After 25 years in the tech trenches, Amy Pelly knows a thing or two about startups.
Pelly’s career includes early stage startups that ended in acquisitions, another that grew from 30 to more than 800 employees and went public in the space of five years, and one that “went down in flames.” Over that time, she also had three kids, now ages 8-12 years.
So when Madrona Venture Group managing director Matt McIlwain suggested she give another startup a look, Pelly didn’t exactly leap at the chance.
“I had sworn off early stage startups,” Pelly said.
The company was Amperity, a Seattle-based customer data platform. She met with Amperity CEO Kabir Shahani. She was impressed by the investors involved, the market potential, the customers already signing on for multi-year licenses. Plus, there was the Amperity team, which included tech veterans as well as younger employees with new ideas.
Pelly did a gut check, asking herself if “this is going to be something I’m going to be reading about in a few years, and this is something where I’m going to be kicking myself” for not taking the opportunity to join. She decided to go for it and in July 2017 became chief financial officer for Amperity.
Amperity takes massive amounts of data points from a given user, scraped from emails, purchases, website browsing, mobile app usage and other sources, and gives marketers an understanding of a single customer. In July, Amperity announced a $50 million Series C funding round, and the company has hired a string of big-name leaders. The startup, which came out of stealth mode in 2017, is hustling to stay a step ahead of tech juggernauts including Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle that have also entered the field.
“Money in the bank doesn’t equal success,” Pelly said. “It’s more a validation of the mission we’re on. It’s very real when you attract that kind of people and those investors.”
As CFO, Pelly’s management style is “a blocker and a tackler for my team,” she said. “I give them a fair amount of autonomy.”
Being a working mom has made her more efficient on the job than she was earlier in her career, Pelly said. And while she has had numerous roles at different companies, her leadership approach has remained consistent.
“I can’t constantly context shift all the time,” she said. “I have to be authentic to who I am.”
We caught up with Pelly for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Seattle
Computer types: MacBook Pro. Never thought I could function without a PC…until I tried a Mac. :)
Mobile devices: iPhone
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Excel (some things are hard to let go of), Google Sheets, Google Drive, DocuSign, Evernote, Starbucks mobile app (pretty sure SBUX is a line item in the Pelly family budget), Mint
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? We have an open office environment, so my workspace is pretty basic: MacBook, Thunderbolt Monitor, desk and a chair. We actually have a lot of conference rooms (a luxury!) and collaboration spaces in our office, which makes it easy to transition back and forth depending on the work that needs to get done. I’m sure I sacrifice some level of efficiency by sitting in an open environment, but I love the collaboration and connections you build with the team around you.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Company building and family building is hard work, so you have to focus on the vital few to avoid drowning in the trivial many. I have to remind myself to do this each and every day.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn for my business network and Instagram for my personal network, although the two networks have certainly merged. Some of my closest friends are people I work(ed) with. I love reading about their professional success and am a sucker for pictures of their kids and dogs. :)
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 11,530. But pretty sure 99.9% of that is spam. I keep hoping one day I’ll wake up an Inbox Zero person.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 28
How do you run meetings? My weekly one-on-ones and team meetings are generally pretty informal and we work through the “hit list” of priorities and blockers and how we’re tracking against the goals we set at the beginning of each quarter. The rest of the meetings are very topic-driven and we try to get to a decision or set of next steps and actions by the end of the meeting.
Everyday work uniform? Jeans and a “hip” top. Although, don’t ask my kids to vouch for the “hip” part.
How do you make time for family? I try really hard to protect my weekends and give that time to my family. With three young kids and two working parents, our daily schedule is a bit insane. My husband is incredibly organized, which makes it all work.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I’m a total creature of habit. A friend got me hooked on Bar Method about eight years ago and it’s the one thing I’ll crawl out of bed at 5:30 in the morning for a few days each week.
What are you listening to? NPR is my go-to station in the car, unless it’s Monday morning after a Seahawks’ game, then it’s KIRO 710 AM. I’m a big fan.
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? GeekWire, PitchBook News, articles that hit our company “market news” Slack channel.
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? I’m more of a vacation reader than a bedtime reader, so there’s nothing on my nightstand. I’ve been dying to read “Becoming” by Michelle Obama, though, so I’ll have to fire up the audio book version and listen to it in the car.
Night owl or early riser? Definitely a night owl and luckily a pretty sound sleeper…until the dog jumps on the bed, that is.
Where do you get your best ideas? Apparently a few gazillion people moved to Seattle over the last decade, so commuting from Bellevue into Seattle has turned into a lot of quality, uninterrupted time to work through things and get clarity.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Microsoft CFO Amy Hood was the keynote speaker at Madrona Venture Group’s last CFO Summit. I loved the perspective she shared with the group about empowering her team, being disciplined with her time, helping drive the business by focusing on leading versus lagging indicators, spending time with customers, building a trusted relationship with her CEO, and living your values as a company. For being a badass CFO of one of the most valuable companies in the world, what may have impressed me the most, though, was her sense of humor and humility.