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Female Disruptors: Carine Schneider of AST Private Company Solutions On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview with Candice Georgiadis

The first piece of advice is to practice patience, because everything takes time. You must wait for things. I am generally not a patient person, but I learned it takes time to develop a brand, a company or to develop a team. In the past, when I tried to force things too quickly, it did not work. When I am launching new products, which I have done often in my career, I want everyone to love it within six months, use it and be talking about my product. However, it often takes three or four years for that to happen and I always find that by that point, I have moved on to the next thing. Looking back, I wish I had been more patient.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carine Schneider, President of AST Private Company Solutions, Inc.

Carine Schneider, FGE is a prominent leader in the private market and global compensation industries with deep experience working in consulting, technology and financial services. She is the President of AST Private Company Solutions, Inc., an AST Company, based in Menlo Park, California. She was named one of the 100 Influential Women in Silicon Valley by the Silicon Valley Business Journal and one of 17 “Women to Watch” in 2017 by Brown Brothers Harriman Center on Women and Wealth. Carine is a Fellow of Global Equity (FGE).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory?” What led you to this particular career path?

I started my career in the financial services and the tech industries at Oracle. I was with Oracle when they went public and later I was a partner at PwC. I founded my own company and raised the investment money. I became CEO of a software company, which led me to become president of Nasdaq Private Market (NPM), then eventually I started working with privately held companies. Now, I work exclusively with private companies and help entrepreneurs, founders and investors manage their ownership and prepare for exit.

I studied psychology and sociology in college and have always been interested in what motivates people and more specifically, how money motivates people. When you work in the private world, most people’s focus is on obtaining life-changing wealth and hoping to win the lottery by starting a company that will make billions of dollars. There is synchronicity in how you motivate employees and how you inspire people to start their own company. Today, I am focused on making sure you that once you start your own company, you keep track of what you own.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you are doing that is disruptive?

Traditionally people put their information into a system and in terms of ownership, a cap table system. When the time came to exit, people would look at how they had split up the pie and who owned what. We help people become aware of what raising money and investment dollars can do to your ownership stake. In talking to many founders, I realized they did not understand what it meant to have an investment from sophisticated investors like venture capitalists and PE firms. They didn’t realize how much of their company they were giving away. We are focused on assuring people understand and have a model and tools to easily obtain the information needed to make prudent decisions. To do that, we use blockchain technology and artificial intelligence.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m sure everybody has made the same mistake, the dreaded “reply all” error. I was working with a difficult client she had written an email saying she was unhappy. I wrote my team a note regarding how to resolve the issue. It was around Halloween and I remember saying, “Well, don’t say that because it will spook her.” She was copied on the email and wrote back immediately asking what I meant, and I quickly replied, “It’s Halloween, we don’t want to scare you.” I learned a valuable lesson that day — “reply all” is dangerous.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

There were people early in my career who helped me develop my skills. I also had several people on various board of directors at the companies I ran who have made an impact. One of the board members, Rich Moran, really helped me not only understand how to communicate with my board, my investors and management, but also how to be a CEO. When I left one of the companies I was running, we had a poignant meeting and talked about what it meant to leave a company when you are the CEO, especially emotionally. That was the first time someone had pulled me aside and told me there can be trauma in your business life. We think trauma only happens in your personal life, but it happens in your business life as well and you must deal with it. He really made an impact on me and I pass that lesson along to others.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I feel strongly that there are times when we should not be disruptive. Certainly, there are technological advances that move our society forward and those are good, but I also believe there are regulatory requirements in place for a reason. I wrote an article about the first corporation in the world, the Dutch East India Trading Company, which was started in the 1600s. They were the first company to issue stock and the first to have a stock certificate. The reason I bring this up is that the issues that brought down the Dutch East India Trading Company are the same issues we deal with today. When you look at Enron, Bernie Madoff or some of the other reasons why we have corporate governance in place, it is because we made mistakes in the past and we must learn from them. I worry that when we disrupt too much, we forget these things. We have banking laws for a reason. We have security laws for a reason. When these laws are discredited and there are claims we should be able to do certain things with new technology, I am always more conservative. I start the discussion asking about the purpose of the regulation. Is the regulation there to protect people or is it just a pain? For example, could we move money more quickly from place A to place B because we now have the technology or is there a reason it needs to take a few days to move money from place A to place B? Is there a good reason? I feel strongly, we always must look at the lessons from the past.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you have gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first piece of advice is to practice patience, because everything takes time. You must wait for things. I am generally not a patient person, but I learned it takes time to develop a brand, a company or to develop a team. In the past, when I tried to force things too quickly, it did not work. When I am launching new products, which I have done often in my career, I want everyone to love it within six months, use it and be talking about my product. However, it often takes three or four years for that to happen and I always find that by that point, I have moved on to the next thing. Looking back, I wish I had been more patient.

