Operator Spotlight: Google Engineer Yanbing Li

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Yanbing Li, Vice President of Engineering at Google.

This year has been full of disruptions. As both a leader and an immigrant, how have you been affected by the renewed focus on social justice?

YANBING: It has been immensely heart-wrenching to witness the racial injustice and violence toward the Black community, xenophobia against the Asian community, harsh immigration policies, and so much more. For me personally, it is a time of learning and reflection, of recognizing the deep systemic violence rooted in our nation’s founding and history. I have reached out to Black colleagues I’ve worked with to listen to their pain and frustration, which again reminded me just how little the Black community is represented in our organization. 

For my role as a leader, it is a time to be visible and available, and a time to prompt decisive action. We are doubling down our effort for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and I am serving as the chair of our organization’s DEI Council, where we are designing a set of programs to promote and improve the hiring, progression, and retention of underrepresented groups. 

How has your team at Google changed because of COVID-19? 

YANBING: My team and I have gone through multiple distinct phases since transitioning to working from home in early March. Our initial focus was on business continuity—we needed to quickly assess and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and, subsequently, working from home, on employees, teams, operations, and customers. 

Following this, we transitioned to our next phase, which highlighted productivity. Understanding and improving team productivity was key in both keeping engineering execution predictable and fulfilling customer commitments, especially with the knowledge that we will be working from home for the long haul. 

We then moved to managing growth. Google Cloud is a hyper-growth business equipped with a rapidly increasing customer base and revenue, an ever-expanding portfolio of products, and the ceaseless process of hiring and onboarding. While the pandemic has caused great uncertainty in the global economy, the demand for digital transformation and cloud services remains stronger than ever. Managing business growth and onboarding a large number of new employees while the world seems to come to a standstill is truly a surreal experience. It is challenging, yet also incredibly fulfilling to know we’re making a positive impact.  

Throughout these phases, our utmost priority has been focusing on people: the well being of our own community and the changing needs of our customers. We are providing flexibility and accommodations to our teams and continuously working to better understand and support how the pandemic is impacting each of their personal circumstances. 

You immigrated from China after college to focus on engineering, a profession that’s heavily male-dominated. That put you in the minority of a minority. What was your experience like and what pushed you through? 

YANBING: Growing up in a household of a mother who is a doctor and a father who is an engineer, my fascination with STEM began at a young age. I have fond memories of asking my grandfather for challenging math problems during summer breaks and declaring my dream job was to become a scientist while I was in elementary school. Engineering was a natural choice for me, and being a woman didn’t seem to create any barriers in my career until I became an executive. 

As I was working on transitioning from engineering leadership to business leadership, a breakthrough in my career, I found myself unsuccessful even after multiple attempts. I remember thinking, “This is what a glass ceiling feels like.” After making the decision to take a smaller engineering leadership role in an emerging business, I had the opportunity to grow with the team—first as the VP of engineering and later as the General Manager, all the while growing the new business to reach over $1B in annual revenue. Recognizing that the best path forward may sometimes be, counterintuitively, to take a step backward or sideways is absolutely crucial towards career progression, especially when feeling stuck. I was also fortunate enough to have the sponsorship of the senior leadership in the company all the way up to the CEO. They were willing to bet on me and gave me the opportunity to transition to general management.

What advice do you have for women looking to build a career in engineering?

YANBING: There has never been a better time for women to build a career in engineering. We’re in a time where technology is rapidly becoming omnipresent, more accessible, more diverse, and integrated into every industry and every aspect of our lives, all at an unprecedented scale and speed. 

The most common bias I have observed against women in engineering is that they “are not technical enough.” Establishing technical credibility is extremely important for women in any technical roles, or even in nontechnical roles in a tech organization. 

As women advance in their career, they may encounter yet another bias that they are “operational” and “tactical,” but not “strategic.” Demonstrating market insights, customer empathy, and connecting to the bigger business strategy at the larger organizational level are compelling ways to overcome this bias. 

What are some things engineering teams should prioritize over the next 6 months? 

