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Women in Business Q&A: Jody Vandergriff, CEO, WebDAM

01/12/2016 08:08 pm 20:08:14 | Updated 12 January 2016

As CEO at WebDAM, Jody leads company strategy and product vision. She is an engineer at heart, having spent her career in software development and Bioinformatics at Celera Genomics, Applied Biosystems and Genentech. She has published more than 20 scientific articles and abstracts, co-authored the book "Biological Database Modeling" and holds a patent in this area of research. Jody earned a Bachelor's of Science in Molecular Genetics from Ohio State University and went on to complete a Master's of Science in Computer Science at San Francisco State University. In 2014, Jody was recognized as one of 100 distinguished women of influence in Silicon Valley by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I moved around a lot as a child, and my life experiences from Orange County to Kentucky completely shaped who I am today. I embrace diversity because of my experiences and adapt well to change, which has been an incredibly critical skill in founding a startup. My father also ran a software company during my early childhood and I saw firsthand the ups and downs of business. My parents never lost their sense of humor through the good and the bad years and always followed their hearts. I try and live by that mantra still today.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at WebDAM?
My career actually started in biomedical research - not exactly what you'd expect for a CEO of a tech company! After college, I landed an opportunity researching gene therapy to treat childhood hematopoietic disorders at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. There, I became fascinated with the emerging field of Bioinformatics, a blend of biology and programming. After spending several years building data tools for scientists in the biotech industry, I realized my true passion - building products people love. That's when I jumped headfirst into the world of entrepreneurship and founded WebDAM. Having a technical background really helped launch the company with little capital. Learning other aspects of the business took a lot of trial and error. My time in research taught me how to experiment and fail gracefully.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at WebDAM?
Bootstrapping definitely had its ups and downs. My cofounder and I decided to bootstrap the company before taking any outside funding. We wanted the freedom to truly understand the market and find the right product that fit. It was great because it gave me a deep understanding of the business (that I still draw on today!), and it's a huge part of why WebDAM continues to be a lean and efficient business. The downside? The tremendous challenge of doing everything - from developing the first version of the product to closing the first fifty deals - before I was able to finally expand the team.

Getting acquired by Shutterstock was the biggest highlight for me, so far. I'm still focused on growing and scaling WebDAM - but now with the support (and funding) of a bigger company. Being a Shutterstock company has opened up so many doors for us.

What advice can you offer to women who are looking to follow a similar route?
Don't be afraid of failure. Being an entrepreneur means doing something for the first time nearly every day. A lot of entrepreneurs, especially women, spend too much time feeling under-qualified for the situations they find themselves in when in reality, we are all trying to figure something out. If you feel like a fish out of water, fake it. Confidence is the most important thing you can bring to the table. It sounds cliché but taking risks is so important for personal growth and you can't take risks if you are afraid of failure.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am admittedly terrible at work/life balance. Entrepreneurship is much more than a career - it is a lifestyle. For that reason, I think that 'work/life integration' is much more feasible. For example, my kids love coming to WebDAM. They know everyone's name, have their own desks, and are known to spice up afternoons with Nerf gun fights or dance-offs. For me, seeking balance always felt like I had two competing forces pulling me in opposite directions, so I look for ways to incorporate my passions.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think that many women feel like they have to choose between work and family. I have two small children (5 and 2) - managing my many roles at work and home is no joke! It hasn't always been easy (i.e. - business trips with children in tow and conference calls with a newborn), but it is incredibly rewarding. I think that more women should embrace work/life integration - finding ways to incorporate different areas of your life can help achieve that 'balance'. As employers, we need to provide an environment that fosters growth for both men and women that are balancing life's many demands.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
From my first boss in research to the head of my university's Computer Science department, I've been fortunate to have several incredible mentors throughout my career. When I shifted into tech, I looked for mentorship to help me navigate through the notoriously biased industry - but the lack of women meant a lack of female mentors.

I think that mentorship is invaluable, which is why I wanted to make sure I provided that opportunity to my team. We launched a networking group at WebDAM called 'WebDAM of WebDAM' (WOW) that helps support and foster opportunities for development and growth for female team members.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire female leaders who are fearless and open about their accomplishments and struggles, professional and personal, to help inspire others. From starting the 'Lean In' movement to penning such a beautiful public tribute to her late husband, Sheryl Sandberg embodies courage. I also applaud Arianna Huffington for inviting women to challenge the status quo with 'Thrive.'

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
As part of the Shutterstock family, WebDAM is uniquely positioned for international growth. We share a vision to empower the world's storytellers and I am excited by the opportunity to build innovate products together. It has been so rewarding to see WebDAM accomplish things we never imagined were possible, and to get to share in those experiences with my team. I want to continue to share in their growth and successes.

Personally, I am always focused on learning and new challenges. That's the beauty of the tech industry - you are never done and it is always changing. I want to continue to share these experiences with my kids who bring fresh perspectives in the most unsuspecting places!

I am also incredibly passionate about closing the gender gap in technology and I want to do my part in bringing change to Silicon Valley.

Oh, and I would love to learn how to swing dance.

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