How Amber Grimes Hustled To Become A Senior Manager At Spotify

Interview with Amber Grimes

It was just a few months ago that I stumbled upon Amber Grimes Instagram account. The blue icon, with the white check mark intrigued me. Who was this dark skinned, fashion forward, black woman, with more than 30,000 followers? And what did she do to warrant a verified account? That was my first thought, and eventually it led me to so much more.

At 19, while the rest of us were busy deciphering whether we should take statistics in the Fall or Spring, Amber Grimes, who’s now a Senior Manager at Spotify, had already turned down an internship, dropped out of college and landed a full-time position as an executive assistant to the Vice President of Def Jam Records, Bu Thiam.

Amber Grimes first day as Senior Manager, Urban Indie at Spotify TUMA BASA

How did a college dropout manage to land an executive assistant position at such a young age, and also go on to become a senior manager at a major company before the age of 30? I spoke with Amber Grimes to discover how she paved her own path to get to where she is today.

Adunola Adeshola: At 19, was it tough being the youngest person in the room, working with a major executive at a major company?

Amber Grimes: I’m black. I’m a woman. I’m young and I’m a college dropout. So, I’ve always had everything to prove. It wasn’t something that I let get me down. But, I did recognize that there’s always someone who can walk in with more experience than me, a skin color that someone else might respect more, a man someone might respect more. But if I work harder than everyone in the room – no matter what they look like, no matter what experience they have, what they sound like, or how old they are – I will always come out on top.

So, I never let any of those things about who I am bother me because I was always willing to do the work and I know that everyone is not willing to do that. A lot of people like to get by off their characteristics and because I couldn’t do that, I never used it as an excuse. I just worked harder than everyone.

Adeshola: A year ago, you tweeted, “I’m about to change my life” and a lot has changed for you since last year. You landed your position with Spotify just 8 months ago. Where were you this time last year, and what gave you the push you needed to elevate your career and life? At what moment did you decide it was time to pivot?

Grimes: Last year, mentally, I didn’t feel like I was doing enough. I was around a bunch of cool people and I was doing a bunch of cool things. But I wasn’t learning anything anymore and that is ultimately failure to me.

The whole idea of wanting more, is not wanting more money. My desire is to be challenged all the time. That’s what gave me the push to decide that it’s time to do something bigger now, and I made that decision at the exact moment that I became aware of my content and realized I was too comfortable. I was like, “I can pay my bills, I’m hanging out here, I know these people, I’m traveling and I’m so comfortable right now but I can do more than this.”

When I tweeted that I’m about to change my life on Twitter that day, I did it so that I could hold myself accountable for it. It was a slow process. I didn’t know what I was about to change. I didn’t know what was about to happen. But on that day, I decided that everything was going to be do or die now. Either, I fully attack everything that I want to go after or I fail.


Adeshola: That’s interesting that you say, not learning is failure.

Grimes: I don’t have a degree. So, for me, I have to learn everyday just to make up for that. I’ve been in the school of life for about nine years, and I’m getting my master’s right now. When I’m not learning, it’s like I’m not going to class or like I picked the wrong major and I’m wasting my time. I’ll always be a student of the game because I have to be. So, when I’m not learning, I’m failing. It’s like having an F on my report card, and that’s how I think about it.


Adeshola: Walk us through your journey, landing a position as Senior Manager at Spotify. You mentioned that you took a more aggressive and creative approach, could you share that experience?

Grimes: On my life change journey, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew the things I wanted to change and one of the things I wanted to change was who I was around. At the time, I wanted to be around more people who challenged me and who I looked up to. I felt that way about a lot of my peers, but I wasn’t having the right conversations with them. So, I started actively getting on the phone with people I know and going to lunches with them, because I wanted to pick their brains.

I went to lunch in Atlanta with rapper 21 Savage’s manager, Kei Henderson, and she’s the person who told me that she thinks Spotify is hiring someone in Atlanta. She wasn’t sure or anything. But when she said it, there was a big light bulb that went off. There were rainbows in the sky. I was like, “What? I love Spotify! I listen to Spotify every day.” I knew this was for me.

But, I waited about two weeks before I did something about it, because I was like this sounds awesome but they’re not going to hire someone like me. I don’t have this, I don’t have that. You know, I’m a human being and as confident as I sound, I do that to myself. So, I waited and then I got myself back together and was like, “Hey, if they don’t want me, they’re going to have to tell me because I’m at least going to try.”

So, I started calling everyone that I know on the planet and was like, “Hey do you know Troy Carter, could you send him an email for me.” And, a couple of really good people did. They didn’t know what they were saying, they were just like, “Hey Troy, Amber is dope. I heard you were trying to hire someone in Atlanta, look at her.” He responded back and said to have me send my resume.

Pretty much, every opportunity that I’ve got in the music industry has been from relationships, stumbling into something great and working my way into something great and I never had to turn in a resume.

So, this was different. I had a resume and it was a black and white. My first thought was if someone else, more experienced than me, older than me or anything like that, sends a resume, theirs is going to look better. My thought was, “How can I make my resume, so cool that they might not even read it?” Although there are plenty of amazing things to read on my resume, that’s what I was thinking.

I stayed up one night until five in the morning working on my resume. I wanted to create something that speaks to who I really am because this time around I wanted to be hired because I’m creative and colorful and a little bit crazy. And, I wanted them to know that off the bat, because if they hire me, then they like me for who I am already.

