Christina Vuleta started carving her own innovative career path since her early advertising days, when she was one of the first account planners at an agency. Passionate about consumer behavior and insights, she moved across industries including futurism, research and consulting. Along the way, she picked up a passion that would end up being the cornerstone of her career – providing actionable advice and mentorship for women.
Christina created a series of startups, including 40:20 Vision and the breakout 7×7 Mentoring Salons program, which focused on intergenerational mentorship. Her latest high-profile move as the VP of the Women’s Digital Network at Forbes positions her in the editorial world, where she pulls on her experience in the realm of consumer behavior and mentoring to lead the charge in giving women the answers they need to take their next career step forward.
Though Christina’s trajectory is far from traditional and includes jumps into several different types of industries and jobs, by following her curiosity throughout her career, Christina shows us how you can connect skill sets to jobs, and create opportunities for yourself in new industries.
Her Agenda: You have a great, diverse background. You started in advertising, moving across the board from account, to strategy to planning, then into a futurist group, launched multiple startups and topping it all off, you lead editorial for Women@Forbes. Tell us a little bit more about what your interests were when you started your career? How did you originally anticipate your career growth?
Christina Vuleta: I think of my career as being a tree. You have the trunk and you’re building [from that]. [So] all the rings in the in the trunk, those, to me, are all the portfolios of skills that you are building. When you think about the branches, those are the different paths you can take. Sometimes you go out on a branch and you find [that] if you actually go down to another branch, you’re going to get onto a stronger branch line. Or that if you go too far out onto a branch, it isn’t very stable and it’s going to be hard to get back.
[Throughout my career] I actually had to take a step back to get on a stronger branch. Every time I’ve made a career move, I thought where can I go? What kind of work can I do next?
Her Agenda: You started out in advertising. What was that like?
Christina Vuleta: I was a marketing major and I was really into the consumer behavior and [the] psychology aspect. I thought I wanted to be in advertising in specifically media planning [because] it’s all about figuring out who the target audience is and how to reach them. I thought that was my path.
When I started, I [discovered], ‘oh it’s actually, a lot of numbers and a lot of fun media parties’ but it wasn’t exactly delving into what consumers are doing and how that’s changing and how that intersects with where culture and brands are going.
I ended up moving into management. I was writing a lot of the strategy and writing the creative brief and doing focus groups when that was still part of the account management function. Then [this role called] ‘account planning’ was born and I was like, ‘oh, they actually finally created the job for me!’
Her Agenda: Ahhhh… so you were there for the origins of account planning!
Christina Vuleta: Yes, I was a strategic planner at Saatchi and Saatchi when it started. I remember at the time, somebody that I worked with said [strategic planning] is really the most entrepreneurial area of advertising because you’re the independent eye, the voice of the consumer, you are seeing where culture goes. Your point is to be objective… really being that voice of the consumer and finding out new trends that are building and how consumers are filling their needs in new ways and how can you make this brand relevant. That’s how I got into it. That was the beginning – that love of [the] consumer.
Her Agenda: What shifted you out of advertising for good?
Christina Vuleta: I had been at Saatchi for a while and I realized I’m really good at what I’m doing. I enjoy it. But, if I stay here for too long I’m going to be pigeonholed. That [time at Saatchi] was kind of the impetus for me to say, ‘wait – I don’t want to just be writing strategies to create an ad for a television commercial or a print ad or even a website.’ So, I left and went to an agency of a company called Faith’s Popcorn Brain Reserve, which was all about trends. They were the first futurists.
Her Agenda: Was that when your entrepreneurial bug hit?
Christina Vuleta: My entrepreneurial thing actually came about by accident. I went to brunch one day with a bunch of my friends. There was a long wait for a table and these young women started asking all these questions. I was like, ‘they’re asking the same questions that we were asking 20 years ago. I really hope that 20 years from now we’re asking different questions.’
When we sat down [for brunch] I kind of said, ‘I wish I could just bottle – everything we know now – it and give it to them.’ Then [I realized], ‘hey look at us! There’s eight of us at this table having brunch. We’ve all gone in different directions. We’ve all gone in a different direction than our mothers did. We’ve had all these different choices – starting our own companies, not getting married, not having kids. But the one thing we all have in common now is that we’re making tough decisions for ourselves and not for our parents, not for what the media says.
I thought, ‘what if it’s not really about telling 20 somethings what to do but actually just sharing the consequences of our decisions? Because we’ve all made different decisions. That would give people more perspective and a head start on making better decisions for themselves.’
I thought [the idea] was going to be a book. [I thought] I’m just going to email all my friends, have them tell me the one thing they know now that they wish they knew then. I’ll have them ask their friends [to do the same thing]. There will be like a domino effect and I’ll get all these answers.
But nobody would answer me. None of my friends were answering me. You know, I’m not a creative. I’m not a writer. I’m not Hillary Clinton. What do I have to share? [Then I realized], it’s just like doing a lot of qualitative research. The reason why you do that instead of quantitative research is that you really get to know more of a story from people.
So I quit my job and ended up going around the country interviewing about 160 women on what they know now that they wish they knew then. I call it my 40:20 Vision tour.
I came back to New York and talked to some book agents and they were like, ‘This is really great, you know a couple of years ago we [would’ve] given you an advance and told you to go write the book. But you need a platform. And I was like, what’s a platform?’
Her Agenda: Was that the start of 40:20 Vision?
Christina Vuleta: That’s when I started the blog. It was right around when Lean In was coming out and it was after Anne-Marie Slaughter had her thing about you can’t have it all.
But also, [I was thinking] ‘I can’t change the structure of the way corporations are. But I can try to help every woman I touch take her next step forward by sharing wisdom and also creating these mentoring salons [that are] very action oriented.’
