Maura O'Neill, Chairman, President & CEO, ImproveMyBusiness.com
Our special guest today is Maura
O'Neill, president and CEO of ImproveMyBusiness.com.
An experienced entrepreneur, ImproveMyBusiness.com is
her third company.
The first, O'Neill and Company, was an award-winning management,
research and development consulting firm, serving energy,
environmental and high technology clients. In 1996, Maura
founded ConnexT, a software and outsourcing company, with
web-based technology in the deregulated electricity area.
She grew ConnexT to a value of $140 million within sixteen
months of inception.
Maura was awarded the Greater Seattle Businessperson of
the Year award in 1989, and has garnered national publicity
and awards for her work. She has served on many business
and non-profit boards and was a North American delegate
to the Advanced Study Institute of NATO on the utility
industry. She has a B.A. Phi Beta Kappa from the University
And now please welcome Maura O'Neill.
Maura: I am delighted
to join you.
Moderator: Maura, would you
start by telling us about your position at ImproveMyBusiness?
Maura: It is really
important that women chose careers in IT because it will
provide them with the opportunity to obtain the most powerful
positions in the economy.
I am the founder and Chairman at ImproveMyBusiness.com
I have responsibility for strategic direction, attracting
and retaining top staff and raising the money.
Moderator: What do you feel
is the most challenging part of your job?
Maura: Women are still
only receiving 2% of all venture capital in the US. A
study shows that venture backed women founded firms do
3X as well as men founded firms. So if we lived in an
economically rational world VCs ought to be beating a
path to women founded companies. But the problem is there
aren't many women decision-makers in the VC world and
traditionally people feel comfortable betting on people
that are like them. I don't think it is deliberate but
the net effect is the same.
guest-carmel127 says: How should
someone prepare to become a CEO of an Internet company?
What jobs should you have?
Maura: The best way
to prepare is to both develop a strong expertise in a
certain area (i.e. technology, finance, marketing, etc.)
so boards and investors are impressed with your accomplishments.
Then to the extent that you can you should have a varied
background, particularly one that has profit and loss
responsibility. That way you can show that you know how
to set and meet business objectives.
guest-Peaches asks: Hi, Maura.
Where do you see IT going in the near future & where
is it best to get more training?
Maura: I believe we
will see the web become as mission critical to business
as computers. So I believe staying on the last edge of
the technology and being obsessed with continual learning
is critical. Take classes at night. Read and teach yourself
new stuff. Network with others in your town to discover
the latest developments. And you know that is great preparation
for being a CEO as well. Understand how the technology
really impacts and improves the efficiency of the business
so you can broaden your perspective.
guest-lancene asks: What venues
have you found to be most successful for networking with
other women in your position?
Maura: In my position
it is hard because there are not a lot of women technology
CEOs. But here is some Forum for Women Entrepreneurs,
prestigious notforprofit boards in town, trade
associations. But really, I found the best strategy is
to call someone up I want to meet and invite them to lunch
or ask a friend who knows them to introduce me. One last
way has been through politics, particularly getting active
in high profile campaigns where women are running. It
tends to attract others like you.
guest-arielsara says: I've
been disheartened to read in the media that women don't
know how to network and that's why we still don't get
ahead. Do you believe this?
Maura: NO Way! That
is the biggest myth on the face of the earth. As one of
my VPs says, we invented networking (we were the gatherers,
the koffee klatches, etc.). The problem is we don't have
enough women in positions of decisionmaking and
power to provide that help to others. And sadly, when
we do they often don't help other women. I call them the
queen bees. They got to their position of power by associating
with men. They perceive, and often rightly so, that being
associated with other women will reduce their power. I
believe it is incumbent upon all of us to take the time
to help, mentor, introduce, and give feedback to other
women. It takes a lot of my time but I am enormously proud
Moderator: Mentoring other women is vital! Networking
and mentoring can also happen online...
- it is a great way to tap in.
Moderator: And here at GirlGeeks we have online
mentor email groups, as well as other community groups
which provide for excellent networking.
Maura: What is great
about these groups is that you can and should ask dumb
questions, let your hair down, seek better understanding
of what is going on, get advice.
