During college, Kelly Wright carried a 25-pound backpack door to door selling educational products. More often than not, this resulted in doors being slammed in her face, dogs being let loose on her, and even the police being called.
This adversity was the character building that later allowed her to grow Tableau from $0 into a multi-billion dollar company. Today's conversation talks about how to find mentors, leverage your network to get your next job, and being in the driver's seat of your career.
Editor's Note: We provide a transcript of each episode to make it easy to search and read. Since robots are not ready to take over the world yet, the artificial intelligence isn't perfect. There may be some typos in the automated transcript.
Kelly Wright: [00:34:50] People are literally slamming doors in her face. You, you could probably imagine it too, when you're knocking on people's doors. You are not the most welcome [00:35:00] person that that person sees during the day.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:35:02] Absolutely not. And this is like before the day of the nest and the ring,
Kelly Wright: [00:35:09] it's on their doorstep. So people answered the door much of the time. Slam the door in your face. So imagine the slamming door in your face.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:35:20] From Vyten career coaching. It's how I got here. A show about business leaders, their resilience and the stories behind their career moves.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:35:28] I'm Vincent Phamvan, and I've interviewed thousands of job candidates over the years in both recruiting and as a former corporate executive.
Now I'm on a mission to help you take the next step in your career. A corporate job opening attracts an average of 250 resumes and just one person is going to get hired. It wasn't all that long ago that I was nervous and frustrated by my job, sir.
But it doesn't have to be this way. You can navigate your career with confidence, spend everyday learning and drive to better yourself.
You can be [00:36:00] excited about the future. Today's show, we meet Kelly Breslin, right?
And follow her journey from getting doors slammed in her face to becoming one of the most successful enterprise sales leaders out there. Kelly today serves on the board of directors for four different companies, including Fastly, which is traded on the New York stock exchange.
She also teaches go to market strategy at the university of Washington's Foster's school of business. She spent time earlier in her career leading management consulting and banking firms like Bain, McKinsey, and bank of America. But I reached out to Kelly after learning about her career at Tableau software where she spent 12 years.
Tableau helps users visualize their data, and her day is a leading business intelligence tool. But it wasn't always that way though.
Founded in 2003 by a team of co-founders at Stanford university, they started out like many startups with a small team. In fact, Kelly was [00:37:00] the first salesperson on this team and grew the company into a multibillion dollar publicly traded company.
In fact, she grew Tableau's revenue from zero to 850 million in revenue. And managed over half of Tableau's 3,300 global employees during our chat, I found Kelly to be very relatable and a great storyteller.
She's like many great salespeople. That's a great way of sharing guidance, teachable moments through her stories.
Kelly Wright: [00:37:31] I basically, from the time I was a small kid, I knew I wanted. I was the one that was selling the cookies and the candy bars and whatever. There was the sell.
That's what I wanted to do. And then when I went to college, I actually did this crazy job for four summers in college where I sold educational books door to door, and I ran my own business selling books door [00:38:00] to door.
And that's really how I got my start in sales and we'd come back and talk to that book selling cause I think that was really character building. That's what I sold books.
I really decided I wanted to be in sales and. My career after that was I sold all kinds of things. I have, well, as I mentioned, I've sold books.
I've sold candy bars, I've sold shoes. Uh, I also then sold training for Dale Carnegie training. I sold residential mortgages for make up America, and then I started selling software at the start of the whole internet. And I worked at a small startup for a while doing some sales after I spent a little bit of time doing consulting.
Uh, and then I started as the 10th employee, actually the first salesperson at this small little startup Abloh software. And that was my biggest run of my career, where I was there for 12 years and [00:39:00] started as first salesperson and spent my career there leading sales as, as a member of the executive team.
And now in sales and a whole bunch of different places that at different companies. So definitely spent my life in sales.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:39:14] Many people talk about work life balance, but Kelly believes that you only have one life, and although she has an incredible career, her family is her first passion. Her 26 year old daughter lives in Manhattan and she has boys, two boys, one in high school and the other one a freshman at wake forest.
As with many sales roles. Kelly traveled a lot for work and brought her family along for the journey. Quite literally.
