You are in charge of your wellbeing — This covers all manner of wellbeing, including your health and family. I can’t stress how important it is to make time for those things, and not excuses. On the career side, money and trajectory, while you may be able to trust a handful (and I mean maybe 3–5 people) to go to the mattresses for you — the truth is that most people, when real money is involved, get very selfish very quickly. This is the time to remember sensibility — know your worth, fight for it, do not settle. You are needed and valued and your stake in the future of your company should reflect that.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerrin Mitchell. Kerrin is a technology entrepreneur working to change the way the world gives by connecting the entire philanthropic ecosystem through a single network. Her vision to democratize philanthropy ensures every giver has access to the world’s causes, and every doer has access to the world’s funds. Co-founded by Kerrin in 2010, Fluxx serves nearly 300 world-class foundations, including Ford Foundation, Knight Foundation and MacArthur Foundation who want to intelligently automate their workflows and elevate operations. She’s been named San Francisco Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, is a native of Silicon Valley and spent her early career in Finance and Operations at Cisco Systems.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Looking back at my career, I can now see the thread that connected me to where I am today — however that is really only in retrospect. Graduating in 2001 from Duke, amidst the recession, I quickly learned the lesson that sometimes you take a job because life dictates that path — whether it’s timing, location, a tough market, or another person’s influence on your decision. Whatever it was, I didn’t put much stock in casing the job, but found that if I put my head down, I could find something really compelling (sometimes in the cracks of the boundary), and I encoded it for the sake of new learning.
While my early days were spent in finance and accounting at a large corporation (Cisco Systems), I knew this wasn’t a “lifer” play for me. Cisco taught me a lot about working hard no matter what, it taught me the value of organizational structure and measurement, it definitely taught me humility — and low and behold, I even learned accounting. It was also during this time that I got more involved with nonprofits in my spare time, working pro bono for a philanthropic organization. Philanthropy, was always a common denominator in the chapters of life, but it was just that — a side thing that I enjoyed.
Eight years later, Fluxx was born was an opportunity to see if a hobby could be a career — and it honestly feels like a bit of the culmination of all the best (and hardest) parts of my previous jobs combined. That revenue and accounting skillset paid off in spades at Fluxx — not having to pay a CFO in the early days was a massive budget saver. I became a jack of all trades and a master of none.
As Fluxx went through its various chapters over the last nine years, my role evolved to take on a nebulous of new things. It was my job to figure those jigsaw puzzles out, and then hire someone smarter than me in that topic to manage and scale it. There’s a lot of passion and ego that can come along with starting a company and knowing when to give over reigns to someone else is likely one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.
Looking back at it all, it makes me giggle a bit when I speak with younger ambitious folks about their dreams — and their 5- and 10-year plans, and the blind determination to enact them immediately. It is inspirational to see that directive, though I can’t say I was (or am) that way.
All said and done, I can’t say that I would highly recommend my path, thought there is upside in the path of honoring the journey, being happy where you are, picking up things along the way, and finding a way to harmonize those. I found that I tend to trust the universe and that it will lead me places where the sum of the parts will amass into something good. Each job or chapter has given me something and it is up to me to honor that.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The story of Fluxx in the early days was that of the underdog. We were new to the vendor ecosystem, we were confident by unknown, we were motivated more than any company or team I had ever worked with or for. There was something so raw and almost family-like in the early days, where in each win or loss was personal.
I remember showing up in Wellington, Auckland, as a company of 12 people to demo our platform capabilities for three 8-hour demos — and in a head-to-head-to-head battle between Microsoft and Oracle — and Fluxx… and we won the deal. It was incredible. Fluxx, at that time, was an unknown company from America, boasting an innovative cloud software and a vision for what collaboration could look like across the private and public sector.
When I asked them why they chose us, they said “Fluxx believes in the sector and you are building software to fit the exact needs our nonprofits and community — everyone else is just trying to rebrand themselves to fit. But you get it.”
It made me realize we were onto something special, spending our time and our lives, working in a sector that cares. It makes me very happy and proud to know what we came from and what we’ve grown into.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Upon graduating from Duke with an economics degree, the norm was to head to New York City and take up with investment banks and consulting firm — none of which I even applied for, knowing there was a minimum GPA that I didn’t even come close to hitting. I also graduated in 2001, so I understood that any job amidst a crashing global market was a great job. Accounting, it became. And in this field, I learned that, while I was a hardworking, resilient, go-getter personality, skills matter not if you lack an eye for tying out assets and liabilities, and you are in a field that requires it.
