362 Marie Smith: Robots, You and Me
The pace of innovation in technology is accelerating so fast many of us will not recognize our world five years from now. Artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain and Augmented and virtual reality will have completely changed the way we do business.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who wrote her first computer program at age 9 and by age 24 was a Vice President of her first tech company.
Marie Smith is an entrepreneurial force of nature and a founding contributor to nearly 50 media, tech and wellness companies and projects contributing over $100 million in transactions.
Co-Founder and CIO of the fast-growing Artificial intelligence company Data360 Solutions, Marie shares how she’s never let anything stand in her way as an African American women in tech.
Today we talk about how women can survive and thrive despite the tech “bro culture”, how she navigated her extraordinary career, plus how her current machine learning startup, now 50-strong, is reducing operational costs as much as 90% for companies small and large, including Amazon and Google.
And if this is something you think you don’t have time for …you probably are exactly the person who needs to make time. Because you’ll get further in those 4 days than you will in 4 months plus we’ll show you how to turn time from a scarce resource into a limitless one – we call it “return on time” … so you to have all the time you need for business, love, parenting, friends and fun. Wingsexperiences.com/apply
Marie has important advice for anyone in business: “The only people who fail and the people who quit”, she says.
It’s a numbers game, and Marie’s thirst for lifelong learning and mentorship, her optimism and dogged resilience, and an unwillingness to take no for an answer, explains why this talented African American woman has played such a dominant role in technology, advertising and media in the past 20 years.
Now at Data 360, the artificial intelligence company, Marie and her team are busy changing marketing and advertising as we know it, possibly making email list building and online funnels a relic of the past. Her team can now find 50,000 qualified people a day … with just one employee … and get conversion rates as high as 40%. That sounds good to me! She says she is also able to reduce operational costs by as much as 90 per cent for her clients.
We’re going to talk about how her technology works, plus how women and women of color can get around that pervasive bro culture and innovate and play a big game in technology. Plus the mindset for success that has enabled her to play a founding role in nearly 50 companies in the past 20 years, contributing to over $100 million in transactions, and working with some of the world’s biggest brands from Wal-Mart and Macy’s to Mercedes Benz, Blue cross Blue shield and the Oprah Store.
So are you ready for Marie Smith? I am. Let’s fly!
Melinda Wittstock: Marie, welcome to Wings.
Marie Smith: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: I am so excited to talk to you about your machine learning company, not least of which, reducing operational costs by 90%. That sure sounds good to me. I’d like someone to come and do that to my company, so I’m curious: how does that work?
Marie Smith: Well, it involves lots of robots. Let me clarify. I love saying that because I love the reaction and people just go, “What are you talking about, robots?” I’m like, “I have so many robots.” What we do is we really take the Internet and its chaotic messiness, all the craziness that’s out there and help … the machines help turn it into relationships and transactions an things that make sense. Sounds super magical, but what it really involves is a lot of machines, right? Thank God for Google and Amazon. And, it also involves a lot of processing of data.
So, I’ll give you a quick example is if someone says they’re from La La Land, the machine doesn’t necessarily naturally recognize that as Los Angeles. So, we have to teach a machine and create equivalence of saying, “Hey, Machine. La La Land means Los Angeles,” and we have to teach machines to say if a person says or types out, “I want to go to bed,” that means, “I’m sleepy,” different equivalents because machines don’t naturally understand language, so you have to kind of create these dictionaries and you have to clean up data. You have to translate things, so you have to create this legacy, this little mini brain that the machine then says, “Oh, okay.”
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, man. [crosstalk 00:17:00] yeah, but then there’s sarcasm and stuff like that. That’s super challenging.
Marie Smith: Yeah, yeah, so there’s a lot of different things when you’re dealing with analyzing how people communicate, and there’s a lot of different sort of buckets. There’s the bucket of the machine saying, “I don’t understand a word this person said. It’s totally weird,” or, “This is in some other language, or there’s not a name here. There’s just a bunch of emoticons.” There’s that kind of stuff. And then, there’s kind of the, “Okay, we can tell where they are. We can tell who they are,” and then another bucket of, “We can tell who they are/where they are, but we can’t tell what they want,” and then the bucket where we can tell who they are, where they are, what they want and are they available for a transaction or not? There’s lots of different pieces, 20 different pieces that we do. We do 75 levels of verification to make sure that the person who’s sending the message reaches the person who wants to receive that message.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, so it’s almost like a matching technology. So, you get to know a lot about people over time, and then as you get to know about people over time, you can match them, hence what you were saying about turning all this kind of data into actual conversation, a relationship.
