THE BLOG

Women in Business: Portia Kersten, CFO, Skout

04/29/2015 04:56 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015
  • Laura Dunn Social Media and Communications Professional, Founder and Editor of Political Style, Director of LED Media, Journalist and Author

Portia Kersten is the Chief Financial Officer of Skout, the largest global platform for meeting new people. For more than a decade, she has worked with early stage and high growth companies in a range of industries to raise capital, maximize growth potential, operationalize for scale and achieve successful exists. She holds an MBA from Columbia University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up poor, but with a big imagination fueled by lots of books (we didn't have a TV). This enabled me to aspire to greater things, and indeed, most of my childhood role models were people who had fought the odds or outwitted the powers that be. Charles Dickens and his characters, especially those who made things happen in the world, were my favorites. Even my namesake, Portia, from Shakespeare's 'the Merchant of Venice' was a good role model!

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Skout?
I have worked at both big and small companies. I learned best practices at companies like GE and brought those to my roles at smaller, high growth companies. As a serial start-up CFO, I find that each new company has unique challenges, but it's uncanny how familiar patterns start to emerge. Patter recognition is key to bringing my best game to Skout.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I don't - getting it all done may seem like magic, but it's really about placing one foot in front of the other. I only do high priority things.This includes the personal, not just professional. And, as my husband will tell you (while rolling his eyes) my most favorite refrain is: "efficiency in all things."

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Skout?
Easily the greatest highlight is the smart and talented staff of Skout. In addition, the huge privilege of work with Andreessen Horowitz. Everyone at the firm works to support young companies to be 'Built to Last'. They have been an incredible partner, they should be very proud of the team and culture they have built. The challenges? Well, as anyone who has built a consumer product will tell you, the process of finding and maintaining product/market fit is not for the faint of heart.

What advice can you offer women seeking to become a CFO at a fast-paced startup?
Embrace versatility. Remember that you are a business person first and a finance person second. On the road to getting to a C-level job, patience is a must. Always question the status quo and don't let others define you. Find the people in the room who don't dismiss you, they are way more interesting to have as friends and colleagues. Everyone else comes in a distant second.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Confidence. The recipe for confidence is logic, politeness, repeat. Oh, and don't be afraid to put your feet up on the conference room table. It's very comfortable.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It gave me the strength to push through difficult challenges. Robin Wolaner (founder of Parenting Magazine and author of 'Naked in the Board Room') was my mentor and role model. On the other side of the coin, I really enjoy mentoring younger women at the start of their careers.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Margaret Thatcher was the very definition of a leader. Whatever you thought of her politics, she was the daughter of a nobody who took a country in dire need to a better place. Margaret had a vision, conviction in her own ideas and rallied those around her to affect change and achieve success. Her story is a pretty pure example of leadership.

What are your hopes for the future of Skout?
To continue to bring people together, locally or around the world to have a positive experience. I am enormously proud of the Skout community -- the support and commitment is exciting to be around. We recently received wonderful feedback from our Skout Philippines community, who came together to support a local member in a medical emergency. It is examples like these that make my job fulfilling.