Leadership in Silicon Valley

Rebecca Ward is the CEO of Moxie, the leading provider of digital customer engagement technology. She took the helm of Moxie in 2014 following a successful run as CEO of Tealeaf, another Foundation Capital company.

We recently had the chance to chat with Rebecca. In our discussion, she talked about creating a productive company culture and the gender gap in tech. She also shared secrets to CEO’ing and advice on how to make it in Silicon Valley.

Below is the conversation, edited and condensed. Enjoy—and bonus points if you know what in the world “xenodochial” means before reading on!

FC: Let’s start with a little about your background…

RW: Well, I have an undergraduate degree in engineering and a Masters in computer science—that’s how I ended up in technology. I started at Xerox, but actually switched to the sales side of the organization. It turned out to be a great career move, because not only did I learn a lot about technology, I learned a lot about the importance of having technology that sales people can sell—what it means to have certain features, really just how the business side of things works.

FC: You’ve been at Moxie for a couple of years now, can you talk about the kind of culture you’re trying to build there?

RW: Sure. One of the first things I did at Moxie was to create a list of shared values. I thought that would be a good way for everybody to know what we’re trying to accomplish as a company, and be something we could apply on a daily basis to help us achieve those goals. The values actually spell out “Moxie.”

FC: And what are those M.O.X.I.E. values?

RW: The first one is Meaningful. Our technology should be meaningful for our customers. I’m talking about something that actually addresses a market need. I also want our employees to have a meaningful experience at Moxie, where they can contribute and feel like they are part of building the company.

Next comes Open. I wanted us to create a place where people felt like they could converse openly with me, their peers, everyone, so that we could bring any issues to the forefront and solve them without fear of repercussion.

X was the tough one. We ended up choosing Xenodochial, which is used a lot in technology to mean user-friendly. We have a number of groups who work together, and then work with the customers—and often times, when you get busy, you don’t necessarily reflect the most user-friendly attitude. So I wanted to make sure we were always aware of being user-friendly. That’s what xenodochial is for.

I is for Impactful. Impact is really what I think startups are about, right? We’re all about trying to change something dramatically. Everybody has to play hard in a startup, you have to make an impact every day, and then we have to make a big impact on the market in order to be successful.

And, last, but very important is E—Entrepreneurial. I think that, too often, if you get the point where you’re a decent size company, you become complacent. And startups win by being entrepreneurial, always thinking about what they can do differently and really trying to make things happen.

FC: What personal qualities do you think are most valuable for a CEO of a high growth emerging company?

RW: Tenacity. There are a lot of great days, but there are a lot more days where you just have to plow through it. A lot of times there’s no roadmap, and it’s on you to figure it out. So: tenacity. That and an optimism and belief in what you’re doing. For me, I could never do something that I didn’t think was going to have a big impact.

FC: In your career as a CEO, did things ever look so dire that you weren’t sure if you would even get through it? Any period that was filled with sleepless nights?

RW: As a CEO of a startup, you have more nights like that than not. Anybody who says something different is not telling you like it is. Every day there are problems. You look and you say, I lost that customer, or I didn’t get that deal, or whatever—and you lose sleep over it. And then you stop for a moment and say to yourself, What can I do to insure against that happening again?

FC: Last week Hillary Clinton officially became the first woman nominee of a major party for president. Given that you’re a female CEO in tech—which is, sadly, a rarer thing than a unicorn—what advice do you have for other women trying to break into the Valley?

RW: First, there often aren’t enough engineers—men or women—to fill technical roles, so that in itself is a great jumping off point: more women should study engineering. I started my career in engineering, and I am eager to see more women pursue it as a profession. Women are currently just 20 percent of engineering majors, and about 10 percent of working engineers. I think getting those numbers up is the single most important step towards bringing more women into technology.

Beyond that, I think, if somebody has a good idea, it doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman, they’re going to get funded. The problem is, there are not enough women entrepreneurs out there yet. And there are biases that arise from women not fitting people’s mental profile of what an entrepreneur looks like.

You’re only going to solve that problem by getting more women to do it. Right now, we have the first woman presidential nominee and it’s a historic moment. In the Senate, however, we have 20 women senators, and it no longer seems so extraordinary. What I’m trying to get at is, the more representatives of a group you have occupying a walk of life, the more normal-seeming it becomes. And I’d love to see that become the norm with women in tech.

Women represent half the population—we should be half the CEOs.

FC: Okay, last question. What does it take to succeed in Silicon Valley?

RW: People have a lot of ideas, and that’s obviously a really important aspect, but I also believe, fundamentally, that you then need to have a plan for how you want to execute against the idea. Because this happens in Silicon Valley a lot—where there was a great idea, but not really a market for it. You have to test your ideas—really test them—and if an idea doesn’t pass muster, you pivot.