The multi-hat wearing CEO: Emma Lo Russo on challenges, motivations
Emma Lo Russo wears many hats. She is an international business leader, CEO, strategist, speaker and writer.
Lo Russo is the CEO of Digivizer, a social web analytics and activations technology company, which she co-founded in 2010. Its primary focus is on helping businesses know more about their customers through real-time analysis and actioning real insights from their digital footprints. The company now has over 60 employees and is continuously growing.
Dynamic Business sat down with Emma Lo Russo to chat about her company, challenges and motivations.
- What inspired you to set up Digivizer?
I was previously head of an ASX-listed electronics design software business, and I was seeing the power of smart devices and the impact this was having on the fast-growing sharing economy. At the same time all kinds of businesses were seeking more information about their customers, and were seeking new ways to create better customer experiences. I wanted to create a business that helped them understand and connect with the digital and social engagements of all those people, to be able understand the intelligence increasingly available to every business (if they only knew where to look and what mattered to the people they wanted to engage). Digivizer was launched to do that – initially to map all people, conversations, connectivity and network effects in social media across all platforms, and later to extend to all search, social and web engagements. We can now map the entire owned, earned and paid digital sales and nurture funnels in real-time and we help businesses understand – and then make better decisions around – their digital marketing investment.
- Who is your co-founder?
I co-founded the business with Clinton Larson – his background was in customer analytics. Together we built the foundations of what mattered most in understanding the digital customer.
- Describe the early days. What challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?
As a competitive measure, we chose initially to serve the B2B space and our first clients were large enterprises. The challenge I soon realised was that I felt I couldn’t publicly seek funding and share how few of us there really were against our large ambitions. Instead we decided to put our heads down, pre-sell, build as we went, and bootstrap ourselves. This meant cash was tight but it also meant we were able to ensure market fit.
- Your background in business is impressive, how did you find the time to start Digivizer? How did you divide your time?
I am driven 100% to grow people and businesses. My corporate years were filled with creating new markets, territories and strategies to compete. In the end you are either happy to do that for another company or you really have an itch to do it for yourself. What drove me to break away and do it myself was the knowledge that I could use my experience to help hundreds and thousands of companies, in multiple markets, and of every size, instead of one at a time. And I have long learned that if you want something enough, you will always find a way. I also have a very supportive family.
- What motivates you?
Growth. Growth by learning through experience, through reading, listening, meeting people and by being a better leader. I really care about the people I hire and the customers I work for and collaborate with – and this is what motivates me. I am constantly thinking about how I can grow the people and customers around me.
- You have won numerous awards and accolades for your work. What is your most significant achievement and why?
I think growing Digivizer to the size it is today, earning the trust of so many great customers, opening up Digivizer in 13 countries, having someone in our team nominate us for best place to work and being in the top-50 tech companies (and named in a list of greats). Achieving what I have and still maintaining the love and support of my family is another.
- Many people struggle to think of a unique business idea and when they do, many fail. What makes Digivizer unique and successful?
Having come from a strategic marketing background, you know you need to be differentiated for more than one day. Instead it is critical to build a sustainable model for competitive differentiation at every level – from your employment brand (how to get the best people) as well as the way you solve problems – with product and processes. And the idea has to address a real business pain point – and then answer it. I think Digivizer has proved this consistently over our first eight years. Our vision hasn’t changed but the way we serve continues to morph and change to ensure it is attractive to others.
- What advice or tips would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?
It would really come down to four things:
- Really have a strong vision – you must really want to solve a need in the world – it has to be something that is driven from your purpose as you need it to sustain, motivate, and guide others every single day
- Hire the very best people – this has to be the biggest secret to success. Only hire smart, talented people, who get things done, are infinite learners and not arseholes (that is our hiring policy for Digivizer and it works!)
- Always focus on financials and cash flow – the customer must pay you for what you do. It is the fastest way to test whether you have something real and valid. Keep testing and find a way to take advantage of the amazing, powerful cloud-based, low-cost options that can empower your team to focus on what makes you different – and find ways you can delight your customers in the most low-cost/frictionless way for them too
- Grit and determination – it is absolutely critical that you are prepared to work hard, roll your sleeves up, sacrifice, do whatever it takes. The difference is often not the great idea, but the smarts in putting your most valuable resources (you and others) towards making it happen. Every second counts.
- What challenges have you faced as a female in the business industry?
I totally own the responsibility to create a diverse workplace and to model flexible and all-inclusive behaviours that allow everyone to operate at their best. However, the best contribution I can make is to fight my way forward as a role model that proves it (whatever you want ‘it’ to be) can be done. It is important to help others learn and follow suit – but I think that is about showing all genders what support, flexibility, and what an outcomes-based workplace look like, and to encourage them to pursue the same. Other than that, as a female it is important to call out blatant bias.
- What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies and interests? How do you de-stress?
I love spending time with my family, and I love dining out, reading, travel and swimming. I have been heading to the gym 2-3 times a week, I have a personal training session once a week, and have recently added more walking into my work travel. I really do love and am energised by people, so as long as I am hanging out with people I can have a good laugh with – whether that be personal or professional – I’m happy!