Inspirational Women Leaders Of Tech: Anita Darden Gardyne of Onēva On The Five Things You Need To Know In Order To Create A Very Successful Tech Company
Have a background in technology. At 17, I started working at AT&Ts engineering dept. The reason I was able to build the tech was that I had the pleasure of working as an engineer and coding back in 1983. I came into tech as PCs were hitting the market. I got grounded in systems, telecom and spent years at Bank of America and Wells Fargo. By 25, I had an MBA and pretty good tech background. There is nothing like being prepared with academic and tech experience.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anita Darden Gardyne. She is a technology business visionary and award-winning Black businesswoman on a mission to extend women’s careers, close the pay equity gap faster, and create thousands of living wage jobs through her role as CEO and Chairman of the Board of Onēva (oneva.com). A certified Minority Owned Business and employer-provided technology platform that matches FBI background checked in-home care providers with employees to help them achieve greater work-life balance and peace of mind, Onēva gives caregivers the ability to carve their own schedule and pursue jobs that best match their skillset while employees are comforted to know available caregivers have living FBI background checks, are fairly compensated, and are trustworthy to care for elders, children, those with disabilities, pets, and home needs.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My passion for startups began when I had the privilege of attending UC Berkeley at age 15 in1978 thanks to a high school program targeting inclusive students like me. I took an economics class and fell in love. I learned about disparities across groups and decided to spend my career focused on how to give people who look like me access to large numbers of good paying jobs that couldn’t be exported. I spent nearly two decades in leadership positions as CFO at Quantum (Seagate), leading a disk drive business unit generating $3.5B in revenue, and roles with Levi Strauss & Co, IDG, and AT&T (Pacific Bell). I was a working mother and caregiver to my own mom, and I was frustrated that I couldn’t easily find trusted care through the existing marketplace for my family. Believing both access to trusted care AND earning a living rate for delivering quality, professional care are human rights, I went to work and co-founded Onēva to reimagine the career for caregivers while providing an enticing and essential employer provided benefit to client employees. I collaborated with Microsoft to build Onēva’s technology platform, welcoming them as the system’s first customer in 2016. Onēva now plays a critical role in providing access to safety compliant in-home care for businesses, customers and caregivers.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
The amazing village we have been blessed to assemble is as interesting as it is remarkable. From the Reverend Jesse Jackson to our mentors and partners at Microsoft led by Fred Thiele, GM Global Benefits and Mobility, we have had priceless guidance in helping us grow a community that includes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Chris Yeh, the father of Blitzscaling, Tim Slater, my friend, investor and mentor who soldhis company for $3.25B in 2000 and more. Our community says so much about the confidence in Onēva as we all work to build toward a billion dollar exit.
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 make a lot of those. One story that comes to mind happened early on during a key pitch in San Francisco. Nothing was going right. The deck and clicker refused to work together and I was standing in front of a room full of really key angel investors. There were some really big people in that room. I did my best to recover and make it work and learned the importance of always being ready for anything and everything to go wrong. Things happen. Tech fails. Particularly these days, we are all living with ZOOM, and Microsoft Teams and on and on, juggling tech and changes and uncertainty. That experience in that imperfect pitch back then prepared me for living in the environment we are in today.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Giving up was never an option — it has never been an option for me. I knew I had an amazing technologist on board in the form of my husband and co-founder, and that we had team of experienced people around us that with amazing experience In building billion dollar exits. I knew I had a platform for a market that had not been served and that what we had developed would provide what they were looking for. Out of the gate we had it.
Even with this team, expertise and technology, it was still hard. Doors certainly closed. But when a door closed, we looked for a window. When the window was closed we looked for a vent. There were points when we had early investors mailing checks for increments like $100 to help us keep the lights on, and have been so blessed to be able to pay those investors back and continue to build the service and the team.
There have been doubters. There has been discrimination, particularly when we were starting out in 2014. But we never quit. I am the 11th black female to have raised 1 million dollars. And much is changing from the #MeToo movement to the activism steaming from the murder of George Floyd to the removal of business leaders exhibiting abusive and discriminatory behavior. We still have a long way to go, but change is happening.
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 credit our team of advisors for Onēva’s success including Fernando Hernandez, Microsoft — Director Supplier Diversity. Hernandez oversees $4B in inclusive supplier spending and has served as an Onēva Advisor since 2015.
