“Care about what people think to a certain extent” With Sammy Courtright

Care about what people think to a certain extent: Feedback is important, but no one knows your business or your customers like you do. We rely heavily on data to shape our decisions because the numbers don’t lie! We’ve had to tell investors that their ‘favorite feature’ is getting cut because it wasn’t performing. As a […]

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Care about what people think to a certain extent: Feedback is important, but no one knows your business or your customers like you do. We rely heavily on data to shape our decisions because the numbers don’t lie! We’ve had to tell investors that their ‘favorite feature’ is getting cut because it wasn’t performing.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sammy Courtright.

Hailing from Australia, Sammy Courtright is the co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Ten Spot, an all-in-one platform that helps companies connect, engage, and manage remote and on-site employees.

After finding it frustrating to stay healthy in a typical 9-to-5 environment, Sammy and her co-founder, Jonathan Cohn, teamed up in 2014 to create Fitspot, whose mission was to deliver wellness where employees needed it the most — at work. Renamed Ten Spot in 2020, the company not only rebranded to expand beyond wellness, but now offers a centralized solution for companies to increase their productivity, boost retention and build a strong culture.

When COVID hit, Sammy learned that customers were facing a similar issue: how do we ensure employees feel like they work for the same company when they are not in the same place? Through research, she discovered that leadership was struggling to manage distributed teams. This led to Ten Spot’s expansion to the workforce engagement platform it is today.

With a BA in Fine Arts from the University of Miami, Sammy is a certified Pilates instructor who brings a blend of grit and imagination to the zillions of tasks that confront every startup. While she wears many hats, Sammy’s passion for building culture has created an atmosphere at Ten Spot dedicated to positive thinking and collaboration.

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’ve always been very creatively inclined, and in school, I studied theatre. However, at the same time, there’s always been part of my brain hyper-focused on solving problems.

Anytime I go into a restaurant or a store, I find myself thinking about all the ways it could be more efficient and scalable, and have even emailed the owners with my ideas (I know, I am that person). That is how I met Jon, my co-founder. Mutual friends introduced us and once I heard about what he was working on, I started telling him all the ideas I had to make it scale.

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

In our first few months of existence, an engineer who worked for us hijacked our entire code base and held it for ransom for 45 days. We learned, after the fact, that he had created a segment of the code using his personal email address rather than his work email address.

For 45 days, we literally had no insight into the product. We didn’t know who was using it or if there were any bookings–nothing! With legal assistance, this was ultimately resolved. It was a jarring (and slightly expensive!) lesson for us when it came to safeguarding and protecting the company’s intellectual property.

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?

Last fall, I was sitting in a cafe in New York, having a cup of coffee, and some guy I’d never met before approached me and said, “Sammy?” I was thinking, “I’ve never met this person before…right?” and replied, “Yeah?” And he said, “Ten Spot, right? My friend’s cousin sent me your pitch deck.”

Moral of the story: your pitch deck isn’t your business card. We always prefer it when people ask to share company collateral before sharing it with others!

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

COVID-19 has upended the workplace as we know it. As we’ve navigated this new world for Ten Spot and worked to solve our own issues with how to make our now distributed workforce as engaged, supported and productive as possible, we’ve been innovating in such a way that has enabled us to solve these same issues — and more — for our customers.

Distributed teams aren’t going anywhere. We don’t want our customers to have to piece together a fragmented solution to connect, engage, and manage their distributed teams. That is why we built the all-in-one workforce engagement platform that takes the heavy lifting off your plate whether your team is on-site or remote.

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

Right now, we’re obsessed with the idea of peer-to-peer learning. So many companies are tasked with not only hiring, but onboarding and training employees they have never met in person, and that they may not meet in person for a long time.

This creates a lot of awkward challenges for both the employer and the new employee. How do you make sure the new employee is getting trained effectively, what are the areas they need to develop skills in, and perhaps most importantly, do they feel like they are part of their team and the company?

So, what we’re exploring is a peer-to-peer learning tool designed to help employees acclimate to their new company, learn company systems, and get to know their team members.

Additionally, the program will provide outlets for employees to both teach and gain new skills — so both the mentee and mentor are improving and growing, and feel acknowledged and recognized by their company, team, and co-workers.

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?

I don’t think anyone can or should be satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM — and in this case, never being satisfied is a good thing. While women constitute almost 50 percent of the labor market, only 28 percent of women are in STEM fields in contrast to 72 percent of men. (Source: Built by Me Stem Learning)

What will it take to really change the status quo? Everything from early STEM education to supporting females in these industries empowers women to come up with unique solutions to problems. A sprinkle of unconscious bias training always helps!

I read an article that suggested that women don’t apply for jobs unless they are 100 percent qualified. This is because they are afraid they will fail, or they feel it would be ‘breaking the rules’ in terms of what the employer is looking for. This makes me think that we need to train everyone to support women, and we need to help women get over their fear of failure and breaking the rules. We need to encourage women to apply for jobs that will challenge them and encourage employers to hire based on potential.

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?

More VCs need to take a chance on ambitious and capable women.

In 2009, only 10 percent of companies were female co-founded companies. That number has since doubled, which means things are on the right track, but there is still work to be done to support female founders financially.

I’m grateful for the VC that led our series A round. Neither of us, me or my male co-founder, had prior startup experience, but we are relentless and passionate about what we do and they saw the potential.

