Women in Business Q&A: Nicole Vanderbilt, VP Of International, Etsy

Nicole Vanderbilt/Etsy

Nicole Vanderbilt joined Etsy in August 2012. Previously she held a variety of leadership roles in the consumer internet industry, including CEO of mydeco.com, VP of International for Bebo, Head of Industry Marketing at Google, and Director of Premium Communications at American Express. Nicole holds an MBA from INSEAD and a BSE from Princeton in Architecture and Engineering. Nicole's role is VP of International at Etsy, based in the London office.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
One of the defining characteristics of my career (and life) has been working with a wide range of people from different countries and backgrounds. I have lived in France, the UK, Japan and India, in addition to my home country of the US. I have particularly loved my time in London which has afforded me the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. There is so much to learn from diverse points of view and I hope it has helped me develop a level of curiosity and empathy that continues to make me a better leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Etsy?
Throughout my career, I've worked in consumer-facing technology businesses and often those that are trying to help the little guy. Understanding the wider landscape of consumer behaviour - from payments at American Express to search at Google through to social at Bebo - has been a huge value to me. In particular, the time I spent at Google India left me with a desire to use technology to help people.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Etsy?
One of the biggest challenges for us at Etsy is prioritisation, simply because we have such an immense opportunity and so many things we could be doing to further our mission of reimagining commerce to build a more fulfilling and lasting world. One of the ways this plays out in my role is trying to figure out which markets to invest more in. It's a big world out there and focus is so important but also really hard. The highlight for me is always about meeting our sellers. There's nothing better. They are such inspiring people who have been brave enough to put their work out in the world and define success on their own terms.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Your career is a long game. Don't sweat the small stuff. Make sure you are always doing something that you care about. And have fun.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
It's far more important to ask good questions and surround yourself with good people than to have all the answers.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Becoming a mother 2 years ago was the greatest gift to me in this regard. It's made me much more focused on making the most of my time working and to establish a clear boundary between that and my time away from work. I've found that lots of those extra hours weren't that productive and constantly thinking about work wasn't making me any better at it.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think one of the saddest statistics I hear thrown around when discussing differences in gender in the workplace is that men will apply for a job when they have much much less of the skill and experience required than a woman would. I sometimes see women shake their head at mention of this stat, as if women are right to be more sensible. I'd say take risks. If an opportunity presents itself that you are excited about and it scares you, that's a great sign. Go for it. And, you'd be surprised at what others will see in you and what opportunities they will give you.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have rarely had formal mentors in my career, but I have gotten immense value from being able to ask questions and advice of people I admire. I wish I had been more comfortable in doing this and asking for help earlier on.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I am incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by such impressive female leaders throughout my career and particularly at Etsy. I learn something daily from our new COO, Linda Kozlowski, and I am very fortunate to count Kruti Patel Goyal (VP of Business Development at Etsy), Heather Jassy (SVP of Values-Aligned Business at Etsy) and Kristina Salen (CFO at Etsy) as colleagues, informal mentors and friends.

What do you want Etsy to accomplish in the next year?
Every day I want to see Etsy help more creative entrepreneurs start, manage and grow their businesses. We are working hard to make that an easier and more rewarding path.