Secondly, I would say confidence. If you really believe in your idea, you must commit. There were times in the past when people discouraged and criticized me. What I found is when I believe in my idea and keep at it, it worked out. When I started a global nonprofit organization, there was a similar US-based organization already in place. Everyone said, “Why do you want to start this global organization when there is one here in the U.S.?” I felt strongly that bringing people together globally was very different than bringing together Americans and by pushing my ideas forward, I was successful. The organization is now over 22 years old because I was confident in my idea.

The third piece of advice is diversity. I refer to diversity differently than it is commonly used today. What I mean it is you must have different people on your team and at the table from diverse backgrounds. There is a great book called The Medici Effect that talks about this phenomenon. I want a team with diverse backgrounds, people who studied different things in college, from all age groups, because that is how we are best. When I was in consulting, we had had a long meeting with several reports the client had given us to review. I looked to the junior associate, who was in her early twenties and asked her to go back to the office and scan the papers to get everything organized and ready for the project. She looked at my in a weird way and said, “Do I have to go back to the office, I could just scan it all from my cell phone.” I thought, “Of course I am still thinking about a copier/scanner machine while she is thinking about her cellphone.” It is important to have people who can remind you that there are different approaches to a problem.

We are sure you are not done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Currently, I am focused on finding ways to expand the private market for investors. My focus over the next few years will be to support founders in different parts of the world who are coming up with ideas who should be using our product to manage their ownership. We really want companies to track their ownership from day one. I recently spoke with an experienced serial entrepreneur who told me that she and her partner started a company, they knew they should put everything into a cap table but did not. They ended up having a disagreement, separated and now she does not have any equity in the company. My goal is to make sure founders protect themselves anywhere in the world. I call it the democratization of the private market and that is where I am focused.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I believe women are not always taken as seriously as men. We are viewed as more emotional and sensitive and men are considered innovative and forward-looking. I feel like that is the general impression we are given in society. As founders of companies, it is much harder for women to raise capital than men.

I have worked with many women founders over the years and there are a couple things I see happening when women are founding and running their own companies. The first is that they do not spend money where they should, they do not seek professional help and they try to do everything themselves. A good friend of mine who is a female VC told me that when a man pitches a company, he will say, “This is the next billion-dollar idea.” When a woman pitches a company, she will say, “We think we could conservatively grow this company to hundreds of millions of dollars at some point.” So, if you are going to put money into a company, there is a big difference in how that message is delivered and the company in which you choose to invest.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that has had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

One of my favorite books is The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham published in 1944. It is a very poignant story about how going to war changes a person and how we are looking for meaningful experiences. It had an impact on me and made me think about how everything is on a razor’s edge. Much of the story follows how the main character, Larry Darrell, chooses to react to things. It has always touched me. I often give it as a gift to people when they are facing their own existential crises.

On the business side, I love The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. It is a great book that discusses why you must use checklists in your career, regardless of what you do. It also demonstrates what happens when you do not use a checklist. My husband is a pilot who teaches flying and he always uses a checklist because pilots must be correct 100 percent of the time. I believe in checklists and I believe it is good discipline for any business.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I talk to people all the time who do not understand what a stock option is or the value of working as an employee. Focusing on helping people of all ages understand their financial matters is very important. During the pandemic, I saw a story on the news about a woman who lost her job because of COVID and was going to be evicted. I tweeted about it and we were able to raise enough money in 24 hours to help.

As I kept thinking about her, I realized we only solved her immediate problem, but we did not solve her long-term problem. There is often a lack of understanding of how finances and budgeting work. How does rent work? How does a mortgage work? How does a bank work? How do checking accounts work? Why are paycheck lending services so bad? If we do not teach people to manage their finances, we will continue to have societal problems. If I could change anything, I would work on expanding access to financial literacy and education.

Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote, and can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My children hate hearing it, but I always say, “You are exactly where you are supposed to be right now.” I think it is relevant because sometimes in that moment, you are depressed, angry or frustrated about why something is happening. When I look back, I always see there was a reason why I had an experience, especially the negative (and painful) ones. It was there to guide me, and it made me better. So, I always tell my kids, you might be ready to pull out your hair, but there is a lesson later. It will present itself when you need to learn from that lesson.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am on Twitter (@carineschneider) and LinkedIn (Carineschneider). You can also find blog posts and additional information on www.astrella.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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