Episode 19 - Pivoting from Early Career Decisions and Disasters with FBI Agent-Turned-Founder Jo Riley

podcast tracyholland Jun 02, 2021


Today we are joined by a true entrepreneurial powerhouse, Joanna Riley, aka Jo. Jo has a diverse and rich background as an entrepreneur, investor, and technology advocate. During her undergraduate year in college, Jo was recruited by the FBI and deployed to Africa and the Middle East to work on case management, terrorism, and drug investigations. After her stint in the FBI, Jo pivoted her focus into entrepreneurship, where she built and sold her first company after only two years in her early twenties. Jo pursued the next chapter in her life by jetting off to China and founding another company called 1-Page. However, she, unfortunately, lost that business to a hostile takeover shareholder situation which we discuss today. 

Jo and her many accomplishments have been featured in Fortune, Fast Company, Forbes, The Financial Times, and Huffington Post. Starting again from the ground up, Jo is the epitome of perseverance as she has created and co-founded the company Censia, which is growing exponentially. Tune in to this episode as Joanna shares the experiences and mindsets that helped her become braver, rebuild after setbacks, and how to stay fearless in the face of daunting obstacles. 


[05:14] In order to feel like she would fit in as a child, Jo was a bit of a rule breaker. 

[11:32] How Jo ended up at UVA in Foreign Affairs and then began a career in the FBI.

[23:51] The lack of being able to drive her own destiny at the FBI created a new opportunity for Jo to become an entrepreneur. 

[30:26] Jo’s company 1-Page that was inspired by her father’s book

[45:15] What Jo’s main takeaway from working at her company 1-Page for six years  

[48:15] An unfortunate witch hunt directed at powerful female CEOs happening around the world today

[53:24] Preserving from the loss of her company 1-Page and building a new, successful company called Censia, that set out to build a database of people helping organizations find, keep, and grow the best talent in the world.

[1:00:03] The advice and words of wisdom Jo would give to her younger self.


The world is so much bigger than you can imagine: Jo was born into a family of entrepreneurs, and the opportunities and hardships she witnessed growing up gave her a tangible sense that the world is so much bigger than she could imagine, and that there is always an opportunity waiting to be seized.

Every experience counts: women often look at their past experiences as failures, Jo has learned to view them as building blocks in every phase of her life and career.

Don’t worry about what others think: the secret of life is that most people are too busy thinking of themselves to actually care about what you may be doing wrong in your life.

Be brave enough to be really good at one thing: once you discover and embrace the one thing you’re good at, you can find others to create a well-rounded team to fill in the gaps of where your weaknesses lie.

The world has tons of problems to solve: don’t be afraid to charge forward and tackle those problems head-on, regardless of what others may think.


“I really want to make sure I inspire women to understand that they can be what they want to be. It doesn't really matter who you are, just be the person that you are and own it.” - Jo Riley 

“Sometimes it is not necessarily that you don't have this greatness in you. It's just that you're not allowing yourself to really experience that greatness because you're not doing the right thing.” - Jo Riley

“Women under-represent themselves a lot, we see this now that women put 40% less skills on their resumes and profiles than their equal counterpart men.” - Jo Riley

“Fail often and fail fast. Experience comes with mistakes” - Jo Riley


Jo Riley is not one to shy away from a challenge. As a collegiate athlete, Jo’s singular goal was to become an Olympic rower, but when fate intervened and an injury left her unable to compete, she began her journey to create a new dream: First as part of the international training unit at the FBI, and then as an entrepreneur determined to solve the biggest problem plaguing businesses today.

Today, Jo is an entrepreneur, advocate, a mentor for diversity in technology, and the CEO and Co-Founder of Censia, an AI-powered Talent Intelligence platform designed to eliminate unconscious bias from talent decisions by providing companies with clean and structured talent data that looks past job titles (which are often biased) to reveal people’s true abilities and their future potential. Her technology is delivered into any existing talent software via API, giving all companies access to the best talent and unbiased talent decisions.

Jo was named one of the Most Powerful and Influential Women by the California Diversity Council and Forbes Next 1,000. She currently sits on the Board of Directors for Young Presidents Organization (SF Bay Chapter) and is an active angel investor in early-stage companies. She sits on the Advisory Boards of CerraCap Ventures, Veterati,

Perksy, DroneShield Ltd, and is a mentor at Singularity University and Founder Institute.



Find Jo Riley on LinkedIn and Twitter or visit Censia.

Join Tracy Holland and other Powerhouse Guests (including Jo Riley!) for a virtual summit,IGNITE the POWERHOUSE WITHIN,” that will shake you up and help you take charge of your life.

It’s a 2-day at-home VIRTUAL summit for unstoppable women ON THE RISE taking place on June 23rd & June 24th...

​…just check out the speakers.​

Interested in joining? ​Get your tickets here!

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