I started these [7×7 Mentoring Salons] where I would get seven up and coming entrepreneurs and ask them what was the one thing holding them back from taking the next step forward? I would then curate a panel of seven advisors. Everyone deserves to have her own advisory panel. And if you don’t have it, I’m going to create it for at least one night. I quickly found out that people got a lot out of just that one night because it was so action oriented.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to build that into something and create this online place where you could create your own advisory panel. I learned a lot about how hard it is to monetize mentorship. I started my own consulting business and kept this going on the side and kept exploring different ways of doing it. I would go in and do mentoring salons for corporations. I did 40:20 Vision. I did 40 Women To Watch Over 40. I kind of found all these side projects that were in the female wisdom exchange/empowering mentoring area.
Her Agenda: How did you manage that workload?
Christina Vuleta: Well it’s really interesting – when you are doing stuff that energizes you, you’re energized by what you do. It filters over into [other areas of] your life.
I did come to a point where I was like, ‘You know I kind of miss that energy I get from working with a team’ and that’s why I decided I wanted to go back to work full time.
I had a couple of different things going on but when I met my boss that originally brought me on to Forbes it kind of became like, ‘wow I can take all the stuff I’ve been doing on the side around women and can really amplify this.’
[The person who originally brought me in to Forbes said to me], ‘you’ve got all these projects that are entrepreneurial and are more than projects but initiatives that are entrepreneurial. Forbes would really allow you that opportunity to sort of amplify them. In the meantime, you have all the knowledge of millennials and entrepreneurial women that we could really use.’ He was very innovative in terms of wanting to bring in people from different backgrounds.
Her Agenda: Looking in from the outside, it looks like your position at Forbes was the perfect fit – a culmination of those skills you were getting along the way. And this is kind of how it transpired.
Christina Vuleta: Forbes 30 Under 30 had an app and they were thinking about maybe using to white label apps for other communities. That’s how the conversation started: would I like to beta test apps with the 40 over 40 community. Then when it shifted to, ‘I’m actually looking for somebody to reinvigorate and expand our digital content to attract more millennial entrepreneurial women and try new things.’
[I realized] that’s what I’ve been doing with the 40 over 40, the 7×7 Mentoring Salons, 40:20 Vision. It just kind of popped out of my mouth when they said like we’re actually looking for somebody to do X Y and Z and I’m like, ‘oh I could do that!’ I think that is because of the culmination, as you said, I’ve been doing it on a smaller scale.
Her Agenda: Talk to me about the kind of work you guys have been doing over at Forbes and the type of initiatives you all have pushed out.
Christina Vuleta: Sure. Based on a lot of the work that I did with 40:20 Vision and mentoring, I really wanted to be action oriented. Our mission became that we want to help every woman take the next step forward because every step forward for a woman is a step forward for all women and for the economy.
Her Agenda: Yes.
Christina Vuleta: We wanted everything to be very action-oriented. I want to talk about the problem, I want to talk about the solution. There’s a lot of talking about the problems and issues and so forth and that’s great. But other people are already doing that and they’re good at doing it. I want [Women@Forbes] to be about taking that next step forward along the lines of what I did with the 7×7 Mentoring Salons.
It is not like we need to go and empower you. You’re not that poor person that doesn’t know how to do business. We have to respect that these women are perfectly capable of doing the best [work] and we can help them do it better, smarter, faster.
We take women seriously. But we don’t talk down to them.
Her Agenda: Where is this all going? What is your ultimate goal for Women@Forbes and also for yourself?
Christina Vuleta: The work won’t be done until the pay gap is equal, and women have taken all their steps forward so that we don’t need a Women@Forbes anymore. I really hope to move that needle in terms of getting women to take the next step forward so that somehow we will eventually eliminate the need for it. I also want people to realize that there’s something new happening, there’s something different, [there are] interesting conversations happening at Forbes.
Her Agenda: Because we live in such a digitally disruptive time where industries like the media, advertising, are shifting at best and entirely crumbling at worst, what kinds of insight do you have around that for readers who are in those fields?
Christina Vuleta: So many millennials have the desire to be continually learning. You need to know how to do you…to keep that passion alive. [In my career] I could either find passion elsewhere or I could create passion in finding something new to add to my skillset.
When you’re learning something, that’s what’s exciting. I always think about a move in terms of what value can I add to this new job? This new position? This new company? What knowledge do I have? What have I learned from my experiences that I can add here? But also, what value can I get from them? What am I going to learn? What am I going to take away from this that I can then bring to the next job so it’s that combination of what value I am going to get and what value I can give?
Always think about what your interests are and what is the intersection between your interests and your strengths and where that is going to be valued most. If everybody were to climb the exact same ladder, the world would topple over.
Her Agenda: You really didn’t have one track you were following in your career, which is a trend we are seeing more and more in terms of how people are building their career trajectories. What advice do you have for those following in similar steps?
Christina Vuleta: Be able to connect the dots between what you’ve learned and how to apply that to another field. You’re always just building bridges between where you are and where you want to go. I always say never leave a job without taking two things away from it, something you’ve learned and a great reference.
Her Agenda: Do you have advice for people around the fears of jumping into different industries?
Christina Vuleta: There’s a lot of manufactured fear in terms of changing careers. Maybe not too much with millennials anymore. But there certainly was when I was younger. Even if it’s not the all-out success that you thought it would be, you’re going to have a story to tell from that you can apply, that people are going to appreciate. As long as you have a track record before you went off and tried this new thing, it shows initiative and thoughtfulness. It shows drive.
[Editor’s note: This interview published on September 3rd, 2018. It has been edited for length and clarity.]