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How She Got There: Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt, Co-founders of She's the First


Names: Tammy Tibbetts and Christen Brandt
Job Title and Description: Co-founders, She's the First
Age : 30, 28
College Name/Major: The College of New Jersey, Journalism; Syracuse University, Magaine Journalism & English
Twitter/Instagram Handle: @shesthefirst, @tammytibbetts, @cjbrandt

Why did you decide to start your non-profit She's the First?

TT: She's the First is a nonprofit that provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries who will be the first in their families to graduate high school. We exist because there are still 52 million girls around the world who are denied the opportunity to have a basic education, simply because of where they were born. Our vision is a world where we won't be able to find first-generation high school graduates any more, because that will be a universal right.I had the idea for She's the First back in 2009, and I wanted to launch it as a YouTube video call to action. I saw the power we had--as the social media generation--to mobilize our vast online networks to make a difference.

What does your current job at She's the First entail?  

CJB: I head up all of our programming at STF, so a large part of my job is strategy around how we can make the biggest possible impact. I also do regular site visits with our international partners, so I’m often on the road!

TT: As CEO, I oversee our finances and fundraising, from grassroots campaigns to major grants, as well as our communications, which includes everyday social media, our newsletters, our Annual Report, our website, marketing collateral, etc. I’m proud to say we’ve raised more than $3.5 million to date!

What is the best part of your job?

CJB: I love watching the Scholars grow into stronger, more independent women every time I visit. It’s why we do what we do.

TT: Scrolling our social media feed is so rewarding to me, because it’s where I see that She’s the First is a movement, not just five hard-working women in an office. I’m constantly liking and commenting on posts from our campus chapters, our supporters, and our Scholars; it reminds me how fortunate I am to be part of an inspiring, diverse, global community. Together, we overcome our obstacles.

What was your first entry level job in your field and how did you get it?

CJB: We started STF while I was still in college, so for a few years, I had two careers. After graduating, I worked at Parents and at Glamour magazines while working on STF on the side. Both magazine opportunities came as a result of networking and seeking out mentors in the industry!

TT: I was the youngest web editor hired at Hearst Digital Media back in 2007, right after I became the first in my family to graduate college. I heard about the opportunity through word of mouth at my internship. Three years later, I became Seventeen magazine’s first social media editor, before diving into STF full-time in 2012.

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you now know?

CJB: As it turns out, there are quite a few people out there in the world who view running a nonprofit as a very “cute” career - especially when you’re a young woman. This is endlessly frustrating, because we run STF like a business. A good lesson here is to remember to always present your job seriously, no matter whether it’s a company you’re starting or a new job as an assistant. Don’t let anyone trivialize what you do!

TT: When I was in college, I had a journalism professor who said, “Every one of you should take a business class.” I thought, “Nah, I’m going to be a writer and editor, I don’t need to know any business.” Well, she was right and I was wrong! Even if you think you’ll be on the editorial side forever, there’s a strong chance you’re going to be an entrepreneur, either inside or outside of your company, and you will avoid a very large learning curve if you know the basics of accounting and budgeting before you graduate.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

CJB: One of our past board chairs, Lindsey Pollak, started working with us right as She’s the First was seriously starting to grow. Her job was really to steer the organization’s governance and fundraising, but I think she spent just as much time helping Tammy and me to become better, stronger leaders in our own right. When you start a company, getting intentional leadership development training can mean the difference between long-term success and failure; Lindsey invested in us, knowing that it would show in how we ran STF.

TT: There are SO many women who’ve left a huge impact on my life and career, but the first person to actually give me a job was a man, Chris Johnson, at Hearst Digital Media. When opportunities came up for me to be more than his assistant, to become the actual web editor of brand-new properties that the company was launching, he went to bat for me. He advocated on my behalf to his boss, and I’ve never forgotten how critical that was to get me where I am today. He also gave me the piece of career advice I fall back on the most, which is “Never let perfection get in the way of better.”

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

CJB: In the beginning, I too often put the needs of the organization ahead of my own, whether sleep or socializing or even my personal funds. It’s a hard balance, because starting a company takes serious work and dedication - and I don’t regret either the work or the dedication. But my work-life balance is something I’ve since made a priority, and I find that I’m actually more productive, happier, and more creative when I take the time to take care of myself.

TT: After working at Hearst for three years, I actually left for less than a year, for another job opportunity at a small company. It was a mistake because I was not a fit for their company culture at all. It was a social sports league; I’m all for individual forms of fitness, like running, biking, and classes. I hate team sports! Seriously, what was I thinking. But, my job title there was Social Media Specialist, and I was good at it. I decided not to stay at the company and confided to my mentors at Hearst that I had made the wrong move. The good news is, I was hired back at Hearst as the first Social Media Editor at Seventeen! So even in mistakes (like choosing the wrong company), you can still do something right (i.e. pick the right role), and it takes you even further in the long run.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

CJB: At this year’s Leadership Summit, we had STF Scholars and peers from three different countries in attendance: Carlota, from Peru; Angelica, from Guatemala; and Nisha, from Nepal. At one point, Nisha handed out Nepali prayer flags to the other two girls and explained their significance in her culture. As she did, Angelica translated from English to Spanish so Carlota could understand, and before I knew it, the three were discussing their cultural differences

TT: Seeing She’s the First Scholars on a Times Square billboard and ringing the Closing Bell of the New York Stock Exchange are high up on the list!

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

CJB: One of my mentors, Denise Restauri, told me during our latest hiring process to only hire “someone smarter than you are” - and I think that’s such fantastic advice. It made me really focus in on finding someone who would make a valuable team member, instead of simply being good at the designated role. For those looking to ace an interview, I’d say to focus on exactly that: Show the company that you’d be an asset to the team at large, even outside of the role you want.

TT: THANK YOU NOTES. That’s actually such a small detail of the hiring process, but it’s a deal maker or breaker. Trust me, this gesture is quickly going extinct among younger generations, which is why I emphasize it so strongly. What thank you notes show me is that you are someone who closes the loop and follows up on what’s important to you.

What advice would you give a 20-something with similar aspirations?

CJB: Never stop learning. It’s so important not only to stay open to new ideas, but to also generate them yourself -- and the only way to do that is to constantly learn about new things. So read books, listen to podcasts, and grill your friends on their deepest philosophical thoughts. It’s the best way I know to stay creative and motivated each and every day.

TT: Know what drives you the most to jump out of bed in the morning, and stay true to that. For me, it’s empowering adolescent girls. I did that at Seventeen and I do that at She’s the First and that’s what I’ll do for the rest of my life. Don’t limit your career aspirations in terms of working in for-profit or nonprofit, because you can be fluid and make a difference by channeling the resources in any sector.


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