Diversity in Silicon Valley

Before I moved here, the image I had about Silicon Valley was all about technology, new groundbreaking ideas, products and services and so many startups popping up everyday. Additionally, everyone was  talking about the “war for talent” and all the efforts companies are putting into having a more diverse workforce.

Following some basic reasoning, I thought there would be many opportunities for me as a recruiter. Of course, in my naivete, I completely forgot I was a woman from Romania. And so I was taken by surprise by a closed bro culture. Get a taste of it over here and here. I quickly learned how important networking and intros are – particularly for getting a job.

For the first few interviews the so-called feedback was the same – “you haven’t been for long enough in the Bay Area”. I was so lucky to get this type of constructive feedback that anyone can only hope for; it was clearly something I can improve and build on.

I found a community(?) called The Expat Woman – the name is self-explanatory. They organize events on career change, moving to the Bay Area. I thought it was exactly what I needed – to meet other women who are going through the same thing as I was, see what challenges they had and learn from them and how they managed to overcome those challenges.

The event was boldly called Careers in Tech: Recruiter Panel, Career Fair and Mixer. I already knew there was no way in hell so many things could go as planned and make a good coherent event but I went anyway with an open mind; I was in my “let’s explore” mood.

The setup of the room had no space for networking, everyone was sitting down quietly in their chairs, waiting for class to start – sorry – the event. I’m not even going to go into the organizing of the event, kudos for the ones who tried.

The main thing that bothered me was that all the panelists were American white male. At an event organized by The Expat Woman. Which was supposed to help WOMEN deal with the closed bro network.

Initially I thought – Wow, some insider information! from the bros themselves. But that was not the case.

The moderator started the discussion by proudly saying that only 20% of jobs are advertised. After the first few questions I started drifting off. I guess I’m allergic to BS. To put it simply it was an entire event where networking was mansplained.

The question of diversity somehow came up – all the panelists admitted they don’t do much in that direction. But they also proudly said they reject over 50% of their candidates based on “culture fit”. When asked how do they test for culture fit, well the answers started to go in another direction, gracefully avoiding the question.

At the same time, this notion of war for talent still exists. Still, some people in hiring management positions believe that all the good ones are taken and the ones who applied are not good enough to be reviewed – the way is aggressive sourcing and poaching employees from competitors. 

I left the event feeling frustrated because a) it was not what the event promised, b) there was no added value for me, c) it confirmed all the things I didn’t want to believe were true (bias on all levels). But most importantly, I felt conflicted. How can I ever be a “culture fit” in this type of environment? Do I even want to be a “culture fit”? I’m a recruiter, does that mean I should be like them to get a job around here? 

My main takeaway was – If I would have been born here, a boy and also white, everything would have been so much easier! How do I implement this in my day-to-day life as a woman in the Bay Area? Good question.

Since I obviously cannot be any of the above (nor want to), the only thing I decided to do is to stay away from these companies who show this type of toxic culture. I know that narrows the list of eligible companies but at least now I know for sure what I am not willing to compromise – and that is my identity.

We as recruiters, as candidates, as hiring managers, we have a lot of work to do, like maybe using the best talent to keep your startup alive and make those millions, not only promise them to investors. Stop thinking that person doesn’t look, think or feel like you. That’s a good thing!

It’s time to grow up, Silicon Valley!

 

If you have any similar situations you’d like to share, get in touch on Twitter @helenofpanda.

 

Key takeaways from my 1st AI Webinar

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  • Hosted by Ruben @ Microsoft (Bucuresti), with
    Titus, Growth Manager @ DigitalGenius — Human+AI for Customer Service (San Francisco) & Cosmin — Data Science & Machine Learning developer, CEO of Clusterr.io (Timisoara)
  • Artificial Intelligence = “(…) the study of methods for making computers behave intelligently. Roughly speaking, a computer is intelligent to the extent that it does the right thing rather than the wrong thing. (…) AI includes tasks such as learning, reasoning, planning, perception, language understanding, and robotics.”
  • AI is not new, it has been around since 1955, with the first definition being proposed by Arthur Samuel
  • Machine Learning = “(…) the branch of AI that explores ways to get computers to improve their performance based on experience” — same source as AI
  • Examples of practical applications of Artificial Intelligence: playing board games and card games, answering simple questions, assembling complex objects, translating text from one language to another, recognizing speech, recognizing many kinds of objects in images, and driving a car under most “normal” driving conditions, fraudulent credit-card transactions or evaluating credit applications.
  • We’re now at the point where we have good enough data, good enough computing power (GPUs) & good enough algorithms to be able to produce usable neural networks and practical applications

