Saturday, April 13

Bruin to Bruin: Debbie Feinberg


Photo credit: Helen Quach


Debbie Feinberg is a UCLA alumnus, philanthropist and owner of the marketing, communications and branding firm Jumpstart San Diego. She joins Podcasts contributor Lauren Miller to discuss her long career in marketing and to share advice she has for Bruins.

Lauren Miller: Hello and welcome to Bruin to Bruin. On the show, we sit down with accomplished members of the UCLA community. My name is Lauren Miller, and I’m a podcast contributor at the Daily Bruin. So today, I have the honor of interviewing Debbie Feinberg. I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Feinberg, back actually in 2022 at a restaurant in Del Mar San Diego when I was visiting my hometown for the weekend. As the owner of Jumpstart, her marketing/communications firm provides assistance to companies and helps them build a successful brand and sell their products and services. With over 20 plus years of experience, she has served in leadership positions and marketing for renowned companies within the biotech industry, such as Human Longevity. Beyond Debbie’s professional journey, she should be commended for her philanthropic efforts.

Alrighty, Debbie, thank you so much for being here today. And let’s get started. So the first question that I have for you – so I know you graduated with a bachelor’s in political science, and then you became an educator. So, I wanted to know a little bit about your teaching journey. How long have you were teaching for? And did you enjoy teaching?

Debbie Feinberg: Yeah, I thank you for having me, really. And I have to say, go Bruins. I did get my credential right after graduating with a BA in political science. And I always wanted to be a teacher. And I did teach for a couple of years and loved it. I actually got to teach at my old junior high in high school, which was really lovely, and sort of ties into having the background of networking at the end of the story. My husband and I had a chance to live abroad and live on a kibbutz in Israel. And we took the chance to do that. Because there’s nothing like traveling and learning from other people, whether you’re living with them or learning another language. So, I made the transition. And when I came back, I had a few positions, you know, close to home where I could still ride my bike, and then a little broader and got a wonderful position as a marketing assistant for nature-made vitamins. I actually babysat, if you can believe this, and taught some religious school to the CLO there. And he had heard I would come back and thought this would be a good career for me. And he really set me up for my future. So that’s how I switched to going into business, and have been in marketing ever since moving to San Diego and getting more involved in medical devices and diagnostics.

LM: Wow, that sounds amazing. So I am very interested, and you are talking about working on a kibbutz for a year in Israel? And what I wanted to know. So, was this right after graduation when you moved to Israel? Or was it a few years after?

DF: No, it was a few years after my husband, who is also a Bruin, and he was a year ahead of me. We both got our credentials, and we both were working. And we celebrate our second wedding anniversary there. And it was something we both just really genuinely wanted to do to see the country, learn the language a little more strongly. And I wouldn’t give up the year for anything. Because when you’re young, and it goes to some advice, you pretty much have the whole world ahead of you. And you might as well take advantage of whatever opportunity is given to you. Because someone once told me, If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there. And along the way, you’re really going to pick up some nuggets.

LM: Wow. So I’m curious when you’re working on the kibbutz. How would you say the kibbutz impacted your professional development? How did it support you in developing professionally?

DF: Well, it’s really funny when I think about it; we were the old people on the kibbutz. And we were probably part of the other group on our old Pong, which is a study group. We were married, we had graduated college, and a lot of people were 18 to 21. And we were 24. Whoo. And I think what was interesting is that we saw what a communal lifestyle would be; I would say it was more of a capitalistic communal kibbutz. They were very wealthy in terms of both their agriculture and their plastic manufacturing, and some their dairy work. And so we really learned how they were marketing the business around the world. And I always find it really interesting that I first learned about, for example, injection molding machines for plastics on the kibbutz, which is plus song in the middle of the country, and that I’ve used for my whole career because plastics are, are really part of diagnostics and you have to make special parts and things so I learned about the business I learned more about people in interactions, I learned more about understanding different cultures and diversity. Because there weren’t just Jewish people in our program, there were people from all religions in all countries. And certainly, it has impacted me for the rest of my life.

LM: Wow, that sounds like such an incredible opportunity. And the fact that you did that with your husband is so cool. I’m sure that’s really brought you guys closer together and has impacted you, you know, you both so professionally; you probably both grew so much. So, my next question, and you did kind of discuss this, and I want to hear this a little more in-depth. So when did you shift away from teaching, would you say and start your journey now?

