“Don’t be afraid of your gender. It really is an asset.” – Tonya Flickinger
Blispay co-founders Tonya Flickinger and Christine Poulon are true pioneers in more ways than one. They’ve revolutionized point-of-sale financing in the online space, helped build a business that eBay acquired for $1 Billion, and successfully navigated the male-dominated FinTech industry — all without a single female mentor in sight.
The pair are true trailblazers. Against all odds they marched to the top of the FinTech industry and created a path for the next group of women behind them.
On today’s episode of Fierce Feminine Leadership, Tonya and Christine will share:
- Why you need to be an authentic female leader when competing in a male-dominated industry.
- The unique qualities that women like YOU bring to the world of business and FinTech.
- The nuances of knowing when you need to challenge someone and when you need to support them.
- What YOU can do to encourage more women to claim leadership roles in STEM industries.
- AND Christine and Tonya tell you their behind the scenes secrets of how to build a successful, cutting-edge company.
These ladies are the real deal. Get ready to be inspired by the will and determination of two women who weren’t afraid to shatter the glass ceiling and stake a claim in their industry.
Eleanor Beaton: Well hello there. You’re listening to Fierce Feminine Leadership episode number 262. How to build a powerhouse career in finance with bliss pay cofounders Christine Poulon and Tanya Flickinger.
Welcome to Fierce Feminine Leadership: the success podcast for women in business. Each week we feature interviews and advice to help you step into your power and lead your way. Now here’s your host, women’s leadership expert Eleanor Beaton.
Hello there fierce ones. Eleanor Beaton here and welcome back to Fierce Feminine Leadership: the success podcast for ambitious women in business. I can tell you I am not feeling that ambitious today. We just got back from a week long holiday down south. Myself, my husband and our two boys. I am very tanned. That’s what you get from being a mad beach volleyball player. While on holiday. I basically went for long walks, played beach volleyball, hung out with a family, went swimming and drank champagne. So that was my life for seven days and you know what? It was magical. And now I am back in the land of the still snow. I came back actually though feeling very refreshed and just ready to hit the ground running. I tell you there is nothing like giving yourself the permission to take time off. I set the intention for myself last year that I was going to take eight weeks of holiday. I did it this year again. I got my eight weeks lined up and I tell you that every time I come back from vacation I feel incredibly refreshed and way more motivated than ever before. So, if you are an entrepreneur or you’re in a situation where you are able to take ample vacation, I highly encourage you to do it. It’s just so much fun. We were in the Dominican Republic. We have a timeshare down there. It’s at a beautiful resort, which is perfect for kind of our life stage, our boys are 7 and 11. It’s just a wonderful thing to be able to go down. Be pampered. Not have to worry about everything. Of course we went off resort to go snorkeling and swimming and do some sailing. It was a lot of fun but again, really happy to be back.
One of the things I was actually most looking forward to getting back and I wanted to tell you guys about this, was something that I recently implemented with my husband which is making a huge difference in our lives. And it’s called 6am tee and strategy dates. So, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this. For those of you, especially those of you who have kids, my best strategic thinking partner is my husband and the challenges that we both put in our time you know we’re doing our thing during the day and then we’re spending time with the kids when they get home from school and then it’s evening time and by that time our brains are kind of shot. And it’s really like reading or having a bath or scandal and time for bed. Watching Scandal I should say. So we implemented this thing called Morning Tea and Strategy, 6 a.m. tea and strategy. And basically it happened because we both happened to wake up early one morning. I was like “Do you want a cup of tea?” So I made us tea, brought it back, and we sat in bed for half an hour and just kind of talked through things that were going on and came up with a lot of really good strategic insights, sort of for both of both for projects that we were working on. And so we started implementing it as a daily thing, So we’ll get up at about 6:00. I’ll make some tea, usually, and then we have tea together. And our focus is talking about strategy. So not talking about stuff that’s in the weeds but kind of strategic things that we can be working on together as a couple or in our individual businesses. But it has been just a wonderful, wonderful thing to do on a daily basis before the kids are up, before the kind of stress of the days upon you, before you’ve got your day to day stuff clogging up that bandwidth. So think about it. Test it out. 6 a.m. tea and strategy dates and let me know how they go. You can just maybe send me a tweet at Eleanor Beaton.
