Nicole Wright started her gig at our Austin HQ in February of this year…as our events manager. As you can imagine, this was about as unfortunate as timing gets. But surprisingly, Nicole has settled into a newly-adapted role that’s been unquestionably essential to our continued operations throughout 2020.
When she joined the team, she hit the ground running while preparing for a March full of industry events. By mid-February, there were whispers aplenty across the industry about the state of in-person events. As the host city for many industry events, the first Chicago diagnosis was significant.
“We were somewhat aware of what was happening. Though we weren’t sure how bad it was going to get,” she says. “We had to get a lot of ducks in a row for these events. We were supposed to be exhibitors. It was a busy month in our world,” she remembers.
In her second week on the job, CEO Karen Baker asked Nicole casually what she had heard about the pandemic, so Nicole started researching. Having received just a few days of training, Nicole immediately flew into research mode, quickly becoming our resident COVID expert.
“I just spent my days researching it. I found a webinar from The Mayo Clinic. We quickly realized it might be something big. After tons of research and so many calls, we decided to pull out of everything, pretty early on too. I thought everyone must be upset with me, thinking ‘the new girl’s coming in and canceling all our stuff,” she laughs.
Events Go Remote
The team’s last day in the office was March 13. After that, everything was remote. Fortunately, Nicole never had to feel uncertain about her job security.
“Karen was super amazing through all of it. We connected pretty fast and I kind of became an interim HR person during the COVID/remote working phase. She saw my project management skills to utilize in other areas, so she asked me to temporarily project manage the marketing team with all the new stuff they were taking on,” Nicole says. Beyond lending a hand to Marketing, Nicole was key in procuring and organizing work-from-home supplies and processes.
Soon after the transition, Karen and an ecommerce partner, Kelly Vaughn, launched a new initiative. Offline 2 On (O2O), is a website aimed at helping merchants take their businesses online. The site was born of a Slack community for international ecommerce experts to volunteer their time and skills. Nicole lent a hand by project managing the nearly 1,800 users into marketing, engineering, PR and leadership teams.
“It was lots of excitement and lots of chaos. We helped many businesses get online, all the platforms volunteering were offering free services. Things were happening so fast. By late April, we’d made so much progress and we tied a bow on the project.” It now exists as a resource center for businesses.
Organization for Organizations
Nicole’s had a penchant for organizing and producing events for as long as she can remember. In high school, she was heavily involved in as many clubs and honor societies as she could find. She was president of a club that hosted volunteer events, which is where she says she found her passion for producing events that make other people happy.
As a kid, Nicole pictured a future in architecture. “When I’d play the Sims, I played it to build the houses, never for anything else.” While designing houses never panned out, designing experiences certainly has.
Nicole earned a degree in Hospitality Management from the University of South Carolina. Laughing, she insists her school is the “real USC.” After college, she went on to work in events at a few different companies. Working at Rooster Teeth, a large multimedia production company, Nicole helped produce an annual 20,000 person convention among dozens of other events.
As a Philadelphia native, Nicole’s subtle accent occasionally comes through as she speaks. “Life was good in Philly,” she says, “but I keep moving further and further south to get away from the cold.”
As we talk, Nicole talks dreamily of the food she longs for from home.
“I miss my Philly foods…hoagies, great Italian food, better bread, better baked goods. Everyone really just says it’s the different water that makes it so good,” she says, her distinct pronunciation of “water” charmingly apparent.
During the days Nicole isn’t organizing the world around her, she lives a pleasant life in Austin with her boyfriend and eight conveniently close college friends who live in Austin. Hiking, sunshine, swimming and walks have kept her busy during quarantine, but she’s holding out for the ultimate quarantine activity: a dog.
“I suggest the idea of a dog boyfriend every night nowadays,” she says. (For what it’s worth, she’s got the endorsement of her company on the dog front.)
Looking forward, Nicole says she’s most excited to get back to normal life, planning in-person events and meeting up with actual people.”
“I’ve never gone this long not being in person at an event,” she says, “there’s just a different energy with in-person events than virtual ones.”