Marie Smith: Yeah, except in machine time, it’s like seconds. It’s like milliseconds.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, okay, so, if people were to do what you’re doing, it would take, what, like, years?
Marie Smith: Six months to a year.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay, six months to a year relative to a second or two.
Marie Smith: Right, relative to me hitting the button, downloading that person and then running the machine processes on that person, which, at most, would take a few hours in time. There’s different stopgaps and things that happen, but, yeah, in actual time, it’s about an hour.
Melinda Wittstock: I mean, that’s [crosstalk 00:18:59]
Marie Smith: It’s an hour for 50,000 people. It’s not an hour for one person.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, and presumably, this is getting faster and faster. It’ll be even faster than that a year from now. Like, if you applied Moore’s Law to this, how much faster will it [crosstalk 00:19:13] a year from now or-
Marie Smith: Right now, we can process, without breaking a sweat … I would say even two years ago, it was two-million people a day, and now I could say it would easily be low-grade sort of just the basics is like one-million a month. The rest is about one-million a day, two-million a day. I think in the future, it’ll be somewhere around probably 500-million to a billion a day quite easily.
Melinda Wittstock: Gosh, so-
Marie Smith: So, what that means is the Internet won’t be like this static page thing anymore. It’ll be this dynamic talking thing.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, gosh, you know, that is so interesting. To really think about the future of this when we have not only the machine learning, artificial intelligence that you’re doing, but when you start to think about augmented and virtual reality and the connected devices and robotics and all these different things, our world, will we even recognize our world?
Marie Smith: I don’t think so. Well, I think we will to a certain degree, but in terms of operating in the world, it just won’t be this static thing because everybody will have access to the things that most suit them, and that’s a very different world where, now, and even in the past especially when we were growing up, right, you had to just accept what was around you. And now, you can … and, we’re seeing it now with Facebook and LinkedIn and the [fang guys 00:20:52] and whatever, you can start to explore the world a little bit more from your living room or your office or whatever.
And then, I think now with mobile devices and with 5G and all the stuff coming out, really, I think the concept of home and travel and leisure will blend. And, I’ll give you a clear example. We just discovered this new place in Thailand called the Nap Lab, and the Nap Lab is a place where you check in and you get a pillow, and you get a pillow so that you can go into the nap pods and nap whenever you want and work whenever you want and eat whenever you want. You have a credit system, and there is no … it’s 24 hours, so there is no real work and life, there.
Melinda Wittstock: Everything is kind of integrated and converging and blended.
Marie Smith: Yeah, and then, you know, if you have the app that goes between international spaces, you can just hop over then to India and go to these spaces and hop over to the next place and go over to these spaces and hop on to Spain and be on the barge and I’m like, I see this coming, and I don’t think parents are preparing their children for this.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, no, schools aren’t, either. I think the world-
Marie Smith: Schools are definitely not, and colleges definitely are not.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, because you wonder. I have two teenage kids and I think, “Well, what is college actually going to teach them about any of this at all?” I mean, maybe it’ll teach them how to think, hopefully, but, apart from that, our world is going to be unrecognizable where technology is moving so fast. And, presumably, your technology is moving faster than, say, a lot of your potential customers are even able to. So, talk to me a little bit about that. That’s a tricky thing when you have a technology that’s really disruptive and actually could help every company. In fact, if you’re reducing operational costs by 90%, well, everybody should be working with you. And yet, what are some of the challenges you have selling into kind of old ways, old cultures, old mindsets. “Oh, no, we’ve always done it this way.” Are people a little freaked out by this? Do they have a hard time understanding it? How does it work?
