March 23, 2022

Applying a Growth Mindset to Career Opportunities with Jen Ford, former Chief Commercial Officer & CFO of TurnKey

Applying a Growth Mindset to Career Opportunities with Jen Ford, former Chief Commercial Officer & CFO of TurnKey

Tune in to this inspiring episode as Jen Ford shares highlights of an impressive career and the pivotal decisions that helped her build confidence, discover her passions and ultimately, lay a solid runway for future growth opportunities. As Jen reveals, it's all in your mindset!

Jen is a seasoned executive with a background in e-commerce, retail, travel, and technology. During her career, Jen has worked in both public and private companies, from start-up to Fortune 100. She has led successful teams in a broad range of functions, including strategy, finance, investor relations, business intelligence, revenue management, and human resources. Notable roles include her position as Chief Commercial Officer & CFO at TurnKey Vacation Rentals (2nd largest VR property manager in the US), head of Finance at Snap Kitchen (an omni-channel, prepared food concept with 45 retail locations in three states), head of Investor Relations and a member of the IPO team at HomeAway ($3B+ market cap), and multiple overseas assignments in Europe and Asia with Dell.

Jen has been active in the boardroom since 2015 and has experience leading audit and compensation committee discussions on behalf of management. Jen is adept in scaling companies from early stages to maturity and has extensive experience guiding management teams on balancing growth and profitability, building critical operational infrastructure, and creating financial discipline. She has played a key role in helping start-ups gain traction through partnerships and has been a core member of the launch team for commercial agreements with Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Aramark (Snap Kitchen), and Marriott (TurnKey). Jen has an extensive fund-raising history, having brought in more than $125M of equity and debt while in the CFO seat, in addition to the $750M raised while leading Investor Relations. She has been involved in more than 15 acquisitions, including HomeAway’s acquisition by Expedia for $3.9B and TurnKey’s acquisition by Vacasa.

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Podcast Sponsored by Condo-World and Lexicon Travel

Transcript
Alex Husner:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. I'm Alex. And I'm Annie. And we are joined today with Jen Ford, who is the previous Chief Commercial Officer and CFO of Turnkey. Welcome to the show, Jen.

Jen Ford:

Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Alex Husner:

We're so excited to talk to you today. And to learn a little bit more about your previous experience within the industry. And you've, you have a great background and a lot of other areas too. And Annie and I had the pleasure of getting to meet you and hear from you at the Women's Conference, which is where we met so many people at that conference that that was just like the breeding ground for these great relationships. But what can you tell our audience a little bit about who you are and your experience within the industry?

Jen Ford:

Yeah, absolutely. And I am still on a high from that conference. By the way. I like. energized, it's just, it was amazing. Kudos to Amy Hinote and her team. Yeah. So I'm Jen Ford, I most recently was Chief Commercial Officer and CFO turnkey vacation rentals. But that wasn't where my career in vacation rentals started. I actually have been in the industry for about the last 10 years since I spent about five years. With HomeAway. I was part of their IPO team, worked there for several several years. And then after working there, moved over to turnkey to help lead that team and stayed on was there during the process to be acquired by Bokassa and left shortly after. So I'm in transition now.

Annie Holcombe:

That's super exciting to just all the pieces of the industry that you've touched. And I know that people are really curious to hear kind of your insight in not only you talked about it at the Women's Conference about leaning in and really taking charge of the relations with your investors when the when home only went public. But I'd love to hear about that and then go into the the turnkey acquisition from the Bokassa side.

Jen Ford:

