Female Founders: Maureen Taylor of SNP Communications On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Know that being a founder is gender free. As the oldest child of an Irish Catholic family, I was influenced greatly by my two grandmothers who supported their families economically. One of my grandmothers was the first woman to work at PG&E, and the other was the head custodian at the Empire State Building. Growing up with that being the case, there was never a question that passion, responsibility and independence were gender-free. Marrying a guy for money was a joke in our family! I was also reminded constantly of an Irish expression: “When money goes out the door, love flies out the window.” The point is I learned that economic independence is a responsibility. And learning that was a gift because it also taught me that becoming a founder, thriving and finding success had absolutely nothing to do with your no-no place.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maureen Taylor.
Maureen Taylor co-founded SNP Communications with her husband Renn Vara more than 25 years ago to help founders and leaders through the art of communication. She created SNP’s mission by continuing Aristotle’s mandate of searching the world for good people and helping them make their truth persuasive. With more than 50 SNPers spread throughout San Francisco, New York and Dublin, Maureen’s tribe continues to reach all corners of the world following the three core values of service, accountability and curiosity.
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?
Almost 30 years ago, I co-founded SNP Communications with my husband, Renn Vara. As an Aristotle junkie, I followed the mission of “helping good people make their truth persuasive and memorable.”
SNP began as a broadcast production company. We hosted the first program called Family Talk and it aired on public radio every Sunday evening. The program was interview-based with different segments that focused on personal and social issues. Over the years, a variety of new radio programs were added to the schedule, including On Computers, On the House, Beyond Computers and Faces in Business.
Before SNP, I worked for a training organization called Communispond. SNP was initially launched to focus on Presentation Training and Selling skills. However, due to my passion for coaching others and expertise in helping them improve their communication skills, I added customized training and coaching programs to SNP’s product and service offerings.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In our early days, a customer said, “there is no SNP, there is Mo.” Flattering, sure, but it wasn’t a good thing to hear. When you build a company it can’t be all about you. It has to be an even balance between team, customer and self.
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?
Never forget that you’re always on the outside with your customers. One of our earliest customers was Sun Microsystems. And we got too inside with them. People thought we worked there because we knew them so well. That’s too much — you have to remind yourself that there’s actually an advantage to being on the outside. So, now I have a little saying… “You can’t talk about your customer until they’re in a car driving away.” And that’s all I’ll say about that!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I paid my way through school by working in a restaurant in Nob Hill. My love (obsession) for service came from that job. Yes, the restaurant business is great but it wasn’t my life. One day at lunch I looked around and saw all these mouths chewing. I could hear them all at once. It was driving me crazy. On top of that, I started noticing that anytime I asked a couple a question, the man would answer. I wasn’t sure I could take the job much longer. But then, I got some life-changing advice from a good family friend, Father Bob. He told me, “Wherever you are, that is your parish. That is your mission.” Suddenly something snapped in my head. I looked around and sure, I could still see the mouths chewing, but I was calm. I committed to service, and anytime I had to approach a couple, I would wait until the man had a mouth full of food so the woman would answer for the table.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
First of all, there isn’t more work to do to “empower” women to create companies. That means the power is coming from someplace else. Women don’t need a handout. And Founders can’t help their drive or sense of purpose to do something that usually makes the world a better place, small or large, 1-by-1, or at scale. Confidence in a sense of purpose is something we all can work on. Confidence is not given or shared, it’s deep inside all of us and we have to work with discipline to develop and nurture it. More women talking about what they are doing, how they are doing it, and sharing their experiences will help women, and frankly, anyone out there that has this sense and might feel helpless.
Being a Founder is like being an artist, writer, musician…it is inside. There is one totally awful thing that is happening to women founders that I’m seeing, hearing, and screaming about. Women founders are being told to “find a co-founder.” This “advice” is from the money folk. And, a lot of money people are still males. So, let’s think about this for a minute. Seriously, “find” a co-founder? A Founder, co or not, is a fact, not a position. I think that the reasoning for this advice from our venture folk is that it might be easier to “get funded” if you have a co-founder, especially a male. The answer is just plain NO to that. If any Founder is getting advice from venture people, make sure they believe in you, love and have passion about your idea, and have shown that they stick by their decisions (so you have to research them to see if they are worthy to give you money). And, if a venture advisor suggests you add to your team, and it makes sense, hire the person. They can be a senior leader with a fabulous title, but not not not a “founder.” Finally, if you really think you have the guts (and, as you know, guts are gender-free, culture-free, color-free and age-free) find a founder in the field and talk to them. Founders are lonely and usually pretty cool about giving advice.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Government is there to serve the people. Society is made up of a group of people divided into three sections: Warriors, those who choose to commit. Loyalists, dedicated to belief. Citizens that try to bring order and stability.
Individual warriors are the only group that can actually influence change. Each woman, who is privileged enough to work has to choose to commit to her own individual growth, develop a team and gain seniority as fast as possible. We have to be dedicated to gain as much control of leadership roles as possible. Through this effort, we will slowly but surely balance leadership. Leadership is gender-free, culture-free, color-free and age-free.
Leadership rules are predominately steeped in boy rules. Which in part is why everything is so screwed up. The balance of leadership between girls and boys is natural and the way it’s supposed to be. We forgot to take our power back.
And now, more importantly, it’s time, one girl at a time, to take our power back.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women have proven that they’re more than capable of rising to the entrepreneurial challenge. They’re likely to start their businesses because of necessity, whereas men are more likely to start a business because they “realized an idea or thought of a new product or service.”
Women are especially known for being excellent multi-taskers, and they also appreciate the importance of balance and establishing priorities. They’re empathically in tune with how each decision they make impacts each audience or stakeholder and carefully weigh business decisions.
