Heather Lux joined the Tresata team officially at the beginning of 2016 as Director of Sales. She also (thankfully) agreed to be my guinea pig for the first piece in our ‘Tresata Talent Series.’ Hats off to her for not admitting that she drew the short straw and for humoring me. Ladies and gents…meet Heather.
The first thing that struck me about Heather was how easy it is to talk to her. She’s incredibly charismatic. I first met her about a year ago for a coffee at a Panera and there wasn’t that initial weirdness (you know, where you try to fill the awkward silence until you ease into a conversation with a stranger…just me?). By the end of it I actually remember feeling a little disappointed that it was time to leave. This was not my usual response to interviews, formal or informal. It’s not that I don’t like people (I do!), I just have interviewed quite a lot of them, so it stuck with me. She was confident, asked a lot of really good questions, kept everything upbeat – she was someone you wanted to get to know. At no point did I feel like she was trying to sell me on her as a job candidate. On the contrary – the more I spoke with her, the more I ended up wanting to convince her to come work with me. Well played, Heather, well played.
Heather has since joined our team (hooray!) as Tresata’s Director of Sales and is now one of the awesome people that I get the privilege of working with every day. Below is the transcription of our interview – real, raw, and uncut – so you can get to know this Tresata team member just like I do.
Brittany: Okay so we’re officially going to kick off the Tresata Talent Series with Heather Lux…unplugged. I’m the interviewer Brittany Box and Heather is the team mate I am going to be interviewing today. Welcome, Heather.
…Sorry to make it all official on you.
Heather: … I feel like there should be cameras here and a live studio audience.
Brittany: Let’s hope not because I am not “camera ready.”
Heather: Neither am I. This is not in my rider.
Brittany: I’m so sorry…did the 100 fluffy kittens not arrive to your dressing room?
Heather: No, and there were blue AND green M&Ms. I’m very upset.
Brittany: Well this is embarrassing…alright, the whole thing is off. I’m so sorry.
Heather: I ought to storm out of here like the diva I am.
Brittany: Anyway…if you’re done with your diva moment we’re going to get things going with some standard questions, they’re all fairly straightforward. I just want to hear about you- that’s what this whole series is angled towards: letting people know the people behind the brand. Who really is ‘Tresata?’ We are human beings who are all about enriching human life. So, I want to hear about how your life experiences have led you here and how you would like to make an impact with the Tresata family going forward.
Heather: Oh wow, okay… so life experiences. Well,. I can trace back through a lot of experiences and turns and decisions that played a role in getting me here. For that reason, there’s probably a lot of people to thank for guiding me in one way, shape or form.
Brittany: Oh boy, cue the music…this Oscar speech is definitely going to run over.
Heather: Ha – yes! Well, let’s start with this- my previous company and Tresata shared a mutual client in Harris Teeter. I always like to say that I met Abhi Mehta through a closed door, because his voice carries through solid objects and the interesting part about that (and you can get philosophical here) was that his voice drew me in. And not just because he’s loud and very passionate about what he’s talking about, but because of the subject matter that Tresata deals with… predictive analytics, record linkage, machine learning… all of these really sexy terms. I knew I had to know more, I had to meet to this guy. We continued to cross paths and I continued to learn more about Tresata. I was so fascinated by everything that Tresata was doing and the momentum that data analytics had behind that I invited Abhi to speak at a few of my Quarterly Business Reviews. It was a forum for us to introduce partners to our customers. Some of them got it, some of them didn’t, but that’s to be expected. The real advantage that came out of those meetings was that Abhi came to understand my style and what I could bring to Tresata.
Heather: Not sure if that actually answered your question, but that is the story I like to tell when people ask me to connect the dots of how I got here. And I won’t say it was an easy sell. I was intrigued by what Tresata was doing, but this was 2-3 years ago when we first met and I was very happy where I was and I was enjoying the “corporate-backed lifestyle,” if you will, and so we made the promise that we would stay in touch.
Brittany: *shutters at the thought of a “corporate” lifestyle* I see…So, the “courtship” to come on board was longer?
