Jennifer Van Hook has been instrumental in growing GumGum’s business to where it is today. As Vice President of West Coast Sales, she’s helped build our sales team from a two-person operation into a thriving, 10-member team.
In a recent interview, we got a chance to learn more about Jennifer’s career path and what excites her about working at GumGum. Over the course of our conversation, we discussed her early experiences at AOL, the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone and the advice she would give to other women who aspire to work in a leadership position. Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
You’ve worked in a number of sales positions across a broad spectrum of tech companies. What did you like about those jobs, and what ultimately led you to GumGum?
I started my sales career in a strategy role at AOL, where we analyzed marketing spending and trends to support strategic advertising partnerships. We worked collaboratively with the sales, marketing and product teams to bring the ideas to clients. The most interesting and challenging deals I worked on were upfronts with studios and networks.
After working at a portal, I worked for a publisher, a mobile startup and a network — so I have sold different media value propositions. But I had never worked for a true tech-based company until coming to GumGum. The reason for my move was simple: if you look at the evolving and competitive landscape, it’s clear that having proprietary differentiation is critical to success
At GumGum, we are lucky that we have incredible technology that sets us apart and continues to evolve. As sellers, we feel confident and proud telling the GumGum story to the market.
Did you ever experience any road gaps or challenges, and how did you overcome those?
At AOL, I really enjoyed being “behind the scenes” because I felt the most comfortable there. Along the way, one of my mentors suggested that I could be successful directly selling the programs I created. I was absolutely terrified; this move would take me so far out of my comfort zone that I really struggled with the decision.
But I came to realize that if I stayed where I was, I would be playing it too safe. As a result, I wouldn’t feel challenged and I wouldn’t grow. If I took the leap and let myself get uncomfortable, I knew I would continue to learn, feel a sense of accomplishment and be proud of how I pushed myself to do more.
It may sound trite, but it’s true that once you go through an intimidating yet transformative experience, you feel empowered to take on other opportunities. You just have to take that first step.
What do you enjoy most about managing our West Coast team and working at GumGum?
I love our West Coast team! The sellers are tenacious, resourceful and driven, which has led to impressive individual and team accomplishments. The team also shares, supports and learns from each other all of the time. I believe that our collective work is what has made us so successful, and I am really proud of the work we all do together!
When I started working at GumGum, Sales Director Gina Smart and I were the sales team. Now, there are 10 of us, and I feel this sense of accomplishment every day. I have had the ability and latitude to build the best sales team possible, and I have been supported and encouraged all along the way. I know that this has been the same experience for my colleagues and that this is pretty unique in today’s workplace.
GumGum is a special place, where the most talented people are given the chance to be the best they can be and to make a difference in the direction of the company. Wherever the company goes (and there is so much more that we can do), we can all feel a sense of accomplishment in what we have achieved.
What would you say to other women who aspire to be an executive like yourself?
Set a clear goal for yourself and never let anyone keep you from getting there. Remember that getting to your personal goals is sometimes daunting, but always try to do your best work and be sure you learn from your mistakes. Like I said before, try stretching yourself, and you may be surprised by what you can do!
Lastly, surround yourself with positive people who support you at home and at work. They are the people who will be there to coach you through missteps, confusion and self-doubt, and they will cheer the loudest for all of your accomplishments.