Cannes Academy Spotlight: Meet Loren Rochelle, Co-Founder of NOM (Not Ordinary Media)
This week, as part of the Inclusive Innovation series that we announced last month, we’re profiling @LorenRochelle of NOM: an ad tech company that’s on a mission to bring accountability and transparency to the video distribution industry. We chatted with Rochelle about labels, leadership, and why it’s so important for women in tech to lift each other up.
On building things and watching them grow
Although running a business was always attractive to Loren, she explains that she didn’t identify with the term “entrepreneur” until later in her career. For her, it has always been about solving problems.
“At a certain point, other people started using the word ‘entrepreneur’ to describe me, so you roll with it,” she says. “I’ve always just wanted to build something that is valuable and simplifies people’s lives. Fifteen years ago, if you had asked me what I’d be doing now, I’d have said that I would be running a company. Of course I wouldn’t have imagined running a tech company — that concept was completely foreign to me as a teenager. But I’m proud that I have found something that I love and have been able to make it my life.”
After graduating from college during the recession, she was lucky to get a graphic design job at a small interior design firm. But “design was a luxury at the time, and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy,” she recalls. When the CEO told her that he could no longer afford her, she convinced him to keep her on and pay her $500 a week while she rebuilt his website and used social media to expand his client base. (Note: Two things she had never done before.)
“I told him I’d help turn his business around,” she says. “I remember coming home and telling my girlfriend, now wife, what I had done, and thinking ‘well, I better figure this out quickly’.”
When she left the firm, she knew she needed to continue creating her own work if she wanted to stay employed. Her grandfather had recently passed away, and had left her with loose gem stones that he had collected over the years. So she began using them to make jewelry for friends, and soon after, her wife urged her to turn it into a business.
“Turned out that once I had to make the jewelry for money, I didn’t enjoy it anymore,” she recalls. What she did love, though, was building the business: marketing, branding, packaging, sales, distribution. “I was obsessed with the process,” she says. I now know that this obsessive quality is something that all entrepreneurs share.”
On falling in love with video
While working at a small e-commerce marketing startup, Loren grew increasingly interested in the video space. “I realized that video was an emerging format for brands not only to tell stories, but to sell product,” she says. “I had to be a part of it.” So she cold-called the CEO of Feed Company, an agency that was helping brands get their content in front of influential audiences through blogs and social networks. “I told him he needed to hire me and I got a call back 15 minutes later,” she remembers.
While Loren recalls loving the team and the work, she grew disappointed with some of the ways in which the digital industry was evolving. “I realized there was a general lack of accountability in the space,” she says. “I was on a mission to join a company that could build something to solve the problems that I was seeing. When my ideas were continuously rejected, I knew I had to build it myself.”
Loren met her now co-founder Brent at her next job: a media company called Channel Factory. He had identified the same issues in the space, and they quickly bonded over their drive to create change.
“Brent came to me and said, ‘let’s do this together’,” Loren says. “He was my missing piece. I’ve always been acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and I knew I needed a partner to fill in the gaps. He’s practical and I’m creative. We’re like night and day, but we compliment each other perfectly.
One month later, they left: founding NOM in November of 2014 to give brands and agencies the ability to distribute video across social platforms, optimize spend in real time, and receive crucial insights around brand safety.
“I always say that you have to be a little bit crazy to start a company, because if you’re not, you start thinking about all the reasons you’ll fail.”
On leadership and standing up for yourself
When Loren and Brent left Channel Factory to start NOM, they were joined by two of their colleagues. “I decided to let them name the company,” she says. “It was a huge risk for them to leave their jobs. None of us were taking a salary and I wanted them to feel invested in the business.” Later, after returning from maternity leave, she recalls setting up one-on-one sessions with every single employee.
“I wanted to know what was motivating them, what they were liking and disliking. If I had to label my role in the company, I would call myself the cheerleader.
Loren is passionate about being a strong leader and setting an example that inspires other women to take the plunge. “Prior to NOM, I had always been the only female executive at the table,” she says. “I’ve had to develop a thick skin, to learn not to take things personally, and to hold my own. I had to have my own back and stick up for myself.”
While Loren has dealt with inappropriate behavior, like the time a male investor made a comment about her appearance while she pitched an angel group, what she has found most difficult is learning how to shift her own thinking.
“Women don’t always think about how many concessions they make for other people,” she says. “You think ‘oh, they’re just being friendly or funny.’ I‘ve found myself making these concessions instead of calling people out. One of my resolutions is to do that more often.”
On the future of women in tech
Like many of the founders I’ve spoken to, Loren knows that there’s still a long way to go for female entrepreneurs. A lot of this comes down to bias, unconscious and not.
“When we started the company, I was the only sales person,” she says. “It was difficult to walk into a room and close a deal by myself. When we hired our first male sales rep, he’d come to pitches with me and not say anything. He could literally sit next to me and keep his mouth shut, and we’d close more business. The psychology of that is crazy!”
But women shoulder some of the responsibility as well, she argues.
“We see a lot of women in middle management, and they’re not mentoring other women because there’s this unspoken competition. You want women to be successful, but not as successful as you are. It’s true that men aren’t supporting women as much as they could be, but women in the middle aren’t pushing each other either. And they need to be.”
In the lead up to our Cannes Startup Academy, we’ll be profiling each of the eight founders who have been accepted into the week-long program. Stay tuned and follow us on Twitter as we continue to tell stories around Inclusive Innovation.