All You Need To Know About The Coolest Woman Ever
If you don’t know the name Cindy Mesaros, you probably know her work: She’s co-founded two tech companies, Metaresolver and Moderati (think the Virtual Zippo Lighter), worked at both Listen.com and Yelp, and is currently the Vice President of Marketing at We Heart It. Don’t let her many years of experience in the workforce fool you into thinking she’s some boring corporate exec—she can talk about everything from fandoms to feminism. Intrigued? We knew you would be. Read on to learn more about what Cindy does and just how well she does it. How do you assure every young female is being taken care of on the We Heart It platform?
Our growth has been entirely organic – we’ve never done paid user acquisition to get young women to join the platform. They found us and discovered us, so I think it's amazing to have a community that's pushing 40 million and they are, primarily, young women. We provide a safe space where they can express what they're interested in, no matter what that is, and it’s free from the negativity—the commenting, the pressure—that other platforms have. It was very oriented around fandoms so we know that a lot of the activity on We Heart It is young women looking for things they’re crazy passionate about. Whether that's music or a television show or Harry Potter, you can find a lot of content on We Heart It and we're really harnessing that.
Fandoms are huge—unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s amazing just how willing they are to promote what they believe in.
It's this intense level of emotional connection. What's important to me is that we have to be authentic. We can't be sitting here, a bunch of executives at a company, trying to talk the way a fan of Pretty Little Liars would talk, so we actually hire our members from all around the world who are part-time, paid community coordinators who are fan girls themselves. We send out push notifications to our most dedicated users in places like Berlin or Amsterdam, then interview them over Skype. Then when we want to do an activation, we’ll reach out to them. They'll give us really great copy that we can use in a promotion on We Heart It. It's fan to fan at that point, and it's not this company that’s trying to relate to something you're into when you know way more than the company will ever know. Our members have really niche interests.
You often find that those narrow passions have a lot more people involved than you’d suspect and it makes you feel better about being yourself.
I still remember being in high school and that turning point when I stopped trying to be friends with girls I thought I should be friends with and started gravitating towards girls who were interested in the same things I was interested in. I see it with my own kids right now. They're pursuing the it girls of the moment instead of the ones who are really their soul sisters. I think on We Heart It, girls can find their soul sisters and they can connect. We have a lot of girls who think of this as a place that makes you feel better and like you're not alone. There are other people who are going through the same journey of self-discovery and figuring out who they want to be, which I think is really neat because I didn't have that growing up. We all pasted our bedroom walls with collages, but it wasn't really social and you didn't really share that with your friends.
Have you found members taking these friendships offline?
We had our first member meet-up in Los Angeles in February this year and more than anything, it was an experiment to see if this is truly a community where people are going to want to meet each other or if it only exists on the mobile app. I remember telling the CEO to maybe not come because we didn't know if anyone was going to show up. The call was to meet other Hearters, and inspire each other in person. We had to shut the list down--I got a third of the way through the list before I had to close it up. We had around 3-400 girls lining up 2 hours beforehand to come to our event. That was a huge eye-opener for me.
Are there more in the future?
We're already planning our next one and we're actively involved in participating in other pop culture events. It's very clear that our members want this kind of interaction offline as well.
As a mother to two tween girls, how does this affect your work at a company for young females?
It's like a double-edged sword because on one hand, it’s super helpful to have these girls at home to run things by. On the other hand, I think it can be embarrassing, particularly to my older daughter, to have a mom working in this industry who mentions Cameron Dallas in front of her friends.
I remember your Zippo app becoming so popular when I was in middle school—my roommate still loves it.
I was running Moderati at the time and our engineering team wanted to learn how to develop for the iPhone.. We thought, “Well, we've been selling wallpapers of flames because that's how kids use their iPhones at concerts, so why not make an interactive one?” I cold-called Zippo to jump on board and they did. We had no idea it'd become as popular as it did.
You’ve spent a lot of time in the youth market. Why do you keep coming back to young people?
Honestly, I still feel like I'm a 15-year-old girl who's obsessed with Duran Duran. That age is this rite of passage where you're using music and clothing to define yourself, and that still speaks to me. I love this audience, especially girls—I love their passion for our product. It's a difficult audience because they can turn on you really quickly if you become the uncool thing or you appear inauthentic, which is why we have community coordinators write a lot of our copy. The emotion that they'll react to you with is awesome—for example, when I realized how deep the content on We Heart It was for Harry Potter, we created an activation for fans who had interacted with Harry Potter content, sorted them into houses, and created collections for them. The response rate was unbelievable. When your demographic is really passionate about what you're doing, it makes coming to work really rewarding.
