Forging a Path in the Digital Economy: A Q&A with Allison Kent-Smith

Like we said in our International Women’s Day post, there are so many amazing women leaders in technology making a difference in our local community. Today, SheSays Denver has caught up with one of them, smith & beta Founder and CEO, Allison Kent-Smith (recently named to Campaign’s Digital 40 over 40 list!). We asked Allison to share a little with us about the path she took that led to her starting her own company, and she shared advice for other women thinking about following in her footsteps.

Smith & beta is a consulting agency in Boulder, CO dedicated to helping employers train their workforce in the skills they need to participate in the digital space. They aim to design the most impactful workplace education and evolution programs ever imagined.

SheSays Denver: Tell us a little bit about what you do and your career trajectory. How did you get to where you are now?

Allison Kent-Smith: I have a background in marketing and advertising. Before launching smith & beta, I was Director of Interactive and Digital Development at both Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Way back, I was on the brand side at Vail Resorts managing national partnerships for the resorts.

SSD: What does your day-to-day look like at the moment and what’s the most exciting thing you’re currently working on?

AKS: My day-to-day includes working with clients to help them navigate how to evolve talent to keep up with the fast moving digital economy. It’s exciting work as we get to dig into the business, understand the skillsets and behaviors of employees, and make recommendations to ensure that clients stay up-to-speed and competitive far into the future. Our work is primarily digital skill development through custom training, but we also do consulting around processes, structure, staffing models, and ways of working. I am most excited right now because it is truly the moment for Talent. For years, companies have invested heavily in hiring, of course, but now C level and leaders are realizing the benefits and return on investing in educating staff ongoing. The wind is at our back right now in talent development, which is super exciting.

SSD: You’ve worked with both large and small agencies, which did you prefer? What were the pros and cons of each?

AKS: We work with brand marketers as well. Both larger and smaller agencies share common skillset and capability challenges, so I enjoy both. We like to work with companies that have at least 20 employees and we have gone up to 10,000 employees globally. The pros and cons of small agencies or brands — Pro: get closer to the business. Con: at times lack of resources and ability to invest ongoing. The pros and cons of larger agencies or brands — Pros: reach, global context, and resources. Larger companies are often practiced at investing in talent more than smaller companies. Cons: Navigating complex structures and finding the right leader or two who believes in talent development and knows the value.

SSD: What made you want to start smith & beta?

AKS: I saw a dire need for marketers and agencies to evolve their skillsets and there were no choices. Where do you go if you want to learn more about content strategy, for example? You are either lucky enough to land in a place that trains you or not. So I knew there was a need for learning in the workplace and with technology, it was only going to become more critical.

SSD: What was the most surprising challenge you faced starting smith & beta?

AKS: The most surprising challenge has been facing the uphill battle of building awareness for a small company. We did not take funding early on like most of our competitors, so we were forced to be scrappy and agile, building relationships and a voice in the market. It surprised me how challenging it is to build a brand from the ground up. I guess I was a little naive even with years of experience building other companies’ brands. If customers don’t know you exist, then you have to go back to basics and trial/error — all the things we know about great brand building and customer relationships have to be part of the everyday at a start-up.

SSD: What advice do you have for women who want to start their own company?

AKS: Don’t wait a second, don’t second guess yourself, make a plan and start something. I know so many talented folks who have spent years talking about starting their own company, but just never get around to it for various reasons. The start of the startup is the hardest thing. You just have to believe in your idea and get ready for the hardest job you will ever have! I underestimated how intense it was to have my own business, but it’s worth it!

SSD: What do you wish people and agencies knew most about digital?

AKS: Courage and curiosity. We forget that digital is about mindsets and behavior as much as hard skills we all recognize.

SSD: What advice do you have for women in digital?

AKS: There still very much are not enough of us. This goes back to having courage…we have to find things we love to do in digital, seek out those opportunities, work harder than anyone we know, and prove value every. single. day.

SSD: What is your proudest accomplishment?

AKS: My daughter, she’s 5. So far, so good.

SSD: What do you do when you’re not working?

AKS: Hike, read, play with daughter, travel as much as possible to white sandy beaches.

SSD: What is the best part about your job/work?

AKS: I get to make a difference. Our work matters. When we walk in the doors each day we know that our design, recommendations, and programs change people and business — and that feels pretty darn good.

Blog post by Danyelle C. Overbo