Women also understand the needs of other women and they’re very aware that they have a unique leadership opportunity to inspire other women to succeed. And success breeds success.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Founders have a bad rap right now because of “tech bros” and the titans of tech (you know who I mean). But innovation, creativity and intelligence have nothing to do with gender, color, culture, age or money — nothing.
Entrepreneurs are not founders, but founders can learn to be an entrepreneur. A founder is somebody who has to do something and can’t help it. They are mission-driven at their core. They have to build something, they’re artists, they’re crazy, and many of us are lonely. We’re a small minority of people who truly can’t help it.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
No. But it’s not like you have a choice. It’s an itch — a gift and a curse. If you fall into this category, don’t be around people who tell you you’re wrong or stupid. It’s hard to succeed when you’re surrounded by negativity. I’m not saying to surround yourself with “yes-men,” but certainly not “no-men.” Also, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (yet). Make sure you have enough money to live. Your dream can be a side hustle until it gets off the ground. Sometimes going all in when you’re not financially ready forces you to make decisions you wouldn’t necessarily make. At the core, successful founders are mission-driven, relentless, future-oriented, forever students and team-focused.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
Know that being a founder is gender free
As the oldest child of an Irish Catholic family, I was influenced greatly by my two grandmothers who supported their families economically. One of my grandmothers was the first woman to work at PG&E, and the other was the head custodian at the Empire State Building. Growing up with that being the case, there was never a question that passion, responsibility and independence were gender-free. Marrying a guy for money was a joke in our family! I was also reminded constantly of an Irish expression: “When money goes out the door, love flies out the window.” The point is I learned that economic independence is a responsibility. And learning that was a gift because it also taught me that becoming a founder, thriving and finding success had absolutely nothing to do with your no-no place.
Scratch the itch and know it’s a journey
This is good for all founders to realize. We all have an itch that just needs to be scratched. It’s not something we’re taught, it’s just this weird compulsion — a feeling that we are supposed to be doing something. And when I was a kid, “vocation” was everything. A doctor, nurse, teacher, journalist, actor (have you seen me do Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart?”), nun (I did like the outfits there for a while!)- that was the kind of track we were supposed to be on. I went to an all-girls Catholic High School and we spent one hour each day learning manuscript writing in order to prepare us for addressing our wedding invitations… ”Seriously?” you ask. I kid you not! But you should see my handwriting. Aside from that, the pressure was high to go to college and follow a traditional career path.
I was a mess because I didn’t know what I really wanted, just that there was something that I needed to do. One day, in the restaurant I was managing, I answered a phone call from my friend Fr. Bob. I was having a rough day at the restaurant and didn’t think I could do it anymore. He said, “Calm down… while you’re searching for your purpose, wherever you are…that is your Parish.” Well, it took ten years to find my mission, but I loved every minute along the way.
This was Aristotle’s first rule and founders have to be dedicated to this discipline. This isn’t an easy thing. It’s not simply saying, “oh, you poor thing!” It’s truly understanding as much as you can. To do this, you have to stay a student 100% of the time. A founder must have a library of information in their mind because the more experience you get, the more you know. But they also have to make room to expand the card catalog with new ways of doing things. It’s not that there aren’t consistent truths that survive the ages like, “Be good to yourself and be good to each other.” But the real discipline and active effort is to always ask “why?” and “how?” before declaring “that’s stupid.” The example that really locked this in for me was when I was thirteen, and my dad said: “No good music has been written since 1942.” But he did admit that The Beatles could carry a tune!
Grow confidence and humility
There are two scales out there. One balances arrogance and insecurity. The other balances confidence and humility. We all know arrogant people. They’re usually kind of mean. The only reason a person would be arrogant is that they’re insecure, so they’re really focused on what other people think. Because why else would you choose to be a jerk?
Confidence is built on what you do well — your strengths. Like Socrates said: It would be more interesting to live a life with purpose even if there’s nothing and we are just weeds — born to die and compelled by ego, self-interest and ambition. So, if we have purpose, something we are supposed to do, we have to have talent, skills, propensity and ability. And all of that is inside us individually. That is, it has nothing to do with money, parents or education. It’s just what we can depend on ourselves for. In short — build on your strengths.
And then, because it’s the right and admirable thing to do, be humble rather than insecure. Say things like “I’m sorry” or “this is what I learned” and “thank you.” And you have to mean it!
Remember that laughter is music to angels
This one is hard to explain. There is a portion of our brains (those of us fortunate to be working with a roof over our heads and do not have to worry about violence or starvation) that needs to stay light. Since a founder needs a team, a human operating system to build, create, maintain and sustain, the people part of it is the biggest joy and heartbreak. That can’t piss you off. Being responsible for the people is the balance for the freedom of calling the shots. The responsibility can be overwhelming sometimes. But, it is the people that make it happen. And it’s the people following the founder without the founder looking back to make sure people are there. So much like a giant day care center. See, you just laughed.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I believe that making good people even better is extremely rewarding. Improved people collectively make the world a better place to work, live, and grow.
My goal has always been to help these high-performance leaders master the art of audience-driven communication and ultimately achieve their mission. I’ve done this by coaching them to communicate their truth, hone their content, scale the mission through creative content, improve their skills and be their best selves.
I’m proud to have had a small role in improving the world we live in today.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d like to inspire a movement of people actually listening. Listening is a skill. It’s something we teach on a daily basis and it’s something people struggle with on a daily basis. But when done right, it’s so damn meaningful. Imagine if we were all incredible listeners…wouldn’t that fix a lot of problems?
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Warren Buffet — he doesn’t forget that he puts on one shoe at a time just like everyone else. I’d like to know how he’s remained so humble all these years. I’d also like to learn more about how he handled being a parent throughout it all.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.