"I’m an English major running
a computer company <mic drop>."
Anna Murray is the CEO of her technology consulting company, emedia, LLC. On top of that, she is a writer, having published a professional book related to her industry, in addition to working on an upcoming novel. We asked Anna to tell us what it's like to have her feet in two worlds at once, and how she got them there.
How did the idea for your business come about?
It really dropped in my lap. I was working for an educational software publishing company in 1996. The company leadership was like, “This Internet thing. We don’t think it’s going anywhere.” The programming staff was going nuts at this shortsightedness. So I jumped ship with a few key programmers. I got a plum account with Keebler, and we were off.
Who is your audience and do you have plans to grow that?
Our audience is “anyone who has a technology problem.” So it could be anyone. We get business through word-of-mouth referrals. I’ve written a professional book, The Complete Software Project Manager: Mastering Technology from Planning to Launch and Beyond (Wiley, 2016). This is one way to amplify the reach. When people read your books, they feel as if they already know you.
Did a liberal arts curriculum at Yale affect how you approach your business?
I’m an English major running a computer company <mic drop>.
In all seriousness, one of the best combinations in technology is someone who can understand the technical complexity of something, then EXPLAIN it to someone else. You find a lot of talented engineers out there. And you also find a lot of good communicators. It’s rare to find both. I think the liberal arts component comes first.
How do you find people to bring into your organization?
This is absolutely the toughest challenge we confront. Every now and then you meet an executive who can read people instantly. That kind of person always makes great hires. It’s a rare skill and I don’t have it. I was lamenting this to a more experienced executive earlier in my career. He said, “For most people, the only way to get good at hiring is to get good at firing.” I have found that to be true. People are so different in interviews and on paper than on the job. You really have to work with someone in order to know how they will work.
How do you define success?
It’s changed for me over the years. It used to be about marquis clients and doing projects where other people would go, “Oh, wow! You did THAT!” Now I think about how many people I’ve employed over the years, how many mortgages I’ve helped to pay, how many kids I’ve helped put through college, how many human beings I’ve covered with health care. All that feels really good. It’s also been a real privilege to be able to earn enough to have a great home and the ability to travel.
What role has NYC or Yale played in your success?
NYC is part of who I am—I’m 4th generation here. So it’s like my foundation. Also, I think running a company in NYC gives you cred. It’s that old, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” As for Yale, I don’t interact with my classmates much in terms of business. But, being able to qualify for Yale and graduate started me off in life with a high degree of confidence that I could tackle anything—even starting a technology company out of the blue.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
I’ve always had a great admiration for Amazon. I know a lot of folks don’t like the company because of its effect on brick-and-mortar retail and its dominance in publishing. However, I admire companies that really “keep their eye on the ball,” as my dad would say. There is a persistence and a clarity to what Amazon does.
How did you obtain investors/funding for your venture?
Completely self boot-strapped.
How have your entrepreneurial motivations changed since you first started?
I used to have dreams about developing the “killer app” and selling if for meeelyons. Now, older wiser, I see how rarely this works out—despite what the media portrays. So many companies pursue this get-rich-quick fantasy without a true love of what they’re doing. If you love what you’re doing, you’d rather not build something and flip it. You want to keep doing it! Now I’m more motivated by an ongoing love of my business, its tending and feeding.
Share a turning point or defining moment in your work.
I started my company at the beginning of the first dot-com boom toward the end of the 1990s. Back then, everyone just assumed you were building a company to sell it. That assumption was so much a part of the environment. It was almost like, “If you don’t want to sell your company, you must be a loser.” I just adopted the idea that someday I would sell without ever questioning it. In the early 2000s, I entertained a few deals, and, fortunately for me, they didn’t work out. I realized I really didn’t want them to work out. I enjoyed running my company and wanted to continue doing it. So I let go of the “must sell” idea and just decided to run my company.
How did you get into the tech field?
I was a teacher with a journalism background. When “multimedia” first hit in the 90s, I thought, “That’s for me!” I saw a job opening at an educational software publisher, got it and was off into technology.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue writing?
One of my earliest memories is falling in love with books and knowing I wanted to write them.
Were you involved in the arts/literary scene at Yale?
Not really. My roommate and I started a Berkeley Literary Magazine. We put out a few issues. My memory is that there were not a lot of writing classes or much of a “literary scene” when I was at Yale. Maybe I was blind to it. I remember just a few creative writing opportunities like, “Daily Themes,” and a couple of advanced writing seminars for upperclassmen.
What current projects are you working on?
I just began my next novel. It’s a modern day character and a historical narrative woven together.
How did this current project come about?
I travel to Greece pretty frequently because my husband is Greek. I became fascinated with the 19th century figure, Laskarina Bouboulina. She is almost unknown outside of Greece, but she commanded the Greek navy during the War of Independence. I’m imagining a modern-day woman looking to uncover her story.
The publishing industry can be brutal. What were your challenges getting your first book published? How did this change for subsequent projects?
Brutal isn’t the word your looking for. More like “merciless.” I have landed an agent for my recently completed novel and the selling process continues. Publishing non-fiction business books is much more straightforward. You need to write a good proposal and demonstrate an ability to market your book. Fiction seems a thousand times harder and also much more capricious.
If you could meet one author, alive or dead, who would it be?
Haruki Murakami. I’d like to talk to him about his process. His books are so complex and well imagined. How does he DO it?
Have you always been or plan to be based in NYC?
I was away from NYC for years. At some point, I felt this intense longing to be home. I settled in and plan to leave feet first.
Does NYC affect your work?
Many people find the city overwhelming and exhausting, which is very detrimental to many creative folks. The rat-race is real and can be true, but doesn’t have to be. A wise person once said to me, “NYC can be a very zen place, if you choose it to be.”
As a writer, you need zen. It’s like the soil you grow in. I’ve made a lot of decisions so that NYC can be a zen for me. I am willing to accept less space in order to avoid a long commute. I work at home during the mornings, and, to the extent possible, pack meetings into my afternoons. I make sure I get time to walk and think. I’m selective about going to events, especially in the evenings. I try to attract clients who are fun to work with and a good match for me and my team’s skills, so the money-making aspect of my life isn’t draining hand-to-hand combat. All of this helps me create a zen soil for myself. I can then tap into all the other creative stuff the city has to offer. That’s the “plant food.” But the soil comes first.
What is your best advice for recent grads?
Think of your career as a constant evolution instead of a fixed plan. Remember: Who you work for is more important than what you do.