Heather: It was. I was enjoying the stability of a larger organization (we’ll talk about why in a little bit), but I just wanted to see how things went for Tresata and in the big data market. Eventually, like many others, I realized that Tresata was not going anywhere and the trends were driving more data, more analytics, more data-driven decisioning…and I wanted to be a part of it.
Brittany: Very true! Going back to the bit about stability, if I’m not mistaken, you have some previous startup/entrepreneurial experience prior to Tresata, correct? I would love to hear more about that.
Heather: Yeah, I think more than half of my career has been in some form of a startup or very small organization. When I first moved to the Charlotte area, I came for the weather, quite honestly, but I began working for a startup internet service provider, back when that was a real thing.
**It was at this point that Heather tried to explain to me what an original ISP was back in the 90s, as if I didn’t know. Ageism is a real thing, ya’ll.**
Heather: As a startup ISP, I had THE coolest product on the market. I was out there telling everyone why their business needed THE INTERNET.
Brittany: Oh my gosh, that’s so funny.
Heather: Yes! “I am here to sell you THE Internet!”
Brittany: “I brought it in my purse…”
Heather: Exactly. “It’s right here, do you want to see it?” It was an exciting time and we had all the energy of a tech a startup. There were about 15 of us working in a double-wide trailer on the corner of 9th and Brevard, setting up businesses with Internet access and email… registering domain names and building websites. Taking them through the process of educating them on what all of it was, how it worked and why it was important to their business was incredibly exciting. It was also a huge challenge in that you’re selling something intangible and unfamiliar, but the transformative and disruptive impact of it… the energy of being part of that… it all feels very familiar to me with what we are doing here at Tresata with big data analytics.. That experience is probably what best prepared me for where I am with Tresata today.
Brittany: Educating the market is tremendously important for us right now.
Heather: …with the exception of being in the double-wide trailer which we certainly are not, thank goodness! But that whole sense of “everybody wears a lot of hats,” everything is so fast-paced, being very responsive to our customers, the demand in the market, trying to gather up as much interest and capitalize on that interest as quickly as we can…it feels very similar to Tresata. So then the ISP became acquired by a larger telecommunications company, as was the trend. It was a huge culture shock for me and several others who kind of started their whole career in that quick, and agile sort of environment – it was a big change. As much as I did enjoy some of the new opportunities it presented, eventually I decided to take a different path completely and opened up my own retail shop.
Brittany: That’s quite a pivot.
Heather: I really enjoyed that as well. I did that with a dear friend of mine and to this day she is still my dear friend. That was a whole different set of challenges, not just in that I was shifting to a different market, but to a different customer, going from working with enterprises to working with consumers directly. Then on top of that, we were wearing every single hat that you can possibly wear, including the one that means you can’t sleep at night because you’re hoping that you’re going to be able to pay the bills and keep the lights on.
Brittany: That’s HUGE. Definitely not an easy thing to do.
Heather: All the lessons that I learned from that experience really made me appreciate and value entrepreneurship and seek it out in other people. Because a lot of people talk about it, but very few get up the nerve, and put in the work and take the risk and actually do it. And I respect that. There are no small decisions when you’re an entrepreneur.
Brittany: It’s your baby.
Heather: Yes. Exactly.
Brittany: Let’s go back and dig a little bit further on a couple things that you said…first of all, what did you guys actually sell in your retail shop?
Heather: Oh! I guess I skipped right over that. We sold personalized stationery and monogrammed gifts. Everyone who came to us was celebrating in some way- ordering wedding invitations or birth announcements…party invitations. Or, they were buying gifts for the people that were being honored at all of these events. So it was always an incredibly fun vibe. We kept it really light and colorful and celebratory and we had a great time.
Brittany: That’s awesome. Like a party 24/7.
Heather: Well, I skipped over a lot of the blood sweat and tears, backstory. From putting a business plan together and doing our research, then presenting to a dozen banks and getting told “no” 11 times…and then finally getting that “yes”. Then all of the decisions that come after… You spend the money and you FREAK OUT that you’re spending all this money. It closed after the mortgage crisis, but it was a fantastic ride and one that I would do again, without hesitation. We both learned so much about ourselves and about every facet of starting and running a business. I think that’s why I look at Abhi and Richard and Koert and I want to do right by them. I can appreciate what went into getting Tresata where it is today and I feel very, very fortunate to be able to come in at a point where they have turned a huge corner. I get to come in, you know, after we’ve surpassed the 5-year mark – we’re in the “start-up safe zone.” I know there’s still a long way to go, and I want to help take it to that next level.
