As a new driving force in the electronic-commerce marketplace and a pacesetter for her peers, pcOrder founder Christina Jones has a lot to say about charting a leadership course in the tumultuous high-tech waters. Renee Gotcher caught up with Jones via e-mail and found out what keeps this self-starter on the move.
Gotcher: What made you decide to start your company?
Jones: While I was at Trilogy, I worked to create partnerships with many key members of the computer industry and, in the process, discovered an enormous business opportunity. Companies within the computer industry needed an efficient way to exchange information and conduct transactions. The potential market was so compelling that I immediately set to work building pcOrder.
What was it like striking out on your own at first?
It was completely terrifying and absolutely exhilarating to spin off pcOrder from Trilogy. We knew we had a great idea and market-leading technology to back it up, but we weren't sure how to get buy-in from the members of the computer industry. Our original business model was poorly received by the channel, and we had to rethink how we were going to make the buying and selling of computers more efficient. What we discovered was, that by providing computer channel players with unbranded e-commerce software, industry-wide product data, and partner networks, they could build their own strategies to make sales and distribution more efficient.
Who influenced you the most in your career?
My parents taught me the value of hard work.
Did you have a mentor or business partner?
Ross Cooley, the CEO of pcOrder, has years of industry experience forming partnerships within the computer channel. He provides me with considerable insight into how pcOrder can provide value to the industry.
What do you attribute most to your personal success?
Taking risks. The people close to you will always give you conservative advice. Friends and family, for example, counselled me to accept a product manager position at Microsoft rather than to co-found an unproven Trilogy. Some of them didn't necessarily understand my desire to leave a successful Trilogy to build pcOrder.
I appreciate the advice, but I know it has been more fulfilling to have built pcOrder to where it is today, a rapidly growing e-commerce company that is moving the computer industry to the Web.
How do you feel about taking your company public?
I am excited [for pcOrder] to become a publicly traded company. Growth always poses unique challenges, but so far we've been able to take the excitement of such rapid success and channel it back into our efforts to become the industry's standard platform for e-commerce.
Why do you think there's such a disparity in the numbers of men and women in leadership in high-tech?
I believe the chief reason for this disparity is that far fewer women pursue technical degrees or follow the high-tech market closely enough to see opportunities for new companies. Women must seek out the educational skills they need to succeed in high-tech. I was an economics major, so while we were founding Trilogy, I spent hours every day with a programming book. If you want to lead in high-tech, you have to take it upon yourself to understand technical developments.
Does pcOrder have a diverse leadership mix?
While we have many women in leadership positions, I believe this number is not as high as it could be.
We are very pleased to have women leading key areas of our company, including technical operations, sales and recruiting.
What is your leadership advice?
Be flexible, be an expert at what you do, surround yourself with the best and brightest people, keep looking forward at long-term goals, and love what you do.