In celebration of international women’s day and all things feminine, we have also decided to have a panel discussion on female entrepreneurship at the upcoming Startup Asia Singapore 2013. That’s probably, or rather, the only all-female panel that we are going to have (I sound rather bitter here), so you’d better be sure not to miss out on panelists such as BillPin’s Aileen Sim, Luxola’s Alexis Horowitz-Burdick, Quality Time Lab’s Meri Rosich, and The Athena Network’s Gina Romero.
On top of all the other awesome women mentioned, we are also honoured to have Carmen Benitez, founder and managing director at Fetch Plus joining us on the panel. For today’s post continuing our female entrepreneurship series, we’d like to give a little background on Carmen and her entrepreneurial journey. She tells us how she strikes a balance between work and family by compartmentalizing and seeking help from family and friends.
A huge fan of art, music, and reading, Carmen also looks up to to female models such as Estee Lauder and the latter’s commitment to the brand. Her advice to fellow female entrepreneurs? Read on and you’ll find out.
Tell me a little about yourself.
CB: I am a relentless driver and a passionate observer. While I love pushing through barriers and getting to the point, I have also learned through experience and good mentors’ actions that patience is a good benefit to one’s ultimate goals. I am totally into technology, but that’s not necessarily just cloud-based systems, applications, or gadgets. I love learning about space, fractal design, and other influences that help me piece things together.
What does your startup do, and what is your role?
CB: Our company, Fetch Plus, develops Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) social media marketing technology for major brand franchises, global media companies/publishers, and telcos worldwide. I serve as the founder and managing director, heading both the technology and product teams.
How and why did you get started in this industry?
CB: I’m a survivalist, which is something I think many women could carry and use to their benefit. I was that kid who would inadvertently raise my hand and volunteer to do or fix something when I didn’t necessarily have the “skills” to do it. That type of survival attitude started at a very young age where I was one of five kids in a household of immigrants. I was the kid who sat in the front seat of the car, learned navigation and mapping in order not to get lost; I was the kid, at age of six, was selling son-cones(a type of shaved ice with colored fruit-flavored syrup, pictured right, from Carmen) using commercial grade desert machines out of my parent’s garage; I was also the kid managing my mother’s accounts and sales transactions by the age of 11 for her alterations business.
In college, I remember raising my hand when I was in a work-study position for the office of the university’s president to build the staff database. After college, I moved with my then husband to a very large state school university town and felt lost. So I started working on a project called Vusion, that used mobile and photos to connect college students and offered mobile coupons to places like Starbucks for them to meet. This was early 2004. Subsequently, an incubator out of Athens sent me to Boston to meet up with some other college kids with a college network. Those college kids were the Winklevoss twins and that network was ConnectU.
Unfortunately (and fortunately), Facebook launched and I, with permission from the Winklevoss twins, went south to try to promote ConnectU to colleges not yet hit by Facebook, but the wildfire was already set. And I ran out of money. But that experience shaped me significantly as I knew then that technology was the spreader and generator of wealth.
After this, I went into marketing and kept raising my hand at my employment to fix things through technology. I then realized my commitment towards raising my hand and fixing was a great reason to move into entrepreneurship.
Why did you choose to move to Singapore? (FYI, Carmen is currently based in Singapore.)
CB: Love chose Singapore! I was in a long-distance relationship with someone from Australia and was actually living in Melbourne starting to get my bearings of starting a business. He then received a work opportunity to come to Asia and had the choice of Beijing, Hong Kong, or Singapore. Because I had vacationed in Singapore – understood the quality of life and biz opportunities were better suited for me as a person – we then decided Singapore was the best spot. It was the best decision for me as a person, both professionally and personally.
Did you face any challenges in particular?
CB: I think the biggest challenge has already been solved: The decision to build a business in Singapore. At the end of the day, when you decide to startup, each city will have its pros and cons. But the biggest challenge is just taking the step to say, “I’m willing to risk many other comfortable ways of living to give this a good go.”
How do you seek out relevant mentors and people for help, especially in a foreign country?
CB: I tend to be very specific in my mentors. I don’t agree that everyone is a mentor. You go and seek advice on really specific areas and find those to help. Incubators are good aggregators of a variety of mentors, so they help to make it easier to suss people out, but still it is important to read and stay abreast on current trends. Participate in organizations where your customers participate and engage in those circles. Many of your customers are great xtmentors themselves.
What were the sacrifices you’ve made in the pursuit of this move?
CB: I really can’t think of sacrifices, just pluses and minuses but that comes from making decisions. You do one thing and you give up another. But the outcome of what you have done, should create more benefit than the loss of the outcome of what could have been gained with the other decision.
Do you think your gender has played a role in helping you gain an advantage over your male counterparts? (soft skills, personal touch, attention to detail, etc.) Has it been a disadvantage in any way?
CB: Going back to the top about women having survivalist mentality. I think this is a great benefit even after you look at why we’ve developed it. For example, I read how Brian Wong of Kiip was this kid that spent 14 to 20 hours straight on his computer. For girls and women, we aren’t as fortunate to have such luxury of time or even supporters of such time. (Give us that type of luxury and boy, we sure as heck probably could deliver even more compelling successes!) We have to survive and be resourceful even when we deal with getting less attention in school, getting less airtime during meetings, getting paid less, being automatically viewed as a risky hire, especially during childbearing years. Knowing how to navigate and succeed in that type of foundation often equals to greater success for a company overall.
In your opinion, what are the necessary skill-sets and attitudes required to succeed in the technology and startup industry?
CB: I was told early on that I was aloof and I took that personally. Now I realize that my aloofness is actually a great asset in the world of startup. It enables me to keep a good distance from human resource headaches and office dramas. Think pragmatic, appreciate levels of disclosure, maintain calm, and keep others appreciative that things are under control.
Do you have any female role models that you look up to?
CB: Sure. I think most women in top senior leadership positions bring their own unique set of approaches, values, and attitudes as they’ve managed to climb a very tough ladder. So kudos to those women who have managed to understand how to survive in each of their professional lives.
One example would be Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I love how this woman graduated 3rd in her class at Stanford Law and couldn’t get a job due to the barriers against women. Nonetheless, she overcame the obstacle and became the first female US Supreme Court Justice. Another would be the late Estee Lauder). This lady understood customers and even as big as Estee Lauder became, she was still at every beauty counter or store opening. That is, commitment.
Do you have children? If yes, how do you effectively balance between work and family?
Yes, I have three children! All boys, too! My eldest son is 16, middle one is five, and the youngest is seven months old. The best approach to balance I have taken is to compartmentalize. So when I am with my children, I am 100 percent focused on them. When I work, I give my 100 percent as well. I am fortunate to have the support of a full-time nanny, so for fellow founder mums out there, do your best to leverage resources such as family and friends.
Do you have any advice for fellow female entrepreneurs?
CB: Remember your audience. Remember yourself in that audience. Be resourceful.
This is part of Tech in Asia’s series on female entrepreneurship.
As mentioned, Carmen Benitez will be speaking at Startup Asia Singapore 2013 in our Female Entrepreneurs in Asia discussion panel in April 5, 3.15 — 4.00pm.
And of course, don’t miss any of the other speakers at Startup Asia Singapore 2013 either. That list includes:
- Kee Lock Chua, (Group President and CEO at Vertex Venture)
- Shin Hasegawa, (Director at Rakuten Global Marketing Office)
- Ole Ruch (Managing director APAC at Airbnb)
- Steve Melhuish (Co-founder at PropertyGuru)
- Stefan Jung (Co-Founder and Managing Director SEA, Rocket Internet)
- Moo Natavudh (President Director at OOKBEE)
- Ming Shen (Co-founder at Nuffnang)
Tomorrow is the last day for our early-bird 10 percent discount, so if you haven’t grabbed your tickets, do so quickly! We will see you at Startup Asia Singapore on April 4 and 5.
The post Founder of Fetch Plus: Many Women Carry the ‘Survivalist’ Mentality appeared first on Tech in Asia.
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