest in startups.

What makes you do what you do?

There are a few things!
I realized I can help more people in the world from the CEO chair of a Public Benefit Corporation then I can working at the non-profit I was at helping 3 people at a time. Mix that with the fact that I lived a problem SimpleForms now solves. Luckily I was working at a Startup in Utah when I first encountered the issues around employment documents, the lucky part was that I was in an environment that was motivating and supportive. It really helped me realize that if you are not building your passion you are only helping someone else achieve theirs.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I went to Georgetown University where I wanted to be a doctor. However, I thought I should probably try and internship in another field before really committing. It was my junior year of college when I joined Bisnow Media as their first ever intern ( it was acquired this year) and I was hooked on the startup culture. I went from there to my goal company to work for in the Startup world which was Summit Series. I was a part of Summit Series when we purchased Powder Mountain. In these two startups I learned more than I could have ever imagined.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup?

It’s definitely a challenge, especially being a female. I get asked the most inappropriate questions from investors, and each time it makes me stronger. The idea that something is challenging is really an exciting fact, not a deterrence. Also, I am REALLY open to help. I ask for it and seek it out, we’ve built amazing mentors and advisors into our company. So yes am I out of my comfort zone… every day. Did I learn to hire smarter, yes! Does that make it even more challenging sometimes — yes! But I couldn’t sit by idol. The idea that as a population we fill out government regulated forms without assistance just isn’t right, especially when it affects every paycheck in the country.

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

YES! I love my mentors. We have advisors (official and non-official) and tons of mentors. We were fortunate to complete Techstars this year, which if you know starts with mentor madness. The key is to really find someone you connect with whether it’s industry-specific or not. We do have some that are very industry specific joining us from Inuit specifically Turbo Tax, but then we also have mentors that build hardware, so while it might not seem like we have a lot in common the experiences and conversations are what elevate a mentor relationship
If you haven’t watched it yet- Ted Talk: The Art Of asking — It really allowed me to find the best mentors for our company.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?

One of our non-techstars mentors came from our engineer. He was friends with the VP of engineering at GoFundMe, so with him being the first employee, he was really able to help coach us and show us what it is going to take to make this work. The key is finding not only the mentor that you can connect with and have open, honest, vulnerable conversations but also incentives them so that they work that much harder to help you succeed.
I have 2 personal mentors that I’ve known for years one became our official advisor with his brand knowledge and design expertise the other, is a huge support system for me to turn to about the struggles of being a female founder, or the ups and downs of building a team. It’s a roller coaster!

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

We have two really young employees, a college grad, and a college dropout. They are my favorite! I wanted to hire me when I was an intern at Bisnow. A sponge, someone with a thirst for knowledge and want to learn. Watching them grow has been one of the most exciting things to date. We focus on really deep learning, training, and onboarding in the beginning followed by autonomy for the second month. During the first month, it’s important to find the “puzzle piece” what made them want to join our startup? what excites them about what we are building, what’s the hook? The second month is really a proving point, can they keep up with outpace, does the work they are doing excite them, and can they bring new fresh ideas to our meetings. This level of independence and respect has really worked with our team.

We also do fun things along the way! If you stay with me for one year you get your birthday off PTO. Year two you get a second day until ideally you’re with me for 5 years and you get the entire week of your birthday as a paid vacation.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Consciously and unconsciously. We hire the best candidate for the job. We’ve been lucky to have a very diverse team, with a founding team of two females and two males. I wish I could say I favor females to hire, or race, however, any favoritism doesn’t help the system in my eyes.

I want to build the best product and to do that we need the best team. We do however Consciously give back to more diverse areas as a public benefit corporation we give back to low-income education.

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

It’s so hard! Just the other day I had one of my employees tell me that because he’s from the west coast and I’m from the east coast there is a tone difference and attitude difference, which is hard for him to feel like he’s doing a good job. (Being from the east coast I rolled my eyes). However, it’s really important to listen and learn what your employees need. I know that when I have a manager I need them to tell me “good job” we have a few of those on our team. We also have the employees that want to hear “good job” as a pay raise or promotion, or even just an afternoon off, or email announcing it to the team.
Really listening and learning how your employee’s work will make you a better leader. I try to stress, it’s not about the hours at the desk but the work that’s getting done. So if my employee doesn’t feel well, you’re not a child you don’t have to convince me, but if you’re going to stay home your work should reflect the same respect as if you were in the office.

Advice for others?

I could fit this into every answer: TRANSPARENCY — explain it. What you are doing and why. Especially in the startup world, I think it’s really hard on employees when they have no idea what’s going on with the company, upper management, or the founders. I share my schedule, my action items, my weekly updates as well as probably too much information. But it all comes together when you’re team has a question or you need to ask for help because you were transparent there is a better understanding.

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Callum Connects

Denise Mossis Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

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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Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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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