Women in Business Q&A: Shana Schlossberg, Founder, EZBZ

Shana Schlossberg/Alyssa Peek

Shana has 15 years of experience directing a broad range of technology initiatives in the Internet, media, telecom and emergency services industries. She founded EZBZ in 2011 with the goal of creating an efficient and fair platform which uses innovative technology to connect between consumers and local businesses in real time. EZBZ is currently operating nationwide in over 1200 categories with more than half a million businesses and consumers in its network.

Prior to founding EZBZ, she was the founder and CEO of Israel Now, a chain of forty local news websites in Israel which offered comprehensive advertising, marketing and PR solutions for more than 25 thousand local and small businesses in Israel. Earlier in her career, she was a senior business analyst at HP during which she participated in the NYC Emergency Communication Transformation Program (ECTP) as a liaison to FDNY and developed and implemented AVL, GIS and Automated Triage solutions to improve emergency response in the five boroughs of New York. Before this, she was a project manager and business analyst at Amdocs where she led the development and implementation of numerous projects for Verizon and SBC (currently AT&T).

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
From a very young age I tried to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be and what I wanted to give back to this world. I reached the conclusion that in order to achieve this, I had to break away from my close-knit family life very early on. When I was fourteen I left home and began my first international adventure and have not stopped since. Unlike many I do not view life as a timeline that revolves around me and my accomplishments - job, marriage, family and success; instead I see it as borrowed time gifted to me in order to make this world a better place.

Since I have lived in many places and experienced almost everything, I am not afraid of anything. This is not because I do not feel fear, but rather because I know that I have the ability to overcome any challenge. I believe fearlessness is mandatory in a leader who is always taking the first step into the unknown and asking others to trust and follow her.

How has you previous employment experience aided your position at EZBZ?
When I started EZBZ I felt that everything I had done before had led me here, sort of like pieces of a puzzle fell into place. For the first six years of my career I honed my technology skills by designing and building next generation technologies for Verizon and AT&T, while at the same time learning the business of directories and yellow pages. Then, I had the opportunity to put my analysis skills to use by rebuilding the dispatch systems for the New York Fire Department (FDNY), using real time location and designing a system of automated triage. Next, I spent three years in Israel developing successful business models to monetize local internet news websites. After so many years of developing solutions for small businesses and seeing what wasn't working, building a solution that does work was a natural next step.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at EZBZ?
The highlights so far have been seeing our product being used and adopted to solve the problems it was created to address. For me it is meeting a small, local business who says EZBZ has saved his business by providing him with opportunities he wouldn't have otherwise received.

The challenges of all startups are generally the same - money, personnel and time. A startup is a risky endeavor that costs a lot of money and requires constant proof to investors that it is the surest bet. Funny enough though, money is the smallest issue; once money is secured the real concern is how to use it very wisely. From there the most expensive commodity becomes time, both your own and in general, as you race against a ticking clock. Personnel is a challenge for businesses at every stage, only at a startup a very special type of person is needed. Since the strength of the startup is how quickly it can change gears and adapt to different trends and different models, its staff needs to be innovative, hardworking and highly adaptable

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in your industry?
I have always found women to be more creative than men and natural problem solvers. This would make them shoo-in entrepreneurs, but unfortunately the opposite is true. There are, by far, fewer women in the startup space than men, even fewer in technology startups.

What typically stops women is fear - fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of financial insecurity. It is in the female DNA to seek stability and security, not the chaos and uncertainty that come with entrepreneurship.

I have adopted two great quotes in life. The first is that "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it" by Nelson Mandela and the second by Allison Beal from StyleSaint "I am ok with failing, but I cannot live with myself not trying". I urge woman who want to break away from an unstimulating job and have ideas they want to pursue to adopt these as well.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This has been and continues to be my biggest challenge. The joy of creation is so great that working 18 hours a day is easier and more natural to me than hanging out with friends. I find that the work/life balance is more easily achievable in some cultures.

For example, when I lived in Israel or Santa Monica, we worked from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm each day, then spent an hour at the gym, followed by a few hours of socializing. It was easy to do it all since everyone around you lives by the "work hard, play hard" outlook, plus I was younger. In New York maintaining a work/life balance is especially hard since the dominating perspective is "work, work, work!"

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workspace?
Throughout my career I worked in five countries, at four large corporations, in both junior and executive positions, and I have never experienced gender bias. To be fair, I probably worked harder than any man, but I also always felt that excellence surpassed any bias - gender, religion, and ethnicity. Regardless of the country, companies care about the bottom line more than anything else and as long as employees are serving that, they are golden.

My surprise came four years ago when "ultra-qualified me" started pitching EZBZ to investors. Every time I walked into a meeting the male investors took one look at my blond hair and youthful appearance and said "Sorry you have the wrong room". It was impossible for them to initially imagine me as the founder of a startup - a blonde being dumb has been so ingrained into our psyche that to be taken seriously, a woman must be a brunette and preferably plain looking. To this day I know many investors still don't trust women to run companies and prefer a woman to be second-in-command.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal lives?
Throughout my life I have been fortunate to have great mentors - both professionally and spiritually, whose advice and guidance have dramatically impacted every facet of my life. This has afforded me great respect for the process of mentorship and the desire to "pay it forward" and pass on the lessons and wisdom I have been taught by others.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire any and every woman who overcomes great challenges to chart her own way in this world. A woman who does not waste time lamenting what is not and works hard to create what is. By example, my grandmother Clara Schlossberg was widowed at 35, with six small children to feed in Seattle during the 1940's. Instead of becoming a burden on others, she banked on her cooking skills and was the first woman in Seattle to open a business. She was also the first woman in Seattle to drive. Her Italian restaurant become a very well-known staple in downtown Seattle as did her extremely noisy "jalopy". One can only imagine the bias she faced, but no one can stop a woman on a mission.

What do you want EZBZ to accomplish in the next year?
We are working to make EZBZ accessible in more countries in an effort to provide a tool to revolutionize international commerce. I want a world where consumers can find any product or service they need beyond international borders and most importantly without relying upon third party brokers who typically drive up prices. I also want a world where small businesses in every country can automatically buy and sell on a global scale, without investing an additional penny.