March 31

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Finding A Mentor and a C-Suite Title with Female COO Christine Augustine

By Mimi MacLean

March 31, 2022


female coo

Christine Augustine, COO of Bloomreach

This week, the female COO of Bloomreach, Christine Augustine joined the Badass CEO podcast to talk about reaching a C-Suite position and how important mentors are. She's a leading thinker in e-commerce and has been a manager at Bain & Company, focused on technology, retail, and strategy prior to joining Bloomreach in 2011. Christy’s an experienced computer programmer, who has concentrated on onsite search, merchandising, and payment. She will share how her technology expertise is important in arming clients with the tools needed to compete in a demanding market.

“ The best place to find that mentor, typically is going to be within the company. Because it's not going to be extra effort to go out and find that mentor. You're not going to be viewing it as that extra hour. You're probably going to be meeting with them and they're going to see your work directly.” -Christine

Find Christine and Bloom Reach:

Episode Contents

Being with Bloomreach Since Series B and How She Became Their Female COO

Mimi:
Christine, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it. I'm excited to hear about your company, Bloomreach, and all the exciting things that you're doing. You've been with the company since Series B, which will be great to talk about the whole financing. Because that's a huge part of I think a lot of women struggle with, is getting financing for their companies.

Mimi:
But, so just talk to us about what Bloomreach does. And then also how you came to join Bloomreach and how now, a chief operating officer.

Christine:
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me today. And no, Bloomreach is a commerce experience platform. And it is a big data company really focused on commerce. So the whole idea is to make sure that we are offering companies software. That means that their consumers can find what they're looking for, they can convert better, they get quantifiable measurable results from our software.

Christine:
And really it's about making sure that commerce grows. Commerce is such an important part of everyone's daily life or their jobs. And so we want to make sure that we're growing commerce. Not just for the companies that we work with, but for consumers, because commerce changes lives.

Christine:
So with that, I think you asked, how did I find Bloomreach and join?

Christine:
I joined Bloomreach in 2011. Bloomreach was founded in 2009. And so we had about 30 customers. About 30 employees. And I found the company through Bain Capital. And so I was looking to get it back into an earlier stage company, tech-focused, and spoke to a number of venture capital companies about which of their portfolios is doing well? Which ones are interesting?

Christine:
And, Bloomreach kept coming up as a company that was instilled. No one really knew what they did, but they're killing it. And so that was very interesting. It was hard to really get your arms around what the company was doing. But really great team, really great set of people, really interesting ideas.

Christine:
And so that is one of the things that really pulled me into the company was that, at that early stage, you can't really assume that the company is going to be that way in 10 years. That there isn't going to be two or three pivots. So the people really matter, the ideas or the adjacencies that you can go into really matter.

Christine:
And so I felt like Bloomreach had all of those pieces, which certainly 10 years later, it's not the same company. But getting to work with the people I've gotten to work with, has been really important. And joining at that stage, you do end up getting to wear multiple hats.

Christine:
So the role is a little less solidified that you're joining into. And you have to be ready to do multiple different hats along the way.

Company Culture and Her Advice for Funding a Company

Mimi:
When a company that is smaller when you join, and I know this wasn't probably directly your role, but you've experienced it. How do you keep the company culture? Or how as you grow, I mean, it can get unruly. Were there things in place that Bloomreach did that kept the culture the way that they wanted it, as they were growing?

Christine:
Yeah, no. I mean, that's a really good point, because as you add more and more people, I mean the culture comes from every single individual. So as you're adding more and more people, two critical things I think are important to keeping that culture going.

Christine:
One is, I think you have to set the culture at the beginning. You have to set the culture when you're not in crisis. When you're not confronting those scary culture moments. You have to know what you stand for before you even get there.

Christine:
And so it's something that Raj and Ashu, who were the founders of the company, I think did really well. Before they even hired anyone before they even did and fundraising, they wrote down, "This is what we stand for. And these are the values of the company."

Christine:
And then I think the second most important thing is, you have to talk about it all the time. It can't be one of those things you score yourself at the end of the year and say, "How are we doing?" It has to be a constant conversation.

Christine:
So this is one where it's a constant conversation. And because it's a constant at an executive level, you see it starting to happen at all levels. That people are talking about the culture, "What are we doing to reinforce it? Do they have ideas? How are they committed to helping us build it?"

