“Me time is something that has become more of a challenge.” With Diana Ross

Me time is something that has become more of a challenge with this pandemic. I find that getting up an hour before everyone else in the household to be a great strategy. Some days I spend this time exercising, other days I simply sit on the couch with a coffee and enjoy the quiet time. […]

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Me time is something that has become more of a challenge with this pandemic. I find that getting up an hour before everyone else in the household to be a great strategy. Some days I spend this time exercising, other days I simply sit on the couch with a coffee and enjoy the quiet time. If the morning doesn’t work, I recommend scheduling time for yourself at some point throughout the day, then use it to find a quiet space and relax.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Ross.

Diana Ross started her first tech business after graduating from the University of Waterloo in 2009. She later went on to become Head of Sales at Maropost. Ross launched her second startup in the email space, GetEmails, in November 2019 after joining Robly Email Marketing to navigate expansion. It was then that she developed the stand alone identification technology with her Co-founder Adam Robinson.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

Igraduated in STEM from the University of Waterloo in 2009 and started my career at Xerox selling photocopiers — that’s where I learned the basics of sales, including cold calling, sales cycles, and closing deals. I was used to having my personal time filled with Varsity Volleyball or a job on top of my studies, so I felt I had a lot of extra time on my hands. Brainstorming new business ideas became my number one hobby — it was then that I discovered my entrepreneurial spirit. Like many with the startup itch, I had an app idea. I was put in touch with an engineering student who I ended up hiring as a tech / engineering consultant to teach me everything I needed to know about technology and building an app. We spent months at a local Starbucks working from open to close. I asked questions every step of the way about the design and the technical aspects of the app — I wanted to gain a full understanding of how websites and technology were made. Like many first time startup projects, we decided to shut the app down after a few pivots and a couple of years, but this experience was the foundation of my future in technology. The mix of a sales and technology background has led me to new opportunities in the software industry, email marketing, and where I am today with GetEmails.

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

When launching GetEmails, we knew that we were entering the market with a very unique product that offers massive value to just about every online brand that owns a website. We knew the product would create a lot of hype, but the challenge was to insert ourselves into the conversations that were happening online.

Our view is different from most other software companies in that we aren’t competing with competitors, but with Facebook and Instagram timelines. People communicate on these channels via short video stories and selfies. So, although it seems unconventional for a B2B software company, we thought we would try it. Every week for the past four months we created a short 60 second home-made selfie video. The results have been astonishing! More than 400k people in our target audience have watched our videos and over 30k of these individuals have watched the video in full.

This unconventional approach partnered with some other unique marketing and sales tactics helped us exceed 100k in monthly revenue in under 4 months.

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

At GetEmails, we help online brands capture email addresses of up to 35% of their anonymous website visitors. We are helping publishers and ecommerce brands take advantage of the recent increase in internet traffic by building their audience in a way that is not invasive or offensive to potential buyers. We are also making a number of other advancements that will help ecommerce brands grow their email list with the highest intent buyers and decrease lead & customer acquisition cost.

Personally, I have started working on a blog that is meant to help small businesses transition to online initiatives through Covid-19. There are a lot of software tools out there and many have no idea where to start. As someone who knows the landscape of online products very well, I’m creating an online toolkit to help advise and point business owners in the right direction for getting started and growing their business online.

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’ve been very fortunate to have mentors who have played a key part in my success throughout the different stages of my career. Right now, I’m especially grateful for Adam Robinson, the Founder of our company. Adam hired me as a consultant a couple of years ago, but after learning we had a lot in common and that our business goals aligned, I committed to working with Adam and his team full time. We were determined to innovate and after a ton of research, conversations, and hard work, we launched GetEmails.

At this stage in my career, I’m really focused on leadership and Adam has been the best possible mentor I could find in this regard. I soon learned that he is the kind of person who is loved by all and who people are very happy working for. He has all the traits of a great tech leader and has been instrumental in helping me advance my personal and business leadership skills.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. 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?

I’m five months pregnant with my first child and this has caused some challenges for myself and my family during Covid-19. A lot of pressure has been put on my husband to do any essential errands and we’ve made the decision to stay out of grocery stores completely. I was originally eating organic and planning to continue an organic diet throughout my pregnancy, but under the circumstances, I have had to make dietary adjustments and be much less picky about the quality of food we are able to order and prepare for in advance.

