Lead(H)er: Elizabeth Graham, Chief Operating Officer at Notarize
Elizabeth Graham dealt with more than her share of angry customers when she worked at Comcast. As the cable company’s Director of Community and Government Relations, she represented it at public hearings and was often on the receiving end of endless frustrations about Comcast’s service.
“That motivated me to become someone who could actually fix these problems for customers,” Graham said.
From that point on, she focused her career on resolving pain points for customers and employees alike. As she took on new roles at Comcast, Graham began working with the technology and engineering teams to work on rebuilding broadband rebuild and other key projects. She built and scaled teams, oversaw product enhancements from lab development to deployment, and ultimately became interested in how employee satisfaction played into the company’s goals.
When Graham saw how carefully HubSpot was considering its own employee culture, Graham saw another opportunity.
“It was so exciting for me to see a company that had that at the heart of a business that was also exploding in terms of growth,” Graham said.
Graham’s experience in growing teams and structuring feedback and training processes led her to a people operations role at HubSpot. She eventually moved into business intelligence, a new field for her, and helped the HubSpot team create a data warehouse that could maximize the amount of information the company could glean from its huge repositories of data.
Eventually, Graham began to miss the hands-on, team-based, and operational work she had once done. Luckily for her, Wayfair was about to scale up dramatically by adding in Europe-based customer service teams, and it needed someone with Graham’s skill set to help.
“They had about 750 or so folks on the team, and they needed someone who could come in and help them add thousands more,” Graham said. “That was a really exciting challenge for me because it gave me the opportunity to figure out how to build teams in different parts of the world.”
Graham’s love for disruptive startups and their naturally high tolerance for experimentation led her to Notarize, the first online notary platform that is helping thousands of people sign and notarize documents 24/7, entirely online. As the company’s Chief Operating Officer, she’s focusing on making the customer experience as seamless as possible, from the initial sale to activation of the product, while scaling the business in the process.
“With a lot of these companies, there’s a flywheel effect,” Graham said. “Mortgage lenders work with hundreds of title companies across the country, and once we have that relationship established and they’re using Notarize for their transactions, that’s naturally going to draw in all the surrounding pieces of the transaction.”
While Notarize is seeing the biggest opportunities for growth in the real estate industry right now, Graham knows that its comprehensive identity validation process has an even wider range of applications. It’s early in her term at Notarize -- Graham joined just four months ago -- but she’s already looking forward to helping lead some major growth initiatives at the company.
“What I thrive on is the energy, ideation, and willingness for people to test things, try them out, and then dust themselves off and start over again when they have to,” Graham said. “We’ve got an incredible core, and I think all of us see the potential for how large this business can be.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
My husband and I both really love live music, so that’s one of the things that I try to do a couple of times a month. This time of year, I’m cheering on the New England Revolution. My husband is the play-by-play announcer for them, so we have a very soccer-minded household. I also love to travel any chance I get -- I’m always up for an adventure.
How do you manage stress?
I try to work out every day or almost every day, and I like to mix it up. For now, I’m skiing and snowshoeing as well as going to the gym. A couple of years ago I started a more active meditation practice, so I try to do that a few days a week, even if it’s only for five or 10 minutes, to keep myself grounded. One thing that took me a little while to realize is that running myself into the ground is not the best way to deal with stress. It’s worth taking some breaks to come back to work more refreshed and creative rather than just burning the candle at both ends. When something feels really overwhelming, I’ll try to chunk it out into bite-sized pieces so that it’s not such a scary, stressful body of work.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I’m not a coffee drinker, but I am a tea drinker, so I have probably at least three to five cups a day.
What’s one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
I grew up in the countryside, so I love some of the conservation land around Boston. I live not too far from Minuteman National Park, so I love to go out in nature around there. Sometimes I take my camera along for some photos.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
I didn’t really think I would be in a startup back then, but the team and the market opportunity here and where we’re going aligns so well with all the things that I’ve done. I feel like I can bring my full work experience to help the team as well as learn a completely new industry and have the excitement of that steep learning curve for me. So some of those loose goals that I set for myself many years ago align well.
What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?
From a career standpoint, having the opportunity to scale up the sales and service organization at Wayfair was a unique and amazing experience. Being able to canvas the U.S. and parts of Europe to find great locations for teams of thousands of people was an interesting problem to solve. I was very proud to not only find these locations and scale them up but to do it with the quality that we were able to achieve.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
Think about your career in a nonlinear way. Not every job is going to line up directly behind the one that you have right now. You might need to move sideways or even take a step backward to help you move forward. I typically encourage people to think less about the job and more about building out a skills portfolio. What are the things that you really need to get to the place you want to be professionally, and what are the opportunities that will help you build those skills in a meaningful way?
The other piece of advice that I think some people might think of as counterintuitive is to be someone who freely shares information and your talent and capability, instead of being someone who hoards information. That creates this possibility of failure in your organization because you’re the only person who knows how to do something. That might give you a sense of feeling very important, but it makes you almost unpromotable. There’s no one else who can take over for the work you’re doing. If you think instead about how you can spread your knowledge, how you can share your expertise with others, how you can build organizational capability that's not dependent on you, that frees you up as someone who can go take on new challenges. There's no fear that you're going to leave a giant hole in the role you're in.
Images courtesy of Elizabeth Graham and Notarize