Power of Innovation with Jessie Young
Jessie Young is an Aussie in New York who is leading new business lines at Uber, currently focusing on grocery and retail delivery. While Jessie solves difficult puzzles in a pioneering environment, she is also a yoga teacher and amateur surfer. And on the side, she runs her own e-commerce business, HALO — a held space for women that matches females for mentoring and sells halo headbands. Listen to our interview with Jessie here.
IN THIS EPISODE:
Jessie Young on what she’s most passionate about
Jessie Young on her childhood in Australia and moving to New York
Jessie Young on her work at Uber
Jessie Young on her eCommerce business Hao
Jessie Young on the Halo mentor program
Jessie Young on why it’s important to empower people through her work
Jessie Young on the biggest risk she’s taken personally and professionally
Jessie Young on the most rewarding part of her career so far
Jessie Young on her dream for herself and her dream for women
Jessie Young on the mantra that she lives by
Jessie Young on her secret to a rewarding life
Jessie Young on her definition of success
Jessie Young on her proudest achievements
Jessie Young on her advice for women who want to follow their passions
Passionistas: Hi, we're sisters, Amy and Nancy Harrington, the founders of The Passionistas Project, where we give women a platform to tell their own unfiltered stories.
On every episode we discuss the unique ways in which each woman is following her passions, talk about how she defines success and explore her path to breaking down the barriers that women too often face.
Today we'll be talking with Jessie Young, an Aussie in New York who is leading new business lines at Uber, currently focusing on grocery and retail delivery. While Jessie solves difficult puzzles in a pioneering environment, she is also a yoga teacher and amateur surfer. And on the side, she runs her own e-commerce business, “halo” — a held space for women that matches females for mentoring and sells halo headbands.
So please welcome, Jessie Young.
Jessie: Thank you so much for the introduction, and it's so wonderful to be here and be talking with you both Amy and Nancy.
Passionistas: Thanks so much for being here. We can't wait to hear your story. What are you most passionate about?
Jessie: It's a similar question to saying, you know, what is your number one priority? Because if you have many, you almost certainly end up with none. And I think in passion, too, if you want to be excellent, you have to choose to be bad and in some ways almost myopic in pursuing your passions.
That said, I am insatiable. So, I have always had my fingers in lots of different pies, but the common thread between all of those is a passion for growth. I love working in hyper-growth businesses. because I love solving really difficult problems for the first time, and that's what happens when you're in a hyper-growth environment.
And in a personal sense, I'm relentlessly committed to personal growth and development, maybe to the frustration sometimes of those closest to me. So, pushing myself in physical pursuits, in spiritual pursuits are all things that really actually fill my cup. And so I would say that the common thread among all of that is a, is a growth passion.
Passionistas: You're in New York right now, but you were born in Australia. So, tell us a little bit about your childhood and what ultimately led you to the United States.
Jessie: I have been in New York for the better part, or a little over one year. It was not an easy road to get here. My husband and I should have arrived about two and a half years earlier than we did.
But like many, COVID put a wrench into those plans. I have been at Uber for the last five years, since about 2017, when Uber Eats was first launching in Australia. And I was leading our grocery business. When the opportunity to take on this global role came about.
And when I signed my internal transfer to move to New York. About three hours later, Trump signed an executive order, which made it very difficult to immigrate as a tech worker, exec, or green card. And so, it took about 18 months to get through the immigration process. And then once we finally did even get our appointment at the consulate, we then had to ultimately seek government approval to leave the country because Australia had lockdown its borders as part of its COVID.
So it took us a long time. It feels like a year does not reflect all of the energy that came into it but we're certainly very, very grateful to be here. And as I look out at the view behind me, which is a floor to ceiling view that looks right up Manhattan, the grandeur and energy of the place is certainly not lost on me.
So that's a little bit about how I came to be in New York, but I originally grew up in a small town called the Sunshine Coast in Australia. And I went to school in a town called Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, where a lot of my family is now, is exactly as it sounds. It's a pretty idyllic surf town.
If you haven't ever been, to any of the listeners, I thoroughly recommend visiting. And as I moved through my high school education, I was very, very passionate about justice and community service. And I did a lot of volunteering at the time with Amnesty International, and I was part of the United Nations Youth Association. And when I finished high school, it was a natural progression for me and a very easy decision to go into study law.
