By the year 2030, 1 in 10 cars will be driven by robots — yes, robots! As more driverless vehicles hit the road, the automotive industry is relying on tech to make our cars safer and more comfortable. Plus, as intelligent connected hubs, cars also will be able to serve as personal assistants. How will this improve our lives? Stephanie Cherrin, investor for Porsche Digital, shares how Porshe and the auto industry are investing in innovative tech.
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The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther
Featured In This Episode
Stephanie is an experienced venture capitalist who has dedicated her career to facilitating exponential growth for startups. Her mastery in business strategy, in tandem with her deeply intuitive interpersonal skills across cultures, creates enormous value, both within the corporate setting and the global marketplace.
Stephanie is an investor at Porsche Digital. Porsche Digital builds digital products and services beyond the core business and explores future technologies such as AI, blockchain and quantum computing to develop innovative industry solutions and drive the digital ecosystem.
Adriana Gascoigne (00:00):
I’m Adriana Gascoigne, founder of Girls in Tech, and this is The Girls in Tech Podcast, where we’re discussing the ways tech is always evolving and helping the world evolve too. Listen in, get inspired and learn how you can use your skills to create the change you want to see in the world. Here’s your host, Zuzy Martin-Aly.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (00:20):
There’s a company that will value you for you. There’s a tech job where your skill set and unique perspectives are appreciated. By inviting you to share the real you the Girls in Tech Jobs Board helps you find that job so that you can take the next step in your career with confidence. Go to jobs.girlsintech.org today. That’s jobs.girlsintech.org.
Stephanie Cherrin (00:44):
There’s these insane kind of chemistry innovations around batteries, around fuel, around how do we recycle the batteries that we’re using and producing because that’s a whole other element within production of cars. And how do you make this entire thing sustainable for the planet while also maintaining some sort of normal around moving ourselves and not relying on other people to move us?
Zuzy Martin-Aly (01:08):
If there’s an industry where it’s exciting to think about tech evolving it’s definitely automotive. Cars, cars, cars, electric cars, cars that talk to us, know what we need, flying cars. What does the feature of tech bring in automotive? And how did my guest, Stephanie Cherrin of Porsche Digital, find her path to becoming an innovation venture capitalist in one of the most male-dominated industries in the world?
Here’s my conversation with Stephanie.
Okay, Stephanie, so you were telling us how you grew up in Marin County, which is just north of San Francisco — Bay Area girl. And I love what you were saying that your journey was like a combination of luck and rebellion. If you could repeat that and just bring us through that journey, a girl from Marin who then lives abroad and somehow ends up being an investor at Porsche.
Stephanie Cherrin (02:01):
Yeah. So growing up, I have a British mom who is very British and an American dad, and I think that I was always conditioned on the international prospects of things. And also, my dad’s a musician and my mom is also actually a musician and now a life coach. And so, neither of my parents took a very linear path in their careers, and so I think I was encouraged from a very young age to do things a little bit differently. And I whatever I wanted to do … like I was so passionate about being a Marine biologist for I think all of middle school and most of high school, and I thought I was going to save sea turtles on remote beaches around the world. And me coming to where I am in my career, which I couldn’t be happier, I actually love. I feel very lucky to love what I do every day, but it was definitely not — if you’d asked me 15 years ago if I was going to be doing this I’d be like, “Are you crazy? I’m terrible at numbers. I could never do this.”
Stephanie Cherrin (02:57):
So this kind of non-linear path that you take — I think it’s a lucky one if you’re not meant to do the same academic route or you’re expected to be on this academic route that doesn’t suit you and it might disqualify you from the fields that you’d actually be very good at. It’s just because you don’t fit a mold. And so, I think for me having this really diverse — and definitely, if you look at it on the surface from my CV, totally disconnected education and professional trajectory — I was just really lucky to land on my feet and in a way that I don’t think that everybody does. And I think that part of what I feel really strongly about is talking to younger people about how it’s okay to not know or how it’s okay to not start in the career or study the field that you ultimately will end up in. So yeah, that’s a long-winded way of saying I did everything a little bit differently.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (03:51):
I love that. And that’s very San Francisco Bay area, right? The nonlinear path is really encouraged as long as you’re going in the direction of interest and you’re connecting the dots that lead you to where you are now, right? So how did you fall in love with finance eventually?
