Ep 101: Catherine Tabor: Making Sparks Fly

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Diva Tech Talk interviewed Catherine Tabor, CEO and Founder of Sparkfly, a cloud-based offer management solutions company maximizing customer acquisition by connecting real-time behavior with online and in-store sales. Catherine’s father was a physics professor, and she visited his university classes as a child. “I was mesmerized as he used math to solve real problems. I am a believer in technology solving problems, not just ‘tech for the sake of tech’.”

That was demonstrated when, as a Georgia State University undergraduate, Catherine was recruited by The Coca-Cola Company to manage their employee discount program. “I grew it to manage 1 million employees, nationally, with companies like Delta Airlines, Suntrust Bank. It was a bulletin board, where companies would list offers.” Employees would visit, use coupon codes, and make purchases. But the system did not allow for customers to redeem personalized offers at physical locations nor enable merchants to get accurate data. The resulting challenge was “how could we layer technology on top of antiquated POS systems, and make them do innovative things.” Catherine began by convincing POS providers “that there was a gap.” Her first integration success was with Radiant Systems, in Atlanta, (eventually acquired by the venerable NCR). Radiant “embraced my concept; agreed to integrate my platform; and then got acquired by NCR. By the nature of ‘being included in the fold’, it enabled build out, and networking.” After competing with larger, better-funded companies, “in 2017, we signed a contract with Chipotle.” Adoption of the SparkFly platform became the basis of Chipotle’s core digitalization transformation.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted SparkFly, as it has many businesses. Fortunately, SparkFly’s platform pushes greater levels of digital participation/presence leading to stabilization. Catherine instituted a weekly “all-hands” phone call so that her team continuously feels close. “I tell them all the time: I cannot promise you good news, but I promise that I will always tell you the truth.”

Key leadership nuggets from Catherine Tabor include:

  • “The driving force for me is having passion around the objective.” In the face of setbacks, it is Catherine’s core belief in what she is achieving that keeps her going. “Know your own value.”
  • “There’s no reason not to take a chance. You just have to go for it.” Catherine looks at any potential failure and asks, “what is the worst that can happen?” Facing that answer realistically allows her to shed fear.
  • “If you truly believe in what you’re doing, you never give up. I believe that ‘grit’ is the most important character trait leading to success.”
  • In juxtaposition, “I have had to learn to realize quickly when I’ve gone down the wrong path.” This has guided Catherine’s decisions about system nuances, doing business with the “right” customers, acquiring appropriate investors and advisors, and hiring/retaining employees. “Surround yourself with people who support what you want to do, and what you want to be.”

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