Dr Anna Harrison is the Founder and CEO of RAMMP, a top-ranked Digital Technology Advisor, Product Expert, and Author. Anna’s work has helped New Zealand’s best exporting and emerging brands create strategic and measurable plans to accelerate growth in new markets. Supported by successes across Europe, Asia, and the USA, Anna’s work will help you remove your reliance on luck in the future success of your brand.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Anna Harrison: Like you, my life can be distilled into a few photoshopped highlights, but beneath all the glamorous moments and successes, I am an ordinary woman, mother, sister, daughter and wife, determined to live the most amazing life that I can in the short time that is gifted to us. When I look back on the trajectory of my life, there are many moments that seem surreal… my life is a tapestry woven across four continents, 3.5 languages once spoken, 2 of which are still retained.
I have seen bowls of live, skinned frogs in Hong Kong markets, and flown into the city when the flight path almost touched laundry flapping on skyscraper balconies; managed apartment complexes filled with questionable characters and home-style meth-labs. I have run a dozen half-marathons, pulled a sled across the Arctic circle and helped a Mongolian family with their summer migration. I also have a PhD in Design, a University Medal for studies in IT, have founded a number of startups, raised two amazing children, share my life with an extraordinary partner and wonderful friends, and turn up to each day with a head full of dreams and aspirations.
With this canvas as a starting point, I’m so excited to share some of my experiences as a female founder and entrepreneur with your audience, and thank you for the chance to chat today!
To get us started, Can you tell our readers what does your company solve differently in the crowded marketplace? Give an example or share a story.
Anna Harrison: Most people would probably say that relationships are harder to understand than rocketscience – we can book a tourist flight to the moon, but on earth, more than half of all relationships fail. I was once like you, thinking that great relationships were based on a dose of good luck – but my world changed when I happened across an article in the New York Times promising a *formula* for love (“To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This”). My imagination was captivated, and I started digging into the underlying research by Aaron and his team at Columbia University. It turns out, that there is a pattern to how we form relationships – a predictable, repeatable pattern. I was intrigued, and spent the next decade adapting this formula for love between humans into a formula for love between a human (buyer) and a brand.
Fast forward to today: 100+ brands have all used the now patented ADORE ProcessTM to lift their conversion rates from 3% to 20-40%, with 100% success. I wanted to share my discovery, and so when a New York Publisher approached me to write Digital Brand Romance, it was an easy yes… we developed RAMMP for the folks who would rather press a button than read a book… so, to your question: what does RAMMP do differently? It automates the patented formula for cultivating brand loyalty – the ingredient that Harvard research has shown creates more resilient businesses and drives 2.5x higher revenues (than those businesses based on transactional, one-off relationships with buyers.
While your company is growing, what are some of the challenges you face? Hiring? Tech development? Raising capital? Branding? Tell us more about the journey.
Anna Harrison: RAMMP is not our first startup, so in many ways, we are fortunate in that we have had all the headaches and made all the mistakes in the past, and have set out to do things differently with RAMMP. If I had to pick one thing, I’d say that the hardest thing is figuring out our strategic and tactical “to do list” at each phase of growth, given the inevitable restrictions of talent + funding + time: when you are a startup up, the focus is different than when you are a scaleup, and different again if you are looking to do a trade sale or exit. The types of people you hire, and the priorities that you set all change… imagine for a moment you had to pick between “Explorer, Settler and Town Planner” – which of these would best describe you?
Are you most energised by looking for new things over hilltops, or is that too chaotic and unsettling? Do you prefer to have some stability, and thrive when putting in place systems and processes? Or are you most energised by optimising and fine-tuning existing processes? In my experience, each person has a natural preference, they know where they sit on the Explorer-Settler-Town Planner spectrum… everyone can point to a point that naturally creates energy. Yes, any intelligent and capable person “can” perform in any of these, but there will be one that excites and energises you the most. For us, the lesson we have learned is to pay particular attention to aligning for these preferences when we bring talent onto the team. It’s a litmus test that has paid dividends in the past and is a strong guiding principle for our growth.
The other things that we are doing differently this time around is taking a SLOW pathway to growth. It’s an experiment that we are testing in growing RAMMP… in our experience, every great brand is a ten-year overnight success story, so we thought – why not lean in to that?