OK, so one more thing before we move on to the interview at hand. You know today’s interview actually is all about building a powerhouse career. And, you know, one of the things that I’ve noticed both in my own career advancement and certainly in the advancement of the careers of women that I’ve interviewed on this show, who I coach personally, who we have at our events and in our group programs, is that the problems that you are experiencing don’t go away. OK. So you know, in many ways success is about trading one set of problems for another set of problems. The difference is your position when you approach that problem. So maybe you’ve had the experience that if you know if you look back five years ago you encountered a problem that felt like a big deal to you then, but isn’t so much of a big deal to you today. That’s because you became bigger then your problem through your experience, through your insight, through your training your knowledge. And I think so much of leadership is about becoming bigger than our problems. And how do we do that? We do that through power. Learning how to acquire it in an authentic way, how to hold it, how to use it and leveraging it again in an authentic way. We learn to be bigger than our problems by understanding our position and using the power of positioning to help us address problems in a different way or sometimes approaching them from a different position. And also through our presence. One of the unsung heroes of leadership is presence and so much heavy lifting can be achieved when you have the true presence of an authentic leader, and of course that presence again, must be true to you. Power, presence and position.
Now these are all things that we focus on inside my signature eight week leadership program, The Leadership Lab. So we are going to be welcoming our new cohort on April 30th. This is an eight week group coaching program. So we’ve got an online classroom. You get access to cutting edge leadership development training that is truly practical. You know when I took a look out in the marketplace at what was going on in terms of leadership development, especially for women, I found some of it very elementary. I found some of it overly soft. And a lot of it didn’t necessarily match up with what the ambitious successful women that I was working with needed and wanted. So we really pride ourselves on offering an elite program in the field of women’s leadership development that really focuses on those three areas to help you become bigger than your problems, to help you scale up that career and be the leader that your business needs you to be. Power presence and position. So if you want to learn more about The Leadership Lab, head on over to www.leadershiplabforwomen.com.
You can read through it. You’ll see some case studies from some of our graduates. These are really very prestigious women leaders from around the world who have gone on to achieve some pretty significant recognition. Right down to women who are you know they’re in their first managerial role or they’ve just moved to start their own consulting based business. We have a great cohort of women coming together from some great technology engineering financial services industries where our new cohort are starting April 30th. Go check it out see if it’s a fit. If it is, we’d love to have you. And again that is leadershiplabforwomen.com.
All right. So, today we are talking to the cofounders of Bliss Pay about how they built their careers inside an industry and of course Bliss pays a financial technology company. Christine Poulon and Tanya Flickinger are two of the cofounders two of the five cofounders of that company. So we’re going to be talking to Tanya and Christine about how they built up their career. They’re going to take us behind the scenes of the financial technology company Blispay. They’re going to take us through how they advance their career with actually no female mentors and they’re also going to give us some insider career secrets including how to network when your time strapped. And also how your networking can and needs to change depending on where you are inside your current career path.
So Tanya Flickinger has been building and managing fintech products for over 15 years. She held product and operations roles at pay pal, Bill Me Later, Bank of America/MBNA and IBM. She cofounded Bliss pay which is a Baltimore based fintech startup in 2015. And the company ultimately provides a point of sale financing solution for retailers and consumers through a visa credit card. So as you’re going to hear Tonya is very passionate about advancing female leadership in a primarily male dominated sector.
We’re also going to hear from Christine Poulon. She’s the co-founder of Blispay and their head of legal and compliance. So she finished law school at the Washington College of Law. She started her legal career at a firm in Washington D.C. and after six years in a law firm environment decided it was time to take a risk and move on. In 2006 she joined Bill Me Later’s corporate counsel. That’s where she met Tonya Flickinger. The company was later acquired by PayPal and then she remained at PayPal until moving on to help establish Blispay. All right. Without further ado here are Christine Poulon and Tonya Flickinger. Tonya Flickinger, Christine Poulon. Welcome to Fierce Feminine Leadership.
Tonya Flickinger: Thanks so much, we’re super happy to be here.
Christine Poulon: Thank you. Great to be here.
Eleanor Beaton: You’re most welcome and I am so excited to dive into your careers. To Blispay itself. To women inside the scene tech industry. But I’d like to go back to the origin of your organization. For right now Blispay. Tell us Tonya, what does this organization do and how did you get started.
