Female Disruptors: Andrea Sommer is shaking up how technology can make connections

Feel the Fear and do it anyway.

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Feel the Fear and do it anyway. Some years ago, a mentor and friend of mine recommended to me the book ‘Feel the Fear, and do it anyway.’ I have really internalized this feeling of facing the fear and embraced the knowledge that if you aren’t in that scary place, you aren’t stretching yourself, you aren’t learning and you are certainly not doing anything amazing. We are instinctively taught to walk away from fear, but in entrepreneurship you have to not only face it, but embrace it.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Sommer. Andrea is the founder & CEO of Hiver. Hiver is a female-founded, majority women technology company that helps event marketers measure and improve engagement at their events by enabling networkers to remember the names of every contact they meet and to quickly connect with those they find valuable. It is designed to connect in-person with the digital networking experience. She is passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, increasing the number of women represented in both, from entry-level to board-level. She has spoken at numerous conferences on technology, the mobile industry, entrepreneurship, raising start-up finance, investing, being a female founder and women in technology. She has been featured in press publications such as The Financial Times, Forbes as well as in the book The MBA Entrepreneur. She is also the co-host of the London Female Founders Breakfast series, bringing together female founders to share, learn, and support each other through the journey of entrepreneurship. Andrea holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Reed College in Portland, US and an Executive MBA from London Business School.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I’ve always been passionate about technology and I worked my whole career in tech, in different kinds of roles. My undergraduate degree is actually in Psychology, which actually has come in very handy! But tech has always been my passion — I’m a real geek! I love learning about new technologies and I really believe in their power to shape our lives and our world.

Being a multicultural person I also found technology to be a great equalizer. I was born in Brazil, with a German dad and Brazilian mom. I went to school in the US and now I live here in the UK. Technology has enabled me to close borders, to stay in touch with friends and family, to become a true global citizen.

Why did you found your company?

Hiver was the product of a very personal problem — namely the fact that I am horrible at remembering names when I network! When I was in business school I was networking a lot and the problem became even worse. At one point I even introduced myself to the same person three times! I looked for a technology solution to help me with this problem and when I didn’t find one, I decided to build it!

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We are a female founded, majority women technology start-up and that is pretty unique in itself — there aren’t many of us out there. One of the things that differentiates Hiver is that we focus on depth of engagement, rather than volume. So much of traditional technology is built by all male teams, and we believe this makes for products that can be quite transactional, because men navigate the world more transactionally than women do. Our approach is totally different — we flip things on their side and build technology that is about deepening connections instead. Our technology is also designed to be used in the background, so it doesn’t disrupt the natural way we network, but instead supports it in a non-intrusive way. We don’t want to steal attention from the networking experience but instead use technology to enable a more seamless and intuitive result of that networking. We hope that by taking this approach we can create technology that improves the world, not just sucks more of our time.

The way Hiver operates is also very different. We are fully flexible team — every individual can create his or her own schedule so they can fit work around whatever else is important to them. For some that means exercise or family, for others taking a course or even just working in the most optimal time of day. For this to work we focus on measure output instead of looking at how much time people spend online or working. This helps focus everyone on both smaller tasks and the big picture — and also creates a much more collaborative, self-organising team structure. We treat people like adults, with the trust and respect that goes with that.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

I am a firm believer that it really takes a village to build a business. So many people have helped me along the way — both by being examples I wanted to emulate as well as ones to do the exact opposite of! I try to take inspiration from all sorts of places — from more experienced entrepreneurs (on how to navigate pitfalls), from friends (on the importance of having cheerleaders who believe in you), from other industries (for inspiration) and sometimes even from my cat (who frequently reminds me I need a rest)! I also learn a lot from entrepreneurs who are just starting. They remind me of the need to retain that energy and optimism required to overcome the inevitable obstacles of the roller coaster of entrepreneurship.

How are you going to shake things up next?

We want to fundamentally change the way people network, in particular how they spend time at events. For most networkers, every event presents opportunities but opportunities are also missed because of forgetfulness. I am busy and I want to make sure every minute I spend networking is a minute well spent — and with Hiver every networker can achieve that.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door

I’m naturally an introvert, so networking doesn’t come easily to me. Yet, when I started business school, I had to network all the time, much more than I had done in the past. I was so frustrated with the fact that I could not remember names — this had always been a struggle for me. I looked everywhere to find a solution and when I didn’t find one I decided to build Hiver! Hiver provides intelligent technology to help make events and networking sessions more useful by enabling users to remember the names of everyone they meet. On top of that, we provide data to event organizers so they can make their events better and more impactful.

Looking back, I could have just accepted the fact that there wasn’t any good technology out there to help me. Yet, even though I had no experience, no money and couldn’t code, I decided to try to solve this problem. The only thing stopping us is…us. So build more doors!

Feel the Fear and do it anyway.

Some years ago, a mentor and friend of mine recommended to me the book ‘Feel the Fear, and do it anyway.’ I have really internalized this feeling of facing the fear and embraced the knowledge that if you aren’t in that scary place, you aren’t stretching yourself, you aren’t learning and you are certainly not doing anything amazing. We are instinctively taught to walk away from fear, but in entrepreneurship you have to not only face it, but embrace it.

It takes a village

I get this question a lot,‘ Should I share my idea with people or do I run the risk of someone copying it?’ I myself asked this question in the early stages of my business and my answer is a resounding yes — share your idea! First, ideas are super important, but without execution they are nothing. And execution is hard. Very very hard. It takes time and a lot of work. More importantly, by not sharing the idea you miss out on getting feedback, insights and experiences from the community. Building a business can’t be done in isolation. Talking about your idea and networking effectively enables you to make connections which can lead you to co-founders, investors, employees and customers.

I have been very lucky to be a part of several really supportive communities. London Business School was one of them — not only was that where the idea originally came about but it is also where I found many mentors, employees and investors who are still with me today. But I have found support in many places — some obvious, others unexepected. So get out there, build doors, get scared and most importantly, build your village!

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

There are so many! I’m a complete content junkie — I listen to many podcasts and I love reading. I actually think the thing that really impacted my thinking on a deep, deep level is my love for science fiction. I’ve pretty much read and seen everything out there. Science Fiction taught me to dream about a possible future, where humans and technology can co-exist (sometimes in good ways, other times in not so great ways). I love dreaming about the future, which is perhaps why I love technology so much, it feels like a link from today to that future. A few of my favorites are:

Podcasts: Flash Forward, Imaginary Worlds, Radiolab. Books: The Expanse Series, everything written by Philip K. Dick, Ursula LeGuin, so many others.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk. He really does not believe in limitations. I try to live my life — not getting bogged down by ‘this can’t be done’ but instead embracing ‘let’s do it’.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On Twitter and Instagram I’m at @andreasommer or @hivertech

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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