DF: Sure. When I came back, I wanted to, and I’m showing my age because the personal computer was just being brought into the office space. I wanted to learn about the personal computer or PC; they were Macs as well. I worked very quickly through two or three situations I worked in as a customer service agent working on the computer. Then I moved over to a doctor’s office, setting up their accounting on a computer that I don’t have GMAC, and then moved over to a plastic bottle Company, which was fascinating. I thought I’d want to be in accounting, but in those days, your listeners may appreciate this – my job was to write 48 hand checks a day.

LM: Oh my gosh, I’m sure your hand was so tired after, That’s crazy.

DF: Boring as anything. Oh, one of the clients of the bottle company was a farmer who made vitamins by nature. And that’s who the CEO had worked for. And really, when that happened, I literally felt like a kid in a candy store learning marketing, positioning pricing, working with salespeople developing selling materials, working on PR and advertising was just; I’d found my niche.

LM: After teaching and your husband. I remember you were saying that he’s also an educator, too.

DF: Yes, he worked for the YMCA. Yeah, he was an educator. He recently retired, and he still does work for the YMCA part-time teaching adults how to swim. And working as a lifeguard, and also coaching a master’s team. It’s part-time, but it keeps him very fit and very young. And we’ve always been very attached to the YMCA as well since we met at their day camp in the Palisades and 1970, blah blah blah. We met in 1974. So it was great. It was a great union.

LM: So now I’m curious to hear more about your business. So, what inspired you to start Jumpstart?

DF: Yeah, it really began when he was transferred. He was not an educator from day one. He was also in marketing and sales for Eastern Aluminum. And he was recruited to work for a racquetball company in San Diego, and all through UCLA, we loved San Diego; he was a surfer, and he still surfs. And we would come down for the weekend and literally sleep on the beach. When he had this chance to leave Eastern, which is a great company, and move to San Diego, we literally did not think, and what I did is I set up my company jumpstart then and kept Farm of nature-made as a client and then started expanding with other businesses in what we call health and beauty aids. I’m a little strange in that I’ve had experience in both health and beauty as shampoos, cosmetics, things that are in the drugstore like that, and medical device and diagnostics, which is big in San Diego, so I was able to take that bird walk from consumer packaging to more professional medical devices. But the first few years, I was really committed to Irvine and to Los Angeles for clients since my kids were little.

LM: Wow. OK, so now what I’m curious about to hear about is that in 2023, you engaged in a big collaboration with Brian Brown Healthcare, an agency that specializes in marketing and health care, working with startups and big health organizations such as UCLA. So, I was curious; I want to hear a little bit more about the collaboration. What made you decide to join forces with this agency?

DF: Well, you know, like with everything, you like to work with people you like, right? And Brown, when I was working full time for some companies, was an agency I’ve worked with at two different places, two different corporations. And when our last assignment was with sense bio, we parted ways because we had sold the company, and we kept in touch. And we realized that we were sort of a jigsaw together; they’re much more of a traditional advertising agency. And I’m more of a marketing positioning and branding person. And so we feel like, and we’ve gotten quite a lot of interest in the fact that we can come in as a team and support and bridge either early stage companies that don’t have the staff yet, and prepare them are in gap times where it’s usually precommercialization or staff that you’ve, you’ve had to move companies or move locations. And we can actually come in very quickly at certain periods in early growth, and really have the know-how they’re immediately. And you can do that without adding a headcount. And in today’s world, even the largest companies are very concerned about bringing someone on with all the extra costs with people involved when they don’t need it. Yeah, we could be an interim marketing group. And we can help you then bridge that gap when you’re ready to have a full time.

LM: So my next question to kind of follow up with that is, since you’ve worked with them, do you? Are you allowed? Do you feel comfortable sharing any success stories of clients that you’ve worked with since you guys joined forces?

DF: We just started this in November, OK, we’re in the proposal stages right now. OK, So I don’t have anything in particular. I can’t; what I can tell you is that we’ve had a lot of interest from early-stage entrepreneurs who are looking for just what we’ve talked about: some advice on positioning some pitch decks so they can go out and get some more funding. And just advice, really, on some social media strategies. So it’s really, really been rather small, but I’m not really ready to give you a listing of clients. We’re in the early stages.

LM: Gotcha. OK. And then the next thing that I wanted to talk about, too, is I was looking at the Jumpstart website – it’s beautifully done. And what really caught my eye was the case studies. I was looking through them, and they are catered to different industries, such as healthcare, service, educational, nonprofit leadership, and many more, and they include specific content for each industry that provides a strategy of growth in the field and showcases a diverse range of knowledge. And I was curious: how do you ensure the valuable insight you provide addresses the unique challenges within each sector?