Tonya Flickinger: Sure. So Blispay is a point-of-sale financing platform that basically provides a way for customers to spread out payments over time. So and we do that by way of marketing the product through retailers and in doing that we allow retailers to convert more sales and increase their average order values as they go through. So we actually have two sets of end users both consumers as well as merchants. So we are we’re really serving both of those populations and we believe that it’s a product that’s very much needed and that the users on both sides of the equation deserve a better product and that’s why we delivered Blispay.
The story behind the company is that there are five cofounders and all of us have roots going back fairly far. Three of the five of us met at a company called MBNA, which is a large credit card issuer that was behind a lot of affinity credit cards. And then the three of us did move over to a small start up in Baltimore. It was fairly small at the time, called Bill Me Later. And Bill Me Later was also a point of self-financing platform, but it was available in the online space only and it really sort of pioneered point of sale financing in the online space. So the three of us work together. There we worked mainly within the product organization, began the product of marketing for that product. And it was there that we met our other two cofounders. So Christine and then Brian who runs finance for us. And you know during our time at Bill Me Later it was a great journey. A good story. We built a very impressive business. We went into the financial downturn of 2008 with the lending business, which can be a bit daunting, but we came but we came out of that with a billion dollar acquisition to eBay and they acquired Bill Me Later mainly to complement their PayPal products. And so the five of us stayed with Bill Me Later as we were acquired by eBay and PayPal and then really went and started building what is now known as the PayPal Credit business over there. One of our cofounders left to go do a stint in gaming. Another one left to go pursue some other things as well. So we all sort of some of us stayed together some of us split off but we all kept in touch. And sort of throughout time we really knew two things. One we knew that the Bill Me Later product was great but it was really only available to such a small portion of the overall market that we saw. So with point of sale financing, your market really is retail. It’s a three plus trillion dollar market with tons of potential but, the Bill Me Later product was mainly available for the online space and even within the online space it was really to specific merchants. So we were missing 90 percent of retail which is still done off line. So we came up with you know we knew that the product could be expanded so that’s sort of where the concept of Blispay came from. And the other real reason that we wanted to do this is because we really enjoyed working with each other. The five of us we felt that we complemented each other well and we really knew that we could build a different kind of company, one that we would be super proud of and one that we thought people would love to come to work everyday for.
So in 2014 most of us sort of started making the decision, our main founder Michael Shafi’i branched off and actually started doing some fund raising and we set up shop in January of 2015.
Eleanor Beaton: And Christine what has happened since then. Take us on the path that Blispay has been on since that time in 2015.
Christine Poulon: Wow it’s it’s been 3 great years. So we spent about the first year or so building a product. Each of us bringing different pieces to the puzzle. Bringing in bringing in some other folks to help us, help us along the way. But we launched the product actually almost exactly two years ago to the public. It was March of 2016 that we launched the product to the public. So just our basic Blispay credit card. And have spent the last two years I think just really doing two things I think. Really working the product into what we really want it to be. Really listening to customers. Working with merchants to get the product out there. And also building a company that we all really want to come to work for every day.
Eleanor Beaton: Got it. Now one of the things that is unique about the company is that you have got five cofounders and something that you have both touched on is that you enjoy working together, that you have a track record of working together over time and yet that’s still a lot of cofounders. I would love for you, Tonya to share some of the secrets or the strategies that you have used to coalesce and work so effectively together as a team. Because I think there are going to be women out there who could potentially be in a similar situation or they are thinking about you know launching with a number of cofounders. What are some lessons and insights that you can share with us Tonya in terms of how to do that well?
Tonya Flickinger: I love that I have four cofounders to lean on on a daily basis. So you know it is a bit of an unusual number but it’s worked very well for us. First of all, although we have a very simplistic product and the business itself that it lies on top of is somewhat complex. So the fact that each of the five of us sort of have carved out a different area of that, I think has made our journey and really got us to market a lot faster than we would have been if no one of us was trying to wear… We all wear more than one hat for sure. But in this business if there were, say, only two of us, we would have been wearing probably 20 hats to try to get the product to market. So we do kind of each have our own domains which is great. But we also are very willing to challenge each other within those domains too. So if we have opinions about something that someone else’s is running well we’ll work together. But what I think is great about the team that we formed here is that we can bounce ideas off of each other and we choose the times when we want to challenge each other versus the times that we need to support each other. And you know the ebbs and flows of the startup business, the highs and the lows, it’s really nice to have someone there to share the burden as well as someone there to sort of share the successes as you’re as you take off as well.
