Hallmark may be synonymous with greeting cards tailor-made for just about any occasion, but the company also spreads its feel-good messaging through other platforms — including television and online programming.
In fact, that’s where Hallmark Labs comes in.
As the company continues to innovate via various forms of emotionally-charged multimedia content, we spoke to its longest-tenured employee, Jeff Allen. Now the vice president of operations, Jeff took a moment to reflect on how Hallmark Labs has evolved over the years.
EMPLOYEES: 120 in Santa Monica
WHAT THEY DO: As Hallmark Cards’ center for technology and innovation, Hallmark Labs is the driving force behind Hallmark eCards, Hallmark Movies Now and other direct-to-consumer digital products and services.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Santa Monica
NOTABLE PERKS: Ocean views, massage chairs, bicycles, soft serve and a sparkling water robot.
ROOM TO GROW: In the time Jeff Allen has been with the company that’s evolved into Hallmark Labs, the team has grown from seven people to 120 — with plans for even more growth in the future. CTO Mark DuVall recently shared insight into the company’s digital growth plans. Learn more.
Jeff Allen, Vice President of Operations
Jeff oversees the strategy, management and delivery of direct-to-customer products.
BEYOND WORK: Jeff loves to play guitar and write songs.
You were with the startup that was acquired by Hallmark in 2012. What made you want to stay with the company?
I liked that we were producing inspiring, life-affirming movies and offering them directly to consumers via a subscription model. Our product was inherently good-natured, and the business model was a groundbreaking at the time that I joined.
What other roles have you filled with the company?
Our former CEO and founder once affectionately referred to me as the ‘Swiss Army knife of the company.’ I have been a product manager, leading a team of overseas web developers and outsourced app developers to launch our first apps on devices like iOS and Roku. I was also our database/digital asset manager, customer care representative, office manager, and eventually, our executive director of marketing. Truly a lot of hats! I even had the opportunity to create and host an original, feel-good news magazine show called ‘InspireWire.’ My career path here serves as an example of Hallmark's commitment to cultivating and developing internal talent.
Have things turned out the way you expected?
It has been quite the rollercoaster ride, with many twists, turns and rebrands to keep it exciting. When Hallmark acquired us six years ago, we were only a subscription video-on-demand service. I expected that, before too long, we would add more content to that service and eventually brand it Hallmark, and we did. That much evolved in relative alignment with my expectations.
But along the way, we also added Hallmark eCards and other digital, direct-to-consumer businesses to the fold, and have developed into a tech center of excellence for the Hallmark enterprise. I can’t say that I expected that in the beginning.
As a leader, I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that everyone on my team is enabled and supported.”
How have you evolved as a leader?
In the early days I was most certainly in the trenches. I tried to lead by doing and maintaining a can-do attitude. I like to think that my actions set a good example and were encouraging to my colleagues.
Today, I try to lead by leading. As a leader, I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that everyone on my team is enabled and supported. I take great care to clearly communicate not just the “what” and “how,” but the “why,” which I believe is the most important aspect in what we do. Where I used to focus first on the work, I now focus first on the people. I believe in the power of radical transparency, clear communication and getting the most out of an individual by empowering them. I relish feedback and work to transform any failure into a valuable learning experience.
How does your first office compare to your office today?
Our current office is a truly amazing space, which is evident the moment you step off the elevator. It’s open, spacious, colorful and alive. Holidays and occasions are important to us, so the office is always appropriately decorated. The amenities are vast and ever-growing. We have a yogurt machine, a Hallmark card bar, two massage chairs, bicycles and private phone booths. Walk into our substantial, fully-stocked kitchen and you may be inspired to grab a dry erase marker and add your response to a weekly thought-provoking question you find scribbled across the kitchen cabinets.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a new company?
We had to solve for business needs, such as adaptive bitrate streaming and digital rights management before there were scores of turnkey solutions from which one could pick and choose. I remember having to personally transcode and export twelve versions of every movie we put on our service — obviously not a scalable solution. It was also a bit of a guessing game as to which devices to target because it wasn’t clear who would win the race to be the preferred set-top box. We ended up developing and launching several apps for devices that were unfortunately destined for an early sunset.
How has your company culture evolved?
As one can imagine, our culture has changed a great deal as we have grown from a scrappy, independent startup to an integrated, service-oriented hub within a giant, well-known enterprise. At our core, though, we have always been agile, intelligent and fun, relishing any and every reason to celebrate.
Are you looking to bring on more members of the team? What is your future hiring projection?
I have had the pleasure of watching us grow from a startup with seven employees to an organization with over 120 people, and our growth continues. We are always on the hunt for top talent in tech, product, data, customer care, operations and even animation. We have recently acquired more space in our building to accommodate more bright minds.
Where do you see your company in the future?
I see Hallmark Labs having integral involvement with many, if not all, of Hallmark’s future efforts to help people connect more often and in more meaningful ways. And I think that is awesome.