Women in Business: Q & A With Maxine Manafy, CEO of Bunndle

As we finished up the interview he took one last look at my application and said "I'm sorry, Ms. Manafy. Unfortunately, we can't offer you admission. Girls like you don't make it." I was crushed.
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Maxine Manafy is the founder and CEO of Bunndle. Prior to Bunndle, Maxine led business development and user acquisition efforts for Xobni and served as VP of Business Development at Viximo. Maxine has also held business development and operations roles at Yahoo! and Mochi Media, driving distribution and revenue. In her former life, she was a manufacturing engineer at Intel and KLA-Tencor. Maxine has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a bachelor's degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from San Jose State University.

How has your life experience made you the leader that you are today?

I knew in high school that I wanted to study engineering. I loved the subject. After applying to a few colleges, one of the deans from a top engineering school invited me in for an in-person interview. At the time, I was working two jobs and trying to finish out classes. My grades were good but not perfect, as was the case for many of the other engineering applicants. I had hoped that after reading my application and seeing that I was working through school, the dean would recognize that I was just as determined as the rest. But as we finished up the interview he took one last look at my application and said "I'm sorry, Ms. Manafy. Unfortunately, we can't offer you admission. Girls like you don't make it." I was crushed.

Eventually, I graduated from a different school, became an engineer and got a job with a top semiconductor company. Throughout my career, I went on to fail and succeed many times and learned to build failure into the plan. After all, failure is what leads to innovation. I took more risks and listened to people less when they didn't believe in me. I learned to judge people by their character, not their stats. And more importantly, I learned that a good leader knows that winning usually happens through action rather than through argument.

How has your previous employment experience working at Yahoo and Xobni aided Bunndle?

Working at Yahoo was a great experience. There I learned about the importance of user acquisition and how each product has a different set of requirements for distribution to be successful. Because Yahoo touched almost every segment of the web, it was impossible not to be immersed in all of the different products and verticals.

At Xobni, I got to see the other side of the coin. It was a start-up, focused on one vertical with a very different set of constraints that had as much to do with the business as it did with the product. Trying to duplicate there what I had learned at Yahoo proved to be much more challenging, simply because we were a start-up.

Looking back, it took my experiences at both companies to see what Bunndle could be, to see how we could help developers both big and small, and really understand the needs of user acquisition.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

If you start your own company, odds are there will be a lot of long nights and working through the weekends. But if you are passionate about what you are doing and have the foresight to know that the extra work up front will go a long way, working hard and devoting more time to your business actually becomes enjoyable. Balance at that point becomes more of a mental exercise and less about allocating a certain amount of time to run away from the chaos that is your business. If I find that I need a break, I take one. I walk away. Or, I carve out time. But if I can't physically separate myself because the business demands that I be there, then I change my perspective and remember that even the chaos is part of the exciting ride.

What have the highlights and challenges been founding Bunndle?

Interestingly, the highlights and challenges are very related. As with most start-ups, raising money, making money, facing competition and not having enough resources are difficult to deal with. But on the other side of that, the highlights of getting the first investor's check, hiring the first employee, launching and getting a big customer win make it an exciting ride. Overall, founding Bunndle has been an incredible learning opportunity. It's hard to get bored when you are in the classroom of your life every day.

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to establish their own business?

I had an advisor who had a very busy schedule. He used to live in Lake Tahoe but worked in Silicon Valley. Because he would commute four hours down to the Bay Area during the workweek, his schedule was always jam-packed. But if he couldn't make time to see me in person, he would always call. During our first year, he would call me on his long-drive home. He'd call; stop at In N'Out to order his Double-Double Animal Style with a medium root beer. And then for the next two hours he'd chat with me about the business, helping me through the tough decisions. I appreciated and actually enjoyed those conversations, even when he talked with his mouth full.

My advice would be to build your support team as early as possible. Not just employees, but great mentors and advisors who can help you. More often than not, entrepreneurs get beat up rather than held up. Having access to support outside of normal business hours helps tremendously.

What advice can you offer individuals who want to leave their career for a new one? How do you know when it's time?

Some of the factors that determine when you can make changes include financial circumstances, available opportunities and where you are in your career. If you want to switch careers and the stars align in all areas of your life, the most important question to ask is "why?" Are you switching careers for money? For a more prestigious position? A better resume? Or because you are bored? Or is it really something you feel is essentially a "calling." Whatever the reason, a career change comes with a lot of risk. Make sure you are okay with that.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

As women, we define ourselves within an existing structure that is predominantly run by men. We seek value by defining and comparing ourselves to men. This leaves us very little room for true expression, mobility and even freedom because we constantly strive to professionally fit into predefined roles. When we do make ourselves fit, internally we struggle with where we may have compromised our integrity, our inner truth, to get the next "thing": the paycheck, the promotion, the chance to sit in the boardroom. We pretend we have an equal voice. However, when we don't make ourselves fit in, we might face attack - either passively from peers for upsetting the status quo, or through outright sexism. We are in a bit of a tough spot.

I think the biggest issue for women in the workplace is that we think we are already equal. And we take what we get. But really, we're just drinking the kool-aid. If we were equal, the stats would be different. We still have a long way to go and shouldn't forget that. If we know that we are in a structure we will realize that we want more. We should keep working at it, encouraging more progress and pushing to change the predefined roles and structures.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

I am grateful to Sheryl Sandberg for restarting the conversation on feminism and equality for women. She gave us a lens through her experiences and offered great advice to women who are dealing with difficult issues in the professional world. Perhaps now we can continue to look through other lenses, open the door to new experiences and move out of the existing structure that we live in -- a structure without a ceiling and pre-existing definitions of women. My experience has been very different than Sheryl's, but we are both on the same team aiming for a new movement for women. I think she would agree that it's time we advanced forward as a culture and expect that every person, both men and women, be treated with the equality and respect that is our birthright. Her book has rekindled the discussion on these important topics and perhaps now we can open the experiment up to big changes in our society.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentors have been an important part of educating me about business and life in general. Because they have either lived through the experience I am just now going through; or, because they have experience in an area important for me to learn about, they have been invaluable. My mentors have helped me get quickly up to speed on an issue or have been a great sounding board when making hard decisions. I credit a lot of the mentors in my life in helping me to take giant leaps when I was afraid. Each one is unique in what they have taught me and I am very grateful.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Recently, I had the chance to listen to a talk by Molly Melching, founder of Tostan, describe her 40-year journey in the struggle to help ban the practice of FGC (female genital cutting) and forced/child marriage in Senegal. Through an emphasis on human rights, rather than shame and blame, she has socially transformed the communities of Senegal by getting rid of the practice of FGC and changed the lives of millions of women and their daughters. Molly did this all of this by going to one village at a time. I think she's great.

What are your hopes for the future of Bunndle?

Discovery, user acquisition and monetization are big issues for app developers. When Bunndle was first started, I thought there might be a different way to reach end users and perhaps build some transparency into the world of advertising. I realized along the way that advertising online and in mobile haven't changed much over the years. My hope for Bunndle's future is that we play a key role in driving change, whether for the developers that we work with directly; or, the end user who is actually going through the experience.

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