We wanted to start the year off with valuable insights from some of the most inspirational voices in tech, in our second-ever Female Leadership Interview Series seminar - a quarterly interview series where we invite leading women professionals to share their journey and give their expert advice.
The Female Leadership Interview Series is hosted by our VP of Human Resources, Andrea Mullens, who interviewed the fantastic Carissa Ganelli, one of the first female leaders in tech to help legacy organizations define the intersection of digital, marketing, and entrepreneurship.
Carissa is currently the Senior Vice President of Product and Technology at Blink Fitness. She’s been Chief Digital Officer for Subway, President at Edible Brands and was the CEO and Founder of her own organization, LightningBuy.
The conversation explored Carissa’s journey from agency marketer to entrepreneurship’s school of hard knocks, to digitally transforming Subway restaurants, to learning how to be “the hero” in any new venture she sets foot in.
In this blog, we’ll give an overview of the conversation, but if you want to catch the interview in full, check out this link.
Around 2011, Carissa was working in the ad agency world, as a traditional consumer marketer.
“Then the internet happened, and I became a digital marketer,” she said. “When the iPad came out, one of my clients, Jaguar, wanted to be the first advertiser on the new platform.”
Carissa says that the luxury car company wanted a Flash-driven ad that allowed users to hear a car engine purring.
“At the time, this was a really breakthrough new technology, but I thought, ‘That’s really silly. why don’t you use the ad for lead-gen?’”
Carissa came up with an idea to use ads to capture the consumer’s name and contact information which the advertiser could then sell to a car dealership and to push test drives, which nobody was really doing at the time. Since the concept was so new, Carissa realized she needed to build the technology
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I told my idea to my husband that night and he said, ‘You’ve had a lot of ideas over the years - this is the best one you’ve ever had. You need to quit and pursue this because this could be big.’” Carissa said.
With the full backing and support she needed from her spouse, Carissa quit her agency job and started her own company, LightningBuy.
“If any of you have any desire to be an entrepreneur you need to have a support network behind you because it’s really hard. I cannot underestimate how important that is,” she said.
Ultimately, LightningBuy, “ended up being one of these startups that did not make the cover of Inc. Magazine or Tech Crunch or Mashable,” Carissa admitted, but she claims the experience helped her evolve into a technologist.
“Resilience is necessary if you want to be a woman in business in the United States and probably anywhere around the world. I think we are held to a different standard; we have a lot of challenges; you have to not take things too personally.” Clarissa added.
About the time Carissa was just winding down operations at LightningBuy, she was approached about the opportunity at Subway. At the time she was hired, Subway was the largest fast food chain in the US as measured by the total number of franchise and company-owned restaurants.
When Carissa was hired by Subway, they were a 50-year-old brand, and not at all digital. But Carissa considers herself to be a change agent. She says it’s in her DNA.
“They barely had eCommerce where you could place an order for a sandwich, and you still had to go to the store to pick it up,” Carissa remembers. “They wanted someone who had marketing skills as well as technology skills because they needed to bridge that.”
The technology aspect of it was very new to Subway, so a major part of Carissa’s job was to help educate a legacy organization with a traditional marketing approach about digital transformation and effect change.
Carissa calls her experience at Subway, “Incredible, amazing, challenging,” and says she experienced everything from elation to, “crying in my car on the way home at night,” while helping a legacy brand transform digitally.
After leaving Subway, where her job only generated 10% of the company’s revenue, Clarissa moved to Edible arrangements where she was responsible for bringing in 75% of the company’s money. This is where Carissa learned her biggest lesson in business and turned that into her greatest piece of advice.
“Find out where the money comes from for your company or your career path and do that job. Don’t do the 10% in the company or you will always be the afterthought; you will always get the least amount of attention; you will be the first to be laid off. Go be the hero. Do the job that’s the hero in your company, that brings the money in,” Carissa said.
For her next career move, Carissa had an important decision to make go ‘left’ into marketing and be a CMO or go ‘right’ into technology. She chose tech and landed her current position as SVP of Product and Technology at Blink Fitness.
Carissa says women should aim for tech jobs because soft skills that women are naturally socialized to excel in - like communication, collaboration, and consensus - are sorely lacking in the technology field. Additionally, as tech is now ubiquitous the opportunities at tech firms are far more diverse and require more diverse professionals.
Learning from Carissa’s lessons, women should feel encouraged to develop technical skills and push themselves to grow their skill sets laterally, like she did when she first began to branch out of marketing over a decade ago. Like Carissa, opportunities for women who truly challenge themselves to learn a completely new skill set in addition to the profession they’ve already mastered are boundless.
“Technology touches every aspect of our lives, so for a technology company who better than people who have been socialized to connect the dots - who better to recruit and do that role - than women?” Carissa asked.
If you would like to learn more about Carissa’s current position as SVP of Product and Technology at Blink Fitness and hear more insights about how women should seek high-tech jobs, click here.