Yes We Can
A recurring series presented by Cloudflare co-founder and COO Michelle Zatlyn, featuring interviews with women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who clearly debunk the myth that there are no women in tech.
This week's guest: Ann Bordetsky - COO at Rival Inc, Investor & Advisor with January Ventures, and former Director of Business Development at Uber.
Hello, hello Cloudflare TV. This is the segment Yes We Can and I'm so honored to have Ann Bordetsky here today and we're going to talk about her career and doing business development and technology and being a woman in technology and hearing all about Ann who is wonderful.
So we're really excited for you to tune in and hear about these amazing stories.
So welcome Ann, thank you so much for being here today.
Oh, I'm so excited to be here. Thanks for having me. I love the fact that you have your own TV channel.
Very cool, very cool. Experiment, which is something very, which is actually one of the best things about technology is you can run experiments.
It's an experiment. That's right. I am happy to be your alpha user and to be part of the test.
And thanks for having me. I'm really delighted to be here.
Great, excellent. Well, you know, and, you know, I was thinking, reflecting on how I met you and what is probably the quintessential tech story, but I want to share it today with the audience is that we met on Twitter.
And I, if you don't follow Ann, I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter.
Is it Ann, it's at Ann Bordetsky?
Yes, just my name, at my name. Yeah. Great content. And you were at Uber at the time doing business development.
And I remember you sent out a tweet saying, why aren't there more women in business development?
And I gave a bad answer.
Actually, I listed all these people. You're like, those are great women, but they're actually not in business development, which I really appreciated you pointing that out.
And then we kind of started to follow each other.
We met, we've had coffee before. And, and so I wanted to start there. You are a senior woman in, in, in business development and technology.
So maybe start by saying, can you just tell the audience a little bit about those roles, the last roles you've kind of had the last 10 years, and we can also go back in time, but let's start there.
What does, first of all, what does business development and technology mean?
Yeah, no, that's a great question. By the way, I also follow Michelle.
And before she ever tweeted back at me, I'm pretty sure I was following you because you're total badass.
And it's like, who is that lady building this incredible company?
Like, I need to know her. So I'm very glad that Twitter brought us together.
That's what Twitter is here for, serendipity. You know, business development in tech, I think, obviously, I'm biased, but it's a very interesting career and path to have in technology in Silicon Valley.
Because, you know, as much as we talk about engineering and product and UX being essential to building product led companies, and that really is the backbone of any technology company, the reality is, whether you're building consumer business or a SaaS business, as you know, you need very strong business function to help you figure out how to take that product to market, how to scale it, how to sort of grow your company's strategy over time, and also how to build really strong partnerships.
And as part of that, negotiate favorable deals for your company.
And so, to me, business development was sort of like the path I chose, because I love strategy, and I love partnerships.
And I love sort of just thinking holistically about what it takes to really build a business or take it to the next level.
And so, sometimes I think MBAs get a bad rap.
I have an MBA. For not like, you know, adding enough value in tech.
But the truth of it is that you really, in any company, consumer, marketplace, commerce, B2B, you need a strong business function to help you build that amazing like billion dollar plus unicorn.
And for those out there who might be interested in business development, just know that there's a lot of different flavors of that function.
You can do anything from, you know, growth partnerships, that's basically partnering with really exciting brands out there that's more consumer focused, you can be very technical and work on deep product partnerships and integrations to create new product experiences with partner companies.
You could do the kind of business development that's really about, you know, figuring out what companies to acquire or to sort of like extend your business, right, to building new business lines and business units for your company.
There's a lot of different ways to slice up business development.
It really is a choose your own adventure kind of function in tech.
I love that. So you've had this amazing career of the last, I mean, really your whole career, but the last 10 years has really been in tech.
And you, after your MBA, you went to a better place, which was really trying to push electrical vehicles forward.
And then, and then a startup, and then Twitter, and then Uber, which are two very iconic tech companies the last decade, doing business development.
Maybe you can tell, take what you just said at the high level, which I think really outlined what business development is and give some examples of some of the deals that you personally worked on in those roles.
