April Roundtable: Accidental CEO – Autumn Manning, Co-Founder of YouEarnedIt

We’ve all heard the disconcerting fact that women hold less than 5% of the CEO roles in Fortune 500 companies, but we also know that entrepreneurs are people who see opportunities where others see obstacles.

And if there’s one thing we learned from Autumn Manning, co-Founder and former CEO of YouEarnedIt, the Austin-based software company specializing in performance management tools to improve company culture, just because you don’t think you look like a CEO, doesn’t mean you can’t be a CEO.

Having recently stepped down from her role as CEO from the company she co-founded in 2013, Manning, described by Jan Ryan as a “culture warrior,” shared with us how she found herself in the position traditionally held by men in the male-dominated tech industry.

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Even though she built the software company from the ground up, Manning didn’t see herself as an option for CEO. In fact, she turned the role down on numerous occasions despite her co-founder’s unwavering confidence in her ability.

“I told myself, like many women tell themselves, I’m not a CEO. I’ve seen CEOs and they don’t seem like me, so I must not be one,” said Manning.

However, Manning knew her company better than anyone else and she knew what she wanted her company to look like even if she didn’t feel that she looked the part of CEO.

Acknowledging that the lack of female CEOs in her industry and the pressure that comes with the title, Manning said that once she removed the pressure of the CEO label, she was able to see herself as one. She would be a CEO on her own terms and that meant not asking for permission, but taking on full responsibility. “I learned that if I fail on my terms, it’s my fault. If I fail on someone else’s terms, it’s still my fault and that was empowering,” said Manning.


Leading a company with a mission to help make work life better inspired her to use her platform as CEO to do the same. “As CEO, I used the platform to drive positive change.”

Manning also covered her biggest mistakes, the lessons she’s learned in her role and how knowing what to focus on brought clarity to her leadership style. She emphasized how building trust with her customers and her own employees helped her trust herself.  She also offered the group insight on a variety of issues she faced including determining how to uniquely meet market needs, why different types of money matter, and how it’s not about celebrating the capital you raise, but celebrating the hard work that went into raising it.

“We tell ourselves stories that actually aren’t true, and they’re hindering us from being CEOs or doing what we really want to do,” said Manning.

If we can stay focused, stay true to our own missions, and put one step in front of the other, we can succeed, just as Manning did.

As for what’s next for Manning, she’s uncertain, but one thing is clear, she has confidence in herself and her ability. We have a feeling that we haven’t heard the last from this “Accidental CEO.”

Join us for our next Roundtable on May 13th with Facebook’s Katherine Shappley, Vice President, SMB North America.

Need some inspiration? Follow Autumn Manning on Twitter @a-manning. Follow WomenatAustin on Facebook and Twitter for our upcoming events and the latest news in female entrepreneurship.

Christine Fahey