Unless you have been under a rock you are aware of the massive internet sensation known as “Camp Gyno" from the insanely popular video for Hello Flo.
Hello Flo is the brainchild of Naama Bloom a friend and former Amex colleague, who has been an amazing mom in tech mentor to me as well.
I’ve known about Hello Flo for several months and always thought it idea whose time was totally overdue. Periods are literally as old as mankind. They are inconvenient as hell and I don’t know one smart put together woman who has not totally blanked on her start date and been caught off guard with no supplies.
Also why is it that with something literally as regular as clockwork that we *have* to purchase that no fortune 100 CPG company has successful won over our hearts and minds - like in the way men love Bonobos or 20 somethings love Toms or moms love Diapers.com. I think that spells major market opportunity for women to turn to a brand that speaks their language and seems to really care about their menstruation experience. Yes it is a commodity product to an extent (though don’t get me started on that weird OB shortage a few years ago) but its a deeply personal one at that. So I think they’re onto something huge.
But there’s more to this story than a great product with a killer video (made for $6,000!!!!) that has run away with the zeitgeist. There’s a story about a mom entrepreneur who left her successful career in corporate America to do something more entrepreneurial with major skin in the game because she was passionate about doing something meaningful with her career (read: also her time on the planet).
This is not just respectable and inspirational - its super risky. Her equally awesome husband is also an entrepreneur and they have two kids and that equals lots of bills to pay. She’s not a 21 year old kid right out of school who can move home if techstars doesn’t make her famous. And what is so refreshing about Naama is she’s been super transparent about this dynamic in all of her press. Check out this great piece in the WSJ where she ends it with this brilliant quote:
I‘ve spent my life doing the “responsible” thing and while it had its rewards, it also had limitations. I wanted to feel passionate. And I want my children to learn, like I did, that being happy in what you do is worth a little struggle. Looking forward into this year, I don’t know how we’ll keep our heads financially above water. I guess I’ll just have to sell a lot of tampons.
Everything worth having/ doing/ being/ experiencing is worth a struggle which makes it all the sweeter when you attain it. I am so impressed with what Naama is doing because she’s putting herself out there to pursue something she’s passionate about but isn’t spinning some silver lining story about how hardcore it is to be an entrepreneur.
This follows a nice trend in authenticity from several high profile startup vets in tech speaking honestly about the pitfalls of this space (including my personal fave by the amazing Shane Reiser). It is not all boozy open bars in Austin and accolades at meetups. It’s shipping products and getting paid and that takes a ton of effort, experience, determination and who knows what else.
Clearly the authenticity Naama brings to the business she’s building has resonated into the video which has put Hello Flo to firmly on the map - this is only going to be the first you hear about them I’m sure.
Let’s help her sell some tampons!
A few months ago I did an interview with John Gannon, a friend and classmate from CBS who has terrific startup/ VC/ big tech company experience. We discussed post MBA careers and tactical tips. I get asked about this stuff from current MBAs quite often so hopefully you’ll find it interesting. Also I highly recommend signing up for John’s emails - they are excellent if you’re interested in working at a startup.
The final piece for CBS on how to know if being at a startup is for you. Hope you’ve enjoyed these!
I have been terrible about keeping up with this blog but not for lack of overall productivity. In fact speaking of things I have produced - welcome baby Charlotte :) On July 12th I gave birth to my second daughter who even though she was three days late, arrived with such haste we almost didn’t make it to the hospital in time. More on life as a working mom in tech to follow, but first a few immediate thoughts.
In the lead up to her arrival I was incredibly busy with work. We’ve had a great few months and I am just loving being a part of this terrific team, working with such awesome clients on truly break through email marketing campaigns. Our team has been expanding at a nice clip and in addition to the regular busy-ness of work we were on boarding some wonderful new team members which as anyone knows takes care and time. But somehow the tasks at hand adjusted to the space allotted and even though I felt this intense time pressure as my due date approached everything got done. In fact my personal to do list also got done pretty effectively as well (minus the blogging of course).
So what is this? Was I some new 24 hour workaholic? Not at all (see: mother of adorable 14 month old). But out of necessity I came to embody that principle that done is better than perfect. I also had this intense dread that something urgent would be left in my in box unattended to while I was up all night and incoherent with a crying baby and that fear of not wanting to let my colleagues down gave me that weird laser like focus that people speak about when all their priorities become clear. I’ve read a few pieces related to this lately - like this one about saying no (just a brash way of saying - this is not a priority) and this one about how few hours we have left on the earth. (Terrifying!)
Focus requires that you are able to prioritize your own objectives so to that end I’m going to be recalibrating what some of my specific personal and professional goals are and sharing them here (a la the terrific Scott Britton).
It was notable that this focus and its subsequent productivity was so driven by not letting other people down - and I think going forward I want to approach everything with this urgency but add myself to the list of people whose life I want to make easier. Being on maternity leave without the anxiety of leaving things half finished was ultimately the biggest gift to myself and my peace of mind, but I didn’t see it like that while I was racing around like a mad woman and I think that’s a missed opportunity.
