Expert Q&A: Amy Jo Martin, Keynote Speaker, Bestselling Author and Investor
The social media pioneer gives us a peek at life on the other side of entrepreneurship plus her advice for blazing your own career path.
Amy Jo Martin has been writing the rules for her entire career. The 36-year-old investor, founder, speaker and author started experimenting in social media marketing a decade ago, long before social media was the juggernaut it is today.
Her successful results established her as a social media pioneer and led her to found her own company, called Digital Royalty, to develop social-media campaigns for corporations, celebrities and sports entities. Martin worked with big-name brands, like Hilton Worldwide, as well as individuals such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal, helping them to establish a powerful human presence online under the notion that “humans connect with humans — not logos.”
After seven years, Digital Royalty grew to 30 people working across 10 different countries; Martin recently exited the company.
Though she’s not on a plane quite as much these days – one year she took 201 flights! – Martin continues to travel far and wide to speak about the latest trends in innovation, the future of social communication and women in business. In August, she pared down her belongings and moved her life onto a boat in Shelter Island, San Diego. Now, she’s delving into a new mission to mentor and invest in women doing work that she believes in.
We recently spoke to Martin about her career path, being open to change, and life on the other side of entrepreneurship.
You entered the social media marketing space in its nascent stages. How did you navigate the “Wild West days” of social media?
After college I started working in marketing and I fell in love with the concept of brands. After working with an ad agency in Phoenix, I got a job with the Phoenix Suns during their 2005-06 season, leading social media for the team. There were no rules or regulations in place around social media at the time, but I didn’t wait for the rules. I was a bit unapologetic. I saw it as a great opportunity to humanize the brand, and I really believed in what I was doing, so I calculated risks in terms of experimenting without permission. I learned that you could color outside the lines without crossing the line. Sometimes in life, if we wait for the green light, we’ll be waiting all our lives. That’s part of being a renegade and innovating. If I had waited for permission, there’s no chance I’d be where I am now.
How did you decide to take the next leap into being an entrepreneur? What did you learn from that experience?
So much started changing in social communication and media attention started to come my way. There was a spotlight on what I was doing at the Suns. So I knew there was something big there. I saw the momentum building and I was very calculated, I trusted it. When I leapt from my corporate comfy job into being an entrepreneur on my own I didn’t realize I’d grow a company and eventually have 30 employees. But the specific feeling of taking that jump has paid dividends. After I did it I could look back and think: “That wasn’t so bad, next time I can go a little higher.”
What is your secret to staying so nimble and open to change?
My father’s job was in construction so when I was growing up we would pick up and move our trailer to the next city. I went to lots of schools. I learned how to adjust and adapt knowing that things are constantly evolving. It created an addiction to change and curiosity that has become the expectation for me, and that’s helped with my career and with taking risks and being able to adjust and shift with where technology goes. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a very good thing, and has a strong benefit to my career and life.
If you haven’t had that type of experience and you’re more risk averse, you have to make taking risks a habit and a daily practice. You don’t have to give up everything that’s stable right now in order to take a risk. You can be calculated about it. When in doubt, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I try ____? And then what? And then what? Also ask: Is ____ safe enough to try?” You will always learn a lot.
You have developed a passion for helping women thrive in business leadership. When did that surface and whom are you working with now?
So I had an interesting experience, which is that I never felt different growing up as a female, even when it came to being surrounded by older men, especially at the NBA. I never felt I was at a disadvantage. As I continued on and witnessed and better understood the discrepancy in numbers, whether equal pay or funding [for women], I started to think it through more. I wanted to play a role.
So now, because of my business experience, I am mentoring and guiding women entrepreneurs. But I’m also making a financial commitment and investing more in women I believe in. There’s such a skew with female funding, not just women VCs but female entrepreneurs, too.
Men receive so much more funding than women. I’m interested in supporting the right ideas and people, especially females. I want to create a network of women supporting women. Right now, I’m investing in a company with a female founder called Simple Baby Foods, which takes a very natural look at baby food. And I’m mentoring a young, 12-year-old girl who started her own company when she was 10 and gives back a portion of proceeds to children’s cancer research.
What career advice would you offer to women reading this?
The number one thing is to learn to really listen to what resonates with you. I always go back to my “Why?” You can ask: “Does this thing align with my Purpose, Passion and Skills?” The more we can keep that at the top-of-mind, the better. I recommend a lot of journaling, podcasts and reading. Try to do different things that will inspire new ideas and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Know that in today’s world and our economy, anything is possible. Oh, and build a strong personal brand. If one day you want to launch something new, like that flower shop you’ve always wanted to open, if you have a strong presence and network to share your messaging with, it will resonate quickly and give you momentum.
Jessica Weiss is a Miami-based writer. She spent the last four years traveling through South America, writing for publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and Ms. Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @jessweiss1.