In September, we kicked off our Taking Over Tech series with Verizon 5G Labs, shedding light on the areas where girls & womxn are staking their claim, and uncovering opportunities to help them take up space in the industry.
Every month, we’ll sit down for an intimate discussion with a womxn in the industry who is spearheading inclusivity, representation, and progress for all womxn-kind through their work. Together, we can close the gaps, and pave the way for girls and womxn across the industry.
Throughout October, we’re continuing our conversation around closing the gaps as we hear from womxn designing innovative technology. Keep up with us on our social channels to find out who we’re chatting with, what we’ll discuss, and everything else we have queued up.
VERIZON 5G LABS
Verizon's 5G Labs works with startups, academia and enterprise teams to build a 5G-powered world. We work on 5G trials, hackathons, industry partnerships, prototyping challenges and more.
Fullstack Academy is a top-ranked immersive school for web development and cybersecurity training based in New York City. Fullstack offers comprehensive in-person and remote training opportunities across the U.S. and prepares students with the in-demand skills they need to launch fulfilling tech careers.
BadVR is the world’s first immersive data visualization and analytics platform. BadVR brings data into high-definition, making it easier to discover and identify hidden problems and opportunities, helping businesses make better decisions, faster. Based in Marina Del Rey, the rapidly-growing tech startup has attracted industry attention with its pioneering AR and VR demos, allowing people to - quite literally - 'step inside their data.'
- UX/Product Design
- Design of Everyday Things
- Lean UX
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Laws of Simplicity
- Data is Beautiful
Information is Beautiful
Leadership / Team Building
- Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success
Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior
The Last Dance
- Life in General / Life Lessons
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky
Rilke: Letters to a Young Poet
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
Michele Cantos 0:00
Thank you so much for joining us. My name is Michele Cantos. I am the Managing Director at Fullstack Academy of code here in New York City. That means that I lead an engineering educator and management team in teaching folks, web development in cybersecurity. And of course, I am joined by Suzanne Borders the CEO and Founder of BadVR. Before we get started and meet Suzanne and talk with more about her experience, I want to thank folks at Alley for creating a space to host these amazing events. For those of you who don't know, Alley is a community agency that unites rich and diverse communities around the country with corporate partners to provide resources and catalysts to drive positive change in tech and society. So a huge thanks to the folks that alley for putting this together. And we're also excited to be hosted by the host of these events, who are Verizon 5G Labs. So Verizon 5G Labs are they work with startups, academia, and enterprise teams to build a 5G powered world. So using the practical application of emerging technologies. Part of that amazing mission includes having conversations like the ones that we're going to have today to address barriers to digital inclusion, and creating opportunities for communities to thrive and grow in the tech space. So for anyone who is curious, check out Alley and check out Verizon5G labs.com to learn a bit more about the series and future series. So with that, on reminder once again that audience members can pose questions or comments in the q&a feature on the bottom right of your screen. And without further ado, I would like to hand it over to our speakers, Suzanne Borders CEO and Co-founder of BadVR. Hi, Suzanne.
Suzanne Borders 2:04
Hi, how are you doing?
Michele Cantos 2:06
I'm doing great. Would you mind introducing yourself to our audience today?
Suzanne Borders 2:11
Yeah, no problem. Um, so I'm Suzanne Borders, as mentioned, the CEO and Co-founder of BadVR, I, my background is in psychology and UX and product design. So for the past eight years or so, before I found it BadVR I was a UX designer and product designer. And I led the design of 2d data visualization and analytics products, specifically focused on visualizing geospatial data for non technical end users. So I was really dedicated to doing that, and that my work in that area. So sort of led me to my path in founding BadVR, which does immersive data visualization. And that's a lot of big words. But essentially what we do is take really large complex datasets and put them into virtual and augmented reality, with the goal being to make the discovery of insights faster, easier, and most importantly, more accessible to everyone. So beyond my professional career, I'm also very passionate writer, and both have grants and to have creative writing and poetry. I've been published a couple times, and I'm a former punk rocker. So I've got a lot of tattoos as well.
Michele Cantos 3:20
That's awesome. Thank you so much. It's wonderful when speakers introduce their, you know, professional corporate history, but also a little bit about who they are. I think especially now that we're all working from our literal homes, and you know, you're seeing our kids and dogs and plants and whatever. It's really, really nice to have folks just be their authentic selves. So let's dive in to some questions. Can you tell us a bit more about how you know, what made you want to pursue this particular path? It's a very unique one, and definitely one we don't see a lot of women in?