Eleanor Beaton: I would love for you to elaborate on that a little bit. The difference between knowing when to support someone and when to challenge them. Because I think this is a nuanced thing that can be easy to get wrong. What insights would you share on that?
Sure. Well I think the biggest thing is that when you come into a conference room to debate you need to leave a personal matters outside of it. It’s never personal. And I think you have to establish relationships with the people that you’re going to be across the table so that when you do challenge them, neither of you are taking it personal. And you know I think for women sometimes that can be a bit of a challenge for us. But it’s it’s really the way that the way that you need to you need to run it. So you know, when we’re debating something with Blispay we’re not afraid to take an idea that a co-worker has and really you know throw it up against the wall and say I’m not sure I don’t believe that’s necessarily the way that we want to go with us. And like I said we don’t we don’t take it personally. But what we do know is that we’re each lots of times coming into the room with a very different idea of a single way to get something done. And what I feel like is when we come out of the room we didn’t adopt any one person’s idea. We end up adopting a really great solution because we take sort of bits and pieces of it as we challenge each other to get there. And if you’re not willing to comment and challenge you’re not going to get to that ultimate best solution. You’re not going to get to the point of innovation. On the times when it may be challenging isn’t the best approach. Right. I think it sometimes in those times when you’re in a valley, right so you know the highs and the lows, if you’re going into a low end maybe one person is bearing the brunt of that a little more. You can come in and kind of help share that burden. Right. And that’s the time when it’s not time to challenge it’s time to personally support.
Eleanor Beaton: Christine. I would love for you to share some insight on the kind of journey and maybe success strategies around how you as a team got the venture backing to start that business in the first place. I mean this is something that is really important particularly for technology companies that are looking to make a big play. It is also something that women owned ventures can struggle with mightily. Tell us a little bit about your experience if you would and and what some of the insights or lessons you took away from that.
Christine Poulon: One of the things that you know like Tonya talked about, where you know, we all have our Armstrong points. One of the things about Greg our CEO is that he’s he’s really passionate and a great presenter when he’s passionate.
And I think that’s been a really great a great way for him to go out and talk about what we’ve done here and certainly in the beginning, he relied a lot on the experience that he had and the team of cofounders and what we brought to the table.
Eleanor Beaton: That idea of presenting with passion makes a ton of sense. Now one of the things that I wanted to follow up with you about, Christine, is the idea of finding mentors. So finding mentors specifically in the fintech industry, a so-called newer type of industry. It is noted for being a sector that is a male dominated part of the tech world. I mean that the tech world is very much a male a male world in many ways. Also when it came for you you know developing your career obviously not just at Blispay but previous to that. How did you approach finding the right mentors to help you be successful, to help you make the transition from law into entrepreneurship. That’s not necessarily a jump that we see all the time. So it’s very cool. Tell us a little bit about your approach to finding the right mentors to help you succeed.
Christine Poulon: It’s actually something that makes me really really sad. Because, I think Tonya and I share this. Neither one of us has ever had a female mentor. And I think a big part of it is, the FinTech industry. The financial industry is very male bought dominated, the tech industry is very male dominated. For me, the legal industry has historically been male dominated. I say this with a lot of sadness but I’ve never had a female mentor. And the challenge I think it’s an even bigger challenge because, because there aren’t a lot of good female role models either. So honestly, when I think about you know who has helped me along the journey. Most of the folks have been very supportive men. In my in my experience most of them have been lawyers. I know I can think of one. One person I go to for advice frequently and he’s a lawyer I worked with him and my first job out of law school and he’s always been just a great person to bounce ideas off of and pick his mind and get his thoughts. But yeah it’s it’s a real… I mean, I honestly I have to go back to when I was a kid and you know how supportive my grandmother was in me going off to college when I grew up in a very in a very patriarchal society. I’m Greek and I grew up in Greece and my dad my dad was was sort of a very typical stern Greek father, and when I was going off to college my uncle, who was also was I’d called my uncle a bit of a male chauvinist said to my dad: “why you letting her go away to college?” And I remember sitting out thinking ‘Wow how do I deal with this?’ And my grandmother, who was a farmer, had never left her village of 5000 people just immediately piped up and looked at my uncle and my father and she just said she said “this is what she wants to do and you need to let her go and do what she wants to do.” So I go back a long way to find some of these examples but I you know I think about that a lot because you know he was he was a woman in a very patriarchal society who just was saying ‘hey here’s here’s a girl, my grandmother. Let her do what she needs to do to follow her stars.”