Kelly Wright: [00:39:41] We love travel, love, love, love travel. In fact, that's our number one favorite thing to do as a family, and given my my rear in running sales for large global public companies, I had to travel a time and absolutely.
That's one thing that a lot of people. [00:40:00] In sales and sales executives don't like is their travel is fine away from their family. And one lesson that I learned, or how can in your career, you think about ways to integrate your work and your left. So people talk about work life balance, but you only have one life.
So how can you have your work and your family, your friends, all integrate? And so we always, well, as a family instead. You're all the places that mom has to go for her job this year.
Where do the kids want to go? And so each time that the kids had a rate growing up, we would get on a plane and go different places.
So aware. Do I love to go?
Well, as of right now, I've been to I think 74 countries, and my goal is to make it up over a hundred so learning about different cultures and seeing different places. A high priority for me and my family.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:40:55] Yeah. That's incredible. And I think being purposeful about that, right? It's so [00:41:00] easy to be able to just add a day or a weekend before and after a trip.
Um, and being purposeful about that. I didn't realize that early in my career. You know, I had an opportunity to spend one year where I think I did.
250 or 300,000 miles in one year, but I got to travel to so many places that I wouldn't have normally gone to. It's a lot of violence. Um, I did a lot of vials that year and it was the right thing for that year.
You know, it, I could spend, I could spend the time and be able to do that, and I'm in a later phase of my, you know, life at a different phase of my life as I'm growing a family. And I definitely could not spend 250,000 miles on the road, um, or in the air, uh, now.
But, uh, I'm glad I had the experience and knowing what I know now when I was younger, I probably wish I could've been more purposeful about having a few more of those years while I could do it.
Kelly Wright: [00:41:58] Yeah. Well you know, [00:42:00] you're not lost. He started traveling with my kids when my youngest was under four and you just decided instead of staying close to home, cause people think it's hard to travel with the kids.
You said love traveling. That's part of our family's thing. And so we're going to get our kids adjusted to the traveling, and they're really, really young and we put them on the plane.
We managed through having kids crying and being on the planes, and many of our best minds, his family are really those special moments of eating different foods in different museums, checking out all the different cultural places and in terms of lessons learned for the kids. They've learned a lot that way too, by seeing all these different cultures, and if people aren't able to travel internationally, you don't have to get on a plane to do it.
You can just drive to different places you can go to national parks, I think is important for people [00:43:00] to be able to get outside their own bubble.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:43:02] Yeah. With your children. What are the things, as they start their career, as they get deeper into their career, what are the things that you want them to know that you were able to learn throughout your career, but you would love for them to know at the beginning of their career?
Kelly Wright: [00:43:16] And the interesting thing that I hear often when I talk to people who are just starting out in their career is they make, they have this vision of what their career, social. So they want to be a CEO, they want to be an exec, they want to be in finance, whatever it is. And they roll the picture forward 30 years and they say, that's what I want to do in 30 years.
And so they have this image in their head of all the steps that they have to make to get there. It's just they've already laid the whole thing out. And the interesting part is if you talk to someone later in their career, yeah, maybe someone aspires to be a CEO or they aspire to be a sales exec and they're in the a directionally the [00:44:00] place that they thought they'd end up.
Virtually nobody as the exact path that they thought. And so I think it's really important to think about those career moves of what are those doors that open along the way and what are those doors that you opened for yourself? And look at those opportunities as they present themselves, rather than getting too hung up on.
This is my predetermined path that I decide when I'm 16 or 18 or 21 and I tend to follow it all that way. He has less than a throw a whole bunch of Bruce. Then twist.
Things are going to happen, not the way that you plan and your decisions should really be made by. Who are the people that you really admire and who you can learn from, and that's who you want to work with.
What are the companies that get you really inspired bear? You're really passionate about their mission and purpose, [00:45:00] and where do you feel like you could have the most impact and where can you learn the most?
And if you make your career choices based on working with companies. Where you can really identify that sense of her purpose and you feel like you can be your best self there.
You can have an impact and you can learn from those around you. That's going to accelerate your path to get to wherever your are supposed to be in 20 to 30 years more than. I need to be in these type of companies.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:45:35] That's such good advice because I look back at the last 10 years, and if I would have, if I would have known that, if I would have understood that, I would have put a lot less pressure on myself.
