Blog originally posted at Medium.com
Nature. Seeing how the smog has cleared up in cities all around the world due to reduced traffic is really inspiring. I think a whole new STEM problem-solving effort will be initiated to work on ways to address the impacts that humans have on nature. Hopefully, destructive lithium mines, pollution consolidated to power plants, and unanswered battery disposal questions are not the extent of our focus on the solutions to these challenges.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Kinney.
Tara has held leadership or operational strategy roles in more than 45 small businesses. She is currently CEO of Atomic Revenue, President of AuVis, mom of two energetic young girls, home school administrator of distance learning curriculum, and a national speaker on topics related to revenue operations and business processes, data, and metrics. Tara believes that technology disrupts traditional hierarchy by uniting organizations top-to-bottom through process and data in order to streamline operations, drive down costs, and improve human performance.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
This could be a long story, but in summary, I am an SBA Program Manager, Engineering Proposal Writer, Technical Business Development Recruiter, and gig-based Fractional Executive turned serial entrepreneur — a whole host of jobs that I never knew existed when I graduated with a business degree in 2000.
My career started in the not-for-profit sector administering an SBA grant program that promoted workplace safety and Employee Assistance Programs to small businesses in Northern Colorado.
When I moved to Boston (shortly after September 11, 2001), no one was hiring. But, since I’m scrappy, I hustled my way into the engineering industry because writing government grants must be very similar to writing engineering proposals, right? Not exactly, but at that pivotal moment in my career I learned to be a business person who thought like an engineer. Managing timelines and budgets for large-scale, time-sensitive projects, as well as managing the politics of multi-disciplined engineering teams, became the foundation of who I am as a business professional today.
Eventually I became a recruiter, and my job entailed figuring out who technology and engineering firms needed to hire as employees to best market and sell their products and services. That was my first experience as a virtual worker, which wasn’t very common in 2005. That experience sent me on a journey of fostering virtual productivity with virtual teams, something that is incredibly important right now under pandemic conditions.
Since 2009, I’ve been using my multidisciplinary skillset to help other business owners find success. Whether those business owners are clients and my company joins their team or those business owners are contractors who join my team, it’s all about the collaborative spirit. I love that we’re seeing businesses owners virtually joining forces, because an “All Ships Rise Together” mentality matters now more than ever.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Well, a pandemic is certainly top of mind. Considering my company is built to solve problems for other businesses, the present has been quite fascinating for the problem-solving mindset. On a more “eternally grateful” note, the way I met my business partners is an interesting story that may inspire others; Steph Nissen and Liz Zanter are absolutely amazing women whom I am grateful for on a daily basis.
In 2014 I was in a Fractional CMO role recruiting on behalf of a client and Liz was a candidate. We didn’t hire her, but I connected with her on LinkedIn as part of that process. Then in 2018, a friend who founded Rise Collaborative, Stacy Taubman, reached out to ask how well I knew Liz and if I would be a reference for her to become a member of their women’s coworking space. With only a faint memory, I reached out to Liz to re-introduce myself. Within 15 minutes we scheduled a meeting, which turned into Liz becoming a contractor for our company and, within two years, an employee, owner, and now CTO of our new data visualization subsidiary, AuVis, Inc.
Keep in mind, none of that would have happened if I hadn’t met Steph. As Fractional CMO for a client in 2015, I wanted someone to audit my clients’ digital assets (websites, SEO, emails, social media, etc.) and give me a three-tiered list of priorities so that I could budget and allocate labor resources for the greatest measurable impact. After building what I wanted and selling it to my clients as the next best step for their business, I started asking for introductions to digital professionals and Steph came into my life. Very quickly she became an employee and a dear friend. Then in 2018 she became a partial owner of Atomic Revenue and our Chief Digital Operations Advisor. Today the Digital Operations Audit is one of our top selling programs that helps clients prioritize and optimize how their digital assets serve lead generation, sales conversion, and customer advocacy needs.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Always. With my focus on budget and labor management linked to measurable outcomes, I am keenly aware that data accessibility is the first step to better strategy and accountability. We work with a lot of different dashboard tools at Atomic Revenue and they each have a unique set of problems. The cost to build and maintain dashboards is the first hurdle and distributing data to everyone who needs it is the second.
That’s why, over the past 2.5 years, we have developed a data visualization solution for automating key business data that is cost-effective and user friendly. Despite COVID-19, we launched AuVis, Inc. (short for Automated Visualization) on April 6, 2020 as a subsidiary of Atomic Revenue specifically focused on the Molecule™ dashboard.
