How Ban.do's Jen Gotch Designed Her Super-Sweet Job (and Brand)
Jen Gotch makes the internet—and the world—a more colorful place. The Ban.do founder is every bit as whimsical as the brand she created almost 10 years ago, but the path to getting where she is has been as squiggly as the party straws she sells by the dozen. Learn about her journey, straight from the entrepreneur herself.
What were you like as a teen?
I was totally different than who I am now and also exactly the same, if that makes any sense. I was definitely quite shy, so a lot of my thoughts and behaviors were much less public than they are now. I was creative, but hadn’t identified that as a skill that I could build a career upon. I loved hanging out with my friends, going to the beach, watching TV, and sneaking wine coolers. I cried a lot about guys and pimples.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
I wish I could have highlighted my strengths for myself and contextualized them in a way that would have given me more direction about who I could become as an adult. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy having a really swirly path to success; I guess I just wish it were about 10 years shorter.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
It was a long and winding road for sure. I was pre-law in college, and upon graduating decided that I actually didn’t want to be a lawyer. I went back to school for early childhood education, and then did a semester studying psychology. Nothing stuck. I made my way out to California from Florida, and that’s when I started to tap into my creative side.
I opened a small furniture business while also working as a manager at Pottery Barn. I wanted to be an actress for a second, took a class, and decided that also wasn’t for me. I learned about set decorating and worked my way into the film industry. I was the set decorator for Eminem’s first music video! Then I found photo styling, specifically food and prop styling. Finally, a career I really loved. I did that for over a decade, eventually designing sets, doing a bit of art direction, and ultimately working my way into becoming a photographer.
Then I combined my love for writing with my love for photography, and started blogging back in 2007. Somehow, all of this led me to create Ban.do with a friend who was also into styling and photography. It was not a straight line, but I learned a lot about myself, work ethic, and how I ultimately want to treat other people in a professional sense.
What's one thing you wish you had known then that you know now about having a career?
I wish I knew the insane amount of possible careers that were out in the world. I grew up before the internet and social media, so my worldview was a bit different.
What work advice do you have for teens or for young people just starting out?
I feel like in recent years working for free has gotten a bad rap, but I still think it is a great way to get exposed to different jobs when you don't have any experience. I worked a ton of jobs for free when I was figuring out what I wanted to do and they always led to paid work.
When you are figuring out what you want to do, it’s all about exposing yourself to experiences and people who will help shape and inform your decision-making about your career choice.