Yeah. By the way, highly recommend at some point in your career in tech to be part of an iconic company, not because it's iconic, but because it'll teach you some really important things about operating at scale.
And seeing the kind of impact that you can have at scale is truly magical about working in tech, right?
That's one of the great things about sitting in Silicon Valley.
What you do here can touch somebody else in the world, right? And hopefully millions of people in the world.
It will also teach you something very important, which is behind the facade of every iconic company is just a bunch of people trying to make it work, right?
Yes. It's messier than you think. It's less strategic than you think most of the time.
And so once you work there, you realize, gosh, it's actually really, really hard and it's kind of messy.
And it's really not that different than any other company, but they happen to have really great product market fit.
So working at Twitter and Uber, I did a lot of different partnerships and deals.
One of the things I'm really proud of is earlier when I was at Twitter, we were really focused on kind of building the future of commerce and mobile commerce in particular, and allowing brands and influencers and artists who are on Twitter to have a more direct relationship with their fans and hopefully transact around that.
So we were building the early days of social commerce.
At the time I did a couple of really early deals with Stripe before I became really big.
They were such a phenomenal partner for us and Shopify and eBay and a lot of kind of the commerce players.
But it's fun to build that infrastructure early on and then realize that in the process of doing these deals on the Twitter side, you're actually helping these startups sort of grow and become their own unicorns in their own right.
Not to take credit for their work. They did it.
I didn't. All credit goes to you. You helped provide growth both to Twitter and them and helped to amplify it.
It is quite amazing being connected to, as you said, your customers or your fans.
It matters. Yes, yes. And Uber is a very different kind of business.
And so at Uber, I worked on partnerships that were very kind of tech and API integration focused, that really getting Uber into core consumer app experiences, partnering with Expedia around integrating Uber to travel bookings, partnering with companies like Hertz and Avis and others around making entire fleets of vehicles available to drivers in an affordable way.
And so it's kind of hard to name them all.
But at Uber, they really span the gamut from very much like product centric partnerships to partnering with category leading companies all across the economy to introduce services into the Uber marketplace and likewise introduce Uber to customers who are doing everything from getting rides to a hospital to traveling through the airport to really trying to provide customer service to their own customers and brands.
That's amazing. So you're at the center of building all these relationships with these partners and embedding your technologies to make it easier for people like all of us to do what we're trying to do.
That must have been pretty rewarding. It is. And the tricky thing about business development is it is certainly rewarding, but it takes time.
It really takes time. It takes a long time to find the right partnership to do in the first place, to cultivate that relationship, to design a partnership that truly creates value for both sides.
And of course, as deal makers, we tend to be very deal focused.
But the reality is like once you sign that deal, that's still just day one, right?
The real value of the partnership is often like in the months and sometimes years after that of trying to realize the value of that relationship.
So I would say BD is short term, very exciting, dynamic, intense, like adrenaline rush, but long term rewarding when you see the impact on your own customers and on your partners once you've realized sort of that partnership that you originally envisioned.
It's like taking a product to market over multiple years. Well, there's a saying in technology of you're an overnight success story.
And it's like, well, even, we've been around for 10 years and now it's like, oh, you're doing so well.
And it's like, well, the first eight years, no one really paid attention to us.
It's very recent phenomenon. And it's, it is these long term, very being long term focus.
And so some of the things you said resonate of business development or is also long term because it is, it's not just about signing the deals, but making it successful and really creating what I always say is one plus one equals three.
Like that to me is a good partnership. Because if it's just one plus one is two, it's, I don't know, that's, I'm not sure if that's if that's really value creating.
So challenging. And I would say really interesting dynamic of doing business development too, is you're not just working with a partner.
Oftentimes, there's a tremendous amount of partnership that's required internally with your product team, your engineering team, your marketing team, your operations team.
And so you're negotiating on both sides to kind of bring your company and all of its many stakeholders together with the partner company and all of its many stakeholders.
So oftentimes, and you know, I started my career in DC. So I just like see these analogies, it feels a lot like diplomacy, like shuttle diplomacy, you're going between both sides to try to create some shared value.
