Interview with Stephanie Boyle
An Interview with Stephanie Boyle Founder, Rogue Paper, Inc.
Date: August 29, 2011 [music]
Lucy Sanders: Hi, this is Lucy Sanders. I'm the CEO of NCWIT, the National Center for Women in Information Technology. We're working hard to make sure that more girls and women are introduced to the exciting potential of computing education and career paths. Part of what we're doing is this exciting interview series with women who have started IT companies. They're fabulous entrepreneurs. They all have such interesting stories to tell. today we're going to interview another one, Stephanie Boyle. With me is Larry Nelson from W3W3.com. Hi, Larry.
Larry Nelson: Oh, it's really a pleasure to be here. We like to focus, of course, on business and high technology with a special emphasis on young girls and women in technology. NCWIT has been doing a marvelous job. We're happy to be a part of it.
Lucy: Well, and thank you very much for all the support that you give us with this excellent interview series. Now let me say a few words about Stephanie Boyle, the person we're talking to today. She's nothing less than a pioneer in the mobile Internet space as far as I'm concerned, having first helped shape the area as a founding member of Ericsson's Digital Media Innovation Center. Big brain thinking going on in this center, and it really helped to shape the whole mobile area. Now she is the founder of Rogue Paper, and she and her team deliver integrated mobile experiences to users. Now in the old days we used to call this convergence, but there's really a whole lot more exciting language and capability around the space today. I'm sure that Stephanie will be talking about that. But some of the things you can do now with the things that they're working on with Rogue Paper around co‑viewing a TV show and interacting with social media at the same time and integrating all of that. You're thinking, "That's really cool real‑time experience." But wait. There's more. You can actually do it with a rerun, where you can experience the whole power of what people said about the show or whatever movie and do it even when you are replaying or rerunning it. Just really interesting types of interactions going on right now and certainly leading to more engaging experience for viewers. Stephanie, wow! You've got a great company. Tell us a little bit about what's going on here.
Stephanie Boyle: Thank you. Rogue Paper, we really started the business a year and a half ago with the mission of using mobile applications and technology to help enhance and drive traditional medium broadcast. Basically we are self‑proclaimed "TV‑holics"...
Stephanie: ...and recognized [laughs] that we really wanted to not only watch television but really interact with the social sphere while we're watching these shows, that the content goes beyond just the primary screen. Really there is a second screen opportunity that can be interactive and augment the primary screen. There's a lot of really bad television being watched, but then [laughs] along with a lot of our guilty pleasures, which makes our jobs definitely a little bit more fun. But we really focused on how can we make the primary screen of television an interactive experience for users on the second screen, whether the second screen is a mobile device, a tablet, a desktop experience, or other things? We're trying to provide the users with second screen interactive content but then also provide media companies a way to reach these people already multitasking, who are already texting with their friends or IM‑ing or posting to Facebook or tweeting about what they're watching. It's really trying to bring the experience together as one single destination for a viewer and for the media companies to really have a holistic double‑screen experience.
Lucy: That's really phenomenal. OK, I have a lot of guilty pleasures with TV, too. [laughs] One of them is American Idol, right?
Stephanie: Right. [laughs]
Lucy: When people are performing, and then people are tweeting or they've got things to say later in the blogs, and it's just not as much fun as if you could see it right then.
Stephanie: Yeah. Well, and if you think about it, television has always been a social experience. It started in the 1950s. Maybe one or two people on a block had a television. It was really event driven. The people would come and sit together, and watch whatever was on the television and really talk about it together. Then as the technology innovations and as even socio‑economic things happened, we had VCRs and all of these second screens in the home, second televisions in the home, if you go into the seventies and eighties. Then the conversations started moving around the water cooler, so it was where people aggregated. It could be eight hours, 10 hours, 24 hours after the show aired. In the last two decades this has really moved into a digital landscape. I would say in the last five years or so it's really become back to real time because people aren't sitting together anymore. They're actually on their sofas or tweeting or talking, texting, or instant messaging. All these different mediums, but it's all really because, as a medium, it is social.
Lucy: Yes, it certainly is. I remember the first time I saw a color TV in my neighborhood. It was Halloween.
Lucy: I know.