Clearly, and as was communicated to me by my VP, finance was not going to be my future — BUT there was consensus that I did have unanticipated raw talent on the sales and business development side of the house (I guess I learned other things in college?)
In that light, choosing the wrong career would have been the “funny mistake” — the painstaking acknowledgment that there some are things I’m incredible at, and other things I truly suck at… sort of funny? In retrospect, sure. The thought of me as an accountant would definitely make anyone that knows me snort their drink and laugh.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Philanthropy is a very fascinating industry in that all the entities therein — private and public — are noncompeting cooperative organizations that have the unified goal of bettering the services going into the community. In that light, we try hard to match the collaborative culture of the industry we serve. Fluxx structures its technology, R&D, metrics, values, employees — everything — to reflect back the mutually shared values. It drives our decisions, our speech, our desire to grow and where to evolve.
One example of this collective thinking around philanthropy took place in New Zealand. From the first engagement Fluxx had with the Community Operations arm of the government, we heard voices — at all levels of management — reiterate how important the end services and nonprofits were to the wellbeing of their country. They valued those relationships and communications and we have built a system around that conversation, for both the grantmakers and grantseekers. This is why we developed Fluxx’s Grantmaker and Grantseeker platforms — to create technology to help make philanthropy flow.
These cloud-based solutions help givers and doers connect, by intuitively automating the daily tasks of both, giving each person the ability to be more efficient and gain visibility into important data. Ultimately, the Fluxx Grantmaker and Grantseeker platforms include solutions for foundations, other grant givers and nonprofits seeking funding. As a result, the Fluxx community is more collaborative and focused on surfacing real-time needs and taking meaningful actions.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I love our company’s commitment to serving the nonprofits community. Our Grantseekers platform helps them use technology to start seeing the benefit and “story” behind their services and social investments. If Fluxx can make the grantmaking ecosystem a smarter and more efficient space, I honestly feel that the world will be a healthier and brighter place. This essential commitment to doing good informs all that I do as an entrepreneur and leader.
I believe that Fluxx has created a framework and common denominator on which foundations and nonprofits interact, changing the conversation to enhance the capacity, open collaboration, and increase transparency across the philanthropic industry. That’s why we recently launched the Fluxx Grantseeker solution, which gives nonprofits an easy-to-use tool to simplify the process of managing grants in one place. With this platform, Grantseekers can foster long-term relationships with foundations by enabling them to spend less time worrying about day-to-day operations and more time furthering their mission.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice: By respecting your lens and your journey, you will find more meaning, joy and gravity in each step. In turn, this authenticity will be the thing that people gravitate towards naturally — and you will be a better manager, leader, and person as a result.
By this, I mean be authentic to who you are — and Know Your Superpower. Don’t read the “Lean In” books and see that as YOUR roadmap. Yes, they have value and yes, they can be empowering to some. Realistically, Sheryl Sandberg might have a different superpower than you, so why would you take her recipe and try to replicate that?
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
When you are managing a large team, realizing that you need to reflect your company’s (and industry’s) values is likely the most important thing. Match culture to strategy to execution. From my experience, co-founding and leading Fluxx from inception to enterprise, I had to assess (and reassess) my leadership approach through the ever-changing lens of what is needed at that exact phase of where we were at.
From bootstrapped infancy, through awkward teen years, and straight to the healthy (both financial and cultural) company it is today, Fluxx had a LOT of chapters. Based on my experience with Fluxx, here is my advice based on those chapters:
· Under 20 employees: Focus on setting culture, otherwise it will set itself (and not in a good way)
· From 20–40 employees: Process, Process, Process. Both internal and external.
· From 60–80 employees: Find and pay for the best mid management (Sr Mgr / Director level) you can find, as it is worth its weight in gold to remove you from daily operations and let you evolve into the leader you need to be!
· From 80–100 employees: Communication is key — on every level. What you say, how you say it, when you say it, doing what you’re going to do…say it again. And again.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Kristy Gannon, our Fluxx COO — Over the last eight years working side-by-side with Kristy, we’ve led the company from early startup to established enterprise. She is incredible in her talents, brilliance, and patience. What I find most captivating about her is that she is an introvert by nature, so she takes all the greatest habits of an introvert and uses that skillset artfully. Her listening, deep thinking “look before leaping” personality matches that of the philanthropic community she serves. She values connections, takes the time to appreciate things, fosters a great team environment, and forms deep and meaningful relationships. This makes her an authentic leader and one that people gravitate towards naturally. She is directly responsible for executing the vision of our company. In a land where the loudest voice always wins in social media and the narcissists rise, she is a true leader and a respected figure in philanthropy (and life). The truth is that I don’t know what my world, life, career, character would look like without her. She is a NorthStar for me, in many ways.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At our core, Fluxx is about helping others to reach their goals. We’ve developed technology that has been impactful to thousands of nonprofits and foundations, as we’ve eliminated day-to-day operations burdens which has allowed new champions who may not be as well-known but are doing some of the most impactful things for our society to bring their voice forward and make it heard. I believe that Fluxx has played a small part in allowing these new voices to be heard.
