Arkadium CEO and co-founder Jessica Rovello says creating a support system of peers helps her through tough moments.
Editor’s Note: Inspire Me is a series in which entrepreneurs and leaders share what motivates them through good times and bad, while also sharing stories of how they overcame challenges in hopes of inspiring others.
Jessica Rovello says she often finds the loneliness of running a business a challenge. Staying connected to her mission and peers in the same position isn’t easy for the CEO and co-founder of Arkadium, an interactive content and gaming company that has big-name clients like Comcast and The Washington Post. The company has developed more than 300 mobile games, including one you’ve probably spent a fair amount of time procrastinating on, Microsoft’s collection of Solitaire.
Seventeen years ago, Rovello was in her mid 20s, working in a tech company that was hemorrhaging money. She met and started dating her future husband and co-founder at the job, but while they were planning their future, she realized that she didn’t see a company in the landscape that would allow her to grow and feel inspired to go to work every day, while also allowing her to raise her family and be in Rovello’s words, “a total kickass career woman executive.”
“[It] just didn’t seem like they were possible given the structures that were in place in large organizations,” Rovello told Entrepreneur. “So I said, I think that we’ve got to go and make this. If I can’t have it, I’m not going to just complain about the fact that I can’t have it. I’m going to go do something about it.”
Rovello says even nearly two decades later, there are still days she feels overwhelmed and second-guesses what she is doing. She fears that she’ll let her staff of 100-plus people down.
In those situations, she seeks out inspiration from words of wisdom from her loved ones, fellow entrepreneurs and people she admires. She also remembers why it was so important to her to create an environment to help other women in the industry thrive.
“It’s easy to forget that there are many, many other people who are in similar situations. When you’re doing it, it can feel very lonely,” says Rovello. “I get really inspired when I speak about the business. When I can speak about our vision and where we want to go, whether I do that when I’m interviewing people or when I’m speaking to staff, all of those things inspire me.”
Today, she has built Arkadium into a company that works with more than 500 publishers and employs 84 staffers in the U.S. and Russia. Of those employees, Arkadium has executive and management teams that are 50 and 60 percent women, respectively. Rovello shared her insights about what has helped her establish herself as a leader in this predominantly male industry.
Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?
My mom is a journalist, and she really inspires me. She started working at tabloid newspapers in New York City in the ’80s, when there were not a lot of women reporters. And she was always one of the only women in the newsroom. She didn’t let it stop her. Nothing about the industry she worked in or her very small percentage place in it ever stopped her from doing her job or growing or kicking ass. That’s very inspirational to me. I grew up being surrounded by a woman who didn’t let any of the numbers stop her. And so that’s very inspiring to me, and that keeps me going when I think about it. I have no excuse.
What has inspired you to be a better person?
Being in technology industry and part of what we do in the history of the company is make games and engagement tools — those are typically very male-dominated industries. And as we’ve seen very publicly for the last few years, there are many companies that tend to be hostile environments. There’s just too many stories about how tech companies have operated, and so that has been inspiring to me, because I feel as a woman who’s running a technology company, I can really stand up for doing things a different way. I’ve always made choices that made sense for the women in the company. That’s why 50 percent of our executive team is female, and 60 percent of our management team is female. We’ve always been very well-balanced, but I guess it’s especially top of mind for me knowing that I’m privileged that I can carve a path here for the women to have a different experience.
What is a quote that inspires you, and why?
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s really easy when you are building a business to look around and see stories of these massive unicorn companies and constantly compare yourself, especially in the technology space. Why don’t I have a 50,000-square-foot office? Why do I not have this perk or that perk? Why has my revenue not grown 20,000 percent? Because those are the stories that get written about a lot. Less so are the 99 percent of businesses that are complete and utter failures. They go bankrupt within the first year. You just don’t really read or see those stories that much. So it’s very easy to compare yourself to these rocket ships to the moon that maybe not are the reality of the day-to-day existence of most of the entrepreneurs in the United States. So I think about that one a lot, and I try to have that temper my competitiveness, which I never want to go away. But I also don’t want to have it essentially eat away at my soul.
Another one I like is from C.S. Lewis: “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.” I think when you’re in the business-building process, and I’ve been at this for 17 years now, to go through your daily routines, to have your meetings, to go through the day-to-day to-dos and wonder what it is that you’re building toward. Then, when you really look back even a month or two months, you can see the massive amount of changes that have taken place.You just need the perspective of time to be able to understand. The [quote] helps me remain inspired on a day where I may feel like I’m just kind of grinding it out a little bit.
What is a book that inspires you, and why?
The Power of intention, by Wayne Dyer. It just reminds me that things are within my control and that I have the capacity to live an intentional life. For me it’s really understanding what it is that I want — and by want I don’t mean materially, I mean want from my life and then designing my schedule and where I focus my energy. So for me it’s being an amazing mom and spending really quality time with my kids. It’s being a great wife to my husband. It’s being a good daughter and a good friend. It’s building my business, and it’s being an inspiration to the women who are around me who will be the next generation of leaders.
For those women who are looking to start a business or have begun one but are feeling discouraged, what advice do you have for them to keep going?
Everybody has different circumstances, and so there’s usually no one-size-fits-all answer. I will say what really has helped me: Number one, when I was just starting my business and I didn’t have any money or employees, and I didn’t know what necessarily I was doing, I would read Entrepreneur and would envision myself being in the pages of the magazine. I would visualize and let myself dream that dream. I wouldn’t allow all the negative thoughts of why it wasn’t going to happen or how ridiculous that would sound to get in the way. I would mentally place myself in the article about the person who grew their business or who is doing millions of dollars in revenue or who had figured it out. And I wouldn’t get too lost in the details of how it was going to happen. I would just allow myself to think that way. So that was really helpful for me personally.
Another thing that I found really helpful is having a peer group, people who are in similar situations to you whether they be just starting a business or have already grown a business. There are many organizations that exist for people to have a peer group of other CEOs or other entrepreneurs and getting together on a monthly basis and just having open discussions about the challenges you’re going through or the triumphs you’re having is really helpful. Because as I mentioned earlier, it’s really easy to feel like you’re alone on an island when you’re building a company. To know that other people are doing it, to hear their experiences, to share ideas and to just feel less disconnected is really helpful.