I’m a perfectionist by nature, and through my years of event production, I have a penchant for always having a plan A, B, C… And don’t get me wrong, this is a good habit to have, but even the most careful planning can’t anticipate in-the-moment, unpredictable on-site issues. In a particularly client event-filled summer, my managers gave me the advice to “roll with the punches” that has not only benefited my event production, but is especially important when founding a software company.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Maumus.
Charlotte Maumus is the co-founder and CEO of Memwris where the team is designing the first meaningful interface overhaul since the 80s. Their patent-pending UI uses a unique algorithm to unlock complex workflows on small touchscreens for the first time. Charlotte spent her decade-plus long career in marketing communications, leading strategy and equity programs for some of the world’s biggest brands.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I spent my career in marketing comms/PR, making my way up to Vice President of an NYC firm, working 60+ hour weeks, and normalizing putting work before my personal well-being. Unsurprisingly, I suffered from regular burn out, and eventually crashed in the fall of 2017 after an intense few months of me struggling to even tread water. At the advice of my therapist, and my supportive husband, I quit my job.
I had thought I’d have some grand epiphany of what my next steps would be, or that I’d find my true passions. But the reality is I was suffering from years of exhaustion, didn’t know how to slow down, or take the time to think vs react.
It took four months of self-reflection before I started thinking clearly. I was now ready to move forward and take control of my future, let my inherent leadership skills thrive, and serve a better purpose with my “get sh*t done” work ethic. I was ready to start my own company.
It all started with a seemingly impossible dream. Turn back the clock to 2014 when my software engineering husband, Zach, wanted to do real-world programming on his phone. He was used to walking the streets of NYC, coding on his mobile device, but when he switched to a touchscreen, things took a turn. The user interface made it impossible to program. And while I’m not a programmer, I did understand the headache-inducing moments of trying to get work done on my phone, and empathized. So from our tiny apartment closet, he began building a new type of user interface that would throw out the decades-old point-and-click.
But flash forward a few years, a move across the country, and reaching professional milestones, his UI development had taken the back burner, and was sitting cold.
Secretly we were both harboring a desire to bring the project back to life, and knew we had the perfect pairing of complementary skills.
Our pivotal conversation happened in January 2018, in our downtown LA apartment’s kitchen. We shocked each other when we both expressed wanting to team up to start a business to bring a new UI paradigm to life. And as they say, the rest is history.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
It’s been 13+ years since the iPhoneⓇ revolutionized mobile computing, and ushered in an era where consumers expect powerful mini-computers in their pockets.
And while our smartphones’ hardware continues to improve, we are still unable to unlock the true power of our devices. We know this each time we reach for a laptop when tasks get “too complex” or headache-inducing for mobile. It’s why we carry around multiple devices, and why replicating intricate desktop software proves impractical.
So what’s the problem? Our devices use a decades-old point-and-click interface that was never designed to be used with fingers or touchscreens! It was built 40 years ago for desktop computers and was designed for a physical mouse and keyboard.
Rethinking the incumbent technology could benefit billions, and shake up the $500B mobile industry. It can close the digital divide by enhancing the abilities of existing smartphone-only persons and households. A new UI can allow a larger population to access education and employment resources. For example, smartphone-only households in emerging markets could compete for jobs globally. And replacing our current UI would support mobile workflows that weren’t previously possible, such as computer programming, dev ops, IT.
To capture these benefits, memwris is designing the first interface overhaul since the 80s. Our patent-pending UI uses a unique algorithm to unlock complex workflows on small touchscreens.
Specifically, the UI we’re designing optimizes for the small screen real estate, so fingers will no longer be in the way.
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 wake up at 4:30 am in my first 6 months of memwris (even on the weekends!). While there is certainly some value in starting your day early to accomplish more, there isn’t value if you’re falling asleep at 7:30 pm!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely journey, and you’ll be faced with negativity from people who don’t understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and think you’re absolutely crazy for leaving your career to venture on your own.
What’s been the most valuable for me in combating negativity is having a network of cheerleaders that I can turn to when I need a boost of positivity. When I surround myself with positivity and energetic people, it not only boosts me mentally, but can help reset my motivation and remind me why I’m going down this path.
