Should you ever find yourself in need of a humbling comparison, look no further than the dynamic entrepreneur, investor, advisor and driving force behind major initiatives, Tina Sharkey. As someone who has advised Fortune 500 companies—the likes of Salesforce, eBay, Condé Nast, and Johnson and Johnson, to name a few—she’s dramatically altered the landscape, in which businesses connect with their consumers and scale themselves to become leaders in their industry—or the creation of entirely new industries altogether.
From co-founding iVillage, the first online community and web-based resource and digital media property for women, to serving as Chairman and Global President of BabyCenter, the leading global motherhood digital platform owned by Johnson and Johnson, Sharkey’s early career showed promise for the very big things that would follow. Most recently, Sharkey is a Venture Partner at Sherpa Capital. She previously filled the role of CEO at Sherpa Foundry, which helps global businesses build bridges into startups and the innovation economy.
A new endeavor for Sharkey is a new company she incubated at Sherpa with co-founder, Ido Leffler, by the name of Brandless; a new a new kind of consumer products company. Brandless seeks to offer common products we know and use everyday at the absolute fairest prices. The company is based in the Presidio in San Francisco and is planning to launch in the Spring of 2017.
Driven by her sincere passion for the global community and a clear skill for helping businesses scale to better suit the needs of their consumers, Sharkey has clearly only begun to change the way we shop and do business.
What did you learn from your journey at iVillage and how did you transition to the Venture Capital World?
There were many years of building and scaling lots of businesses between iVillage and the VC world. Making the leap from being an entrepreneur into becoming a Venture Partner, I took all of the tools that I built in both environments to make me uniquely suited to build conversations and relationships with other entrepreneurs. Because I have been on the other side of the table, I can help founders and teams scale their businesses and brands and recruit and leverage their teams. I can also advise on their partnership and M&A activities.
The key things I took away from iVillage, my first venture backed startup, and what I carried with me throughout my career was the art and science of building brands and experiences for new consumers–digital natives, who look to social media as their primary form of media.
What made you want to take more of a hands-on approach when other investors take the backseat? How do you feel that this approach helps startups the most?
It’s like a player-coach relationship where I can be the coach or I can play as needed, working with entrepreneurs to unlock all of their superpowers. Helping founders think about the architecture of brands and movements is something that I am passionate about and have done over and over again in my career.
Where do you see social media for consumer marketing going in the next few years?
Today, customer relationships are built mass-to-one, one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one. It is critical to re-think the modern architecture of brands and true customer relationships. Building relationships with “the new consumer” is a whole new art form. Authentic social media engagement is one of those ways but it has to be a 2 way dialogue and real. Unlocking virality and sharing for a brand is really about giving the customer the narrative to make the brand story personal and relevant to them. Then when they share to their networks it feels authentic.
There are many brands doing this well. One great example is ipsy. They’ve reimagined the consumer experience using social media and community to facilitate relationships between beauty creators and beauty lovers.
Who are your role models that have impacted your career progression?
First and foremost: my mom. She’s passed unexpectedly and way too early. I miss her everyday. Like me, she was also a working mom. I remember really early in my career, I was going to a job interview and she said, “Just tell them who you are,” and I remember looking at her saying, “Who am I?” and she replied with, “You’re Tina Sharkey, that’s who you are!” And I thought to myself, ok, I will do that. Not knowing at the time what that meant or why it mattered.
Everyone has a story and everyone develops their skills over time. That is how you get ahead in life. Do what you are great at, do what you love and continue to work with people, companies, ideas, and communities that support, teach and share your similar interests. My sons, dad, sisters, friends and extended family are a source of daily inspiration.
What would be your advice to young women who want to succeed in the tech space?
My number one piece of advice would be to always be your authentic self. Don’t try and be what you think others want you to be. Be who you are. It is the only thing that scales.
Text by Jennifer Moulison
Photography by Toni Zernik