In Her Own Words: Kate Purmal + Lisa Goldman

What was the inspiration for this book?

Kate: Our clients had been asking us for a long time to write about the kind of practices or strategies that we’ve used over the years. One day, as we were heading to a meeting, we were listening to a radio show about President Kennedy’s 1961 moonshot and it all became clear to us right then. The concept of a moonshot – an idea that is rooted in the form of a nearly impossible project that requires the collective endeavor of a lot of people to make it happen – is becoming more common. That’s the perfect framework to talk about this work we do and it’s how we ended up with The Moonshot Effect.

What are some of the moonshots that you have both been involved in throughout your careers?

Lisa: One of the seminal moonshots that I was involved in was with Nokia and Lee Epting, who was a well-known early mover and shaker in Silicon Valley. Nokia wanted to inject the “secret sauce” of Silicon Valley into their company – that is, innovation – so they hired Lee to bring that to the company. While Nokia was the number one seller of mobile handsets in the world at that point in time and were known as being reliable and dependable, they were not seen as cutting-edge. They wanted to change that perception.

Within 90 days of bringing Lee on board, her boss essentially said you’re working out well and things are good, but what’s the big idea that you’re going to bring to me? She realized that was a call to action and within minutes of that meeting, she chose five people from her team who she thought were the most creative, outrageous, “get it done” kinds.

She brought them into her office and said, “You have 35 days to come up with a big idea and the business plan for it. Go away and do not come back until you’ve got it.” It was completely unheard of in a company like this, but they left all of the work on their desks and away they went. They hopped a plane to Finland and went to this remote Boy Scout camp setup where they completely sequestered themselves and got to work.

15 days later, they came back to present their work to Lee and get her input. 10 days after that meeting they had the full business plan that she requested. Nine months later, Nokia made Inc. Magazine’s top 25 list of most innovative companies in the world, which was the first time in the history of the company that this had happened.

During that period of time, I found that the magic of involving other people in a moonshot project is that when you want to quit, they don’t and when they want to quit, you don’t. The satisfaction of doing something you never thought you could do is really enormous and the effects of a moonshot are long-lasting.

I noticed the book mentions 24 critical practices that are essential to actually leading and managing an entire moonshot successfully. Can you walk me through a few of those practices?

Kate: Of course. One of these practices is called, “Envision the future”. One of the things we know from our research is that vision is the one trait out of 10 leadership traits in which women are perceived to have less of than men. Becoming visionary in your leadership and then asserting this approach is critical in driving a moonshot. What does it look like when the completed project or idea is out in the world? What is the experience you or your customers have? What’s the experience the company has? Having a visceral experience of the future and how great that will be is critical to keeping the motivation and the dedication of the team on track.

Lisa: Often we will hear women say they don’t know how to be visionary. It’s not a mystery or something you have to cook up in a magic pot. You can be visionary in the same way that you be managerial. You just ask a different question. Instead of asking, “How am I going to make this happen?” you ask, “What will this look like in the future?”

An example that we saw firsthand was of somebody who asked herself what the cover of Inc. magazine would look like should her team’s moonshot take off. She had somebody design a mock cover which she then showed to her team at the kick-off meeting. That was it. That was all the vision they needed.

Kate: Another critical practice is the art of requests or being effective in how you inspire action in your team. Astonishingly, it’s very common in business for people to make ambiguous or undefined requests and as a result they don’t get the outcomes they’re looking for.  There are three elements of a request that make them actionable and get them completed. One is making the request of a specific person to get the job completed; two is being very explicit about the deliverable so that there’s no question as to whether what gets delivered is the right thing or not; and three is assigning a hard due date for the deliverable. When we get sloppy about requests, which we do in “business as usual”, we fail to get the results we need. This is a really important and super fundamental practice that makes a big difference.

I’m curious to know how the two of you actually met or how your paths crossed for the first time.