Suzanne Borders 3:56
Yeah, yeah, for sure. So my, my background in studying psychology, I might, so let me put it this way. I come from a family of doctors, right. And so my mother's a nurse, and my father's a doctor, and they wanted me to pursue medicine. I didn't necessarily want to do that. But psychology sort of seemed like sort of a halfway point between medicine and something more artistic, which is what my natural inclination was. So I studied that. And of course, I'm passionate about psychology. And the more I learned about it, the more interested I was in it, but I still had a great interest in doing visual design work, whether that was digital or painting or whatever. I was a very creative person. So once I stopped or once I got done with school, I moved out here to Los Angeles and I did a lot of graphic design work and I was really interested in doing graphic design, but I wasn't utilizing my psychology background. And I ended up sort of stumbling upon this discipline of UX, which was the applied like, sort of the meeting point between the discipline of psychology And the graphic design work that I had been doing. So I thought that was really interesting. And it captured my attention because it was sort of graphic design, but with a little bit more of the like thought process behind it and how people actually use it. So I like to define it as like applied graphic designs, you're taking the actual visuals and putting them to use and focusing more on the function of the design versus the aesthetics of it. So I just sort of I went to a lot of meetups here in Los Angeles when I first moved out here because I didn't know anyone, I didn't have any friends. And I thought for a minute that I wanted to do some coding or learn to code. But once I found the discipline of UX, I was like, You know what, this is really interesting to me, because I can utilize my psychology background. And I can also do, you know, visual and graphic design work as well. So it was a discipline that really spoke to me, it was the sort of intersection of my two interests and, and my background and the things that I had studied. And once I started doing it, I found that I had a natural inclination for it. And I really enjoyed the process of trying to understand how users engaged with interfaces, how they process information, how they structured information, how they completed digital workflows, and all of that was just sort of like, I guess, the accumulation of all of the experiences and the training that I had. And it really did speak to me, but you are right, once I started to get into UX design, it was something that I noticed, like, a lot of the times, I was the only woman in the room. And that wasn't necessarily true for visual stuff and graphic stuff. There were more women in that area. So it was kind of a challenge at first. And I felt a little bit like out of place. But I'm really glad that I continued to pursue it. And I've been very excited to see more and more women get into UX design. So
Michele Cantos 6:46
Your career track is fascinating. I'm sure folks are really encouraged by it. So a few things I'm hearing that I would love to learn more about. You know, it sounds like you're a very creative person. And you've also have the strong analytical like psychic perspective. At the same time, you know, you're you created your own career path you redefined, you know what UX kind of meant for you like applied UX. So there's a lot of kind of dissonant things, when you're trying to figure out what you're supposed to do and your nine to five and your life. I would love to hear more about that process. And, you know, we maybe in the context of imposter syndrome, feeling out of place, maybe being the only woman but on top of that, you know, you were carving out a very unique career path. So I'd love to hear what it felt like in that moment how you move through that time, those many years of figuring that out.
Suzanne Borders 7:44
Yeah, the speaking to imposter syndrome, that's really great that you bring that up, because I feel that almost every day, and I think a lot of people do, um, and it's one of those things to where, you know, as a, even as a founder, it's like, what credentials Do you have to have to make yourself qualified to do it and you know, it with UX, now, there's a lot more training and there are specified programs, and you know, you can study it in college. But with entrepreneurship, I although I guess there are some entrepreneurship classes, it really isn't something where you can get a degree or you can have specialized training. And back when I got into UX design, it was a lot more so like that it was a little bit more like the Wild West, so to speak. So there wasn't a lot of like formalized training or degrees necessary for that. So I guess, in my mind, the way that I looked at it, I was like, you know, what, I'm always gonna feel like I don't have enough qualifications, because I didn't go to like a top school or whatever. And I wasn't top of my class, I never really, like enjoyed college, or whatever. And I didn't necessarily excel in that environment. So I felt like no matter what I pursue, it's going to be something that I'm not necessarily, quote unquote, on paper qualified to do. But I'm going to believe that just by doing it, and by putting myself in my efforts towards it, I will qualify myself by just simply executing it well, so I focused instead on on trying to like justify myself on paper, and focus more on building the best portfolio and engaging in work and just being the best at what I did. And I thought, you know, what, if I continue to do that, then my, my skills and my work will speak for itself. And that is one thing that I do like about the tech industry. And of course, this is not universally true, but I have found that people in the tech and share more open to sort of non traditional backgrounds or people that more of a like, Can you do this job less so than argue, on paper qualified to do it and as I've moved from being an employee to being an employer, I always try when I'm looking to hire people to focus more on do they have the right sort of skill set Are they able to perform the task? Is their heart in the right place? Are they trying to do it? Well, that is much more important to me than any sort of like on paper credentials. So, you know, I think everybody suffers to some degree or another, even people who are on paper are very well qualified with the imposter syndrome. And I think it also speaks to being the only woman in the room like, is this something that like, I'm supposed to be doing? Like, I don't see other people who look like me doing this. So in my mind, I was just sort of like, eh, screw it, I guess I'm just going to do it, and I'm going to do it really well. And that's the best shot I have been taken seriously justifying my like existence here. And it's always worked out pretty well. For me, I found that ultimately, the cream rises to the top. And if you focus on executing things well, and being good at what you do, regardless of your background, regardless of the career path that you're taking, people will give you a chance. But yes, it definitely has been like a weird career path. And I guess maybe it comes from like my sort of punk rock background, I was like, you know, I'm gonna approach life in the way that, that I choose to do it, you know, and like I'm going to do every day, what I feel is the right path for me, even if it's not something that I expected, I was always open to like new opportunities, especially when I was younger, I just didn't really, some people, I guess, are born with this, like, I'm gonna do this one thing, I'm really, really good at this one thing, and I'm going to do that I didn't really know. And I just sort of was like, I'm kind of interested in this, I'm kind of interested in that. And I sort of let myself explore a bunch of things until I really hit on what spoke to me. And then once I found that I was like, Okay, now I thought I feel like I have a purpose in this world. And I'm just going to focus on being really, really good at that, and put all of my time and energy on learning to master it, I guess, and to enjoy the process of mastering a skill set and being really, really good at something.
Michele Cantos 11:54
That's amazing, I think, you know, for a lot of folks, I see coming through our coding boot camp, they're starting from scratch or changing careers completely in their mid 30s, or 40s, or right out of college. And it can be really scary to shift to explore something new to pay for that extra class or to teach themselves something or to just show up and say, or like you and calling you owning that you're a writer, you're creative, you're a former punk rocker, and you know, a founder. So it's super interesting to hear, to see how that track sets, different career paths. But I'm curious how that all of this experience has led you to, you know, stopping your full time engagements to fully launch your own completely innovative new product in your company.
