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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!
Find Amy Jo on:
Hey Sarah! So what's your origin story?
Growing up in a 300 person town, one of very few minorities and possibly the only resident who both worked on a farm and had a subscription to Vogue, I knew I would eventually leave and go somewhere, anywhere, that didn't have snow mobile and tractor parking on Main Street. That place turned out to be NYC, where I ended up after attending Michigan State University for college. I landed jobs at Red Bull, Apple and Chanel. By 24, I was a startup executive and writer in the city that never sleeps. I wanted to learn more about technology so I went to Silicon Valley to be a venture capital investor and picked up accolades from Forbes 30 under 30, Business insider and Cool Hunting along the way while also being a contributing editor at Marie Claire Magazine. Last summer, I stopped after 7 years in tech to take stock - I was over calendered and over weight and while I was helping founders build their dreams, I wasn't living mine. I decided to make a change and build something for me, by me. That something is Proday.co, a personal training fitness app that allows anyone to workout alongside professional athletes anytime, anywhere. I raised venture capital money, signed professional athletes up to share their workouts and am launching this winter. In 4 months, I've gone from an idea to a company, pretty super human if you ask me.
Was there ever a moment when you were discouraged to do something but followed your convictions, went ahead to do it anyway and found success?
A friend once told me some strangely liberating advice. "You know what's hard? Everything." It may sound depressing but in actuality knowing that it's ok for things to be hard is really freeing. It lets you focus on the doing and not on being upset that it's so difficult to do many things. I use this advice a lot in my career, working in technology can be overwhelmingly discouraging. It's an industry where women and minorities are a rounding error of the population and being both is not an advantage. I've managed to climb up in the industry despite the inhospitable climate and it's largely been due to self-efficacy and having a supportive squad of women who send encouragement and champagne.
So beyond support and the sparkling stuff, if you could send your squad of women any superpower what would it be and why?
I'd give women money to invest in other women. While women make up almost half of the millionaires in America, they do only a small portion of the investing. Capital is power and the more we help women build businesses the more power we will have.
And what’s something you’d like to remind yourself?
"Become so rich and strong and tall that you’re a giant made out of gold and nobody can hurt you and everything you do is perfect and you can use your laser diamond eyes to melt the lungs of your enemies." Mallory Ortman wrote that satirically but from her lips to my ears, it's stuck. I remind myself that the difficulties I face won't last forever but the good I can do with my success can change the world for the better. Plus, I'd look great with laser diamond eyes.
On this day in 1955, a 42-year-old woman named Rosa Parks made history for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white man. This woman is now an American legend, and her courageous act of defiance has been documented as one of the most memorable acts in American history. Her story is the subject of songs and poetry, and she is revered as one of the most popular and important figures in the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Her small act of rebellion was just the tip of the iceberg, however. Rosa Parks was a fierce freedom fighter, and a known collaborator of the NAACP Montgomery chapter president Edgar Nixon, as well as of a young minister named Martin Luther King, Jr. Aside from her day job as a seamstress, she was secretary of the local Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and upon leaving Montgomery for Detroit, served as secretary to John Conyers, a U.S. Representative who was an active Civil Rights Movement supporter. In her later years, she organized for the freedom of political prisoners in the U.S., and co-founded the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation for college bound seniors.
Her honorary title as the "first lady of civil rights," is further reinforced with the opening of Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress. Rosa Parks is an inspiration to all women, for having the courage to stand up for her beliefs, and proving that well-behaved women rarely make history.
A renowned 19th-century writer and editor, Sarah Josepha Hale pushed for girls’ education reform and the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She was inspired at a very early age to “promote the reputation of my own sex, and do something for my own country.” Throughout her life she advocated education, exercise, property rights and sensible fashion for women.
Born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1788, she went on to work in publishing after the death of her husband in 1822. Best known for writing the classic children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” she was a prominent novelist and a magazine editor. Sarah helmed the first American magazine for women, Godey’s Lady’s Book, accepting only original material and soliciting work from female contributors. She was also an ardent supporter of girls receiving an education.
Sarah became known as the Mother of Thanksgiving thanks to her push to make the celebration a national holiday. During the Civil War, Hale wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward in 1863, calling upon the leaders to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. The president conceded, starting the tradition of Thanksgiving Day, as we know it.
Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin) is a London-based, Lebanese-born attorney. She became an instant media darling due to her high profile legal cases, and her impressive fashion choices. Despite being the type of woman who knows how to dress for any occasion, Amal’s lengthy resume is by far the most impressive thing she has accomplished in her lifetime. She graduated from NYU Law School and went on to work at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City, before relocating to London. She is currently engaged as a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, specializing in international law; and is also a prominent activist and author, having published several articles with Oxford University Press and coauthored a book, The Special Tribunal for Lebanon: Law and Practice.