YANBING: First and foremost, I would prioritize people, productivity, collaboration, and innovations. We must pay attention to the well being of our teams, not only as a group, but also as individuals, since the pandemic is impacting all of us in very different ways. We also need to better predict and measure productivity in this highly unpredictable time, as predictable execution is the trademark of a high-performing engineering team. This requires challenging ourselves to find new ways of collaborating virtually. While the world may seem like it has slowed down, standing still is never a winning strategy and we must continue to create room for innovation and risk-taking. 

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about engineering?   

YANBING: Engineering is a trade and there is no shortcut around it. Just like being an athlete or a musician, engineering requires us to continuously dedicate time and energy to hands-on learning and practice. Whether you’re a hands-on engineer, a senior architect, or a VP of Engineering who leads an organization of hundreds of people, you rely on experience and judgement rooted in having concrete practice with engineering and in keeping your knowledge up to date. 

However, this does not mean that people without a formal tech degree or background can’t get into tech. With the huge demand for diverse talent, there are many paths to become trained in tech. For example, at Google we have programs that support non-tech Googlers to transition to engineering through tech bootcamps and job rotations. 

People often talk about the skills they picked up as a bartender, working retail, or other experiences before their leadership roles. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

YANBING: This isn’t quite a “job,” per se, but running for Student Office in college was a formative experience for me. I got to recruit a campaign team, build connections with complete strangers, speak and debate in front of thousands of people, and campaign for the causes that I believed in. It allowed me to recognize my passion and confidence in a leadership position.  

What’s one unconventional thing you’re doing to keep yourself sane these days?

YANBING: With everyone at home, I find my life boils down to only two modes: working from home or working for home. Occasionally, I escape from these two modes to watch 90’s Japanese dramas, video meet with friends, or get beauty tutorials and yoga tips from my teenage daughters.

What’s the one condiment/spice you could never live without? 

YANBING: Soy sauce, hands down. Can you tell I grew up in China? When the pandemic started and grocery stores were running out of supplies, I didn’t panic, as I knew I could survive on rice and soy sauce for a long time. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

The Challenge Series: Adding inclusive voices to the COVID response

Global pandemics wreak their own special kind of havoc — not just on our health, but on virtually every aspect of our lives. Solving something as massive as a global health emergency takes a coordinated, collaborative effort and requires us to put our best minds forward. That means not just in frontline healthcare and government response, but also in education, recreation, nonprofit, and business. 

In times of crisis, leaders emerge. We’re all looking for answers and guidance. It’s widely understood that diverse teams lead to greater innovation, better outcomes, and more progress, so we cringe every time we see photos and events featuring homogeneous teams and panels in response to today’s challenges. (As it turns out, we’re not the only ones to notice.) The representation has improved recently, with women in leadership roles receiving kudos for how they’re handling their COVID-19 responses in federal governments, local governments, and science. Now we’re ready to add to that list from a business perspective.  

Join us for the Challenge Series

Introducing The Challenge Series, weekly online events designed to connect you with the specific topics and advice you need. Businesses are scrambling to address challenges they couldn’t have imagined just a month ago. As we work to keep our teams and companies going, it’s helpful for all of us to hear how some of today’s respected leaders are navigating similar issues. We’ve assembled an incredible line-up of speakers who are leading their companies through this time — and this first group happens to be all women. How are they shifting their operations, marketing, and finance? How do they lead with empathy and kindness through scary situations? Join us weekly to find out.

Learn how experienced executive leaders at companies like Gusto, Cloudflare, Zoom, Zendesk, Guild Education, TripActions, and Textio are shifting their models, protecting their budgets, and supporting their employees through every stressful moment. Got a question or two for these leaders? Please share with us on Twitter or LinkedIn and we’ll add them to the queue. 

Upcoming Challenge Series Events

  • April 28: How do you shift your operations during a crisis? (REGISTER)
  • May 5: Marketing and messaging in the time of Coronavirus (REGISTER)
  • May 12: How do enterprises manage their spend during a crisis? (REGISTER)
  • May 19: Leading with empathy and kindness in times of uncertainty (REGISTER)

Staying ahead of these situations requires diverse, inclusive voices

Scientists predict additional waves of COVID-19 and a rise in similar viruses in years to come. As we determine what that means for not only healthcare, but businesses, the overall economy, and even day-to-day human life, we ask organizations to prioritize diverse, inclusive voices in their preparations and responses. Put women and underrepresented minorities in leadership roles; listen to their voices. Make them not the exception, but the norm. Excluding these portions of the talent pool limits our collective ability to innovate and respond to the spidering effects of these situations. 