Yeah, so I mean, you know, I think you probably have to go a little bit further back in my career, right, I didn't necessarily set out to work in the industry. I feel really fortunate that I made my way there. But I actually spent the first 10 years of my career in high tech. And I had a lot of really great experiences, doing things that were challenging and taking on new roles that were growing and stretching me I actually worked internationally quite a bit and lived in both Europe and Singapore. So I had a lot of great experiences. But what I found was that I never really connected with the products that we were selling. I wasn't passionate about them. And so about 10 years into my career, I had the opportunity to join what was at the time, a pretty small company called HomeAway. And I had previously been working in semiconductors. And when I left that company, I worked with a bunch of electrical engineers, and I would say to them, all right, you guys read the electrical engineering times on the weekend, I read People Magazine. Yeah. And, and so what HomeAway gave me was, you know, a lot of really smart people and challenging roles, just like some of my past experience. But it brought me into an industry that I really connected with, and, and something that I loved. You know, I grew up in Wisconsin, in a home with two working parents and four siblings, we were essentially free range kids, we spent a lot of time outside, kind of doing our own thing and fending for ourselves. And my parents worked just a lot. And the one time they couldn't work was on vacation, they could not bring their work on vacation. And so my vacation memories are really, really special to me. They're these times and because there were seven of us, we often stayed in homes. And so we started using vacation rentals a long time ago. But there are these really special times where I had more time and attention from my parents than I did when I was at home. And so I feel really lucky to have found my way into the industry because I think helping other people create their memories of a lifetime is a it's a privilege, and it's a really worthwhile reason to get out of bed every day and come to work and do your best work. So. So HomeAway really was just an amazing fit for me from that sense, but also from a from the leaning in perspective, Annie. I took some roles there or was actually offered roles. I didn't even necessarily see myself in the role. But the example I think I shared with you was that I had been doing finance kind of for the first 10 years of my career and was mostly internally focused. So internal customers working with business partners, helping grow the business from an internal perspective. And I always knew the companies really well. But I've never had an external facing role. And when I was at hallway I was asked to stand up the first investor relations department at the company. And of course You know, I thought, wow, this is really exciting. But I didn't, I didn't really know anything about investor relations. I hadn't done it before. But I, you know, when the CEO and the CFO asked me to do it, I thought there must be something that they see in me, that I'm not seeing in myself right now. And I'm so very glad that I took that role, because it was pivotal, I think it really changed the trajectory of my career. And, and I found out that, yes, it was very scary, and I was quite uncomfortable for a period of time. But that's when you really grow. And that's when you come become a better version of yourself. And so I'm super grateful for the time there. And I also just had a lot of fun, it was a great group of people, lots of smart people who taught me to think differently or challenge my way of thinking. Again, those aren't always comfortable times. But we did do it, I think with a sense of humor and have fun. So I think it made it a really great environment. And I feel really fortunate to have had that opportunity. I did actually leave after Expedia acquired HomeAway. And, and I left the industry for a period of time. You know, I think sometimes the roles you don't take are as important as the roles you do take. And when I left HomeAway, I kind of had to make a decision about what sort of path I wanted to pursue at that time. And I really liked investor relations. It was so fun. I love talking about the industry telling the story of the company, talking with really smart people who were asking great questions. And I liked the travel actually, it was it was really fun. But I also wondered if I would still like it as much in three years if I woke up, and I was still doing the same thing. And so instead, I actually joined a company called Snap Kitchen, which is a healthy prepared food company. And the reason I took that role was because it was a head of finance. And so I was going to be broadening my scope quite a bit and learning new things and being challenged in ways that I hadn't yet been challenged. And I think doing the thing that was less of a sure thing, and less comfortable again, is is something that I think, has been a really important key to my success in my career. I did take that role, which was somewhat uncomfortable, because I was learning new things every day I was out of my element. But I think it really set me up for success in the future. It's where I learned to be a CFO. And of course, as you know, I ended up at turnkey shortly thereafter. And I think that without that interim step of working at Snap Kitchen, I probably wouldn't have been as good of a CFO at turnkey and I don't think I would have been able to take on broader responsibilities, which ultimately I did it turnkey. And I think it was because I had that opportunity to learn. The other thing was it was a very complex business, it's Snap Kitchen. And as both of you know, vacation rentals, it's a pretty tough business with a lot of touch points and a lot of moving parts. And so I think having worked in a really tough environment just before coming over. It also helped, I think, prepare me for you know, the some of the challenges that I would face,

Alex Husner:

the Wild West, you are about to enter working and

Jen Ford:

working in property management, which is really different from what HomeAway is, right? Yeah, is essentially, you know, digital commerce or ad marketplace. And that that's very different than on the ground. You're making sure the houses are clean, you're kicking all the reservations, you're doing all the pricing. It's it's a very different kind of business, even though it's in the same industry. And so I'm very grateful for that interim step. Before I came over to turnkey, I came to Turnkey in 2017.

Alex Husner:

Okay, yeah, there's several things you said there that just stood out to me, one of which is that, I mean, there's a disconnect with what you're selling, right? But then what vacations it is, I mean, we're all very lucky to be in an industry that it's, it's not the worst thing we could be out there marketing, right. Like, it's just every day, you know, getting up and I think we lose, we lose focus on what what the purpose is of all of our jobs. And really, that is when we're connecting families were connecting travelers with great places to stay. And when you get so tied up in your own role within a company, whether it's revenue management, or marketing, or accounting, or whatever it is, you it's easy to lose sight of, you know, what the bigger picture is of what you actually do, right? I mean, it's vacations are not a super serious industry. I mean, it's serious, but it's a fun thing to come to work with every day. There's a lot of, you know, more boring things we could all be selling. So at the end of the day, I think that's just something to be grateful for. And I can only imagine that that, you know, helped propel you into that role and investor relations because you were passionate about you know what the company was. But I am curious when you went to The Healthy Food Company, how that was because that's probably something also that is important to you, right? So did you feel a connection with that or was it just not really there?

Jen Ford:

I did. And I actually think, you know, I think this is a company that has the ability to really change the way people eat. And I think that's something our country needs. And so I did feel a connection. I understood it. I think one of the things that was a little bit different than for example, when I joined turnkey was, I wasn't, I didn't have like the Rolodex, as I call it of knowing all the players, the people that the investors, the analysts. And so I do think that that was something that I realized how valuable it was in not having it when I went to Snap Kitchen. But at the same time, I think, I also was super proud of myself to be able to learn a new industry, I didn't know it, I had worked in it before. And it was, like I said, it was quite complex, because it was food manufacturing, distribution, and retail, and it was omni channel. So there was just a lot going on, and a lot to learn. And I think it was a confidence builder that I could come up to speed and really understand it and make a positive impact. And so I think, you know that that was great. That said, I wouldn't say I was as passionate about it as I am about travel and vacation. I mean, you know, it's like my family's kind of first and foremost for me, and boy, my travel. My vacations are sort of next time I live. Oh,

Alex Husner:

absolutely. Yeah.