Stephanie Cherrin (04:11):
Yeah, so I’m not so sure it would be a love of finance per se — it was more like a discovery of finance. So, when I was in high school, I wanted for the first half to be a marine biologist, in the second half to go into international relations. And so, I had this itch. I went to Israel when I was I think a sophomore in high school, and I had obviously the time of my life because Tel Aviv is the most fun city on the planet. And I was like, “Nope, you know what? I’m just going to move to Israel. I actually don’t want to go to college in America.” And so my mom was like, “You know what fine. Why don’t you go take a gap year in Israel, see if you like it, see what’s going on, get it out of your system, and then you come right back here and go into international relations.”
Stephanie Cherrin (04:52):
And then while I was there I found a school, which is ironic because at the time they only had an English, an international program, either international relations or business. And I automatically discounted and disqualified myself from the business track because this whole narrative that I grew up with, mostly self-inflicted, was, “I’m not good at numbers, and if I’m not good at numbers, I won’t be good at business.” So, I went down this path of international relations, and Israel, I would say, is one of the top places to study counterterrorism and security. And you get swept up in life. And so, I did it for three years, and then I went to do my master’s in London at King’s College in international relations in the war studies program, so for terrorism, security and society.
Stephanie Cherrin (05:42):
After finishing my master’s, I didn’t really want to do it anymore, so I went back to Israel and got my first job as a financial analyst, which was not trivial because what they were looking for was a bunch of international people. It was a third-party company that would cover certain markets and trends for clients. So some of those clients were JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank and HSBC and Premera and all these big private equity funds. That was my first exposure to this, and I had to learn all these things about earning statements and be on the button as soon as they came out — and I was good at it. And I actually, the company ended up closing its office in Israel. It’s still around, but I stayed on freelance for JP Morgan for five years after that.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (06:29):
The automotive industry heavily skews male, and I’m curious to know what attracted you to this industry. And now that you’re here, how is it being a woman in this world?
Stephanie Cherrin (06:40):
So it’s funny because I never actually intended … like even before when I got the job at Porsche I wasn’t drawn to it … It was an amazing brand and beautiful cars but I wasn’t drawn to it because I was particularly interested in automotive. I remember when we were in Israel cars are so expensive there and so when we moved to the states a couple of years ago all, I wanted was a Mini Cooper. And we did and I got my Mini, and when I got the job at Porsche I was like, “If I get one it’s okay. If not, I really don’t care. I have my Mini, I’m still happy.” And obviously now that’s changed. I’ve had the privilege of driving some of the nicest and the best cars in the world.
Stephanie Cherrin (07:19):
But coming to the automotive industry, I mean, I think that when you are working in a corporate VC you’re in a way shielded from the core of a company. But Porsche, I think, A) being in Atlanta … the headquarters of Porsche Cars North America is in Atlanta, which is a very diverse city anyways. And so, it’s actually really refreshing going to our onboarding experience at the headquarters and seeing that there were a lot of women, a lot of people of color, just a very different face of what you even see in Silicon Valley. So I think in that way, I’ve been very fortunate. Most automotive companies I think have the traditional usual suspects at the top, but I do think that there is a shift in trying to change that or at least encourage that through progressive HR policies.
Stephanie Cherrin (08:11):
The head of HR at Porsche, she’s pretty plugged in. And I would say that they do a lot. They know what they don’t know, and I feel lucky that they have such an initiative. We do a lot around diversity and inclusion. I’m a mom, I have two kids. It’s been this kind of journey that I think everybody’s navigating together. But financial services and automotive, the top of the top you see pretty much the same faces just with different names.
Stephanie Cherrin (08:37):
And this is the time that we as women we’re being given this unique opportunity. Because as soon as more women are represented in places of decision-making … Or in my case as a VC, I get sent a lot of startups, and I get sent a lot of different decks and I am in a position to … I’m the first gate, I’m by no means the ultimate decision maker. But being the first gate, you have a tendency, this is what perpetuates all of these male-dominated industries is you have a tendency to go with what is familiar or comfortable or something that you can see yourself in. So the more people you have in those positions, the more diverse the influx will be. So, I see women-run companies, and I am more inclined to want to meet them because not only do I feel responsible that we need to have more representation of female founders and funding of female founders everywhere, but I can relate to them. And so, all of a sudden you get a much more diverse group of people running companies and that’s exactly what we’re aiming for.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (09:46):
So before we get into all the really cool innovation that’s happening in the automotive industry I’m really curious to know how motherhood has influenced your perspective and perhaps change your perspective on innovation.