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 am a descendant of slaves and the first generation born in the North and with access to a K — 12 education. My parents pushed all eight of their children to be life-long learners and told us an education can’t be stripped away and would allow us to achieve anything. I remember being maybe 4-years-old and watching my Mom go to school at night to earn her GED and work with computer punch cards even on days I could tell she was exhausted. I remember the exact moment I thought an education is something special if she’s working that hard to get hers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never Give Up. Never Surrender.” Galaxy Quest
I live by this. As a football fan, I also recognize that as long as your feet are moving you are always in the game. We made the decision early on that we were going to do what it takes. We would run backward. We were going to build something that a corporation like Microsoft and a financial service like San Mateo Credit Union can and want to use. We weren’t looking at revenue. We were looking at the tech and focused on our tech build. We went our own way.
I created Onēva because as a working mother juggling care for my family and my aging mother I realized the crucial need for the service we provide. People deserve access to safe and trusted in home care at reasonable rates. And caregivers deserve safe, living wage jobs that allow them to care for their families as well. That is what we have created.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Onēva offers an employer-provided technology platform that matches FBI background checked in-home care providers with employees to help them achieve greater work-life balance and peace of mind. Through the benefit, caregivers are able to carve their own schedule and pursue jobs that best match their skillset. Meanwhile, employees are comforted to know available caregivers have living FBI background checks, are fairly compensated and are trustworthy to care for elders, children, those with disabilities, pets and home needs.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Onēva is a certified Minority Owned business offering care as an Employer Provided Benefit to connect great caregivers to the customers they seek. Doing so also achieves my personal mission of extending women’s careers, closing the pay equity gap faster and creating thousands of living wage jobs.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
It’s all about Onēva. We are so proud of this platform we have created, the critical needs it fills, and the role it will play in extending women’s careers, closing the pay equity gap faster and creating thousands of living wages jobs. With every new customer we create dozens — if not more — of living wage caregiving jobs in these communities. We are currently building a sales team and tripling the number of employees with access to the platform — with more hiring announcements to come. We are also expanding the service to include pet care as an offering.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Nobody can be happy with the status quo in tech. There is more work to be done. That said, when I left Quantum in 2000, I was the most senior black executive in the company and things have improved since then. We have to acknowledge there has been progress and I can’t over-estimate the value of the #MeToo Movement.
We have to say that there is hope and continue to work toward an even better set of outcomes. We do this by working both sides of the equation — providing safe, trusted caregiving support for women so they don’t have to leave the workforce, and getting more women of color into leadership roles.
It’s one of the reasons I’m so committed to the work we do with Onēva. It is so critical for women to have access to a platform like this. Women need support in providing the care needs at home. The lack of access to this has historically impacted their careers. Like so many women, I left the workforce early on to take care of my son so my husband could work. It isn’t to say men don’t play a role in caregiving, but we must acknowledge it is different for women. By providing this support we give women the opportunity to stay in the workforce and hold leadership positions and/or do what I, and so many other women are doing, build their own businesses and scale up.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The #MeToo movement had a massive impact on the careers of women in tech. Things are far different now from the Silicon Valley executive career I had in my late 30’s. But we still have a long way to go. One of the biggest challenges is what I addressed above — women are still responsible for the majority of the family care and for so many no this means not only their own children but aging parents and in-laws. It is a tremendous challenge that leaves women in tech burning the candle bright on both ends all the time, or forced to step away from their careers to be caregivers which sets them back both professionally and financially.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
It really comes down to choice. As an entrepreneur, you can determine how much you want to scale. Some may be happy with a boutique business and that is absolutely OK. That entrepreneur should live that dream. I personally wanted to scale for a multi-billion dollar exit so I have a different expectation which requires a different strategy and plan. With either goal, you have to keep your eye on the money, the goals and the customer then keep at it and work with tenacity toward achieving that target.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
For me it starts with a common set of values within the village I mentioned. Our team shares certain, common values that hold us together at the core. These values are aligned with our customers, shareholders, employees — every member of the village. They are what bring us together and how we work together is a reflection of those values. When it is time to make decisions I ask myself how does our product fit our values and fill our customers’ needs, our shareholders’ needs, our investors’ needs?
