Interview with Lee Kennedy

September 17, 2008

Series: Entrepreneurial Heroes

Lee's got some great advice for getting kids interested in IT and entrepreneurship. In fact, you might want your kids to listen to this interview.

Lee Kennedy

Lee Kennedy’s 25-year high tech career includes several entrepreneurial successes, most recently as CIO of Webroot Software. Previously Lee was vice president of Business Development for Panopticon (acquired by Kana for over $100 million), Executive in Residence for Kindling, a California Venture Capital Firm, and vice president of Strategic Alliances and Sales Operations at enCommerce ($470 million merger with Entrust).
Lee also held senior marketing management and sales positions at NetDynamics (acquired by Sun Microsystems for $180 million), AUTODESK and Hewlett-Packard. Earlier in her career, she worked with NASA/Martin Marietta on the Space Shuttle Launch Team. Lee holds a B.S. degree in Industrial & Systems Engineering from the University of Florida. Lee serves as a board member for the National Center for Women & Information Technology and is on the executive committee for Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s Innovation Council.
Lee enjoys spending time outdoors skiing in the winter and hiking year round. She also gets out on the dance floor to satisfy her passion for salsa dancing.

Lee Kennedy

Transcript: 

An Interview with Lee Kennedy CEO and Co-Founder, Tricalyx, Inc.

Date: September 17, 2008

Lee Kennedy: TriCalyx [music]

Larry Nelson: This is Larry Nelson with w3w3.com, Colorado's voice of the technology community. We link people's organization to unique and valuable resources. And we are at a very valuable resource today. We're here at the National Center for Woman and Information Technology, NCWIT, and of course we've got the boss here, Lucy Sanders.

Lucy Sanders: Hi, Larry. Welcome.

Larry: And you've got a very special interesting guest.

Lucy: That's right. Lee Kennedy, welcome.

Lee Kennedy: Thank you.

Lucy: CEO of TriCalyx and serial entrepreneur at that, but here's what we like also about Lee, she's also on the NCWIT Board of Directors and gives that a lot of her personal time and woman in IT entrepreneurship, so extremely excited to be interviewing you today.

Larry: And I'm sure everybody knows, Lucy you are the CEO of NCWIT.

Lucy: I guess that's right. On any given day.

Larry: On any given day.

Lucy: On any given day.

Larry: You've got a great team here too. Wonderful board and the things that you do are just absolutely phenomenal. I'm just happy to be a tiny part of it.

Lee: Me too.

Lucy: Well, thank you.

Larry: Lee, just give us a little overview about what your company does and what it is.

Lee: TriCalyx is a company that helps people grow their business online on the web. So we do everything from software development, building people web applications, online marketing, search engine optimization, anything to help them grow their business.

Larry: Search engine optimization is becoming more and more popular. Is that something you feel is just an extra add-on or is it pretty essential?

Lee: I think it's part of your basic marketing. If your product and your company can't be found on the web, you're at a real disadvantage from your competition.

Lucy: What do you think about some of the social networking software? How are you seeing that working into how people want to grow their business on the web?

Lee: That's a great question, Lucy, because a lot of companies are trying to figure out how they can grow their business doing advertising or being present on social networks. And it's still in that early phase where there's not a clear path on how to do that.

Lucy: Well, it's a popular topic for sure.

Larry: That's for sure.

Lee: It is popular because there's millions and millions of people that spend time on Facebook and all the other social networks, but for the most part, most of those people are there to talk to their friends, and not look at advertisements.

Larry: Now, Lee, you've got a very interesting background. You've been CIO for WebRoot Software. I know you've done a bunch of work with Brad Feld and some of his troops. What made you then really want to become an entrepreneur?

Lee: Yeah, it really starts back as early as being an early girl. My dad was an insurance agent and I remember going around the neighborhood selling these little first-aid kits that he had. [laughter]

Lee: I can't even remember why I was doing it, but I just loved getting out and starting businesses. I would even go to the local Salvation Army and bargain with them with their prices for things.

Lucy: Get out of here! [laughter]

Lee: I'm not kidding you.

Lucy: So, it sounds like the sales part of this was intriguing. The marketing piece?

Lee: I've always loved the sales and marketing and then my background is technology, which I loved because I just found it where there was always so many puzzles to solve.

