Inovia Partner Hugues Lalancette recently sat down with former CEO and co-founder of Allocadia and Inovia EiR, Kristine Steuart, to discuss her journey as a female founder in the tech industry. As a co-founder with her sister Katherine Berry in a female-only founding team, Kristine shared insights learned along the way and how we can inspire more women to start and grow tech companies. Her ultimate goal is to empower more women to take on leadership roles in the industry and build sound operating machines that drive innovation and value for their customers while promoting a healthy team culture and achieving successful outcomes for stakeholders.
Breaking Down the Gender Gap in Tech Company-Building
Hello, Kristine! It’s great to have you here today. To begin, can you tell us a bit about the valuable insights you’ve gained on the underrepresentation of women founders in the tech industry and how we can work towards solving this problem?
To address the problem of the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry, I think it’s useful to break down the issue by looking at the different stages of company-building; these include the first phase of starting a company; the second phase of achieving initial product traction, acquiring customers, and securing initial funding; and the third phase of scaling the business. By examining each phase, we identify the challenges and the lessons learned and take steps to support and encourage more women to start and grow tech companies.
Phase 1 of Company-Building: Launching a Business
One of the reasons many women don’t take the leap and start building companies is what I call the confidence gap. This lack of female confidence is well-documented and quantified. Studies show that between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels fall by 30% and remain lower than boys’ confidence levels until their 40s when the confidence levels meet for both genders.
As it turns out, confidence is critical at work. As defined in The Confidence Code book, Confidence is not simply about how we feel about ourselves; it turns our thoughts into action! Confidence is a choice we make to act, do, and decide. Ultimately, this impacts our ability to make a difference and is crucial for achieving goals, including starting a business.
The book also explains that differences in genders result from a combination of factors involving both nature and nurture. Biological differences in brain structure are a factor: women tend to have more brain matter in the frontal and limbic cortex, associated with reasoning and emotions, while men tend to have more evenly distributed brain matter throughout the brain, which suggests gender-based differences in information processing. Although there are many ways in which these differences could bring something valuable to the table, studies have suggested there is a potential downside for women at work, they may sometimes avoid behaviour that is critical in business: making mistakes and taking risks.
Furthermore, while cognitive processes related to risk-taking and mistake-making can be in part due to biological differences, they are complicated and not solely determined by biology. Social and cultural factors also play a significant role in shaping how individuals approach risk.
The key here is acknowledging these nature and nurture variables, being aware of them, and addressing them where needed. One way for women to do this is to simply take action when they feel something is stopping them. In my experience, building confidence is a journey that requires learning, growing, and taking action. Women can develop their confidence over time and become self-aware of situations where their lack of confidence may prevent them from taking an important leap, like starting a business.
Phase 2 of Company-Building: Acquiring Initial Customers
It’s important to remind women that their leadership traits are an asset at this stage of company-building and can help them create a solid foundation for their business. Studies have shown that women rate high on leadership traits such as empathy, self-development, and integrity. These traits are highly beneficial in winning your first customers. By listening, connecting, and building empathy with your customers, you can create win-win solutions that deliver on their value goals. Allocadia’s customer-centric approach was the key to our success in finding initial traction. We deeply understood our customers’ pain points and co-created alongside them as we built our first product.
Unfortunately, this stage also presents a challenge. Once customer traction is established, raising money becomes an opportunity. However, only 2% of VC dollars are invested in female-founded companies — and this statistic hasn’t improved over the past ten years! Furthermore, Covid19 disproportionately affected women founders. There is well-documented research on the biases women face when raising money. Investors may ask risk vs. opportunity questions, discount the market size, or question women’s ability to execute. It’s important to be informed and aware of these biases, and address them head-on in your pitches and process. For example, answer risk questions, but quickly remind investors of the market opportunity and the value your customers are experiencing. We raised $30M over the lifetime of Allocadia and a core foundation was demonstrating a large market opportunity and strong customer value.
