The second fantastic member of our Netherlands’ team (and arguably the most smiley), is Sanneke Ringeling. Tasked with managing the 101 Ways brand and communities: IWOMM, WTF, CTOZone and HOP Together, it would be an understatement to say Sanneke has a busy few months ahead of her. Luckily, that also involves at least three Christmas parties for some added Dutch courage. Not that the experienced leader, avid reader and future crystal healer needs it.
So in between community building, events organising and making sure our merch is up there with the best of them (eco-friendly wooden chargers, anyone?), she let me delve deep into her life, career path and what truly scares her. N.B. It’s funnier than you think. Literally.
Hi Sanneke and a very warm welcome, although you’re practically part of the furniture now! Tell me what you’ve been doing for 101 Ways since you started in September 2018?
As you said, the most important part of my job is growing the community across the countries we’re based in. I’m responsible for adapting the 101 Ways brand in each market and ensuring the company’s values are translated globally.
What were you doing before?
Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked in several companies, from tech startups to Yelp (the biggest and most trustworthy review platform in the USA). I’ve always been responsible for growing a brand through community building. My roles covered everything from event organisation to international expansion, from creating brand strategy to rewriting internal comms (playbooks). I’ve held many different positions, but the common thread has been engagement with the end user; making sure they’re heard, so we could act upon and make the changes to meet their needs.
What made you want to join 101 Ways?
Definitely the people working here. The values the company holds and its mission. While I am not a very ‘techie’ person, I love 101 Ways’ passion for people and personalising technology. Kelly has huge ambition, a clear vision and has created a fantastic business model in which I believe. When he offered me a seat on his rocket ship, you don’t ask which seat it is, you say yes and see where it takes you!
If you had to use three words to describe why you’re a good fit for 101 Ways, what would they be?
Positive, approachable and authentic.
What excites you most about the Amsterdam expansion?
Creating a new mindset about how consultancies should be run in the Dutch market. There’s a negative vibe surrounding them because people feel consultants are paid too much come in to do the ‘fun’ stuff and then leave. As a result, they aren’t sought-after.
I believe that 101 Ways represents the right way to be a true partner and work together to solve problems. As a consultant, it’s a fantastic because you’re part of a community of like-minded experts. You still get to do your own thing and enjoy the perks of working for yourself. Crucially however, you’re not on your own.
It’s a different, 360° approach – finding the weak spot, creating the right strategy and solving the problem – and a new concept for Amsterdam, but one that makes so much sense. It’s an honour to participate in this journey.
Everyone is talking about mentoring these days, what are you thoughts on it? Fluff or necessity?
Necessity. I have two mentors. This might sound strange, but the first is my mother, Tieneke. She knows me better than anyone else, so asks the right questions and pushes me out of my comfort zone. Having moved around a lot in life and in the startup world, things have moved incredibly quickly. My mother always keeps my feet on the ground and in tune with my intuition so that I make the right choices.
Professionally, Colleen Curtis, my manager at Yelp for six years is my other mentor. She just speaks my language, is incredibly dedicated, a fearless leader and truly understands me. She taught me what it means to be a manager. When you are a mentor, you have the honour of helping people in their careers, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and getting to know their personalities to guide them through their professional life. Colleen did this for me both at Yelp and beyond; I owe her a lot. We have become great friends too, which is rare, but wonderful.
In terms of paying it forward, I was more of a mentor than a manager for the people in my teams; pushing them forward and helping them make decisions about their career. On of my colleagues, Camilla was running Yelp in Copenhagen. She is a blogger, influencer and waffle queen! With a little push and support at the beginning, she’s now written her own waffle cookbook which is being translated into several languages. I’m so proud of her. Seeing the success of others is incredibly fulfilling for me.
Tell us a fun fact that no ones knows about you?
I am REALLY afraid of clowns. I love scary movies, but cannot deal with anything like ‘It’. You can’t see what’s behind the smile; it completely freaks me out!
Other than that, I used to be a junior champion of bridge in Paris, when I was 10. I had so much energy and mind was all over the place, my parents were advised to get me a hobby that involved strategising and playing. It turned out to be great advice. Maybe I should bring bridge back and make it cool again [laughs].
People are being a lot more open about difficulties they face climbing the career ladder. How have you found being a woman in the stereotypically male tech world?
I have always been on the community and human side of technology, so I haven’t faced any difficulties because it’s actually a female-dominated area. I have never been in, or seen a situation where the effect of being female (or cultural differences for that matter) is a problem. Maybe I’ve been lucky, or simply refused to be treated differently. I’ve also prioritised hiring the best person for the job regardless of gender.
I do realise however, that the external image of tech companies is ‘off’. Especially when from personal experience, I’ve encountered the most thoughtful, funny, geeky and passionate who work in the industry. To the outside world they are often thought of as boring, nerdy and unsociable. It’s actually the complete opposite so I love working in and for people in tech.
You’re clearly very passionate about the industry, but what do you do in your spare time to forget about work, do a ‘Swift’ and just shake it off?
This might sound clichéd, but I’ve never done a job that felt like work because I’ve always loved what I’m doing. But I have two beautiful, funny, life-loving daughters aged 4 and 3, and they love the outdoors so we go walking in the woods or any water activity we can do. If I’m not with them, then I love going out with friends and family, wining, dining and dancing! I also meditate, read a lot and am studying healing crystals.
What do you think the challenges are going to be, both in your role and the wider tech industry?
The struggles are always going to be the same – I’m the preacher of patience on the company side and on the user side, the listener. When building brand awareness and / or a community, people expect immediate success by throwing a few events and then you multiply. In reality, it takes a long time.
I teach them to think of it in the same way as a relationship: you meet, get to know each other, kiss, fall in love, move in together, and possibly get married. It doesn’t happen in three weeks! Especially with cities like Amsterdam or Berlin (unless you’re a celebrity). You need to take the time to build a network and a name; it’s about quality. But it’s too easy to throw money at the problem and get quantity. If you interact, listen and stay true to your values, that’s when you get quality.
It’s a difficult thing for the tech industry to understand where everything needs to happen yesterday, but community building fits well with the Agile philosophy. It’s always been a challenge in the wider industry to remain authentic. Many people shout about it, but so few are. I fell for 101 Ways (and Yelp) because they are.
From your experience, what advice would you give to a young person thinking about a career in tech?
- Become an expert at one thing, but keep your knowledge broad;
- Don’t compare yourself to others; and
- Develop relationships with mentors and more senior people, but also foster relationships with people just one or two steps ahead of you.
Finally, if you could have invented any app, which one would it be and why?
My own one! I want to invent an app where you can rate your neighbours when you buy and rent property.
It will be objective and not vulgar, or for disputes. It will let you know for example whether you’ll be living next to a family with children and pets so you can make an informed choice when moving. I believe in building not just the bricks but the atmosphere around your home too.
Ps: the Idea has been copyrighted so no one can take it, haha! But I will take offers to help finance and build it 🙂