(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Here is my interview with investor and entrepreneur Sarah Kunst, CEO and founder of Proday, creator of a mobile app which lets you choose workouts from professional athletes and track your progress against them. Proday’s motto: “Workout alongside Professional Athletes. Anytime. Anywhere.”
What makes you do what you do?
I’ve always been a creator and a doer. My passion for technology started young and has only grown with time. I was lucky to grow up in a household with a computer and a local public library with generous free wifi allotments. As I got older, I became just as passionate about business and realized that building a company was the best way to combine my passions for creating and making money. Sports have always been a mainstay in my life and I’ve worked in media for years. All my interests collided about a year ago when I started Proday.co and I’ve never been more fulfilled or challenged.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Hard work and helping others. I spent years researching the tech industry, reading all the top VC blogs and tracking the rise of amazing founders. I then started on the ground floor, working in small startups for little pay while helping other startups for free or super low consulting fees on the side. I learned everything I could about as many areas as I could, from how to manage engineers and design wireframes to how to make money and hire people. I never said no to a learning opportunity even though most of them were disguised as hard work with little glory. Helping other people without expecting anything back and working harder than anyone around you is the way to make a name for yourself and build a reputation for integrity and value.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I’ve been mentored by many people over the years. Often it’s at a distance – people who I may only run into occasionally or who I don’t even know at all but I can study their work and learn from their tweets, interviews and LinkedIn profile. I think having a dedicated mentor who you meet with monthly is nice but often unrealistic. Don’t waste time looking for the perfect mentor, focus on what areas you want to improve in and go study people who are great at those things. If you struggle with operations, learn from people in the military or big companies like GE that are known for their prowess in that area. If you want to be more creative, study artists and designers. Most of us can learn a ton just by reading and observing so that when we do find a mentor in an area that we’d like to improve on, we’re ready for them to help us because we’ve already helped ourselves.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
Figure out what kind of leader and person you are, find the holes you need to hire for and then figure out how to find people to fill those holes. I’m a very hands off the manager and I hate repeating myself. I need to find people who are self-directed and listen when I do talk. For me, that means giving potential hires a lot of space and seeing what they can come up with and if they are self-motivated. I also know that I need people who will naturally be organized and proactive about communicating. I turn down a lot of amazing people because they aren’t the right person to work for me. Knowing yourself and what you need from hires makes hiring a lot happier and easier.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I very consciously support diversity because I’m greedy. I want to build the most successful company possible and I can’t do that if I focus on only hiring one gender or race. Anyone who’s serious about building a successful company knows they can’t do that without diversity.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
To be a great leader you have to be willing to learn a lot, listen a lot and then take action. Lots of leaders do one or two of those things but it has to be all three. Learn a lot on your own, listen to others who both agree and disagree with your findings and then choose a course of action and take it.
To learn more about Proday, please see http://proday.co.
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