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Beth's full bioAnita Borg

1 What were your responsibilities as president of iMotors?

2 What was an average day at iMotors like?

3 Has your career path always been clear?

4 Can someone work in both design and business development?

5 When did you decide you needed a break?

6 What kind of training/experience do I need to work at a dot-com?

7 What tough experience have you gone through and what did you learn from it??

8 Has technology ever intimidated you? How do you deal with that??

9 What are your plans for the future?

10 Do you have any advice for aspiring GirlGeeks out there?
Beth VanStory, Former President, iMotors

Our special guest today is Beth VanStory, former president, iMotors.com. Prior to joining iMotors, VanStory was vice president of Office Depot Online, responsible for building and managing the online business targeting the small office/home office market. VanStory built and led the team that produced the award winning OfficeDepot.com web site and grew it into a profitable business.

From 1995 to 1997, VanStory served as vice president and general manager of new media for The Weather Channel. Her achievements there included leading the growth of the award-winning weather.com site to its current status as a top content site on the Internet. She also helped extend The Weather Channel brand into new interactive distribution channels, including cable modems and push technologies.

Other positions previously held by VanStory include director of marketing for Bell Atlantic Video Services, and several product management and marketing positions with MCI. VanStory is a director of shop.org, the leading online retailing association, and Michaels Stores, the leading retailer of arts and crafts supplies.

And now please welcome Beth VanStory.

Moderator: Hi Beth!

Beth: Hello, everyone.

Moderator: Beth, why don't you start by telling us about your position at iMotors...What were you responsible for?

Beth: At iMotors, I headed four main areas: marketing, business development, customer care and technology. Within marketing, my team handled everything from branding to advertising to the customer experience on the site. We also did a lot of market research. In business development, we focused on customer acquisition partnerships, content partnerships, sourcing (getting cars) partnerships and operational partnerships. Customer care includes both the call center in Sacramento as well as all of the delivery centers across the country. Finally, with technology, it's all of systems development and operations, including telecommunications and networking.

Suffice it to say, the job was quite large and busy. I approached it by first focusing on building a strong team. Getting my senior management team in place first was critical. In hiring, I sought people with previous experience in both large companies (since I knew that iMotors would eventually become one) as well as within startups. My team there was the strongest of any I've worked with so far.

In hiring, one of the things I really look for is passion. I want people who've demonstrated a desire to build something, be a part of creating something and who are passionate about what my company is trying to do. Experience without passion doesn't mean much to me. Let me give folks a chance to ask some other questions now.

guest-Ann asks: Could you describe your average day at iMotors, if there was such a thing?

Beth: Wow, certainly nothing standard but typically I start with checking e-mail and phone messages. I always read every message that came through our feedback mailbox on our site. Those messages were from users and customers so I prioritized them high. I had several (as in probably 5) standard weekly or bi-weekly meetings. Things such as the executive staff meeting, two weekly systems projects prioritization meetings and such. So they also took high priority. Since some of my organizations were remote, I also spent a lot of time on the phone catching up and checking status on things.

Lunch was typically a salad from the restaurant next door, eaten at my desk. During this time I would read my online newsletters such as Digitrends and Technologic Partners (VC focused).

My preference is to end the day with a clean e-mail box. Okay, not totally clean, but to have at least read everything. I also traveled quite a bit. That meant late nights East Coast time catching up. So, while the days weren't set, there were some things that were part of my routine on a daily basis.

guest-Colene asks: Did you always know you were headed in this direction?

Beth: Definitely not. Out of business school I thought I wanted to go into marketing for a packaged goods company. Having done an accelerate program, I didn't have an opportunity to do an internship Therefore the job search was tough. Through a college buddy's brother, I got an interview at MCI. I still thank my lucky stars that I ended up there. It was my first foray into a technology-based company.

At MCI I was a product manager which is a great position to have for gaining exposure to lots of different functional areas such as legal, business analysis (finance), marketing, PR, and systems development. It was at MCI that I learned how to do technical product development - a skill that I've used in virtually every job since. It was there that I got my first experience in interface design, albeit the old green screens on 3270 dumb terminals.

