Anyone who has had the good fortune of meeting Jen Capstraw quickly learns she is a force of nature. By the age of 25, Capstraw had earned five Associated Press Awards for excellence in journalism. Early in her career, she transitioned from being a journalist to marketing and communications, taking on roles where she had to teach herself how to make things happen.
“I ended up at a tiny nonprofit association in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, where I was responsible for all print and digital projects -- I had to learn how to spin straw into gold,” said Capstraw, “We didn’t have much of a budget, so I simply had to figure out how to get things done with minimal resources.”
It was in this role that Capstraw took on her first email marketing responsibilities -- a move that would shape the rest of her career.
Building a Career for Herself and a Community for Women
“I certainly had no idea at the time that I’d make a career of it!” said Capstraw. But not only did she make a career of it -- owning email marketing initiatives first for a B2B manufacturer, moving on to a role as an email strategist for a small agency and eventually creating her own role as a director of strategic insights and evangelism for a martech startup -- Capstraw has become a thought leader in the email marketing industry as a founding member of the Women of Email professional organization.
“Women of Email was initially founded to address the imbalance of female thought leaders in the email niche. It’s become so much more since then -- we just celebrated our fourth anniversary this month, with 4,500 members in 50 countries across six continents,” said Capstraw.
Since founding the organization, Capstraw says one of her biggest professional revelations has been bearing witness to the extra hurdles women face in the workplace, in addition to all the ways women undermine their own success.
“For one, fear of change traps us in long-term professional ruts,” said Capstraw, “And two, conventional wisdom and an unhealthy relationship with money prevents us from investing in ourselves.”
Capstraw understands firsthand the fear of leaving a role that is no longer a fit, but for her, the stress of being unemployed is a far better circumstance than remaining in a toxic environment.
“You can literally have emotional trauma as a result of your work environment -- and women tolerate those environments.”
She says women tend to remain in toxic work cultures, holding on to the expectation that their work accomplishments will eventually be acknowledged. But toxic work environments rarely recognize the achievements of employees, and so the recognition never happens.
Shifting your Mindset
Capstraw’s own journey has included heartbreaking events that brought her face to face with emotional and physical trauma. In 2010, she suffered a devastating accident that derailed her personal and professional life. She spent months in the hospital and nursing homes recovering -- learning how to walk again and regaining the use of her left hand.
“My employer didn’t offer disability insurance. I ended up on food stamps, on the brink of bankruptcy and in very bad debt. I felt hopeless.”
The year before her accident, Capstraw had accomplished the biggest success of her career at the time -- a lead gen project that was supposed to bring in an extra million dollars in revenue. The project ended up generating $10 million, lifting the company out of the slump it was in as a result of the 2008 recession.
“I had no idea what I was doing, but I never let that stop me. It was a huge, difficult project -- our company didn’t even have a CRM -- and it was tough to get buy-in and budget,” said Capstraw.
She called it a year of blood, sweat and tears, and was incredibly proud of what she had accomplished. She was still at the same job when the accident occurred.
“I was poorly compensated there and was never recognized by leadership for my achievements. I was also living in New York City, which was not only expensive, but physically difficult for me after my accident.”
Capstraw says she was caught in a huge tangle: Her bills were a mess, her career was a mess. Her income was minimal, and to make matters even worse, her significant other ended their relationship while she was in the hospital … by text! She knew she didn’t want to live the way she was living but didn’t know a way out. She wanted someone to tell her what to do -- to come hold her hand. But then, the fog lifted and she had a lightbulb moment.
“No one was going to save me but me,” said Capstraw, “I was going to have to radically change my mindset and my life if I wanted to be happy.”
Because of her permanent injuries from the accident and the debt she had accumulated from hospital bills, Capstraw made a commitment to herself that she would leave the city and find a job where she could earn, at least, a six-figure salary.
Keeping the momentum going
It took her a year to figure everything out, but she was able to leave New York. She found a great new apartment, leased a car and joined a company that promised to raise her salary to $100,000 at her 90-day mark. But, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Instead of raising her salary after three months, the company fired her.
“Somehow, I didn’t panic. I spent the time focusing on my continued physical therapy -- without insurance and taking on more debt -- while searching for work,” said Capstraw, “I finally landed a solid job that met my compensation criteria. I downgraded my lifestyle significantly so that I could aggressively pay down my debt. It was a sacrifice, but the plan worked and the job I took put me on the path I am today.”
Capstraw has continued to achieve amazing accomplishments, including her role in founding the Women of Email organization. She recently exited a full-time position -- a job that entailed regular public speaking engagements -- to sort out her next career move.
“Public speaking was the biggest part of my job. I spent about 60 hours on stage in 2019, more than any other thought leader in the email space, in addition to hosting a number of webinars and roundtable events,” said Capstraw, “I also helped to enable the customer success team on email strategy and trends, did some high-level consulting for select clients, joined sales calls and even got to share my insights on the future of the industry with the product team which helped drive some of the innovations they implemented and added to the roadmap.”
When asked what advice she has for women in martech, the email marketing leader says it’s time we all toot our own horns.
“Post your successes on social media. Write blog posts about them. Ask the other women in your network to help amplify you -- they will! You won’t believe the amount of support you can get if you just ask for it.”