Tereza Nemessanyi is Changing How We Make Decisions

6 years ago

Who do you turn to for advice? Honest advice? Now imagine that person is no longer available. Where then would you turn?

Tereza Nemessanyi was faced with this very dilemma when her trusted confidante, her mom, passed away. Not being able to get advice from mom left a gaping hole for the former senior executive (PWC,IBM, Disney,), leading her to take the plunge into the world of startups with Honestly Now, a web-based Q&A platform.

I sat down with Tereza for an honest, insightful chat about being a mom-preneur and a daughter of immigrants, and the future of the emotional web.

Recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation and venture capitalist Cindy Padnos of Illuminate Ventures show high-tech businesses with women in leadership outperform the rest. They are more capital efficient, launching with 30%-50% less capital, generate 12% higher revenues, and have lower failure rates...

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up? How did that change as you grew older?

I was a daydreamy kid and thought a lot about what I wanted to be when I grow up -- and changed my mind a million times. They included actor, singer, international spy, archaeologist, economist, and TV reporter.

I think the common thread was that I loved adventure and discovery, performing and relaying information back to people. And some bit of suspense, or an idea that I'd be on the cutting edge of something. I just didn't have a sense of what. I can't believe that now I'm 20 years into a career centered around innovation.

What was a game-changing moment in your life?

When I graduated from college, I packed my backpack and moved to Prague. It was 1992 and the world was changing, and I wanted to be part of it. It didn't all happen in a straight line, but eventually I had a job as the first employee of what would be a brand-new television network. We launched the first commercial TV network in post-Communist Europe! It was the most successful TV launch of all time, and we changed the media landscape of the region. I would never, ever have been part of that if I hadn't just packed my backpack and gone, figuring that, to be part of the action, you have to get your butt in the center of the action and the people who were doing it. Even just be being there, you intersect interesting things.

We are going to see a tidal wave of technologies and platforms which help us do things not only faster and cheaper -- which is very alpha male -- but we'll be digging into ways to use gamification to make us *better*...

About Honestly Now

What’s the story behind Honestly Now??

Not long after I had my first child, my parents died, one after the other. It all happened very quickly and was quite traumatic, as we were a tight immigrant family. I was really used to my mother giving me very pointed feedback about what I should and shouldn't do. This was in part cultural -- she was Czech, and this was normal, and always out of love, and motivated by helping me be the best person I can be.

I started to ask friends for feedback, and found they either said I was "fine" or "great," or they punted. Bottom line, it's not so easy for a friend to be honest. So I made a platform to recreate what I lost from my mom -- very helpful, constructive feedback, with love -- and tying in excellent expertise, too.

Are you naturally a risk taker? If yes, how do determine what's a good "risk"?

I'm absolutely a natural risk taker. My parents underwent serious risk to escape communist Czechoslovakia to create a new life, and I was taught that life is short and you have to take advantage of opportunities, as they are never handed to you on a silver platter. (At least, they never were for me!!)

In starting Honestly Now, it was all about what other options do I have. I was in a funky position where I wasn't quite senior enough for a CEO role, but too senior for other roles. And the economy was terrible. I figured -- if I tried this and I failed, what's the worst thing that could happen? I continued doing consulting work so I had some income, carved out some money for a prototype, and figured if it did fail, I'd walk away with a lot of new experience I couldn't otherwise get and would be joining a massive fraternity of failed entrepreneurs.

Honestly Now underwent a pivot; as an entrepreneur, how do you know when it’s time to change direction? How do you get over the fear of letting go of the known that isn’t working for the unknown that could work?

The truth is we've been through a few pivots, and every day feels like some pivots. Here's the thing. I'm pretty unsentimental about tossing something that doesn't work. I think it's easier, when something is a total failure, to ditch it. It's when it's ambiguous that it's harder. You're just not sure whether you've given it enough time to take root. That's the hardest time, and it tests the mettle of your leadership. It's a leap of faith. Because there's a good chance that not everyone believes it's time to abandon that strategy. You have to decide it, own it, and drive it in the new direction.

It’s MY own startup and I can decide what I spend time on...

There’s a belief that only 25-year-old dudes can create and run successful startups. As a mom and as an entrepreneur how do you balance your home life with the life of the startup?

It's not easy, but I'm not sure it's so different from being a mom and having a job. 75% of moms work, after all. The luxury I have is that it’s MY own startup, and I can decide what I spend time on. That said, of course I spend too much time on work and have to work hard to get my eyes off the iPhone and the screen.

One thing that helps a lot is to partition your days. So, when I was commuting into NYC, which was a bear of a commute, I would work from home Mondays and Fridays. This way I could dip into mission-critical parenting stuff and also take my daughter to piano lesson, which is important to us. The time savings from not commuting were substantial as well. Then, I pack my City days to the gills, with our team, with partners, investors. Indeed, there is not much downtime. However, I love what I do and I draw energy from it. I guess the final thing I'd say on this is that I do NOT get enough exercise. Bad me. What I do, though, is work hard to get enough sleep so I can be as effective as possible.

You’re married. How did your husband respond when you decided to start Honestly Now? What are some tips for getting buy-in from key players like your family and friends?

Confession -- he thought it was a bit crazy, but figured he'd support it. As I've achieved wins along the way, the support has grown, especially since some of them are things he hasn't done before. There is no question that he shoulders a huge amount of financial and family burden in order for me to do this. I tell him -- and I'm serious -- it's all to get him the lifestyle he deserves! My kids are young and I don't have too much other immediate family, so I didn't need buy-in per se. But I must be honest and say that I've not spent enough with my friends in the last couple of years. I do regret that, and I look forward to a time when running Honestly Now gets more predictable and I can see those friends more. It will happen.

What's next in social gaming media? Where are the growth opportunities in this field?

The emotional web. We are going to see a tidal wave of technologies and platforms which help us do not only faster and cheaper -- which is very alpha male -- but we'll be digging into ways to use gamification to make us *better*. And I see women as being at the forefront of that. Because women run 85% of consumer spend, and a large amount of our decision-making is influenced by emotion. There's a huge amount of opportunity being left on the table.

What is the one piece of advice you would give your 13-year-old self?

Easy: Stop caring so much what other people think. You're a smart girl with great gut intuition. Follow it. You don't need as much "training" as you think, and you don't need permission. Make some money, and invest it back to make more money. Build from there.

For more thoughts on women, technology and business, please follow Kathryn on Twitter at @KathrynFinney

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