And then of course, when you're executing the partnership, you know, you have to advocate and like motivate and organize your internal resources as well to make it happen.
So if you want a good challenge in tech, go into business development, it is not easy.
But I would recommend it.
I love that. It's great. That's why I love hearing about people who have done it at such amazing companies, because it's great to hear all the inside inside workings of it.
So you I mean, use the word scale and impact. And I totally agree.
It's amazing what you can do from Silicon Valley or San Francisco to impact the world.
So maybe you can share with the audience, can you just give us a sense of like, how impactful and large was better place and Twitter and Uber in terms of reach around the world?
I really want I'd love for it here in your own words of how you thought about it when you were working at those companies.
Yeah. It's interesting.
I think looking back, just across my experience, I think companies can have impact a couple of different ways.
And what you tend to see in Silicon Valley and in tech in general is especially if you look at startups, you know, I think there are companies who are trendsetters, right?
They put a trend, a technology, you know, a new business model or product idea in motion.
They're not always the ones who actually capitalize on it.
But there are companies who set the trend and like put something important in motion.
And there are companies who actually like capitalize on it and get to scale and become the known brands and services in the world.
And so I feel like I've experienced both. Better Place was the category leader and sort of like the first company to really introduce this idea that electric vehicles could be accessible and convenient for everyday consumers and introduce a subscription -based model for EV charging, ubiquitous EV charging.
And so the company itself didn't make it, but at the time it sort of created the market that so many other companies participate in today, Tesla among others, and are able to sort of, you know, both commercially capitalize on the opportunity, but also just have kind of the policy and investor support that's required to bring these services to market.
So the impact of Better Place was it convinced people that there is a future in which every garage could have an electric car instead of a gasoline car.
It convinced enough people of that early on that it set this kind of inevitable trend in motion.
I think Twitter and Uber are companies that truly represent like global scale, right?
Iconic brands that people in any country in the world would know.
And if you think about it, that's an incredible achievement.
Twitter is, I don't know in how many countries at this point, probably everywhere in the world except for China, but they know of it in China, right?
But, you know, 300 million active users. Uber today is in 80 countries around the world.
There are millions of people around the world, at least pre-COVID, that were participating in Uber, deriving economic value from Uber as drivers and couriers, as, you know, restaurant businesses.
And there are over 100 million active riders and sort of users, you and me, for example, who are relying on Uber for these kind of everyday utilities and conveniences.
And so to build a company where you know the decisions that you make are going to be felt and experienced around the world and to sort of think about how to create something that truly is for the world and not just for those of us who sit here in San Francisco and Silicon Valley is just an amazing privilege.
That's what I always take away from it, is like it took a lot of people to create something so special.
And it's an enormous privilege to operate at that scale.
How can companies like Twitter and Uber and, you know, Airbnb and Slack and so many others be stewards of that, right?
To create as much societal good, right, and innovation with that platform as possible because the vast majority of startups wish they had that scale and they can only dream of it, right?
Definitely. You know, this idea of this, you know, a lot of responsibility and comes with that responsibility.
Are you optimistic that the tech leaders, especially the ones that you worked with up close, like are you optimistic that people understand that or that these tech CEOs understand that and that as we look out the next decade that that's something we'll see more of?
Or are you more weary and nervous of that? I'm optimistic about tech sort of embracing it, but embracing it in the sense that realizing that what is expected of leaders and CEOs today is both from their own employees as well as from investors and just sort of the public at large is this kind of idea of stewardship and I would say principled leadership.
It is not enough to just build your company for your investors, right, and for yourself.
Once you have a certain scale and impact, you have a responsibility to a lot of other stakeholders, right?
And so I think that I'm very optimistic that tech will sort of come around to embracing this broader responsibility that we have in the world, whether we ask for it or not.
We're in a position where we have power and influence and with that comes responsibility, right?
But my own experience has been that I think many founders sort of embrace that reluctantly because I think success catches them by surprise.
They didn't intend to have these like big societal roles necessarily.
