If You’re in the SF Bay Area and Haven’t Met Kate Bunina, You’re Not Networking Hard Enough.

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Kate Bunina is Managing Director at U+, a global digital product development company and tech investor, that builds startups with founders and innovations for corporations.

Though Kate has over 8 years experience building products for companies such as Volkswagen, T-Mobile, E.On, Home Credit, AXA and several other Fortune 500 companies she is all to familiar with the feeling of imposter syndrome. So much so that she invented a hack to help her move past it.

First she remembers that everyone is "figuring it out" and reminds herself that it really is all in her mind. 

"Begin by closing your eyes imagining you are separating yourself from your fear (or whatever you’re feeling) by imagining it is just an object in your head. Now imagine burning that object and placing the ashes into the trash which then disappears... Voila - you are done! This mental exercise can be repeated as needed."

Kate is also a mentor at Founder Institute in San Francisco and is passionate about mentoring startups. 

WHAT KIND OF PROBLEM IS YOUR COMPANY SOLVING?

U+ is building digital products for corporations and startups for 9+ years internationally. Corporations need to innovate to stay top of market by continuing to add new revenue streams. However they can get lost in the innovation process, as it takes different approach than just building some mobile app or software. There is a lot of testing involved, asking the right questions, and building few features first as MVP rather than whole big monster product.

 Startup Founders often share a similar dilemma - they have an idea, but are unsure of how to shape it into a viable product and execute on it. U+ covers both the consulting and product development pieces.

 Our clients are also VCs, lawyers, real estate companies, accelerators and incubators. Because of the variety of services we offer we assist them with everything from branding and websites all the way through consulting to build out of the internal platforms.

We also consult for cloud services (as we are partners with Amazon Web Services), Startups as a Whole (we have U+Ventures arm where we invest in pre-seed software startups, along with creation of “The Startup Guide” to help founders move from ideation to MVP). Also we are not foreigners to the Blockchain.

 Most of the time our clients define us as: a product development studio, outsourced innovation lab, CTO on demand, and much more.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD THUS FAR?

  • Making my career the priority and being persistent.

  • "Give, and it Will be Given to You" approach. I never envy people and encourage to support one another in being stellar together.

  • I said “yes” to things that seemed too hard or that I was afraid of doing.

  • I’ve been fortunate to have had tremendous support from people around me, as you can't make it alone.

  • Being surrounded by a tribe of successful inspiring people, cheerleaders, friends and family who support me and not hesitating to quickly eliminate toxic people.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE FAILURE? WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?

I tend to be very hard on myself, so it took some time to learn that failure is not a failure, but rather a lesson learned. In looking back at many “so called failures” they actually turned out to be some of the best possible things that have happened to me - for example, not landing one job resulted in landing another that was a much better fit.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE LEADERSHIP? OR, WHAT DOES BEING A LEADER MEAN TO YOU?

Leadership means the ability to set a goal or direction and motivate people to follow it by inspiring them even through all the struggles and every-day hurdles. 

Leaders showcase the talents of others and give them the opportunity to apply those talents. Leader solves problems, eliminates ego, is a thought leader, has empathy, but is still able to make decisions that are not going to please others but would drive forward the shared vision.

DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR? HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT ACQUIRING ONE?

Even though I do mentor a lot, I don't have a mentor per se. I do have group of powerful inspiring friends who advice and support me - men and women - and I am eternally grateful to them. I don't think I would have been as successful without their support.

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE DOING MORE OF TO FOSTER LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Women need to support each other. Take responsibility and see the big picture. Not being afraid to speak up for themselves and others - especially when others struggle. Motivate, inspire, and help those around them.

Show empathy for themselves as well as others.

Don’t avoid making male allies - let’s all work together to hit the diversity goal rather than fight against each other.

Solve arguments fairly by getting all participants into the same room (if possible).

Call out people if they act unfairly.

Make the effort to understand how everything in their company works and contribute accordingly.

A leader is not the one sitting on top of the building in a glass office, but the one who is not afraid to get their hands dirty and is confident enough to delegate work and let go of overseeing every detail that is happening in the company - they trust their wolf pack.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU'RE FEELING "OVERWHELMED"?

Prioritize all the tasks and projects that I'm currently working on. Take a break, go on a walk in nature, catch up with friends, go to the spa, an art exhibition, listen to music, take a nap, or read a book.

WHAT IS ONE QUOTE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE BY?

“You better starve, than eat whatever. And better be alone, than with whoever.” ― Omar Khayyám

WHAT ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW?

“Life With Picasso” by Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake.

Anything from the Instaread app (you can thank me later).

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?

Yes, but I know it is just a feeling. I battle it by either understanding that I'm simply feeling afraid of being judged or not being good enough or not delivering in the best possible way. After that realization I deep dive headfirst into the fear and swim right through it by doing the exact thing that I'm afraid of. Most of the time it turns out that I was unnecessarily stressing out.

I recommend the following mind exercise, as it is all in our mind in the end: Begin by closing your eyes imagining you are separating yourself from your fear (or whatever you’re feeling) by imagining it is just an object in your head. Now imagine burning that object and placing the ashes into the trash that you make disappear after. Voila - you are done! This mental exercise can be repeated as needed.

It also helps to allow yourself to not know everything.

We should all be continuing to learn as our industries are constantly changing and evolving. This means that the model of being at one job for half of your life is not going to be applicable anymore, because the type of jobs that are going to be here in 10 years do not even exist yet. This will mean a much more frequent changing of careers and jobs.

Just take a look at the Crypto and Blockchain space - everything is new, all the experts are experts based on an industry that is just few years old!  Based on that I'm sure that we are all going to constantly experience the so-called imposter syndrome by continuously emerging ourselves in brand new industries.

IF YOU HAD ONE TIP OR LIFE ADVICE, OR MANTRA TO SHARE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? 

I get asked this question quite often while speaking - especially at women in tech, and VC/leadership events. I think that following sentence sums it up pretty well: Be a decent human being.

ANY THING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO INCLUDE?

1) Download our free Startup Guide - This guide walks you through how to build your startup through each stage.  (https://www.u.plus/startup-guide/idea-stage)

2) If you’re looking for a mentors to help with - How to Build Startup from Idea to Scaling or How to Innovate at your accelerator or innovation programs - feel free to reach out.

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