Interview with Sian Morson
Lucy Sanders: Hi. This is Lucy Sanders. I'm the CEO of NCWIT, the National Center for Woman and Information Technology.
This is another in a series of interviews of interviews that we're doing with just fantastic women who have started IT companies, very, very inspirational women. With me is Larry Nelson from w3w3.com.
Larry Nelson: Hi. I'm so happy to be here. I'm really looking forward to this interview. w3w3, we launched it in January of '99. We have thousands of archives stories up and the important ones are NCWIT Heroes series.
Lucy: You don't say?
Lucy: That's great. Well, today, Larry, we're going to interview a mobile evangelist and internationally exhibited artist and she's also an author, just like you with a passion for fusing her creativity with technology.
Sian Morson is the founder and CEO of Kollective Mobile. Kollective Mobile is a mobile development agency that focuses on bringing mobile solutions to start‑up and agencies. This is a top space.
We're busy trying to get into mobile applications at NCWIT, a little more slowly than I would like. Sian, also, speaks and writes about mobile strategy for a number of publications and works with a variety of non‑profits.
Thank you, Sian, for doing that, especially in this space of bridging the digital divide. She has a new book coming up in December. Maybe, we'll have a chance to ask her about that, "Learn Design for iOS."
Before we start, Sian, welcome. How are you?
Sian Morson: Thank you. I'm doing great. I'm doing great today.
Lucy: Why don't you tell us just a little bit about what's going on at Kollective Mobile?
Sian: Right now, at Kollective Mobile, it's the end of the year. It's traditionally a pretty busy time for us, because everyone's trying to get rid of their budget.
Sian: We're getting proposals for lots of crazy apps and vetting those and trying to deliver. Lots of projects before the end of the year, so it's a pretty busy time for us.
Lucy: If you have any left over money, send it to NCWIT.
Larry: Or, w3w3 would...
Lucy: If it's just...
Sian: ...sure to do that.
Lucy: If it's just too crazy of an app.
Sian: We're just wrapping up the year. It's our third year. We celebrated our three year anniversary in October, so we are pleased as punch to still be around and still be turning out good apps for your clients.
Lucy: Good luck with the end‑of‑year. Being in the corporate IT space myself, I understand the end‑of‑year is a busy time. The end‑of‑year budget is important.
Sian, how did you first get into technology? Our listeners are always eager to know people's paths along the way.
Sian: Let's see. I've always been really interested in the way that things work. It's funny, I was asked this question once or twice before and started to really think about it. In thinking about it, I thought about how fortunate I was, because I actually had a computer lab in my junior high school that I attended in the Bronx in New York.
When I started telling people about that, they were like, "You actually had computers in your school?" I just thought that was normal for everyone, but apparently, especially, if you think of now, kids don't really have that much, so I was quite fortunate that I was introduced to technology in junior high school.
We had a computer lab. We learned the basic and I was one of those kids with a Commodore VIC‑20 and then, the Commodore 64, sitting up late at night, making my own programs. That was my first foray linking technology, but it certainly stuck.
Lucy: Basic was my first language, too. Although, my first language was actually a little register swapping language on [inaudible 03:52] desktop machine. That just shows I'm really old Sian. Just following up on that, if when you look out on the technology landscape, today, obviously, mobile apps and the technology that underpins them very cool, other types of advancing technologies, that you see out there?
Sian: These days, I'm a little bit excited about the Internet of things. I find that to be fascinating of just how pulling together all of these different facets of your lives to...I don't know if it's to build a profile, but the way that technology just affecting every single aspect of our lives is great and I'm particularly fascinated by the Internet of things. That's cool.
I'm also really interested in health techs in how there are so many advancements in that space, specifically as it pertains to mobile, that's one of the fasting growing segments of mobile is health tech. I remember when I first studied creating apps, I was working for a pharma agency. Pharma and health is very restricted and limited in terms of what they can say and what they can do, but there have been lots of advances in health tech in the last couple of years.