I am excited about this product because it is the first full-service, fully managed technology solution for visualizing key business data and making data accessible to all employees, contractors, and vendors.
Having the necessary data that was available prior to the pandemic and now the impending recession will guide business leaders to make critical decisions in a timely manner. Equally as important, the data will include the key business metrics that businesses need to navigate the post-pandemic “new normal” — because it will be different. Without the right data, people inevitably focus on the wrong things. It’s human nature and why our brains evolved to include logic — to ensure our survival as a species.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband, Justin. We have lived together since high school, went to college together, and we will be celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary next month — he is absolutely amazing. Justin has always pushed me to be smarter and stronger than I ever thought I could be, especially because of the critical thinking he has brought to my eternal optimism.
He has always encouraged me to see the world differently from how others want us to see it, which has inspired me to take huge risks as an entrepreneur dedicated to helping others analyze their own reality with new ways of thinking.
As a stock analyst, he has played more than a small role in my dedication to business metrics and measurement. Let’s just say that some people find many of our conversations to be more “MBA course” than small talk, but we are both better professionals because we can bring those alternative perspectives to our own work realities.
We are truly a family unit, and with our daughters, we conquer life together no matter what pandemics or hurdles get thrown our way.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
Guilt and helplessness. Time, distance, budgets, schedules — these are all STEM-related topics at their core, but our self-imposed expectations and limited capacity as humans lead to guilt.
Now more than ever we must admit that we are human. Science, technology, and math don’t change the innate vulnerability we all share. Yet, as women in STEM, we are not protected from the guilt of feeling like we should be able to do more. Maybe because of STEM we feel responsible, like we should have done more in the past or should be able to defy reality by doing more now, but the guilt is real.
Mom guilt — I need to help my 2nd and 6th graders more with their schoolwork.
Wife guilt — my husband also needs to get his work done and I never learned how to cut hair or be a chiropractor or anything that would be more helpful to him outside of our at-home juggling act these days.
Daughter/granddaughter guilt — none of our family live in the same state, so while I can expand their technology horizons, I cannot help them and don’t know when I will be able to see them again.
How can I be more than human for all these people? As a woman in STEM, it feels like a problem that should be solved by science, technology, engineering, or math. Hence the guilt for being helpless when my whole world is built around helping people.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Funny that technology seems to be the solution to resolving the challenges of being a helpless human who feels guilty.
I’ve been able to place online orders for shipments to other people’s homes, set-up virtual card games, and share my Zoom account with family so they can be connected in ways that quite honestly it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to make possible, as well as using technology and scheduling tools to manage time and budgets.
But, on the human side, I’ve been opening up to let others know they are not alone and that together we can all help each other through this experience. As a business owner and public speaker in the STEM space, it’s easy to portray my “calculated and measured” side but not the “feel and experience” side, and although allowing myself to tap into my more emotional side is uncomfortable, it does help resolve the feelings of guilt and helplessness.
In STEM we recognize that the combination of multiple elements makes a whole. So why do we feel that as individuals, we should be capable of being the whole solution? It fundamentally contradicts the core of what we believe in STEM.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
First of all, by owning and running a company, I have decided to become responsible for the families of nearly 40 team members who are all undergoing many of the same challenges. This is no small thing in uncharted economic territory.
I am also responsible for problem-solving and revenue operations for our clients, something that’s especially crucial right now. Each client has a different risk tolerance and social circumstances, so it takes a conscious effort to use my science, technology, engineering, and math abilities along with an emotional understanding to bridge the gap between business-mind and emotional-mind.
I try to remember that the emotional side of what we’re facing has to come to the forefront along with the people, process, and data to make decisions and solve problems.
Our Atomic team has been more than amazing, and as CEO I try to make sure no one falls through the cracks and that people are taken care of in all aspects — personally and in business — during this uncertain time.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Communicate, ask for help, and remain client-focused — virtually. We’ve always been a mostly virtual company, so we continue to use the technology we’ve always used to stay in frequent communication with each other and our clients. I feel there has never been a better time to listen, offer (and accept) help, build partnerships, and find opportunities to be of service to current and potential clients, and to each other.
I depend on the Atomic Revenue team to remain flexible and practical in addressing immediate opportunities while building and implementing strategic improvements for our clients’ lead generation, sales conversion, and customer advocacy endeavors. We are especially focused on developing and implementing measurable strategies so companies can confidently cut unnecessary costs and invest where it will yield a positive ROI amid the COVID-19 economy.