Marie Smith: You know, I think there’s a couple different things that happen. One is: definitely, the younger businesses, the smaller businesses, they don’t have a hard time understanding it at all. They’re all over it because the opportunity’s so limited without it. So, we just started a women’s group that we’re actually working with the international investors to fund and we’re able to handle 100, 200 businesses at a time, which is incredibly scalable for a small business, right?
And, we’re able to service like 50,000 customers with one employee on our [SMP 00:24:08] side. So, that part, they see that happening and they’re just like, “You’re operating like such a bigger company,” and then we talk to our global partners and they’re like, “You’re not a startup,” which is hilarious because we’re still startup age. We’re four. But, they say, “You’re not a startup. You operate like a major corporation.” And so, we have like 50 people. They’re spread all over the world and they work intermittently, so it’s not like … we don’t have 50 people in a building all sitting in cubicles, and they’re just like, “How is this happening?” and we’re like, “We use our own system.”
And so, they’re freaked out because they’re like … small people are like, “Okay, let’s build a infrastructure,” and, fortunately, we partnered with Google to help embed our systems into G Suite, so that made things a little bit easier. With our bigger partners, however, they have much bigger problems, and so we actually have to create a separate infrastructure for them because they’re not used to certain things. They may not be legally compliant because there’s a lot of laws around data privacy and disclosures.
A lot of times, a lot of companies are in violation. Many, many, many are in violation, and so it’s really scary for them to find out that they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do or people are supposed to do. So, there’s sometimes … we usually have champions in a business or we work with the city and county of LA. We have champions that love what we’re up to and they just sort of deal with it and deal with the building of the infrastructure, so we’ve been working for three years in different pilots and projects with the city and the county in a public/private partnership. And, every time, we’ve had a champion that always says, “Let them do their thing, and let’s just put them in here and make it happen,” which has been great.
And so, with all of our global partners, we have one or more champions that we can go to to get things to happen. And, you know, with some of the bigger companies like Amazon and Google in particular, they change a lot, so there’s different things that happen. With some of the smaller corporations we’re dealing with now which are kind of coming into the fold, it’s a little bit easier because they have a CTO who kind of gets it, who probably is ex-Amazon or ex-Microsoft or something like that. It makes life a little bit easier. But, yeah, there’s definitely … the people that are on the practitioner side, it can be a little bit difficult just because they’re like, “Wow, how are you like Facebook?”
Melinda Wittstock: Right, because you’re-
Marie Smith: So, we get a lot of that.
Melinda Wittstock: So, you’ve got a lot of education to do, I suppose, and a lot of kind of handholding on the onboarding process. So, what are some of the most popular applications of what you do? What are the specific things you’re solving within these different types of companies?
Marie Smith: Yeah, the biggest thing is handling niche markets that Google and Facebook don’t handle very well.
Melinda Wittstock: For instance, what are some?
Marie Smith: So, for instance, beauty, because, on Facebook and Google, beauty is dominated by the major brands, and so it’s hard for beauty to get in there. Beauty and accessories. Also, real estate is a big one because real estate’s so hyper fragmented. It’s hard to target the right audiences and things, so we can go down to saying, “Jim is your best customer.” It’s not like Google and Facebook where we bring in traffic.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, I see.
Marie Smith: We’re very much the opposite of Google and Facebook in that they traffic-
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, so you’re actually finding people that are customers. Is that right?
Marie Smith: We’re finding the actual person versus-
Melinda Wittstock: The actual person, right.
Marie Smith: Yeah, without them having to fill out a form and them trying to look at the landing page and all that stuff. We do some brand awareness with those targets and make sure that they want to be a part of our client’s community, but there are all these hoops you have to go through for Google and Amazon where you make the ad and then post the ad and then wait for the traffic to come, and then maybe they fill out the form, and, no, they didn’t, so let’s [crosstalk 00:28:40]
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my God, yeah, I know all about that, all those funnels and all the funnels and all the different moving pieces and conversion rates and email open rates are really, really low. It’s really lucky if you get a 1% open rate. I mean, my goodness [crosstalk 00:28:57]. So, you’re eliminating all those steps, really?
Marie Smith: We’re eliminating those steps and we get a 40% open rate from a new campaign.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my God, and it’s 40% because you’re targeting a relevant person.
