Women in Enterprise: Michaela Lehr at Movable Ink
This series features profiles of some of the top women leaders within our enterprise technology community here in NYC. We hope by highlighting the terrific work, stories, and career trajectories of these women at top venture-backed startups and operating roles will continue to encourage more women to consider careers in enterprise software.
As a follow up to our sold-out Navigate 2018: Women in Enterprise Tech Summit here at Work-Bench with Salesforce Ventures, we are continuing to recognize and amplify these impressive women in NYC enterprise tech.
Michaela Lehr is the Director of Financial Planning & Analysis at Moveable Ink.
What were you doing before this current role in enterprise tech, and how did you get to your current role?
I currently work in FP&A at Movable Ink, which has been and continues to be an awesome and challenging experience. It was a bit of a random walk that got me here — I started college convinced that I’d pursue a career somehow focused around Medieval French History, and that I wouldn’t ‘sell out’ to something as monetarily frenzied as banking. Lies.
It took me two summer internships and seven months as a full-time IB analyst to realize I’d sold out and that I didn’t even like what I’d bought. So then I bounced around in numbers-y roles — which were the most accessible to me — until my husband nudged me to go to a few tech meetups in 2013. My corporate-heavy brain could not compute that the culture and the quality of the people were real, and that interesting, cool jobs actually existed. That’s when I knew I had to be in tech in some capacity, and my capacity was through numbers. So when I saw a financial analyst opening at an ed-tech startup called Knewton, I jumped on it. Movable is the third tech company I’ve worked at, and the challenges and development of the B2B community have been amazing in the past few years. It’s been a great ride so far.
What pain point is your company solving, and what gets you excited to go to work every day?
Movable Ink is a marketing technology company that leverages contextual end user data — data about preferences, browsing behavior, and other context (weather, location, music listening habits, etc.) — to curate highly personalized content in a thoughtful way. In short, it’s how all digital marketing really should be done — it makes intuitive sense for companies to leverage the data they accidentally gather on end users to customize and target the marketing experience. It’s an elegant, intelligent solution, and I love working for a company whose products make you think — duh, that makes total sense.
My specific role at Movable is as Director of FP&A, which is responsible for financial/business forecasting and metrics-driven insight into the organization. I spend a lot of my day thinking through how various functions think about and measure success, and I help to define the metrics, work through operationally calculating them, and then design ways for those calculations to be recurring, scalable, and visible to department owners and leadership.
FP&A involves a lot of digging and discovering and thinking and failing and succeeding and running into unforeseen obstacles and working through road blocks, and I love being able to help and render insight in an objective way. It helps leadership to have a finger on the pulse of the organization, which is now at 200 people across London, SF and New York, and it helps department heads have an objective view into the goings-on in their vertical.
What do you wish you had known earlier in your career?
I wish someone had hammered it into my head — in a way that was relatable and real — that I didn’t have to put up with bullshit. And I don’t mean the coma-inducing corporate drivel that makes “Dilbert” relatable (that’s tough too), but the tormenting, taunting, abusive bullshit that robs you of your voice and leaves you totally helpless. I mean rage-induced yelling that made me want to hide under my desk. I mean running like a maniac from my infant son’s doctor appointment — he had a 105 fever — to find that a meeting was called on my work project to assign the work away from me. I mean someone very specifically raising his voice every time I spoke in a meeting — on my area of knowledge — to ensure that I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, so blatantly that other leaders in the meeting were raising their eyebrows in surprise.
And you know the worst part about going through the above list of experiences? I actually thought that if I worked harder, or was more compliant, or more willing to do extra work or pull late hours, that the abuse would end. It’s sick how this brand of bullshit works, and also sick that I feel the need to clarify that, no, in none of these circumstances was I “dropping the ball.” Or not carrying my fair share. Or not thinking “high level” or strategically. I spent a lot of time quintuple-guessing myself, and that was time totally wasted.
In short, if the environment is toxic and there’s nothing you can reasonably do to change it, leave. If you are competent and driven, there is a place that will need you, especially in this hungry and growing ecosystem of enterprise tech. Quit and take your talents elsewhere. Interview like a madwoman — yes, this will make your life an unadulterated hell, because interviewing sucks — so that you can get to a place that will value you. Then slowly grow your brand, re-establish your voice, and use it like a bullhorn against the people who tried to rob you of it.
Give us one piece of tactical advice (small or large), as a page from your enterprise tech playbook — that you would give to another woman considering a career in enterprise tech?
The most important thing I’ve learned in working in a constantly-evolving industry is to be permeable and dynamic. In other words, listen. Evolve. Change. Question yourself, stay objective about your areas of improvement, and work to make yourself better. There’s always going to be something to learn from those around you, at every stage in their career. Corporate playbooks don’t work in this industry (I’ve seen people try, and it really backfires horribly), which means that you actually have to roll up your sleeves, be thoughtful, humble and intelligent, and think deeply through how to get things done optimally. What’s great about working in fast-paced companies is that if you can execute in a thoughtful and scalable way, you become invaluable.
What do you love about enterprise tech?
As a numbers person, I love the ACVs, the recurring revenue streams, the lengthy contracts and the low churn (if you’d like to nerd out, see here for a few posts I wrote on this subject). It’s a beast to actually penetrate the enterprise (the sales cycles can be tough), but once you get there and you’re embedded, it’s amazing for growing your ARR base and company value. I’m all about predictability and recurring revenue, and being able to strategize toward your eventual exit. Consumer tech is amazing, and is completely changing the face of the world and human activity and interaction, but I really love my predictable revenue streams. I’m a bit cautious like that.
What do you wish would change?
Enterprise tech is at a stage in which it’s just starting to understand the importance of scalability and of laying the foundations for scalability early on. I know there are many opinions around this, and obviously I’m biased, but I think that as soon as you feel you your company has product-market fit, and you can accommodate it in your budget, you need to bring a finance person in to make sure your ducks are in a row and that you’re charging into your first swing of hyper-growth in a smart way. The same way that you will always need further engineers/product managers to evolve and grow your product, you want to make sure that the business surrounding the product is evolving and growing and perfecting itself as well.
What I’m currently seeing is that start-ups shy away from bringing a finance professional on board because it feels really corporate, that there’s no magic to spreadsheets and that staring at bank balances shouldn’t comprise an entire role. And these people are totally correct. Super-corporate types do suck and there is no deep magic to spreadsheets. But if correctly hired, a finance professional could be both not sucky and do more than sit there and fiddle around in excel (here’s a TechCrunch piece I wrote that talks about some parts of this).
. They should be the quantitative reflection of the decisions you make in your business, in everything from sales comp design to fundraising decisions to identifying issues through metrics.
What many times ends up happening is that by the time leaders realize they need a finance person, and that they need a quantitatively-focused strategic arm, they’re already sitting on a heap of an ad-hoc, tape-and-scissors mess that takes time to dig out of.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Definitely — Movable Ink is hiring, so come on board. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the company, its direction, its leadership and its values, and I’m happy to chat with anyone who would be interested. We have some fantastic leaders here — many of whom also happen to be female — and who are making this company an awesome place to be and to grow.
Our inspiration for this series comes from Digital Currency Group’s terrific profiles of Women in Blockchain — thank you!
Know a woman leader in enterprise technology whose story we should feature?We’d love to hear from you.