Suzanne Borders 12:48
Yeah, and that was definitely a scary moment. It was something that I have always wanted to do, not necessarily exactly what I'm doing. But the idea of entrepreneurship, I always wanted to. And I guess this goes back to being a creative, create something in this world that didn't exist before. And whether that's a piece of art or a piece of writing or poetry, I feel like there's a lot of synergy between creating a business and creating art or music. And people don't see that parallel very often, because they're not looking at it that way. They think of businesses as being very sort of like structured and non artistic. But it is the process of moving from zero to one. And to me, it's very similar. It's giving creating something and giving that thing to the world. So I always knew that in one way or another, I wanted to be a creator, I wanted to give something to the world that didn't exist before. And once I sort of hit on that career trajectory of being a UX designer, I thought, you know, I definitely want to pursue this from, you know, a tech perspective and starting my own business. And I didn't necessarily know what problem I wanted to solve, or what solution I wanted to offer the world. But through the process of building these, and designing these 2D data visualization products, I ran into all the conceivable limitations offered by 2D and I saw a pain point that I really thought I could solve in a much better way than the tools currently on the market. So going through life, I have had this idea like many, many years before I actually quit my job. So it wasn't sort of like oh, I have this instantaneous moment. And I just in the moment quit and then went to found it. It was a multi year process of getting myself ready to take that risk, getting myself in a financial place where I could take that risk getting myself in a personal place where I could get to take that risk. And then lastly, finding a co founder that I could undertake this sort of journey with because I knew that I didn't want to do it by myself. But once I got to the point where all of those things were in line, and then most importantly, I felt the market was ready to receive the product that I wanted to create. And that's when I put in my my notice and I quit the job. And that was a I work still to this day remember doing that. And I was so nervous, I was shaking. I was like, Oh my god, I don't know what, what is going to happen now. But I thought back to this quote from the Shakespearean play Romeo Juliet, about the wind, like, I'm going to put up my sail and the wind, catch my sail and take me where I'm going to go. And that's sort of how I felt in that moment with fate. I'm like, I'm going to put up my sail. And if the wind is blowing, it'll catch me. And if not, then it won't. But you know what, this is what I have to do. And this is where I feel I have to go. And I want to give this a shot. And so I'm going to do it. And even if it's scary, I'm just going to close my eyes and jump, and we're going to see what happens. But yeah, it was definitely frightening. But at least I was also at a point in my life, where financially I had a safety net, that could catch me. And I felt that it was a calculated risk. To the degree that I wasn't being completely reckless with my choices. I felt that I had planned it out, I had a business plan, I had co founder, I had all the things necessary to succeed. Um, so yeah, that's, that's pretty much how it happens. And when I quit my boss at the time, tried to get me to stay by offering me a raise and all this stuff. But he also was a founder himself. So I explained to him, I was like, Look, it's not about money. It's not about anything. It's just, this is where I feel I need to go in my career and in my life, and there's nothing that can really get me to stay. This is this is my path, and I'm on it now. So
Michele Cantos 16:33
That's amazing. I mean, it just sounds like there's so many things that kind of have to go into making that a calculated risk, the finances, the personal life, the technicalco founder and all of those things. Do you have any,if you could summarize someof your biggest learnings from that time from the moment where you were like how you figure out that you've made the rights calculated decision and risk? Can you share some of those with us?
Suzanne Borders 17:00
Yeah, sure. So I, throughout my life, I've always been a risk taker, I think that's probably pretty obvious about me as a person with the tattoos and stuff. So my, the process in my life has been learning that there's a difference between taking risks and taking calculated risk. And I there's a lot of value in risk in and of itself. And it can be frightening. But because it is frightening, and offers a great deal of opportunity and value. So I've not had the problem of shying away from risks, but my problem has been more running headlong into them without the adequate planning, without the adequate foresight. So when I learned to combine together, planning on long term strategy, and all of that with risk, it's like, that's the magic formula. And that's what I was missing all throughout my 20s as I was taking these risks and doing these things, but not doing it in a way that was really productive, because I didn't have the foresight and the planning involved. So I felt like that was sort of the magic potion that came into the equation, this time around, that really made that whole process work. And in terms of like planning and getting things together, it was more of like, knowing once I had the idea for BadVR, knowing that I wanted to, even before I knew what the company's name was, knowing that I wanted to take that path, putting things into play, starting to save money on making a long term strategy to get a certain amount of money in the bank that would enable me to take a year long risk, potentially without having income planning in terms of like, where I lived, lowering my expenses, lowering my, you know, my monthly burn, so to speak. So that really, those were the sort of decisions and things that I were doing, I was doing at the time, taking an inventory of the market, keeping an eye out for other potential competitors, looking at the strategies that other people are taking, reading a lot of books about, you know, entrepreneurship and how things are done working my network to get advice from other people who had been through a similar process to understand how they sort of got their ducks in a row, so to speak. So it was a I would say, like a three year long process. And in that moment, when I did put in my resignation, it was just really like, I felt, okay, everything is in order, I've reached a point where I'm able to do this, the market is ready for my product. And you know, I just it's the right mix of taking this risk, but with calculation and with planning that I think is going to end up being you know, a beneficial thing. But of course, you know, in that moment, you don't know, but all you can do is say you know I've done all the preparation necessary that I need to do that I can possibly do. And I think a great deal of people don't want to acknowledge that there is like a lot of like things out of your control when you're starting a business and in as much planning and stuff as you can do. You can't, you know, sort of mitigate those risk, those risks are always going to be there, there are some risks you can mitigate. But for instance, like nobody foresaw the pandemic, there's nothing that I could have done three, four years ago to plan for that. So knowing that and accepting that is also a big part of it, too.