It would have saved me a lot of sleepless nights. You know, to your point, when, when I had graduated from college, I thought that I wanted to take a COO path. And fast forward 10 years, I find myself in a cm role.
[00:46:00] So for anybody listening who's not familiar with the acronyms, I apologize. COO is chief operating officer, CMOs, chief marketing officer.
That's a completely different field. And what ended up happening was throughout my career, I kept a few things in mind.
The first of your point is if I found an organization where I was in line with the values I was bought in on the mission, I got energized by the idea of being there and the work. I would join and I wouldn't be as particular about which seat I was sitting in.
If you get offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don't ask which seat you just get on and you do the best job that you possibly can helping the team. Number two, I would be flexible if I was ever asked to move around, even if it was an area that I was less comfortable with. I could be aggressive about learning it.
Having that growth mindset is so important, and I'd often go to that different role. You know, I ended up finding myself on a really great career path.
Yeah, it was not anything like what I thought I was going to end up going [00:47:00] on. To your point, what a great lesson and I wish, I wish I would have known that because I would have put a lot less pressure on trying to be plan out every single individual move as if I was in control of it.
Kelly Wright: [00:47:12] That's for sure.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:47:12] Yeah. You don't always know. Um, many people think that job searches and networking is frustrating or can be frustrating to the point where, you know, it gives them anxiety and they want to give up on it. Why do you think people feel that way?
Kelly Wright: [00:47:25] Because it's hard bits of that. Yeah. People don't like doing things that are hard.
when you think about your career, it, these don't just land in your lap. You, you need to make it happen. So to tell a story about myself, if, if, well, I look back at virtually every job I've ever had come from my own personal networking.
If I think about the boards that I'm on now and just here. Here's some perspective from much later in my career.
Oftentimes when people have [00:48:00] gone through their career, they've had some level of success and they want to go sit on other boards. There's a perspective that people are just going to sit there and they've, they've done their thing and they're waiting to be tapped on their shoulder.
Not how it works. I mean, maybe some people do that.
Not for me. I'm one of those people where I've had tremendous failure in my hit rate of trying to get on boards and I figured, you know what? I'm not going to just sit there and wait for someone to tap me on the shoulder.
And I don't, I don't know all the right people. They talk about boards or about, no, you have to know people that's onboard to get on a board, and that is more true for boys than it is for jobs.
If you were to just go get a sales job or a marketing job or a development job, you can go through and resonate. And so what did I do? I ended up saying, I avoid to go networking my way into all these different companies.
I talk to [00:49:00] executives and CEOs at 80 different companies. I met with maybe 30 to 40 different investors at venture capital firms and private equity firms.
Aye, and did that proactively reaching out to dozens of different recruiters. I got involved in a whole bunch of women on board organizations to meet other folks there, and now people can look and say, okay, well Kelly, you've gone on four boards, but you know what? I've talked to 80 CEOs.
I don't think in terms of people I know who are on boards, I had the highest failure rate of anyone that I've ever met, and it really does have to do with.
Getting out there and meeting people. Even if I go back to my job at Tablo, my job at Tavlo came from a personal network. I,
I talked about when I was in college. I sold educational books door to door. And when I'm selling educational books door to door, people who college knew I did this crazy job and I made a [00:50:00] lot of money selling when I was in college.
And so when people are getting their company started, I had a lot of people reaching out to me saying, Hey, we have to hire up for a salesperson.
You still books, you want to do this? And that is how I got started at Tablo. The personal connections that I knew from my time at Stanford and it was connected because of the background.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:50:24] It sounds like the selling door to door prepared you for dealing with failure.
So tell me a little bit about that. You know, because not everybody has the mentality of, I'm going to go out and secure conversations with 80 CEOs because I assume in order to do that, there were like 200 CEOs who said, Hey, stop bothering
Kelly Wright: [00:50:48] me. Well, let's, let's go back to the picture of what it was like selling books.
Okay, well, the clock way back, I'm 18 [00:51:00] aye. Go to school in California. So I'm transplanted back to the, to East the East coast where I don't know anyone. And I plopped down in a city where I don't have a place to live.
