Di-Ann Eisnor is head of global partnerships for Waze. Working across governments, international media and local community groups, Di-Ann has spearheaded the company's global Connected Citizens program to make affordable mobility a reality. Prior to joining Waze, Di-Ann was Co-Founder and CEO of Platial, The People's Atlas, a collaborative, user generated, cartographic website which enabled people to map the things that are important to them. She holds a BS in Studio Art and Business Administration from New York University and is a member of the 2014 Class of Henry Crown Fellows at the Aspen Institute.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I believe there are two kinds of entrepreneurs; The first are born into a network, bred to build companies, raised up through Business School and seek a great idea to grow. They have access to resources and a good knowledge of how to build a business. The second have no choice because they see a problem they have to solve- they may not know how, but have to figure it out and obsess about the solution until they crack it. I am the second group; from time to time I'm struck by an idea so inspiring and powerful to me that I have no choice but to drop everything and focus on that problem and that solution, through successes and failures. It's a critical time for new leaders and entrepreneurs in that second group. Across the globe, resource gaps are growing, traditional jobs are harder to find and innovation is necessary for basic income as well as innovation for local economies. I personally grew up with very few resources, eager to see more than what I was offered locally which felt a bit insular and pessimistic. I knew there had to be more, so I have never stopped exploring, building and problem-solving. That has led me to opportunities I couldn't have even dreamt about had I never left.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Waze?
So many highlights that it's difficult to whittle them down! The biggest highlight for me remains flying to Israel for the first time, meeting the team and realizing I had to be a part of their mission. I left that week and resigned as CEO of my own company to start the global expansion of Waze after knowing the team for just four days. Then, there's Carmageddon - LA shut down the 405 expressway in 2012 and it was an opportunity to become a local household name by providing our traffic data to broadcasters. This eventually was viewed internally as the beta of a largely successful program we're still growing today which works with 73 broadcasters worldwide.
As for challenges, every entrepreneur knows the plague of exhaustion without any relief in sight. Five minute meals of M&Ms, forgoing sleep and the gym do not create the healthiest people but its how we lived for years. What's scary is the worry that you don't have any more energy reserves to rally and push it to the next level. But of course, you always do.
Another challenge for us was analyzing both our business and competitors'. We were worried about the incumbents entering the mobile maps space, particularly the pending launch of Apple Maps for iOS. It made it harder for us to raise money and made the market less bullish on our ability to grow. Ultimately, that first launch of Apple Maps did not meet user expectations and Tim Cook apologized publicly and recommended people use Waze instead! It was a valuable reminder that your biggest threat is distraction on your own team.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in technology?
I think this is applicable in any field. Do great work and the rest follows. Most roles in tech are defined by output and your contribution to the team can be clearly measured - work hard and make it easy for your colleagues to quantify the good work you do. I wouldn't focus on being a "Woman in Technology" per se but figure out what assets you bring to the table and focus on them. Sometimes I wonder if I get specific opportunities because I'm a woman (such as high-profile keynote talks) but then I'm reminded that everyone is invited because of the unique perspective they bring to conversation.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Focus. Waze is a diverse product used by anyone who drives; the opportunities for new features are endless. But if you want to grow without alienating your user base, it is more important to say no and do a few things excellently. Focus, priorities and execution make all the difference. Ideas are a start but how well you execute is what drives success.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have amazing kids going through adolescence - it's absolutely critical that we are emotionally connected and know what each other is doing. We're all busy and we need to make sure we fiercely protect our family time. For us it's meals, do-nothing days and travel. Every night, we have family dinner and sometimes I go back to work after everyone's tucked in. That is sacred time. I've also learned that balance comes in chunks. That might mean you travel for a few months and are exhausted and then get three weeks of really solid time at home...I still haven't found an everyday balance. I run to alleviate stress. And I always take vacations. And when possible I take at least one of the kids with me on business trips to share the adventures.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
To be sure, there is a diversity issue in the Valley and plenty of horror stories to prove it. However, I have to say I haven't experienced issues related to my gender at work. It has been harder for me not being an engineer than not being a man, because the companies I'm drawn to bow at the altar of technology (I'm one them bowing).
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been huge for me. I've sought phenomenal mentors who have shaped my thinking and helped me find new ways to look at a problem. In college, it was the artist Kiki Smith who taught me perspective drawing atop the World Trade Center and figure drawing in a morgue. Ways of seeing, I never could've imagined before her. In high school, Mr Lincoln introducing me to Langston Hughes and the notion of propaganda made a huge impact on my thinking that still exists today. And at Waze, one of my advisors, Josh Silverman, helped me form my ideas on building a sales team (which I had never done) and even now nominated me for a transformative leadership program called the Henry Crown fellowship which has had a profound impact on my thoughts on leadership and giving back. So many talented people want to share their experiences. It's opened my perspective to learn very specific things quickly.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Many women I admire are right inside of Waze! Our head of Product, Yael Elish, is an incredible visionary who is controversial, provocative and intense. Women run many critical functions, including Community, Marketing, PR, Biz Dev, Localization and Paid Advertising. We are about 35% female. I'm inspired by the variety of perspectives and their ability to get things done. Outside of Waze, I'd have to say Margaret Thatcher: I may not agree with her politically but she is a master leader-- Not afraid to create tension when she needed to, and worked hard and fast to find solutions to problems when identified no matter how unpopular. On the scientific side, Marie Curie's relentless pursuit of her work against all odds from birth through death is a reminder of how much farther we can push ourselves. But the woman I am spending energy really trying to support right now is Malala. Her story sheds light on the great difficult for girls around the world to access education. I recently had the chance to discuss her work and her foundation with her over dinner and that night after leaving, I decided I wanted to help her in any way she needed. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, she immediately went back to school and studied for exams like every other girl. Her deep appreciation for education and her commitment the long hard fight for it is a true inspiration for being what you want to see in the world.
What do you want Waze to accomplish in the next year?
So many things. This is a year of firsts, I am investing for the first time, I am launching my first non-profit around narrowing the resource gap in the poorest neighborhoods in the US through entrepreneurship, mentoring and funding.
On the Waze front, there is so much starting with what I hope will be measuring the real impact of Waze in congestion reduction and urban mobility. On Oct 1 this year we launched the Connected Citizens program with 10 partners including Jakarta, Rio, NYC, LA, Boston and several DOTs. Its a data exchange program that shares the incidents public in our app with their traffic management centers and helps to identify more efficient routing strategies and even dispatch for emergency vehicles. In exchange we are getting critical data on incidents and closures from our partners so Waze is the most up-to-date source on anything road related. Already we've grown to 17 partners and are onboarding many more. We have several very new ideas for 2015 that we think will drive growth and also make sure Waze is always the best resource for drivers.