Laura Yecies, Sugar Sync, Woman Entrepreneur
I love Lauras story on so many levels. Her journey is one that should be shared particularly as the conversation around women not being able to have it all has been a hot topic these days. I myself wrote about it a few weeks ago. What Laura has accomplished with young children in tow is pretty significant and worth hearing about. I wouldn't say that Laura is an entrepreneur per se but her instincts, the decisions she has made around her career, and how she turned around and pivoted a company as the CEO is entrepreneurial and as far I am concerned. Laura heads up Sugar Sync, a leader in online storage solutions.
Laura grew up in Canarsie Brooklyn where she went to the Yeshiva in Flatbush for a few years before her parents decided suburban life is just what they needed. Both her parents are doctors. She never thought of them as business people but they managed their own businesses so in essence they were entrepreneurs. In Brooklyn her parents had a practice together but once they moved to Long Island, her Dad started his own practice and her Mom ran a drug rehab program at North Shore Hospital. Those drug programs were just starting so a woman ahead of her time.
Laura graduated high school and went to college at Darmouth. She said sixteen kids from her high school got into UPenn so she opted for Dartmouth instead. She always figured she would be a doctor until she got to college. In high school she was an exchange student in France and truly fell in love with the international world. At college she decided she would become a diplomat majoring in political science with an international relations minor. She had met her husband at Dartmouth and they both decided to go to London School of Economics together for six months. He was going to be a lawyer. He was a year ahead of Laura so she gradated a year earlier to be with him.
Her husband got a job in the DC area after graduating so Laura applied to Georgetown to get her masters in foreign service while he worked. Madeline Albright was her thesis instructor, serious roll model. In the midst of all this Laura got pregnant. Needless to say that changed everything. Her husband still wanted to go to law school and she still wanted to be a diplomat. While she was at Georgetown she landed a job working for the Government and decided she hated it so being a diplomat was not going to be in her future.
Laura decided she should get a MBA. She applied to Harvard and got in. Her husband applied to Harvard Law School and did not get in. He got into Berkley Law but she did not get into Stanford Biz school. They both got into the University of Chicago. They asked both Harvard and Berkeley to give them deferrals, Harvard said no and Berkeley said yes. Her husbands firm said he could work out of Boston. Their parents recommended that he go to biz school too so at the last minute he applied to Harvard Business School because they did not take GMATS and got in. They went to Harvard Business School together with a kid in tow. They lived in student housing that had children downstairs and so all 3 of them went to school.
That summer they both knew they wanted to move to California the summer after their first year. Laura got an internship at Microsoft. Her husband had no idea what he would do in Seattle. So instead they both got investment banking jobs and lived at home. It was stressful. Her second year of business school was winding down and she was pregnant again. Laura started to apply for jobs. Her resume wasn't loaded with work experience but she convinced Informix that her work in the Government would be great experience to take a job as a channel manager. She started in May and her second son was born in June. Laura says she will always have a place in her heart for the man who hired her at Informix.
Her husband wanted to go to Berkeley Law and that is how they ended up in Menlo Park. She had two kids and working from home at that time was literally impossible. They were in the negative money balance at this point. It was 1988 and there was no internet and lap tops. She would come home and put the kids to bed and then go back to work. She stayed for six years. Technology makes everything so much easier now.
Laura's husband decided law was not for him and he became an entrepreneur. He has been on that track ever since and it was him who really pushed Laura to move of the corporate world. It was a risk but as many realize it isn't that big of a risk because the security piece is completely illusory.
She continued to look for the international piece. She had been in the marketing area of Informix and a job became available to be the head of Latin American sales division. They didn't give it to her but instead to a guy who didn't even speak Spanish. The good news is Laura was on the international team and she spoke Spanish. She ended up opening up their Brazilian and Mexican sales offices. In Brazil, their manufacturer was pirating their software so she ended up having to move their with her two young boys in tow for six months. Eventually she hired her replacement for Brazil and then she ended up opening all the other Latin American sales offices. The international headquarters then moved to Miami but she wasn't willing to make that move. In the midst of all of this her daughter was born.
