Interview with Kate Matsudaira
Larry Nelson: Hi. I’m happy to be here, of course. This is a wonderful series. Everything will be posted on w3w3.com, and on our blog and our podcast directly in addition to the ncwit.org site.
Lucy: Yeah. It’s exciting today. We’re interviewing somebody who has been a leader in the tech sector for a many successful efforts, including start ups that required by companies we’ve all heard off like eBay. While you’ve heard of them, Kate Matsudaira is the founder now of Popforms, which is a pretty cool company for all you go‑getters out there, self starters who are really eager to use some neat tools around empowering your own leadership around growing successful teams, engaging people, etc.
We’ll hear more about Popforms in just a moment. Kate is a very interesting and accomplished person, an author, a speaker. One of my favorite things she does is she sits on the board of ACMQ. Now, this is a test. I don’t how many people know what ACM stands for.
ACMQ is an editorial board for the association for computing machinery, which is a very old and very large professional society for us computing people. I one time had the honor of speaking to the ACMQ Board about voice over IP.
Larry: All right.
Lucy: It was a long time ago. Kate’s very technical, CTO, lots and lots of technology skills like cloud computing and distributing systems and everything else. We’re just really thrilled to have you here Kate, welcome.
Kate Matsudaira: Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be on the show.
Lucy: We have a lot of different kinds of questions to ask you about entrepreneurship, but let’s just start first with technology in general. You’re a very technical person. How did you first get into technology? Maybe you could share just a bit with listeners about the things you see that are particularly interesting and are emerging, in terms of technology.
Kate: Well, I first got into technology when I was a kid. I always loved math and science and figuring things out and I remember having a microscope as a child. There was a pond where we lived and I would go get pond water and put it under there and there was all these things crawling in it and I thought it was the craziest thing that you could see all these weird things swimming in the water. I always remember that was one of my earliest experiences with science.
Then, just the passion for science and technology. I ended up studying computer science in college, largely because it was my favorite set of classes. I just felt like it came really natural to me. When I did my computer science, it never felt like work. It was like the stuff I would save for last because I like doing it so much. It’s kind of a natural thing for me to study.
In terms of cool technology trends, well I’m really into wearable computing. I was complaining the other day that my computer…I have a MacBook with a solid state drive, and I was running out of space. I’m like, “I got to get a newer computer because I need to store everything. I remember when my hard drives weren’t even a gigabyte.
It’s just amazing to see how fast technology has grown and how it has empowered so many cool things. I love the wearable tech and just all the things that you’re going to able to do when computer gets smaller and faster, and there’s more memory and more power processing and things like that. The applications are just mind blogging, so it’s really my thing. Oh, and 3D printing and laser cutting are other really cool technology application.
I’m really into physical goods. How technology bridges that gap I think is fascinating. It’s going to be really interesting to watch over the next few years.
Lucy: Well, just sort of a follow up to that. We just got a 3D printer here at NCWIT. We’re very excited for MakerBot, great company. We’ve interviewed MakerBot before Jenny Lauten. Somebody told me, I haven’t verified it, that you can now go get 3D printed dress online.
Lucy: I believe it when I see it. That’s classic, right?
Larry: Yeah. [laughs]
Lucy: I don’t know what’s that like. Anyway, we really love wearables also. Wearable computing is such a great way to teach kids about computing.
Larry: Before we get into all the different thoughts and questions that we have that you’re going to help our audience with, could you give us the latest in Pop Forms?
Kate: Yes. What we do at Pop Forms, we like to say we help super stars shine at work. What we’re essentially trying to do is bridge the gap that exists…Right now, if you’re an executive or a really senior leader and you want to better at your job, there’s all kinds of things you should do. You can spend thousands of dollars going to leadership training, seminars, conferences or hiring a coach.
If you’re just a high potential employee and you really want to advance in your career and you have a smaller budget, what exists for you today? We’re really focused on online education around helping people be better leaders, be more productive and just kind of shine and do amazing on their job.
Lucy: Give one example, perhaps, of a kind of things that people can do at your site. Can people come to your site and learn?
Kate: We have a lot of different courses on topics around getting things done, around improving your communication skills, on being a better public speaker or pitching and to speak at a conference. All those kind of soft skills are what we focus on.
We have a lot of, what we call, our leadership sparks that are focused on weekly lessons that take less than 5 to 10 minutes to do, to help you build those skills over time. Instead of one course that’s hours, and hours that you might not complete, we try to partition it out in small actionable pieces.
