“Be willing to think differently than everyone in the room”, With Penny Bauder & Dr. Jo Webber

I’m a serial entrepreneur and I’ve been a CEO 5 times. I’ve served on private and public boards for 12 years and have led multiple exits leading to good investor returns. As women, we often try to de-risk situations but as a leader, I’ve learned that in order to be successful we need to be […]

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I’m a serial entrepreneur and I’ve been a CEO 5 times. I’ve served on private and public boards for 12 years and have led multiple exits leading to good investor returns. As women, we often try to de-risk situations but as a leader, I’ve learned that in order to be successful we need to be willing to take risks. My best advice to females in leadership positions is to be willing to think differently than everyone in the room and to push themselves to take more risks.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jo Webber. Dr. Jo Webber is a serial software entrepreneur and is the Founder and CEO of Pod, the social networking platform that puts people on the map – helping them connect based on common interests and location. Jo brings a wealth of executive and software product experience having served as the chief executive office for multiple private and public software companies in the fintech, cybersecurity and scientific software markets. Jo is the Chairman of the Board for the Los Angeles – based Saas company Edlio and also serves on a non-profit board. Prior to Pod, Jo founded the youth digital payment B-C startup, Oink. Forbes featured Oink as the Paypal for Kids in 2012 and the Oink app won the SIIA Codie Award for the Best Commerce Solution in 2015. The Oink app also won the 2015 Pay Before Award for Best in Category for teen payment solutions and was the winner of Best in Show Finovate London.Jo has served as a Board Director for Maxwell Systems and Octagon Research Solutions, which was acquired by Accenture in 2012. Earlier in her career Jo was CEO and Board Director for Energy Solutions International and InnaPhase (Thermo Fisher). Jo is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, a Chartered Chemist and is also the author of seven patents in payment technology. Jo was also the recipient of the Woman of the Year in Technology award in 2014 from the International Business Awards group. She graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a BS in Chemistry and a PhD in Quantum Physics. Jo is a firm believer that the role of software is to take complex processes and make them simple. Originally from London, Jo currently lives in Greater Los Angeles area.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was fortunate enough to be accepted for a PhD program in Quantum Physics in England many years ago. I was an early heavy user of computers. I was running large scale ab-initio quantum mechanical calculations at the time. Albert Einstein calculated that each one of the equations I was executing would take four man-lifetimes to solve. He didnt think it would be possible to solve them. The university gave me my own VAX 4300 to use – and my calculations would take about 4 days to run. Later I had access to a Cray supercomputer in London and could run the calculations in about 4 hours. Today you could probably run them on your laptop. I built a software program to take the output of these calculations and create 3D models and display them on silicon graphics monitors – thereby bringing thousands of pages of numbers to life. I remember when i finally got my program to compile – I pressed the execute button and instantly an image started to build on the monitor – bringing math to life! This was an early introduction for me into the power of computers and software, and it has stayed with me ever since. Over the last 20 years I have run five very different technology companies with one common theme – always trying to use software and computing power to make complex problems much simpler.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

With Pod I wanted to develop using React Native so we could deploy simultaneously on both iOS and Android, however I found it hard to find resources in the LA area. We ended up finding three people in the Ukraine. As we started working with them I felt we needed to get the team together – at least once. So I asked them if they could fly to the US. They told me they wouldn’t be able to get visas. I looked into going to see them – however they are a 5 hour drive from Kiev and most sources online tell you not to attempt it unless you are from the region – so I felt leading the CTO, Head of Product and myself into a potentially perilous situation was not in the best interests of the company! So then I asked them if they could get to London – no – same problem. France? Yes – they could get to France – lets meet in Paris I said. But it was July and it was going to be hot, crowded and expensive. How about Nice – that worked. So there we were in a small hotel in Nice – three Ukrainians, one Irishman, one Fin, one American and one English woman holed up for 3 days.

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?

20 years ago – I was driving at 5am through the dark and empty roads in Macon Georgia with a new employee. All of a sudden a car was heading towards us in our lane! What! I thought. My passenger said nothing. Then I realised I was driving on the wrong side of the road. I quickly corrected and apologized – Id recently come over from England. Why didn’t you say something I asked. The new employee didn’t want to tell me that I was doing something wrong! I pulled the car over and told them that anytime I was endangering lives she should feel particularly empowered to tell me!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our mission is to bring people together. Pod’s map and proximity data combined with our focus on helping people connect in person is what makes networking on Pod a unique experience. We launched Pod after high demand from our community of 5 million professionals looking for a better way to network. Networking is the most important source of business growth for small businesses but there didn’t seem to be a platform that perfectly fit the networking needs of entrepreneurs and small business owners. The first generation of networking apps like Facebook and LinkedIn had us take our friends and connections and put them online. This led to a very insular environment, with little ability to expand and diversify networks. We help people find and meet new people and build stronger and more diverse networks.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

An exciting project we are working on at Pod is making our platform even more global. We can see that Pods heaviest use is in the USA, the UK and other English speaking regions. There are eight languages that cover about 80% of the planet. We plan to translate the platform into those languages first and bring on another 4 million users in 2020.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

The status quo of women in STEM has changed since I came into the field. Women are now being encouraged to explore the STEM field and it’s really sparked a change. That being said, women make up roughly 50% of the planet but still only make up about 25% of the STEM workforce, and only 5-6% of CEO’s so regarding changes to status quo, I would like to see that percentage increase.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I was at a summit at Oxford University years ago and there were two women in the entire summit; myself and the secretary. She registered us all and then left. We worked all day and then went to dinner in one of Oxfords dining halls. Oxford had arranged a magic show for us to enjoy over dinner. So I sat down amongst the guys and waited for the show to start. The first magician bounded onto the stage and announced “I need a female assistant”. Everyone looked around the room laughing and pointed to me, up I went. After his act had finished I went to leave the stage and the next magician came on. “I need a female assistant he declared”. At this point everyone was laughing. I duly went back to the center of the stage and spent the whole night on stage because – every magician needs a female assistant!

