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[PODCAST] You are the sum of who you surround yourself with

Data Stories: Leaders at Work is a weekly podcast brought to you by Audiense. Hosted by Rahul Jerome, founder of, the series captures personal anecdotes and career highlights from some of the most talented and brightest minds in the research and insights industry.

On the sixteenth episode of the Data Stories: Leaders at Work podcast, we talk to Jessica Thomas, founder, and consultant at Ten Bear Group. She first talks about how she changed her degree while in school because she realized she could only do but so much in a field she wasn’t truly passionate about. If you’re not passionate about your work, you can’t give it everything you’ve got, Jessica says. Her team is made up of consultants, but their key service is creating digital insights reports through social listening tools.

Kicking things off, Jessica discusses how although she was very good at sales, she ultimately didn’t feel fulfilled. She had the hungry attitude necessary for sales, but some key experiences changed her attitude. After moving to Spain to take a sales leadership role, she was greatly influenced by the values of the Spanish people, and how they approach work. She speaks specifically to the culture of working in Spain, where there is a greater onus placed on the work-life balance. She realized that to achieve a proper work-life balance, she’d need to find work that she enjoyed more—something closer to feeling like it wasn’t work. And for Jessica, that meant getting out of sales.

Ironically, Jessica would go on to start her own business, which she found is ultimately about sales. But Jessica talks about this time differently. She says that her projects as a freelancer took on a different meaning than her traditional sales roles because she really believed in them. Not that she didn’t believe in her sales before, but that she could see the value of her services, allowing her to get fully behind them.

Building up a business while on the road

After deciding to travel Europe for a period with her partner, Jessica was able to kickstart her own freelance insights consulting career. During this time, Jessica and her partner built up her business while on the road, which presented its own set of challenges. But once she realized that what she was doing was actually worth more than the lowest asking price, she started to charge more for her services and grew the company. It was from this experience that she formed the Ten Bear Group.

The significance of Ten Bear comes from Jessica’s love of physics. She explains that the great bear constellation in the night sky, which points to the North Star, is made up of ten stars. And as a team of consultants helping point people to greater insights about their own data, she felt it only made sense.

Jessica mentions Facebook groups as a key tool for gaining insights from other data analysts. She points to this as a key reason that working remotely has even been possible for her. Jessica also mentions her old manager at Brandwatch, Kate Franklin, for helping to establish a sense of independence and the confidence to think freely about her entrepreneurial goals.

Don’t undersell your own responsibility to grow your skills

One thing Jessica speaks to at length is the idea that you really cannot undersell your own responsibility to grow your skills. She talks about spending time at places like Udemy and CodeAcademy to learn skills beyond what she knew at work. It’s important to realize it’s not really on your employer to ensure your skills are growing—that’s on you. And there’s no time like the present. You really can’t improve if you aren’t putting yourself around people who know more than you.

If money was no option, Jessica sees herself owning a dog fostering home somewhere in Portugal. She likely wouldn’t do anything related to data at all, ironically. And at some point, she’d like to pursue consumer data for good, helping charities and nonprofits to make the most of their data analytics.

Finally, if you want to make a move, you need to be proactive. Teach yourself all that you can, and don’t wait. Speak to the people in the industry and do everything you can to understand the companies. You can’t expect companies to do that work for you—so get after it!

The full version of the podcast with Jessica Thomas can be listened here: