The 4 things I’m thankful for

As we wind down the work week and gear up for Thanksgiving, it seemed appropriate to write a blog post about everything I’m thankful for. I generally try to be polite and say thank you, but in business I feel that some cultures have gone overboard with the thank you culture. I think it is a silly practice to say thank you ever time someone sends an email, sets up a call or does basic tasks within their job function. If overused, I find it cheapens the sincerity of the praise. I would much rather get praise for going above and beyond what was expected of me.

We are 9 months in to running our business as our sole source of income, but have been running it off an on for the last 3 years. During that time, we didn’t ask our friends & family for monetary contributions, but we did rely heavily on them for support and input.

The 4 things I’m thankful for are:

  1. Our parents – Both sets of parents were entrepreneurial. We were raised in environments where we were constantly involved in new adventures. Some worked and some didn’t, but that was ok. We were raised to take chances. Without this instilled spirit, we might never have jumped ship from safer, more stable jobs for other people.
  2. Our family – It’s often written about the stress the entrepreneurial lifestyle has on families. Our immediate and extended family, related or adopted, have all been extremely supportive. Our daughters got involved as interns, learning real-world development tools, designing real-world solutions. They have patiently and quietly stood by as we’ve changed or over-ruled plans to accommodate travel, business meetings, networking, etc.
  3. Our friends & colleagues – Our friends & colleagues are fantastic. We had an overwhelming response to our newsletter launch and our friends have been the source of our work. On top of that, many have been around to talk shop and share their expertise in all things, from sales processes to government contracting.
  4. The startup community – I have spent much of the last 9 months learning and growing. I couldn’t have done it without the help of Community Business Partnership, DC Web Women, Women in Technology, Drupal agencies and conferences, plus various other organizations, conferences, meetups, and events. Each of those made talking about our business easier, gave me tips, tricks and tools to leverage within my business and all were open and willing to share their experiences.

turkeyTo everyone who I’ve met along my journey, thank you for sharing, caring & supporting me on this new adventure. Have a Happy Thanksgiving! 



Size Matters: How Fast to Grow your Business

Last night I had the pleasure of joining Jennifer Key from Chief and Heather Cox from Mighty Little Web Shop at the DC Web Women Speaker Series on growing your business. We all came at it from a different perspective, highlighting our unique experiences. I spoke about my experience at different startups and how their growth decisions shaped their conclusions as well as my decisions. Jennifer talked about her personal journey grounded in intention, culture and risk.  Heather spoke about the flows and ebbs of business, which ultimately led her to focus on a very specific niche.


I consider myself an entrepreneur, but Digital Ambit is really my first business. I guess I’ve been closer to a entrepreneur groupie, or maybe just entrepreneurial employee. I’ve had several opportunities to come into businesses early on and help them grow. Some took VC funding, and other self-funded. Some suffered their demise by way of the exuberant spending of the dotcom bubble. While others sold for a hefty profit or pivoted and continued on as a smaller, boutique offering.

Jennifer opened her talk by mentioning that she can’t tell others how to grow their businesses as she doesn’t know them or their businesses. However, she can outline the drivers of her growth, which contributed to the growth of the businesses she’s been involved with. There are 3 critical components she comes back to when evaluating opportunities: intention, culture and risk. Every day, Jennifer starts her day by setting her intention. While these days these are focused on gratitude and kindness, they do fluctuate. By setting your intention, you ground your decisions. Business culture is what drives employees and founders to do what they do every day. Businesses need to decide what their culture will be, and as they grow will need to figure out how to sustain that culture. Sometimes the culture isn’t sustainable, and that’s ok. Although a loss or change in culture may shift employees away. Lastly, business (or personal) growth is about risk. Jennifer herself is risk adverse, but she surrounds herself with mentors and friends who encourage her to take calculated risks.

Heather wants to be a rockstar when she grows up, singing her songs and playing the guitar. In the meantime, she’s focused her business on a niche market and learning what she needs to in order to grow her business. For a long time, Heather didn’t have to market her business. The leads just flowed in. She started this business to engage her dream of building websites and developing marketing strategy for her customers. She opted for packaged pricing so she’d never have to write another proposal. She also participated in some extensive marketing and accelerator programs to learn what she needed to know. Heather is quick to admit she sticks to the basics of understanding her numbers, but has clear size, revenue and margin goals she focuses on every day.

Overall, i saw some clear themes in our stories.

  1. Optimism – Although I wouldn’t consider myself very optimistic, I do have confidence that I can learn and conquer anything I want. “They aren’t problems, they’re possibilities” and “there are no obstacles, but rather opportunities” were a few of the catch phrases of the evening. They definitely highlight the optimistic nature of being an entrepreneur. Some days are scary, but you need to fundamentally believe you can reach your goals.
  2. Mentorship -We all talked about people we worked with that gave us their time and expertise when you need it. Jennifer reminded us to that we need to value our mentors time and make sure to set an agenda so you can work on what you need. There are formal and non-formal mentoring programs, but any opportunity for networking is an opportunity to find one.
  3. Culture – Heather has really molded her business around the things she likes to do, removing or outsourcing the things she doesn’t. That will make for a very deliberate culture. Chief is known for community engagement and built that into their office space. They have a space dedicated for entertaining and host numerous meetup and other groups on a regular basis. I’m building this business with my husband to drive the culture and lifestyle we want. The choices we make in our business will all come back to why we started it and what we want.
  4. Know your numbers – It’s imperative to understand what’s going on in your business. Without that how do you know if or when you can hire? How do know what’s success? or slow down? You don’t need to be the accountant, but you do need to keep an eye on your critical metrics. Identify a few critical ones that tie to your goals and watch them closely.