Eleanor Beaton: I love that story of the grandma and you know it’s interesting. There have been several times during the course of the interviews and conversations that I’ve had on this show where I have heard women mention you know powerful grandmothers who have advocated for them at critical junctures in their upbringing and while you weren’t able to necessarily go on and find other female mentors in your career. Yet. She was there you know when you needed her. Now, you and Tanya have gone on to be very strong advocates for women in fintech. It’s something that you both have published about. You are speaking about it. Do you think that part of this motivation to support women in the FinTech industry comes from the experience of not necessarily having other women like you to mentor you as you were up and coming. Would you say, Christine, that’s part of the motivation?
Christine Poulon: Oh absolutely. I think you know, a big part of what we want to do with Blispay is to build a company where people want to come to work and a big part of that is making sure that the company is diverse. And we very strongly believe that everybody brings something to the table and that diverse companies do so much better. And so part of what part of what we work really hard to do is to build a company where all the women here feel supported.
Now Tanya, I would love to hear from you. You know when you speak about diversity in the industry, what unique perspective do you think that women bring and contribute to the industry. And why is it so important that we as women help to shape the industry?
Tonya Flickinger: I’m a strong believer that we as women do have unique qualities that we can we can bring to business and general and especially I’m a fintech space where there’s so much concentration on finance and numbers. I think that the biggest thing we bring is a very high ethical standard. Right. And sort of true a genuine concern for the well-being of our customers. And I think we do a nice job of balancing that with understanding that long term satisfaction of the customer really does register with the bottom line. that the two make sense and they go together. So that’s probably the biggest one. I think another big quality that we bring as women our listeners. Right. So you know when you’re blazing new trails and you have to innovate often you’ve got a lot of ideas that are coming to the table. And I think women do a better job of sitting back and listening. Before diving straight until the conversation which can be beneficial to the to the overall discussion.
Eleanor Beaton: Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that because it brings me to this idea of unconscious bias which you know most women have experienced some form of bias be it unconscious or conscious you know in their career development. And it was interesting to me where you just saying about how sometimes we have stronger skills for listening. So for instance if new ideas being tabled in the boardroom that we are going to listen to it digest it and then maybe come back later. Do you think that our listening abilities you know or willingness to do that. Do you think it can sometimes come across as a lack of confidence or can sometimes you create perceptions that are not necessarily beneficial to us as women leaders. I’d love to hear your take on if you think that actually happens around those meeting tables.
Tonya Flickinger: Yes I definitely do. And you know I think most bias is unconscious. So to your point, if we’re listening we’re not seen as actively participating. But it’s also a double edged sword that when we do participate and we assert ourselves into a conversation we can be accused of being aggressive or having too harsh of a tone. So, sometimes being a woman you know you feel like you’re you’re a little damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. But I think there are things that you know, certain certain traits that we can display that can really come out as well. So you know when you do need to voice up and you are passionate about something you know making sure that you’re addressing it properly and personally but the colleague that you’re doing it well. And as far as sitting back and listening and being accused of not participating, I think that that’s okay as long as after listening you come back to the table and you show the perspective that you have. And I think your colleagues, be the male or female, understand that you live and you synthesized and you really came out with a good idea after that I think you kind of get past that.
Eleanor Beaton: Christine, one of the things that we have sometimes heard in the conversations on this show especially from women who are working inside male dominated industries is that there can be a temptation, in order to have your voice heard, in order to be taken seriously, to kind of slip into being one of the boys. Have you come across this and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it whether it’s effective or not?
Christine Poulon: Yeah absolutely. I think a lot of us have been tempted to do that. I personally think it’s detrimental I think. I think there’s two big things about that. I think one, you’re you’re really denying who you are, you’re changing who you are, in a not authentic way. I’m a big believer in bringing your authentic person to work. And then I think you, by doing thatm everyone misses out on all of the great things that women bring to the table. There are a lot of studies out there that you know that talk about some of this stuff that you know certainly about the benefits to diversity and how how that can impact even a company’s bottom line.