Jen Ford:

You know, and the people I worked with, were really passionate about healthy food, which was amazing, but I'm not gonna lie. I was I was the person who was in the break room, like sneaking cheese on it. from Wisconsin. Yeah, yeah. You know, I think I take I take healthy seriously, but only so far.

Annie Holcombe:

Right? Yeah, my family's from Wisconsin, too. So I completely understand that cheese every now and then you can't cut it ever enough. That's so crazy. So when you got to turnkey, I mean, obviously, like you said, this is a different type of business and what what HomeAway was, did you find yourself feeling out of your element in that sense? Or did you feel like, okay, I'm in my element, I understand this business. But there's all this other other aspects of it that I can learn now, you really just dove in and wanted to learn all of it?

Jen Ford:

Yeah, I think I definitely felt in my element for sure. And I really understood the business. And, you know, as we talked about, like, I believe in having that why, right. And so that desire to deliver really great vacations and help people make those memories really drives me. So I was very motivated to learn the business, I think there were probably just more moving parts and dependencies that I could have realized before I joined the company. And so there was a lot to learn. But I'm definitely like a hands on type of learner. And so I really just dove right in and learned as much as I could and got to understand what all those dependencies were. And so I think, you know, one of the things I was able to bring to the company, and that, I think, is a reason that my role expanded later on was, you know, there's the CFO role. But a lot of what I did was kind of beyond that, or maybe not what you would normally see on paper, and that was really trying to take the strategy, the mission and strategy of the company, and then turn it into a plan that could be operationalized. So that every team understood what role they played in the company achieving its results. And then putting measurement behind it, I stood up the first business intelligence team at the company, which was something that was really fun and exciting to work on. And again, something that was new to me. But it was really important for my mind to say, Okay, where do we want to go? Now? What, what are the steps, we need to take the plan, we need to have a place to get there. And now how do we measure to see how we're tracking to that plan. That was something I learned very early in my career when I worked at Dell was if you don't measure it, you can't manage it. And so I'm very big on having measurement, whether it's in your your professional life or your personal life, I think you've really got to be intellectually honest and measure how you're doing and assess it and then decide if you need to adjust. It's not meant to say, oh, geez, you're doing really bad. It's meant to say, Okay, we're not we're doing really well over here. Let's do more of that. And over here, I see we're short, do we understand why we're not coming in? Where we thought we, we would what can we do differently? What are some ideas? What do we need to bring together to collaborate on ways to change this? And so I think having that measurement is incredibly important.

Annie Holcombe:

When when you were at? Well, I guess when you got to turnkey? Was it their intention that eventually they would sell or go public? Is that something that they were looking to do? Or did this whole situation just sort of present itself at the right time?

Jen Ford:

Yeah, that's funny, because like any company I've ever worked at, I don't remember very many conversations at all about trying to optimize around a certain outcome. I've always worked places, and I believe that most people who start companies or do it this way, too, is you know, they have like a really great idea or they think they can do it better than somebody else. can do it. And so they build the company to, to create something that's truly great or solving a big problem, not necessarily to, to create an outcome like, you know, an acquisition or an IPO. And the reason I think that that holds over the long run is that running a business is really, really hard. And I think you have to have more, you have to be in it for a lot more than just this outcome that may or may not happen, you don't know when it might happen. But I think if you focus on building a truly great business, then it opens up lots of options. So I think we were always really focused on, you know, providing great service building a great team differentiating ourselves through things like technology. So those were the things that we focused on and what we talked about, and of course, growth was always a focus of ours as well. So I think, you know, I look at it that way. And I would say that I found that to be true in other companies as well, I, you know, I know that it happens, I'm not saying that it's people don't purpose built a company for you know, selling. But how long does that take? Does that take five years? Does it take 10 years, I mean, that's a long time to be focused on the end game, rather than the journey you're on. And I think that there's a lot more value in focusing on the journey. And really, you know, optimizing around that versus a specific outcome.

Alex Husner:

Is there such a difference now to in our industry, because it's like most companies, like the one that I work for Kondo world, and several others that have been, you know, Legacy players in this business for so long, you know, they go back 3040 50 years, I and at that point, there was never the companies were not started with an end game in mind to sell out. So there's just so much now at the startup scene that had to say to a vendor the other day, you know, what, what is your exit plan? And will you still be around? I mean, you because I'm buying into this company and your service, because of you, will you still be around in two years, three years, and and a lot of cases that can't be determined? So, you know, I think a lot of just a lot is really rapidly changing now. And it's for the for the better. I mean, I think it's good for our industry to have, you know, a lot more innovation that's coming in, but it is changing things. What would you mean, looking at turnkey success over the years? What do you think was the main reason that they were able to scale to the size that they got to? So I think that's just really impressive. I mean, you know, one of the largest managers at where they international are just in the domestic, just semester in a sec. Yeah, but definitely one of the larger largest managers in the US. So how did what was the main thing that they did right to do that?

