Interview with Lena West

November 17, 2008

Series: Entrepreneurial Heroes

From blogging to Facebook, Lena West, CEO of xynoMedia, helps hi-growth companies make sense of everything they're hearing about social media and the best ways to use these online outlets to their advantage.

Lena West

Lena L. West is an award-winning social media consultant, blogger, speaker, journalist and technologist.
She is also the CEO & Chief Strategist at xynoMedia Technology, a consulting firm that helps business-to-business companies harness the power of social media to consistently increase thought leadership, online revenues and visibility. West says, "Our mission is simple: make social media easy to use, manageable and worthwhile."
As a certified technical expert, West learned about the intricate aspects of computers and networking while consulting with Fortune 500 companies such as IBM, Pitney Bowes, Philips Magnavox, Hyperion Software and MasterCard
International. After cutting her ‘technical teeth’, she founded xynoMedia in 1997.

West’s expertise has been widely acknowledged. She is the winner of several business awards, among them: The Network Journal's "40 Under Forty," AlleyCat News' "25 Women of Silicon Alley," and The Women’s Congress' Entrepreneurial Champion for Women in Businss. West has also been featured as the cover story for publications such as The Westchester County Business Journal and Black Enterprise.
A sought-after writer and speaker, West writes and speaks regularly about the merits and potential pitfalls of technology. She communicates her expertise about social media, web 2.0 and online technologies through Social
Tech, her blog on InfoWorld.com; her TechForward column and blog for Entrepreneur Magazine; as well as feature articles for both InfoWorld and Jupitermedia. She has spoken for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) and Syracuse University.
A firm believer in the adage, "To whom much is given, much is required," West is deeply committed to her pro bono work as well. She sits on the BlogHer Business Advisory Board, the Center for Women’s Business Research
Advisory Council and the National Advisory Board for The Women’s Congress.

She is a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), Technology Executives Networking Group (TENG) and the Downtown Women's Club (DWC).

West strongly believes that social media is a catalyst to uniting the world’s people and will continue to lead businesses and individuals toward greater levels of environmental accountability, social responsibility and corporate transparency -- hence her passion for the medium.
xynoMedia’s goal is to help make social media easy to use, manageable and worthwhile for corporations.

Lena West

Transcript: 

An Interview with Lena West CEO, xynoMedia Technology

Date: November 17, 2008

Lena West: xynoMedia

Lee Kennedy: Hi, this is Lee Kennedy, board member for National Center for Women and Information Technology or NCWIT and co-founder of Tricalyx. And this is part of a series of interviews that we are having with fabulous entrepreneurs, women who have started IT companies and a variety of sectors. All of whom have great stories to tell us about being entrepreneurs. And with me is Larry Nelson from w3w3.com. Hi Larry.

Larry Nelson: Hi, I'm glad here to be today because the topic that we are discussing is something of high interest for us. w3w3.com, we are an Internet based radio show. We started in 1998 and we really like to look into all of the new areas. And I have a feeling that Lena will really take us into that direction. Lee: We'll great and just to get right to it, we are interviewing Lena West. Lena is the CEO and chief strategist of xynoMedia technology. It is a New York based firm that helps high growth company leverage the power of social media, blogs, podcasts and online communities. She is a real expert in social networking, very active blogger and she is involved in NCWIT entrepreneurial lines and regularly gives back to society. So welcome Lena.

Lena West: Thank you so much. Good to be here. Lee: Great. Well, Lena, why don't you take a few minutes and tell us a little bit about xynoMedia.

Lena: As you mentioned, we are a social media strategy and development company. And I will favor that fancy terminology for. We hoped companies to just try to make sense of everything that they are hearing about social media and really take it down or not and relate it to the brand and to their company and figure out what is the best way to actually use the tool to meet our business and marketing objective and we take it a step further, we don't just provide the strategy. Once the client determines that "Hey, that's brought them on to podcasts" or "it is better to launch an online community and start a vicinity network." We actually build those plans and tools, so we build online community, so we build blinded blogs. That in essence is what we do.

Larry: Well, I tell you what, I'm really curious. I know there are all kinds of cool things out there, soft ware wise, and technology wise. How did you first and when did you first get into technology?

Lena: [laughs] Oh boy, this is... Look, it's a cool story that almost involved me getting tossed out of my parents' house, actually [laughs]. You wouldn't know to look at that lovely head shot of me that I was in college when I decided that college just wasn't going to work for me; this is after my parents paid the tuition for the year [laughs]. And I left college and I went to work. I was in a pre law program in school and I actually left college and my parents just part of it, and I went to work at a law firm and that just added insult to the wound. But while I was at the law firm, this was pre Windows days and I know that all the paralegals and secretaries would come to me and they would always ask me to help them find their lost file, because I was the only one who could ever remember the dot.form in the dot command. And I said to myself at that time that this is really a good skill and I was too young to really know what to do with it. But I knew that this technology thing, I am good at it. And to make it shorter, I ended up working as secretary at IBM because I figured I'd rather be a secretary in IBM rather than working in law. Because being in IBM will get me closer to technology and one day something went wrong with my computer and they sent out a technician and it was a woman and I asked her "Hey, how did you get this job?" and she told me "Well, you got to know this, and you got to know that." So I went to this company and I registered to be a consultant and, you know, made a couple of... I was very generous with my experience and took some creative license with experience on my application. One thing led to another, and I started doing technical support. And then I realized there was more money to be made being a consultant. And once I became a consultant, I realized there was more money to be made in the long term being a business owner. And here we have it.

Lee: Well, that is a great story.

Lena: Yeah, but when I left college, my parents were really not happy. [laughs]

Lee: Yeah, I can imagine. Well, you know, you are not the only successful entrepreneur though that's left college. You have got Bill Gates and Michael Dell, that, you are following in their footsteps.

Lena: Hey!

Lee: So Lena, tell us, it was clear that you liked technology, but why are you an entrepreneur, and what is it about being an entrepreneur that makes you tick?

Lena: The reason that I am an entrepreneur, I would say, is bit of a sad story. My grandmother, when I was in that first year of college... my grandmother, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she ultimately ended up losing her battle to that that same year that she was diagnosed. My mother is a retired medical professional. And I saw, even how working in the medical field, she couldn't get the time off that she needed to go and visit my grandmother. My grandparents lived in another state. I mean, it was just hard for her to go visit. My mother really struggled with that and, I think, till this day, she had some bad feelings about that. And, she just couldn't spend as much time as she liked because she had a full time job. And even at the age of 18, first year in college, I said to myself... I said, you know, "I am going to build the kind of life and the kind of business where I don't have to worry about whether I am going to work or whether I am going to tend to my family's needs. I am never going to ever have to make that choice. The choice is always going to be up to me, not up to some someone else." And that's really why I became an entrepreneur. Because, I figured, if my family ever needed me, I wanted to be able to pack up my business and go. And that's what I did.

Larry: Fantastic. Well, now, here we have almost a lawyer to a techie, and I would guess along the way there has been many people who have a big influence on you, and maybe, even mentored you. Who would be somebody that really was the turning point in your career path?

Lena: You know, I would have to say that it was before my career even got started. Although, you know, don't get me wrong, there have been many, many, many women that have just really taken me under their wing and have given me advice - Adrian Lopez, Karen Wilson; I mean you name it. But I would have to say it was... I think it was maybe my ninth grade teacher, social studies teacher, a woman named Barbra Deller. I will never forget. I was always very smart, very intelligent; always did well. I noticed that when I went to my first year in high school, which where I come from it was ninth grade, I noticed that I had really started to take my intelligence for granted, and I started to act out in order to be cool. As a result my grades started to suffer. And I remember Miss Deller pulling me aside one day after class, and she said, "You know, Lena..." She says, "Its OK for you to be smart. Being smart is cool too." And I really thought about that. That impacted me. And so I said, "Yeah, being smart is cool." And I think that was the turning point. I think had she not said that to me...maybe someone would have taken the time to rein me in and say, "Hey, you are too smart to be acting a little nutty like this." But it was then that I thought about, "Wow, you know, I am going to blow up my whole high school deal here because I want to be cool with my friends."

Lee: Boy, it's so great to hear stories like that, that teachers have made such an impact on your life.

Lena: Oh, yeah. I mean, every time I look back on my life, I think... it was Dr. Phil that says: "You have seven critical decisions in your life." And I think that was one of them, to listen to her and recognize that, "Hey, I am smart. I aced all these tests. I am really good at school, and I don't want to mess that up for myself."

Lee: So when we take a look at all the things you have done in your career, what would you look back and say was probably the toughest thing you had to do?

Lena: Wow, that's a good question - the toughest thing that I had to do? Probably, I would have to say was take my company and really go full time with it. I ran this company part time for many number of years before I went full time with the company. And it was really hard to take that leap of faith and get out there and say to the world, "I am going to probably eat a lot of Ramen noodles. I am probably not going to be able afford to do a lot of things. But this is my vision and this is what I want." And those were tough times and those were lean times. I mean, I remember them well. Not fondly, but well.

Lee: And that's good for people, for our listeners, to hear that because so many people that are just starting their careers or just starting to open up a new business... you know, you hear so many success stories, but a lot of people that have made it had to put in a lot of hard hours and, it didn't come quickly or easily.

