Women in Business: Alicia Navarro, CEO & Co-Founder, Skimlinks

Alicia Navarro is CEO and Co-founder of Skimlinks. She has always loved technology. She has a computing science degree (for which she won the University Medal), and has been a passionate product manager most of her career in large companies such as Vodafone, IBM, Fairfax Media, and Optus, as well as a few tech startups.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up the child of Spanish/Cuban migrants to Australia, and my amazing parents worked incredibly hard to educate me - they taught me to be disciplined, to work hard, and to have integrity. But I was also a dreamer, and was always imagining and yearning towards the next step in my journey. This combination probably defines the kind of leader I am: I work hard and value learning and goodness, and I have a big vision that I am passionate about achieving.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Skimlinks?
In my 20s I worked for big companies: IBM, Vodafone, Optus (an Australian telco), Fairfax (an Australian media conglomerate), and while I learned a great deal, I always felt detached and lacking in purpose. I resented that I was spending so much time out of my life doing something that felt like it had such little impact. I then worked for a while at a startup, and realized I'd found my calling. I knew I was more in my element with a smaller team of people I knew and cared for, where what I worked on each day had an impact that I could see. That is the reason I get up every morning, and why I know all my team do as well.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Skimlinks?
Running a company means every day has its highs and lows, it is a constant rollercoaster. The highlights have been when you hear your customers are passionate about your work, and to see your team develop and grow in their roles. The challenges have been around the physical, mental and emotional demands of always keeping on top of the competition, the industry, the economy.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Be prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that will come. It is much harder than you could ever imagine, and will require more sacrifices than you would have imagined. But if you take delight in the challenge, it is incredibly satisfying.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Trust your gut when hiring, and look for people that you have chemistry with, because creating a strong culture is incredibly important for the success of your company and for your general happiness at work.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
With difficulty, to be honest. I try to departmentalize by not working on weekends, but the truth is, you become your business and it is very difficult to fully detach.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
My experience in life has shown that there are very few cases these days when being a woman is even remotely a hindrance. Especially in technology, it is a meritocracy, so if you are good enough, you are good enough. The fact I'm a woman has not been a factor for me in my career: I define myself as a technologist, a leader, great at hiring, great at motivating. There are attributes of being a woman that help me with these roles (and there are some attributes of being a women that sometimes hinder me too), but you take what you have and make the best of it.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been incredibly valuable throughout my journey. Mentors have taught me aspects of running a business or leading a team that could never be intuitively known; mentors have helped me build my aspirations of the kind of person I want to become; mentors have been there to listen and share when I've gone through tough times. Being a part of a community, and finding people who you admire and that want to help you, is essential for anyone with aspirations in business.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I'm a fan of Karen Hanton (founder of TopTable) who is also one of my investors, and Sherry Coutu (serial entrepreneur and now investor and on Board of Directors of LinkedIn, Cambridge University and more). They are not only incredibly successful in business, but are also great people, have retained their femininity and humanity, and have maintained healthy family relationships throughout.

What do you want Skimlinks to accomplish in the next year?
Our vision is to help publishers get better rewarded for the role their content plays in creating intent. We are rolling out more technologies and products that approach this in new and impactful ways, and we want to do this while still retaining and growing our special culture.