Cheryl Black, the CEO of digital couponing company YOU Technology, has had quite the unique and impressive life. Originally from Alberta, Canada, she came to the United States after college as a ballet dancer. She ended up staying in Boston, where she found a job as a software engineer. This is where she realized she liked working with the people more than the computers. Cheryl mentioned how she “loved seeing the end result and working directly with clients on specific engagements.” She was most interested in building software to help clients develop their products. She ended up running a telecommunications division, which she left to begin her own startup business with three of her friends. “We all decided to move to San Francisco in a four bedroom home and run our business from there. We had fifty-five people living and working in the house with us. We never knew how many people were going to be there or when they were going to be there. It was a very interesting environment to work and live in!”
Ms. Black has now been with YOU technology for 10 years where she loves working with her talented team. She adores working in an environment that is so diverse. YOU Technology is 50% percent female and 50% male and is very ethnically diverse. Ms. Black believes that this is something that makes YOU Technology unique and “makes us different in terms of how we work together in regards to collaborating.” She also believes that, “having this great diversity and well mixed environment brings balance to the company.”
Ms. Black has been fortunate enough to help shape the company into the “technology enabler” that it is today. The company engages in distributing digital coupons and digital promotions. A lot of these coupons and promotions are distributed via shoppers’ loyalty cards, but the company uses apps and websites as distribution channels as well. Ms. Black described YOU Technology as the “technology middleman” between the different stores, their manufactures, and their consumers. YOU Technology integrates the point of sale at the retailer and applies discounts at the time of the swipe of the card. This way the company gets paid anytime someone takes an offer, which is much more scalable than selling one promotion at a time. It has made their growth much more substantial and they are “growing 20 to 25 every year %,” according to Ms. Black.
When I asked Ms. Black, “Do you think that digital couponing is the way of the future? How do you think that this will/has changed the way consumers shop?” she assuredly replied, “Newspaper presence is decreasing and I think people tend to do more with their phones through direct digital marketing, which can give them exactly what they want the moment they want it. This is much more consumer friendly instead of waiting for Sunday paper coupons.” After looking at the amount of coupons YOU Technology has delivered to consumers, which is well over 3 Billion, they calculated to have saved about 6 million trees. Ms. Black believes “digital couponing has and will continue to change the way consumers shop. 98% of coupons used in stores are still paper, but I think that digital couponing will help consumers shop more efficiently in the future.”
Ms. Black recently wrote an article in Fortune Magazine about how CEOs and other leaders can take simple steps to be both liked and respected in the work place. In relation to the article, I proceeded to ask her, “Do you believe being respected and well-liked is harder for women in positions of power? Why or why not? And how do you keep the balance between being respected and liked in your office?” She candidly responded, “I think there’s a different standard for women in leadership positions. I think it can be harder to be both liked and respected as a female leader. When people think of a leader they think strong, loud, aggressive…It takes a little longer to earn respect sometimes if they’re softer and more modest.” Ms. Black made a very pivotal point that, “in today’s society, you need to prove that you are deserving of respect.” She joked, “at least for me, it’s hard to promote myself, it’s definitely a Canadian thing, but I think it’s a woman thing, as well, so I sort of get the double whammy.” She feels that it is important for people to promote themselves and take credit for their achievements. She went on further to stress the importance of finding people who acknowledge and venerate your accomplishments if you are not comfortable doing so yourself. She finished this discussion by emphasizing the importance of being genuine in relation to being respected. “I found that over the years I don’t pay that much attention to it. I just try to be genuine, because I feel I have a better shot at being respected and liked if I’m just being me, rather than something that I am not.”
Whether you are starting your first job or the CEO of a tech company, Ms. Black leaves us with three lessons that can be applied to any career.
No. 1: “One thing I’ve learned is to not take things too personally, there’s always going to be criticism, there are always imperfections, so sometimes you have to put on tougher skin and look at a situation from a business perspective. If you get too close to a problem you can end up internalizing it and taking it personally, which is not always a good thing.”
No. 2: “Make time for yourself and stay active no matter how hard you’re working! Stay physically active and give your brain time to work on problems, reflect, and gain some perspective. Don’t always charge at a problem as hard as you can.”
No. 3: “If you have a hard time promoting yourself, figure a way around that, make sure take credit for what you do. Humility is a great quality for people to have, but it is harder for humble people to get noticed. Don’t lose your humility just find a workaround.”
Contributor: Ally Massimi