And I had a very strong conviction at the time that what I wanted to do was to practice international law. What I realized in the course of studying is that the law degree was sensational at teaching you what to think, but I also took on a philosophy degree to teach me how to think, and it was that combination that really got me very, very curious about the nature of the world and my place.
During that time, I worked at the Crime and Corruption Commission in Queensland and worked in a couple of corporate law environments and kept this real passion on the side for really trying to understand more of the human experience through some of my philosophy study. And I wrote my honors thesis in existential ethics and got very interested in the application of ethics and spirituality to the lived experience.
And then that naturally sort of lent itself to more of an interest in my yoga practice during that time. Then I started a yoga business with my mom, and we ran that for a little while. And then eventually the next problem came knocking and I realized as we were sort of owner-operators of this yoga business, that for me at least, I couldn't live where I holidayed and that while yoga was a place of personal reprieve for me, it wasn't a place that I wanted to hold a professional life and I wanted to solve bigger and more problems.
I stepped out of the law, and I moved into management consulting for a couple of years. And then I was preparing to do my MBA, when Uber Eats launched in Australia. And I had a friend who was there at the time who said, “Have you heard of this thing called Uber? And have you heard of this thing called Uber Eats? They're doing some really cool stuff and you might really enjoy that.”
And I made the move across when I think there were about three or four of us officially in Uber Eats in Australia. And so, came this period of hyperbolic growth in the Eats business toward right through the IPO of the company. I worked on a huge range of different like catalogs and initiatives within the business, and then ultimately finally to New York. So that's a little piece, I suppose, of the Sunshine Coast to New York City.
Passionistas: Tell us what you currently do at Uber and what's inspiring about the work you do there?
Jessie: Yeah, so at the moment I lead what's called our Global Operations Function for our New Verticals Business. And New Verticals really refers to everything, non-restaurant delivered food. So, I get to sit across all of our big growth questions in our delivery organization. And my team is responsible for thinking about all of our new categories and the new catalogs that we might list on our platform, as well as, all of the new channels or ways that we might service our customers, whether that is as a traditional agent or market or by partnering with merchants in different ways to deliver goods to our customers. I think what I really, really love about Uber is the intersection between community, supply, and community demand. And what I mean by that is it is truly inspiring to work in a brand that is endemic to the community that it serves.
It is of the community, for the community and by the community. And to me, to be able to work in a company that is creating earnings opportunities, that is in turn supplying those earners with the demands that they have for food on demand or rides on demand or groceries on demand or alcohol on demand, it is a really, really exciting, impactful place to play.
That's at the more kind of values aligned level, I think on a personal level, as I've said, I love solving tricky problems and this is a place where there are plenty of brilliant people trying to solve the question of a marketplace heuristic, and my God, isn't that an exciting place to play? Because it is. It is. You press down on one part of the ecosystem and there are reverberations across everything, so it is, it is theoretically never in balance and always in flux and a living, breathing organism unto itself. And so that's an incredibly inspiring, exciting place.
I think the third thing that I really love about it is that, in solving those problems, you get to act in absolute integrity, both in the execution of finding a problem that really matters to a person or to a consumer, and that impacts their daily habits and their lived habits and to solve it with a software-first approach that becomes really globally scalable. To me, that's like the ultimate sense of integration of a problem and a solution. And so, they're probably the three things that I love most about it.
Passionistas: You're doing this very high profile and complex job there, but you also have your own e-commerce business. So, tell us about that and how that came.
Jessie: Halo was born during COVID. It’s an e-commerce business where I effectively make halo headbands and they are made by women and for women. And they use the offcuts of fabrics from a female-owned fashion brand that manufactures out of Asia. And the premise of the halo headband is that when you put it on, you are stepping into something more than yourself and all of yourself at once. On the surface, it's a very beautiful accessory, and deeper down what it is intended to represent is that which is innate in All of Us, which is our divinity, our creativity, our lovability, and ultimately our sub serenity.
And they became a really powerful symbol to me during COVID for a couple of reasons. The first was that we all got thrust into Zoom calls all the time. And for me, being stuck in Australia, but managing a couple of markets in Europe, Asia, and in America, I was effectively working 24-hour cycles. And so quite often I tried to pull off silk pajamas as a chic outfit for a Zoom call, which was not the case.