Michele Cantos 20:16
Thank you so much. I think that will resonate so deeply with a lot of folks right now. Especially with with COVID. With the the facial recognition, the country's going to the election coming up, there's so many uncertainties, there's so little we control, but at the same time, I don't know about you, but I think the last few months have told me like, this is the time to take risks. What am I actually doing with my day to day and asking those important questions about your values? And, yeah, you know, what, what is worth your time? and what isn't? And how do I prepare to live a life that that makes sense and gives me purpose? So so that's phenomenal. I, I want to maybe get a little more focused on BadVR unique business, I would love to learn more about the, you know, you mentioned to us in our conversation earlier, that one of the first things you did was find the right partner and and a technical partner for the business. So tell us a bit more about that.
Suzanne Borders 21:15
Yeah, I think a big part of founding a company and running a company is identifying your own weaknesses, and coming to terms with and accepting the fact that you're never going to be great at everything in every area. And that's just, you know, human nature. And it's I think anybody who tries to be really good at everything, it's an unachievable goal, right. So when I knew that I wanted to start a business, I took my own personal inventory of the strengths, my own strengths and weaknesses, what I could bring to the table, and what I didn't have. So I knew that in a partner, I wanted to find somebody who could fill in those gaps. And those weaknesses, I didn't want to find somebody who was the same as me, because then we would just amplify each other's weaknesses, and also amplify each other's positive parts. But that to me wasn't as valuable as finding somebody who could fill in where I was weak. So one of the areas as a tech founder that I felt that I was, quote, unquote, weak, was that I didn't, I'm not a technical, I don't write code. I'm not a developer. And to run a business that is so tech focused and so heavy in the r&d and the innovation on the technical side, I knew that I needed a really solid co founder that was a technical co founder. So one of my bosses at a previous job, was the CTO of a company called remind his name is Jad Miyoshi, and I felt that from working with him, he was extremely talented. And he was sort of the polar opposite of me, which was, in my opinion, absolutely great. Um, so like, under stress, I tend to get really, really driven and make decisions very quickly. And under stress, he tends to sort of pull back and take inventory. So it's just sort of like a complementary thing. We, in many ways, from a personality perspective, and also from a skillset perspective, we're total opposites of each other. And I also enjoyed working with him and had a positive experience working with him, and felt that he had the sort of personal strength to be a co founder to go through this process with me. And then also, he had experience as a co founder, obviously, in the past as well being the CTO of company. So I felt, again, that was an area where I was weak, I had never been through this before, I had never started my own business. So I wanted to have a co founder that had done that multiple times, who could again bring to the table, something that I didn't have. Um, but I think that's one of the things that a mistake that a lot of people make when they do pick found co founders is they pick people that they get along with, or they're friends with, or that are very similar to them. But for me, it was really like, I want to find somebody who is absolutely in every single way, opposite of me and calm, but in the same in the same breath complementary to me, because you can be totally opposite and not be able to get along at all. So there is enough similarities that we worked very well together, but also enough differences that we sort of balanced each other out. So that was my sort of thought process behind it. And I knew that also to raise money, I would need to have a technical co founder. So that was also a thought process included in our process as well.
Michele Cantos 24:18
Right. And it's, you know, it's so difficult to build a team in any setting, whether you're a co founder or manager making your first hire in a larger company, to sounds like you're Yeah, focused on building the right mix of people. And it sounds like that worked and your calculated risk taking right. It paid off. Because you mentioned money, I think we should dig into that often trouble subject, especially for folks who are thinking of launching their own thing that can often be the number one constraint. So can you tell us more about what it was like about your fundraising journey in particular if there's any recent lessons from doing so in a recession, maybe into?
Suzanne Borders 25:11
Yeah. So fundraising was one of the scariest things for me as a founder, especially as a first time founder. I personally I don't like to ask for money, I don't like to ask for help. And it was really hard for me to reframe on asking for money as as something that wasn't sort of like it's something you're asking, right? You're partnering with somebody and asking them to come in and share your vision, you're not asking for a loan, like the same way that you would ask for money from a friend or from a family member. So I had to, like reframe my thinking on that to make myself more comfortable with the concept of quote unquote, asking for the check. So my biggest challenge would be I'd go in and I pitch my company and pitch my business and say, This is an amazing opportunity that I would never really follow up and directly ask for, like, hey, do you want to come and invest in? Are you willing to put in XYZ dollars on? And that was something that I had to learn to really do? It was, and it was really, really difficult for me. And I think it's difficult for for a lot of people to just really blatantly and and hard ask for like, Hey, are you going to give me money for this thing? It's just uncomfortable sometimes. But I became more comfortable with it. Although I will say that my business and the way that I chose to fund my business is a little different than a lot of other people, we never really went the VC route we explored that thought about it decided it wasn't for us. So primarily, we've been funded from grants, primarily grants, honestly, our own revenue growing from our own revenue. And we did a friends and family rounds. And when I say friends and family, that's just sort of colloquial name for that it's not from my family, or my friends, the vast majority of the money that was raised in that particular round was from former co workers or bosses, or my professional network, people that have worked with me that believed in me, that believed in my ability to execute on this vision, I don't come from a family that has enough money to to fund something like this. So I really had to work my own professional network and all of my friends, again to are not in a financial place where they could do that. So I think that you know, a lot of people have this impression that you have to come from a wealthy family, or at least a sort of well off family or to be able to take this sort of financial risk. And for whatever it's worth, that wasn't my experience, I worked for years and years to put aside a nest egg for myself. So I could personally take this risk. And when it came time to get that first first round of money together to execute on the BadVR thing. It really just came from my professional network, it came from people that worked with me. And then of course, I took the different route of applying for grants from the government, through the National Science Foundation, through NOAA, and also through hardware manufacturers like Magic Leap. So though, we've had a lot of success with that, and that's really been different a different path than a lot of other tech companies. And the benefit of that path. Number one is that you're not going in there and having to pitch people, right. But the other thing, which to me is very nerve wracking. It's all about writing, you have to, of course, do a lot of writing. But again, I'm a writer, so to me that was like, Oh, great. If I have to write 60 pages of stuff, no problem. Um, but another benefit was is that they're non dilutive. Right? So you're not diluting your company, you're not diluting your ownership, all of the funds that you receive, are, you know, essentially, quote, unquote, free, obviously not free, because you have to work for it. And you have to deliver reports, you have to actually execute on everything, but they're not they're free in the sense that they're not diluted. So that's I think a lot of people don't know that those grants are available. They don't know that that's an actual way that you can fund your business. And I'm not talking about a grant for 6000. I'm talking, you know, millions of dollars in grant money that's available for for people out there in the public that want to pursue entrepreneurship that want to pursue innovation in the tech sphere, on you don't have to go through VCs if you feel like that's not a path or not something that you think is right for your business.
