By SHELAGH BRALEY
BOSTON—Being successful as a woman in tech requires more than just talent, it requires tactical savvy. Just ask Amy Spurling, the straight-talking, strategic COO of Bedrock Data.
Since her first job out of the Simmons College MBA program, every company she has worked for has enjoyed a successful exit event, with the exception of one. Bedrock Data could be lucky No. 7 for Spurling, who ascended to the COO role in January after a stint at Jana Mobile, where she was named Boston’s 2016 midsize private company CFO of the Year.
How do you build a career where all you do is win?
“One of my rules is, I look at it as if I’m investing, because I am investing,” Spurling says. “It’s not about a job for me. It’s about: Do I believe this company can do something? And that’s where I think I honestly just have a really good nose for it, because I look at (a company) and think, ‘Is this something I would ever use? Is this something that I could see anyone else ever using?’ If not, I’m going to pass, even if it may be an amazing opportunity. I’m going to pass if I don’t see a logical exit.”
Bedrock Data, offering an automated solution that syncs and cleans cloud-based data from multiple sources without needing code to integrate, has been on the rise, reportedly seeing more than double year-over-year growth in 2016. The company was named May 8 to the CRN Big Data 100 list.
The position at Bedrock Data appealed to her, she says, because the service solves a problem she had firsthand in every one of her previous roles.
“It’s solving a pain point at every one of my companies. And if it’s a pain point for me, it’s a pain point for everyone else at that size. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve had to implement some software that has to talk to something else and it doesn’t. You go through this really long integration process that costs a ton of money and drives my staff crazy. Finally, you get it integrated and it still kind of sucks. Whereas what Bedrock does, it’s fast, it’s inexpensive, they do it for you. It’s point and play, and I get that. I like that.”
Spurling has declared Bedrock Data her last stop before making a run at a CEO role somewhere, in a time when she sees “not enough women coming into the founder path and moving up the ranks to actually take a seat at the table.”
Finding that seat for herself has required patience and a methodical approach—and now she’s nearly ready to claim it.
“It was a choice,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d ever want to do anything beyond CFO. Earlier in my career, when I started down the path, focusing on finance as CFO, I liked being the person behind the person. I thought, ‘I can do this.’
“But what I started seeing was founder CEO after founder CEO running over the edge of the same cliff. I’m like, ‘This is predictable. Stop it. I’m exhausted from watching you,’” she laughs.
“And then suddenly, I was older than them and I thought, ‘OK, this is just dumb. I’m not fighting this battle any more. I’m going to do it myself.’ COO to me is a very short period of time. The VCs have to see that you can be COO in order to be CEO. And next is definitely CEO.”
Some of her most important work as COO has been team building. It’s a challenge to find qualified workers, which is a huge priority at the growth stage, Spurling says. What she’s learned has helped her create stable, diverse teams and turn hiring into a competitive advantage. The key? Stop negotiating.
“If you give someone your best and final offer from the start, and tag it to market or 110 percent of your market and define your market, you end up with happier employees. Then you just keep making sure you are sticking to those guidelines and any external data. If you do that, the dynamic with the team changes entirely because you get their automatic trust.”
She also says her approach positively impacts gender inclusion in the workplace. “You don’t end up with an imbalance, because you’re paying market (salary), which is based on role. If you take negotiation off the table, then the person who negotiates hard and the person who doesn’t negotiate at all—they get the same exact pay.
“It levels things for everyone. It takes the pressure off, and everybody seems to be happier. That to me is one of the biggest ways to level the playing field, to just pay fair. If your business model is predicated on saving five grand per head, you’re screwed anyway,” she laughs. “Pay fair and be done, come on.”
The other path to parity in tech, she says, comes from assessing parental leave policies.
“It took me a while, honestly,” she admits. “At first, I was like, ‘Why should guys get the same amount of time off? That doesn’t seem fair, they’re not the ones popping out a kid,” she laughs.
“But I started realizing that having both men and women take the same amount of time off—even forcing the men out and don’t allow them back in, like go home and take care of your wife—what it does is it becomes a parent issue instead of a mom issue. When you have male leaders who are willing to do that, it has a huge impact, because then it’s expected that if you’re having a kid, you’re going to take time off.”
Spurling reports it increased returns from leave at her last company, where there were 10 babies born to staffers in her last 12 months. “And all but one came back. The one who didn’t come back, her family was from out West, so I don’t blame her on that. The rest of them came back because we made it possible for both the men and women to take time off, to spend time with their babies and their families.”
With all the moving pieces to her career and life, Spurling says the best thing she did was get comfortable with the discomfort.
“How do you figure it all out? I haven’t,” she says. “I just go with it. And I was sick to my stomach for a good 10 straight years,” she laughs. “You just have to put yourself out there and go, ‘This could really suck.’ Swallow down your imposter syndrome. Yes, you are going to have to do things that you have no idea what you’re doing. Guys do that all day long. It doesn’t matter. Eventually, you’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’ve totally got this. Not bad,’ ” she says.
“Don’t wait until you’re completely qualified for something before you give it a shot, because otherwise, you’re going to get passed by.”