Stephanie Cherrin (10:02):
Yeah. Well, I think that there’s no such thing anymore as work-life balance; it’s all about work-life integration. And our traditional nine-to-five work hours are A) different because you’re no longer working from home, you’re living at work. And so, how do you really balance that elegantly in a way that is fair to your job and also fair to your kids? And the best innovations happen when you are the busiest because you have to be hyper-focused on dividing your time. And so, making sure that your time is much more efficient wherever you’re spending it, whether that’s being with your kids, you hopefully are much more efficient or much more attentive because you know you have finite amount of time. And the same goes when you’re working, you know that there is going to be a stop clock that says, “Okay, now it’s time to transition back into this other part of your identity.” And you have to really maximize your time.
Stephanie Cherrin (10:56):
So I found being a parent, I have two very small kids, I have a three-month-old and a five-month-old, so a three-year-old and a five-month old sorry. So, the kind of attention that they demand is obviously different. But I feel like I’m a better mom when I’m working and I’m a better employee when I’m a mom if that makes any sense. Because I really balance this duality of who I am, and I’m fulfilled very much in both areas. And so, when you’re fulfilled and you feel good about what you’re doing, you do it with much more pleasure and you’re probably much more effective, and that’s definitely how I see myself.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (11:29):
That’s beautiful, and I love how you said there’s the work-life balance. I feel like that term actually put pressure on those of us that are moms to be perfect. So I love how you broke it down and you’re like, “No, it’s just life and you are fulfilled in each area and that makes you a better overall person.” So thank you for sharing that.
Stephanie Cherrin (11:49):
Zuzy Martin-Aly (11:50):
Okay. Onto the fun, beautiful technology innovation that’s happening in automotive. So Porsche Digital is essentially an innovation lab where digital products and services are built using future technologies. I am dying to know what tech would you say is in most demand right now in building cars for the immediate future.
Stephanie Cherrin (12:13):
So I think the most in-demand, it depends on what your goal is, right? So if your goal, which a lot of people are trying to get to 100% autonomy, a lot of that is the most accurate positioning systems, the LIDAR, the detection, the navigation, ways to make it safer and smarter within the vehicle. And so, we’re definitely, we have actually an entire lab dedicated to just those technologies. And then, I would say you have the autonomy, and then I guess the experience in the car so that’s the infotainment, that could be through VR, that could be AR. How do you make it a much more useful experience? So if you can see on a heads-up display in AR that in 100 meters there’s going to be a McDonald’s, and in two miles you’ll get to see there’s a zoo to take your kids or it’ll learn you in a much more personalized way.
Stephanie Cherrin (13:12):
So, making your car an extension of your everyday experiences … it’s like your cell phone, like your car being an extension of yourself. Knowing that the lights are on in your home and being able to control the garage door. Which you can do now, but I mean in a little bit more of an integrated way, like a Nest system. I know that a lot of companies are looking into that. So it’s how do you level-up the vehicle to not be a vehicle but to be much more an extension of one’s every day?
Zuzy Martin-Aly (13:41):
Everyone seems to be pushing technology in the cars forward at a lightning speed because it’s one of the most in-demand features that customers are looking for just to make their lives easier, right?
Stephanie Cherrin (13:57):
Zuzy Martin-Aly (13:58):
So how do you see society changing with these types of innovations? Can you walk us through your future vision, let’s say 10 years from now, what will our experience with cars be?
Stephanie Cherrin (14:11):
Yeah. I love that question because I think it’s such an interesting one. It’s like people say, “We’re not going to have cars and people aren’t going to drive cars.” I don’t actually, and this is my personal belief sorry, but I don’t believe that people aren’t going to drive cars. I will always want to drive a car. And I think that as Porsche, we say we want to be the last car people are still driving. For a commute, I think our commute will change. The more routine ways of transporting oneself are going to change and driving will probably be much more of a fun hobby, a luxury, something to that effect. Micro mobility is a really good, I think we’re in micro mobility 1.0, and we’re to move to a smarter, better way of doing last-mile and middle-mile transportation. And I think that will seamlessly integrate in a vehicle.
Stephanie Cherrin (15:00):
I think that you’ll be able to drive maybe to a big lot that’ll be outside a city and then you’ll take your secondary form of transportation that’s going to be electric. It’s going to be friendly. You’re going to be able to fit it right in your car and take it right out and it’s going to be light. Our entire way of moving about the world is going to be different. We’re looking at alternative fuels to say that maybe it’s not all going to become 100% electric so that the combustion engines that are on the road now will then be able to still be used, but it will still be done in a sustainable way. So turning condensation into gasoline which is what you have a couple of companies that are doing that.