Larry: You’ve really answered this next question that I have in my mind, but let me just see if I can rephrase it. Now, just why is it you are an entrepreneur, and then what is it about entrepreneurship that makes you tick?
Kate: Let’s see. I am an entrepreneur because when I first started my career, I thought I wanted to work the corporate ladder, and I was promoted a lot by companies like Microsoft and Amazon. I started off as an engineer, became a manger, and then a senior manager and so forth.
I realized, as I was climbing the ladder, that what I really wanted to do was not just be in charge of the technical team. I really wanted to be involved with strategy, and I wanted to learn the business. The only way I saw that could really happen was to join a small company, and that really started my passion for start‑ups.
I’ve been on the team of three successful start‑ups as you mentioned in my interaction, and now I do own start‑ups. I just love, when you get the ability to work with customers, to build products, to make the money. All of those things are very fun, and it really caters to my desire to learn all these new things, and constantly be pushing myself and challenging myself in a new way.
Lucy: It’s the variety of tasks that entrepreneurs…
Lucy: Have to do that…
Kate: Challenges too.
Lucy: And challenges. Yeah, exactly. On your entrepreneurial path, who influenced you along the way ‑‑ mentors, or others potentially? What kinds of help did you get along the way?
Kate: I’ve had a lot of help, including from people who didn’t necessarily even know they were my mentors. There’s a ton of resources on mind. There’s philosophies you can follow, but I also have some people who I’m very close to that I’ve learned from. Binders to my company are, one of them is named Dan Shapiro. He’s had several successful companies.
He’s the one I’ve looked towards. Another one is Ethan Shot. His metrics is also in several successful companies. They’re people that I follow, and use as my own personal advisory board, but there’s also a ton of other people.
Just looking at Sheryl Stenberg, and looking at the people who are even just executives in the bigger companies that have had a lot of success, and being them, and being able to emulate the things that you like, the things that you don’t like. Even from afar, you can learn their philosophies, and the way they do things. You always take the best of what you see, and integrate it into your life.
Larry: Yes. Wow. I have to ask this, Kate. You have done so many different neat things. You’ve helped companies grow, you’ve grown your own company. What is one of the toughest things that you’ve had to do in your career?
Kate: I think it’s letting people go. It’s the hardest thing.
Lucy: We hear that a lot. Yeah.
Kate: I think any time you have to let someone go from a company, or a roll, whether it’s to take care of your underwear like a layoff, it’s really hard. Because the hardest problems, they’re always people problems. They’re not business problems, or technology problems. In many ways, I feel like those are figureoutable, but the people problems are always the most difficult and challenging, I think.
Lucy: We do hear that. We do hear that a lot. That is one of the hardest things.
Larry: I think it’s greatly in part, because leaders really care about people, and that’s why it affects you that way.
Kate: I think you have to care about people to be a good leader.
Lucy: Absolutely. People follow leaders, and I think they care about them. I think it is a very difficult thing no matter the circumstance to let a person go. Switching tracks just slightly in terms of advice to young people, what kinds advice would you give to young people about following an entrepreneurial path?
Kate: I would say that the best thing you can do is focus on building your own career capital, and really try to do the hard work. I think that building what I call career capital, which is like knowledge, and know‑how, it’s a network, it’s a track record of success, and projects, whether you’re at a different company, or you’re in school.
Building that capital on my own to accomplishments, and all of that will palate into whatever success you have. Whether you follow up as an entrepreneur, or you decide to stay and become an executive in a big company. Consistently working on building yourself, and increasing that capital is the most important thing. I wish someone had talked to me so much about that, because I think you optimize, otherwise, for the wrong variables.
Sometimes you’re like, “Oh, I need to know finances,” or, “I need to know sales,” but I don’t think you need that. I think you just need to be the very best at what you do, and when you do that, it’s actually easy to build a company around that. It’s easy to bring that into a company. I think that focusing on being exceptional is the number one thing that would help people.
Larry: Very good. I like that advice.
Lucy: I do too.
Lucy: I don’t think we’ve heard that yet in all of these interviews.
Larry: That’s right.
Larry: Now, what personal characteristics? Now, having a look at yourself for a minute, a little introspection here, that has given you the advantages of being an entrepreneur.
Kate: I think that I work incredibly hard.
