“How you treat others says far more about you than how you are treated by them” with Penny Bauder & Cynthia Del’Aria

How you treat others says far more about you than how you are treated by them. I’ve been in situations where men were completely disrespectful because I was a woman in a leadership role. One older gentleman even went so far as to tell my successor he was relieved that a man was running the […]

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How you treat others says far more about you than how you are treated by them. I’ve been in situations where men were completely disrespectful because I was a woman in a leadership role. One older gentleman even went so far as to tell my successor he was relieved that a man was running the department again. I could have gotten upset, and would have been absolutely justified in doing so, but what would I have gained in doing that?

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia Del’Aria. Cynthia is the co-founder and CEO of Denver-based technology incubator Raika Technologies. A serial entrepreneur and self-confessed startup addict, her background began primarily in UI development and transitioned throughout her career through the entire web development stack. Cynthia discovered early on that she possessed a natural ability to find new business opportunities, build profitable revenue models, discover emerging target markets, and create efficient teams. She has built, run and sold several companies in her career and consults for businesses to help them take underperforming software teams and products and turn them into cash cows.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Mywhole life I have loved to read, I absolutely can’t get enough of books. When I was 8, my mom was taking a couple of intro to programming courses at the local community college, and she left her Visual Basic book just sitting there on her desk, looking all enticing, so I picked it up and started reading. Two days later I had 3D graphics flying around the screen of our home computer, and I was hooked. The satisfaction of building something and seeing it work put me over the moon, so I dug into everything I could possibly get my hands on about programming. At 15, I started my first company doing software and web consulting.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Running an incubator means I hear a LOT of pitches. On a slow week I get pitched a minimum of 20–30 times, and I hear all kinds of ideas, a lot of them in the “wild and wacky” category. Probably the most ridiculous pitch I ever heard was from a businessman who met me for lunch wearing a very expensive suit and tie. He spent about 10 minutes building up the hype by telling me that he was going to completely disrupt the dating paradigm. I’m naturally skeptical, but I actually agree that the online dating world is ripe for disruption, so I was intrigued.

In a near-whisper, he leaned over to me and said, “It’s a dating app, but only for Green Bay Packers fans.” I started laughing, and he looked very confused about what I thought was so funny. I spent the rest of lunch trying to explain what disruptive means, but he was still convinced his idea was the next big thing that would replace Match.com and Tinder. I love that story.

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?

When I started my first business I had limited programming experience. The web was just getting to a point where companies were seeing the value of having an online presence, and I created a little niche company, building websites for business owners at my church.

My first project was building an online catalog for audiobooks, but I had never used a database before. So, I built over 350 audiobook product pages by hand. It took me almost 6 weeks to finish the project, but I was pretty proud of what I’d created.

About two weeks later, I was in a meeting with a large development shop that was sub-contracting with me for some basic HTML work. One of the guys said in an off-hand way, “you know, a small database would have made that project take less than half the time.” I nodded along, then went home and did a bunch of searching on the web to find out what he meant. I was completely embarrassed and felt silly that I didn’t think of it on my own.

I went back to the company to ask if I could redo the catalog right way and they were happy to have me put things right. When all was said and done, they were impressed by my commitment and they ended up using me for several more years.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The concept of incubators and accelerators is by no means new, I think it’s our mission that distinguishes Raika from the rest of the pack. Over the years I’ve heard so many people tell different versions of the same story: “I spent $200,000 and 5 years of my life working on my idea, and nobody’s using my product.”

There are a ton of companies that will take anyone’s money and build whatever they ask for, but veryfew who are interested in whether that money should be spent in the first place. Our company was built for the purpose of eliminating that narrative altogether.

We start by determining whether there is viable product-market fit for what each of our clients wants to build. I don’t want people who come to me for help just to spend time and money on ideas that will never become successful companies.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Wehave some really cool projects in the works, one of which is designed specifically for entrepreneurs.

The startup journey can be a grueling slog, and the most frequently asked question we get is, “Now what do I do?”

