As women we need to be positive around each other. When in need, provide a helping hand of strength and courage. Make your team feel like they are part of the business. Give them a chance to shine and allow them to learn through their experiences which includes making mistakes. Become their coach and their mentor
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalia Diaz, Co-Founder The Hunt + Founder of Small Wonder Digital.
Natalia Diaz is a seasoned digital entrepreneur and co-founder of the Hunt. In less than 5 years, she has scaled up her agency in Colombia and US to 40 full-time employees and is experienced with web development, mobile development, digital marketing, eCommerce, gaming, experiential, and strategy. Her agency, Small Wonder Digital, has launched over 40 digital web/mobile apps with high grade, bespoke software and has worked with global recognized brands such as Arbonne, Wingman App, The Hunt, Deedly and a consultant to several celebrities and thought leaders. Her apps are regularly featured in major publications like TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal, and Mashable and have reached top 10 iTunes charts while generating millions of downloads. Through her agency Small Wonder she has successfully incubated and created two marketplace brands, 123-wish (acquired in 2018) and TheHunt, a resell marketplace that allows you to discover, sell and buy from the world’s most influential. Natalia is a 2x breast cancer survivor and serves as an advisor to nonprofits Deedly and Create Labs.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I think from early childhood, I loved and was obsessed with everything that was art related. I’ve always been very passionate about arts & technology. I remember taking my first programming class as part of an after school program my freshman year in high school and thought it was the best thing ever. After graduating from an Art School, I attended SVA (School of Visual Arts) where I realized I can merge both art and technology as a profession. During the dot-com era, I became more involved with computer science, technology and development. This propelled me to enroll in Devry University as a computer science major and continued my education at the University of Miami. As technology evolves it’s necessary to continuously stay up to date with new technologies and programming languages, so I’ve recently enrolled back in school. All of these educational experiences combined led me to work in different industries from fashion, music and entertainment granting me the knowledge and motivation to launch my own digital agency and become co-founder of The Hunt.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I’ve had so many interesting experiences and stories, but perhaps one of the most memorable and moving for me happened last year. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent an emergency surgery. Ironically, my agency had just secured a big, important client. Additionally, we were in the final stages of fundraising for The Hunt. I didn’t want to disappoint my team nor did I want my clients or investors to think that I wasn’t capable of handling the work and successfully doing the job. So, a few hours after the surgery, I was doing conference calls from my bed while recovering and being unable to hardly move which lasted a few days. Once I felt that I was better, I then confided in my clients and partners by telling them that I just underwent surgery and treatment for breast cancer.
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?
As an entrepreneur, you are always confronted with challenges. One of the funniest mistakes I made happened when we just launched The Hunt. At the time, we had to do it all, steam the clothes, merchandise, clean, etc. I once ironed an expensive item from one of our influencer closets and ruined it. Let’s just say I’m staying on the technology and development of the business.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story? Because I operate two companies I like to find commonalities between them and identify how they can benefit each other. For Small Wonder my digital agency, we are one of the few tech engineering firms that is founded and led by a Latin woman. For us, it’s important to create awareness within the tech industry to empower women and minorities and provide them with the opportunity to excel and be seen and heard.
For The Hunt, our objective is to centralize brand curation, search and provide a sustainable resell marketplace. The Hunt gives users a chance to buy, sell and discover trends that were worn by the leading fashion and brand influencers. Through my experience as a developer, we can quickly identify challenges and create innovative solutions with technology.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes. I am working on a few projects which are very confidential. One of the projects will help to solve some of the societal challenges we are currently facing today, specifically inclusion within females and minorities across several industries. Another project is educating kids in underserved communities and giving them access to a curriculum of free online courses that are not available through their school system.
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 Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I am not satisfied. I believe women really need to come together to make a change. It’s very rare that I attend a meeting where the woman is the CTO. It is uncommon to find women led technology firms. The 5 tech giants have a workforce of 34.4% combined of women in engineering positions. Only 14% of women hold software engineering titles and only 25% of women hold computer science jobs in the workforce. While in college, I remember being the only female in my computer programming class.
Although, technology has exploded in the past 20 years, women are still misrepresented in STEM fields. Technology is currently a male dominated industry. It is important that women feel accepted, confident and comfortable in the space where 80–90% are men. As a female entrepreneur in an male dominated industry, you have to work twice as hard to be seen and heard.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
One of the biggest challenges we face is not having enough women in the workforce to encourage and support each other. It can be quite intimidating to walk into a meeting room full of men who assume you are someone’s assistant. It’s important to empower women and put them in a position where they do not feel judged, intimidated or harassed.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
A common myth is that women are not capable of working within the technical aspects of the industry, such as game developers, software engineers, data science and product development. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me what I do for a living, and then think I’m lying
when I tell them I develop apps and own a tech company. There is a preconceived notion that women in tech look like nerds, are socially awkward or not attractive. Why can’t a woman be fashionable, beautiful and social but love engineering? I find nothing wrong with reading books about physics, AI or being a programmer all while being fabulous.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.) My lessons are the following:
1.Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. By doing so it allows you to grow, learn and find solutions faster.
2. You are only as good as your last sale. Don’t get comfortable. Just because you are doing well now, doesn’t mean your competitors can’t catch up. This principle allows me to keep learning, thriving, innovating and staying up to date.
3. Ask a lot of questions. Curiosity leads to innovation. Just because you are leading doesn’t mean you know everything.
4. Lead by example. Don’t expect other people to do things you are not willing to do yourself. 5. Great leaders were first great followers. Work with your team. Encourage, motivate and instill belief in them and make them feel like they are capable of doing anything.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
As women we need to be positive around each other. When in need, provide a helping hand of strength and courage. Make your team feel like they are part of the business. Give them a chance to shine and allow them to learn through their experiences which includes making mistakes. Become their coach and their mentor.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Repetition leads to duplication. A very successful mentor of mine taught me that in order to manage large teams you have to duplicate yourself in order to grow. Your team is an extension of you. The more leaders you can create, the more people you can manage.
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?
There are two people in my life that have made a huge impact throughout my career. The first person is my mother. Without my Mom, I would not be where I am today. She sacrificed her life for us, working 2–3 jobs at a time to make sure I had an education. I was raised in a very low income family household. Education was always a priority and important to my Mom. She encouraged me to get a good education and always be the best version of myself. I guess you can say my mom was my first investor.
The second person is my best friend Loren Ridinger. Loren is the Co-Founder and Senior Executive Vice President of Market America | SHOP.COM. Years ago, I worked for Loren and was able to experience first-hand what it is like to run a multi-billion dollar company, manage multiple businesses, a family and a social life. Loren really encouraged me to start my own business, but also mentored me along the way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m a giver by nature, so I’m always mentoring people, giving them an opportunity, and donating where I can. If you can make a difference or an impact on someone else’s life every day then you’re already winning. Helping others is the only way you will learn and grow.
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?
In the future, I will create a program that will support children’s education in under-privileged communities. Growing up, I always wished my parents had the access and financial resources
to attend after school activities, buy books, hire a tutor or even own a computer. I think education is one of the most valuable and important tools to succeed in life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams, by Eleanor Roosevelt. Growing up I had nothing. We were very poor. My older brother thought I was crazy and made fun of me because I would constantly fantasize and dream of having my own business and many other great things like living in a nice city that wasn’t dangerous. Let’s just say he’s no longer laughing at me, lol.
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 🙂
Elon Musk, Astronaut Scott Kelly or Jon Favreau. They’re all geniuses in their respective fields plus I’m a huge Marvel fan.