Elke Wong started her career in digital marketing and advertising. She cofounded IndustryBrains and was on the founding team at Madison Logic and Bombora, where she gained substantial operations, product and account management experience. In her current role, she interfaces with a wide range of brands, ensuring that PebblePost’s brands enjoy a seamless experience and positive return on investment from Programmatic Direct Mail®.
What do you do best?
I plan strategically and often have a vision of what the end goal should be. Especially in a start-up environment. I can take broad concepts and really think about an immediate strategy to get to a long-term objective. My belief is that a successful company starts with a good idea, but then how do you get that idea to become successful? It’s the trifecta of people, process and product.
I can take all three and formulate an operational plan to get a company to the first phase and eventually build it into a $100 million company.
When you’re growing a startup, there’s always going to be chaos. But I like to think that when I get involved, it becomes organized chaos. You need to develop your process into something more standardized, scalable and efficient. My pet peeve is when people try to solve problems in a vacuum, without building toward efficiency and scalability and trying to envision what the long-term is. Yes, you must be agile and address the current situation — but you have to do it in a way that will get us to that next stage.
What makes you the best?
What has always driven me is the combination of my upbringing — my parents gave me a fantastic work ethic — and the willingness to take a risk on things that will excite me. I don’t ever want to work at a company where I’m not excited.
I’m a child of immigrants. I saw their hard work and I really appreciated it and just wanted to please them. So, when I was growing up I didn’t really think about what my interests were, I only thought about what my parents wanted. And, of course, they wanted me to be a doctor. [Laughs] That changed when I failed organic chemistry in college. I realized that I just wasn’t interested in it. So I decided that I would just concentrate on graduating and then I would figure out what I wanted to do. Then through good choices and good people around me I could get into the world of online advertising and media. I came across really good mentors that led the way.
Now I kind of pay that forward through the team I’m building here at PebblePost. I’ve made some nontraditional hires whose background may not match the job description to a tee, ranging from ad tech to high-end retail to selling videoconferencing products. But I saw something in their drive and their vision and their enthusiasm that I thought would be transferable to a role that I had created here called “customer success.” And I was right! They have that intangible energy that is so important at a startup.
What are your aspirations?
Before, my aspiration was to become a CEO or to start my own company. But as I’ve progressed in my career, I realized that I just want to continually build and stay excited about what I’m doing. Building doesn’t have to mean starting your own company. It can mean being at a company that exemplifies innovation and building a team and operational foundation to expand a company that you’re excited about.
My aspiration personally is to have a balance. That means getting back to the basics: having the right people around you, being healthy, exercising. And eating at the right time. [Laughs] But I don’t know that I can necessarily achieve that kind of balance because I think I thrive on that organized chaos.
Being cofounder of two successful companies, there’s monetary success there, but also professional success, having built a company from the ground up. It came down to the trifecta again. It was a good idea and clear vision, the right team and a sound operational foundation to enable scalability. Being part of their success was my biggest success professionally.
An underrated part of success is recognizing the proper endpoint. In this digital age, ten-plus years is a long time to be with the same group of people, even though you’ve built successful companies together. At some point, you realize that it’s time to let other experts do what they need to do. It’s difficult to recognize that moment when it arrives and to move on to the next challenge, especially when you don’t yet know what that next challenge will be.
Most Challenging Moment?
Well, as I said, trying to find that next challenge was itself a challenging moment, and it led to some ups and downs. But your life can’t all be puffy clouds and rainbows. It’s those challenging moments and how you respond to them that define who you are in your professional and personal life. And in the end that challenging moment led me to PebblePost.
It’s so cliché, but I always say this: Work smarter, not harder.
If you wanted something more original, I guess it would be “Things have to happen organically.” You can’t force yourself into a situation. I used to just force my ideas on people because I always thought I was right. Through experience I’ve learned to be more collaborative and get buy-in and try to understand everybody’s perspective.
Favorite People/Role Models?
My mother, Pamela Wong, and all the strong women that I’ve encountered in my career. When I started at USA Weekend, Beth Lawrence was the head of sales. She basically saw talent in me and later brought me on at DoubleClick. There were so many strong and smart women there, and being at a company like that was also very inspiring because they were gender agnostic. They allowed women to have a voice.
And did I mention my mother? [Laughs] She is so inspirational and I think she passed along her tenacity and drive to succeed by osmosis. She paved her own way from Hong Kong, working when she was 12, making wigs. She and my dad came to America in 1976 and built a life and family. She didn’t want to remain a seamstress, so she took English as a Second Language classes, and she decided she wanted a government job because it offered good benefits. She passed the postal worker exam and started as a window clerk at the post office — which is ironic because I ended up at PebblePost. Next month she’s retiring from the post office after 25 years. She taught my brother and I about having a work ethic and the importance of always thinking of how you can do things better.
I love traveling so much that I can’t name a single favorite place. Istanbul. Cuba. Italy. That’s to name just a few. My favorite destination here in New York is running along the Westside Greenway Path and arriving at the Winter Garden, where all the ships are. I just love it there.
I love all Atlassian tools. [Laughs] That’s the nerd in me.
I love running. I’ve run a few marathons and I’m running New York for the third time this November. My secret desire is to be a photographer and occasionally add my favorites to my photo blog, https://elkquakesphotos.com/. If I could take a sabbatical for six months and just travel around the world and take pictures, I think I would. Of course, that goes back to trying to have a more balanced life. [Laughs] Working on it!