Read the rest here, including the part where I talk about DigitalGenius & deep learning as a practical application of Artificial Intelligence for Customer Service

Artificial Intelligence – the Hottest Topic of 2017

ai20172017 has just started and already there’s a lot of voices in the market placing Artificial Intelligence at the top of predictions and reports from Forrester Research, Gartner, Tractica and venture capitalists alike.

In one GeekWire piece, three of the five venture capitalists quoted about 2017 trends mentioned AI on their list. That’s remarkable for an industry that has not yet reached maturity but has demonstrated it is ready for widespread adoption. 2017 is likely to be the year we see significant uptake in practical applications for artificial intelligence.

We are after all in a perfect storm of data, computing power and algorithms that fuel these applications both at startup and at corporate level. And I’m not talking about the all knowing AI, but something way more practical:

The promise of artificial intelligence is ubiquitous and often portrayed in Hollywood as a calculating robo-nemesis, disguised as a friend or personal assistant (just see Her, exMachina, and Westworld). Yet, there are few areas better suited for an AI-powered transformation than enterprise & business functions.

Mikhail Naumov, President & CSO at DigitalGenius – Human+AI Customer Service

As a bonus, Udemy is offering their AI/ML course at a 95% discount, an easy way to get in on the machine learning growth wave.

Save the Date – Top 5 2017 Growth Conferences

We’re running out of 2016 and if you haven’t done it yet, it’s a good time to put some dates in the calendar for your personal development. Being a great growth manager means you have to be on top of your game with both marketing, business development, management and operations. And that’s beyond your company’s industry.

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Every year, things evolve very fast, so even if you keep up with the news, you need to get a boost by going to at least 5 events. This will not only give you an edge when it comes to info and case studies, but it is also a great way to network with peers and develop professional relationships with likeminded individuals.

Startup Grind – Global Conference

WHEN – February 21-22
WHERE – Silicon Valley – Fox Theater | Redwood City

“These are our people” – Sam Altman, Y Combinator, plus with 3,000 founders and investors, more than 40 keynote and fireside sessions, and over 50 exhibiting startups, this is Startup Grind’s largest event ever.

GrowCo

WHEN – May 8-10
WHERE – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Join like-minded entrepreneurs, business leaders, bestselling authors and headliners straight out of the pages of Inc., for three days of ideas, inspiration and insights, networking and learning, and proven strategies to help your company grow and thrive.

Traction Conference

WHEN – May 31 – June 1
WHERE – Vancouver, Canada

Traction brings founders and growth experts from tech unicorns including LinkedIn, Dropbox, Pinterest, Zillow, Hootsuite, Marketo, Groupon, HubSpot, AngelList and more to teach startups distribution strategies and tactics to get, keep and grow customers and revenue at scale.

CONTENT MARKETING WORLD CONFERENCE AND EXPO

WHEN – September 5-8
WHERE – Cleveland, Ohio USA, Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland

Over 80 sessions and workshops presented by the leading brand marketers from around the world covering strategy, integration, measurement

TechCrunch Disrupt 2017

WHEN – September
WHERE – San Francisco, California

It is the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators.

As 2017 kicks in and more conferences are announced, I’ll update this list with dates and places, so keep an eye out for this post.

What’s your shortlist for 2017?

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3 MUST Focus Areas for Growth Managers

There is an increasing amount of noise out there about what a growth hacker or a growth manager (please don’t confuse these two!) should do to drive 10x growth in organizations. I’ve seen a lot of tactical suggestions, examples and strategies, ranging from PPC, A/B testing, to branding and sales organization setup, but very few talk about the WHYs, the reasons behind all the tests and the activities, the larger picture, the strategic intent. Sure, you can argue that it could be all for growth.

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Growth for growth’s sake is not sustainable and is a bigger danger to a company than not having growth in the first place!