Brittany: Absolutely. What would you say is the biggest struggle for any entrepreneur? And how significant is having a support system for an entrepreneur to succeed?
Heather: I would say Relevance. Every entrepreneur fights to be relevant in the space that they’re competing in and in tech, you’re fighting to make sure people don’t dismiss you because your name isn’t backed by billions of dollars in venture capital or you haven’t gone public yet. You’re always fighting for that brand recognition, to educate the world on who you are before you can even get to the “what we do” and why it’s transformative.
The Lux Family
As to your second question, the support system for me, it starts with my husband. He is always my biggest cheerleader, and sounding board, no matter what I do. Having that person who believes in you, that understands the time commitment required, and who is willing to help pick up the slack and give you that peace of mind…that is HUGE. Then, if you’re lucky like me, you also have the support of your parents, your children, your siblings, your friends… There’s just immeasurable support there for me. Then there is the support system within the business… key customers can become a part of your support system – the go-to people that you can count on for honest and actionable feedback. And then, of course, the team that you put in place around you within the organization. Pick your sports analogy. Everybody is playing a part, everybody is willing to go outside of their defined job description for the greater good of the company – that’s important and I saw that pretty quickly here at Tresata and once I did, I felt solid in making the decision and confident making the move.
Brittany: How big was the team that you worked with at your previous company?
Heather: 12,000 employees at the company and 600 or so in sales. My team in Charlotte was smaller around 6 or so. It was very close-knit team and a hard group to say good-bye to. I’m still lucky to count them among my very close friends.
**Full disclosure: Heather’s interview was conducted in two parts, first on a Friday and second on a Monday. So if the answers from this point on start to seem a little more dark, we’ll chalk it up to a ‘case of the Mondays.’ Only joking, she was fabulous both days.**
Brittany: Okay, so we’re gonna dive back in. Who would you say is your biggest influence?
Heather cites her husband, Geoff as her biggest influence and supporter. She’s used to wearing a lot of hats, although this one is reserved for Easter.
Heather: Oh, so we really are going to dive right in! This is hard because there’s been a lot of people that have influenced me in different ways but I think I would have to hand the title to my husband, Geoff. When he became a pilot it was purely out of his passion for aviation and it infiltrated every bit of his life – his topics of conversation, the books and publications he was reading, the content he would seek out in different ways. I think seeing the enjoyment and pride he had inspired me to seek that out in my own career.
Brittany: What would you say are the key differentiators that make you successful?
Heather: I think being naturally curious and not settling for a simple answer to a question, but making sure I understand or have the full picture. I think that applies not only in learning a new industry, product/software, or anything, but I think it also applies when you’re trying to partner with a client. In order to spend their money properly, you have to fully understand their business and where your products fit. I tend to ask a lot of questions to get that knowledge… it’s served me well and I think it will continue to here at Tresata.
Brittany: Curiosity is actually something that we vet for in our interview process and is a huge differentiator because it’s not something that can be taught, so it’s definitely something that I noticed about you in our first meeting. If we bring in someone who is not curious to learn here, it’s almost immediately apparent and it’s disappointing because it’s not something we can train and it speaks to other fundamental values of our culture here. Plus, hello?? We’re doing some really interesting stuff here! Do you think that you’ve always been very curious or did you notice it was more pronounced after having your own startup? Because you had to think through all of the little details… Now I’m curious about your curiosity.
Heather: I truly think you will miss the big picture or the better story if you purely take things at face value and asking the right questions can get you there. Honestly – it’s a survival skill in terms of social behavior. People love to talk about themselves so if you find yourself on the other side of the table with an introvert – just keep asking questions – you’ll learn something.
Brittany: How would you say Tresata is different from a company perspective and a cultural perspective?
