Stina Ehrensvard: From Sweden to Silicon Valley – CEO, mother and innovator in internet security

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We are pleased this week to talk to Stina Ehrensvard, one of the top 50 most inspiring women in European technology, as well as winning numerous awards: Female Executive of the Year, Swedish Innovation Award, Woman of Influence, Leading Woman Executive and many more.

We hear about her rich and interesting career, her experience, feelings and views on founding a company and the world of business, how parity fits into this and her vision as CEO, the choices she had to make to get to the position she holds today.

Your success:

Where and how did your career begin?

I have always loved cooking and creating things with my hands. At the age of 19 I had my first job as a chef at a small restaurant. A few years later I got restless and started studying industrial product design at college. At the last year of my education Jakob Ehrensvard,a brilliant electronic engineer built a working prototype of one of my designs, and I knew this would be my future partner in work and life. Other men had offered nice dinners and flowers. A working prototype made me really happy! Since then we have been working closely together in the crossroad of IT, design and innovation.

Was it an easy progression?

In one of our innovation projects we learned that more than a trillion dollars are lost due to online identity theft. At the time we did not have a solution, but I knew this was an important mission, and started Yubico to address the problem. The first years were tough, but after eight years I had progressed from being the CEO of a one man company to something bigger and cooler.

Why the fascination with IT/Tech?

The Internet is the collected consciousness of all human beings. It is the most powerful communication tool ever created by mankind. And it needs to be protected to stay open and safe for everyone.

How did you find career opportunities for women in your sector/industry?

There are few women who are genuinely interested in Internet security. But the ones who are will get a job, as there is a strong market demand.

Tell us more about your company and how you started it?

Yubico’s core product is the YubiKey, and our vision is a ubiquitous security key to all Internet. When we started eight years ago most organisations and Internet users were not concerned with hacked passwords. Today, this has changed. We started in Stockholm , Sweden, and four years ago Jakob and I moved to Silicon Valley to work closely with the Internet thought leaders on a new open authentication standard named U2F – Universal 2nd Factor. Just like the mobile phone standard GSM connected phones and users all over the world, we want to secure users and services all over the world from identity theft. And the vision is becoming a reality.

You seem to have endless energy and a quest for innovation – what inspires you?

As a little girl I loved building tree houses with my friends and I have always loved creating new things with great people. In the early days at art College I considered the path of a free artist, but then realized that I was more intrigued with solving real problems, designing products that were useful to people. To be part of a team helping secure the Internet is the most inspiring job I ever had.

Your opinion and your advice:

The Inspiring 50 is a wonderful initiative, congratulations on being one of the top 50 women in technology!  Do you believe this initiative and others like it will help improve acceptance of women at the top and relegate gender discrimination to the past?

I recently read an article that showed that major tech corporations led by women have achieved great results, in some cases better than similar companies led by men. We are all grateful for getting recognition of the work we do, but it is the hard business facts that will have most impact on future gender equality.

So what would be your advice to women hoping to advance in their career?

Ask yourself what makes you really happy and what you really love doing. If you then pursue that route with kindness, passion and determination your career is likely to naturally unfold.

What, for you, are the obstacles and prejudices that you might encounter as a working woman?

I grew up in Sweden with loving parents and never felt I had less power than my two brothers, or any other boy at my own age. When running my company there have been situations where senior men were confused and uncomfortable with a younger woman in charge, but I have learned I cannot please everyone.

What type of experience do you think is necessary to succeed in your industry?  Are there any specifics that are particularly helpful for getting ahead?

Almost a century ago, Dale Carnegie wrote a book where he summarized the number one common dominator for successful people; The ability to deal with people. The book is named “How to win friends and influence people” and is full of great advice for getting ahead in any industry.

The future and changes in attitude:

What differences exist for the younger generation and their opportunities for the future?

My grandmother’s job was to have a clean home and serve her husband and children. I am grateful I was offered more options, and I am optimistic about my daughter’s future.

Your country, Sweden, and Scandinavia are known for their support, and active implementation, of gender balance/parity – have you noticed a big difference in attitude between different countries and cultures on this topic?

Yes, though I now enjoy a life in California, I was blessed to grew up in Sweden, where Jakob and I have also raised our own three kids. I often have to remind myself that the gender equality I take for granted is not yet the reality for many women here in US or other parts of the world.

And, finally, let me ask you about your entrepreneurial spirit – entrepreneurship is something very dear to my heart – you excel at it.  Have you enjoyed the challenge?

A year ago I was invited to deliver a 15 minute keynote summarizing my entrepreneur journey. Please feel free to watch it here: The Yubico Entrepreneur Journey

 

My best advice is summarized in the end of the video: “Don’t let anyone define what you can or cannot do. Trust your gut and do it!”

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Stina is the CEO and Founder of Yubico, and co-inventor of the YubiKey – a small device that makes strong two-factor authentication easy and affordable for everyone, with millions of users and 60,000 customers in 140 countries including include 8 of the 10 top Internet brands, e-governments and Fortune 100 companies.

Stina is an accomplished speaker on Internet identity, security and entrepreneurship, and she is regularly featured in leading International tech media. Born in Seattle, USA, Stina grew up in Sweden and moved in 2011 to Palo Alto, CA, with her husband and three children.

You can find Stina on social media:
twitter: @Yubico
facebook: Yubikey
Yubico blog

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