Christine:
But as an executive team level, we talk about it constantly. And actively, there isn't a month that goes by, the culture, our commitment to our team, isn't discussed. We have to set it on the agenda basically.

Mimi:
And then talk about, I know we talked about this briefly in the beginning. But you came in at Series B financing. And I think financing is super hard. What has your been your experience with financing and funding as you've grown?

Christine:
Yeah, so I mean, we've had a couple of fundraising rounds since I've been at the company. And I think that through that, it's really critical that you are constantly managing the business to the important business metrics. Not letting the market and the investment environment sway what you're highlighting or what you're going to double down on.

Christine:
But making sure that you just take the fundamentals of the business and you're constantly managing to that. So do you have an eye on your new revenue, growth and profitability. And your customer local acquisition and sales cycle. And your LTB? Like, "Are you looking at the standard metrics and saying, "Am I building a business for the long run? Am I building a generational business?"

Christine:
Because then, regardless of, we've certainly over the years with the financing rounds, seen rounds where new logo growth is the only thing people were really looking at. And other rounds where people were saying, "Well, where are you on profitability."

Christine:
And other rounds where it's, "Okay, well what's your Rule of 40 or what's your net retention rate? And there have been different moves in the market. It's important to know what those are and what's being discussed.

Christine:
But I think if you're always running your business to those long term metrics, to building a long term sustainable company, you're going to be able to weather all of those different waves that are coming through.

Keeping The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Mimi:
And what have you found to be the most challenging or difficult part of growing the business since you've been there?

Christine:
I mean, I think that one of the most challenging things is, as your business grows, how you keep the entrepreneurial spirit. How do you keep the fact that a new product can fail? How do you make sure that you're not treating all of your new products or your new innovation, like you're treating the long term products. The ones that are stable and in the market.

Christine:
So how do you create this company and grow this company where you've got some of successful products, you've got them scaling. And you're constantly trying to scale your teams. But also, on the other side, you've got this innovation going. You've got things that may or may not work. You're the things that you just rush and do and you don't overthink. And that you just try to get those. And some of them aren't going to work out.

Christine:
And some of them, you're not going to be talking about, "How do we scale this before we have our first customer." You're going to really come in and really just say, "Okay, well, how do I get that first customer? And yes, I might not have it all figured out."

Christine:
Having that balance. Having a Series E company that has Series D, Series C, Series B, Series A, in the company. And that you're treating all those initiatives appropriately. I think that, that is one of the hardest parts.

Christine:
Aside from the question you asked at the very beginning, on culture and maintaining that culture as you grow and scale. But an equal part of the culture is making sure you keep that entrepreneurial spirit.

Mimi:
I like that because it is true. And then, especially being in tech, you definitely want to stay innovative. So you're in an industry that is probably most predominantly men, in the tech industry. I mean, now there's been a lot more push trying to get girls and females doing STEM.

Being A Female COO In The Tech Industry – Navigating the Space

people sitting down near table with assorted laptop computers

Mimi:
You're a math major like I was in college. Which wasn't very, I think I was in a room with all men, when I was a math major. And there wasn't many of us either. But how have you been able to balance that? Being probably a minority in the tech industry?

Christine:
Yeah. It's a great question. And I love that we were both math majors. I think I went the route of going to an all women's college. So when I came first into the tech industry, I remember my first job at Hewlett-Packard. And I'm walking around and I was like, "Wait, where are all the girls? Where are all the women?"

Christine:
I was so used to there only being women, that it was just such a stark contrast on the first month. Culture shock. But there's plenty of times where you're the only woman in a meeting or the only voice at the table.

Christine:
I think that it's changed a lot over the years. Earlier in the career, you were supposed to ignore that. And let your contributions speak for themselves. I think that I'm learning from a lot of the people on the team, that it is important to make sure that not only is your voice heard, but the voice of everyone around you is heard.

Christine:
So when I get invited to some of these meetings that have, no other women, I'm constantly thinking, "Well, who else can I invite to this meeting? Who else should have had a seat at the table? Who doesn't have a seat at the table and is another woman I can invite to join?"

Christine:
That's at least a luxury we have now. Where you're typically not the only one in the company, but you can pull some in. So definitely like, "Who are those allies that you can get?"

Christine:
And then I think it is important that the more senior you get in your career, the more you are pulling other people in and giving them a voice. And then I think it's just important to always remember that your voice is valuable. That you can be speaking up. And just because you have a different point of view, doesn't make it wrong.