So I yeah I am I’m a big non-believer and trying to be one of the boys and I’m also a big, but just hearing the conversation about unconscious bias. I’ve certainly experienced a lot of it. The one that I’ve experienced that really really had a big impact on me was that I was, I tend to be very passionate and I was told that I was being emotional and I was scaring people. And that had a really huge impact on me to the point, where I actually view emotion as a very positive thing that women bring to the table. I don’t think it’s I don’t think it’s negative. I don’t think it’s negative at all. And you know it certainly can be detrimental if left unchecked. But emotion in the form of passion is always really really great. And and I do want to I do want to say one thing. We had an experience with that just today. We have we have a group here at Blispay called the ladies of Blispay. And we actually had one of our lunches today and today we had the ladies and the men in the room and we were talking about feminism. And one of our colleagues got all emotional in the room and it was awesome. And everybody reacted really well to it. And you know for me. Tonya and I both teared up because it really was an emotional time. And I think things like that you know in the past they’ve been viewed as really bad negative things and we work really hard to say that no those are good things we’re people we’re humans we have emotions. And you know we should we should certainly embrace them and not be told that you’re being too emotional and you need to change that because you’re scaring people.
Eleanor Beaton: Right you’re being hysterical which is you know that’s always very often, you know historically how we have undercut women by accusing them of being too emotional. The interesting thing of course to loop back to an earlier part of our conversation is the fact that that passion and emotion was one of the key things that helped the CEO of your company and your team pitch so effectively, present so effectively, and secure the funding that you needed to build the company in the first place. So that is really interesting so one of the things that we’ll hear especially when it comes to technology is there a pipeline problem? No there’s not a pipeline problem? I would love to hear from you Tonya, what do you think we can and should be doing to encourage more women and girls to enter the industry, to promote women who are already inside the industry.
Tonya Flickinger: Yes so you know I think there’s a lot of things that we can do with girls at a young age you know tons of stuff has been published lately about the fact that we’re not encouraging our girls to go into STEM related programs the way that we are with our boys. And I think that there’s a lot of improvement that can be made there. I actually think there’s also a lot of progress that is being made there. But what we’re seeing, especially in FinTech, is it’s not necessarily the numbers that are coming in, it’s the numbers that stay. And that are willing to actually seek and go for leadership opportunities. And that’s where the real work still still has to be done. So my advice to women who are coming into a male dominated industry like Fintech is first seek out and find a support network. It may not exist in your own company, but that’s ok. You can look for local groups or meet up in your area that would give you the opportunity to sort of share and discuss with other professional women things that are things that are going on both in your industry and just in general as being a woman in the workplace. I’d also say that when seeking a job you know ask questions during the interview process like how many women are at the company? How many women are in leadership? If it’s a small company you can get numbers. If it’s a larger company you can you can ask for percentages. Just to give you you know sort of a baseline of the company that you’re going into. And then, probably the biggest thing is don’t be afraid of your gender. You know that’s what I would tell women don’t be afraid of it. You know don’t wear it as a weapon on your on your arm or anything but it really is an asset. Look for those qualities that as a woman you bring to your industry and what to sort of accentuate them.
Eleanor Beaton: Now, you’ve both been in this industry for some time and what you’re saying certainly matches what I hear in some of the anecdotal evidence that, yes, we would love to get more women and girls into STEM fields. But a lot of women are leaving without pursuing those senior leadership roles. I’ll start with you Tonya. Why is that? That women are are not pursuing those roles or not getting them.
Tonya Flickinger: Yeah. So it is strength in numbers. I truly believe this. So the lack of women is causing the lack of women. So going back to Christine’s point that neither of us actually had a female mentor. Right. Aside from that it was also hard to even find a role model to look to and especially for women. You know a big point of dropping out of the workplace are either changing industries as when women start a family. Right. And so being able to look and at least maybe you don’t have a formal mentor but just being able to see a working mother making it work. You know could be the difference between you getting through those tough mornings when you’re sleep deprived, trying to get the baby to day care and get to work and put in a put in a full productive day. So I think that’s really what’s needed, is we need more of us and I think to get there there really is a large responsibility on the women who are in leadership positions to make sure not only that they are seeking to mentor, but also realizing that even not through formal mentoring, women are watching them. I have a daughter and my daughter was born a good friend gave me a poem that I keep beside my bed. And the first line of it is a careful woman I must be for a little girl is watching me. And the poem talks about how it is important for a mother to realize that their daughter is always watching. I think women and leadership roles and industries where there aren’t that many of us. we need to understand that we are being watched, that our behaviors are being modeled. We need to be conscious about it at all times and we have to seek out opportunities to help advance the women that are coming. You know, I think I think the last thing is the gap in wage is really a big problem as well. And I think that as female leaders we need to make sure that we are bringing the tough conversations to the table so when you’re in those calibration sessions at year end, make sure sure that you’re challenging your colleagues to say: put the spreadsheet up. Let’s look at it. Look Sally and Bob are basically doing the same thing right. Why is Bob at ten thousand dollars more than Sally? So I think those are those are the kind of things we’re going to have to do that to truly change to get the numbers that we need to keep perpetuating.
