Beth VanStory, Former President, iMotors
Our special guest today is Beth
VanStory, former president, iMotors.com. Prior
to joining iMotors, VanStory was vice president of Office
Depot Online, responsible for building and managing the
online business targeting the small office/home office
market. VanStory built and led the team that produced
the award winning OfficeDepot.com web site and grew it
into a profitable business.
From 1995 to 1997, VanStory served as vice president and
general manager of new media for The Weather Channel.
Her achievements there included leading the growth of
the award-winning weather.com site to its current status
as a top content site on the Internet. She also helped
extend The Weather Channel brand into new interactive
distribution channels, including cable modems and push
Other positions previously held by VanStory include director
of marketing for Bell Atlantic Video Services, and several
product management and marketing positions with MCI. VanStory
is a director of shop.org, the leading online retailing
association, and Michaels Stores, the leading retailer
of arts and crafts supplies.
And now please welcome Beth VanStory.
Moderator: Hi Beth!
Beth: Hello, everyone.
Moderator: Beth, why don't
you start by telling us about your position at iMotors...What
were you responsible for?
Beth: At iMotors,
I headed four main areas: marketing, business development,
customer care and technology. Within marketing, my team
handled everything from branding to advertising to the
customer experience on the site. We also did a lot of
market research. In business development, we focused on
customer acquisition partnerships, content partnerships,
sourcing (getting cars) partnerships and operational partnerships.
Customer care includes both the call center in Sacramento
as well as all of the delivery centers across the country.
Finally, with technology, it's all of systems development
and operations, including telecommunications and networking.
Suffice it to say, the job was quite large and busy. I
approached it by first focusing on building a strong team.
Getting my senior management team in place first was critical.
In hiring, I sought people with previous experience in
both large companies (since I knew that iMotors would
eventually become one) as well as within startups. My
team there was the strongest of any I've worked with so
In hiring, one of the things I really look for is passion.
I want people who've demonstrated a desire to build something,
be a part of creating something and who are passionate
about what my company is trying to do. Experience without
passion doesn't mean much to me. Let me give folks a chance
to ask some other questions now.
guest-Ann asks: Could you describe
your average day at iMotors, if there was such a thing?
Beth: Wow, certainly
nothing standard but typically I start with checking e-mail
and phone messages. I always read every message that came
through our feedback mailbox on our site. Those messages
were from users and customers so I prioritized them high.
I had several (as in probably 5) standard weekly or bi-weekly
meetings. Things such as the executive staff meeting,
two weekly systems projects prioritization meetings and
such. So they also took high priority. Since some of my
organizations were remote, I also spent a lot of time
on the phone catching up and checking status on things.
Lunch was typically a salad from the restaurant next door,
eaten at my desk. During this time I would read my online
newsletters such as Digitrends and Technologic Partners
My preference is to end the day with a clean e-mail box.
Okay, not totally clean, but to have at least read everything.
I also traveled quite a bit. That meant late nights East
Coast time catching up. So, while the days weren't set,
there were some things that were part of my routine on
a daily basis.
guest-Colene asks: Did you
always know you were headed in this direction?
Beth: Definitely not.
Out of business school I thought I wanted to go into marketing
for a packaged goods company. Having done an accelerate
program, I didn't have an opportunity to do an internship
Therefore the job search was tough. Through a college
buddy's brother, I got an interview at MCI. I still thank
my lucky stars that I ended up there. It was my first
foray into a technology-based company.
At MCI I was a product manager which is a great position
to have for gaining exposure to lots of different functional
areas such as legal, business analysis (finance), marketing,
PR, and systems development. It was at MCI that I learned
how to do technical product development - a skill that
I've used in virtually every job since. It was there that
I got my first experience in interface design, albeit
the old green screens on 3270 dumb terminals.
My next job, at Bell Atlantic, was where I learned about
graphical user interfaces. I was amazed at how much time
we spent just trying to figure out the right error messages
and navigation! So I leveraged the telecommunications
and technical product development into my job at Bell
Atlantic working on interactive TV. I then leveraged my
experience in media and content there as well as my relationship
with a previous co-worker who hired me at The Weather
Channel. Having run that large content and advertising
supported site for nearly two years, I brought my knowledge
of the interactive consumer to Office Depot.