Christine:
That was one of the things I think the Math Professors at St Mary's did so well, is I had one particular class. That every class you'd come in and you'd give the answer. And in math, a lot of times there's a right answer. They give an answer, and immediately for the first couple weeks, they tell you it was wrong every time.

Christine:
They'd be like, "No, I don't think that's right." Even when it was right. So that, you started to build your own internal compass on women. "No, I'm going to argue that. No, you're wrong. I am right." And how do you build that confidence on when you have the right answer? Or you have a differing opinion, doesn't make you wrong.

Mimi:
Oh, I like that. It's true. And I like the fact that you brought up about pulling up, helping other women. Because I think there seems to be a tendency, I've worked in environments where it's been all men. And I've worked in environments where it's been all women.

Mimi:
And I sometimes feel like women, when they finally get to the top, they're so tired and they've had to climb such a big hill. They don't have the energy to help anybody else out. Or they just feel like I fought to get here, I'm not going to make anybody else's life easier to get here.

Mimi:
So I do think that's an important piece that women need to acknowledge. We need to help other women and other young women that graduate from college, and mentor them and advise them. And whenever they need to get, as you said pulled up. Because I think that's a big piece of it.

Christine:
Yeah. And I think you bring up a good point as well. A lot of times when you've worked that hard to get there and it's ticking a little bit in your career, you're hitting that at the same point where you're hitting multiple competing priorities. Your family has expanded and you're taking care of others, whether it's aging parents or its younger children.

Christine:
And so you have a lot more going on and you can get that tiredness. One of the things I found to combat some of that is, it is nice when you think about your job, when you can make that shift. You focus solely this point to getting to this point in your career. So you focused on yourself. And how do I get to this point in my career? What do I need to accomplish? What does my career need to look like?

Christine:
To then be able to turn it and say, "Okay, well who else's careers can I impact?" Who can I pull along from there?Is a nice rejuvenating point in your career. To look and say, "Okay, actually, I don't need to focus solely on me right now. How can I focus on others in the organization?"

Christine:
And I also think that does very nicely for growing your own company. And achieving your own revenue targets in the company. And bringing and the company along is, "How do I scale that? How do I turn to all the other team members and say, 'Okay, how do I pull you along?'" Because now you've got multiple people impacting the company. Not just yourself.

C-Suite in Corporate America – Hiring and Being in a Leadership Roll

Mimi:
Well, it's interesting. I mean, you're a COO. I was never a CO. But I always wondered when I worked for corporate America. Why do they always need to be hiring from without, outside the organization? I feel, well now I can relate it to being on a club soccer team as a mom. Like, "Wait, why are they hiring outside?"

Mimi:
If you haven't developed your kids over three years or your employees over X amount of years internally, then you're doing something wrong. That's how I was always looking at them. Like, "Wait, if you have to hire from without, that means you need to look at what you're doing from within, that you're not able to bring up the talent or bring in the right talent to bring up the talent.

Mimi:
If you have to hire the COO from outside, they're not going to know as much as someone's been there for 10 years, and made it through the system and knows everybody. So I always look at that, I think maybe companies need to, like you're saying, pull from within. And develop these other women, to make sure that they get to more senior positions.

Christine:
Yeah. And I think it takes a longer time horizon to do that. One of the things I appreciate is, I think I hit up [inaudible 00:17:17] here and Raj, our CEO and founder. We sat down and he was like, "Where do you want your career to go?"

Christine:
And I was like, "Look, I really want to be COO of a tough company someday. Not today. I've got a couple other organizations. Departments I've never worked in. Got a long way to go, I think before I'm there. But that's the ultimate goal.

Christine:
And he worked with me for years on, "Okay, what's the right opportunity next? How are we building out the portfolio of your experience to get you to COO?" And so I think, on one hand, it does require having those longer term conversations, and then setting up people with the right opportunities along the way.

Christine:
The other, I think is, are you hiring for brand new DNA, or are you hiring because you need leadership. And in the new leadership piece, I think it's a great place if you've been working with people on their careers to bring them in. And the new DNA piece, if you're setting up the information security team for the first time for the company and no one has experience and information security. Yeah, you're probably going to go outside and bring that leader in from the outside.

Christine:
But if you're if you're adding a new customer success leadership and you've had that team, hopefully you've been working over an extended period of time and have that person in mind or people in mind that you could be promoting.

