Adding the word “director” to your job title can evoke visions of ruthlessly climbing the corporate ladder for years. (That, or landing a lucky break post-film school.)
But for these startup directors, the path wasn’t quite as straight. Some certainly did climb the ranks within their organization—but some came from completely different backgrounds; it just took finding the right passion and job function (and a lot of hard work, of course) for them to snag that director-level position.
We sat down with five director-level professionals to find out more about what it takes to earn such a plum spot at a growing company. Their paths and roles certainly aren’t all the same—but what they do share is the commitment to finding out what they were truly passionate about and following it relentlessly.
1. Craig Condon Siegal
Director, Global Sales Productivity, LivePerson
Craig Condon Siegal didn’t exactly dream of becoming a teacher—but that’s what ended up being his first career path. After teaching in New Zealand and London, though, he decided he’d reached the end of that track and wanted to move into something completely different.
He’d heard about LivePerson from a friend, so he applied for a customer care position, which fit nicely with his background in education. He got the job and spent a few years in Israel before he moved up the ranks enough to be asked to launch a new customer care team in New York. Gradually, he also took over the sales organization, and was eventually asked to build a new sales productivity team.
“Now I’m kind of back to being a teacher,” Siegal shares, explaining that his main job functions now include setting up processes and caring about how his team members are developing. And really, that’s what he loved about teaching. “So I got what I wanted in the end,” he laughs.
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2. Manuel Morales
Director, Product Management, Voxy
Passionate about empowering people through education and technology, Manuel Morales first pursued a career in micro-finance. Eager to learn more, he decided to pursue a graduate degree in social entrepreneurship, with a new goal of working for a company that did well by doing good.
Enter: Voxy, which Morales learned about when it was just a PowerPoint presentation! The company approaches language acquisition in a new way, completely customized to the user. “Whatever they’re interested in, whatever their learning style is, whatever their proficiency level is, Voxy can adapt to that,” Morales shares, “and that’s really going to change the way people learn.”
As the director of product management, it’s Morales’ job to get to know the company’s users and understand their needs, so he can build the best products possible. “I love that I get to collaborate every day with some of the smartest people I have ever met in an effort to tackle one of education’s most challenging problems.”
3. Dylan Fareed
Director of Technology, 20x200
Dylan Fareed got his first dose of computer engineering and writing software in a fairly atypical way—while in studio as he worked toward a degree in architectural history. From there, he started a design firm, building websites and catalogs for local and European galleries.
“I really started to fall in love with the engineering side of things,” Fareed shares. “And through lots and lots and lots of practice, day in and day out, I was able to develop a proficiency.”
He entered art startup 20x200 at a time when its growth had been very organic—giving him the perfect opportunity to come in with and develop more cohesive tools and technology to better fit the business. In short, he explains, “We build the software that helps us get our artists’ artwork out there into customers hands.”
4. Ranesha Mattu
Director of Partnerships, StackSocial
Blessed with the “gift of gab,” Ranesha Mattu had a knack for communicating and collaborating from a young age. She first employed that skill at Sugar Inc., where she worked with vendors to deliver deals on spa services and restaurant dining to the company’s audience.
But she couldn’t deny her passion for technology, so she eventually moved to StackSocial, where she curates the flash sales on the company’s online marketplace, bringing the latest and greatest in the tech space to customers.
Mattu strives to close a high volume of promotional deals every day, then hands them off to the technical and design teams, which build out the sale on the website. “It’s a lot of fun being able to essentially shop for an audience of about 10 million people!” she shares.
5. Ryan Sims
Director, Product Design, Nextdoor
Everything changed for Ryan Sims when he read the inaugural issue of Wired magazine. He had studied anthropology and journalism at the University of North Carolina, but the interest that sparked when he picked up that magazine was enough to change his track to human-computer interaction, which he pursued at Georgia Tech.
After graduating, he moved to San Francisco to work for Epinions.com. There, he met the founders of Nextdoor, although he wouldn’t actually work with them for another several years.
When one of the co-founders of Nextdoor contacted him down the road to share the company’s vision of a social network that would connect neighbors, “the hair stood up on the back of my neck,” Sims says. “It didn’t take a lot to sell me.”
At Nextdoor, Sims splits his time between visual design, user experience design, and interaction and technical work—in addition to leading his team of nine designers. “Through the course of the day, there’s a mix of collaboration with other folks and heads-down work at your desk.”
Photo of people working courtesy of Shutterstock .
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