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Entrepreneurship

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

Sun Ho, Founder of LittleLives Inc

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Sun Ho has an edtech business, LittleLives. She’s helping turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What’s your story?
I’m just a small town girl who won’t stop believing.
Someone recently told me that the curious little 10-year-old girl in me is still shining through with excitement for the world today. Although, now, instead of being curious about how things work, I am interested in how we can solve real world problems. Today, I get to learn and build everyday on our dream to turn complex school operations into simple and enjoyable processes.

What excites you most about your industry?
Have you been to a preschool lately? In our day-to-day, we get to hear the wonderful laughter of children. We see the innocent smiles of our little ones, who learn as they play. We meet the tirelessly loving educators, leaders and parents who give their best. These are the people we serve everyday at LittleLives. It excites us greatly to be in an industry that meaningfully impacts the future of our world. When we see a new feature we have implemented in our system helping to shave off minutes or hours of administrative work for schools (and put a smile on many faces), it is deeply satisfying.

What’s your connection to Asia?
LittleLives started in Singapore. We have since expanded to multiple cities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. Everywhere we go, we gain unique insights about different cultures. One thing that remains unchanged around the world is the passion to improve education. This includes the desire to refine school processes too. I absolutely love the people I work with, in schools and in my own team overseas. They have taught me so much about their cultures and countries.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
It is so hard to choose one. We love Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Beijing and pretty much every city we have visited. Setting up in multiple Asian cities has really become faster and more transparent than ever before. What a time to be alive and working on a startup, and even more so for a young woman in Asia.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be true to yourself.

As a woman and as the founder of a tech startup, I have heard the many ways in which people express their surprise that I do not fit into – for lack of a better word – the norm. I am my own mix of feminine and geeky. I have a computer science background that I am passionate about and, at the same time, I love fun aesthetics and product development. Technology is an industry in which venture capitalists traditionally favour white, male founders as the stats show a concentration of success in this small demographic. Despite this, I have found that the people around me will respect me for being me because I let my personality and passion take the stage.

Who inspires you?
Beth Fredericks, the Executive Director at Wheelock College. She is a wonderful educator, leader and orator. At 67, she is as active as any young teacher and as wise as the oldest, most experienced professor. She has inspired so many early childhood educators with her stories, her teaching and above all, her warmth and delightful personality. She has contributed so much to the early childhood field here in Asia, and all over the world, over the span of her illustrious career. Her charm and kind heart makes her one of the most sought-after collaborators in our industry today. Yet, she remains humble, approachable and personable. Her enthusiasm for education and children, coupled with her infectious humour, are what I aspire to.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
What continues to blow me away every time I witness it, is incredible potential that can be unlocked when a great team comes together. When you put together bright, experienced, communicative and open-minded people in a team, miracles can happen.

Creative ideas that were recently put forth in a small ad-hoc project team are now being turned into a new product that LittleLives will soon offer. When we first began discussions, we had no idea where they would take us; the only thing we knew definitively was that we wanted to help educators gain better access to resources to help them in their everyday classroom. It all fell into place when our team started brainstorming ideas that were based on the problems we knew were present in early childhood education.

Now, we have the trial version of a new module, LittleAcademy, and I am in awe of how all of this came together. I would like to quote Margaret Mead here, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To be honest, I would not change a thing. We made so many mistakes when we started this journey, but the lessons we learnt from our failures are what make us stronger today.

On a related note, there is this beautiful quote from Batman Begins:
Thomas Wayne asked, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

How do you unwind?
It is important for us to allow our body, mind and soul to unwind and recharge. Badminton is my go-to exercise. I play twice weekly to keep fit and nimble. Recently I have picked up Yoga Nidra with an excellent instructor who has opened my eyes to all the good that meditation does for our minds.

Beyond this, I find that spending time with my loved ones, friends and teammates helps me feel grounded and loved.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I travelled to China twice last year and truly fell in love with the country. It provides such a rich variety of experiences, from culture and art, to commerce and tech. I was in a constant state of amazement. It is a fast advancing nation that I really enjoy my time in, both learning and relaxing with the people I meet.

Everyone in business should read this book:
High Output Management by Andrew Grove, late CEO and Chairman of Intel. This is a book written in the 90s, but its ideas are still very much applicable to businesses today.

Andy lays out what you need to do to successfully manage your business in simple and concise terms. This does not mean that it is easy to grow as successfully as Intel did, but the book shows us that the path to greatness is apparent. What I personally love about this book is that it presents its ideas both logically and emotionally without judgement.

