Part 1 of My Interview with Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software

0132Today I am pleased to be featuring an interview with a woman whom I greatly admire, Sabrina Parsons. Sabrina is the CEO of Palo Alto Software (PAS), makers of Business Plan Pro and Marketing Plan Pro. Prior to stepping into her role as CEO, she and her husband, Noah, founded a UK software distribution company in 2001 that was purchased by and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Palo Alto Software. Sabrina is a successful Internet expert, having served as Director of Online Marketing at Commtouch, Senior Producer at Epinions.com, and founder of her own Web consulting company, Lighting Out. She writes about her adventures in life and business on her blog, Mommy CEO. She is a shining example that women can have it all.

When I was starting my first business I wrote my business plan using the Business Plan Pro software and I still use it today. Whether or not a start-up company should write a business plan is quite a debated topic. Why should all businesses have a business plan and what do you think are the most important sections to nail down?

All businesses need a plan so that they know where they are headed, and how to get there. With a plan in place, they can also manage their business and understand what is happening in both sales and expenses at a much deeper level. For instance, during this tough economic year, Palo Alto Software’s plan was critical to running this company. Our fiscal year started October 1, 2008, just as the economy started to plummet. As consumers felt paralyzed, lost confidence and stopped buying, our business did suffer. But we buckled down, looked at our plan, and adjusted it for a worst case scenario. We started to really focus on which product lines and marketing programs were the most lucrative, which expenses we really needed, and which we could do without. We realized in this process, for example, that we were paying way too much for our internet bandwidth into the office, and that the service was not as reliable as we would like. We changed vendors, got faster service, and saved $8000 per month.

If we did not have a plan and were just “winging” it, it would have been a lot harder for me to have the time to dig into these details and understand where we could be leaner and where we should keep spending money. Today, 10 months into the fiscal year, we have hired three people and have job openings for four more people.

What does a typical day entail for you?

I’m not sure if there is any typical day for me! Typically though, I leave the house to get to the office between 7:30 and 7:45 am. I get here on the early side so I can leave early and get home by 4:45 or 5pm for my 2 kids. Once at the office I try to use the quiet time in the morning to deal with email back-up and follow-up on all the items that are left on my “to-do list” from the previous day. Then I plan the things I want to accomplish before the end of the day, and hopefully, I don’t have meeting after meeting so that I can get things done. I encourage managers at PAS to really own projects, keep me in the loop, and let me approve necessary things before they are finalized – but I try very hard not to be the bottleneck. I trust my employees to do their jobs which means I have time to do mine!

You run Palo Alto Software, you organized the Princeton Entrepreneurs’ Network Conference this year, you write a fantastic blog, and you are a pregnant mom with two young children. How do you balance work life with family life? I know you talk about working mom guilt sometimes on Mommy CEO.

I am not sure you can ever really balance your life between work and home if your career is important to you. You will always worry about the life side of the balance and I think all parents will get guilt about time away from their kids. That being said, I think I have as close to a balance as possible for these reasons:

  • I live in a small town, where I have no commute. I can get to work in less than 5 minutes. I don’t have to spend time away from my family and office in the car.
  • I live in a town where both my parents and two of my sisters live. I have a lot of family support. If I have a dinner meeting or an evening commitment, my kids are either with their father (my husband) or with their grandparents (my parents). If my nanny is away or sick my mom almost always comes to my rescue.
  • I work in a family business. I run the company with my husband. I have the luxury of not worrying about “face time” or what the boss thinks. I do make sure that I work hard and that my employees know that I work hard. But that may mean hopping on the computer at 8:30 pm after the kids are in bed or working on a Saturday evening, again when the kids are already in bed. I live and breathe the business, but I don’t make my kids do the same. When I get home at 4:45 I focus on the kids until they are in bed and asleep. On weekends, my husband and I devote our time to the kids and doing things they, and we, love. Our 5 year old just finished his third ski season and our 2 year old finished his first full ski season. In the summer we hike, river raft and swim every chance we get on the weekends.
  • I feel that I am more productive if I do take a little time off in the evenings and on weekends to focus on my family. I can then really focus on work when at work. I love feeling excited about new things on the business horizon – minimizing the natural mommy guilt.
  • I deal with the reality of mommy guilt. Just when I think I have mastered everything and life is plugging along great, one of my kids will say or do something that gets me reeling. Most recently my 5 year old asked me: “Mommy, why am I the only kid at nature camp that doesn’t get picked up by his mommy or daddy?”

As a Mommy CEO, what tools do you use to automate your life and save you time?

  • I buy online. I almost NEVER go to a physical store. It takes too much time. I buy from places that I know have sizes and clothes that I like and that fit me, my kids and my husband.
  • I love my iPhone. It keeps me connected easily and quickly so that at any time, no matter where I am, I can deal with a business issue without having to rush back to the office.
  • I use my calendar. I put all appointments, both personal and business, on one calendar. It syncs with my iPhone. That way I don’t have to remember the kids’ haircuts or that breakfast meeting at the Chamber of Commerce – my computer and/or my iPhone remind me!

On Thursday, Sabrina shares with us her top 5 business lessons for entrepreneurs so stay tuned! In the meantime, be sure to head over to Mommy CEO to read Sabrina’s latest blog post.

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9 thoughts on “Part 1 of My Interview with Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software

  1. I so get the mommy guilt thing but like Sabrina, I know that we, as moms, have to push through it. It’s okay for us to believe that we were put on this earth to be more than a mother and a wife… our children know how much we love them. I am sure to tell mine even moment of everyday. Congrats on your tremendous success.. you are a wonderful role model.
    [rq=264518,0,blog][/rq]Pass the BUTTER or pass on the BUTTER??

  2. Your focus on your family is so inspiring and you have still been able to accomplish so much. I have 2 questions. Do you take any maternity leave or do you basically have to go right back to work so that you don’t get behind? And what was the path to becoming a CEO for you? Thank you Sabrina and Natalie!

  3. Hi Rosaline-
    Thanks for the comment. As to the maternity leave question – no I really don’t take any time “off” for maternity, as it is really impossible to do that and run a company. BUT I do spend the first 4 weeks at home with a laptop and the new baby by my side. After my second was born I brought him into the office when he was 4 weeks old, set up a pack an play crib, used a sling, and just took him with me to every meeting. At the age of almost 5 months he went to a babysitter. This time around I plan to do much of the same, with the exception that we broke down and got a full time nanny about 18 months ago. With 2 kids and another one on the way – it is the only way to survive. So baby # 3 will hang out full time with me until month 4 or 5 and then stay at home with the nanny with me pumping milk at the office to sustain him. IT makes for a lot of multi -tasking, but I am very lucky to be able to set the rules and bring the baby to the office. Other nursing moms at my office can do the same.
    [rq=277111,0,blog][/rq]She Takes On The World: Interviews me!

  4. It is wonderful that you are able to bring your newborn to the office and allow other mothers to do the same. I have not heard of that before. That is a great company!

  5. I think that is amazing too and I also have not heard of mothers being able to do that. I know you say “there is no such thing as super-mom” but I would like to debate you on that because I think you may just be super-mom or very, very close to it! 🙂

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