Jane Hoffer is a businesswoman who doesn’t shy away from a new challenge. She has spanned various fields throughout her career in technology – as both a leader and an investor – from supply chain planning to electronics.
Now, as CEO of GoWithFlow, Jane has become an important figure in emobility as well, developing new technology for fleet operators to facilitate their transition to electric vehicles (EVs). Jane was nominated as part of the EV Summit’s Top Women in EV Campaign for her passion (both publicly and through her work) for diversity and equality.
As well as talking us through her impressive career, Jane reflects on some of the difficulties she has faced when securing investment as a female entrepreneur and how we can make sure more young women follow in her footsteps and reach leadership positions in tech.
EDs: You have led an impressive career across various fields before venturing into automotive tech. Could you talk us through some of your earlier roles?
I have had an amazing opportunity to be involved in some very exciting companies in my career. The first, and most formative, was Prescient Systems. This was a supply chain planning technology company I formed through the acquisition of another team.
Over 12 years, I had the opportunity to build a global product, partner with leading technology companies, acquire companies and ultimately go public through a merger of our company into something akin to today’s SPACs.
After selling Prescient in 2009, I took a number of roles in high growth, venture-backed startups to bring the experiences I had to the founding teams. In 2012, I joined littleBits Electronics, founded by Ayah Bdeir and backed by True Ventures.
Ayah, an engineer and Senior TED Fellow had invented modular electronics that snapped together with magnets to create circuits that kids (of all ages) could use to build amazing inventions.
I joined to help Ayah scale the company which was growing very fast. I took on an operations role, including building a global supply chain. At Prescient, our team built the software to manage supply chains, here I had to really implement and run one!
EDs: What skills did you pick up at some of these technology companies that have been useful going forwards?
For someone who was a bit of a perfectionist and extreme planner in my college days and early career, being involved in early stage, high growth startups taught me a lot. Probably the most important skill I learned early was how to make decisions when dealing with uncertainty.
Essentially, you will never have perfect information, and even if you do, things change rapidly. It’s about making the best decision you can at the time and being open to receiving new information that might change your course.
EDs: What led you to your current role at Go With Flow?
Prior to GoWithFlow, I had the great opportunity to work for a Portuguese startup called Veniam. Veniam is doing exciting work in the connected vehicle space helping move massive amounts of data between vehicles and the cloud for applications such as vehicle video content.
I joined in the US but spent much of my time between client locations globally and the company’s headquarters in Porto, Portugal. It was during my time in Portugal that I developed a deep love of the people, culture, cuisine and respect for the innovation and technology ecosystem.
I believe the team at Galp/GoWithFlow found me due to the network I built in Portugal and the work we were doing in the automotive and mobility space.
EDs: What appealed to you about working in emobility?
I am always motivated when I have the opportunity to solve problems that will hopefully have a far-reaching impact. Sustainable mobility and e-mobility appealed to me because of the dual drivers of improving the planet through mobility decarbonisation and reducing the operating costs of businesses through electrification of their transportation.
Being part of an ecosystem focused on accelerating the change that needs to happen for our families and leveraging technology at the foundation of emobilty makes it pretty exciting to get going every day.
EDs: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the tech and/or emobility industries, and how have you overcome them?
My challenges mostly in technology have centred around access to funding for startup businesses. In 1998, raising capital for Prescient Systems was very difficult for a woman-led business. In fact, our first venture capital was committed by a woman-led fund, an exception in the vast group of venture funds in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, things have not changed that much in the past 20 years. In 2021, women-led startups received just 2% of the venture capital committed, down from 2020 levels.
My hope is that, with more women becoming partners in Venture Funds and more women are creating their own funds, the share of investment will improve dramatically.
EDs: What can we do to drive more young women into tech careers?
We can start by demystifying tech careers early in a girl’s development and provide role models for them to aspire to. In 2010 I was a founding leader of a movement in Philadelphia called Techgirlz. Going strong still today Techgirlz provides programs for middle school-aged girls (10 -13).
Spreading the message that careers in tech can be a variety of roles such as software development, product management, graphic design, analytics opens girls’ minds to the vast potential of the industry.
Better still, having interactions with role models who are in these careers makes a tech career more real and attainable for young girls and women. Starting young in middle school is also critical so that young girls are inspired to pursue these careers and follow the educational path to help them achieve this.
EDs: What measures do you think would be effective to reduce the gender pay gap in the sector?
First, we can start by ensuring in our organisations that women and men are paid equally for their starting positions when they are first hired. This is essential because data shows that a gap from the beginning only widens over time.
Second, we must ensure equivalent raises and promotion for equivalent performance. Often, sadly, performance reviews, promotions and salary adjustments are not evidence-based and only serve to widen the gap over time.
Finally, in the recruitment process, we must strive in every position to evaluate a balanced slate of candidates. We must push our People Teams and recruiters to hold ourselves accountable to this as the standard.
EDs: Can you talk us through your experience as a member of Chief? Why are organisations like this so important?
I read about the launch of Chief in a Bloomberg article and was immediately drawn to become a member. I had been involved in different groups and events along the way that were designed to help women network and support each other in their careers.
At a certain point, as you become a senior leader, there are fewer peers that can form this network of collaboration and support. That is where Chief’s tagline: “Chief drives women to the top and keeps them there” is so appropriate.
It is where I have a Core Group that acts as my advisory board, where events are curated and facilitated to allow interaction and connection unlike any I’ve been able to experience previously.
Organisations like this are so important to ensure the continued progression of women to senior positions of authority and decision-making in both the public sector and private companies so we can accelerate progress on such issues as the gender pay gap, diversity and inclusion, and daring leadership (as defined by Brené Brown, see below).
EDs: Which female figures have inspired you in your career, either in emobility or otherwise?
There are women who inspire me in the industry. Women who have helped shape my leadership early in my career and women whom I turn to their work for regular guidance and motivation.
Mary Barra, as CEO of General Motors, is an inspirational leader whose inclusive leadership approach, including listening, approachability, collaboration and a bias to action and innovation is one I try to model in my work and teams.
Tania Amochaev is a trailblazer who as an advisor when I was a first-time CEO in 1998 help me navigate some difficult political/financial waters with my Board of Directors. She was CEO of technology company QRS in 1992 and took them public as one of the first female CEOs of a public company in 1993.
Finally, Brené Brown, researcher, author and podcaster is my “go-to” for grounding and inspiration. With 6 books and two amazing podcasts, Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us, she helps businesses and individuals understand the power of vulnerability and, for me, how to be a daring leader.
She has helped me, and many other listeners/readers as well I’m sure, find the potential in our people and our processes and the courage to develop that potential.