Here at Operator Collective, we’re lucky to have a community packed with talented, experienced leaders, the majority of whom are fearless women. We look forward to sharing their insights with you. Learn more and register for The Challenge Series here

The Challenge Series from Operator Collective

 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

30 at-home activities to keep you connected, full, and fit

As we learn to navigate our shared new reality, it’s important to find worthwhile ways to maintain our mental health and physical well being. It’s easy to get bogged down in the news reports and case maps, so we at Operator Collective try our best to reframe the situation and find positive outlets when possible. Perhaps we can mold our abundant home time into an opportunity to learn and connect in new ways.

To that end, we turned to our own community for suggestions. Here’s how our Operator Collective LPs are staying engaged and active. What activities are you enjoying? We hope you’ll share your recs with us on Twitter at @OperatorCollect

GET COOKING.

Many of us have been flexing our cooking muscles lately. Elena Gomez suggests a comforting chili poblano soup with corn, while Robin Joy has been making slow-cooked dishes like these red-wine braised short ribs and Monique Covington says her family can’t get enough of this Garlic Knot Chicken Alfredo.

If you enjoy celebrity cookbooks, Katy Dormer recommends both of Chrissy Teigen’s, adding that Teigen’s recipe for Cacio e Pepe has become her go-to dish. Ambrosia Vertesi prefers Snoop Dogg’s cookbook (yes really), especially this recipe for Orange (but Really Kinda Burgundy) Chicken.

On the lighter side, JJ Ramberg suggests these vegetarian lettuce wraps, while Ruthie Miller raves about this Power Plates cookbook. And for something totally different, Laura Butler recommends a fondue night: cheese, wine, veggies, and meat in endless combinations. For a treat? Mallun Yen and her daughter have been making bubble tea, dragon fruit smoothies, and amazing scallion pancakes.

CONNECT ACROSS THE MILES.

Had enough of the #QuaranTiki parties? Cathy Polinsky has been staying connected to family and friends by doing remote escape room boxes; participants need only to order the same mystery box and then open them at the same time from their own homes and discuss via Zoom. Nicolas Dessaigne and his family have been using Roll20 to play board games online with family and friends.

MAKE TIME FOR WELLNESS.

Lisa Campbell recommends the Headspace app, which offers exercises and videos on things like meditation, stress, and healthy living. Similarly, JJ Ramberg likes Ten Percent Happier, an app offering guided meditations to help with stress, happiness, and sleep. Molly Ford, on the other hand, says part of her wellness routine focuses on purging and organizing her closets.

If you need something more physical, do as Nick Mehta suggests and try a Peloton bike. And if you can’t get your hands on one, Erica Dorfman has been streaming yoga and meditation classes via the Peloton app — no bike required, and it’s currently free for 90 days.

LISTEN TO MUSIC.

Meagen Eisenberg has been filling her brain with the soothing sounds of The Very Best of Kenny Rogers lately, resurfacing some nostalgia from when she listened to the same album with her parents via 8 track. If that’s not enough, try our Operator Collective #Quarantunes playlist, which is full of positive vibes.

WATCH SOMETHING LIGHT.

Looking for a show to binge? Anirma Gupta recommends The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. And when you’ve watched all those episodes, but still need the soothing tones of British accents, Katy Dormer suggests Repair Shop. If that’s not your style, she also suggests Tiger King (since we are in absolutely crazy times, it’s good to watch a show of a world that might be crazier) and Crip Camp (which offers an incredible reminder of what people are capable of; have a box of Kleenex ready).

Laura Butler recommends Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, a series about a glamorous and rebellious lady detective set in the Roaring Twenties in Australia, while Robin Joy suggests The Morning Show and Stumptown. Molly Ford likes to watch Self Made, Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker on Netflix, Lolita Taub prefers 100 Humans and Night on Earth, and Reshma Saujani enjoys Hulu’s Hillary series.

Whew! We hope these suggestions add a few positive vibes to your day. What are some activities you’re enjoying at home? Don’t forget to share them with us on Twitter at @OperatorCollect.