I don’t care what you think “success” looks like!

I read an article this week about a Bain & Co. study that found that women enter the workforce with higher aspirations than men and the confidence they can get there. According to the study, this changes dramatically only 2-3 years into career development. After a couple of years, women start “losing confidence in their ability to fit the stereotype of what ‘success’ looks like at an American Company. The study postulates that it is a “deeply ingrained ideal worker, one who worked long and late, took on extra projects, was adept at self-promotion and was always connected” where women and men judge women more harshly.

I have always been attracted to startup or small businesses. This probably has a lot to do with having growing up with parents who ran several, all with varying degrees of success. These organizations gave me the opportunity to learn in a variety of roles. I never mastered one finite set of skills, but was able to move around, become very well-rounded. I left my first real job in 2000 to go to grad school, as I saw the exuberant spending and little return. After I got my MBA, I joined another startup. This one was acquired by a large (for me), publicly traded company. While I spent 3 years there, I jumped ship in 2011 to much surprise and criticism. I now run a consulting company with my husband.

Am I successful? Some people would argue that I’m not. They might question my decisions to leave organizations as failing to work within the confines of corporate america.  I prefer to say that I have defined my own success. I have filled many roles from technical to business, back-office to customer facing. I helped grow several startups. I have gone out on my own and proven that I can not only survive there, but more importantly I can thrive here. I get to pursue my personal vision and mission. I get to leverage all my experience and help different organizations fulfill theirs. I do this on my own time with my own set of rules.

I would highly recommend you stop worrying about how other define success. It is much less important what society says your success should look like. Forge your own path, defining your own success. I suspect once you think about it, you’ll realize that you’ve already reached it. Or at minimum, it’s in your sights.

Help me help you!

Recently I had a really frustrating experience dealing with one of my daughter’s teachers that reminds me of conversations I have had both with my project teams and with customers. Way too often I think we find ourselves in situations where a little more effort on one person’s side would ultimately result in a better solution or experience. It usually comes down to sharing just a bit more information. I want to be able to leverage all my experiences to give you the best experience, but if the other member of the conversation with-holds information, I am unable to do this. I ask that you simply help me help you.

In the case of this particular trigger event, I received a progress report for my daughter’s english class. Overall, she has been doing really well but there was one assignment where she didn’t perform as well. I immediately emailed the teacher asking for more information. I also talked to my daughter about the assignment. My daughter told she talked to the teacher about it and had done some correction, but the jist of the issue was that she didn’t understand a portion of what was required. About a week after this incident, my daughter came home from school distressed about whether she had english homework. We checked the portal but there wasn’t anything posted. Again, I immediately emailed the teacher to find what about the homework. I did not receive a response to either of those inquiries.

Thinking that there might be something wrong with my emails, I followed up with my daughter’s counselor. She received my emails and agreed to follow up with the teachers. She specifically asked me to follow up confirming I heard from anyone. Another week passes and I still haven’t heard anything, so I informed her counselor. I then received a few emails from other teachers, but still nothing from the english teacher. After about 3 weeks I received this really generic email from the english teacher letting me know that my daughter did not meet the grading criteria on the particular assignment in question. The teacher informed me that there were opportunities to make corrections, but this would not impact my daughter’s grade.

I found this response incredibly frustrating and not at all helpful. I am no closer to understanding whether it was an issue with understanding the assignment, or an issue with not being interested in the assignment. I also don’t have enough information about the assignment to talk to my daughter about how to handle the situation in the future. My daughter told me she talked to her teacher and made corrections, but the english teacher’s feedback made it seem like that wasn’t the case. I’m still stuck in this limbo state of not being able to effectively help my daughter because her teacher has failed to provide me with enough information.

How often have we had a conversation with a customer where they left out a critical piece of background information that would have changed the context of the entire project? Had you had that information, would you have delivered something different? Or in talking to a project team, did they make assumptions about your background therefore with-hold valuable information you could have contributed critical insights to?

My background spans multiple industries and multiple functions, making my experience fairly well rounded. As we become the experts of our field or industry, a common mistake is to assume everyone we are talking to has the same information you do. It might be a simple conversation where you use the acronyms or industry terms, assuming everyone on the call knows what you are talking about. Over the last few years, my roles were more customer facing than backoffice which meant that new technical resources didn’t know I had technical skillsets. This became pretty eye-opening when I started asking technical questions.

I do believe that we were able to deliver better results because of what I brought to the table. But without me challenging common assumptions or being willing to ask for additional information, we would have lost out. We each need to consciously try to prevent ourselves from censuring the information we share.  Let’s work together, helping each other, to develop a better overall experience and meet our collective goals with the best solution.