Lucy: It sounds like your parents had something to do with indirectly with starting you on this entrepreneurial path. Who else has influenced you?

Lee: Well, I don't know if it was -- who influenced me to be an entrepreneurial, but my sister was definitely a bit influence on my life. She's 12-and-a-half years older and has always been the most fabulous person I've ever known, just can do anything, is smart, never let's anything daunt her on her path.

Larry: Now would you consider her a role model or a mentor?

Lee: She was a role model because I always saw her go after whatever she wanted and achieve it.

Lucy: You were at WebRoot in the early days. What did you learn there as an entrepreneurial? Because that's been a success story.

Lee: Yeah, I've been at a number of other successful startups before WebRoot, so I felt like a learned a lot at those companies, but the thing that was probably the most interesting at WebRoot was, when I came into WebRoot we were a small 20-person company, just a few million in revenue. But the market of spyware and anti-spyware was just about to boom, and I think all the experience I had told me it was like, "This market was hot and we have to go for it." And so, once I was hired, they had me build an enterprise division, it was our number one goal to get that product out there, to get the reseller base, to get the customers as fast as possible, because we knew that first-to-market was going to be the winner and that's what we were. We were able to capture that market right when it exploded.

Larry: With all those experiences, let me ask this: what's probably the toughest thing that you've had to do in your career?

Lee: That question, as you know, I've been on the other side of these interviews.

Lucy: Selling first aid kits?

Lee: Yeah! [laughter]

Lee: That was tough. I didn't like that. There's a lot of things that were tough. A lot of the people we've interviewed talked about having to let people go or fire them, and that's definitely a hard one. Nobody likes to be fired and it's a terrible thing to fire people, but there's been a few other things that we really, really hard. I think cold calling is the worst thing on earth to have to do. And I had to do that in some of my early sales job. The other thing that was really, really tough was leaving a phenomenal job that paid well and had a great reputation and going and being nothing and starting my own business. Because you're in a position of power and security and then to just start something from scratch takes a lot of courage, and that was a tough thing to do.

Lucy: What about cold calling did you find hard?

Lee: There's a lot of things: rejection, the hanging up of the phone on the other end. But I guess it was the monotony. For me, it was just over and over, picking up the phone and expecting something different to happen, when most of the 99% of people didn't want to hear from you.

Lucy: It's a bit like nonprofit fund-raising. [laughter]

Lee: There we go! You keep hoping the answer will change.

Lucy: No, somebody told me once and I carried this in my heart that a "no" is a just a first step to "yes."

Lee: Yeah! Lucy: And they don't really mean "no" until they've told you "no" three times.

Lee: Yeah.

Lucy: And so, that's one of the things I've really had to remember. So, Lee, after all these different experiences, and you're sitting here with somebody who's considering being and entrepreneur, what kind of advice would you give them?

Lee: You know, throughout my career, some of the best experiences I've had were working -- one of the companies was called Net Dynamics, and we sold that company to Sun Micro, and I have to say some of my best experiences came from that company, and it was working with some of the most talented people I've ever worked with. They were all smart and energetic and aggressive. In one year, I probably learned more than 10 years than at some of the other companies, because we were just doing everything right and learning from each other and making changes. What I suggest is, if you can get out of college, try to work with the brightest company, the smartest people, and get great mentors because they can all help you learn a lot quicker.

Lucy: Don't you find that you're in that kind of situation where you're working on a great team, that you often don't know at that moment that that is a fabulous team? Sometimes you have to stop and be grateful for that because you get 10 years, 20 years down the road and realize, "That was really -- we had it all together there."

Lee: I knew. I knew they wore, because I had been at a number of companies. I was, oh gosh, in my early 30s then, and I knew. I have never worked with such a great team, whereas in some companies you'll have some bright people but you'll have some people who are really slow and it's hard to get things done. It was just a great learning experience.

Larry: Brad Feld -- who's quite a supporter of NCWIT also -- I interviewed him a few weeks ago and he pointed out with his team, the team he has over there at the Foundry Group and these are people he wants to work with the rest of his life. And so I think that's quite an extraordinary thing.

Lucy: That's high praise!

Larry: Boy, I'll say.

Lee: Yeah.

Larry: Isn't that the truth.

Lucy: Maybe he'll hire me! [laughter]

Larry: Me too!