First they have to find a place to live. And then I have this book bag that then there was intensive.
So am I nothing online. So we had a book bag that weighed 25 pounds that had all these samples of educational books to help kids. And their families with their education. So whether it was pouring rain or it was scalding heat, I am going and talking to 30 families a day with this huge 25 pound bag on my shoulder, walking or riding my bike.
A lot of the time, door to door, where people are literally slamming doors in their face. You could probably imagine that too when you're knocking on people's doors. You are not the most welcome [00:52:00] person that that person sees during the day.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:52:01] Much of absolutely not. And this is like before the day of the nest and the ring cam, they
Kelly Wright: [00:52:08] sometimes all on their front door.
So, so people answered the door, slammed the door in your face. So imagine the slamming door in your face, sometimes even sticking the dog on you. You have dogs chasing after you, hiding at your ankles. You please.
Um, and it's stopping you because are you illegally soliciting? And, and once I understand what's going on, I'm talking about failure and adversity.
He taught me a tremendous amount about that. But some of the, I think some of the biggest lessons that came from selling books was. When you knock on someone's door, you have just a few seconds for them side.
Are they going to close the door and they going to talk to you? Or they invite you in. And you have to present your best self and you have to be able to control [00:53:00] your own attitude and control what you can control.
Cause you, you cannot control. Is the person going to slam the door in your face. You don't know what happened in their life up to the moment, but you can control what happens when you get to the next door.
And so a lot of that was about controlling your own attitude, the shawl, what you can control. Being able to deal with adversity and failure and being able to really, those character building modes that just keep you going and keep you motivated.
And when you think about your career, you know, we're all going to be knocked down tons of times and how pick herself back up.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:53:49] Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I think a lot of times, part of the anxiety with the job search is you're applying to, if you're taking the typical path, you go to the company [00:54:00] website, you apply for jobs, you're applying for hundreds of them. You're hearing back on a very small percentage of them to set up a phone screen.
I think it can be. Easy to get stuck in this rut where you're just like, Oh my gosh, it's me. Like, you know, why are these companies not calling me back? Versus what you're describing is really grabbing things, taking it into your own hands and controlling your own destiny and making it work. And. Expecting rejection because it only takes one.
Yes. Or a few yeses able to grab Ben secure that role at the end of it.
Kelly Wright: [00:54:34] Vincent, I think you just mentioned a couple of really important takeaways. If you think about REO progression, the first is, and we alluded to this before, but the first is people have asked, Oh, Jenny or their own career. Who is the driver of your career.
Yeah, it is you. It is nobody else. And what people often [00:55:00] think is, Hey, I went to a great school. I got a good degree. I have a fantastic job. I'm showing up and working hard and my boss knows I D I've done well, not just going to sit here like I talked about in the board role. I'm going to sit here and wait for someone to tap me on my shoulder.
Sometimes it happens. Usually it doesn't, and so you have to figure out if you're not happy with your career, what are you going to do? If you don't like your job, how are you going to find a new job?
Yeah, you aren't passionate about what you're doing every day. Then instead of waiting for it to change, what are you going to do to change your situation of either improving that bowl or going and working somewhere else?
A lot of it is. Making sure you're always realizing that you are in the driver's seat on your own life and your own career. And if you don't like where you are now, what are you going to do to change it? And if you like what [00:56:00] where you are, how are you going to accelerate it and continue to take charge and it's going to take work and it's going to take that back.
And the best people who have accomplished the most things usually have achieved. Way more failures than they have it due to their successes. And I think it's important to think about each failure is getting you one step closer to your success because people just don't show up successful. It takes hours and hours and hours.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:56:32] think it could be easy on the outside to look at your career and to go, yeah, but Kelly's got this network. Kelly's on all of these boards she's teaching at this university. Like it's a lot easier for her to be able to hit her Rolodex, but that wasn't always the case. You didn't always have that network.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start.
Kelly Wright: [00:56:52] There's a lot of different ways that people can build their network there. There's people who might be super [00:57:00] go getters and then there's others that are maybe more white spoken and it's harder for them to go out into a one to many type of approach, but you can do it in many different ways.