And I found that having an accessory somewhere that made me feel that I could up-level myself pretty quickly before an important call and look the part really helped. But the other thing that that I found was that sharing this accessory and importing this meaning into it when you were on a Zoom call with other women, it was like an unspoken agreement or an unspoken recognition that I see you and I understand you and I respect and love you for all that you are and all that you can be.
And I think that there was a period in time when that sense of connection was hyper-exposed, but also so raw, and the feeling that you could see and be seen during periods of lockdown was really important. And so, the Halo community is not just about the headbands, it's also about then a peer-to-peer mentoring network of women who are bound together with the physical expression, the headband. But then we also run series of events and mental matchmaking and those sorts of things to help build that community from the inside out.
Passionistas: Tell us about the mentor program.
Jessie: The fundamental premise is about realigning your goals and how you achieve them from being output based to input based on recognition of the fact that we are human beings, not human doings. And so, a lot of the time we set our goals and we pursue mentors as a checklist of how the world ought to see us rather than how we see the world. And sometimes what we are doing is we are pursuing things because we think they will make us valuable rather than because we see them as values in themselves.
So, the difference in this mentoring network is to matchmake based on aligned values or inputs rather than necessarily aligned outputs. So, if you enter what we call Angel House, which is the mentoring component of Halo, you'd be asked to fill in a values exercise where you ultimately arrive at the two to three values that matter most to you.
You'll also input things about the industry that you're working in or some of the functional or hard skills that you might be looking for discrete advice on. And in turn, we have our bank of mentors who have also completed the same exercise based on their values as well as some of the examples that they set around hard skills, and we match you on the basis really of your inputs and what you're trying to achieve versus necessarily just the outputs be that, you know, public speaking or promotion or whatever that may be. And on that basis, I think what we find is that it becomes a really, really sticky marketplace and community where mentees then in turn become mentors and it becomes this really beautiful, again, endemic community of giving and receiving of true, true values alignment.
Passionistas: Why is it important to you to empower people through both your work at Uber and Halo?
Jessie: I ultimately think that empowerment is a path to freedom, and when you are free, you are sovereign, and that is the ultimate gift to how you operate through the world. A friend once said to me, “When you think about the behaviors that you really want, or that might be values in their own right, you should think about whether the world would be a net better place if people acted in that way or believe or felt that way.”
And so, it's a slight difference from utilitarianism. It is more that if as individuals we were all, we were all X, would that lead to be net better results? And I truly believe that if as individuals we all felt and believed in our serenity, which is ultimately a function of being empowered, then we would make better decisions for ourselves, for our planet, and for our communities. And so in the very like meta sense, that's why I think it matters on a more practical sense.
Why it matters is because when people are empowered, they make better decisions in the workplace. If I can empower my team by them knowing that I absolutely have their backs and support them, and they are psychologically safe, but also free to live on the edge of what is comfortable to take business risks, to take calculated risks and to challenge status quo, then I know that that's going to lead to much better, more exciting outcomes for the business and for our customers.
When I think about it in a personal sense, if someone is empowered, they are ultimately able to give and receive so much more of themselves. And isn't that just the essence of what a human interaction is? They're able to be so much more authentically themselves and that leads to just better connection and ultimately better understanding. And so, I think it's hugely important to raise the floor in the communities that you operate in, rather than necessarily always be seeking to push the ceiling. And I think you do that by lifting people up around you.
Passionistas: What's the biggest risk you've ever taken personally or professionally, and how did it pay off?
Jessie: I wasn't actually sure if I was going to raise this, but in the interest of being authentic and in the hope that my story helps someone even slightly feel more empowered, I will say that during COVID part of while I was starting Halo, I developed anorexia and I in the space of about three months lost 40%, 45% of my body weight.
So, for context, I am just under six foot. I'm about six foot tall, and I lost about 20 kilos and so was about 44 kilos in about three months. And then when I bottomed out, I was close to 40, 40 kilograms. And it was not necessarily an intentional outcome. It was, I think in a lot of ways, a reaction to the chaos in the world around me and my inability to control that and my very obvious ability to control what I did or didn't put in my mouth.
And there were a lot of factors that played into that, but ultimately I was very sick. And what that forced me to do was really critically take accountability for what my survival looked like and whether I even wanted to…
And that was obviously at a time then when my husband and I were preparing to move to New York and take on this big, big dream that we had. We had and continue to have a beautiful support network in Sydney where we were living at the time, and in Australia more broadly with our family. And to choose to leave Australia as I was recovering and reclaiming myself was a huge risk. And ultimately it had to come down to a very strong sense to myself and to my husband about what surviving and thriving meant to me and the decision to step out of where I was and into who was always inside, but whom I had lost.