Eleanor Beaton: Is there anything you want to add to that Christine?
Christine Poulon: No. I definitely I agree with Tonya’s points. I certainly think that adding adding to the pipeline is a really big deal and I think it starts really really young. And I did a program called Street Law recently and it was focused on getting young people in to think about careers in the law in schools where there’s not a big pipeline of kids going into legal careers and I think there are a lot of programs like that out there today. So having these young kids sort of grow up with this idea that there are a lot of things they can accomplish even if even if there aren’t a lot of role models there today, when they get to that it’s potential leadership position, I think it’ll it’ll change the way they view it because they’ve been thinking about it for for such a long time. And I think and I think it’s also important for the young professionals today. You know, when I look at the young women here at Blispay… Back to the point about being a role model, I know that they’re watching me right. And I know that that I have this role as a role model. And it’s really important to me to to exhibit a lot of the behavior that I think is great as a woman.
Eleanor Beaton: Does it feel, is it a pressure thing? When when there’s not a ton of women you know in senior leadership roles inside the FinTech industry. When you think about not just who you are but what you represent. Does that feel like pressure? Like an opportunity? Like a responsibility that you appreciate? Tell me about that. Because obviously, you’re running, you know, you are entrepreneurs. There are peaks and valleys. I’d love to hear a little bit from you Christine on whether and how that mantel feels.
Christine Poulon: Absolutely I view it as an honor. I really do. I think I. Was. You know like I said we’re we’re we’re building a company here where people love to come to work. And I’m human. I have my bad days but on most days I come into work and I really and I really feel like it’s an it’s an honor to work with all the folks that I work with here. And to be building a company like this. And I think that I’m a big believer I think I said this was where I’m a big believer in people being their authentic selves. Right. So I would never be someone that I’m not just to be a role model but I also want I want that to be part of my role model right.
I want to I want the women to understand that you need to be your authentic self. And that doesn’t mean that you should never change, but you should be really thoughtful about what what you want to change about yourself. And so that’s a big part of who I try to be as a role model. But I also think that it’s definitely it’s definitely some pressure, but I view it as as a good person because there’s good push and bad pressure.
Eleanor Beaton: Now, I wanted to ask this of both of you. I’ll start with you Christine. If you were to, now you are mentoring up and coming women not only in your organization but in the industry, through this podcast, through other publishing and media and speaking opportunities that the both of you engage in. If you were to offer three pieces of practical advice for the next generation of women leaders in FinTech who are navigating an exhilarating, challenging, rewarding career in the industry. What three pieces of advice would you give them? I’ll start with you Christine.
Christine Poulon: I’ve a really long list, so i have to narrow it down to three. I think I would say first, always work with integrity. I think I would say, don’t be afraid to ask for what you believe you deserve. But be sure you’re well prepared.
And then I think the third thing would be to try really hard to be self-aware. Self-awareness is really really tough, especially when you’re young. Because it requires people two do things that a lot of us are afraid of. And one is… maybe not afraid of it had a tough time with. One is that acknowledging things that we like about ourselves and the things that were good at that. And the second is recognizing that things that are not and the things you don’t like about ourselves. So it’s really, really hard.
Eleanor Beaton: That’s way harder than the first.
Christine Poulon: So I guess those, those would be my three things.
Eleanor Beaton: Thank you. How about you Tonya?
Tonya Flickinger: So I would say, you know a huge thing is to make sure that you are constantly developing your network. So you know, one thing that was very important here with us when we started raising money which with any start up is going to be a part of it. You’re not going to get very far off the ground without it was leveraging the network that we had built. So, from day one in your career you know, look to your right and look to your left and keep those relationships as you move from job to job because you never know when one is going to come back and be something that’s going to help you later in your career.
