In times like these, it is extremely critical to communicate and be sure that our feelings are shared and respected. We make subtle changes to our interactions based on these meetings. It’s a great opportunity to talk about expectations and what everyone’s role is.
As part of my series about the “How Women in STEM are tackling Extreme Work Life Balance Amid COVID-19”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Cheney, CEO, MemberSuite.
Natalie started as COO/CRO of MemberSuite in 2013. By implementing the right processes and focusing on driving revenue, she succeeded in growing MemberSuite into a trusted membership management platform. Since becoming CEO in 2017, she has grown the company both by implementing a customer-centric approach that focuses on delivering innovative products and services, and through the acquisition of event marketing and engagement software company, Event Farm. Her mission is to enable for-profit and not-for-profit organizations with technology that empowers people to interact in a more meaningful and engaging way.
Natalie is a seasoned software veteran with 20 years of SaaS and experience. Prior to MemberSuite, she was instrumental growing several other Saas businesses including Constructware (Acquired by Autodesk) and Compliance 360 (Acquired by SAI global).
Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Even at an early age, I recognized my love for building and understanding how things came together. After college, I graduated with a Civil Engineering degree and got my masters years later. Early in my career, I worked as a site engineer for one of the largest building construction firms in the country and was fascinated by how high rises came together. I soon learned that my admiration of building and creating could be translated to Software.
I had an opportunity at Deloitte and Touche to work on a software implementation project and was sure that this was the field I wanted to be in. At the same time in early 2000, the tech bubble was at its height and I knew I could excel and make my mark on the industry. My ambitious self jumped to begin work at my first startup company. It was brutal the first few years after 9/11 — four out of five companies went belly up — but I was lucky enough to learn with a team who knew how to not only stay alive but thrive in a market turndown. The rest is history as they say, we sold that small startup company to Autodesk in 2006, and I was hooked. I yearned to repeat the same experience and that I did. Since then, I have been at four different software companies in various roles. I started my leadership in Professional Services and then onto Operations, Marketing, and then Sales. I had always been a leader at heart, so when the opportunity was upon me to become the new CEO of MemberSuite in October 2017, I couldn’t turn it down.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We service nonprofits and commercial customers whose major revenue is sourced from events. Since events have been canceled across the globe due to COVID-19, we knew our clients would be challenged. However, with the state of the world, we have proven our ability to adapt with the conditions. For example, we have pivoted to offer virtual event experiences to our customers via our recent acquisition of event engagement platform, Event Farm. Unlike a 2D-online meeting, our offering combines 3D sound and visual event experiences with avatars, sound, and different real-world settings to engage, creating one of a kind experiences for all to enjoy.
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? Can you share a story about that?
I had two peers on the executive team of my first startup company who took ample time to mentor me. One gentleman focused on operations and taught me the inner workings of a company, from how to set goals, to align behaviors of the team and understanding financials. Another gentleman was a co-founder who inspired my entrepreneurial spirit, and taught me a lot about failure and when to pivot when things are not working. Both were incredibly important in my career trajectory.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Balance and priorities of the family structure is by far the biggest challenge. My husband and I both work full time and have higher than normal stress, but I am lucky to have a husband who appreciates my occupational aspirations. Because we both work busy jobs, we have had to determine how to split responsibilities in raising a family. During the pandemic, our partnership has only made us more effective. We talk each night about the “important” meetings that we are leading and can’t be disturbed and make adjustments taking turns on the kids’ needs.The other thing I am incredibly thankful for is my teenage daughter who has also stepped up to help in getting my younger daughters’ school work together. This has taught my younger daughter more responsibility and organization as well.
However, I think a lot of women are really struggling to adjust during this time if they have younger kids, especially infants and toddlers. Daycares are closed, and women are forced to tend all their childrens’ needs while holding down a fulltime job. It is distracting and a lot to handle, but I think it can be managed with proper communication from each spouse. I would suggest having a family conversation concerning give and take around the household. It’s all about compromise, understanding, and being realistic that each of us will have good days and bad days. As a family, we also believe that “alone” time in a quarantine world is incredibly important for mental and emotional wellbeing. For me, it’s about getting in the car and just driving around with music to feel a bit normal, but other people really enjoy walks, yoga, or relaxing in front of a movie with some popcorn.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I get asked this question frequently, but my answer is no different in a pandemic than before coronavirus. The biggest challenge for women in STEM is lack of networking in terms of understanding how to create a network and finding people who will support you. Finding that network of trusted people, those you can be vulnerable with you and those you can help in return. In the early 2000s, there were not many women in STEM, and therefore I never found a female to mentor me. I later recognized how many men acted as my mentor and were equally supportive. In the last five years, I have seen great improvement in men engaging women more strategically in business and providing a more helpful, lending hand. I think it is important for men and women alike to know that being vulnerable is not weakness, but a strength. It takes a lot more courage to go out of the way to support each other and connect to create a strong communicative atmosphere at work than to stay in your “bubble.” This improvement in women’s work atmosphere is great progress, but all of us are responsible to continue to pave the path for women in the future. And especially during a pandemic of this magnitude, it’s critical to continue lifting women up and making these connections through virtual means, so the ball isn’t dropped while in-person networking isn’t possible.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Set rules and shift hours to accommodate important meetings on everyone’s calendar. Unfortunately, the construct of working from home often extends the workday well into the evening, and I think most families are seeing their work and personal spaces bleed together, which is a real challenge. Ultimately, we all need to give ourselves a bit of credit — we are trying to teach, parent, and be an employee all at the same time — but we can’t always be everything to everyone. At the end of the day, we just need to do our best, focus on our mental health, and take some time to recognize that if learning does not happen at maximum speed or deadlines are not met, we just have to be okay with that as long as we are giving our best effort. I tell my children this often — if they are trying their absolute best in school, I am happy with their grades at the end of the day. In the end, each person in a company needs to be their own boss, push themselves and monitor themselves for stress. I think self-reliance is one of the key components that makes a company run smoothly.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
- Family communication — We have monthly family meetings. In times like these, it is extremely critical to communicate and be sure that our feelings are shared and respected. We make subtle changes to our interactions based on these meetings. It’s a great opportunity to talk about expectations and what everyone’s role is.
