Women in Business: Q&A With Victoria Livschitz, Founder of Qubell

Victoria Livschitz is a serial entrepreneur, a founder of Grid Dynamics and more recently, a technology start-up Qubell, that has a big audacious goal of making large companies more innovative and agile. Prior to Grid Dynamics, Ms. Livschitz served for 10 years as a Principal Technologist at Sun Microsystems, where she held a number of senior positions including Chief Architect for the General Motors account, Principal Architect for the Financial Services industry, Principal Architect for the Sun Grid division and Senior Scientist at Sun Labs. She pioneered the use of Java in factory automation for General Motors, designed the industry-first real time fraud detection system for Visa and architected the original compute utility product for software developers.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Life is a collection of experiences that shape and define us, as a person and a leader. A part of me is an engineer and technologist that loves building systems - applications, platforms, teams, companies. A part of me is a mother of three kids, who sees deep similarities between team dynamics and family dynamics and "nurtures" rather then "manages" younger colleagues to help them discover the true passion and frame the path to reach their full potential.

And a big part of me is as entrepreneur and adventurer that seeks to understand what future is going to be like, identify inefficiencies and missing pieces that stand in a way of progress, and then go out and build that future with creative new products, services and business models.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Qubell?
I started my career in IT at Ford on a fast-track management program. I was put on 5 programming assignments in 3 different divisions in the first 4 years. This was a fantastic way for a young professional to learn about the industry. That knowledge of the technology operations of big companies stayed with me and helped on daily basis throughout the rest of my career.

The next 10 years at Sun taught me a lot about the thought leadership and how to bring next-generation technologies to the conservative environments of Fortune-500 companies. It also trained me not to be afraid to take a charge on high-profile projects and deliver on commitments when the stakes are high and powerful people's careers are on the line.

All this helps me to be an effective start-up CEO as we bring our disruptive next-generation technology to Fortune 500 companies - and will continue to guide me through the upcoming growth stage as we scale our business.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Qubell?
Qubell has an exciting mission - to empower big companies be radically more innovative and do what they've never being able to do before: shorten the cycle time for new applications from quarters to weeks and deliver new features to the customer's hands daily, a few times a year.

When we got started back in 2012, our main challenge was to convince the CIOs that they need to invest in agility. Luckily for us, we timed the market well and now in early 2014 the agility is widely considered as a #1 priority for the CIOs.

Our main achievements to date are classic for an enterprise technology start-up: build the founding team, ship the first minimally viable product (MVP), close the first few enterprise customers, raise the first venture round.

Our next set of challenges is to build a broad market awareness of our solution and scale the sales operations.

How is your technology changing the market?
For starters, the Qubell platform gives the developers a self-service "button" to launch lightweight "sandboxes" configured with all the necessary infrastructure, applications, tests, datasets and tools. Developers can now experiment with new ideas and test their code anytime, from anywhere, without filing IT tickets and waiting weeks for the new environment to be set-up by someone.

Next, Qubell technology leverages the cloud to effectively create a "conveyor belt" that carries changes to code, configuration or middleware through all stages of the release pipeline, up to and including production upgrade, continuously and automatically.

The impact to the customers is truly game changing: new projects are delivered faster, new ideas are tried and fine-tined (or rejected) earlier, bugs are found sooner, 80% of issues related to misconfiguration of environments go away, more teams can work in parallel without stepping on each other, and if all that is not enough - people report being happier and more productive.

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
If you have family, make sure it is 100% behind you. Be prepared for a tremendous pressure, stress and financial risks associated with entrepreneurship and take the steps to assure you and your family is ready to deal with them.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
A true balance is illusive, and it changes over the years. When my three kids were young, the balance meant working for a big corporation so that I bring home a steady paycheck and "switch off" in the evenings and weekends to be with my husband and kids.

Then I started my first company, Grid Dynamics, the entrepreneurial drive coupled with a constant fight for survival shattered any notion of a balance. I slept 3 hours a day, and worked the other 21. It took me a few years to understand that this lifestyle was not sustainable and adjust the priorities.

These days I am much better at balancing the intense workload of a CEO with meaningful time, attention and affection for my children, social connection with friends and downtime for rest and hobbies.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women have gone a long way to become accepted in the upper echelons of management and corporate boardrooms. Incredibly, women are running corporations like GM, Lockheed Martin, HP, Yahoo, IBM and Xerox. While we still have too few founding CEOs, I am confident that is going to change, too.

My experience tells me that the main challenges women face in building their professional careers are domestic rather than industrial. While successful men are getting more comfortable with high-power female peers and bosses, they are largely not ready to accept these qualities in their wives.

A highly successful and ambitious woman needs a family and support at home no less than a man, but she is much less likely to find a spouse who can provide that. When my daughters talk about their dreams for the future, they don't want to choose between a professional success and a normal family - husband, children. They want both. I want that for them, too - and for all other movers and shakers in skirts and high hills. Yet I fear that the modern society doesn't have a blueprint for that yet.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I had been lucky to have a few mentors early in my career at Sun who helped me become a good engineer and build a technical career. I am particularly grateful to Doug Willoughby for instilling a livelong passion for the design of complex distributed systems.

Since I've become an entrepreneur, the record had been mixed. Many wonderful people from the venture community and fellow entrepreneurs were willing to share advice and help learn the ropes. I am particularly grateful to Alexandra Johnson from DFJ who had been a supporter, a board member and a friend for almost a decade.

Unfortunately, I've also made a mistake of associating with one person whom I've come to regard as a mentor, to discover later that he was a crook. That association along with a misplaced trust caused pain to many innocent people, wasted millions of dollars and very nearly destroyed my company.

The important lesson is to surround yourself with people who achieved their successes with integrity and perform careful due diligence on those you trust most.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have been lucky to work with and learn from many incredible women who have the vision, execution and leadership qualities I admire. They are my customers, board members, advisors and employees. Amongst those who influenced me most are:
- Bella Allaire, EVP Technology and Operations, Raymond James
- Kira Makagon, EVP of Innovation, Ring Central
- Elissa Murthy, CTO of GoDaddy
- Alexandra Johnson, Managing Partner at DFJ VTB Capital Aurora fund and board member of Grid Dynamics
- Chris Munson, CFO at Grid Dynamics

What do you want Qubell to accomplish in the next five years?
We have a big audacious goal to become an integral part of the enterprise fabrics for collaborative application deployment, environment provisioning and configuration management in support of the agile on-demand release management.

That means winning the mindshare of the CIOs and CTOs of the digital enterprises and out-innovating the competition that's increasingly coming from the traditional enterprise players like IBM and vmware, along with other technology startups.

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