Chao Cheng-Shorland of ShelterZoom: “Leadership is listening”

Leadership is listening. As a CEO, I manage many different personality types and I need to listen to all of them. That means understanding the different communication styles of everyone from those with a tech background to a sales background to people with a creative slant. It makes us more successful as a company to […]

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Leadership is listening. As a CEO, I manage many different personality types and I need to listen to all of them. That means understanding the different communication styles of everyone from those with a tech background to a sales background to people with a creative slant. It makes us more successful as a company to have a diverse set of thinking styles.

The cybersecurity industry has become so essential and exciting. What is coming around the corner? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? How does one succeed in the cybersecurity industry? As a part of this interview series called “Wisdom From The Women Leading The Cybersecurity Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Chao-Cheng Shorland.

Chao is the co-founder and CEO of ShelterZoom Corp. and their latest platform DocuWalk. Chao is a highly experienced executive, and internationally renowned for her work in applying inventive business methods and innovative technology such as blockchain to create real value in people’s daily lives. Under her leadership, ShelterZoom has successfully delivered two industry-first, next-generation blockchain-based document, contract and transaction management platforms revolutionizing many industries. As a result, ShelterZoom has won multiple global awards such as SIIA CODiE Best Emerging Technology 2018 and CIO Application’s Company of the Year — Blockchain. Chao was also named Female Innovator of the Year by Women World Awards and The Responsible 100 by NY City & State as one of New York’s 100 most outstanding corporate citizens. As an inventor, Chao has invented several major concepts, business methods and technology solutions, including Contract of Things (CoT) where records, documents, and contracts are transformed into fully digital, interoperable and intelligent assets. This concept was further expanded to Document of Things (DoT) to finally arrive at a digital era for interconnectivity and interoperability of all types of documents. ShelterZoom has delivered the world’s first CoT and DoT SAAS platform that can be easily used by everyone, every organization and every industry.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in Shanghai, China, but spent most of my time in Melbourne, Australia and then the United States. Each country had a unique perspective. My experience in China as a child gave me a reality of the world. My experience in Australia helped mold my creativity. And my time in the United States has provided my greatest opportunity to be an entrepreneur and build a platform that is truly making an impact at this point in time.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book that inspired me the most was Gone with the Wind, largely because it was my dream to live in the Southern part of the country. And that dream did eventually come true. The setting and lifestyle were beautiful, but it also shows resilience during hard times.

The podcast that was most significant to me was actually an interview I heard more about 15 years ago in the mid-2000’s. There was a talk show host in Melbourne, Australia who was Victorian of the Year. He said this one line that I always take with me. That line was, “The first half of my life, I want to be successful. The second half of my life, I want to be significant.” That line is now the very mantra I live by both professionally and personally.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in cybersecurity? We’d love to hear it.

When I was at University at the Melbourne Institute of Technology pursuing a degree in Business Information Systems, I was fascinated by hackers and how they have the ability to hack. It was a unique skill set. I wanted to try to understand their mindset and why they hacked in the first place. It was during this period of time that I became aware of the importance of cybersecurity and the importance of understanding the psychology of hackers to try and prevent hacks in the first place.

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?

The funniest mistake I made was when we first built ShelterZoom, and we went down the blockchain path with our real estate vertical. It wasn’t until after we built our platform that we realized no one had built anything like this on the blockchain. Our mistake and ignorance turned into a blessing as the first real estate blockchain-based platform in the world. Had we known we were essentially guinea pigs in the blockchain realm, we probably would have slowed down our launch. The lesson we learned is that sometimes you just need a stroke of good luck and chance.

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

We certainly are. We are revamping our website to launch several new verticals in the blockchain space in real estate, business, smart cities and more. The idea is to build and create more accessible, blockchain-based document solutions, especially as companies and individuals continue to work remotely in a hybrid model that’s likely to be around for the foreseeable future. We are also building a widget that will make it even easier to use our blockchain platforms on mobile, e-mail-based platforms.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The Cybersecurity industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

For me, the most exciting thing is that people are now really paying attention to cybersecurity as a top priority. People are realizing that they spend more money after a hacking event to protect everything. Companies spend so much money each year every time there is a hacking event instead of preventative measures they can take to prevent significant economic harm in the long term. We are also seeing that blockchain is becoming the norm as a top cybersecurity solution and that companies are willing to invest more in cybersecurity-related software.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the Cybersecurity industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

Software is becoming more sophisticated, and hackings are happening in a way not seen before. There are so many hackers around the world, and they are getting more organized. They see dollar signs, although technology is stepping up to prevent such breaches.

State-sponsored and politically driven hacking, along with businesses hacking each other are also on the rise. It’s no longer just a couple of kids in the basement. These are professionals.

The scale and frequency of hackings, which are becoming more common at a faster rate.

To address these concerns, blockchain will play a major role in cybersecurity and preventing large scale hackings from the backend.

Looking ahead to the near future, are there critical threats on the horizon that you think companies need to start preparing for? Can you explain?

Companies need to be more vigilant than ever before to protect their digital infrastructure. It’s quickly becoming a company’s most vulnerable asset. Taking immediate steps to safeguard your technology now will pay off in spades in the long run.

Can you share a story from your experience about a cybersecurity breach that you helped fix or stop? What were the main takeaways from that story?

I don’t have one particular story, but all these cybersecurity breaches happening at major companies from Target to Kohl’s is why I founded the company in the first place. To secure documents, contracts and other critical assets that are needed to conduct business virtually.