Michele Cantos 29:21
Yeah, I think you're absolutely right, particularly when the technology has such massive implications for society. Right. So I've seen plenty of folks, even folks coming out of our coding boot camp, right, someone who was any other career medtech did the boot camp, became an engineer and then launched their own thing. I've seen them use NSF grants, because they were focused on health or the environment or, again, something slightly impactful. So that's really phenomenal. I imagine it also while it's still really competitive you you don't have that many tech players doing this route, right?
Suzanne Borders 30:01
Yeah, it's definitely a different path. And it's the people that you're sort of competing against, so to speak for funding are not your typical, you know, other startup CEOs, right, it's more of a scientific more of an academic group of people that are applying for these grants. And that in my opinion, it's it's more merit based, because they're judging you more on what you're doing and what your your ability to describe what you're doing the innovativeness of what you're doing, versus whether or not you present well, in a 45 minute pitch meeting or whether or not you have the right sort of pedigree, or whether or not you have the right network, which is been my experience more so with VCs, it was, it seemed to be more of a personal sort of like judging of me and and who I am and my background and like my network, and with the the government grants, it was more of like, here's the idea, we're judging the idea, we're judging your ability to execute on this idea. And we're doing it all through paper, we're not looking at you, we're not physically interviewing you, or whatever. It's just, it felt to me very, very much more so of a meritocracy. And then also, I appreciate it, too, that the GOP being the government, they have more resources for minorities, for women who wish to pursue doing this sort of stuff, and being innovative, and doing tech work in that space. So not to say that VCs don't fund women or you know, but we all are aware of the data around that it's not necessarily the best thing in the world. And I did feel like it was in many instances, I don't, I hesitate to use the word hindrance. But I do feel like it was something that was not necessarily a positive for a lot of VCs look can be coming in as a female founder, and then doubly So being a founder in the VR and AR space, which is also sort of out there. So it's like, it's out there that I'm a woman founder, it's out there that I'm tattooed, it's out there that I have a VR AR company. So all of that together just proved to be really challenging to sort of sell the vision and, and to engage with with raising money in that way. So we just had a lot more success going the grant route. And it honestly has, it's worked out really well for the company, it's been really great, we've been able to grow a lot without diluting out the ownership. So that's been really exciting, and in game customers, and all of that without having to give u huge chunk of the equity.
Michele Cantos 32:33
So thank you, I think you're giving a lot of folks in the audience a lot to think about in terms of their own strategy, and in future funding and fundraising. You know, bringing it back to the women in tech and women and entrepreneurship, something you mentioned is, you know, knowing that it's potentially a hindrance that you're a woman. And then coming from just a creative background, being a former punk rocker and, you know, touting your writing, and just all the ways in which you felt different in the VC spaces or in in grant settings. I'd be curious to hear. You know, if you have any, any advice for folks who also feel different in all sorts of settings, but particularly in fundraising, how to overcome that and make sure it's a strength or just power through it, if you can't get to that it being a strength? I think it's something a lot of folks struggle with. And I think this year in particular, we're, you know, we're just hyper aware of the judgment that comes from anytime you're seeking opportunities.
