Three women take on their male-dominated industry.
Move over, Silicon Valley. Austin’s rise to tech-city glory intensifies by the minute. Economic-development initiative innovate austin estimates that more than $1 billion was invested in the city in 2014 and that there are 5,100 high-tech companies in the austin area.
With no state taxes and a lower cost of living, compared with our California counterparts, it’s easy to see why austin attracts talent and money. But it’s more than that. it has to do with smart, savvy women leading the tech revolution.
Three women at the executive helm of sister companies Native Commerce and Digital Marketer are spearheading a tremendous run of progress for females in the austin tech scene: Native Commerce’s CEo Keren Kang and Chief Marketing officer amber Ewart, and Digital Marketer’s Vice president Molly pittman.
“Native Commerce discovers, and Digital Marketer teaches,” Kang explains in simple terms.
While men own the companies, it’s apparent these in-charge ladies make them a success.
“We’re actually the ones doing it, making it happen and seeing the results,” Ewart says.
Molly Pittman, Vice President of Digital Marketer, 25 years old
Molly Pittman’s journey to vice president began with Kentucky bourbon. While working on her bachelor’s degree in business administration at a small liberal- arts college in Lexington, Ky., she interned at a nearby distillery called Buffalo Trace, where she got her first taste of marketing in a man’s world.
After graduating, she moved to Austin and responded to a Craigslist post for internships at Digital Marketer. Among the dozen other interns, Pittman stood out. Her college classes had prepared her to excel at creating business plans, a task Digital Marketer assigned interns.
Three years later, she’s worked her way up to the position of vice president.
“The Internet has changed everything,” she says. “Everything’s accessible. As the Internet becomes more and more part of our daily life, of course marketing is going to really intertwine with that.”
And with that comes a new way of selling products.
“People run all kinds of ads that say, ‘Hey, buy this! Buy this! Buy this!’ We teach a [far]different strategy,” Pittman says. “It’s building a brand, getting in front of them, giving them useful blog content, teaching them something and then asking them to buy.”
But small-business owners shouldn’t be discouraged that the Internet can be daunting when it comes to marketing, she notes.
“You scroll through your Facebook and you see a video ad. That business could be spending as little as $5 a day on that,” Pittman says. “It used to be that if you wanted to run a commercial or billboard, that was really expensive and unattainable for a small- business owner.”
In addition to teaching clients how to market, Pittman is also navigating an industry that isn’t so welcoming to women. In 2014, Apple, Google, Facebook and other large tech companies released statistics about this problem, showing that men outnumbered women four to one.
Pittman noted this issue when women approached her at events.
“People would come up to me and say, ‘Molly, how does it feel to be the only forward-facing woman,’ or, ‘We need more women speakers,’ ” she says. “Knowing that there are women that
I’m helping to empower feels great.”
Pittman, whose vision for Digital Marketer is to provide “awesome information to help people and spread the word as far as possible,” is happy in the role into
which she’s grown. She adopts short-term goals, explaining “you can almost put yourself in a box”
by thinking five years ahead. Instead, Pittman focuses on the present.
“I definitely found what I should be doing, which feels good.”
Amber Ewart, Chief Marketing Officer of Native Commerce, 27 years old
Amber Ewart tests marketing strategies while wearing black cowboy boots. She earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Texas State University in San Marcos, and, like Pittman, started work as an intern.
“I chose to do the internship because a lot of recent grads are hoping for a real job, but I didn’t really have any previous job experi- ence,” Ewart says. “I thought that nothing was beneath me. Once I got here, I was like, ‘This is it. This is my place.’ ”
Ewart was hired on full time as a media buyer, then transitioned into the position of traffic manager before moving up to CMO. Referred to as “one of the best marketing minds,” by Kang, Ewart attributes her ascen- sion from intern to CMO to not having her hand held. After six months at Native Com- merce, her boss left. She had to figure it all out on her own.
And Ewart believes her lack of previous ex- perience gives her an edge.
“A lot of people think you need that, but when you’re in a position that’s all about breakthroughs, the cutting edge and blazing the trail, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have past habits influencing you,” she says.
Being young and a woman has been dif- ficult in this industry, Ewart admits. When introduced as CMO, she’s met with disbelief and puzzlement. Ewart tackles this prejudice by letting the results speak for her.
“Yes, we have had this growth, and yes, here are my spreadsheets showing my return on investment,” she says. “Here are all the stats that back everything I’ve done. Do you still want to question it?”
One of the more stunning problems Ewart deals with is when clients and industry mem- bers don’t converse with her directly; instead, they talk to her male colleagues. Kang notes that if those people reached out to Ewart di- rectly, they might get better results or insight.
“They are a little intimidated by the fact that a woman might know more than they do,” Ewart says.
Ewart, who is constantly learning and pushing in her career, is concentrating on tapping into every market imaginable. While the company is stable in five markets right now, she’s hoping to raise that to 25 in the next three years. Beyond that, Ewart has thought about creating her own business at some point in the future.
“I love the struggle,” she says, “of figuring something out.”
Keren Kang, CEO of Native Commerce, 32 years old
Keren Kang is Native Commerce’s fearless leader. Previously, she worked in the video- game- and mobile-app-development industry for 10 years. The first app she launched coincided with the timing of the unveiling of the first iPhone, and it was “No. 1 on the charts for a good six months.”
“It was a volatile space. I got tired of working on a bunch of projects and having them be canceled,” Kang says of what ultimately led her to leave that industry.
Only 2 percent of the projects she developed or managed were actually launched, giving Kang that unwanted sense of discouragement and fatigue.
Kang sought a more stable life. She found her next role, a project manager position at Native Commerce.
“I couldn’t believe how easy the work was, not only because everything was web- based, but how interesting it was to be a part of this marketing world,” she says. “If games did some of the things we did in marketing, I think we would’ve done a lot better.”
Her commanding presence and focus on completing projects that were “not only finished on time and budget, but of the best quality and excellence” are why it took her less than two years to rise from project man- ager to CEO.
To put it plainly, Kang says, “Mediocrity wasn’t accepted.”
While she enjoys that Native Commerce is lesser known than Digital Marketer, Kang wants to keep developing the company. When she started, Native Commerce was already doing well, and she hopes to maintain that trend.
There’s no doubt Kang is clearing a path for women to be in this space. Jumping from one male-dominated field to another, she’s experienced firsthand the factors that con- tribute to gaming and tech still being men’s worlds. Although she believes tech will stay male-dominated for some time, she can also see a bend in the road.
“Women inherently like to execute more than they like to sit and debate with each other,” she says. “Men get credited as being the visionaries, but it doesn’t mean s**t until you execute.”
Photo of Molly courtesy of Digital Marketer. Photos of Amber and Karen by Natalie Riggs.