(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 Bárbara Ximénez Bruidegom, Founder of Shutta. Shutta allows you to scroll through your videos and live photos, frame by frame, to capture the perfect moment and save it as a photo without losing any resolution. Any video stored on your phone is available automatically within Shutta. Videos taken with your phone are immediately accessible, or you can sync your GoPro or professional camera footage to your phone and simply save your favorite photo moments, in print quality resolution, back to your phone.
She has experience in business management roles, working in a wide variety of industries in Amsterdam, London, Dubai, Madrid and Ho Chi Minh City.
What makes you do what you do?
Believe it or not, this question baffled me more than it should. Why would anybody in their right mind choose to work 80 hours a week, with no leave, meanwhile earning – at least for the first few years – a fraction of the pay for triple the responsibility and worry? Like many other entrepreneurs, I didn’t seek out this path, it presented itself to me. But, there is something immensely rewarding about having ultimate responsibility for every failure and every success. The buck stops here, there is no passing it on. It is a very sobering thing, and the responsibility can weigh on you at times. But, it is also extremely liberating. In return for assuming full responsibility for literally everything, you get the freedom to make your own decisions, to explore, to discover. That really appeals to my insatiably curious side, the part of me that is happiest when learning something new, and, for me, this freedom more than outweighs the hard work, long hours, and bad pay.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I started out my career in finance/business administration and only entered the IT arena when I took a job at PeopleSoft in Amsterdam in the nineties. I had grown up in a scientific family and had always been surrounded by computers and tech, but it was my first introduction to big data – although, of course, nobody used that term back then. I was fascinated by the insight and the power that systems and data bring to business, and I still am. I think, however, that the path that has led me to where I am now has been more of an epic trek through a mountain range, with many highs and plenty of deep lows, rather than anything you might classify as a rise in the industry. It has been a great journey so far, though, and I can still see many peaks up in the distance that I would love to scale.
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)?
An opportunity presented itself, I recognized it, and I was up for the challenge. Right place, right time, right attitude. I think it is as simple as that. Whether anybody else would see it as unusual or a stretch never crossed my mind. I am very aware that I stand on the shoulders of giants, and that, thanks to this, I was fortunate enough to grow up believing that glass ceilings are there to be shattered. After all, they are made of glass and not titanium. Look around you, look back, and you will find plenty of people that have achieved mind-blowing things, despite having to beat much harder odds than I ever had to deal with. If you want it, go out and get it.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
My father spent his entire career at the European Space Agency, truly working at the forefront of science and technology, in an industry where even the smallest mistakes can have disastrous consequences. He was a very tough taskmaster and didn’t accept anything less than excellence; in his eyes doing your best simply wasn’t good enough. I credit him for teaching me that it is easy to be passionate about the things you are good at, but that it takes grit and determination to become good at the things you are not passionate about. Of course, if you can manage to become good at something you dislike, you have also converted it into something new to be passionate about.
How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?
Besides my father who pushed me to try harder and go further than I ever thought I’d be capable of, there have been many advisors and sounding boards along the way. If you want to succeed you need to buckle down, but there is no need to be a hero. It is important to seek advice and to learn from experts around you; it is not efficient to reinvent the wheel over and over again. You’d be surprised how many of the experts that you hold in the highest esteem have the courtesy to offer their advice to someone that they have never met when they recognize passion combined with the humility to ask for help.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
In my experience, it all starts with being able to spot the talent in the first place. At Shutta, we have a hiring method that is quite different to the standard question and answer sessions, and it rarely fails. During the recruitment phase, we focus on getting the most balanced picture of a candidate possible; assessing everything from knowledge and ability to resilience, ambition, and people skills. Essentially, we are looking for that little spark of genius. When it is spotted, it is also well documented, and by the time the candidate joins the team, we have a clear idea on how we can best empower each candidate and in which areas they need support; how we can help them discover their own genius. From there on in, and outside of formal assessment periods to establish personal development plans for the year ahead, I think it is vital to be on the floor and work directly with the people that, together, make up your company. It is the only way to stay in touch with everybody’s needs and ambitions, which is vitally important when you try to align company goals with personal goals.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Looking in from the outside, I wouldn’t blame anyone for looking at us and seeing a group of misfits. One of the greatest benefits of our selection process is that we are forced to look beyond the mere facts of a person’s life and see the individual beneath. Shutta is developing all manner of innovative solutions, from computer vision and machine learning to marketing methods that are up to 60 times more successful than the current digital marketing benchmarks. We need people who can look at an existing problem and come up with a new way of solving it. This means that, if we want to find people that look at the world from a slightly different angle, we must treasure quirks and peculiarities. A (fortunate) fringe benefit is that this quest has quite naturally led us to have a very diverse, but very tight and collaborative team.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Forget about being a great leader. Aspire to be a great person, the greatest person you can be; intellectually, emotionally, socially, at all times and in every aspect of everyday life. I think that we have all experienced the exhilarating feeling of being “in the zone” when everything seems to flow naturally and with absolute ease. I believe that we get to that zone the minute we let go of our tendency to focus on the end goal and instead focus simply on the task or situation at hand. When people find their own zone(s), they also find their own talent, or what I call their own genius. And when we start spending as much of our lives as possible in that flow, we will naturally progress to become the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.
Advice for others?
Be curious, be hungry, be passionate, and be humble. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have under your belt, you’re never done developing into a better person than you were the day before. Be flexible and be well prepared. Plan everything to the minutest detail, then accept that nothing will go according to plan. The purpose of your preparation is not to be in absolute control of a situation, it is to allow you to recognise deviations and to make adjustments accordingly. Most of all, enjoy the ride. Have fun, laugh a lot, and don’t take it all too seriously. Life is the ultimate adventure, and you only get one shot at it, so aim for a life of happiness, not success.
To learn more about Shutta, please see http://shutta.co/.
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