Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry is a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in Tech? In this interview series called Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech, we are talking to successful women leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead successful careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Manuela Seve.
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?
My background is in finance but I grew up surrounded by art, with a family of artists and art professionals. During my time in finance I was an equity analyst with a focus on real estate and commodities. One day, I picked up Marc Rich’s bio, “King of Oil” and realized that there were so many similarities between the oil market in the 60’s and the art market. At that point, I knew that I had to build a tool to democratize information. Through our art and real estate licensing business Alpha’a Inc, I learned about asset ownership and transfer, and built a certification protocol fitting for our own needs.
I later discovered that there was more to our mission. The arts were a great jumping off point and taught me how to approach industries from fashion to hospitality to sports. We’ve been working with blockchain since 2017 and we officially launched Alphaa.io this time last year!
We run campaigns every year, and are constantly bringing more opportunities to light for minorities and women. This includes a conscious effort on our part to include female artists, Latinx, people of color, etc in our active projects. Our Alphaa.io connect platform uses video content connected via QR codes to physical objects that unlock educational features and virtual experiences.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. 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?
A few months after the company was already incorporated and we were already working together as a team, we decided to apply to Web Summit, a huge tech conference in Dublin. We not only got in but received a grant to incentivize female founders in participating. (At that time I’d say the ratio was at least 9 to 1 men to women.) We were asked to fill out a form that would be used to produce our booth sign and we committed the ultimate startup error. We started our mission statement with: “We plan to . . .” When we arrived in Dublin and saw the sign we almost fell back, luckily we had produced Alpha’a stickers and were able to cover the startup sin. Our biggest lesson, always proofread multiple times before sending anything to print!
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment? We’d love to hear the lead-up, what happened, and the impact it had on your life.
At the beginning of the pandemic one of our investors gave us a call and told us to prepare for the world ending, so we created a doomsday plan, which took into consideration a scenario of 0 revenue for 6 months (the opposite ended up happening we grew 220% in 2020) we then factored in how much money we had in the bank and called in the whole team to announce that we would be making cuts to all salaries including the executive team, we asked for feedback and everyone agreed this was the right course of action.
During uncertain times, it's important to be transparent with your team and let them know sacrifice will be made by all including the executive team. The phrase lead by example really says it all. We’ve always crowdsourced our problems and never blame anyone for solutions that don’t work. We know a lot of our plans will fail and that moving forward quickly is essential, but try to debrief and understand what actually happened.
I find extra motivation through the tough times, there’s a lot to keep you occupied and solutions to be found for several problems. I spent most of March & April in 2020 alone in a tiny NYC apartment working pretty much all the time, and not only did I raise our sales but we raised 100k from 200 individuals through equity crowdfunding. It’s important to celebrate all the victories even if they are small, this really does sustain your drive when things go wrong.
I’ve thought of giving up in moments where it seems as though you find yourself in a rut. That’s where it’s really hard and you have to dig deep and remember the bigger picture in order to be creative and implement new processes, think of new business models, get aggressive with growth hacking etc.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When we started the company we set off to raise an initial round of funding and we quickly found an angel that immediately understood what we wished to accomplish. We were raising $500,000 at the time, but he thought that wasn’t enough capital so he agreed to fund us for $1 million. Needless to say, we were ecstatic. Part of our deal was that we’d have to relocate to the most expensive city in the world, New York City. We came in the summer to meet him and finalize the deal. However, he delayed his trip several times, forcing us to move between hotels, friends’ apartments, etc.
We moved six times until we received the first wire transfer, which to our surprise was only $20,000. We had planned and budgeted for $1 million, but we only received a total of $200,000 over the course of a year.
Many times we thought of giving up, just packing up and going back to Brazil, but out of pure grit and some luck, we managed to build a business that had to generate revenue from day one. I wish I could point my finger at one source of motivation, but I’d say it’s the little things; small victories, winning our first B2B white label account, selling a couple of works to a designer.
However, it would have been impossible to continue without a team. You really become a family, especially as we were going through all this at the same time. There was always a moment when someone was freaking out and the other one was cool as a cucumber.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
Alphaa.io is an enterprise Saas solution that enables businesses and creators to use web3 tools to solve for authenticity, resale and community engagement across industries.
We are salesforce for web3. We offer a complete tech stack with uncanny ease of use, since we also build custom front ends for white labels. All our white labels include custodial wallets that are created in one click, and associated through a magic link to your email or phone number.
We are cutting out all the red tape around funding creative projects, doing for NFT issuance what shopify did for ecommerce. The current process available for NFTs is not only built for the digital world, but it is extremely complicated (have you tried to create a metamask wallet?), expensive and pollutant. We built our infrastructure on EOS which is 66k times less energy consumptive vs. Ethereum, and allows us to offer token plans, starting at $1 a token and no gas fees. Truly democratizing access to this technology to users in the real world economy.
