Don’t allow people to talk over you or demean your role. I worked with a CTO who would tout his expertise and tried to make changes to the development roadmap we defined. Over time, it became a massive problem. It was him or me. I chose me, and so did my board. It was a hard time, and I had to let go of a friend and colleague who had no respect for me as a woman in this space. Lesson learned is that as the CEO, you have to make tough calls and can never let anyone tear you down.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Sethre is the Founder and CEO of Intry, a resume optimization website that uses cognitive AI to unlock the hidden variables in the hiring process.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas working as a CMO/CPO for a healthcare technology company, which is what brought me to Austin, Texas. I had an amazing intern who was working on his senior thesis and asked for my help. We were going through his business plan, which was about placing highly effective college students into internships. As I spent some time helping him flush things out, different ideas began to form in my head about how dysfunctional the HR space was. Questions began to form about why HR was always being blamed for poor performance? Why were HR departments so small and often siloed? Why, when companies had a reduction in force, were HR teams the first to RiF’d? I started to think about how we can change the perception of HR from just being an expense, to a perception of the heart of the company that saves the companies they work for millions of dollars. We switch the paradigm of the value proposition.
Then I started thinking about my own experiences running public, private companies, starting and selling two of my own start-ups, what were our pain points in HR? What were the pain points for hiring managers? And more importantly, what were the pain points for the candidates? Then I put together a trusted group of people, and we started to flush out some ideas that we thought were at the crux of the problems both sides were facing.
We realized a vicious cycle that causes substantial monetary losses for both sides. The candidate takes the job because they need the job because they aren’t getting any interviews and have bills to pay. They get to the office, hate it and start looking. And it keeps going and going and going. So we created a cultural assessment to empower the candidate to really understand what they want out of a company and only apply to companies that they’re both culturally and ideologically aligned.
The resume element came as a huge surprise to me. We realized the need for qualified candidates to get past screenings. From there, we became obsessed with creating an ATS-friendly, custom hybrid resume that would actually get people through the applicant tracking systems.
And we did.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There are two that come to mind.
The first was when we did our first soft launch, we were so proud of the product. It was sexy, the UX/UI was stunning, and it failed. Miserably. No one could figure out how to use it. So we had to start over.
The second is from the first person who emailed to thank us for helping them get multiple interviews and multiple offers. I literally started crying. It was a defining moment that we were doing something great, something that’s changing lives. It was incredible, and when things get tough, I go back to that moment, and it fills me up to keep moving forward, to keep fighting.
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 think the first mistake was when we did a soft launch at the White House with a strategic partner when we were only about 80% ready. And then the Internet went down. Then once things came back online, our site went down. We fixed it but looked like amateurs.
Lesson learned is that sometimes you have to say no when you are not 100% ready to show the world your product when it’s not ready to be shown. No matter what.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
That we actually prioritize the candidate. And we get them jobs. For most companies, they are just a rounding error.
We received an email from a man who had been looking for a job for months. Within 30 days of using Intry, he had multiple interviews and multiple offers. It was a defining moment.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are always working on new projects. The biggest we are working on now is a HUGE non-profit whose mission is to get people jobs. They took a long time to meet with, but once we showed them how we could help, they loved it and agreed to do a pilot project with us. Once we hit the benchmarks, they want to roll it out nationally!
We’ve also talked about how to help tackle the homeless issue in Austin. The perception that all people are homeless are drug addicts is false. A huge percentage of people simply had a string of bad luck. So we are joining forces to help get them jobs by integrating our resources.
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?
No, but I will say that progress is being made every day, and the more we talk about it, the more girls see women in science, technology, engineering, and math, and the more they will be interested in it. I am a late bloomer when it comes to tech. I started out in sales, marketing, and manufacturing, but when I saw how much technology and AI were changing the world, I switched my entire career path to be part of the change. It was a huge risk, but it has paid off.
As women leaders in tech, we need to reach out to girls and women, offer them internships, give them opportunities to learn on the job, recognize that even though there are not that many of us, it’s a dynamic, exciting, and provides women limitless opportunities.
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?
The perception, whether real or not, is that we don’t belong in the space; the inference that we aren’t smart enough, knowledgeable enough, and honestly, the lack of funding that is invested in women-led tech companies is a huge issue.
In a recent report by All Raise and Pitchbook, data revealed that split across 482 teams, female founders raised a total of $2.88 billion last year. That’s 2.2 percent of the $130 billion total in venture capital money invested over the year.
