Emilia M. D’Anzica and Sabina M. Pons: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder
Look Outside For Inspiration — Long ago, when I worked in the residential homebuilding industry, it was said that real estate is at least 2–3 fiscal quarters behind the retail industry in terms of business and marketing trends. We were taught to plan for what was coming based on what large retailers were seeing today. Similarly, at Growth Molecules™, we’ve recently seen a trend where non-technology sectors like retail and hospitality are looking to the tech industry for inspiration and best practices for serving their own customers. Even though the widgets are different, there are times where we can learn from others [companies and/or people] to enhance our own roadmap(s).
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emilia M. D’Anzica and Sabina M. Pons.
Emilia M. D’Anzica has developed a passion for SaaS products, women in tech, and customer success starting her career in Silicon Valley. She has cultivated rich experience and knowledge after leading teams at global companies, including Jobvite, WalkMe, and BrightEdge.
Emilia has also obtained an MBA from Saint Mary’s College of California focusing on Global Competition and Strategy. She founded Growth Molecules, an emerging management consulting firm, helping companies simplify customer success and become more profitable. She is globally recognized as a top 25 leader in Customer Success, having received numerous accolades for her work, and is well-known as a customer success speaker. Emilia has also been featured in countless media, including Forbes.com, at SaaStr Annual Conference, B2B Rocks, RD Summit LATAM, and more.
Originally from Naples, Italy, Emilia is an immigrant and one of six children who grew up in Kelowna, British Columbia. She has lived and worked in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Rome, Italy, early in her career. When she isn’t working or traveling the world, Emilia spends time with her partner, three children, and multiple animals exploring Sonoma County, where she now resides. Pressing ON as a Tech Mom: How Tech Industry Mothers Set Goals, Define Boundaries & Raise the Bar for Success is Emilia’s first book.
Sabina M. Pons is a management consultant whose focus is on driving revenue protection and growth for technology companies. In her 20+ year career, she has led global corporate teams, managed multi-million-dollar P&Ls, and built teams from the ground up. Now, she serves as the Managing Director of the emerging management consulting company, Growth Molecules.
As an expert, Sabina has spoken at the Gainsight Pulse and SaaStr Annual Conferences, presented at HubSpot Grow, spoke at multiple sales kickoff events, and has been featured in the media, including CustomerThink, Rising Tide Podcast, The Customer Success Makeover Show, NPS I Love You Podcast, among many others.
With a master’s degree in Communication, Leadership & Organizational Behavior from Gonzaga University and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of Southern California, Sabina is passionate about igniting corporate transformational change. She also sits on several boards, participates in many mentorship programs, and recently obtained a First-Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo. Sabina resides in Orange County in Southern California with her husband, two young children, and Goldendoodle dog, Riley. Pressing ON as a Tech Mom: How Tech Industry Mothers Set Goals, Define Boundaries & Raise the Bar for Success is Sabina’s first book.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Emilia: I accidentally stumbled into the tech scene in Silicon Valley in 1999 on my way to Santa Monica, rented a room in a hostel, and applied to every tech job I could find on Craigslist. I fell in love with the intellect and excitement so unique to the Bay Area. I love being a woman and am now a mom in tech leading a customer success management consulting firm.
Sabina: Three words: The Great Recession. Like much of America, I was laid off from my job in 2008 and was desperate to find a new means to pay the bills. I applied for a Customer Success position and was given a chance. I worked hard to navigate, and learn, a whole new industry. I worked my way up, started managing a team, and the rest is history!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Emilia: My company had under 50 Full-time employees at the time in Silicon Valley and I was living in Oklahoma (OK). The company didn’t offer maternity leave and six weeks paid by the state of OK wasn’t going to cover all our bills. Instead, I resorted to take zero time off leading up to the birth of my second child and drove myself to the hospital after I dropped off my first born at school. I called my colleague Joanne on the way and asked her to take my three customer calls. She stepped in and handled the customers while I called my husband and let him know he might want to meet me at hospital soon. Elle was born two weeks early just like like her older sister Ava.
I spent a mere 5 ½ weeks tending to Elle before going back to work when my vacation days had run out. My mother-in-law, Brenda Winkler, stepped right in and moved from Tulsa to Oklahoma Ctiy to care for the girls while I worked, handing her to me every two hours to breastfeed. That first year was the hardest year as a parent. I am thankful to Brenda as she has moved with us since, from OK to San Francisco, CA and then to Sonoma, CA where we currently reside.
If Brenda hadn’t been with us all these years, I am not sure I would have gone back to tech. I would have found a more inclusive environment for working moms as I certainly wasn’t prepared to give up nursing or staying at home with my baby for the first six months of her life. I am forever grateful to someone like Brenda who dropped everything to help us as we grew our family and careers.
Sabina: There are two hard things that I encountered when I was working in technology. The first was having a miscarriage on Thanksgiving weekend and then being back at work on Monday. Since the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession, it was competitive and I still had a fear of being laid off. I needed to ensure that I was not overlooked for an upcoming promotion opportunity so I was in the office right after the physical loss of the baby with a brave face.