This extraordinary heroine is sharp, compassionate, and multicultural. Amal has worked to free Al Jazeera journalists from prisons in Egypt, and spoken out against human rights suppressors in Armenia. She has represented the former prime minister of Ukraine, and the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. Amal has also been appointed to a number of United Nations commissions, including as an advisor to Kofi Annan. She is an inspiration to working girls everywhere for her impressive list of accomplishments, and of course, her well-documented and unique sense of style. Amal really does have it all.
The current SVP of retail and online stores at Apple, Angela Ahrendts has a golden touch for business. Known as one of the highest-paid female executives on both sides of the Atlantic, she is the first woman on CEO Tim Cook’s executive team at Apple, where she is tasked with the Herculean responsibility of overseeing 400+ brick-and-mortar stores, as well as online retail efforts. Cook has said of her: "I had never met anyone whom I felt confident could lead both until I met Angela."
Her career began when she moved to New York City from Indiana, to work in the fashion industry. After a series of leadership positions at Liz Claiborne, Donna Karan International, and Henri Bendel, she moved to the UK to join Burberry. As CEO of Burberry, she is credited with tripling revenues to more than $3 billion during her 8-year tenure at the fashion label. Ahrendts says she does not model her business approach after any other fashion house, but looks to world class design as an influence. She hopped back across the pond in May 2014 to join Apple. We are sure to hear more about this groundbreaking executive over the next few years.
Angela lives in Cupertino, CA with her husband and her three children. She has recently been honored as one of Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business, Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women in the World, and Financial Times Women of 2013.
Raised in Hawaii and based in Los Angeles, Tasya van Ree is an artist and photographer who shares the same relaxed style and attitude as her past and current homes. She exudes a quiet confidence that is reflected in her art and photography. Her photos are equal parts romantic and dark, intimate and distant. She has exhibited solo and in group shows, along side David Lynch, Jessica Lange, Gus van Sant, and Amy Arbus.
Most notable for her black and white celebrity portraiture, she captured media attention when her main muse, actress Amber Heard, became her lover. The two made a notable statement at the GLAAD Foundation’s 25th Anniversary dinner when they arrived together. Although no longer together, they created a space (in Hollywood and beyond), for a new type of female power couple – one that would be traditionally reserved for a male artist and muse. The two have collaborated on many short film projects, including several for gay rights and marriage equality. They were both active participants in the Vote No on Prop 8 rallies in California, and remain friends to this day.
You can see more of Tasya and her photography on Instagram @TasyavanRee.
The “Queen of Montparnasse” was the nickname given to the inimitable force of nature born as Alice Ernestine Prin. Growing up in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Alice, or as she later came to be known – Kiki of Montparnasse – was a poor girl who believed in the prospects that life in the big city could afford her. Arriving in Paris at the tender age of 13, she became an art model, posing for dozens of artists including Chaim Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Constant Detré, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. She eventually became the companion of Man Ray, who made hundreds of portraits of her, immortalizing her in his famous work “Violon d’Ingres”, in which she lends her naked back to two cello curls.
Kiki was one of the most charismatic figures of the avant-garde years between the wars. She would crumble a petal from geraniums to give color to her cheeks and was fired from a job at a bakery because she darkened her eyebrows with burnt matchsticks. She sang bawdy songs in nightclubs, showed her own paintings, acted in experimental films, and wrote her memoirs before she turned 30. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s. Kiki was the ultimate muse of a generation that sought to escape the Great War, but she is above all one of the first emancipated women of the 20th century. Today, her memoirs are kept in a special reserve section of the New York Public Library.
Monica Bellucci, model and actress, was born in Città di Castello, Italy and began her modeling career at age sixteen. As a young girl, you could sense the woman who would become a world famous star. Her one-of-a-kind beauty captured the eyes of the greatest fashion photographers – including Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon – and they turned her into an international icon.
Soon the world of cinema came calling, and she became a new symbol of Italian cinema. She speaks four languages, and has appeared in over 60 films, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Malena, Irreversible, and The Matrix series. Never missing a beat, at the glamorous age of fifty she will become the oldest Bond girl in the franchise’s history, proving that women don’t just get older, they get better with age.
Monica lives in Paris. She has two daughters, Deva and Leonie. She is living proof that glamour and beauty don’t age, and that women can be as cheeky and effervescent as girls, having recently been quoted as saying “Don’t call me a Bond girl, I’m a Bond lady. I’m proud to be a Bond lady, because actually, Bond is the most amazing man. You know why? Because he doesn't exist.”