Heather: From a company perspective I would say it’s a far more progressive, energetic, and passionate company from the top-down. No one is here just clocking in and clocking out, no one’s here passing daylight, everyone is taking full ownership and responsibility in the creation of this company. From a culture perspective, there are no ‘Debbie Downers’- everyone’s energetic and positive. One person with a negative attitude can have a lot of impact especially in a small organization – it can just stop the wheels from turning. It’s a really big testament to the team here because it can get demanding and yet – we all keep moving forward.
Heather is the furthest thing from a Debbie Downer you’ve ever met…and a good sport at that for letting us celebrate her first birthday with the team in style…I told you she wears a lot of hats!
Brittany: You’re spot on. That can be one of the downsides to the open office layout – negative energy can quickly diffuse throughout the space, so we only hire happy people. Only joking. We obviously understand that we are all human beings with a full spectrum of human emotions. But, resiliency is important for this reason and a number of other reasons associated with working for a software startup. We’ve been very fortunate in this regard.
Heather: I think it’s important for people who haven’t had a lot of jobs outside of Tresata or haven’t really been with any of the big corporations where they are just a “number” to recognize how special it is here. Having worked at large companies and being one of several thousand, you don’t have a voice, and that’s nothing against any of the companies I’ve worked for, it’s just a fact that when you’re that large you can’t have 10,000 voices driving the direction of the company. But,here we’re all a part of it and that’s far more exciting and interesting than working on cruise control every day and having somebody lay it all out for you. It really is a benefit and a privilege to be at a company at this stage of its growth and in this market in particular.
Brittany: How do you plan to make an impact here?
Heather: My impact will come from exposing Tresata to an exponential number of opportunities and crafting the sales strategy and building and leading the sales team to get it done. I also want to make sure that companies that aren’t already in the data analytics space… or don’t have a data strategy don’t feel like this is out of reach. I think we can help get them there and make analytics consumable at any enterprise.
Brittany: Education is a big thing for you and you’re so well spoken. I was reading something earlier about “12 Women in Data Science,” or Big Data specifically. Do you see yourself ever doing ‘the speaker’s circuit?’
Heather: Absolutely. I was going to say long-term, but it might not actually be that far off! Let’s say once I get to the point where I feel I can hold my own, which like you said – the learning curve is steep and I am climbing up it as aggressively as possible. That is an aspiration of mine, for sure. Not only as a woman in tech, but also as a mom. It is very important to me to inspire my daughter by demonstrating that tech is absolutely a path she can and should take.
Brittany: So to switch gears a bit here…what do you do for fun?
Heather: This is one the question that intimidates me the most…
Brittany: We are all going to judge you by your hobbies.
Heather: I knew it, see? Exactly. No, I just really, truly am so in the throes of parenthood so our schedules are wrapped around soccer and projects and recitals and such. I think that’s why that question really intimidated me because I was like, my hobbies are…hmmm…what am I doing this weekend? Taxes, yard work, soccer, we’ll probably drink some bourbon and watch an episode of The Walking Dead. Thankfully I do have a great social circle of friends and family. They keep me very entertained. And we do take some pretty excellent vacations… it helps that my husband is a pilot.
Heather and her kids, Austin (left) and Madelyn (right) at this year’s HackathonCLT MMXVI.
Brittany: Oh, that’s right! So you fly for free?
Heather: Well standby, but we don’t always take advantage of it because of the logistical implications due to the airports being more operationally efficient.
Brittany: Thanks, Big Data…
Heather: But truly – parenting is my other full-time job AND my hobby. Your kids only grow up once and I’m not going to miss it. So if that means my hobbies are actually their hobbies right now, then so be it. I guess you can put me down for: soccer, basketball, baking, all things Star Wars, flashlight tag, glitter glue and Plants vs Zombies. I’ll retire someday and take an art class or something.
Our best Hackathon helpers rocking their 80’s gear at the Tresata themed lounge.
Brittany: In that case, we’ll make sure that the individual Tresata-branded yachts we all get when we retire include an arts & crafts lounge.
Heather: Oh, I just assumed…
Brittany: Haha – Heather, thank you so much again for taking the time to sit down and chat with me over these last couple of afternoons. It has been a wonderful conversation.
Heather: Thanks, Brittany! It’s been a lot of fun.