Find other female leaders who understand exactly what you’re going through. One day, I was having a hard time really explaining how I was feeling, and someone who was where I am now 10 years later said, “you’re in the desert.” We talked about what she meant, and she explained, how you feel like you’re all alone, nothing is around you, and you’re not sure which way to go. It was so refreshing to have someone really know how I was feeling.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Melnick. Susan is the Founder and CEO of StatusNow. After graduating college, Susan worked at a local Internet start-up in Pittsburgh before leaving to teach Computer Science at her former High School, while studying to apply to graduate school. After being accepted in a Masters in Business Education Program at NYU, Susan moved to New York City. Following grad school, Susan spent her career in Human Resources and Operations, mostly at Accenture. About two years ago, Susan had an idea, that became what is known now as “StatusNow” and left Accenture. After 20 months of development, Susan now spends all of her time raising her four children and trying to make a change in our technology-driven world, by emphasizing the need for people to download the StatusNow App onto their cell phones and live in the present.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Susan! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Two summers ago, each of my kids had something going on, where I felt I was being pulled in different directions. I was feeling so overwhelmed. A friend of mine suggested that I do something for myself, and I realized that I couldn’t. I had so much pressure to be responsible that I didn’t feel I could do anything without anxiously checking my phone. That night, I realized that there had to be a change. I wanted to change things to make my life more balanced, but also to create a different world. As my oldest was going to get a phone, I didn’t want him to think everything was emergency, every time the phone rang. I didn’t want him to grow up with this need to receive/provide an instant response every time he heard his phone.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story happens everyday — and that is people’s reaction. I have probably gone out for 300 cups of coffee to explain StatusNow. Every time I talk to someone, I find it so interesting how each one has a personal use-case, and they’re all different. There are so many ways people could use the App that I hadn’t even imagined.
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?
I asked someone to go for lunch, whom I knew, but not well. He was a successful businessman with great connections who could help me and provide excellent advice. We sat down and he started asking me about my background, college, etc. It was a weird conversation, as I didn’t see how this was relevant. After we started talking more, I realized he thought I was there to ask him for a job. We quickly realized the disconnect. Lesson learned — make sure going forward, everyone understands why I’m reaching out.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
StatusNow is unique. There is nothing exactly like it on the market. This is a central place to update a status so multiple people can see it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am continuing to enhance the features of StatusNow. There are several features that I hope to roll out in our next iteration. I also want to create ways to make it more user-friendly.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Find other female leaders who understand exactly what you’re going through. One day, I was having a hard time really explaining how I was feeling, and someone who was where I am now 10 years later said, “you’re in the desert.” We talked about what she meant, and she explained, how you feel like you’re all alone, nothing is around you, and you’re not sure which way to go. It was so refreshing to have someone really know how I was feeling. Some of the most important takeaways were during that chat.
- Find people who can relate to where you are at different stages.
- Be open to all advice.
- Surround yourself with people who believe in what you’re doing. You shouldn’t have to “sell” your concept over and over again. People who you hire should really get it and want to use it.
- Don’t force a relationship if it isn’t right.
- Don’t let personal disappointments bring you down.
- Focus on the positive. You will have times when you’re shocked that a close friend isn’t doing more.
- Understand that someone just asking how things are going is their way of being supportive.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I don’t have a large team yet for StatusNow, but what I have learned is that you have to be open to admitting what you don’t know. You’re hiring people to fill in where you need help. I have said to my PR firm (more than anyone else), I am 100% in your hands. I don’t know anything about PR. I am hiring them to guide me. Take advice from the people you’re hiring. They’re the specialists. Focus on what you’re good with and what you 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 am grateful for all the people I have met. When I worked for Accenture, I mostly worked from home. My kids go to a small school and my husband works less than a mile from our house. My world was small. I mostly know people from the school. I am amazed with how many people that I didn’t really know are helping and supporting me. I have found a whole new network in which I am forever grateful.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I truly believe in karma and paying things forward. I am happy that I am now in a place when people are asking to meet with me. I would do anything I could to help someone.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Use all connections — don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone who could help you. I had to put myself out there (which is highly out of my comfort zone) to help get into schools to use StatusNow.
- It’s not personal, it’s business. I was very surprised when I would get my list of users and not see some of my closest friends. It’s a hard thing to accept, but not everyone is going to support you in the way you expect.
- Create realistic expectations to minimize disappointment — in the beginning, I would think I would leave a meeting with a lot more than I actually did. I learned to focus on what I did get and not focus on what I was hoping.
- Surround yourself with people who get what you’re doing. My programmer would email me at all hours that he thought of something for StatusNow. He was always thinking about the App and how to make it better. He really got it. There were other people who sold me on hiring them based on their support but I found out that it they weren’t using StatusNow. Don’t force a relationship.
- You cannot do this alone. I am, technically, a one-woman company. However, if I didn’t have the support of my family, I couldn’t do this. I never have to worry if I did miss something because they are supporting me always. One time, I was supposed to pick my kids up at school but I had an opportunity for a live radio interview. I texted my son to let him know that everything was ok (I didn’t want him to worry) but to bring his headphones that he uses at school on the bus. He downloaded the radio App and heard my interview from the bus. He was so excited that he didn’t mind the extra 30 minutes it took to get home.
You are a person of great 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.
I really feel StatusNow should be on anyone’s phone who has a reason to feel like they might be needed — whether it’s because they have kids, an aging parent, co-workers, clients, etc. If I had to pick one, I would pick my son’s generation — right when someone is getting a phone. I want this generation to take control of their schedule and hopefully reduce anxiety. The way I see the App used for them is to have all the “core” friends have the App. If there is a time when my son Josh is studying, playing sports, having family dinner, etc. he can leave a note in the App for those key people so they know when he would be back. So if he had a status, “Unavailable until 2pm,” and it was noon, and a friend wanted to make last-minute plans, they would see Josh isn’t free, and invite another kid and move on. Or if they wanted to see if he could go to a baseball game at night, they know they just have to wait until 2pm. The need to expect an instance response goes away, and everyone has peace of mind. Josh didn’t miss a baseball game because he waited to reply, and the friend isn’t spending hours waiting by the phone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
F.A.I.L. — first attempt in learning. My daughter told me this and I love it. As I’m going through this, I know if I make a mistake, a fail, I’ll learn and move on.
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
Serena Williams. I watched her documentary on HBO, two months believe StatusNow was live. I was on an airplane and watching her, and I felt like she was talking to me. I can do anything. Being a mother is the best thing in the world. Put your kids first. The way StatusNow works is as your virtual assistant, to be able to tell people where you are, when you’ll be back, or who to contact when you’re away from your phone so you can be 100% present. For people who have assistants, they understand how lucky they are to have that. For many parents, you feel you need to have your phone in case something happens. StatusNow helps with this issue. Watching her documentary was all about being there to be the best tennis player when you’re playing, and the best mother when you’re with your child. Focus on what you’re doing when you’re doing it, or as our tagline says, “Be connected when you disconnect.”