We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at
www.operatorcollective.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator spotlight: Executive search leader Lynn Carter

Looking for practical help and advice on an operational area that may be outside your realm? Each month we spotlight one of our talented operators, who’ll share their expertise and offer insights and ideas that may help improve your own operations. This month we spoke to Lynn Carter, Head of Executive and Strategic Search at Confluent.

What are some of the biggest challenges recruiters face today? 

LYNN: Even in the best economic times recruiters should have a narrative around the company, executive team, funding, and the specific role they are presenting. But given where we are today, messaging needs to be particularly compelling, with an understanding that candidates may be more reluctant to consider leaving a role at this time. More communication and context, and more relationship building and engagement will be needed to get candidates to tip forward to consider opportunities. 

It seems like every company is trying to build a diverse and inclusive culture. How can companies increase their applicant pools to attract more candidates from underrepresented backgrounds? 

LYNN:  This is a hard and thorny, but important question to answer. I wish I had a magic answer on the exact steps it takes to be successful in increasing applicant pools and creating more diverse teams. I don’t, but here are some things to consider:

  • Start early. Many candidates from underrepresented backgrounds want to join companies that have employees that look like them. So if you don’t prioritize diversity and inclusion from the start, you risk creating an even bigger problem down the road when you try to attract candidates from underrepresented backgrounds to your company. The good news is that you can get started right away by being intentional about your hiring practices and company culture.
  • Focus on inclusion first. To not just hire, but also retain diverse talent, it’s important to build a company where employees of every background have the opportunity to thrive. Consider what your company is doing to build an inclusive environment. How are you building your employee resource groups and surfacing meaningful ways to support your employees from underrepresented backgrounds? These things demonstrate your commitment to building an inclusive workplace. Your own employees will be a champion for your company, attracting their network to the company when hiring.
  • Think about your leadership team. Have you worked hard to diversify this team with good results? If so, encourage these leaders to be involved in outside groups, meetups, and conferences that support underrepresented talent. If you haven’t made headway on diversifying your leadership team, focus there because it is very difficult to think about hiring diverse talent into a company whose leadership team itself is lacking in diversity.
  • Ensure an equitable hiring process for all candidates. Talk with your hiring managers about unconscious bias, building an objective and consistent interview process, and supporting employees from underrepresented backgrounds after hire. Candidates from underrepresented backgrounds face unconscious biases in the interview process and in the workplace that other candidates don’t, so bringing this to the forefront with your interview and management team is an important step. And for early stage companies that might not be able to invest in unconscious bias training, simply having your team read and discuss some statistics about inequality in hiring, pay and promotion is a good start. Here is one recent article that you can reference that lays this out pretty clearly for gender bias in tech: Women in tech statistics: The hard truths of an uphill battle
  • Consider different dimensions of diversity. In tech, diversity is frequently associated with gender and race. To be sure, it’s important to prioritize gender diversity and racial/ethnic diversity in your workforce, as well as the intersection between the two. (Women of color, for example, often face different barriers in the workplace than do white women.) But there are other dimensions of diversity to consider: educational and/or work background, socioeconomic status, age, disability, parental status, and more. 

What’s one thing we can do to make it easier for women and URM to get tech jobs?

LYNN: While there has been some progress in women and URM hiring recently in tech we have a long way to go. One simple thing is keeping must-have criteria in a job description to 3-4 bullet points at most. The reason that I say this is that all too often my recruiting team will kick off hiring for a technical position, and the hiring manager will list out 10+ must-have technical skills that the candidate has to have before being interviewed. This means that most of the applicants will not be considered. In addition, oftentimes women and URM candidates opt out of applying to these roles altogether when they don’t feel that they match 100% of the criteria requested. 

What’s your #1 trick for recruiting the best people?

LYNN: The most thoughtful answer I can tell you for finding the best people is to never settle, no matter the sense of urgency you have to fill the role. If you get to the end of the process and you are not excited about the candidate in front of you, remind yourself that someone who ultimately is not a fit for the role and company will have an enormously negative impact. Conversely, working hard to identify and attract a strong candidate pipeline, and sometimes waiting for the right person who will hit it out of the park, is hugely impactful. 

