Paula Tompkins started her bootstrapped digital marketing venture in 1985. She has navigated massive industry level shifts, three significant downturns, and has managed to remain relevant. The company today does $20M+ in annual revenue.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Paula Tompkins: I was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. I was the first of my family to be college-educated. I went to Marshall University. It was a local university in my hometown. I graduated with a Business degree in 1974. My mother was a hairdresser. My father owned a shoe store. My father was a first generation Lebanese. My mother has a multi-generational Irish-English-Welsh background.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after college?
Paula Tompkins: I was recruited off campus by the Bank of New York. At that time, they were very interested in bringing in minorities and women to the work force. That was 1974. I joined their commercial lending training program and spent a year with college graduates that had come out of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. Here I was a young lady who had lived her entire life in West Virginia. It was a dramatic change for me.
Living in New York city for the first six months was really miserable. Every day, I wanted to go home. Going from a town of 60,000 to to a city of 8 million was a bit of a shock. I was with some of my friends in Central Park on July 4, 1975 when Bernstein was conducting the 1812 Overture. The fireworks were going off and I said, “I’m going to beat this city.” I went on to be very successful working on Wall Street. I went to work for 3M.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do at Wall Street?
Paula Tompkins: Commercial lending training. Then I went to work for 3M. I decided that banking wasn’t my interest. It was a little bit too conservative for me. I liked being out. I joined 3M and was the first woman in the original division of 3M – the industrial abrasives division. My territory was the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and Long Island. I went around to all sorts of factories in the New York metro area. I saw everything from F15s to baby grand pianos being manufactured. It was quite interesting. Then I decided to go West and I took on a job with General Electric. I moved to Silicon Valley in 1979. I worked there until I went to work for my first startup.
Sramana Mitra: What year was that?
Paula Tompkins: 1981.