And quite honestly, it was unclear whether New York would be a city that would light me on fire or bring me back to life. And I realized that it probably didn't either, in that wherever you go, you'll be there. The risk of moving and leaving what was known to step into the unknown at a time when we didn't even know if we would be able to head back to Australia or when the borders would reopen, ultimately was a huge step into accountability for myself and my health and my relationship, and in following my intuition.
Being very honest about who I was, how I'd gotten there, and who I saw myself as being, the risk is absolutely worth the reward. I think sometimes the greatest risk is or the greatest fear is not that you are inadequate, but that you might be adequate beyond or measure. And for me, stepping into a sense of my own power was a terrifying prospect. But having done that and then making the decision to continue to do that every day is certainly something that I would never regret.
Passionistas: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. It's going to help so many people. What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far in your career?
Jessie: You know, I really think that learning is a gift and that might sound a little twee, but I really believe it to my core. Because I think that if you are not learning, you're not living and learning is the definition of living and wisdom, therefore is one of the highest virtues that you could seek. And the most fulfilling part and the greatest rewards of my career have actually been the greatest moments of learning.
I was really lucky during my latest role at Uber to have had an incredible Director and Vice President who I worked under who empowered me so much and gave me so much space to really cut loose. And I remember when I was talking to him about the role, I actually said to him, “If you cut me loose, I will solve any problem you have.” And I said that with absolute conviction that I was so hungry to solve them. And he trusted me completely to do that.
And there have been times when I have failed and tried to fail fast. And there are times when I have been successful. And in each of those times, I have learned, and I think it's actually in being given the runway to fail fast and pick yourself up and make moves that I find most fulfilling and rewarding.
So, there's probably not a single point, but I definitely can think about the S-curves in my career where I've had those incremental moments of real learning and real opportunity. And a lot of that time that's, that is because I've just been given the runway to be cut loose and, and see what I can do. And for those moments and those times, I'm extremely grateful.
Passionistas: What's your dream for yourself and what's your dream for women?
Jessie: My dream for myself is that I am full. And I mean that in the sense of absolute fulfillment and wholeheartedness. And that manifests in a couple of ways for me. It means stepping into everything that I could possibly be in an unafraid way, living right out to the edges of my fingers and the tips of my toes, and not tempering myself or my capability or my dreams as they evolve through the different walks of my life.
It means being able to love wholeheartedly and unconditionally without qualification or pride or expectation. And that means showing up first and foremost for my best friend, my husband, but also for to my other best friend myself, and realizing that that's a beautiful place to be.
And it means being full in terms of living out to find the breadth and edge of human experience and of my learning. And so professionally that means continuing to push myself to solve more and more problems and to lead bigger teams and help more people and ultimately like serving a mission that I believe in. And at this point in time, that's the community that Uber operates in and that it serves. That's my dream for me.
I think my dream for women is that they feel sovereign, that they feel and know that all their sources of power are innate and within them. Their creativity, divinity, and lovability are not conditional and that the sources of those are already within. Because I really believe that when women step into those three things and they own their sovereign and they own their decisions, then they are unstoppable. And when you do that for yourself, you are not just doing it for yourself, but you are rising everybody else around you.
And so, when women as a collective can start to step into their sovereign and feel empowered to make decisions for themselves, that is a really, really powerful example and powerful energy.
Passionistas: Do you have a mantra that you live by?
Jessie: I have a couple that I meditate on and come back to. I am an avid yogi. So, I meditate most days and practice yoga most days. And obviously you seal a practice with a simple word namaste, which I take to mean we are one. And every time I do it, I raise my thumbs to three different places on my body and hold that each time — purity of thought, purity of speech, and purity of heart for we are one.
And that's really important to me because one of my biggest values is integration. And I mean that in a sense of being integrated in what you say, what you do, and what you think. And that's a true reminder and tethering for me that I take every day. So that's one.
At work, a principle that I come back to a lot is to raise the floor because I really believe that all boats will rise with the tide, and we do not rise to the level of our aspiration, but we fall to the level of our training. So, I come back to that as a central tenant as well.
And then a third one that I like to think about when I get caught in my own mind or in the good and in the bad is this too shall pass. I think about that a lot.
