What is your name, age, and location?
Amanda Telford, 42, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA.
What is your profession?
I am CEO of Menu Masters, LLC, an online subscription meal planning service.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I have a BA from Cornell University in Social Relations, which is an interdisciplinary major mixing Sociology, Psychology and Anthropology. Out of 12,000 some odd students, there were only 6 of us in this major – I think we were the ones who didn’t know what we wanted to be when we grew up. I also have a M.Ed from UMass-Amherst with a concentration in Secondary English Education (ie I’m supposed to be a High School English teacher).
What was your first job?
My first job was as an ice cream scooper at our local ice cream shop, Bedford Farms. Once out of college, I worked three jobs: at a bakery, at Williams-Sonoma (probably my favorite job ever) and as a Technical Writer. Kind of shows I still didn’t know what I wanted to do even when I graduated!
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
After growing up in a home where my father cooked dinner but didn’t really know how (he’s a great cook now), and then coming home at the end of the work day and making the same 5 meals over and over, I began to meal plan on the weekends so I could have a good tasting dinner, both quickly and without any thought.
When I decided to leave my job after 11 years in 2010, I knew I wanted to work for a small company or start my own. I like to be in the middle of all the pieces of a business and am such a Type A control freak that I wanted to see if my idea of running a business could actually come to fruition. And when I realized I was sending my own meal plans out to a list of people that had gotten so large that I started posting them on my personal website, I decided I wasn’t the only one dealing with the dinnertime dilemma. I could help solve that frustration at the end of the day for women who have done everything plus one during the day.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
In asking questions of subscribers both when they are current members and when they choose to leave, I learned that using the service was a change of lifestyle for our members, and it was a habit that had to be learned. I also realized that what we eat for dinner is as individual as what we wear each day – everyone’s end of the day is different. Some people have children who are here, there and everywhere, some people are training for their own sport or play in a band or whatever. So I created a 10-week meal planning training course to help guide people into learning the habit of thinking ahead – because that’s what meal planning really is. But the course takes things slowly, builds on itself and encourages interactions between participants for support and success.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
I have found recently that people appreciate that I am a woman entrepreneur that uses technology as my platform. I have found that in meeting one person, I am encouraged to speak to another and another, and encouraged to apply to programs that can help grow my business. It is somewhat an affirmative action reaction, but I have made some incredible contacts because of this chain reaction.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
One of the reasons I decided to leave my last job was that I felt that my work wasn’t being valued by some in the Executive management. The “soft” skills that were critical to the company during a period of change were not seen as important, even though it was because I was able to build relationships and trust that there wasn’t more upheaval. The absence of the negative and my role in that wasn’t recognized and I believe it is because I was a woman.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I don’t really have one specific person. I think I keep in the back of my head the idea that all the women who have started businesses or risen to the top of their field or just been successful in whatever their main role is have worked through issues and if I can’t say with full confidence that I have done everything I can to make something work, then I haven’t done enough. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: Women are like teabags. You don’t know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water. I like that and while I don’t search for hot water, I know if I get in it, I’ll be okay.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Network, network, network. Join as many woman-centered groups as you can because you’ll find an incredible support system there as well as resources you can tap easily. That doesn’t mean neglect the male-oriented events/groups, but by growing your network of women will open up a lot of options when you need them.
Amanda’s personal blog
Follow Menu Masters on Twitter
– Interview by Elena Rossini