What Women in Tech Can Learn from BlackLine’s CEO, Therese Tucker

Computer programmer Therese Tucker founded BlackLine in 2001, singlehandedly designing the first offerings of the accounting software company’s products. The cloud-based accounting software leader, now worth about $1.8 billion trading on the Nasdaq under the ticker BL, broke a glass ceiling in 2016 as the first female founder-CEO to lead her venture capital-backed, Los Angeles startup to its IPO.

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Things didn’t always seem like they were going to work out for Tucker’s enterprise software company. The relentless entrepreneur funded her idea completely on her own dime until 2013. The divorced mother of two young children cashed in her options from her previous job, while draining her bank accounts and 401 (k). “I told my kids, had I been able to access their college savings funds, I probably would have taken that too,” Therese told Business Insider in an interview, indicating that she also second-mortgaged her house, maxed out her credit cards and urged her friends to lend her money just to make payroll.

Describing the experience as “humiliating and scary,” Tucker refused to give up on her dream, finally reaching her break through moment in 2007 when she engineered Blackline’s transition to the cloud – a “risky” and forward-thinking move in a tech world yet to be completely disrupted by cloud computing’s dominance.

“Why have a modest ambition?” Inc. quoted Therese in an interview. “Because then you accomplish it, and its boring,” said the CEO, who had a vision of moving the antiquated accounting business from paper bookkeeping to the digital realm.

As BlackLine started to really take off, Tucker was able to refocus on her personal life, remarrying her former husband in 2005.

After the Financial Crisis sent the market crashing in 2008, enterprises, seeking more affordable solutions, were increasingly attracted to monthly software subscriptions in place of traditionally expensive and bulky old-guard accounting software.

In 2013, BlackLine reported $32 million in revenues and garnered a major investment from Silver Lake, which acquired a majority stake in the company at a $200 million valuation. With the private equity firm on board and Therese at the helm, the company grew its sales to $123 annually in 2016. BlackLine now lists over 2,000 customers, typically enterprises with over $50 million in revenue, such as Coca-Cola, Under Armour, United Airlines and eBay.

Los Angeles-based cloud-based Finance & Accounting solutions provider Blackline enables its customers to address various aspects of their financial closing process such as account reconciliations, variance analysis of account balances, data matching capabilities, and journal entry capabilities. The platform is used in industries across consumer/retail, healthcare, financial services, technology, industrial/energy and services.

Before BlackLine, Therese, who holds a BS in Computer Science and Mathematics from the University of Illinois, was the Chief Technology Officer at SunGard Treasury Systems. Tucker, also a certified yoga instructor, spent about 25 years in the industry of financial accounting and technology development before launching her now-multi-billion-dollar company. Citing a report by Frost & Sullivan, BlackLine indicates its potential global market could be worth $20 billion by 2018.

The pastel pink-haired CEO, who grew up as the youngest of four girls on a farm in rural Illinois, has been accredited with pioneering the entire accounting software industry. She says decided to dye her hair in part as a provocation to the male-dominated tech world.

“Tech is male-run,” admits Tucker, who says that when she started studying computer programming in the early 80s she kept thinking, “I know this could be a great career, if I can just get through this program.” However, she said it “was not welcoming towards women.” With the numbers significantly skewed in the favor of men in Silicon Valley, and faced with a number of challenges regarding her gender, Therese decided she wasn’t going to let anyone stand in the way of her vision.

“I’ll be ready to retire once everybody does it my way,” says Tucker.