CEO reveals the secrets to being an entrepreneur

In the latest edition of MPA TV, Jane Mason, CEO and founder of Clarifire, talks about successful entrepreneurship, overcoming the fear of failure, whether women need to be encouraged to take leadership roles, impostor syndrome and much more.

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Richard: [00:00:13] Hello everyone and welcome to MPA TV. I'm your host, Richard Torne once again having a chat with a leading mortgage professional to discuss their career. Today, we're going to be talking to Jane Mason, the CEO, founder and creator of Clarifire, which has been a leading software solution for the mortgage industry for more than a decade. Named as one of mortgage professional America's elite women of 2021. Jane is a recognized technology leader in the financial services and mortgage industries. She speaks regularly on industry panels and often appears in national, local and trade publications. She also mentors women entrepreneurs, especially those in the financial technology industry. Hello and welcome, Jane.

Jane: [00:00:54] Thank you very much to MPA for giving us this platform. And Richard, thank you for reaching out and including me. I very much appreciate this opportunity.

Richard: [00:01:05] It's great to have you on the show. Now, I did a little bit of research about you before today and watch the video you did more than ten years ago where you say recognize an opportunity and run with it because it's probably not going to be as hard as you think it is. Is that advice that you still give now? Is it still relevant today?

Jane: [00:01:25] Absolutely. I one of the things that we can talk about and hopefully this will help it. When MPA published that article last year on The Imposter Syndrome, I had a little bit of that because I was afraid, right. And when I realized that I really shouldn't be afraid, I should go into the doors that are opened or opening or kick them in. Right. It was hard, but on the other side of it, it turned out to be the best thing I ever did.

Richard: [00:01:52] And what else have you learned a decade down the line since you uttered those words?

Jane: [00:01:58] Well, I always started with staying close to my values and my integrity and my perseverance. So I would say the perseverance to make it happen and to deliver on what I said. I never not delivered on what I said. And if I made a mistake, I said I was sorry and I made it right. So between the belief in the opportunities and the perseverance and keeping to your values, that word persistence also makes a huge difference. And don't let any perceived barriers stand in your way.

Richard: [00:02:35] We keep hearing from successful entrepreneurs such as yourself that you shouldn't be afraid to fail.

Jane: [00:02:42] Right.

Richard: [00:02:42] But when the workplace is such a competitive environment. So some would say more than ever now, is it sometimes true that there's often a feeling, however unfounded, that there's less margin for error, there's less freedom to play with, and that there's a fear that you can't afford to make mistakes these days?

Jane: [00:02:59] I I'm not so sure about that because I believe that business partners and people you do business with that really care about what they're doing and what you're doing. They're much more collaborative. There's going to be competition. There's always going to be somebody that says they do it better than you. But that's not something to be afraid of. You just have to keep going and make sure when you're talking to somebody like you and I are talking, that they're collaborative and they're kind. And so I think that's what I look for in business partnerships. I want to make sure that any interactions that we have are respectful and collaborative, and I think we could say that it's more competitive now, but I think the people that work on our team love our company, love our product, love what we do, and many of them have been there over ten years. So it's I'm very proud of that and I'm prideful of what we've been able to accomplish. And I can't tell you that I'm not afraid of the competition. I mean, that's that's true. But I'm not sure if it's the word afraid. It makes me work harder and differently and more creatively than they are.

Richard: [00:04:08] Now, you said the key for your success has been recognizing opportunities, having a passion for achieving goals and know, interestingly, I'm pursuing them with integrity and honesty. Is there is there a lack of honesty in the financial sector?

Jane: [00:04:22] I think there's a lack of honesty with the people you're doing business with. And I think that from a competition perspective, and I'll just say this because I'm a small woman owned business, right? Entrepreneur, bootstrapped, wants to do it her own way, that type of thing. I, I see, I see a competition in the delivery David and Goliath approach that, hey, I can give that away for free. I have like 70% of what she's got, right? So the competition from the large, publicly traded companies to the small woman owned business really is stiff and it's scary. But I keep seeking out those people and we're talking about people here that make that believe in small businesses and believe in the American Dream, that type thing. I keep looking for those people in order to continue growing the company.

Richard: [00:05:20] That you lived through, you worked through the last crash, major financial crisis that we lived through in 2008. How how has the industry cleaned up its act since then?