And there are there plenty of different professional organizations that people can go joy. They might be called networking. They, they might.
E, just other job related type of organizations. There are lots of school ally organizations. People can get involved and where they went to college, where it, where they went to a graduate school, where they were involved in, um, maybe a meetup for.
Or salespeople or marketing people or developers or wherever it may be. And the other thing that people can do is they can look around people who they admire. And just set up series of coffees or short little snippets of questions.
And this is one thing that I did [00:58:00] know. Sometimes people will reach out to me on LinkedIn and just say, Hey Kelly, will you be my mentor?
And I have no idea who they are them. That's probably not your best approach. It's probably better to find people where you've had a positive interaction with them.
They've seen something of what you've developed at work or how you've gotten involved in a not for profit or how you looked out at your kid's school or whatever it may be.
Someone that you've had some interaction with and maybe just ask them to for coffee or ask if you can chat with them on the phone for 10 minutes and Oh, with an agenda. Ask him a question and you can start building your network that way so it doesn't, it doesn't have to be some huge scale. I'm going to go out and talk to a hundred people.
It should be very little and intentional of, Hey, I actually was really impressed by something you did. [00:59:00] Can you tell me your top three things of how you got to that stage or what's the lesson learned? I can learn from how you just manage that project and it can be done. Yeah.
Vincent Phamvan: [00:59:13] So Kelly, you mentioned earlier when you were the first sales person at Tablo, you didn't get that job by applying on a company website or you know, the LinkedIn easy button.
You mentioned that that w that happened through networking. What did that look like behind the scenes.
Kelly Wright: [00:59:27] Oh, actually, it's a pretty funny story. Even said how would that is? I had been working at another technology startup, and I had known some of the early folks involved at Tavlo through my college connection, and so I had been at a person
And I had met actually the CEO of Tablo, and it was very small. Then it was just getting started, and I had heard through this network that they were boys. They could go with it. They were going to make a go of this business, and [01:00:00] one of my friends who ended up becoming the CFO of Tableau and joy just a few months before I did.
Yes, that's me. Hey Kelly. Well, we're ready to go hire. The first salesperson would come in after. Okay. Well this company's getting started in Seattle. I live in the Bay area. I'm not going to move. I just had, I just had my, I think kid I not working full time and I don't know anything about business intelligence and data analytics, not my space.
And so they said, okay, well when it's time for the first salesperson, we're going to come talk to you cause we know you sold a lot of books back in the day. So. Then when it came time a few months later to hire the first salesperson, I said, well, what is the job description? And the job description had nothing to do with me.
It was, we're looking for someone who's been in business intelligence and in data. We're looking for someone who's run a team of [01:01:00] hundreds of people, someone who has. Help to lead sales teams and take companies public, someone who has been in sales at a public company, someone who has driven big enterprise sales deals, and I had done absolutely none of those.
I looked at it and I hoped maybe I that the criteria for smirk, I'm sure the personal care and I had done sales well, I had a conversation with the founder and. And I think we just had that. We had that connection. And I also think I was super, super passionate about this mission to help people see and understand data.
And that's what it really comes down to. You think you learn from the people that you're with. Are you passionate about what the business says or what the products that you'd be selling.
And do you think that you can go learn and have an impact and all that was there. And so I joined as the first salesperson [01:02:00] and that's how the story started.
Vincent Phamvan: [01:02:02] do you think is a common mistake about getting an incredible job, either in tech and startups or in sales?
Kelly Wright: [01:02:09] I think there are a couple of things. First, I believe that people have this perception that there is one profile of a salesperson, and we just talked about that. Yeah, salespeople do come in all different personality types and all different stripes and spots, and I think that that is an important takeaway is you could be really, really successful in sales regardless of what your personality is.
I think that's the first, second is, is when it comes to sales. We can talk about tech later.
When it comes to sales, some people think sales is very rote and boring and super repetitive and are the elements of sales. That is very true that way. If you're going to be an SDR, as you mentioned, or an inside sales person, you might have the [01:03:00] same conversation or the same to do the same dial 60 times a day.
