Join us for another episode of SheBoss as we chat with Huntsville-based entrepreneur, engineer and advocate for women in STEM Lacey Reinoehl! Lacey has worked exclusively with small business and technology start-ups throughout her career and currently serves as the VP of Product Development at Lojix, a software startup firm specializing in ERP for small business. Her many passions led her to co-found and serve as the Chairman of the Board for the WeRockIT Conference. She is also serving as a board member for Girls, Inc. of Huntsville and as a director of Women Who Code Huntsville. When she’s not working or volunteering she enjoys spending time on home improvement projects with her husband Josh, son Magnus, and their dog Delilah. Lacey is passionate about giving back to the community and being actively involved in the growing Huntsville ecosystem.
She Boss with Lacey Reinoehl
Megan: Hey guys, thank you so much for joining us for another episode of She Boss, I am Megan and if you haven’t poured yourself a cocktail, please do so. It’s been a crazy week but we are super excited to have you join our guest today. Before we get started though, just to give you a little bit of information on She Boss, it is a regular video series that we do here at Flourish, to highlight some amazing women who are doing phenomenal things within our community. And there is no shortage of those types of women here in our community, especially in Huntsville. But we get the absolute honor of getting a chance to collaborate with some of these women on a regular basis and want to learn more about them and just want to hear their stories and share their stories and that way you can also hear from them and just learn from some of their successes, some of their mistakes, some of the challenges they faced with the hope of helping you in your professional journey in whatever that may be.
So I’m going to introduce Lacey. She is with Lojix, a company here based in Huntsville; she’s the VP of Product Development and does some amazing things. Super big proponent of women in STEM, which is awesome. She’s a working mom, she’s a total badass. And so we’re just going hear about her story today and pull up a chair. So Lacey, I’m going turn it over to you, why don’t you fill us in on you and your background and all that good stuff?
Lacey: Yeah, sure. So I guess my background is mostly in Math and Computer Science. That was kind of how I got my start in the software development world. I initially started working at a government contracting company, where we were building some software in house. And some people found out about over building and wanted us to start sharing it. And so, a few years into that, the team I was working with, the contracting company decided to spin it off as its own entity. That jumpstarted my entrepreneurial journey. That’s a couple years ago when we spun that off and since then, my role shifted from engineering to product development to everything startup. Every day is a new challenge and it’s just been really interesting and fun. I’ve kind of become almost addicted to the startup world, the startup life, I’ve since started a technical conference here in town, and I serve as a director for Women Who Code and so I really enjoyed promoting women in STEM and in this field.
Megan: That is awesome. So we’re going dive into that in just a minute because I think that is amazing. We were talking a little bit before we jumped on and having kids being women. I’m not an engineer at all, I could never do that whatsoever; I’m a writer and a creative person but I absolutely admire the fact that you have those technical skills many women do, honestly, it’s awesome. There needs to be more women who actually pursue that career but let’s talk a little bit about your journey as it relates to working at your former company, and agreeing to be thrust into this role, where you’re having to wear all these different hats and going from, Engineering and Mathematics to sort of running a business and having to wear all of those different hats. Let’s talk a little bit about that and just what that experience was like, and what you learned. I know you went back to school to get your Masters to refine your skills in that, but let’s talk about that a little bit.
Lacey: Yeah, sure. It definitely was kind of a whirlwind. So, I’ve never been someone who just knew exactly what I wanted to do from the start. It wasn’t like I just always knew I wanted to do computer science. I actually changed my major fifteen times in college and just really stumbled into where I was. And so, when we decided to spin off Lojix, and I knew that was going to mean that every day was going to look a little different, it wasn’t just going to be doing the engineering side of things. I was actually really excited about it because I was able to utilize a lot of the different skills I had. And just not do the same thing every day. When you’re starting a business every day you come in, and that could mean working on a new product and improving that or that can mean interfacing with customers that can mean going out and trying to sell your product. And so it was actually really exciting for me to get to kind of utilize all the different things I had learned through the years. It was definitely scary. When you’ve been working on a product and keeping it in house, and to yourself for so long and not showing it to the world, it’s almost like, here’s my baby, and please don’t call it ugly.
Megan: And it’s going to happen, right? So you have to just like roll with it. What do you do?
Lacey: So it’s definitely nerve wracking to really put yourself out there like that but it’s also really exciting, really rewarding.
Megan: So I have a question for you. I’m curious. You said you went through several different majors while you were in school, where did you start off?