So what’s the one tried-and-true trick to get the right person interested in your company and role? Your network. Tell everyone what you need and why this is so important to your company. You will be amazed that sharing with the world your mission and the impact that this position will have will yield fantastic results and uncover fantastic talent who you may not have considered without the recommendation. 

There are no guarantees when it comes to placement, but are there certain criteria, experience, or traits you look for as indicators of future success? Things that may not appear on a resume, but bode well for a candidate?

LYNN:  It’s an overused term, and can be difficult to assess when reading a resume, but I would say grit. What obstacles has this person overcome in their personal and professional life? This can show up in a variety of ways, including working their way through school, participating in a collegiate sport, living in a number of countries, or changing roles or domains significantly in their careers.  

What’s one piece of advice you’d offer a company looking to improve its hiring process?

LYNN: Hire a great recruiting team. Look for recruiters who dive deep into understanding the products and businesses, and have been a true partner to hiring managers to lay out a strategy to hire great people. They should be extremely curious about people and the businesses they serve, as well as relentless in the pursuit of the best hire.

What’s one amazing insight no one knows about recruiting?

LYNN: It’s the best job in the world. Connecting with amazing people and bringing them together with others to build great businesses is fun and rewarding. Don’t get me wrong — it’s hard work, and it requires a great deal of optimism and energy to bring a company vision and role to the market, as well as to convince people who are already in a successful role to consider making a switch. But it’s a great feeling to help people discover new opportunities and then see them thrive with a new set of people in their professional lives. 

AOC often talks about the skills she picked up as a bartender, and others talk about what they learned working retail. What were some of those formative jobs for you?

LYNN: I’ve had a lot of these! I was fortunate to have parents who emphasized hard work from a young age. My siblings and I all worked as janitors at my dad’s orthodontic office in the evenings in middle school, which made getting my first job in a restaurant my sophomore year of high school seem pretty luxurious. Then I worked for two years in retail selling athletic shoes, which I enjoyed. It was the first job where I had a bonus incentive to learn and sell certain shoes on the floor. I loved that, and realized I was good at talking with people about what they needed and helping them to make decisions. And the best thing? I was made a manager with keys to the store by my senior year, which meant I could get my friends into the mall after hours.

What are some books you’ve enjoyed recently?

LYNN: I’m a crazy reader; it’s one of the things that I most like to do with my free time. I have a range of interests, from tech to biotech to history, so you’ll see me pick up almost anything and get deeply involved (and then tell you all about it). I recently finished Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook by Martin Dugard. And now I’m reading The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses by Dan Carlin. Dark, I know, but seemed appropriate for the times. 

What’s something at work that makes you roll your eyes every time you hear it?

LYNN: When someone says that something can’t be done. This just fires me up. I don’t know if I actually roll my eyes, but I instantly go into problem-solving mode to come up with a solution. 

What’s the one condiment you could never live without? 

LYNN: Does salt count? If so, probably that. And don’t worry, I’ve got pretty low blood pressure.
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

15 tried-and-true tips for working from home

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted our need for flexible work structures, with many organizations mandating remote work this month. Certainly distributed teams and satellite offices have grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the wonders of high-speed Internet, cloud applications, and fancy collaboration tools, but it’s been something of a learning experience for this surprise new WFH-force.

Perhaps you’re still in the honeymoon phase, that blissful period when you realize you no longer have to wear pants with zippers, but the psychological aspects of remote work may set in before long. We’re here to help. Our Operator Collective team is fully distributed – from New York to Berkeley, Vancouver to Houston – so we’ve had to figure out what works for us. Here are our top tips for getting into that remote work groove. We’d love to hear your tips for working from home, too – Please share them at @OperatorCollect.

Mallun Yen, Founder and Partner

  • It can be easy to forego exercise. Two mornings a week, we block out time for exercise and don’t schedule meetings until 9:45. But don’t cheat – Sign up for classes in advance to keep yourself accountable.
  • Keep your video on when you Zoom into meetings (try these tips). It keeps everyone on task and connected. 
  • Look to the pros. Zapier, a pioneer in distributed teams, has been sharing tips for a while.