Marie Smith: Right, and it’s 98% retention, which means that even if they don’t open it, they’ve decided, “Yeah, I want to learn more about that.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay, Marie, you are blowing my mind right now. I’m sorry. I’m just like … and, any internet marketer who’s listening to this, gosh, you know, all those people who spent years building email lists or building Facebook communities.
Marie Smith: Yeah, and there’s a logical explanation for that, so, in full disclosure, I worked 20 some odd years ago for a company called AOL.
Melinda Wittstock: Just a small one.
Marie Smith: Yeah. I also worked for a company called Rakuten, which everybody knows now because of eBay. But, they are one of the major advertisers, so I worked with one of their acquisitions with over 3,000 brands. And, I’ve done a lot of ad agency work and things like that, so, you know, there’s a lot behind the internet that people just aren’t aware of. We’ve been great to have access to 25,000+ APIs where we can just see the traffic of the internet without the limitations of a search engine or a browser.
Melinda Wittstock: Wow, that’s-
Marie Smith: And just see the data. That’s why we’re called Data 360 because we assemble all the data into one place and build out models for you.
Melinda Wittstock: So, how does that work with the privacy issue? How do you come to have access to all that aggregate as well as individual data?
Marie Smith: Yeah, well, there are data systems and APIs and all that stuff, and so, all the data is actually split up into pieces so that it’s very, very difficult to assemble and you have to have licenses and you’re going to have to not do evil things because you will get tracked down and busted. So, we happen to know how to do all the licenses and do all the compliances, and most of the laws are around disclosure, so we disclose to the person, “Hey, we are contacting you because we found out that you’re interested in X.”
We’re FCC compliant, which means they always have an unsubscribe button. They can always email us back and say, “Take me off,” and it happens immediately and all that stuff, and we teach our clients, “You have to do that. You can’t abuse your targets and you can’t say anything and everything, and if you change a price, you have to disclose why. You have to put legal terms and conditions around that. So, we do a lot of QC, quality controls and checks around what our customers are presenting to the targets, making sure the targets are actually safe people as well, monitoring their behavior so that we make sure that as we match these people together, there’s really a logical business-beneficial way of working together.
Melinda Wittstock: Got it, so, you’re mentioning a lot of companies or types of industries that are a little bit underserved in a way, but this could really work for any company. How big does a company have to be? Does it really matter how big they are or does it matter, really, what they do?
Marie Smith: No. We have a client with a billion addressable users. We have a client with 127-million and we have a client with ten. That’s just barely the … we have clients that have really barely started or are just conceptual at this point that are just building out their first test and working with investors, a lot of our women’s initiative people. We have a lot of people in between. Now, we’re also getting a lot of retail clients because retail tends to be fairly underserved as well where we’re getting retail banking and retail and restaurants and mattress stores [crosstalk 00:33:24]
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness, so how big is your company, now? It’s four years old. You got 50 people. Do you mind sharing? Can you share kind of roughly what your annual revenue is at this stage?
Marie Smith: Yeah, so, we’re just hitting kind of our seed stage, which is over a million ARR, and that’s mostly because we’ve been building out infrastructure with Google and Amazon. So, we’re building [crosstalk 00:33:50]
Melinda Wittstock: Right, yeah so you’re reinvesting your … yeah, so, okay, I got it, okay.
Marie Smith: Yeah, so, now we finally … we finally have the infrastructure. The fun thing about this is it’s something we … I don’t know if we really process or cognize how much really goes into having save transactions happen, and I’m not necessarily one of those corporate people that’s like, “Woo, woo, my company,” but I love Google and Amazon because they have provided us with some really great infrastructure to keep people safe.
And, I know they … people, you hear a lot of weird things in the news and all that fun stuff, but what I can say about working with them is they really make sure that people don’t do the right thing and that be checked and monitored and audited and all that fun stuff. I can’t say enough about G Suite. It’s been amazing to work with that product, and so much of the work that Amazon does on the processing side is incredible. Google and Amazon just have done amazing things. Us, really, we slowed down our growth to integrate with those two companies and we’re still doing it. We’re still going through paperwork. We’re still going through … I mean, it’s an ongoing process, and it has been worth it every step of the way.
