Adina Jacobs: “Oh the places you’ll go”

It’s important to understand your employees and know what’s happening to them inside and outside the office. You have to understand where they’re at to know how you can best support them. It’s also incredibly important to find ways to help your team grow! By supporting the individual, your whole team will grow stronger. As […]

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It’s important to understand your employees and know what’s happening to them inside and outside the office. You have to understand where they’re at to know how you can best support them. It’s also incredibly important to find ways to help your team grow! By supporting the individual, your whole team will grow stronger.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adina Jacobs. Adina is the Co-founder and Head of Product at STM Brands, the parent company of two global brands designing lifestyle accessories for tech devices — STM Goods and Element Case. With a background in product development, Adina co-founded the company with her business partner Ethan Nyholm in 1998. She is also the co-founder of Mentor Walks, a monthly event service that connects emerging female leaders with senior women from diverse professional communities. Adina’s typical days are made up of a good mix of family (she has three kids), STM, planning the next work trip, working on Mentor Walks activities and whatever else she can fit in.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started in the fashion business working in retail shops during college. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after I graduated, but I found a great opportunity as an assistant accessory buyer, which was my first “adult” job.

At the time, Ethan (the other co-founder at STM Goods) was working as the IT Manager at the same company. One day he was looking for a bag to put his laptop in, but our company didn’t have any. Instead, Ethan put his laptop in a padded envelope and then into his backpack. The first concept for a laptop backpack was born right then and there.

When Ethan and I started the company, our office was Ethan’s garage. I focused on products, with my fashion background, and he focused on the business side of things. I was still working for the fashion company, I worked there for the first year and a half of our company before leaving to work for STM full time. For two years it was just the two of us, eventually bringing on my sister-in-law for administrative support, and our first full time hire (at the three year mark) was a sales person, which also coincided with our move out of Ethan’s house, and into an office with a warehouse space.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Some of my favorite stories come from customers using STM products for their devices. We heard from one guy who had his iPad in an STM case on the passenger seat of his car. His car flipped and in the flip his window shattered, landing his iPad between the road and his shoulder. Not only did the case protect his shoulder from getting severely injured, but after the wreck he turned the iPad on, and it still worked.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first time we ordered product, we ordered 500 bags. I don’t know if it was our fault or the factory’s, but they didn’t put zip pulls on them at first. So, we ended up sitting on the floor of our garage individually putting 6 zip pulls on each bag, which took 3 to 4 minutes per bag. We definitely learned to be very specific when ordering products to avoid mistakes like that.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

Honestly, I never really thought about it that way. This was just the role I grew into as a co-founder of the company. While I was always entrepreneurial — during my time at the fashion company I started a side business of crafty hairpins — I had never previously thought about starting my own business and owning my own company. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, at one point I thought about acting, then film and tv production, but nothing concrete, and I didn’t follow either of those paths with passion. I didn’t set out to be a company executive, as the business grew, I became a leader it needed, and I’m still growing and learning as the business changes.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

In my experience as an executive and co-owner, I feel that it’s my responsibility to inspire people, and make sure they have what they need to do their job well and grow. As an owner/executive, you need to make sure the business is healthy in order to continue to support the people who work in the business, including the co-founders. We’ve invited these people to work in our company and now we have to make sure we’re giving them everything they need to succeed, while making sure that the business is profitable and responsible.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

One thing I enjoy most about being an executive is having the ability to work with a variety of people. I get to tap into so many different people’s lives, and as an executive I’m able to make decisions that have an impact on their lives in a positive way. I also love the product life cycle — following a concept from a scrappy idea into a full blown successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) product.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