Here’s my take on it. Every Growth Manager who is building a sustainable oranization must focus on the following 3 elements:

  1. Product Marketing
  2. Business Development
  3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

1. Product Marketing

The Growth Manager needs to understand the customer and be able to work with the product & sales teams to develop benefit statements and compelling stories.

They own the message, the brand and the marketing strategies, channels and budgets and are responsible for lead generation, PR, thought leadership, influencer relationships and all other brand building activities. They own the paid, earned , owned media mix and drive brand awareness both industry-wide and to customer segments.

Here’s a very good definition given by Openview Partners:

Product Marketing also focuses on understanding the market and market needs, but with an emphasis on understanding the buyer of the company’s products and services. Product Marketing is responsible for developing positioning, messaging, competitive differentiation, and enabling the Sales and Marketing teams to ensure they are aligned and work efficiently to generate and close opportunities.

Deliverables: Product Marketing Strategy, Marketing Assets (website, branding, PR, messaging), Marketing Campaigns

2. Business Development

If a Growth Manager focuses on just the first point, then they are effectively a Product Marketing Manager. However, given the moment a growth manager joins the organization, they are required to step up and step in the business development process, as well as the marketing process.

That way, they learn two important things – first hand customer feedback on product marketing messages and materials that sales teams need in order to be successful. The feedback is very useful in refining and iterating on product benefits, narrative, angle, story, case studies, customer success showcases.

The materials needs assessment feeds into creation of product sheets, pitch decks, videos, websites, communication campaigns, email marketing, automation flows, lead nurture campaigns – any activity that the sales team needs “air support” for in the process of moving leads down the funnel to opportunities and active customers.

Deliverables: Business Development Strategy, Sales Funnel, Sales Pipeline Management, Sales & Marketing Collateral (white papers, product sheets, videos, presentations, nurture campaigns)

3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

To ensure healthy and sustainable growth, the last piece of the Growth Manager puzzle is resource & stakeholder management. They must always think two steps ahead of the game, making sure the team is ready to raise the next round, ready to bring in the right people to expand the team and ready to present itself in front of customers.

Growth Managers need to figure out how the company should look like, what it needs to become, in order to grow into that picture piece by piece. It can be the way the branding is portrayed, the way the website is designed and structured, the way you handle recruitment & employer branding and how all of these are externally perceived by stakeholders other than customers – i.e. investors, partners, future employees, peers.

Deliverables: Marketing Collateral, Investor Relations Collateral (decks, website, marketing and sales assets), Employer Branding Strategy & Collateral

If you are a Growth Manager today or planning to become one, you must keep your actions focused on all three of the elements to ensure consistent, sustainable results delivery. Hey, one day you could be the CEO of the company.

When do you need a Growth Manager?

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I won’t quote the Harvard Business Review article that decisively said that every company needs a growth manager because I think that’s a wrong approach. Only businesses that have a strategic goal to grow need a growth manager, all others need a manager that can maintain the status quo, the market share, the profit margin, the shareholder returns a.s.o. The latter companies will suffer from having a Growth Manager as will the Growth Manager suffer from being in such companies, because growth does not come without pains or changes.

If you don’t leave room for some pain in order to grow towards the reward, you will never get to the reward.

Another article I’d like to mention here is the Intercom piece about the bullshit that is growth hacking and how bad it is for an organization to turn it into a strategy. Sure, it’s scrappy, lean, works for a while, but the price you pay in the long run is a lack of foundation for the growth you hacked your way into. That foundation is done with investment in tools, strategies, deliverables, templates, methods, people, offices that don’t deliver right away. Hell, they may even push your organization at the very edge, stretching the runways, cash flows and giving the C-levels some nightmares. But the ones who choose to grow this way are the most likely to reap the rewards in the long run.

One of the best places and times to hire a Growth Manager is when the company is opening up a new office in a new geography. The founder / C-level / co-founder that is in charge of opening this new office should first hire the growth manager to essentially build infrastructure for operations, sales, recruitment and marketing and benefit from their network and expertise, especially regarding process design and management. Without this person to drive the new office growth, the pace will be significantly decreased due to the lack of bandwidth of the person opening the office alone.

