Carina Ayden: When I first met you, I was mesmerized by your level of self-confidence. It’s enchanting, empowering and extremely contagious. Later, you shared with me that some people saw your confidence as arrogance which used to bother you, but not anymore. Can you tell me what changed?
Emna Ghariani: I guess what changed is self-growth. I realized that, at the end of the day, what I care about the most is delivering value. And I realized when people get over themselves they still get to learn from me. Usually people perceive my attitude as arrogant; Usually, when I go on stage I have a lot to share and a lot to say. Many people perceive my attitude as arrogance, because a lot of people still confuse confidence with arrogance, especially a woman’s confidence. I guess the reason I stopped caring is because I stopped caring about what other people think of me. I care about delivering value because I like sharing knowledge and support other women, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.
People still confuse confidence with arrogance, especially a woman’s confidence.
C.A: You support your tech startup by curating very unique ‘side hustles’. How many hats do you actually wear?
E.G: Oh gosh… Yes, there are many hats: from coaching to building software, mobile apps, web apps and anything in terms of consulting, especially from the business and marketing side. I am also an advisor to several start-ups; I help them with coaching, customer and business development. I’m also a chapter lead director of the Founder Institute in Tunisia, which is one of the largest startup programs in the world. But my main and the most important ‘hat’ is being the founder and the CEO of my company Veamly.
C.A: How do you overcome any fears of failure? Do you have any ‘proprietary formula’ you could share?
E.G: I guess it’s my background of growing up with zero stability. I changed homes multiple times and I never took anything for granted. Deep inside I always know that nothing is granted so I just go, it’s just that simple.
I don’t know how or if I have a particular formula in that sense. I have this feeling brewing inside, that no matter what happens, I always get up again. A lot of things happened in my personal and professional life early on; I fell to the ground but, surprisingly, stood up again. Nothing is the end of the world. I guess if I were to give advice, it’d be to really practice self-awareness, in terms of what is really happening and seeing the odds.
I have a balance between being super confident, having a ‘no-matter-what-happens-we’ll-make-it-work’ attitude, and being aware and conscious that the risk of failure is there.
C.A: What is the winning makeup of an entrepreneur?
E.G: What makes you an entrepreneur is your passion. Then is the ability to hustle, to keep going. There is also that feeling that you cannot explain, a constant internal desire that you want to do things differently, impact the world and be the change. You know, be the change.
C.A: Is there any difference between work relationships with men and women?
E.G: OMG of course, yes. As a woman working in Silicon Valley I feel it more than I ever felt it in Tunisia. In Tunisia powerful women are, somehow, automatically respected. I’m grateful that I haven’t been the victim of sexual harassment, or let’s say I haven’t experienced it as deeply as other people. Despite the common misconception of women in tech, I’m very feminine: I often wear dresses and I love my heels. Silicon Valley, unfortunately, is still a male dominated industry. So being a woman, navigating all this can be challenging and emotionally draining.
C.A: I’m always being asked if I figured out the work/life balance. There’s an expectation to be this ‘wholesome’ woman. Do you strive for a balanced life or do you think it’s a hoax?
E.G: It’s a tricky question. I really do want to have a balanced life, yet at this particular stage of my life and the stage of my company it’s very hard. I do believe though that balance can make us more productive, more efficient and better overall. With that being said, I do love what I do, so when they say ‘when you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life’, this is the case for me. I love being at work, and I don’t see it as work because I am building something awesome that I believe in. I also love my team; I feel like this mama and they are a huge part of who I am today. That’s my passion in life. I don’t feel that I am not balanced by working a lot, because I’m meeting a lot of interesting people and things like that are fun for me, it’s not work. I also like to dance, hike, go for a swim or just watch a movie and hang out at home. I really learned to create a balance in terms of having a stable home.
C.A: As a female tech entrepreneur what is your advice to girls who dream about making it big in Silicon Valley?
E.G: Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. Don’t listen to any type of social biases. Be aware of the problems. Being a woman in tech is not easy but don’t let it be a factor in any decisions you make in your daily operations or strategical decisions. But what’s going to make you successful is not your sex, whether female or male or however else you define yourself as. It’s really about your ability to execute and grow and pursue your dream. It’s your grit and those are really the true secrets.
C.A: We’ve all now heard of the heavyweight Hollywood producer (Harvey Weinstein) being accused of sexually harassing women for decades. Hollywood’s most prominent female actors from Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow came out to speak on this matter. Silicon Valley is a male-dominated place. What is your experience and what advice would you give young women trying to navigate the tech world?
E.G: Because of the media and everything that’s happening right now and the #metoo movement I became more aware, I started noticing rooms that I enter are full of men and no women. I would give the same advice as I gave earlier which is to really focus on your power, your unique value proposition as a person and as a company and that you are there to make a business deal. Whether they see it or not is another story. Be the change by changing how things are done.
C.A: With your company’s unique algorithm and deep learning technology you’re trying to solve the biggest issue – communication. What are the main barriers of communication between people you come across in your daily life?
E.G: Perception and assumption. These 2 words are so huge in the problems of communication. We all perceive the world based on the culture we grew up in, on the rules we have, what we read, and the experiences we came across. It’s very hard to change that perception unless you have the self-awareness. I am a big believer in self-awareness. The same thing with assumption. So we just assume and perceive things in our own way and even more so with written communication.
C.A: What lesson have you learned that you would want to pass forward?
E.G: My biggest lesson was to never take ‘No’ for an answer and to really trust yourself. It might be difficult, because as women we tend to undervalue ourselves, we tend to be scared of admitting who we are, admitting that we are good at something. It took me a long time to say “I am good at this, I am not arrogant by saying this, I just know I am good at that and I can make it happen.”
C.A:For the most of my life, I found it “easier” to shrink myself to avoid confrontation, or to fit into someone else’s ‘box’. When I went through, what I call a ‘transition period’, during which, I wanted to be unboxed and stand up tall, I was immediately granted a “bitch” title. So I live the saying “between a rock and a hard place”. In hope of healing and indulging my emotional bruises, I keep on searching for infamous “middle ground” aka “the golden middle” by ingesting tons of books and writings on the subject of leadership. What do you find to be the strongest traits of a leader?
E.G: Admitting your strengths and weaknesses and being vulnerable is one of the strongest traits of leadership. We see vulnerability as weakness yet it is not because we are admitting who we are, what we’re good at, and things we are trying to be better at. That’s what makes you a greater person and gains respect by all whether it’s your team, customers, investors, or anyone else who comes your way.
About Emna’s startup: Veamly is the workplace across the collaboration tools like: Jira, Zendesk, and Slack. It puts them in one place and helps prioritize between them while automating action items like ticket creation from a particular conversation thread.