Kate: I always talk about, that what I make up for in to like intelligence, or experience. I make up for and just share. To me, it’s just hard work. I’m not afraid to work nights, I’m not afraid to work weekends, I’m not afraid to get a 100 percent. I think that that has definitely made a difference because I don’t give up, and I am willing to do what it takes to make things happen.
Lucy: Relentless, tenacious.
Lucy: You work really hard, and that’s what it takes. Focus on being exceptional, right?
Lucy: That’s all hard work, but we also have personalized. How do you, in some sense, balance the two, although we don’t like the word balance particularly, but we can’t think of a better way to ask the question. How do you bring balance into your life?
Kate: Well, I just had a baby in May, so I’m a new mom.
Lucy: Congratulations. Yay.
Kate: The question is actually really close to my heart, because I really feel, I know this is so clichÈ, but having a baby, and becoming a parent changes your perspective on what’s important, and time, and the lack of sleep, and the fact that you want to spend a lot of time with your baby. Like makes you prioritize.
It forces that function of balance, whether you wanted to or not. You can call it balance, you can call it managing, or you can call it living. It’s all part of it. How do I do it? I think there are kind of like really to see things that I do that I think make a big difference to my ability to keep everything in a way that makes sense.
The first one is that I don’t plan my personalized, my profession life separately. I treat it all as one life, so I use one calendar, I use one giant to‑do list, and I think that’s the difference than a lot of people who’ll be like, “Here’s my personal work, and here’s this.”
Part of it, I think, is because I’m an entrepreneur. I will work on the weekend if it means I get more time with my family during the week. I don’t say, “OK, starting today, it’s just family time.” I say, “OK, I work fast after my child goes to sleep, so I’m going to work seven days a week in the evenings when he goes to sleep, so that I can spend dinner time and breakfast times with my husband, and my child.”
I think building through how you manage your time in a more holistic way, then like this is work, and this is weekend, for example. My other tip around this would be planning. I am ruthless about how I spend my time, and what I do, and what I don’t do.
The reason I’m able to do that is I plan my day every day before I start doing anything. I set out a goal of like, “Here’s what I want to get done, here’s what’s important. I do this at a weekly level too.”
My co‑founder said like one of the smartest things I ever thought, which is that the secret of time management is knowing what to do with an hour. When you have 15 minutes, or you have a set hour, do you know what you can do? That is actually going to be the most important thing you can do. If you don’t, then that means you’re not planning you time well enough.
Lucy: I think that sounds like a Popforms lesson.
Larry: Yes, exactly.
Lucy: Absolutely, and this whole idea about treating things as one holistic life is spot on.
Larry: You and I both with kids. We understand that.
Lucy: Would be totally right. We’re simply not nodding like, “Yep, yep.”
Larry: [laughs] Absolutely.
Kate: Well, you have to, right? It’s better to work some on the weekends, and to be able to have that time every day with your children. I think, anyway.
Lucy: Yeah. I did that with my two sons. Exactly that same approach. Plus, I found that if you send busy people, not that I’m advocating this, but sure works for me. If you send busy people email on a Sunday afternoon, you actually get it answered.
Larry: With busy people.
Lucy: Yeah, because they’re always checking anyway.
Larry: Oh boy. Kate, you’ve already accomplished a great deal in so many different ways. By the way, your listeners out there will have, on all of our sites, and podcasts and everything. The website address for Kate’s business, and you’ll learn a lot there. What I’d like to do is to ask you, what’s next for you?
Kate: What is next? This year, I’ve been setting my goals already, I’m really focused on continuing to grow Popforms to make it even more successful. I have a baby, I’m really excited about watching him grow. That’s a big part of my life right now, but yeah, just making Popforms bigger and better. We’re launching some software products in 2015, so I’m really excited about that, and yeah, it’s going to be a great year.
Larry: That is super.
Lucy: Well, wow.
Larry: I’m really proud of you.
Lucy: Yeah, really, and this is really interesting, and especially a lot of the things that Popforms does in terms of careers. Larry has done some work in that space himself.
Larry: Yeah, a little bit.
Lucy: A little bit, yeah. Well, thank you so much Kate. It was great spending time with you, and we really appreciate all the tips.
Larry: You bet, and you listeners out there, you can tune in to 3333.com, and listen to this any time. Also on our podcast, and our blog, but also, and most important, is ncwit.org. You’ll see the site, and you’ll have links to everything that she said.
Lucy: Thanks Kate.
Kate: Thank you.