Jen Ford:

Well, I mean, I think they did a lot of things. Right. To be honest. I mean, I think, you know, and I think we can never downplay that luck does come into it as well, right? I think it's, you know, I always say, I can't just take credit for everything I've done. There's always a bit of luck in it. But I think that they built a really great team. And obviously, that team changes over time. But I think they had a lot of really great people at the right points in time to really help them build the right technology, create the right structures, and in terms of like operating excellence, and you know, even me coming in, right, like, companies don't hire me when they've just started that I, I'm not a I'm not a builder. I'm a scalar. Right. So I think, you know, when, when, when John and TJ looked around and needed a CFO, I don't think that they would have called me four years earlier, because I wouldn't have been the right fit. And so I think, I think that that's one of the things that they were really good at was looking around and bringing the right people at the right time. And, you know, during the time I was there, I worked with them very closely to, to really work on, I think creating opportunities for people to have careers for people to do things that they hadn't done before to be able to achieve new things. And so I think, you know, that makes people excited about the future and being able to buy into what the company's doing and being engaged and excited to help drive that forward. And so I think, you know, that a lot of times comes down to the people. And I think that was the case there. And I've got to give credit to John TJ and all the investors that supported him too. Right. Like it's a great group of people.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Annie Holcombe:

So do you think that there's going to be more Turnkey's that are going to turn up if you will, in the industry to get to that scale for someone to buy or acquire I we look at there's a couple of companies out there making big moves to buy and acquire management groups with without within the US and I think they'll probably venture out into you, maybe the Caribbean and Mexico but I think some of them have a mindset of yes, they want to be able to sell or go public. That's Just what their endgame is. But I wonder how many of those large skate companies we are going to have, say, two years from now? Do you think there's a possibility of there being multiple turnkeys? out there?

Jen Ford:

Yeah, I do think Well, I mean, in terms of predictions, right, I think, I think that there's a, if you look at even the large property managers, they still have a tiny share of the total, just in the US. And so I think there's still a huge opportunity in terms of inventory growth. And I do think that there's going to be an emphasis on on growth. And I think there's also a lot of capital in the market right now. And so I think there's going to be companies who want to spend money and want to acquire or build their own version of, you know, the large property management company, the multi destination property management company. And so, I do think that we will see more, but I don't think that that's the only type of sort of growth or explosion in in new companies that we're going to see, I think one of the things that's really interesting, and one of the things that I saw at the vacation rental Women's Summit, which was exciting was all these related businesses that are there to help professionalize property managers or to make things more efficient, or, you know, to help property managers focus on what they do best, and then use vendors for some of the other things that have to happen to make a business scale. And so I think that that's really interesting, too, because you know, that capital that's flowing in, it doesn't have to just go to property managers, it's going to go to different types of companies. And so I think you're going to see both of those things happening in the coming years. And I think it's great to see all the attention on vacation rentals, I personally feel like we're still kind of early stages. It's not like it's a new thing. It's obviously not new. We know that this has been going on for a long time. But I think I just I think that there's still so much opportunity, and so many more guests to bring in and to have them experience this way of traveling. And I think I do think that the world, I don't think the world will stay exactly how it is today. But I do think the world has changed forever in terms of flexibility. And the ability to do more remote working to make your vacation last longer by working a few days from somewhere. And so I think this all lends itself really well to vacation rentals. And then to boot, you've got all these folks who bought second homes during the pandemic, I do think most of them are going to go back to work at least part time at some point. And I think that that supply is going to come into the fold as well. And so, you know, I see a lot of tailwinds for vacation rentals going forward.

Annie Holcombe:

