Startup Life: How Being Employee No. 3 Was Definitely Worth the Risk

AlyssaPatzius.

Jumping from college to a start-up environment is no small feat for any individual. So, when we set out to find out what laid the foundation for Alyssa Patzius’ current path — we quickly realized that we had forgotten one key question; What was it like to be present at the earliest phase of a thriving organization’s existence? (Alyssa joined shortly after after Kelsey Raymond and John Hall started the company in 2011.)

Alyssa is Influence & Co’s VP of Client Success, where she oversees and supports the sales team, while developing big-picture strategies for growth. She has evolved through a number of roles at the organization, beginning with the title of Senior Account Strategist. But as you’ll find here, her family’s unique experience with risk  — was a career game-changer.

I’ve kept editing to the bare minimum in this post so you don’t miss a single note about her story. In this case we’ll start with a follow-up question right at the start.

Follow-up question: What was it like being employee #3?

Being employee #3 gave me an opportunity to be apart of the long-term vision of the company. The company is essentially just as much mine as the co-founders  — because I have really been there with them since the beginning. It gives me a sense of ownership that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I still remember every detail of all three of us sitting around a whiteboard trying to map out the future structure of the company. (Side note: We were completely off.) But as a 21 one year old, my input was being heard.

That would have never happened at any corporate job.

I also had to get comfortable very quickly with acting like I had been in certain situations when I never had. I took on the role of our first account strategist, working directly with clients. (Kelsey and John had been doing this in addition to sales and everything else founders deal with.) But there was no playbook and very few processes to rely on. I worked directly with CEOs of companies and I was seen as the expert in content.

That learned confidence is one of the key elements that I lean on as a female leader. It might get you into a corner every once in a while, if you haven’t done your homework. However, for the most part people do believe me and listen when I speak. I feel it all stems from those imperative learning years.

I also had to be mindful of burning out. We were working very long hours. Once we started to really pick up clients, I was working with 30 companies, plus hiring and training new account strategists to start to build our client services team. My job never stopped! (My now-husband, then boyfriend, said one day to me that I wasn’t actually with him. Even as we were watching TV, I was on my ever-present computer. I worked every night every night, and he was getting concerned. It was a real wake-up call that I needed to learn how to establish a balance.)

The following year I stopped working at nights, and become even more effective.  I valued my time — and when I was working during the day, nothing was going to distract me so I might enjoy my time at home. (I had to battle with feeling guilty knowing that my co-workers may be working all night while I wasn’t.) But over time, I began to see that I was much more effective. Two years ago, my Mom admitted that she really didn’t think the company would last. She was awesome though — and never told me she was skeptical. My brother-in-law took a risk to join a young startup, and he said he was comfortable jumping on board because he was so inspired by the success Influence & Co. has had over the years.

I love that not only that I owe so much to Influence & Co. for my professional development, but that my risk inspired other people to do what they love.

  1. What key factors came together that helped you to find your current path?

My career path may seem somewhat risky to an onlooker. However, looking back I feel like I made safe choices along the way.

When determining where I would go to college, I had my hopes set on doing something different from everyone at my public high school in St. Louis. I was determined to head out-of-state, but when push came to shove I wanted to study journalism. To say “no” to the best journalism school in the country, The University of Missouri, would have been detrimental. So I followed the crowd.

My father brought an internship opportunity to my attention during my senior year of college. One of his friends had a daughter who was looking to hire someone to help run an organization that supported local entrepreneurs. I really didn’t want to be the person who needed my father to set me up with an internship, so I didn’t pursue it initially. (I hadn’t needed him for opportunities prior, why should I need him now.0 However, I begrudgingly took the interview and immediately clicked with my new boss and landed to role.

As graduation approached, my grand plan was to land a sexy PR job in the big city. Instead — I took a role to stay with the startup I had been interning with where I went to college.

On one side, I see a path that leads me on a very direct/safe route. I haven’t strayed from journalism or content (or even Missouri). You can also look at the other angle and see someone who took the risk to graduate early, study abroad, take a job at a startup (with no guarantee of success) and a super low paycheck.

I’ve had to reflect on my career expectations for my early in my adulthood and recognize that I couldn’t ever have imagined what would come my way. I may have never left the state, but I took a risk and bet on myself, an idea — and the people around me.

Today, I am a senior leader at one of the fastest growing companies in America.

There is nothing safe about that.

