Currently, only about 1 in 4 employees in the tech industry identifies as a woman. So what does it take to create a successful career as a woman in tech? In this interview series called Women in Tech, we spoke to successful leaders in the tech industry to share stories and insights about what they did to lead flourishing careers. We also discuss the steps needed to create a great tech product. As part of this series, I had the privilege of interviewing Jenny Kay Pollock.
Jenny Kay Pollock leads monetization at Together Labs, where she focuses on strategies that help keep IMVU a top 5 social app by spend in the US. Jenny routinely speaks on mobile monetization, women in the workplace, and building a tech career. She has published on these topics in outlets like Forbes and Ellevate.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before diving in, our readers would love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Looking back at my career path, the move to Silicon Valley from the midwest sticks out as pivotal to my career in tech.
I was doing a sales job in central Wisconsin, which meant lots of time driving from customer to customer. At the time, I became captivated by the opportunities that tech provides people all over the globe. I listened to audiobooks like The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley's Most Exclusive School for Startups by Randall Stross and podcasts like This Week in Tech by Leo Laporte. The more I listened and learned, the more excited I became about becoming a part of it. I wanted to help build tech products that changed people’s lives.
Shortly after, I moved to make that dream a reality and moved to Silicon Valley: the tech capital of the world. I traded in my sales role for a job at an advertising agency, with some tech clients. It wasn’t a tech company like I knew I wanted to work at, but I was able to leverage my experience with our tech clients to join my first startup, Blippar, a mobile AR company.
A career path is a journey, something that you’re always iterating on. I am consistently able to leverage my most recent experience as a springboard to the next. Each experience has given me a new challenge and brought me closer to the tech visionaries and decision-makers I wanted to work with.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I drove to an office for the last round of interviews at a local drone company. The staff was testing drones in the parking lot. It looked like a lot of fun.
The interview started like most on-sites, with some panels and individual interviews followed by lunch. After lunch I was giving a presentation they had asked me to prepare, so I grabbed a fizzy water on my way out of lunch. It’s important to stay hydrated! I tossed the fizzy water into my bag and headed across the street to the building where the presentation was happening.
As people were coming in for my presentation, we got my deck pulled up on screen. I went to get my fizzy water from my bag to grab a sip before getting started and didn’t take the time to consider that it had just traveled in a bag across the street and had gotten all kinds of shaken up. As I cracked open the can, it erupted all over the table, spraying two attendees, and one Macbook.
Everyone had a good sense of humor about it and helped me clean up the mess, which I thought was a good example of teamwork. While I didn’t get an offer I got some great connections. It was also a great lesson in trying not to stress out too much during interviews. It would have been easy for me to freak out and assume I had blown the interview because of a silly thing, but instead, it eased the tension and definitely made me memorable! I ran into one of the interviewers at a conference years later and she remembered me.
What do you feel has been your ‘career-defining’ moment? We’d love to hear the lead-up, what happened, and the impact it had on your life.
At my first full-time job after college, I found out that the guy in the role before me made $8,000 more than I was making. Did he have more experience? Was it gender discrimination? Was it unconscious bias? Was it because I didn’t negotiate?
I was so excited to receive an offer I didn’t negotiate. I’ll never know what actually caused the pay gap, but the experience taught me an important lesson. Now, I always negotiate and recommend that other women do too. You are your own best advocate.
Negotiation can mean salary, bonus, and/or equity. It can also mean perks like start date, WFH schedule, vacation days or anything else that is important to you. Come up with what you want and ask for it.
Even if you don’t get everything you ask for, you’ve given yourself the opportunity to get everything you can out of the situation. The worst case scenario is they say no, but most of the time I have found organizations want to find a win-win situation and will work to meet you part way.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I was working at Meta View, an AR hardware company. I was beyond excited to be working in augmented reality, building the future of computing at a Y-Combinator company. It was exactly what I had imagined before I moved to Silicon Valley. It was my dream job until the company was unable to raise the next round of funding and had to conduct a mass layoff.
I managed it by setting up time with fellow coworkers who were impacted and other job seekers in my network. Every Wednesday we met up at a local food truck event for lunch. We’d gather in the local Starbucks to review each other's application materials and share leads or referrals.
I sent out 82 job applications during this particular search. I met with a career coach. It was a lot of work, but I landed my next role via a referral from the husband of one of my colleagues who had also been laid off. Community makes the harder times easier. You don’t need to go through it alone. Reach out to your network, friends, and family for support.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address? How does your company help people?
Together Labs is focused on empowering people to connect, create and earn in digital worlds. We help people from around the globe create authentic connections in the metaverse.
The Together Labs portfolio includes: IMVU, the world’s largest friendship discovery and social metaverse platform; WithMe, a social metaverse in open beta built on insights from the science of friendship; and MetaJuice which builds blockchain-driven assets, such as NFTs and meta-tokens that unlock the value of the metaverse.
Together Labs was included in TIME‘s list of the 100 Most Influential Companies of 2022 and The Future 100 Trends to Watch in 2022 by Wunderman Thompson.
If someone wants to lead a great company and create great products, what is the most important quality that person should have, and what habits or behaviors would you suggest for honing that particular quality?
Tenacity, defined as the quality or fact of being very determined, is the single most important quality when leading teams and building great products.
There will be many hurdles when you’re building your product, such as bugs, delays, or compromises that have to get made to keep things on track. Engineer & Computer Scientist Fred Brooks points out “How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at time.”
Having the tenacity to keep going and to advocate for your vision every day is essential to get a product from ideation to release day.
