Tereza Nemessanyi is the Founder and CEO of Honestly Now, a Q&A platform that enables people to get to the bottom of life's thorniest dilemmas to make excellent personal decisions. As a seasoned media and technology entrepreneur with core expertise in communications and social networking, Tereza has worked with PwC, IBM, The Walt Disney Company and Interpublic Group at senior levels. She was named one of Forbes’ “Top Ten Female Entrepreneurs to Watch” in 2011, and gained wide acclaim with her Reuters Op Ed proposing an "XX Combinator," to overcome the barriers that keep women out of venture-grade tech entrepreneurship. Tereza has an MBA and MA from The Wharton School and the Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies. She lives in New York with her husband and two young daughters.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I knew since middle school that I wanted to work at the intersection of media and business. I studied communications in college and started as a journalist in Prague, when Eastern Europe was in the midst of transformation, but quickly moved into TV startups. That was the early 90’s and we launched the first commercial TV network in post-Communist Europe. It was an incredible way to start a career and cemented my interest in startups. Fast forward to 20 years later–I’d gotten an MBA, worked with and for dozens of F500 companies on senior initiatives, had my first child and lost both my parents. Realizing that life is short, I decided that it was time to get back to my passion. I launched HonestlyNow.com, which brings together everything I care about: helping real people with real problems through honest talk.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: As hard as it seems up-front, I would try to craft a business that generates revenue from Day 1. This will help you keep control of your business and ultimately your vision. It’s really hard, but it’s work that will pay dividends down the road. Second, know who your core customer is and nurture them. They are helping you co-develop your product. Also develop a passionate inner-circle who’ll spread the word.
Q: How much time do you spend on networking versus focusing on the internal affairs of your business (such as management, strategy, ideation etc)?
A: I’m probably at 50/50. I’m a sales-driven CEO; so to me, the more time I can spend getting out there, the better. That said it’s so critical to stay close to the team. Truly, there aren’t enough hours in the day!
ON Career Transitions
Q: Many people become discontent with their current career yet are too afraid or reluctant to make a change. What’s your best advice for women in this situation?
A: Two pivotal points in my life pushed me onto this path. One was losing my parents rather suddenly and realizing how short life is. The second was a book I read by Dan Zadra called “Five,” which guides you through creating your own 5-year plan. It’s one thing to hate where you are and ignore it. But if you’re dissatisfied and then imagine yourself still there in 5 years–ACK!–That’s a serious motivator. And yes, we all know how five years can go by in a flash. That was when I decided, heck yeah–why don’t I do this start-a-business thing. I started the next day.
Q: What do you feel separates your brand from your competitors?
A: Among the Q&A tech platforms, we are the only company with:
- Women Female DNA at the core
- Optimal designs for the questions people care about most and that are unaddressed elsewhere–the personal question of “what should I do?”
- Great experts, helping them find their audiences by teasing key messages and amplifying them
Q: If you had the opportunity to give advice to your younger self at say the age 13, what would you say?
A: Dear 13-year-old Tereza,
I love you, but stop letting worry over what other people think keep you from getting your voice out there. Say what you mean and say it early and often. People want to hear it. By all means darling, spend a bit less time trying to please others. When you let your creativity fly, great things happen. So let them. Never be ashamed of putting yourself out there. You’re awesome.
Love, 41-year-old Tereza
I structured this on purpose, using a trick I learned in the back of my mom’s car listening to Mary Kay sales tapes. The wise Pink Lady herself used to say—handle criticism carefully, in a sandwich of praise. Pay a compliment, then give the criticism, and then pay a new compliment. They never taught us this at Wharton, but it is probably the best piece of business advice I ever got.
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: Right after I had my first child and lost my parents, it was clear that I needed to re-enter the workforce. I started doing consulting, which was fine, but not where my passion was. I really wanted to enter the startup world and found that although I had a great network, it was the wrong network for what I wanted to do. I created a game for myself in order to meet a whole new set of people: my 100/1000 plan. It was to attend 100 events and leave 1000 online comments. I figured that once I did that everyone would know me. And it worked! I created a whole new world of friends and support and an ecosystem for my new career. It’s perhaps the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. By the end of it, I had a funded startup and was one of Forbes’ “Ten Female Entrepreneurs to Watch.”