They were just building a product and there's a level of, I think, sort of statesmanship and macro, you know, societal leadership that people expect of you and not everybody has that within them and so I think the interesting trend that we're seeing in tech is sort of seeing which founders evolve in and can embrace, you know, leading for everybody and which founders really struggle with that and, you know, I think one of the ways that companies can solve for that is bring in professional CEOs.
We've sort of, I think we're very negative on the idea of replacing founders but it need not be like a very dramatic and painful moment.
I think succession is a natural part of planning companies and growing companies and I think that we can actually do a great service to founders by bringing on leaders who can partner them in the long run and be stewards also of their vision, their baby, their company, the thing that they put so much sweat and, you know, energy into building.
I love, you know, I, you know, you've done, you had this amazing career doing business development at these companies and as you said strategic partnerships, growing, like it's just amazing and now you are a COO of a company rival and, you know, a lot of people want your, like want to follow in your career steps and they also want to be a CEO of a company and so maybe, maybe we can pivot away from business development and talk a little bit about like what is a COO and, and how did you, how did you get that job?
Oh, I love that question.
What is a COO? You know, I think there are many different flavors of a COO, right?
I think that taking one of the iconic examples as, as sort of an example here which is, you know, Zach and Sheryl Sandberg, right?
I think Sheryl really made this idea of like a very empowered COO, very visible in Silicon Valley and I think that is a very unique partnership but what I will say is I think part of what a COO brings to the table in a company is that ability to partner either the CEO or the founder and the rest of the leadership team and kind of create a complementary partnership where together you sort of round out the, the skill sets and the leadership abilities that are required to lead and, and grow the business and the company and the organization and, you know, I don't think there's one path to COO.
I think there's, you know, COOs that are very operationally focused, manage very large organizations and are focused on logistics and supply chain.
You see this a lot in DDC brands and e-commerce. There are other kinds of COOs.
I think maybe you and I are more in this camp and share some similarity there, focused on like go-to -market and business, right?
And sales and marketing and sort of taking the product to market more of like the business portfolio skill set and then I think there's COOs who manage internal functions, largely sort of internally focused HR, finance and really sort of like leading the organization and having the CEO be more externally focused.
So I think part of the journey of becoming a COO is figuring out what kind of a COO you want to become and, you know, what that role really is about for you.
For me, becoming a COO was an opportunity to sort of embrace the general management approach that I've always had, even when I was focused on business development, to kind of take that cross-functional leadership that I enjoy so much and I think is very important to the success of a company, kind of take it to the next level, but also do it from a position of strength in terms of bringing that biz dev product and kind of like growth and strategy experience that I already had as sort of like the core pillar of that role.
So if you want to become a COO someday, I think, you know, it's about seeking out an opportunity where the experience you already have today, whatever function you grew up in, is sort of what's most needed in that role.
And then from there, expand into other parts of the business that you can sort of own or grow over time in that kind of general management capacity.
You know, one of the things that I totally agree and one of the things I love is that like you had a lot of big jobs and did a lot of things and I feel like that people who are successful and do a really good job in the role, it makes it easier to grow into these other roles.
Has anything surprised you? Has anything been harder than you thought or surprised you as you transitioned from a business development leader into this more general management role?
Is there anything that was like, I did not expect this?
Yeah, I'll definitely tell you what my did not expect this is, but I neglected to mention one thing, which I think is very important.
I have been like a very committed generalist throughout my career and I have at many points traded like title and upward progression to grow laterally, right?
I love learning new things and so I'm kind of a generalist by nature and I would say now is when that is really paying off because having versatility across functions, across stages, across industries, when you are in that general management role, like whatever challenge you encounter, the more experience you have, you know, working across a lot of different areas, the more you can sort of like solve through that in a COO capacity.
So what I would say is, first of all, if you're a generalist, it really pays off at that level, not always in between and then what I guess has surprised me is just, you know, I think when you are accountable for HR in particular and talent and recruiting, like that is an incredibly strategic function.
