For the next addition to our Ambitious Women Spotlight series we caught up with Larissa Licha, Chief of Staff, Product, Design and Engineering at NextRoll. She’s been on an amazing 6 year journey here at NextRoll having worked in 4 different offices and sat in 8 different roles including Sales, Account Management, Client Intelligence and Product Management. To say she’s had opportunities to diversify and grow her skill-set would be an understatement. Says Larissa, “Being exposed to so many different functional areas and the chance to get to work with exceptional people has been incredibly rewarding.” Tell us more!

What has your career progression been like at NextRoll?

I feel like I’ve grown up at NextRoll, as a person (I was 23 when I started working here) and from a career perspective. I like to reflect back on my days as a Sales Development Representative and how much pressure I put on myself. I came from a pretty “untraditional” background having worked as a tattoo artist for many years, and being a college drop-out, as a result, imposter syndrome hit me pretty hard. I was worried that I’d feel misplaced at NextRoll seeing the incredible backgrounds others had and felt like I had to work thrice as hard as others to make up for my deficits. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had support from others early in my career to help me navigate, and break down my self-set barriers. People that supported me had a tendency to push me out of my comfort zone and see strengths I didn’t see in myself. This gave me the opportunity to work in roles where I was more closely exposed to product management which ultimately changed my whole career trajectory and helped me find my place. A big pivotal point was joining our client intelligence team (then called BlackOps), it was a newly formed team focused on leveraging our platform to win competitive deals. I had the ability to dive deeply into the product, what powers it, the data that helps us drive decisions, and experiment with taking advantage of all the knobs to get the best out of our platform. Shortly after joining this role, I was invited to go to San Francisco to speak about my learnings, it was in front of the whole executive team, engineering, and product organization. To say the least, I was pretty nervous! After my presentation, one of the engineers I admired came up to me saying it was the best presentation all day and I couldn’t believe it. At this point, I realized that I had value to provide to even the people that I perceived as the smartest, and out-of-reach individuals at the company.

What are your career aspirations?

I really want to use my skills and knowledge I’ve grown over the years to make a difference. I know this is the techiest thing one could say “We’re all here to save the world”. One area I’m extremely passionate about is mental health. I think most of us are aware that the mental health space needs to be disrupted, across its stigma, the health care system and how it supports mental health, and how mental health is integrated into the workplace. We all have mental health, and we all have to foster it and I think a lot of people have woken up to that need in 2020. I think that the power of community, and a supportive environment tied to mental health, has become more prominent than ever and people without that support have really struggled this past year. This is an area I am looking to change, at NextRoll, and outside of NextRoll. All in all, I want to continue using my skills for the better and solve real needs, whether small or big. A small change can have a big trickle effect, even if it’s only for a single person. It meant something to them and if I can have that impact, I’d like to do so.

What does ambition mean to you?

Ambition is a strange word to me. I feel like it is misconstrued. There’s a big sentiment around ambition meaning you work hard with the end goal being success. But our understanding of what success means, whether that’s money, cars, that promotion, or otherwise is often misaligned from what actually brings us happiness. There’s such a strong sentiment about that definition of success, that people want to achieve it no matter what which, to me, inherently causes problems. Success, to me, is about how I bring myself not only to work but the world every day. I think we sometimes underestimate our impact and with that the power, we have in this world. Our inherent value isn’t about the money we make or the title we carry, but whether or not we have an impact on those around us. Whether it’s lending an ear, giving them a smile, acknowledging how they feel instead of coming with judgment or merely paying them attention. I truly believe that the small things we do can have a big trickle effect. Ambition to me is that wherever I am, I want to have a positive trickle effect. When I remember moments of my life that brought me joy, I don’t think about that pay raise or new title, but I think about the moments I’ve shared with others and the potential impact I had on them, or on that particular moment we’ve shared. Striving for this, I think I’m able to be a better co-worker, mentor, manager, leader, friend, and ultimately drive better outcomes for the company because of who we’re building for matters first and foremost.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

I think one of my most disliked, and at the same time, admired skills by my friend group is my discipline. I love routine. Dry, I know, but I love it. I used to have a bad habit of always being on, always available, checking my phone first thing in the morning and right before bed, and making work so central to my identity that I left myself behind. While I was successful at work, I felt like everything around me crumbled as a result. I always felt like you can’t have both. You can’t succeed in your job and have a balanced life but really, you can’t succeed in your job if you don’t maintain balance. Work and life are inherently integrated with one another, so if one hurts, so does the other. As a result, 3 years ago, I introduced yoga and meditation into my life, practicing gratitude, deleted Slack off my phone, got an alarm clock to not have my phone in the room, and set strict rules for when I go offline. To say the least, I failed a lot at first but becoming more and more consistent showed me how much it helped my productivity and overall happiness that I ended up making it a consistent daily habit. I also take time to have a real breakfast that is uninterrupted before I officially start work and I don’t use any screens right before bed. I think it’s important to maintain hobbies. I really enjoy volunteering where I work with kids and teach them about botany and science, pottery, painting, playing the piano, baking, cooking, and generally being outside a lot to hike, or just sit around taking deep breaths. I like challenging my mind in ways that aren’t work-related so creative hobbies allow me to do that.

What words do you live by?

Take every day – day by day. We often set massive goals, and get disappointed when we don’t reach them. If we didn’t check off that to-do list for the day, we carry that frustration into the next day. But really, thoughts, feelings, moments, everything is fleeting if we let it. I try to not let a bad day define the next but I also allow myself to have a bad day. I used to judge myself a lot when I had a bad day, it made me feel like I sorta slipped on my mental health and I’m back to a negative mindset, or anxiety taking over. But, we all have bad days, and we’re allowed to have them, we have the permission to feel what we feel when we feel it, but most importantly, we have the power to let it go and take the next day, or even moment, to start over. Every day is full of opportunity and if we remove the constraints we set ourselves because of the previous day or our past in general, we can make the most of it.

Who’s your favorite woman leader or mentor?

While I had many women great mentors and still look up to many, the most impactful mentor to this day still remains my mom. As cheesy as it sounds, she has in a lot of ways, provided me with the foundation to be where I am today. My mom raised us, my brother and me, as a single mom and, to say the least, we weren’t easy to raise. While being a single mom, she also ran her own business and dealt with chronic illness. In my mom’s day, a woman running a business, or being divorced raising children by herself, especially where I grew up was unheard of but really, she didn’t care. She wanted to lead a life that brought her happiness and provided us with everything we needed. Eventually, she got so sick she wasn’t able to run her business anymore and a lot of people in her life detracted because it was too much to deal with but she always had this unmet resilience. She never told me what I had to be, even though where I grew up, my path was meant to be a certain way: Graduate high school, do an apprenticeship at an insurance company or bank, stay there until you get married and have kids, then take care of the kids, and that’s life. I didn’t want that life, I didn’t know what I wanted exactly, but I knew I didn’t want that. My mom decided that I can figure this out, by myself and on my own terms despite facing a lot of judgement from my broader family. She always knew I’d land where I needed to be and I did. Her resilience and resistance to the norms imposed on women taught me crucial lessons that are the foundation to everything I am, and want to be.

Feeling ambitious? Learn how we empower women here at NextRoll and help them thrive in their careers.