TechRepublic talked to Alicia Morga about her career transitions, from investment banker, to lawyer, to iOS app developer.
When Alicia Morga was in seventh grade, her class learned BASIC programming. She loved the project, and wrote code for a baseball game where the player went up to bat and could take swings and score runs. She was incredibly proud of it and went to show her teacher. He was completely unimpressed.
She remembers it vividly, her heart sinking and thinking "oh, okay, I was so into it, though." But she didn't receive any attention around it, so she just let the passion go.
Morga didn't get back into the tech industry until many years later. She used it, of course, and was actually quite immersed in the tech world during college and the years after, but it took her quite some time to get back into programming.
One of 11 children, Morga is the child of Mexican immigrants and spent much of her childhood in the Los Angeles area. She went to Stanford for undergrad, and after that moved to New York to become a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs. She then returned to Stanford for law school and became a corporate attorney for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati for four years.
"A lot of what I was working on was tech documents," she said. "[They were] always around me but I didn't delve into it until later."
That was when she was working as an associate at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, where she was for three years. She spent a lot of that time working at Napster, one of the companies they invested in, and Zero Gravity Internet Group, Inc. and Applied Semantics, which was later acquired by Google and became AdSense.
She then became an investment professional at the Carlyle Group from 2003 to 2006, where she worked with many tech companies in Silicon Valley. One industry she followed closely was the online ad industry. She had a friend who left his job to start his own company in the online ad market, and when she saw that, she decided she wanted to do her own thing as well. She opened up a web page, figured out how to do HTML and CSS, bought keywords from Google, and decided to become an entrepreneur.
"I knew that I wanted to try to do something where I had more control over my destiny, I just didn't know what it was going to be," she said. Prior to leaving the Carlyle Group, she even looked at buying a company. What took her a while to realize was that she had all the right tools to start one on her own that was venture-backed — her network was full of VCs, and she knew the tech industry from that perspective.
"The other part was seeing my friend Steve start a company," she said. "I liked him, he's a good guy and I respected him, but I didn't think he was any smarter than I was. I thought if Steve can do it, surely I can."
She founded Consorte Media, an online marketing company focused on targeting the Hispanic market. At the time, she was putting in Spanish keywords on Google and getting English language results. She wondered if she could buy ads in Spanish, and turned out that she could — it was much cheaper, too.
"I basically just did a lot of buying keywords and traffic for cheap and taking data that end user submitted and selling for much more, that service — someone who provides car loan or something else — would reach out and work with them to get whatever it was they were looking for."
That morphed into an online ad network. One of Consorte's biggest clients was Best Buy. Morga got them on the biggest websites in Latin America. She had realized that Spanish speakers in the US at the time were going back to their own country's sites, so she reached out to companies like Best Buy to get ad sales, and her startup became a huge player in the Hispanic market.
She ran the company for five years before it was acquired by AudienceScience in 2010.
Since, Morga has been named a 2011 Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in 2009 by Fast Company, and one of the 10 Most Influential Latinos of Silicon Valley in 2008 by the Mexican American Community Services Agency. She also writes fairly often, and her work has appeared in Fast Company and Huffington Post, and has written two e-books: Create iPhone Apps That Rock: A Guide for Non-Technical Folks, and 20 Things I've Learned as an Entrepreneur.
After she sold Consorte, Morga was tired. She had a great team, but she was a solo founder, and was completely exhausted from running the company herself. She took time off to travel and dabble in different creative activities like pastry making and drawing.
"Then I started looking into mobile app development," she said. "I taught myself how to build an iOS app."
She has created two iOS apps, gottaFeeling, which tracks your feelings and emotions. Users can log in a journal and sort feelings by date and time. The second app is Gainful, which offers daily, bite-sized courses for continuing education.
Morga created a holding company for her apps called No.8 Media, because she is eighth of the 11 children in her family.
She really never meant for this to be a business, but it has taught her so much about how people use mobile apps and how they can be effective for behavior change. And more than anything else, she's learning a new skillset, and that's something that has been critical throughout her entire career.
"When I was an investment banker, and look across the table at lawyers, I wanted to know what they knew. I get myself into situations where I have a lot of opportunities to learn," she said. "I tend to get bored pretty easily, and I think a lot about learning and how I learn, how other people learn, how important it is."
In her own words...
How do you unplug?
"I run, or work out, lift weights. I like doing something physical like riding a bike, going for a hike, boxing, lifting weights, anything like that really helps me. It's my go-to drug. I'm learning guitar so I'm playing that, I sing with a group of people in a band. We're right in the middle of a naming conversation...relatively new. I've done this before — sang in a band before — I find it fun and relaxing. I'll [also] take classes, like drawing, writing, or baking."
Looking back, what is some advice you would give yourself?
"Advice I'd give my younger self is to try and fail more often, honestly. I've tried a lot of things and failed at a lot of things but I wish I had done more [of that] more often — spent my whole 20s just doing all sorts of random things that I've thought of. I followed the path I think a lot of people in my generation grew up with: do well in school, go to good college, do well, get a good job, that's supposed to be the life plan. It doesn't work that way anymore. In order to adjust, overcome, adapt, you'll have to face your fears."
What advice do you have for others?
"People have this idea you're a born leader, and that's not true. I had a tendency towards leadership when I was younger — or as people like to call it, I was bossy — I don't care if you call me that or not, but I don't like the tone because it's meant to be as a put down, and I received it like that as a child. But only as I've gotten older, I've learned to understand people aren't comfortable with female leaders. I've had to learn that leadership isn't just telling people what to do, leadership is figuring out who people are and how to bring them around to your position by appealing to those motivations, that's a skill that really has to be learned and developed over time, most people do not have it out of the gate."