Welcome to “I Want Your Job,” Elite Daily’s new series that inspires females to go after their professional and personal dreams. We’ve teamed up with the most inspiring Millennial women who’ve made a name for themselves doing everything from tech design to owning a restaurant to bring you a taste of what being a Boss Lady in every industry really looks like.
These women never gave up on their dreams, never let a man tell them “no” and aren’t backing down for anybody. If you want her job, here’s how to get it.
From user to employee… to CEO.
If it sounds like a Cinderella story, that’s because it is. But there isn’t a shriveling pumpkin, glass slipper or any ambiguous ideas about what your shoe size says about your ability to become a princess. Instead, there is Polyvore, a force to be reckoned with in the fashion community, and Jess Lee, fearless and fabulous at the helm of the Internet sensation.
Launched as the all-new way to discover, shop for and save your favorite pieces in fashion, beauty and home décor, Polyvore made a name for itself in the industry in ways that Pinterest cannot. Polyvore puts the power in its users hands, letting each individual decide on what works together, what doesn’t and what the latest and greatest trend will be.
It simplifies the shopping process – no longer are you scouring site after site for options that flow well together because on Polyvore, you just find what you like and shop similar styles. And while the site is for the user, by the user, it makes sure to include retailers in the mix, too.
Despite its standing ovation-worthy success story so far, it’s business as usual at their Mountain View offices. On the cusp of Silicon Valley, where the start-up heart beats steadily and fluidly, Jess Lee is the picture of poise. She is everything modern media uses to describe a Lady Boss: direct, likable, motivational, encouraging, creative and talented.
When we first catch up with her, we’re in between breezes in this sunny California hideaway. Mountain View is a short train ride away from downtown San Francisco, a cozy little outpost of culture and creativity.
Jess exemplifies Cali chic, but there’s a hint of New York folded neatly into the mix. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s decked in black from head-to-toe that makes us native New Yorkers feel so peaceful in her presence?
But Jess Lee is nothing like her dark garments would suggest. (She likens her morning routine to the science of simplicity, a move that President Obama and Steve Jobs also prescribed to.) Though her place on the food chain reveals otherwise, Jess is just like everyone else on her team: determined to make Polyvore the best product for its users.
She isn’t “the boss,” “the CEO,” “the Polyvore superuser” — she’s just an employee deeply committed to her product and her people.
Community is at the heart of everything Polyvore and Jess do. It informs what products they create next, how they approach problems and how they envision the future of their brand. “I was a user before I was an employee; I care about our community.” Jess says.
And community is as much about its users as it is its employees. “Every day is punctuated by lunch. And everyone gets together for lunch. I usually always find a group of people that I don’t know that well and sit with them.
We also have orientation every week for new hires and existing employees. I want them to hear from me every week.
“[We] run Polyvore like a start-up school,” Jess tells us. “When I joined, I was one of the company’s first employees, so I had the freedom to do a lot of different things. There was so much possibility. And I learned so much along the way that I want that same opportunity for everyone who’s joined.”
It’s awesome to see Jess approach business from such a realist perspective. “I think being here in Silicon Valley, and in tech, you’re just surrounded by so many smart people and you have the opportunity to learn so much from them.
“I’ve met so many awesome people; I’ve worked with people who came in, learned really fast, and went on to found their own companies.” It’s this ability to take a little something from everyone that has helped Jess shape, reshape and redefine the role of CEO at her own pace. “The CEO role is constantly changing, so every day is a new challenge and something I’ve never done before.”
Being a female CEO has changed a lot over the course of her tenure at the site, Jess says. It’s hard to imagine, but “companies that targeted female users weren’t always taken seriously, and now they are.” It’s a relief for Jess – and for Polyvore – to see its female base growing, expanding and taking command of the industry.
But Jess didn’t set out at the start of her career with the intention of taking over the home, fashion and beauty space. “I wanted to be a comic book artist, and I wanted to go to art school, but my parents wouldn’t pay. They told me it would be really hard to make it in the art world. In hindsight, though, I don’t regret it. [I went on to study] computer science and I came [to Polyvore] from Google.”
For her, the idea of combining tech and computer science together to make art was something that aligned with her the root of her original goal. Polyvore blends together “fashion, tech, style and art into a job that centers around a product that I use every day.” How’s that for coming full circle?