Other big challenges for women in STEM and Tech is making sure that women feel both emotionally and physically safe at work. This is just one survey in one field, but in a survey of 474 astronomers, 40 percent of women of color reported feeling “unsafe in the workplace as a result of their gender or sex,” and 28 percent said they had felt unsafe at work because of their race. (Source: Chronicle)

If someone doesn’t feel safe at work, how are they going to be able to thrive and succeed?

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

While progress has been made, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in challenging misconceptions about women working in these fields. I’ll give you a couple of my favorite examples.

The “male math brain” is a myth where women are biologically less capable at math and science than men. While studies show no gender difference in abilities, there’s still this significant education gap. By the time students reach college, women only account for 21 percent of engineering majors, and 19 percent are computer and information science majors. (Source: AAUW)

Another myth is that women can’t have it all–they can’t have families, work in STEM or Tech, and have a seat at the leadership table. It’s a myth that persists despite multiple studies showing that increasing gender diversity in the workplace greatly impacts an organization’s bottom line. (Source: BCG)

What this information tells me is that we have some serious work to do — in education, creating more opportunities, and empowering women — and it’s time to reframe the narrative.

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.)

Make sure you have a diverse board: 40 percent of Ten Spot’s board is female because having diverse perspectives is crucial to grow and innovate. My co-founder and I are adamant about surrounding ourselves with people who have different opinions.

Care about what people think to a certain extent: Feedback is important, but no one knows your business or your customers like you do. We rely heavily on data to shape our decisions because the numbers don’t lie! We’ve had to tell investors that their ‘favorite feature’ is getting cut because it wasn’t performing.

Develop a strong network: I am a member of the Operators Guild. The amount of incredible insight and advice I get from these insanely talented individuals has literally saved me thousands of dollars in consulting and legal fees. I appreciate how helpful and honest everyone is.

Hire slow, fire quickly: We have a lengthy recruiting process, but it’s because we want the best candidate. We also want the candidate to get to know Ten Spot and how we operate, just as much as we want to get to know them. If it is not working out with someone, it’s usually something you can assess within their first four-six weeks, and move on.

Always be learning: It’s critical to surround yourself with people who challenge you. If you aren’t learning, then you will lose interest. One of the best parts about being a co-founder at a startup is getting exposure to so many different departments. While I spend most of my time with marketing, I always dive into product meetings or sales standups to learn something new.

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

I’ve found that connected and engaged employees help a team thrive. Get to know your team better. What makes them tick? How can they meet other teammates and learn something new? Ultimately, people have to enjoy where they work. How can you help create that environment?

Layer this with various elements that create support for employees that help them thrive both as individuals and as team members. Some examples: mental and physical health and wellness programs, team and culture-building activities, peer-to-peer mentorship, and career trajectory and planning initiatives.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

While Ten Spot isn’t a large team yet, we have been growing quickly over the last few months.

There are two things I’ve been doing that I feel have been helping me lead and manage this growing team. First, I’ve been making an effort to get to know new employees with designated one-on-one time. While this might not be scalable in the future, it has made a difference on how these new hires feel and engage with Ten Spot. Second, I’ve been making sure that roles, responsibilities, and ownership for my direct reports and their team members are very clear. There’s a lot to get done, and we all need to hold each other accountable.

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?

LJ Kwak Yang, who is a Leadership Development expert, is a godsend. We met at Techstars. We work together to develop my leadership skills.

At times, I am sure she feels like my therapist, but the best part is that she allows me to vent, then she gives me tangible next steps and exercises. She helps me navigate the ups and downs that come with running your own business.

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

One of Ten Spot’s goals is to focus on improving the workforce’s future and helping change employees’ lives for the better. A huge part of doing this successfully is to address the Diversity & Inclusion issues that companies struggle with today.

No one wants to feel out of place, alone, or like they don’t belong in a team or a company due to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or identity. Unfortunately, many people do.

By helping to promote D&I in the workplace and giving companies the tools they need to make their efforts successful, we think it’s not just a meaningful way to bring goodness to the world, but to help bring equity and equality to the world. And, we practice what we preach.

Ten Spot has a female founder, 40 percent of our board is female, and we have a diverse set of experts that host the services on our platform.

Our Groups feature on Ten Spot’s platform lets employees create and join affinity groups and support social causes. The recognition feature incentivizes and rewards employees who support philanthropic and social advocacy initiatives at their company. Most importantly, our programming includes Diversity and Allyship conversations, which are critical to D&I success in any organization.

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 value education, and I don’t believe that learning should stop when you leave school. I recently read a report that said to remain relevant in the workforce and your job, you need to be learning and developing new skills at least every four years. This creates one of those challenges that I’d like to help solve, starting with Ten Spot’s customers.

Going back to school is expensive, and it usually doesn’t keep someone in the job market while attending, meaning learning and skill development needs to either occur on the job or with your employer’s support.

We are in the process of rolling out peer-to-peer mentoring on Ten Spot’s platform but envision it going beyond mentoring and expanding into important skills training. This can start with live sessions that are ultimately recorded and archived for use by new employees or anyone needing a refresher course.

I feel if we can help companies do this across the board, we’re helping make education more accessible. Employees can then learn and develop new skills without sacrificing their jobs and without their employers losing them.

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

“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” — Denis Waitley.

It is not easy running an early-stage company. I am, ironically, quite risk-averse. This quote reminds me to always take the plunge, make the tough decision, and speak up because any path taken involves risk.

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 🙂

Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, the CEO of The Black Swan Group and the co-author of “Never Split the Difference.” I thoroughly enjoyed his book and still find myself referencing it consistently. He has had such an interesting career, and I would love to learn more about his experiences (and practice my negotiation skills to see who foots the bill!).

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