Kimberly Gordon is CEO & co-founder of Depict. An artist at heart with the grey matter of an economist, she started Depict to crack open the visual art world to people and provide increased economic value to artists. On a day-to-day basis, Kimberly is responsible for the development, execution and overall strategy and vision of the company. Prior to founding Depict, she helped build the first domestic carbon trading platform in China while working for Emissions Zero in Shanghai. It is there where she learned how to talk about gas trapping technologies in Mandarin, how to make environmental safety sexy and to always travel with extra shoes. Kimberly has a B.A. from Barnard College at Columbia University and a MBA from MIT Sloan.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I suppose there are a few key characteristics and commensurate experiences. First off, I am very motivated by two things: things I find meaningful and things I find challenging. I am most excited and driven when both of these elements are present. Looking back I can see that I have a history of choosing to do tough and slightly out there things - moving to Beijing after high school (in 2004, this had not yet become a common study abroad destination) by myself to learn Mandarin, again moving to China but to Shanghai after college without a job in search of something in the clean energy space, then taking a position as an early employee at a clean -tech company there as the only native English speaker other than the CEO. When I made these decisions they felt like things I just wanted to do and was interested in doing and now I realize they had two characteristics - they were challenging and I found them meaningful. Starting Depict offered the same things and I like to work with people who have similar motivations. When you work with people on a shared vision to create something that has meaning and a mission that has potentially huge impact, it's easier to make decisions - you are clear on what you are doing and why and the mission and what it needs can lead you forward. I see my job as the holder of the vision and the cheerleader of its impact. Other important learnings have come from mentors and role models, learnings about empathy, growth, communication and accountability. Honesty and transparency are tantamount in building a business and you need to learn to communicate transparently and effectively and know how to own your mistakes as well as your accomplishments and let others do the same. A startup company is a group of leaders coming together to build something.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Depict?
When I was working in Shanghai, I was often pushed to my limits and had to learn new things as I executed on them. One of my favorite example is learning the Mandarin vocabulary for the clean tech industry. Every Monday we had a full company meeting where each person would update one another on what they were doing - all in Mandarin - the first couple of months I didn't understand much of those meetings. I would prepare my statement ahead of time and attempt to use as many of the new terms as possible. After about 3 months, I caught up on the vocabulary and how information was presented and I stopped having to do research after the meetings and could participate ad-hoc. It was a good feeling, but scary at first. Building a young company involves learning new things on a regular basis then quickly developing the confidence to execute in those arenas. Luckily, we now get to hire experts and have a great advisory board that supports new areas but the learning is still continual. It makes it fun and always interesting.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure?
Highlights come in various forms, some are small and more personal, others large and more public. One of the things I am very proud of at Depict is our culture and our team. I work with some really incredible people and when I take a moment from the crazy pace of our day to day to look back at where we were 6 months ago and how much we have grown, I feel very honored that they all wanted to take this journey with me and Shambhavi, my co-founder. Building a team with that kind of talent, emotional intelligence, creativity and drive is incredible. I've also been able to watch some of the younger team members grow and evolve, which is really amazing. Recently, we did an event in NYC with some very esteemed members of the Art World and a woman from Sotheby's came up to me and said, "Oh my God, that Frame [the Depict Frame] is gorgeous. I didn't even realize it was digital untilI one of the images started moving. The resolution is incredible and it looks just so natural." That is what I had hoped people would say about it because I wanted our Frame to look and feel analogue but be powered with all the amazing technology we develop at Depict and that is available in the world, like Ultra HD displays. And clearly we did it, right out of someone else's mouth! Challenges also come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes we have the exciting challenge of hitting a launch deadline and making sure everything is picture perfect and all the necessary elements are in line. These challenges are fun and exciting and involve the whole team and lots of take out to the office. It's about staying motivated and making sure that someone is up when someone else is frustrated, and we carry a mood of excitement despite the pressure. Other challenges are quiet and personal - how to communicate something unpleasant to a team member or give critical feedback in a way that is motivating and not demoralizing. Both the highlights and challenges come in different ways and they come daily.
What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business/have a career in your industry?
No one can tell you how to build your own vision. There are some great tools for understanding the basics of how things work in a startup business and how to do day to day things more easily, like run your back office or an early fundraising deal and you should listen to the conventional wisdom on these elements of your business as they are tested, but on occasion the tried and true won't work for you and you will need to pave your own way. This is both scary and exciting. Creating a vision and a team and holding that mission together - that is yours and you need to own that. Find people who support the vision and mission and you as a person and who are talented as hell. Get them to work with you and invest in you and give those people room to contribute as much as they can. Be uncompromising about who you involve. People build the business. Lastly, never compromise on your values. When you start something, your integrity and your ability to demonstrate credibility and the ability to make tough decisions are all you have and the things that hold you up and give you strength. Have a strong back bone and let that guide you. Sometimes those choices are hard, especially for women as you will undoubtedly find yourself in some weird situations - I don't know a single female entrepreneur that doesn't have a few "you won't believe what this guy said/did" stories up her sleeve. I have turned down large checks at critical moments due to behavior I felt was truly appalling. I don't regret it. If you have taken the leap to build your own company, don't compromise on your vision of that that looks like, or else, what's the point?
