Kristy Campbell has dedicated her 20+ year career to working with – and within – tech startups to help them build their brand, grow revenue and scale. As the Chief Operating Officer at leading venture development fund, Rev1 Ventures, Campbell supports the company’s mission to help entrepreneurs build great companies. Tapping into her longevity in the industry, she helps guide startups in their critical first phases of growth to expedite their success and ensure they are poised for scalable growth.
Prior to Rev1, Campbell held executive-level positions at Manta Media, where she assisted the team in growing the company into one of the largest, most trafficked websites in the U.S. She also served as director of marketing at Saama Technologies, a leading Business Intelligence services firm.
Campbell holds a BS in Journalism from Ohio University and an MBA from Ashland University. She is a frequent speaker on startup marketing and an ongoing contributor for top entrepreneur resources.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
From the time I was young, I was on a quest to connect the dots. My dad was an art director at advertising agency, and I have vivid memories of drawing ads alongside him, asking questions about how the campaigns and art he was producing related to the goals of the business. I started my career in advertising, and was on a mission to understand the impact of our work on the entire business. I loved to see how ideas and strategies effect the growth of a company and quickly realized I could learn more from the inside, and so my career at startups began.
It’s a beautiful process to see the balance of art and science within a company – and it is front and center when working with startups to innovate and grow.
How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
I’ve dedicated the majority of my career to helping startups grow- most of which were venture-backed, growing rapidly, adding employees, pivoting on ideas, etc. As a result, I learned a lot very quickly…both the good and bad of building a business.
At a fast-growing company, everything operates on a much larger scale, and you learn more from where there is friction – what isn’t working. Many times, the reason for the growing pains are the result of not being aligned, which is why I’m more drawn to the operations part of the business.
At Rev1, one of my responsibilities is helping ensure we are organized to execute on our goals and that experience comes from working within startups. And because I’ve worked for so many years within startups, I am able to really understand the journey that Rev1’s portfolio companies are taking, because I have been in their position and understand what they’re going through.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
It’s no surprise that I think the best place to learn is at a startup.
If you want to work in the venture or tech industry, start by working at a high-growth company. And that doesn’t mean you have to be the founder or a technical wizard. When you’re young, try a lot of roles on for size, and don’t force yourself into a position that doesn’t match your skill set. Find what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about and focus on getting there.
It’s also important to find a city that has a growing ecosystem to support the type of roles and industry you’re interested in – and sometimes it’s thinking outside of the box. For example, tech is booming outside of Silicon Valley, and in many ways, there are more opportunities for women, in particular, in areas other than the coasts.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
When I look at companies that have had success, and those that haven’t, the successful ones are focused on their customers and have a team aligned around a vision for delivering success to those customers. This has really helped me evaluate career opportunities because it’s pretty easy to read if a team is passionate about solving problems for their customers or if they’re more focused on their cool product or their position in the market.
By working at a lot of different companies, you start to see what floats to the top. You can have a hot product, smart people, and a large market, but if you don’t have a team that is aligned around a customer-focused vision, it’s just not going to work.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’ve gotten a lot better at this over time. A friend once said to me “you’re a senior person at your organization, just do what you need to do.”
The reality is, you have to find the balance for yourself and know that you have earned the trust and respect to do it. Over time, I’ve gotten confident in knowing that I’m in my role I have built trust that I will deliver. My experience, background and skills have all contributed to this, earning the ability to drop my kids at school and make the balance work. Only I can prioritize important family moments, no one else can prioritize them for me.
By setting that example as a senior member of the team, there’s a great opportunity to show other women that we support the balance and that it can be achieved.
Startups are unique in that way, because they can offer flexibility – but it’s up to you to make it work. Don’t compromise what you want, find a company and a role that supports what you need both at work…and at home.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think a lot of women feel like if their role is too high level or visible, there’s not an option to achieve a work-life balance. In many cases, women have almost become afraid of the promotion, or even opt-out of applying for a bigger role out of fear of what that will mean.
I firmly believe that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Women are already working hard – just keep doing what you’re doing to find the flexibility and balance you need.
Women should also remember to put themselves first – trust their expertise and go for it. Men always go for it – women need to remember that they can and should too.
How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
The number one thing is don’t feel like you have to wait until your idea is fully baked before you star exploring your own thing. Know that there are resources available to help you build your business, and there are opportunities to get feedback and hone your idea with others who have been there before.
We need women founders and co-founders – so it’s also about women helping each other. I believe women are uniquely positioned to start a new business and grow it because they think strongly about how the pieces will come together and about the business model. We are stronger as a whole and can work together to the betterment of all – a rising tide really does lift all boats.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I believe strongly in mentorship… I’ve always had a mentor. And I have different mentors for different things. I have certain people that I got to for support/advice on different aspects of my personal and professional life, and I wouldn’t be where I am without the advice of the people I trust to help guide me. There aren’t as many women as there should be or could be at the senior level, so for me, it’s figuring out how to navigate new areas and help mentor other young women as they embark on their careers.
What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next
Professionally – at Rev1, we need to support startups as they grow their teams. And I believe deeply that these teams will be more successful if they are diverse. Helping companies attract and hire diverse talent is a professional goal of mine and our team. I also want to continue to help Columbus continue its meteoric rise as the Midwest’s startup hub.
Personally – I am focused on continuing to be more present with my family and friends and try to instill some new type of fun in each week.
What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
- Get close to your customers (you can never be too close to your customers). Understand what they need and how your product relates to that. Ask yourself – what problem am I solving for them? Call a few customers every Monday. You’ll be surprised what you learn.
- Be thoughtful about the kind of company you want to create from day one. You, as the founder, are the culture of your company, so think about what type of business you want to build, and how you want it to run. That will help you attract the kind of people you want to work with you. Don’t just focus on the expertise, think more about the passion, customer focus, culture, etc.
- Create your own work-life balance from the beginning. You’re always going to work hard, but if you put your entire life into your work, you’ll never be able to get your balance back. Whether it’s hobbies or your family – your life outside of work makes you a better leader at work. Some of my best thinking and planning happens when I’m *not* heads-down at work.