Build relationships with others outside of your industry. People in the tech industry already understand their technology needs and what problems they have. On the flip side, people outside the industry don’t understand technology and need someone to guide them through the process. This is where tech companies can capitalize on new business opportunities and educate others about the work they do and why it is important.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Regine Bonneau.
Regine Bonneau is Founder and CEO of RB Advisory LLC, which since 2016 has provided cybersecurity and compliance solutions to clients across the globe to protect their data, partners and people. Born in Haiti, Bonneau is fluent in four languages — English, Creole, Spanish, and French — and her career spans more than two decades with expertise in technology and processes in the healthcare, financial and energy sectors. She was a keynote speaker for Microsoft during Small Business Week and has also been recognized as a “40 Under 40” honoree by the Orlando Business Journal, awarded the 2019 Eagle Award — Emerging Business of the Year by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida and Walt Disney World and is a recipient of the 2019 Orlando Business Journal Women Who Mean Business award. Bonneau serves on the Board of Directors for Orlando Health Foundation and is a board member for NAWBO Orlando, Howard Phillips Center and Boy Scouts of America Central Florida Council.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My interest in the technology field started at age 12 as a junior high school student. I fell in love with coding in my computer programming class, which also sparked an interest in robotics. I was fascinated by the ability to create and control real objects with the computer. After that, none of the electronics in our home were safe. I “fixed” everything, from the television to the radio to printers. This curiosity and passion for hands-on exploration is what eventually led me to a career in cybersecurity.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I once arrived at an industry conference where I was a guest speaker and was made to feel like I was in the wrong place. Without even asking for my name or company information, the team working the event registration said I must have arrived at the wrong event and directed me to speak with someone at the conference hotel for more information. It wasn’t until I stepped on stage (which I found by myself) and started sharing my expertise that others began to listen. This was one of the first times I felt the effects of being a woman in technology. Rather than become disheartened by the experience, I’ve used it as a source of motivation to succeed as a Black female leader in cybersecurity.
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?
I used to believe I already knew what it took to run my own business, but even the most successful business leaders are learning every day. This attitude led to some early embarrassments in the beginning, but I’ve realized that leaders need to be the person on the team who is most willing to learn and be honest about what they know and don’t know. Our world is changing every day and it requires leaders who can adapt quickly. You can’t adapt quickly if you aren’t willing to learn.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The hardest part of starting my business was landing my first client. I knew I had a great idea but struggled to find someone who would give me an opportunity. When things were tough, I revisited the “why” behind my business: my son. He kept me going when I felt like giving up. Today, I’m also passionate about paving the way for females of all races to have a seat at the table in this industry. I know what it’s like to be the only female in the room; pushing to change this for future generations propels me to keep going when things are hard.
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 mom has always been my number one supporter. She encouraged me to follow my dream and gave me the liberty to explore STEM as a child. My childhood home was basically one big science lab and my mom never batted an eye at the mess. I wouldn’t be who I am today without her encouragement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The saying, “success is not achieved alone,” could not be truer. I’ve been very fortunate to have many mentors who have helped me along the way. Especially as an entrepreneur, it’s so important to find mentors and surround yourself with the right people who can help you reach your goal.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
RB Advisory strives to protect our clients from internal and external cyber threats and optimize the internal processes that make them vulnerable to attack. Many of our clients understand cybersecurity at a base level but aren’t aware of its complexities; we manage it so they don’t have to worry. We want clients to have peace of mind so they can focus on the success of their business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Beside my signature fuchsia-colored shoes (kidding!), it’s our full-service approach that sets RB Advisory apart. Like a doctor, we diagnose the issue, offer various treatment options and conduct follow-ups to ensure the issue has been resolved. Not only do we provide a road map to all possible solutions for a client’s cybersecurity problem, but we also manage the fix.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Starting in October, potential contractors with the Department of Defense will be required to obtain the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification. This requirement includes a certification process through which companies demonstrate that they meet a basic level of cybersecurity standards. As a result, RB Advisory has started working with several companies in the Florida High Tech Corridor’s robust aerospace and modeling, simulation and training industries to ensure compliance.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
While we have come a long way in the last five years or so, there is still work to be done to ensure the industry is more welcoming for women. We cannot settle for a handful of women in a room of 1,000 technology experts.
A mentor once urged me to stop describing the technology industry as “male dominated” because it implies women don’t belong. Women in technology must be audacious and unapologetic because we do belong; those of us who are already here are here to stay.
