Women in Business: Tara Kelly, Founder, President & CEO, SPLICE Software

04/28/2015 05:22 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

Founder, President & CEO of SPLICE Software, Tara Kelly, has a passion for enabling clients to engage in a meaningful, Data Driven DialogTM with their customers. As a serial entrepreneur who has developed three companies, Tara's expertise is multi-dimensional but focused on creating businesses that use technology to enhance operations, service and the customer experience.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I learned early on that taking the road less traveled can be rewarding. My father was an entrepreneur who struggled to build a business. After a lot of hard work, he succeeded - building a company that was eventually sold to IBM. From his example, I learned that it is okay to take a chance. Both of my parents told me the world doesn't owe you anything, that we are here to contribute and that, if you work hard, you can make a difference - but it won't always be easy. These were valuable lessons to learn, and they were important in shaping my development as a leader.

As a teenager I was involved in Girl Guides of Canada, which was a great early leadership experience. From my family's example and my experience volunteering for organizations like Girl Guides, the Multiples Society, Hockey Canada, Montessori Alternative School Society, Calgary Soccer Association, Alberta ICT Council, and Canadian Cloud Council, I've learned the value of giving back to the community. I have further built upon those experiences volunteering as a mentor to my fellow entrepreneurs and serving as a host to underprivileged children at executives - an event which grows their knowledge, interest and love of the business world. These were experiences and lessons that I have carried over into my business leadership experience.
My personal dedication to giving back has translated over to SPLICE's company's culture. Giving back is deeply engrained in our team dynamic at SPLICE. We regularly volunteer at local not-for-profit organizations, donating our time and skills to organizations such as The Mustard Seed and GROW Calgary. Just last summer, the SPLICE team helped GROW Calgary reach their goal of growing 100,000 pounds of produce to ensure that low-income families had access to fresh and locally sourced food.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at SPLICE?
The knowledge I gained about markets and technology through my early career experience helped me learn to shape value propositions and spot new opportunities. When I was 21, I founded the Kelly Center of Wellness, which included a retail health food store and professional alternative health services. I needed a reminder system and set out to develop software to personalize customer phone calls for my clients. The internal system I built evolved into my next venture, Simply Health Systems, which then licensed the software to small businesses.

In 2006, I had a bad experience as a customer during a phone interaction with a company, despite that company having tons of data about me. This was a failure to use that data properly. Although cloud computing allowed real-time interactions, my customer experience was terrible - and I knew it could be better given the data and technology available. I set out to prove it, applying the technology to a different service model. This became SPLICE Software, my third company. SPLICE's competitive advantage lies in its ability to change the way people feel. We use our patent-pending technology to linguistically optimize each customer experience with accurate data, tone, language and dialect - just to name a few factors. This process ensures that our voice files create higher levels of an emotional connection and deliver superior results.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SPLICE?
At SPLICE, our motto is "It Can Be Better," and we're committed to improving voice experiences and customer communication. We help financial, retail and insurance companies create and deliver highly engaging, data-driven, proactive customer communications in the most timely, agile and cost effective way - using the power of the human voice to connect with customers. Witnessing our how our clients improve their customers' lives and hearing their success stories has been a true highlight. SPLICE has made it a primary goal to celebrate each customer success story, showing how levels of customer engagement have increased and churn rates have decreased for our clients. One of our most recent success stories was Baer's Furniture. This year, Baer's received bronze in the 2014 Retail Touchpoints Customer Experience Award for their use of the SPLICE Opt-In Program.

Entering the industry as a small company, SPLICE's biggest business obstacle was gaining credibility within target verticals. The SPLICE team strategized to target large companies that were household names and had a strong market share. One of the most important things we learned was that these large companies tend to be risk-averse. Large enterprises need data so they can make decisions with confidence. Thus, one of the first things SPLICE did was offer a proof of concept, or pilot, that took over a single 1-800 number for a single outbound notification.
Once companies were able to see how clients responded - for example, going to corporate websites to update personal information in response to the outbound message's request - they became more willing to buy our services on a larger scale. Once the companies were on board, SPLICE received referrals and translated the results into case studies. This enabled SPLICE to build our reputation and gain the trust of other companies within those industries. This strategy has proven effective in expanding the SPLICE brand into our target verticals.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Follow your heart, use your head and go with your gut, ... and accept help.