I'm super excited about that, as well.
Larry: That's really super. I've got to ask this question, why are you an entrepreneur, Sian? Also, what is it about entrepreneurship that makes you tick?
Sian: Why am I an entrepreneur? That's a good question. I don't know any other way to be. I've just always been a little more independent than all the other kids. I was always that kid saying, "What else?" I was never just happy with one answer or the status quo. I was always a seeker and that's probably largely, that coped with my need to know how things work, probably laid the ground work for me becoming an entrepreneur today.
That, particularly, learning how things work and getting to the root of the problem and issue, whether it be a technological one or even a human resource issue, that's what makes me tick. I like figuring things out. I like getting to the bottom of things, so for me, that's probably why I'm an entrepreneur today.
Lucy: Along this entrepreneurship adventure, as you will, because that's sort of what it is, who supported you on your career path? Do you have mentors or role models? Anything come to mind there?
Sian: Even though, she never branched out and started a specific business, my mom really influenced me. She was always doing little side projects.
My dad was an entrepreneur, as well, certainly not in technology, but those are the people that I saw around me just doing their own thing and it always made me want to do my own thing, as well. Today, I look up to a lot of the other women in technology.
There are other women that are doing amazing things. Kelly Hoey of Women Innovate Mobile is someone that I look up to. I met her a year ago at a conference and she's been really supportive of my career and all the projects that I work on, so I certainly do look up to her, as well. But there are tons of women who are doing great things, now.
I'm super excited that there are so many of us in this space. It's great to just look around and observe all the amazing things that women are doing.
Lucy: We agree. Right, Larry?
Larry: Absolutely, 100 percent.
Lucy: We agree. We can't wait, really, when all the creative ideas and thoughts of women are instantiated in our technology. We are excited about that.
Sian: It almost makes me want to be a teenager again.
Sian: Because I figure it's such a great time to be growing up and to be learning and to have access to so much. It really makes me want to go back in time a little bit.
Lucy: Maybe, we could skip the acne or something.
Larry: Just as a sidebar there, it was something that Lucinda said earlier, she actually did some of that software work when she was only like five, six years old. So she's not as old as some people might think.
Lucy: No, I didn't. Probably 25 or something.
Larry: With all the neat things that you have done over the years and so on, what is the toughest thing that you've ever had to do in your career?
Sian: Let's put it this way. I've got two things to answer that question. If you'd asked me the question before a month ago, I would have said, the hardest thing that I've done in my career was quit a regular, great paying job to start my own company, because that was pretty challenging and that was scary, certainly scary, because you're giving up that "security" of a paycheck in order to do your own thing.
That was tough, but now, I can say, that writing this book.
Sian: It's the hardest thing that I've done. I really have to tip my hat to what I considered to be real writers who are out there, doing this stuff every day, all day. It really was challenging for me to do it. I would say, starting my company and then, writing a book would probably be two challenging things I've had to do in my career.
Lucy: I've heard writing a book is hard and now, I'm lamenting. [laughs] I guess I'll find out, Sian.
Larry: You bet.
Sian: You think it sounds easy because you do know it. It's all stuff that's in your head, but really putting it out there and crafting it and making it into something that people want to read, is certainly a process. I am in awe of that creative process. I'm not sure that I'm ready to do that any time again soon, but it was fantastic.
I learned a lot about discipline and I learned a lot about myself, as well, in the process. I definitely think that's...I'd be curious to hear what you think when you're done with that, as well.
Lucy: I'm a little in awe of the whole process. Sian, if you were sitting here and talking to a young person about entrepreneurship, what advice would you give them?
Sian: Always follow your gut. I would give that advice to any young person, but especially if it were a young woman. I, certainly, would tell her to really follow her gut. We, as women, are intuitive. There are times when we second guess ourselves for whatever reason. We don't always go with that intuitive nature that we're given. That's served me so many times in my career.