Melinda Wittstock: So, Marie, you are obviously a force of nature and I can’t imagine that this wasn’t difficult to get where you are. You’re an African American woman, right, working in tech. There aren’t a lot of you, so, I mean, honestly, I’m just going to cut to the chase [crosstalk 00:35:51]. How have you pulled this off? It’s so inspiring.
Marie Smith: Yeah, you know, I think a lot about that when people ask me now. The funniest thing is: so, I learned to program when I was nine. I learned to program from my mother, and those two things alone were huge, and my mother is a genius. And, really, the differences between me and my mother are huge. And, because, she didn’t get any support. She’s equally or smarter than me. She never got any support, so she went from profession to profession because she didn’t have anybody to help mentor her or do the things she had the ambition and ability to do.
And so, that gave me a lot of strength. I also had a grandmother who was really my aunt, was my great-aunt, and she was born in the 1800s, and she lived a very long time, obviously, right? She was in her 80s when I was born, and I was kind of in between her 80s and her 90s when she finally passed, and she didn’t know how to read. She was like a Paisano. She worked in the fields. She was a housekeeper. Her client helped her buy a house in our neighborhood where our parents grew up, and she always would have me read to her.
Now, I learned how to read when I was four or three, and so, that time when she would have me read to her, help her write things out and all these things she didn’t know how to do, she was like, “Never take school for granted. Never take your opportunities for granted,” so she just sort of lit a fire in me. “I dropped out of school. I had to work the fields.” She dropped out of school when she was eight. She had to work the fields. She never learned how to read or write, right, but then she survived through all this stuff as a black Latina woman, which I can’t even imagine; what was that about, right?
If she was alive today, I’d be like, “How did you do any of that?” My grandparents and especially my great-grandparents, they’re all second generation or they’re all immigrants. They’re all intermarried from different … you know, German and Scandinavian and Irish and Native American and black and Puerto Rican, all these different places and things. And, that was always very [inaudible 00:38:38] because I just kind of was around these tough people, right, just kind of made it happen, and it was never lost on me that they made it happen and they were very much like, “Come on. If somebody tells you something, you make sure you write it down and you capture all the papers because you might have to [inaudible 00:38:58],” all that.
Melinda Wittstock: So, you were schooled not only in the right mindset for success but just like the how to advance yourself in business things, just like what you just said, “Make sure you write things down. Make sure you follow up,” all these sorts of things, which are like really … and, “Have great mentors. Surround yourself with great people.” So, you had this, which is amazing. So many people don’t.
Marie Smith: Yeah, yeah. I had that, and then, I went to USC, and when I went to USC, I had amazing mentors. And when I left USC, I had amazing mentors, and there were a lot of … and, they were all men, all men, but they were like, “Hey, tough kid, let’s go. Let’s talk about this or let’s do this,” and so it took me to places I didn’t expect. I worked for Dennis Miller for a time on HBO. My interviews were all with … I was in television. I was at the film school, so my interviews were with DreamWorks and Jerry Seinfeld and all these great people, and that’s just because I had the balls enough to bug my mentors to get me interviews, and they did, which was amazing, and it just kept going from there. So, you know, by the time I was 24, I was the vice president at the startup that wound up being part of AOL, so I ran a division of the company. So, it was quite a ride, but I realized that … one of my grandparents told me, “All they can do is say no. Just ask. All they can do is say no.”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, oh my goodness, that is the best advice. I remember a mentor of mine told me when I was really … one of my previous startups. I mean, this one I’m on now is number five, but a couple startups ago had said, “Look, I want you to go out and get as many no’s as you possibly can,” and I’m like, “Well, why?” Because I was learning enterprise sales, which I hadn’t really done before. I’d done more B2C, direct to consumer, and so this enterprise sales with technology, it was just kind of spinning me out. It was hard. It was hard to sell into a Fortune 500 company.
He was just like, “Well, you know, just go get as many no’s as possible,” and, the really interesting thing is when you’re liberated by that, that it’s okay to get a no, and in fact, you’re going to get kudos from your board of directors from getting no’s, it means you’re actually asking for the sale, you know? [crosstalk 00:41:49] and so, it wasn’t long before all those no’s started to turn into yeses.
