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Inspirational Women Leaders Of Tech: Kira Baca, CRO at Rightsline, On The Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Tech Company

Old “no-out” contracts are outdated — customers want contracts that won’t lock them in with no-outs for years. Today, the way to bring on new customers is to provide easy-out clauses. Put the responsibility of delivering a quality product and servicing the customer in your team’s hands because that is the key to keeping a customer — not the contract.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kira Baca.

Kira Baca is the CRO at Rightsline and a former SVP of Sony. Rightsline is an IP Commerce deal, rights, strategy, and finance platform. Serving global companies spanning several industries including media and entertainment, gaming, publishing, consumer products, life sciences, and high tech, their cloud-based enterprise SaaS platform provides IP owners of all sizes with tools for managing and monetizing the entire intellectual property lifecycle.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up in Ohio, I got the itch to work in the entertainment industry. My first job was working for Lorne Michaels as an intern, and then I went to work as a personal assistant for Martin Scorsese. Both were very intense jobs, and I was very young, so I took a total career-path change from the craziness of Hollywood and opened a doggie daycare in Beverly Hills called Central Bark — catering to the celebrity dog care world. I sold that business when someone wanted to franchise it, and then I heard about this new DVD format — and decided it was an excellent time to get into media technology! The rest is history.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began working at Rightsline?

As a company, Rightsline is very focused on emphasizing that we are not only a technology solution but also a customer-centric enterprise company with a unique employee-focused culture. Trying to balance all three of those things helped me analyze how I balance myself. Being a wife, mother, running a small ranch, and being a businesswoman, I recognized that I needed to find a balance for myself and run my life in the way I was running my business — valuing all aspects of what makes me happy. So, I implemented some changes that started with my mental and physical health, including a regular meditation practice. It changed my life. It balanced out my day, reduced my anxiety, and helped me make better choices in all aspects of my life. So, the short answer through a long monologue is — meditation is one of the most interesting things that has happened to me since being part of the leadership of this company.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting in your career, and what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t know if it’s funny, but I think everyone has made a mistake like this one before: Many years ago, when I was just starting out in an executive management position, I was negotiating a huge deal with a major studio and in the back and forth email process with the client, instead of “forwarding” my strategy to my boss, I “replied all” and put all my thoughts in writing about what I thought we could get them to agree to. Let’s just say some of my “thoughts” were quite colorful! Everyone makes that kind of mistake, but at the time, I thought it was the worst thing I could do, and I would never recover. I was afraid that my boss would think I couldn’t be trusted going forward. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. The customer actually thought it was funny, and though they disagreed with the direction I was proposing — we did sign a deal, and it was a solid deal for everyone involved. People generally forgive if mistakes are made honestly. Flash forward many years, and I’ve now done MANY deals with the same studio through different companies. Time heals, and as long as you are honest and humble, mistakes are just mistakes. They don’t define you or your career.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times you faced when you started your professional journey? Did you ever consider giving up or switching industries? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were hard?

Hard times are what shape and teach you what you need to know going forward. When the hard times stop, it’s time for a new job! ‘Hard’ is a huge part of my success story, and I believe that embracing ‘hard’ is a crucial ingredient to success in general. That said, hard times can also beat you down, and if you can’t find a path forward, it can be destructive. When I started out working on the creative side of Hollywood (back in the 90s!), you ‘paid your dues’ in ways that aren’t just aren’t acceptable now. Working 80-hour weeks while being treated poorly while still keeping a smile on my face was the only way I thought I could prove my value. So I switched industries when I hit a burnout point. I gave up a rising career in the studios to open a doggie daycare, which ended up being a blast! I only did that for a couple of years before I realized that owning my own business wasn’t any easier, and, in fact, paying everyone else before myself was really, really hard. I returned to media and entertainment but started back at an entry-level job quality checking the technical aspects of DVDs, which was a new technology. Starting all over from the ground floor was a wonderful experience that truly shaped who I am today. I think of the team I worked with and how we all hustled hand-in-hand to get a job done, respecting each other and loving the product we helped make — that is how I strive to work today as a manager.

Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

MANY! However, one standout person was my boss many years ago, Barry Perlstein. Barry convinced me to leave my job at Technicolor and join him in running global operations for SDI Media Group, which was, and still is, the leading translation and localization company in the entertainment industry. It was a huge job, and I was terrified I wasn’t ready and wouldn’t succeed in taking on something so big and unfamiliar. I was very comfortable at Technicolor overseeing global account management for the Paramount account, but Barry saw something in me I didn’t yet see in myself. He believed that I could do so much more, and after some coaxing, I joined; it ended up being one of my life’s most important career decisions. Barry taught me to be ‘me’ all the time. That ‘me’ was what worked best. When I became a mother, he was the person who told me I was now going to be even better at my job because I had another purpose. He told me never to sacrifice being a mother for my career — that those two roles enhanced each other. There aren’t many Barrys around, especially not 15 years ago, so I will always be grateful for his trust and guidance. He is still a person I go to today for advice on my career.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Someone just sent this one to me today, and it resonated so much: ‘Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent so much time making it.’ This sunk right in. The best thing about life is that the next moment hasn’t happened yet. You can move forward no matter what the mistake. Life is hard, and I can’t speak for everyone and everyone’s circumstances, nor should I. But in the workplace, I have to move forward all the time. Sometimes the steps are sequentially ahead, and many times there are two steps back first… but I always try to keep moving forward and know that it is never too late to make the next move. This is how I live my life: go forward… keep going forward. I know that sounds extremely basic, but for me, it works. One step at a time, in the hardest of times, I stay focused on what’s ahead. You need to learn from mistakes, evaluate and look back at what you learned — but do not look back for very long.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about Rightsline. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Rightsline is an Intellectual Property (Rights) management SaaS platform. The software informs IP and rights holders what they own and can do with their property and what financial obligations are involved. In media and entertainment, it’s the unsung hero of the streaming wars!

What do you think makes Rightsline stand out? Can you share a story?

Rightsline is unbiasedly beautiful software. The UI (user interface) and technical infrastructure have tackled and addressed extremely complex workflows and are more advanced than anything else in the space. I get giddy introducing it in the sales process. This platform represents the teamwork behind it and the people that built and supported it. I’m so proud of Rightsline all the way around.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We recently acquired a complementary software platform, Alliant (REAL Software Systems). Alliant focuses on the more complex aspects of the financial obligations of IP, specifically royalties. It’s incredibly exciting for us to unify the software, enhance our service offering, and bring together two teams that will deliver a first-of-its-kind complete end-to-end IP management solution for any industry that manages IP, not just media and content rights.

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?

Women joining tech companies have grown so much, but there is still a long way to go. It’s important to broaden this conversation to include minorities and other underrepresented categories as they are sorely missing and needed in tech. There is not enough true diversity in leadership across board rooms, C-suites, engineering and product development teams, etc. But that is the effect of how science is taught in schools, how toys are marketed, etc. It’s hard to even scratch the surface on this topic, but things we can start addressing immediately include how we recruit and the cultures we create in businesses, not just Tech. Since I can speak specifically about women’s representation in more detail, the pandemic allowed me to be home more with my family, friends, and animals — and that needs to be the new normal. I’m not saying those same standards aren’t important for working dads, but women get held to such impossible standards. How can we be the best mothers, friends, and workers without sacrificing a part of ourselves? I don’t claim to know the answers, but I know that I won’t sacrifice my personal self to be a status-quo tech executive. My family and my interests are what make me, “me”, and I’m a better person and a better woman in tech because of it. It’s so hard to find companies who value the whole person — not just who they are inside the workplace. I will strive to be someone who highlights the need not just for more women in tech but to let women and the underrepresented be uniquely themselves and live their lives.

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?

There shouldn’t just be a few women in tech companies — there should be many, half, or even more. The challenges I can speak to are balancing the line between working too hard to pick up my kid from school and seeming like I’m unavailable if I am. That plagued me for years, so I would make up for it by working late into the night or trying to be the best, brightest, and most intelligent in the room to prove my value. But who has time for that?! The pressure to be the most competent ‘person’ in the room has led to what I hear spoken of among my female colleagues, ‘Impostor Syndrome’. I can’t speak for the men as I do not identify as one, but the pressure to be something super special and stand out seems less noticeable for men in general. Women supporting women, mentorships, and programs to attract minorities are needed to bring true diversity to the workplace. Accepting and valuing different voices that don’t sound ‘male’ or display traditionally male-dominant attributes. These are the changes needed. We need diverse voices, different approaches, new opinions, experiences, and perspectives for true and lasting changes to the ‘bro’ culture that is still a considerable part of tech.

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”?

