Going Against the Flow: Stephanie Newby, CEO of Crimson Hexagon

Stephanie Newby is Crimson Hexagon's CEO. She is also the founder of New York-based venture investment firm Golden Seeds. Her prior experience was in financial services, the majority of which was with J.P. Morgan where she headed several global businesses, including Head of eCommerce.

Newby retains a board position with publicly traded Foster Wheeler AG. Her 10 prior board positions include Riskmetrics Group, Design2Launch, UK Securities & Futures Authority and Archipelago Holdings. She obtained a B.A. from the University of Sydney.


Stephanie Newby (Courtesy of self)

Q: What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what makes for a successful entrepreneur?

SN: Entrepreneurship to me means flying alone, blind inside a hurricane, and hovering anywhere between ecstasy and terror. You're alone because you never have enough resources, and blind because while you still have all your other faculties, you are always missing one essential item that could make all the difference between life and death.

A successful entrepreneur has a big idea and is willing to risk everything to see it come to fruition. She needs to be willing and able to live without a salary, because there will be times when she needs to put everything on the line to save her company. I also think it's important to remember that it's not just 20-somethings who can start companies. It can be incredibly valuable to spend time in your 20s working for existing companies to learn what you're good at, what you love to do and what problems need solving. Many of the best entrepreneurs I know are people who came into entrepreneurship as a second career. This is especially true for women, which I learned after starting Golden Seeds, an early-stage investment firm focused on female-founded companies.

Q: What characteristics do you look for when you hire an employee at Crimson Hexagon? Do you have any interesting interview questions or best practices?

SN: I look for two things: a learning person and a happy person. A learning person is someone who's a quick study, can think on her feet, and be willing NOT to be the expert from day one. She never lets her ego get in the way of wanting to learn more. These are the type of people who can do anything and go anywhere with their careers. A happy person can always see the glass as half full. It's not about ignoring problems; it's about being solution-oriented when problems arise.

Earlier in my career, I focused entirely on qualifications when making hiring decisions. This was a mistake. Ultimately, it is better to hire for potential rather than for experience. The latter serves you well in the short term, but the former serves in you better in the long term.

Q: What are you most proud of in your professional career? What are you most proud of in your current role as CEO at Crimson Hexagon?

SN: I'm proud that I've been able to reinvent myself several times, from corporate executive to founder of an investment firm to CEO of a technology company (and a mother!). I adopted the philosophy early on that I would never stay in a job once it stopped being fun. For me, the fun stops when the role becomes too repetitive and I no longer have the opportunity to learn new things and confront new challenges.

I am also proud of being a role model. It's not something you choose to be--one day you wake up and realize that you are. At first it scared me because I thought I would have to behave in a certain way, but then realized the whole point is to be yourself. That enables others to see that they can be their natural selves and be successful, too.

At Crimson Hexagon, I'm proud that we've achieved credibility in a new industry and reached a major turning point. We have built a strong chassis, and now we are stepping on the gas.

Q: If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

SN: On a personal level, I would not live 10,000 miles away from my siblings. My brother died recently, and my two sisters are just the most wonderful and fun people to be around. We love to laugh together.

Professionally, I would go back in time and get my MBA. I was never able to go back to school during my 20s, and by the time I was at JP Morgan, my colleagues told me I was too senior to pursue an MBA. While that may be true at a big organization, I think an MBA really elevates the credibility of executives at smaller companies and reflects positively on the company as a whole.

Q: Tell us about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

SN: Many working parents struggle with balancing the demands of the job with the desire to spend time with family. My decision to work from 4.30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for many years meant that I was able to spend evenings with my children while still putting in the same hours as my colleagues. It was by no means a conventional lifestyle, but it was the one that allowed me to enjoy the richness of family life and realize my professional goals at the same time.

Q: If you were to give advice to your 22 old self, what would it be?

SN: I would ask myself one question: why are you married already?

Q: What's one of your core company values that everyone takes to heart?

SN: We are focused on our customers, on innovation, and on having fun. These values drive our product roadmap, and help us experiment with new ideas, new technologies and new ways of working. We never want our work to stop being fun, and at Crimson Hexagon that means that we're always focused on finding new and better ways to solve our customers' problems.

Q: How do you motivate your employees at Crimson Hexagon?

SN: I believe openness and transparency provide the best environment in which to motivate people, as does treating everyone with respect. I also like the concept of leading from behind. It gives others the chance to demonstrate their leadership potential. "Behind" means you have their back. By pushing others forward, you are giving them the opportunity to fail. They can take that opportunity if you are there to support them when things go wrong. This will ensure they learn, move out, and get back out in front again ASAP.

In order to establish company culture, you must behave in the way that you want your employees to behave. You can take cues from employees about what they value about the company and what they aspire to be, but if you can't complement that with top-down work from the leadership team, it's pointless. It's crucial that the people at the top are acting in a way that's consistent with the culture you preach.

Follow Stephanie Newby at @StephanieSNewby, and check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ or thestartupsutra.com.