Andrea Gellert is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at OnDeck, where she brings more than 15 years of small business marketing and client service experience. Most recently, she was Vice President of Client Services and Operations at Group Commerce, a market-leading e-commerce platform for publishers. Previously, Andrea spent 15 years at American Express, holding leadership positions in both the OPEN small business and Merchant Services divisions. In her most recent position as Vice President of Marketing for OPEN, Andrea spearheaded initiatives that greatly improved the customer experience, as measured by net promoter score and retention rates, and created the company's first small business recognition platform. Andrea graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
It's so tempting in both large and small companies to want to tackle everything all at once, vs doubling down on the most important business drivers. As someone who has always liked pursuing a variety of interests in both my personal and professional life, learning how to focus and backburner ideas has been a real priority. Although it can be a challenge, I still encourage idea generation so there's always a strong pipeline for the next advances in the business.
It's funny, when I started to get leadership roles years ago, I was told that women apologize too much and men perceive that as weak because they never do. I think there's a balance. I coach people (regardless of gender) that what's most important is demonstrating accountability - accepting responsibility for your actions and moving forward is what shows the most business maturity.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at OnDeck?
I've been focused on the small business financial services sector for the majority of my career. I joined American Express in what is now OPEN as a summer intern, then spent 15 years there, working my way up in marketing, strategy and account development functions across the OPEN and the Merchant Divisions. Being at a company which has a world class brand and customer experience has definitely informed my approach to marketing at OnDeck.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at OnDeck?
A major highlight was the re-launching of our OnDeck brand. We rolled out a new logo, our new tagline "We actually want to lend to small business", a new visual identity and a new website geared towards our customer - the small business owner. We got incredibly positive feedback from all of our constituents, including employees, investors, and most importantly, customers. It was a great team effort.
In terms of challenges, we have this very ambitious mission to power every small business loan in the country. It's an achievable goal but we're still a young company with limited resources and only 24 hours in a day. Developing a brand takes time, especially with a non-viral product like ours (people generally don't post pictures of their loan on Facebook or Twitter), and so our main challenge is getting all small businesses to know who we are.
What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in marketing?
Focus on the customer: Marketing is all about showcasing how a product solves a customer need, so find one and go deep on understanding exactly who needs it and why. Spend time with your customers and prospects - they are the ones who will make money for your company and usually have tremendous insights that can help drive whatever part of the business you manage.
Get quantitative: In this day and age marketing is all about data, and so being strong analytically has gone from being important to critical. That means understanding how to structure and read marketing tests as well as how to evaluate and understand all of the components of your marketing channels and sales funnel. There are all kinds of marketing analytics courses out there if this is a development area for you.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I've always thought of the notion of work/life balance as a funny way to think about it - I think you've got one life and you have to decide how you are going to live it. I'm a wife, mother of two children, a career person and someone with my own personal interests - and I aim for fulfillment across all those areas. As a family we've made some decisions to help us stay involved - so we live in Manhattan where work, school and home are close by; and I have a very supportive husband who's active in sharing household and parenting responsibilities.
It's always been important to me that my place of work respects the flexibility that working parents need, so I've sought out companies like American Express and now OnDeck. One of the benefits of working in FinTech is that the offices are very tech-enabled - it's easy to work from home if you have to, or check in via a variety of devices.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Confidence. Over and over what I observe is that women are often far more capable than they give themselves credit for. So they hold back, which is not a great recipe for success in the modern workplace.
I think there is a lot of opportunity for women in the workplace. Women make up more than half of the professional workforce, and are more active on social media than men, but the tech industry is predominantly comprised of men. It's very easy for a woman to feel like an outsider in the tech industry, but we are starting to stake our claim in the space, and it's very exciting.
I've been fortunate enough to work at companies that don't have preconceived norms of gender. American Express has a lot of women, especially in senior leadership positions. When I first started at OnDeck, I was the only senior woman at the company and in general there weren't that many women here at all. But the team here has always been far more interested in how to solve problems and disrupt traditional financial services methods than what your gender is, which creates a tremendously stimulating environment. And since joining OnDeck, we've hired several women at all levels and are starting to close the gender gap.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has helped me become a better leader. I've had the good fortune of having several great bosses who have taught me a lot about how to lead, both by their example and by their guidance. A great boss is someone who not only inspires you to be better but is also willing to point out your blind spots and help you more effectively manage around them.
We started a women's group at OnDeck called Women@OnDeck with this in mind. We're encouraging women of all levels at the company to get to know each other better, and for the more senior women to share their experiences and lessons learned to the younger, more junior women, in hopes that it will help them grow and succeed in the workplace.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I had the fortunate opportunity to see Gloria Steinem speak at a women's luncheon, and she said something that really stuck out to me. She gave an anecdote about someone asking who she's going to pass the torch to, and her immediate response was "What a male oriented question! I'm not giving up my torch - I'm using my torch to light other womens' torches." That idea that it's not a zero sum game, that we can all be successful, is something that Steinhem has always championed and has stayed relevant. And, I have to admit, who doesn't want to be that fabulous at 80!
I'm also very impressed with Dr Maria Klawe, the President of Harvey Mudd College. 40% of computer science majors there are now women due to her efforts. And she's done it by spending time understanding and addressing root cause issues. Simple things, like creating a special introductory computer science class for people with no prior coding experience, ensuring there are female instructors and the like have made the field far more accessible and so more women are entering it.
What do you want OnDeck to accomplish in the next year?
OnDeck's vision is to transform how money flows to Main Street by leveraging our platform to enable all types of investors to make capital on demand a reality for small business owners. Think of how Priceline transformed travel, or Zillow has transformed home buying - we believe small business financing can be ongoing and friction-free.
We're excited to continue to bring new products to market for our customers and really be a partner to small business throughout their entire lifecycle.