And, of course, we’re taking everyone’s emotional well-being and home life into consideration as we communicate and lift each other up while social distancing. This is where the listening and asking for help part can really lift the weight of uncertainty and responsibility.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I am trying to be very deliberate about planning with the family so that we know when we need help and when “help” means needing to be “separate together” within the same house.
We are doing a lot of scheduling and time blocking and creating lists. A lot of lists — our food options, chores, family goals, and the big projects and deadlines that each of us needs to accomplish for school or work.
The Gantt chart has never been more complex, but I have also never been more grateful that my experiences in STEM have prepared me for balancing the time and space needs of multiple organisms within this Petri dish we call home.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
Other than really long showers, too much television, and a lot of drinking (only half-joking), we find sanity in spring outings, family exercise, and fun projects. The weather is starting to get nice here in Missouri, so going for a walk or a drive without a destination gives us the opportunity to let the kids choose directions because it doesn’t really matter how long it takes or which way we go when we are simply enjoying the sunshine.
We’ve also been joining the kids for distance learning PE assignments, as well as doing Wii Fitness or video Zumba and Yoga classes. Projects like the “Puzzle Hall of Fame” or a 2,000-piece roller coaster kit augmented with snap-circuit lighting and sound effects using Arduino coding can involve the whole family and be accomplished in multiple sittings. Since we have reduced pressure to clean up activities, the kids can get more out of these longer projects that previously would’ve tested their patience for concentration and our tolerance for messes.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Resiliency. Humans have survived pandemics, plagues, and many other hardships throughout our history. We watched Mankind: The Story of All of Us with the kids which helped calm their fears and remind us that this too shall pass. We are embracing history right now to help us be hopeful for the future.
- Gratitude. Fostering a mindset of gratitude because we have so much to be grateful for that we used to take for granted or ignore under “life as usual” conditions. By changing and restricting life in the ways we are currently experiencing, we have an opportunity to be grateful for the small things in life (health, love, family, dependency, time) that were previously overshadowed by the big experiences (work, school, sports, shows, travel). We are loving gratitude journals these days.
- Solidarity. In being apart we are somehow coming together as a society in this shared experience, so even though the road forward is a tough one, we are hopefully recognizing how important it is for everyone to work together in a functioning society. Seeing people and companies support essential workers and people in need at this time is nothing short of inspiring
- Humility. Turns out that I am much less self-sufficient than I realized, and I cannot wait to show my appreciation for the unique talents, services, and capabilities of others. My housecleaner is getting a raise, servers will get bigger tips, teachers will get more appreciation, and the list goes on with pet groomers, hairdressers, chiropractors, etc.
- Nature. Seeing how the smog has cleared up in cities all around the world due to reduced traffic is really inspiring. I think a whole new STEM problem-solving effort will be initiated to work on ways to address the impacts that humans have on nature. Hopefully, destructive lithium mines, pollution consolidated to power plants, and unanswered battery disposal questions are not the extent of our focus on the solutions to these challenges.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Add video conferencing and social sharing tools to your mix if you haven’t done so already. Skype, FaceTime, MarcoPolo, Zoom, Hangouts, Messenger, WhatsApp, and many more technologies are widely available at low or zero cost, allowing us to stay connected with family regardless of distance. These are all new skills that we can learn together, skills that allow us to help each other and be more accessible. These habits should not change when our post-pandemic version of normal returns. Helping people realize the value of giving and receiving help, re-establishing a sense of community, and being publicly human are all ways that we can reduce our own anxiety, as well as helping others reduce theirs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. I have always been an ambitious perfectionist, so sometimes I get caught up in the “should have, could have, would have” analysis of the past. This quote reminds me that no matter what the condition is right now, we must move forward from here. It’s okay to analyze what has happened as we move forward and learn from our experiences, but never stop stretching and reaching for more because that is what keeps us moving forward in life, in relationships, in professions, and in business.
How can our readers follow you online?
I am always looking to strengthen the power of my LinkedIn network. Readers can meet me on my LinkedIn profile, follow the story of how I continue to navigate my personal and professional worlds under pandemic conditions, and build relationships via LinkedIn messenger.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About the author: Penny is an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. She’s worked as a climate scientist, an environmental planner, and a wilderness park ranger. Motivated by a passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, in 2010 Penny founded Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and eco-friendly STEAM activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide that have exposed a generation to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability. Penny, her husband Jeff, and her children Rowan and Declan live together in San Diego, California. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. Penny has over 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, management, strategy and finance. She’s a seasoned leader, an inspiring speaker, an encouraging business mentor, and a creative writer.