We don't really think of it as a strategic function in tech, but it is and it's just sort of all-consuming because even if you're not at thousands of employees, there are so many things that are constantly happening in your organization and I think the only thing that sort of surprised me is just sort of, you know, the amount of like emotional labor and constant energy that is required to be an effective leader who's also a steward of like the people operations part of the house and I honestly think we don't give CHROs or like people officers enough credit for the incredibly hard work that they do in that regard.
Yeah, well, you kind of, as you said earlier, you said tech companies are just a bunch of people behind the scenes trying to make their idea come to life and it turns out getting great people to come join and then stay and being able to do their best work and all growing in the same direction, that certainly does not happen with a lot of intention and it's an art and a science, so that's a great widening of your aperture that you can now add to your amazing career.
So, you know, you started your career in public policy in DC and then you went to business school and then you came into tech.
You know, what do you, I feel like tech and policy are becoming more and more closely related and like they're really intertwined.
What's your perspective on the importance of policy and technology, you know, over the next five or ten years?
Do you think they're going to come closer together or go further apart?
Although we live in a very like challenging and sometimes disappointing, messy world right now, I don't even know how to describe it, we got a lot of work to do, but honestly this is the most optimistic I have ever felt about tech and our ability to influence society and it's because I see this extraordinary shift from when I started in tech, having come from DC, like I was super irrelevant here.
People did not care about policy people, government affairs people, like it was not a valued skill set and there was very much this attitude of like we don't need government, like we're tech, we don't need government, that's like the whole other thing over there, we don't touch it, we're not interested in it, like keep it away from us and I think now we're seeing this awakening where we've had companies that are more sort of like dependent on the policy and regulatory arena, it's not just Uber, there's a lot that's happening in health tech and ed tech where you know that part of the value of your company is really being able to influence policy and regulation, but also just like our response to this moment in time, to COVID, to obviously the need that we have to root out racism in America and so now I see a very different attitude from people, a desire to engage, a desire to engage even at the local political level, right, which is just has not historically happened in tech, so I am like very optimistic and hopeful that we take all of this energy and we actually kind of lionize in tech, not just launching startups, but being public servants, right, and finding your own way as a leader or even individually if you work in tech to participate in civil society, right, that could be a local non-profit, a local government, it could be, you know, donating your time, there's so many different ways to express that, but I think it's very important for us in tech to each think about what it means to be involved in society at large, not just like getting to the next step in the tech ladder.
Yeah, no, I love that, there's so many inspirational can-do things in this conversation that I'm like, let's go, let's go, I can't be like, exactly, okay, so, okay, so Anne, put yourself back in college, there's so many college students right now who are graduating in a really cloudy 2020 as you described it, and let's say they listen to this conversation, they're like, oh, Anne's cool, I kind of maybe want to check out this business development thing, like what's the one thing you wish you knew graduating from college that you would go back and tell yourself today that all those college students today should hear?
Well, I didn't know anything about business development when I graduated from college, I had an environmental degree, if you had said the words business development, I would have not known what that even means, but I think my advice to anyone graduating from college is, you know, your early 20s, right, those first few years in your career, like you're going to do your best work, you're going to find a place to land, and you're going to have experience that you're proud of if you work on things that you're truly passionate about in the world, there's no point in trying to early optimize your career, just put yourself in a position where you'll be working on something that you truly care about, that you will want to learn about, and, you know, when you are going for your first job, people are really hiring you for potential, right, they're not hiring you for existing experience, and so when you see someone who is fresh out of college, who really has an idea about how they want to change the world for the better, and is willing to just put in like the sweat, the time, and the grit, and the humility to like making an impact, you'll hire them every, you know, like any day of the week, those are the kinds of people you want in your organization, so find something in this world that you really care about, and then seek out companies, startups, organizations, you know, just any place where you can really apply yourself to that problem, and I promise you, you'll get some traction, you'll get experience, and once you have that under your belt, you can really figure out what you want to do professionally longer term.
And you are so generous with your time today.
Thank you so much, Ed, continue to change the world.
Thank you so much. Thanks, everyone.