Entrepreneur Education — there is no perfect playbook for founder/entrepreneurs but there are great opportunities to dispel some myths and support innovation and creativity through educating our future founders. Through a better understanding of financing options, support networks and business plans, we can build confidence in future women founders. I am excited to say I see this already happening. My 10-year-old daughter, Molly, has chosen “Intro to Business & Entrepreneurship” as an elective she would like to take at her middle school next year. I love the focus on real-world connections and problem solving for a passion or cause.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Smith.
President and CEO Nancy Smith founded Analytic Partners in 2000. Prior to starting AP, Nancy worked at ASI (now, Ipsos ASI) and Clairol, where she managed marketing insights projects, teams and vendors. Nancy has an MBA degree from the University at Buffalo School of Management, where she focused on econometrics, marketing and international business. With AP, Nancy is proud to lead the world’s largest independent global marketing analytics solution provider.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Believe it or not, my career path began at the age of 15 when I got my first job at the local bakeshop. I worked the counter, and I got really good at weighing baked goods with only my hands and adding totals in my head. This was in a classical Queens, NY neighborhood where people weren’t shy about confronting anything they perceived as fishy. Until they got to know me, many customers demanded that I show them my math. My experience led me to having an affinity for numbers. This affinity was at least partially responsible for leading me to study economics, econometrics, marketing, and later earning my MBA.
After graduating business school, I was lucky to be the first analyst hire in the analytics department at Ipsos ASI. After ASI, I went on to work for Clairol for about 4 years. These were great opportunities that helped me grown my own skillset in the data analytics field on both the consultative and the client side. Due to my exposure and experience, I perceived a need in the marketplace for a different kind of analytics provider, so I went on to found Analytics Partners.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most challenging moments of my career was when Analytic Partners faced a loss of 30% in revenue due to a recession. Most companies would have laid off their team to offset, but we didn’t. I was challenged by an unexpected disruption of our revenue and an uncertain future. I also had to consider the investment that Analytic Partners had made in our teams. Talented and dedicated team members are invaluable and part of what makes AP special. So, I decided to invest in our people instead of laying them off. If we didn’t have enough work to keep everyone employed, we would spend the down time on training and innovation. Fortunately for AP, this was one of the best decisions we could have made. We persevered and focused on growing in other ways. It was the kick we needed to diversify our offerings and our client base. I am happy to report that we came out of that disruption stronger than ever.
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?
Within the early days of Analytic Partners, we had a major client come and visit our offices — they worked on a major household brand. We took our client for a tour of the offices and were showing off our pantry and lunch room when the client noticed a competitive brand product sitting on the counter. We were as surprised as our client because someone on our cleaning staff had gone out and purchased the most inexpensive detergent he could find. It was an awkward moment for sure. Fortunately, our client was able to laugh it off. From this experience, we took away a valuable lesson. Always have the client in mind when you are presenting yourself. Nothing is more valuable than demonstrating loyalty to your clients and a commitment to supporting them absolutely.
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?
My most memorable mentor was my first boss in the field of analytics, George Williams. George was respectfully called “The Wizard” by his colleagues for his mastery of numbers, his memory, and his statistical prowess. In addition to sharing with me his accumulated wisdom from decades of business analytics experience, George taught me much about managing people. On my first interview with George, I came prepared with a portfolio of things I had done, and I was pumped up to talk about all that I knew. George saw that I wanted to impress with my list of accomplishments and my background, and he slowed me down and told me, “For me, the big question is: Can I work with this person? I know your credentials. You wouldn’t be here if your credentials were not a fit. If I can work with a person, and he or she is motivated, that’s what I need to figure out.” George demonstrated to me, on my first interview for a highly technical position, that technical prowess is secondary to people skills, teamwork, and personal grit. A lot of the business decisions that I make today are informed by the accumulated wisdom that George “The Wizard” Williams was so generous in sharing with me as a starting analyst.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. by Daniel James Brown. It was recommended to me by some industry leaders at a lunch event. It is an inspirational story of eight men from different backgrounds who overcame great obstacles to compete to win across the US and finally in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In addition to the wonderful story and history, what really resonated with me was how powerful getting the right team together can be to achieve success. There is a balance and harmony when you have the right team members supporting each other towards a common goal.
