This is a part of a series of posts introducing team Iggy. Meet Lindsay Pettingill, data scientist, traveler, boulderer, and founder of Iggy!
Talk to me about your background - how did you get here & why did you decide to found Iggy?
I went to a small school in Maine called Bowdoin where I studied German and Sociology. After graduation I did a Fulbright in Germany, and it was a non-traditional Fulbright in that most Fulbrights are research-based but mine was teaching-based. I taught at a German high/middle/upper elementary school (Gymnasium). I think I was mandated by the government to work no more than 15 hours a week, which was pretty awesome. I was 22 years old, and most of my friends were queuing up for their finance or healthcare jobs in Boston and New York, and I was living in Berlin and I had quite a different schedule. I read a lot, I explored a lot. It was an awesome year, I really enjoyed getting to know Berlin.
A lot of what I did that year was host friends who came to Berlin and I was always in charge of where we should go, not just in terms of bars and restaurants, but history and culture too. At the end of that year, I thought about founding a travel company of some sorts that would introduce people to the Berlin that I knew, which was very different to the Berlin that most people experienced. Not just Berlin, but also Brandenburg which is the state around Berlin. It's just beautiful in terms of the natural surroundings. I mention this bc it shows up in the products I want to build at iggy.
After that, I got a job at Harvard bc I wanted to go to grad school but I didn't know what I wanted to study. I had heard that many roles in my paygrade were unionized, and one benefit of that was that we got to take many Harvard classes for free or really cheaply, which was pretty incredible when you don't know what you want to go to grad school for. So I took a bunch of classes and ultimately decided that I was going to get a PhD in Politics and Government. That was for reasons connected to Germany - I'd always been really kind of confused by the breakdown of democracy in Germany. Germany was just the epitome of modernity and then everything fell apart. It turns out that there is a formal way to study that through Political Science. So I went to Georgetown, I did a joint Master's and PhD in Political Science and German and European Studies. While I was doing that, I got to know a pretty young professor, Dan Hopkins. He studied political behavior and wanted to integrate place into his models of political behavior. So he was trying to predict how people would vote based on where they lived in proximity to other things. I had seen some blogs that you could do this via geospatial analytics and told him that I could help out with these models. I had no idea what I was talking about, but I figured I would learn and he gave me the time to learn. I ended up getting really into it, to the point where I was walking through DC, where I lived at the time, and it was rapidly gentrifying, and I was thought ‘Whoa, all of a sudden, I might be able to measure this’. My early dissertation work was on gentrification, and I decided to step away from that, but the interest was always there in terms of understanding place and connecting that to other things.
As I was finishing my PhD, I did Insight Data Science and got hired at Airbnb where I hoped to use geospatial data to work on host growth or something. Airbnb was a rocketship. I just got on and really held tight and long story short, after about four years at Airbnb, I started to come back to the geospatial work that I thought that I would initially do. I was working on the host team at Airbnb as a Data Scientist and I realized that we didn't have any concept of the “context” of our listings at Airbnb… we knew a lot about the listing and its specific characteristics but we didn't really have a way to understand what was nearby. That matters bc if you know what’s nearby you can market listings differently (which is sort of what Airbnb is (finally) doing w Categories), you can price more accurately, and you can drastically improve search. That became really compelling to me. I tried to work on an internal project there, but it didn't get a lot of support. So eventually, I decided to leave Airbnb and start Iggy to solve this challenge.
Without using complete sentences, can you describe what’s going on in your life at the moment?
Building a company. Hanging out with my wife and dog. Traveling more. Reading a lot. Getting back on my bike. And bouldering.
If you could choose a career besides the one you have now, what would it be?
There’s this guy, Charles the Barefoot climber. He's a rock climber who lives in Fontainebleau outside of Paris, which is one of the premier bouldering areas in the world. He lives in a cave, and is currently one of the best climbers in the world and he doesn't wear climbing shoes when he climbs. He's a super interesting guy. And he just does these amazing climbs. So I don't know that I would want to live in a cave but France wouldn't be bad and if I could be a professional climber, I think it'd be pretty rad.
Where’s your favorite place in Bay Area?
We spend a lot of time in Tilden Park, which spans Berkeley, Oakland, and the East Bay Hills. There are Redwood groves and eucalyptus forests and great views of the bay and we can bring the dog which is really fun. For food, we love Daytrip, a restaurant in Oakland that is run by some really good people making great food and doing well by their workers and community– a super hard thing to do in really any business.
What quality do you most admire in someone else?
Generous curiosity. What I mean by that is probably exemplified by this professor I had in grad school. Her name was Kate McNamara and she's super badass. She initially taught at Princeton and I think she might have been the first female tenured professor in Georgetown's Political Science department and is a very well respected international relations scholar. She would lead a lot of talks and invite folks to come to Georgetown to discuss “working papers”– super early drafts of stuff and it is wild because so many of those papers were not really worked out intellectually. Kate always approached everyone with curiosity – what I call “generous curiosity” – which is curiosity alongside deep respect. She never made anyone feel stupid and always took them seriously. What I loved about her is that, when I saw it, and got to know her, I was like, “this is really special and it's so rare” and hopefully it's impacted the way that I interact with people too.