Lucy: I was trick or treating. Anyway, back to you, Stephanie. Why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about how you first got into technology? Stephanie: Yeah. I was always interested in systems and the way things interconnect. I was of a generation that there was one computer in our elementary school to having them in high school and later. But wasn't necessarily as intrigued with the computers themselves as I was with the Ataris, the ColecoVisions, [laughs] the computer systems that we had at home that really could help me build games or play games. But always interested in how the systems worked and how people interacted with them. Actually, my mother was the first person to show me a computer in a way where she took it apart and had me put it back together.
Lucy: Oh, that is awesome.
Stephanie: Yeah. [laughs] While I'm not a digital native, I was exposed to technology as something that could be deconstructed to learn about and then put it back together. It definitely eliminated fear for me. It's always something that I felt was accessible, interesting, and intriguing. As time went on, I'm self‑taught in a lot of ways because of that because if I don't know how to program in HTML5, I'll have somebody [laughs] do it for me. Then I'll take it apart and try and change it and put it back together. But definitely I look to my mother as the person who eliminated that "technology is this strange and new" thing and made it instead something that was tangible and interesting.
Larry: I wish I had known you a number of years ago when we needed something put back together. [laughter]
Stephanie: Right. I remember being intrigued by this whole concept of my mother showing me the mother board in the computer. [laughter]
Lucy: That's great.
Stephanie: [laughs] I didn't really believe her that that was what it was called.
Larry: Being the father of five I thought it should have been called a father board. But anyhow...
Larry: You've been through a great deal. You're really building an interesting company. What is it about entrepreneurship that makes you tick, and why did you become an entrepreneur?
Stephanie: Well, it's really interesting. I think the most exciting part of being an entrepreneur is the infinite blank canvas. Even when you have a product, an idea, a customer, anything, the next steps are never really clearly defined. Persistent problem‑solving and adjusting can be exhausting, but overall for me it's invigorating. It's how do we get to the next step? How do we keep moving forward? What ways do we need to be nimble and still meet our business objectives, our product objectives, our client objectives, the user objectives? It almost feels like the future is so undefined, and in that way I feel like it's really exciting. I often liken it to building a bridge while you're walking over it, which, of course, scares our business people to death. You should build a bridge on a [laughs] stable foundation. But what I mean by that is being an entrepreneur often allows you to be nimble enough to defy gratify and space as necessary. You're moving forward, but the future is undefined and you are still defining it.
Lucy: Well, you're inventing it. I mean entrepreneurs are great inventors, right?
Stephanie: Yeah, definitely. It's so exciting. Right now we share an office with actually four other startups. The collective energy is so interesting, just watching teams work together and just the steam coming off [laughs] the teams. It's exciting, and some of the things they talk about doing I think are impossible. I'm amazed at how those can be executed.
Lucy: Well, now Stephanie, you mentioned your mother as having influenced you, really built your confidence, took the fear out of approaching technology and understanding it. Who else has influenced or supported you on your entrepreneurial career path?
Stephanie: There are so many. I wish I had time to name them all. I can tell you the very first person who helped me grow as an employee or an executive or as a contributor to a team was by boss at Ericsson. Her name was Donna Campbell. She's a founder of Ericsson Cyberlab that was Ericsson's Digital Innovation Center. Donna had a very good and healthy way of looking at growth. We have a job that we have to do to make the trains run on time every day, but beyond that take time to learn more about this exciting new area that was mobile Internet or this new thing that has been so undefined because Telco previous to that the only content that existed was voice conversation, that people were talking to each other. It was just a voice channel. Then we were really looking at this next generation, which included data applications, content, anything. While we had all of our jobs to, what we would say, make the trains run on time, whatever that job was, she really challenged us to always think about learning about this new space and helping to define it. I sometimes even just with our team or our employees, I think I hear her voice in my head encouraging them to be as creative and also forward‑thinking and less constrained, that all ideas are really good ideas.
Larry: I'm curious. With all the things you've done so far, not only with Ericsson but now with this newer type startup, what's the toughest thing that you've had to do in your career?
