The percentages of women in technology, as we are now learning, hover between 5 and 15 percent. If you dive into automotive tech, I bet the numbers go down even further. And if you dive deeper, into women entrepreneurs in automotive technology, you’re in a very small group indeed.
But I just got off the phone with Alexi Venneri, CEO of Digital Air Strike, the Scottsdale-based company that handles the digital social presence for auto companies and dealers all over the country. She’s in that small group.
My first question, of course, is, “How did you get there?”
This is the kind of story I love, in which a person who says “yes” to an opportunity ends up
Venneri had been working with the Seattle Mariners about 15 years ago, when a neighbor of hers told her he was starting an Internet analytics company. The Internet was still somewhat new, but one of that neighbor’s investors was Larry Van Tuyl, who was very data-driven and was trying to figure out how to measure his advertising ROI. He wanted the solution built for his own businesses.
The neighbor told Venneri that as soon as he could afford her, he was going to hire her away from the Mariners. She laughed. But he did offer her a job, she took it, and she and the neighbor took that company from several hundred thousand in revenue to $70 million.
From there, Venneri went to DealerTrack, a startup, where she did both PR and investor relations until van Tuyl himself called her and asked her to move back to Arizona to help out his ad agency.
Once again, she said yes.
Oh, I should tell you that somewhere in there she wrote a book called “Balls!” about entrepreneurs. “Balls!” is an acronym for brave, authentic, lovable, loud, spunky and the last character, the exclamation point, stands for Innovative.
Although Venneri was a partner in Van Tuyl’s agency and worked with all of his portfolio companies, one day a light bulb went off in her head that no one was automating social media for small businesses (yet), although she could see from van Tuyl’s own data that when his companies weren’t managing their social media profiles, their businesses would flag, even though they kept spending on Google Adwords. Sometimes that would be because there was a negative review up there on page 1 of the Google search.
So in 2008, when the social media revolution really took off, she raised some money and started Digital Air Strike, which she named because the company started out doing social media monitoring like air traffic controllers.
Digital Air Strike has evolved, however, from monitoring to management, including Facebook apps and email campaigns automotive specific responses and filters. Through a merger with a Silicon Valley company, Responsive Logic, DAS acquired its capability to build microsites tailored to specific leads.
Digital Air Strike is now an enterprise wide listening tool, plugged into the accounting system so it can send a proactive customer survey to every buyer. The company has also built the first B2B customizable mobile app for dealers and others, capable of sending alerts specific to the business to the owner. Positive results from the surveys can be posted to the dealers’ web site, and can’t be gamed like Yelp reviews because the identity of the respondent is connected to the accounting system.
I asked Venneri how she felt about spending all her time in rooms full of men. It doesn’t faze her; having been in both sports and automotive. Venneri isn’t uncomfortable with rooms full of men like the ones she found herself in when she was raising money: She treated that as a feature, not a bug. She says, “They would think I was an executive assistant, and then I would go out and make them money.”
Proud to have her in Arizona.
Francine Hardaway is a serial entrepreneur, brand strategist and CEO of Stealthmode Partners, an accelerator for entrepreneurs. Reach her at email@example.com.