Bottom line is - short of the important business of recharging for the most part there is no reason to ever not have that sense of urgency and focus. Life is fleeting! What the heck are we twiddling our thumbs for?! Why are you wasting time reading the internet?! Let’s get busy! :)
This is another video in the series I did for CBS about how to assess what you’re really looking for in a career - and life for that matter.
In November I was thrilled to join the amazing team at Movable Ink and just wanted to take a moment to share more about this terrific company. I have known Vivek, the co-founder and CEO, for about two years through the tech community, and had also learned about the company through some Kohort friends and a shared investors - Contour Ventures and FF Ventures.
What Movable Ink is doing in email is nothing short of revolutionary in changing the tool box for marketers in a way that is really moving the needle. I’ve worked in email marketing before - back at TheaterMania where our email lists were the part of the backbone for all Broadway marketing campaigns. It was interesting to return to the email marketing world seven years later and to discover that not much had really changed. In a digital landscape that is been radically redrawn in just the past five years - it is really shocking to consider that something that is so pervasive in consumers lives and so critical to almost every business has really not evolved to match the agile development methods of every other channel not to mention the pace of business.
Movable Ink offers marketers the ability to place dynamic live content into emails which can change at the moment the end user opens it - and subsequent times they open it - versus essentially just mailing a static message as marketers do now.
The dynamic content can take any form - a countdown clock to the expiration of an offer, realtime inventory trackers, a live stream of twitter comments, crop of a webpage with most recent content or inventory, a map which shows the closest store to where you are when you open it and messages that can vary by specific device type. All delivered in one piece of code that you as a marketer don’t need to touch when deployed.
The difference in engagement and results for an email which contains a dynamic message versus a static message is significant. Here’s a quote about a recent campaign we did for Lilly Pulitzer (which just happens to be a personal fave brand of mine :)
“Movable Ink’s technology is making our emails more compelling than ever,” said Michelle Kelly, senior vice president, merchandising, marketing & retail at Lilly Pulitzer. “A recent campaign that showed the minutes ticking away to take advantage of a special sale drove more than triple the amount of anticipated traffic to our website.”
And this is just one of the many enterprise clients we are working with and helping to drive results for. A recent Pando Daily piece profiled where the company is today after two years heads down in the trenches:
"It worked: the company has grown 219 percent in bookings quarter-to-quarter, going from from 37 million emails at the end of 2011 to more than 1.4 billion in 2012, adding 60 large enterprise clients including American Eagle Outfitters, Disney, Express, Finish Line, and General Motors."
In addition to awesome technology Movable Ink is also powered by a wonderful team of truly seasoned email and tech veterans that I am really excited to be working with.
The super talented Jay Corcoran from CBS filmed me speaking about my career path last year and I thought this might be of interest to the few of you who have asked how I ended up in startupland.
Vassar has a very proud history in Technology especially for a small liberal arts school so it comes as no surprise that we have alums in leadership roles in all industries leveraging technology. Vassar grads include an early employee at Pixar, a co-founder of Oxygen one of the first cross platform mainstream media properties and a co-founder of Flickr, one of the biggest successes from Web 1.0.
In addition I have met dozens of other grads doing incredibly interesting things as social media managers and programers and product managers at startups to Fortune 100 companies.
A few years ago I started a simple Vassar in Tech group on LinkedIn to help connect these grads with one another and as a natural extension I connected with some great like minded alums in NYC and we started hosting in person meet ups about once a quarter. These events have varied in format but recently we settled on a combination of networking and some mini-demos from attendees either of products or projects they’re working on professionally or interesting trends they’re seeing. We’ve hosted about half a dozen of these and they’ve been a great informal way for like minded people to connect to make meaningful connections. Our next one is on January 26th - I hope you’ll come
Every time we send an email out about the event I get some requests to host them in other cities. Unfortunately I can’t jet out to Seattle or to Boston to get these off the ground but I do have a really simple step by step guide for how to get them started that I wanted to share here to encourage other Vassar grads in tech to get them going.
1. Reach out and let me know you’re interested in getting a group started in your city. I have terrific contacts in Alumnae Affairs who can help pull a list for you to invite to your event. We can also start a subgroup to the Vassar in Tech group on LinkedIn and get the word out.
2. Find your own network by doing a LinkedIn search and getting the word out through your respective social media networks.
3. Once you’ve got a target list of a few dozen possible attendees send them an email explaining what you’re planning to do, asking if anyone else would like to help plan and include a survey to get the best date to maximize attendance. I like Doodle.com for surveys. You may want to start a group on Meetup.com to easily manage event planning or use a tool like MailChimp to send emails.
4. Once you have a date you need a space. I have used a variety of locations - back spaces in bars, a side room in a restaurant or a conference room after hours in someone’s office. In the beginning it might be nice to just meet in a bar to keep it lowkey, but as you put some structure around the event a conference room with a space to mingle works best.
