An interview with Full Circle Insights CEO, Bonnie Crater, originally featured in Thrive Global.
Written and interviewed by: Phil La Duke
As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bonnie Crater. Prior to joining Full Circle Insights, Bonnie Crater was a five-time vice president of marketing and executive at many software companies in Silicon Valley. Bonnie held vice president and senior vice president roles at Genesys, Netscape, Network Computer Inc., salesforce.com, Stratify, Realization, and VoiceObjects (now Voxeo). A ten-year veteran of Oracle Corporation and its various subsidiaries, Bonnie was vice president, Compaq Products Division and vice president, Workgroup Products Division. In 2013, Bonnie was named one of the “100 Most Influential Women” by the Silicon Valley Business Journal, in 2015 the Sales Lead Management Association named her one of the “20 Women to Watch” and in 2016 Diversity Journal honored her as one of the “Women Worth Watching.” Bonnie holds a B.A. in biology from Princeton University.
Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
After moving to Silicon Valley in the late 80s, I learned marketing skills at Oracle and then became a five-time VP of marketing. As a marketing vice president, I became frustrated with the available martech tools to measure marketing. That’s what led my three other founders and I to start Full Circle Insights in 2010 when we discovered a technical solution to building funnel metrics and attribution solutions for Salesforce customers. I was very excited to bring this solution to other marketers so we could all do a better job at optimizing the marketing spend and grow our businesses faster.
What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
Perhaps some people have a goal of being a CEO someday. I never saw myself in the role until several recruiters asked me if I would be interested to become CEO. Honestly, I thought they were nuts, but as I was interviewing with some CEOs for VP of marketing jobs, I gained confidence. I could do a better job than that guy I thought, so I went for it.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
A lot of people think that CEOs wield a lot of power, but I suppose in a command and control environment, the leaders do. In our Silicon Valley work world however, the CEO job is mostly about inspiring the right people to work for you and then encouraging these amazing people to do great things in service to the organization.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
Being CEO of a start up company is a journey. Every day is different. I’ve had my current CEO position longer than any other position I’ve ever held and that’s because of the very high variation of the work every single day. It’s really hard to get bored with this job.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
I think the most challenging piece of the role is to find a good balance in your life. Balance is something that one never masters and is always a work-in-progress, but I like to think I have relatively good balance between my family, my work and my hobby.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
As I said, I think there are a lot of people who believe that a CEO wields a lot of power, when that is not really the case. Nowhere is this better evidenced than in Silicon Valley where hiring the right people and fostering the right work environment that inspires people to do their best is the primary role of a CEO.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
In our society today, women are still expected to run the household. Running the household and working can be challenging for many women, so having a partner who really wants to share 50 percent of the responsibility makes it a whole lot easier. I am very fortunate to have a husband who is attentive to our kids, family life and shares 50 percent of the work.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I was raising my Series A, I struggled to raise funds. I couldn’t understand it because I had won a pitch contest, was an experienced Silicon Valley executive and had a working business model with customers and revenue.
One morning as I was feeling frustrated, I got an invitation to a VC Taskforce meeting. VC Taskforce, a nonprofit that trains entrepreneurs, was hosting a session called “Women in Venture.” I decided to go. When I arrived at the session, I saw something I had never seen before: a panel of venture capitalists who were women. Wow! Of my venture meetings, I had never met with any female VCs. I then learned that female CEOs were 3 percent of all venture backed CEOs and it dawned on me that I was a minority as a female CEO. This seemed terribly odd to me because I had attended Princeton and had been vice president and senior vice president at many software companies, so I never dreamed that my gender might be holding me back. Being a marketing scientist by trade, I decided to run a test. I would only talk with female VCs from then on.
The story is a successful one — from then on, I received quite a bit of interest from female VCs. I raised my Series A and Series B and Full Circle Insights was off to the races.
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?
My very first funny mistake was actually the founding date for Full Circle. We were started in December 31, 2010. It turns out that you should never start a company on December 31. Always start on January 1. Why? Because the IRS will want a tax return for that one day — where no business was transacted and nothing happened.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I never envisioned that our company employees would be so dispersed and work virtually. The popularity of effective SaaS (Software as a Service) collaboration tools (e.g. Zoom, Slack, Salesforce) has allowed the Full Circle team to work largely virtually. It’s effective, but different than I imagined.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
You know, lots of different types of personalities can be successful executives. But I think the best leaders have high emotional IQs and inspire their people to do their best work.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Figure out what your values are and stick with them. As a former Salesforce exec, I like the V2MOM model. It’s a simple planning tool which drives alignment in the organization — particularly the vision and values.
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?
A lot of who we are starts at a young age. My high school science teacher, Margaret Daniel, shared an enthusiasm with nature and taught me how to really learn a subject matter deeply on my own. Her zest for science was infectious and I am grateful for her help in getting me started as a life-long learner.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At my high school, Collegiate Schools in Richmond, VA, we were all taught that we should give back. In freshman history class we learned about “Noblesse oblige” roughly translated to “the nobles are obligated to give back to society.” In other words, if you do well, you must give back as part of your social responsibility. We do this at Full Circle as a 1 percent company — 1 percent stock is set aside for charitable purposes and 1 percent of time or about 24 hours per year is set aside as VTO or volunteer time off.
All of my VTO is spent on Lyme disease. In 2011 I co-founded the Bay Area Lyme Foundation which today is the number one public charity funding Lyme disease research in the U.S.. Our aim is to make Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure. And I’m active on the board and on the science team of an organization that’s raised over $25 million for Lyme disease research.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Your co-founders matter and matter a lot. I have observed that companies where the co-founders share the same vision and values have a lot less drama than companies whose co-founders are unaligned.
2. Set the company culture right from the beginning. I believe in being intentional about the company culture of Full Circle and making it the kind of company the founders envisioned. Culture is created by the people and can shift over time, so it’s important to work hard to continue to have the culture you want,
3. Make diversity a key part of your company culture. Companies that try to add diversity after the company has been more fully formed often find it very difficult. It’s easier to start at the beginning and make a diverse company from the start.
4. Write down your company plan in an easy to digest format. Review often. At Full Circle, we use the V2MOM that was invented by Marc Benioff. It’s a short document that summarized the annual plan: the vision, values, methods, obstacles and measurements
5. Make your first customers successful ambassadors of your offering. This only makes sense. If your first customers are delighted with your offerings, it makes the next customers much easier to acquire.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We don’t have enough citizens voting in the United States. About 61 percent of the voting age population voted in 2012 and 2016. I’d love to see 80 percent of all registered voters vote in the next major election in 2020!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In Batman Begins, Alfred says to Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” At Oracle the saying was something similar but shortened to, “It’s OK to make mistakes — just don’t make the same mistake twice.” Moving from a government IT role to Silicon Valley, the velocity of decision making was much faster at Oracle. It was exciting to try new things — lots of new projects. Sometimes the ideas didn’t work, but we changed direction very quickly so the error wouldn’t have a lasting impact on the business. When we got it right, we doubled down and fast. That works.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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.
I am a HUGE Serena Williams fan. I watch every match with enthusiasm and am elated at every win and feel every loss. I hope she wins another major tennis tournament or two and breaks Margaret Court’s record. That would be super awesome!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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tips and strategies that you can apply at your own organization.