Posted Oct 2, 2013 by Andy Johns

Over the last couple of years I’ve met a lot of people who work in the startup world. A considerable number of the connections I’ve made stem from introductions from friends/colleagues or somewhat circuitously by way of stuff I’ve written on other sites. For example, in September of 2012 I wrote an answer on Quora where I shared my perspective on what it took to work effectively alongside people more intelligent than I am. Since that time my answer has received over 1,200 votes. When I wrote that answer I was shooting from the hip. I actually wrote it while at work. I expected it might get a few votes, but not that many.

After writing that answer I met with a few people who contacted me directly via Quora to ask me a bit more about how I navigated my career. I was able to be more nuanced in my discussion with them in person than I was via my Quora answer and I thought I’d share some of that nuance.

An Economy as a Metaphor for Career Strategy

What I wrote about in my Quora answer was that failure and unhappiness was a certain outcome of trying to be something you’re not. Everyone has their inherent strengths and weaknesses. I’m of the camp that believes that people should focus most on playing to their strengths and to align their strengths with a role that requires them to use their strengths regularly. That’s the gist of my answer to that question on Quora. I think that’s just one part of career success though.

In addition to finding work that leverages your strengths, you should think strategically about the career moves you make. What you should do is think strategically about the skills you develop and how those skills can preempt an increase in demand for those skills within the job economy. Then, as the demand for those skills flood the market, you’re in the pole position to leverage your supply of that skill to use the career economy in your favor. Let me be more specific with my own experience.

Placing a Bet

When I decided to leave Facebook I had only been there for 2 years. I was recently promoted and received a 50% salary increase, a cash bonus, and 15% more stock. I was pretty damn happy, predominantly because I felt valued by the company. I went home that day and did one of these in the front yard of my house:

Three months later though I left the company. I left despite the money and the sureness of Facebook’s success. I left because I saw an opportunity that I hoped had greater potential for long-term career outcome. Let me explain why.

I worked on the Growth team at Facebook. We were responsible for figuring out how to get more active users on Facebook. It was a first of it’s kind. No consumer internet company had ever had a Growth team. Our team crushed it and produced tremendous value for the company. While working on that team I had an epiphany. More consumer internet startups needed a Growth team because not enough companies had a pragmatic approach to growing more efficiently and reliably. I could either stay at Facebook and earn more promotions over time and make some solid cash off of the equity. Or I could leave to attempt to build more growth teams at more companies. What I eventually decided was that I wanted to be the person responsible for bringing Growth teams to more companies.

This is where the career economy metaphor comes in. Want I wanted to do was become one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to understanding how to grow a consumer startup. I also figured that the demand for people who understood how to grow startups would increase proportional to the rate of success of consumer internet companies. Basically, the consumer startup industry had incredible momentum. In parallel, more startups needed Growth teams since more and more growth was engineering/product/data driven and not traditional marketing driven. I wanted to have a significant amount of the supply of growth knowledge at a time where there was very little real supply of that information but a tremendous amount of demand as well.

That was the bet I placed when I left Facebook in 2010 and went to Twitter to build a growth team. I’ve continued that trend by having been involved full-time or as an advisor to companies on growth including Quora, Khan Academy, Flipboard and a few others. Today, it appears that was the right decision. The whole “growth hacking” craze has elevated the position of growth teams and “growth hackers” in the startup world, more companies are explicitly looking to hire growth designers, engineers and product managers, and more companies have had successful implementations of growth teams. Even more established companies are hiring for growth such as the acquisition of IronPearl by PayPal where Stan Chudnovsky was named PayPal’s new VP of Growth.

Those who got started early as leaders in Growth are benefiting from the economy around it where every startup is looking to hire a growth leader but very few people have a deep, legitimate understanding of consumer startup growth. Those in control of the supply of valuable growth information are in an advantageous position and can basically choose where they want to work.