Jane: [00:05:34] We got in the industry in 2007, and one thing I wanted to say is that there were three people and they were all men that didn't have a lens. Right. They didn't have like a biased lens. They just knew I had something innovative. They needed to work differently. I think that we need to work differently. Message helped large organisations and small organisations during that time. The Great Recession. It helped them recognize that they better wake up, they better streamline their processes and pay attention to what they're doing, what they're delivering, because they owe that to their customers and they owe it to the industry. So I think from that point on it was a catalyst for change and those that succeeded were able to embrace things that help them change. And I think that set us apart or maybe set us ahead for COVID, right? Because COVID was a roller coaster and it still is in many ways. So I think that we all learned a lot and that learning and the implementation of technologies and visibility and more collaboration really made a big difference in where we are today. And I think we've seen a lot of a lot of our teams in the industry have flourished, even in spite of COVID.

Richard: [00:06:59] You're known for your work, mentoring other women into leadership roles in the business world. Do women today still need to be encouraged into taking those leadership roles?

Jane: [00:07:09] 100%. As you know, I'm a chair of the USF St Petersburg College. And what I do is I talk to the students and try and we participate in the leadership program. And many of them are young women that are looking for those of us that are entrepreneurs that are successful. How did we do it and how do we break through the barriers of, Oh, well, you have to be likable, yet you still have to run a business and you still have to have confidence. And I think that they definitely need each other. They definitely need us as the mentors and professionals that can help them, and they definitely need to have doors open for them in a way that wasn't our world in our industry was not capable of doing that. I would say right during the Great Recession, like you were talking about.

Richard: [00:08:09] You mentioned that I read somewhere that you talk about that there's unconscious bias towards women in the industry. Is that still a major problem?

Jane: [00:08:19] There's I would like to say two things. The three men that gave me the opportunity one 2007 one 2008 one 2009. They all I have good relationships with them and they had no biased lens. But I did have a recent interaction with someone who was 100% biased. He was he was dismissive and he didn't understand that. Yes, I work differently. I'm a different kind of person than you may be anticipated and didn't really give me a chance to talk about who I was and why I do the things the way I do. So I think it is still an existence, but I think the industry as a whole has evolved and tried to be inclusive and understand diversity, whether it's between men and women or other races or whatever. So I think that kindness needs to be more pervasive. And I think when you're talking to someone, I would offer as advice. If you're trying to do business with someone that you haven't met, that might be a little different. You have to stop and don't make snap judgments. Just give give the interaction a chance. And it's not always like this, right? So I think if you if we continue to grow a little bit within each other, I think we can get there. I think from a male perspective, I would just offer you're kind just you can you can help us change this by pressuring your peers that behave in a way that you don't think they should behave. I do. I we feel that most of the interactions that we have are kind, respectful and caring. So that's a big change from six years ago when it was a little more like vendor combativeness, let's put it that way. Is that a nice way?

Richard: [00:10:21] I think it's acceptable, yeah. You mentioned you mentioned also the concept of imposter syndrome a moment ago was a common trait among some leaders. That's also something many people would readily relate to. How do you overcome that?

Jane: [00:10:38] First of all, you should talk to your friends about it and your mentors. Right. I think it's very important that you share the fact that you're scared, you feel inadequate, but you also have to do what I try and remember, you know, how you you wake up in the morning, you're supposed to think about something positive. I think that's a really good habit. And what I did in order to give me a little more self confidence, whether it was in the marketplace or in business, was look at what you've accomplished. Take a moment, take more than 5 minutes and look at what you've accomplished, not only just personally, but in business. And once you recognize those accomplishments, write them down, and then you start to reinforce your own psyche and your own level of confidence by saying, I did accomplish this, I did do this, and I can do more. That's my my best recommendation because the imposter syndrome is rampant. And you can look on TED talks or whatever. You're still seeing a lot of women talking about it and trying to help each other get out of that because it is a societal thing. A cultural thing.

Richard: [00:11:51] Yes. I'll actually throw my weight in and say that that's also something I suffer from occasionally..

Jane: [00:12:00] It's true. We only if we were all 100% confident and egotistical or whatever, we wouldn't be where we are. Right? So I think it's okay to have self doubt. It does make you better. And like you said a little earlier, every time you fail, it makes you a better person, right?

