Leslie Bradshaw, Jess3, Woman Entrepreneur

Images-1I am on a listserv of incredible women that was put together by Rachael Sklar.  Peoples comments give you an insight into their thoughts and certainly what they are doing.  I comment on occassion but I certainly read most of what comes through my box.  I ended up connecting with Leslie outside the list and am very glad I did.  Her story is not only interesting but about education.  At each juncture, Leslie took each experience to educate herself inside companies before setting out on her own.  There is something to be said for working in a company before setting out on your own.  Blog post coming later on that one. 

Leslie is the President of Jess3.  Jess3 is a creative agency that takes complex issues and breaks them down for the clients with visual storytelling.  Storytelling is done with cloud computing and it is where tech and media are heading.  Their clients who have used old media to tell their stories to consumers through ads are now using social media agencies to create products for them that can go viral and interact with their consumers.  Nothing goes on TV, it all goes online. 

Leslie grew up in Lake Tahoe, CA until she was twelve years old.  At 12, the family moved to Junction City, Oregon.  Major change.  Her parents always wanted to have a farm and a vineyard.  The opportunity presented it self and off they went.  Junction City was a bit of a depressed economy compared to Lake Tahoe.  That shift made an impact on Leslie.  She is a hard worker and she will tell you that the experience of living in two completely different worlds humbled her.  Her fathers work ethic was one that Leslie looked up to.  He started out as a CAT driver and lift operator and eventually moved up to General Manager of a ski area.  A hard worker…the bonus for the kids is that they always had great ski passes when they lived in Lake Tahoe.  Her Mom had her own accounting practice giving her flexibility to be home too.  She also did a lot of tutoring for at-risk kids.  Great mentors.

Leslie had been accepted into University of Chicago but initially decided that it might not be the place for her so she went to University of California Davis for her freshman year.  She realized after two weeks that Chicago was where she should have gone.  She spent the next year working hard and transferred to University of Chicago her sophomore year.  Each time she had been given a scholarship but not quite enough to make ends meet.  Her family sold some trees, cattle and her father who was a Justice of the Peace did a few more weddings to help cover the expenses.

At Chicago she worked really hard.  It was a change for Leslie.  Chicago is a rich culture environment and as her Mom said, Chicago was like going abroad.  She concentrated in gender studies and built her own theoretical background with classes in economics, sociology and anthropology.  After graduating she went home for nine months and took it easy.  She worked on the farm and took a part-time job in a law office.  She began to study for the LSAT during that time thinking maybe she'd got to law school.  She had been in a relationship that was on and off and he got a job in DC.  Leslie always thought about working in either DC, Miami, Los Angeles, NYC or London so when her boyfriend moved to DC she figured she'd give it a shot too. 

Leslie got a job in a law office in DC working on copyright brand management for large companies such as Burger King and hotels.  She would spend time looking at domain squatting to eBay auctions where she would document the trademark infringement.  It was 2005 and this was her first foreray into digital management.  She stayed a year.

Leslie tapped into the University of Chicago data base to find alums in the DC area.  She wanted to get out of law.  One of the alums she met with said he'd love to hire her.  She took a job with Dezenhall Resources.  It was a small shop loaded with super smart people.  She felt like she had found her people.  They would take crisis management situations and make them positive.  She saw the agency as a triangle.  She was the fulcrum of the funnel where she worked on online monitoring and detection for large pharmaceutial companies.  Similar to the law job but for an agency. 

She had the ultimate respect for the partners at the law firm and Denzenhall.  She watched how they managed their companies and the interface with their employees.  She kept thinking to herself, that is how I am going to be but I do not want to take 20 years to get to that level.  She knew that it was her knowledge of the Internet that was going to get her there quicker.  Understanding social media was going to be her secret sauce.  She stayed at Dezenhall a year and a half.

Her next job was at the McLaughlin Group.  The show had been running for about 30 years.  Two Republicans and two Democrats discussing issues.  She was the director of New Media.  She was to take old school content and make it more modern and social.  She got involved with writing the show every week but best intentions do not always work out.  There had always been huge turnover at McLaughlin.  It was not a place for the faint of heart.  She'd see some people last only a week.  She made it for ten months.  She had learned alot about questioning media and critical thinking but it was not a long term job. 

Leslies next job was working for a company on new media strategies.  She was in DC so they focused on public affairs and political campaign stuff.  She took the job because she wanted to learn from Pete Snyder, the entrepreneur who started the company again just being able to observe and learn from the collective talent in the room was worth while.  They were top political consultants in the policy space and they were her idols.  It was not the same rigor and intellect she was looking for but she learned about how people on the Internet reacted to telecom and health policies.  She stayed for 2 1/2 years and moved from project manager up to Director of Engagement for the entire company. 

During this entire time she was building out Jess3.  She had met Jesse Thomas through friends.  Jesse had this business he was working and he is incredible at big picture but Leslie is amazing at execution. Together they were a good combo.  They began dating and Leslie started moonlighting for him.  She was juggling 30 projects for Jess3 while working full time.  In 2009 the company did over half a million dollars of revenues while Leslie was juggling both jobs.  It was 2010 that she finally made the leap and went full time.  That first year they did over a million in revenues. 

They decided that Los Angeles is where the company needed to be.  Leslie has been with Jesse for six years.  Think about that, she had been working behind the scenes for probably four of those years.  Talk about tenacity. Leslie is the COO/President and Jesse is the CEO.  There are 28 full time employees who work for them yet they have a network of over 3000 programmers that they leverage on certain projects.  They have been profitable since day one and will probably do over $5m this year. 

Beyond impressive that Leslie played a role of an entrepreneur during the hours she wasn't working in a corporate environment.  They build a platform and when the time was right she jumped in full time.  Brilliant move.  Obviously paid off.  Learning from the people she worked for was key.  Those experiences carry with her as she and Jesse grow Jess3 into large creative agency specializing on data visualization.  Her knowledge of social media was no doubt her secret sauce.