THE BLOG

Women in Business Q&A: Michelle Forsythe, Co-Founder & CEO, NoteStream

02/28/2015 09:27 am ET | Updated Apr 30, 2015

Michelle Forsythe is the Co-Founder and the Chief Executive Officer of NoteStream. A life-long, self-driven learner, she has achieved success through the underrated power of asking "Why not?" Her early years found her working in the family restaurant in such glamorous jobs as food prep and bus girl, giving rise to a respect for team building, diligence and hard work. Since then Mrs. Forsythe has excelled in various roles in a wide range of fields, from mortgage banking to fashion design, and also takes pride in volunteering with different non-profit organizations.
NoteStream was co-founded with her husband, Richard, and was born of frustration with the options to learn about French wine: classes are inconvenient with restrictive time commitments, and books can have a habit of wandering off. The rise of the smart phone presented the opportunity to be able to fit something valuable into the bits of "dead time" scattered throughout the hectic modern mobile life.


Born in Los Angeles, California, she grew up in California and Montana.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I was 13-years-old, I lived in a small town in Northern California where I developed a strong sense of community and responsibility. Between seventh and eighth grade, I wrote a Christmas play and not only convinced the school administration to let me direct it using the student body as actors and singers, but also a local-area antique store to loan furniture for the set. Throughout the process, no one mentioned that directing and producing was a lot for a 13-year-old to take on, but the possibility of failure didn't occur to me. The play was a success, and in retrospect I learned that expectations are often limitations. It is easy to be afraid of all the ways one can fail, but I've never been one to take the easy route.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at NoteStream?
Many years ago, I had a custom bridal design business. Working with brides and their mothers during such a special time taught me to listen, closely and carefully. This experience brought home the fact that in order for me to be successful, it was critical to help those brides and their mothers realize their dream wedding. My role was to make those dreams reality. Now, at NoteStream I take care to ensure that everyone I work with is successful in his or her vision.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at NoteStream?
Technology! Programming and development were not a part of my skill set. I found myself having to ask a lot of questions about what could be done. Along the way, we all discovered that sometimes an outside perspective can galvanize a situation. That said, there were times when my suggestions were the cause of hilarity, and the humor helped to keep things in perspective. Being able to laugh at myself has been instrumental in overcoming various obstacles and challenges.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
You must be passionate about what you start. New ventures often face resistance to change, so without passion for your project, you will cheat yourself and your company. Secondly, visualize yourself being successful at each stage. You must be able to see the details! Everything from planning your first product, raising funds, closing your first (and your 100th) deal. Then, envision your future self and notice how much more comfortable you are having achieved your goals. Finally, write out the details of each step, but be prepared to change everything as data and feedback come in.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
There are a couple that stand out. First, saying "because that's the way it is done" is really nothing more than a lazy answer. Also, technology continues to evolve rapidly, so if you get too comfortable, it probably means you are missing something. The upside of being continuously busy and always striving for more? Boredom is never an issue!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Being married to your co-founder is a huge plus. We shared various life experiences and challenges well before we ever even thought about starting a company. So even though we have very different approaches to projects, we knew we could work together. We have had to set times when we do not talk about NoteStream. We start winding down the day while cooking dinner, and by the time we sit down to the table, all business is supposed to be "off the table." We'll discuss the books we're reading, adventures we've shared and the places we want to travel. Some weeks we can also discuss the San Diego Chargers. We don't always succeed in avoiding NoteStream, but we do try.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Simply put, outside perception is still biased towards men. Most people assumed Richard would be the CEO of any business we started. Only gradually do people accept a challenge to their way of thinking, and while it is unfair, there is no benefit in getting angry. Focusing on the imbalance only wastes time and energy. Instead, it is more productive to be aware of the potential misconceptions and tackle them on your own terms. Be a leader and "help" people see you the way you want to be seen.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My professional trajectory has been very non-traditional, and therefore, I've never had a real mentor for my career. That said, my father instilled in me the tenacity to always do what is right, as opposed to what is popular. That lesson is something I've carried with me throughout my professional career. In my personal life, many people have had an impact. One of my out-of-town bridal clients showed up for the final fitting on her wedding gown with a happy "surprise": she was five months pregnant! I had 48 hours to completely rebuild the dress of her dreams. One thing that I learned from that is the ability to meet adversity with respect and grace is a very underrated skill.

What other female leaders do you admire and why?
Wow, so many to choose from! Sandra Day O'Connor, not only for her historic role as the first female Supreme Court Justice, but also for her independent rulings on crucial issues. Also, the phenomenal Julia Child. Here was a woman who couldn't cook and moved to a country where she didn't speak the language, but was eventually admitted to Le Cordon Bleu. Not only did Julia Child break through the male dominated culinary world, she went on to teach us everything we needed to know about "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (with such joy, delight and generous pats of butter).

What do you want NoteStream to accomplish in the next year?
Right now, we are focused on bringing new and compelling content to NoteStream while building readership. Over the next year, the NoteStream platform will continue to grow and expand, with an increased focus on the development of a modern social community. Life today has become so hectic it is hard to find the necessary time in the day to nourish our minds. I want NoteStream to become a reliable source of satisfaction and accomplishment for our readers, especially on days when everything else seems to go wrong.