IWD 2020: Breaking into the C-Suite


Blog, News

By Tribeca Venture Partners

Rocky Lachman, Head of Marketing

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I reached out to female leaders across our Tribeca Venture Partners portfolio to hear more about their experiences in tech and highlight their leadership. Specifically, I asked them to share lessons learned at early-stage startups and how to break into the C-suite and upper management. There are so many rich experiences to share and the possibility of a future TVP event to continue this conversation. For now, here are a few excerpts from our conversations that I hope will inspire you today. 

Kate Clegg, Chief Marketing Officer at ACV Auctions 

“The mentality that exists within a startup is one that all organizations can benefit from. It’s where creativity and “scrappy” problem-solving meet. There’s also an inherent lack of fear to truly get creative, which often doesn’t exist in larger, more established organizations. Budgets are tight, so you have to think harder and less traditionally. My success came from getting creative while constantly testing and measuring. The metrics will help you refine your planning, and the data will bring credibility to your efforts that will ultimately help you gain respect and upward mobility into the C-suite. 

Passion is critical, so own your excitement for what you have tested and your contagious energy will bring attention to you and what you have accomplished.”

Andra Milender, Chief Technology Officer at BetterCloud

“I believe, regardless of the size of the company or organization, all roads to leadership start with the same basic principles: hard work, personal accountability, growth mindset, conviction to get things done, making mistakes and learning from them, having a passion for what you do, never asking someone to do a task that you would not be willing to do yourself, and developing great talent. 

Moving into upper management up to/including the C-suite is not about what a person accomplishes but what a person is able to accomplish with a team. I believe the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. Building strengths on your team, challenging others to be their best, leading by example, with conviction, with empathy, and with the highest integrity are key enablers for great leaders.  

Over my career, I have shaped my leadership style not only from lessons learned but also from observing great leaders and not so great leaders. I have had the good fortune to work for and with both types. Recognizing good behaviors to emulate is a great place to start. But truly, it is just the start. The real education comes from recognizing the bad behaviors as well and making conscious decisions not to emulate those behaviors as a leader.”

Tara Fung, Chief Commercial Officer at CommonBond

“While it may sound counterintuitive, for anyone aspiring to upper management or the C-Suite in a startup, the key is to check your ego at the door. 

You need to be ok with not knowing all the answers as you progress in your career. Otherwise, you will push yourself too far and create an environment for your team where they do not feel safe to admit when they don’t have all the answers. Startups have to learn and react so fast to survive. There isn’t time for posturing in all of this. 

When I joined the leadership team at CommonBond, I went from owning one functional area that I understood at a granular level and where I was “the best” at that given function, to being responsible for multiple functional areas where my knowledge and experience was limited. I was tempted to try to project confidence due to my own insecurities, but I quickly realized that asking that “dumb question” made others feel more comfortable speaking up as well. I also learned that sometimes those questions actually are not all that dumb. We caught a lot of potential gaps and errors as a result and had a team culture where people didn’t feel they needed to hide their mistakes. This helped us get better, faster, and made it a much more enjoyable place to work.” 

Nicole Mozeliak, Chief Operating Officer at Domio

“Interestingly enough, I never focused on a position as a destination in my career. The key to success, in my opinion, is to assess the job you have and how it fits into the greater success of the organization. Once you determine that, you can position yourself to be successful by working smart, achieving results, and expanding relationships. The combination of all three enables your growth in the organization where your talents and accomplishments can then be celebrated.  

Focus on the contributions, and your reward becomes the promotion.”

Karissa Cupito, Chief Financial Officer at Katapult (formerly Zibby)

“Working in a startup has been extremely gratifying. Helping build a business from the ground up allowed me to put into action all the learnings I have accumulated in my career. The most important of these lessons is how I approach leadership. I lead by example with a goal of inspiring others to not only learn more but to become more. 

We are all a team and when others succeed, I succeed, and our company succeeds.”

Sofia Hernandez, Chief Client Officer at Suzy

“The best way to get to the top and stay there is to have and own a strong sense of self- and I mean your whole self. Women tend to play up their work selves and play down their personal lives. It’s imperative that it’s known that we run P&Ls while running every version of “home.” Who schedules play dates right after high stakes meetings? We do! I am a Latina mother of two young girls from the South-Side of Chicago; a C-level tech executive who partners with some of the biggest brands in the world, and a mentor to our amazing employees. 

I own every part of me at all times. While it may take effort at first, bringing your whole self to the table shifts the dynamics of how you’re revered and adds value to your engagements.”

Lauren Hobbs, Head of Brand at Vivvi

“The biggest thing that’s helped me grow into this stage of my career is to develop more confidence in asking for help and seeking out mentorship. From those on the path you want to be on, to career coaches, to those who can help you build specific skills, it’s invaluable to develop a network of people (especially women!) who you can rely on. 

My most recent job interview and negotiation process was a wholly different ballgame having a few key mentors in my corner.”