Stephanie: [laughs] To be perfectly honest, it's probably less about my career itself and more about my personality. But I really believe that the toughest thing was really to learn to listen. That is in a big organization. That's with your own staff, employees, and partners, with your customers, with anything. I mean it's very easy to believe that you know what is the right way and to feel confident in your decisions and to try and push those things forward if you have a little bit of a bulldog personality, which I have. Still, I think the hardest thing for me to do is to really take a step back and realize that not only are all opinions really interesting and can spark new ideas for a collective group, but that you have to pay attention to what people are saying, and really listen. While that shouldn't be a tough thing in a career path, I think it adds growth as a human being, and applying that to my career. It's something I also believe that Donna really taught me, was that while maybe in the end your way is the right way, there are five, ten other people who can contribute and make it a better thing.
Larry: Stephanie, we love your candor.
Lucy: I have to say that this is such an important point. I can remember when I worked at Bell Labs that we took some amount of our imagination from "Rolling Stone Magazine." Who would figure?
Stephanie: Right. Very cool.
Lucy: Yeah. Around what we were doing with multimedia communication interfaces, and it came through this person who was sitting on the beach one day reading "Rolling Stone" on vacation. He brought the idea back to us at the Labs, and we at first didn't listen to him. Then we read the article. [laughter]
Stephanie: It's interesting when you're really thinking about working through multimedia and technology, it's very easy as technologists to come from, "Well, this is the way it should work." It's really hard to think about, these are the other people on the value team, the people who create music. When you're thinking about all pieces of the value chain, it's really easy to focus on the technology. It's hard sometimes to remember that not only are, maybe, music companies involved, or people who listen, or all the other pieces along the way, to really bring them together. It's sometimes hard to get out of the tasks that we're doing today and think about the holistic view of the ecosystem.
Lucy: I'll tell one other quick little story. At Bell Labs, in my organization, we finally realized that the Internet was real when a woman appeared on "The Donahue Show." Remember "The Donahue Show?"
Lucy: OK. The sensation, of course, much more plain than it is today on some of those shows, but the sensation was that she was getting divorced because she had been talking with some other man on the Internet. They did a whole show. [laughter]
Lucy: Stephanie, if you were sitting here with a young person and giving them advice about entrepreneurship, what advice would you give them?
Stephanie: I actually think that the best advice I could give to anybody would be to take time to learn, to go and do internships, to find the salty dog in the organization who isn't always the oldest person in the organization, or the person who might be a little contrarian. Find those people and really learn about how you can work with them and how you can support them in all of their issues. I think internship is so important. I think coming to an organization with ideas is amazing. I think learning to collaborate and gain consensus amongst a huge number of people who are key influencers within the organizations are really, really good ways to learn how to contribute. I think becoming an intern in a larger organization, or even a smaller organization, and then making sure you touch all points of that organization, gives you a view of how an entrepreneur has to live. Some days I write business cases. Some days I do contracts. Some days I deal with end users. Some days I deal with angry clients on our side. Some days I'm troubleshooting why the applications have bugs in them. Really taking time to learn all of the aspects, all of the people in an organization, helps later to learn what it's like to be this utility person, which is all entrepreneurs. Some days you're accounting and some days you're dev, and all places in between. I think the best exposure is either (A) working in a big company where you intern, or working side by side with other entrepreneurs who pick up the six different hats a day, or even in an hour.
Larry: I know a coming out of Ericsson and all, and that was great experience, but what is it about you personally that gives you the advantage of being an entrepreneur?
Stephanie: I think I mentioned this a little bit earlier, but I am a little bit of a bulldog. I think when people say that people are like their dogs, I have a very, very, very adorable and stubborn French bulldog named Weesie. I think we share some characteristics, in that when we I want to do something, or think that it's something that is good for the company, or for end users, or for the organization, I can't let it go until we get there. Whether we have to take five different routes to get to the same place, I really think that having a vision and sticking to it, but not sticking to how you get there, is really important in being an entrepreneur. To be flexible and learn how you can do it differently, or any of those things is really important, but just owning what you want to do and, hopefully, the outcome is really important. I think as a characteristic, and while I don't necessarily want to be considered a puppy with a sock. I am sometimes gnawing on that sock until we really can get to the vision. We're flexible enough to think that the vision can change over time and evolve. Definitely, especially within Rogue Paper, because this is a business we wanted to build, to make TV exciting for viewers, but then also just to help media companies to engage with their users and also to drive their core business, which is broadcast advertising. Really thinking about how to keep bringing eyeballs back for them. We'd done a few things to get it to change as time goes on. But I think definitely we always stick to this vision that we really think mobile can help drive traditional media.
