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Lauren Jarvis

Lauren Jarvis

Director of business development, Vevo

Lauren Jarvis Sees the Future of Music in Videos

The director of business development at Vevo explains how aerospace and tech consulting prepared her to make strategic sense of a transforming industry.

by Jen Swetzoff

Lauren Jarvis, director of business development at Vevo — a global brand that attracts more than 18 billion views to its music videos each month — is young, successful, and full of surprises. It turns out she has a near-photographic memory, for example, but that fact slips out only while she’s describing what talent she’d really like to have.

“I’d love to be able to perform like the artists we feature on Vevo,” she says. “When I was in junior high, rehearsing for school musicals, I found it easy to remember lyrics due to a unique visual memory — almost photographic — but I can’t play instruments and I can’t perform in that all-out insane way. I wish I could do that.”

Fortunately for her, and for the business world, it seems like she can do almost anything else. The daughter of a journalist and a lawyer, Jarvis grew up in Minneapolis, and received her bachelor’s degree in politics and art history from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. After graduation, she worked as an analyst in the antitrust division at the U.S. Department of Justice, reviewing mergers and acquisitions in the aerospace and defense industry.

“I loved the job,” she says. “As a government worker, I could call up any company that we were investigating and request to speak to anyone, even the CEO. It was fascinating to get a big-picture, behind-the-curtain look at the market dynamics.” But after two years, Jarvis realized that she didn’t see herself as a regulator. She was more interested in the deal making itself, which suggested she transition to the business side, and she yearned for more international experience.

“My dad actually suggested management consulting, which I had never considered before,” she says. “But I started researching the top firms, and Booz Allen Hamilton’s aerospace and defense practice in DC appealed to me most because there was some connection to my prior experience. I bought a guidebook to provide me with the insider’s perspective and taught myself to do case interviews, but I still think the team at Booz & Company took a risk on me. I’m so grateful they did.”

Jarvis worked with Booz & Company for more than five years, doing so well that the firm sponsored her MBA at London Business School. She interned at YouTube over the summer and during her second year of school, and then returned to Booz & Company as part of the media and technology practice before moving on to her current role at Vevo in 2014. In the short time she’s been with the company, jointly owned by Sony, Universal, Google, and Abu Dhabi Media Company, she has helped relaunch its mobile apps with curated playlists, hosts, a personalized feed, and a new capability that can play videos vertically.

Today, Jarvis lives in New York City’s West Village and works in Times Square. During a recent conversation with Strategy&, she discussed her passion for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), travel, and taking risks.

What was it like to transition from a government job to the corporate world?

In less than a month, at 24 years old, I went from being a civil servant with a broken chair to buying a business-class ticket to Japan. Literally, about three weeks after I joined Booz & Company, I went to Tokyo on my first assignment, and our team did a risk assessment project related to building a regional jet. It was absolutely fascinating. Around that same time, early in my consulting career, I also worked on some exciting projects related to ISR — intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. These required a deep dive into DARPA, the government budget that supports research and development. A lot of the drones, robotics, machine learning, and advanced artificial intelligence that we’re now seeing proliferate commercially came out of that research and investment.

What did you learn as a consultant that remains relevant to your work today?

I think the ability to quickly identify a problem, structure it, and figure out how to solve it is almost like finding a needle in a haystack. But because I worked with such incredibly intelligent people in consulting, I learned how to do that kind of fast internal analysis. That’s what I find that I use most today. It’s like having a sixth sense for identifying where the break points are in something.

One of the other things I liked most about consulting was being pushed to do things that weren’t necessarily my natural strengths. That can be scary and hard, but it’s ultimately rewarding in terms of growing as a person and as a professional.

Can you share an example?

I had a big “aha” moment when I worked on an inventory rebalancing project in Phoenix. Our client was a leading aero-engine manufacturer and had a big buildup of supplies after the economic downturn. I was asked to build a complex safety stock model, at the parts level, that had more than 100,000 lines. For me, that was extremely difficult, because my analytical and modeling skills weren’t as strong as those of some of my colleagues. But, with the support of an important mentor, I took on the challenge and ultimately did a good job at it, which was gratifying. I surmounted a wall in how I perceived my own skills and abilities.

Why did you decide to move on?

I developed incredible skills at Booz & Company, but I knew that eventually I wanted to apply them as an operator — growing and supporting a single business — and music was always a passion of mine. So when I saw an opportunity at Vevo, I just went for it. I feel very fortunate that it worked out, and Booz & Company certainly helped me get here.

Tell me a bit about your role at Vevo.

I’m part of the business development team, which focuses on corporate development, business strategy, and partnerships. We engage in and structure agreements around our connected devices and television platforms. Along with our legal team, we also negotiate and execute our content licensing agreements with the major and indie record labels. My team does a lot of cross-functional work for the CEO, reviewing and building strategy. Most recently, this has involved user acquisition, growth, and engagement. We think about how to build up the Vevo platform separate from our distribution on YouTube, which is how most people know us today. We also strike deals on behalf of our business units, for example, with content delivery networks (CDNs), ad servers, and data science providers that support the back end of our product.

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

I love working on strategic growth initiatives, thinking about how to best build up our users. I’m fascinated by the evolution of social media and messaging, how these two platforms are serving to completely reshape distribution — not only for content but also for commerce and services online.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

The music industry is a bifurcated market, and no one knows exactly what’s coming next. This means that we need to be focused and efficient, while also remaining nimble so that we can change course quickly.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I often have breakfast with someone in the industry outside of Vevo, then I get into the office around 9:30 or 10 a.m. I have meetings every day with other teams and external stakeholders — split between new business and partner management of things in motion — as well as internal strategy meetings. I still create decks, which is always a reminder of my time at Booz & Company. I think it could go without saying that I send and receive a ton of emails.

What are some of the coolest parts about working for a music company?

We have concerts in the office with emerging musicians, and those are always exciting. We’re best known for the content we distribute for international (or global) pop stars, but we also have relationships with many independent artists across genres, and it’s exciting to watch that part of our business grow. In terms of product, I’m proud of our new mobile app, which features more personalized options and offers an experience that’s unique to each user, curated to each person’s specific preferences.

How would people closest to you describe you?

I think they’d say I’m a go-getter. When I set out to do something, I get it done.

Where do you find yourself happiest?

I love my apartment. It’s in the West Village, and it’s small, but I recently redesigned it, and there’s a blue jay that’s been coming to my window lately. I feel at home and at total peace when he’s there.

What else makes you happy?

I love to travel, which is partly why I decided to get my MBA in London. Some of my favorite places are Brazil, Greece, Turkey, and a little island called Vis in Croatia. It’s magical. I also love exploring New York, and I’m passionate about art, so I especially enjoy spending time at museums and galleries.

What’s your greatest extravagance?

Coffee.

What’s something you could live without?

The noise in New York City.

What’s your greatest fear?

Not living up to my potential.

How do you expect the music industry to evolve?

I think some consolidation is going to happen and then we’ll see more options for personalization and premium services — whether that’s through subscriptions, or new types of content offerings like bundles, or even having more creator and commerce elements that get built into the music experience.

What's next for you?

I’m excited about my work at Vevo, and I love being part of the technology and startup community. Over the long term, I’d like to work with even earlier-stage companies and eventually be an investor.

What advice would you give people starting out in their career?

None of the big decisions you’re faced with are ever as big a deal as you think they are at the time. So dive in, go for it, take risks.

Jen Swetzoff is a freelance writer and editor. Previously, she worked with Strategy& as the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

Effective November 2016, Lauren Jarvis has moved on from Vevo and now serves as the director of original content licensing at Spotify.

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