Kelley Picasso | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kelley Picasso

Background:  

Autosport Labs, Inc. is an automotive performance technology company providing professional-level, real-time data telemetry to racing and motorsport enthusiasts. Autosport Labs is bringing the Internet of Things to the connected car by collecting high-performance data and transmitting it to its cloud-based social platform, Podium.live

The Mistake:

One of my most regrettable mistakes was thinking that I had to agree with my co-founder spouse in public and during meetings to sound like we knew what we were doing. I felt we needed to present a united front.

I really felt that if I disagreed with him as my business partner,  I was disagreeing with my husband. He didn’t have that same issue because he’s worked in teams more recently than I had been working with teams.  He had no problem poking a hole in someone’s code, or someone’s opinion. I had managed a large medical practice prior to launching Autosport. I was good at what I did, but it didn’t necessarily require me to be creative.

It is very hard being in leadership and co-founders of a company with your spouse. We went away for a weekend as a family recently. We have two children. We put away the electronics and the phones and didn’t respond to work emails or social media for a full 24 hours. We were like: ‘How is marriage difficult for people? This is a piece of cake, just being married and having kids. But navigating a business without losing each other? That’s really hard.’

I disagreed with Brent a lot offline, or after we were done with a team call, and we’d work in my input after the fact. A pivotal “a-ha” moment came as we were preparing for our Kickstarter launch. Brent had an idea of what was important to work on next. I could see on our Google hangout, in other people’s faces, that they did not agree, and I didn’t agree either. But still, I had it in my head that I didn’t want to say anything outright because I believed as the two major shareholders, we needed to provide united leadership.

But then one of the other team members called me after and asked for my opinion because he noticed my expression too, and it didn’t look like I agreed with Brent either. I told the team member he was correct. I did not agree, and I explained my desire to be united.

He said he thought I was doing the team a disservice by not opening up my opinion for discussion. He said everyone needed to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and occasional dissent. We had another meeting right after that based on that conversation. We got to dissect the issue as a team; I got to be heard.

It’s really easy to get lost in the details of the technology.

The Lesson:

In a creative team, everyone needs to be heard. My input offline wasn’t doing our team any favors.  Things changed quite a bit after that phone call. I embraced the Kickstarter campaign. I developed the script for our video, narrated the video and the whole concept, and it took on a completely different voice. It was valuable for the success of the campaign. We raised more than our goal.

We are a distributed team, with people in Wisconsin and California. We’ve had people in Massachusetts and New York. I think our team has no problem ever sharing technical opinions, the right way to design software, or the look and feel of our website. That’s always been easy for people to share because everyone else has technical background

But my input has opened us up more to free-flowing ideas about the direction of our company. Even if people’s opinions aren’t necessarily followed, they have the opportunity to have their say. I try to bring focus to what’s going to matter to our customers. It’s really easy to get lost in the details of the technology.

Our story as a company has to be what it gives the customers, what it makes possible for a racecar driver. We can’t just be about cool technology.

I even did research into the different archetypes of customers and our archetype as a company. We had to stand in the shoes of our customers and suss out their archetypes, who they get to be because they use our product. That was valuable research that wasn’t on the radar of the rest of the team. We were very close to being all about the technology.

But once I started to find my footing and not be the online yes girl, we became a better company.

And the funny part is Brent, my husband and co-founder, actually welcomed it. He was like, ‘That’s the way teams work. Everyone needs to speak up.’ And for me, it was one of those 'duh' moments. That’s the funny part. He was perfectly fine with it. But it was a big leap for me, acknowledging I am a creative person, and honoring that I have many public opinions to share.

Follow Autosport Labs on Twitter at: @AutosportLabs

Pictured: Kelley Picasso. | Photo courtesy of Kelley Picasso.

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