Our new service will help people answer that question quickly and inexpensively, no matter what stage of the startup journey they’re in. It allows us to do our incubator and Startup Program work for thousands of people in a way that isn’t possible without technology and the web. We can’t wait to present this one to the world!

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?

Ifwe are going to change the status quo regarding women in the STEM fields, we have to start with young girls. Girls are just as naturally inclined towards the STEM disciplines as boys, and we have to find creative ways to give young girls early exposure. The more we design toys and experiences aimed at fostering these innate skills, the more girls will grow into women in the STEM industry.

As a woman, my biggest frustration is feeling that being in “tech” means I’m no longer seen as feminine, or that I have to embody the male geek stereotype to be successful. Women and young girls should understand that they can embrace everything about being feminine and not hide their intelligence.

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?

Perception is the biggest challenge women face, both culturally and stereotypically. I recently read a piece by an accomplished woman who studied funding of male- and female-led companies over a 10-year period, and she found men’s startup ideas got funded 14 times more than women’s. When she dug into the data, she uncovered an unconscious bias that most investors, male and female alike, view men as more capable of handling risk.

So, in interviews, men were asked growth-oriented questions, whereas women were asked protection-based questions. Where a man would be asked about customer acquisition- a growth mindset, a woman would be asked about customer retention- a protection mindset. If we are going to shift these biases, we have to start bringing them to the surface and retraining ourselves to view all people and ideas solely on merit.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

Idon’t have children of my own, although I do have two wonderful step kids. One of the most incredible things I see is that people treat women as if the ability, desire or choice to bear children means that somehow they can’t be as effective in their job as someone else.

I have seen phenomenal women have babies and continue to absolutely rock their companies, and yet they’re looked at differently. I’ve heard investors ask women pitching their startups whether they intend to have children and how they will manage that. It’s as if everyone thinks women are the only ones who have to sacrifice and manage their time when they raise a family.

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.)

Bewilling to say you were wrong.

I was running a software team for a SaaS product company in Denver, and it was a rather stressful time leading up to a big launch. Everyone was on edge, working long hours. Usually I am a great resource for people to ask for what they to keep going forward. But one particular evening, I took out my own frustration with a client mix-up on the entire team, then stormed out. The next day I came into the office and called a meeting so I could apologize and tell everyone that I was clear about the role I played in creating the problem, and that how I handled it was wrong. Before I knew it, everyone on the team was cleaning up their unresolved issues with each other, and there was comradery and support for each other again. The project ended up launching beautifully because of the renewed spirit of compassion and community.

Listen more than you talk.

This one works in just about any situation: leadership and management, parenting, sales, teaching, and on and on. It’s so easy to jump right to a “lecture” or imparting all of the wisdom that we know to try to solve other people’s problems. But it’s much more important to close your mouth, open your ears and really hear what the person in front of you is trying to say. When you do that, you give that person the space they need to think through what they are trying to do, and more often than not they’ll solve it for themselves. That’s teaching someone to fish, which is actual wisdom.

Treat others as you want to be treated… even if they don’t deserve it.

How you treat others says far more about you than how you are treated by them. I’ve been in situations where men were completely disrespectful because I was a woman in a leadership role. One older gentleman even went so far as to tell my successor he was relieved that a man was running the department again. I could have gotten upset, and would have been absolutely justified in doing so, but what would I have gained in doing that?

Understand that harassment or potentially dangerous situations are different, and you absolutely should protect yourself if necessary. I’m more talking about stupid, insensitive things that people of all genders, shapes and sizes say to each other every day that can get your hackles up. Just remember: Hackles Down.

Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room.

So many leaders and managers think it’s their job to understand everything better than everyone else and to constantly be the one making all the decisions. This is backwards.

You should be surrounding yourself with people who are amazing at what they do, your job should be to ensure that they are empowered to do it. You should know enough about all of the moving parts to be able to keep your eye on the 30,000-foot view effectively, but you can’t and shouldn’t try to cover everyone’s bases and make all the plays. I’ve seen managers attempt this and all they end up with are failed projects and unhappy teams.

Trust, hone and use your intuition.

