Katie Fritz of Trippeo: The challenges of being a female manager in a tech start-up

Katherine-FritzThough she only owns one pair of heels, Katie Fritz heads up brand and marketing efforts as the Marketing Manager at Trippeo Inc., which develops an app for tracking travel and expenses for businesses. Since joining in July of 2014, Katie has worked with the Trippeo team to help identify their audience and build a cohesive brand voice.

Previously, Katie worked as a writer, and spends her free time at the pottery studio or working on her small floral design business. We had the pleasure of speaking with her and learn about the challenges and benefits of being a woman in the world of tech start-ups.

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As a Marketing Manager you have helped put Trippeo on the map, helping this application become one of the most sought-after expense management software. What is your secret?

A manager is only as good at the team that they work with. Obviously there are dynamics within a team that makes one more or less successful, but we’re really lucky at Trippeo. I came onto a team with a high degree of emotional intelligence, as well as top-quality skill sets in development, sales, etc. We’re a small team; we have to get along and understand each other if we’re going to work effectively together. Thankfully, we’re all on the same page about what we want to do: build something great that solves problems and works beautifully. The road to getting to that goal has lots of weird offshoots, and my job is reining in those crazy ideas and make sure that they suit, delight, and make sense to the businesses we’re making this app for.

Holding a managerial role must have its challenges. How do you handle them?

Well, working at any start-up demands that you be ready to drop everything and pivot at basically a moment’s notice. Being a good improviser is key. You can’t love anything you’ve planned or made too much because the reality is that it’s going to change or be outdated within a few weeks. If you have a big ego, it’s going to get its ass kicked at a start-up.

Getting your ego destroyed is actually really beneficial to being a manager, because you’re more able to look at the solutions to a problem and not favor your own method. Good written verbal communication helps too, and having a wrought iron sense of humor. Being on friendly terms with your colleagues not only makes it more fun to come into work everyday, it makes pulling long hours on grinding projects a lot more enjoyable. .

I guess in summary, it’s my personal belief that a good sense of humor and the ability to be nimble will take you much further in life than the ability to plan something to the hilt.

The tech industry is still, to some extent, considered to be a man’s world. How fast do you think that this is changing, since we are seeing more and more women CEOs at some of the leading tech start-ups?

On paper, the gendered landscape of the tech industry is changing really fast: we’re seeing more female CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs, etc etc. And that’s great. I love reading their stories, I’d love to work with them. But I think it would be a mistake to say that women have overcome the gender gap in the tech industry. Too much of the published recognition is based on the novelty of being a woman.

Businesswomen who accomplish incredible funding raises or build huge companies are gaining recognition for their accomplishments in the space, and we call that progress… but that’s just how meritocracy works. I have a lot of hope for women in the space right now, and I’m excited to have my feet on the ground and be in the middle of it. And if our community keeps growing and changing as much as we’ve done in the last ten years, then the future looks really bright.

You are a social activist and someone who is very publicly outspoken when it comes to women rights. Has this affected your work in any way?

I’m sure it’s affected my working environment, but I’m fine with that. I’m a feminist, and I don’t have patience for comments or attitudes that would demean the personhood of another. I think that sets a high standard of communication for my interactions. I like that. I want to encourage people to think and choose their words carefully when we speak. If that scares or bothers people, that’s more a reflection on their being attached to the status quo than my being rigid.

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I want to encourage people to think and choose their words carefully when we speak.

I don’t have this issue at the Trippeo office. Sure, my male co-workers occasionally mess up and say something sexist–usually unintentionally. I’ve found the best way to deal with friends and colleagues making such remarks is to point out their casual sexism. So much of such comments are culturally inherited, and we (myself included!) don’t always think before we repeat idioms that are actually really regressive and harmful to women everywhere. In the office specifically, I just make fun of my workmates. It contributes to a healthy conversation, and we all get a kick out of it. It’s fun.

In addition to your two corporate jobs, you are also a freelance writer and florist! How does that fit into your busy schedule?

The work I do with Trippeo is really analytical and computer based: research, chatting with sales people, throwing around pitch ideas. It’s a complex job, but I don’t feel like it uses every part of my brain. Floral design is so immediate: you take the materials and you make something. Then you can break it all down and make it again, or watch it cycle through its life. My more recent work with bridal clients and marketing teams has been really satisfying, because it lets me share my excitement for the craft.

Freelance writing is something I’ve done since university. I actually did my undergrad in Creative Writing. The freedom to accept jobs I am really excited about keeps the work fresh and fun, like solving a puzzle rather than cranking away at a math problem. And scheduling? Well, that’s ever evolving. Some days I wake up at 4AM and hit the flower auction, and others I sleep till 8:30AM and then ride my bike to the Trippeo office. Having a really rigid schedule has never worked for me. I want to get up and then immediately jump into something that excites me.

Finally, what would be your message to all the young women starting up in the world of start-ups?

Be tough, be kind. Stand up for yourself, and earn respect through hard work. Gender is a factor, so don’t let it trip you up. As long as the tech industry treats the achievements of women like they are seeing bears do backflips (that is to say, amazing and previously inconceivable feats), you will have to work twice as hard for half the recognition. Just consider it an opportunity to build your character, and use your frustration to light fires under your own butt.

Be tough, be kind. Stand up for yourself, and earn respect through hard work. Gender is a factor, so don’t let it trip you up.

Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep and have a life some days. Ask for performance reviews and feedback so you can keep growing. Know and check in with what you want: your goals will change, so make sure your approach does too. Most importantly: if you don’t like what you’re doing, change.