How did you get there? Nikki Lavoie

Such fun to catch up with Nikki Lavoie who describes herself as ‘an American in Paris who is passionate about people, insatiably curious, has a love for learning and a talent for turning it all into insight.’ Nikki is the founder of Mindspark, co-founder of the Ignite Collective, sits on the AQR Board and after being an ESOMAR Council Member for the past two years, is in the running to be VP!

So, how did you get into the industry, and take us through how you got to this point?

I was living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (just north of Boston), and had been out of work for several months after leaving my first job unexpectedly. I applied to any and every job I could find, and finally got an offer… as an entry level project manager in a NYC-based ad agency, offering a barely livable wage that would have required me to move 5 hours away. 

Shortly after receiving that job offer, I got a call for an interview at a local market research agency. Having studied market research as part of my communications and advertising degree, I was excited to try my hand in the field. When my interview was wrapping up, I told the hiring manager point blank that I had another offer on the table, that I didn’t want to take it, but that I needed to make a decision, so if they wanted me, I suggested they let me know, ASAP. 

I had a phone call with a job offer–contingent on a successful second interview–before I reached the parking lot!

After that, I found that I genuinely loved working in insight, and had an aptitude towards both qualitative and quantitative methods.

A few years, a global recession, and another agency later, I found myself sitting at a dinner table at ESOMAR Congress, just outside of Athens, Greece, next to someone who ended up offering me a job. In Paris. 

Fast forward 4 years: I had settled into life in Paris, gotten a few years working at a French agency under my belt, and… was launching my own business. In 2014, a MindSpark was born. 

Such a cool journey. I love how that ESOMAR dinner was the launchpad for yet another exciting chapter. Shows how important it is to put oneself out there, attend conferences, meet people, say yes to opportunities, requests and always keep an open mind. Super inspiring!

So if you had to distil everything you’ve achieved right down, what would you say are three secrets to your success so far?

It’s hard to point to things that have led to my success, when I think so much of where I’ve gotten to at this stage is down to people.

That said, there are a few things that I always try to tell others to keep in mind when they’re looking to carve out their own path, in ours or any industry:

  1. Tap into your network: no matter what you’re trying to achieve–whether it’s launching a business, getting a promotion or learning a new skill, your personal network undoubtedly contains someone willing to help.
  2. Ask the key question: What’s the worst thing that will happen? A lot of people have asked me over the years why I decided to launch my own business, and many expect to hear that I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit, that I was fearless, or that I had clients in my pocket that helped me make the leap. The truth is far simpler: I was ready for a new job. No one would hire me. And I asked myself the key question. The answer was: I’ll still be looking for another job. The reality was that the worst thing never happened–the best thing did!
  3. Fake it till you make it: No, I’m not talking about making up your results or lying about your skillset. I am talking about that sneaky little voice that lives in all of our heads and exists to sow doubt–Imposter Syndrome. I acted like I was the right person for the job, and after doing so enough times, I truly believed it. 

So, asking for a friend, what difference can market research really make?

Market research can make all the difference. I’m a big believer in the idea that there are few things more valuable than feedback–in all aspects of life. I know that a lot of people point to the often-misconstrued Steve Jobs quote implying that if he had asked people how they wanted to listen to music, we never would have had the iPod (and who knows what else afterward!), but even the biggest and best ideas need refinement, iteration and polishing once they’ve been brought to life. He may not have asked people if they wanted an iPod, but he definitely listened to feedback about the user experience as future generations of Apple devices came into being. 

Significant Insights is supporting the in-person research community through this extremely challenging period due to Cov-19. This advert is in support of i-view viewing facility.

Not being in the office and around colleagues, it is incredibly challenging, for younger researchers to stand out. What two bits of advice do you have for a junior researcher, working from home in lockdown, on how they can best stand out and impress their teams?

A digital office is a great place for younger professionals to stand out from the crowd! As folks who are generally more comfortable with tech, there are a lot of advantages that junior researchers can capitalise on, to get ahead. For example:

  1. #AlwaysBeHelping. You may be able to spot inefficiencies that your colleagues cannot, or know of tools that can help optimise your teams’ processes. Use that tech know-how to take a look at how the processes of your workplace have changed, and suggest ways to streamline and simplify.
  2. Take care of yourself. Overworking yourself, putting in long hours and neglecting your physical and mental health might give the appearance of getting you ahead in the short term, but it’s setting you up for failure in the long term. Listen to your body, take breaks, and do what you can to be at your best during working hours, and to be a consistent, reliable member of your team. 