Lucy: I think it's great advice to think about sticking to your vision and being flexible with the way you get there. That's a powerful piece of advice. Changing gears just a bit, you're very busy, obviously. You're working hard on your company. I'm sure you have a wonderful set of friends and family around you as well.
Larry: And a bulldog.
Lucy: And a bulldog. [laughter]
Lucy: How do you bring balance into your personal and professional life?
Stephanie: It is very difficult. It's one of the bigger challenges, I would say, that most entrepreneurs have. I think the most successful are those to whom work is play, to some degree. If you love what you do and it bleeds into your personal life, it's not necessarily a hassle to do that. It's still that you're so excited about what you're doing and you're consistently thinking about it. In that way, there is not a huge difference in work life in terms of happiness. It's exciting to work at work, it's exciting to think about it afterwards. But it's interesting. Every company has growth phases. There's an innovation phase. You go through these big bursts of time when the focus gets really hard. I have an agreement with people in my personal life that in those two or three months, or in this growth phase, that I might be checked out a little bit. Then after that period goes, or after we solve a big problem, then I'm back at the dinner table and being an active participant in life. I would say it's not a burden on me, but it can be lonely for the other people in your life. Fortunately, the bulldog doesn't really notice as long as you throw the ball. [laughter]
Stephanie: But it is a challenge. It's something that I watch people do around me. My business partner and co‑founder, she works nine hours a day full time, really hard during those times. Then she's able to really turn it off afterwards. It's something that impresses me and I admire, but at the same time, my brain is going at all times. I don't necessarily turn it off as well, or go as intensely during the day, but it is definitely one of the bigger challenges. But I would say in partnership, we just have to have agreements that this is a head sound period and I'll be back in two weeks, and a better participant.
Lucy: I think that's an important point, that you can in fact give the people who are around you a heads up that this is going on and that you will be back.
Stephanie: Right. I think it's definitely something that I learned through relationships and friendships, that what was scary was just going away, even though I knew I'd be back.
Lucy: Right. Exactly. Just that simple communication seems like a pretty good tool for one's tool chest.
Stephanie: It's not acceptable to miss birthdays and big events, but for the daily check‑ins, or the high‑intensity communication, I just kind of wave my hand and say, "OK, I'll get back to you in a couple of weeks. We're really powering through something."
Larry: Stephanie, you might want to check with your mother before you answer this next question. [laughter]
Larry: That is, you've already been through and done a great deal. What's next for you?
Stephanie: Rogue Paper is actually my third business. The first one is really focused on technology. I actually taught Pilates and had Pilates studios. My life has changed in these big ways. Going back to what we were talking about earlier, that was a system. Pilates is a system, the human body is a system. I was always intrigued by that. This technology, co‑viewing and television, it's applying the same framework to a different type of thing. I would say I'm so excited about Rogue Paper. We're still just about a year and a half old. I feel like we're just really at the precipice of some really interesting things that we can do for media companies and for users. I think mobile penetration is really getting bigger. It's hard for me to think about too much of the future. Maybe I'm a little too comfortable with ambiguity, but I feel like there's so much I want to do now that is at the intersection of mobile media and entertainment. We're really excited about growing. I'm sure my mother would say, "children."
Larry: [laughs] Very good. [laughter]
Lucy: [laughs] Thank you so much for talking to us. You have such a great company, very interesting work. We wish you the very best for the future. We'll be watching, both from a business perspective, and probably we'll be using your technology as well.
Stephanie: That is so exciting.
Lucy: Yeah. Really. Thanks very much, Stephanie. I want to remind listeners that they can hear this interview at w3w3.com, and ncwit.org, as well as all the other interviews that we've done.
Larry: You betcha. Thank you very much, Stephanie.
Stephanie: Thank you. Have a great day.
Lucy: Thank you, Stephanie. [music]