Suzanne Borders 33:39
Yeah, yeah, it's been something that I struggled with my whole life, I've always been different, even in like, the creative artistic space, I was always more of the like, technical person there. So I always felt like I was too technical to be really, truly a creative, but too creative to really be a technical person. So I've always sort of rode that line between the two and always felt different always felt like an outsider. And, you know, walking into rooms, as a founder, people have this idea of who you have, or who you should be, and the sort of boxes that they sort of silo people into, and the expectations that they have. And I felt that a lot of the times, I don't meet any of them, I don't fit into any box. And that can be a positive thing. It can also be a hindrance. So just knowing that that's who I am, I felt it was better to just embrace that and to go with it and to double down on it. And that has resulted in people it has resulted in people having a polarized reaction, right, the people who really appreciate it and like it, really, really like it, the people who don't really don't, but I've had to learn the lesson that I'm not for everyone. And the way that I move through this world isn't for everyone, but it is for some people and those people who do share a belief in my abilities and belief in the things that I do. That's the reason why I'm here. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing. You know, the rest of everyone else who doesn't Got it, who doesn't like it? You know, I can't. I'm not here to make everyone like me or to try to win over everyone. I'm just here to try to prove competency and to prove that I can do the things that I set out to do. And if somebody gets sort of sidetracked with me and the different way that I approached the world, then you know, they can go bet on someone else. But I think that that's one of the lessons you just have to learn early on, if you are somewhat of an outsider, you feel like an outsider, don't try to be somebody that you're not, you know, because that always comes off as being inauthentic people can see through it, you just have to just, this is who I am, acknowledge that it's not for everyone, find those people who do believe in you, and really just focus on executing well being really good, and mastering the task and the skills that that will help you move forward in life. But yeah, it has been a struggle always been always been different. And a lot of the times, at least in like institutional settings, people just, they're not sure how to read it, they're not sure because like, you know, and I and I understand that this is part of life, people sort of do a quick like, check on you and try to put you into a box. And it's, it is what it is. But um, you know, I think that if you go outside of the institutional settings, that you sort of blaze your own path and find different ways to approach it, that can really be beneficial in a lot of different ways. Number one, because you know, there's less people taking that path, there are some unexpected benefits. Like, for instance, the different way that we took with fundraising had some really awesome unexpected benefits. Um, but it also is just maintaining being true to yourself, and not trying to change to fit into anybody's box, just to get you know, whatever it is that you need from them, there's always another option, it's never a or b, there's always C. And I think that would be my biggest advice to anyone who feels like, you know, they're sort of an outsider, they don't fit, there's always another path. And there's always one that you can make for yourself. So just don't give up and just keep looking for that path that fits you authentically for who you are, stay true to yourself. And I think that ultimately, if you're executing Well, if you have talent, if you're passionate, if you have vision, regardless of how different you are, there will be some people in this world that believe in that, that value that you just have to work a little harder at finding out my guess would be my advice.
Michele Cantos 37:28
Thank you. Um, you know, it's, it's interesting, I think in this year, that has been a consistent theme that's come up, right? Like, why are so many women, immigrants, just folks who kind of stand outside of the norm in our country, the biggest holders of small or medium sized businesses around the country, and also the most impacted by our recession. So it's, I think a lot of folks would will agree with you that that's a great marker to take when you you know, Blaze your own trail. But it also has some some risks as well. Because you are in a different path that doesn't have all the same security and oh, yeah, safety nets, right. So it's such an interesting and hard balance, I imagine. And then if you add the fact that you work with VR,
Suzanne Borders 38:21
Yeah, it makes it that much more difficult. And it's like the world is set up with, with resources to help people on particular paths, and it's like, in every single way, I've chosen to not take the normal path. So it's like, there's not a lot of resources, not a lot of support for people like me, who've chosen to do it differently in literally every single way. But at the same time, it has been a journey, and it has taught me a lot. And I've made a lot of interesting, you know, connections and found a lot of interesting opportunities that I would never have known about and would have never crossed my path had I just taken the like, traditional route, you know, so I feel like and I've also, of course, learned on a personal level, you know, a lot of lessons and it's made me much more resilient, sort of hard, not hard headed, but like, just I never give up. And when you're outside the norm, and you have no other options in the in the sort of society is set up to not offer you support, you really have to work hard at that. And that really sucks and I don't like it. But at the same time, it's really made me I'm not like just a real I'm trying to think of the word and it doesn't come to my mind. But like, it's given me the passion to like, never give up. And it's sort of like just to prove that like, I know that the society is not set up for someone like me to succeed. So therefore, because of that now I'm definitely going to succeed, just to prove you all wrong so there's that.
Michele Cantos 39:51
Amazing. So I think we're coming to an end of our q&a portion and then I'd like to open it up to other folks since I've gotten to ask all my questions, but as a as a closing question on this end, you've shared with us that you know, you do have a greater purpose in the work that you're pursuing. And I'd love for you to share that with our audience today.
Suzanne Borders 40:18
Yeah, so a lot of what I am obviously very passionate about is blazing a path goes for myself, but for women in general, right. So in a lot of almost my whole life, I've been the only woman in the room in almost all settings, I can remember a startup that I worked for that was 46 people and I, well, there were two women, one was the receptionist, and one was me, and it sucks. And it's really hard. And I don't, I want to see a future where more work when I walk into a workplace, there are as many women as there are men in any industry, but in particular tax. So I'm hoping that all of the work that I'm doing to blazes different paths to prove to people that you can be, you know, an artist, you can be tattooed, you can be female, and you can be a founder of a really advanced technical company, a software company, hopefully the next generation of women will look at this and say, Oh, yeah, I see someone who looks like me that is doing something that I want to do. And so they don't have to fight as many battles as I fought I am more than happy to fight the battles now and hopefully, win the battles so that the next generation of women coming into this world doesn't have to go through what I've been through or feel, the way that I felt. And so many instances where, you know, I'm in a room and there's like, 20, dudes, and then there's me, and I feel like nobody ever wants to hear this was the story of my early career, I just felt like a, like a decorative plant, you know, it's like, they're inviting me because they like to look at me, but they don't want to hear me talk. They don't want to hear anything that I have to say, if I try to speak up, they just speak over me. And it's just this hugely demoralizing feeling of just being like, you know, like a, like a plant in a room like, Oh, it's nice decoration, or we're doing it for whatever reason. But you know, it took me years and years and years to believe that like, people actually care about what I have to say, because I've had so many experiences of people just talking over me and ignoring me, and just repeating what I've said, they say it and suddenly, it's amazing. I said it 20 minutes ago, and nobody cared. So I'm hoping that by like, going through all of this difficult, difficult instances and times and situations, and really trying to blaze a new path that more the next generation of women, I just I really hope and that I do everything I can to make sure that they never have to experience that. So it really, really sucks. So that's my great omission is just to prove to the world, that women can do it that we're here that we have a lot of valuable things to say and that regardless of whether or not people buy into it, we're going to go out there and start businesses and contribute to the world. And hopefully, the younger generation of women sees that and is inspired by it. And hopefully we can change the world at least a little bit to make it a little bit easier for us all.