5. Depending on how the event is structured you may need someone to cover costs. We’ve done well with self funding - meaning we ask everyone who comes to pitch in $10 towards beer and pizza, but we’ve also had success with generous alums offering to cover costs through their businesses. See if there’s someone like that in your midst. For a small gathering $250 usually goes a long way.
6. In terms of format, starting with a happy hour is a nice way to break the ice. Make sure you have nametags to help break the ice. Once you have more of a following though the NY group has done well with a format of 5-10 minute demos, no more than 4, followed by a discussion and informal networking. Usually 2.5 hours is enough time.
7. Make sure you get attendees names and contact info since some may have been brought by friends and be sure to send a follow up email asking for suggestions, feedback and if anyone else wants to be involved. The NY group is run by an informal group of volunteers - about 5 of us - and none of us spends more than 3 hours a month on these events. We have no titles, no formal org structure, we’re just interested in meeting great like minded Vassar grads in a fun setting.
And that’s it! I can’t tell you how gratifying and fun these events have been for me personally and they’ve also been great professionally. Please let me know if you’re interested in getting one started and we’ll take it from there.
Now I’m on the hunt for my next biz dev role I’m using two resources I established over the past few years - they are my JAM sessions and my personal board. Let me elaborate….
When I was in business school I was surrounded by motivated career minded friends who, like me, were spending a lot of time in this wonderful bubble thinking about our careers and lives. We had endless time to help each other refine what it was we wanted to do with our careers and to talk each other through our internship and interview challenges.
When I graduated of course life and my career proved to be less perfectly predictable than I had laid out and I thought what a shame that I wasn’t surrounded by all those smart nice people to run things by on a regular basis. So I reached out to two of my favorite friends from CBS and we started doing bi-monthly conference calls where we each talk for about 45 minutes about pressing issues in our careers and at work. We have been doing the calls for almost four years now and they have been incredibly helpful. In that time two members of our small group have moved to San Francisco, Seattle Germany and Australia, and all three of us changed companies - coaching each other through our respective moves. They are a trusted sounding board of two friends who have known me for the better part of a decade and we all share a foundation of the goals and values we talked about ad nauseum in business school. It took little to no effort to get the sessions off the ground and the only effort it takes to keep it going is trying to find a time slot that works with our ever changing time zones. Oh and we call it a JAM session because those are our initials!
Secondly I make use of my personal board. I think the idea for this came from some cheesy article on career planning I read a few years ago blended with my overall thoughts on the limits of traditional “mentorship”. The “mentor” model as I understand it works well when it is someone senior in a company or industry that you work in and that is the company or industry you want to grow your career in. This model didn’t work well for me because it was too static I hope to have a career that spans several companies and by virtue of it being in tech it is likely that I will traverse a few industry verticals already (since business school alone I’ve technically touched financial services, social media, mobile app development and community management. Hunting for one senior person who is going to have perspective and insights into all those areas itself is likely a big waste of time and energy, but you can assemble a group of people who each have valuable perspective on pieces of the career you’re trying to build.
Another challenge to the mentorship model is that senior people don’t always have consistent time to offer you - even though you might be in the midst of a crucial decision point in your career. It’s not personal, it is just reality. So to that end I have about a dozen people who I have appointed to my personal board which manifests itself in a long term relationship where we catch up for lunches or coffees once a quarter, give or take, and where we build a foundational relationship that allows me to seek ad hoc advice. In exchange I do whatever I can to offer them value - either by giving them my take on things I’m seeing on the ground, introducing them to various contacts I might know or serving on some committees I’ve been asked to to provide new perspective. All in it is very little in exchange for a lot of value. It also speaks to what my friend Kristal termed reverse mentorship (Kristal is on my board btw :) It’s not like marriage, I didn’t ask them outright “will you be on my board?” and then put a ring on it but over time we created real relationships where we are invested in each other’s success.
Some of these people have started brands that are household names, some have IPO’d companies they have founded, some seem to know how to have a rich family life and career, and all are people I would love to work with some day. In the meantime I have benefited immeasurably from the portfolio approach to mentorship.
I had the pleasure of meeting a bunch of great Vassar students when I went up this February to recruit for Venture for America, but one in particular stood out. Her name is Charlotte Yang and she’s a complete powerhouse, and since meeting her she has gone on to create one of the most exciting initiatives at Vassar in decades - a group called Vassar Ventures. The breadth of what VV has already done and aspires to do is incredibly impressive and I seriously wish it had existed back in my days on campus. Charlotte came and spoke to a group of us at a Vassar in Tech event in the city last spring and I think the alums who were present were stunned by how much she’s accomplished in such little time.
VV features an alum once a month in their newsletter and this month featured yours truly. I wrote a piece about my career intended to provide some practical tips to liberal arts grads looking to pursue careers in tech.
I hope it is helpful!