Q&A with Tina Sharkey, CEO of SherpaFoundry
This is part of an ongoing series designed to feature people who are changing the world in their Levi’s®. Our Modern Day Pioneers are impacting everything from culture to social issues to the environment, and they’re challenging the status quo in a unique way. We hope these stories will inspire and empower you to live your life to its fullest in Levi’s. Have someone we should consider? Email us! Follow the Modern Day Pioneers series here.
Tina Sharkey has spent her career charting new territory and pushing the boundaries in the world of digital media. Exhibit A: she registered the domain names socialmedia.com, socialmedia.net and socialmedia.org in the late 90s and was among the first to use the term “social media.” How’s that for fun party trivia?
Her illustrious career includes a variety of media transformations, including the launch of HDTV, mobile developments and social media. She co-founded iVillage, was an executive at AOL, and was CEO at BabyCenter (owned by Johnson & Johnson), where she built the #1 global parenting and pregnancy destination.
Like any good pioneer, Tina is always on the hunt for her next big opportunity to shape the digital landscape. We expect that’s exactly what she’ll do in her new role as CEO of SherpaFoundry. There, she’ll bring together everything she’s done in her career (which is a lot!) in hopes of helping large corporations improve innovation and maximize their digital assets.
Why did you become interested in the technology sector?
I was fascinated by the opportunity to make every day life easier for people. I wanted to find new ways to use technology to connect people to their passions – and thus began my obsession with social media.
Describe the professional experiences that have shaped you most?
I started my career as an entrepreneur. Working in a start-up culture helped me build muscles of risk and courage. Later in my career, I became an intrapreneur running BabyCenter inside a massive global organization and learned how to navigate a large corporate structure.
I think it was this combination of experience working for start-ups and more established companies that really shaped me. It gave me the insights and courage to create cultures of disruptive innovation, speed and fearlessness, while building consensus and high-performing teams within a corporate environment.
And I learned that success doesn’t come by asking forgiveness — it’s about how you inspire people through change, help them achieve their goals and set new, even higher ones.
You recently decided to join SherpaFoundry — why did you decide to come on board?
I was excited by the opportunity to be part of a movement of disruptive brands disrupting new economy, but it all started with the people I’d be working with. SherpaFoundry allowed me to partner with two men I respect and admire (both professionally and as human beings).
I’ve never run an accelerator or a strategic advisory firm, but I loved the idea of leveraging my passion to connect corporations and entrepreneurs to great ideas, and connect great ideas to world-class execution. And no one was doing this in the same way we are thinking about it.
What qualities do you think have made you successful in charting new territory?
Whether it’s building brands, applications, cultures, or teams, I’m always asking the same question: How can we make the customer the center of the experience? That’s been an atypical approach in the technology world.
In the digital economy, where I grew up, people tend to lead with features and code, rather than how the end product will make the consumer or customer feel. I’ve always tried to shift the conversation to how we make the customer the centerpiece of everything that’s being done. In doing so, I’ve challenged my teams to always ask why we’re building what we’re building and how it’s going to shape the customer’s life.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Humility, honesty, transparency and the art of listening are some of the greatest assets anyone — and leaders in particular — can bring to any role.
Leaders often feel like we have to fill the room and speak most often. In reality, the opposite is often true: I’ve learned one of the greatest things leaders can do is listen, play back what they hear and help connect the dots across teams. In many cases, I’ve consciously put myself in the role of MC, rather than the featured speaker. This allows me as leader to hear from and learn from the people running teams.
Is there an accomplishment you are most proud of?
While at BabyCenter I helped co-found the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) with the United States Agency for International Development and the United Nations Foundation. The goal was to connect underserved maternal and child health workers with relevant health content. We knew that new and expectant mothers weren’t getting the health information they needed. We also knew that they had mobile phones, as did healthcare workers trying to serve them. These phones weren’t necessarily smart phones, but they were feature phones with texting.
Combining these insights with technology from the commercial world we were able to build a solution. It became a beautiful way of taking successful technology and transforming it into something truly significant.
What advice would you give to a new grad that hopes to someday be a Modern Day Pioneer?
When I hire, I look for a combination of curiosity and grit — I want people who aren’t afraid to try new things and who won’t give up in the face of pressure or adversity. So first and foremost I’d encourage new grads to follow their passion, stay curious and work through adversity. Network within the communities you’re excited about. Take advantage of how open and accessible the world has become by engaging in dialogue with people you admire, whether that’s through Twitter, reading blogs, or commenting on podcasts.
Do you have a personal mantra?
Magic has no formula. If you stay curious, stay committed, stay passionate, and bring the right people together to solve interesting problems, you will create new ideas and opportunities that have significant impact. There’s no formula for it, you just have to set yourself up to create it.
What’s your Levi’s story?
My Levi’s were my absolute favorite pair in 5th or 6th grade and I wore them constantly, like every single day. One morning I went to put them on and couldn’t find them anywhere. I looked and looked and started freaking out because I was going to be late to school. I remember coming into the kitchen where my sister and mother wouldn’t stop teasing me, saying I didn’t wear them for a day so they got mad and ran out to the bus without me.
If your Levi’s could talk, what would they say about you?
That I never stop moving. I’m in perpetual motion.
What legacy do you hope to leave on the world?
I want to be remembered as a business women, an investor, and a philanthropist — but the number one thing I want to be known for is being a good mom. I’m raising two incredible boys, and they are absolutely my legacy. They’re the product of my motherhood, my pride and my joy. It’s my hope they will go off to pursue a significant role and engagement in our society. The world needs them.