Tammy Hepps, Treelines, Woman Entrepreneur
I met Tammy for the first time at the Womens Entrepreneur Festival this past January. She told me a little about Treelines, a company/website she built to help turn family trees and memories into stories that can be shared among family and friends forever. I remember back in the mid-90's when Ancestry.com was launched. I am beginning to see companies being built on the web that are shaking up the verticals that have not been touched on the web in 10 plus years so I was intrigued. I have to admit that my Dad has been working on something like this for awhile so another interest sparker. Tammy piqued my curiosity so we made a date to get together.
Tammy grew up in south Jersey, Cherry Hill. Her father has been a lawyer his entire lifetime working in science and aviation law but had worked in nuclear physics before going to law school. Her mother stayed home when Tammy and her sister were young doing substitution teacher work in French and Spanish when needed. Once the girls got older her Mom became a spin instructor. She is wildly popular in Cherry Hill. Her parents were all about education. There was nothing more important than doing well in school particularly doing well in math and science. They pushed her and her sister to got Harvard because they had the intellect to get there.
And so, both Tammy and her sister went off to Harvard overlapping a few years. When she got to Harvard she studied what she wanted to study and majored in Archeology of the Ancient Mideast. She went to Israel where her group discovered an ancient Philistines pot. She really loved archaeology but felt she suffered a little as an undergraduate knowing that it was Harvard graduate school where the real stuff happens. Tammy also began to miss the rigors of science and math. The beauty of those topics is that you either solve it or you don't. She had written a paper on the origin of the Hebrew people. Even though she got an A on the paper it was hard to wrap her arms around getting an A on something that was purely theoretical. She decided it was time to take an engineering class. That engineering professor offered her a TA position for the summer in his robotics class. She loved how the students were learning how to put parts together like an auto class. After the summer she returned to Harvard and changed her major to computer science. She realized her brain thought like a computer science major not an archeology major. She was so afraid her freshman year of being stuck in a computer lab for 18 hours a day that she steered clear of that. Ends up in her junior year she realized how much she loved that. I wish more women would let that side of their brain take over and become computer scientist majors. Being able to build you own online business solo is a game changer.
When she graduated school she just moved forward as she always has. She never even thought about taking a break to travel. Tammy landed a job with SparkNotes. It was 2000. The market crashed the day after her job began. She didn't realize the impact but did understand that it could not be good. SparkNotes got acquired by Barnes and Noble. Tammy was kept on as a developer of content and design eventually rising to the top becoming head of Technology. She worked for a guy who was a MIT computer scientist genius. It was working for him that caused her to move into management of a tech staff. She understood how it worked and enjoyed motivating the tech division. She stayed for five years.
Next job, Director of Software Development for the New York Times. It was the beginning of the time when they were integrating the newroom and the web to be one. They were looking for someone who could manage a team of technologists and at the same time be able to hear the concerns of the newsroom and figure out how technology can
answer that. It was a stressful job but fun. She stayed for two years.
The big corporation environment was making her itch for a start-up. Tammy took a job with Filife under the roof of IAC/Dow Jones. The company didn't succeed but she learned a lot from the experience. It was a crazy place with a group of incredibly talented people. After two years the company died.
Tammy just did not have the courage yet to start her own business. She still had not figured out the big idea. She took a few months off before taking another job. During that time she took her passion into genology into an obsession. She also spent a lot of time walking around NYC and getting to know it better too. Being able to do whatever she wanted to do during those few months was life altering. It was really the first time in her life that she took some time off to think.
Tammy decided to take the job as the CTO of IVillage. Someone had been brought into revamp iVillage and they wanted someone who could take the helm of embarking on a total redesign of the site. She quickly realized it was not the right job but decided she would stay with the process until the end. On the side for pure enjoyment Tammy was getting an under graduate degree for musical theory then went on to graduate school to learning the theory of Bach. She started this back in 2002. iVillage was so crazy that she had to miss her beloved Julliard classes. iVillage literally had to retire all of their old technology and move it into new technology. Not an easy undertaking.
Once the project started winding down she began to start noodling on the idea of Treelines. She decided it was time to take a job that would allow her to focus on Treelines on the side. She got a great job at Urban Daddy where she stayed for a year before she was ready to jump ship. It was at a conference on genealogy in February 2012 where she realized there was a gap in the market around story telling. She had made a book for her family but it did not capture the tales and there wasn't a technology solution on the market. After the conference she stayed up until 3am building out what she wanted to build. She sent it to family and friends and asked what they thought. The answer came back, do it.
Interesting enough Tammy had gone to the Womens Entrepreneur Festival in 2012 ( the year before I met her) and it was there that she realized that there are other women out there in the same spot as she was. She started meeting people that day who had gaps in their knowledge too and sharing this is what I know and here is what I don't know and Tammy realized that was ok. After the conference she thought I either get my MBA or go back to work in a start-up. Instead she decided she was just going to do it, go out on her own and start her own company. It was really about mustering about the courage to be an entrepreneur as it
did not come from her history so it was a huge moment for her to take
that leap. Tammy realized, you can always go back.
The concept of Treelines started when she was in 7/8 grade when a letter to her syngogue arrives looking for the Hepps family. They began to correspond soon talking to relatives she had never heard about. Women fill voids in their lives. Tammy has been passionate about learning the information about her family years ago and over time the idea on how to build a business around it revealed itself.
I love the whole story starting with the realization in college that she should be a computer scientist major to finally being able to take that leap of faith and build her own company. A very smart driven women who was able to get off the ladder and do it herself. Looking forward to watching Treelines grow.
.A fact that really resonates is that there is a timing element to unleashing one’s entrepreneurial instincts. It is not something that can be coaxed out prematurely, you have to be ready.Not fully ready because nobody is ever really ready but just ready enough. Enough to take the leap.It is really amazing the number of talented women from whom you have drawn out their story.Well played.JLM.
Just looked over Treelines. Love it– so pleased to discover it as we are in process of documenting our family story. Thank you.
love this story!a few years back i found myself in a situation without a paying job. i gave myself 30 days to find a new job, and if i didn’t find one i was going to start my own software/tech company and “put 50 apps in the app store” 🙂 . yada yada i had a job lined up in abut a week ( at a big co ).thing is, i wish i would have done the *exact opposite* : took at least a few months to find some unmet needs in my interest areas and built tech products around them.so cheers to tammy and walking around the city and observing the world before getting into a new gig!
What a great post! I got to meet Tammy a few years ago while she was still at iVillage and beginning to get entrepreneur-curious. I’m so excited to see she’s going for it — Tammy’s a winner!