Long before I became a CEO, I fell in love with the idea of growing a startup. Fresh out of college, I took a job at a small corporate travel agency in London, and the energy of that workplace left an impression on me.
Choose your own path
I felt that same energy in 2003 when I co-founded DreamFactory software, where I launched a half-dozen Salesforce AppExchange products, helped raise more than $20 million in capital, and made a successful exit in 2018. And I feel it today as CEO and co-founder of Metazoa, which offers Salesforce Administrators a powerful tool for org management called Snapshot.
This path isn't for everyone. I have many friends who work for big tech companies, and they love their jobs. Sometimes, I wish I had a 9-to-5 that just shuts off at a certain time of day, rather than one that leaves it to me to shut off on my own. But some people just have that entrepreneurial spirit - I'm one of them.
Be an early adopter
I remember my first day at video-conferencing software company WebEx, only a few years after its founding before it went public in 2000. I asked someone, "Is there a training session?" They said, "Here's your laptop. Here's a phone. And you can look at the products."
No, there wasn't any training. I thought to myself, "Okay, I'll figure it out." I like thinking quickly. I like being part of a team where we collaborate and create. And I love the ideas and innovations that come out of an environment like that.
When I co-founded DreamFactory, we felt like we had a market need and great technology. We just said, "Let's do this!" We were very early adopters of Salesforce. We didn't know just how much the ecosystem around it would grow.
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Four tips for seizing new opportunities
With that growth has come more and more potential career paths - both for aspiring entrepreneurs and Trailblazers who want to drive technology innovation from within a large company.
Here are some tips for seizing those opportunities.
1. Consider the jobs of the future
Consider the longevity of a career path first, and then figure out how to grow in it. Don't just think about jobs that are most in-demand right now - think about how that demand seems likely to change in the years to come. You don't want to jump on a bandwagon that is hot right now but won't be in a few years.
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2. Don't be afraid to change course
Experience matters, but people can change direction at any time. I've had leaders in their 40s running a department that they had never even worked in before, and they are phenomenal. One of our marketing leaders has a background in supply-chain management. We've had interns who went to college for something else and decided they wanted to be developers.
Now, they're learning how to code on Trailhead, Salesforce's free online learning platform. Sometimes, you're taking a complete gamble. But nine times out of 10, it works out really well for the people who want to prove themselves. Learning on the job is actually the best type of learning.
3. Find the culture you want - or build it
As a mother and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, I've had ups and downs. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I remember telling my doctor, "I don't need to take maternity leave, I'll be fine." But a lot has changed and women don't need to make the kinds of choices they used to think they had to make.
You can find a corporate culture that supports women - or you can build one. I was in a previous position where I thought, "I don't want this culture, I don't want this environment, and in my next venture, I'm going to do things differently."
4. Ask for help and pay it forward
One thing I really learned the importance of is being able to ask for things. Ask for an introduction. Ask for advice. Ask for someone to mentor you. The worst they can say is no. You can learn so much by joining a Trailblazer Community Group and reaching out and talking to people. These groups are all volunteer-driven, so give your time as well. You'll learn a lot by doing so!
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Follow Jennifer in the Trailblazer Community at trailblazer.me/id/jmercer5.
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