How Pixvana COO Rachel Lanham plotted a career course along the frontiers of technology


Rachel Lanham. (Pixvana Photo)

At a glance, Rachel Lanham’s career appears to have zigzagged, moving from digital advertising to optimizing healthcare to the latest in virtual reality: XR, or extended reality.

But there is a theme that connects the seemingly disparate moves.

“The common thread for me is leveraging frontier technologies to solve business problems,” Lanham said.

Put another way: She loves the bleeding edge of technology for shaking up traditional approaches.

In 1999, Lanham joined Avenue A, which later became aQuantive. It was early days for the Seattle-based online advertising company, and for the sector in general. At the time, online marketing budgets were a tiny line item for companies, but Avenue A leaders set a goal of growing that niche to 15 percent of budgets.

“We all thought that was crazy,” she said. But the company took off, and was a leader in digital marketing. The business sold to Microsoft for $6.3 billion in 2007 — a record at the time for the Redmond-based software giant.

The experience gave her the chance to witness the evolution of a startup. “It let me see a roadmap of how that can be done,” Lanham said. She saw leadership “being bold and doing what might not seem to be possible.”

The Pixvana team. Chief Operating Officer Rachel Lanham is in the back row, fifth from the left, and CEO Forest Key is in the back row, far right. (Pixvana Photo)

She was able to apply that knowledge to her next endeavor: co-founding Health123, a digital platform that sought to optimize healthcare. The company, launched in 2012, had numerous successes, bringing on large customers. But the founders eventually realized that their efforts to disrupt the sector still needed to incorporate traditional pieces of the healthcare system that they didn’t have.

Your startup is your metaphorical baby, she said, and “it’s hard to say your baby is ugly or doesn’t have all the things it needs to have.”

In 2017, Samepage Health acquired Health123, which created a more complete healthcare solution. Lanham remains an advisor at Samepage.

In early 2018, she joined Seattle startup Pixvana as general manager, moving to the role of chief operating officer a year ago.

“I’m back on the frontier,” she said, working for a company innovating in VR and XR.

“XR hasn’t crossed the chasm yet,” Lanham said. “It’s in the world of early adopters.” That means there’s a lot of ambiguity and the market doesn’t always behave the way you want it to.

That’s cool with Lanham. She’s been there before. Pixvana has shifted from marketing to consumers to targeting corporate customers, providing VR training services. The challenge is getting people to try it.

“We know that the results will be good — and that was the same as online advertising,” she said. And that turned out well.

In addition to her COO role, Lanham is also a mom to two kids: one in middle school and one in high school. Will they follow in their mom’s career-pivoting, risk-embracing footsteps?

She expects so.

Moving between jobs and risk taking “is part of their culture,” Lanham said. They don’t even have to learn it from her. “The world has done that for them.”

Pixvana’s VR editing software lets users edit VR content while wearing a headset. (Pixvana Image)

We caught up with Lanham for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Seattle

Computer types: 13-inch MacBook. I love it because it’s small enough to actually get work done on the airplane!

Mobile devices: iPhone for everything, iPad for demos

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Most used apps on my phone: Slack (we are power users at Pixvana), WebEx Teams, LinkedIn, Alaska Air, Team Snap (how I know when my kids’ soccer games are), and TikTok (I have a 7th-grade girl, it’s a must!). I use Trello and Asana for task organization with various teams. TINYpulse makes it easy to give shout outs (cheers for peers!) to co-workers and plan one-on-ones. Salesforce, HubSpot and Highspot are our sales enabling godsends. And of course Pixvana’s SPIN Studio: it’s my hub for managing and sharing all of our XR immersive training demo content across any devices iPhone, iPad, Oculus headsets and even Apple TV.

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? Pixvana is in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. Our office is next to Sea Wolf bakery, which means our office space constantly smells like baked goods and cinnamon. We have a great open working area which encourages constant active dialog across all teams, from sales and marketing to product dev and engineering. The culture at Pixvana is super inclusive and inspiring and the space supports that in every way.

