Intimately understand your consumer. I recommend to any burgeoning CEO to take a step back and know not the problems your target audience is grappling with, but also spend some time in their shoes. Perhaps by doing some focus groups or target customer interviews. Knowing what makes your demographic tick empowers you to craft the smartest solution for them.
As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Eremia CEO of BingeWith. Trained as a data analyst, Alex has experience building eCommerce and web products. Alex worked at Google Express where she was part of the team to create the first Google eCommerce experience for the Google Home and helped reach positive order margins for some stores. Most recently she founded Bingewith to help everyday content writers match the prowess of Bloomberg by engaging their audience with insightful audio content. She originates from Romania and was raised in Toronto prior to moving to California in 2012.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I originated from Romania and was raised in Toronto prior to moving to California in 2012. In California I was trained as a data analyst on the Google Express team. I was one of the core team members that created a Google eCommerce experience for Google Home. I’ve always had a creative and entrepreneurial spirit, even before joining Google. A few years ago I took the leap to build my own brand, and BingeWith was born. At a glance, the brand helps everyday content writers match the prowess of Bloomberg by engaging their audience with insightful audio content.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I began leading my company, I made a commitment to work against my tendency to be a traditional introvert. It started out small, like dialing random phone numbers and asking people on the other end what kind of pizza they like for a “school project”. I began taking comedic improv and fire spinning classes. Over time, I saw myself becoming more comfortable talking to folks everywhere I met. Through a steadfast belief in the power of self-direction, I found that being a social butterfly can be taught, practiced, and refined just like any other skill.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Very early on, a friend introduced me to a potential investor at a social gathering. At this time I was only a few weeks into working on BingeWith full time. He asked what exciting things were happening. I immediately responded that I excited was happy reconnect with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. Unfortunately in that moment, I completely missed that he meant what exciting things were happening — he was referring to my business. Complete newbie mistake. From that, I learned to always be in CEO mode. With every action you take you’re representing your company.
OK, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
Part of being a CEO and executive means you have the space to be creative and are forced to always work to improve your craft. To stay ahead of the pact, it’s crucial you show bold but executable thinking around the solution your product is trying to solve.
Everything from securing funding from investors, garnering the attention you need on stage, and creating a more compelling elevator pitch requires you to confidently present bold thinking. I learned you need to need to immediately convince whoever you’re in front of that you are willing to embrace fearless thinking. This realm of thinking immediately propelled me towards the role of a CEO.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
A strong tech executive or CEO is able to speak to the technical complexities that their team achieves. They have the ability to translate technical jargon into tangible, comprehensive idea for those they’re speaking to. They do this while also being able to understand the core in-depth technical complexities of why what they are doing is difficult.
As a CEO, you must intimately understand the challenges our audience faces. I’ve experienced firsthand the frustration of being a student feeling overwhelmed with hours of reading each night when I was in college. In a world of ‘content cram’, the reality of what students are expected to stay on top of is unrealistic. My first-hand experience of observing the impact of this added stress on students proved useful when fine-tuning the product.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
People. Being an executive is a people first job more than anything. You have to be able to communicate well and understand what drives the people you’re working with.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
I’ve learned that being a CEO means that you will work harder than you have ever worked in your life. It’s certainly more than a 9–5 and working weekends is a must at times. To some this may seem like a downside. I’ve however found working especially hard on my business to be an incredibly rewarding experience.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
In some realms of Silicon Valley there is a myth that a ‘brilliant coder CEO’ is the linchpin behind building an incredible household name tech brand. However, in reality, being an executive is a relationship — heavy job. There is no Python coding manual on how to read the room in an investor roundtable or how to respond to a difficult question during a tough partnership meeting. The truth is, if you 100% love coding, or working behind the scenes and want to do nothing but that, the people-heavy role of a CEO will prove to be a tough gig.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The trend of female executives being evaluated differently from male executives is well documented. Especially around how women are asked preventive questions while men are asked promotive questions. I personally think the biggest challenge we face is rooting out the actions we silently impose on ourselves from our structural environment.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought the job would be mostly focused around execution, and to a large extent, it is. However the challenge I’ve had to adjust to is navigating the fact you don’t know what you don’t know. In a startup environment — things move very quickly and you constantly have to be in CEO-mode. I’ve found a key part of the job is to constantly remain open to new ideas and different ways of doing things.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
In my opinion, a successful CEO is someone who puts their heart and soul into their brand. A strategic executive spearheading their own company needs to embrace the importance of hard work, late nights, determination and embrace the potential for failure. If you’re not 100% committed to the mission of your business, becoming a CEO may not be the right path for you.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Embrace strong communication. This is a skill that can always be improved — regardless of what your title, job role or industry. As a CEO, you are expected to communicate with investors, employees, customers and potential partners to name a few. Embracing an extroverted, bold way of communicating will be hugely valuable.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am thankful for everyone I’ve worked with that has believed in me from Day One. One of the first customers we had was someone that I cold emailed. Despite that email being very promotional, that customer was able to recognize that I was a hard working entrepreneur and took a chance. Sometimes, when you’re starting out, even a small thing like receiving a reply to an email can make a huge difference in your day.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’m passionate about empowering women leaders in tech. Since starting my career, I’ve led women to join the tech industry by getting them jobs in data analytics and data science. I help with mock interviews, going over SQL and Python coding questions, and advice on how to talk about salary.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You can teach yourself any skills you need. “From Khan Academy, Lynda and TED talks — we live in an era where free resources to learn any skill is at our fingertips. I learned early on the importance of embracing the autonomy you have and leveraging the tools around you to learn. The way to do this is by immersing yourself in unfamiliar material.