Dealing with pregnancy symptoms while being stuck at home has had its challenges. Getting out for exercise and going to the gym really helped suppress feelings of tiredness and sickness earlier on in my pregnancy. With gyms being closed it’s been difficult to keep an exercise routine going.

It’s also been difficult not to spend quality time with family. I was travelling for work for two months prior to Covid-19, so I haven’t been able to spend time with my parents, sister, or nieces in over three months.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Our local grocery pick-up has been a really great service to keep us out of the grocery stores, but pick-up times in our area are now booking up to two weeks in advance. We have adjusted to planning ahead as best we can and coming to terms that we may not always have the ingredients or items we need at the immediate time. In our situation, it’s well worth the trade-off for staying out of the stores.

To keep myself exercising, I’ve been using an at-home treadmill every day. I walk on the treadmill for at least 30 mins/day and incorporate a light weight and stability ball workout a couple of times per week. Although I don’t feel this compares to using the machines at the gym, it has been helpful for keeping me in good physical and mental shape through this pregnancy.

We’re keeping our social time to phone and video calls, and if we need to see somebody for any reason, we’re doing so from a distance. I dropped off some small gifts for my one and three-year-old nieces on their doorstep and waved to them from the car. Although we can’t spend quality time together, I feel that small gestures and surprise distant visits will carry us through this difficult time.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

It was obvious that when times became uncertain with Covid-19, a lot of businesses were cutting back on tech spend and trimming their monthly bills where possible. With news and fear ramping up, we quickly had a number of cancellations and lost revenue.

Another challenge was the concern it caused for our employees. Events were being cancelled, advertisers were reducing spend, and the word was that people weren’t shopping online during this uncertain time. With these changes affecting all of our customers in some capacity and news of people being laid off across industries, it was tough for our employees not to worry.

I oversee sales at our company and on top of the cancellations, figuring out how to navigate us moving forward was a major challenge. Do we continue sales outreach? Do we continue running ads? Should I be emailing people at all? Am I offending people? Will this make our brand look bad? These are all questions that we, as well as many other B2B software brands were asking ourselves.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

We supported every customer that needed to cancel or pause their account. Understanding that our customers have multiple business and personal challenges of their own at this time, it was the right thing to do. We showed our appreciation to them for working with us, and expressed our hope that they would come back in the coming months. 100% of these customers said they planned to return. I have made a note of all these customers and will check in with them a few months from now — this will be the key to getting their accounts reactivated.

I have made a big effort to keep our employees up to date and informed on financial details and positive movements happening within the company. Although it has been a challenging time for all, we have continued to gain new customers and make exciting advancements in our product & business as a whole. Although some of these wins are things that would usually be kept between management, I have found that taking extra time out of my day to share these updates with my team has helped minimize concern.

We quickly transitioned to taking an educational approach to our outbound sales and marketing. Instead of pushing sales, we reached out to potential customers and shared a video on “How to Market During a Crisis” and shared additional tips through video Facebook Ads. We received many emails back and comments on our post congratulating us for our approach. It has allowed us to continue on with our initiatives without feeling like we are offending business owners or tarnishing our brand in any way. Despite the initial cancellations, we have been able to bounce back and grow the business week over week.

Additionally, we made our free plan 10X bigger than it had been to give businesses a tool they could experiment with for free during Covid-19.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Balancing work and me and my husband’s personal lives under one roof can be very challenging. My advice is to plan ahead for the day making to-do lists for both work and personal tasks, then check items off throughout the day.

It is key to take breaks to stay on top of errands and chores during this time, as falling behind on these tasks can have a negative mental impact. I do 50 minute work sprints, then take 10 minutes to do a quick chore around the house or attend to personal needs. You would be amazed at what you can accomplish in a 10 minute break!

It is also important to create a workspace in your home that makes you feel good. This helps you spend time working when it’s time to work vs. constantly letting personal or family requests take priority.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?