Lacey: Maybe elementary education was one. It was a big shift. I was a nursing major for some time. I’ve got a ton of like anatomy classes and biology classes under my belt. I think I was a civil engineering major at one point, so I’m super all over the place. And so I think finally, my parents were like, “We don’t care what you do, you just have to pick something.’’
Megan: Something, not me. I like the six year plan, right? So what was it that kind of led you more towards the engineering, mathematics field? Did you have a particular professor or an experience or an internship that sort of gave you that aha moment that that’s what you wanted to pursue?
Lacey: So I think there were a couple of different things, I definitely I took a mathematics class, and I had a professor that was just phenomenal. And she really kind of opened my eyes to how much fun math really can be, and that sort of thing. And then I think, really, my husband was a big inspiration to me. And so he opened my eyes. I think there’s kind of a notion around math that either like you’re a math person, or you’re not a math person, and that if it’s if math and science, and those things are hard to you, then you don’t fit that mold. When the truth is, they’re hard to everybody. It’s just whether or not it’s something you want to pursue. So it’s not like I just have this aptitude, it’s just something I decided that that’s what I wanted to put my mind towards. I think when I got over this idea that I didn’t have a preset brain or that I needed to have some sort of kind of precursors that was going to allow me to be a math or science person, then I was able to open up and actually learn and enjoy those fields.
Megan: That’s awesome. It’s amazing how you can have one or two individuals, really impact the way that you look at something. It’s amazing how those can literally transform your life. I had an experience in high school with that, with a creative writing teacher, and she would bring in like a toaster and close her eyes, and she would burn a piece of toast, and you had to just or burn a piece of bread, you know, and you had to write about like smell and just your experience in it. And it just sort of thrust you into a world that you don’t get to experience on a regular basis. I think that that’s a perfect segue into kind of what you guys are trying to do with we rocket and exposing women and showcasing all of these amazing things around the tech field, which are in Huntsville, and so that is surrounding us all over the place. But it’s not like that’s not something that’s thriving across the globe by any means. So talk a little bit about that and I realized that you guys kicked that off last year, for the first time. This year’s event is a little bit postponed because of COVID but it will be resurfaced in some way bigger and better, but talk to us about that, and what that event really entails.
Lacey: So several of us who are part of the local Women Who Code chapter kind of got together, I guess, almost two years ago now and decided that Huntsville really needed a tech conference. And something that we felt like was more representative of women and diversity in Huntsville. So we started We Rock It. It’s an annual conference; we also do some smaller events and workshops throughout the year. But the idea is, our speakers were dedicated to having a lineup of speakers that are from diverse backgrounds, or from disenfranchised groups. And basically, the idea is just to normalize, seeing those types of people up on the stage speaking, giving them a platform of a safe space that they can they can share their knowledge and their information and just normalizing having these different types of people in this industry and really promoting their talents and skills and contributions.
Megan: That’s awesome. So is it something where there are hands on workshops or opportunities to learn while you’re there? Is it more of a networking kind of get to hear from some of these subject matter experts or what sort of things can you anticipate?
Lacey: It’s a little bit of both. So we will have speakers where you they’ll just give a talk on different topics. Last year, we had several hands on workshops. We had people come in where you could build a small web project. We had an artificial intelligence workshop where you can come in and do some image processing stuff and so it’s a two day thing. We’ve got some networking opportunities and all that. So it’s kind of a full featured technical focus conference.
Megan: That’s awesome. Is the goal to- and I realized that you are only in your second year but is the goal to make this something that’s more regional, a little bit larger?
Lacey: Yeah, absolutely. We’d love to grow it. And really, that’s kind of a secondary thing. What we were trying to do is bring some more people into the Huntsville area from, Atlanta and Nashville and Chattanooga and these other kind of tech hubs all around us, that people often traveled to, to go to conferences. And so we were really hoping to start bringing some of those people in to Huntsville and showing what Huntsville has to offer.
Megan: Yeah, for those that have not been to Huntsville, it’s very unique and very different. Are you from this area?
Lacey: I am.
Megan: So what’s your opinion, you’ve obviously seen things evolve massively since you’ve been?
Lacey: Yeah, it’s different. So, I grew up here and graduated from Bob Jones. But I moved away to Texas some years ago, and then came back. So I lived in Houston for a little while, and then lived in Austin for a little while. We were gone for just a couple years and so coming back to Huntsville, was like coming back to a completely new city. It was wild. But I find it really exciting. It’s like, I feel like comfortable, like right on the edge of the cusp of this kind of boom. And I feel like now’s the time, if you can get grounded in this community and really get established that it’s, it’s going be a really great thing for a lot of people. So, I’m striving to be a part of that.
