Don’t learn the hard way and follow your professional passion, advises Reddit’s Chief Operating Officer Jen Wong. Having toiled away at a financial gig she was less than enamored with, Jen went back to school, changed careers and landed executive roles at AOL, POPSUGAR, Time Inc. and now Reddit – which is home to more than 100,000 active online communities. While good fortune and big swings can, in part, be attributed to her success, read on to see why surrounding yourself with talented leaders and a “Company First” value can go a long way.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
Reddit’s mission is to bring community and belonging to everyone, and I am working on growing Reddit’s business so we can make that possible. I am [also] working to ensure that every community has a home on Reddit – because at the end of the day, we want a diverse ecosystem that brings vibrancy and resiliency to our platform.
How are digital communities impacting customer experience?
Online communities have become the most trusted places, where users seek and offer advice on products – in particular, for high-consideration purchases. With the lack of transparency and questionable integrity in regards to paid influencers, people are turning to digital communities for unbiased, authentic perspectives based on actual product use.
"If I were a marketer, I would avidly listen to what these online communities are saying..."
If I were a marketer, I would avidly listen to what these online communities are saying about my brand and products and look for opportunities to engage directly to brand-build and collect individual customer feedback. I believe that ongoing community dialogue will become the norm for startups, DTC brands and Fortune 500 companies alike.
How did you get to where you are today?
First and foremost, I was lucky enough to work and build relationships with some incredibly accomplished leaders in media and tech. I also think taking chances and seizing opportunities is important. Looking back on my career, I took a few big chances and had luck in joining successful consumer companies where I was able to have autonomy and encouragement from executives, and felt energized by the companies’ goals and missions.
What made you want to change careers?
I missed the first wave of the internet. I was working in financial valuation, unhappy, and just a bystander watching this exciting change in consumer behavior online. I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch it go by, so I decided to change the direction of my career. I went to business school and learned everything I could to help me hit the ‘reset’ button. Afterward, I changed my professional trajectory dramatically by learning everything about consumer media and tech.
What are some notable differences between consumer media and tech?
A few things stand out to me. The difference between product leaders: these are “editors” in the media vs “product managers” in the tech world. I also find it fascinating how startup culture is molded around founder personality vs. mature companies when it comes to operating preferences. These subtle differences might not seem like a lot on the surface; but in the end, they have a huge impact on the way people perceive a brand and how a product is built.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
There is a real desire, and in some cases legislation as well, to have more women join boards and executive teams and provide real diversity of perspective. CEOs, boards, customers, and employees want this and if you have the opportunity, go for it.
At the end of the day, the greatest challenge is to ensure that there are environments that empower women and enable them to make their interests and capabilities known. We also need to make sure that recruiters and business leaders know more about these talented women, support them and hire them.
What advice can you share?
"Humility and a ‘Company First’ value is essential for great leaders."
I am seeing a lot more next-generation leaders and managers proactively manage their careers and ask for clarity and feedback on how to progress. I think that is great. I also sometimes observe a lack of calibration around the timeline for progression and what makes sense, which can create a perception of impatience and even entitlement. Careers are long – and you want to be set up for success. Remember that relationships and mentors are important, and it takes time to build those naturally.
Finally, I don’t think that managing your professional progression is at odds with humbleness and gratitude. Humility and a ‘Company First’ value is essential for great leaders.
How have you found the right balance between your personal life and career?
I am trying to find the sweet spot on the scale, but it’s difficult for me, as I choose jobs where I have a personal passion so I get a lot of enjoyment from working. But I will say that having a toddler is the best forcing mechanism for getting off your phone.
Knowing what you know today, what one thing would you have done differently early in your career?
I would have brought together my personal passion and career sooner. Looking back now, I strongly believe that my personal interest in consumer behavior and culture has helped me be more successful in my roles and informed my business strategy in consumer media and tech. That intuition can really help with decision-making under uncertainty or deciphering fast-emerging changes.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I have always been an indie music head, so in another life, I would be composing and producing music.