Women in Digital Media Profile Series: Catherine Warren

Catherine Warren, President at Vancouver-based FanTrust Entertainment Strategies believes that “young women can do amazing things.” She will be moderating a panel called “The Executive Suite: Women on Top” at the International Women in Digital Media Summit (iWDMS 2011) in Stratford, Ontario from October 23rd to 25th, 2011.

Image of Catherine Warren, President at FanTrustAs a preview to the conference, I spoke with Catherine about what it takes to run her own business, lead as a woman in the digital media industry, and much more. Here are the highlights from our conversation last week:

How did you get your start in the digital media industry?
Prior to starting my own business, I was a COO at a cross-platform broadcasting software startup called Blue Zone during the early days of the Internet industry. In this role, I spearheaded significant convergence broadcasting deals and developed media creation, and distribution strategies. We grew this publicly-traded Nasdaq company to a $300 million market cap. When the dotcom bubble burst, I realized it was time to go out on my own.

What is FanTrust?
FanTrust looks at how fans can transform business models for the entertainment industry. Having worked with broadcasters for years, I realized that many of them hadn’t anticipated the power of interactive audiences. I immediately recognized the opportunity to focus on digital media and fan culture.

Celebrating our 10th anniversary this year, FanTrust has influenced major media networks, fortune 500 clients, gaming and mobile companies, and advertising agencies. We focus on “hit making” to drive B2C value (including traffic) for new media platforms. We also provide our clients with new ways to capture financing, captivate audiences and capitalize on digital business development. Our client successes include Microsoft’s early push into digital content, Gemini Award-winning CTVNEWS.com and the fan strategy for the CSI television franchise.

What does it take for a woman to lead in the digital media industry?
The short answer is that it takes all of the same things that a man needs to lead. You must be ambitious, a lifelong learner, understand politics within an organization, and be very responsive to employee and customer needs. Women still face a lot of obstacles, especially when it comes to comparing their income vs. men in a similar role. The playing field won’t be level until that is sorted out.

All business is still male dominated. The digital media industry may, in fact, be better than other industries for having more women leading the charge. For example, in the casual gaming industry, women make up a big part of the customer base. So, it makes sense to hire female Sr. Executives because they understand how to cater to that audience. But there are still few female C-level executives in publicly traded companies in Canada.

I have sat on corporate boards like the Bell Fund, which has awarded $100M to convergence productions. Companies need more women on boards. It affects everything within an organization – including the bottom line. It also sets the right tone for clients, shareholders, and employees because of the diversity of viewpoints being discussed. 

What is your advice for anyone starting their own digital media business?

  • Surround yourself with a great advisory board.
  • Pick people with different, yet complimentary skills to yours for your team. 
  • If you’re looking to raise money, educate yourself on the path to raising capital. It requires a completely different skill set from running your business, and can be a distraction from your core business. Talk to a lot of people who’ve been through it. Instead of trying to raise a lot of money, focus on generating early revenue. This is probably a better way to stay focused if you can avoid having to raise a lot of investor money early on.
  • Work with both big and small clients. I encourage entrepreneurs to shoot for high profile clients and mix those with smaller customers. 

Who is your biggest role model?
Well, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. There is sort of an expectation in my family that entrepreneurship is simply what you do. Even my grandmother was one of Canada’s first female real estate agents. My mom started her own interactive database business in the 1970s – before the Internet and search even existed. So, I’m surrounded by role models.

I believe that if you’re open to it, life can change on a dime. For example, another role model of mine is Julia Butterfly Hill. She ran a number of successful businesses in her 20s but gave it all up to spend two years living in a California Redwood tree to try and save it from being cut down. She made this decision after attending a fundraiser to save the forests. Her story is a great example of the type of dedication and courage that it takes for a young woman to lead and change the world.

Catherine Warren is just one of the many fabulous speakers who are scheduled to speak at iWDMS. Stay tuned for more profiles of these amazing women on Techvibes in the weeks to come.