In preparation for B&T’s women leading Tech awards, we’re speaking to some of the industry’s most inspiring female leaders. Tessa Court, CEO and Director of IntelligenceBank, told us about expanding during a global pandemic.
Entries for the Women leading Tech awards close on March 1, and late entries close on March 8.
Last year was incredibly challenging. How did it transform your professional life?
It was kind of the best and worst of times, I think, in one year. Obviously, it was hell on wheels for a lot of people, and a lot of businesses suffered. We were very lucky to be in the industry we’re in, market operations technology.
We have a digital transformation platform for marketers, so we help marketing departments with approvals and workflows, brand automation and digital asset management. The benefit for us was that working from home created a massive need for IntelligenceBank.
But, professionally it was super challenging. We were used to working very digitally anyway, just given the size and nature of our business, but sending everybody home for so long required adjustments, and also managing our continued growth at the same time when everyone was virtual. We grew fourty-five per cent last year, which was crazy. So, we had to hire people remote, which we’ve never done before, because we’re very much a relationship-oriented organisation where we like to know people personally, so that was very challenging.
I think for the most part though, it really forced me as a leader to think about what’s important. You can get distracted in the day-to-day noise, and at the end of the day the pandemic really taught me that it just came down to people and performance for me. Making sure the team was okay both personally and professionally, and our clients were happy and continued to recieve great service. It came down to that first, and then performance was another area we really honed in on.
In contrast, when we were physically all together in the same office, it was easy to see when people needed help or areas of the business that needed focus. Then all of a sudden when you’re all remote, you just aren’t having that exposure to people and you don’t automatically hear when people need help and things like that. So we put in better systems to manage velocity and quality to ensure we could meet our goals. Those were the two things for me that kind of came out of last year.
How do you ensure that you have screen-free time?
I try to take at least one day off a week where I’m not in front of a screen. I’m either doing a lot of exercise, or I have a hobby farm where I’m literally loading wood into a truck. It’s ultimate mindfulness, because you just have to focus on what’s next and that’s it. For me, it’s super important to have a day away.
With that said, I love the business, I love the team, so for me, IntelligenceBank is not work, but I do think it’s important to disconnect. It’s so easy to just find yourself in Zoom meetings your entire life, so having de-screen time is really important.
What do you think makes the successful foundations for leadership? Are there specific things that you think women should be embodying?
I think to be a leader, male or female, you have to have conviction in your decisions, and you have to make decisions very quickly and stand by them. I also think you need to have a lot of empathy and humility to be a good leader. You might make decisions that upset people, or ruffle feathers, but you have to be able to make a decision, and look forward
For women specifically, if I could give myself this advice twenty years ago when I was starting out, I think there would be two things. One is to really understand not just the people side of your business, but the business side of your business, and the financials. Financial acumen is a critical skillset. In smaller businesses you can get by without a lot of financial modelling, but as your business does scale and grow, financial acumen is of the utmost importance
The second thing I think for women, especially when you’re dealing in tech and with capital raising, [is that] women are notoriously good at underselling themselves and using the ‘we’ – “we did this” and “we did that”. If you’re looking for investors to back a business, investors back the jockey not the horse, so they want to know that they have confidence in you and what you actually achieved.
Sometimes, I think that women tend to undersell themselves and not think that they’re ready for the challenge. Women will say a lot of times, “oh well before I jump in the deep end of this leadership role, I need to do ten courses in this, this, and this.” My immediate answer is typically you are probably more ready than you think. You might need to do a short course, or understand more about corporate governance, but you do that for six months of the year and you’ve got it.
How well do you think the tech sector is handling initiatives in favour of diversity and inclusivity?
I think overall, there’s more of a pipeline problem than an exclusion problem. Women tend to not ask for capital when they need it, or not raising enough. I’ve never seen a VC say, “oh, there’s a great business but a woman’s running it so I’m not going to invest in it.” I’m sure that’s happened, but venture capitalists and private equity firms want to invest in great businesses regardless of who’s running them. Money talks for them, and great businesses is what it’s all about.
However, unconscious bias is a big issue, where people like to do business with other people who are similar to them. So, if you’re a guy with a white button-down shirt and khaki pants and you’re evaluating two businesses, one led by another guy with khaki pants and one led by a woman, are you going to invest in him or her? That definitely happens.
But, I think in general, the bigger issues for women in tech and also minorities in tech is to encourage people to get involved early and to provide mentorship opportunities and education.
How does your work allow for creativity?
I think building a business is the ultimate form of creativity. If people ask me what I love most about IntelligenceBank, I think that it’s about putting something into the world of value that’s never existed before. To me, that’s the ultimate goal, and I think as a business owner, you have to be creative and innovative every single day with decisions you make. When you’re starting a business, from the branding, to shaping the culture, and even the product design of what you’re doing – creativity is at the forefront.
We’re a more mature business, we’ve been around for ten years, but even still, the business growth decisions we make daily calls for creativity, that’s what’s so addictive about it, and so much fun. You’re constantly creating and innovating, and that’s why I wake up every morning.
Do you have a woman in tech hero?
I don’t really have one, per se. However, I do admire women who take their companies public, and I think it’s awesome when entrereneurs help others who are just starting out.
Reflecting on the recent Bumble IPO, I’m in awe of people who have started something from nothing and listed a company. That’s super, super impressive, male or female.
What do you think will be the biggest innovation of 2021?
A vaccine that works! Seriously, I think most innovation, true innovation, is going to be around the virus, and about getting tests quicker and things like that.
Given the climate that we’re in, the biggest innovation for this year is going to come from medical devices, medical testing, and vaccines.
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