This post is by Dean Park, an active member of the GrowthX Academy community. He serves as an Account Executive at Interact, a startup striving to help companies turn their online traffic into quality workable leads. Enjoy and learn from his journey taking a chance at an early-stage startup.
Like many of us, graduating college I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I originally came in as a pre-med thinking I would eventually make my way to becoming a pharmacist, but I was wrong.
After a year of all-nighters trying to understand concepts I had very little interest in and countless hours doing lab work I despised, I came to the realization that this was just not the path for me.
So I switched my major to Econ and spent the rest of my college career unsuccessfully trying to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Sadly at the end of those three short years I still didn’t really have a plan in terms of a career. But I did know one thing, whatever I did, I wanted to be great at it.
Eventually I ended up getting an entry level sales position at Oracle as my first job out of college. And though it wasn’t a career choice I made because I had a particular passion for it, I wanted to stick to my word and give it my full effort to be great.
It’s like my dad always said, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
So I took training seriously and tried to internalize what I could so that when I got to my seat, I could hit the ground running. I read recommended sales books and did research online. I thought if I put in enough effort and made eagerness to perform very clear, I could be taken seriously and allowed to contribute to in a meaningful way. However, very soon into my career I realized that my entry level meant my role would be very limited.
I was to book demos. That’s it. It was all about the demos. “Are you going to hit your monthly quota for demos booked? Can you blow out your number for this quarter? I think sooo!!!” was just about all I ever heard from my manager. Sure I get the “freedom” of crafting my own messages and the “liberty” of determining my own outreach tactics but at the end of the day, I felt that my job was simply to get people’s attention and connect them to someone else on my team to move the actual business forward.
I wanted to do more.
That’s not to put down the role of an SDR or BDR at all, though. This was simply my opinion at the time. In fact, it’s a very difficult job and one that’s absolutely critical to many sales organizations.
There are some people that actually make an entire career out of this line of work since there’s both a science and an art one needs to master to be successful at the role.
I won’t get into weeds of that here though since it’s not the topic of this post but suffice it to say, getting a stranger to respond to your cold emails is not as easy task. I know because it’s still a part of my job but that’s beside the point.
To think I would be allowed to make immediate and meaningful impact on a business from an entry level position was definitely overly ambitious and possibly even naive thinking in hindsight but it helped me realize three things. I had big aspirations, I wanted my work to be significant and things had to happen soon.
Fast forward a year and a half and I get reached out to by a startup called Interact. They’re based in Oakland and help organizations generate inbound leads online using interactive quizzes. They were interested in bringing me on as the first sales hire for the company. This was it. This was my chance. To me, this was god send.
A million thoughts raced through my head, first and foremost was this could be the opportunity of a lifetime. I would basically be allowed to take over those responsibilities that are normally handled by executives. But at the same time, I had already jumped to 2 different companies, once with a pay cut, in the same year to earn my chance at being an Account Executive where I can have actual revenue tied to my name.
Was I ready? Would I be capable of performing at the level needed to help build such an early stage company? Will this be the end of me if things don’t work out? Did I have what it takes?
Everything was so uncertain but if there was ever a time for me to take a risk like this it was now when I’m younger and don’t have anyone to worry about other than myself.
At the time I thought being an effective individual contributor was what I needed to do to earn my way to more senior responsibilities. Having the privilege to think about and plan higher level strategies for a company was something I didn’t think would be a possibility for me until much further down the road.
But… if I could do this right, it could turn into the greatest jumpstart my career has ever seen. At the same time though, if things go horribly wrong, this would make it 3 companies in the same year. Though I could justify the changes to myself, I had to admit that it did look really bad on paper and there was no guarantee everyone would agree with my perspective.
It was a leap of faith but I went through the interview process and decided to jump on board. It’s now almost 4 months later and I think this has possibly turned into the greatest decision I could have made for my professional career.
I won’t lie, it was a rough transition. In my previous jobs there were previous experiences and best practices I could lean on to perform. Here I was now left to figure things out on my own. I had to break out of the mold of looking for guidance and simply following directions and completely rethink my approach to problem solving.
It’s definitely been the most restless, difficult and challenging four months of my life but I’m learning so much in the process, not just about business but myself as well. It’s awesome that I’m getting to help create a sales stack with the company while building my own outbound sales process but I’m also slowly understanding how to better manage my time so I can set realistic goals and expectations for myself. I’m learning to be more humble so that I can objectively evaluate my performance to make meaningful and productive changes for better results.
When people used to tell me that you grow most when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, I had no idea how true that really was. It’s amazing how drastically this decision to take a chance has affected my life. This single decision set into motion a desire to break down more of those barriers set for myself by my self doubt.
I’ve since been able to get past a lot of my apprehensive nature and make many other meaningful changes in my habits and perspective on life to dramatically change my productivity and liveliness.
I have a newfound motivation to read and learn simply for the sake of improving my knowledge. I trained myself to be more outgoing and regularly attend networking events so that I can meet some amazing entrepreneurs, industry leaders, mentors and friends. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of wisdom they’ve been able to impart on me and I’m so thankful to have had the chance to learn from these awesome people.
My outlook on life has drastically changed. I’ve now set the bar higher for myself than I’ve ever set it in my entire life and I couldn’t be happier. I now genuinely believe there’s a chance I can one day establish a successful company of my own. You’re probably thinking this is wishful thinking on my part and it’s totally valid to think so but had you asked me a year and a half ago, I probably wouldn’t have dared to dream of something so ambitious.
Not to sound too cliche but after each passing day I’m beginning to believe more strongly that the more you are able open up to the world, the more the world will open up to you.
Making the decision to take a chance and join this startup was definitely a huge risk but I think I made the right choice. And I’m sure many others who’ve decided to take a risk on a passionate venture would also agree.
There are definitely days where I feel a bit overwhelmed and wish that I could turn back to when I had less to be responsible for but I read a quote today that I think summarizes my sentiments on this very well. “If I quit now, I will soon be back to where I started. And when I started I was desperately wishing to be where I am now.”
By no means am I trying to imply that I’ve now “made it” nor that I’m particularly smarter or better than anyone else. In fact, quite the contrary. I’m learning more every day what my true limitations are and what I’m realistically capable of. I’m beginning to understand the importance of being effective with my time and effort if I really want to achieve anything of value. It astounds me when I stop to think of what other people are able to achieve given the same amount of time. I simply regret that I allowed myself to brood for so long in complacency simply out of fear of the unfamiliar and a vain hope that one day my success will magically work itself out.
The reason for my post is this:
If you’re on edge about going the startup route or taking a chance at moving your career forward, have a go at it. Take that chance. Don’t let fear, uncertainty or a lack of confidence be the reason you’re not doing what you want to be doing.
It’s definitely a struggle and not for everyone but if you’ve given it enough thought and things feel right, try taking that leap of faith. It might end up being the best decision you’ve ever made. Things don’t just happen on their own and life is too short to live with “what ifs,” Give it a shot with your full effort and keep on going. Don’t give up. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
But when you start to see inklings of meaningful progress from all of that effort you’ve been pouring in, I have to say it does feel pretty rewarding.