Interestingly, when I was hired at Depot, I was originally
part of the IS organization. Once we launched the site,
we moved it into a sales channel group.
At iMotors, the founding CEO was from the car business.
He was looking for a partner who knew e-commerce. So there
you have it, actually a fairly logical roadmap of a career.
Moderator: Wow! I'm amazed!
Terhi-guest says: What would
you suggest if someone wants to get involved with both
the designing side as well as the business development
gone from one to another to another, you all can probably
understand why I'm interested in taking a break. The New
Media world is fun, but it's also exhausting. Would you
Moderator: I definitely agree ;-)
Beth: I think it's
great for people on the design side to understand the
Business development is about figuring out where your
company's needs lie, which ones you can fulfill yourself
and then where do you need partners. Then it's about identifying
partners and figuring out how to create a win-win relationship.
Too many of the early relationships like with portals
were not win-win. They were portal win, other company
lose. One way to move from a designing position into working
in business development is to be part of a team that implements
a new relationship.
For example, at The Weather Channel, we were one of the
very first companies to syndicate our data. Our first
client was Delta Airlines. We worked to develop a co-branded
Business development is about two main things: relationship
development and finance. You must have strong analytical
a) be able to devise a strategic partnership and
b) determine the payoff
Maybe you should try to sit in on some meetings at your
company. Communicate your interest along with some suggestions
for the contributions you can make.
Moderator: Excellent advice. Suggesting ways
which you can be of assistance to a project is really
Beth: As a long time
manager, I always worked with my employees on a development
plan. This plan consisted of several areas.
First, the aspiration goal. i.e. what is the next position
the individual seeks? Next was what are the skills and
experience needed for that position.
Next was, what are the gaps that the person needs to fill
before being qualified? Then, an action plan of how to
fill the gaps. Sometimes that might include training courses,
sometimes it was merely participating in a project to
These plans helped me as a manager as well as the employee.
They really served as our roadmap. For the individual,
it was much more clear to them how they could EARN a new
Too often, people just expect to keep getting promoted
and getting raises without real accomplishments. That's
unrealistic. Even if you don't have a manager who takes
a proactive approach, perhaps try putting together a plan
and presenting it to your manager. You'll probably find
him or her receptive and willing to help you out.
Moderator: Sounds like iMotors
is really going to miss you! When did you decide that
you needed a break?
Beth: I've been thinking
about it for a while. I haven't been able to take a real
vacation (read: a full week off) in over two years. For
many years, as you can guess, I worked hard at building
organizations and businesses. Building requires high energy
and lots of time.
Now that I've helped to build 4 different businesses,
my interest is more on working at the strategic level
and less on implementation.
I look forward to doing consulting for a while so that
I can really use my broad experience and apply it to several
companies. It's definitely a change for me, but I'm excited.
I see so many companies out there that need help. And
while I really enjoy working with and managing people,
I'm ready for a break. I've seen several friends take
time out and I'm amazed at their rejuvenation.
Moderator: And you absolutely deserve it! Your
accomplishments are astounding!
Terhi-guest says: I have few
months experience in the dot-com company which I really
enjoyed. However, a lot of companies need more experience
in that environment. What do you suggest I should do in
order to work for a dot-com company?
Beth: First, be realistic.
Understand where you can contribute and look for companies
that can truly benefit from what you have to offer. Remember,
getting a job is just another form of sales.
So you first need to identify qualified prospects. Perhaps
look for a company in an industry in which you've previously
worked. Try to get into their online organization.
Second, network, network, network to get to the right
person. You need to get to a decision maker. If your experience
is in marketing, get to the marketing director, not the
Finally, do your homework. Understand the company's challenges
and have some solid ideas on how to approach them. And
show your enthusiasm!
Moderator: Just want to let you all know that
networking online is also possible...
