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Gilt Groupe Chairman Susan Lyne Describes The Next Big Idea In Tech

Susan Lyne

First Posted: 07/08/2011 3:01 pm EDT Updated: 04/01/2013 6:07 pm EDT

Susan Lyne, the chairman of Gilt Groupe, started her career as many of Silicon Valley's brightest stars did: Like Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg, she dropped out of college.

After stints at George Washington University, University of California at Berkeley and a year at art school, Lyne quit college, took a job with a public interest ad agency and, she says, "never looked back."

Lyne's journey to the top of Gilt, a members-only website selling discounted luxury items to a cult-like following of devout fans, came by way of a career in media that spanned a slew of platforms and publications. She has transitioned from the world of print publishing -- she was managing editor at the Village Voice and founding editor of Premiere -- to broadcast television, where she spent nearly 10 years with ABC and served as the CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, to the web, joining Gilt Groupe as CEO in 2008.

Lyne characterizes this evolution as a matter of survival.

"People who are mid-career should make sure they understand both the applications and the implications of this new digital world -- there's no going back," she said. "I knew that if I didn't really understand the digital world, I'd be useless in five years."

In an exclusive interview for The Huffington Post's Women in Tech series, Lyne shared her take on the next big idea in tech, why going viral can be bad for companies and more.

What's the best career advice you've received?

I think the most valuable advice is to remember that your career is long and you're going to meet a lot of the same people over and over again. Someone sitting across the table from you could either be useful to you or be a barrier to you later on. Be careful about how you treat people along the way because relationships are the key to success in any area of business.

Where do you get your news?

I get three physical newspapers at home: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post. I also look at Flipboard, which becomes a way for me to filter a lot of news. I look at a lot of the tech blogs because I have to keep up. I check The Huffington Post everyday, but I don't check nytimes.com or wsj.com unless they come up in Flipboard.

How do you transform this news and information into knowledge and insights? Where do you draw inspiration for big ideas?

It's really when I force myself to spend time alone that I get ideas. Any time I talk to groups of young women or students, one of the things that I say to them is to make sure you carve out time at least every week, preferably every day, when you shut everything off. The temptation is to always to completely fill your day with work, seeing friends or being online, but without silence and some down time when you can process, I think it's really hard to have good ideas.

I am never without a notebook and I spend a fair amount of time at the start and end of the day looking through my notes and creating notes based on ideas I pull together, or conversations I've had. I need to be able to write something down in order to absorb it.

SOUND BYTES: Susan Lyne on ...

Her indispensable gadget: Her iPad

Her favorite app: Flipboard

Her favorite account to follow on Twitter: Tina Fey

Her "required reading" recommendation: Atul Gawande, "The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right"

What advice would you give to a woman starting a career in tech -- and would it be the same as the advice you'd give to a man?

Learn enough coding to be able to talk to engineers. I think it's really important particularly because the ratio of women to men in engineering is still so tiny and also because you need to be able to talk to engineers to get things done.

I think that it should be a requirement at colleges now that you have some basic coding before you leave. You need to be financially literate, and you need to be digitally literate. When you think about it, coding is the only international language: It allows you to be able to speak to people anywhere in the world. The beautiful thing about engineering languages is that they're understood by anyone.

Have you learned any coding?

No, but I do spend a lot of time with engineers soaking up what I can. It's really the most fun part of being at this company.

You've made a transition from print magazine publishing to leading an online-only shopping site. What advice do you have for people who are making a career transition from old media to new and perhaps struggling to understand the dynamics of the Web?

The first thing is you have to be willing to be a student again on some level. If you really think of it as a graduate course in an entirely new arena and an opportunity to really dig in and ask questions, it's fun. The best advice I have for someone who comes to the Internet from a different world is just to spend time on new platforms really playing with them. One of the challenges for people who have risen pretty far in old media is the idea of having to take a step backwards, and at the end of the day, that's fine.

Why aren't there more women in tech?

I think it's because engineering is not introduced to girls as a creative language. I think the way engineering is introduced to girls and how they perceive it could have profound impact on the number of women who get into engineering. It's important to introduce engineering early on and in a way that makes it clear it is creative.

Engineering was never explained to me as anything but a highly abstract world, but if I had been told at a young age what you could do as an engineer I would have been really interested in it. I love blueprints, I love anything that has to do with building something.

What's the next big idea in tech?

I think that the new generation of e-commerce is huge. E-commerce was the dog of the Internet for a long time -- there was not a lot of innovation, and there were set rules about how you laid out a site and what you had to be good at. I think the new generation of e-commerce is about taking commerce out of the world of tasks and into the world of entertainment: It's fun as well as being something that you need to do. The new generation of e-commerce that sites like Gilt, Groupon and LivingSocial are a part of are about merging commerce with entertainment and gaming.

What trend in tech do you find most concerning?

What I find most concerning is how easy it is to explode a business on the Internet. While there are lots of great things about the virality of the Internet, there are also a lot of negatives. Because of how powerful viral forces can be, a business or a team can often be pushed to a level of execution they're not ready for.

You also see it personally: There are people who make mistake and will never live it down because the pictures are there and the emails are there forever and they're passed along person to person to person.

Women in Tech, a series from HuffPostTech, will showcase profiles of innovative female pioneers, from CEOs and scientists to entrepreneurs and engineers, who are changing the way we think about and engage with technology.

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