The girls of FVGCC had the privilege of web chatting with Jellyvision CEO, Amanda Lannert, as we wrapped up our first full year of coding club meetings. Ms. Lannert generously shared her path in tech as well as providing insight and advice to our high school students. Here is a sample of our conversation:
Ms. Lannert went to work for Leo Burnett right out of college. She discovered early in her career that any job and any industry can be interesting if the people you work with are curious and engaged. Who you work for and with is often more important than what you are doing in your daily work. When looking for employment, interview your boss just as they interview you. A good boss can turn your job into a fountain of learning that will lead to your next opportunity. A bad boss can make even the best career seem awful.
In every position you take, it is important to build your network. Who you know can often mean more than what you know as you move through your career. One such contact led Ms. Lannert to a tech startup, Jellyvision, that was producing CD-ROM games. At that time, Jellyvision produced the number one CD-ROM game, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, based off of the popular TV show and the game, You Don’t Know Jack, a trivia-based party game series. In her first position at Jellyvision, Ms. Lannert was working with future head writers of The Colbert Report and creative types that inspired her every day. Interestingly, the company even turned down Seth Meyers for a job at that time! Joining Jellyvision, was important because of the people and the creative work, it wasn’t about the initial position she held, but what she learned from it. Within six months, Ms. Lannert was Jellyvision’s President.
With this new position, came the challenge of watching Jellyvision’s profit and loss numbers going off a cliff because the company’s main business was producing CD games and the technology around gaming was rapidly changing. As a result, at the age of 28, Ms. Lannert had the gut wrenching responsibility of shutting down the company, laying off 60 people, including herself. They had three opportunities to keep the company, but then the tech bubble burst and the company had to close. One of the greatest takeaways for Ms. Lannert from this experience was that, “Failure is not permanent. You need perspective and resilience.”
Ms. Lannert’s next opportunity would find her again working with Jellyvision after the company’s founder raised money to restart the company, transitioning from the gaming industry to selling software that talks people through difficult life decisions such as health benefits, insurance, and investments/saving. The change did not come with overnight success, the company spent a decade going sideways, but through grit and perseverance, Jellyvision now works with just under 1,000 companies, representing 91 billion dollars in insurance premium. Companies spend significant amounts of money each year to help explain health insurance to their employees. Jellyvision helps make this process clearer, more engaging, and as an added benefit, easy, and fun!
Ms. Lannert used the latter part of our conversation to take questions and share important thoughts on college and career:
- She hears from a lot of women “I can’t fail.” Ms. Lannert says you may have set backs or failures but that should be because you have big dreams. She told the girls of FVGCC, “I want you to have more audacious dreams. Dream to have an audacious and brave life.”
- The girls wanted to know how a person knows how to lead a 350 person company. Ms. Lannert shared that the ability to learn is the greatest thing you will be taught in college. Through Liberal Arts, you can learn about diverse topics so challenge yourself to take a lot of unusual classes. In Cultural Anthropology, you can learn why people do what they do. The skills and knowledge you pick up will lead to understanding when you are in a position to lead a team, division, or a company.
- Have curiosity and chase what interests you!
- Developers with great communication skills help to bridge the gap between business and development. The better you communicate within and across groups, the more invaluable you become.
- Start-up companies are scrappy – never stop learning. Pick up Ruby on Rails, Java, Python. Stay curious. You will find yourself taking on many diverse roles in a start- up.
- Ms. Lannert is passionate about helping women gain opportunities. She will meet with anyone who is female. But, she advised the girls that it is important to do their part. Know yourself and what you want both from yourself and others. Make it easy for people to help you. Ask for something as simple as an introduction. There is a world of people to help you, everywhere from Facebook to LinkedIn. Be clear on where you are and where you are trying to go.
- Join a Women in Tech Group or view the video series 30 Days of Genius by Chase Jarvis.
- Most importantly, know that as a girl going into tech, you can, “Join, build, or create a business that will make a difference.”
Thanks Ms. Lannert for your time and insight!