On this episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William speaks with Alli Trussell about women in tech and unconventional paths to success.
Alli is chief of staff at Wunderkind, one of the fastest-growing SaaS companies in the U.S., where she is partner to the CEO and executive team. This is a great conversation, and we invite you to tune in and leave your thoughts in the comments.
Listening Time: 32 minutes
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Strategic partner to the CEO and executive team of Wunderkind, formerly BounceX, one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the U.S.Follow Follow
This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host. William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Alli on from Wunderkind. We’re going to be about women in tech and the unconventional paths to success. So we’ve got a to lot to unpack and I can’t wait to do it. So Alli would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Wunderkind.
Of course, and I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me. Sure. I’m Alli Trussell. I am the chief of staff at Wunderkind or Wunderkind. Like my friend William here said, you can say it either way, that’s part of its beauty and part of its design. It’s meant to appeal to your individuality, which is a lot of what we do as a company and a lot of what we believe as a culture. At Wunderkind, I oversee the people talent, HR culture functions, and the development function that we’re launching. So really all things, people and people progress and people performance. I love my job. Wunderkind is a consumer engagement platform. We’re essentially performance marketing and we make marketing one to one through a variety of different channels, emails, text messages, all of that fun stuff that is tailored to you in some sort of shopping. We make that and we try to make shopping the wonderful experience that it should be and make marketing one-to-one. The way that we know you like it.
I like that. I’ve always said with email campaigns in particular, no one wants to feel like they were one of 85,000 people that got the same email.
Absolutely not, absolutely not. And what do you do with that email? You delete it. [crosstalk 00:02:07] And if you get a great email about a jacket that you want, because you bought another jacket like that, yeah. You’re like, “I want that jacket. I need to buy that jacket,” you make a purchase. So it’s not rocket science, but I agree with you. Everybody likes a good email.
And it’s genius, especially across the multi-platforms. I just recently started buying these types of shirts. I don’t want to even to say the brand, but basically they pop up everywhere. Now they’re sending me email, which is great, because it’s like they have a new shirt that and all of a sudden in Instagram and Facebook and Google, literally they’re popping up everywhere and I like it because it’s-
I did too. It’s a time saver, right?
You have time to just sit there and browse through a billion different websites. I love things that are brought right to me.
It’s the same people that are on Pinterest for hours in the day. These are the same people.
Not to make fun of Pinterest. I actually love Pinterest, but I love it for different reasons. All right. Women in tech. All right. So first all women in tech and unconventional paths to success. So why don’t we just top-line it with women in tech? What’s been your experience, because you get to see kind of both sides. You work for a technology company obviously.
And I’m a woman.
Yeah. Well there’s some obvious parts of this.
Okay. I have both of those buckets.
Yes you do check, check. You did that. So what was your path?
My path to, okay. We can kind of blend these, because I have quite an unconventional path to success or hopeful success, I guess, because that’s weird thing to measure, early and midway through your career. So I actually, I’m from Texas. I have a theater background. So I graduated from college, came up to New York to do theater, made a stop in-
Takes over Broadway, the whole bit.
Take over Broadway of course. Make millions of millions of dollars.
Oh yeah, famous the whole bit. Got it. Yeah.
Endures a week.
Where in Texas, did you grow up? I’m in Texas.
I’m from Arlington, Texas. It’s right outside of Dallas.
I lived in Arlington, Texas.
Do you really? You were the second podcast I’ve done with folks from Arlington or not Arlington, from the DFW area.
Fielder and Park Row.
Oh my gosh. I live off of Fielder. Hi, neighbor.
Hey, neighbor. So I went to Arlington High 100 years ago.
Oh my gosh. I went to Lamar High School.
Did you? That was a trade up. You actually went to different school, just be honest, we can be honest with the audience.
Oh, I was going to be honest. I did go to the superior school.
You did go to the superior school, but anyhow, that’s fantastic. And so, you go to New York, you got to dream. You’re pursuing your dream. You’re doing your bit.
Totally. I’m pursuing my dream and working about eight different jobs.
Living in a 500 square foot apartment.
Living in a large apartment totally. Oh, not even, not even. Working a ton of jobs, I was a nanny, I babysat, walked dogs. I was cocktail waitress.
Did you churched that up to au pair or did you keep it at nanny?
No. No. I think it was like a straight up nanny when you’re walking around in sweats all day and always carry 37 grocery bags.