Listening to yourself, that inner voice of reason, that “hunch” in your gut, is a critical skill to any kind of leadership. Your logical brain will try to reason things out, and that’s good, to a point. But understand that your logical brain will also try to resolve issues based solely on reason. It’s scientific fact that everything in the world is energy, from cells and atoms to the air around us. Everything vibrates at frequencies our logical brains can’t pick up on, but our bodies can. Learn to listen to the part of your body that reads and interprets the energy around you, and trust that.

My company worked with an entrepreneur a while back who seemed really great on paper. He said all the right things and seemed to have his ducks in a row, but every time we were in the room with him, I got this weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I even made a joke once comparing his idea to the Fyre Festival disaster. Turns out, my intuition was 100% spot on, and because I didn’t ignore it, we avoided a huge debacle.

Intuition is a gift you’re born with, so learn to hone it and use it to help you make the right decisions, even when your logical brain gives you reasons not to.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Women have a great advantage in leadership because we’re naturally empathetic. Empathy is a huge component of building a successful, thriving team. It requires listening first, acting slowly and letting your staff know they have your trust and confidence. Then, you just need to make sure you’re taking care of the things that could get in their way.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The hardest aspect of large teams is keeping communication flowing across various segments. Big teams have to be pieced out to get tasks and work accomplished effectively, that means that your job is to always make sure every segment knows what the other ones are doing and that everyone can communicate changes or impacts to everyone else.

This starts with you. If you don’t communicate well, up and down the chain, others won’t have an example and standard to compare themselves to. You should always lead by example and start with how, when, why and what you communicate.

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?

Myfiancée is one of the most amazing, loving, caring and loyal people I’ve ever met. Although I’ve had wonderful success in the past, it’s always a huge risk taking on a new venture. Over the past 6 years, he has not only supported my choice to go out and try something new, he’s been unwavering in his confidence that I will be successful. There have been times I’ve come home at the end of the day and asked, out loud, “Am I crazy?” and he just hugs me and tells me that if anyone can get it done, it’s me. He’s never questioned whether I would be successful. He’s a huge comfort and the steady rock I need, and it gives me the freedom to take risks. He makes me feel like a superhero and I love him to the ends of the earth for it.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Ibelieve that successful people, whether entrepreneurs or happy employees, contribute more to the world around them. My role in helping entrepreneurs build ideas into viable businesses also helps them achieve their goals. Whether they build their businesses as legacies for their families, or whether they intend to build something, exit, and go on to do other wonderful things, the one thing they all have in common is that they want to succeed so they can help others.

Sometimes that’s giving back through charitable works, other times it’s leaving a legacy for the next generation to build upon. Everyone’s purpose is different, but by helping entrepreneurs find success, I hope I’m enabling many people to fulfill their purposes, which is exactly how the world becomes a place we all want to live in.

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. 🙂

The political climate today in America is heartbreaking. There is so much righteousness on both sides of the aisle that we’ve stopped listening to each other and respecting each other’s views. We allow politicians and the media to divide us on the small differences rather than unite us in the majority of ways we agree, to their benefit and our detriment.

If I could start a movement, I’d call it “Listen and Respect.” The purpose would be to bring truth to the surface and encourage honest conversations with people holding different beliefs. It would be about respecting one another’s viewpoints, finding common ground and working together to safeguard the freedoms we all should be able to enjoy in this great, unique country. Ideally, it would promote learning from the past while looking toward the future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” I know it’s common, maybe even cliché, but the Golden Rule is one that will never set you wrong.

I’ve been in situations where people have acted stupidly or said mean, rude or cruel things and, when I was younger, I was quick to anger and would sometimes give it right back. As I’ve gotten older and learned how important relationships are, I’ve learned that the Golden Rule encourages patience, compassion and tolerance for others. That’s helped me build some incredible relationships, even if they didn’t start out very well.

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 🙂

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, is someone I would love the chance to sit down with one-on-one. Going from search giant Google to take the reins at Yahoo! had to have been fraught with expectation. She has taken that opportunity and run with it beautifully, just having the chance to hear her story would be fascinating.

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