Everything We Found Episode 1: Tracey Welson-Rossman

Tracey Welson-Rossman runs marketing for Philadelphia-based technology company Chariot Solutions. Many other folks know her as the founder behind TechGirlz — with a Z — a nonprofit that develops free technology workshops that help inspire middle school aged girls all over the world to explore careers in technology.  She was also a founding member of Philly Startup Leaders — Philadelphia’s largest and most active community of startup entrepreneurs. Tracey’s been exploring the idea of what she calls an “itchy brain,” as she explains on this episode.

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Joe Taylor: [00:00:00] This is Everything We Found, conversations from Search and Replace. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. This companion podcast includes all the interviews and ideas we couldn't fit into our regular show. And while Search and Replace is designed for radio, we don't have the same time constraints here. Every once in a while, I get to talk with someone who's got way more ideas than we could ever fit into seven minutes.

And that's the case with this episode's guest Tracey Welson- Rossman runs marketing for Philadelphia based technology company Chariot Solutions. Many other folks know her as the founder behind TechGirls - that's with a Z-  a nonprofit that develops free technology workshops that help inspire middle school aged girls all over the world to explore careers in technology.

She was also a founding member of Philly Startup Leaders, Philadelphia's largest and most active community of startup entrepreneurs. Tracey has been exploring the idea of what she calls an itchy brain. And I'll let her explain in this special presentation of our full interview, with just a few edits for clarity.

I know Nicole, in the pre-interview, came back to me and said the first question I need to ask you is 'tell me about the sensation of your brain getting itchy.'

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:01:25] I know. I guess the older I get the weirder I get. That's all I can say. I think the best way I can describe my brain being itchy is I have this idea or thought that... it just a keeps knocking in my head and I really need to figure out what to do with it. So it relates to ideas, more than anything when I refer to that. So that your audience is not think that I'm totally losing it. But I really have thought about this over the last- or captured the idea- over the last, I would say, year and a half. As I have been writing more, as I've been gathering different areas and bringing them together. My LinkedIn bios- I've put on there dot connector.

And I think that bringing these different pieces together sometimes just ,it's a lot and he needs to get that information out. And for me until I've scratched that itch, I just need to just get it out, whether it's on paper, whether it's talking to somebody. And it may not be a business idea, it could just be a group of pieces that I've seen come together ,that I think come together, into a cohesive sort of narrative.

I hope that makes sense. 

Joe Taylor: [00:03:04] I think it does. Tell me- I wasnt to go a little bit deeper. Tell me more from your perspective, the sensation of that idea starting to itch you and trying to get out. Does it pop into your head at unexpected times? What's it feel like for you when you're jestating one of theseideas? 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:03:23] Yeah, it's really more of  over a period of time and I'll give you an example of something that I've been trying to get out there, but it hasn't found a place yet. It may not find a home. So bringing together the idea of women in music and women in tech and how there's similarities between -- and music and technology are two areas that are dear near and dear to me-- how do those two relate? How can I bring those two audiences together?

And that started probably about two years ago. As I was seeing some people who were doing smaller festivals and then also just seeing how some of the musicians, whether they're men or women, are very entrepreneurial in their way, because they are building, they're building new brand-- they're building a business around themselves.

There's just that similarity between those two groups. And then how do you allow each of those groups to commingle?

I have this idea called the Women in Tech and Music tour or festival, which we were going to bring to light during the Women in Tech Summit. And then of course this year that went down the tubes because there's no live events. So that may just be thing that winds up being like... The sensation of something that's itching on my brain it's almost like until I can bring it to-some sort of end- and it could be failure- but I just want to see it happen in some form or fashion. So this one hasn't been able to be resolved yet.

Joe Taylor: [00:05:24] Knowing that all of this is in flux. And as a sidebar, I think this touches on a lot of my own interests and experiences as well.

One of my running projects has been, I came up through the music industry in the early nineties and then I pivoted, like many people, in the two thousands to tech. And I cannot help but observe all of the mirror similarities between the A&R people that I interacted with in the nineties and all of the VCs that I know now. They're same people.

Some of them literally are the same people. And so it does strike me that I feel, when I hear you say that, a lot of the musicians that I've interviewed over the years, there are so many similarities between women I know who we're trying to make space for themselves in this industry, in the nineties and the women I know now who are trying to make space for themselves in technology today. 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:06:30] So you see..