It's often the times that I have gone against it or I second guessed myself that I ended up making a mistake. I am like "I should not have done that." I knew that, but went against it anyway so here I am. That is probably the biggest piece of advice I would give to a young person. Follow your heart and go with your gut always.
Larry: I love it. I am a father of four daughters. I'll make sure they get this message.
Sian: Four daughters, wow that is pretty amazing. I have a cousin who has five daughters. For a good couple of years, he was the only male in his household. [laughs]
Larry: What are the personal characteristics that have made you not just a good, but a great entrepreneur?
Sian: I am stubborn beyond belief.
Sian: I am insanely competitive. But, I can also admit when I am wrong. You can only be stubborn for so long, to be competitive for so long. If you know when you lose then the key is to learn from all of those.
I do think that being competitive helps. I look at a lot of situations as a competition as well. As competitive people, I want to win. I don't always win but my competitive nature makes me want to do my best regardless. I don't always win but I take the "L" when I need to. I learn from it.
Lucy: That's a great phrase. I take the "L" when I need to. That's awesome.
You're busy and you have a busy life, you're so involved in your work and giving back, writing, and being an artist. How do you bring balance into your life between work and your personal endeavors? It sounds like you do great job and perhaps our listeners could learn something from that.
Sian: This is a really important question. It's easy to get caught up in the rat race and to push ourselves beyond belief. There is this school of thought that entrepreneurship means that you are working all night, every night, no sleep. There is a sort of glory that is associated with that for some people.
Certainly I have pulled my share of all‑nighters. I don't make it a regular thing. I don't recommend that for anyone. It's certainly not sustainable.
The way that I bring balance to my life is that I'm a runner. I love running. I don't run races. I don't run marathons. I like to run by myself. If I have a rough day, I go home, put some headphones on and I just run as far as I can. I make my way back and that makes me feel great.
I also mediate. I try to do that in the mornings before work or in the evenings when I get home. That is a good way to set up the day. It's a great way to decompress at the end of a crazy day.
Those are the two things that have been constant for me throughout my career.
Lucy: Great advice.
Larry: Great advice, for sure. You've done so much. You've achieved a great deal. What's next for you?
Sian: Lots of rest.
Sian: Wrapping up the end of a pretty busy six months, I opened this space. I'm in Atlanta at the moment. I opened a co‑working space and communi‑tech center called Kollective South. I am trying to get that off the ground.
That has taken me away from the Bay Area. I've done all of that and wrote the book on Kollective Mobile in that last six months. That's a lot.
I am ready for some time off. I am looking forward to that as soon as I get this place up to where I need it to be. That's next.
It's a pretty ambitious project. I don't know how realistic it is for me to think that I am going to be able to get any rest. [laughs] I am certainly going to try. We're trying to open these communi‑tech centers in urban areas across the country in order to increase digital literacy and to bridge the digital divide. It's fairly ambitious. It's a lot to do, but I am super‑passionate about it. I'm really excited about it.
Larry: If anybody can do it, you can.
Lucy: I have no doubt. This is a great close for this because that is what entrepreneurs do. They don't necessarily see the end in sight. They set off, they dodge, they weave, they experiment, they fail, and they succeed. Through it all, they're driven by passion to get something done.
It's very commendable. Good luck with that. We are very eager to hear how that goes.
Larry: We'll follow up on that, too.
Sian: Please do. I love to have a follow‑up conversation. I love to hear about your book as well.
Lucy: [laughs] I don't know. We'll see it how that all goes. Sian, thanks so much for joining us. It sounds like you have a wonderful life. Good luck with all of your endeavors.
Larry: That's a fact.
Sian: Thank you for having me. It was awesome speaking with you both.
Lucy: Remind listeners that they can find this at W3W3.com and also ncwit.org.
Larry: That's it. You listen to it. It will be on a podcast as well as a blog.
Lucy: Great, thank you Sian.
Sian: You're welcome. Bye‑bye.