On the issue of an underperforming teammate, Andy offers a very simple explanation:
“When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.”

And as a manager, all you can do is to train and motivate.

This is an excellent review of the book by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz: https://a16z.com/2015/11/13/high-output-management/
I highly recommend this book to all entrepreneurs.

Shameless plug for your business:
LittleLives is a leading preschool edtech company with a strong presence in over 700 schools in Singapore, 20 in Vietnam, 130 in China and 100 in Malaysia. LittleLives develops and provides applications that allow preschools to record children’s administrative records digitally, from attendance-taking to portfolio management. In addition to reducing the hassle of physical filing and documentation, the LittleLives system allows parents to keep track of the progress of their children’s learning at school through LittleLives parents’ app.

As an edtech company, LittleLives does more than facilitate day-to-day school operations. In 2017, LittleLives hosted the first ever International Pre-school Conference in Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by educators representing 1200 preschools in the region. LittleLives has helped over 215,000 children, 430,000 parents and 23,000 teachers bring schools into the 21st century and we are hoping to continue empowering many more around the world.

Reach out to us if you are involved in education or entrepreneurship. We’re always happy to chat!

How can people connect with you?
Just drop me an email at [email protected].

Twitter handle?
With so much to say, 140 characters is not enough. Hence, it is best to follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/littlelivesbigdreams), Instagram (littlelives_inc), YouTube (youtube.com/user/hosunSG), and check out our LittleLives Blog (blog.littlelives.com) to get to know us better!

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 – Daphne Ng, CEO of JEDTrade

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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.)

Daphne Ng is the CEO of JEDTrade, a blockchain technology company focused on trade, supply chain, and financial inclusion projects in ASEAN. She is also the Scretary-General at ACCESS and Exco. of Singapore Fintech Association

What makes you do what you do?
I was introduced to blockchain technology in 2016 after I left my corporate banking career after 10 years. It was my mentor who first got me interested in this technology, which I then went on to delve further into, on its potential applications in the lending and trade finance space – domains where I came from.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Being in the space for 2 years and actively involved in the ecosystem, I was able to bring on the projects, network and a good degree of thought leadership in this vertical. Early on in the startup journey, our team faced many challenges. And to me, the key to rising above failures are two essential factors – resilience and support. While resilience is innate, I received a lot of help be it in terms of connections or advice. ‘Nobody succeeds without help’ rings very true for me.

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)?
From the start, I focused on my domain expertise in trade finance and the application construct of how blockchain and DLT can be applied to these use cases. Also, my strategy from the start was to build a technology company made up of 80% tech and engineers, which is also our key competitive advantage today. At the end of the day, deliverables are about strategy and execution, which includes building and leading an ‘A’ team.

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 have many mentors, which includes our company advisors (all of whom are well-known in this industry) and mostly informal mentors I meet via my connections, and on various occasions and circumstances. Creating opportunities also means putting myself in the right place, at the right time. And in my case, these were mostly organic and genuine friendships formed from the initial connection.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
To me, a match in values is very important. It also takes humility to ask for help and be willing to listen to advice, which is important in order for mentorships to be successful – be it formal or informal.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
I love this question! I am passionate about building strong teams and helping my people grow. I abide by the 3Rs when identifying talents: resourcefulness, resilience and right values. And then I invest in the ‘potential’ and this means giving them room to lead, make decisions and take risks.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
My support of diverse talents, skillsets and characters can be seen in the make-up of our core team – all helming specific roles and each bringing their own value to the table. We need the sum of all parts to build a great company.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Great leaders emerge in times of failures and challenges, never abandoning the team, and always putting the team’s interests before her own. And I consciously live by these mottos every day.

Advice for others?
My advice to other entrepreneurs: be resolute and dare to be different. If you are going to follow others, then you will end up on the same path as them. No right or wrong; but I would rather chart my own path. This June, we are officially launching our blockchain project, Jupiter Chain (www.jupiterchain.tech), which have garnered much interest in the industry, even before we made it public. We believe this project is the epitome of marrying innovation with practical implementation, and we want to be the first to truly operationalize blockchain for our ecosystem projects in this region.


If you’d like to get in touch with Daphne Ng, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daphne-ng-%E9%BB%84%E7%91%9E%E7%8E%B2/

To learn more about JEDTrade, please click here.

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