Michele Cantos 43:07
Thank you so much to Suzanne it was wonderful. Getting to ask you all these questions and this conversation. So Melissa, and folks from Alley I'm going to try to take some questions from the audience. If there's any, that's your flagging my way I can take a look. But okay, let's see. Okay, so a question from Miyoung. Could you elaborate a bit about applying for grants, what were your resources? And how did you approach applying them?
Suzanne Borders 43:43
Yeah, so I actually found out about grants about specifically the NSF grant, which is the first one that we applied to, on through someone in my network, who recommended it to me, and he connected me with a previous grant winner. So that was sort of how the whole thing started. As I spoke with this person who had won an NSF phase SPR phase one grant, I talked to him about his experience applying for it, what the process was like, what was needed was necessary. And then of course, once he received it, what were the reporting requirements and what was sort of expected after he received the grant. Then I also found out on which I didn't know at the time that my cousin had actually received an SBR phase one and two from the NSF two in my in my family. I had no idea about any of this but um, so of course I connected with him and he told me about what he went through and sort of the whole process. So once I learned about it on, I went to the website, you know, I did all the government stuff, I got my Sam number, my cage code, my DUNS code, all of that good stuff I signed up for it. went through and read the solicitation. So for any grant that is offered, there's a website where they put up what's called the solicitation where they talk about what they're Looking for, they're saying, Hey, we're looking for technology or innovation and these particular sectors on this, and then they'll tell you in that PDF, which is what they released. And it's also on the website itself, exactly what you have to put into your grant application. So they'll tell you, it needs to be this many pages and needs to have this many sections, you need to fill out these forms. And there's a whole portal to where you can log in and submit and take you step by step of what you needed. So I took a sort of survey of what was necessary in terms of writing and what they wanted. And the NSF also has the ability for people to reach out to them and pitch them an idea. And they'll say, yes, that seems like something we would fund or No, that won't. So you don't have to waste your time writing up a whole grant for something that they they're not interested in funding. So I took the opportunity to reach out to them, speak to them about what I wanted to apply my idea and my innovation, and they gave me the green light. So I went ahead and created everything, followed the grant. And this would be my biggest advice to anybody who's applying for any grants, whether that be through the NSF or any other organization, read, sorry, read every single sentence in the solicitation and follow it exactly. So that is one thing about grants, there is no room for interpretation. If they say it needs to be in this order, it needs to be exactly in that order, it needs to include this, this and this, it must include all of that. So I went through and I applied and I got rejected, my grant application did not get approved. But they were kind enough to reach out to me, their program director reached out and said, Look, we didn't approve your grant. But this is why these are the areas in which we they'll share with you to their panel, they go through and evaluate everything and they'll share the feedback from the evaluators. And this is where it's weak. If you make these changes, or you know, if you take a different approach in this area, we are encourage you to resubmit. So for everyone who has tried for a grant and has gotten rejected, I have to and I went back through redid the things that I needed to redo, I had messed up the work plan and I messed up the budget, like all of the things that you would mistakes that you make as a first time applicant, applicant, on redid everything and then ended up getting funded on the second go around. So it's um, the process becomes easier, the more familiar you are with it, it's really overwhelming at first because there's so much writing and there's so many words and a solicitation is like over usually over 100 page long PDF that you have to read through. So um, you know, it did come in handy having a background in writing and being a writer and loving reading. That really, really helped me out in a weird way. And that was one of the reasons I chose to pursue the grant thing. I felt like it was really well suited to my strengths as a writer and it also was a I liked that it was non dilutive. And I also liked that it was in many ways a meritocracy where they're judging the idea, not the person, of course, they are judging you, in the sense of like, can you execute on this, but they're not judging what you're wearing? Or how you speak or you know, whether or not you have tattoos, I just really felt that it was a much more merit based decision making process. So that was another reason why. And I also one last thing I met I went to a couple events that were sponsored by the SPR, NSF program, one of them was in Portland and I met a woman who had a successful NSF phase one and two, for her research, and it was medical research. And she was so wonderful and gave me such great advice. And she was really helpful. And it really inspired me to see a woman, like get that grant and and like somebody who looked and was like me. Um, so yeah, and her personality was very similar to mine. I was like, Okay, well, if that path worked for her, and she was able to do it, and she's very similar to me, I think this will be more my style. So
Michele Cantos 49:03
Thank you. More questions, see if we can get through them. So Ashley says, feeling like a plant and ideas be ignored. Yet love when someone else says them is, you know, totally resonates with her. She's asking how do you deal with folks that act this way that you that you still have to interact with or work with?
