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Women in Business Q&A: Jess Peterson, Founder and Creative Producer, Mighty Oak

08/01/2016 20:34 GMT | Updated 08/01/2017 10:12 GMT

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Jess Peterson (l) and Emily Collins (r.)

Jess Peterson is Founder and Creative Producer of Mighty Oak, a micro-storytelling studio that specializes in hand-made animation and documentary techniques.

For the past 10 years, she's worked within the music, visual arts, and brand world, helping clients find their voice. Past work collaborations include the Mashable, Samsung, Penguin Books, Children's Museum of the Arts, Dumbo Arts Festival, The Flaming Lips, Brooklyn Arts Council, and The New York Times.

She also leads HATCH, a meet-up group for creative female founders in NYC. When she's not creating stories or events, you can find her behind a wedding dj booth, spinning records with her husband.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

When I think back on it, I've enjoyed being in leadership roles since I was a little girl. Like way before the days of putting on concerts in college or leading committees in high school. By age 8, I was putting on variety shows for the kids at recess. I was selling mixtapes and teddy bears that I'd sewn out of old t-shirts. I was even writing plays and directing my classmates (with my teacher's permission of course!)

But when I got into the "real world," I just kinda stopped. For some reason, I never connected this entrepreneurial spirit with something I could use in the future. No one had really encouraged that idea before, so I went to work for a variety of creative companies and organizations. I learned a lot from those experiences; sometimes by screwing up (badly.) Eventually, I found myself wanting to create systems that would improve our process, creativity, and teamwork in the workplace. I was really excited to put these ideas to work, honestly, much more than what I was actually supposed to be doing. Even though they didn't always work out, I think all of those experiences were prepping me for what I do now. Designing systems to make us more productive, establishing an environment that makes us feel our most creative, learning from mistakes, and always looking towards the next goal.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Mighty Oak?

I've always worked within small organizations and, departments, so I have no problem wearing many hats. And as I mentioned before, I've definitely learned a lot from my past positions, both what I wanted to bring with me into my own company, and what I would want to change.

I realized from those experiences that you can't just worry about your own vision, you need to value the thoughts and ambitions of your team. If they're not engaged with the work or learning something new, they'll move on. So our goal at Mighty Oak is to create opportunities for growth and professional development, even within our little studio. I believe in transparency and communication between coworkers, so we host weekly meetings, attend networking events, and share ideas with one another. It's not always easy to stick to this process when work is busy, but we do our best and hope to do much more of this in the new year!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Mighty Oak?

There are so many highlights to think about in our 8 months of business! Working on the upcoming Dream, Girl documentary, collaborating with Mashable's social feeds, expanding our team -- when you're this new, there's a lot of milestones to celebrate!

But trust me, we're not yet "living the dream." I'm pretty sure my business partner Emily Collins and I ate nothing but rice, beans, eggs, and bacon for the first 5 months of 2015. When we first started working together, we were taking turns transforming our own apartments into traditional animation studios, shlepping materials back and forth so that the other person could have a place to sit. We're lucky to have very patient husbands here. And when we finally found a studio within our budget, it needed a complete renovation, so we'd work on client projects from 10-7, and follow it by painting walls, stripping floors, and building cabinets until midnight. I was in a hazmat suit for most of the summer! But when you see it all come together, and think about the work you put in, it kinda feels like our biggest highlight yet.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

I think my advice would resonate the same advice for any industry: know your strengths, know your craft, and know your worth. Realizing your worth is usually the hardest part to achieve.

Don't discount yourself because you don't know everything there is to know about your industry-- everyone's learning a bit on the job. Be confident that you can learn, ask lots of questions, be comfortable with mistakes and rejection, and be self-aware enough to realize when you might need to approach something in a different way. And for the love of Pete, do not apologize for anything you didn't do.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

To be organized, goal-oriented, and strategy-focused. I'd say I'm a born-again organizer. I spent much of my early career creating first, organizing later. I've since learned that being organized gives you the headspace to be creative!

Having a strategy, however wild it might be, creates a process to help you reach your goals. It allows you to take on even the loftiest idea one step at a time, and often with less revisions. And once you reach your goals, you have something to celebrate, no matter how big or small it might be. Celebrating your accomplishments is probably the biggest difference between a "job" and a "career."

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I mean, let's be real -- when you're starting a business you better love what you do because work is about to become your life, and your life is about to become your work.

I relate entrepreneurship to having a baby. Granted, I don't have kids of my own, but I've checked this out with friends who do! When you're a new founder, your business is really all you can think about. You're afraid it's going to die if you leave it alone for too long, you're posting every little milestone on Facebook, and you're gushing all day to friends who are quite frankly tired of hearing about it. I mean, the place where work ends and "life" begins just becomes one insane mix.

But that said, it's an amazing mix. And more rewarding than anything you can imagine. That's what my parent friends say about life with kids, so I guess, this is my kid. And that's all the balance I need.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Before I started my own business and co-founded the networking community HATCH, I didn't know how to find mentorship in my creative field. But through peer mentorship, and the welcomed support of amazing women I've met along the way this past year, I've found accountability partners, advising partners, and business creatives who were generous enough to share their knowledge with me. It's made me a more confident person in my career, and in life in general.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Every time I learn about a female leader, whether contemporary or historical, I'm completely in awe of what she's overcome in order to pave the way for others. Read Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz, watch the videos on Makers.com, learn about the upcoming Dream, Girl film, or scroll through Amy Poehler's Smart Girls Facebook feed, and you'll find it hard to list just a few.The bigger issue is that we're not hearing enough of these stories in the first place! That's something we at Mighty Oak are very interested in rectifying this year as we unveiling a new animation and networking series called HATCH Stories.

What do you want Mighty Oak to accomplish in the next year?

Our goal is all about growth -- in revenue and staff. Employing other women has been one of the most rewarding things we've had the privilege to do, and we want to do more of it. We're also looking to explore new mediums. We've just received our first animated inquiry for "Virtual Reality..."so we're excited about what 2016 will bring!!