  1. Did you have a mentor? A teacher, boss, relative, etc. — that impacted your career/life direction?

My mother and father have been imperative mentors throughout my life. At a young age, I watched my father leave a very lucrative role, because he didn’t believe in the culture and the way management was expecting him to treat his people. He had just moved our family back to St. Louis. Now he had to set out to start his own sales training business. My mother stayed at home to take care of the family. Despite being out of the workforce for some time — she was the backbone of the business and the family. She explained to us that we were taking a risk financially to start the company and how this might impact us. (We may have needed to move to another house.) Her continued transparency, helped me become comfortable with risk and taught me how to talk about finances. Over time, I came to idolize those who started their own businesses.

Fast forward: We did not have to move across the street. My father eventually sold his business. He is now the global sales manager for his largest customer.

Note: My mother is still the first person I call for management advice.

  1. None of us are perfectly suited for our own path. What aspect of your own personality or work style serves as an obstacle? How do you manage that challenge?

My gut feelings and instinctive decision-making skills, rarely let me down. It is one of my strengths. However, I have had to learn to slow myself down and think through every possible scenario to make the best decision. Snap decisions were necessary when we started Influence & Co., but today we have 75 employees. Communication around the why and how we make those decisions is crucial to buy-in across the company. If I cannot explain the rational thought process to my team — they could lose trust in me.

I have had the support of our co-founder, Kelsey (Meyer) Raymond, as I tackle this aspect of my personality. She has shown me that this was strength in crunch time . However, if we are proactive (and thinking ahead) there was no need to rely on gut or instinct. I learned that I was actually doing a disservice to my team — instead of feeling proud of being that “get shit done” person.

  1. If you had an observation concerning what separates those who love their work, from those who do not — what would that be?

An interview question that I discovered comes to mind.

Question to candidate: Tell me about something you love to do.

Follow up question: Why do you love the idea of working in [X Industry] for me?

You should observe if they speak with the same passion for both answers. f their eyes “light up” in the same way — they really want to work for you.

If people love what they do, they can’t stop talking about it. When my co-workers and I get together outside of work, we have to start the conversation off by saying “We aren’t going to talk about Influence & Co. today.” Thirty minutes later, someone has an idea for the business they want to throw out there.

  1. With success can come complacency. How do you draw energy from your successes and stay grounded. How do you stay sharp for what might come next?

Once you have tasted success — you never want to lose it. We have experienced 5 very successful years at Influence & Co. However, there is a real chance that the next year won’t be the same. If you become complacent, you become obsolete. It is much easier to be the underdog — than the giant.

I have had to become more comfortable facing the things that didn’t go well in my role or on my team. You won’t really absorb what defines that success for you, if you don’t remind yourself what it feels like to fail.

We have recently had a down sales quarter. It has been a hard few months learning how to pull my team out of that down-slump. I have analyzed the data, played scenarios over and over in my head and examined where I might failed my team as their leader. Just in these last weeks, sales are coming in at a fantastic rate once again. (I forgot how sweet it was, to ring the bell in my office that signals a close.)

If I didn’t make myself feel the failure, the sound of that bell wouldn’t feel nearly as great.

  1. In your world, what activities or tasks most energize you? What advice would you give to young women in college concerning finding the right career path?

Coaching my employees is the most energizing aspect of my role. Nothing makes me happier, than helping one of my sales team members think through how to approach a conversation or alleviate one of their leads hesitations in a genuine way.

Over the last two years I have moved into a sales management role. I started my own career in account management — working with clients directly and supporting those who worked with our clients.

I see so many women flocking to marketing and communications that could be fantastic in sales. (We are still trying to debunk the stigma of cold calling and aggressive cultures to attract women to the sales industry.) I really believe that women are the key to changing the image of sales. Plus, I have seen that women have so many of the characteristics that set people up for success in that role. They are self-starters, organized multi-taskers, great listeners, compassionate and good at building relationships.

I challenge young women to consider a career in sales.

I think they would be surprised how rewarding it really is. And who doesn’t like controlling your own paycheck?

  1. Lastly — what is your favorite book and why?

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is my favorite book I have read this year. (It didn’t hurt that I read it in Costa Rica.) Shoe Dog tells Phil Knight’s story of how he founded Nike. As an athlete and sports buff, the business was the perfect combination of entrepreneurship and fitness. The book reads like a gripping story.

Once finished — I was inspired to get to work!

Thanks Alyssa.

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from running a company — to the perfect gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.

 

 

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