Everything I did, leading up to this was just different – my energy, how hard I was willing to work, how interested I was to learn more about the company – and that made me realize this is where I want to be, because I wanted to feel that way about my job. It drove me to attack the interview process. I was turning everything around quickly, I was following up, I know my HR person probably hates me because I was constantly like, “Hey, just following up?”

But it worked out and I was glad that I did more than before, because I got more than anything before.


Adeshola: When you sent in your resume, what was the immediate response?

Grimes: Troy emailed me back himself the same day and said that it was one of the most creative resumes he’s seen since his time there. It was way faster than I thought. I thought I was going to have to wait a couple of weeks.

When I started reaching out about the position, this job didn’t exist. They hadn’t posted it online or anything, so I’m sure he was always wondering, “How did she even know?”

I was trying to make my resume so that I could compete with anyone, but there wasn’t anyone to compete with because no one knew.

But they were hiring, and the best thing about the job was that they were looking for someone in Atlanta, and it’s been such a big deal for me to not have to move from where I’m from to be successful. I’ve seen the world and I’ve spent time in LA and New York, and there’s no place I’ve ever wanted to live outside of here. That also would’ve been a failure to me, if I had to move away from the place that I love to do what I want to do. So, this was beyond the perfect opportunity.


Adeshola: What do you have to say to young professionals who feel like it’s impossible to land a job at big-name companies, like Spotify?

Grimes: It will be impossible as long as they keep telling themselves that it is. The possibilities start with you. You have to watch what you think, watch what you say out loud and how you talk to yourself. Your thoughts and your words are either going to build doors for you or they’re going to build walls for you.

The people that think it’s impossible for them to get their dream job have never tried to get their dream job. You can say this is what you want, but what have you done to get it? I know, because I’ve been that person before that feels like, “Well I work really hard so something awesome is supposed to fall in my lap.” And that’s not how it works, so now when people ask me how I got this job, although there’s more to the story, I always just say, “I applied.”

You need to just apply, get your foot in the door and then you will figure it out after that. If you want something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done and a lot of times, the only thing people haven’t done is try.


Adeshola: You talked about how relationships have been so pivotal in your career. How can young professionals start utilizing their relationships?

Grimes: Network in your network. People are always trying to go out and talk to people that they don’t know because that person is where they want to be, but a lot of times the people that can help you are people that you can call, someone who already wants to hear from you. But the difference is, what you’re telling them.

I could’ve easily went out to lunch with Kei and laughed and gossiped. But, when I went to eat with her, I told her that I was looking to do something new and I asked her for help. I was open about it. Network with the people you can actually reach first. I didn’t know Troy Carter, but I reached out to people who were essentially a bridge to him.


Adeshola: As a black woman, in a senior position, at a major company, working in a male-dominated music industry, what are some challenges you’ve faced? Have you had moments when you’ve contemplated if you should bring your full self to work? If so, how have you pushed through those moments?

Grimes: Nowadays and for a long time, I don’t think about things like that. I’m a human being and I work with other human beings and we all work in a very human industry, with music. I’m happy to work somewhere that makes me feel like that. I bring my full self to work every day, because I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I didn’t.

I know now being a black woman is what helps me through challenges. It doesn’t create challenges for me.


Adeshola: You’ve seemed to have paved your own career on your own terms. Not only do you hold a senior position at Spotify, you’re also the CEO of your own business, The Cardi Brand Agency. You’ve worked in TV with Nick Cannon, in the sneaker industry with Reebok and you’ve done many other things atypical to the traditional career approach. With so much risk involved when trying new things in our careers, how do you know when to take a leap of faith and pursue these opportunities?

Grimes: I always thought there was a much bigger risk in being complacent. Honestly, everything that I’ve done, working with Nick, Bu, Reebok, Mike Will, it’s all just been, “Ok, I’m having fun and I’m learning stuff.” I know what I want out of life, and the type of experiences I want to have while I’m living. I want to have fun. I want to enjoy what I do every day. I want to be happy and I want to learn. So, when I don’t feel that way about what I’m doing, that’s when I take a leap of faith. That’s the indicator.

The riskiest thing ever is being complacent. You could end up doing the same job that you hate for 15 years. People used to do that. But, it’s a new generation and I’m so happy to be a part of this generation. You can go and do what you love and be a part of something you love. You don’t have to work at the bank for 30 years. It’s not that time anymore, and I don’t want to do that.

You don’t lose when you’re learning and moving forward. So, if the best lessons come out of failing sometimes, then it makes the most sense to me to risk it all, if the outcome is going to be dope no matter what.


Adeshola: What advice do you have for young professionals who feel stuck in their careers and who are contemplating making a change but not sure how to do so?

Grimes: Figure it out. The definition of contemplate is to look thoughtfully for a long time. There’s zero action in that. So, if you feel stuck already, you need to start moving: mentally, physically and for some people, spiritually. If you don’t know how to do something, trust and believe that the answer will not come to you in your stillness.

I never know what I’m about to do. Spotify was the first time that I zeroed in on something, but in order to find that opportunity I had to start acting on my first thought, which was I needed a change. That effort alone led me to exactly where I was supposed to be. But if you sit and do nothing, you will get nothing, you will see nothing and you will learn nothing. You will be there at your job, complacently contemplating about what you’re doing. Move!


Originally published at Forbes