Mimi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

The Process of Starting A Company Is Long But That’s Okay

Mimi:
No, I had read somewhere. And I don't know if this is true or not. I'd love to hear your opinion, that a lot of times women don't get asked to be in C-suite positions at corporate jobs. Because the roles that they've tend to be in, have been roles that were not profits roles.

Mimi:
If it tends to be more marketing or PR, they not PnL driven. And so if they don't have PnL experience, they tend to be overlooked to be put into a C-suite. I don't know if that's true or not, but I would love your opinion on that. Or any other opinion of why or what women can be doing in their careers to prepare them for a C-suite position.

Christine:
Yeah. That's really interesting. I'd heard the same thing as well. In fact, at one point, when I was leaving consulting, I worked with the career coach on what would be the next right move coming out of consulting. And the first thing they mentioned is, "Well, you don't have PnL experience. So how are you going to go get PnL experience?"

Christine:
And I think that, that is really important for particular functions. So if you're going to run a professional services organization, you need PnL experience. If you're going to be CEO, you need PnL experience. Marketing is another great example. Where there's a large budget, you need to know how to manage against a large budget and generate results.

Christine:
So it's a really good background for a lot of the C-suite. Maybe not all of them. But it's a good way to look and say, "How can I take the role I'm doing today?" So maybe I'm a customer success manager. And I'm earlier in my career. Well, you have a portfolio. Definitely.

Christine:
So how can you take that opportunity of, "I have a portfolio of customers I'm working with. How much revenue? How am I growing the top line? So maybe I don't have PnL experience, but I'm learning how to manage a top line." And grow from there.

Christine:
So I think it's important to look at, as you've mentioned, what are the experiences needed to get to the C-suite? And how can I back away to my current role and at least get some pieces in there? I think the other thing that's important to do, is just know what the strategic priorities are for the company and what white space might exist, that you can go tackle. So not all the opportunity to join C-suite is an existing role.

Christine:
So for example, we didn't have a COO at Bloomreach, until I got promoted into the role. Sometimes that's true all the way to manager our positions. There might be an opportunity to be promoted, that you weren't aware of.

Christine:
So how are you looking at the white space around you, not just your current role, but is there things that you think should be being done, that no one's doing? Can I go pick those up?

Christine:
And before you know it, you've created a new role for yourself. How do I add those experiences so I get promoted. Maybe there's getting promoted into a role that didn't exist before.

Mimi:
That's good. That's good advice. Yeah, because it's startling that only, what is it? 5% of C-suite positions or are by women, is very, very low. The book I wrote, I try to dissect a little bit of what it is. And you can't just blame corporate America.

Mimi:
I mean, women make choices to leave the workforce, like I did. Because it's balancing family and having a corporate job are really difficult. I mean, it's gotten a little bit easier than 30 years ago, when I started out in corporate America. Where there was no working from home and there was no, you had your two weeks vacation or three weeks vacation, that's it.

Mimi:
And I remember looking around in corporate America and being like, "Wait, these women are in their 40s with kids at home, on a Saturday night and they're still in the office." And I was like, "I do not want to be doing that. That's not what I want to be doing when I'm 40 and it's my kid's birthday.'.

Mimi:
And I remember one time my boss saying, "Oh yeah, it's my daughter's birthday today.' And it was a Saturday night. And I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is not what I want to be doing on my daughter's birthday, on a Saturday night."

Mentorship and Her Advice as a Female COO

Photographer: Green Chameleon | Source: Unsplash

Mimi:
So I guess point of my story is or question is, what can women be doing to increase their chances? One of the thing for me was startling was, many women don't have mentors. And men do.

Christine:
Right.

Mimi:
Right. And so, is there anything else from your experience that, anybody who's listening, that wants to go on that path, that they can be doing, that we haven't touched on yet?

Christine:
Yeah. So it's a really good question. And very tough. I agree with you that, I think a mentor is really critical. And I think that women have a hard time finding mentors for a couple reasons.

Christine:
One, as you mentioned, it's hard to actually find someone that you look at and you can, representation. Representation matters. And so that can make it hard to find a mentor.

Christine:
I also think all the competing priorities. As you get more tenured in your career, you're balancing work and family. Am I going to spend that extra hour meeting with my mentor? Or am I spend that extra hour with my kids, all makes it really hard.

Christine:
And so given that, I think the most important thing you can do is, join a company that is going to be supportive of you. And that you're going to be able to look and find a mentor in. And that's hard to do when you don't know the company.