Fluxx also walks-the-walk when it comes to making change. We do this through our involvement in Pledge 1% — a movement, a commitment, and a promise — that allows us to expand on our company DNA by donating our time, our equity and our product.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Choose your partners, investors, and co-founders wisely — In life, we spend a lot of time choosing our partners in love and in friendship. In business, we tend to be a bit more opportunistic, but we shouldn’t be. The truth is that you often spend MORE of your waking hours at work with these other people in your life — who, if you rushed into the decision to partner with, may not share your ideals or values or even communication style. Having a business partner or investor that has constant conflict will wear on you over time and it just isn’t worth it. Use your judgment early and wisely before venturing into something new. Just like in your personal life, getting married after knowing someone for a week is a bad idea. Get to know them, how they act when things are good — and even more important, how they deal with adversity and challenge.
2. Don’t underestimate the importance of documentation and details — In the early days of Fluxx, I found that we glossed over a lot of VERY important decisions that would have caused “so much” friction that we just avoided them all together. This was important stuff, like equity in pay, stock allocation percentages, valuations, and leadership, even process administration and accountability. And as the years go on grit and tenacity and a mentality of “I’m sure they’ll do the right thing when push comes to shove” seemed to work. Until it didn’t…and then I wished we had taken the time to put all of those details in writing.
3. You are in charge of your wellbeing — This covers all manner of wellbeing, including your health and family. I can’t stress how important it is to make time for those things, and not excuses. On the career side, money and trajectory, while you may be able to trust a handful (and I mean maybe 3–5 people) to go to the mattresses for you — the truth is that most people, when real money is involved, get very selfish very quickly. This is the time to remember sensibility — know your worth, fight for it, do not settle. You are needed and valued and your stake in the future of your company should reflect that.
4. Embrace Adversity — There is role for adversity in every good lessons-learned story. I like to think it’s in these times when your biggest strengths arise. Birthing out of horrible chaos comes self-preservation and THEN a resiliency. These are big character-building moments that evolve from the worst kind of pain. For me, there was a time where my integrity and character were tested — and broke. At this time, I was my harshest critic, judging myself for not being stronger. The truth is, I just had to get out of that situation and found that everything restored itself. Since then, I am unwavering on my principles. I am proud of who I am today because I went through one hell of time in becoming that. That said, for me, while I have faced horrible adversity from external sources, my largest challenge will always be the internal “impostor” battles with myself. So, I guess it is good to note the obvious to be kind to yourself in all states.
5. An unknown future is ok — I’m glad I never had a crystal ball. If I knew all the crap I had to go through to get here, I might not have done it. In the end, it is a rewarding journey and one aided in an unwavering faith in Fluxx and Fluxx’s vision for what could be.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would likely stay on the previously noted “Know your Superpower” theme — as it is both the correct way to empower people AND it could have some amazing memes and marketing around it. Let me know if any of you want to talk more about it, as I’d be DOWN to help drive that to be a new trend.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
Play a big game. Why wouldn’t you? If you’re going to work, and work hard, put your time and heart into something that supports your ideals and the community you want to see created in the world. It kills me to see talented and motivated individuals doing ad-bots and other nonsensical money-forward jobs that wreck the fabric of what makes us human.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I am a massive fan of Jonathan Van Ness (@jvn), who I recently saw crush it at Radio City (front row!). I pulled a day-of last-second trigger on a sold out ticket, for a night I won’t ever forget. Jonathan is a voice for strength of character as the definition of beauty, in every single capacity it exists. It would be very cool to talk to him on his podcast called “Getting Curious” (@CuriouswithJVN)
In that same vein, I would love to meet Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil) as she and I share many of the same ideals for what women can stand for, in and among any industry, when they channel their own unique power.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
Women Of The C-Suite: “You are in charge of your wellbeing” with Kerrin Mitchell of Fluxx was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.