Phase 3 of Company-Building: Scaling Your Company
At this stage of company-building, women often encounter what I call the “operator” bias versus the “visionary” bias. It’s more commonplace for male tech leaders to be seen as the celebrated visionary leader — one example can be seen in this video, where the opening frame names only male tech visionaries — and women leaders to be seen as more operation-focused leaders. I believe that to be a great CEO and leader, you must be both. HBR has a great article on the duality required of leaders, highlighting one of the critical leadership traits of being a “strategic executor.” To support and empower women leaders, we must celebrate the strength of operational expertise as a key driver of company growth, while recognizing that visionary leadership is equally important. These qualities are not mutually exclusive, but rather must coexist and complement each other in a great leader. By embracing both operational and visionary leadership, we can create a more inclusive and successful business environment that benefits everyone.
The good news is that today’s world embraces operators more than ever. We need people who can run smart while delivering innovation and growth. While labelling women as “visionaries” may not be necessary, it would certainly be beneficial to recognize their visionary leadership qualities as we do with their male counterparts.
Thank you Kristine, those are great insights for women looking to build tech companies. Do you also have any advice for board members and investors looking to support women founders?
I’m thinking of a great HBR article, “What’s Really Holding Women Back?“, which highlights the issue of overwork as a significant barrier for women in the workplace, leading to lower levels of engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. The authors argue that this problem affects both women and men but that women are often impacted more negatively due to societal expectations around gender roles and caregiving responsibilities. Therefore, to support women founders, board members and investors should recognize the importance of work-life harmony for all employees and actively work to create a culture that values well-being and allows for flexibility. This could include implementing policies such as paid family leave, offering remote work options, and promoting a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture. Additionally, investors can seek out and invest in companies that prioritize these values and support initiatives to reduce the gender gap in leadership and entrepreneurship. By creating a more inclusive and equitable work environment, we can increase the likelihood of success for women-led tech companies and foster a more diverse and thriving startup ecosystem.
Unlocking Business Growth: The Importance of Strong Execution and the Revenue Execution Model
Let’s delve deeper into a subject you feel strongly about, the importance of building strong fundamentals in business. You have emphasized the significance of clearly understanding what good execution entails for a company to scale successfully. Can you tell us more about that?
While there is abundant information available on how to set a company’s strategy, there is a notable lack of guidance on executing that strategy and what good execution looks like. Execution is critical, and without it achieving your strategy is impossible.
There is a misconception that focusing on execution, including the specific details of how to execute your vision and strategy, is too detail-oriented — think “operator” bias! In my experience, great CEOs understand the importance of getting into some of the specifics, especially when driving significant business transformations or shifts. During these critical periods of change, the CEO and executive team must be closely involved in the mechanics of the business to establish foundational elements that will support the company’s long-term growth. Understanding how your engine works, so to speak, is essential. It’s not necessary to be “always-on,” but knowing when to take a deep dive into the specifics sets great leaders and executive teams apart.
Can you elaborate on the Revenue Execution Model you are building and how it can assist CEOs and founders in today’s world?
To better illustrate what good execution looks like, we’ve developed a Revenue Execution Model. This model specifically focuses on scaling your revenue engine. It’s not revolutionary in the sense that it identifies the components of a revenue engine that we all typically know and discuss. However, we’ve put it in logical groupings and order, identified what good and bad execution looks like, and written it down.
As a result, the CEO and whole executive team can use the model to assess and rate themselves on where they stand regarding each engine component. Then based on their current status, they can then prioritize which areas of the engine to build. This process is less about whether the CEO knows and more about whether the entire executive team knows how to operationalize the strategy, and if they’re doing it effectively. This model allows executive teams to execute with extreme clarity and re-assess their company’s strategy based on results.
This was a great discussion and a timely one, as companies nowadays need to focus on executing their goals and objectives with precision. The model provides them with a structure to concentrate on controllable areas of their business, leading to better outcomes. Thank you, Kristine, for this insightful exchange and for providing us with valuable takeaways!
Thank you, Hugues! I genuinely believe that through awareness and action in these areas, we can make a difference for women founders and businesses. Whether it’s female founders charting a new path or the community around them supporting their journey, women belong in the tech world and bring unique strengths to the table. I’m excited to see how our upcoming Revenue Execution Model can further support businesses in achieving their goals.
To benefit from Kristine’s expertise or learn more about the Revenue Execution Framework, contact us.