Andrea Sommer

Founder of UvvaLabs

Andrea is the Founder & Business Lead at UvvaLabs, a female-founded technology company that uses AI to help companies make better decisions that create more diverse and accessible workforces.

Previously she was the Founder & CEO of Hiver, a female-founded, majority women technology company that helped event marketers measure and improve engagement at their events by enabling networkers to remember the names of every contact they meet. Before starting Hiver, she was Director of Strategic Initiatives Europe at Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture & Microsoft. She also consulted for other technology brands including Microsoft in the US, South America and Europe.

Andrea has been featured in press publications such as The Financial Times, Forbes, Medium and Thrive Global as well as in the books The MBA Entrepreneur and The Start-Up Mum.

She is passionate about technology, entrepreneurship, increasing the number of women represented in both, from entry-level to board-level. Andrea has spoken at numerous conferences on technology, the mobile industry, entrepreneurship, raising start-up finance, investing, being a female founder and women in technology.

She is also the Founder of Hive Founders a non-profit network that brings together female founders to share, learn, and support each other through the journey of entrepreneurship.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Reed College in Portland, US and an Executive MBA from London Business School.

Where did the idea for UvvaLabs come from?

My co-founder Laura and I are childhood friends who have had very different lives – I went down a corporate path, got an MBA from London Business School and founded and sold the tech of another business, Hiver. During this process I won various awards and was featured in several different publications and books. Laura had a deeply academic career – getting a PhD in sociology from UC Berkeley and working as an activist and bias / diversity expert consulting for the police, for elections and other high profile organizations and being published in a number of top tier journals. Throughout our lives, we have stayed in touch, and frequently discussed the idea of working on a business together. We have both always been really passionate about diversity so when I returned to the US after living in London for 11 years we decided to take the opportunity to collaborate on this project. We are really excited to be able to bring powerful, AI-fuelled technology to help organizations with their decision-making processes by predicting areas of risk and helping them mitigate against them – thus creating more diverse workforces. And of course the idea of building a progressive, female-led technology company with a dynamic approach is also really exciting.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

To me, productivity and balance are intimately tied. It is really important for me to carve out time to energize myself if I’m going to be productive and stay motivated. I try to do at least an hour of yoga every morning to start the day. Beyond that, no day is the same – and that is what I really love about entrepreneurship. Some days are spent on the phone with investors, prospects, or teammates – other days I take a more solo approach to go head’s down into product development or the creation of assets needed for the business. And most importantly, I take time to be with my family every day. Doing dinner and bedtime with my daughter before getting back to work also brings a sense of balance to an otherwise hectic day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Turning an idea into a tangible product takes discipline, creativity and perseverance. The only way to bring an idea to life step by step, bit by bit. When you start, it all feels very fluid, you are not sure what it will look like and whether you can even do it. But with every layer of concreteness it becomes more real and at some point it actually comes to life. The key is to just keep going.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The use of Artificial Intelligence to improve business processes has really matured. It used to be about automation and simplification but now AI is really taking a front row seat in business decision making. When done intelligently, AI can be a very powerful and positive force for organizations. We are now in a stage where computing power is cheap and fast enough that this is quickly becoming the reality for many organizations.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I start the day with time for myself, usually yoga or running. There is very little time in the day for reflection, but this is a critical part of an entrepreneur’s life. My morning routine creates a forced gap in my schedule when I can put my thoughts in order.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid of being afraid! Fear means you are stretching outside of your comfort zone – and that is a good thing.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Privacy is an illusion.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Talk to people about your idea. Ideas are great but execution is key. The more people you talk to the stronger your idea will become. And through this process you’ll build the village that will be required to actually turn your idea into reality.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Our business is still really young, but it has already gone through several important periods of growth. For me, it’s always about keeping the customer central to everything we do. From the very beginning of our development process, we’ve spoken with and included prospective customers in the process. Initially this was done informally and in an ad hoc way, but we are now building a formal customer advisory board. This has helped mature and align our product to ensure it has perfect product-market fit.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Entrepreneurship is one series of failures after another. That is the nature of being a trailblazer – you are making the rules and experimenting constantly. I can probably list one or more failures I’ve had daily! In fact, I believe that I’m not failing I’m not actually pushing myself hard enough. If you never fail, you are always playing it safe. And playing it safe doesn’t build an amazing product.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Here is a problem that really needs solving: a recommendation engine for customizable, age appropriate, easy to conduct educational activities for infants and toddlers. Ideally it would be free as well!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A subscription to the at home yoga app Down Dog. I have been practicing yoga for over 20 years, primarily attending classes. Earlier this year, I decided to purchase a subscription to an app I had been using for free for a while. Being able to customize my practice is fantastic! And of course with the lockdown having a reliable home practice has been key.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I love Trello! I am an avid list maker and it is just a dream come true. I use it to keep track of my activities but we also use it for product development tasks, onboarding activities and more.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

One of my favorite books is ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ by Susan Jeffers. It was given to me by a mentor in my early career and it really helped me step into uncertainty comfortably – a key skill in being an entrepreneur.

What is your favorite quote?

Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not alright, it is not the end. – Indian Proverb

Key Learnings:

  • Stay in the scary zone – if you aren’t failing, you are pushing yourself
  • No matter what stage of your journey you’re in, always keep your customer central to your decisions
  • Productivity and balance are intimately linked – remember to take time for both.