Lee: Maybe for life! [laughter]

Lucy: For life!

Larry: You're going to make another switch? No. You mentioned earlier, that you are got this marketing piece and you're also a techie, it sounds like kind of an interesting balance. Are those the characteristics that make you a strong entrepreneur?

Lee: I think it helps a lot being in the field I am because in starting TriCalyx, I was fortunate in that I helped start a lot of businesses and knew all the marketing and knew how to get out and do the sales. But also having the technical experience, it's great because you can really talk from a first person perspective. It gives you more credibility with the people you're meeting with.

Lucy: I'll add in another one for you because you mentioned it earlier, but I thought it was important enough to perhaps return to it, and that's this notion of reinventing yourself. You said it was hard, but you've been quite successful in doing it over and over and over again, which leads me to think of two things. One is, just because it's hard it means you shouldn't and can't do it, and that the reinvention process is so necessary for learning. It's really important to start over and not always to be so entrenched.

Lee: That is such a good point, Lucy, because out of all the experiences, I think I value the learning piece the most. And probably in the position I am in now, I am learning more than I've learned in years, and I love it. I get up every morning so excited and it can be something as silly as in an application I learned how to do something on the technical back end. With my partners, they're laughing because I'm excited about learning about HTML and learning a bit of PHP. And they're like, "Oh, you really are a nerd!"

Larry: In the past interviews with L, L and L - that's Lucy, Lee and Larry - the subject came up about how do you bring balance to your personal and professional lives. And of course the three of us have heard a wide range of replies. What's yours?

Lee: I'd have to say having an ex-husband that is phenomenal as a dad. He's really helped me to having a career, because having three kids, that would of been impossible if I had a traditional husband that worked lots of hours and expected the woman to pick up the slack. And it's been just the reverse. He's really been a fabulous dad and helped out when I was working long hours. Stressful...

Larry: We haven't heard that one before.

Lucy: No, but I would say that would make a big difference!

Larry: Yes, exactly.

Lucy: That's for sure. So, you've achieved a lot with lots of companies, lots of learning. What's next for you? Can you see past TriCalyx or are you still in there writing code and having fun?

Lee: No, we already have a plan. We want to keep TriCalyx, the aspect of TriCalyx being a service business but we also want to have an off-shoot business that is a software company, that has a service on the web. So we've been writing some code and bouncing some different applications about and hopefully we'll launch that later this year.

Larry: Wow, well, we'll have to interview her again.

Lucy: Again. Well because you're Lee, I want to ask you one final question that we don't usually ask people.

Lee: I feel special.

Lucy: Yeah. You give back a lot of your time to worthwhile causes here in the state of Colorado, and perhaps you can just spend a minute and say why that's important. We have found that entrepreneurial community is quite generous, here locally with their time and in this space. Perhaps a word or two about giving back?

Lee: Yeah, my career was mostly in Silicon Valley up until seven years ago. I moved here to Boulder and one of the things that was so, so refreshing about moving here is about the spirit of giving back. I was amazed at how many people introduced me to other people and would spend hours of their time in trying to get me networked into the area. It just made me feel like, "Gosh, what a wonderful environment to raise and live with my kids" So, I wanted to do more of the same. The other thing is, being a woman in technology, earlier in my career and through college, there weren't a lot of other women. I was in engineering and I've always felt like it would have been so nice to have women to talk to, to have as a mentor. So I've made it a real point ever since I got out of college to be a mentor and to help with other women who are coming up the technology route and hope I can help them make decisions or give them advice on the way.

Larry: Great advice, wow. Spread the wealth.

Lee: Yeah.

Lucy: Well, thank you for that too. And thanks for spending your time with us. You know, it was past due that we interviewed you, so this was really fun.

Larry: It was fun turning the table. I love that part.

Lee: Yeah.

Larry: Well, this is Larry Nelson with w3Ww3.com, here at NCWIT, that's the National Center for...

Lucy: The National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Larry: Exactly right.

Lucy: You can just say NCWIT, and that's just fine.

Larry: NCWIT.org.

Lee: And you can find these podcasts at www.NCWIT.org and www.w3w3.com.

Larry: That's right. And download it as a podcast and you can also post on the blog if you'd like.

Lee: There you go!

Larry: Thank you, guys. [music] Transcription by CastingWords