Joe Taylor: [00:06:32] Yeah, that idea absolutely resonates with me. So when you bump into the external blockers. Right? So what I'm hearing is under normal, quote unquote, what passed for normal in January. I think you've got a path to what this idea would have manifested as.

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:07:00] Correct, correct.

Joe Taylor: [00:07:01] Okay. So when you run into that kind of blocker, how can you shepherd the idea around that to something that your brain will feel like, even if it's not a win, even if it doesn't register as exactly what the idea was, how does it get to resolution as opposed to failure? 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:07:24] Yeah. I don't know with this, because I am not an audio person.

I am going to need to find somebody whocan help me if we're going to live stream. And that's one of the things that is a blocker right now. If I had done this early on in the pandemic, I think we could have been able to execute. I could have found somebody. It wouldn't have had to be perfect. All of these different things.

Now I feel like there's some other forces that are out there that may be conspiring against me to execute on this idea right now. And to some extent, I may have to give myself a little bit of grace to say, all right, you need to shelve this away and bring it back when circumstances are better for you to be able to. I can run a live event.

That's not an issue. It's a live in person event. There's other things that are behind the scenes that are out of my wheelhouse. So I either have to find somebody who can help me execute, or I just have to shelve it for the moment and just know that it's just going to bother me. So that's part of the sensation is that it's bothering me. And I'll bring another musical reference here. I remember... I don't know if you're familiar with Tori Amos. 

Joe Taylor: [00:08:48] Oh yeah. 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:08:49] But she's, if you've ever heard her interview, she's very... she's very cosmic, let's put it that way. I think that's a nice way of putting it. She would say that her songs would be talking to her. And she named them and they had references. It was like they were embodied. And I always think about that too, with these ideas, with these connections that they're almost living, breathing pieces of me and that they're inside of me and okay, they're talking to me. I get it. It sounds out there, but I think that's just part of the creativity that I bring to my job and outside interests.

And I've never talked to anyone about this. So, you're the first to hear this one.

Joe Taylor: [00:09:42] Nicole and I, when we started this project, we said we wanted to open up space for folks to talk about the kinds of things that they normally don't talk about in their day jobs. And I think the neat thing here, again, this resonates with all the musicians I've ever worked with and interviewed will say something that, again, resonates here.

There's often this bell curve between the hit song that just drops out of the sky and into your lap in 20 minutes. And then the piece that takes so much more effort to materialize. And most of the musicians I know will tell you there's hardly ever any middle ground. It either just appears fully formed and pop within a half hour.

If you can you think the exhibit Apple I always love is the idea that Dolly Parton wrote, if I have the story, she wrote "I Will Always Love You" and "Jolene" in the same day.

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:10:50] Wow

Joe Taylor: [00:10:52] And so many other song writers will tell you that they might have spent a year on something that, in their mind, won't even touch either of those things. Even folks who have had number one hits would say something like that. So I think the crux of what I've been talking about with folks lately has been, anything can be a creative piece.

I think business can be creative, technology can certainly be creative. Some of the best developers I know, remind me of the best songwriters that I know because they approach code in that same way. 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:11:35] And, Oh, I'm sorry to interrupt.

Joe Taylor: [00:11:38] No, go ahead.

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:11:39] I think that is something that we lose when we talk about business. That business can be creative.

It's not just about being in marketing or the creative, visual piece. If you're a web designer or graphics or things like that. There's a creative piece to what I do and what others do when you were developing a business when you were developing new ideas and it may not be seen as something that is giving back to humanity.

But I think that by allowing those in the business community to understand, and then in the tech community to understand, that there is a creative piece to what we do. And to name it as such. That's why I'm very interested in hearing about other people's creative process. I'm fascinated by that. Whether they're musicians or filmmakers or somebody who's creating a deal. That process, I think there's so much to learn from that we can apply to each other's lives. 

Joe Taylor: [00:12:56] Absolutely. The thing that always strikes a chord for me is the idea of the role that your creative output plays in the lives of audiences or customers or fans that you never get to meet, or might not ever interact with.

