In this fourth post of the Women in Tech Blog Series, we are featuring Katherine Nammacher, Co-Founder and CEO of RideAlong.
It’s less than two weeks left until the Women in Tech Festival 2017 on March 24th-25th! We took the opportunity to invite our female founders that will be pitching at the festival to share their unique stories in building their startups – what stereotypes have they come up against when building their startup and what is their one top advice for female entrepreneurs?
What inspired you to start your company?
Meredith (my kickass co-founder) and I decided to start RideAlong after seeing exactly how acute and widespread the information gap between police officers, service providers, and individuals who have mental health issues is. Our first look at this issue started with a year-long fellowship in 2016 through Code for America, where we built out the application in partnership with the Seattle Police Department. Last June we presented at the White House about RideAlong and heard what other agencies are doing for the same diversion. It was then that we realized that our solution, a pre-arrest diversion tool, has been unique because most are focused divert people later within the criminal justice funnel: using special courts or programs at the jail. There was a solid amount of interest in our product from agencies nationwide– an indicator that our idea had traction and was hitting on something.
Frankly, we did not decide to start a company and then find something to solve. The problem, our users, and the solution found us organically. We saw its validity through our user’s experience in using the product. The acute need, strong product and team, and clear traction combined prompted us to start RideAlong.
Who has been your mentor or role model in your entrepreneurial journey?
This might sound cheesy, but my parents – each for different reasons.
My dad was the 7th employee at his company and has worked to grow it to 70+ people over the last 20 years. It takes dedication to do that – time, energy, patience, and strategic thinking. I can see his commitment to his employees and the grit it requires to properly grow the company. He also has given me valuable advice on how to be a good leader and approach situations with maturity and intentionality.
My mom is a psychologist who put herself through a doctorate program at a time when most women were encouraged to start families instead of a career. Then, with a successful career, she started a family and kept her maiden name while doing it. It is the choices she made, including those, that she has taught me to define power and confidence within myself in my own way. My mom can be tough, empathetic, strong, and soft simultaneously, and these qualities are ones I strive for in my own approach to business and life.
Have you come up against a stereotype and how did you handle it?
First off, women are not expected to be very direct in their communication and asks. I am a direct communicator, with a solid dose of empathy and listening, but at my core direct than most women (but not most men).
At a past job, I had a female manager who was a bit more of an indirect communicator. Very capable and smart individual, but she had a different style – which common in most women I work with. In working together, unfortunately she did not understand nor empathize with my communication style. It felt like I was not fulfilling her expectations for how a woman should communicate. Instead of having open conversations about this or being given the benefit of the doubt, I found myself penalized for it. Once it started getting in the way of our team’s productivity, I worked a coworker to strategically decide who would bring which questions to her because my coworker and I were getting drastically different responses to the same topics. That worked for me in that situation, but it wasn’t ideal. During the time, I did learn a lot from working with that manager because of the dramatic extent to which I needed to manage up. It has helped me to approach other ways with more care and strategy from the start.
What has been the most challenging so far in building your startup and how do you keep the motivation up?
Before starting RideAlong, I was a user researcher and product manager. I knew my core skillset and was very good at working out problems using it. Now my job requires me to be a Jane-Of-All-Trades. I’ve done this before but the range of skills needed is more vast. Recently this includes financial models with assumptions built in to express multi-year projections – a long way from my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Printmaking and Curatorial Studies. In doing this, I have also had to learn how to speak a new language and think a new way about the same problem as a business owner (not just a product manager). It is exhilarating and exciting, but also incredibly challenging. This isn’t the first time I have drastically expanded my skillset, but it still takes a solid amount of grit to get through the low moments and patience with myself as I learn a new skill. Overall this been the most challenge. Well, this and imposter syndrome.
What is your one top advice to female entrepreneurs out there?
Be yourself, and take care of yourself. The world has a lot of things that it will throw you, especially as a female entrepreneur. Make sure that you are staying true to yourself and supporting yourself in the process. Be honest with yourself about what you need too. It is a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s only 11 days left to our Women in Tech Festival 2017, March 24th-25th at Microsoft, Mountain View. Join us and hear Katherine Nammacher, Co-Founder and CEO of RideAlong pitch on March 24th! #SVFWIT17 #SVFWomenTechFest
Author: Xi-Er Dang
Product Marketing Specialist