DF: Sure. Um, you know, it all starts with understanding what problem we’re going to solve. So, quite often, someone will have an absolutely great idea. And the first question that we sort of hone in on is, ‘Who is the person that needs this? And what are they willing to pay for it? And who else is in it? Is it a crowded field? Or do you have a unique proposition?’ And so there’s a lot of pre-work that jumpstarts specializes in to really get to that what we call a use case. And if we know, for example, that it’s just talking cardiology, that a person has a tendency to clot, we know there are different drugs, devices, and lifestyle changes that could affect that and ours, their particular within that realm of disease state, a particular professional, whether it’s a cardiac surgeon or a neurosurgeon or interventional cardiologist that would really see the benefit in this particular item product. And if you can then get that person that you’ve now identified from all medical people to cardiology to interventional cardiologists, and they can tell you clearly what they need, and it matches what your practice is doing. You’re going to be successful if you have a miss there. Right? And you think it’s for a, and they’re saying no, absolutely not. It’s for D. Then the inventor or the manufacturer has to figure out how to meet the needs of that end user. Otherwise, you will have a miss, you know, it’s like the two train tracks coming together, and they’ll never meet. And so it’s really important to talk about the kick, the use case, the end user and the competition as to why this would fill a need for that person or that segment.

LM: Gotcha. Wow, thank you. Because I was just reading it, and it was just so beautifully written. So, are you working on it? How many case studies? Are you currently working on any new case studies for any specific industry?

DF: Yeah, every client has an opportunity to be featured in a case study. It’s a benefit to me, not to them, but it can also be repurposed for their marketing tool. So, for example, the diagnostic company saw that we were able to get the right communications into the right specialties. And that then became communication for advertising in today’s world, it would be social media, etc. We encourage all companies to create their own case studies with their own users. And then that’s the basis for them, me, to build their market share. So if they, again, it always goes back to that end user, if they know and they can match a need in the marketplace, then we come in and describe that need clearly, simply and effectively, not in, not in jargon, not in technical speak. But to be able to tell whether it’s the consumer getting the device or the medical professional, that if you do this, your result will be X and you’ll save money and or make money. It’s a success. And then that’s the case study I would build on my client base.

LM: OK, gotcha. I see. Awesome. So then the next question that I wanted to get into that I was very impressed by was your philanthropy and the philanthropy initiatives that Jumpstart has taken and something that I read that I was very interested in is as part of every contract and includes a give back promise, where a portion of all the fees are donated to a local philanthropy, including UCLA alumni activities, and I was wondering how have the philanthropic efforts supported specific initiatives in the alumni community.

DF: Every year, I choose a particular group that will get the 2% back of my gross billings. And I’ve worked with X incarcerated people who are going into the catering business. We always donate money to UCLA and work with the Alumni Association to support students who are arriving. You know, at the university, I host Dinner for 12 Strangers, an event every year at our house, which I find just really beneficial to hear this to meet generational people. And this year, I’m working with the Girl Scouts. I’m on their board of directors here in San Diego, and particularly their seniors, there’s a lot of girls waiting to get into UCLA. And love them in San Diego and do hope they get in. However, they found an amazing leadership development program that I find extremely valuable. And if these girls approach the Gold Award, which is similar to the Eagle Scout award, they’d be great routes. And I’ve been encouraging them to keep, you know, keep ahead of it and try to get into the program. I don’t have to be frank; I don’t have any specific give-back to UCLA this year. Other than that, as I said, donate when asked, and I also read some scholarship papers through the scholarship applications to the Alumni Association.

LM: Wow, that’s awesome. So definitely, I also was curious, too, because you correct me if I’m wrong this year, part of the San Diego Panhellenic Association, Right? Could you talk a little bit more about that?

DF: Well, first of all, I, you know, I don’t think there’s anyone more surprised to join a sorority than I was when I was a freshman. You know, in those days, Sproul and Dykstra and Headrick and Rieber. Had to do a room that’s three to a room, and those were the only dorms for freshmen to come in, and I lived, You know, five miles from campus, and there was no way I was going to get to be in those dorms. And so I went through what someone told me was rush, and I was very, very lucky to find a house for me. Unfortunately, my house is no longer active on campus. It says Sigma Delta Top, but I was able to serve as president and still have some amazing connections with my sisters there. And we see each other two, three times a year. Most of them are still in Los Angeles. But it was a great way to make a large campus small. I think UCLA, it’s so important for students to get involved in something that’s great. You’re involved with the Daily Bruin and some of the other activities. If you don’t and you’re on the computer, it’s hard to get involved, right.

