The CEO’s Journey: Founder Chronicles #22

Back to back calls since 7:00 am, a dumb argument with my co-founder, component delays that threaten the delivery schedule, never ending &%#$@ pitches for funding, 20 minutes of hand-holding with that angry customer… always so much more to do than hours in the day. My shoulders are knotted up and my head is filled with hornets. Ugh. I forgot to eat again.

Zuko, official Scollar mascot, with CEO, Lisa Tamayo

At my feet, Zuko, the sweetest Golden Retriever who ever lived, is smiling up at me with those expectant eyes. Good idea, buddy. Time for some fresh air and exercise. While Zuko sniffs the rose bushes near the sidewalk, I open the Spotify app and click play for Sledgehammer by Rihanna, allowing it to fill my head completely. As we walk, my shoulders sag and I sigh deeply. Breathe in. Be the sledgehammer, Lisa. Breathe out. The anchor. The leader. Breathe in. The CEO. Lead this company or lose it. Breathe out. Progress… we are making progress… excellent progress. Sigh again. Every day is a proving ground, molding me into the CEO that can build Scollar into everything I envision. Keep walking. Remember to breathe.

“I hit a wall…” perfectly describes the journey a person takes molding their idea into a viable business. The sheer volume of tears I have shed building Scollar could indeed fill a swimming pool. I’ve lost count of my many crashes into that wall… always testing my resolve, my commitment. All founders, both male and female, brace for the onslaught of obstacles, making painful contact with that wall over and over again.

There is considerable debate these days about gender bias in VC firms, hiring, and pay. Binary Capital and 500 Startups exposed the tip of the sexual harassment iceberg and President Trump gets rounded on for commenting about Brigitte Macron’s physique. Female CEOs, turning up more frequently in business, are examined, and judged. It is tempting to weigh in on these discussions. I have raised two daughters and I certainly am no stranger to gender bias.

But, honestly, these discussions are so much noise in my completely overwhelming life as CEO of Scollar. I have hundreds of customers waiting for smart collars, a growing team relying on my calm objectivity and thorough understanding of the business, and a growing pool of investors demanding higher revenues. My growth advisor, Frumi, challenges my assumptions at every turn, molding me like a lump of clay. Building a business is grueling. Period. After two years as CEO of a hardware startup, my arms are finally strong enough to wield the sledgehammer.

“You’re just another brick and I’m a sledgehammer” pours through my earbuds. I’m a sledgehammer. A pile driver. A force of nature. Pounding my way through obstacles until I cease to need the actual hammer, transforming myself into the kind of force that bricks just get out of the way for. Does this seem unfeminine? Does it matter? Anyone foolish enough to dream big faces the same wall.

The inaugural class of LAUNCH Female Founder University

Ultimately, I will be remembered for the mastery of my leadership at Scollar, not the color of my lipstick. My gender is nothing more than a tantalizing sound bite. My recent participation in LAUNCH Female Founder University with Jason Calacanis further cemented my belief. I was ecstatic to be included in the very first Female Founder University with 50 women CEOs in the Goldilocks stage of growth. I was simultaneously dreading two days of incubator “lite” with the fairer sex. It’s fascinating that I was not afraid I didn’t belong with all those powerful women, but worried that we would all be forced into the “girl” box of lowered expectations. Jason and his team expected each of us to bring our A game… and guess what… we all did. My head was swiveling sideways after those two days. No gender bias here, thank you very much. Just 50 dedicated CEOs confronting that wall every day.

Two miles later, Zuko is panting and my thoughts are clearing. My journey as CEO is equal parts skill, hard work, flexibility, and persistence. Sometimes my sledgehammer demolishes an obstacle on the first swing and other times my progress on that wall is measured in millimeters. So I take off my earbuds and sit back down at my desk, sizing up the challenges in front of Scollar. Time to remind the wall who I am. Watch out all you bricks, I am a sledgehammer and I am coming for you.