PEOPLE OFTEN DESCRIBE ME AS: Invincible. FAVORITE AUTHOR OR BOOK:The Odyssey by Homer. EARLIEST ENTREPRENEURIAL MEMORY: I started a car wash and wax service at 10 and even had my brothers as employees. HOBBIES: Long range shooting; Hiking; Wave boarding, boating, spearfishing.
The vision of a better society never wavers
TAPPING INTO THE INNER INVENTOR. Ramona Pierson’s resume would impress anyone—she’s currently the Director of Product Management for AI Integrity at Meta-Facebook, and formerly director of product innovation for societal change at PricewaterhouseCoopers, director of product management at Amazon, founder of Declara, and founder of SynapticMash. Each of her successes were fueled by her desire to lift society, just as she received help to get back on her feet—literally.
When Ramona was 22, she was hit by a drunk driver, spent 18 months in a coma and spent 11 years without sight. She had to relearn how to talk and even walk. But the biggest relearning Ramona was determined to do was complete her undergraduate studies. The way she saw it: either look toward the future and find her path, or look backwards and feel bitter and never find her path. “Every time I feel a sense of sadness for myself, I would get busy and move forward.”
Even before her accident, Ramona wanted to be a cardiologist. Her father and grandfather died of a heart attack. At the time, many people smoked. “It was the number one killer. I just thought, ‘How can I reduce human suffering?’” she says. And even after the accident took her off that path, her desire to help people never wavered. “My opportunity for a way forward was through helping people.”
STRENGTH FROM CLOSE SOURCES. The strength to overcome the toughest challenges—the accident, going through college while blind, starting companies—came from sources close to Ramona’s heart. When she was in the Marine Corps., it was against the law to be lesbian, and everyone told her she had to hide who she was. “Everyone who knows me knows I never hide,” she says. She lived her truth despite knowing she would be punished. “But that strengthened me,” she notes. “It’s more unhealthy to live an inauthentic self.”
Ramona recalls raising money for her company when an investor told her he does not invest in women, and certainly not a lesbian. “It was that moment that made me think, ‘Fuck you, I’m going to build my company and prove you wrong.” As a gay woman, one will get a lot of rejections, but successes will prove people wrong. “As you build successes on top of each other, people will see your grit and tenacity, and they will want in or fear missing out,” she says. Being inauthentic does not help toward that.
Accessibility isn’t enough, Ramona says. “We have to bring inclusivity, and invite people in.” When Ramona was blind, she created tools for accessibility to society, but it didn’t necessarily make her feel invited. “We have to help our customers see themselves in the community.” Thinking back on her journey to her current entrepreneurial success—through disability, through the challenges of being a gay woman—it made her cherish the value of diversity. “You never know what they can achieve.”
Additionally, Ramona credits her partner for her strength, who holds the bar high for her and vice versa. “She would make fun of me, teasing that I was autistic for seeing everything in math, and reminding me that others don’t think like that,” she laughs. "My partner reminds me that it’s important to bring inclusivity into the builder community."