That same week post-miscarriage, I had to present a new initiative on stage at our global company town hall. Even though I was emotionally distraught and overwhelmed with physical pain, I showed up in my best business chic attire and engaged the audience as directed. Looking back, I am uncertain about how I survived that week. Spoiler alert: I did get the promotion, but that time in my life still brings me to tears.
The second difficult experience was years later when I was working at a different company and I was pregnant for my third time. When I informed Human Resources that I was with child, I found out that I was the first pregnant employee that the company ever had. Sure, there was a short paragraph about maternity leave in the employee handbook for this 250-person international company, but its only purpose was to acknowledge that the company would adhere to local labor laws.
As a California resident, I am one of the fortunate ones who live in one of the only 14 states in the United States that have a law supporting family medical leave. That equates to only 28% of states with a policy to give parents time after giving birth and in some cases, adopting a child. Also noteworthy that this leave is not necessarily equated to having paid leave like is common in other countries around the world.
So while I had legal protection to take time off, it was seemingly up to me to educate the company on what that entailed. I had to have the awkward conversation with our executive leadership about why I was constantly running to the bathroom (I vomited multiple times a day, every day, throughout my whole pregnancy). When I returned from work, I had to muster the courage to ask for a dedicated room for breast pumping so that I could continue to provide milk for my baby. To make matters worse, I was battling intense postpartum depression and anxiety and was told by my CEO to focus on my physical fitness as it would lead to “peak performance.” I’m grateful that they converted the marketing storage closet into a pumping room so I could pump, and cry.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Emilia: My parents, and my brother who passed away, Emilio, gave me the drive I have today, even when things get hard. ‘Emilia’ means industrious in German and hard working I am! I have been fired during Covid, I have been let go because the company wanted ‘fresh blood’ in the role a few years ago. Imagine hearing that 41 in tech. It took far more time to get over the experience than I ever anticipated but I have friends and my family who gave me strength. So did having two daughters. If I can’t continue when challenges are thrown my way, how can I expect my daughters to? Every time someone shuts a door in my face, a new one opens.
Sabina: I kept going because I really had no other choice. With the miscarriage, the realization that 15% of all clinical pregnancies fails to materialize to a live birth, provided an unexpected comfort. I was not alone. I kept going because I wanted to make my late immigrant grandparents proud. I had to set an example for my younger siblings. When I had a company with less than favorable support of my third pregnancy, I continued because, frankly, I was angry. I am competitive and I wanted to show the predominantly male executive team that my work performance and the successes that my team brought to the company was unparalleled, even if I took the time to puke, wrangle mental health, and pump milk. I knew that I had a duty to the other women in the company and I refused to let them down.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Emilia: I am in a place in my life where I am content and damn proud of everything I have accomplished. Everytime a competitor wins a deal, I am not demoralized. I ask the prospect what we could have done differently and with each reply, I strive to improve. I have also learned to have difficult conversations and that is one of my biggest accomplishments because I have always tried to be the peacekeeper in my family and at work. Now, if I don’t agree with a decision, I can successfully engage in a healthy conversation and be okay if at the end, we agree to disagree and still be friendly at the end. No more resentment, guilt, or disappointment in myself for not speaking up and saying, ‘Can you tell me more about why you feel this way?‘ Or, ‘I respect how you feel but I have a different perspective that I’d like to share.’
Sabina: Grit is the perfect word to describe what it took–and honestly what it still takes. Even after proving myself in my industry as is validated by promotions, awards, guest lecturing at universities, board appointments and more, there are still people whose actions toward me and other working women are astonishing. The difference for me now that I’m more seasoned in my career and life experience in general, is that I have the courage to speak up. It took years of hardship and examples set by mentors — both male and female — to show me that I need to own who I am. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished and of the working mother I am today.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Emilia: Our G2 Reviews and Case Studies on our website speak for themselves. What makes our company stand out is our mission statement. We seek to empower people while helping companies maximize revenue through the voice of the customer. What does this mean? It means we focus on helping employees reach their full potential so they can enable customers to receive maximum value from a product or service. We believe that having high employee morale, continuous development, and breaking down silos is the first step in creating a successful company. This is where we come in and offer assessments, recommendations, coaching, playbooks, and an education series ranging from foundations of customer success through to leveraging data to lead teams. Experiencing our team’s growth and commitment to helping companies grow is my biggest reward and they are the reason Growth Molecules stands out.
Sabina: Growth Molecules™, LLC is a woman-owned and led company where I love working to bring the tools for revenue growth to companies of all sizes. The best part? We’re a group of former Customer Success leaders in the tech space who are consulting on the professional practice area for which we are most passionate. We are genuinely having fun and our clients feel that energy. I am often told that it is infectious and that makes me proud because it is authentic.
A recent experience that exemplifies this team bond just occurred within the last month. We had a client who had mismatched expectations with what we delivered and the client gave us more time to produce a favorable outcome. In just one week, five of us rallied together to compile what would normally have taken four to six weeks to complete and deliver. It was a true team effort with collaboration, mutual respect, and goofy grins when the client came back and said, “Now THIS is exactly what I was looking for.”
