Tara Kelly wrote her first program in COLBOL when she was nine, and rented out her “smelly” markers in school for milk money. Clearly born with business savvy and an entrepreneurial spirit, it’s no surprise she went into business for herself after college, opening a health-food store. She sold the store in 2001 and opened Simply Health Systems, an appointment reminder software company. In 2006, she started SPLICE Software Inc., introducing a new generation of enterprise voice applications to the international market that gives companies the ability to listen to and communicate with their customers and employees on a large scale, 24/7, without deploying an expensive live network. We recently spoke with Kelly, the president and CEO of the Calgary-based firm, to hear about her business strategies.
Advantage: Why did you start SPLICE?
Tara Kelly: Based on my previous experience in telephony and customer service, I thought phone interactions were fairly poor, and I knew we could do better. There was a tremendous opportunity to splice and merge audio and, with that, create a better experience using automation. I wanted to inspire people to realize that if they opened their mind, they could see how capable and valuable it was.
What is your strategy for running a successful company?
You have to know who you are and what you stand for. We exist because we believe it can be better. That’s the primary pillar of our strategy, and we rally around that belief. My job is enabling people to make better decisions in line with that vision to meet 100 percent of our objectives. I focus on being clear and showing leadership.
You pride yourself on your tenacity. Can you tell me about that?
One of the best compliments I’ve gotten from a software developer is that I know when to push and when to quit. People have called me the Energizer Bunny. If I believe the value’s there in a product or service, there’s no stopping me. If I get turned away, I just think that means we chose the wrong road in, or perhaps they didn’t hear me knocking. Sometimes you have to be tenacious about your timing, your patience, and your approach.
How has your strong ability to communicate helped you lead the company?
Any time you want to accomplish something that hasn’t been done before, or do it better, you need to communicate, not just with clarity, but also with passion and vision. You need to change the way somebody deals with you. It’s about listening and understanding as much as it is about speaking. You’re not going to be able to move those people if you don’t understand what they value and what motivates them. This aligns with our core values and has been a big part of our delivery.
Do you have a certain philosophy for managing people?
I like to stay close until people are ready to run on their own and then let them go with as much leash as possible. I tell them to use your head, know your numbers, and trust your heart, but go with your gut. I have a favourite saying I picked up from Angela Ahrendts at Burberry’s: people will forget what you said and what you do, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. I try to promote and live that in all aspects of my life.
You have an interesting philosophy about mosaics. Tell me about that.
I believe that everyone who enters your life and interacts with you, chooses to spend an extra five minutes with you, or shares a story with you—they’re being woven into your mosaic, a picture of you made of tiny tiles, and each tile is a person who has shared something with you. Every day, we choose to be a part of someone’s mosaic, and if we can be more open and transparent about it, we can make these beautiful pictures with our lives.
Have there been any difficult times while at SPLICE, and if so, how did you get through them?
There are always difficult times. During the early stages, getting customers and raising money—that was really tough. If you don’t hit difficult times, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. When the going gets tough, I think you need to compartmentalize and bite off one part at a time and nail it. Also, getting through them is about making sure you have cheerleaders in life, that you’re networking and you’re participating in the ecosystem. You should be hitting those challenge points every year.
Looking at your career at SPLICE, what are you most proud of?
That we built this international company. That we raised all of our funds privately, and we’ve had phenomenal growth—30 percent in 2011. And the value we’ve driven. I think we’ve been well operated, efficient, and disciplined in our process, and I’m so proud of the team that makes it happen. The thing that wows me most is being so lucky to have such brilliant people on my team!”