If you could eat only three dishes/meals for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Sushi. Yakitori. Pasta sugo from Flour & Water in San Francisco.
What’s your favorite clothing item you own?
I have these Stan Smith Prime Knits from Adidas that I found at an Adidas concept store in Mexico City. I can only find them on eBay or GOAT now. They stopped making them so I have to go to find leftover (and maybe fake?) versions.
What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up, and the last one you close before you go to sleep?
Probably Slack when I wake up and I've been trying to use my phone less so I actually blocked Twitter on it and I've deleted my Instagram app. My wife is usually on TikTok at night so I’ll look at hers - I don’t have it.
What do you hope the epitaph on your tombstone says?
That I was daring and took risks and really cared about other people and took time to know them and make them feel empowered.
What’s your worst habit at home?
Probably piles. I leave piles of things all over the place. Books, clothes, half-eaten apples and Gatorade, receipts, dog treats, whatever.
What was a formative turning point in your life?
Probably going to therapy! But that's pretty personal so I’ll share another.
When I was in the third grade, I started playing softball. I have a big family– there were five kids in my family at the time (eventually 7). My parents often couldn't pick me up from practice so my Coach would drive me home. I remember asking him before our first game, ‘Who are you going to put in each position?’ He said, ‘Oh, I'm gonna put so and so at catcher and so and so at pitcher’. He went through all the positions and then I said, ‘Well how do you decide who to put where?’ He said, “Well, Leah is going to play shortstop because she has the best glove.” I said “That means she's the best fielder?” He was like, “yeah”. So I was thinking to myself, “Obviously, I want to be the best. So I am going to play shortstop. That’s my goal.” I just decided, if that's where the best person plays, I have to play there. By the end of the season, I was shortstop and I played shortstop for most of my softball career. It's not something that at the time, I was like, “oh, this is a defining moment in my life”. I just thought “I need to get better at this” and so I did. And of course I had help: My brother Dan and I would play baseball. My mom would throw me grounders. It feels pretty critical looking back, because at some point, I just decided if I want to do something, I'll be able to do it because I will practice A LOT. I think it just goes to show that usually if we put our minds to something, we can probably make it work. And that has definitely been the way that I've interacted with the world for a large part of my life - I will decide on a challenge, and I will find a way to make it happen. That’s a pretty important part of who I am.
What is a current podcast that you’re listening to/book you’re reading that you are enjoying or ones that you connected with recently?
I am reading a book called “The Great Circle”; it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year. It’s by Maggie Shipstead. (My cheat code to reading right now is to go to the Booker shortlist.) I just started it but as far as I can tell the book is a story of two women's lives, maybe 75 years apart. The initial character Marian was trying to circumnavigate the globe in a plane, as a woman in the ‘40s or ‘50s– a tough time for women to really do anything but be at home. The second character Hadley is an actress who ends up playing Marian in a biopic. Hadley talks about her connection to Marian in terms of a great circle (Marian dies in a plane crash, as did Hadley’s parents), and it’s pretty great so far. Incidentally, this is not why I chose it, but funnily enough, a lot of it is about this power of will and perseverance to do things that as a woman, you're not supposed to do. I didn't mean to connect it to my previous answer but there you go.
Singing or dancing?
Beach or mountains?
Tattoos or piercings?
Tattoos on other people, piercings on me.
Movies or Theater?
Weightlifting or cardio?
Hot tub or hot spring?
Sunrise or sunset?
Sunset. I'm not up for sunrise, ever.
Fiction or nonfiction?
Horror or comedy?
Taylor Swift or Waxahatchee?
Taylor Swift, always. But also Waxahatchee and 10,000 Maniacs and REM and Maggie Rogers.
I thought I wanted to be an engineer for a Formula One team (kind of ridiculous in retrospect), so at the time I majored in mechanical engineering. Long story short, I was programming every night instead of doing my mechanical engineering homework, so I eventually decided to leave to find a job building software.
My background is mixed. I was an English major originally, and pivoted to environmental science and biology later in college. In graduate school, I got interested in quantitative / computational ecology and testing ecological theory using historical observational data, experiments, and computer simulations. I worked as an applied ecologist at Northern Arizona University for a couple of years, before co-founding a company called Conservation Science Partners in 2012. We had a tremendous amount of success over the last 10 years, but I was feeling ready for a change in focus.
I am an astronomer by background - I did a PhD in astronomy. I studied the evolution of the galaxy since the Big Bang. Very different from what I do today. My interest in astronomy was motivated by the discovery process. You get to discover something interesting that no one's ever discovered before. But as I was going through that, one thing that I realized - and it led to my transition to data science and ultimately to product - was that I liked working on these sorts of big questions, but I wanted to do so in a bit more of an applied way.