Tech Veteran and CEO Alicia Navarro Offers 7 Tips for Future Entrepreneurs
“Technology loves women. It wants women, especially those who are really good at what they do,” explains Alicia Navarro, 38, the CEO and cofounder of Skimlinks, an online service that ensures publishers earn a commission on e-commerce sales every time readers buy products through links in editorial content. Since cofounding the company in 2008, Skimlinks has raised $24 million in funding from Greycroft, Frog Capital, BDMI and Sussex Place Ventures. The firm, which now has 80 employees, sold $625 million in e-commerce through its platform in 2015, with commissions going to such clients as Time Inc., The Huffington Post, Refinery 29 and Gawker Media.
In some respects, this has always been Navarro’s destiny. Since her mid-teens she says she was inspired to become an entrepreneur. She attended an all-girls private Catholic convent school in the suburbs of Sydney that promoted women to be world leaders. Unlike the majority of her affluent classmates who donned designer jeans, Navarro came from a blue-collar family and wore hand-me-downs. Her father, a Cuban exile, suffered a terrible back injury that left her mother, a Spanish immigrant, to provide for the family by pressing clothes at a dry cleaner. Stuck at home, her dad started day trading to help pay for her education. At age 10, Navarro, a self- proclaimed “geek,” taught herself how to code with a bulky Commodore 64, a gift from her father. Navarro eventually got a scholarship to attend the University of Technology in Sydney. She graduated top of her class and worked in big companies such as IBM and Vodafone for several years.
After bombing her final round of interviews with Google, Navarro, then 30, promised to never work at a big technology firm again. She started two businesses that failed and then in 2008, cofounded Skimlinks in London with college friend Joe Stepniewski. She believes being the only woman in the room worked to her advantage and shares seven tips to help female entrepreneurs achieve their goals.
- Community matters: Being an entrepreneur is hard and lonely. You’ll have a lot of highs and lows, but being part of a community that supports each other is vital. That got me through my hard times. Knowing people were going through the same things as me.
- Failure can lead you to success: Before Skimlinks, I started a couple of businesses which all failed including “Fun and Fearless Computing,” offering computer packages to senior citizens. Those failures spurred me on to take jobs that would teach me the skills I lacked during each failed business attempt. Skimbit — the original business that became Skimlinks — was a licensable social shopping tool similar to Pinterest that also failed, and that was harder because I spent two years and all my savings building it. But through that process we invented a means of monetizing the content on our site that I realized was the most innovative and exceptional aspect of what I’d built over the previous two years.
- Fake it until you make it: Even though the product was not even built, I had no clients, and I lived in Sydney, I told my first UK-based client otherwise, and won their business. In one month, from August 18 to September 18 of 2006, I built the product from scratch, sold my car and furniture, quit my job, and moved to the UK where I hired two engineers, set up in an incubator in London and started Skimbit.
- Focus and capitalize on strengths instead of being a victim: I’m always asked about being a woman CEO in the tech industry. I never understand why. Running a company over many years is incredibly hard. The only way to win is to be good at solving problems. Any problem must be overcome, that’s my job. Being a woman is not a hard “problem” to overcome; if anything, its been a total advantage to me over the years. Any disadvantages that might accrue to it I just solve by focusing on my strengths and finding solutions to overcome the challenges.
- Invest in your own health and happiness: It is easy to become consumed with work, and the pressures that come with being responsible for so many people’s livelihoods. However, the role of a leader is not just a functional one, it is also an inspirational and motivational one. To perform well, you need to be the best you can be, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This means taking time for vacations, eating well, exercising and spending time at events and conferences that aren’t necessarily directly related to your business, but that make you a better person.
- Strive to be a leader in the industry: I have no interest in being a follower. I want to build products and a business that is doing something new, exciting, and disruptive in an industry, and be the best at it. At Skimlinks, we’ve built the best technology for helping monetize and leverage shopping intent, and we’ve created a network of the best publishers in the world, so we have the most comprehensive data. Therefore the best insights, which is what we are now using to launch our new Audiences data segment product. No one else has combined the affiliate business with the data/insights business in the same way we have, which is why we attract the best publishers.
- Think explicitly about your company culture: Our culture is one of the best things about Skimlinks. We even have a name for it: #skimlove. It’s the way we operate. We lead with love and humanity. We celebrate and support each other. We win business by being good people, not just building good things. We have it in neon letters on our wall. It’s a concept that is very special to the team, and defines how we hire, how we do business, and how we work with each other.
This article was written by Isabel Albino from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.