Stephanie Cherrin (15:37):
There’s these insane chemistry innovations around batteries, around fuel, around how do we recycle the batteries that we’re using and producing because that’s a whole other element within production of cars? And how do you make this entire thing sustainable for the planet while also maintaining some sort of normal around moving ourselves and not relying on other people to move us? It’s like a big balance.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (16:00):
I love it. How soon do you think this future will arrive? It feels like COVID shifted us into being able to shift into a new reality very, very quickly. So I’m wondering with advances in technology how soon do you think we will be able to adapt the future when it comes to automotive? I know that this was supposed to be the year of the autonomous car, and COVID slowed that down but predictions are that by 2030, 10 years from now, one in 10 cars will be driverless. And like you said, it would probably change commutes and change the day-to-day of certain things. But how soon do you think we’ll be able to adopt these changes?
Stephanie Cherrin (16:48):
I hate to give a prediction because whatever I say is most likely going to change a thousand times, probably even in the next six months. But I tend to be a little bit more conservative when I think about autonomous. At least in a conventional sense of it being out for everybody, I think the safety concerns there are still too great that … we’re more tolerant of somebody hitting somebody else as an accident than we are of an autonomous vehicle hitting somebody by accident, right? Just as a society, we can wrap our minds around human error much more than we can wrap our minds around machine error. And so as a result, which I think is about right, I think that right now autonomous vehicles are probably still safer than humans driving them, but our risk tolerance or at least our risk aversion to that idea is too high.
Stephanie Cherrin (17:40):
So, when it will be rolled out commercially and in a broad consumer sense will still be some time and I think it may be even another 10 years. But I think we will find alternative applications for autonomous. So, in geo-fenced areas like around Disneyland or around nursing communities and places that have much more predictable movements and patterns, I think that that’s where we’ll see that. There’s a company called Optimus Ride that’s doing that, another company called Phantom Auto which is remote autonomy. So, they work with Postmates now. They have drones. There’s people in an office that have access to the vehicles and they partly drive themselves but there is a human there for the default just in case.
Stephanie Cherrin (18:33):
So, we’re going to see these hybrid systems, and I think because everything will be this very slow transition … very much like we’re so resilient … People have adjusted to COVID so quickly in ways that if you would have asked us a year ago I think we would have said, “Nobody could have predicted how the world would behave.” And some for the better, some for the worst, but overall humans are incredibly resilient and adaptable. And so I think that we will just, every step that we take will become the new normal, and we’ll look back and be like, “Oh my gosh, how did we get here so quickly?” But that’s because we will have adapted to every incremental advancement that we make along the way.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (19:14):
Any advice for people that want to go into the automotive industry, perhaps into investing, but otherwise into technology within?
Stephanie Cherrin (19:24):
Do it. Just do it. That’s what I would say. Because I think that the time is ripe now that I think everybody’s looking for new technology. I think that it’s an extremely competitive and yet extremely accessible industry. It’s becoming so much more so accessible that it’s a time when the whole world is changing, and technologies are going to change in so many different industries. They’re going to create new ones like flying, vertical mobility as we call it. So flying things, whether they’re cars, taxis, or whatever, race cars, there’s going to be that change. And I think that there’s so much room that there isn’t an incumbent at the moment in these big new technology companies. There are ones that have been around, there are ones that are successful, but that doesn’t mean that new innovation, there’s no room for it.
Stephanie Cherrin (20:13):
It’s a saturated market but still the Wild Wild West for newness. And so I would just say go for it. I think it’s a really exciting time to get involved in automotive, and it’s a really exciting time to be in tech. So especially for women. I say that because I think that people are looking for women now in a way that is genuine. People want to see more women. There are more women investors, creating more women founders, creating more women-led companies. Just this really great positive wave that has awoken in people. So, I think the time is now. I think it’s a really great ripe opportunity.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (20:52):
So people often talk about the disadvantages of being a woman in male-dominated industries, but you’re focusing on the advantages. What would you say are some of the advantages of being a woman?
Stephanie Cherrin (21:04):
I always say I think it’s funny because we as women can take liberties and speak in ways that our male counterparts can’t, and I probably at times take too much advantage of that, but I think that in the way that I can relate to people that I work with in a business setting sometimes even the more traditional older men, there’s a way of speaking that is a bit cheekier. We can get away with being a little bit cheeky in a way that we are always talked down at like it’s sometimes degrading like, “Oh, she’s really bossy or she’s really controlling.” It’s only ways of saying that we’re strong, powerful women. And I think we should fully take advantage of the fact that we’re expected to do that so we should just do it. Because it’s much more difficult to say no to somebody who’s going to be pushy with a little bit of a cheeky smile and we should lean into those things.