Richard: [00:12:21] Yes, absolutely. Now, during the conversation, you've mentioned twice three men who weren't biased towards you. My next question was, who was your mentor? Who inspired you? I suspect one of at least one of those people must have been one of those three men. Yeah, I've heard that you've mentioned Bob Caruso in the past a lot.

Jane: [00:12:41] Yeah, well, Bob looked at me and looked at the product, knew what we had. In fact, I'll tell you just a little story. He called me on my cell phone and said, I heard what you're doing. Would you show it to me? And I said, Well, it's not done. And he said, It doesn't matter. Come show it to us. We'll work together. We could help you finish it. So my team and I, we got on a plane and we flew to Buffalo, New York, of all places. We did a demo and they said, We're in, and they gave us our chance. There was only seven of us in the company, but the product was good. And it's still good. And it's continued to grow. And he he didn't think twice. He said, this is what you should be doing as a large, publicly traded company. You should be giving innovation and people an opportunity. So, yes, he was absolutely wonderful and pivotal to giving us credibility. If you can imagine being a small woman owned company inventor, create this product. And they and somebody says, well, who? Who, your customers? Well, once once you get the biggest customer in in the nation, you're pretty much. Okay. And the other stories were very, very similar and and long lasting relationships of. Passion and respect and me delivering. I mean, my message is always deliver on what you say you're going to deliver. I don't care who you are.

Richard: [00:14:13] Just to let our viewers know, Mr. Caruso was at one time the president of the Bank of America. We last spoke in October last year. And since then, a lot has happened in the world and in the mortgage industry. Companies are struggling with spiraling inflation, rising interest rates. The refi market has effectively collapsed. Households are down as our mortgage applications. And we're seeing layoffs across the mortgage industry now. As someone who runs a fintech company, how immune are you to these economic cycles? Because in a way, I would have thought that you're not directly affected by them, but it must be a concern just the same.

Jane: [00:14:52] I think the roller coaster is the concern when COVID hit. Our customers needed us so desperately. And so all we could do is continue to look at ourselves and look at the product and continue to develop ways to help, whether it was bulk volume processing of things that were outside of the norm and collecting data and creating well, we created a customer experience where you can just click and get get relief and you would have somebody call you back, that type of thing. So we tried to help the industry and help our customers by that. We're not, I think because of our position and the flexibility of what we developed, we have the capability to stay a little bit of a head of some of the roller coasters that some of the industry changes. And so we we've been okay the people that the companies that are seeking us out want that capability to change and they want innovation. So so far we've held steady. And I think our customers are eternally grateful for what we did during COVID. We stopped everything we were doing and our strategic plan and just went at COVID and made a difference.

Richard: [00:16:02] We think I have to turn out now the question more towards you, to you and ask you what is the most satisfying aspect of your job?

Jane: [00:16:14] I love what I do, and there's a couple of parts to it. One is our customers and their happiness and their embracing of what we developed and how we can help them find the solution. But the other thing is, my team, they're wonderful. We you know, we do have 60% women, but they're wonderful. And like I said, that gives me great joy and that's very important to me and to the company and our future, which is we cherish the people that work with us. We've been able to motivate each other and make each other better. And we all have different talents. And the fact that we surround ourselves with people smarter than we are in the different areas, I think is I'm very, very proud of that. And I'm very satisfied. I'm also satisfied with the. With just the fact of being an entrepreneur and doing something and being accepted in the marketplace for 15 years. I'm proud of that.

Richard: [00:17:16] So you should be. Finally, and I ask this of all my guests, if you could give a piece of advice to your younger self starting in the industry, what would it be?

Jane: [00:17:27] I would share. Be prepared. I would say, do your homework. Be prepared. Work harder than anybody else. Be persistent. And don't forget about those doors of opportunity that you're scared to go through. Just make sure that you try it. Because if you don't try it, then ten years from now, you may have regret. Do it, but be prepared. Be persistent, and do what you say you're going to do.

Richard: [00:17:53] That sounds like ideal advice to me. Jane, thank you so much for joining us today. You've been a great guest.

Jane: [00:18:00] Thank you very much for having me. And thank you to MPA for giving us this platform.

Richard: [00:18:05] Thank you to all our viewers for watching as well. I've been your host tonight and we hope you'll join us again soon for another edition of MPA TV. May you all have a happy and successful week. Goodbye.

Jane: [00:18:18] Bye, everybody.