This was in 1988 and I think things have improved somewhat since then. However last year I ran two CTO searches – so searching for the highest technology person in a company. Over the two searches (for different companies) I received 81 resumes. Of the applicants there was a reasonable mix of ethnicities with several Hispanic, Causcasian, African American, Asian – particularly Indian candidates. I was pleased to see this but what blew me away was the amount of women who applied. Zero. Not one. My friend Carey Lohrenz was the first female F-14 Tomcat pilot. She will tell you that if a man can do 20% of the requirements of a job he will put his hand in the air. Whereas women try to derisk the situation and typically want to have 100% of the requirements before they will apply. I think this is true and is compounded by the fact that they see so few other successful women in senior positions in technology. There is a really good organization that I have come across recently headed up by Leslie Cruz called the Million Women Mentors. They have actually over-achieved and have closer to two million women mentors who help mentor young women showing them that women have a place and can be successful in STEM field careers. They operate across the US and in eight other countries including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – who lets face it have not the best history of womens rights.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
As a serial entrepreneur, I often find that I’m either the only one, or one of a very small group who sees things a certain way. As a tech founder, I’ve found there is never any shortage of conservative thinkers trying to tell you that your idea is too risky. This is where many women in tech give in to the ‘myth’ that they need to try to de-risk their ideas.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Have New Ideas
    My best advice to women in tech is to never be afraid of being the only person in the room who thinks a certain way. Throughout my career, there have been many times that I’ve thought differently than everyone else in the room but it has always ended up helping the business. When I first became a CEO I took over for a company that was failing. I had to craft a new mission and vision for the company – I took a very different approach than competitors which was risky but the right decision.
  2. Be Willing to Take Risks
    As women we often try to de-risk situations. It’s been said that a man will often put his hand in the air for a job even if he’s not qualified and women won’t. According to a Hewlett Packard report, men will apply for a job if they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. I’ve learned that in order to be successful, women in tech need to be willing to take more risks.
  3. Look For a Problems to Solve
    Whether I am launching a startup or am serving as a CEO or board director, I always look for a problem that needs to be solved when suggesting new ideas. When I founded Oink (previously named Virtual Piggy) my co-founder and I both had children and we were shocked at how difficult it was for tweens/teens to make payments with most families resorting to relying on cash. Once we spotted this problem we looked into creating a platform to solve this problem.
  4. Listen to Your Gut
    When I launched Pod some people have said to me ‘that’s crazy no one actually wants to meet in person’. Interestingly, it’s the older generation who are saying this to me and the Millennials and Generation Z seem to instinctively understand Pod and know how to use it. It’s also important to listen to feedback but I knew we were on to something with Pod.
  5. Be Bold
    Women in tech have to be bold. If you are going to do something, you need to go big. Technology today allows us to launch world-changing solutions. If you launch an app you should launch it on iOS and Android in order to launch your idea to 3.5 billion people immediately.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I’m a serial entrepreneur and I’ve been a CEO 5 times. I’ve served on private and public boards for 12 years and have led multiple exits leading to good investor returns. As women, we often try to de-risk situations but as a leader, I’ve learned that in order to be successful we need to be willing to take risks. My best advice to females in leadership positions is to be willing to think differently than everyone in the room and to push themselves to take more risks.

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?

There have been lots of people but when I was young, times were difficult. It was just me and my mom. Academically though, I was very sharp. I was in a girls-only grammar school and that was the best thing for me because it gave me a structure and helped me stay my course. At that school, they pushed me into science. When I was 16, other kids were applying to universities but I was offered a job at a local hairdresser where I could start working right away. I didn’t necessarily want to do that but I didn’t have a way into a university at the time. Rather than a hairdresser, I began working at a local shop that was a playroom for kids. And one day there was a voice behind me that said “Are you going to do this for the rest of your life?” and I turned around and it was my biology teacher. She looked at me and said “Get in the car, I have an interview for you at Nottingham University.” She drove me 3 hours to the university where I was interviewed and accepted on the spot. If it weren’t for her at that moment, I would not have gotten to go to university and I probably would not be where I am today.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

With what we are doing right now at Pod, our goal is to bring people together. We want to introduce people online but connect them face to face. 2 in every 5 Americans feel isolated or like their relationships aren’t meaningful. Pod connects people based off of a variety of interests and location; we are literally putting people on the map. We want to bring goodness to the world by utilizing our online platform and connecting people who want to create meaningful, long lasting relationships.

You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would be to bring back human connection. It’s really Pod’s mission to bring people together again. In today’s society, everything is online; the bills you pay, where you shop, where you do your work and where you meet people. There’s a convenient element to that but there is also an disingenuous element as well. Meeting people online often does not lead to a genuine, in-person connection. I would like for Pod to start a movement to bring those online introductions in-person where people meet face-to-face.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I recently heard a quote by Michael Faraday, who was a scientist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism, and he said “There’s nothing quite as frightening as someone who knows they are right.” This really struck me because I find it to be so true. When someone, anyone, believes what they think is right, they become stuck and there is no changing their mind. They become closed to any idea that isn’t their own because they believe, in fact, that anyone who tried to tell them something otherwise is wrong. It becomes dangerous and in the world we live in, being stuck is not something you want to be. You should want to evolve, you should want to be wrong, you should want to learn.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 🙂

Definitely Elon Musk as we are both from the world of science. I admire the way he thinks and what he has achieved.

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