When Clare Carr was a student at UVa, she had no idea that she would eventually end up with the job that she has today – marketing director for a digital media analytics startup. She wasn’t in the commerce school and certainly didn’t take a route typical of others in her field. Carr instead graduated with a degree that might seem surprising. She received her B.S. in Environmental Sciences. Interestingly, however, a degree with seemingly little relation to marketing or digital media actually helped lead Carr to where she is today.
In her fourth year at UVa, Carr was tasked with managing the development of a website to provide information on climate change and rising sea levels. The experience truly opened her eyes. For the first time, she saw how uniquely challenging it is to publish digital content: “What I had learned most was that to increase awareness about the effects of climate change, collaboration should increase with departments like communications, media and technology.” This collaboration, however, is often difficult to achieve.
Fast-forward a few years and Carr found herself in a similar situation. She was working for a renewable energy website and was trying to get a more comprehensive understanding of the site’s audience. To get this information, Carr employed the use of an analytics software platform. That software company just so happened to be Parse.ly, where she works today: “I wanted the marketing position so much because I loved using the product! It’s a dream job because I really believe in all the of the material we’re putting out there, and I know our software can back it up – because I’ve used it.”
So what exactly is Parse.ly? Essentially, they are a company that works with digital publishers to provide audience and content analytics. Most publishers don’t have the resources to comprehensively analyze data and figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their publications. So Parse.ly provides them with a product and an easy way to do so. Some of their high-profile clients include The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Fox News, and many more.
Carr discussed the importance of Parse.ly’s business:
The traditional media company business model has been so disrupted by the advent of digital content. The barrier to entry is so much lower, as are the advertising revenues, and publishers have had to completely rethink everything: from the stories they cover, to the way they distribute news.
For example, if only a few people were reading a section in a printed newspaper – no one cared, because the paper had already been purchased and the advertiser had already paid for the ad space. It doesn’t work that way online, because articles are available on their own (often without a subscription) and advertisers are only paying if someone sees their ad. That means that every publication has to answer the question: what can I produce that will make my audience say – this is worth reading/watching/sharing. We help them figure that out by really understanding their audience through data and analytics.
While Parse.ly’s product is unique, it is still in an industry that is mostly dominated by large companies and one that is not particularly conducive to startups. Marketing the product and company is often a challenge. However, Carr has experienced success not only at Parse.ly, but with other startups as well. When asked to give advice to current students interested in working for a startup such as Parse.ly, Carr said that the best preparation is getting out of your comfort zone: “Try something somewhat terrifying that you have absolutely no experience in – because that’s pretty much what we’re all doing.”
Carr also stressed that UVa’s commerce school (or any comparable business undergraduate program at other schools) is not the only route to jobs in marketing and startups. While she once regretted not being a part of the commerce program, today Carr is glad she was not. “Learning on the job is an essential part of working at any startup and your willingness to work hard is more important than any specific skill set.” She also stressed the importance of startup employees being proactive, because of the often small and thinly stretched staff at these companies.