And some of the best creative business people that I've ever met are those folks that have the bandwidth, or the capacity, to understand that do you need bandwidth for that transcendent experience to happen. Whether that's in a shop or store that you've put together or in the interpersonal interactions between a customer and an employee. Or it's about thinking of it in the same way of what happens when a performer is on stage. And sometimes this can get boiled down into cliché by folks that are trying to use it to beat something over the head, but the idea of thinking about the business or the event or the thing in that same reverence as a performer playing a song or a troop putting on a show.

It leads you to thinking about your audience in a much more empathetic way, I found. When you were... and with the expectation that we will come around to a new version of normal, that probably won't look like what normal looked like a year ago. When you are back to interacting with folks in person at events and producing events. What to you is the hallmark of an event or an experience that draws that creative spark out of the people that are attending your event or a part of the organizations that you've put together. 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:15:09] I never imagined that I would, that part of what I do is event driven. It just developed over a period of time and that's how I think about things. And to me, it's about bringing together. It is about creating community. It is about providing, in what I do, is providing information. I think it's really... any event that I do if you can't leave the event with something that you can use in your life, business life, maybe creative life, depending on what I'm doing, then I haven't done my job.

I see a lot of events that wind up, especially on the business side, there they're very surface. And for me, that's not what I want to give back. I want to really drive down as much as I can. And if I am doing something that is, I always say, are we looking at this from the 50,000 foot view or are we looking at it from the 5,000 or 1000 foot view? Like, how detailed does it need to be? And that's also understanding your audience and what you're delivering. So even if I get to do this music mashup with... music and entrepreneur mashup. I'm hoping that what's going to come out of that is going to be how we can help each other, how women can help each other, no matter where their business or creativity lies.

So that would be an example. That's just important to me. And that's how I try and think about the content that I'm putting together. 

Joe Taylor: [00:16:53] Tell me what bit more about your journey from being someone who is executing ideas on behalf of someone else to executing your own ideas and being that vision, being the visionary and not just the integrator to use the business terms.

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:17:15] Yeah. And I think I found, first of all, it's part of a journey that I never thought that I would be on. And I guess at some point, in the first quarter of my career is when my husband and I purchased a business and we became entrepreneurs running a small business where it wasn't my idea, but I was still running it. Technically I was executed on somebody else's idea, but it was for me to make the money off of that. So maybe that was the first step. But I think where that jump came was when I could feel that I could try and start something and not be afraid. A lot of times we talk about, Oh what would we tell our younger selves with the wisdom that we've gained right now. And some many times I hear other people, and I say this a lot. Don't be so afraid. And I think that when I let go of fear of failure, that I could become that person who could have that idea and run with it and lead.

Now, when I talk about fear of failure, I also sort of juxtapose that with the idea of, you also have to understand the risks that you're taking so that you're not losing your entire livelihood or wellbeing with not jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But again, when I start thinking about what do I have to lose if I try this, that to me has been the, really the catalyst for changing who I am.

Joe Taylor: [00:19:14] So as you continue on this journey, what do you think you want to project forward when you, let's say-- and I'm sure we'll talk again sooner than this. But we're having this conversation again in 10 years and you're looking back, what would you want the future you to be telling the you right now?

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:19:45] I feel like I should get tissues out to let me think about that. I would say that I continue to allow people to gain information so that they were able to build off of what I had done. TechGirlz was definitely for me. This weekend, this one of our early moms of one of -- for some reason we weren't connected on LinkedIn.

So I connect with her on LinkedIn and then she writes this  three paragraph piece of what I had given to her and her daughter and other people who were impacted by the work. You don't think about that when you're starting something, but when you get to look back and somebody is able to give you that perspective of what you have done, that's what I want to do.

Joe Taylor: [00:20:55] Fantastic. I want to loop back because we talked about it on the last series we did, but I want to grab just a little bite for context. Tell us a little bit about TechGirlz and how that came to be. 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:21:12] TechGirlz came to be because of the work that I do. And this is the dot connecting, right? The work that I do at Chariot.

So I started at Chariot Solutions, one of the early founders. The origin story of TechGirlz always goes back to I'm the only woman sitting on the management team. We have very few women that have cycled through Chariot. And I didn't really understand the why, of why was I not seeing more women come into this field?

