Photos: Cait Pearson
Vice President of Customer Success, Ryvit
Construction and IT are still living up to their stereotypes as male-dominated businesses. Put those two industries together and mix them up in Startup Land, and you've got a whole lotta menfolk.
Angie Licata was the first female employee at Ryvit, the construction IT startup in question, but her best advice for growing professionally would be the same in any situation: “Focus on strengthening your strengths instead of putting so much pressure on yourself to strengthen your weaknesses.”
This was an impactful takeaway for her from the book First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman.
“Most managers spend a lot of time on strengthening weaknesses, and really what they should be doing is strengthening their people’s strengths. It was really enlightening for me when I managed a team.”
When employees struggled in any given role, Angie says, “It helped me to think about how instead of leveraging their natural talents, we were asking them to focus on things that they were inherently not good at. And (if you read the book you'll know) that a good manager's role is to help each employee cultivate their talents by finding them a role that plays to those talents."
One employee, “a really extroverted people person,” was in a role that required a lot of attention to detail. “And she would say that she didn’t like the details, and I was thinking, But that’s what we need you to do in your job. It was just evident that she wasn’t in the right role. So I was able to have this conversation with her, and say, ‘Let me help you find a role that plays on your obvious strengths.’ She ended up moving into a role in HR, and she emailed me a year later to say she loved her job and she’d never have gotten there without that conversation.”
About 2 years ago when Angie was looking to make a change after a decade in healthcare operations management at Express Scripts, a friend from a charity board asked, “Why don’t you come help me start a company?” Angie knew it would be a big change--from healthcare to construction IT; from corporate to startup--but she figured, Why not give it a try?
The first ops person on a startup team full of software engineers, and the first woman to join the company, Angie says she had a lot to prove.
“Software engineers are their own breed,” she says. “They’re super intelligent, and you have to earn their respect. It can be difficult to get them to do things for you -- they’ll look at you like, ‘Who are you?’ and ‘You don’t know anything about what I’m doing.’ On top of the fact that I wasn’t a developer, I was a female -- that was a double whammy. It really took a while to prove that I could speak the speak and earn their respect.”
One of several construction IT firms with a presence in Portland, Ryvit is sort of Zapier for construction accounting. Angie oversees the development of integrations between 4 major construction accounting systems and a handful of new cloud-based apps each year. They have about 30 integrations at the moment, though they’ll grow faster as they scale.
“There are a lot of integration companies out there. But construction accounting is very ... unique,” Angie says. “It does things differently than a lot of other industries. We understand the industry and both sides of the software.”
And at Ryvit, Angie has definitely gotten to create a role that plays to her strengths. “Brainstorming sessions are painful for me. I’m not a big ideas person. I’m an executor. If you give me the idea, I’ll go make it happen.” Being a “doer,” especially in the startup world of people with big ideas, is an invaluable strength. When Angie is in a role where that’s the focus, she gets things done.
Now that she’s established a great reputation with her team (and set up processes and employee training programs, oh my!), Angie really enjoys the startup culture. In a Fortune 20 company like Express Scripts, Angie says, “It’s very bureaucratic with lots of red tape.” In Ryvit, “We don’t have a lot of that; everybody kind of trusts everybody. And it’s cool to see things come to life and be a part of developing them. To be able to create the something from the nothing, versus having to fall in line.”
Another benefit of Angie’s job change was meeting her partner, Phil, at an industry conference. Phil is a Portlander, and Angie moved here from St. Louis this winter to join him in his natural habitat.
“Before I moved to Portland, I had workaholic tendencies. Meeting Phil and moving here and having outdoorsy stuff to do … it just puts things in perspective. I don’t want to be working all the time. The hunger to climb the corporate ladder has subsided some. There are other things I want to be doing with my time now.”
Angie ended up at Urban Office because of her friend Sara Singer Wilson, a UO member. Angie did look at other coworking spaces that would be a shorter commute from her home in Beaverton, but they felt too … office-y. “You walk down the hallway and everyone has their door closed. I feel like if I’m going to go sit in a closed-door office, I might as well stay at home. It’s just not inviting.” Plus, she says, “The vibe here is more my style. And admittedly, I like the convenience of the parking.”
The Portlanders who are inspiring Angie right now are her friend Sara and another UO member, Cait Pearson. “We all came from the same situation: they both moved here knowing no one. They’re both entrepreneurs, and that’s also really difficult when you don’t know that many people. But they have obviously done a good job creating a network of people and being courageous and putting themselves out there. That gives me strength to think, OK, you can do this, you can figure this out.”
Angie is also on the lookout for ways to do volunteer work to empower and instill confidence in young girls. “I cannot imagine having grown up with Facebook and Instagram. I know what impact it has on us now, and I can’t imagine the impact it has on 8 year-olds.”
For you TL;DR folks …
The first female and the first non-developer at a construction IT startup, Angie spent 2 years sorting out ops and creating internal systems. She’s now able to focus on developing a specific to-be-unveiled product -- and on work-life balance. She’s excited to explore Oregon in the summertime, and would love to plug into a volunteer organization that empowers young girls.
Typical client: Construction companies who want their accounting software to integrate with other applications.
Why Portland: An unexpected bonus to switching industries was meeting her partner, a native Portlander, at a conference. In this case, at least, Saint Louis just couldn’t compete and Angie moved out west this past winter.
Why UO: Angie knew a UO member already who encouraged her to join. Even though there are coworking spaces closer to Angie’s home, UO’s vibe was more “her.”
Influential book: First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Angie’s takeaway: “Most managers spend a lot of time on strengthening weaknesses, and really what they should be doing is strengthening their people’s strengths. It was really enlightening for me when I managed a team.”
Neighborhood recommendation: Sitting on the patio at Elephant’s on Corbett
Inspiring Portlander: Fellow UO members Sara Singer Wilson and Cait Pearson. “They both moved here knowing no one. But they have obviously done a good job creating a network of people and being courageous and putting themselves out there. That gives me strength to think, OK, you can do this, you can figure this out.”