Passionistas: What's your secret to a rewarding life?
Jessie: I think I'm still working that one out. I think there are a few things and actually it's something that I've learned from some of my dearest friends who I keep and hold in my life because they are the beautiful balance to my world.
Maybe actually the key to a rewarding life is in fact balance and the balance of experience because I think it is true that the circumstances in your life are going to be in a constant state of flux and will swing between alternating phases of vigor and decay indicate. But if you can enjoy that journey, find a way to enjoy that journey, rather than seek to control it and realize that the ultimate tendency is to equilibrium or balance, and then try to cultivate that balance where you can then you all feel ultimately full and wholehearted.
And so, you know, for me, I'm a deep thinker who likes to really interrogate a problem and is, is constantly, you know, curious and working on things. And the friends and moments in my life where that bring playfulness and levity are a really beautiful balance to my life. I couldn't live in levity my whole life, nor could I occupy the depth of thought all the time either. But finding that way to bring balance is something that I think ensures that my cup is always.
Passionistas: What's your definition of success?
Jessie: Success to me is integration. I think it is going to be different for every person. I don't think that there is a universal definition of what it means to be in your integrity and what it means to be integrated. But I think it is consistent across all people and all circumstances that if you are successful, you are by definition acting in your integrity in that what you say, what you do, what you think are all aligned, and that ultimately you are acting and living into your integrity. I don't think you can be successful unless you are that.
Passionistas: What's your proudest achievement so far, either personally or professionally?
Jessie: Proudest achievement professionally, there's a recency bias to this one, but I think it is taking this global role in New York with a company that I love and a mission that I really believe in. And the reason for that is that it was not an easy path to get here and that I truly believe in the work that we are doing. But I also believe that each day I'm becoming a better, stronger person by virtue of doing the work and solving the problems. And it is so rewarding in this role to see, in particular, my team all over the world and how they have stepped into an incredibly challenging environment to be working in food delivery during COVID was a crazy, crazy space, let alone grocery delivery. And the way that people have stepped up and stepped in and have truly changed the way that we now start to consume and move is incredible. And I'm so inspired by that and it's a huge achievement to me to be a part of that team that's doing that work.
So, call it recency bias because of where I happen to be sitting in the World Trade Center right now. But I think that to me is the biggest achievement so far professionally, personally, my husband and I just celebrated our 16th anniversary together. And I don’t know if I can call tenure an achievement in a relationship, but I am so proud of our relationship because I think to me relationships are not always easy and it is an absolute commitment to love someone through all their manifestations of self and through all their different forms of life and to choose to dance with them through it all. And I am really proud of both of us for choosing each other every day and for choosing to dance with each other every day.
Passionistas: Congratulations on both of those things. Do you have any advice for a woman who wants to follow her Passions?
Jessie: Yeah. Ask yourself, what are you afraid of? And very honestly, stare at it. Stare at what it is that you are afraid of. And then ask yourself, what's the worst that will happen if that comes to pass?
And you'll find that two things are true. It's never as bad as that and there are very few instances of a one-way door. So even if the worst happens, it is quite possibly not all that you imagine it to be. And even if it does happen, it is more likely than not that you will not be stuck there. And if you know that and you own, whether it’s fear or fire that is motivating your actions, I think following your passion becomes very easy. And you can do that across the board.
And I know the place that we began the conversation was, you know, what is your passion? And maybe my answer was a little bit of a cop-out to say that it is growth because
since I have started to take the approach to be motivated by fire and not by fear, I have found it so easy to prioritize the things that I love and to do them in plenty and to do them in full — whether that is, like I recently became a sommelier. I just joined a fund as a venture partner. I am really interested and passionate about corporate governance, maybe because of my legal career, and I've started to take on a couple more board positions. And all of those things are very easy to do once you realize that you are just acting in your integrity. And instead of being motivated by the fear of what might happen if you do something new where you might feel unqualified or less than or not enough, and instead just be motivated by the fire of following your belly, it all becomes actually quite simple.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to The Passionistas Project and our interviews with Sabine Josephs and Jessie Young. To learn more about Jessie’s mission to help women find their halos visit halo-group.io.
And be sure to visit ThePassionistasProject.com to sign up for our mailing list, find all the ways you can follow us on social media and join our worldwide community of women working together to level the playing field for us all.
Until next time, stay well and stay passionate.