Entrepreneurship Live! with Vanessa Ogle, Founder & CEO of Enseo Holdings
On Wednesday, April 7, 2021, the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center was joined by tech entrepreneur Vanessa Ogle for Entrepreneurship Live! moderated by HKEC Program Director Amanda Golden. Vanessa is the founder and CEO of Enseo, named one of the 500 fastest growing companies in America by Financial Times in 2020.
Vanessa graduated from the University of Texas in 1991 with a B.B.A. in International Business and Marketing, and a B.A. in Spanish. After graduation, she stayed in Austin and went to work for her father’s company, where she handled sales and marketing for Latin America. Over time, she shifted to serving the burgeoning tech industry in Austin and Texas at large, shifting her focus towards hospitality and financial services. She eventually went through an IPO with that company, and went on to found Enseo Holdings with former colleagues.
Enseo develops hardware, software, and cloud solutions in hospitality, education, senior living, and healthcare. Their initial big success was in producing the first TV Guide programming. She then followed that success up with the introduction of in-flight airplane seatback entertainment solutions, and also digitized the video-on-demand technology for the hospitality industry. Enseo’s focus on hospitality shifted from hotels to the entire industry, and grew from the U.S. to a global presence. Enseo’s model was initially the one-time sale of their hardware to the hotels, cruise ships, or airliners that were its customers, but with the rise of streaming, Vanessa sought to provide guests with a solution for them to be able to bring their entertainment with them. That product brought Enseo a lot of growth and business, and they’ve spring boarded into a broader offering of music, Wi-Fi, and IoT for solutions for the 80+ hospitality brands that use Enseo.
Enseo and Vanessa’s rapid growth has not been without its speed bumps, however. The hospitality industry was hit especially hard in the wake of the Coronavirus shutdowns. Enseo had been serving what Vanessa calls “people places” since its inception, and through the fallout that 9/11 and the financial crisis had on hospitality. She recognized that, this time, they were ready and able to position themselves to help their customers get back on their feet when people began traveling again. “Because we survived through those other market downfalls, we knew we had to act quickly,” Vanessa recalls. “In the period of weeks that people were at home, we put together a team called ‘CAT’… It was their job to make the right decisions and put a plan in place, so that as soon as we were able to figure out the funding and bring everyone back, we could accelerate our position in our marketplace. The team did it, and they did a beautiful job.”
Vanessa attributes the success of her ‘CAT’ team to the sense of community that developed in the hospitality industry as everyone tried to stay afloat. “We gave our customers pricing support and allowed them to close some hotels and shut off service, which shut off a huge part of our revenue flow… We went to our vendors and said ‘We need your help’, so that we could help our customers and they could help their guests. Everyone really came together.” Through all of that, Vanessa had to navigate being personally affected by the virus when her daughters got sick. “Nothing made the work stuff more relative than that. We understood that the first thing we had to do was take care of our team.” By focusing on her team, Vanessa says she unlocked some potential through a difficult process. “We gave them the flexibility and trust to get their job done, and encouraged people to live their lives to the fullest, and they gave their fullest when they came to work.”
By focusing on company culture and values, Vanessa says she’s been able to encourage continued innovation from her employees. “Great ideas come from anywhere. Great ideas come from everywhere! We don’t have a group of people who are the idea people, and a separate group who are the doers. Everybody is always challenged and welcome to come in with a good idea,” explains Vanessa. “To be a successful tech company, you have to find the bugs fast. By encouraging failing fast, and celebrating when we found bugs, as an opportunity to fix them, we created a really open and engaging work environment.” Team building is an essential part of growing and establishing your company as an entrepreneur. “Make sure that you’re not scared to hire people better than you,” Vanessa says. “If you’re in the trenches as an entrepreneur, you also need to hire people that you like. You’ll be around them 10, 12, 18 hours a day, and you need to be able to trust them to have your back.”
Vanessa has also found traction in her hobbies outside of technology and innovation. In her free time, Vanessa is a founding member of GEM, a band composed of herself, her husband, and employees of Enseo. GEM formed after she lost a bet with a friend to get on stage and perform at a trade show. This untapped talent eventually grew and evolved into a full-fledged band. She started getting booked at venues, company events, and eventually got booked out around Dallas. Her band got so popular that D Magazine has dubbed Vanessa the ‘Rock N’ Roll CEO’. Due to the effects of COVID-19, the live music scene has temporarily lulled, undaunted by this, GEM is collaborating with veteran producers on a to-be-released single, followed by an album slated to drop in July 2021.
As a female entrepreneur, Vanessa says that involvement is the key to getting more women to found companies. “The best way that we can get more female CEO’s is to get more women in the workforce, who feel empowered to be themselves as women. My children… are important to me. It’s important for women to have a place in the workforce without sacrificing other roles in their lives.” Vanessa walks the talk, and Enseo has grown in female representation, from Vanessa being the first and only woman on the board to a point now where there are more women than men. “I put time into recruiting not only men. I had to be selective in the recruiters that I worked with and put it out there that I was looking for a balanced and diverse workforce. There’s only so many seats on the bus, and you have to have the right people in the right seats. There’s no reason to close ourselves out from a large potential part of the workforce.”