Learn the art of saying no in a constructive manner. It’s an art, not a science, but keeping positive momentum means communicating negative answers in a way that still motivates vs. deflates team members.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Kyriakakis. Jennifer is MATRIXX founder and vice president of Marketing who brings deep expertise in both telecoms and software with roles ranging from complex systems delivery to technical sales to strategic marketing. Jennifer’s 20 plus years of experience helping Telcos reinvent themselves has propelled the growth of MATRIXX into markets all over the globe. In 2009, Jennifer co-founded MATRIXX Software with the vision of transforming how Telcos do business in the digital economy. Jennifer is a Forbes contributor and is often recognized for her impact on the industry. Some of those acknowledgments include being named Women in IT Entrepreneur of the Year by Information Age, Women to Know in Mobile from Martech Executive, Women of Influence by Silicon Valley Business Journal, Gold Innovator of the Year and Silver Entrepreneur of the Year by Women World Awards and most recently a Women in Business Gold Stevie®. As a panelist and keynote speaker, she has shared her thoughts on the topics of leadership and technology at events including Mobile World Congress, Big Communications Event, TM Forum Live and Telecom Council Mobile Forum.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After graduating, I began working at the Washington, D.C. office of Andersen Consulting, which is now known as Accenture. There, I worked on large information technology system implementation projects, writing SQL reports and developing applications in C. I eventually moved up into a project management position at a project in Mexico City for a mobile operator. Working with Logica, now part of CGI, I was part of the boom of mobile phones. In this position I learned how the mobile and telecommunications business worked.

After spending some time as a pre-sales technical consultant, I took a position in product marketing which was my first non-technical role. I enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it, as well as using my technical background to build positioning and help drive the company strategy. That software vendor I worked for was acquired in 2006, so in 2009 I co-founded MATRIXX Software together with the CTO/CEO of the previous company and a small group of engineers. Since then we’ve been growing the company to where it is today, around 230 people across 13 countries.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

We built a business that was ahead of our time so most of our early prospects said no to us multiple times! We were early to market with brand new technology and buyers are often risk averse when they’ve been working with specific partners for a long time. They are hesitant to change when something is new, unproven or not quite sure they see the need yet. It’s natural.

For us it was about staying true to our vision and knowing that we were still laying the groundwork for future business with these companies. Look at Elon Musk building electric vehicles, even before the EV charging infrastructure was fully in place! Eventually, these prospects came back and became our best customers. Marketing is a long-term investment, so immediate pay-off cannot always be expected or used to measure success.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Assuming that equity alone motivated people, when believing in the vision is much more important. Given we hire globally, those outside of Silicon Valley have often never had equity or profit sharing in their compensation so they don’t even know how to value it. So never lead with equity when you are recruiting. Build the full vision and growth potential for the company and the individual and the equity will speak for itself.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our people. Our technology. And our commercial approach.

People — We have a fearless, engineering mindset committed to doing and building right. We value integrity from design/development of products, through to commercial relationships, delivery and support. We’ve actually had customers tell us we are the most honest and transparent vendor they’ve ever worked with.

Product & Tech — There was no technology out there that solved the problem we were trying to solve — enabling consumption-based commerce at web scale, so we started from scratch and invented technology that did. That means our technology and product is completely unique. No one else has our core technology so they can’t deliver what we can.

Commercial & Delivery- most vendors aren’t motivated by helping the customer move faster. Project delays and additional work mean more money for the vendor. This is not a win-win model. We license and deliver our product in a way that we only earn more business as the customer is more successful.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! We are constantly expanding our Digital Commerce Platform to take advantage of cloud-native and 5G technologies.

There has been a lot of talk about Cloud and 5G, and it can get confusing to end consumers. While 5G brings many new expectations and capabilities, in the short term it will primarily improve overall customer experience. 5G will allow people to save money. Operators can deliver on-demand connectivity- meaning we won’t have to pay for the privilege of ubiquitous network availability- instead it can be delivered to us when we need it. By enabling mobile operators to efficiently deliver capacity based on demand, their operating margins improve, and that savings will eventually get passed on to the consumer.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

As a woman in technology, I think the main challenge is standing my ground when I’m the only woman in the room and expressing a differing opinion. I think women are still perceived as being ‘overemotional’ and men worry about ‘hurting our feelings’ in a workplace environment. It’s good to be passionate and emotional — in a way that is positive and is perceived as positive. Often, I think women don’t get coached enough or don’t get the same professional feedback a man is given, because a male manager feels they need to be ‘gentler’ in the delivery of constructive or even negative feedback. I always encourage those around me professionally to be direct and honest, as doing the right thing for the team, project or company is the ultimate goal.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Women are good communicators, so it’s about making sure everyone feels they have the information they want and need to do their job successfully. Regular team sessions and collaboration tools (such as slack) with team-based communities are very effective ways to ensure that everyone stays on the same page and ultimately feels connected and contributing to the goals and objectives. And they get to celebrate the successes!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One person who stands out to me is the marketing executive who recognized ‘the marketeer’ inside of me. I never would have considered a career change into marketing otherwise. He brought me on board, helped me craft my storytelling skills and then helped me become very visible across the company for which I was previously just doing regionally focused work.

Without his advocacy I wouldn’t have moved on to start MATRIXX Software. That leads me to Dave Labuda, my current co-founder at MATRIXX and CEO, who has allowed me to grow and hone my skills without interference or judgement. Having the space to expand my skill set in a dynamic environment that celebrates learning — even when they are from failures — has been an amazing experience.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Hopefully by helping create a work culture that is open, transparent and rewarding. And then having employees pass that culture along as they move on to other opportunities. I think the way we view our careers has shifted drastically in the last 20 years, especially with the impact of technology that has blended together our working and private lives. There is little distinction these days, so you should feel balanced, supported and successful in your work or else it can throw off your whole life.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Let your employees fail on the small projects, not on the big ones. We learn from failure so you can’t and shouldn’t always step in and correct a potentially bad decision. Just make sure they are learning opportunities vs. career limiting mistakes.

Learn the art of saying no in a constructive manner. It’s an art, not a science, but keeping positive momentum means communicating negative answers in a way that still motivates vs. deflates team members.

Timing is an ever-critical ingredient to success. Assess the complete picture of your environment vs. just the project or product you are working on to help guide your strategy and timelines.

Storytelling is an integral part of leadership. It helps people understand the why vs. just the what and the how.

Never mistake incompetency for malintent — even if it seems like someone is trying to undermine your efforts, its high unlikely it is anything more than their inability to effectively do their job.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Simplification — stop the madness of consumerism and accumulation. In developed countries there’s some attachment to having lots of ‘stuff’, ‘collecting things’ — who needs 5 cars? And to pass stuff on. Donate things you no longer use and look for used things when brand new isn’t necessary. We all can be happier with less stuff, we’ll create less waste and reduce our footprint on the planet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As a mom of a young child and a founder in a thriving business, I find myself saying, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Some days are better than others, but we should all be striving to do better, be kinder, and cut each other a little slack now and again.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Michelle Obama! She built her success off the back of education and hard work. Then had to deal with having the most high-profile husband on the planet while fulfilling a first lady role and raising two children. I live in DC, so you never know — it might just happen. ☺