ON Taking Risk
Q: Usually reaching something great or grand in life requires taking a risk. What has been your greatest risk so far and how was it rewarding?
A: When I took off for Prague with my backpack in 1992, I wasn’t really sure how it would end. That was scary. And indeed there were times when I literally wasn’t sure how I was going to eat. For example, one boss said he couldn’t pay me, but wanted to sign me up for his extracurricular lover. At which point, the second he turned around, I ran out of that office, never looked back. I ate pasta and frozen spinach for a month because I was too proud to tell my dad what had happened. But this led to another gig, which led to a fantastic opportunity, really a dream job, which was for the television network. I couldn’t have been open to it if that chain of events hadn’t happened.
Many years later, getting my husband to agree on spending $20k on a prototype for an idea I had, seemed totally radical. We weren’t swimming in money and there were lots of other things for us to spend it on—Tuition! A roof! Painting our house! But it seemed like a unique window of opportunity. I managed to figure out the tuition part and figured the house repairs could wait another couple years. I changed my professional positioning entirely. I like to tell people that I bought a new resume line. I created the title and company and job description that I wanted, and then figured out how to make it true.
ON Time Management
Q: How do your prioritize your time?
A: It’s like stuffing 20 lbs of grain in a 10 lb sack. I will not lie. I am blessed to have an incredibly supportive husband who does a ton around the house and with the kids. Truly, if one of us stayed home, it would most likely be him. Also, we have very consciously invested in having excellent, reliable childcare. Our nanny has been with us for 9 years. She keeps it all going when my schedule is erratic. She cooks meals 2 times a week and we eat leftovers the rest.
I try to work from my home office Mondays and Fridays, focusing on deskwork and calls. The other days, I go from dawn to late night in NYC, or wherever I need to be, packing in mission-critical meetings, either with customer prospects, investors or my team. I’ve had to cut back on social events a bit. I have a long commute from NYC to Northern Westchester and just can’t turn around a day game after a night game. So my bar has gotten very high for what social events I attend. But also, I have to say, making friends and associates online, other CEOs and the like, has been incredibly rewarding AND time-efficient. Although my time is more constrained than ever now, I’m also better connected than I’ve ever been. And that is a joy.
Q: In theory, one should prioritize their own health in order to be in the best state to take care of others (family, kids, work, etc.). But in reality, I’ve found that women often take care of themselves last. What are your thoughts on this?
A: Confession: I haven’t stepped foot in a gym in 9 years. But I try to eat real food at regular intervals and when in NYC, I walk as much as I can. What I am on a kick about right now is sleep. I got a LARK sleep tracker for Christmas, knowing that my sleep patterns left a lot to be desired. I ran the test and found that I was a “Rookie Erratic.” GASP! That means that I don’t sleep enough AND I sleep inconsistently. So for the last few months I’ve worked hard to get my 8 hours, even if my work isn’t done. And you know what? For sure, things still don’t get done. But I have a clearer head to choose what will fall off the plate, and I’m less stressed about it.
Q: What do you believe is the secret to finding the right person and maintaining a long term, good relationship?
A: I met my husband at work. I think having brains that operate at the same level and having similar interests and values are the keys to it all. And then, it’s all about communication. Whenever we’ve hit rocky patches, it was always because we weren’t talking enough. It’s tough as commuting parents to fit in date night. It feels like all your home time has to go to the kids. But if you don’t nurture your relationship with each other, it will fall off the rails. Invest in it.
Q: How do you respond to the question “How has having a child changed your life?”
A: I learned about unconditional love. No one on the planet except your parents is wired to love you unconditionally. Everyone else’s love comes with strings attached. And as a parent, your #1 job is to deliver that unconditional love. That doesn’t mean don’t be strict or don’t give lots of guidance. But what kids need to know from you is that, even when they mess up completely, they are worthy of love. This is the root of all self-esteem.
ON Cooking & Food
Q: If you love to cook, can you share a favorite recipe(s)?
A: I don’t know how to cook normal food, only Hungarian. My recipe for Chicken Paprikash is posted on Gotham Gal at http://www.gothamgal.com/gotham_gal/2011/12/paprika-chicken-recipe-from-tereza-nemessanyi.html