Leyla SekaPartner

  • Make your desk area beautiful. I cover mine in flowers and things that make me happy.
  • Get moving! I try to walk 10K steps around my house before noon. I may look crazy yapping on the phone as I circle the house like a shark, but it keeps me sane.
  • Do something for you. My friend April suggests growing a vegetable garden. I dress my cat up in costumes (a lot), but you could try learning a language or making every recipe in a cookbook. 

Ambrosia Vertesi, Operating Partner

  • Reserve the first five minutes of a virtual meeting for watercooler talk. At Duo, Dug Song would start meetings by sharing appreciations which helped build connectedness.
  • Play Team Chatroulette to connect with people outside your immediate orbit.
  • If you don’t schedule snack breaks and bathroom breaks, nobody will. 

Ruthie Miller, Head of Marketing

  • Create a basic schedule and stick to it. Resist the urge to sleep til noon.
  • Don’t work from your bed. As tempting as it is, that’s a slippery slope.
  • Use your regular commute time to do something for yourself – read, send a card, get an #OfficeDog.

Marley Sarles, Events and Operations

  • Don’t forgo team building. Use Zoom for a team coffee, happy hour, or remote dance party.
  • Throw in a load of laundry between meetings. You can be so productive at home!
  • If you don’t have a lot of calls, switch things up by working at a coffee shop or restaurant.

Your turn! Please share your tips for working from home with us at @OperatorCollect.   

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Growing up on HBO: The early feminist movies that inspired me

For several years now Hollywood has been engulfed in a trend of remakes, redoing the old movies we loved in our youth in hopes of giving them new life as modern-day classics for a new generation. Most of these remakes have fallen flat for me, but I have to admit I was pretty excited about the new Top Gun

My husband and I decided we should show our kids the original movie so they can see its greatness for themselves and note the differences. Old versus new fight scenes! Bigger, badder explosions! More beach volleyball! We knew they’d love the both versions.

Top Gun movie imageBut 20 minutes into the classic, my 12-year-old turns to me and says, “Mom, I can’t believe you like this. These guys are sexist jerks. This movie is awful.” I was totally caught off-guard. Yet as I continued watching, his point became painfully obvious: inflated male egos everywhere, a cocky student hitting on his female teacher, testosterone to the max. Afterward, my 9-year-old commented: “The only good part was the end when they finally started blowing things up.” 

How did I ever think this movie was great? As I thought more about it, I began to realize that Top Gun is a classic snapshot in time. It was, unfortunately, where we were as a culture in 1986. I loved Top Gun back then (and still love The Hunt for Red October now), but the basic message I got was that the men were out there doing things and in charge… and the women weren’t. 

My parents are foreigners; my Dad left early every morning and came home late, while my Mom worked to keep the home running smoothly. From my own house to the Brady Bunch, I saw the way the gender roles stacked up. Fortunately one day my parents invested in a new invention – The Home Box Office – and that’s where I connected with some key movies that helped me find my place in the world. So in honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to share a few of the feminist movies that defined me.

Women dominating the working world  

9-5 movie imageThe number of working women has steadily increased since WWII, but there was a seismic shift in the 80’s with movies that portrayed women as taking control, rising through the ranks, or becoming entrepreneurs. 9-5, for example, tells of a gaggle of secretaries who scheme to transform their office into an inclusive workplace that offers flexible hours, equal pay, and onsite daycare. In 1980! Companies still struggle with those things today! 

And then there’s Baby Boom. Should women have to choose between having a kid and having a job? Not Diane Keaton and not me. Melanie Griffith was Working Girl, which postulates that just because someone starts out answering phones, doesn’t mean she’s going to end up answering phones. And finally, Selena, the biographical story of the Tejano mogul who sang, danced, and toured her way to a clothing line and cult following. 

Women breaking cultural archetypes 

Princess Leia imageThe movies of my youth also started to break the archetype of the frail, incapable woman. First there’s Private Benjamin, which shows Goldie Hawn join the Army on a whim and discover the value of inner strength. The lesson? The life set before us is not the one we have to lead; we are tougher than we think we are. And then there’s She-Devil, which portrays women not as helpless victims, but as clever and resourceful opponents. Perhaps a Vesta Rose is what the technology industry needs right now. And my absolute favorite, Star Wars, which created the ultimate feminist idol, the woman who took absolutely no sh*t and ruled the galaxy: Princess Leia.

