It’s never easy trying to figure life out so quickly. For me, it felt like a blink of an eye going from a carefree childhood where I spent every day outside on a bike with friends — with hobbies like basketball, robotics, and gaming — to getting caught up in the rush of work.
A lot of us can relate to that experience in our late teens and early twenties of making a “decision. It was tough, but through that process, I met some amazing people, found a love for creating things, and got a job at Dorm Room Fund. While I by no means have it figured out, hopefully this story can shed some light on the most important things I’ve learned.
I’ve lived in Calgary, Dallas and Montreal, but my main memories are from Mississauga, Ontario, a city just outside of Toronto. I love this city; it’s been here that I’ve found my closest friends and re-visited my favorite childhood hobbies. It was also here that I started getting exposure to the working world, through high school clubs but also through watching a ton of YouTube videos on literally everything. These are the experiences that shaped my worldview and got me excited for university.
Unfortunately, university didn’t go exactly as planned. At Western University, you have to achieve a certain average to qualify for the Ivey Business School, which was the doorway to the finance career I thought I wanted. I didn’t achieve that grade, and it sucked. But it gave me a moment to take a step back. When you spend so long following your peers and envisioning only one path for your life, a large failure can break your spirit. Many of my friends pursued careers in finance or consulting, so it felt very isolating in my third year to carve out my own path. Looking back, that failure was the best thing that happened to me.
I bounced back from it by trying to create different things. I always enjoyed building companies and joined high school business clubs like Junior Achievement and DECA. Getting out of my university bubble reminded me of this passion, and forced me to take the leap to try something on my own. One idea that I worked on was to do finance and consulting high school classes. Students in the first two years of university feel a rush to get those jobs, so giving them a head start in high school might have had a product market fit. Even though it didn’t work, some of the struggles that I had at the initial stages told me a lot about what I enjoyed.
My main takeaway from this experience is when you don’t know what you want to do, try to focus on building products based on ideas you have. They can be software driven, or hard tech, or even just starting a newsletter on a topic that you care about. Through this, you get to try your hand at product design, marketing and sales, and you get to feel the excitement of creating something out of nothing. The idea can be anything; what matters is focusing on creating something you love and worrying less about finding the next job placement. Through that process, you’ll find skills that you want to improve in.
For me, that skill was growth marketing. I’d done well in business classes in high school and university, and I thought I was naturally able to put strategies together to get customers. I was not. When it came time to put pen to paper, I realized I didn’t have any framework or structure to guide me in building a tangible strategy for a business; there was so much ambiguity. I still enjoyed the thought process of marketing but realized that I wasn’t grounding my thinking in any structure.
Luckily, it was around this time that I met some amazing people at Western who had gone through similar marketing and entrepreneurial journeys (one who introduced me to DRF!). They showed me that there was a framework behind getting customers and a structured way to approach these kinds of challenges. I never would have known to ask how to build a marketing funnel if I hadn’t gone through the struggle on my own.
I realized that I really enjoyed growth marketing, and through this work, I created a more impact on building a business. At this point, there was only a year and a half left before I graduated, so I took a risk. I left for a gap year without securing any sort of job, but I set some criteria for the work I wanted to do. I wanted to get an extended internship at an early stage B2B SaaS startup where I could run my own campaigns and understand exactly what it took to be a good marketer. By taking a year off before graduation, I’d be able to take my learnings and apply them to one more year of free time at school before I entered the workforce.
I was interested in B2B SaaS and wanted to fulfill three goals:
- To learn SEO, paid ads, and email marketing, SaaS companies commonly used those channels.
- Build on the B2B marketing portfolio that I was already creating interning at Divisional Growth.
- To learn how SaaS business models worked, and working in an early stage startup meant that I could make an impact.
I built out a personal portfolio working with Divisional Growth and started reaching out to growth marketers at companies that I wanted to work at. I couldn’t go through traditional job boards because early stage companies don’t hire marketing interns. Instead, I set up a cold email campaign where I offered to send marketing ideas to the company that I was reaching out to. My hope was this approach would catch someone’s eye because I wasn’t just asking outright for something from them. Luckily, I got a job at Figma, where I worked directly with an amazing marketing mind who taught me so much and helped me learn to navigate pitfalls. I used those learnings to craft a pitch to DRF for some ideas (lots of fun stuff coming here) and here we are!
At Figma, I drove top of funnel awareness for the product through SEO. I came up with marketing strategies for segmented audiences like marketers or UX designers, and built out content to target these audiences consistently.
It was challenging at first because I lacked clarity when coming up with strategies and value props, but my boss kept pushing me to evolve my thinking and narrow in on every detail. I learned how to build a replicable funnel here that consistently drives new users, and understood how early stage products can get traction. All very cool stuff!!! I also just learned a lot by hanging around the team. Seeing all the go-to-market elements come together for an amazing product like FigJam was so valuable. I’d recommend trying to get experiences at companies that are constantly iterating because the perspectives can give any new grad a foundation to jumpstart their careers.
It was also at Figma that I learned that some of the most fulfilled people are ones who are dedicated to crafts and hobbies. I guess that makes sense because we spent our whole childhood doing the things we loved, and we were so fulfilled. So why not keep doing it?
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