“So what do you do?”
I’ve thought about this a lot the past year or so. My career arc has been, from what I’m told over and over again, interesting. I used to be proud of it: “editor, writer, designer, blogger, manager, director, information architect, user experience consultant, marketer, strategist, business developer, and chief executive,” I once wrote, celebrating the variety.
Then I moved from ecommerce marketing and strategy into product management, and from product management into innovation, both in Fortune 500 companies. Suddenly, my resume was opening doors, but my bio left people a little confused. I did my best to refine the narrative—”oh, I build digital experiences, I focus on engagement and retention”—but being in product without a career focused on product was often a blocker.
So I did some analysis, and reflection on my career as a digital native, trying to redefine it: what do I do? I build digital experiences, yes, but what ties together the Kaplan Interactive AOL area and the ESG investing project at Citi? And here’s what I’ve ascertained:
I do what’s coming up next.
Turns out my career lives at the leading edge of the commercialization of the internet. Every few years, I pivot toward a new, important approach to digital communications and business models, with a job title that shifts accordingly. It explains how I wound up at Citibank, as an entrepreneur in residence for Citi Ventures, and looking back, it always has:
1995: the Internet! Interactive websites, America Online, digital publishing, web design, coding. I had an “oh wow” career establishing the online presence of venerable brands, growing sites 10X as people got on the so-called information superhighway, and helping define industry standards while learning what they meant.
2001: user experience. Usability, information architecture, optimization, analytics. I was one of the earliest practitioners and a published author on “website usability,” and I carried that flag for many years. Indeed, it still colors my approach today.
2006: ecommerce. Direct to consumer, acquisition and retention, omnichannel. Selling online was still somewhat novel when I entered the ecommerce arena full time in 2005. I got to champion new arenas to venerable brands again, and I launched one of the earliest DTC presences for a CPG manufacturer.
2013: startup ecosystems. Incubating, accelerating, coaching, advising, mentoring. From a volunteer slot as a “venture mentor” at my alma mater, NYU Stern, I got into startups, helping dozens of founders improve their approaches. I helped one startup win a major competition, joined another for a Techstars accelerator cohort, and continue to work with founders, small business owners and emerging executives.
2019: innovation and validation. Demand testing, in-market experiments, innovation labs. Joining Citibank’s innovation arm, sitting alongside the venture investing team, introduced me to customer-facing new product development. I delighted in the experimentation, and bringing such a strong focus to the customers for whom we were conceiving our products with a Jobs To Be Done approach.
As my residency at Citi wound down, I spent a lot of time thinking about where I’d go next. There were elements of many of my recent roles that I’d enjoyed: building products, putting customers first, exploring new markets, growing businesses and teams. I’m pleased to add another “up next” to this long list:
Supporting independent brands. I have joined the product team at Pantastic, an ecommerce website and growing ecosystem for supporting indie brands. Pantastic’s marketplace showcases hundreds of great brands and their products, and we’re hard at work creating ways to support them with innovative approaches to software and distribution.
Pantastic is also an early-stage startup. After many years working with startups as a coach, mentor and advisor, I’m excited to be in the thick of things, part of a small, growing team with a shared goal and outsize ambitions, where I can leverage many of the different aspects of my experience. I’m already learning a ton—that’s what doing what’s next is all about—and am excited for the ride. Stay tuned.