It’s here that the redundancy rule stands very strong – have at least two people in the company with overlapping skills, that way if one gets hit by a bus or goes on vacation, the other can keep running the shop.

Hire a Growth Manager that is curious, hungry, that has built at least several other projects, managed business units or functions from zero to regional if not global impact. Give them resources and freedom to act, trust them to build the infrastructure which will enable the product-market fit startup to grow, the established company to expand and the team to specialize and move from a learning – jack of all trades type of roles to production focused, quota focused, ROI, KPI focused machines that will deliver the results for your next round or the IPO or the results you will need 3-4 quarters from now.

Remember, it’s not just about the 10x growth requirement or the go-to-market readiness that needs a Growth Manager. The best companies hire one before that so he/she will have time and resources to build the vehicles to be used in the future growth process.

Breaking into Startups in San Francisco is not like on HBO

When I moved to Silicon Valley, I thought to myself:

Man, opportunities will come at me from every corner!

While it took me just over two weeks to break into the startup world, others aren’t so lucky to have pre-existing connections or traditional startup backgrounds and get rejected a lot. I got rejected too, before hitting it big at DigitalGenius.

Last night, a few awesome folk launched a different kind of startup podcast: one that’s about beating the stereotypes, conscious and unconscious biases of Silicon Valley startups. Not just white, male, top tier school graduates should be the ones joining companies backed by top VCs or household names like Google, Facebook or Twitter. Everyone should have a shot, but they don’t.

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That’s one of the reasons the community behind Break Into Startups came together and supports one another – the only way to break the pattern is if we all work together. No more job board rejections, no more interviews where you are given a hard time because you don’t fit the pattern.

If you agree with what I said, listen to their stuff, subscribe and leave a review to help spread the word. Share, tweet, post for a more inclusive, more creative world.

I’m refocusing this blog – Growth hacking vs. Growth Management

It’s been 2 months since I moved to San Francisco and I feel it’s time to refocus this blog on my newest endeavor – growth management.

I don’t believe in growth hacking as a sustainable strategy – it’s good for the short term, good to work with it if you don’t have resources, but once you are set to build a product or a brand, you’ll soon find it’s shortcomings.

I do believe in growth management as a structured, intentional and long term process that creates and leads a change management process within the organization. Growth management focuses on creating the right mindset, culture and infrastructure for a company to grow 10x, for a department to launch a product and scale fast without experiencing too many growth pains – like overload, intermittent service, poor quality or lack of materials etc.

I’ll try and transfer some of my learning here as I grow and build with DigitalGenius and it’s going to be an interesting ride for sure, as the artificial intelligence space is in its infancy and no one has ever scaled an AI company to the level we’re about to attempt. Join me in this journey.

How To Choose The Right Investors for Your Startup [with Examples]

I have been involved with startups for the past couple of years and one of the most frequent questions that came to both my mind and in entrepreneurship community discussions is how to choose an investor. This is a two sided question, as both you as an entrepreneur and the investor must find common ground on most things to share resources – their money & influence vs. your company and future success.

So for the entrepreneur, it’s a process of research, pitching and due diligence, while for the investor it’s a process of deal sourcing, evaluation, investor branding, network and due diligence. Both sides need to do a lot before any deal even begins to travel through the pipeline. Since I value the experience of others, I pulled the best advice from several online forums & communities to cover the top criteria on how investors and entrepreneurs choose eachother.

It’s very much like marriage – successful ones always are backed by lots of work, lots of getting to know eachother, bad ones are spontaneous and crazy.

Jason M. Lemkin said on Quora that the entrepreneur should focus on what they need according to the stage they are in. In the early days, you will look at:

  • Help scaling from nothing to something.  An investor who’s actually done what you’ve done for real can help you here 10,000,000x more than someone that hasn’t.
  • Help getting at least 1 great hire.  Can the investor help?  Hiring is always impossible.
  • Help with the next round.  This should not be underestimated.  Is the investor someone VCs like to follow?  For real?  And will he or she be able to help here?
  • Help with PR and promotion.  Most investors can’t do this.  But some can.  This can help.
  • Help making you seem Hot (or at least, Cool) before you deserve it.  Few can do this.  But it’s super valuable.
  • Help being a true mentor.  Related to the first point.  Very few can really do this.  But if you can get someone to really help you be a better CEO — this is worth its weight in gold.

