On any given day at Leverege, I play the role of marketing manager, social media coordinator, PR professional, community director, content creator, editor, scheduler and podcast producer (to name a few). So how did I get here? Allow me to explain…
My journey to Leverege is anything but conventional. I’m a firm believer that your 20’s are for exploring opportunities, making mistakes and becoming aware of your imperfections more than settling into any one career or place. As a child, I dreamt of winning a Pulitzer as a foreign correspondent journalist, traveling the world and learning more about cultures to which I had not been exposed before.
The idea of traveling and writing about my experiences is still something I daydream about and hope to accomplish, but not in the same way I once had. I attended the University of Maryland where I had every intention of graduating from the Philip Merrill School of Journalism. What I realized (sooner than most), is that true journalism was a dying breed. The way I learned about and was exposed to journalism and news was being phased out. The internet and pop culture were changing the way the public viewed the news, both literally and figuratively. What was once seen as an avenue for truth and knowledge was slowly turning to sensationalism.
Understanding how the masses were digesting the news and how media publications were presenting the news led me to explore my interest in how human behavior and consciousness is shaped by culture and social structures. However, I missed writing. Because of this, I pursued two degrees–in sociology and communications. This combination of education became the catalyst for my interest in finding a career that gave me the freedom to write, read the news every day and connect with humans–utilizing my creative skills along with my innate curiosities and analytical nature.
At this point, I was exposed to public relations (PR). PR is often misunderstood and depicted as publicists of celebrities creating and taking advantage of situations to receive publicity. This glorified understanding of PR is not what most PR professionals do. Sure, they’re looking for strategic ways to land press for their clients, but the idea of creating a false image or facade is simply not all public relations is.
It is, however, cutthroat. In a female dominated field it is common to find competition, cattiness and downright rude behavior. The lack of empathy in the public relations career field pushed me into and out of several companies before the age of 28. I started my career at the world’s largest PR firm working on clients such as WalMart and VW. The exposure I received to corporate clients was one of the greatest learning experiences I had thus far. It not only showed me how slow corporate communications can be with red tape, but how who you know and the impressions you make will make or break your career in a strictly corporate setting.
By this time, I was struggling with mental health issues that had presented themselves in my freshman year of college. The debilitation of my own experiences, thoughts and perceptions placed me into an abyss of depression and anxiety. My mental health had suffered for so long that it began to creep into my professional life. What followed was a constant feeling of “what’s next” combined with self-deprecating and self-sabotaging behavior. In the span of 5 years, I had never made it more than 7 months without looking for a new job. I worked for several PR agencies of varying sizes, working on clients ranging from some of the world’s largest public companies to single-led startups.
At one of my jobs, I was exposed to startups in their early stages working to secure funding and media attention. I had worked with technology companies in the past, but there was something special about the people working their asses off to make a vision of theirs come to life. It was this excitement and my innate wanderlust that led me to apply for a position in San Francisco. I wanted the opportunity to work directly with startups in the hub that is Silicon Valley. I wasn’t interested in the red tape of corporations or being told my ideas weren’t worth expressing.
Within a matter of one month, I had quit my job in Virginia, accepted a new job in San Francisco and moved to Oakland, California. Instead of taking a step back and analyzing whether or not this was a good decision, I jumped right in and had one of the best and worst experiences in my professional life.
I received amazing exposure to startups and built a network that has proven beneficial to this day, but at the cost of my mental health and my wallet. I was working with individuals that embody the negative Silicon Valley stereotype. The lack of diversity and a lack of true personal connection resulted in me moving back to the DC area to find what SF was lacking, a growing and authentic startup scene.
Moving back home was difficult in itself. No full time job, no apartment and my friends had all moved out of state. I was freelancing and relying on the connections I had made while I looked for a full-time job at a startup.
The DC area startup scene is thriving with cybersecurity and B2B businesses looking to make a difference. I had immersed myself in job hunting and freelancing, but was worried that I would have to go back to the PR industry where turnover is high, the hours are long and the demand for coverage in the media is at its highest. You’re typically spread thin between 6+ clients becoming a generalist as opposed to honing in on specific skill sets.
I was lucky enough to stumble across Leverege on Angel List. Like any good PR professional, I performed my due diligence and “stalked” the company’s employees from the team page, read about their work in IoT (which I had come to understand through my work in cybersecurity) and the work of the co-founders, Eric Conn, and Steve Lee. To say I was impressed is an understatement. Leverege has a collection of emotionally intelligent, empathetic, hard-working employees. The majority of the staff is under 26 and they are hungry! Hungry to make a difference, to build a sustainable company from the ground up, to influence the masses and to make connections.
In September of 2018, I was hired as a Digital Marketing Manager at Leverege. In the last 7 months, I’ve joined a small team running IoT For All (IFA), Leverege’s publication that was created to freely share valuable content and build trust in the IoT space. I was attracted to two things right off the bat, before starting at Leverege:
Startup life isn’t for those who aren’t able to adapt quickly, fail fast and collaborate with all ranks of co-workers. Marketing, in general, can be data/science driven but is more importantly driven by soft skills like communication, teamwork, self-awareness, empathy, etc. Because you have to be ready to take on any task at any point, working in a startup isn’t for everyone. However, at Leverege, I can say I’ve learned more technical skills than at any other job. I’m no longer just a generalist in the industries my clients sit in, but working my way into specializing in specific aspects of digital marketing.
Depending on the day, I wear many hats in my role as a digital marketing manager. My mornings start relatively early and I’m in the office between 8-830am. The first two hours of my day are spent building my to-do list, answering emails and reading the day’s news. I like to have an understanding of what’s currently happening in tech and IoT so that I have a better grasp on the market and what type of work other tech companies are doing.
Once I’ve spent the morning on emails and responding to messages, I focus my attention on any one of several tasks. No one day is ever the same. Depending on my bandwidth and priorities I could be doing any number of the following:
One of the great things about working at a tech startup is the revolving door of knowledge.
At Leverege specifically, I can learn about a new type of product, a new cloud provider, listen to a designer about a new UI, or be tracked by indoor sensors. That’s just a short list of all the knowledge I’ve been exposed to.
At first glance, Leverege can seem like an intimidating tight group of highly intelligent individuals. Individuals who have graduated from top colleges (Brown, Yale, Columbia, Duke, etc.) and by the age of 22 have already launched companies, become VPs and built platforms utilized on a massive scale. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to your co-workers. No one job or person is more important than anyone else’s and every one is vital to the success of such a small company.
The collective understanding at Leverege is that true culture is the people and the relationships built, not free lunches or happy hours. Sure, those things are a part of most companies, but what sets Leverege apart is the amount of respect everyone has for their teammates regardless of title, position or responsibility.
Most companies claim to have a “different” culture or a culture that offers awesome benefits. The majority of these companies are just trying to recruit and aren’t focused on the quality of humans they’re bringing into their company. No matter how many happy hours you have or games you have in the office, it will never make up for having co-workers with emotional intelligence, empathy and humor.
I didn’t choose Leverege for the benefits, I chose Leverege because I saw two co-founders and employees who embody innovation and care about the growth of the company. They’re not selling a product, they’re selling a sense of purpose. If you have a chance to meet anyone who works at Leverege, take it. I bet they show you more about yourself and instill confidence and drive in you that you never knew you had.
Shannon is the Marketing and Communications Director of IoT For All and a Digital Marketing Manager at Leverege. She is interested in the intersection of technology and society and dedicated to growing the number of women in the technology industry. Shannon graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in Communications and a B.A. in Sociology.
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