Lanham in her Pixvana office. (Pixvana Photo)

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? There’s no such thing as work/life balance. I actually learned this from my yoga instructor. In yoga, perfect balance is unattainable; you just do the best your body can do in that pose on that day. Balance is the goal but you are always tilting one way or another.

Most working women live under the dark cloud of feeling like they are doing nothing well — forced to sacrifice work time for kid stuff and vice versa. It’s much better to just look at “life” and prioritize for the moment. Everyday, priorities shift. Today it might be more important for me to leave work a bit early to see my kid’s last game of the school soccer season, but tomorrow it might make sense to miss family dinner for an important work event. I am a list maker and I’ve learned to combine “home” and “work” to do’s into a single list that I feel is achievable each day (at least some of the time!!). 🙂

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Instagram for family connection and sharing. LinkedIn for work.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Work – 2; Home – approximately a zillion

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 27

How do you run meetings? As much as possible I block 10-to-15 minutes before to ensure I’m prepped. I just listened to this Freakonomics podcast called “How to Make Meetings Less Terrible,” which says it all in terms of how to run a good meeting.

Everyday work uniform? I just decided my fall look is jeans and blazers.

How do you make time for family? My kids are at that stage where it’s all about their activities: school sports, select sports, volunteering, driver’s ed, friends, etc. So there is a lot of family time on the road. My son came up with a rule that if the ride is less than 30 minutes the kids can’t use their phones, which has resulted in a lot more car-ride conversations.

On the weekends, we try to get to our cabin in Snoqualmie Pass, even if it’s just for one night. That’s our family time for hot-tubbing, snow sports or hiking, taco night, game night and Netflix binging. It’s definitely about quality vs. quantity these days. I have three sisters and we all live in different parts of the country. We schedule group FaceTime calls so we can stay connected. We also plan trips for milestone birthdays for our parents; the last one was a Chicago trip so my dad could check watching the Cubs play at Wrigley Field from his bucket list.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Taking walks with my cute pup and doing yoga, preferably hot. And getting good sleep.

Lanham can get away at her family’s cabin in Snoqualmie Pass. (Photo courtesy of the Lanham family)

What are you listening to? I love podcasts. My all-time favorite is “The Dropout” about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. I’ve listened to all six episodes twice! I’m a huge fan of investigative journalism and highly recommend “Reveal” (and not just because my sister is the editor). My staples are “Here’s the Thing,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Without Fail” and “Start Here.” Harvard Business Review’s “Women at Work” was just suggested to me so it’s on my playlist!

Music-wise, I seem to have my Chris Stapleton Pandora channel on a lot.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? I still read AdAge’s daily briefing even though I left advertising a long time ago! Once a madman, always a madman. We have some Slack channels at work that I rely on for XR industry news. The Pixvana team has the best recommendations and it’s a rapidly transforming landscape, so you have to keep up to speed with what’s happening. My favorite newsletter comes from The Aspen Institute, called “Five Best Ideas of the Day.”

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)?

— “The Storyteller’s Secret” by Sejal Badani (re-reading this one, our CEO Forest Key is a master storyteller and our mission at Pixvana is to realize the potential of XR storytelling, so it felt now would be a good time to read this)

— “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones (if Oprah says read something, I do it)

— “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania” by Frank Bruni (this is just to relieve the stress of having a sophomore in high school and dreading the college admissions process)

— “The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation” by Sarah Kaplan (OK, my other sister wrote this, but it is so relevant right now that I would definitely read it anyway)

— “How to be an Inclusive Leader” by Jennifer Brown (my inclusivity guru)

— “Wired to Grow 2.0” by Dr. Britt Andreatta (all about the brain science of learning which has a lot of great insights for VR training)

Night owl or early riser? Um, how about neither? I’m super into getting sleep. Out by 11 p.m., up around 6:45 a.m. during the week. Weekends are for sleeping in!

Where do you get your best ideas? Mainly when I have time to sit and talk with my husband, Tony. He advises companies on how to grow their sales teams and business results so “talking shop” is like getting free consulting. Next would be from reading; I’m always writing in the margins or copying and pasting into notes.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi. She is a badass, I want to know how she does it after all these years!

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