Pledge 1%’s #WomenWhoLead series celebrates female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation. While our featured leaders come from a variety of backgrounds and industries, they are united in their efforts to promote equality for all women in the workplace. We’ve asked them to share a bit about their journey to success, as well as lessons they’ve learned along the way.

What is your name and title?

Melanie Fellay, CEO at Spekit Inc.

Briefly (1-2 sentences) describe your current role.

As the CEO & Co-founder of Spekit, I’m responsible for driving the company vision, ensuring we hire the right team, cultivating our culture and values, and leading the company through each unique phase of evolution and growth.

How did you get here? Please share any quick stories from past work experiences.

I’ve always worked in fast-paced, high-growth business environments where change is constant. In a previous role, I managed the implementation of Salesforce and felt the pain and struggle of technology adoption and training first-hand. Despite having spent thousands of dollars on implementing this solution, employees were reluctant to use the tool in the right way. Our training and documentation were scattered across PDFs, PowerPoints and Google Docs, making it difficult for our team to get the answers they needed, when they needed them.

I asked myself, “what if there was a way to consolidate all of the information our team needed to be successful within their roles and make it instantly accessible, right where they’re working?” Thus, the idea of Spekit was born.

I cornered Zari Zahra (former co-worker and now, my co-founder and Spekit’s Head of Product & Technology) in an elevator to pitch her the idea, and shortly after we set out to build Spekit!

In your opinion, what’s the #1 decision or move you’ve made that has helped advance your career?

It was really the decision to join a startup instead of pursuing a career at a more traditional company that helped to advance my career. Startups are inherently challenging. You need to learn multiple aspects of the business at a rapid pace and learn how to build a company from the ground up. This opportunity, combined with my natural curiosity, really helped to accelerate my growth in a short amount of time. I was never afraid to raise my hand, address problems outside of my scope of work, and speak up when I felt it was necessary. This allowed me to learn every aspect of growing a business and strengthened my confidence which helped to propel my career to the next level.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned this past year?

This year the biggest lesson was the true definition of agility. As a first-time founder, I never imagined being faced with the challenges that shook the world in 2020 and continue to shift our landscape. Before 2020, agility for us was quickly seizing new opportunities or turning around new product features in record time. During 2020, it wasn’t about taking on the new opportunities thrown at us, but instead identifying new ones that would help our customers adapt to these challenging times.

What’s the number one challenge you face as a woman in your industry?

I think the greatest challenge women face is finding mentors that have been down the same road as them. As an entrepreneur in the tech space, there are thousands of men who have started companies, but very few women. In doing our research on companies in the LMS, Adoption, and Enablement space, only 3 companies out of 178 have female co-founders. That’s less than 2%! It can feel isolating at times and in many ways, you have to pave your own path.

Do you have any mentors? What does mentorship mean to you?

I’ve been lucky enough to find incredible mentors along the way, but it wasn’t easy. It’s taken years and a significant amount of “putting myself out there” to identify the right mentors who would help to support and guide my growth. I believe that mentorship is a crucial component of success and have made myself available as a mentor to other female founders to help pay it forward along the way.

What advice do you have for women who are just starting their career?

Confidence is everything. When just starting your career, I’d recommend taking a deep, long look at who you truly are as an individual. What makes you unique? What do you stand for? Write it out and bring that genuine version of yourself to the world.

Initially, I was self-conscious about aspects like my age and gender. Now, I focus on how I can bring my most authentic self to every interaction I have. At the end of the day, people connect with people. It’s not about your company or your product, it’s about you. Figure that out and you’ll have the world ahead of you!

What is one thing companies can do, big or small, to help create an environment that advances women into leadership positions?

At Spekit, we learned early on that you don’t have to be a giant company to make a giant impact. For example, in 2019 we learned that less than 1% of the businesses on Salesforce’s AppExchange were led by women.

At the time, we were a small seed stage company and even so, we were determined to do something to change that. Being a female-founded company on the AppExchange, we personally knew the benefits of having a booth at Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference. It’s an opportunity for exposure of your brand and product to a huge audience and for us, really propelled our growth at an early stage.

However, it’s expensive and as we all know, most female-founded companies do not receive the venture backing required to participate in an event like this.

So, we partnered with a few other smaller, female-founded companies in the AppExchange ecosystem and launched our own Diversity at Dreamforce scholarship. As a result, we were able to send an incredible company to Dreamforce that wouldn’t have had the opportunity otherwise. They were able to meet potential customers, drive the pipeline and get incredible brand exposure.

The point being, there are opportunities all around you to support women if you look. Seek them out and you’ll be surprised how even the smallest efforts can have an incredible impact.

What is one thing you hope to accomplish in the next year?

In 2021 my one goal is growth. First, the growth of product and customer base. It’s really exciting to have such an engaged and enthusiastic customer base. We’ve got an exciting set of upcoming product releases that will only further build that enthusiasm and connection with our customers. And, then the growth of our team. We have an incredible team already that I’m really excited to work with (and more new hires on the way). It will be incredible to see where we are at the end of 2021 and how our team has expanded.

Is there a cause that is particularly close to you? If so, why this cause and how did you get involved?

Public education is particularly important to me. I think education is at the core of elevating society and creating opportunities. However, there’s a lot that’s broken with the public education system today. One day I hope to take my passion for learning and operations to help drive change in public education. In the US, the assumption is everyone goes to college. Going to college equals creating a massive debt which automatically sets people up for failure. I grew up in the Swiss educational system, and from an early age, I learned that it’s about finding your strengths and going into apprenticeship programs. These programs set individuals up for success (no, not everyone needs to be on a path to become a doctor or lawyer — carpentry is a great career) and reduces debt because people make money much earlier in their careers.

When did your company join Pledge 1%? What does your impact program mean to you?

Our company joined Pledge 1% in June of 2020. To us, it means that we are committed as an organization to elevate underrepresented minorities in technology through awareness, partnerships, and our scholarships to do our part in changing the status quo. Being a part of the Pledge 1% community gives us access to other organizations who are sharing their stories, lessons, and achievements and serves as an inspiration for our own progress.

What do you like to do outside of the office? Any interesting (or unique) habits or interests?

I’m a big live music fan! In Colorado, we’re lucky to have one of the best music venues, Red Rocks, where you can enjoy some incredible music under the stars. I’m also the proud new momma of a Mini Goldendoodle puppy named Rufus!

Are you reading/listening to anything interesting at the moment? Please share your most recent favorite book or podcast!

Brene Brown – her new podcast, specifically the episode with Melinda Gates was eye-opening.

What’s been the one (or two!) things that have helped you navigate this past year? Any tips or tricks to dealing with remote work?

The balance between productivity and mental/physical wellbeing: There’s an old quote that I like: “You’ve got to slow down to move fast.” There’s this current epidemic of “busy-ness” in America, it’s almost a social currency to discuss at the start of every conversation. But I’m a big believer in the idea that productivity falls off a cliff after a certain time of the day — we are humans, not machines, and I think it’s so much wiser to focus on “working smart” not just “working more”. This last year I’ve focused on being strategic, thoughtful, and deliberate.

New techniques for keeping my remote team engaged: Videos on during conference calls! It’s been said before but we need to say it again — video calls allow us to be personable and have the full human interaction. Also, there’s a lot of new tools we’ve seen like Hopin for virtual events or Icebreaker for games that help to recreate that fun in-person experience for our team.