LM: Yeah.

DF: And so I joined and felt attached to my Alumni Association at UCLA, my Alumni Association for the sorority, and I serve on the board for the San Diego athletic San Diego Panhellenic Association. And our goal is to really create and fund scholarships for women going to schools with sororities; we don’t, we don’t mandate they join a sorority. But we want them to if they’re going to a school that does have a sorority, we encourage them to go through rush; they don’t have to. But we really like to hear some of the academic achievements of our high school students in San Diego County, and support them going forward. I have to say, and I don’t know if you’ll continue it, I find it really important to give back like you said for me both financially and in service. And so the Girl Scouts and Panhellenic I helped found a professional woman and healthcare for medical distribution, which is a national organization. And I do belong to NAWBO, which is the National Association of Women Business Owners. It’s basically a bipartisan voice of the millions of women who own businesses across the country. And they provide education, leadership training and support legislation that supports women’s owned businesses. And so that’s been my niche and support. We also support the YMCA as a family, they told you, because that is what brought us together, and our kids were counselors. So here in San Diego, my grandkids go to the same camp Bob and I met.

LM: Wow, that’s amazing. So my question to you when you were talking about because I did see you’re part of the professional women in healthcare and the National Association, a National Association of Women, business owners and Girl Scouts in San Diego, is very commendable. I was wondering can you could offer insight to the women that make up the class of UCLA of 2024 of how they can advance and empower themselves as they start their career journey.

DF: Yeah, yeah. You know, it’s really important to keep an open mind and listen, and ask questions, and ask for help. Right? I think in certain times, and certainly, we’re always stressed about whatever period of life we’re in, whether it’s for grades, or paying the bills, or socially or worrying about, you know, different things going on in our lives of family, friends and ourselves. And I think what you have to remember is that everyone is feeling a similar way. And that the best way to learn is to ask others for advice and how they might do something; you don’t have to listen to it. That’ll give you another perspective. I like to say when I reflect on my leadership journey; I think one of my biggest faults was that I didn’t ask for help enough that it could have been just the way I was wired or that I felt like it wasn’t that I felt like I could do everything myself. By the way, It was more of a fear that if I asked for help, people wouldn’t think I was good enough, right? This whole imposter syndrome, right? Try to move myself away from that. But it’s hard, even, you know, 50 years after entering UCLA, I gotta tell you, it is hard because you’re trained your brain, and all the pathways are solid in there. But just remember, so many people are in the same boat as you are. And it doesn’t mean you’re less than by asking for help. Super important.

LM: You know, I think that’s so true. Because, you know, as a student here, you know, at UCLA, I think it’s so common for people to compare themselves to others and to compare your journey and you’re wondering, how do I get to their position or how do I empower myself and I think it’s really about not competing with other people. But really competing against yourself.

DF: And It’s also accepting the fact that we do, yes, we can change, there’s no doubt. But we also have our unique gifts that other people don’t have. Right? A lot of these women’s organizations and employers, and I’ve had the benefit of having professional coaches, will run you through inventories and testing, like Myers Briggs and disc profiles and any grams. And what you find is that the world is made up of many different types of people. And you can’t win in the world; let’s use the word win, which I don’t like. But we can’t. Every type of individual can succeed; it just may be different than comparing one to another. And so my unique gifts, I believe, or empathy, of wanting to help others it that I am a strong leader; I believe I am, but I’m not going to be the same leader as someone that just is. So hey, here’s my sort of follow me, we’re gonna go do this and not worry about it’s like, no, I need a little bit of a plan. I want to make sure everyone’s feeling OK before we go, right? And that personality type is equally as important in a corporation as the other one. And again, there’s more than two. So, recognizing your gifts that you have, leveraging them, and making sure others are feeling comfortable as they go along the journey with you, I think, will only benefit me; that’s all I can say but vouch for. Right, it’s important.

LM: So I also, too, want to ask you a very specific question. So, speaking from a current student perspective, I think figuring out a career path and what exactly you want to do can be very overwhelming. And I know a lot of students, you know, can relate to this. Given your transition from a teacher to now owning your own communications and marketing firm, what advice would you offer to students who are contemplating a change in their professional journey and they really feel uncertain about what lies ahead?