The work never stops. Even if it’s something you don’t like or don’t want to do, you have to deal with it. There’s no one else to push it off to, which can be difficult sometimes. It’s the same as being a parent in a family- you have to deal with it all, you can’t just choose the parts you like.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The mental load that comes with being a mother is one of the biggest challenges I face as a female executive. It takes a lot of energy to keep track of your kids’ birthday parties, school camps, and all the other home administration tasks that usually fall on the woman. Although it’s changing and in my family my husband is responsible for a lot of what happens at home, the difference in mental load between being a mom or a dad can be a real challenge. There’s a constant pressure that if you drop the ball on something at home, your kids bear the brunt of it.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

This wasn’t a role I applied for; it was a role I grew into and therefore I never really thought about what the role would be like. However, I think that the biggest difference is that there are things I never thought I’d be able to do that I can now say I’ve accomplished. As a leader, you start to expand your knowledge base and experience, it really pushes what you think or what you thought you’d be able to do. When something comes up, you just figure out a way to make things work. If I don’t have the knowledge myself, I make sure I’m surrounded by smart and resourceful people and we work things out together.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

I certainly believe everyone is capable of doing incredible things, and I would never discourage someone from doing something. That being said, people looking to step into a leadership role need to be open-minded and prepared to step up to the responsibilities that come with it. If you just want the recognition, you won’t be as likely to succeed. It’s important for an executive to drive others to be the best they can be and be encouraging. It’s also important to recognize that you don’t know everything and are willing to listen to others. There’s so much more room for opportunity when you acknowledge that you’re not an expert, and people that think they’re experts will often trip themselves up. There’s so much to learn from other people, and it’ll usually produce much better results than if you try to do everything yourself.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

It’s important to understand your employees and know what’s happening to them inside and outside the office. You have to understand where they’re at to know how you can best support them. It’s also incredibly important to find ways to help your team grow! By supporting the individual, your whole team will grow stronger.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been supported by so many people in my life, which I’m so grateful for. My dad has always been a massive supporter, when I came to him and told him I wanted to start a tech accessories company rather than studying a profession (he as a doctor), he was very open-minded, encouraged me, and made me feel good about my choice. My business partner, Ethan, has also driven me to be my best self. We really bounce off each other and lift each other up with our different skill sets. And, in recent years, I’ve been grateful for the community I found within the Entrepreneur’s Organization. I first joined in 2012 and was blown away by the support I found there.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’ve co-founded the nonprofit organization Mentor Walks, which I see as a way to pay it forward. It’s an event series for women that matches 2–3 mentees with a mentor, based on the mentees career questions and challenges, and aims to foster connections. It takes place early on workday mornings in each location and each small group walks for an hour, getting to know each other and answering questions. It’s a local movement at the moment; we have 8 locations across Australia, we’ve held 81 walks, our mentor community is 280 women strong, and almost 2000 women have walked as mentees. Mentor Walks is about elevating and supporting women, and about accelerating the change which leads to gender equity and equality.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I made many mistakes starting my own company as young as I did, but no one warned me or told me not to do it. I didn’t have any preconceptions about the business, so I just went into it willing to learn. I would never tell someone not to do something, instead I’m always happy to share my experiences in similar situations so that they can take what’s relevant from them. Things won’t always work out, but often there’s more growth from the mistakes than from the successes. I’ve learned a lot from being open minded and self-reflective.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

While I’d love my actions to have a global impact, I feel that Mentor Walks is a more realistic and directly impactful way of helping others in my community at this stage of my life and career. One of the main reasons I’m so passionate about the growth and impact of Mentor Walks is that I see it as a huge opportunity to give women the resources to turn their ideas into a reality, which can improve their lives and the lives of others. It sparks the creativity and unique problem-solving that we need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite is the name of the Dr Seuss book “Oh the places you’ll go,”. It was my sister’s favorite book, she gave it to my first son when he was born, I read it at her wedding as a toast to her and her new husband, and I read it again a short time later to friends and family at her funeral after her short fight with cancer. To me, it really speaks to all the incredible opportunities that can come to us. Sometimes life is incredible, but sometimes you just have to do your best and ride out the bad times.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

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