Working Geek: After decades at Microsoft, Tammy Savage applies big-picture thinking to startup that connects volunteers

Tammy Savage, CEO of Groopit, stops to smell the flowers. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Savage)

When it came to volunteering, Tammy Savage wondered what prevented people from jumping in to help. Was it a failure of leadership? A lack of interest?

Or, Savage asked herself, “is there something in our technology infrastructure that prevents people from doing their best work? And the answer was yes, there’s missing technology.”

So after more than two decades in leadership roles at Microsoft and a year at a startup, Savage launched Groopit, a business that’s building a tool that she calls “the engine for human cooperation.”

Groopit is a product for leaders trying to engage volunteers. That includes everyone from a Girl Scout Troop leader coordinating an event, to university researchers working with the public, to activists organizing a response to a school shooting. Groopit helps people sign up to volunteer and post images when they participate. It shows volunteers how a project is progressing and gives people credit for their good work.

“The thing that Groopit allows people to do is really direct people so that they can accomplish something together,” said Savage, who is the CEO and founder of Seattle-based Groopit.

Tammy Savage, CEO and founder of Groopit. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Savage)

Savage’s somewhat unusual career path at Microsoft helped tee her up for this specific enterprise. During her 22 years at the company she conducted anthropological research to understand social networking; did an analysis of “societal disintegration into chaos during disasters” and explore ways in which Microsoft could enable better prevention, response and recovery to crises; and worked on product design to standardize the customer experience and orient it to users.

When it comes to creating a software tool to empower volunteerism, “this is something that I have experience in,” Savage said. “And I have a unique viewpoint and perspective on the problem that needs to be solved.”

Savage’s first test of Groopit was to manage parishioners doing errands and chores for elderly church members who were living independently. The 23 church volunteers were coordinating via email and phone calls, and in truth, only about half of the people were doing the work. After Savage moved the project to Groopit, the volunteer pool swelled to 200 people over a year’s time.

It wasn’t because of the recruiting tools, she said, but because people started sharing stories about the experience.

“As people take action and participate, those actions are visible in real time,” Savage said. “The whole group knows what is happening as it happens.”

We caught up with Savage for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: My Seattle office in the Old Rainier Brewery

Computer types: MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface

Mobile devices: iPad Pro & Android Phone

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: TouchNote, Life360 and Groopit (of course!)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? Our office has huge windows, good lighting, floor-to-ceiling white boards and no distracting clutter. It’s a great space. What makes it work is the people. It’s a place where we focus, collaborate and work to turn our vision into reality — together.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Remove the noise, relentlessly. People often drown in their list of work to be done. Instead, I focus on the results we need to achieve, do whatever’s required to deliver those results quickly, and remove everything else that is noise.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn. It’s the best way to stay connected with former colleagues and to find talented people.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Three. If an email can be answered in less than five minutes, I get it done right then.   That leaves three waiting for more of my time and attention.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? Twelve, so far.

How do you run meetings? On time. I hate it when people arrive to meetings late, especially executives. If you cannot manage your schedule, how can you manage a business? Of course there are always unforeseen circumstances that can and should be forgiven. But arriving late sends a not-so-subtle message about one’s self-importance and is disrespectful to everyone else. As a rule, arrive early and start meetings on time.

Everyday work uniform? Jeans and boots (Yes, former colleagues, it’s a different life after corporate America)

Groopit workspace in Seattle’s former Rainier Beer brewery. (Groopit Photo)

How do you make time for family? Most of our family time is centered around sports and driving — driving to baseball games, driving to practices, driving to tournaments, driving to ski every winter weekend and sharing meals together along the way. We love (almost) every minute of it.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? I love to challenge myself in the kitchen, to find a new restaurant quality recipe and cook for the people I love. Occasionally the challenge results in an unnecessary smoke alarm or a phone call to order takeout, but most of the time it turns into a night of good friends, family, food and fun.

What are you listening to? The Highway (a country-music channel on Sirius XM)

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Business Insider, Wall Street Journal, Google News.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? It seems that I never get to that book on my nightstand. A colleague gave me a hard copy of Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and it is still waiting to be picked up.

Night owl or early riser? I get up at 6:15 a.m. on weekdays and keep going until everything gets done.

Where do you get your best ideas? I listen a lot, but then synthesize what I’ve learned while driving or sleeping. That’s when it all comes together for me.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I meet a lot of great, competent, smart people, so I like to find the best in all of them and use what I learn to influence my own personal style.