Stephanie Cherrin (21:56):
We should lean into our stereotypes because I do think sometimes they give us an advantage, and until that’s no longer the case, we should be using everything that we have in our arsenal, and I definitely do that. So, at times I think that we’re disadvantaged by opportunity, but if we have the platform, it’s sometimes we have so many more advantages to our male counterparts to actually take them and create more and more and more, and get people to listen. So yeah, I think that we shouldn’t focus as women on what we don’t get or how we don’t get or where we don’t have or where it’s imbalanced because that’s all true and we all know that but I think it’s much more leaning into what people are expecting of us and lean into it and prove them right and then wrong. Do you know what I mean? Be cheeky and be bossy, and if you do that, you’re only winning.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (22:51):
I love that and 100% agree with you. How does one become a VC as a woman or as a person that’s on the outside? Was it through you following a mentor? How did you land in this position?
Stephanie Cherrin (23:07):
Yeah, it’s actually a very good question because it’s a very closed community, I would say, in general. In Israel it’s a bit different. I think it’s a little bit more open to different backgrounds which I was lucky to get my opening in Israel. But there was a VC firm that was three floors down from a job that I had that I really didn’t like in a marketing company. And I met the founder and the managing partner, and he really liked me. And he was like, “I’m just starting. Do you want to help me? I need someone that’s good at marketing and speaks English.” And I was like, “Okay.”
Stephanie Cherrin (23:37):
And so, he was my first mentor, and he really taught me from the ground up what it meant to build a VC, the dynamics, the economics, and from there I was able to stand on my own two feet. And then I jumped over, and I was running the early-stage fund for T-Mobile in Israel, and that was my big break to do it on my own. But I got a foundation from someone who saw me and was like, “I like you, I don’t even know if you’re qualified but will you join me?” And I was like, “Great.” So that’s how I got in, and I think that that happens in many cases. It’s usually who you know.
Stephanie Cherrin (24:09):
If you know you want to get into VC, I think it’s you need to find other people who are in it and just talk. Talk to everybody. It’s all about who you know. And I think ultimately a network is a really important thing whether you want to make a lateral move, you want to get a promotion, you want to switch jobs, you want to switch industries. I think the more you are out there talking to people that are different to you that the more opportunities you’ll find. And so that’s how I did it. I was just lucky.
Zuzy Martin -Aly (24:40):
I love that. So, your network is obviously so important but I also hear you saying being bold and having confidence in yourself but also having someone that believes in you. So I imagine that you are paying that forward now that you’ve been in this world for so many years and hopefully, I know you’re inspiring so many people with all that you’ve shared today. Any final thoughts or inspiring words to share with the Girls in Tech audience?
Stephanie Cherrin (25:09):
I think the number one thing that I wish that I had let my little inner voices say to me more was whatever you want to do, don’t think of why you can’t do it. I don’t kick myself cause I don’t regret but this little bug, Why would I ever say that I wasn’t good at numbers? I’m a VC, I’ve been investing now for the last seven years. It’s not about that. I think it’s we need to be more cognizant of what we can do and figure out what we think we can’t.
Stephanie Cherrin (25:40):
And so, the number one thing I would say is if there’s something that you want to do and you’re not entirely sure how to get there just do it. Find your way, open a door that doesn’t even look like it’s a door. Break down a wall and find people that are like you. Because I was lucky to have mentors on my path. And find people that understand you and that didn’t get to go down the traditional path or didn’t excel in the traditional way and help them open doors for you because you can, I mean it’s cheesy but you actually can do whatever you want.
Zuzy Martin-Aly (26:14):
So thank you for being with me today and thank you for having this really exciting conversation.
Stephanie Cherrin (26:20):
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to connect with anybody that would find it valuable because I was there and I really believe that we can only get further if we help each other so and I genuinely mean that.
Adriana Gascoigne (26:34):
Thank you for listening to today’s episode. The Girls in Tech Podcast is a production of Tote and Pears. Were you inspired by what you heard today? Head over to girlsintech.org to find more resources for starting and advancing a career in tech including our jobs board and personal and professional development programs designed to help you excel. And be sure to tune in every other Tuesday for new episodes. See you next time.
The Girls in Tech Podcast is produced by Tote + Pears.
Music By: Adrian Dominic Walther