“The CEO’s job is to create a company that people want to belong to.”
We are excited to welcome Kristine Steuart, whose experience building, scaling and selling her company will be invaluable to our founders. Kristine’s focus as an Inovia Entrepreneur in Residence will be to help founders zero in on the combination of strategy and strong execution, a timely topic as companies reorient around smart growth.
Inovia was an early investor in Allocadia, the Vancouver-based marketing, budgeting and performance management software company that Kristine and her sister Katherine Berry created. Under their leadership, Allocadia became a global organization with hundreds of enterprise customers, including Unilever, Philips, ServiceNow, and SAP, and partnerships, including Oracle, IBM, and Adobe.
VC funding is notoriously hard for female entrepreneurs to access; female founders receive just 2% of total funding which has remained unchanged for years. Not only did Allocadia beat the odds as they raised three rounds of financing, but they also are one of the largest exits by a female-founded company in Canada.
Kristine sits on the board of the BC Tech Association, working on growing the technology industry in the province. She has also teamed up with the BC Cancer Foundation to help find ways to engage the technology community to help make a difference in care. We recently spoke with her about the company’s evolution, the best advice she ever received, and how to address “the core” of stress.
TELL US SOMETHING MOST PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU.
My identical twin sister and I went into business as co-founders. People assume our partnership worked because we’re similar. However, it’s quite the opposite!
Our business relationship worked well throughout the years because we are very different in many ways. We each bring something unique to the table. In the early days, Katherine focused more deeply on the product. At the same time I was more focused on sales and marketing (ironically, throughout the years, these roles flipped as the business needs changed).
I’ve learned that good business partnerships bring complementary skill sets. It’s about knowing that you can’t build your vision without one another.
CAN YOU SHARE ONE OF YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES OR FAILURES?
One of the biggest challenges in building the company was creating each successive growth phase in the context of creating a new category. Finding the right balance of category creation investment while not investing ahead of the market readiness curve was a constant challenge and balancing act.
At the end of the day, the overall approach was a more measured growth approach — to build deep customer value and go to market know-how as we scaled. This approach led to a successful transaction for all stakeholders when we set out to bring on our next stage investment partner and ultimately led to Allocadia & BrandMaker creating a clear category leader. I wonder — and this is the plight of the entrepreneur’s busy mind — if the company could have grown bigger, faster before this by thinking differently about category investment. Uncertainty is part of scaling companies: You must move forward on a path without having all the facts and data about the future and then adapt.
WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU RECEIVED IN YOUR CAREER?
The best advice I ever received came from my investor and board member, Nanon de Gaspé Beaubien-Mattrick. She told me once that my job as CEO is to create a company that people want to belong to. And by people, she meant all of the stakeholders involved in the company – customers, team members, partners, investors, etc. Intuitively, this makes sense. The ‘how’ of creating a sense of belonging with stakeholders is the hard part – it’s a combination of many decisions and actions you take every day and in the long run.
WHAT’S A QUESTION YOU WISH PEOPLE ASKED YOU MORE OFTEN?
“What does good execution look like?” In business, we generally talk a lot about the importance of strategy. There is a lot of information on creating a good strategy, and how this is critical to creating high-performing companies. But we don’t often talk about the importance of execution. We often don’t understand what good execution looks like and this is a crucial gap in the chain of growing companies. Of course, execution gets you results, and equally important, it allows you to test the parts of your strategy where you need to learn more. Good execution informs critical strategy evolution.
Strategy and execution are especially relevant right now: technology companies are re-programming themselves to sharpen their strategies and execution so they can put their investments to work more efficiently and with greater impact. The growth-at-all-costs environment has easily hidden bad strategy and execution; this will no longer be an option.
WHAT ENERGIZES YOU? HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF?
On a day-to-day basis, I often listen to music as it helps calm my busy mind and be more present before I go to sleep. Taking care of yourself is more about addressing the root causes of stress versus treating the symptoms. One fundamental that I have focused on is making sure that I am allocating some time to things I am personally passionate about. I get a lot of energy from helping people grow in their careers which brings me joy regardless of quarterly results or outcomes.
IN YOUR ROLE AT INOVIA, WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD FOUNDERS ASK YOU?
Founders can speak to me on go-to-market, enterprise selling, c-level alignment, company culture, brand and category, organizational strategy, etc.
I’m also happy to dig into the above mentioned topics: creating a culture of belonging and what good execution looks like (I feel this could have been better in my company-building path, and I learned a lot in this area when we started getting it right!) I will happily share my experiences and want to hear what has worked for other CEOs.
Want to benefit from Kristine’s expertise? Get in touch!