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Maura's full bioAnita Borg

1 What are your responsibilities at ImproveMyBusiness?

2 What do you feel is the most challenging part of your job?

3 How should someone prepare to become a CEO of an Internet company?

4 Where do you see IT going in the near future & what training is most useful?

5 What are the best networking venues for women?

6 Is a lack of ability to network what is keeping women from getting ahead?

7 Did you have a mentor (male or female) that got you into the Internet?

8 Do you think that a man could be a valuable mentor for a woman?

9 What is the toughest experience you ever had in your career and how did you make it through?

10 Do you think young women are subtly discouraged from entering into a technical profession?

11 Does experience supersede education?

12 How do you keep your spirits up in this unpredictable economy?

13 What are your plans for the future?

14 Do you have any advice for aspiring GirlGeeks out there?
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 of Washington.

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 not–for–profit 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 decision–making 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 of it.

Moderator: Mentoring other women is vital! Networking and mentoring can also happen online...

Maura: Absolutely - 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.

Moderator: Yes!

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 woman?

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 from it?

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?

Maura: Absolutely. 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 butt.

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 background.

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!


Maura: Thank you for GirlGeeks!






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