Lisa: My husband and I own a boutique consulting firm together and he actually met Kate at a client meeting of his. He came home and said, “Forget the meeting, I met this woman named Kate Purmal and she’s absolutely fantastic. You two need to meet sometime.” and offered to set something up. Coincidentally, about a week later, Kate and I actually both attended our first “Women in Consulting” meeting and introduced ourselves to one another. Once we heard one another’s names we both thought, “Wait a minute, I think I was supposed to meet you!” and that was it.

To deviate from the book a bit, I’m curious to know, as women in Silicon Valley, what are some of the challenges you have each faced over the years?

Kate: I actually have to answer that question in two different contexts. I was a math major in college which meant I was only one of three women in a 200-person lecture. I learned very early on to be comfortable in an environment that was mostly men, so it never felt odd to me to be sitting in board meetings or executive meetings where the situation was the same. I never attributed the way people were treating me to being a woman, which is a huge gift to me because even if I was discriminated against, I was oblivious to it. That allowed me to move in my world without being self-conscious about being a woman.

That said, one caveat I want to address is venture capital. I will tell you that when raising money or attempting to raise money, my experience as a woman was very different than in every other context in my career. The vast majority of venture capitalists are men – upwards of 95% – and they are making risky business decisions and therefore, it comes from this place of almost a “gut check” if it’s worth investing. And women “gut check” differently than men do. It’s one of the reasons that many women are going out on their own and launching VC firms. It’s clear that there is a bias that still exists in venture capital and I think the solution is to get more women involved in funding and come up with alternative ways to generate funding so that as the system changes over time, the bias will change.

Lisa: My experience is similar to Kate’s in that I was only one of three women out of 100 students in my MBA program. It was never unusual for me to be in a class where there were no other women so when it came to my career and taking meetings, it didn’t show up on my radar. I had that same kind of blindness that Kate did which allowed me to have a radar for things that had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with how people accrue power to themselves, how people derail things and more things that we cover in the book that are not related to gender.

What do you consider to be your “Aha!” moment or that moment which brought you to self-awareness?

Lisa: I have two answers to this question. My first answer is the “breaking up with my boyfriend” response. When I was in college, I broke up with a boyfriend and I thought, as one does as a sophomore in college, that no one would ever want to go out with me again and that I’d be alone forever. Then, the next day, some guy knocked on my door and said he wanted to take me out. I was surprised and said, “Really?!” And he said, “Yeah, everyone is really excited to hear that you broke up with that guy and are available!” I had no idea and then realized that just because one opportunity ends, another one could be waiting right around the corner.

Fast-forward to adulthood when I was in a similar situation of wanting to leave my company after being there nearly seven years. Word traveled fast and I started receiving several calls in the following days with job offers for consulting. Once I realized that I had already been doing a consulting role in my current company without necessarily knowing it, it opened up a new world of possibilities. It’s the same commonality as my first experience, not realizing that other guys had wanted to date me and not realizing – until someone pointed it out – that I could build a career on consulting. That was a big “Aha!” moment for me.

Kate: Mine is about business. I had taken on a consulting project to launch a new business entity and was effectively named interim CEO while this was getting off the ground. I had been offered the permanent CEO position but turned them down three times thinking I just didn’t have the bandwidth or particular skill set to do it. Then, the partners brought in another candidate to interview and I knew him through previous work experiences. I realized then that I was equally qualified than he was, possibly even more qualified, which made it possible for me to compare my own capabilities to his. I then understood that I had what it took to be CEO and the job suddenly became very doable for me. I think that “Aha” moment was being able to step into what others saw in me and it was enormously powerful for me. Also, the first person I called to talk through this role and the pros and cons of taking it was Lisa Goldman.

Kate and Lisa’s book, The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business As Usual, is available where all books are sold. 

Are you a female tech industry veteran or entrepreneur that’s excited to share your lessons with the next generation of technology leaders? Share your insights as part of this “In Her Own Words” series. Contact me to learn more.