Marie Smith: Started to become real, real yeses, yeah. It was funny, a girlfriend of mine, she worked at NASA, at JPL, and she hipped me to a book called Failures of the Extremely Successful, which, I don’t know why this is not in everywhere. And, she hooked me up to another book called Ask And You Will Succeed: 1001 Questions. And, between those things, she was like, “Your job is to get clear. Your job is to get clear whether it’s good or bad. Your job is to get clear,” and that was one of the best things that she ever brought to me because … you know, the funniest thing is, she was like, “I’m not brave. I have to go get an MBA, but you, don’t go get an MBA because you’ll blow everybody out the water. But, the biggest thing, the only thing you need is just to be clear on: what are you producing?”
She was really talking to me about the rigor of science and the rigor of how to put things together, and she’s like, “If it doesn’t predict anything or it doesn’t do something amazing, what is the point?” And I never forgot those things, right? It’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. It’s incredible. You’re absolutely right.” Failure is the biggest thing you have to get over, and the conception of failure is: the only reason why you failed is because you quit.
Melinda Wittstock: I guess it’s all a hypothesis until it’s not, so it takes a while to get that product market fit and all those sorts of things. I mean, I’m old enough now that I look back and I see that every single previous startup or company, any of the ones that got to, say, seven figures or eight figures or one that got to a pretty good exit, you look at those and you think, “Oh, I know why I was doing that. It all makes sense now. It makes sense in the current company.”
Marie Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
Melinda Wittstock: Do you feel like that? Is there a sense of convergence of all these different things that you’ve done in your life? Because, I think we’d have to talk for three hours on this podcast, Marie, or longer to really draw out all these amazing things that you’ve done, but does it all come together at Data 360?
Marie Smith: Yeah, it does. I participated in some of the early days of Twitter and Facebook, and, previous to that, lots of different companies in these spaces, and [inaudible 00:44:37] television blah, blah, blah, but it all does come together and it all comes full circle, because I never imagined being partnered with a company like Google where they cover gaming and video and data and AR, VR. All these things I’ve done in my career are now under one umbrella called Google, and I’m like, “That’s really interesting because I always thought I had to pick my career,” and then it comes full circle.
I never thought that the technologies would mature in the way they have, and so, every time, it turns out that something I’ve found incredibly painful like sales at one point, in enterprise clients, right, landing enterprise clients, it was super painful. At one point, I had, literally, a directory. I got up at 5:00 in the morning because it was 8:00 in the morning East Coast time and I just dialed, cold dialed everybody at a company I had and I was just like, “I’m going to make this happen.” I landed one of the biggest real estate and entertainment companies in the world at the time.
And, when I finally realized that it’s just possible, it’s just a numbers game … I even looked at a partner of ours. She raised the funds, VC funds, and she took 345 meetings, and she was just saying how it’s a numbers game, and she was successful in her previous company, and her boss did one of those #MeToo things and she had to leave. So, I can’t imagine how painful that was [crosstalk 00:46:26]
Melinda Wittstock: I know too many women who’ve gone through that, too many.
Marie Smith: Yeah, I mean, I woke up one day and one of the guys I had worked with was on television for a #MeToo thing, and a couple people I’ve worked with have been involved in those things, and, you know, one of the weirdest turns in my career is I really came maybe two meetings away from Harvey Weinstein, which, at one time, I had lamented.
Melinda Wittstock: Ugh. The Universe works in mysterious ways. I mean, thank goodness.
Marie Smith: Yeah, you know, hey, that was okay. That turned out okay. And, the other guy that wound up on there, I was like, “You know, this is okay. This is okay.” What I’ve learned, even with Facebook, I was kind of lamenting that I didn’t stay for the IPO, and that turned out okay because they’re going through stuff that I wouldn’t want to go through right now, and so I’m actually really grateful for all the things that have happened, and I kind of feel … sometimes I feel like Slumdog Millionaire, right? It’s like I go into places; I’m like, “I have an answer for that,” or, “Oh, yeah, I know that person,” or, “Yeah, this happened and that.”