I would I would agree with that wholeheartedly. And what we've been talking with other people that we've interviewed about the consolidation within the verticals like you were just saying that, you know, that's a really good thing for the industry. But it also can be a bad thing, where if you consolidate too much, and you start to lose the excitement around creating new technology, because there's just so much sitting in one vertical that that people are just, they're overrun with information, or they just don't know what to do with it. So yeah, I do think that there's going to be more of it. And certainly, it is exciting for what it's going to do for vacation rentals. And we joke about it all the time. We've been around forever, but it's just it took the pandemic to really kind of give us the spotlight and the stage and the voice to get out there in front of everybody to say, hey, we're here. And we are going to make your memories spectacular. So join us. And so it's really exciting to see where we go from here.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, and I think I'm in the major opportunity that everybody has at this point is to really hone in on brand. Because at the end of the day, I mean this this is a an industry that was built on, you know, mom and pops. But yes, now the new wave of technology is coming in. But what we don't want to see happen, and we talked about this long podcast is that our inventory is just 100% associated as an Airbnb. And that has happened to a great extent. But where I see the you know, the potential red flags with the consolidation is that if everything ends up going under Vacasa's umbrella, or a couple of the big ones, it really goes in that direction, because those are companies that they're not pushing brand. I mean, they're certainly not to the extent that we do in our local markets. So you know, that's, that's a risk for the industry as we move forward that that it just becomes so homogeneous across the board. But you know, I think for any property manager right now, the best thing they can focus on is their own brand and guest experience of why this is not just an Airbnb business. I know. Gentlemen, we had our pre call you said you know, from the outside, it looks like it's an easy business, right, like we talked about earlier. It's, it's fun, it's a nice thing to sell. But my gosh, I mean, the complexities that are behind this are you know far more than most people Whatever imagine and it's because we're, we're writing the playbook as we go. And a lot of cases in, you know, food distribution or manufacturing a lot of these things, these industries that have been around and have had that technology backing and funding for, you know, significantly longer than vacation rentals have. It's it's a different atmosphere there. But I feel like, you know, the entrepreneurial side of vacation rentals is still developing in so many ways that it's, it's still a learn as you go type business that, you know, really, I think the managers that are going to excel, they're going to focus on brand and guest experience, and then processes and through that the professionalization that comes from processes to, you know, really streamline you know, what that experience is for guess?

Jen Ford:

Yeah, I think, you know, it's interesting, because I think, when you think about consolidation, I, I don't think it's going to be, everything gets consolidated under one. And if I compare it to the hotel industry, for example, my last big trip before the pandemic, I took my family to Poland. And we did a mix, we stayed in hotels, we were not staying very long. And each location we went to, but we did a mix of boutique hotels. And then we did like one or two Marriott type, you know, a big name hotel. And to me like there's still a time when I want the name brand, where I know really what I'm going to get. And then there's other times where I prefer the boutique, a little bit more local feeling a little bit, you know, you more unique, right. And so I think that I think there's room for everyone in the vacation rental space. And this is where I always say it is important to know who you are and to know what it is that you offer and how you differentiate. That's very important where and that's where Brandon comes in Alex, I think is is really being clear on what you offer and what that brand is. And so I think there's going to be room for everybody. There are going to be some PMS who want to get out and they're happy for their company to be acquired, of course, but I think there's going to be people who want to stay fiercely independent. And I think that's okay, too. I definitely think it can work. And so I think what it comes down to is giving choice to the consumer. Right? Yeah, there, I think. I think there are times where you are on things. And times when you want something different. It might may feel someone feel better to know the brand of, you know, that's overall homes. But at the end of the day, we have a unique product, right? Like every home in itself is unique. When you look for vacation rental, it's a different process and looking for hotel, you're actually like looking at the bedding and the room configuration, and you're looking at things that are all kind of unique to that home. But I think if I, if I take a step back, you know, it's not really about consolidation or being independent. And I just look what I think a big opportunity is it does go to that professionalization, or just certain standards, right, I feel like to bring more guests in who are used to staying in hotels, I think there are certain standards that can help elevate all vacation rentals, you know, and it's just things like the way you enter the home, the type of bedding, you offer the starter amenities around, you know, soaps and conditioners and all the little things right, like, I do think if we can have some sort of like industry industry standard, where you know, you're going to at least have this when you go, I think that would be beneficial for the industry.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely. I would love to see everyone go to the full white comforter sheets, on the beds, like hotels have done right. And I think that would be a great standardization that it's a big financial endeavor for companies to do that. And I know, some some have been, especially with COVID that from a sanitary standpoint, that is something that somehow are now pursuing, but it'll be interesting to see, as years go on how many, you know, move up to that. But yeah, I think at the end of the day, guests are going to book with brands and companies that they know and they like right and that's you look at Marriott I mean they've added vacation rentals because they know they they don't have any but they have an audience that is interested in them. A condo world we've done the same thing. We have vacation rentals in North Myrtle Beach, we added a resort portfolio in Myrtle Beach and other areas because we knew we had guests that had demand for that type of product. But what where do you see what what are your predictions for what's going to happen with the Marriott's and the Hilton's and the other hotel brands that haven't yet gotten into vacation rentals? What do you think's gonna happen on that side of things?

Jen Ford:

I think I'll be surprised if they don't get involved in some way. I think I just saw an article recently and I can't remember how many 10s of 1000s of properties Marriott now has but it's obviously grown a lot in a short amount of time and they seem pretty bullish on it. So I'll be surprised if, if others don't get involved. That said it feels like Marriot has been by far the most successful so you No, do they have a secret sauce or somebody's going to come up with a different way of approaching it and getting into the market? So that'll be interesting to see.