There are many programs available to support women in the technology and business world; the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology (WinSETT), for example. WinSETT is a non-profit committed to advancing women in science, engineering, trades and technology, by providing a venue in which to network and learn from each other's experiences. I would strongly encourage women entrepreneurs to take advantage of these programs and the network of support that is available.

I think being a woman has helped me build SPLICE to what it is now; and as a woman, I champion success stories and serve as a mentor in the technology space. Women have traditionally excelled in communication skills, which are incredibly important in business. SPLICE is all about communication - combining the human voice with technology to improve the connection between customers and companies.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
As a serial entrepreneur with three successful companies under my belt, unless you count my smelly felt business, then I would say 4. I have learned the power of a team and the true meaning of synergy. As a leader the importance of motivating and inspiring people within my company and community is critical. One thing my mother told me when I was a child that has stuck with me ever since is that, while people might forget what you say or do, they'll never forget how you make them feel. I've applied that principle as a leader throughout my career and, in fact, SPLICE is built on that principle: We help companies improve their emotional connection with their customers.
I've learned to give people room to be awesome, and to ensure that they understand how their job contributes to the mission and goals of the organization. I am so lucky to have the team of staff and partners I do today, and I want to know every day that I have done everything I can to give us every possible chance to succeed at the highest level.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think flexibility is a game-changer in business and in life. My philosophy is that if you're clear on your values, it's easier to make decisions. When I started travelling a lot for business, I gave my kids a ranking system that I've always used at work: On a scale of one to 10, how important is this? How strongly do you feel? One day my son called when I was on a business trip and said, "Mom, this is a 10." He was playing a hockey game for city championships for a peewee league, his team was a long shot and when I booked my trip it didn't look like they would make city finals at all, but they had. I had to spend over $1,000 to get home, go to the game and fly back on a redeye, but I did it because my son said it was a 10. My staff were psyched that I did it and worked hard to cover my meetings because they saw me as a human being who was willing to walk away from things and reprioritize. Life is about those decisions and balance is for yoga.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women obviously still face many barriers in the workplace, but we're doing brilliant work, and we're changing the world. We can overcome our challenges if we play every card in our deck and stop focusing on the obstacles we face, and concentrate instead on the possibilities. We need to support each other and work hard to address injustices but, as a woman, I refuse to play with a handicap.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship is a powerful vehicle to maximize potential, and I've benefited from it professionally and personally. In 2013, I had the opportunity to participate in TechWomen Canada in Silicon Valley. The program focused on providing Canadian women leaders in the ICT sector with the opportunity to expand business and professional networks to Silicon Valley. For three days, I connected with tech leaders and potential corporate partners through one-to-one meetings, workshops, panels and networking events. I had the chance to work directly with industry experts and receive advice and guidance to enhance my business plans, technology strategies and overall company growth.

Participating in TechWomen Canada helped grow my cross-referral network and enabled me to connect with global brands, including Adobe, Twitter and LinkedIn. These successes can also be attributed to the mentorship program from the C100, a non-profit, member-driven organization supporting Canadian entrepreneurship.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, who was at one time the youngest self-made female billionaire. She reinvented a category - foundation garments - an old-fashioned idea that had lost market share. Using her own idea, she completely revitalized an industry, and took it to a new level.

I also admire Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, who champions communication and serves as an exceptional model for achieving the work/life balance. I got to meet her once at an event, and she expressed the same idea my mother once told me - which is that while people might forget what you say or do, they never forget how you make them feel. I called my mom and told her about that after the event, and she was thrilled to find out that she shared a philosophy with such an accomplished business leader. My mother was a stay-at-home mom when I was growing up and I think she often felt devalued because of that; but she did a lot of things right, and I told her that.

What do you want SPLICE to accomplish in the next year?
We want continue to challenge the world to expect more from automated voice experiences and to look to brands to provide a connected customer journey.

We're focused on finding resell partners closer to home in North America and Europe. We're looking at ways to integrate our technology with more call centers and expand relationships with existing customers. We're expanding our U.S. team and looking for additional well positioned expansion opportunities and partners.