Lead(H)er: Julie Hogan, VP, Customer Success at Drift
“Don’t tell me you’re a people person,” Julie Hogan’s college career counselor said to her during their first meeting.
Hogan panicked. That was exactly what she was going to say, and as a freshman who still hadn’t decided on her major, being comfortable talking to people seemed like a valuable skill. She eventually settled on an English degree, which combined her love of people, reading, and writing with the high possibility of graduating with a good GPA that would open doors for her.
When Hogan graduated, she took a job as an analyst at Deloitte. An internship at the Make-A-Wish Foundation had taught her that she would prefer fast-paced work, and one at Boston’s NBC affiliate taught her that a job in a true office setting would be ideal. Deloitte offered both, along with the opportunity to learn how to work.
To Hogan, who was raised in a family of people who were proud of their hard work and who had held jobs as soon as they could, Hogan was thrilled to enter the working world. She still remembers her first business trip – a Thursday flight to Detroit – with happiness.
“I was the only person at Logan Airport with a smile on their face,” she said. “I was so excited to be flying to Detroit on a Thursday afternoon because I was an adult on a business trip. I was very proud that I had a purpose and a job and I was going to make my own money.”
Hogan spent three years at Deloitte, taking on every project possible and accepting every opportunity that came her way until she realized that maybe she didn’t want to make partner or climb this particular corporate ladder after all. If she was going to make a change, she reasoned, now was the time.
A fellow Bostonian had left Deloitte to work at a small startup called HubSpot, which was still in the incubator phase, and Hogan decided to join him.
“He was the only friend who was genuinely on fire in a good way about what he was doing,” she said.
Hogan stayed at HubSpot for just under eight years, traveling all over the world with her husband and children to help set up the company’s offices in Dublin, Sydney, Singapore, Latin America, Japan, and Germany.
“We live in a world of ‘no,’” Hogan said. “A lot of people say no to things that seem hard to do. I’ve heard people say that your default answer should always be no. I don’t operate that way. I'm going to say yes to those things because hopefully, I learn something from them.”
HubSpot taught Hogan to take risks, but when the opportunity came to join Drift and build its customer success team, which consisted of customer success, services, and support functions, people told her not to leave her current job. HubSpot was a stable gig, with the fast pace she craved and a good working environment.
“I think as a woman, especially now as a mother, there's this expectation that you should stick with stability and shy away from risks that could impact your flexibility somewhere else,” she said.
But Hogan was losing sleep over the idea that she would be missing out on an opportunity to learn while making a real impact somewhere, and eventually, she took the leap.
The stress was worth it. Hogan is now the Vice President of Drift’s customer success team, working to take care of customers while supporting the company’s growth. Her main goal is to help make SaaS feel like a world-class service, and a strong team bolsters those efforts. When it comes to hiring, Hogan focuses less on technical abilities and more on the ability to learn.
“If they naturally and genuinely enjoy solving problems and engaging with other human beings and building relationships and helping people grow, they are more than likely have the capacity to learn a new technology,” Hogan said. “We’re really shifting and not trying to lead and hire technology first, but lead and hire and think service first.”
Customer success is a difficult industry, but Hogan is, after all, a people person. While others may shy away from the idea of constantly talking to people, Hogan said that customer success is a perfect match for her precisely because she enjoys making those connections.
“You have to stretch yourself in ways very quickly that you didn't think you would be capable of,” Hogan said. “In my mind, I always thought that because I don't have a pedigree or an MBA, I’m not even set up to do this. It's just where I landed and where I really thrive.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
I think because I lived away from New England for a decent period of time, I'm obsessed with the beach. So in my free time, you will see me spending almost all of it with my sons with a soccer ball on one of our local beaches.
How do you manage your stress?
I like to figure out what tools other people use and see if they could work for me. A piece of advice I got from a former colleague of mine was that when he feels stressed he leans into something he heard Beyonce does, which is, you have to mentally translate that stress into positive energy. So, when you're feeling stress or worry or anxiety or butterflies, it’s because you are passionate about the thing that you have to accomplish. I think just making that mental transition makes a huge difference for me.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I have had a love-hate relationship with caffeine, and so as of now I have one cup in the morning and I try to keep it at that.
What is one of your favorite spots in the Boston area?
Provincetown, Cape Cod. I got married there, grew up staying down there. It's amazing. It's the best place.
What would you consider one of your greatest accomplishments unrelated to family?
There are two things. First, I'm very proud of the teams we built at HubSpot when we were getting the international team going. I look back sometimes and just think, wow, we learned a lot of things, we certainly made a lot of mistakes, but what a what a ride to go literally around the world and start up those teams and build businesses.
What's disappointing -- and this is just the world we live in, and I think it will change -- when the opportunity was there to do it, I was on maternity leave with my first son. Someone made the comment, “Oh, isn't it a shame that that didn't happen before you had kids? Obviously, you can't do that, you have a baby.” It lit a fire under me because I knew I absolutely could do this -- anybody can -- it’s just a little bit different.
The second thing I’m really proud of is building our customer success team from scratch at Drift. This past year has been the most challenging and rewarding career opportunity I’ve ever had.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
No! I had no idea. I knew or hoped that I would be working. I dreamed that I would have a job that would allow me to keep learning and that I would get exposure to all sorts of people. That has been the one thing that I've loved so much about these roles -- you meet different people from all over the world, from your customers to the people you hire, and it's incredible. You learn something almost every day because of the diversity of people and being part of a global team.
I wanted something that was fast. I knew it had to be fast-paced for whatever reason. That's how I operate. I knew that in ten years if I'm sitting in a cube where no one was talking I wouldn't be thriving. I'm grateful that it's been what it's been. I can go home every day, put in hours that are hard and focused, but go home and say, yeah, I like what I do. I really like what I do.
What is your advice for recent college graduates?
Think about what you what you enjoy doing already, and don't back into a job title. Don't just say you want to be a social media marketing manager. Instead, start with a list of things that you genuinely enjoy, and don't let anybody tell you that any of those things are stupid. Knowing that I liked people and enjoyed communicating, working with people, and knowing that as my truth has been the foundation of things I've gone after and roles I've taken on and have seen success in. Start there. I think often, people go on job search sites looking for titles but don't even really know what those jobs mean or what their day to day life would be.
The other thing I would say is, stalk your network. Don't be shy about asking someone, “Could I go with you to work for a half a day just to see what the office environment is like?” I took small, unpaid internships that were only a few hours a week so that I could still work full time during the summers. These taught me a ton about what kind of work environment I wanted to be in, which eventually led me to the world of startups, and I’ve never looked back.