Knowing the needs of your markets and offering new functionality is key to continued growth. The product needs to fluidly change with the times. New features and functionality open up new opportunities and growth within your current customer base. Also, Customer Success teams are often underappreciated roles. This team is vital for understanding the changes within the market directly from the customer’s mouths. Not only keeping your customer happy and ensuring retention but engaging your customer can inform your product roadmap and drive new sales and revenue.

In your specific industry, what methods have you found to be most effective in finding and attracting the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Marketing is HARD! Cold calls and sales outreach emails get deleted faster than ever. Being present at conferences (even virtually) and participating and speaking has been the best way to meet, connect, and attract new customers. Staying interested and contributing to solutions for emerging trends such as how IP and rights will be managed for NFTS and the metaverse in our industry is really important. Thought leadership and subject matter expertise help bring new customers to you. In terms of scaling our customer success, our existing customers at Rightsline have been our most significant sales advocates. Because we stay close to our customers and their needs, they are often the ones who bring our name to the table to other customers.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

We survey our customer base every quarter. The survey is in the app and by email, so whatever is more convenient. It can be anonymous or named. It’s so important that we take in and evaluate all feedback. Our Executive Team, including our CEO, reads every response, and we collectively discuss and respond to all the customers on the feedback we receive, good and bad. Our company culture is adaptive, and that comes through 100% in the product as we continuously make changes and improvements. One thing I would say that’s universally desired in enterprise software solutions is achieving as few “clicks” as possible — whenever the UI can present the easiest and cleanest way to get something done, the better. Customer service is at the heart of everything. We all want positive customer service experiences regardless of the industry. Our platform success and support teams are outstanding. You need to attract, recruit and retain people who LOVE making people happy and respect the technology behind it.

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 limiting customer churn?

I keep talking about our Customer Success team, but it has been transformational for us as a company. We only implemented it a couple of years ago when the customer base had gotten too big for my other colleagues and me to simply ‘stay in touch.” We moved an amazing woman from our Implementation /Professional Services team into a role developing the Customer Success program and hiring the team. I knew she was perfect for the role as her passion for happy customers and her knowledge of the system were the ideal blend. With her guidance, she has a process for outreach, regular ‘how-to webinars,’ quarterly business reviews, and so much more. Our customers need to feel they have an advocate at all times. When a customer isn’t happy, often it’s because they aren’t using the software correctly or to its fullest capability. Having a team whose mission is to help solve problems and educate has massively improved our retention.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or brief anecdote for each.

  1. Hire people you like, admire, and respect. You don’t need to be best friends. In fact, it is not always good to be too close on a personal level. But when you hire people you like, admire and respect, you can get through anything together.
  2. Make pretty software. UI / UX is everything. If you like looking at it, so will your customers.
  3. People don’t need snacks and ping pong tables. They need flexibility, respect, and growth opportunities. You can’t always compete in salaries, especially against the Google’s and Meta’s of the world, but you can value your team, pay fairly, respect their lives, and include their ideas.
  4. Old ‘no-out’ contracts are outdated — customers want contracts that won’t lock them in with no-outs for years. Today, the way to bring on new customers is to provide easy-out clauses. Put the responsibility of delivering a quality product and servicing the customer in your team’s hands because that is the key to keeping a customer — not the contract.
  5. Discover the talent in your teams. Then, promote, move, change roles and grow from within as much as possible.

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.

This is such a big question and seems so impossible to answer! One of many movements I firmly stand behind is changing our early childhood environment and education standards. If you are genuinely going to change the world, you must start at the very beginning. We need universal maternity and paternity leave for parents and catch up to much of the rest of the world, specifically our European counterparts. No leave, unpaid leaves, six weeks, three months… this does not lay the foundation for our next generation to have the best possible opportunities. Free, adaptive, and superb education for all children from kindergarten through college is needed. Also, one size does not fit all in education. Where you live and how much money the parent makes should not be the deciding factor in a child’s journey. Breakthroughs for underprivileged kids should no longer be exceptional; they should be expected. Everyone should be given the very best opportunities when it comes to education and have them suited to their individual needs.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? They might just see this if we tag them :-)

I am a huge animal lover and fascinated by the studies of Jane Goodall. Outside of the groundbreaking work she did studying primates, she was a true pioneer by redefining the lines drawn for women in science and society. Her destruction of these stereotypes paved the way for all professional women today. She continues her pursuit of science, advocacy, compassion, and learning to this day. This endless pursuit of her passions is a life lesson I can take forward in everything I do.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts