Angel Gambino: The Ultimate Early Adopter Sets Her Sights on Detroit

1/30/12Follow @XconomyDET

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“I always thought that one day, I’d like to do something to make the city better.”

After graduating from high school, she went to college on a soccer scholarship and debated coming back to town after she finished, but the perceived lack of opportunity stopped her. “I remember thinking that if I came back, I’d be limited to working in the automotive sector, and that didn’t appeal to me in the least bit.”

Instead, she chose to enroll in the University of Oregon’s vaunted environmental law program. While there, she became inspired by the possibilities of the Internet. This was in the early 1990s, when the Internet was little more than chat rooms and email.

During law school, Gambino took over running the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, the largest environmental law conference of its kind in the nation, and she asked the university to find a way to broadcast the conference over the Internet so activists who couldn’t make the trip to Oregon would still be able to participate. She had a “lightbulb moment” when 4,000 people tuned in to the live stream.

When she finished law school, Gambino took what she thought was her dream job—director of legal affairs for the Humane Society in Washington, D.C. But despite the fact that she occasionally rubbed elbows with the likes of Bill Clinton and Bruce Babbit, Gambino says, it became painfully obvious how difficult it is to actually effect change in Washington.

To blow off steam, she played in a weekly volleyball game with a group of NASA rocket scientists. She confided in them how unfulfilled she was, and how she was starting to think her true interest was in building businesses on the Internet. The rocket scientists told her that a former colleague had just left for New York City to build such a business, focused on electronic payment systems, and why didn’t she give him a call?

Their meeting was like one of those first dates when things are going so well you can’t bear to part, so you go from coffee to a movie to dinner to drinks to dancing and then maybe to bed. In Gambino’s case, lunch turned into a six-hour job interview with several people in the startup. At the end of the whirlwind date, she was asked to join the team and help build the company. And so she did, bringing in clients such as Wells Fargo and Capital One, who at the time had no online payment system.

Gambino eventually realized she wanted to work internationally, so she relocated to Britain, beginning a string of high-profile gigs in digital media and entertainment. First, she took over business development and lead generation for Gameplay, helping the company grow to the point that it was able to survive the tech-bubble bust of the late 1990s and become a darling of the AIM, a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange.

Then, in 2001, the BBC offered Gambino the position of Controller of Business … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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