How Creating A Diverse Culture Can Help Your Company Thrive
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Sposato, cofounder of PicMonkey– an online photo editor, and GeekWire- a tech news website.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’m honored to participate! My background is all over the place. I was a Chinese Korean kid born in London to a single mom. I spent my early years growing up in Hong Kong with my grandparents attending an English school taught by Spanish nuns. When I reunited with my mom and her new husband in the U.S. and began life in America, I also legally picked up his Italian last name. Are you confused yet? I think my unconventional childhood, and being in many situations where I was the odd man out, really helped form some of my fundamental values both inside and outside of the workplace. For example, understanding the need for diverse perspectives, inclusivity and giving voice to the underrepresented, “listening louder” to find ways to build bridges, and being a champion for women are all personal ideals that stem from my upbringing.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
GeekWire, the technology news site I co-founded in 2009, hosts a bunch of signature events in Seattle, which bring out thousands of people to connect, learn, recruit, do business — and mostly have fun — with a broad cross-section of the tech community. One of our biggest events is our annual GeekWire anniversary bash, which this year included dodgeball, VR, video games, foosball, Ping Pong…okay, beer Pong, and even a zipline. Needless to say, there are too many funny stories coming out of those parties to even pick one. I make it a habit to surround myself with smart, creative and witty people, so on any given day there is something kind of wacky going on.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Several things make GeekWire or PicMonkeystandout. First is not being afraid to be irreverent. Both GeekWire and PicMonkey began on a premise that their respective audiences and subcultures (‘geekdom’ and being a ‘photo monkey’) are to be celebrated, while at the same time signaling it’s absolutely OK to not take ourselves too seriously. You win with customers when you can forge an emotional connection, and nothing invokes positive emotions better than humor.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Several. I’ve been thinking of ways to double down on using technology as a way of helping individuals experiencing homelessness, and the kind of collective impact we can make. A nonprofit I founded called WeCount.org is nearly ready to launch V2 later this year, where a donor will now be able to gift a critical survival item directly to the person on the street. I am also thinking about issues related to online privacy and personal information, and whether there are ways to disrupt that.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Be as vulnerable and as authentic as possible. I believe that approach is much more effective than trying to be ‘accessible’ or ‘relatable.’ We’re all different and with a growing employee pool there’s no way you can be ‘relatable’ to everyone. So just be yourself…but be your most vulnerable and real self, which encourages your team to mirror the same behavior, share more, and create more transparency. That trust erodes often toxic politics and engenders greater morale to weather any storm.
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?
My mom first. And secondly my adopted dad. (boring I know, but it’s the truth).
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’ve always been committed to making sure the under-represented are “seen” and treated as valuable contributors to our society. This is part of the reason I pledged in 2015 to only invest in female-founded companies, as I’d seen how hard it was for women with great ideas to get funding. The homeless crisis is another area in need of innovative solutions and that’s why I started WeCount.org to help the homeless in my community in Seattle. I was able to leverage my SAAS and mobile app expertise to prioritize human capital over profits. I also took my experience and success building companies with an equal balance of women and men, and wrote a book full of solutions for how to achieve gender parity in the tech industry. It’s important we focus on solutionsto the significant gender issues in our industry, and I am passionate about sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I can give you 50 if you’ll let me!! First off if you have few or no women in senior leadership positions, consider the following;
1. The U.S. technology industry could generate an additional $470 billion to $570 billion in new value by better representing the country’s ethnic and gender diversity. (Report from Intel Corporation and Dalberg Global Development Advisors) www.recode.net/2016/6/22/12007828/white-house-tech-diversity-pledge
2. Adding 3 women to your board of directors will increase your company’s return on equity by 46% compared with all male boards (Peterson research)
3. Having your C-suite be at least 30% women increases your company’s sales by an average of 42% (Catalyst)
4. Female CEOs have been found to outperform their male counterparts on the S&P 500 by 226% return on equity (quontopian) For example, several privately held companies I’ve invested in with female CEO’s like RiveterCo, Poppy Care, and Pokidok have done exceptionally well. They gained traction fast precisely because of the broad array of leadership skills that included not just ambition and drive, but great customer empathy, communication, recruiting A+ team members, and building collaborative cultures where their employees thrived.
5. Lack of diversity and sexual discrimination in particular has a net negative $16B a year impact on American businesses per year. In other words, NOT having a diverse culture costs you. In fact, one of the things I love about PicMonkey is our well below average attrition rate. This is a direct result of our 50/50 gender balanced work force. I know with certainty that the amazing culture that is “rigorous with product” but “delightful in working with colleagues” is a reason why employees commonly remark; “this is the best place I’ve ever worked!”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“the keys to the kingdom are gained by being able to redefine things that are supposed to make you feel bad, take offense, or feel a slight, as none of those things. You choose how you feel, not others.”
-Inspired by many, but adapted to be one of my personal credos.
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 just see this 🙂
Bruno Mars. I’d love to switch places with him for a month and see the incredible value he would add bringing his special “joie de vivre” to being a tech CEO, while I assuredly would exhibit zero skills trying to do what he does. I’d have a blast and learn a ton, while his masses of fans would likely laugh hysterically and beg him to come back. Bruno, what do you think?
Originally published at medium.com