I am incredibly fortunate to have a supportive family and over a dozen strong, supportive female friends that cheer me on.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Ever go down a YouTube black hole and watch videos of kids reacting to old tech? It will definitely make any millennial feel much older as you’ll see a diverse mix of Gen Z and Alpha playing, usually judgmentally, with tech that was a big deal back in the day (like those colorful Nokia phones or the Motorola Razr). Aside from feeling old, it shook me into reality that these generations expect way more from technology that I ever would have as a kid. I was perfectly fine with my Speak & Spell!
But even more so, these generations are going to lead tech in directions we couldn’t have predicted, most likely challenging current digital paradigms we can’t imagine changing.
And I’m here for it.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset because it’s scary to mess with a good thing. With that thinking, we’d still be using candles because they were “just fine” for light! And with that mindset, we certainly wouldn’t have touchscreens (just ask those phone hardware companies whose sales were “not broken” when the iPhoneⓇ first came out…). Without disrupting and challenging existing paradigms, we won’t be able to progress.
And not every paradigm shift is going to be a success, but that shouldn’t stop us from innovating, disrupting, and pushing the limits.
But the time when being disruptive is harmful to innovation is when said innovation is touted as the next big thing without any hard evidence. It can do serious damage to future disruptors trying to break into that field, and can make investors and consumers cynical the next time an innovation in that field comes out. For example, Theranos was such a huge pipedream, but Elizabeth Holmes was incredibly persuasive and succeeded in getting investors, the medical market, a major drugstore chain, and employees to not question if the disruptive tech was “too good to be true.” I’m sure they’ll all agree that yes, it was too good to be true, and will think twice about any future blood test disruptors.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Roll With the Punches: I’m a perfectionist by nature, and through my years of event production, I have a penchant for always having a plan A, B, C… And don’t get me wrong, this is a good habit to have, but even the most careful planning can’t anticipate in-the-moment, unpredictable on-site issues. In a particularly client event-filled summer, my managers gave me the advice to “roll with the punches” that has not only benefited my event production, but is especially important when founding a software company.
This Too Shall Pass: Growing up my mom would comfort me with the words, “This too shall pass.” And while I may not have believed her as a kid or teenager, these words especially ring true as you grow and experience life. The same goes for founding a business when you may feel like the world is against you, but it’s imperative to realize that even the worst moments are temporary.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others: I’m unsure when I was first told that I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but I was reminded of this as an entrepreneur. It’s easy to get caught up in what other companies are doing, their successes, or feeling like you should be achieving more each time you check LinkedIn. The reality is that all companies have their own timelines and goals, and once you start comparing yourself and business to others, it will distract you from your path. You’ll have your moment. Don’t rush it.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m incredibly focused on memwris and shifting the mobile UI paradigm. I’d love to already be thinking about the next big thing, but the reality of getting a business started is that I need to have a bit of tunnel-vision of the goals we have in place for the company.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women disruptors have a lot more to “prove”. I can’t even tell you how many times my professional background has been challenged or have had to essentially read through my full resume. I’ve even been told straight up, unprompted, that I couldn’t be a CEO….by a supposed “mentor” in my first and only call with him.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
In the months leading up to officially founding memwris, I was a voracious reader of entrepreneur and founder books.
The one that had the greatest impact is The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noah Wasserman. I put into action team communication tools, and one our first day working together, Zach and I discussed our personal goals for starting memwris, and how we’d effectively have conflict resolution on a business matter without it affecting our personal relationship.
One of my favorite talks is Sarah Knight’s “The Magic of Not Giving a F*ck”. When getting a business off the ground, you have to stay focused on your longer-term goals and not compare yourself to others. But it can be difficult if you’re in a moment of vulnerability, and you might let something someone said affect you. Or you might end up making a small issue much larger because of how you’re reacting to it. Sarah’s talk has helped me objectively view each moment as to whether it’s something I want to invest my time or energy into (aka does it go into my “I give a f*ck bucket”?).
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you don’t build your dream, someone will pay you to build theirs.” Serendipitously I saw this quote in the window of a co-working space in my old LA neighborhood right when my husband and I decided to start our own business. These words are incredibly important to remember as entrepreneurs as we take the risk to make our dreams a reality.
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. 🙂
In a world where we speak of “opportunity” as something one should grasp, we have to realize there are millions of people who either aren’t given the same opportunities, or if they are, there can be numerous obstacles that prohibit them from seizing upon it. Those that can grab their opportunity or make their own are privileged.
We need to level the playing field and allow for more equal opportunity: From diversifying who gets a seat at the leadership tables to leveling out the enormous wealth gap to enable the lower socio-economic population proper access.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!