DF: You know, I think the first thing is to understand that the decision you make when you graduate college isn’t a final decision; you can make a change. Now, if you go through med school, and eight years and residency and all this stuff, and you don’t want to be a doctor, maybe you’ve invested a little more money in it. But you still don’t have to stay in that there might be an ancillary career that can give you the same fulfillment, same income, similar income, acceptable income, whatever it is, but life’s a game of trade-offs. And just because you want to be an X person, I want to be an attorney first, right? And my junior year, I pretty much said, I was looking around, I got out, I really want to be an attorney, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher really, but moved over because of my involvement in some political groups. And then I wanted to be a teacher. And I worked as a teacher till I didn’t want to do that anymore. And then I was lucky enough to keep the network alive, which is why it is so important to invest in, invest your interest in other people, because they want to help you, and you can help them. And that’ll give you a taste for other types of pads that you may not even think of. And just remember, your 20s, your 30s, your 40s, your 50s, they all could be different careers. Some people will stay in one thing forever, our brother-in-law who did that in his particular career, but for him ever brothers and attorney from day one, good for him. You know, I’ve had teaching, consulting and corporate jobs, good for me. It’s, as you said, it’s not about competing with others. It’s about finding a home for yourself that you’re feeling good at because as you feel happy and fulfilled, so will your life be with relationships and other things. I believe, again, I keep saying it, I believe it, and it worked for me; I would not be so bold to say I have all the answers.

LM: Well, no, that’s really good advice. Because I feel as though I’m leaving, I’m going to be a senior, you know, and I recognize too that you know, sometimes, you know, you get thrown off, you find a different interest, and you’re like, oh my goodness, this threw me off from my plan and you’re like I feel uncertain about going this new direction. So it’s nice to know that you know, Sometimes, like you said, go build your network, keep in contact with your network, really build it, and don’t be afraid to go explore new things. So, my other question that I do have is for soon-to-be graduating UCLA students: do you recommend joining the UCLA Alumni Association? And how can it support recent graduates?

DF: Well, I think I wish I had joined it when I first graduated, and now I do more of an annual thing, and I probably should have done it for a lifetime. So that’s a bit of a regret, but I like to give back. I think that what UCLA has done for their local, you know, outside of the LA area, alumni group has been fantastic. The get-togethers that Bob and I still go to are generational. And, you know, you just, you feel good when you find, you know, like minded people that have that group memory of what it was like and the allegiance to something, and it’s wonderful to have that allegiance to UCLA. It’s a great public university.

LM: Oh, it’s amazing. I have a great education here.

DF: Yeah. The county is growing. Now this opening of the Westside Pavilion, that new building over on Pico, I think it’s magnificent up there. The local alumni groups that I’ve heard of around the country are magnificent. That Dinner for 12 Strangers tries to get to one. It’s so much fun and so interesting. You know, I feel lucky to be an alumnus.

LM: No, absolutely. I’m just so grateful for my experience here. It’s really been amazing. I do have one more question which I was curious about. So for your dinner that you were saying that it’s, can you explain the stranger dinner again?

DF: It’s a well; it’s called D12, or Dinner for 12 Strangers, OK. It began at UCLA; I think probably when we were there, professors and alumni invited students to their home for 12 strangers over for dinner. Wow. It’s grown to an international event and to February in the first of March, where it’s off-course online now. And you sign up. And we’ve had people over for dinner and brunch and things last week in February, first week in March. And we’ve had connections over the last three or four years where people keep coming back. We’re not strangers anymore. We have a few strangers that come in. But it’s just a really easy and casual way to connect with alumni in your area.

LM: So you’ve been doing it for three or four years now?

DF: Yeah, I believe it’s our fourth year where we’ve hosted at our home. And we meet other alumni who are either Anderson school, med school, or undergraduate. Over the last few decades, we’ve had everyone from the 70s actually had a woman who graduated in the late 50s. I think she was amazing. Everyone enjoyed meeting her so much.

LM: Oh, wow. Great. Oh, what’s her story?

DF: Oh, it’s amazing. You know, those years. The campus was fairly young, 20 years old, maybe. And she really had some great stories about the campus and landmarks.

LM: Wow, that sounds amazing. Well, Debbie, thank you so much.

DF: Thank you for being so appreciative. So amazing.

LM: You are so interesting.

DF: So I really appreciate being included. It’s great.

DF: Well, thank you so much for coming in, everyone. This is Bruin to Bruin, and it’s brought to you by The Daily Bruin podcast. You can listen to the show and all Daily Bruin podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and SoundCloud, and the audio and transcript are available at dailybruin.com. I’m Lauren Miller, and thank you for listening.


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