Eleanor Beaton: Can I ask you about that actually.
Tonya Flickinger: Sure.
Eleanor Beaton: So you’ve got a demanding role. You have a family. How do you, like practically, tactically, build and leverage your network like we know in theory. It’s a really effective thing to do. I have never talked to a senior woman who had way way loads of extra bandwidth and capacity. So how do you continue to do it? Any really practical tips on that before we move to next to success strategies.
Tonya Flickinger: Sure. And you’re right I don’t have a ton of time for it, right. But I would say that it’s important, when you’re building your network it’s coming from people that you’ve worked with at some point in your past. So make those relationships strong to begin work so that it’s the kind of relationship that you could call somebody that maybe you haven’t talked to in six months and be able to pick right back up where you left off, right. And I think that’s been something that I’ve definitely leveraged. I am not the kind of person that makes the serial calls and goes through the Rolodex once a month and keeps up with everyone. But, you know, I check in every you know every kind of quarterly or every six months with someone. But having the relationship be so strong to begin with has really helped me to be able to keep it healthy but not have to nurture it all the time.
Eleanor Beaton: I love that. I love that that makes a ton of sense. OK. How about your next two strategies?
Tonya Flickinger: Sure. I would say the next thing is find your voice. And that may take a little while to find, I think be patient with that. But once you do you need to own it. You know as women especially we definitely suffer from that imposter syndrome, right, where we’re constantly sort of self-doubting or challenging ourselves internally. But really much you find that voice, own-it and live-it on a daily basis. And the third thing would probably be that, understand what you enjoy. I don’t necessarily prescribe to the theory of follow your passion, but you know you want work to be fine and enjoy it. And I think to get there really look at where you’re putting your effort. So things that you’re putting your effort into are probably what you’d like to do best. And once you find that I would really hone and all that and take that as as a focus in your career to really try to develop.
Eleanor Beaton: I’d like to wrap up by switching gears to what’s next for both of you inside Blispay. So I’ll start with you Christine. When you look over the next few months and years, what’s on the horizon for you and the organization that you are most excited about?
Christine Poulon: I think it’s a couple of things I think. I think first is just just growing and growing this thing that we’ve started and and building a product that that we all that we all love and that we get other people that other people love as well. And I think the second thing is really thinking about building building a company that can grow and still be and still be a great place to come to work every day. I think that’s a really big challenge. I think it’s much easier to do that in a small company, but as as the company grows it becomes more and more challenging. So I’m looking forward to that challenge. To making sure that we’re able to maintain the culture that we’re building now in the company as it grows, and as it gets a lot bigger. And as it gets big enough to where I want to know everybody here.
Eleanor Beaton: How about you Tonya?
Tonya Flickinger: So we put the building blocks in place for Blispay. It really is ready to go and we’re that that exciting point of getting ready to scale it, right. So it’s exciting and it’s also frightening at the same time. But to Christine’s point, we have built what we believe to be a very strong culture. We’ve put a lot of support in with our people and you know we have really great expertise and a lot of areas. Now we’re going to have to take that and start multiplying it and sort of building from there. And you know I’ve been at some other companies that have been small and gotten big and that tends to be where things can go wrong with the company. So I think really where the focus is is keeping an eye on that and making sure that we stay focused on our product and our mission with both our our customers and the retailers that we serve and making sure we do that in a responsible way so that you know Blispay, there are, we’re a lending business there are no small lending businesses. So Blispay, which is definitely going to succeed, is going to become a large company, so really making sure that we that we scale it and grow it to continue to be this company that we are so proud of.
Eleanor Beaton: I will say I knew Tonya and Christine when… Tonya Flickinger, Christine Poulon, thank you so much for joining us on Fierce Feminine Leadership and offering your insight and experiences around your own career, Blispay, and women in tech. Thank you so much.
Christine Poulon: Thank you.
Tonya Flickinger: Thank you.
Fierce Feminine Leadership is executive produced and hosted by Eleanor Beaton. Technical producer is Kate Astrakhan. Content producers are Adrianne Alexander and Marie Hanifen. Special thanks to Kelly Fillman and Amy Bleser. Find Eleanor on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram @ Eleanor Beaton. Thank you for listening. Stay fierce.
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