Megan: Yes, for sure. So tell us a little bit about Lojix and what you guys are doing.
Lacey: So we have built an ERP system. So Enterprise Resource Planning. So essentially, it handles all back office functionality for government contractor. So accounting, human resources, travel expense reporting, all those sorts of things. It started with Cannabis was looking for a software tool to help them kind of manage all these functions, and do so in a way that remain compliant with all the government regulations and things that they had to follow. But every kind of tool that they found that was on the market was really expensive, or just really difficult to use or outdated, and those sorts of things. And so, Jamie Payton and kind of her wisdom, decided that she was going build something in house and build something themselves. So that’s kind of how we started. And then when people found out that we were building the software, that’s when we decided to spin off Lojix. And so our goal is to really provide an affordable software solution and support other small businesses. So being a small business ourselves and coming from a small business, that’s really our niche and our passion is we really want to help see other kind of small contractors grow and to be able to provide really good tools for them at an affordable cost.
Megan: That’s awesome. So being here in Huntsville, I think, I can’t remember the last time I checked, but it’s upwards of over 500 defense contracting companies, not more than that. So a lot of them are small, really small. And there seems to be, there seems to be companies like that popping up. I’m sure there’s one that popped up during this interview while we’re sitting here. From your perspective, just being in that space, what are some of the challenges that you see that some of these small businesses have?
Lacey: So, I think they’re really similar to the challenges of a lot of different types of small business, it’s just trying to, you know, manage all of the requirements of running kind of your back office, keeping your accounting and your HR and all those things in compliant and in place, while also being able to focus on serving their customer.
When you start a business, it’s the idea that you’re going to get to whatever service or product you’re offering, that’s what you want to spend your time doing. You want to spend your time being able to do that engineering work or that product development work. But so much of your time ends up being spent on just, paper pushing and that sort of thing. And so, the more we can kind of help those small businesses reduce that workload, the more they can focus on what it is that they are really trying to do. And so I would say, you know, their challenges are a little bit different than other small businesses because they have more regulations put on them and things like that and more requirements from their customers. But that’s kind of similar to a lot of startups- it’s just trying to wear too many hats and all of those things.
Megan: Oh, that’s it. In any way that you can simplify that process, I’m sure is super helpful. Anytime you would imagine work with the DOD, I mean, those things probably change all the time and requirements change all the time and keeping up with it, I would imagine is not an easy thing to do. So I’m curious to hear from you, because we have, a lot of the women that we get a chance to collaborate with and have met just over time are in this situation of either entertaining starting a business or they kind of dabbled in it, and they don’t really know what paths to take. I know you had some resources to assist with Lojix, but what are some of the things you could maybe tell yourself a couple of years ago about now that you’ve kind of gone through this experience, and you’ve worn all these different hats, and you’re still standing and being a mom, and you guys are doing really well? What sort of advice do you have about that journey in that process that you went through?
Lacey: So, I think for me personally, it is learning to lean on people and not feel like I have to kind of know it all myself and do it all myself. I think there was a lot of that in the beginning was, you know, feeling like you got to figure it out on your own, you’re out on this limb, and you’ve taken this leap and so now you’re stuck there. And so I think, learning to really lean on the resources that are available and we’ve got some great ones here in Huntsville, for the catalyst and all sorts of things. So I think that’s a big one. Use your resources, don’t be afraid to ask questions, use your network. People are more often than not super happy to help and provide advice and things like that. So I think if I could tell myself to kind of do that a little bit earlier. And then, staying focused, I think we’ve had lots of different opportunities come down the pipeline. It’s really easy to get distracted or want to chase after this or that. So, really take the time upfront to set up your values and your goals as a company so that you can always look back to those when you’re making decisions on an opportunity. Something comes down the pipeline, it’s like, okay, that might be great but is it is it what we’re trying to do and having that to always lean back on.
Megan: That’s a really good piece of advice because I think as you’re starting, and you’re in those early years, you’re just trying to pay your bills, and not live on ramen every day. It’s really easy to get distracted by opportunities that may have monetary value, but they don’t necessarily contribute to the objectives of the business that you’re trying to build. Before you know it, you’ve sort of lost your identity a little bit in what you’re trying to do. So I love that you mentioned that, because I think a lot of people don’t invest the time upfront to really think about those types of things. If you’ve got three main objectives or three areas of focus that you really want to go towards- if those opportunities come in, and they don’t necessarily fall within one of those lanes, you have to make that decision which is hard, really hard.
