Something that many people hope for in life is success, but how do they get there? Many go to school and then earn a master’s degree, others try different career paths, and for some it can be a combination of those while also being willing to take a chance on a new venture as well as yourself. We sat down with Christina Luconi, Chief People Officer of Rapid7, Mike Volpe, Chief Executive Officer of Lola.com, and Kate Huyett, Chief Marketing Officer of Bombas to discuss their education, their careers, what has impacted them the most thus far, and their secrets to success.
Let’s start off with your education and the impact that made for you to start your career.
CL: I have a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in organizational administration which essentially studies the intersection of the psychology of business and how things are structured within a business. When I realized I did not want to be a therapist with my psychology degree, my dad encouraged me to explore human resources which started my love for start-ups.
MV: I have a bachelor’s in economics and government, and I thought I wanted to be in business, so I took a job in investment banking and learned a ton. I quickly learned that I loved all the companies we were doing work with, so I left the investment banking world and joined a technology start-up where I did a little bit of everything including marketing.
KH: I have a bachelor’s degree in geography and economics and from there I went into finance. I spent 5 years in finance, and then realized I wanted to move to the operating side. I joined a tiny start-up where I was the most analytical person on the team and got the opportunity to grow our performance marketing from the ground up. Marketing was a good mix of the quantitative and qualitative that I’d enjoyed in my undergrad education.
Where did your passion come from once you realized more of what you wanted?
CL: My dad was a serial entrepreneur so I heard “why would you want to work for someone if you could work for yourself?” a lot growing up. I realized early on that who I was working with made more of an impact than choosing a boss. From there I carved out a niche for myself in terms of establishing the culture and employee lifecycle in order to help them grow. I was able to discover who I was as a leader and evolved into a position where I could help establish what the environment looks and feels like rather than have it dictated to me.
KH: Marketing is a combination of being analytical and understanding psychology. We regularly ask questions of what motivates someone, what blocks them and how we can adjust our marketing to influence those behaviors. As I progressed further on the marketing track, I took on adjacent roles overseeing customer insights, digital, and product because psychology and data underpins each of them.
MV: When I left investment banking, I knew I wanted to do Marketing and in the Technology space. I was fortunate to meet the founder of SolidWorks and I was able to work there in a cross-company leadership role. I saw what a bigger company looked like, what made them successful, and what that success looked like. At the time, SolidWorks was small enough that I had a good relationship with the CEO, so I was able to understand how the business worked as a whole.
What is something that you value in terms of career development that is seen in your current role?
KH: At Bombas, we have an employee assistance program which is a set dollar amount each year that employees can use to learn Building and developing greater skills is something we value because we want everyone to be better whether that is professionally or personally. In addition, we have begun inter-departmental one-on-ones which give people high-level training on a specific skill set or functional area. I find this really powerful because not only does it help people learn and expose them to something new, but it helps them work more effectively with other teams and now there is greater insight as to what specific teams are doing and why.
MV: Something that I take a lot of pride in is watching and seeing how many people who have worked for me or with me go on and flourish in their careers. I have done a lot of formal and informal mentoring and a few years ago I hosted open office hours to anyone in the Boston tech community. I specifically reserved half of my time for women and minorities in order to work with those who were not exactly like me. This stimulated a lot more interest and requests because it showed how open I was, as well as introduced me to people who were ready to take that next step in their careers or businesses. I am a believer in paying it forward, and it was so great to meet so many people I might not have normally connected with, but who wanted to grow and develop.
CL: Our core values at Rapid7 were developed early on, by our people, for our people. We use them to center ourselves, and they are the common thread and belief system that every employee is asked not just to understand, but to embody. We tie them into everything we do here, so they aren’t just words on a wall; they are a core piece of why we make the choices we do. For example, we recently developed a rotation program and hired 21 college graduates. We approached the program to create the “employees of the future” as people who think about things both holistically and broadly with systems awareness, not just gaining deep skills. These hires each are affiliated with a track of work (either products, go to market, or internal operations) and yet, they come together regularly for learning sessions with our CEO or SVP of Engineering, and other leaders to understand how each person and group might think about different topics. They have found it to be very engaging, and they can do more with that cross-functional thinking.
Tell me about a time you may have struggled and what you did to keep going?
MV: Life has its ups and downs, but in times when I have struggled, I really remember those who took the time to reach out to me whether it was a call, text, email, or something else. We all get busy and it’s easy to forget that someone might need to hear something supportive from a co-worker or friend. It can be hard to constantly try and please everyone, and not everyone is going to agree with what you are doing or saying. But, at the end of the day you must believe in what you are doing and keep going.
CL: I have dyslexia and when it comes to numbers, I struggled a lot growing up because I felt like I just wasn’t as smart as everyone else. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed in college that I came to realize I just learn differently than others. I’ve carved out the career I wanted because I decided that I was going to take advantage of opportunities and build out the foundations at growing companies. I was able to focus on what I was really good at and passionate about and turn it into a whole new way of approaching what many think of human resources.
KH: When the first start-up I worked for failed to raise a Series C, it led me to do a lot of soul-searching. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the financial world, so I thought why not give the start-up world another try. I knew I wanted to be a part of building a company and that’s where my passion and excitement were. So far, it’s really worked out and I’ve been a part of two amazing and culture-rich places to work.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you can give to someone no matter where they are in their career?
CL: Take accountability for what you want out of life. I view my role as creating the platform for people to have the career experience of their life. By that I mean we can create tools, trainings, opportunities, but you have to be the one who is going to take advantage of everything you want in your career. I’ve found in growing companies, if you want more out of what you’re doing, ask for it. Ask for more exposure, raise your hand, and volunteer to help with a great attitude, because you’ll likely find most of the time the answer will be yes since there is so much work needing to get done. Go all in and take a big role in writing your own happy ending.
MV: Don’t expect your first job to be it. It is important that we grow and learn and thinking you are making a lifelong decision to work at one place isn’t realistic now. Work at a place that has good leadership and is well run because that real-world experience is very valuable. Understand what your job is, how you can master it, and from there you can go on to do anything you want because you have the foundation from experience and learning to do something really well.
KH: When I moved towards marketing, I knew I had to build a strong network. When I switched careers in 2011, I started hosting a marketing breakfast to meet and learn from people whom I wanted to establish relationships with. I still see many of those people regularly, and I continue to build out my network at least once a week by connecting with someone new. I was also willing to embrace change and say “yes” a lot because I wanted to have more experiences in my career and try something new.
Whether you are just starting out in your career, trying something new, or deciding to go down a different path than you thought, keep believing in yourself. Trusting yourself, building strong relationships, and working hard are three keys to success that we can take away from Christina, Mike and Kate, so what are you waiting for? Give yourself a challenge today, and perhaps it could change your future.