Ultimately, what inspires me every day is the team at Analytic Partners. They are passionate problem solvers and love what they do. We are where we are today because we have a wonderfully motivated team that is constantly brainstorming and experimenting with new ways to handle business challenges. They put their heart and minds % into everything they do — it is inspiring.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Throughout our years, we’ve adapted through recessions, media, data & technology disruption, our client industries have faced massive disruption — and we’ve adapted. Our tagline is adapt evolve thrive… We feel that you can thrive in the most challenging times if you adapt. We live that ethos and use analytics, data and science, to help companies and brands to make positive decisions in the face of disruption.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
From real-time measurement insights to ongoing scenario planning, Analytic Partners exists to support efficient resource allocation and fuel our demand-based economy. Due to COVID, we have supported so many of our clients as they faced massive disruption and needed to pivot their business and operations. We supported restaurants and retailers understand how to optimize their consumer messaging and route to market with increased delivery and pickup … and as consumer mobility grows, how to best manage the balance across their omnichannel efforts. We make the world a better place by doing our part to make the marketplace more efficient, eliminating waste, and doing our small part to keep the global consumer-centric economy humming.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Women need to feel empowered to create great companies. It may be perceived as too great a risk to leave a steady job with steady income and a well-understood career path for the uncertain future of an entrepreneur. Some may want to have it more “figured out” before they jump ship and take the ultimate risk. I founded Analytic Partners at a time when I had little at risk as I had no family to support and no mortgage to pay. I also had the benefit of confidence. I knew that if Analytic Partners didn’t work out, I had a skillset that was in demand. We have an opportunity to ensure future founders also have strong confidence and are not afraid to fail.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
I want my story to be something other women can look and become empowered. My mom always told me you always have to be self-sufficient and if you set your mind to something you can achieve it more than anything. Because of that I’ve tried to push myself and set a standard and path so other women could follow in my footsteps.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Pride, satisfaction and personal growth. There are so many dimensions to running a business, from the idea generation, productization, commercialization, resourcing, client engagement and satisfaction — it is an incredible learning experience and opportunity for personal growth. At the same time, you have control of your own destiny and can make decisions and see and feel their impact directly. I feel a great sense of achievement from creating a business that meets a unique need in the marketplace. That said, I wouldn’t for a moment diminish the achievements of women who aren’t founders. We have many brilliant, talented women working for Analytic Partners. AP would not be where it is if it were not for dedicated and motivated women on our teams. That is also why we have instituted an Employee Equity Sharing program for all our employees. Founders are important, but from where I sit, talented, motivated, and dedicated team members are also important.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
1. STEM Education from the early years. We have less women in the hard sciences, and I will be the first to admit I have not studied why that is (as a data scientist myself, I am very wary of assigning causality, cause and effect judgments, without extensive study), but I do suspect there are many, many, inter-related reasons why less women study the hard sciences. I suspect that thousands of assumptions that we make about “how the world is” and the things we learn to accept as “normal” contribute to the fact that we, as a society, turn out less women scientists. And that’s a shame because we, as a society, need more scientists period. The fact that women are so under-represented means there is a lot of lost opportunity, and lost potential out there. Additionally, there are unfounded stereotypes that women are not good at math and science. Consequently, women are not exposed or encouraged to pursue science or math early on and end up being less likely to major in a STEM subject. As a result, there are major gender gaps in STEM focused industries.
2. Entrepreneur Education — there is no perfect playbook for founder/entrepreneurs but there are great opportunities to dispel some myths and support innovation and creativity through educating our future founders. Through a better understanding of financing options, support networks and business plans, we can build confidence in future women founders. I am excited to say I see this already happening. My 10-year-old daughter, Molly, has chosen “Intro to Business & Entrepreneurship” as an elective she would like to take at her middle school next year. I love the focus on real-world connections and problem solving for a passion or cause.
3. Role models. We need a Rosie the Riveter for Women Founders — Rosie was an advertising icon or some may call it government propaganda to get more women into the work force. And… it worked, millions of women joined the work force and took on traditional male dominated jobs. WW2 came to an end, and Rosie, while not forgotten, took a back-seat. Career choices and gender roles are flexible and are controlled by the levers of societal expectation. Rosie the Riveter show us that we need to apply this understanding of how societal expectation works to showcase strong women role models and encourage more women to explore their options. There is a great and growing demand for founders. I am convinced that there is a great future and great opportunity for many women to meet new market demands and create better experiences for all.
4. Sharing forums/ support networks — I have had the benefit of participating in many events and support groups for women in business, women in analytics, women in technology, etc. These are great opportunities for future entrepreneurs to hear from others, share war stories, lessons learned and brainstorm on ways to further encourage women to follow their passions.
5. Innovation Labs — we all have an opportunity to support each other and encourage innovation/creation by creating a low-risk environment for individuals and teams to apply their skills towards real world business challenges. This will grow the experience, confidence and skillsets for our future women founders. One of my proudest moments at Analytic Partners is what we achieved when we sent a team of four from different offices — folks who had not worked with each other before — to a 24 hour hackathon in Europe that featured the top analytics companies from around the world. The team was gender balanced and led by a woman team member at AP. The challenge was to leverage data and analytics to best understand the PC market and the value of social media to drive sales. Judging criteria was based 50% on the value of the insights and 50% based on the predictive power of the model (its ability to forecast). I was so proud, not when we won, but when the team after being up all night for the 24 hour challenge was so excited for what they achieved — the problem they solved through innovation and working together. There is great benefit to be gained by encouraging folks to pursue their passions and apply their skills at solving the toughest business challenges.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Education for all…understanding of numbers
If I could inspire a movement to bring the greatest good for the great number of people, I would want to promote a movement to bring greater numerical and statistical literacy to the global community. As the world becomes more complex and more driven by data, the divide between those who can and those who cannot understand statistics and decisioning is growing. The ability to evaluate, interpret and make decisions on a data-driven basis is a vital skill as the world becomes more complex. Most people do not have the skill and talent stack to evaluate claims, reports, news, and media advice. Those who know how to interpret data, and know what questions to ask of science, are at an extreme advantage. Bringing statistical, numerical, and decisioning literacy to larger portion of the world will make the world a better place for more people, and will allow entire systems and countries to make better, data-driven decisions. We cannot ask the world to “follow the science” if the majority of the world does not understand the basics of how the science, and how to evaluate it.
Some prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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.
I would love to have lunch with Karl E. Weick, the organizational theorist and distinguished professor at the University of Michigan. Weick is renowned for his research on “less is more” and how to solve big problems with small wins. He has written a number of books on managing in uncertainty and making sense of the organization. I would love to hear from his personal experiences and learn about how we as a society can create a better world through a better understanding of ourselves.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Analytic Partners Blog: https://analyticpartners.com/insights/?post_type=blog&category_name=blog-posts#insights-filter
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.