Suzanne Borders 49:24
Yeah, it's really challenging. Um, it used to really demoralize me and I would try to just ignore it. Now I try to call it out. But in a non aggressive way I know I'm sure everyone is familiar with like, you don't want to be too aggressive and be seen as crazy. But you also don't want to be too passive and allow behavior like that to perpetuate itself. So it's a hard it's a hard line to walk but I do like to in non con as much of the non confrontational way as is possible with me because sometimes I can be an unexpected I'd like I don't think I'm being confrontational but other people perceive it to be that way. I like to just call it out and say, You know what, I feel like you're not listening to what I have to say, I feel like this is not something this communication style isn't working for me on it. As a founder, it's a lot easier in many instances, because if somebody like is behaving like that, and they work for me, I'm able to have a private conversation with them. And I can dive a little deeper into what's going on. If it's somebody, for instance, like, I would say, an investor, but honestly, I would never take money from somebody who treated me that way. And I guess I'm in a position, I'm pretty lucky to be in a position where I can make that sort of choice where I don't have to take money from people like that. But I guess my biggest mistake would be like, I try not to find myself in situations where I'm around people like that. And if some, if I am forced, in some way to interact with someone like that, I try to call it out, not publicly, but have a private conversation with that person, and really try to get to the bottom of what's going on. And many instances, it can't be changed, but at least they're aware, maybe they weren't aware that they were doing it, and that gives them the opportunity to change, sometimes they won't. And that just is what it is. And you have to start, like, put that aside and try not to take it personally, um, but do everything you can to avoid people like that. And if you have to interact with them, try to have a private conversation and let them know. So they have the opportunity to change. And for me personally, if somebody acts like that to me, and I just don't, I don't hire people like that. I don't take money from people like that. I don't want to do business with people like that. So yeah.
Michele Cantos 51:36
Thank you. Uh, next question comes from john. So what can founders do to fan the spark of creative self awareness and success and upcoming generation? That's a great question.
Suzanne Borders 51:49
I'm sorry, can you repeat that for me one more time?
Michele Cantos 51:52
What can founders do to fan the spark of creative self awareness and success and upcoming generations?
Suzanne Borders 51:59
Yeah, I think, really, as founders, right, we contribute to the community, we also build our teams, and we employ people. And I think that really taking the time, every month or every other month to have team meetings and town halls, where you encourage your team to engage creatively with each other. And, you know, with the vision of the company that really helped. So I feel like a lot of the times a workplace is very much, you know, just always about technical execution, building technical skills, building professional skills that I like to give my team like reading lists, or I'll send them books from Amazon, or, you know, we have town hall meetings, where I encourage people to share their creative, whatever hobbies they have, or any creative endeavors that they have going on. And they also encourage them to bring that creativity to the solutions then and problems that we're trying to solve as well. You know, I don't want to ever, you know, believe that the tech is just tech, it's also creativity. And even if people don't really see it, like code is being creative, it really is. So I think that the more that we just really as a world and as leaders, and as you know, people who are building teams, or managing teams really make a space for people to bring that creativity to work to nurture that creativity at work to, to show and to demonstrate that it has value that or that you have the belief that it has value, I think that's really a good way to go about doing it. And then also being open to people who have creative backgrounds who want to transfer into the tech space are that want to move their career from a creative, something like acting or writing and they wish to sort of transfer into more of a technical role in the tech community, I think that's a really great thing, because they bring with them a completely different set of life experiences, a different viewpoint, and sometimes even different skill sets that I think are really, really necessary. When you're in a tech environment where a lot of people tend to have the same backgrounds, they have the same training, they have the same skills, the same worldview, having the creative background, and having creative people, bringing them into that space, I think really, really is important and sort of evens out the left brain right brain thing and brings really valuable insights and innovation that wouldn't otherwise happen. And I think that's really just a high level thing in general that the tech community can really learn to embrace the differences between people versus trying to have everybody fit into the same mold or follow the same path. I think it's really important to bring in creativity as much as we bring in engineering or technical skill sets.
Michele Cantos 54:48
Thank you. Well, I definitely won't disagree with you on you know, hiring folks from other backgrounds, who learn who enter the tech space at a later time in life. I think the number one thing we see Full Stack Academy is that folks who have more creative experiences or very client focused experiences, even things like food industry or retail that translates so phenomenally when you're working on a, you know, developing a product for real consumers or working with clients or leading technical teams?
Suzanne Borders 55:20
Yes, 100% agreed, I think it's like really undervalued and they have people with that sort of background as well have emotional IQ that is, especially when you're talking about people who worked in the service industry or talking about people who have a retail background, they have the ability to work with a large variety of personalities to manage a large variety of personalities. And I just think that a lot of the times you focus on like, Well, does this person have a degree from Harvard? Have they been an engineer Apple, and you really, really miss the other points that are necessary to really succeed at a job. And also going back to taking a different path through life, I always see courage and moxie and somebody who's chosen to maybe go about things differently. And that to me as a as a personal trait is really important. Like, I know that this person will be a self starter, I know that under pressure, they're not going to crumble, because they've chosen to go through life or they're not chosen or whatever has happened in their world is had them go a different path. They've had to really work a little bit harder at things and really had to be more of a self starter. And I see that for one is valuable. Especially when you're working at a startup. We have high pressure, you have teams of people that need to get done, you know, deliverables that have seemingly impossible deadlines. Yeah, so I just I really can't underscore enough how much I value different paths towards getting to where all of us are today. I think that's really wonderful.
Michele Cantos 56:54
Well, thank you so much, Suzanne, this has been amazing. I think I we all got a master class in you know, charting our own paths within the tech space but being true to ourselves. So thank you for that again, thank you to Alley to Verizon 5G Labs and to BadVR for you know, inspiring us today. Thanks, everyone. And is there anywhere else folks can follow you maybe Twitter or on your website?
Suzanne Borders 57:24
Yeah, yeah. So I'm on Twitter. My handle is Suzanne Borders at Suzanne Borders. You can also find me on www.BadVR.com can also follow me on LinkedIn and follow Of course, my business my the handle for BadVR is that BadVR_Inc. You can follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, all of those sort of platforms.
Michele Cantos 57:46
Thank you. And thank you, everyone for joining us today. Have a great rest of your Wednesday, everyone.
Suzanne Borders 57:53
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. It's been wonderful.