And thinking more long term now, what two things should junior researchers focus on as they progress in their careers?

One of the most important and fruitful things that young researchers can do that can help their careers in the long run is getting involved! Becoming members of organisations–like ESOMAR–can offer so many benefits: learning new skills via presentations and webinars, connecting with peers and mentors, and, yes, even helping with job prospects! 

Plus, take it from me and my story about getting to where I am today… industry conferences can be–and will again, I’m sure–some of the most fun and adventurous moments, that you’ll treasure for a long time. 

A second tip I often recommend to young folks in the industry is to find a way to strengthen cross-functional skills. Gone are the days where specialists are prioritised, and here are the days when everyone is doing a little bit of everything. Don’t get me wrong–half-learning a skillset won’t be of value to anyone. Widening your circle of skills, however, can be a major asset to you and your career. 

You’re running for Vice President of ESOMAR, congratulations! What is your key message and how do you plan to make a difference?

Thank you! As a current council member who has headed up both our YES (Young ESOMAR Society) and our DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) efforts, I felt that these two focus areas really deserve more of the spotlight as ESOMAR undertakes an exercise in becoming more relevant when funds for memberships have been in short supply.

That’s why I decided to run for VP! ESOMAR is an organisation that has played a major role in the development of my career, but I was lucky. I had a mentor who was familiar with ESOMAR and encouraged me to get involved. Many younger folks, however, either aren’t aware of ESOMAR or know of it but don’t feel like it aligns with who they are and what their goals are.

From my perspective, whether it’s because people aren’t familiar with market research as a career or they’re already in it but not connected with ESOMAR, we’ve got a lot of work to do to open the door more widely, spread the gospel about the extremely important and creative work we get to embark on in this field, and curate and cultivate some of the amazing talent being generated every year into our work.

Additionally–we can’t bring young folks over to our great work if we aren’t giving them a membership experience that makes them feel at home. This means that we need to make a concerted effort at inclusion. We’ve been presenting case studies that showcase inclusivity at work in research, but we, as an industry body, need to walk the walk and provide greater access to our content, tools, and events to those from all walks of life, while respecting and empowering them in the process.

The other pillar of my candidacy for VP focuses on cross-border growth. As an expat, I live every day thinking about the value of different perspectives, and I’ve watched ESOMAR grow its reputation as a meaningful hub of research resources and connection from a Euro-centric view to a more global one… but there is more work to be done. 

Further, the borders we need to look across aren’t just physical ones, but professional ones, as well. As a qualitative researcher who has been getting more and more involved in the user research and service design spheres, there is much that each of these industries can learn from one another, and I aim to be a conduit for broadening this connection and encouraging the two-way learning that I know we can achieve. 

And do you have anyone who has helped your career so far that you’d like to acknowledge and say thanks or give a shout out to?

Oh goodness, I have so many people to acknowledge! Stacy Graiko set me on my path to that first ESOMAR event, and from there, I was the beneficiary of so much wisdom, leadership and guidance on behalf of so many kind folks, that I couldn’t possibly list them all. I will say that Naomi Gooblar, Martha Llobet, Kerri Hecht and Kristin Luck have been my go-to gal pals and support network for a long time, and I’d be lost without them.

Our industry, like the world, is both so big and so small, but filled with people who are willing to support one another. I’m happy to be a part of it, and to continuously do what I can to give back. So, rather than shout out to a longer list of folks who have had an impact on me, I’d like to do what I know my benefactors would want, and pay it forward. If anyone out there has questions about working in the industry, needs advice, or is looking to connect with someone that could help them out on their career path–don’t hesitate to look me up! 🙂 

Nikki, such an incredible chat. Paying it forward, that is the spirit of Significant Insights. I will be sure to get your message out there, I’m sure so many junior researchers would absolutely love a moment to pick your brains. Thanks for being such an incredible member of our #mrx community!