My next job, at Bell Atlantic, was where I learned about graphical user interfaces. I was amazed at how much time we spent just trying to figure out the right error messages and navigation! So I leveraged the telecommunications and technical product development into my job at Bell Atlantic working on interactive TV. I then leveraged my experience in media and content there as well as my relationship with a previous co-worker who hired me at The Weather Channel. Having run that large content and advertising supported site for nearly two years, I brought my knowledge of the interactive consumer to Office Depot.

Interestingly, when I was hired at Depot, I was originally part of the IS organization. Once we launched the site, we moved it into a sales channel group.


At iMotors, the founding CEO was from the car business. He was looking for a partner who knew e-commerce. So there you have it, actually a fairly logical roadmap of a career.

Moderator: Wow! I'm amazed!

Terhi-guest says: What would you suggest if someone wants to get involved with both the designing side as well as the business development area

Beth:Well, having gone from one to another to another, you all can probably understand why I'm interested in taking a break. The New Media world is fun, but it's also exhausting. Would you all agree?

Moderator: I definitely agree ;-)

Beth: I think it's great for people on the design side to understand the business side.

Business development is about figuring out where your company's needs lie, which ones you can fulfill yourself and then where do you need partners. Then it's about identifying partners and figuring out how to create a win-win relationship. Too many of the early relationships like with portals were not win-win. They were portal win, other company lose. One way to move from a designing position into working in business development is to be part of a team that implements a new relationship.

For example, at The Weather Channel, we were one of the very first companies to syndicate our data. Our first client was Delta Airlines. We worked to develop a co-branded site.

Business development is about two main things: relationship development and finance. You must have strong analytical skills to:
a) be able to devise a strategic partnership and
b) determine the payoff

Maybe you should try to sit in on some meetings at your company. Communicate your interest along with some suggestions for the contributions you can make.

Moderator: Excellent advice. Suggesting ways which you can be of assistance to a project is really key.

Beth: As a long time manager, I always worked with my employees on a development plan. This plan consisted of several areas.

First, the aspiration goal. i.e. what is the next position the individual seeks? Next was what are the skills and experience needed for that position.

Next was, what are the gaps that the person needs to fill before being qualified? Then, an action plan of how to fill the gaps. Sometimes that might include training courses, sometimes it was merely participating in a project to gain experience.

These plans helped me as a manager as well as the employee. They really served as our roadmap. For the individual, it was much more clear to them how they could EARN a new position.

Too often, people just expect to keep getting promoted and getting raises without real accomplishments. That's unrealistic. Even if you don't have a manager who takes a proactive approach, perhaps try putting together a plan and presenting it to your manager. You'll probably find him or her receptive and willing to help you out.

Moderator: Sounds like iMotors is really going to miss you! When did you decide that you needed a break?

Beth: I've been thinking about it for a while. I haven't been able to take a real vacation (read: a full week off) in over two years. For many years, as you can guess, I worked hard at building organizations and businesses. Building requires high energy and lots of time.

Now that I've helped to build 4 different businesses, my interest is more on working at the strategic level and less on implementation.

I look forward to doing consulting for a while so that I can really use my broad experience and apply it to several companies. It's definitely a change for me, but I'm excited. I see so many companies out there that need help. And while I really enjoy working with and managing people, I'm ready for a break. I've seen several friends take time out and I'm amazed at their rejuvenation.

Moderator: And you absolutely deserve it! Your accomplishments are astounding!

Terhi-guest says: I have few months experience in the dot-com company which I really enjoyed. However, a lot of companies need more experience in that environment. What do you suggest I should do in order to work for a dot-com company?

Beth: First, be realistic. Understand where you can contribute and look for companies that can truly benefit from what you have to offer. Remember, getting a job is just another form of sales.

So you first need to identify qualified prospects. Perhaps look for a company in an industry in which you've previously worked. Try to get into their online organization.

Second, network, network, network to get to the right person. You need to get to a decision maker. If your experience is in marketing, get to the marketing director, not the HR person.

Finally, do your homework. Understand the company's challenges and have some solid ideas on how to approach them. And show your enthusiasm!