With RAMMP, we are playing the long game, assuming that the brand will take a decade to build (we’re about halfway through that journey, albeit have launched under the brand RAMMP more recently) – we’re deliberately working slowly, eschewing 100 hour workweeks and ramen noodles, and focussing on efficient growth built on a foundation that respects our whole selves: we prioritise health, nutrition, wellbeing and coming to work energised over simply working long hours. This is fundamental for me, and for everyone on team RAMMP. A balanced and healthy life is necessary for creativity, and that takes into account so much more than the cadence at which we cut code. Our brand wins when we bring our whole selves to work, and these whole selves are balanced, authentic and aligned with the mission that we are working towards.
Everyone has a different story, what influenced your decision to be an entrepreneur, what would you have done differently?
Anna Harrison: When I was around 6 years old, I had a recurring dream. It was the same dream each night, I was “Olga” a super-hero who wore, quite specifically, a tailored red-suit and carried a briefcase (remember, briefcases were a thing in the early 80’s :)). Olga walked into boardrooms and cut deals. She was a powerhouse. Strange dreams for a child… but then again, having raised my own kids, I think that we are all born knowing what we are to be in life, only to forget it through the fears of others and the pressure to “make the right choices”. Oh, you did well at school – Medical School for you!
For me, I think being an entrepreneur was absolutely in my blood from the beginning, but like most people, I got a little lost early on… in my early 20’s, working for a tech company, flying between New York City and London like the red-eye was an Uber trip. I was working so hard, and yet, at the end of my first year with the company, the promotion went to a young male colleague, who I had been scaffolding and bolstering for the past year. At the time, I was hurt and furious. It was the first moment where I had an inkling that working in a traditional corporate environment was not for me. The next defining moment came around ten years later. I was sitting next to a woman whose name I don’t know – the wisdom of strangers!
She leaned in and said, “having children is a wonderful time to re-invent yourself”. I took that onboard, and pursued a PhD while raising two small children and exiting from a limiting marriage. From that moment, full-time work was never again a consideration – the prospect of working inflexible hours for someone else, while raising kids as a single mother was simply not an option… the number one rule in negotiations is that if you don’t like the rules, change them. The rules of full-time work no longer suited me, so I changed them, reconnecting with my true path towards entrepreneurship, and never looking back.
What would I do differently? Perhaps have more faith in my intuition, earlier. Have more courage to back myself and design life on my own terms, earlier. Trust that the dots all line up in retrospect, earlier. The irony of course is that it takes the lived experience to understand this.
Now for the main focus of this interview: what qualities or characteristics do women entrepreneurs have that make them great leaders? Please share some examples.
Anna Harrison: A great question, and on the eve of International Women’s Day 2022, a lot has been said about #breakthebias. I could talk to the traditional characteristics associated with women: being the nurturers, the carers, the patient conflict avoiders. In this instance, I would like to invite your readers to look at this issue from a different lens.
At a core level, leadership is a trait that requires the leader to influence. We may call this trait “inspire”, or “lead” or “empower” or words to that effect, but fundamentally, leadership without influence is not leadership. Let’s for a minute explore influence: the science of Influence is well defined thanks to the amazing work of Robert Cialidini, who in the 1980’s worked as an undercover salesperson for two years in a wide range of settings, from door to door sales, to infiltrating cults and religious organisations. His work uncovered 7 principles of influence – there are only 7 ways in which we are able to be influenced as humans. So coming back to leadership and influence: effective leaders will lead from a main principle of influence, and this to me, is the root of where women and men do leadership differently. If we think of an iconic leader like Jeff Bezos, we can easily characterise him as leading from a position of Authority. Melanie Perkins on the other hand, leads from a position of Likeability and Credibility – and, if we allow ourselves to generalise, this is the main trait that differentiates male and female leaders. These styles are not 100% men vs women – a great example is the leadership style of Putin, which is very much Authority based, as opposed to Zelensky, who is more of a Credibility leader, yet of course, both are men.
Looking at leadership from the style of influence that defines the leader becomes significant if we look at the larger socio-behavioural trends – our children are raised to question authority, to challenge, to think for themselves. When the workforce is made up of people who were brought up to think and challenge, the Authoritarian style of influence becomes less effective. Again, we only have to look to the current crisis in Ukraine, and the response of the world, to see how ineffective old-style Authoritarian techniques appear to be. It is the same in the boardroom – so while the characteristics are not innate qualities of being a woman, women as a general rule, tend to lead and influence from a position that is more likely to resonate and connect with a Millennial and younger workforce. I don’t think we fully embrace or appreciate this yet, and our enterprises and startups suffer as a result.
But this opens the next order question which is, how do we get more women, or leaders who lead with Likeability and Credibility to hold the positions that allow them to lead and influence?
What are some of the biggest challenges you still see women face while conducting business, compared to their male counterparts? What would you like to see change, and how would you make it happen?
