THE BLOG
05/05/2015 04:46 am ET Updated May 04, 2016

Women in Business: Amanda North, Founder and CEO, Artisan Connect

Amanda is founder and CEO of Artisan Connect, providing market access for high quality home décor products from artisans in developing countries to help them thrive. She conceived of Artisan Connect while she was recovering from injuries sustained in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Previously, Amanda was VP Marketing and Communications at AOptix, a leader in wireless communications infrastructure. As VP Corporate Communications at Splunk, Amanda helped prepare the company for its successful IPO in 2012. Before that, Amanda served as Global Head of Energy and Environment for Porter Novelli. As VP Corporate Marketing, Amanda prepared Calico Commerce for its public offering in 1999. In addition, Amanda led two highly regarded branding and web design agencies, as President of Studio Archetype (acquired by Sapient) and Managing Director of Sequence. Early in her career Amanda ran the Desktop Publishing Group at Apple.

Amanda holds a BA in politics and economics from Princeton University and an MBA from Stanford University. She conducted graduate studies in economics at Trinity College, Cambridge under a Rotary Club scholarship.

Amanda is a private pilot. She serves as a mentor and has been entrepreneur in residence at Santa Clara University's Global Social Benefits Institute. She is on the steering committee of the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise. Amanda is a trustee of Business Today Magazine (Princeton University) and sits on the board of Sustainable Travel International.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Moving from the East Coast where I was raised to the SF Bay Area to go to business school at Stanford opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship. I saw that people could shape their lives and build businesses however they wanted in an environment that embraces risk and collaboration. I realized I'd always been an entrepreneur in my soul.

Being a single mom since my kids were babies (now graduating from college) and balancing executive positions in tech companies all along taught me how to prioritize, be scrappy and flexible. I think resiliency is one of the characteristics I'm best known for.

Raised in a family of travelers, I've always been surrounded by artifacts from afar. They have provided touchstones to me during my years in tech of places and ways of being much different from ours in Silicon Valley. Traveling with friends and my kids all over the developing world has highlighted to me the plight of artisans who are disappearing--this provided the impetus for my founding Artisan Connect.

Being injured in the Boston Marathon bombing, and surrounded by carnage, was the "knock on the side of the head" I needed to veer off my 30 years in tech to pursue my passions and sense of purpose which resulted in Artisan Connect.

My investors have told me that they look for founders who have a strong purpose in founding a company. It must go beyond merely financial motivations, because starting a company is so difficult you would give up unless you have powerful motivations.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Artisan Connect?
Working at Apple in the early days, leading the Desktop Publishing team, taught me invaluable lessons in brand building, the power of enlisting brand evangelists, and strategic partnering to create an ecosystem much bigger than the sum of the parts. It also taught me the power of harnessing intelligent, passionate and wildly creative young people to do things that have never been done before.

At Apple, I also learned that businesses can be an incredible force for good, while thriving financially. That paved the way for my founding Artisan Connect as a B Corp--a for profit social impact company.

My roles leading marketing at a range of tech companies, and helping two of them go public, has shown me it is possible to start and scale a young company.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Artisan Connect?
A start-up is like childbirth that no one can tell you how grueling it is BUT no one can tell you the immense satisfaction either--which is why we keep doing it.

The highlights absolutely are meeting with our artisan partners across the globe and seeing how our work positively impacts their lives and witnessing how consumers enthusiastically embrace the quality and social impact of the products we provide.

I love how slews of young people approach me about leaving their well-paying conventional jobs because they want to join me in making a social impact. Our team is made up of these impassioned, brilliant and fearless young folks--much as I remember we were "back in the day" at Apple.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Your strongest allies are people you've known throughout your career, even going back to school. Two of my key investors are a business school classmate and a venture capitalist who has been a board member of six of the companies where I've served. Over time, you become known for your performance, integrity, and courage. These are the most important traits to preserve, no matter what.

Make sure you are in a position to give your young company pretty much undivided attention.

Women bring distinctive competencies necessary in small companies, especially multi-taking, collaboration, communication and resourcefulness.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Throughout my career I've worked full time but loved being a mom. My kids know that they always have been "Job #1". My strongest advocates in starting Artisan Connect have been my kids. I say to my daughter (now a senior in college) "you are my muse." And she says, "No, you are MY muse."

Don't kid yourself, there really isn't "balance" in the early days of starting a company. But I try to maintain some semblance of sanity through hiking in our gorgeous Bay Area with friends. And I surround myself on the work front with colleagues, partners, advisors and investors who inspire me.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Balance is perhaps the biggest issue. We are entrusted with so many responsibilities, how can we do all well? I think the answer is that you can have it all, but just not all at once. Over the past 20 years, I certainly made decisions NOT to take the most high-powered positions which would have required me to work endless hours or travel extensively because I wanted and needed to be a good parent. Now that my kids are happy and healthy young adults I feel comfortable I made the right decisions on the work front. Now I can turn my attention back to doing what I really want to do for myself.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My primary mentor throughout my career is now one of my investors. I have known him for over 30 years as he has become a well-respected and very successful venture capitalist. He's always guided me to take my family into consideration with my job choices. I've taken his wisdom to heart and it has been invaluable.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I deeply respect my dear friend Ann Livermore. We were business school roommates and she went to work at HP upon gradation. I've watched her successes there with great admiration (ultimately becoming President of the Enterprise Division, now a board member at HP, UPS and the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital). Ann continues to be a fabulous mom, wife and friend as well as voted multiple times as one of the most powerful women in the world. Her grace, intelligence, humor, resiliency and quiet strength is my definition of success.

What do you want Artisan Connect to accomplish in the next year?
I want us to continue to scale so we may make a significant impact on the lives of artisans around the world by increasing the community of consumers who value their work and their way of life.

Over time, I want us to become the poster child for companies that do great social good while providing significant returns to our investors and a great workplace for our employees--truly a Business for Good so that all may thrive.