Our customers are at the core. The CFO in me knows how important it is to look at your metrics and budget. If you want to grow your business, it is critical to know your numbers and understand where to plow and where to plant your seeds. We keep an eye on the market — where it is growing, what our customers are buying and what they are telling us. We participate in the market and what is happening in the world. We take the opportunities to really home in on those needs and how we can optimize for outcomes that relate to growth.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
We are thrilled to have recently welcomed San Mateo Credit Union as a client at Onēva. As part of that process I have been on some extraordinary calls with their team. I have been in tears on these calls with the executive women in the company. They need the care we offer so much — you can hear it in their voices and the stories that they share — there is a rawness for sisters, mothers, daughters, and more who need care. These executives care so much for their teams, and their employees — both women and men — need the kind of support we offer.
In our conversations I have heard about their experiences with other platforms and it breaks your heart to hear about some of the bad outcomes. From our very first call, as they described what they were looking for, I was instantly struck — it was as if they were reading straight from our Onēva website. I was so honored to be able to connect with them and express that we understand and have what they have so desperately been looking for.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Recognize we have three different customers. Enterprise, Employee, and Caregiver. That is why we have three kinds of tech that all have to work together while also following privacy and security standards.
- Recognize we are designing for three different users and that we need to meet them where they are. We still have an 800 number. We are there for all three of our customer bases to offer clean, easy, fast service. Think of that old fast food adage. “Serve it up my way the way I want.” That is what we do offering the same format, ease and quality for all.
- Design for fast scale across geography. Our product has to be consistent for every user group. Caregivers and employees move around — especially now. People are moving and we must have a recognizable tech that is reliable and trustworthy everywhere, making that transition seamless. Right now we are working on a West Coast build, but our platform/product can drop anywhere from the East Coast to Europe and beyond. Really think about your product and what it needs to look like — the complete service — from the start.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
It is well established that retaining existing customers is the best path to profitability. We had to design for achieving a concierge level customer experience for a company the level of Microsoft and their employees right out of the gate. We had to deliver against that high standard that was set which meant our caregivers had to meet the standards we promised with clean background checks and more, and the technology had to do what we promised it would. As we grow, the families and caregivers we service want choices. Providing everyone with what they need and being consistently clear and intentional about our product is key to retaining our customers and limiting customer churn.
Values are also key. Microsoft has been a client since 2016. I think that success has been a function of having a great set of shared values. We share them with our entire village which ultimately includes our enterprise customers, their employees and our community of caregivers.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. It will take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We founded Onēva in 2014 and are just now thinking about monetization.
2. You are going to get told no a lot. You’ll ask, “Will you give me a million dollars?” You will hear, “No.”
3. You won’t have all the answers. You aren’t in school any more. As things go better you make faster decisions with less information. You never have all the answers. For me, it is about connecting my heart with my stomach with my brain. And having trusted advisors on the team that can have answers and experience when I don’t. For example, recently my existing investors, led by Chris Yeh, just renegotiated their contact terms with me. I didn’t have the answers with that and had to depend on the village. I was lucky to have Chris available to do that.
4. When it rains, it pours. If it is raining and pouring you know you have a shot at being a unicorn for real.
5. Have a background in technology. At 17, I started working at AT&Ts engineering dept. The reason I was able to build the tech was that I had the pleasure of working as an engineer and coding back in 1983. I came into tech as PCs were hitting the market. I got grounded in systems, telecom and spent years at Bank of America and Wells Fargo. By 25, I had an MBA and pretty good tech background. There is nothing like being prepared with academic and tech experience.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would want to be sure that young entrepreneurs and business leaders of color are educated about some of the opportunities for black and women-owned businesses. For example…
Every person of color must get their business certified as minority owned. There are two avenues to increasing diversity. The first is an HR focus that examines how many people of color and how many women are on the team and how many to hire. The second is to ensure supplier diversity. To aim for diversity in areas where the money is spent.
There are programs like the Billion Dollar Roundtable that recognize and celebrate corporations that spend at least one billion dollars on with minority and women-owned businesses. In states like California, companies like Tesla, AT&T, T-Mobile, Comcast, PG&E and more are mandated to spend a certain percentage every year with inclusive suppliers.
Times are definitely challenging with as many as 30% of black-owned businesses going out of business due to COVID. It is a tragedy. For black-owned businesses that are still on their feet, it is important to be aware of those contracts and mandates and pursue that business.
It is also very important to understand that the way you raise the money and value the company is key. I have to retain 51% ownership of my company to maintain our certified minority owned status. I have to be very mindful of this as we grow and bring investors on board.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 :-)
Melinda Gates. We share a passion for closing the pay equity gap and finding the solution for women who provide so much care at home. And Onēva is a Microsoft company and a participant in its Startup FastTrack program.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!