Akemi Sue Fisher
Feb 3 · 8 min read

Be more entitled. Now, I wouldn’t share this advice with every group out there, but I think women in particular tend to wait for permission to take on more responsibility, ask for a promotion, ask for a raise, whatever. Even after I ran several large teams, started a company, raised venture capital, and sold my company, it still sometimes felt like I was waiting for someone to say I deserved my success or that I belonged at the table. Saying it out loud, I realize: that’s ridiculous. And someone I trust made me realize it by just saying, “Be more entitled. Walk into a room like you belong there, and don’t sit around waiting for someone to give you something when you know you deserve it. Trust me, the men in your world are doing this.” That doesn’t mean I’m a jerk, but it does mean I spend a lot less time worrying and waiting for someone else to validate my professional existence.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Vo, SVP of Product at Optimizely. She joined Optimizely in 2017 through the acquisition of a company she was founder and CEO of, Experiment Engine. Claire has managed product teams at startups and other technology companies throughout her career — for many years in Austin, Texas, though she recently relocated to the San Francisco / Bay area.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I began my career with a liberal arts degree, American Studies, so I didn’t have a huge head start on anyone. I was, however, obsessed with technology and coding from a young age so began working in startups because I had both great communication skills and a good understanding of how engineers work and think. The perfect blend of this for me was in product management, and I eventually built up my career to run product teams at tech companies like uShip and Electronic Arts.

I’m a third generation female entrepreneur, so it wasn’t long before I thought it was a good idea to quit my corporate gig and try to start something myself. A few failed ideas and an extended stint in Hong Kong later, I launched Experiment Engine. I ran that company for three years before it was acquired by Optimizely, where I now run product & design. As part of the acquisition, I moved from Austin, Texas to San Francisco with my husband and now 20-month-old toddler.

Why did you found your company?

Pretty simple: it solved a big problem that I had faced throughout my career. I knew experimentation was a powerful driver for growth when companies implemented it at scale, but I could never get my teams past a certain “plateau” of testing. There were usually two big problems: people and operations. I knew I could solve both — getting access to more resources and making it all easier to manage — through technology. So I started Experiment Engine, a company focused on helping companies scale their experimentation programs.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I’m very passionate about Optimizely’s vision — that experimentation is the essential practice for business management, especially when you are working in the digital world. The idea that everything in a company can be an experiment is incredibly empowering, reduces the fear of failure, and opens everyone up to being much more creative. It’s not just online testing, it’s a culture shift that we are bought into and some of the biggest companies in the world, like Netflix, Google, Amazon, and Facebook, believe as well. Bringing this to every digital company is thrilling, and it’s fascinating to watch different teams go through the cycle of hypothesis, test, learn, repeat.

We “drink our own champagne” as we like to say. Often, when a new idea gets internal resistance, someone chimes in to diffuse it with a “what if this were just a test?” When this happens, you can see the ego deflate out of the room and people get really focused on what the test could look like and how we could measure the outcomes. Simply put, experimenting is a better way of working, and our team is at the front of that journey.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

Honestly, as a woman in technology it’s been really hard to find a go-to mentor; I think for the first few years of my career I was waiting for a boss or someone to “take me under their wing” and that never really happened. Maybe it was silly to expect, but that was how it sounded like it worked from business articles and books. Instead, I learned to find my own way and ask for advice when I needed it, from who I thought was best suited to give it.

That being said, I’ve made deep connections through my experience in the Techstars accelerator in Austin — Jason Seats who was Managing Director of our program and now is a venture partner there is great to think through fundraising strategy and other challenges. Our investors at Experiment Engine were also great — in particular Eric Paley at Founder Collective and Andrea Kalmans at Lontra Ventures are always around to help, provide connections, or think through problems.

My best group of “mentors”, though, are the amazing women I work with now and in the past. My colleagues Jennifer Ruth (VP Customer Success), Erin Flynn (Chief People Officer), Hillary Robertson (Chief of Staff), Joy Scharmen (Director of Dev Ops), and Neha Singla (Engineering Manager) are all people I confer with regularly, who advise, guide, and inspire my life. My friends Brigitte Donner and Stacy Gomez down the street at Salesforce give me insights from their perspective working at a $100Bn+ market cap company, with a big dose of humor. I’ve hired Andra Bond, a world class Product Manager at Electronic Arts now three times (Andra, come work for me again?) — she and I love talking product, prioritization, and parenting. This is my mentor group and this is what I advise every woman in tech to develop, a long list of amazing ladies you can lock arms with and take over the world.

How are you going to shake things up next?

My kid just started running at lightning speed — so first shake up is just figuring out how to do all the things I’m already doing, plus chase him around the house. Joking aside, I’m excited by the work ahead. At Optimizely we truly believe a revolution is coming around how companies build digital experiences for their customers, and we want to lead that journey. As a consumer of digital media and products, the pace of change and innovation is only going to accelerate, and businesses need to keep up with expectations. That means work for me and the team of course — there’s a lot of product to build to deliver this! Immediately, we’re focused on building product for our developer users, opening up a second office in my hometown of Austin, and hiring the best talent possible.

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

Be more entitled. Now, I wouldn’t share this advice with every group out there, but I think women in particular tend to wait for permission to take on more responsibility, ask for a promotion, ask for a raise, whatever. Even after I ran several large teams, started a company, raised venture capital, and sold my company, it still sometimes felt like I was waiting for someone to say I deserved my success or that I belonged at the table. Saying it out loud, I realize: that’s ridiculous. And someone I trust made me realize it by just saying, “Be more entitled. Walk into a room like you belong there, and don’t sit around waiting for someone to give you something when you know you deserve it. Trust me, the men in your world are doing this.” That doesn’t mean I’m a jerk, but it does mean I spend a lot less time worrying and waiting for someone else to validate my professional existence.

I’d rather pull you back than push you forward. Our amazing VP of Customer Success Jennifer shared this with me, and I thought it was a perfect way to encourage my team to be bold, take risks, but still know I’ll keep the rails on things. It’s really effective when working with creative teams. I oversee design and sometimes they’ll come back with an idea that’s a little… wacky… but then I remember I would rather have to pull them back than push them forward.

Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper. I don’t know a working woman out there that doesn’t sing this in their head every time a micro or macro-aggression gets tossed their way. Everyone needs a little Beyonce girl power with their morning coffee!

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.

I loved Sarah Lacy’s book “A Uterus Is a Feature Not a Bug.” First, that title! Genius. Second, it’s both a really personal and academic look at being a working mother in technology, exploring how working parents are objectively great employees (the research says so!) that are huge assets to the companies we work for. It felt like I was highlighting every other page. She does a great job of exploring the maternal wall, the matrix of wam/cold/competent/incompetent, and the very obvious and possible things companies and governments could do to support working parents. It’s sprinkled throughout with incredibly inspiring profiles of women, author included, that makes this an awesome read, especially for people who work with parents.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She and I went to the same high school in Dallas, Ursuline Academy, and I admire the work she is doing on behalf of women around the world. Bringing contraceptive and family planning access to women around the world has profound economic and social impact, and she is at the head of this movement. She and the Gates Foundation have taken a holistic approach to health, safety, and prosperity for women and children that I believe is world changing. And of course, she does this all as a working mother! Hero!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@clairevo on Twitter.

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

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Akemi Sue Fisher

Written by

The "Amazon Queen", Amazon millionaire, Akemi Sue Fisher, has helped thousands of Amazon sellers collectively earn over $1 Billion in sales. LoveandLaunch.com

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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