Sure, I would likely have plenty of career options had I stayed at Facebook for 4+ years. But I can say without hesitation that I understand growth of consumer internet startups much, much more deeply having now worked on growth at multiple companies. With deeper knowledge in the field of growth, I’ve encountered career opportunities I would have never predicted, such asjoining Greylock as a Growth Strategist in Residence.

The Next Career Economy

Today, I continue to think about what future economies around skills and experience will exist and how I can preempt that economy to establish early ownership of the skills supply. The advice I’ve been giving to people struggling to establish themselves in the startup world is to first start by making sure they understand what they are good at and enjoy doing. Secondly, they should think deeply about how their strengths/interests can be applied in a way where the skills economy is in their favor. If you can preemptively determine where you think the skills economy is going to move, get ahead of the pack by establishing your skills earlier than most.

Based on my experience here are a few of the skills economies that I’ve come across where significant opportunity exists for the owner of those skills:

  • Designers that can code since most top-tier startups want designers that can code more than designers that can’t (e.g. Richard Henry)
  • Designers with data skills since you can self-administer a/b tests as well as design products (e.g. Rob Matei)
  • Statisticians who are technical enough to pull large data sets and massage the data into actionable insights (e.g. Adam Kinney)
  • Mobile business development pros who know the global mobile landscape and have contacts across the industry (e.g. Ali Rosenthal)
  • Marketplace Community Managers who do relationship management on both sides of a two-sided marketplace (e.g. Sheila Karaszewski)

For those looking to craft a career strategy, I hope you find this information useful. Here’s a recap of the key points:

Focus on your Strengths

Start by finding a job that requires you to utilize your strengths more often than not. By focusing your work around what you’re good at, you’ll find greater long-term enjoyment with your work as well as a higher likelihood of being successful at it. 

Identify Skill Economies

As you gain more skills and experience, continually evaluate skills economies around you. Find scenarios where others have accelerated their career trajectory by doubling down on building skills deemed highly valuable by the career economy. 

Place Bets

Don’t be afraid to place a career bet by going after a particular skill economy, especially when the skill you are looking to improve is aligned with what you are naturally good at and enjoy.

Why Your Next Board Member Should Be A Woman

Posted Feb 19, 2012 by Aileen Lee

Good questions have been asked lately of tech companies without gender diversity on their boards of directors. While women comprise51% of the population, they make up only 15.7% of Fortune 500 boards of directors, less than 10% of California tech company boards, and 9.1% of Silicon Valley boards.

Why should we care? For one,women are the power users of many products and it’s just smart business to have an understanding of key customers around the table. Could you imagine a game company without any gamers on the leadership team or board?

If you’re not aware, studies also show companies with gender diversity at the top drive better financial performance on multiple measures – for example, 36% better stock price growth and 46% better return on equity. And, studies show the more women, the better the results. This is likely because teams with more females demonstrate higher collective intelligence and better problem solving ability. So it’s probably not a coincidence the world’s most admired companies have more women on their boards than the average company.

There is a group of public companies that gets these insights – they are quietly adding some of the smartest women in Silicon Valley to their boards of directors. And most are not making much noise about it, perhaps they want to benefit from their savvy while their competitors are asleep at the wheel.

I was impressed by a move by AutoNation, the country’s largest auto retailer ($4.6B market cap). They did an extensive search and last year added Alison Rosenthal to their board – an off-the-F500-radar-screen, Brown and Stanford educated, early Facebook team member who led FB’s core BD activities for 5 years in social, growth, international and mobile.

Why add a 30-something female to a male board with an average age of 58? Mike Maroone, AutoNation’s President and COO explained, “We looked at our board [and realized] it’s male dominated, while women make over 50% of the purchasing decisions in our business. And, the travel, music and news industries have been transformed by digital. We’re trying to transform the auto business and connect with the thinking of the digital generation, and we need this level of insight at the board level.”

AutoNation is not alone in identifying next gen talent that adds diversity of gender, thought, age and experience to the boardroom, long the domain of (male) titans of big business, law and finance.