We are all aware of the power of mentorship — if you are a woman in technology and aren’t already giving back as a mentor, I encourage you to do so. We also need to change the conversation with parents of young women. I grew up with a mother who constantly asked when I would become a doctor, so I know what it feels like to be influenced to pursue a certain career path. We need parents to understand the diverse career opportunities available in technology that are just as fulfilling and well compensated. This field is not just for their sons.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The biggest challenge for women in technology is ensuring our voices are heard. We usually have to work harder to prove our credibility, which can be crippling to those of us who already suffer from imposter syndrome. My advice is to ignore your inner critic and deliver your ideas confidently. Focus less on the 10 percent of people who aren’t willing to listen and more on the 90 percent who are.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
When you are feeling stuck, the best way to “restart your engine” is to pause, take a deep breath and remember your “why.” Why did you start this business? Why is it important to you? When I’m stuck, I allow myself one day to work through the emotions before getting back to work. It’s important to be kind to ourselves, but you can’t dwell in self pity for too long.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
It is impossible to sell something you don’t believe in. I challenge my team to articulate why they are passionate about what we do. This passion leads to greater confidence, which is equally important. Do you know your passion? Do you understand the industry? Do you believe in what you are selling? If you don’t have a firm answer for all those questions, then you won’t perform.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Empowerment is so important when it comes to building an energetic team that can help attract the right customers. As a leader, you should never box in your team’s creativity. They are the ones closest to the customers, so they have a firm understanding of their needs. If you treat two customers or two clients the exact same, it can be a recipe for disaster. You must learn the language of each of your customers and develop a unique approach.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
1. Understand your customers. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the standard industry needs to find a unique solution for a specific customer. Every client is different, and that means they each have a different set of priorities and needs.
2. Be involved. Our customers always see me. The involvement of our top leaders to every account speaks volumes about our commitment to them. I never want them to think I am too busy to support their experience with us.
3. Be happy. If we come to the table as happy and enthusiastic people, that is contagious. It helps us connect with our clients on a more personal level. We live in a very rushed and rigid world; why not be the reason your client smiles?
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
It’s important to spend time listening to and understanding your customers’ needs throughout the duration of your relationship with them. Tech experts are quick to act without having a real purpose. Only then can you develop clear goals that address their paint points and adjust as needed before it’s too late. This kind of success proves your team’s value and allows for customer retention versus churn.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Be passionate and not be afraid to show it. This is important for everyone, but especially for women. If you do not show up to meetings with enthusiasm and the desire to learn then why are you there? If you demonstrate that you are passionate and excited about what you do, people will admire that and buy into the ideas you bring to the table.
2. Provide a niche product or service. When you provide a very specific product or service to meet a very specific set of needs, it allows you to remain focused and better serve your customers. If your scope of work becomes too broad, it becomes harder to remember the “why” behind what you do.
3. Build relationships with others outside of your industry. People in the tech industry already understand their technology needs and what problems they have. On the flip side, people outside the industry don’t understand technology and need someone to guide them through the process. This is where tech companies can capitalize on new business opportunities and educate others about the work they do and why it is important.
4. Know your audience. This goes hand and hand with understanding your company’s “why.” Not only should you understand why your company does what they do but also who they are trying to reach.
5. Build a great company culture to:
- Empower your team members to lead;
- Invest in your team;
- Create a collaborative environment;
- Create accountability; and,
- Create visibility.
A strong company culture can make or break a business. As a leader, it’s so important to create a space where your team feels comfortable to create and share ideas. An example of this in action is the home my mother created for my family after we immigrated to the United States from Haiti. We operated a lot like a business, moving to America to try and find better opportunities, and my mother knew that. In our home, I always felt empowered, trusted and safe to share my ideas and that took me farther than I could have ever imagined. I want my team to feel that same way, too.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. 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. 🙂
I want to inspire a movement of empathy. Our world is so tech-dominated that we often omit the human factor. We need to focus more on truly understanding each other. That would create more harmony in our homes, relationships and workplaces, and lead to more informed decisions.
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 🙂
I would love to have a private meal with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. The opportunity to be in their presence and gain a better understanding of what makes them tick would be invaluable. When you’re a trailblazer, it can feel as if you’re out to sea alone. When you are the only one there and you’re not sure what comes next, what do you do? I would love to find out and I believe these two amazing women would know the answer.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!