Lena: It's not easy, because ultimately everything rides on you. And if you are not... I have always had the spirit where I am just like, "Whatever it takes, let's make it happen". And if that's not who you are, then being an entrepreneur may not be for you. There are tough times. I mean there are choices between: Do I pay the electric pay or do I pay my car insurance, so that I can go meet clients. It's really tough. But those tough times, they build character. I know that's cheesy and cliche, but they do. And they make you grateful for the good times that come. If you are doing the work that you love and you are following your heart, and you are passionate about what you do... I mean I would get up every single day and talk to people about social media in the streets for free.

Lee: Wow!

Larry: Wow. Boy, that's a great segue into our next question here. Right now, if you are sitting face-to-face with someone who said, "I want to be an entrepreneur" what advise would you give them?

Lena: Understand that it's not just about the service that you are providing. There is a distinct and huge chasm between understanding the service that you provide and being able to do that task really, really well, or understanding your product and understanding your product really, really well and running a business. Two totally different things. You have to be able to run a business.

Lee: That is great advice. Because in the end, if you don't run the business well, it doesn't matter how good your product is.

Lena: Well, the business runs... you get behind on your paperwork. Set up your systems, you know, find a good bookkeeper; find a good accountant; find a good lawyer, and really understand the business side of business.

Lee: So Lena, probably the toughest question we have, because just being an entrepreneur is all encompassing, it's a 7x24x365 job. How do you bring balance in your personal life and professional life?

Lena: You know it's so funny; it's really hard to do that, especially because I work in social media. And I am very, very clear. There is a very clear line for me between my home life and my professional life. And I was just telling someone, I was on a conference call earlier, and I said there are probably eight people in the world who know where I live. And that's on purpose. Because I do want to have a line. And it's difficult when your business is to be social. But, it's a matter of setting priorities. It's a matter of understanding that if you are not well, nothing happens. If you are not happy, the business doesn't move. It's a matter of understanding your own personal energy. I mean, I will give a quick forward example: I am really an introvert. And if you were to meet me, you would say "Wow, she's friendly, she's personable," people seem to like her and people tell me I'm friendly.

Lee: Oh get out of here!

Lena: But I am really an introvert. I don't' get my energy from spending time with other people. I get my energy from being at home. And when I first learned that, I realized, oh OK, being in groups I like it. But it's a source of stress for who I really am. So I make sure I build in alone time. And I take four vacations a year.

Larry: that's fantastic.

Lee: I like your schedule. And Larry and I were just saying we are both introverts. So we get it. We both can be outgoing and sociable, but I get drained with too many social activities.

Lena: And I take a silent retreat once a year. Every year for my birthday.

Lee: Wow.

Larry: A Silent retreat.

Lena: I am working up my way to two weeks. Wish me luck.

Larry: Fantastic. Now I have to say Lena, I know you are heavy in a social media, or should I have said xynoMedia. But nonetheless, let me ask this question, what's next? What are you going to go after in this next round?

Lee: What's next for me personally is that I am writing a book. And I would say what's next for the company is we are at the tail end of probably a two and a half year process of rebranding the company. So we are going to be launching a new brand soon. It's going to be very, very exciting. It's something that we've waited a long time for. My team has been absolutely very patient. And we are looking forward to taking the next decade with a new outlook and a fresh perspective.

Larry: That's fantastic. And I'm just finished a book also. We are in the final editing stage, hopefully. And it's called "Mastering Change." And that has taken me more than two years, so you mentioned the time frame for your rebranding.

Lena: Yeah, I think one of the things that you have to understand as an entrepreneur is that things are going to take the time that they take. Aside from you being complacent, it does you no good to try to rush the schedule. I mean I wanted to rush this rebrand. I really wanted to get it done. And I kept talking about and talking about it. And eventually I got tired hearing myself talk about it so I didn't even mention it anymore it. It was just; it became just a source of stress. And things just take their time. And as long as - my friend said this to me, this is so fabulous and I live by this-as long as you make a measurable amount of progress in a reasonable amount of time, that's it.

Larry: Very good.

Lee: Thank you Lena.

Lena: Get off the treadmill of trying to push and get things done and beat the competition. Things take as long as they are supposed to take.

Lee: They do.

Larry: That's right.

Lee: Well Lena thank you so much for interviewing with us today. We've enjoyed it.

Larry: I think this is fantastic. And by the way, this interview will be available not only in the form of a podcast but also go to ncwitt.org or w3w3.com. Listen 24/7 and please pass this interview along to others that you think would be interested.

Lena: Great, thanks I appreciate the interview. [music] Transcription by CastingWords