The thing about sales is every single interaction is different. And that's what I love about sales so much, is that each person's problems are different. Each person's situation is different instead of me, although there's a lot of repetitiveness of you are doing, you're starting from zero at the beginning of every day, week, month.
That might be hard. You're having lots and lots of calls and meetings. For me, it's the most fresh thing that I can do cause I'm having so many different conversations and thinking about things in different challenging ways of how to help others. So that's to me, I find is, is very unique.
The third takeaway is, but I think about sales, and this is true for marketing and even for tech [01:04:00] companies, it's really all about.
Storytelling, and people don't realize this so much about human interaction in sales. And communicating is being able to draw those really tight, been connections and emotional connections.
And you do that by storytelling. And many people think that sales is just about going and giving your be packaged pitch.
And even in talking about disruptive technology companies is giving that pitch with the companies that actually really resonate. And the salespeople who ended up being the most successful are those, no, actually, can it tell an inspiring story that leads people to think differently? And if you think about those companies that do it, they're the ones that are mission-focused.
They're the ones that actually have a really [01:05:00] strong sense of purpose where people can identify and really believe in that mission.
Vincent Phamvan: [01:05:06] Hey Kelly, we've talked about so much for somebody to think about as they're starting their career or thinking about a pivot in their career, but what do you think are the top takeaways that somebody should have from this episode as they're navigating their next step?
Kelly Wright: [01:05:20] Let's see, Vincent. Okay, number one, be in control of your own career. Take control, you are the driver of your life, so yeah, and the driver's seat two.
Have a growth mindset. Always be thinking about how can you learn, how can you learn from every interaction? How can you learn from every person you interact with?
How can you learn in your free time from okay that you read podcasts that you listen to you just always be thinking about learning and growing. Three, [01:06:00] use failure and adversity to your advantage.
Thrive on your failures. If we talk about the last one, which was growth mindset, instead of having those failures get you down, think about how you can take something positive from each of those failures to help you do better the next time.
In terms of four, me passionate about what you're doing. Only take jobs where you're passionate about the company. You're passionate about, what the company's product or services you're passionate and excited about the people that you're working with.
Well, that is critically important. Don't just follow because you think that there's a lot of money she made or this is a rocket ship.
You have to personally, you're passionate about whatever it is that you're doing. Not only will it make you more successful, but it'll help you to have a lot more fun.
And then five, [01:07:00] make sure you find some balance, in order to be really successful in your career. It's not just about work, work, work, work, work.
And this was a huge mistake that I've made much of my career is just chasing, chasing, chasing. And that is good, but you need to keep yourself healthy and you need to focus on your own wellbeing. And so make sure you're exercising. Make sure you have time for those personal relationships. Make sure you prioritize your family.
Right now, as I think about my career, and this is part of the reason that I'm doing board work, I know I'm going to remember those important relationships. I get to remember those. Personal interactions that I've had. I know that I'm going to really think most about the time that I spent with my family and my career and all that is going to be important.
But do that at the expense of taking care of yourself and your own personal relationships. [01:08:00] Isn't going to eat best for you, and it also isn't going to make you the most successful because those people that are successful, they are the ones that also prioritize all those other pieces that are important.
Vincent Phamvan: [01:08:16] And what great five takeaways from this episode. Kelly, thank you so much for joining us. Where can our listeners follow or connect with you online or be able to read more?
Kelly Wright: [01:08:27] Oh, they can definitely follow me on LinkedIn. So just go search for Kelly Breslin Wright on LinkedIn. You can follow me on Twitter under the same name and.
They said, thank you so much. It was really, really fun and engaging to be able to have some conversation with you. For all of you listeners out there, whether you are early in your career or far along, it's been a pleasure and the left and best wishes.
Vincent Phamvan: [01:08:54] Thank you so much for listening to the show this week. If this podcast was helpful to you, the best [01:09:00] thing that you can do to support is please consider rating and reviewing this show on Apple podcasts. This helps us help more people just like you move towards the life that they desire. Visit our podcasts on Apple podcasts.
Then score to the bottom. Tap the rate with five stars and just leave a sentence or two about what you loved most about this episode. You can subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts, or you can write at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Vincent Phamvan and you've been listening to how I got here. This podcast is brought to you by Vyten career coaching.