Behold the power of female friendships

Waiting to Exhale imageOf course, there were plenty of feminist movies that depicted the power of friendships among women, like Waiting to Exhale, which shows how women watching out for each helps them build power. We all need those trusting relationships in our lives.

At the time, grief was still a matter largely kept private, but thank goodness for two classics – Steel Magnolias and Beaches – who opened us up to emotion. Those movies highlight just how much we need to rely on our friends when the going gets tough. Truly they both are tearjerkers that present the comic with the tragic in a beautiful way.

Inspiring a new generation of women

These old storylines, which were totally outnumbered by slapstick comedies and male heroes, came at just the right time to launch a new generation of feminism. We began to see what was possible, what could happen when women take charge. As a result, the women who watched those movies are now pushing for equal pay in Hollywood, amplifying the #MeToo movement, and working for greater diversity and more representation

They’re also bringing women into venture capital, helping women invest, leading companies, starting companies, and running for office in record numbers. And now that we have models for what these roles actually look like – on the big screen and in our very own world – the girls of today will know what’s possible. There is no limit to what we can do.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Why we’re obsessed with Guild Education

The company: Guild Education

Guild Education is a female-founded, Certified B corporation that’s on a mission to educate America’s workforce. Guild seeks to do well by doing good, offering a full-service platform that lets companies connect their employees to amazing education benefits.

Why you should pay attention 

Companies like Walmart, Disney, Discover, Lowe’s, and Chipotle have already realized jaw-dropping results with Guild’s end-to-end platform for education benefits and tuition assistance. (Disney reports record-breaking engagement with its Guild offering, while Chipotle reports 90% higher retention among employees who participate in the education benefits program. Whoa!) 

The details 

There are 88 million Americans who need upskilling or reskilling in order to compete in the future of work (64 million of whom haven’t completed college). Those were some of the facts compelling co-founders Rachel Carlson and Brittany Stich to shake up the traditional model and create a business for change. The resulting company, Guild Education, tackles the problem by helping Fortune 500 companies provide debt-free pathways to college for their employees. 

Why were obsessed 

Guild turns the traditional tuition reimbursement model on its head, reimagining a system that’s well meaning, yet antiquated and ineffective. To do this, Guild connects companies to a network of nonprofit, accredited universities and learning providers curated to provide the best outcomes for working adults. Their innovative tuition assistance model allows students to pursue associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees, as well as a wide variety of certificates and credentials without having to pay *any* upfront costs. (Students can also participate in English as a second language, high school completion programs, and college prep.) By removing that initial cost barrier, Guild’s model allows more employees to take advantage of the benefit + helps more employers realize a positive impact.

How it works

First the Guild team works with individual companies to build a customized education program and benefit policy that supports the company’s strategic goals, including objectives for recruitment, retention, and upskilling. Once the program is in place, Guild offers a team of coaches that works with individual employees to identify the right programs for them, then help with enrollment, coursework, and accountability. Completing the circle, Guild’s automated platform features dashboards and analytics to help companies track engagement, performance, retention, and overall results. 

Get involved

Ready to reimagine your company’s education benefits and increase employee retention, engagement, and success? Great idea – Get in touch with Guild Education now.  


We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn

Everything you wanted to know about angel investing, but were afraid to ask

Thinking about angel investing? It’s a worthy way to spend your time and can be quite lucrative if you choose the right opportunities – but there’s also a great deal of risk. After my previous career in product at Salesforce and PayPal, I turned my technical experience into a sidegig as an advisor, where I reveled in helping driven founders and their teams succeed. Eventually I became an early stage investor, joined the launch of Backstage Capital, and recently joined the launch here at Operator Collective.

Now that I’m 5 years in, I feel equipped to share some knowledge, namely the answers that would have helped me as I started out. Here are the most common questions I get about angel investing (and special thanks to Courtney Broadus for sharing her considerable expertise and perspective here too!). Got a question I missed? Please reach out

What is angel investing? 

Angel investing is the term used when an individual investor gives money to startups or early stage companies in exchange for an equity ownership interest. This is often done using a SAFE note, which is a form of convertible note, that gives you the right to purchase or “convert” to equity partial ownership in the company at a future date and/or when other criteria are met. 