Some suggestions for building tenacity:
- Determine clear next steps at the end of each meeting
- Send follow-up emails right away, with assigned action items
- Have the data to support your position
- Update expected timelines and communicate it to stakeholders
Tenacity, like most skills, is a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it will get.
Next, let’s talk about teams. What’s a team management strategy or framework that you’ve found to be exceptionally useful for the product development process?
When I join or build a team I always look at the team through development stages. To understand where you’re at as a team you can use the Tuckman Model for Team Development: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
Each stage is characterized by different feelings, behaviors and team tasks. When your team experiences a change, such as adding a new person to the team, you start over at forming. Not all teams get the time to reach every phase. The Tuckman Model allows you to understand where the team as a whole is at and what you can do collectively to get to the next level and gain more productivity.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
The strongest team I have worked for was at an ad tech start-up. My team was led by Brian Sullivan who always used clear and honest communication across the team. Everyone knew what the goals were and the steps to reach them.
My favorite tactic that this team used was a weekly team meeting where each project was reviewed and the team worked together to fill in the statement, “By next week we will have ___ completed.”
We tracked this in a Google sheet so the crystal clear expectations were always accessible no matter where you were.
If you had only one software tool in your arsenal, what would it be, why, and what other tools (software or tangible items) do you consider to be mission-critical?
Google Workspace is my software of choice. Honestly, Google Calendar and Google Docs run my life both professionally and personally.
Control your calendar or your calendar will control you. Schedule recurring meetings and recurring working sessions to help you hit your goals. If I am working on strategic plans or forecasting I need to block a few hours of interrupted time.
Know your most productive time of day and schedule accordingly. For example, if you’re a morning person, tackle your most complex work first.
I have a quote by my desk that helps me be mindful of how I manage my time: “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” - Annie Dillard, The Writing of Life.
Be sure to schedule time for what is important to you, at work and at home.
Let’s talk about downtime. What’s your go-to practice or ritual for preventing burnout?
I like to start and end the day by getting outside and enjoying the views of the bay as I walk my corgi.
I enjoy watercolor and routinely paint along with tutorials on the weekends. I spend so much of my day working on digital things it’s great to have something tangible I can hang on the fridge.
It might seem silly but of course, these are scheduled as recurring events in my calendar.
Based on your experience, what are your “5 Steps Needed to Create Great Tech Products?”
When working on any tech product, whether it’s hardware or software, user research and internal collaboration are the keys to success. They are the cornerstones of my 5 step process for creating great tech products:
1 . User Research - Take the time to learn what your users actually want. Leverage both quantitative and qualitative research methods to get a clear picture before you begin development. Identify your research goals before you begin writing questions. Start with a survey and validate your findings with user interviews or vice versa.
It’s easier to deliver a feature with product market fit when you know what the users value or what their pain points are. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to user research check out my free user research worksheet that walks you through the 4-step framework that I use.
2 . Internal Collaboration - Getting on the product roadmap involves cross-functional collaboration. You must sell your vision to other teams. A great way to do this is to strategically build influence within your company by building relationships at all levels of the company. Provide regular cross-team updates and align on success metrics as you work to build your great tech product.
3 . Monetization Strategy - Determine what your cost of goods sold (COGs) are, the value you’re providing and what a fair retail price range is. Start with an audit of competitors in the space to understand their monetization strategies and specific price points.
Most importantly, consider the best ways to monetize your offering. You can choose ad supported, freemium, paymium, microtransactions, or subscriptions. Using a diversified monetization strategy will help you attract a wider audience of paying users. For example, adding a subscription offering to a microtransaction based game can give your most committed players a discount in exchange for a monthly commitment to your game. If you’re developing an app, keep in mind Apple and Google have slightly different rules and will each take a cut of any payments made on their platforms.
4 . World Class Go To Market - Craft a communication plan that targets your user base highlighting the solution your feature provides. Let everyone know about your new product and its features and benefits. When possible, segment your user base so you can deliver the right message to the right user at the right time. By providing targeted messages to your users, the new feature will see a boost in trial and adoption. Remember, you only get one first impression.
5 . Iteration - Get ready to measure and make changes. Track progress toward your earlier defined success metrics. Work to understand what drove the results and then make small changes to get closer to your goals. If you exceeded your goals ahead of schedule, work to understand how and apply that to your next feature release.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
We’ve made strides but have so far to go. In the tech industry, I see a lack of women in management, executive leadership roles, and on boards. According to the non-profit, Girls In Tech:
- Only 5% of leadership positions in tech are held by women.
- 20% of women over the age of 35 are still in junior positions.
- 47% is the turnover rate for women (compared to 17% for men).
- Women experience a 3% pay gap across the board, while LGBTQ experience an 8% pay gap, and for black women this goes up to 11%.
It’s a systemic issue that will require complex solutions, but small steps toward progress are happening.
More companies are offering employee resource groups (ERGs) that are a great way to connect and receive mentorship from other women. I highly recommend joining an ERG and if you don’t have one, work with your HR team to create one!
The most important thing we can all do is to bring other women up with us. Don’t stop with just bringing up women, but remember to support all minorities and underrepresented communities. Diversity of all kinds only benefits us and helps us all create better results.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I would want to get brunch with Lolita Taub, a Latina GP at Ganas Ventures, investing in community-driven companies and changing the face of the startup-VC tech world.
Lolita’s work is helping drive diversity in tech. Her authentic approach and desire to help has made her newsletter the longest-standing must-read in my inbox. I have followed her for years and get to engage with her on Twitter. Over brunch, I would chat with her about how to increase diversity at all levels in tech and of course upcoming tech trends for the year.
Shout out to Lolita, brunch is on me next time you’re in the Bay Area.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!