Christine:
So they tel you, they interview the company just as much as they interview you. But I would say not only interview the company, but back channel the company LinkedIn makes it super easy now. You go on that company, you look at the C-suite, you look at VPs managers, who do know? How can you get connected?

Christine:
And you call up their friends and their connections. And you ask what those managers are. You ask what that leader's like. Because the best place to find that mentor, typically is going to be within the company. Because it's not going to be extra effort to go out and find that mentor. You're not going to be viewing it as that extra hour. You're probably going to be meeting with them and they're going to see your work directly.

Christine:
And so I've been very lucky to have Raj as a mentor for so many years. And he's super talented. But it's made it easier working with him, because then you've got someone right there. Versus how many networking sessions. And are you really going to find a mentor in that 30 minute networking session that you went to, and build a relationship there? It's really hard,

Mimi:
Right. Well, you bring up two good points. One is that, it doesn't have to be a female to be a mentor. It can be a male.

Christine:
Yeah.

Mimi:
And two, it doesn't have to be a formal. Like, "Hey, will you be my mentor?", relationship. It can just be like, "Hey, I aspire to be this person. I can watch and see what they're doing. I can learn from them." Just, "Hey, can I sit in your office during my lunch break. And just list to you, craft a deal." Whatever, it doesn't have to be a lot of skin off their back to help you out.

Christine:
Right, absolutely. I think that's such a great point. Can I shadow some calls? That's an easy ask, to no time off the venue one. So it doesn't have to be that formal relationship.

Christine:
And I don't know, some times that formal relationship's really awkward to ask. "Will you be, my mentor?", can be really hard for people to ask. But, "Can I join these calls? Can I watch this one meeting? Can I just grab 30 minutes and talk about my career? And do you have any ideas for me?", are all great ways to develop that mentor relationship.

Mimi:
Or even, for anybody who's listening. I had one time somebody's child said to me, "Oh yeah. I'm going to go and ask everybody…", he had a summer internship. And he's like, "I'm going to ask every banker I'm working with, if they'll give me 20 minutes, if I bring them a cup of coffee. And just tell me about their careers."

Mimi:
Where they just went and just listened to their careers. Just, their path and how they got where they were at. And just coming up with these ideas of not making it so formal. And just learning as much as in networking. That's probably pretty important.

Christine:
I love that because everyone's path is different. Some people make their own path. And knowing all of those different stories in past, I think gives you a ton of options. My favorite genre to read actually is people's auto biographies.

Christine:
I love auto biographies because you are just reading multiple stories. Multiple, either things people went through or different paths in a career. I think it helps you get creative in a lot of ways. It doesn't have to all be the same path.

Mimi:
Yep. Well, speaking of that, last question is, would you recommend for women who are graduating from college business school, to go down the being capital consulting route? Or do a startup route?

Christine:
I totally think it depends on your background. So I was a sophomore engineer in the very early part of my career. And so when I went to business school, I really felt like all of those elements of business school I hadn't done. And so consulting made a lot of sense to me. That I could just pick up as many of those experiences, all those cases, as I could. But when I talk to some other people who already have that business background, it may not make as much sense for them.

Christine:
So I think it's really important to look at the background you have and the next role. Whether that's, "Okay, I'm going to go to the consulting or the VC route. Or I'm going to go straight to a startup." How is it adding to your story? How is it adding to your puzzle and your framework of what other skills you're trying to get?

Christine:
I super enjoyed my consulting experience and the team I got to work with. I thought it was very valuable. And honestly, I use a lot of it every day. But I also had a very different background coming in. Very technical. When I went to business school, I didn't know any of the financial pieces. Hadn't seen a balance sheet before.

Christine:
That was a very long night of case work. When we got balance sheets. A lot of begging my friends to help me. And so you have to look at the different skills that you're adding. And what makes most sense for your next step.

Mimi:
That's great. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate this Christie. Is there anything else you want to end on that we haven't covered? But I think we covered a lot territory.

Christine:
Yeah, I think so. I think we did. Thank you so much for having me.

Mimi:
Thank you so much and take care.

Christine:
Yeah, you too.

Mimi:
Thank you for joining us on the Badass CEO. To get your copy of the top 10 tips every entrepreneur should know, go to the badassceo.com/tips. Also, please leave a review, as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me @mimi at thebadassceo.com. See you next week and thank you for listening.

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