LinkedIn ($9.1B) was ahead of the curve when they added longtime Netflix CMO Leslie Kilgoreto the board in 2010. And in the past year, TripAdvisor ($4.1B market cap) added former Google International exec Sukhinder Singh Cassidy to the board of directors; HomeAway ($2.1B) added Google Ads head Susan Wojcicki; LuluLemon ($9.3B) added FB local-and-mobile exec Emily White; Starbucks ($36.5B) added 29-year-old Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social and author of The Facebook Era; and Scripps Networks Interactive ($6.9B) justannounced the addition of Gina Bianchini, CEO/founder of Mighty Software.

Of this, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner says, “Some boards may look for candidates already on other boards, or CEOs of other companies. In the case of Leslie’s seat, we were looking to add someone with specific expertise, CEO or non-CEO, to complement our board – and the results from broadening our consideration set have been outstanding.”

Christine Day, CEO of LuluLemon, offered similar sentiments. “We wanted a board member who understands how our target guest thinks, is a leader in the world of digital innovation and social, and understands steep growth. Emily is part of a new generation that is going to change the game.”

Ebay ($45.1B market cap) also recently added Facebook product marketing exec Katie Miticto their board. Of this, CEO John Donohoe told me, “We were looking to add people who understand the web of the future and our consumer (50% of whom are women), and who are product and tech savvy. Katie is a 12 out of 10 on these. And, we have a strong commitment to attracting, developing and retaining female leaders. There’s also a cultural impact outside of the boardroom – it’s inspiring to our team members and community to see someone like Katie on our board.”

By adding new blood to the boardroom, these companies are getting a four-fer, or more: 1) gender diversity, and in most cases, age diversity around the table; 2) better understanding of core customers; 3) Social-Mobile-Local expertise and insight into digital platforms like Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Path, Square, Flipboard and Pinterest that are fundamentally changing business; and 4) hyper growth and rapid innovation DNA.

These factors are driving a trend to change board composition. And from what I’ve heard from CEOs, the smartest companies will continue to diversify their boards rather than “checking a box.” Initiatives like 20by2020 will also help.

There’s an opportunity to make your board, and your company, smarter by adding diversity, especially of gender. And if you’re at a smaller company, there’s a greater likelihood that your board lacks diversity – and that’s an opportunity to seize, especially if your company counts on females as key users. Savvy companies are quietly changing up their boards of directors and teams, and this is giving them better collective intelligence, more community admiration, and better financial results.

PS if your company would benefit from new DNA in the boardroom, there is great talent to consider. Here are just some examples of female leaders who are savvy about digital innovation, customer experience and hypergrowth. I’ve listed talent with experience from larger companies, as startups are generally less able to share their talent:

Allison Johnson, former VP Global Marketing Comm, Apple
Anne Raimondi, VP Marketing, SurveyMonkey
Amy Chang, Head of Global Product, Ads Measurement, Google
Barbara Messing, CMO, Tripadvisor
Caterina Fake, Founder, Pinwheel; cofounder, Flickr and Hunch
Carolyn Everson, VP, Global Marketing Solutions, Facebook
Heather Harde, former CEO, TechCrunch
Jennifer Bailey, VP WW online stores, Apple
Jessica Herrin, CEO/founder, Stella & Dot
Jessica Steel, EVP of Business & Corporate Development, Pandora
Joanne Bradford, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, Demand Media
Julie Bornstein, SVP, Sephora Digital
Katie Jacobs Stanton, Head of International Strategy, Twitter
Kerry Wharton Cooper, CMO, Modcloth; ex VP eCommerce,
Lori Goler, VP of People and Recruiting, Facebook; ex marketing, eBay
Marissa Mayer, VP of Local, Maps and Location Services, Google
Raji Arasu, VP of Technology, eBay
Selina Tobaccowala, VP of Product and Engineering, SurveyMonkey
Stephanie Tilenius, Global Commerce Strategy, Google
Tina Sharkey, Chairman and Global President, BabyCenter