Lacey: Yeah, and it can seem it can seem like a silly thing to do, especially when you’re just starting out to write down your vision statement and all that stuff. It feels very fluffy, but really, if you can hone in on that and take the time to do it. That doesn’t mean also you’re stuck with that forever if and a year or so down the road, you need to adjust that because circumstances have changed or things have changed. Like that can be a working, living document type of thing.
Megan: Yeah. I love that. It’s all about a plan, right? Set some goals, work your way backwards, that way you have this path that you can aim towards. So speaking of that, what’s next for Lojix? What gets you really excited that you guys are working on? I know obviously, you can’t share too much stuff, if there’s any top secret thing happening behind the doors, but what’s going on with you guys in the next couple of years that you’re excited about?
Lacey: Right now, we’re just really focused on growing our customer base and bringing more people onto our platform. So, a big goal for us is to reduce that switching cost. So there’s a huge amount of effort that goes into when a company has been using certain systems or software tools for them to make that switch. That can be really cumbersome and overwhelming. So we’re really focused on making that process really smooth and seamless. So that it’s just as easy as possible for our customers. We’re building out some tools and some things like that to try and kind of help. So, we’re excited about being able to do that and help our customers that way but just really growing our customer base and seeing where that takes us. Every time we get a new customer we get all sorts of new feature requests and ideas so it’s really kind of exciting to, every time we get someone new, see what they can add in to our products and how they can help us grow and so building those relationships is exciting.
Megan: That’s awesome. I bet there’s a lot of things that you hear from your customers that maybe you guys didn’t think about as feature sets or things like that, that you’re like, good to know that we didn’t think about that.
Lacey: Yeah, all the time. With our customers, we try and form real strong relationships with them, so that it’s a true kind of mutually beneficial relationship. Being able to listen to their feedback and take it seriously; that’s something we really pride ourselves in being able to do and incorporate their ideas and make their product better.
Megan: Yeah, that’s awesome. You guys are doing such amazing things and I’m super excited for you with, We Rock It and you promoting women in STEM and just shining a light on all of that. It’s just awesome. So that is a conference that you guys put on where you have a lot of sponsors, you have people that attend. So fueling STEM education and spotlight on all the amazing things that’s going on in tech, and women in tech, specifically here in North Alabama, so how can people get involved in that and support you guys?
Lacey: So we’re always looking for sponsors and partners. We’ve got our big event that we put on every year. We’re not exactly sure what it’s going to look like this year but we also have smaller workshops. We did a resume review and mock interview workshop a few months ago so if you’re a company that’s interested in hiring people in tech and wants to connect with different people, then we’ve got a huge network that we work with, and definitely love to help make those connections. So, any companies that are interested in partnering can reach out to us and find out more information.
Megan: That’s awesome. Thank you, Lacey so much, and congratulations on being a new mom.
Lacey: Thank you.
Megan: I bet that was time to put a little bump in the road in a good way. So what’s it like being in the position that you are now being mom and doing what you’re doing? What’s changed for you besides all the laundry?
Lacey: So that’s definitely been interesting. I was super excited and I love being a mom and all that stuff but there’s definitely been a lot of anxiety towards the end of my pregnancy. Right after he was born, I had maybe a fear of missing out type of thing. You know, when you’re in this small business, or startup world, things move so quickly and so I really struggled at first with feeling like, you know, pulled in a lot of different directions, and how do I navigate, you know, being focused on taking care of him and being a good mom and then also really being still dedicated to my work. I have to take it one day at a time. And kind of just learn to navigate those waters, definitely adding the Coronavirus and quarantine has made it easy.
Megan: Life just throws you what you can handle.
Lacey: It’s been a good lesson. We’re learning how to pivot and how to just go with the flow. I don’t know that I have any advice just yet. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Megan: Well keep in mind that these months, and these days, and these years of your son being so young, you won’t get to have them back. He’s only this little one time, so you don’t you don’t want to get caught up in the day to day and to look back like, “I missed his first word” or you know, or whatever it might be. It’s very exciting. Congratulations to you.
Lacey: Thank you.
Megan: That’s awesome. Well, Lacey, thank you so much for your time today. I really do appreciate it. And definitely appreciate you shining a spotlight and women in tech. It is super exciting to hear about Lojix and everything you guys are doing and I can’t wait to see what you guys are going to be in the next couple of years. I know you’ve got a lot of killer team members supporting you guys so it’s going be awesome, but thank you so much. I really do appreciate it. Alright, have a good one. Take care.