Recently we had a chance to catch up with WAVE Advisory Board member Becky Splitt. Throughout her career, Becky has been a driving force for innovation with multiple organizations. She has also been able to use this expertise in advisory and coaching roles as well.
Becky’s experience leading organizations came early. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she was recruited to be director of Student Housing at Wichita State University while pursuing her MBA as a graduate assistant. Winning a national marketing case competition while finishing her MBA gave Becky some exposure and she was again recruited, this time to run marketing and product management for a new tech startup, Brite Voice Systems. Becky was on the founding team of Brite Voice and stayed with the organization through their IPO.
Her next challenge was to run a “startup within a startup” – that is to say running MSN International within Microsoft. After seven years with Microsoft in Seattle, Becky returned to Madison. Within a few months a recent UW graduate and technical founder of a new EdTech company asked Becky if she would join as the first CEO of StudyBlue. Becky served as Executive Chairwoman and CEO while the company enjoyed tremendous growth and success before recently being acquired by Chegg.
More recently Becky has been spending time consulting, mentoring, and serving on advisory boards. In addition to the WAVE Board, current board positions include the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars, Building Brave, WeThinkBig and Edgewood College Board of Trustees. She is working with American Family’s Innovation team as they develop a venture build studio to build new business that are strategic to the company’s future. Her experience and input is invaluable to aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as venture capitalists looking for their next big investment!
When asked what advice she might give to aspiring entrepreneurs, Becky had a lot to say. “The best thing you can do is try to kill your own idea. You will either find the holes, or build conviction and confidence.” Her favorite question to ask when analyzing a business opportunity is “so what?” This is not to be dismissive of the idea, but to find out what the real value proposition is. Will customers really pay? Is your product differentiated from competitors? Many of these questions are confronted by asking “so what?”
Becky does believe that passion is important for the success of a young company. In mentoring WAVE students, she finds that those who intend to pursue the idea after graduation stand out. They can go deep with just about any question asked. Something I found particularly interesting was Becky’s observation of second and third time entrepreneurs who have been early members of startups. Having been on the ground floor of a startup as a founding team member, whether or not the business was a success, provides invaluable learning and durability. Those who try and try again, are more likely to rise above the tide. Sometimes being the third, fourth, or fifth person at a company is a great position to be in. This has many of the positive benefits that being the founder does, while limiting some downside financial risk. When advising and consulting with startups and investors, Becky looks for these individuals because often times they’ve established a network and long list of tough lessons learned. As a member of the WAVE class of 2019 I can personally say I look forward to learning from Becky’s feedback and assessment of our pitch!