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is one of the elements I have found to be the most difficult. I can get very focused on something (and by something I mean whatever major challenge is ahead with Depict) and when I do, I just go full force into it and forget to maintain normal activities like exercising or eating on a normal schedule. This is not good for me or for anyone. I have learned over time that a powerful and healthy team member is the best kind - you make better decisions, can be more objective and protect yourself against burn out. So now, when I exercise and take time to cook a meal or spend the weekend taking a hike with my boyfriend, I really allow myself to enjoy those moments and detach so that when I get back to work, I am renewed and invigorated. It works much better. I like to read and cook, be outside, do random creative projects, look at art, decorate our house, etc. These things bring me joy and thus bring joy into my work.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The perception of who women leaders are and who they have the potential to become. Shambhavi and I wrote an article about the value (mainly monetary) that is being left on the table in Silicon Valley by investors who are overlooking women. The hypothesis is that there is really only one "template" of what female success looks like - Sheryl, Marrisa, etc. - Oscar de la Renta gowns and cropped and straightened hair cuts on highly educated women who have climbed to the highest ranks at companies founded by men. I have nothing against this path to success - I respect those women immensely, but it doesn't leave room for much creativity or for women to be lauded as visionary leaders bringing new things to the world, not only companies and products and services but ways of doing and seeing things in different forms and via different paths. When male leaders are creative and off beat, when they are college dropouts who wear really bad hoodies and what not to start mega-companies they are considered visionary. I can't see any examples of this in our culture today for women and it's holding us back. It's not only holding us back and present, it's holding back young girls from being the type of leaders and visionaries they might be if they didn't feel like their only options were up through Harvard with a neatly coiffed hair do and an A-line dress. I'd like to see some of the women I know who have built great companies and have creative vision and interesting aesthetics and their own ways of doing things as well as incredibly sharp business acumen get praise for that not just being a successful woman as if "successful woman" as a label applied to every woman who has done something at a high level. That's silly and constricting, it also makes dreaming boring. Luckily when I was very young, I wanted to be an artist or a writer and in those professional you get to be creative and dream creatively. Think of how interesting our world would be if all girls dreamed creatively.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been a key factor to my and Depict's success as well as my ability to grow. One of my first mentors saw an energy and potential in me that I did not see in myself until later in life, and he pushed me and challenged me at every opportunity. It made me better and stronger and realize the strength of my own convictions and abilities. I am forever grateful for him taking that leap, and I hope that one day I can do it for someone else. Other mentors have offered support on the entrepreneurial journey in navigating everything from how to negotiate a Term sheet to how to balance your venture and your life without burning out to finding us really cheap and wonderful office space. These mentors have become friends and are critical parts of my personal and professional life. Usually they are people with whom I share some sort of interest, experience or vision, whether it be related to the mission of Depict or just more generally sharing a style of how we like to run a business and a team. I am deeply appreciative of these people and hope they are having as much fun as I am with it.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I draw inspiration from a great number of female leaders ranging from artists to civil rights leaders to business women. I really appreciate and admire women who are able to be themselves in their ascent and show the world who that person is. When I read Patti Smith's memoire of becoming an artist in the 70s and 80s with Robert Mappelthorpe, I thought she was incredible. I only really ever listened to one of her albums, Horses, before reading her book but the book itself was gorgeous, human, simple, a reminder of the power of art and expression. I do really admire Marrissa Mayer as well - she has a really tough task in front of her in regard to transforming Yahoo!. I have not had the experience of turning something bulky and existent into something new and fresh and growing and imagine that in many ways, it is more difficult than building something from scratch. She has taken on a huge challenge and the press seems to want to needle her at every turn but she keeps showing up and making moves. You have to respect the ability to have a mission and go for it. And of course, a long line of women whose art or actions stand for causes and speak to cultural movements - Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, Malala Yousafzay.... these women are incredibly brave. I also am always impressed by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Gwen Stefani - they are timeless in their beauty and their uniqueness and give women something to look at other than the standard fare. I really love seeing them in magazines. Lastly but certainly not least, the women closest to my life - my mother and my female mentors. My mother is a very accomplished attorney and a very glamorous and creative woman who above all else, does her own thing. I was lucky to have her as a role model and still rely on her for advice and the reminder that you can be a great many things at once.
What do you want Depict to achieve in the next year?
2015 is a big year for Depict. We will start shipping the Depict Frame, continue building our team and adding partners, artists and collaborators to the Depict ecosystem. I want to make sure that when the first Frames ship and they arrive at our early customers' homes or work places, etc. they have a moment of joy and revel in the gateway to inspiration and creativity that they have in front of them and that when they log into the app or onto Depict.com they find artwork that affects them. This will mean, we need to make sure everything in the product is perfect and is executed perfectly at every step along the way and that we continue to work with the most exciting artists and add new work to our platform every week. It will be a challenging year but an exciting one!
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