For example, I made a commitment to work against my tendency to be a traditional introvert. When pitching a new client, being on stage at a speaking engagement, or hoping to spark the interest of an investor, being a practiced extrovert is an asset as a CEO.
It started out small, like dialing random phone numbers and asking people on the other end what kind of pizza they like for a “school project”. I began taking comedic improv and fire spinning classes. Over time, I saw myself becoming more comfortable talking to folks everywhere I met, whether at a conference or impromptu startup competition in SoHo. Through a steadfast belief in the power of self-direction, I found that being a social butterfly can be taught, practiced, and refined just like any other skill.
- Learn the nuances of your audience challenges. A core facet of our success circles around our intimate understanding the challenges our audience faces. I’ve experienced firsthand the frustration of being a student feeling overwhelmed with hours of reading each night when I was in college. In a world of ‘content cram’, the reality of what students are expected to stay on top of is unrealistic. My first-hand experience of observing the impact of this added stress on students proved useful when fine-tuning the product.
- Intimately understand your consumer. I recommend to any burgeoning CEO to take a step back and know not the problems your target audience is grappling with, but also spend some time in their shoes. Perhaps by doing some focus groups or target customer interviews. Knowing what makes your demographic tick empowers you to craft the smartest solution for them.
- Confidently be able to present bold (but executable) ideas. “The startup realm is incredibly saturated today. To stay ahead of the pact, it’s crucial you show bold but executable thinking around the solution your product is trying to solve.
Everything from securing funding from investors, garnering the attention you need on stage, and creating a more compelling elevator pitch requires you to confidently present bold thinking. I learned you need to need to immediately convince whoever you’re in front of that you are willing to embrace fearless thinking — but remain steadfast on a viable strategy of how your brand could adopt those ideas. Your ability to execute can make or break your brand.
- It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. Everyone you meet could be a resource down the road. Proving your ability to execute on your ambitious ideas is what garners true trust. This focus solidifies your audience’s perspective of the brand. Stop worrying about what ‘could be’. As I’ve learned — it’s not who you know, but who knows you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The biggest gifts we can give anyone are the gifts of self confidence, knowledge, and decency. Teaching and growing well adjusted humans for a vibrant community where we respect humans for the value they bring as people is crucial.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I’m grateful for anything that reminds me of what’s possible in this life. Books can do that. Films can do that. Music can do that. School can do that. It’s so easy to allow one day to simply follow into the next, but every once in a while we encounter something that shows us that anything is possible, that dramatic change is possible, that something new can be made, that laughter can be shared.” — Jonathan Safran Foer
In anything we do, it’s easy to fall into a pattern and limit ourselves to what is now and what will be next rather than embracing the at the possibility of what could be. It would have been easier for me to keep on the path I was on and grow up the data science ladder at Google but sometimes dreaming of what could be and accepting those dreams can put us on a different path.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
More than one person in particular. I’d love to chat one-to-one with some major publishers, angel investors in the tech space and other inspirational entrepreneurs. A big part of why I’m passionate about being a CEO is meeting other types of people, learning other perspectives and embracing different ways of thinking.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About the Author
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrive Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com