Forbes.com, in a recent article, focuses on 4 key questions:

1. Do you click on a personal level?
2. What can they bring to the table?
3. What have they invested in before?
4. Do they usually do follow-on rounds?

While the first one is a no-brainer, given that you’ll be working together for several years, the second question is often overlooked when money shines bright. Look beyond the cash and check the points made by Jason Lemkin, check expertise, experience, network and resources. They will end up being more valuable than the cold, hard cash.

Here’s another great piece of advice from Entrepreneur.com backing what I just said:

Cohen: They should make introductions for you to other investors, customers and partners. They should be asking you what your issues are and how they can help. With my companies, if I know what your top three issues are on a regular basis, I’m happy.

Cnet.com had a piece about this from a few entrepreneurs that went through the successful investment process (the bold part is my choice):

“Pick investors who believe in you personally and who you feel you can be open with,” said Danielle Morrill, Referly co-founder and former director of marketing for Twilio. She advises companies to find investors they can trust and won’t abandon a business when it’s going through rough times.

Sales-Griffin’s final note is that it should never be about the money. “The real value is in the regular hands-on advice and strategic support,” he concluded.

Christopher Mirabile said on Quora that not all investors are created equal and went on to name several categories of sins related to investor behaviour. Helps a lot to have a red flag checklist when going through the hoops, although I don’t agree with him on all the points or the severity of them. Here’s a selection:

Deal-breakers:

giving you bad advice and insisting you follow it
lacking, honesty, honor, integrity and good common sense values
being bigoted, sexist or likely to harass or disrupt members of your team
being unable to make up their mind on whether to invest (or what strategic course to take) and always wanting another meeting

Red flags:

insisting on a board seat but having no value to add
failing to understand or keep current with the company’s technology or positioning in order to represent the company well
not being able or willing to introduce you to other investors or customers, failing to actively support and “talk up” your company, having no network or connections or networking skills to help you build the team
lacking business fundamentals or experience with sales, taking a lot of your time and requiring a lot of hand-holding
insisting on dilutive advisory shares or consulting fees for no, or dubious, value
being unpleasant, close-minded, inflexible and generally difficult to get along with
lacking knowledge of how to structure a round, lacking knowledge of how to stage capital into a company

And last, but not the very less least, Mikko Asaarela put together a very comprehensive list of questions investors should be prepared and expect to be asked.

1. Could you refer me to entrepreneurs who you’ve worked with who highly recommend you?

2. How many Founders/CEOs have been fired by the board from your portfolio companies? Can I talk to them? 

3. How much return have the entrepreneurs seen from exits in your portfolio?

4. Can I talk to the founders of failed companies in your portfolio?

5. What kind of follow-on investment do you think the company needs to succeed?

6. What is your end game?

There is no quick win or recipe for success. Every company and every investor are different, so go through the process of getting to know each other, research online and offline, ask tough questions and work on your personal / investor brand beforehand. It helps speed up the whole thing.

Looking for the new Romanian Country Manager for TransferGo

I’m heading off to the San Francisco Bay Area in less than 2 months and it’s time to find a capable, passionate and smart person to replace me at TransferGo for the Romanian Country Manager role.

For the past year, we’ve worked towards gaining traction in the Romanian diaspora for TransferGo and switching as many migrant workers from old, expensive cash to digital money transfers and help them save money for their families.

We’ve achieved a lot, I personally learned many great things from the people I found and worked with at TransferGo and there’s a great opportunity to capture the market in the next few years, as more and more Romanians abroad join the Digital Diaspora and get familiar with online financial services. TransferGo is a great place to apply marketing, management, planning and business development skills. It’s also a great place to be intrapreneurial, as the corridor teams that are run by Country Managers are pretty autonomous.

It’s not a place for a corporate manager, nor is it a junior position. If you are experienced enough and with an entrepreneurial spirit and would thrive in a flexible environment where you would build not only your team, but challenge your goals and strategies every day, then apply here and we’ll let you know if we want to talk more.

I’m here to answer any questions to the best of my abilities.

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