Maura: You will find
it renewing, fun, and of great assistance. But you have
to use it, be honest and ask the tough questions.
guest-carmel127 says: Did you
have a mentor (male or female) that got you into the Internet?
Maura: No, I did not.
But I always like to be at the leading edge so I am a
voracious reader. I did have lots of people I knew, some
of whom were in the Internet that I could bounce ideas
off of. And they introduced me to other people. What has
been helpful is that I have gotten a lot of visibility
locally in my other jobs so I could get access to a lot
of people. But the mentoring of women is still not what
it needs to be.
guest-bretopia asks: Do you
think that a man could be a valuable mentor for a woman?
Or do you think a woman would relate better to another
Maura: I think both
can be excellent. I have had two business people, although
not in the Internet, who have given me great advice on
the last twenty years. One is a woman business owner.
The other is a man who spent his career on Wall Street.
Another mentor of mine was the publisher of the local
business periodical the most creative, ethical,
smart person I have known. He took me under his wing and
gave me great advice. I do think that the only places
it is different is that no one understands what it is
like to be a woman in a senior exec. position in tech
like other women. It is the same for people of color.
Therefore, there is no substitute for that type of relationship.
guest-Karla asks: What
is the toughest experience you ever had in your career
life? How did you make it through and what did you learn
Maura: Oh this is
a long story but here are highlights. I rose to a position
of success that was very threatening to someone else who
thought the best way to eliminate the threat was to kill
me (business not personally). It was gut wrenching and
sad. I realized he had more power than I did so we parted
ways. It was hard since I had to leave the people and
work I had poured my heart and soul into. But you realize
that with every tragedy there is a great gift for each
of us. We just need to look for it. We also need to remember
that in order to grow we need to take risks. Sometimes
they are huge risks. And we are not always going to succeed
at everything (what a bummer). We need to remember to
cut ourselves some slack. Remember how talented we are.
And first get some rest. And then choose another big hairy
goal and go for it.
guest-tuwanda says: Do you
think young women are subtly discouraged from entering
into a technical profession by our society because the
old models of being valued for what they look like and
not what they do are still in place?
And it starts very early. We have called girls 'geeks'
and that is known as a cool term for men but who wants
to be a 'girlgeek'? We need to be proud of it. Mentor
younger girls. Talk about how exciting it is. And kick
Moderator: GirlGeeks are absolutely fabulous!
Geek is chic these days...
Maura: I know how
bad it is because I have a teenage daughter who is excellent
in math and good on computers but has made it very clear
she has no interest in a technical career. I am still
trying. The biggest problem is that more and more of the
economy is based on technology and we are going to lose
out on great opportunities to lead if we don't have this
But we should combine it with training and experience
in finance and marketing.
Moderator: Maura, do you think
that experience supersedes education these days?
Maura: Yes with one
exception. The networks of people that you develop as
a result of going to one of the top schools in the country
can be invaluable. If you haven't gone to one and can't
for some reason, try some of their summer or short course
programs. They are expensive but you meet great people.
Moderator: Very true.
guest-arielsara says: Running
a business that focuses on the B2B market, and hearing
all the doom and gloom predictions for B2B sites how do
you stay focused and keep your spirits up?
Maura: To be a founder
and CEO you have to believe and be passionate about what
you are doing. If you don't believe to the tips of your
toes no one else will. And you need to assess the market,
make corrections to your course, be willing to change
direction, stop doing certain things and continue to evolve.
And you need to surround yourself with great people in
your business and personal life for renewal.
guest-Patrice07 asks: What
are your plans for the future?
Maura: I want to continue
to grow ImproveMYBusiness and make the best decisions
for its future. I want to stay active in business and
in politics. And I want to help other people, particularly,
women, grab that brass ring. I also want to bear witness
to the challenges of raising kids, volunteering and having
a long-term marriage in the midst of building a high-powered
career. It is not easy and I hope I am getting wiser in
ways I can pass on.
Moderator: Maura, this has
been a fantastic chat. Before we go, do you have any advice
for aspiring GirlGeeks out there?
Maura: Think big,
believe in yourself especially when no else does, do GREAT
work and remember to reach out and help others along the
way. Thanks and I look forward to hearing about all of
your individual successes.
Moderator: Fantastic advice!
A special Thank You Maura O'Neill for chatting with us!