In 2002, Claudia Batten arrived jobless in New York City. She has since been part of the founding team of two start-ups with tremendous exits. The first was gaming ad network Massive, which was acquired by Microsoft for a reported $200 - $400 million. The second was Victors & Spoils: a co-founded company that pioneered crowdsourcing in the advertising field, and was majority acquired by Havas Worldwide. She left Victors & Spoils to start another, Broadli: an app designed to re-think networking. In addition to her third startup, Claudia is an advisory and on the board of numerous companies. She is a recent winner of the World Class New Zealand Supreme Award, the youngest recipient to date at 39-years-old. Claudia’s accolades are only outshone by her attitude—she claims that bad days bring out her “inner street fighter”. Perhaps street fighter is just a better name for entrepreneur.
“Science has pretty much established that intuition is knowledge as processed by the subconscious. I am probably mucking that up a little bit but the net point is that the unconscious mind can process at least 10 million data points in a given situation. So we are constantly processing information and it all mills around and then comes through in certain situations as information. Not deductive logic, not structured thinking, not always something we can explain to a concerned friend or parent (like when, out of nowhere I decided to quit commercial law and move to NYC without a job) but something we just know. So we have to be listening and paying attention, as well as learning from experience.
Before leaving New Zealand, I knew what it was to be a lawyer, I could see up close how it would be to then make partner. I was reading a lot about the US and all the activity in dot-commerce and just felt a pull to New York. And I was getting to know myself well enough to get a sense of what I needed from life. I was processing a lot of seemingly random information that led to an awareness that I needed to make the shift. That drive for challenge is in my DNA.
I’ve had to learn to be
OK with never feeling satisfied with where
I am in life.
I would be miserably unhappy and quite screwed up if I hadn’t made peace with this. I recently wrote a blog post called perfectly imperfect—I have certainly found I have to relax a lot with where I am in the journey, knowing it’s a journey, than being ever-frustrated by not quite being there yet. My drive is coupled with a sense of observance—I question everything I see in terms of how it fits into the puzzle of the world. How it could be improved. How technology might change it. I am infinitely fascinated by everything. I used to think it was shallow, that I could be interested in just about any topic. Now I realize that my natural curiosity means I am looking across a lot of content/topics/trends and they all seem to jumble around and sometimes pull through into epiphanies. And sometimes just jumble around. Of course, just having an idea doesn’t help, you need to be proactive. Entrepreneurs constantly ask me to validate their ideas, but the right question is—will you validate my plan for execution?
Being entrepreneurial is about executing an idea, bottom line. There are things that come with that; building a team, raising money, taking on a lot of risk and working your butt off—but ultimately what you are doing is saying “I believe there is room in the market for X to exist” and bringing X to life. It requires a balance of preparation and ability to roll with the punches. I liken it to kayaking (something I have done only a handful of times). You know you are getting in the kayak and heading downstream, but exactly the twists and turns, how you will navigate through the rapids, is something you need to be in the moment for. Planning in advance is the basic element but not the whole. I think in business we spend far too much time preparing and strategizing, and not enough observing and iterating as we see possible rapids.
We know how to plan and it’s comfortable—but we risk getting caught in trying to make something perfect and never doing.
To me this is the power of beta, get it out, test it, iterate. Deborah Mills-Scofield wrote a wonderful blog post on this for HBR: Control is for Beginners.
The act of doing is something I often relay when mentoring, something I find very rewarding. I’ve recently been involved in some up and coming talent and it is absolutely incredible how much I have learned and been inspired by their questions, ambition, struggles and humility. For the past 2 years, I have done nothing but work with other people, and companies, in an effort to help them on their journeys. I have never had more of an abundance of opportunity in my life. Too much actually, I am working to find focus for myself right now. But to understand that working with other people, helping, is a way to create opportunity has been an epiphany for me and actually the impetus for my start-up Broadli. Broadli is an app that helps you connect with your trusted network and tell them what you need help with. We like to say it’s like crowdsourcing your biggest problem to your A team.
We need the help of those around us to further our own journeys. As I tell the people I mentor, my insecurities are proudly and gloriously tagging along for the ride. I do have enough personal awareness that I can mostly keep them at bay, but there are days I feel like the biggest phony on the planet. The first day at my law firm the senior partner explained impostor syndrome to us; that we would likely always feel that we were not worthy of being there and that any minute someone might find us out. I still have that and so do many other incredibly successful people. In fact I was just speaking to a brilliant corporate attorney who is retiring at the end of this year, who told me he was getting out before he was found out. With a big smile on his face. I knew he had lived with that his whole career and I expect I will too.
Imposter Syndrome is seemingly a big issue for women, I observe this in the trending commentary around the confidence gap. We also talk a lot about balancing business vs family. You have to come to your own personal conclusion, I am not sure why we need someone else to tell us a methodology? We are all so completely different: from our relationships to our extended family support and beyond. My husband has two incredible sons who are both grown up. We are all fiercely independent and always have been. So our family by no means fits a cookie cutter but I really wonder whose does. None of us are executing our lives with perfection, but it often can appear that way from the outside.
The truly brave people are those who talk about how it is NOT working versus creating an aura of “I have it all”.
Look at how Indra Nooyi talks about her family in a raw and honest way. Contrast that to Kim Kardashian saying “but you can have it all”. Who is the braver person there? No one has it all, I don’t care who they are or what means they have. We all have days when our family malfunctions, we all have days when we malfunction (ahem, right Kim?). Applying rules or trying to adhere to other people’s best practice proclamations don’t help us create our own coping mechanisms.
We create our own path in life—which I believe is best lived when full of challenge, never really resting on laurels, sharing and helping others along the way and ultimately finding ourselves. When things get tough I rest in the knowledge this is part of the journey and I have to work through it to be able to move forward. That I am learning and growing through the process and that will take me to the next step. And there is always red wine, let’s not forget that important part of the equation!”
As told to Amy Woodside, June 2014