Pivotter Series: Founder Erika Velazquez Alpern on Ambition, Setting Realistic Goals, and The Value of Long Walks

The Pivotter Series explores the themes of ambition, motivation, and productivity as experienced by high-performing women.

Erika Velazquez Alpern

Founder – Tactile, New York City

What are some of the most important things to know about you?

I started my career in the arts, initially dreaming of being a photojournalist and then heading down a curatorial path. In many ways, this creative foundation has informed my approach to marketing and communications. It is probably the reason that I LOVE a brainstorm and am happiest when I can work on a million creative projects at the same time. Also, a few fun facts to add...I am a native New Yorker, the oldest sibling of six, I just learned how to ride a bike, and when I was younger I was a singer.

What does ambition personally mean to you - what place does it have in your life?

Ambition is my driving force. It is what keeps me going, and it is probably why I currently have two full time jobs. I also think that some of my ambition is born out of a need. I come from a large family that has had some significant financial woes in the past decade. I am sure a part of my ambition is driven by the desire to be a support system to my family (and my awesome husband!)

Do you think our culture perceives “ambition” to be a dirty word for women? Why or why not?

    I do think that our society perceives ambition as a dirty word for women, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign has put a magnifying glass on the deep rooted misogyny that exists in the U.S. today. One of the main critiques that the GOP (and frankly the Sanders campaign) has had against her recently is that she “tries too hard.” This is a direct attack on her ambition. I hope that the more we shine a positive light on ambition, the more we can shift the dialogue.

    Please share one of your current, important goals (can be personal or work-related).  

      In terms of work, my main goal is for Tactile to inspire more inclusive spaces for women. 

      Why is this a goal and how did you realize it was something that you wanted to work on?What’s your plan for achieving it?

      I want to have a positive impact on the female leaders of tomorrow. I plan on achieving this by constantly staying focused on my mission as a company. For many startups, this can be hard. But the moment I lose a sense of my mission is the moment I stop having an impact. Tactically, my first step is really listening to the women that Tactile works with to understand what they need most. Additionally, I want to create a measurement framework that does measure impact since it’s such a nebulous word.


      What do you do if you are having a hard time defining goals?


      Great question! I actually find that I have a hard time setting realistic goals (as you can see from the question above, my goal is to fix a massive problem – a bit hard to measure and definitely not a S.M.A.R.T. goal) Usually, I really think about the mission of what I am doing, and then set goals based on how I can achieve the larger mission. From there I set actionable KPIs. For example, with Tactile my mission is to inspire more inclusive spaces. Therefore, my goal is to increase the # of successful female entrepreneurs, create more inclusive startup cultures, and raise awareness of workplace challenges. My KPIs for the first 6 months are to help 3 female-led startups hit their goals via marketing/PR, host 2 effective workshops for tech start-ups, and publish interviews with 10 women across industries.

      How do you stay motivated to fulfill your goals and sense of ambition, and what do you do when you get stuck?

        The concept of mission and purpose is what drives me to hit goals. Without a larger purpose for what I am doing, I find it hard to stay motivated. When I feel stuck, I try to think about why I am doing what I am doing, and it usually helps. I also am a big fan of taking very long walks. I find that almost anything can be cleared up by a walk across the Williamsburg bridge.

        What is one tool/trick/lifehack/resource/service do you use to stay productive?

          Lot’s of long walks! And walking meetings. I am also a fan of the train-ride to do list. Every morning on the train to work, I make a list of everything I want to accomplish. It allows me the hit the ground running when I walk into work.

          What activities do you do outside of your full-time gig (whether that’s work, parenting or something else)? How do you find time to do it? How does it make you more successful in your full-time gig?

            Tactile! But, when I am not doing Tactile or The New Republic, I spend time with my husband and it is the best re energizer I could imagine.
              What would you do with an extra 15 minutes a day?

              SO MUCH! I think those 15 minutes would go to brainstorming new ideas for Tactile. But in actuality, it would probably get devoured by my to do list (which I made on the train).