…ensure we re-balance our lives in a world where technology consumes us, to make time for doing things you really love and surrounding yourself with people who lift you up. Life is not all about work, and I believe that you should prioritize your relationships in life and your personal well being first before you can give your all to the work you choose to do.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Loubier. Andrea has been recognized as one of the thought leaders and top female entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia. As CEO of Mailbird, Andrea takes inspiration from many other leading female tech entrepreneurs in changing the mindset and way we conduct personal and business communication through email today. With Andrea as the muscle behind pushing Mailbird into the forefront of tech companies in the world, Mailbird has been nominated by PC World as one of the best productivity tools for the business person, IT World named Mailbird the best email client for Windows, and Microsoft even nominated Mailbird as Startup of the Day. Andrea is a contributor to Forbes and The Asian Entrepreneur. She’s been featured and interviewed on Bloomberg TV and BBC. Andrea’s backbone comes from her experience in building strategic relationships, conceptual selling skills, multiple project and people management, cross team communication and coordination, leadership, project bidding and billing, and client correspondence with top international corporate enterprises that include Proctor and Gamble, KAO Brands and Ubisoft, among many other highly reputable brands. As the CEO of Mailbird, dedicated to building a great company and finding opportunities in business for her team to develop a healthy relationship with email for the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Andrea! What is it about the position of CEO the most attracted you to it?
I wouldn’t say that I was specifically attracted to the title or position of a CEO, but my professional career since graduating from college in 2007 put me on a path to management and leadership roles. Once I made the big jump to pursuing starting my own tech company with my co-founders, that same drive, dedication and commitment I had in previous professional roles quickly played out in my level of execution to get Mailbird kicked off the ground. So eventually, after discussion amongst my business partners, we all agreed that it made the most sense for me to step into the role at Mailbird as the CEO. I was thrilled about the new challenge and knew I could live up to it considering my previous experience and work history.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does. But in just a few words can you explain what a CEO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?
CEO’s carry the weight of the world on his or her shoulders. That means the people who decide to work for you and for the bigger purpose of the business you are building, the customers who keep your business alive, the stakeholders, the public eye, the work life balance, the perception and the dedication and commitment to the business and yourself in leading that business. They do a little bit of everything. They are present. They are the core of the business and teams infrastructure and culture.
They are the communicator, the leader and the motivator. They are the ones who set the vision, the path, the goals and priorities for the business. The responsibilities range from being the “janitor” (doing clean up work with the bottom line), all the way to the top where they are representative of an industry or gender in her field of expertise. In comparison with other executives, the role is much more fully encompassing of every fiber that makes a business succeed. Other executives may have a more specific role, like a CFO will specifically handle all financial operations of a business. A CEO does that x10k other things to keep momentum and drive and progress moving in a positive direction at all times.
What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?
Stepping into a leadership role when you are younger than those you are managing. Stepping into a leadership role when you are a woman in a male dominated industry or work force. Stepping into a leadership position when you already have a full time job in managing your health as a type 1 diabetic. These are just a few of the many struggles I personally have encountered, but the key to overcoming them is to ensure you have the right support network both personal and professional that can help you, guide you and just be there when you need it most. This could be a business coach, a mentor, a friend, a colleague, a partner, another person in a similar position in their professional career that you can relate to, or even family members.
What are the biggest challenges faced by women CEOs that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I would say it’s the perception of success is different. Women are challenged on how they will overcome inevitable failures that any business owner or entrepreneur will encounter. Whereas men are challenged on how they will achieve success. Women have a tendency to feel that they need to prove themselves much more than their male counterparts. Life stages where women who decide to start a family and undergo the challenges both physically and mentally of having a child, whilst staying sharp and fully dedicated to their role is not something that men are challenged with.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO?
I enjoy being able to set an example, to help people develop professionally, to challenge people, to set goals and achieve them. Being a CEO is tough, but the rewards that come with it make the challenges very much worth it. It’s about having a positive impact and influence on people, not the business itself, a CEO’s job is all about people — and many people have noted that I am very adaptable and someone who is great within diverse environments and working with people from all different backgrounds and influences. I’m proud of that.
What are the downsides of being a CEO?
Balancing what is important in life can become very skewed. You put everything into your business and the people on the team that you assemble. Unfortunately that sometimes results in the rest of your life being compromised from health to personal relationships, when you put such a high priority on your role and impact to your business and service to the world. You don’t get a break as a CEO, you have to schedule it and recognize that it is almost just as important as the time when you are fully focused and prioritizing work.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was recognized in SEA as a female CEO of a tech company called Mailbird. So I was invited by Channel News Asia to be a part of a TV show in SIngapore to tell our story at Mailbird and to be given an opportunity to share your story with the world with the potential benefit of raising funds from VC’s that would be judging us. In the end, it was an interesting experience, I built great relationships, gained exposure for my company and even raised some extra funding from participating in the show. Never thought I’d be on several episodes of a TV show, simply for being the CEO of Mailbird. There were many valuable lessons that came from this experience.
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?
An investor at a tech conference asked me what our CAP table looked like. I had no idea what a CAP table was at this time as I’d never ventured into the world of fundraising. There was no major lesson other than, ok you are a CEO of a company now that you built from the ground up, it’s time to step into zones of discomfort like getting down to key financial reporting that is needed to share with interested investors. Getting granular with really know the KPI’s for our business and building a plan for how we were going to scale growth with or without outside funding from VC’s.
Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I find that I have a tendency to get down into the trenches and deep into being involved in all the inner workings of our company, and not because I need to, but because I have a knack for operations and communication. What you quickly learn is that in your role as a CEO, you may slowly detach from day to day operations, and move more into visionary and strategic planning.
It’s an adjustment you make from when you first do everything in a company, to later when you grow and you start building a team of high performers. These high performers will be the communicators for the milestones, vision and prioritization to keep the team full aligned and working towards the same goal. These leaders will be your direct reports who will support you in managing the different departments of operations within your organization, so that you can focus on the bigger things outside of daily operations.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CEO?
I really believe you have to have a strong drive and belief in yourself. CEO’s have to be relentlessly persistent and innovative in how they drive their team and business to the levels of success that are desired for all stakeholders. You have to be someone who is strong, who doesn’t give up when faced with more than one difficult challenge at a time.
You have to be resourceful, decisive and motivated all the time. I think those who lack experience or desire for leadership positions should avoid roles like a CEO, but perhaps may find another role that is specific to one thing they are very skilled at which a leader or CEO would be terrible at. Someone who is very focused and skilled at something should be placed in a role of execution which would later lead to a management role, but not the role of a CEO.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Share your stories of challenges you’ve overcome, of successes, of learning and support each other. Create a work culture and environment that you want, so you can bring the right people on board who fit that culture. If you do that, then you will indefinitely have a team that thrives.
Who inspired/inspires you and why?
Simen Sinek is pretty bad-ass. He really understand human motivation and drive, and how those two things apply in all facets of business management and leadership when it comes to running a company. I’d also say Melinda Gates, because she is the right kind of female business leader that is smart, driven, considerate of world issues and someone who executes without the gloat of media and fame, she stays down to earth yet highly influential. That is the power of women in a nutshell.
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?
My business coach has been amazing in helping me get through tough decisions when it comes to business. I was getting to a point where I was hitting a wall as Mailbird started to become even more successful, growing faster than ever. I began to lose confidence in the next steps for the business, and felt a heavy weight of pressure on my shoulders.
So as soon as I started working with a business coach, there was a dramatic improvement in my outlook and decision making process that would help me stay confident in driving the business to the next stage of growth. From emotional support to creating a plan and framework of execution to reach a seemingly impossible goal, I would highly recommend a business coach — but important that you find one that is the right one for you and your business.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I leverage the fact that I am a woman in an executive role in an industry that is highly dominated by men. I use this to tell our story of success at Mailbird to inspire more women to step into these roles as I really believe a strong diversity in any business that is offering a solution to a market segment or the entire world, benefits everyone.
I also like to make sure to tell my story as a person who struggles with type 1 diabetes and that despite the disadvantages this disease gives you in life, you can still achieve great things like building a million dollar company, serving over 2 million users. It is something to be proud of on its own, but to do that with the added challenges of being a type 1 diabetic…you have no idea what that is really like unless you are both a diabetic and CEO. It’s important to share your stories with the world to empower more people to feel that they can achieve what they want in life, despite the disease.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would say to ensure we re-balance our lives in a world where technology consumes us, to make time for doing things you really love and surrounding yourself with people who lift you up. Life is not all about work, and I believe that you should prioritize your relationships in life and your personal well being first before you can give your all to the work you choose to do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All women, everywhere, have the same hopes: we want to be self-sufficient and create better lives for ourselves and our loved ones.” — Melinda Gates. This is very relevant as it speaks to a greater understanding of how empowered our world is with women’s voices being heard.
Some of the biggest 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
Melinda Gates because she inspires me as one of the top female business influencers in the world. She is smart. She has held executive roles in industries and in previous decades where women were not so welcome. She’s philanthropic and is proactive in addressing some of the world’s biggest issues. She is married to Bill Gates and together they portray a very down to earth and rational mindset, considering their success and major contributions to the world.
She doesn’t gloat. She supports women leaders and those striving to do something big. It would be an incredible opportunity for me to sit down and ask all the many questions I have about balance, success, perseverance as a woman in executive and highly influential roles. Having been a leader at Microsoft, and with Mailbird choosing Microsoft’s OS as the platform on top of which we built our business around, that connection would be amazing in understanding the journey and exploring the possibility of collaboration with them.
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About the author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. 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