Laura changed jobs and took a position with GUPTA doing work in Asia. She was traveling all over the place with her daughter in tow. She'd have to find babysitters in the hotel which did not always pan out and she'd bring her daughter to the meetings. In the end the company shut down the international relations and Laura went back to work in the marketing area. She was pregnant with her fourth kid and youngest son and the company was in the midst of laying people off so she took the quitting package and went home.
It is truly incredible and commendable that Laura continued to do what she loved and had to do with kids in tow. I have said this before and I will say it again, it always works out. Laura decided to go into consulting as she had some serious experience. She didn't love it. She liked working with a team. Her last gig as a consultant was for Netscape. It was October 1997 and they offered Laura a job to run international marketing for them. She said yes and stayed for six years. Her division started out with four people but by the time she left there were 235 people working for her. It was an exciting time. She was the VP of the browser division. At this point in Laura's career she had two pivotal experiences. One was moving to Brazil with two kids in two never having done sales before and the other was managing engineers at Netscape when she had no training as an engineer. Netscape went public, it was a debaucable, AOL and Time Warner acquired Netscape and shut down their browser business. They asked Laura to move to Virginia and run International sales. Her kids were in school, they had roots in SF, her husband had a company there so she said no.
Where do you go next? You go to Yahoo. It was 2003/04 and she was working on web applications vs client software. The person she was working for was not a fit so after a year she left. She saw that gmail was coming and it was a threat. She'd go to meetings with 15 people doing power points and realized she needed to be in a start-up.
Metalinks was the company. Their software allowed you to analyze huge quantities of data for lawyers and stock traders. They ended up being bought by Seagate after a short time so she went to Check Point. She was interviewed to be the VP of marketing but they decided she wasn't technical enough. Check Point was an Israeli company that had just bought Zone Labs and they hired Laura to run a division there. Laura says it was more of a general manager job. She was running a consumer division of a $50 million company which was one of the early freemium ecommerce distribution channels. She worked closely with the CEO and learned alot. She spent 5 years running the consumer division and at one point ended up being the VP of Marketing for Check Point but as an enterprise company the consumer business really wasn't a priority so where should she go from there.
Laura started to interview for CEO jobs. She got to the end many times but never was given the job. It was frustrating that as much as all these companies loved her they wouldn't give her the CEO job. It was the first time in her life that she thought to herself, am I not getting the job because I am a female? She saw less qualified males getting the job that they were both interviewing for. Eventually she did land that CEO job but it was really hard work to get it. It was like finding a needle in a hay stack. That job was at Sugar Sync.
She was a first time CEO and not the founder but she was okay with that because she believed in the product. The day before she gave notice to her other company, Sugar Sync told her that they were selling the company for $50 million even though they had been struggling. It was 2008. She decided to still take the job. The markets crashed and the deal fell through. Things were a mess. The founders freaked. The board pushed out the founders for trying to force a sale when the buyers came back with a $3m offer instead. The VC's negotiated with the founders and pushed them out and now Laura was running the company, solo. It was the Thanksgiving of 2008. There were 20 engineers, nobody in finance and she had to deal with banks to release money to even make payroll. Welcome to the start-up world.
On the positive side, Sugar Sync had an award winning product so it wasn't all smoke and mirrors. She built a new team with basically no money. She re-did the work organization chart. She hired the right people to help grow the business. She did this with basically six months of cash flow to work with so she had to move quickly. Three years have passed and Laura just raised money at a significant value for the company with a large chunk of cash being put into the company. When she got there they had 58 people with zero revenue and now there are 65 employees with a positive revenues.
She is loving it. Her career is really interesting and the fact that she was able to figure out her family life and have children through all the ups and downs of her jobs around the world is amazing. She is barely 50 with serious energy. I believe two of her kids are married and they are all in their 20's, happy and doing impressive things in their own lives. Laura is a real role model for women. The last three years...well that is absolutely her entrepreneurial moment.