Me time is something that has become more of a challenge with this pandemic. I find that getting up an hour before everyone else in the household to be a great strategy. Some days I spend this time exercising, other days I simply sit on the couch with a coffee and enjoy the quiet time. If the morning doesn’t work, I recommend scheduling time for yourself at some point throughout the day, then use it to find a quiet space and relax.

I think it’s important that one spends this time to stay on track with working hard at their job. I’ve always felt that small daily achievements keep me feeling good mentally, and like I have earned personal and family time.

Planning family activities and social time has also helped. I’ve found that planning activities reduces screen time and makes the days/ weekends more enjoyable (even when stuck at home). Planning time to socialize with colleagues and to chat with friends is also something we all need!

Finally, I think it’s most important to manage your expectations within your own household during this time. Staying consistent with work and personal / family life is the key. Although some may see this time at home as an opportunity to start a new venture, that isn’t realistic for everyone. Some may have time to homeschool their children for half a day, while others have an hour or potentially no time at all. It is important to determine what is best in your household and create expectations that work for you and your family.

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.

Remote Business Advancements — I have loved seeing the ways all types of businesses — from small local shops to big corporations — have made adjustments to continue operations during this time. Many have quickly begun utilizing delivery apps, curb-side pick up, and adjusting to selling online. A friend of mine has a water filtration business in Houston, Texas in which her sales team typically does in-home water assessments. They have found a way to do the assessments remotely through video conferences, which now opens up the opportunity for her business to expand across the entire country.

With these adjustments and in some cases new revenue streams for brands, I am confident most will look back on this time and be thankful that it forced them to make these advancements.

Innovation — It is amazing to see how quickly the world is innovating to help fight and prevent Covid-19. There have been a lot of really unique and cool products that have been created in recent weeks to help with the many problems Covid-19 has caused. One of my favorite stories is about a teen who heard nurses were getting ear sores from wearing masks all day. He used a 3D printer to create an ear saver that helped avoid the mask from rubbing against their ears all day.

Community & Acts of Kindness — Every community in the world has come together to support one another and cheer on our front line workers. Communities everywhere have worked to get doctors and nurses the protective equipment they need to continue fighting Covid-19 in the hospitals. Many have also extended their hand to help the elderly and those in financial need in their community during this time. I saw one story of a family who set up a food stand in their front yard to give out free food to anyone in need.

Showing Love from a Distance — Many people have had to cancel big trips, birthday parties, and even weddings. Seeing friends plan virtual celebrations has been really cool — from online Zoom weddings to birthday deliveries and drive bys. I have seen friends line their cars up and drive by to wave and say happy birthday from a distance. VRBO is also promoting online vacations with virtual tours of places around the world and popular tourist spots.

Science — Every day we are seeing new advancements in testing, treatment, and vaccines for Covid-19. Yesterday I learned of a test kit that, with a simple finger prick, gives results in seven minutes. This is a great example of a scientific advancement that will help society take precaution while trying to adjust back to daily routines in the future.

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?

Although many are saying that they are staying away from news and social media to avoid negativity, I have taken a bit of a different approach. Instead of avoiding news, I am making an effort to read and share positive news with my family and loved ones who are feeling anxious.

I think it is also important to pick up the phone and make a phone call instead of texting. A simple chat can go a long way for someone who is feeling the impact of being stuck inside. Whenever we do grocery pick-ups, asking our family members if they need anything has also been extremely helpful in putting nerves at ease.

Surprise deliveries have been great for keeping spirits high! We weren’t able to see each other on Easter this year, so I had Mini Egg donuts delivered to our family members. Small surprises and acts of kindness go a long way towards making family and friends feel cared for and looked after during this time.

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

My favourite personal and business quote is “Passion Never Fails.”

It has always been important for me to spend time and work on things that I’m passionate about. When you have passion in what you do, work simply doesn’t feel like work, and I have always felt that if I love what I do, there is no way that I can fail. Whether it’s a hobby, business, or job you are focused on, if you are passionate about it, you will win by learning, gaining financial status, or simply enjoying the experience. When I look back at my career, I have definitely had experiences that many would consider a failure on paper, but when you have real passion for what you’re doing, it makes it worth the time and/or financial investment and therefore cannot be failure.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram — @dianarobbins

Twitter — @dianajrobbins

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