Anna Harrison: Imagine this. You’re running a product team, and the CEO flies in and accuses your team of breaking the SaaS product with the last shipment, alleging that the move caused thousands of dollars of damage. You investigate the matter, uncover the true source of the issue, and report back to the CEO. What happens next?
If you are a man, any number of possible things happen next, but the one thing that absolutely never would, is that the CEO turns to you, and says, “You have a terrible personality. No one likes working with you”. If you are a woman, hypothetically me, a version of this happens in more than one work context, on more than one continent, at more than one time. If you are a woman, you have worked out how to navigate these moments at work – without that, you have not progressed in your career.
To me, the biggest challenges that women face today in business, have nothing to do with the workplace. The biggest challenges are cultural and contextual. I recall having dinner with a friend in Stockholm, and asking her about how she manages to balance her career with raising a small child and running a household. She looked at me, quite perplexed, like I was a little dim or something. I pressed on, I mean, how do you manage to drop off and pick up your child from school, while working full time. She tilted her head and replied, “Why it is easy. I drop [our daughter] off in the mornings and go to work. My partner picks her up from school, and starts his workday earlier”. In Australia, USA, the UK, the family model still [in general] relies on the Mother to organise all of the household activities, ensure that children are delivered to school wearing both shoes and sporting a nutritious lunch in bio-degradable containers, and facilitate their early ascension into sporting and musical stardom via hours of private tutoring, all of which typically take place on the other side of town, before serving up a delicious 3 course home cooked dinner for the family at 7pm. We can make all of the regulatory and affirmative action policy changes under the sun – but while these are necessary agents of change, they are not sufficient.
What I would love to see change is for the traditional, colonial model of family roles, partnership and equality to change at scale to be more in line with what the Nordic and European countries take as a baseline. Until this happens, we do women an injustice by making them think “they can have it all” without telling them the truth: yes, you can have it all, just not all at the same time. As a woman, you need to make space for someone to help you out. You need to become less competent, you need to stop applauding the men when they do ordinary things like drop their kids off at school, and together, we need to change the baseline for what “traditional” roles in the family look like. Once that happens, we truly enable and empower women to have the option to be competitive in the workplace.
With all of your experience as a business leader, what is the most important thing you can tell fellow entrepreneurs that you’d like to share with aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Anna Harrison: Fiercely guard your Sphere of Incompetence, at work and at home. Just because you can, does not mean you should. Leave space for others to step in and share the load.
What do you plan on tackling during 2022? Share your goals and battles you expect to face.
Anna Harrison: My goals for 2022:
- Grow RAMMP to 1000 recurring subscriptions by December 2022
- Continue to be the “edge of the pool” for my kids: a place they know they can return to, but have the confidence to swim out from
- Continue to prioritise personal relationships in my life, and work to evolve myself as an individual and as part of my team
- Stay fit
- Do one adventure each month * throwback to two years of covid cabin fever
- Be bolder and ask for help when I need it
The battles this year are the same as every year – challenges always pop up, so best to expect and prepare for this. Like every person on the planet, all I can do is set a goal, make a plan, and then *merely do the work*. Periodically reassess and adjust the goal posts. Keep doing the work, and shifting things forward every single day.
How do you keep learning? Podcast? Books? Audiobooks? Videos? Share some of your greatest sources of inspiration? Share an impactful story.
Anna Harrison: I overvalue education! To me, an open mind that is able to grow and evolve, and consume new ideas and perspectives is the strongest weapon we have as individuals and as a society. No better time to see this in action than right now with the world events in the Ukraine. It is the first time that the collective power of ordinary people has the potential to make a difference.
Maya Angelou at scale. Personally, I keep learning from books and podcasts: one of my favourite new finds is Shortform – they do an in-depth and excellent book summary on some of the best books in the world. Really useful if you have read a few books on a topic, as you can use a Shortform summary to fill in the blanks. I am also a regular and big fan of Tim Ferris and Rich Roll, and will always listen to a podcast if recommended by my partner, who is a prolific consumer of podcasts. I always say yes to educational opportunities to challenge myself when they arise: most recently, I enrolled in a Finance for Founders program offered by BDO, which was invaluable (and greatly helped to alleviate my general fear of spreadsheets :)).
I’m sure our readers will be very thankful for the insights you have shared. Where can our readers follow up with you?
Anna Harrison: I’m easy to find, and welcome the connection via LinkedIn, or if you would like to try RAMMP to improve your digital presence and increase conversion rates, simply head to rammp.com and try it out for your brand
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Anna Harrison for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Anna Harrison or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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