Moderator: Just want to let you all know that networking online is also possible...
Here at GirlGeeks we have email discussion groups and mentor groups which have proven very beneficial to our users!


guest-Joan asks: What is the toughest experience you ever had in your career life? How did you make it through and what did you learn from it?

Beth: Well, one of the hardest was when MCI decided to move our division from Washington, DC to Atlanta. The company handled the whole thing horribly. I had several direct reports all of whom had personal situations that were stressful (ex. due with a 3rd child, just about to get married, near to declaring bankruptcy due to large school loans). Also, my manager was very weak.

My goal was to first and foremost take care of my team members. So I had to fully research and understand the legal and financial implications to help guide them in their decision-making. For several of us (myself included), the best decision was to leave MCI and take a package. For those folks I helped to edit their resumes and provided references in their job search. One I even helped consult back to the company.

Two of my team members wanted to move to Atlanta so I helped them get placed in jobs with the company and ensured they understood the relocation options.

What's amazing is that was back in 1992. I still get e-mails from three of them today. As a middle manager, I felt good that I took care of my people. I've tried to keep that approach as I've moved in to the executive ranks. I have had to fire people, which is extremely difficult for me. However I've always ensured that person was able to get on their feet and helped them understand where and why they might be a better fit elsewhere.

Kate-guest says: Have you ever been intimidated by technology and if so, what do you do to change it?

Beth: Yes, I have been. But I've found the best approach is to: a) ask questions of people who are knowledgeable no matter how stupid the question seemed and
b) force myself to use technologies.

One example, not so much of fear, but just not really seeing the value was my handheld PDA. I was very attached to my old Day timer. However, last Fall I finally decided to bite the bullet. At iMotors we had used some handhelds for our buyers and were swapping them out. So I got loaded up on a CE device. I then loaded all my contacts (business and personal) into Outlook.

I now have close to 1000 contacts in my database. I can't tell you how much easier my life is having everything in one place with easy updating. Now I just synch up my handheld (I now have a Handspring) to my Outlook. It saves me tons of time and keeps things accurate vs. having an address book at home, a Rolodex, and a Day timer with different information. When I left iMotors, I also uploaded my contacts into Yahoo. Now I can retrieve them from anywhere.

So my advice is Try it, you'll like it. And never hesitate to ask for help. There's also tons of information available online.

guest-Nadine asks: What are your plans for the future?

Beth: Well, I'm trying hard to take some time off (full spa day tomorrow with another friend who is not working), but I'm getting lots of calls for consulting I'd like to do consulting 3 days a week for the next year. After that I may look at something full time.

For me, I need to have some time to focus on other parts of my life than just career. I want to travel some, spend more time with my nephew and live a more healthy life. Long hours and lots of travel are not conducive to being healthy. I also will probably do some speaking engagements. I've done that quite a bit. I may also help do some recruiting.

I'm open to lots of things, just not jumping full time back into a startup .:)

Moderator: You really deserve this time off, and I'm sure your expertise will continue to help build great companies. Beth, we're almost out of time here...

But before we go, do you have any advice for aspiring GirlGeeks out there?


Beth: I certainly appreciate the opportunity to share some of my experience with everyone. My parting advice is the following: spend time to figure out what you want really want to do. Be realistic about what you have to offer. GO FOR IT with all your heart and energy. Take a "No" as maybe "not right now." Do your follow up when you don't get a position. Ask what it was the person was looking for. More than once I've seen a follow up call lead to a reconsideration.

Finally, don't settle. This is the best job market we've ever seen, you don't have to settle. Be open and passionate about learning new things.

Practice communicating. It's an area where many people these days really are lacking. Be considerate and respectful of people's time.

While you want to show persistence, there does come a point where you can go too far. Develop your own network. You'll be amazed at how much people are willing to help. I find this especially true among females. Keep reaching for you goals, but understand when you need to take time out and gain perspective.

Good luck, everyone.

Moderator: Thank you so much for all of your wonderful advice! A special Thank You Beth for chatting with us!

Beth: My pleasure!
 
 
 
 


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