I was walking around at a conference with someone who was affiliated with a charity that I work with, and this guy starts talking about being in Upstate New York and going, “It’s so beautiful,” and then he talks about coyotes and snakes and then he says, “Snakes,” and I say, “Oh, we don’t really have a lot of snakes here in California, but we have them in the desert.” He’s like, “Funny: my friend works in the desert. He has a pizza pie company,” and I was like, “Oh my God, I know that dude.”
Melinda Wittstock: Okay, so you’re very well connected. [crosstalk 00:48:18] so I would assume that one of your pieces of advice for women in business is to really grow your mentor networks, but just your networks, and, I guess be valuable to those people. How many mentors do you have right now? Do you always have new mentors? Do you have a mentor sort of board? Do you do a lot of mentoring, yourself? How does that work for you?
Marie Smith: Yeah, I’m doing a lot of mentoring, myself. And then, our corporate partners are really serving as my mentor right now where the people within those corporations … one guy, he works for a company that was acquired by Amazon, and he was doing this mentoring thing with us, which was really awesome, and you can’t ask for better than that when you’re in tech, right? We did some work with O’Reilly Media, and they’re hooking us up with people all the time, which is amazing. Google hooks us up with people and sponsors things in the area all the time and we have some great … I have a couple great female mentors from Google.
My first mentors from Google were both female. They were in nontraditional roles. They run the nonprofit side of Google and the education side. That serves as my mentor. Accenture, two of the ladies from Accenture that were in a global position have mentored me and us, so, yeah, there’re a lot of people that take us, and I see them opening our emails and watching stuff and clicking on things, so that’s kind of fun, because I’m like, “Oh, they see what’s going on.”
And so, yeah, that’s … it’s been great just to kind of … they’re really cheering us on and support us where they can, and so, yeah, we have a lot of … and then, yeah, I pay it forward to lots of people from six to 60. I’ve spoke at tons of places. I’ve spoken to Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, My Brother’s Keeper, Women Who Tech, Women Impact Tech, Mayor Garcetti’s WiSTEM. I work with Bixel Exchange with high school and community college students. I work with USC, UCLA, Loyola, Marymount, so all of those, and we’re really excited about the opportunity with O’Reilly, so we’ll be debuting in London to teach people about our brand of AI, which is amazing. And so, there’s mentorships that come with that. [crosstalk 00:50:51]
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, that’s fantastic.
Marie Smith: That’s a huge part of our strategy. Yeah, our company, actually, our brand name is Community First, so that’s kind of one of the new campaigns we’re coming up with and we’re looking to debut on Thrive Global any moment with that, so that’s exciting, too.
Melinda Wittstock: That is really, really exciting. So, I could talk to you for hours, and I do have to ask you, of course, before our time runs out on this podcast, about, really, the bro culture in tech and where you see women, and particularly African American women and just the issue of lack of diversity in tech. It’s a real problem. What can be done to change that?
Marie Smith: Yeah, woo, it really has to be broken down into pieces. I feel very strongly because it is so endemic in these organizations and some of it is literally: women and black women in particular just don’t approach tech in the same way that white males approach tech. People of color approach tech in a different way, and they have a different language, a different way of talking and a different way of asking questions, and so, it really comes down to getting people who are on the inside like myself … I know we have kind of a circle on LinkedIn. We’re all connected to each other, women and people of color who are in tech.
And, in translating to them about what it is like and what can they do, I even had a young woman I just mentored a couple days ago … or was it yesterday? It was two days ago, and she’s Indian. And, she’s not culture … she was talking about the bro culture at the company she’s working at, and, “What do I do?” So, we [inaudible 00:52:52] we gave her some tools about how to build up her self-esteem and also how not to feel like she is less than because she doesn’t know how to be okay with not knowing, how white guys handle not knowing things, what they do, some of the coping mechanisms.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my God, what a big difference between that and women, because we take it personally. We think, “Oh my God, there must be something wrong about us, and we go and-”
Marie Smith: [crosstalk 00:53:17] I don’t know.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and go into heads-down mode and perfect things and then, by the time we come back, maybe that opportunity’s gone, whereas men tend to focus a lot more on the relationship. So, that’s awesome, though, that you’re mentoring on that level. I mean, there’s so many [crosstalk 00:53:36] to do, but-
Marie Smith: Yeah, and I was just thinking because it gets me so excited about breaking up bro culture. Yeah, the last thing I’ll say about it is is: as much as we can … I think the powers that be all know, those in the center power all know that this bro culture is hurting us in a lot of ways, and there’s been a ton of studies about diverse teams and women and how much more productive they are than men in business in a lot of ways, and how the paradigm is supported. The banks are on it. The tech companies are on it.