You have a lot of amazing experience on your resume. How do you know when it’s time to move on to the next opportunity?
It's a little hard for me because the nature of working at start ups is that you switch jobs a lot because companies get acquired or change strategic direction. It's great when you create a long tenure and really like your team – I had that at Moderati for more than seven years - but get used to the fact that you'll probably change direction a lot. But I’d also say that as you get further along in your career, you bring people along with you and you can re-create work environments in the new place.
We see that all the time with Spire & Co! We’re constantly bringing people we’ve worked with in the past back into our projects.
Never discount the power of being nice. Unfortunately, when you're nice, it can be seen as a sign of weakness, especially if you're a woman. It's really not though because it pays incredible dividends over the course of your career, you just have to wait for it. It's all about who you know--all the people you've been nice to in your career will come back to reward you.
You cofounded a mobile advertising technology firm, Metaresolver, and had it acquired by a public firm in less than a year. What are your best tips for successfully building something from the ground up?
You have to be really comfortable working your network. Also, you have to be willing to try without knowing whether or not it's going to work out and not get discouraged if it doesn’t. You can wallow for an hour or two and then move on to the next thing. In a start up, there's no time to linger—you have to keep moving forward.
What advice do you have about letting go after an acquisition?
It can be difficult. You see all these stories about founders who have a hard time letting go because the start up is like your baby and suddenly, someone else has your baby and they're dressing it in different clothes but it all comes down to the whole perspective thing. You have to be able to look at the bigger picture because being part of a bigger entity is really rewarding. You need to be comfortable with change and recognize that if you're not okay with it, take a day or two to sulk and then dust yourself off, and move on.
You’ve been in the tech world for a while. Do you anticipate any interesting changes to this industry in the near future?
It's constant change. One thing I’m loving is there's so much dialogue about women in technology. I’m hoping that at least being aware of it is going to help change it because even now, I feel it. I was just saying the other day that I think I need to hire a full-time male translator – a guy who simply repeats what I say - because that's how I'll get heard. What’s changing is I'm no longer the only woman in my field. But if I say something forceful in a meeting, I generally get pulled aside and asked if I'm okay, so I’m hoping that will change.
It’s so true! There’s just something about being a woman that’s so unacceptable in the workplace.
You even see it on the street where a woman will always give you a polite smile like, “Don't mind me, I won't hurt you." We spend our whole lives apologizing and it's just exhausting. I see that changing though. My 12-year-old daughter has a stay-at-home dad who does all the cooking and she thought it was weird that her friend's mom made dinner the other night.
Considering everything you’ve done and how well-loved you are in the industry, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about people?
People like to be listened to. Whether you're a manager or a CEO, you need to just stop and listen. That's the secret to being liked and respected and having a high-performing team. They're sitting there and telling you what you need to hear. If I just take some time to scroll through the We Heart It all images feed, it's all there. They're telling me what they like. Also figure out what motivates people. If you try and find one solution or assume that everyone's motivated by money, you're going to fail.
You really have to listen to people more than you’re talking.
When I started here, we didn't have any members involved in the company. Now we've got them all over, a member feedback panel, we regularly invite members to come here and visit our office. It's so easy. I know a guy who used to lead training programs at Pixar and he said to look for people who are interested, not people who are interesting. Also, improv training is a secret weapon. If you go through basic improv training, it teaches you to not focus on what you're going to say next and instead listen to the other person. I brought in improv classes at Yelp and Twitter added the same program. It’s wonderful for communication and leadership.
How do you manage to build a team that works so well together?
Part of it is really understanding what the values are and using them when you hire. Don't let people reject someone because they aren't a good cultural fit. Tell them to point out one of the company's values they don't fit because they then won't be a good cultural fit.
With everything going on in your life, how do you learn to prioritize?
It's really, really hard. I say to myself that instead of saying I don't have time, I'll say that I won't make time, because you have the same amount of time everyone else has, I try to email myself three things I need to get done today. I also try to take perspective on things and figure out what really matters. It's always a juggling act.