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Women in Business Q&A: JoAnn Ippolito, CEO & Co-Founder of Momentage

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As Momentage's Co-Founder, JoAnn is responsible for Momentage's day-to-day operations, as well as leading the company's product development and technology strategy. She co-founded Momentage with George Castineiras in 2012 while running their other company, ArtStamps; an innovative company which was the first to offer create your own real U.S. postage for school fundraising.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've always been naturally curious about how things work. My father encouraged me to question everything and to actively distinguish between fact and opinion.

My ethnic background is half Maltese, half Italian. My temperament reflects this - I'm a survivor that appreciates both tradition and forward progress. My tenacity comes from being the third girl out of four sisters. You need to fight to be heard. These are all great attributes that are incredibly useful for entrepreneurs.

My life experiences have also taught me the value of 'constructive skepticism'. As a leader, I need this mindset to evaluate my options and stay aware of the drawbacks, as well as the opportunities presented by deals, people and partners.

My parallel role as mother of twins has made me a multi-tasker. I am available instantly, and I juggle tasks constantly.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Momentage?
My experience is something of a Goldilocks story. Prior to college, I worked for many years in restaurants. Right after college I worked for the government, and then I spent many years in corporate America prior to working in the startup world. Each one of these experiences gave me a peculiar mix of skills that I incorporate into how I run Momentage.

Serving food taught me to be tolerant of people with odd habits and poor manners. Government jobs taught me patience. Corporate positions gave me a broad skill set and an appreciation for thinking big.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Whenever I hear the term "Work/Life Balance" I automatically feel like I don't do enough. It also seems to be directed disproportionately to women with children. I refer to it as personal/professional priorities. I feel this is more open-ended and realistically achievable. Knowing your priorities makes it easier to address them.

There are times when my family is my 100% priority. At other times my emphasis is Momentage. Sometimes, I can combine these two since Momentage is about capturing moments, and taking family photos and videos of our experiences is something our family enjoys. Occasionally, my priority is having some downtime for me, or quality time with my husband.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Momentage?
In a short amount of time, there have been so many highlights and challenges that I could write several books. Highlights include seeing the app in beta and watching the community growing by the day.

I cherish those times when someone raves about the app. It doesn't matter whether it's a user or a media person.

As for challenges, I am not a technologist but love and appreciate the technology behind the app. Finding the right talent and having the faith and trust in a technologist has been the biggest hurdle. We finally found an amazing technologist who is building our development team the way I envisioned it. There are always hurdles to overcome, but having the right team in place helps me overcome them..

What advice can you offer women looking to start their own business?
Do it! There's never been a better time for entrepreneurs.

Before you do anything, write down what you plan to achieve from the venture. If it is purely for financial gain or to be famous, I would reevaluate. I would only start a business if it meets a personal need or aligns with a passion within you. You are going to put your heart and soul in it, so it is important to have the right motivations.

You should also check the support system around you of advisors, friends and family. If it is not strong or sound, I would first work on making this stronger, and really ensure you are surrounded by great people who will give direct and honest feedback and advice.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I'm frustrated when women are judged by marital status first. If you are single, many people take your kindness as something more. If you are married with no children, people are convinced that you will be getting pregnant soon and interrupting your commitment to your company. If you have children, people feel that you cannot successfully balance the personal and professional priorities, and that your family life outweighs your work commitment. They think you will leave early and need to take off every holiday. It is extremely challenging, and women feel they have to continuously overcompensate to disprove these preconceptions.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Sheryl's book is a home run. Even though Sheryl's story is quite different from mine, her descriptions of how she felt along the way, even now at times, hits every chord within me. When I first read her book, it struck me just how clearly she articulated how I feel inside. It really resonated with me.

As I kept reading, I was awakened by how many women lack confidence, no matter how successful they are. My only regret is that the Lean In Movement did not come out sooner, but I am excited for the possibilities it offers my daughter.

I love how Sheryl describes that it is not set out to be a self-help book, a motivational book, an autobiography, etc. It is great because she is relating more than her story in everything she shares.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentoring is something that needs to be a constant part of your professional and personal growth. Mentoring helps build self-awareness. It's also important to have someone help you be the best you can be.

I love mentoring young girls because they have so many resources at their fingertips to help them succeed. Of course, it also helps when they think I am cool and interesting for building such a trendy app.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Maya Angelou. Her story and tenacity in facing such huge challenges in her life is truly inspiring. She has helped pave the way for other women, and her books inspire others to have the courage to stand and make a change in their own life. Maya relates to everyone and has fought for all of us in so many ways.

What are your hopes for the future of Momentage?
My hope is for Momentage to go down in history as the company responsible for changing the traditional expectations of an app. Just as people attribute YouTube with being the ground breaking video web channel, I am looking for Momentage to have a similar impact. It is just a brilliant, elegant, multi-dimensional way to share your moments in a single post.