Here at GirlGeeks we have email discussion groups and
mentor groups which have proven very beneficial to our
guest-Joan asks: What is the
toughest experience you ever had in your career life?
How did you make it through and what did you learn from
Beth: Well, one of
the hardest was when MCI decided to move our division
from Washington, DC to Atlanta. The company handled the
whole thing horribly. I had several direct reports all
of whom had personal situations that were stressful (ex.
due with a 3rd child, just about to get married, near
to declaring bankruptcy due to large school loans). Also,
my manager was very weak.
My goal was to first and foremost take care of my team
members. So I had to fully research and understand the
legal and financial implications to help guide them in
their decision-making. For several of us (myself included),
the best decision was to leave MCI and take a package.
For those folks I helped to edit their resumes and provided
references in their job search. One I even helped consult
back to the company.
Two of my team members wanted to move to Atlanta so I
helped them get placed in jobs with the company and ensured
they understood the relocation options.
What's amazing is that was back in 1992. I still get e-mails
from three of them today. As a middle manager, I felt
good that I took care of my people. I've tried to keep
that approach as I've moved in to the executive ranks.
I have had to fire people, which is extremely difficult
for me. However I've always ensured that person was able
to get on their feet and helped them understand where
and why they might be a better fit elsewhere.
Kate-guest says: Have you ever
been intimidated by technology and if so, what do you
do to change it?
Beth: Yes, I have
been. But I've found the best approach is to: a) ask questions
of people who are knowledgeable no matter how stupid the
question seemed and
b) force myself to use technologies.
One example, not so much of fear, but just not really
seeing the value was my handheld PDA. I was very attached
to my old Day timer. However, last Fall I finally decided
to bite the bullet. At iMotors we had used some handhelds
for our buyers and were swapping them out. So I got loaded
up on a CE device. I then loaded all my contacts (business
and personal) into Outlook.
I now have close to 1000 contacts in my database. I can't
tell you how much easier my life is having everything
in one place with easy updating. Now I just synch up my
handheld (I now have a Handspring) to my Outlook. It saves
me tons of time and keeps things accurate vs. having an
address book at home, a Rolodex, and a Day timer with
different information. When I left iMotors, I also uploaded
my contacts into Yahoo. Now I can retrieve them from anywhere.
So my advice is Try it, you'll like it. And never hesitate
to ask for help. There's also tons of information available
guest-Nadine asks: What are
your plans for the future?
Beth: Well, I'm trying
hard to take some time off (full spa day tomorrow with
another friend who is not working), but I'm getting lots
of calls for consulting I'd like to do consulting 3 days
a week for the next year. After that I may look at something
For me, I need to have some time to focus on other parts
of my life than just career. I want to travel some, spend
more time with my nephew and live a more healthy life.
Long hours and lots of travel are not conducive to being
healthy. I also will probably do some speaking engagements.
I've done that quite a bit. I may also help do some recruiting.
I'm open to lots of things, just not jumping full time
back into a startup .:)
Moderator: You really deserve this time off,
and I'm sure your expertise will continue to help build
great companies. Beth, we're almost out of time here...
But before we go, do you have any advice
for aspiring GirlGeeks out there?
Beth: I certainly
appreciate the opportunity to share some of my experience
with everyone. My parting advice is the following: spend
time to figure out what you want really want to do. Be
realistic about what you have to offer. GO FOR IT with
all your heart and energy. Take a "No" as maybe "not right
now." Do your follow up when you don't get a position.
Ask what it was the person was looking for. More than
once I've seen a follow up call lead to a reconsideration.
Finally, don't settle. This is the best job market we've
ever seen, you don't have to settle. Be open and passionate
about learning new things.
Practice communicating. It's an area where many people
these days really are lacking. Be considerate and respectful
of people's time.
While you want to show persistence, there does come a
point where you can go too far. Develop your own network.
You'll be amazed at how much people are willing to help.
I find this especially true among females. Keep reaching
for you goals, but understand when you need to take time
out and gain perspective.
Good luck, everyone.
Moderator: Thank you so much for all of your wonderful
advice! A special Thank You Beth for chatting with us!
Beth: My pleasure!