“I would tell anyone out there who is thinking about the future to blend their passions with a job and an industry you love.” She’s right. Doing what you love day-in and day-out might not make the whole world spin, but it will make yours.
And the whole ride has been an incredible adventure; one that’s responsible for where she is today. “I’ve been really lucky,” she says, adding that working at Google and at Polyvore has taught her an invaluable lesson about life at the office: You need to reward people on the merits of their work.
At Polyvore, she says, it’s easy to do that because the people here are authentic. They are completely, totally and unequivocally themselves. It’s a mantra that’s found its way up the food chain, too.
“I’ve never felt any pressure to be anyone other than myself. Actually I’m not even sure I could do that,” she says with a smile. After an hour together, we’ll second that. When someone like Jess comes along – so pure, so invested, so passionate – why would you ever want to mess with that? You wouldn’t.
She is, however, the first to admit that this role didn’t exactly come easily to her. “I’m naturally an introvert,” she says, “and I hate public speaking. It doesn’t come naturally to me, so getting better at that has been a challenge. It’s definitely a muscle you develop and then you get better and better at it.
“The classic mold of leadership is to be an extrovert. So I’ve had to define my own style and find role models that I could identify with. It was a huge challenge.” Day after day, though, she does it. She makes it happens. She excites, inspires and plans for the future.
She plays that up to an ability to focus, one of the biggest lessons she’s learned so far. “Only a few things really matter, and you have to be really exceptional at them. You have to be able to say ‘no’ to those other things.”
Laying it out before us, it all seems so neat and orderly, but Jess reminds us that it hasn’t always been such a crystal-clear picture. On the road to success, she’s sacrificed the “stability and comfort” of a 9-to-5 career.
There was never a moment, in the early days, where Jess was totally sure everything would work out as beautifully as it has. That, she says, has been the icing on the cake.
Though her road is rippled with zigzags and U-turns, Jess has a few thoughts for girls who want to grow up and wear her shoes one day. She reverts back to advice she got from Marissa Mayer at Google: “Seek out things that are challenging and hard because that’s how you grow and learn. When you’re young and ‘not sure that you can do that,’ you forget that there’s a lot you can gain just from trying.”
Because hindsight is always 20/20, Jess muses that if she could go back, she’d do a few things differently. “Earlier in my career, I would have fought harder for some of the things that I believed in.
“I was shy, quiet and not confident in my ideas. I knew there were things that weren’t best for users, but I didn’t speak up. Now, I speak up.” Was it because she was a woman? Was it because she wasn’t a feminist? No… and no. “My question is: Who isn’t a feminist? Most people I know are.”
It’s this work ethic – this ability to stop, disseminate, reassess and try again – that makes Jess such a prize to her team and the Polyvore community. Their chic offices even feature two “Love Letter” boards. They’re filled with handwritten notes of thanks that detail the impact Polyvore has had on their lives.
One user even submitted a copy of her college admissions essay. “To hear users talk about how Polyvore inspired them to go study fashion, or computer science, or to hear employees say that Polyvore is one of the best places they’ve ever worked,” is one of the most rewarding parts of her role.
Before we part, we ask Jess a few of the tough questions: Does she want it all? What the hell even is it “all”? How do you do it?
Much like we’ve come to realize, Jess takes it all in stride – and never breaks a sweat. We’re dying to know her secret to success, and much to her credit, it sounds so attainable. So honest. So real. So Jess. “I think a lot of the reason I became CEO is because I volunteered to do the hard work, the annoying work, because it was important. So go seek out the challenges; take the more challenging path – that’s the best way to grow your career.”
As for having it all, Jess says, “I always thought that was a weird question because no one – man or woman – can have it all; you have a finite amount of time in your life and you have to choose how to spend it.” That said, though, “It’s all about the people: your family, your friends, the people you work with, the users – making those people happy and having meaningful relationships with every single one of them.”
And it’s also about the value of the word “no.”
“You have to learn how to say ‘no,’” Jess adds. “You have to learn how to be disciplined. You don’t have to cut into your personal life, your family and your play. You can say no.”
Brb, we’re gonna go practice.
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