- Reach past your own four walls — We’ve been working to communicate with extended family. For example, we had a “virtual” dinner with my family that lives in New Jersey for Easter and finished the night with a competitive game of Family Feud; it was great fun.
- Channel your inner Martha Stewart — Crafting, cooking, baking — do it all when you have time to spare. I have had the opportunity to teach my kids how to cook more than ever, since I normally don’t get the opportunity with busy schedules and dual parent full time jobs.
- Movie nights — everyone gets a choice. My husband and I have been binge watching Netflix shows; our favorite right now is Ozark. I have not watched this much TV since college!
- Get outside when you can — We’ve been enjoying (socially distanced) hikes where we can (if parks are not closed) and walks with my two goldens and husband.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- We are social creatures — we need to interact with each other. If you are lonely, figure out how to reach out in different ways. Even if we can’t hug someone, doing a drive by for someone’s birthday, have a Zoom call with a friend or family member you have not seen in a while, or pick up the phone and call. I have some friends I have not talked to in quite a long time, busy with life as they say, and guess what? They’ve been thinking about me too!
- Look for positives in quarantine. I started a list of things I have not been able to do in my “normal” life that quarantine has actually given me the time and space in my schedule to partake in. Don’t focus on what you can’t do or what is canceled. As an example, I am now working at home now versus being in the office 10 hours/day, I have more time with the kids, playing games, driveway family basketball games, cooking, and just talking about life. I like that many folks are focusing more on exercise and staying healthy. These precious times only happened a few hours a day with work, school and sports/activities — now we see each other more often.
- Clean house, clean mind — I had many household projects that have been put on hold for years, from cleaning closets and garages, to landscaping and other activities. Have the mindset of “what can I get done, so when I am out of this, all these activities are out of the way?” There is also a sense of accomplishment when you look at what you’ve done. It’s progress, and we all feel good about that.
- Whatever happens, it’s meant to be. I believe if you do the right thing, and everyday do the best you can, all will work out. Each day put your best foot forward and let the rest of the cards fall. In many cases, you recognize whatever has happened was meant to be, even if you cannot explain it at the time. Whatever your religion, try and find some inspiration on a day to day basis.
- Stay away from the media and in-fighting — this is a time to work together and I am continuously surprised how adult professionals and politicians can’t seem to come together in this. It had gotten to me so much a couple weeks back, that I had to turn much of the media off. You really don’t miss much day to day. For me, if I limit it to 20–30 minutes every other day, I find myself in a much happier place. We are expecting updates by the hour, and life does not sort itself out that quickly. My hope is that the politicians and doctors, democrat or republic, can put their differences aside and work together.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
My biggest revelation in all of this is that quarantine has forced us to stop and take inventory in our relationships and people we love. Take the time to let them know and find parts of the day to tell them. Time seemed to be traveling at warp speed prior to COVID-19. Let us learn a bit of patience and enjoy the journey of how much we will change as individuals, families, and as a society. When it truly comes down to it, people are there for you; I have seen people around me doing more than we ever thought we could — being selfless, helping others, and showing compassion. This is the country I believe in, one that comes together in tough times. I hope this will teach us to unite as a country instead of divide by political party, race, ethnicity, or anything else; in the end, we are American. I think there will be a long-lasting change because of coronavirus especially in how we interact with one another. This will forever change us, as Americans, as humanity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was young, I had this fear of missing school. I am not sure what it was inside of me at that young age, but when we celebrated 8th grade graduation, I got an award for never missing a day of school, not once for vacation or being sick. However, I did get sick, I simply just sucked it up. My dad always told me that “99% of success in life is showing up.” I did not understand how profound that was back then, but it stuck with me. I was built to show up and work hard. As I grew in my career, I saw countless examples of people who did not show up. They might have been at work ‘in body’ but not spirit — or may not have showed up at all. In my more senior leadership roles, I learned it was more of really bringing your best to every day. Even when you’re having a difficult day, just being fully present can make or break your career. In times like these, it has been more important than ever.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please follow my journey on LinkedIn! https://www.linkedin.com/in/natalie-cheney-5aa592/