This article was originally featured on Voyage Dallas, an online media platform that fosters collaboration and support for small businesses, independent artists and entrepreneurs, local institutions and those that make Dallas interesting.

Jenn McMillen Founder of Incendio and Chief Accelerant wearing firefighter hat in front of fire truck

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenn McMillen.

Jenn, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?

I am a former corporate whore. For real. At least that’s where I ended my career before I orchestrated a pivot. I’m currently the CEO of Incendio, a boutique consulting firm that helps companies build and fix their CRM and loyalty programs. I’ve been in the loyalty space for more than two decades, kickstarting my loyalty career with the national launch of Blockbuster Rewards in the 1990’s. Most people who know me professionally know me as the architect of GameStop’s PowerUp Rewards game-changing loyalty program, but my last corporate job was as the VP of loyalty, CRM and analytics for Michaels Arts & Crafts. After getting completely burned out working in retail for most of my career, I started my own company to take my life back.

Has it been a smooth road?
One of the biggest reasons for starting my own company was that I was tired of getting laid off, downsized, packaged out, RIF’d, whatever you wanted to call it. I decided that I wanted to be captain of my destiny, but it certainly took me long enough to decide that this was my path. I climbed the ranks of Corporate Land, did the time to get each promotion, worked the insane hours, had no life, forewent the gym to sit at my desk and answer emails, and subjugated my life for the officer title, the annual bonus, and the 401-K contribution. As I was fomenting my discontent, the word “beholden” kept coming up, like the Universe was sending me a signal. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after Michaels, but I knew that I didn’t want to be “beholden” to a board, a shitty boss, passive-aggressive coworkers, mean clients, or tied to a desk where I just rolled meeting after meeting, trying to surreptitiously answer emails and texts while I tried to look interested and engaged. It was time to pivot.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I’m not fond of the CEO title, so since the day Incendio was hatched, I’ve been the Chief Accelerant. Incendio means fire in Spanish, and someone has to make this whole thing go, so Chief Accelerant felt more like a “doing” title than an “overseeing” CEO title. Incendio has been in business for 4+ years at this writing, and our elevator speech is: We help companies build and fix their loyalty and CRM programs. But we actually do a lot more than that. We evaluate and course-correct customer experience, map out customer journeys, create communication programs, and revamp tired creative, but our warm strategic center is really CRM and loyalty and whatever that entails. We got really lucky that our first paying client was GNC, a $4B vitamin/supplements retailer, and although we are a small company, we’ve got big name clients. I’m very proud to count PetSmart, JCP, Sally Beauty Supply, Academy Sports & Outdoors, Five Below, Chipotle, NASCAR, Hallmark, Godiva, and many others as clients. As I like to say, we are small but mighty. We take on a few clients per year and go deep with them, as opposed to taking on many clients and spreading ourselves thin. We love the execution side and bringing programs to life, but we are–at our core–a strategic thinking firm. Every one of my senior consultants has been the client themselves, running some of the biggest programs in the country, so that’s what makes us different from other loyalty firms out there. All of us have sat in the chair, managed the budget, and felt the political pressures, so our perspective is a lot different than someone who has never been on the client side.

myGNC rewards case study

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is one of the best places to do business right now. I’ve lived all over the country–Seattle to Raleigh-Durham–and you can’t beat Texas, especially Dallas. Texas is business-friendly, the cost of living is amazing compared to other places, and logistically with two airports, you can get to either coast and back again the same day if you wish. As Scott Galloway says in his book “The Algebra of Happiness,” get yourself to a city to start your career. Cities are where wealth is created, and with a city as big as Dallas, the opportunities are myriad. With the cost of living being completely reasonable compared to other big cities such as San Francisco or New York City, you can set yourself up financially for the rest of your life in someplace like Dallas.