I think, you know, if we can have the dialogue to just sort of show in a safe space for all parties involved, white males and everybody else that it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay. And, how about we just all talk? And, one thing I appreciate about watching Mayor Garcetti and his team is they really aren’t afraid of challenges and they aren’t afraid of people saying weird things, and they aren’t afraid of people not liking them. They just say, “Hey, let’s all get in the same room.” And, at first, I was like, “This is so annoying. They keep inviting us to these forums.”
Melinda Wittstock: But, when people are in the same room, it’s different. They start to realize that we all have more in common. I mean, there’s actually more that connects us in reality than is different. And, when you can start to change the attitudes where you realize that diversity is such an asset and difference is an asset … we can’t all be the same, and why should we? It’s just boring, right? But, it’s a particular challenge. There’s a wonderful woman who is on a podcast episode of Wings who talks about diversity, like how to bring diversity about in corporations and startups, and she says about startups it actually … it was counterintuitive to me, but actually startups struggle with it even more because the founders tend to found companies with people who are like them, and it’s very, very easy to fall into that. So, by the time you’re at employee number ten, it’s harder to attract talent that’s different from you.
Marie Smith: Yeah, absolutely, and that’s like the core problem, right? So, then, the shift is … and, I was talking to someone about this. I was actually talking at women’s event, the same one two days ago, and saying, “Until the centers of power become diverse …” and, actually, I think I was ranting about it on Facebook, too, about funders, right, and board members and executive suites becoming diverse; you’re going to have a hard time, right?
And so, our company, we took on partnering with a funder in a series of … then, other funders came in, and partnering with Google and Amazon because otherwise, how are these voices, these other voices going to get in there? It wasn’t something that was in our business plan. But, we got asked just because they’re like, “Well, you guys are senior. You seem to know what’s going on. You know what you’re doing. Can you tell us what to do with everybody else?” And, I was kind of like, “Oh, do you have other ideas? Or, send us anything.”
The big guys just say, “Look, send us stuff and we’ll figure it out,” because they’re just literally like, “We don’t even have a mechanism for listening or finding these things.” Even when they create an official program, the program board members who are usually white and male will filter out the people still, right? But, they’re still part of the organization. So, there’s a lot of that stuff where, really, you have to … the centers of power really have to become diverse. It’s heartening for me to see that some of the boards have added black women to their boards. And, the funders are starting to ask other people of color, black women, Asian women.
So, I work with an Asian funder, Chinese funder. I work with a funder from United Emirates. We work with white funders, black funders, Hispanic funders. So, we really go there and say, “Look, okay, now we have a conversation.” There’s a real conversation.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so, so important, such important work. So, Marie, one last question, and this is a biggie. You’ve done so much. You’ve accomplished so much in your life and I feel that this is only the beginning with you somehow, though. What is the big vision? Where do you see yourself, say, in ten years or even 20 years? Do you have a sense of that?
Marie Smith: Maybe checking out Jupiter, I hope, but-
Melinda Wittstock: You know what, I could picture that with you. [crosstalk 00:58:55] let me just say, this has been an amazing conversation and I’m excited to learn more about Data 360 and how that can apply to my own business, but I think a lot of women and men who listen to this podcast would like to know more. How would they go about contacting you and learning how they can work with you?
Marie Smith: Yeah, so, you can always reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m Marie Data 360, so you just type in Marie at Data 360 and I’ll pop right up. And then, you could also email our support center and they will always get back to you as soon as possible at email@example.com.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Thank you so much for putting on your Wings and flying with us.
Marie Smith: Thank you. Thank you for having me, Melinda. I really appreciate it.