For our second in the series, we've interviewed Amy Jo Martin - Entrepreneur, Investor, Speaker, A New York Times Best-Selling Author, and Rule Breaking Renegade!
Hi Amy Jo! Tell us your origin story.
I grew up with a bit of an addiction to curiosity and change. Part of that stems from living in a household on wheels. We lived in a trailer park, literally. Each time my Dad’s job in construction needed him to go to a different location, we would just pick up and move. I learned the willingness and ability to adapt at a young age from going to different schools. I got comfortable with being uncomfortable. I believe I have a bit of a hard time conforming to the way things have always been done. It’s in my bones. That’s carried on throughout my career and personal life.
Where has that non-conformity taken you in your career?
I studied marketing and ended up at an ad agency with most of my clients being in professional sports. Then, I made the leap over to the NBA getting even more comfortable in an uncomfortable environment. It was mainly men who I was working with. Sports and entertainment in general is an interesting field. The work that I was doing in marketing and digital was growing and changing so quickly that there was a bit of an educational gap between age, demographics, and gender. It was knowledge that a lot of people in power didn’t have so I was well positioned to grow fairly quickly if I was willing to be a little bit fearless.
I talked to the powers that be into creating a new role. It was titled the ‘Director of Digital Media and Research’ and was the first of its kind within the 32 teams in the NBA.
What was your inspiration for crafting a space for yourself?
There was a need to figure out a way to monetise the digital assets that a basketball team or any sports franchise has. They weren’t really selling them and only offering them as added value to big sponsors like Coca Cola and Gatorade. I also noticed that fans wanted to get closer to the athletes and teams and a really great way to do this was to build a bridge between them using facebook, twitter, and youtube.
It was the Wild Wild West when I started to work for the NBA. I asked for a lot of forgiveness instead of permission. I remember sitting in a revenue meeting with all the leadership and I said ‘Y’know what? I think we really should take social media more seriously. In fact, I want to plan a tweet up.’
They said ‘You wanna plan a WHAT up?’
We formed an online street team and community before we knew what those terms were. It was a great success.
How did you follow your successes in social media beyond the NBA?
I ended up building my own company. Shaquille O’Neal was one of the people who really encouraged me to start my own thing. I left the NBA without any funding and he was my first client. Quite a big one literally and the media attention around this new space and what was going on kept getting bigger and bigger. He was the first verified person on twitter and I was the 2nd. My following grew to over a million people which gave me this whole additional platform. I thought I was just going to consult and before you know it, seven years down the road, I’ve had employees in over 10 different countries and worked with some of the biggest brands.
I’ve recently exited that company and now I’m investing in other female entrepreneurs and really trying to see what I can do to help other women.
Was there a particular moment where you were discouraged from doing something and went ahead and did it anyway?
The other females I was working with might have been annoyed with me for going out on a limb or breaking some of the rules. There was this epic moment when I was sitting in the back of a plane before the team took off and Shaquille was texting me 'Can you come help me with something?' - he forgot his twitter password or something very silly. I ignored it because I knew if I went up there in front of my boss she would be so annoyed with me.
The corporate office said they needed to put a stop on social media before they established some policies and I didn’t stop. There was momentum and the fans wanted to engage. She told me to stop.
Anyway, Shaquille wouldn’t stop asking me to come and help him. He eventually stood up and started waving ‘Come up here!’ and he’s so tall you can’t ignore that! So I walk up there, help him, walked back with my tail between my legs and my boss looked at me and said, 'Y'know what Amy? You are a renegade.'
I took that as encouragement, and not as a bad thing. I later ended up writing a book about it - A New York Times Bestseller, 'Renegades Write the Rules'.
What has helped you as a female entrepreneur?
My amazing mentors have been a big reason why I’ve succeeded. It takes a lot of confidence and a bit of fearlessness especially being the only female 20-25 years younger to most of the men at work.
I’ve had some pretty amazing male mentors. Shaquille O’Neal once said to me, “Amy, never defend yourself. Your enemies will never believe you anyway and your friends and supporters don’t need it.”
We can accelerate the path in which women can break through in their careers especially in the business world by having more male mentors because they currently hold all the power, influence and financials.
We need more women mentors as well. I’ve had very few of those because I just haven’t been exposed to a lot of people in my field that have had that influence. There was always the unconscious gender bias and I just had to learn to overlook it. You have to play the game and be willing to accept the current situation in order to change it for the future.
I used to tell my team of young women when they’d be struggling with confidence that if there are little triggers you can find, use them!
What was your trigger?
For about 5 years, I wore bright red polish. If I ever started to feel that I wasn’t worthy of the conversation because of the people around me - and sometimes they’d be billionaires or very high profile people - I would look down at my nails and I would immediately kick my head back up.
So if you could provide other women with their own trigger or superpower - what would it be?
More confidence. Definitely more confidence. It’s been proven, for example, for a male to apply for a job, they have to believe they have a couple of the pre-requisties and qualifications before they’ll apply. For a female, they’re looking to check every single box before they’ll even try for a position or a role.
Confidence is an issue that starts with very young girls. We can really shift the unconscious gender bias in this scenario so that young girls can grow up with confidence.
Speaking of unconscious gender biases, traditional roles, and making girls feel like they can ‘do it, too’ - we’d love to hear about how you !
There’s a book called ‘The Athena Doctrine’. It’s a book everyone should read both male and female. People have feminine and masculine qualities regardless of their gender. We try to label so much 'male' or 'female' but really these qualities are provided to everyone.
With [my fiancé] and I, for longest time, we didn’t think we would get married. It just wasn’t something that was extremely important to us for a while. We’d been talking a lot about family and the things we want in our future. He knew how I felt about marriage and he said ‘Y’know I’m going to leave it in your hands. So if there comes a time where you want to get married, just ask me!'
I didn’t think twice about it being unique, it just wasn't a big deal to us. We’re just extremely confident and comfortable in ourselves and our relationship. We live a pretty untraditional life anyways. We’ve just accepted the fact that we don’t need to have old-school traditions dictate our lives if they don’t make sense to us.
What’s something you like remind yourself of?
What’s the worst thing that could happen? I play the ‘then what?’ game. If something doesn’t work, ok... then what? When you follow it down to as far as it could possibly go, usually it’s not that scary.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? Well - I’ll figure it out!
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