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, lexicon we're working with Marriot to onboard properties now, and they are being very aggressive. And you right, they're being bullish about it, they I think they, they recognize that their bonvoy membership is going to be their key to really getting people to sign up and also stay, I think they're going to be people who maybe were reticent to stay in vacation rentals will now give it a try, because they can use their points. So I think that the other groups will get into it, this year is going to be telling you I think for Marriott to see what they can really actually convert and put into vacation rentals that are on their platform, versus a Marriott guest who's left Marriott to go stay with, you know, XYZ company within a within a community or like a condo world, within a market. So it's really interesting to see what they're doing. And they've been absolutely great to work with. And I think that the downside of it is when you have companies that are that large, and their hotels, and the standards are so easy, that they think by giving their standards of hotels to vacation rentals, that's going to be easy, too. But, you know, to the point that everything is unique within vacation rentals, it's not it's not as scalable as I think they thought it was gonna be coming into the markets.

Jen Ford:

Yeah, I mean, I think this is part of why it looks like it should be easy on the outside,

Alex Husner:

right? Yeah. Yeah, every single property

Jen Ford:

is unique. Yeah. And, you know, I think this is where I don't know what the standard should be in the industry. Right. But then kind of my point about, you know, when people book I don't know about you, it's still sometimes when I book a property for my family, and I, there's still that pit in my stomach of like, is it going to be okay, when we get there? And, you know, I think if the more we can lessen that feeling of, of anxiety that sometimes it's tiny, it's tiny, right? Like they, you know, but they're still sometimes it's that feeling. And so I think the more we can do to build trust, so that guests are super excited and blown away when they open that front door, I think the better.

Annie Holcombe:

Absolutely, absolutely. So I think one of the things we talked about was having a guiding force to drive you forward. And I think I don't remember, I don't think I wrote the the quote down correctly. But you talked about this, going back to your HomeAway days, and things that just kind of drove you moves you forward and helped you find that comfort to lean into scary situations. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Jen Ford:

Yeah, you know, I think, what I look at what has I feel differentiated my career, it has been my willingness to take on new roles or new challenges or projects that I don't know whether or not whether or not I'm going to be successful, I really don't know. But when I jump in, what I find is that these are the times that I have to stretch myself and grow. And so in the end, they're really the most rewarding and valuable experiences that I've had. So I would say, you know, looking for things that are uncomfortable, and taking them on and I know, you know, I think I think people say well, I just don't know, I'm not comfortable with that. And I get it. It's not comfortable. You have to do things that scare you. But I think the more you're you're able to live with that ambiguity of not knowing the better off you will be, I think, you know, we did talk about the fact that changes, the one thing we can count on is the constant. So we know things will change. And I think this is the benefit of getting older and just having lived longer and experience a lot of things. But, you know, the reality is, even when you make it to senior positions, it's not like you know, all the answers you still don't know. But you're more comfortable with ambiguity and making a decision and not knowing whether or not it's going to work out you're and I think part of it is, yes, you have experience and wisdom and other experiences that you're drawing from. But you also know that most of the time it works out. It just does. And you might it might you might make a wrong decision and have to pivot. But it finds a way to work out and I think you know, I think that's key to remember is you're not going to have all the answers. There's no 100% guarantee on anything. It's okay to make mistakes. You learn from them, you move on you adjust, it's okay. And so I think you know, I think especially for women who often want to be 100% Sure, before they go do something I really encourage them to do it when they're much less sure and to learn from those experiences and to be more sure the next time and not because they are sure the answer is the right one but because they feel comfortable that it's gonna work out.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. And I think you're so right on that. And that's such a, like connect the dots type of mindset that we've been noticing with all the guests that we've had recently, the women guests like yourself, we have Viread Schwartz from guest he on recently I like calimary. And everybody's kind of saying that same thing, I think it's such an important message for for women and men and industry to understand is that, I mean, your life is about building up those confidence, creating situations that you can remember back on that, you know, if you're applying for a new job, or taking on a role that you haven't previously done, think back to the last time you did something like that, and it worked out and you made it through, right. So it's like you have this catalogue of experiences that you can remember and recall to kind of pull you further but yeah, I think that's, that's just as a trend that we keep hearing. And I love it. I think that's such a great message.

Jen Ford:

And I think, you know, one of the other things is, it might not work out how you thought it would work out. Right, right. But it still worked out, you just learned something different or had a different outcome than you thought. I mean, for example, going back to my own career, I thought I was going to go work at Snap Kitchen for a long time, I was really excited to work with a PE firm that was invested in the company. But actually, I learned different things. And what I thought I was going to learn, I thought it was really going to be about this new industry in relationships, but really what I was learning was, how to be a CFO, you know, and so then I was able to take that to my next role. So, you know, it didn't work out exactly how I expected but there was still a lot to learn, and it was still a huge amount of growth. Right. So I think part of it is just how we want our mindset is about what that experience was and how worthwhile it it was to you.

Alex Husner:

Yeah. And you can teach skill you can't teach well, right at the end of the day. So I mean, you might not have all the criteria that a job might have or role. Sorry. But you know, at the end of the day, it nobody does. I mean, you don't it's pretty rare that you're if you have all the criteria of the job that you're applying for a role that you're taking, probably means that you're not reaching high enough. I mean, it's like you have to kind of check yourself of there should be some things that you're not sure sure of yet. Because those are those moments of growth.