I really didn't understand it. I was working with really smart people. There was variety in what we were doing, the impact, the change that was happening, the flexibility. All these things just seem to me a place where women would thrive. I sat with the idea for a little bit, and it wasn't the idea of TechGirlz it was the idea of I see this problem and I don't know how I can make a change. How I can change this. So in between being a part of Chariot Solutions and starting TechGirlz, I was part of the founding of Philly Startup Leaders. So it was not my idea, but it was part of the founding board. And I think that it was really interesting that piece allowed me to jump, to feel that I could take my chance on starting TechGirlz, because we started an organization from scratch. So it wasn't like, Oh I just went from Chariot to TechGirlz. There was this group in between, which was an ability for me to learn along with other people. During that time period, it was also understanding what the ecosystem was for women in tech, doing research.

One thing that I find important for myself is that if I have something that is bothering me, if I start talking to people about it and laying down the gauntlet for myself, that I'm going to try and do something, I wind up finding other people who are interested in the idea and want to be part of the journey. And it also keeps me accountable, so that I not just spewing ideas. So, I got to a point where I understood that I had an idea. I had people that I could work with who could help me formulate a plan. And then we could say, Hey we tried this and it worked or didn't work. And we would have a point. And that's really, to me, it took a while.

And I would say that it was probably five years in my head. And I didn't have the term then, but yeah, it was itching my brain and the way that it came out was TechGirlz. 

Joe Taylor: [00:24:20] Great. I think we've got plenty here for an amazing episode. And I know I took you a little bit over time. Is there anything else that you want to add or anything else I should be asking you right now?

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:24:31] I don't know. I think your audience, this part you may need to cut, but your audience is probably going to think that I am really strange. No, I don't think so. Certainly this was- it was an interesting prep, the questions that Nicole sent. And I had to really think about what bothers you. And I didn't want to be negative about it.

It's just the exact question, I have it right here If you don't mind me going over. What is the thing that you have… I have lots of stuff that I have trouble tolerating. 

Joe Taylor: [00:25:03] Yeah, that's right. It is the year 2020, so... 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:25:08] Right- there's lots of stuff. So I had to really think about it. And I think that it's.. I think that if you could put this in. I think it's important. The fear. So many of us, there's so many people I know who have ideas. I hear them all the time. And they don't go past talking about an idea, like whether they're afraid of failure. And I've heard this also in various parts of my life, Oh, if we do this, it's going to make us look bad. And I go back and I say, who's going to think we're going to look bad?

So, it's again, letting go of how people are going to see you and understanding, if you really take it down to what is the worst that would happen. And for the most part, people are holding themselves back because of fear of what other people are going to say or think about, you know, it not working.

Joe Taylor: [00:26:19] I think what you're saying aligns with what so many of the guests for this series are telling us. It's exactly the case of whatever hangups we have over the people that are in our lives or how we might perceive the market or an audience. And I think, again, it comes right back to songwriters. I can think of songwriters who decide mid- career that they, Oh I would like to write some Americana now can't wait to see what the labels are going to think of this.

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:26:57] Oh yeah. Yeah. And they get put in this box and it's a shame.

Joe Taylor: [00:27:02] And ‘cause... 

Tracey Welson-Rossman: [00:27:05] Yeah. I totally get that. 

Joe Taylor: [00:27:07] So, I think there's so much that kind of comes together with the notion of what it is to build, not just a career, but that portfolio of not work, but impact over time. And it is such a thing to look back at times and say, boy what were we afraid of?

And the inverse of that is the, Oh, if I had less fear, I could have done that thing. Or I could have been doing that thing that we look at from afar. 

Yeah, this is the downside of me going for a series of seven minutes in length, because I feel like we could go for about two hours on this.

I hope you enjoyed this special presentation of our full conversation with Tracey Welson -Rossman. You can learn more about Tracey from the show notes and by visiting our website at searchandreplace.show. 

Search and Replace was produced by Nicole Hubbard. With support from Christine Benton, Connie Evans. Amelia Lohmann, April Smith and executive producer and Lori Taylor.

Our theme music was composed by Alex DuFire. I'm Joe Taylor, Jr. 

Announcer: [00:28:17] This has been a Podcast Taxi radio production. .


Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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