Amy Allen is the Head of User Acquisition for Qmee.com, an England-based startup. The company operates a free search-loyalty, cash-reward browser app that allows consumers who make search engine queries to receive better results and also to be paid for clicks into the links they otherwise would select for zero reward. A graduate of Sheffield Hallam University with a bachelor's degree in business and marketing, Amy Allen began her career with Plusnet and successfully rebuilt the company's user base, accounting for forty percent of the company's sales. Plusnet is one of the largest British internet service providers. In 2011, Allen took on a role in online advertising strategy for Michael Page International, before joining the Qmee.com team in 2012. Allen's experience with affiliates coupled with her marketing expertise made her a perfect fit to head the startup's user acquisition efforts. Allen serves as one of the company's top executives alongside co-founders Jonathan Knight and Nick Sutton and has aided in more than 500 percent growth and the US launch of the app during her tenure.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Everything that you do inside and outside of your job contributes to you as a person, which in turn affects your leadership ability. To put things in perspective, I've always favored individual sports over team sports for example; I just enjoy them more, but that doesn't mean I can't apply myself to a team. I actually think this lends to my leadership ability because I am independent and capable of getting a job done on my own, so when I have a team to lead, I am able to delegate and know what needs to get done and how to help people accomplish it if needed. If you are driven to succeed and can lead by example, it inspires other like-minded people to follow suit. Being a leader is about recognizing that in people, and taking them under your wing to help them get there with you. When I hire someone I don't look for someone to work for me, I look for potential in people to work with me, so that we can grow Qmee.com together. People gave me a chance when I was young and inexperienced, and I hope that as a leader that's what I give to others, as well.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the Head of User Acquisition for Qmee.com?
I come from a technology background with an internet company, which was very technical (I literally started from the ground up; before that job, I didn't even know what a router was). My inexperience was actually a bonus here; I was young and hungry to learn because I didn't want to be "the young and inexperienced" one. I quickly progressed to running the partnership program that was responsible for 40% of the company's sales. I had to learn to make the channel work for the purpose of driving signups, as well as balance profitability and report results to a male dominated board of managers. It definitely taught me to look at the bigger picture in terms of the effect my area of work had on the rest of the business, and as one of the only females on the team, how to make that known so my voice was heard. I knew I had great insight into how the business was working down to the nuts and bolts and had to build my confidence to make sure other people recognized this. At Qmee.com, I am the only female on the executive team, and I am the person in charge of ensuring our user numbers continue to go up. So this past experience lends itself directly to what I am doing now. I know how to talk to my team and explain to them what we need to do in a manner that makes them comfortable in following my lead.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Exercise has become a very large part of my life. While I live in the UK, Qmee.com is based both here as well as in the US so my hours can be long. Being able to cycle to work (in England it rains a lot, so this is a challenge in itself, but one that I enjoy!), and then being able to leave at a decent time to fit in a session at the gym before checking back in the evening leaves me feeling like I've had some "me" time even if it's a long day.
When you work for a startup that is rapidly growing, you need to be available for when things need to be done, even if it's the weekend or at night. It's all hands on deck for our team at Qmee.com to continue growing our business and make sure it's the best it can be. My rule is I log in once on Saturday and once on Sunday to mop up anything urgent, and then I can relax knowing that I have an idea of what's going on but without it affecting the people around me. There is the danger in the world of technology we live in now, of us all being online 24/7, leading to burnout. I think women often put pressure on themselves to prove they are a valuable part of the team by always being online and available, but set rules for yourself and it doesn't have to be all or nothing, you can achieve a balance.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Qmee.com?
The highlight has been the overall journey of Qmee.com from the beta stage in 2013 to the nearly 200,000 users we have today in the UK and the US. I had the opportunity to join this team when Qmee.com was still our co-founder Jonathan Knight's idea and have been able to be there every step of the way as that idea became a reality. We all remember that first user that signed up from an email that we didn't recognize as a friend or family member. Then reaching our first 100,000 users, where we of course celebrated with cake and looked back and realized how far we had come.
The challenge is the knockbacks you get within any small company/startup just starting out. When you are so committed to making something work and really believe it will, it can feel very personal when something doesn't work or someone isn't interested in what you do and you really have to figure out a way to work through those moments and keep your eye on the bigger picture.
What advice can you offer women seeking a career in your industry?
Have the confidence to go for it. Again, I think the startup and tech world is very male dominated, but it will always be if women don't look beyond that and get in the game if they were interested. I feel that sometimes women are more cautious in the roles they apply for as they worry about the wider consequences, rather than "would I enjoy this role". If the answer to that questions is yes, then I say go for it. Enjoying what you do radiates off of you and only makes you a better team member and leader. You never know where that opportunity may lead unless you try.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
From my personal experience, it's being offered the opportunities they deserve based on the hard work they have put in, their character and how well they do the job. Opportunity should never be based on gender. Working in a mostly male environment, the main challenge used to be to be heard. I am very lucky at Qmee.com, because my opinion is not only heard but matters. Until recently I was the only female in the office, and it has never felt like that. I've just always been a valued member of the team. I think it's important for women to find an environment where they feel this way - don't stop looking, because it does exist.
What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
It's not a book I have personally read, but I know of it and it's a movement that I wholeheartedly believe in. I went to an all-girls school where we were shown that nothing is impossible if you work hard and try, and to never give up. We were taught to be strong and celebrated strong women - our houses on campus were all named after influential women like Emmeline Pankhurst and Charlotte Bronte.
The challenge is that society has created walls, where I think sometimes women feel if they are strong, that they'll be viewed as too assertive or be described as "aggressive." I say who cares. First of all I feel like that assumption is becoming more and more of an internalized thought, rather than something other people actually feel and second of all, if someone feels that way about you being strong, you probably don't want to work with them anyway. I think people - women and men - should believe in themselves and aim for the best role or position they can feel they can fill and be successful in. Men just have a longer history in accomplishing this, but women can and are catching up.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been very fortunate in having both male and female supervisors that believed in me, and pushed me to achieve. My mentors have been a combination of superiors, as well as acquaintances outside of the workplace that ran very successful businesses. One of these people said to me very early on "one of your biggest challenges is being a young female in this industry," and he took it upon himself to coach me on how to present myself so my opinions and insights would be heard. I use the skills he helped me to develop every day. Sometimes you just need someone who has more experience to let you in on their "secrets" - I think mentorship is very important.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Michelle Mone. She worked her way up, got knocked down, worked her way up again and is now a global business woman. She says "I live my life by one simple rule; work hard, play hard and always give something back."
To me, this embodies what I try to achieve and the most important part to me is once you've made it somewhere you want to be, that you can give something back. I definitely believe in "paying it forward."
What are your hopes for the future of Qmee.com?
My hopes are that we continue to grow at the level we are growing and surpass our targets, and that I am able to continue to hire great people that inspire me to keep pushing. In an industry of this size, we have so much growth potential it's hard to imagine how things will be in 6 months' time let alone beyond that and that's really exciting. Working for people that want you to succeed as much as they want the business to is also a special environment to be in and it cultivates the desire to help your teammates grow, too. I am building my team up, and I hope five years down the road, for example, to have a bunch of awesome employees who are just as passionate about Qmee.com as I am - if we have that, the sky is the limit in terms of where we can take this search loyalty app. I also hope that in the near future, search loyalty is a term people recognize, and when they hear it, they immediately think of Qmee.com.