Jen Ford:

Yeah, I think everybody like nobody knows it all on day one. So you're not alone in that. I think that's really important. So one of the things that helped me so I'm a recovering perfectionist, I will admit that my household, I was like the kid who wanted harmony. And I would, you know, I was always trying to get good grades, and I read books on the weekend. And that was my my life. And I wanted everything to be perfect. And so that really didn't serve me well, and especially into adulthood. And one of the things that helped me change my mindset was a book, which is actually called mindset. It's by Carol Dweck, I don't know if either of you have read it. It's actually a really skinny little book that's not that long. But it talks about a fixed mindset, and a growth mindset. And in a fixed mindset. People believe that abilities are innate, you either have them or you don't. Whereas in a growth mindset, the focus is on developing your abilities. And so that book was hugely helpful for me and seeing the learn behaviors I had around, thinking I had to be perfect. And if I wasn't perfect at something right away, I was never going to be good at it. And really changing my focus to that journey of getting better and improving myself and maybe never being the best. But but growing. And so that book really helped me it actually is really great for parenting and managing as well, because a lot of the same philosophies apply to other circumstances. And so I you know, that is, I think, a book that I recommend everybody read because it really, I think helps you sometimes understand when you're getting stuck in a certain way of thinking.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, definitely check that out, I think mentioning it.

Annie Holcombe:

So the one thing that you said, I did write down that you and I just really summed it up nicely here, but that if you embrace change, more opportunities are going to come your way. And Alex and I have found just with us putting putting it out there that we were even interested in doing a podcast, it opened up doors, conversations and connections with people that we would never have had the opportunity to meet. So great opportunities. Some of them we turned down some of them we've fully embraced like the one that a women's conference. So yeah, I really I really love that. And I think your story of just your trajectory where you thought you were going to be and where you ended up are It's so wonderful to see and that you've just you embraced it, every little opportunity that came that came your way. But we're at kind of a wrapping up point and I know we gave you a couple of questions that we like to ask our guests and one of the ones that I wanted to ask Who is someone that you deeply admire

Jen Ford:

and why? Yeah. So I think I admire a lot of people. And I think I can find somebody to admire and almost anyone, but I would say one person I've admired for a long time is Sara Blakely. So she is the founder of Spanx. And she built an amazing company, which she actually bootstrapped. Yeah, Her story's incredible, has an incredible story. And I would be lying if I didn't say that. I have a couple of pairs of Spanx myself. Not so much about her business, what I really admire about her. And this is from the perspective of someone, like I said, who really was focused on being perfect for a long, long time. She puts her failures out there, she is really encouraging. And I think she learned it from her parents. I did not learn to fail from my parents, I learned that you needed to do things correctly. And so and by the way, they're not bad people. It's just that they're doctors. And so if their work if they screw up,

Alex Husner:

it's right. Yeah, that makes sense. I never

Jen Ford:

had did this. But she said her dad would come home every day and say what you fail at today, and I thought, What a great question. But what she does is literally, like, last week, she posted a video on Instagram, where she had forgotten to cut the tag off of her snowsuit. So she was out skiing, and like for sale tags, like in the breeze behind her purse it for everyone to see. Right, I was gonna do a video recording and she put on a shirt, or she grabbed a shirt, she got to the video recording puts it on. Well, she loves them. She worked with it before the pandemic she couldn't zip it. Tapes herself walking around with like a gaping hole in the

Alex Husner:

back. Because oh my gosh,

Jen Ford:

I just love that she puts those things out there. Because it's helped me to not take myself so seriously and not be focused on this idea of perfection is walls. Yeah. And it's you know, so I think, like I said, I've done a lot of work to try to move my goal from that to more of the journey and the growth and just becoming a better version of me whatever that looks like. And I think she's a great example of that.

Alex Husner:

Trying to look up my notes, I went to the TEDx growth con a couple years ago in Miami, and she spoke and also her husband, just Jesse Itzler spoke, and they were both incredible. I mean, completely different kinds of people. But it was awesome. Let's see,

Annie Holcombe:

I did see her recently post something about how she had gotten her vanity plates for her car. And she thought it would be great to have Spanx on the back of her car. And so yeah, like going Oh, you like pulling up alongside her and saying, so you want me to say thank you. probably wasn't the best marketing tool. But yeah. Yeah. But you know, everybody makes everybody makes mistakes. So what a great yeah, I admire anybody that's willing to put their flaws out there. I mean, I think that that's it humanizes the conversation.

Alex Husner:

You know, one of the one of the quotes I had written down from her was, if you don't have a seat at the table, make one I love that. I love that one, too, I've always kept with me that, you know, just because you don't have it now doesn't mean that you won't, but show up every day and push yourself and get those opportunities. And you will make a seat for yourself at the table and pull that seat all the way up. You know, I mean, lean into what the opportunities are. And it's the more you put yourself out there, like you said, the more opportunities are going to continue to come to you. But if you stay in the background and constantly think that you don't have enough or you're not qualified to do something, none of those opportunities are going to be there. So

Jen Ford:

yeah, one of the things I always tell my kids is that if you have 10 opportunities to ask a question, and you don't take any of them. You don't look very smart. 100% of the time. Yeah, exactly. 10 opportunities. And one time, it's kind of a silly question. So you look super smart. 90% of the time. Yeah, right. Like if you don't, it's just the those are wasted opportunities. And I think go for it. It's it's okay to ask a silly question. You help somebody else in that room? I guarantee it. Yeah. Oh, absolutely.