To address this, we, as women, need to step up, push back, and be even more tenacious. To not believe what we are being told.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
This is a tough question to answer based on where you are at in your career. But this one, in particular, is troublesome to me and is that women are too risk-averse to build large scalable businesses. Really? Says who?
Creating and building a scalable business is a matter of acquiring and developing customers, finding your place in the market, trying, and sometimes failing and learning as a business. Key qualities in great leadership don’t depend on gender. Unfortunately, in the entrepreneurship space, one extremely powerful and pervasive stereotype is that women are too risk-averse. If we were risk-averse, would we be entrepreneurs in the first place? I think we also need to look at how we define risk.
The bottom line is that as women, we need to be able to stand in a room full of successful men in tech and be able to say, I hear you, but this is how we are going to make things work.
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 allow people to talk over you or demean your role.
I worked with a CTO who would tout his expertise and tried to make changes to the development roadmap we defined. Over time, it became a massive problem. It was him or me. I chose me, and so did my board. It was a hard time, and I had to let go of a friend and colleague who had no respect for me as a woman in this space. Lesson learned is that as the CEO, you have to make tough calls and can never let anyone tear you down.
2. When someone says you are wrong, listen carefully, gather other input, and make an educated decision.
When Intry started, we had a lot of interest in the problems we were solving. But we were still in our very early stages and had no business talking about strategic partnerships before we even had a POC. I decided to take their advice against my own, and it was an EPIC fail. We missed the deadline and presented a sub-par product. We lost credibility, the partnership, and a board member who refused to own their part. Lesson learned is to listen to your instincts no matter how hard you are being pushed.
3. Be fearless.
You will fail. You will stumble. You will be told no. People will leave your team. It’s ok. Building something that has never been done before is a huge challenge. You all the other challenges of starting a business, but you also have the burden of education. Never lose faith.
4. It’s not a race.
As a person who has a high bias to action, I’ve had to learn that building software, especially with AI, is a journey. It does not happen overnight, and that is ok. Bad data in is bad data out. I also have built a solid team that I can depend on, share the same vision and commitment to our success.
5. Find your community.
I recently joined the Austin Technology Council, and it’s been amazing. Their CEO, Amber Gunst, has done an incredible job of linking people together. As a result, I have an incredible and local group of female tech CEO’s that I can talk to, share ideas with, strategies, investor contacts, and provide critical feedback.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
- Be fearless.
- Push the envelope with innovation and creativity
- Hire a team who will challenge you but respect you
- Allow for mistakes but hold people accountable
- Ask questions from inside and outside your company.
- Create a product roadmap that has total team buy-in
- Raising money is hard, the more you put into the process, the better your results
- When you’re wrong, apologize. It does not make you weak; it makes you human
- When you fail, feel it, then get up and move on
- Always listen to your team and never be afraid to pivot
To lead by example. Hire people smarter than you. Create a diverse team. Be tough when it’s needed and to allow yourself to be vulnerable.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Townhall meetings once a month. It gives you visibility into what is happening across the company. You have the opportunity to really listen to people, read people’s faces, body language, and more. Hire the best people you can lead each department. Lastly, encourage 360 reviews so that it creates a sense of transparency, which leads to people feeling secure in their roles.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are truly so many. I think the two that come to mind are my parents, who told me every day that I could and be anything I wanted to be. There were no barriers to my imagination. Their mantra was “the only difference between good and great is a little extra effort.” I would say it’s more than a “little,” but their point was right.
When I first went to work in Hong Kong and China, the CEO of the company I worked for was one of the smartest women I’ve ever met. She gave me so many opportunities to try new things, to define my leadership style, and I’m forever grateful to her.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hope that I demonstrate it to my children every day in paying it forward financially and with our actions. This year for Christmas, instead of exchanging gifts, we took the money and bought items for our local women’s shelter.
For Intry, we are getting ready to launch a program to help homeless people get jobs at no expense to them. It would be an incredible honor to roll it out on a national level.
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. 🙂
- To act with kindness
- To smile at people no matter who they are. To really see people.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The only difference between good and great is a little extra effort.
The second one is “be fearless.”
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 🙂
Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn — why? Because his initial vision was to connect people in the workplace and he built a balanced executive team
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of FaceBook — why? She is badass. She is smart, agile, a mom, and a door opener for other women.