Inspiration can take unexpected forms—like a potential buyer of your car leading you towards your future as Head of CEE Sales. But ‘right place, right time’ can only point to a door. Thankfully, this passionate woman had the guts to open it, and to earn everything that came next.
Having stood with Exponea since its earlier days, Patricia knew that the customer data platform was going places. The company allowed her to make a visible impact, so she gave it her all as she rose through the ranks. Yet her advice to her younger self? “Calm down and find a hobby.”
Can you please introduce yourself, your position and the company you work for? How long have you held this position?
My name is Patricia and I am the Head of Sales for Central and Eastern Europe at Exponea, the Slovakia-based company established back in 2015 and now operating globally with a team of more than 220 people. Exponea provides a leading end-to-end customer data platform that infuses a customer experience with limitless relevance, personalization and value in no time.
I joined Exponea almost 4 years ago, making me employee number 43 and the first Field Sales Manager for Slovakia and the Czech Republic. After one year in the role, I moved into Partnership Management and, soon after and as the team grew, I became responsible for the CEE region.
What inspired or led you to enter the SaaS field/tech startup world?
To be totally honest, becoming a part of the SaaS/tech startup world was never among my goals. It happened as a nice coincidence when I met a person from the tech world—a man who wanted to buy my car. He didn’t buy the car but, instead, he told me about this new SaaS startup where he was building a sales team. And that’s how I got into it.
Previously, I’d been working as a Regional Account Manager in a tech corporation for over 4 years. Although I enjoyed what I was doing, I felt like I needed a change. I wanted to have a bigger impact on both the businesses I’m selling to and the company I’m working at. Becoming a part of Exponea allowed me to do both. So where I am right now is just a result of being in the right place at the right time, and meeting the right person.
Did you study technology? Do you feel it’s important to have a tech education in order to get a job in a tech startup?
It really depends on what role one is applying for. For a very technical role—such as a product engineer—a tech education is very important. However, there are various roles in the field that are open to people without a tech education.
I studied Business Management and got a master’s in Global Marketing. When I first joined the tech corporation as a fresh graduate, I had no clue about technology. I was lost; I didn’t know what VPN stands for and what it does. Still, I managed to do the job well and grow. I think the key to success is one’s attitude, willingness to learn and common sense. It’s easy to give up when you don’t understand something, but if you’re up for the challenge and aren’t afraid of new things in a constantly evolving environment, you have a great chance of succeeding in this world.
What was the biggest challenge for you when entering the tech field and how did you manage to overcome it?
Since I had no tech background, my biggest challenge was understanding the language and the solution itself.
I did pretty intense self-studying, followed by lots of Q&A with my more tech-savvy colleagues. But what helped me most was talking to the client-oriented team, as well as the clients themselves. I listened to the main business challenges they face, learning about the real-life application of our solution and the benefits it brings. This helped me greatly in understanding the technology itself and its value on the market.
The tech world is always evolving and changing; the status quo is challenged every single day. Don’t expect to know everything. The key is to stay close to the community (colleagues, clients, users) and continue talking to them, thereby staying in the loop and up-to-date.
Thinking back to your journey and how you arrived at where you are today, is there anything you’d change if you could?
I am very much into appreciating everything that comes my way. I see challenges and tough times as something that can make me stronger, that can teach me and help me grow personally and/or professionally—although this approach may feel tricky in the beginning. With that said, I wouldn’t change anything.
I’ve been very lucky to surround myself with inspiring people during my professional life as well as my studies. They’ve served as role models, helping me get where I am right now.
What piece of advice would you give to your freshman self?
Calm down and find a hobby. I’m a person who strives to be the best, to excel in everything. However, in the early days of my professional life, I had no boundaries. I thought I’d excel only if I worked 24/7. Big mistake! That mindset resulted in a couple of burn-outs and inefficiency. No one can function like this long-term; even a laptop needs to be charged, updated and cleaned regularly in order to work well.
There are times, especially in startups, when one has to work long hours for some period of time and that’s fine. However, in order to maintain productivity long-term, one needs to have something where he/she can switch off and recharge.
Only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice. Why do you believe working in a tech startup or SaaS is a good career path?
A tech startup is a very dynamic environment, growing at a very fast pace, with a great future ahead—especially now. It’s very complex and can be frightening at first, but once you understand the given business model and the value it brings to users/clients, you can very easily navigate the complicated world that offers an endless number of career opportunities.
Do you see a lack of female presence at your startup? If so, how do you think this could be changed?
Actually, I do not. In fact, women represent close to 50% of the leadership in Exponea, a number that speaks for it all.
Exponea is very keen on treating women equally, supporting diversity and valuing everyone’s opinion. I know that this is not the standard in the world of technology, which is why I feel very blessed to be a part of this company and to be able to interact with the inspirational women who are a part of the leadership, engineering, client services, security teams, etc.
How can male teammates support their female colleagues in growing professionally? And do you have first-hand experience with this positive behavior?
Frankly, I don’t think it’s about males supporting female teammates. It should go both ways. We should all support each other and learn from each other. Without that, the company cannot grow and prosper, and neither can we as individuals.
I think the key is to be open to others’ opinions and feedback. Every single one of us is different in some way, which is absolutely amazing; these differences offer alternative points of view or approaches to certain problems.
People working in startups are usually very busy. How do you manage your work-life balance? Do you have time for some side/passion projects?
I feel like everyone is very busy nowadays. But truth to be told, startups do require that extra flexibility, long days and occasional work weekends. I’m very passionate about what I do, so I don’t mind it that much—although, as I’ve matured, I now understand the importance of keeping a healthy balance between everything I do, including work and my personal life.
I have several tools to maintain that balance but my biggest helper in this matter is my dog. Thanks to her, I have no other choice but to go out to the forest every single day, which gives me at least that one hour of absolute silence. This is the time when I switch off completely and get ready for any new challenge that might be ahead.
Women in SaaS initiative
Did you know that only 3% of females say a career in technology is their first choice and only 5% of leadership positions in technology are held by a woman? With our new initiative - Women in SaaS interviews, we want to inspire more women to join SaaS field & technology and combat prejudges connected to technology.
Every two weeks, you can look forward to interviews with inspirational ladies who decided on a career path in SaaS. In our next article, we will talk to Kelly Yanke Deltener from CoSchedule.