As EVP and GM of POPSUGAR's ShopStyle, Melissa Davis leads the site's on-trend management, and its partnerships and relationships for over 1,300 retailers, helping ShopStyle become the leading fashion shopping search engine which drove more than $750 million in retailer sales in 2013. She also runs ShopSense, a blogging program with more than 10,000 participants.
With nearly a decade of digital media and ecommerce experience, from 2007-2008 Davis served as director of business development at CNNMoney.com, where she managed strategic partnerships for digital content distribution and headed new technology integrations with mobile and video. She previously brought her awesome skills to The Knot, a life-stage media and ecommerce company, focusing on its registry business unit in her role as senior manager of business development. Davis began her career as an IT specialist for IBM after earning a BBA in MIS (Management Information Systems) at TUTA (The University of Texas at Austin).
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I remember when I came home from my first semester at college after just completing my first Management Information Systems course, my introduction to computer programming. I was sitting with my dad, who was extremely tech savvy, and he couldn't figure out how to solve a problem he was having with his computer. He was a pretty stubborn man, but after a little while he gave me a try and I was able to solve the problem within minutes using knowledge I gained from my class. I will never forget how proud he was of me at that moment and it was the reason I decided to major in computer science. It was then that I realized learning comes from all places, people, and directions. It was not a traditional father-daughter learning, but instead something I had taught him, which made us both proud. I try and think of that moment when leading my team, knowing that ideas and inspiration can come from any level and all places and to empower each person to feel that they can make a difference.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at ShopStyle?
My first job in the field was an internship in the IT department of a luxury hotel where I learned everything from rewiring telephones to computer programming and tech support for hotel guests. It taught me the importance of customer service and the value of each component of a business working together. While one problem may seem insignificant to one user, it is critical to another, and each one needs to be addressed, regardless of how big or small the task may be.
Most of my career I have been connected to both ecommerce and business development, and whether I was working at TheKnot specifically within the wedding industry or at CNNMoney in finance, the overarching objectives for the business and creating the best consumer experience were the same. I have been fortunate in my career to work with a lot of great leaders who helped shape who I am today, from being meticulous about the details in my presentations to selling with a purpose and breaking out of my comfort zone.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at ShopStyle?
When I first started at ShopStyle over 6 1/2 years ago, I was the only person on the business side aside from the founder of the company. Together we did everything from negotiate partnerships with retailers and publishers to sending out weekly email newsletters to launching our social channels and working with engineering on the product vision. It was an amazing learning experience and has helped me tremendously when leading the team because I know the intimate details of how everything comes together.
Growing and leading a successful international team is not without its challenges; as the company grows there are obviously growing pains that go along with that. One of the biggest challenges is putting processes in place and adapting to new processes where there were none before. To grow from a team of 1 or 2 to close to 35 or 40 within a short time period means people need to change the way they do things, get sign-off and buy-in from more people than previously, communicate more often and openly, and that takes time to get used to.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
If you can, start by doing an internship in the field you are most interested in. If you can do it for free it's even better because if you are excited to show up for work every day and not get paid for it, you know you are doing what you love. Take the time to learn from and meet with as many people in your desired field as possible. It is amazing what you will learn by networking and scheduling informational interviews with people in your industry. Also, be persistent. What is top of mind for you is probably not top of mind for the person you are meeting with, so do not take it personally if he/she does not respond within 30 minutes. Have great follow-up and people will remember you.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Surround yourself with amazing, smart, dedicated, loyal people who want to succeed as a team, not just as individuals. People who will roll up their sleeves and help you get any task done, whether it's ordering lunch for a team meeting or meeting with the president of a company, you want people who are willing to tackle any task for you, big or small, because in the end it all contributes to being successful as a company and as a team.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I set a schedule for myself every day so that I know I am making time for my family, not just my work family. I get up very early every morning and exercise with my husband, so even if it's just sweating to a workout DVD, we are getting some time together just the two of us every single day. I also try as many days as possible to be home to put my kids to bed. I love being a part of their nighttime routine, reading stories, talking about our day, and singing songs while rocking to sleep. Once they go to sleep I will get back online and finish any work that needs to be done for the day. I also believe if I am not going to be running on the soccer field with my son or twirling in my daughter's tutu class, I better be happy with what I am doing at the moment instead and making the most of my time every day. So when I am at work I try and make every moment count and be present for my team and my work family.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe striking the right balance between home and work life is a challenge women continue to face. It is making enough time for both the office and your family, and trying to be great at everything where women feel they then come up short. I had a mentor once tell me the moment she realized she was not going to be the best at everything, she became better at everything. I know I will not be the mom who knows every kid's name in the class or always remember which day he is supposed to wear red, but I also know that I cannot travel every month with my team to Seattle and New York, London, Tokyo, and China so that I am not away from my family for too long. For women it is all about striking the right balance between work life and home life (I am a Libra so my life is all about finding the correct balance in everything I do).
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire my entire team and look at each one of them as leaders. They constantly inspire me to be a better manager, a more thoughtful leader, a dedicated worker, and each help me in different ways to lead a more cohesive and productive team. I look at the way they treat one another and how they each help one another succeed and I admire the strength and courage they have to do this together as a team and not fight for their individual success. The women (and men) I work with are some of the most impressive people I have ever had the opportunity to work with; from the VP level all the way to our interns, they are tenacious and motivating and make me excited to come to work every day.
What do you want ShopStyle to accomplish in the next year?
I am excited for everything we have planned for ShopStyle in the New Year. We are moving to a new front-end platform, which will allow us to iterate faster and roll out new intelligent products for our users. We are investing heavily in our data infrastructure and will start using that data to provide a more personalized and engaging shopping experience for our audience. I am also looking forward to seeing us expand our brand and our presence even further and in particular investing in our international presence.