What are the main cybersecurity tools that you use on a frequent basis? For the benefit of our readers can you briefly explain what they do?

DocuWalk is the one I truly use — — I put my confidential information on DocuWalk where people can’t easily access it and in places where people can’t hack it. I use it more than Norton Anti-Virus hacking software. Virus software is like a virus itself, like the vaccine. You have to inject a bit of the virus to be immune, and it also slows down your computer while not completely securing it. DocuWalk, which is a ShelterZoom product, is our virtual negotiating room that is blockchain secure.

As you know, breaches or hacks can occur even for those who are best prepared, and no one will be aware of it for a while. Are there 3 or 4 signs that a layperson can see or look for that might indicate that something might be amiss?

The signs users should look for include if you see more pop ups on your computer, your computer is running much slower than usual or your computer starts automatically running programs, without inputting a manual command. While it doesn’t necessarily mean a breach has occurred, these are three signs to watch out for and check to ensure your software is secure.

After a company is made aware of a data or security breach, what are the most important things they should do to protect themselves further, as well as protect their customers?

The most critical thing a company can do is have a digital security plan in place on what needs to be executed in case of a hack or security breach. Then summarize what happened to ensure it doesn’t happen again. It is kind of like when buildings conduct fire drills, and the building has an evacuation plan in place that individuals follow. Companies need a digital procedure in place in case of a hack.

What are the most common data security and cybersecurity mistakes you have seen companies make? What are the essential steps that companies should take to avoid or correct those errors?

Too many companies do not have a fully comprehensive approach to preventing data breaches. It is easy to focus on the large areas of vulnerability, but the places that will cause companies the biggest problems are the small lapses in security. To identify those places, it is essential companies spend time learning from the departments and individuals working across the entire organization, even if their role doesn’t directly relate to the core product or service.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in broader terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? If not, what specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

There is always room for more growth here. If STEM companies are going to increase the number of women on their staff, especially women at the leadership level, they need to conduct more outreach, so STEM graduates know what opportunities are out there. The pandemic has also normalized remote work, or a hybrid version of remote work, so it will hopefully become easier for working parents to stay on a career track while their kids are young. Something else I would like to see are what I’ve been calling ‘mid-career internships’. Many women who are mid-career went through school at a time when there were very few options for a technology degree. They have ample work experience but are reluctant to go back to school to get the technical knowledge needed to rise in STEM careers. We are missing out on some top talent. There is a way, especially for start-ups like ShelterZoom, to include these professionals in our organizational charts so that we gain from their business acumen while they gain technical knowledge they missed in school.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in the cybersecurity industry? Can you explain what you mean?

That it’s boring! Say the words ‘cybersecurity’ and most people have visions of people hunched over computer screens in darkened rooms. We are at the frontlines of building a safer digital world so that millions, if not billions, of people can benefit from everything an online presence offers. I’m in conversations everyday with brilliant people who come up with creative solutions to existing problems and are also so forward-thinking that they are anticipating decades into the future. The software we are building today is resilient for future generations.

Thank you for all of this. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Leadership is listening. As a CEO, I manage many different personality types and I need to listen to all of them. That means understanding the different communication styles of everyone from those with a tech background to a sales background to people with a creative slant. It makes us more successful as a company to have a diverse set of thinking styles.
  2. Knowing how to separate facts from emotions is a crucial part of any CEO’s decision-making process. In my job, there’s a lot of opportunity for heated discussion, which means I have to filter out whether the information coming at me is important or is coming from a place of the other person’s bias — a lack of information, an emotional response, or something else that is misguiding their thoughts. This has shown up in everything from how we designed our website to whether or not to retain certain consultants.
  3. My kids are learning to be leaders from a young age. My sons are teenagers now and not only have they absorbed what it means to be professional just through overhearing me on conference calls, they have also had to jump into more responsibility on short notice and learn the skills in the moment. As just one example, they were coming back from visiting their grandparents by themselves and there was a problem with their flight connection. They had to figure it out by themselves at the airport, which they did, and it resulted in them gaining a few skills in how to find the right person and ask the right questions.
  4. There are still people who can’t get on board with the idea that a female tech CEO can be successful at the job. While it is less common than it used to be, I still find I have to go the extra mile at times to prove I bring as much to the table as anyone else. In my experience, going the extra mile has meant spending more time explaining some of the behind-the-scenes decisions that went into a final product or giving them more details than I usually would for upcoming projects. They always come around in the end, it just takes more time.
  5. It’s a trite adage to say, ‘think outside the box’, but I’ll mention it here because it has been so successful for us. On the surface, we look like any other SaaS company selling a product. But since our launch, we’ve partnered with a few organizations no one would have originally thought would be our target audience. When the opportunities came our way, we decided to just go for it and the results have been tremendous. It has opened doors we wouldn’t have thought possible and created new revenue streams we hadn’t even planned on. When in doubt, say yes to a new opportunity.

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 like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The person I’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with is MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Jeff Bezos. MacKenzie and I were born on the exact same day. We went through three life changing events on the exact same days, something I personally find extraordinary. In the last two years, MacKenzie and I both got into the social impact side, with her donating a big part of wealth, and with me architecting innovation and technology to support impact initiatives, smart cities and private and public partnerships. If I meet with MacKenzie in person and have breakfast or lunch with her, we may discover more incredible facts of our lives and shared views and passions. I very much hope that one day, we can collaborate on future impact initiatives to use technology and streamlined processes to accelerate improvements of people’s lives and make bigger and more tangible impacts.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success in your great work!

Thank you for the opportunity.

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