How is angel investing different from investing in a venture fund? 

Angel investing is done on an individual basis and requires considerable due diligence. Investing in a fund is putting your money in the hands of the fund managers, whose job it is to vet the companies and use their expertise and network to make sound decisions. Venture funds can be lower risk than direct angel investments, depending on stage, diversification, and sector; however, the whole category is high risk.

How do I get started with angel investing?

Start by choosing a focus. Operator Collective and many of our members focus primarily on enterprise b2b, but others prefer different areas – such as consumer, healthcare, edtech, or impact investing. As you think, determine what you’d like to learn about through the process + what area you’re passionate about (in addition to returns). 

Next, look for opportunities. Be intentional – Your network may not know you have expertise in scaling, hiring, or a particular technology. So let them know you’re looking to invest and the area in which you’d like to focus. Research the VCs in various spaces; then connect and find out who they’re investing in. Finally, offer yourself as an expert to startups to build a network. Use your knowledge of the industry, products and services, operations, hiring, and more. Always look for opportunities to develop your own career, network, and knowledge while you work with founders.

How do I set a budget for angel investing?  

Angel investing is a high-risk investment. Consider it money you may lose completely – and if you’re not ok with that, don’t do it. Once you’re willing to accept the risk, parcel out a piece from the high-risk portion of your portfolio. You may want to set a yearly spend or a total spend, or you might simply consider each investment individually to gauge your level of interest. Whichever direction you choose, think about the total loss you’re willing to accept and stay under it for at least the first few years. 

How much is a typical angel investment?

There’s such a broad range of angel investments that there’s really no typical amount. Investments can be in some instances as little as $5,000 at the low end and $250,000 at the high end, though $25k and $50k are more common. Amounts are negotiable, based on what you can offer in addition to money (like your subject-matter expertise or network).

What if I don’t have a lot of capital to deploy? 

Get involved in other ways! What skills do you have that might benefit a startup? You can ask for equity compensation for advising a startup, which is usually a fraction of 1% over a 18-24 month vesting term (0.10 is common, 0.50+ is often only given to someone with deep domain expertise and/or devotes a material amount of time, 1% is unusual but not unheard of). You can also use your network as your investment – Whom do you know that could help a startup? 

How do I manage risk?

If you’re risk averse or don’t have time to do full diligence, consider co-investing with a group; this gives you coverage in a broader range of areas. Peer validation of your investments also helps you make a more informed decision. Use deal diligence to mitigate risk; but understand that at the early stage there often isn’t a lot of information available about the company and its customers, since many are pre-revenue, pre-product. Evaluating the team and its ability to focus and execute is often the strongest indicator you have to go on (vs trying to learn everything about the particular business).

What do I get out of angel investing?

It takes 7-10 years for most funds and investment portfolios to move to final outcomes (called exits). Typical exits are:

  • Late stage buy-out: Modest gains of usually 1.5x-3x
  • Pro-rata and follow on: The opportunity to invest more money in the next round to maintain or increase your equity stake
  • Acquisitions and mergers: Company gets acquired or merges with another, which can range from barely a 1x return to 3-4x typical. Most common type of exit.
  • IPO: Usually the very highest return, 4-10x
  • Company folds: Often you lose 100% of your investment, but usually you can write 100% loss off in taxes

How can I increase the certainty of a solid angel investment? 

Again, this is a high-risk form of investing with no sure bets most startups fail. But if you want to increase your chances of success, you’ve got to put in a great deal of time. Find deals you like from founders you believe in. Vet the companies as heavily as you can. Once you’ve invested, don’t just walk away check in, help out, stay involved. 

How do I find companies to invest in? 

  • Use co-investing groups and VCs you trust to build a pipeline
  • Join an angel investing group
  • Look for startup programs like accelerators and incubators, which often host Demo Days and offer opportunities for mentoring and advising
  • Network at meetups, conferences, and events
  • Start posting content on your channels to showcase your expertise 
  • Follow online content like newsletters and social channels
  • Talk to current and former colleagues, alumni groups, friends, and neighbors 
  • NOTE: Cold-call type leads can be more time consuming and challenging to sort though, especially if there’s not a reasonable connection to the founders or their industry 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more at www.operatorcollective.com or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.