Women in Business Q&A: Darline Jean, COO, PulsePoint

Darline Jean is Chief Operating Officer at PulsePoint. She previously spent the last decade at About.com, which she joined as vice president of finance in 2003 before serving as the e company's chief finance officer and chief operating officer before becoming president and CEO in September 2011. During her tenure as chief executive, The New York Times Company sold About.com to IAC for $300 million.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents always stressed education and hard work. I grew up the third of four children. My older brother was only two years older and growing up as the middle kids, we were always very competitive with each other. I skipped two grades in school which meant that for much of my education, I was in the same grade as my brother, which drove him crazy! When you're constantly competing against your older brother, you learn to go after what you want even if it seems hard to reach. It definitely shaped part my personality and helped me become a stronger, more resilient business woman and leader in a mostly male dominated field.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at PulsePoint?
My career roots are in advertising, but I also have an MBA in accounting and finance. My professional history reflects this combination - I started at Saatchi & Saatchi and then launched my career in media, moving to publishing at Thomson Financial, and later About.com. At About.com I was CFO for over 7 years before moving up the ranks to CEO in 2011.

My financial background gave me the skills to successfully run a company, while my media background helped me anticipate what matters most to brands and publishers trying to engage an audience online. As a C-level digital media executive, I spent a lot of time analyzing the digital ecosystem, buying businesses and understanding the complexities of the publishing and advertising marketplace. This included doing a deep dive in the latest advertising technologies such as programmatic advertising, which allows brands and publishers to automate the buying and selling of digital ad space. Programmatic is the future of digital advertising and has fundamentally changed change in how brands and publishers do business online. Back in 2011, I observed this marketplace shift as more advertising dollars began to move from direct sales to programmatic sales. Being in the digital media industry while this significant change was happening allowed me to understand first-hand how brands were shifting their buys and the challenges publishers face as they embrace more automation. Programmatic is about reaching the right audience in the most efficient and effective way possible. I joined PulsePoint, a leader within the programmatic space, to advise marketers and publishers directly as they integrate this transformative technology. My experience in digital media allows me to offer first-hand insights from both the publisher and the brand side of the business.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at PulsePoint?
Working in a startup atmosphere comes with a few challenges, but I've been enjoying it. PulsePoint is very different from my prior roles, as it is my first real startup experience. I think everyone needs to have that start up experience at least once in his or her career; one that is in a fast paced industry and allows you to quickly and directly influence the product, business strategy and hiring process. Experiencing that type of immediate impact is a lot of fun and highly rewarding.

More specifically, one big highlight is that PulsePoint is one of few technology companies that is both profitable and growing over 115% YOY. That combination is a rarity in the ad tech industry. Being able to contribute to that kind of trajectory has been fascinating. As a part of the leadership team at PulsePoint, I oversee strategy, product development, and have helped the business continue to evolve its' core business offerings to meet new marketplace needs. Being able to hire and manage a great team that has and will continue to make all of this possible is something I'm really proud of.

In terms of challenges, programmatic is slated to grab nearly 50% of the display marketplace by 2015. Staying ahead of that growth curve in terms of rolling out new products and getting more publishers and brands to embrace the technology has been an exciting challenge. We're seeing brand dollars shift quickly into programmatic but larger publishers are adopting it at a slower pace. We anticipate this to change in 2015.

Another challenge that the entire digital ad industry is facing as programmatic technology grows, is the issue of brand safety. When an industry scales as quickly as programmatic has, quality control becomes harder and harder to enforce. Being a former publisher, I know how important it is for marketers to know that that their campaign is running within high quality, brand safe web environments. This is a huge priority at PulsePoint and we're going to be doing even more in 2015 to ensure our clients are shielded from any of the bad actors trying to take advantage of the booming programmatic marketplace.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in content marketing and ad technology?
The ad tech industry is still a male dominated industry, especially at the executive level. In the media industry, while it is by no means 50/50, it is evident that women are making more headway. A key driver in the gender disparity in Ad technology stems from early education. Engineering and technology are still viewed as male oriented fields, and thus subconsciously, women are discouraged and often sway from majoring in such fields at the college level. I would advise women to not be afraid to embrace engineering, data science or technology degrees. It's really important to work together to help the younger generation of woman embrace these areas of study.

I would also encourage women to not to be afraid to make a drastic career move when it's carefully considered. Sometimes you need to make that leap to bring your career to the next level. Additionally, I can't stress enough how important is to be able to interpret and understand financial information - even if you are not in a finance role. Look for opportunities that will provide you with P&L experience. Understanding the entire picture of a company - especially its financial health - is critical to growing your career.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
The most important lesson I've learned is that execution is key. Just get the job done! Every industry and every project has its challenges, but it's important to stay focused and deliver on the task on hand. Being able to network is nice, but at the end your success will be measured by your accomplishments-revenue you generated, expenses you've saved, products you've launched, teams you've successfully managed. Women are often less likely to up sell their abilities than their male counterparts, therefore having solid accomplishments will make it easier to do so.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have been very lucky to work at companies that have allowed me to maintain a healthy work life balance. I've been in executive roles since my children were babies. It has always been very important to manage my calendar so that I could balance work deadlines, client meetings, and employee events and still be available for my family.

At various points I my career I made it a priority to get home on time to catch up with the kids over dinner and homework and then getting back online after their bedtime. That always worked well for me. I'm often asked what's important to me as a working mom. "Time" always makes the top 5. It's something that is rare and hard to come by when you're a professional working mom.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Work-life balance and wage equality. Work-life balance is somewhat subjective. Only you will know what type of hours are necessary to balance out a physically and emotionally healthy life style. You owe it to yourself to make the time to figure that out.

The wage equality battle is complex and one that continues to be a major concern for women in the workplace. However, part of it goes back to building out your list of accomplishments and being able to articulate what you've done and why you deserve that raise or that promotion. It's not enough to go to your manager and say "I think I deserve a raise" - yes, you need to have the courage to speak up but you also need to back up your successes with tangible examples.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I'm really big on mentorship. However, let me clarify that there's a big difference between mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship is about having a professional who is willing to guide you through your career. Sponsorship is someone in a senior level in your organization who recognizes your talent and is able to advise you and recommend you when an opportunity arises. I have been privileged to have both at different points in my career.

Midway in my career, I was invited to lunch by a very successful and powerful female CEO. I assumed she wanted to discuss the finances of my division. It turned out that she was very impressed by various financial presentations I had given and encouraged me to take on a broader operational role - a side of the business I never would have thought to pursue without her encouragement. A year later, an opportunity arose where she tapped me for a bigger position - I often felt that moment has gotten me to where I am today.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire any woman who has risen through the ranks to become a CEO of a Fortune 1000 company. It is extremely challenging to get there and it is equally as challenging to stay there.

What do you want PulsePoint to accomplish in the next year?
This year at PulsePoint has been quite exciting. We are in a fast-paced industry that is undergoing transformation and our growth has been tremendous. I'm focused on continuing to establish the company as a leader in the programmatic and content marketing space, which means that we'll continue to build out both our programmatic and our non-programmatic solutions. We're doing some amazing things at PulsePoint and I want publishers and brands to know this.

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