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
A fresh outlook is always helpful, I just finished a program at Stanford’s GSB for Latino entrepreneurs, and having all of those new eyes on my business, especially during these complicated times, was truly a game-changer. We ended up bringing in one of the program’s mentors as a full-time advisor and he is overseeing the re-design of the new platform which will automate the direct sales model and increase convergence while decreasing the sales cycle.
As a founder that sells, one of my investors jokes that I could sell ice to an Eskimo. As for advice, I’d say listen to your clients and understand how a product is accepted, or if any changes need to be made. Also, move quickly, be proactive, and stay on top of your team. In Brazil, we have a saying: “The owner’s eyes make the cattle get fatter.”
What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
My team was essential in bringing creative ideas to light about sectors we should be exploring, this led to a boom in sales by looking at commercial real estate for the first time.
Every crisis brings with it a huge opportunity, instead of talking about the ways in which you
could fail, motivate your team to be creative and pitch crazy ideas that could be applicable to the ever-changing world. But also have clear long term goals and processes, schedule weekly team meetings and encourage departments to do the same, by keeping the conversation open and compensating creativity the uncertainty becomes a part of the team’s life, as it should be in a startup regardless of the economic trends. We’re here to change how industries do business and a crisis creates opportunities, never forget that and your team won’t either.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
The current team at Alphaa.io is unbeatable. Like a lot of other companies 2022 was a challenging year and we lost our lead investors when the FTX bomb hit the fan. I sat down with every senior member of the team and was transparent about the cash situation and every single one of them offered to work for free until we could remedy the situation. This is not a common group of people, they truly believe in what we do and our capacity to leave our mark in the world and ultimately make it a better place, so for this reason they will go the extra mile, above and beyond.
If you had only one software tool in your arsenal, what would it be, why, and what other tools (software or tangible items) do you consider to be mission-critical?
Alphaa.io’s software solution uses web3 tools to solve for authenticity, resale and community building, truly changing the playing field when it comes to customer retention.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
Hot yoga, meditation, sauna, cold showers and cycling. I know it sounds cliche but the woowoo stuff really works. At the end of the day it's about: “Surrendering whole heartily and executing on your vision” my personal dharma. To achieve that you need to find a way to calm your mind and surrender to the chaos.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Connect with your audience. Every time we have a physical event we chat with our artists and visitors and I make it a personal goal to have at least one sale in person, this way we know we’re putting forward something someone is willing to pay for.
2 . Listen for pain points. I used to think we were selling a product but I understand we are selling community and connectivity.
3 . Is your product solving these pain points? We adapted and built in a geolocation feature after multiple requests to include local artwork in projects, and that’s standard practice at Alpha’a — start with the analog version then automate and build the platform tool. This design thinking concept is a great way to not waste resources with things no one wants but the founders.
4 . Are your company’s people aligned with the above? It’s important to bring the team into these discussions. We won’t always agree on a path forward so data and testing are a great way to end philosophical arguments.
5 . Is your company’s mission and growth path clear to and supported by your stakeholders? Use the people around you for more testing and build an advisory board that won’t only build credibility but will also share past experiences they’ve gone through in their professional careers.
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?
Any woman who has set out to raise money knows the questions we face are 10 times harder than the ones posed to male founders. I’ve walked out of meetings with investors who showed no regard for understanding my business, but who were so aggressively confrontational it seemed as though the sole objective was to push my buttons and make me cry.
There have been other occasions where I have received comments on my Linkedin account concerning articles promoting female empowerment, with the commenter claiming that women’s brains were less developed than men’s brains. I could keep going on about this for hours, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m writing a book on the subject and collecting a series of interviews to build one central character that as the song goes, “is every woman.” And that’s part of the solution: Information, exposing the bigots and not standing for companies that blatantly don’t invest in women.
My advice to women in tech is to accept that you are in a male dominated industry and use it to your advantage, women have very different skill sets: kindness and multitasking here being a key differentiating factor. There will be lots of rejection so stay strong and understand that it's not about winning, it's about not giving up ;).
I believe in women supporting women. We need more unity within the female community and I feel like a great way to start is within your sphere of influence. Offering a “give” and an “ask” is super easy and it’s something I’ve been practicing. Find a woman in your world and do the same, then find another one and another one. Think of the things we can all achieve together.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I just finished watching Ms. America and I’m obsessed with Gloria Steinem. We need a new age Gloria and I would love to pick her brain on how we can unify millennial women into going back to issues that she put forward 40 years ago during the ERA period. We haven’t reached equality in wages or funding and it’s about time we restart the conversation through one united front.
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