Alex Husner:

Absolutely. So my question for you, Jen, what's next on your agenda? I mean, know, what do you want to do with the next part of your career? And what's on the horizon?

Jen Ford:

Yeah, no, it's a great question. And I mean, I feel fortunate that I'm in a position right now, where I'm taking a break, I've actually taken life breaks twice before. The first two times I took time off to travel when I had, like work breaks. And I highly recommend it. It's really great time to re energize and recharge and be excited about your next step in your career. But I would say, you know, at this point, I'm, it's not I'm not taking the time so much to travel. I'm really taking it to be very intentional about what I do next. You know, I think I want to make sure that the next 20 years look how I want them to look and aren't just a continuation of the last 20 years, not that the last 20 were bad. I just want to make sure I'm heading in the direction that I really want to. So I, I'm taking time to really be intentional about writing down my values and what I want to do next, professionally, how I want to spend time with my family and making sure that they're a priority. And I'm actually because I actually struggle a little bit with to come up with like the right framework to do these things. I am working with a life coach on that. So I'm using resources to make sure that they're, I'm accountable to them in terms of the being intentional. But, you know, I think, I hope that my next steps professionally include taking my knowledge and helping other companies be successful, I was really energized at the Women's Conference, just talking to people who were starting companies or running companies, and I loved hearing about that. So I hope that I can help in some sort of advisory or board capacity to some of those companies, because I'm really excited about what I see out there. And so that's something that's on my agenda. And of course, you know, I'm sure there'll be another full time role for me sometime in the future, but hopefully not in the near term. And again, I say that because I think I need this time to sort of reset and be intentional about where I go from here.

Alex Husner:

Yeah, yeah. Well, we hope that you find the perfect opportunity, but that we don't lose you as an industry, right? Because you're incredibly talented participant and we just wish them the best for you going forward. So please keep us in the loop on what goes on. And, you know, best wishes for the new year. But thank you so much for being here with us today. We have enjoyed speaking with you and learning more about about you and you're just such a positive force within within the industry, even though you're outside right now you're on the sidelines. But we're excited to hopefully have you come back on the frontlines when you're when it's right. I hope

Jen Ford:

so. And thank both thanks to both of you for doing this. I think this is such a great way to educate people and, and expose new ideas in the industry. It's really great.

Alex Husner:

Thank you. Thank you. What's the best way for our listeners to contact you?

Jen Ford:

Probably through LinkedIn. Okay.

Alex Husner:

Awesome. We'll include a link to your profile in the show notes. Jen, again, thank you so much. We've truly enjoyed it. Best wishes for 2022

Annie Holcombe:

Yeah, thank you.

Alex Husner:

Awesome. Thanks, everybody. See you next time.

Jen Ford Profile Photo

Jen Ford

Chief Commercial Officer and CFO

Jen Ford is a seasoned executive with a background in e-commerce, retail, travel, and technology. During her career, Jen has worked in both public and private companies, from start-up to Fortune 100. She has led successful teams in a broad range of functions, including strategy, finance, investor relations, business intelligence, revenue management, and human resources. Notable roles include her position as Chief Commercial Officer & CFO at TurnKey Vacation Rentals (2nd largest VR property manager in the US), head of Finance at Snap Kitchen (an omni-channel, prepared food concept with 45 retail locations in three states), head of Investor Relations and a member of the IPO team at HomeAway ($3B+ market cap), and multiple overseas assignments in Europe and Asia with Dell. Jen has been active in the boardroom since 2015 and has experience leading audit and compensation committee discussions on behalf of management.
Jen is adept in scaling companies from early stages to maturity and has extensive experience guiding management teams on balancing growth and profitability, building critical operational infrastructure, and creating financial discipline. She has played a key role in helping start-ups gain traction through partnerships and has been a core member of the launch team for commercial agreements with Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Aramark (Snap Kitchen), and Marriott (TurnKey).
Jen has an extensive fund-raising history, having brought in more than $125M of equity and debt while in the CFO seat, in addition to the $750M raised while leading Investor Relations. She has been involved in more than 15 acquisitions, including HomeAway’s acquisition by Expedia for $3.9B and TurnKey’s acquisition by Vacasa, and has led due diligence and integration activities.
In 2019, Jen was awarded the Austin Woman Product Innovation Award and was a finalist for Austin’s CFO of the year. In 2018, she was recognized as one of Central Texas’ Most Influential Women by the Austin Business Journal.
Jen currently serves on the Advisory Board of CXO NOW and on the Steering Committee of the CFO Leadership Council.