The Insider: Christina Wallace
Eons before she founded her first startup, Christina Wallace had a career at the Metropolitan Opera. Yes: whoa. So what do sopranos and CEOs have in common? “They both have this idea that you can create something from nothing by being really innovative and scrappy,” she explains. She went on to launch Quincy Apparel—she talks very openly and honestly about its failure and how she handled that—and BridgeUp: STEM, an educational initiative at the American Museum of Natural History. These days, she’s the vice president of Bionic, which gives Fortune 500 companies tips on how to grow smarter, and she co-hosts a Forbes podcast on the intersection of tech and creativity. It’s called The Limit Does Not Exist, a title borrowed from Mean Girls. Please accept that as further proof that you need to know everything about her.
Q: What principles of startups should we all apply to our actual lives?
A: “Always having a learning lens to be able to adjust or pivot based on new information. Many high-achieving women succeeded in the school model, where a teacher tells you exactly what is expected of you, and you deliver exactly that thing. Out in the real world, it’s nothing like that. So I try to have that more adaptive approach to my own career path or even just to find out what makes me happy. It’s a huge advantage.”
Q: It seems like failure is an inevitable aspect of startups—and, hey, life!—but that doesn’t make it any more fun to endure. When it happens, how do you deal?
A: “My startup failed. Just straight-up ran out of money. And I had employees, and they had kids, and those kids were on our healthcare plan. Suddenly, their parents were unemployed. I crawled into bed and didn’t get up for about three weeks. I watched all seven seasons of The West Wing and ordered Seamless and saw no one and went nowhere. And then, at the end of those three weeks, I thought, ‘Okay, you’re still here. Now you’ve got to figure out what comes next. So get up and put on your big-girl pants.’
I had to reach out to my friends, my network, the people who cared about me very much and ask for help. And I’m not very good at that. I’m very good at helping others. I’m less good at being vulnerable in the times that I need help. And I wasn’t just asking for a pep talk. I had to say to people, ‘I need your real reflection back to me on what I’m good at and what I’m not so great at. Help me figure out what do I do next?’ I didn’t have a boss when I was running my own company. I didn’t have anyone giving me that regular feedback, and I was really at a loss as to where to go. So, I would say recovery is self-care and some introspection. I try not to wallow. Get back to being a whole person, which is wonderful and necessary. And after that’s over, you’ve got to be willing to take action.”
Q: What are your morning must-reads?
A: “I start with Lenny Letter and The Skimm—always. I love hitting up The Information for really thoughtful and fact-based tech journalism, which sometimes can feel lacking in other places. And I’m a huge politics junkie, so Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight are the bible. I feel pretty great about the mix in my Twitter feed these days, too.”
Q: Ooh, good Twitter mix for sure! Who should we be following over there that we don’t yet know about?
A: “Sarah Conley is my go-to for fashion and beauty inspiration. She’s incredible. She’s my style guru. I follow Alex Cavoulacos from The Muse. She’s got really great productivity hacks. She makes me believe that I am going to get all this done today. And then probably Hunter Walk. He’s the founder of Homebrew, a VC firm, and he just shares really smart observations and links about tech.”
Q: Tell me about the last mind-blowing meal you ate. As in, heart-eyes-emoji-level good.
A: “We went to Black Barn in Flatiron for my boyfriend’s mom’s birthday. The cocktails were incredible. The scallops were to die for. It’s not even fall yet, but my favorite autumn food is butternut squash. They did this ravioli stuffed with it in, and I was like, ‘Bring on September! Bring me my cashmere. I’m ready.’”
Q: What do you buy whenever you’re at a drugstore?
A: “Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream—I’m obsessed with it. I’ve been using it for 18 years, and it’s under $20. And I’m really bad at the birthday card, but the ‘thinking of you’ cards are my jam, so I try to stock up. [Ed. note: Good options here!] And I’ll buy chocolate-covered pretzels at the checkout aisle. Any kind is good, but Duane Reade’s in-house line sells them in single-serving packaging, which I’m so thankful for. Don’t say there are three servings in a tiny bag of trail mix. It’s wrong.”