Rocket Science: Karen Pattani-Hason
On investing in talent, startup advice, and creating community via dance.
Karen develops and grows strategic partnerships with selected global systems integrators, consultancies, and digital agencies for Google Cloud.
What’s been your COVID deep dive?
I have been taking a lot of online dance classes. I love to dance, it was something that I would always go and do in person after work.
Now that everyone’s home, a lot of my incredible dance teachers have been teaching online. It’s something that has enabled me to stay in shape and connect with other people who are in the same boat, trying to create that community and energy.
Everyone’s been going above and beyond to keep that camaraderie going online. My favorite form of dance is a martial art called capoeira, done in pairs in a room with live music and a bunch of people around, so that’s been the hardest to replicate. But we’ve all rallied and we turn our cameras on, acting as though we’re all in the same room.
What’s a book we should read?
One of my favorite books is The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, telling the story of African-Americans migrating away from the South to look for better lives someplace beyond the original slave territories.
I love this book because it tells this story from a few different perspectives, as not every family had the same experience or came from the same place.
I love American history, and Black American History is largely untold. To hear these stories about different families’ experiences is really special. I know my family’s experience, but it’s different than in other families.
Some people moved from Louisiana or Florida, my family came from the Carolinas and Virginia. Why do people choose to go to Detroit versus Philly versus L.A.? I find that sort of thing fascinating.https://www.youtube.com/embed/LtpcX5yOyvA?&wmode=opaque
You’ve worked with a lot of startups – what’s a common mistake you see them make early on?
A common thing I see is that they often don’t develop their people as they should. I think startups are very focused on hiring a person that’s qualified to do a specific role or job at hand, but they don’t always have a plan to scale that person along with the business.
Early-stage startup employees are very loyal. They’re very excited about the concept. They’re just really all in. If you don’t invest in that talent, it’s a huge missed opportunity.
If you enrich that talent, the returns are huge. Productivity and retention go way up. That can be part of what attracts talent to a business as they scale.
Do you feel like there’ve been changes in startup culture recently?
I would say there’s been more of a focus on repeatable success. For a while, if a startup was really strong out of the gate, that was what propelled them through their second, third, and fourth round of funding.
Now there’s more scrutiny on how sustainable that success is. For some companies, the actual path to profitability should be the focus if they’ve got a great product that is gaining wide adoption.
You could be at the top of a particular new product or channel and be doing really well, but then in a year or two, there could be competitors or other new, bright, shiny objects. If a startup doesn’t have some other product or motion for success, it becomes very difficult to sustain that growth trajectory.
So, you find that startups may be doing a pivot after a few years, trying to add more products to their lineup, because it’s difficult to be hugely successful if you only have one problem you’re solving for.
Companies that can solve a broader range of problems have more longevity and are ultimately more successful. But it’s tricky, because you want to run as fast as you can towards success but you also want to make sure that you’re scaling in a smart way and not just hiring people for the sake of hiring people.
In the age of COVID, everyone’s looking much harder at an investment opportunity and asking, “What is it that you’re solving for, how urgent of a problem is it, how big is that market, and are you going to be able to survive if companies don’t necessarily prioritize your particular solution?”
What’s a hidden trend that will gain momentum in 2021?
This isn’t exactly new or earth-shattering, but something we’ve been seeing for a while is how many large enterprise businesses simply have not transformed at the speed they should. Still on mainframe, still using old systems to get things done, and so on.
Part of that resistance is capital investment. Some companies invested so much in older systems, they’re still writing them off until they can afford to take the loss. Another factor is compliance, especially for regulated industries. Then there’s a fear of what the overall transformation looks like. It’s more than just moving things to the cloud. Some cultures embrace change and others are more reluctant.
But COVID has accelerated the necessity to modernize, because the way that we’re working is completely different now. People have to determine how best to network within their organizations. How to get things done when you can’t just get on a plane and go and meet with a client. How to get answers to your questions when you can’t look over your shoulder and ask your co-worker.
That need for modernization applies not just to internal constituencies … your employees and your internal teammates … but also your customers. How are they going to find the best way to work with your business if they can’t walk up to the front door? Solving for those types of issues is now top of mind.
What’s one of your favorite outdoor spaces?
My back deck in Connecticut. I’ve come to appreciate the WiFi signal out there during COVID. It’s just nice to be outside, but it’s warm enough to be able to work. It’s certainly the outdoor space I’ve frequented the most over the past six months.
Other great outdoor spaces are Seven Mile Beach in Negril and the Perissa Black Sand Beach in Santorini. Not necessarily in that order!
We’re road-tripping, it has to be by car and it has to be quarantine-compliant, where should we go?
We should go to Mohonk Mountain House. in the Catskills. I think it’s worth it. My in-laws have a little family weekend there every year. It’s a throwback in time and it’s beautiful.
It still looks like a very old, vintage place, even though they’ve added a pool and a spa and all of these modern amenities. Even if you don’t stay there, the miles of trails and the views and the lake and all of that stuff is just outstanding.https://www.youtube.com/embed/b3lTq0fpYCs?&wmode=opaque
What’s your favorite wall decoration in your home?
I’ve got a sign on my wall in my bathroom that says, “Your life is now. Seize it and make it amazing!” It’s the morning inspiration that fuels my day.