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Learn to say no, be firm about it and do it in a kind way. You don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why you can’t squeeze in one more meeting.
- Take time for yourself. For me, I have to exercise on a regular basis to feel healthy and balanced. WIthout moving my body I become very unhappy so I made a deal with myself: 30 mins is better than nothing and I am going to be okay with that. So everyday I made I sure I am engaged in a bike ride, walk, weights, push-ups, anything to move and feel so much better afterward. When I least want to workout, is when the 30-minute hit of endorphins are most meaningful to me.
- You can’t please everyone…and that’s okay. I no longer worry about whether people like me or not and what people think of me. What I care about is that I am good human being and making a continuous impact on the community around me and the causes I most care about — animal shelters, foster children, accessible education for all.
- Choose Your Crew: Surround yourself with people who energize and inspire you. Life is too short to be weighed down by negativity and complacency.
- Hire a Therapist: Your crew is not for emotional dumping. Having a counselor or psychologist help you navigate your thoughts and feelings is like what a trainer is for our bodies at the gym. Do the work, build the endurance.
- Connect with Your Calendar: At the beginning of every year, plan when you will take time off and stick to it. At the beginning of each month, schedule three things that you will do for yourself and hold it on your calendar. At the beginning of each week, ensure that you have allocated time to stretch, go to bed an hour earlier, and drink an extra glass of water. Literally put it in your calendar with reminders scheduled to alert you at the right times. Some weeks just are draining and have curveballs. Give yourself that grace, and then get back on track.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Emilia: My sister Josephine. She is 11 years older than me and has helped me from a young age to be more accepting of who I am, to go after all the stars in the world that I wanted to explore, and to take risks I didn’t think I had the courage to take. I really wanted to go to university when I was in my teenage years and my parents weren’t exactly supportive of this idea. She helped me get a job at a restaurant, reviewed my application forms, helped me pay for any expense I couldn’t afford, and helped me find and apply to scholarships. I graduated from the University of British Columbia with top grades and was debt free thanks to endless love and support.
Sabina: There have been multiple people who have nurtured my successes. One standout is someone that I call a friend, mentor, business partner, and co-author of our book, Pressing ON As a Tech Mom and that’s Emilia D’anzica. She and I met four years ago when I was going through my aforementioned postpartum struggle. She had been hired to educate my team and we formed a bond as we were both mothers working in the male-dominated tech industry. In the years since, she has been my advocate, professional sounding board, and example of what can be accomplished when one owns their worth. Since I met Emilia, my hard work and her encouragement led to many of my career’s successes.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why?
- Don’t wait so long to start
- You don’t need an MBA.
- You need strong people around you and to believe in yourself
- You can’t be everything to everyone so figure out your ICP and go after it
- Learn to have difficult conversations and how to say no very quickly or you will take actions you will immediately regret and burn out quickly.
- Bonus: If you fail, pick yourself up and try again. This is how I got to where I am today. I was told I had failed multiple times so I just tried again and again…
- It’s Scary And It’s Supposed To Be — Most great rewards require great risks. In leaving the comfort zone, fear sets in but that’s truly how we learn and grow. Risks should be calculated and foundational to business growth rather than irresponsible. Which leads me to my next tip…
- Avoid the Chrome Pandas — Be intentional and thoughtful about where you spend your money. Frivolous extras, like the infamous chrome panda of DropBox or WeWork’s Summer Camp, are just some examples of excessive cash burn. Instead, invest in your people, spend money on a few high quality applications to run your business (e.g. an integrated CRM and general ledger, a reliable web conferencing client, an organized professional assistant), and take pauses to inventory costs relative to company performance.
- Look Outside For Inspiration — Long ago, when I worked in the residential homebuilding industry, it was said that real estate is at least 2–3 fiscal quarters behind the retail industry in terms of business and marketing trends. We were taught to plan for what was coming based on what large retailers were seeing today. Similarly, at Growth Molecules™, we’ve recently seen a trend where non-technology sectors like retail and hospitality are looking to the tech industry for inspiration and best practices for serving their own customers. Even though the widgets are different, there are times where we can learn from others [companies and/or people] to enhance our own roadmap(s).
- Know Your Audience — We all want to feel special, so nurture that innate human desire in your communication to your prospects and customers. Tailor your messaging to suit the audience before you, avoiding a one-size-fits-most canned template.
- Keep It Brief — According to researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the average office worker is interrupted every three minutes and 15 seconds. Distractions in offices are one thing, but with the increase in a remote workforce, an emerging reliance on instant messaging applications like Slack and Teamwork have surfaced. Why does this matter? Your economic buyer, the person who will decide to [or not to] conduct business with you, has a multitude of distractions possibly preventing you from successfully closing your deal. If you’re unable to succinctly plead your case in three minutes or less, you’ve failed before you’ve had the chance to begin.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Emilia M D’Anzica and Sabina M Pons: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.