Yeah, you’re the nanny.
I nannied for a kid who went to the school that Michelle Williams kids went to. And Michelle Williams had an au pair. I was not au pair.
Got it. Got it. You wouldn’t even go down the road of-
No, no, no, no, no, no.
No, no. I was a nanny. I was babysitter really, because I actually nannied for a lovely, lovely family who I thoroughly enjoyed. And he was almost too self-sufficient to need a nanny, but babysitter, cool babysitter. So I did that. I was a cocktail waitress as a hostess before that did some creative writing on the side, just a bunch of odd jobs. I was also a personal assistant just to make a bit more money. It was easy to squeeze in between gigs. I could kind of do it on my own time, but I worked for this one company who really matched you with I call it like Gossip Girl Manhattan’s elite, people who could afford to outsource their lives. And I got paired with this guy named Ryan Urban at the time, was the CEO of Bounce Exchange. And Ryan was my favorite client, quite the character, but he always had entertaining tasks for me. And after I decided to leave the company, I continued to work with Ryan and he tried for a long time to get me to come on to Bounce Exchange.
I was like, “Ryan, I did not want a nine to five job. I do not want to sit at a desk.” He was like, “You don’t have to sit at a desk and I can promise you, it’s not going to be nine to five, it’s going to be like nine to nine.” I’m kidding. And I’ve never sat at a desk, but I did wander in, and I was pleasantly surprised. I definitely, women in tech, I definitely had this preconceived notion that I was going to walk into all these finance pros and tech pros and they’re Patagonias and big headphones.
North Face, got it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The whole nine-yard.
They’re all in the same fraternity. And you know what? We’re making fun of that. But some of that actually does exist.
Oh totally. And look, I’m not here to say a haircut equates a bad person at all. I walked into a plethora of different haircuts and Patagonia in sight. So I was like, “Okay, maybe I’ll give this a try,” and grew to really, really love the company of weirdos that Ryan had accumulated. And I started as an EA, literally knew nothing. I remember on my first day we were in the middle of the fundraise and I was just Googling, what’s a series B, what does B stand for?
Hey, you know what comes after A, check if anything comes before C.
Yeah. Yeah. I was texting my dad. I was like, “Dad, you work in banking, do you know what a series B is?” He’s like, “You could be doing a fundraise Alli.” And I was like, “Okay, great.”
Great. So fundraise, break that down for me. And just kind of, 8th grade terms, if you don’t mind.
Yeah. Yeah. For sure. It just means that the company was soliciting outside firms to take on additional capital to can continue. In tech, the goal is to hit 25 to 50% year over year growth. And so, a lot of times startups will solicit additional capital and we’ll give up some of our equity to do that so that we can continue to invest in things and invest in people to help the company double and triple in size and all those exciting things. So very basic term taking on money to do fun stuff.
So after you get there and you kind of get settled in, and you’re obviously, it’s kind of like the Whole Foods’ strategy of hiring is hiring people that can’t get hired somewhere else. And that’s actually from talent acquisition and Whole Foods had actually told me that, you only hire people that can’t get hired anywhere else. That’s one of the [crosstalk 00:09:34] questions.
I don’t know if it was that. I think it’s just we hired a bunch of people who were really unique in their own way and very smart in their own way. And I think that’s been something that we’ve done at the company the whole time. And I would say Ryan, I always say one of his best skills is recognizing everyone’s specialness, what is unique and special about them? And seeing how that can translate into a more standard corporate job. And it was a lot of that.
So he didn’t look at your background, but it’s really fascinating, because he didn’t look at your background.
And so, the past is going to inform the future. He looked at basically your personality, your skills, what do you want to do, your passions and what does the company need in terms of output or whatever and kind of marry these things together.
A 100%. And I think I talk a lot about how my theater background is super-applicable to I mean, I say corporate job, but it’s very techy and not so corporate, but there’s a lot. Theater essentially is the marriage of precision and agility. And that can translate to nearly any position. I’m able to stay detail-oriented, I’m able to execute and get things done and I’m also able to deal with things changing rapidly without freaking out. I’ve been through a lot of tech weeks in my life. Yeah, they’re always a little, there’s always something happening, but it also came with good communication skills. I inherently knew how to present myself well, and you learn in theater to really lead with your strengths. And so, I always say my best skill is that I can be super-unqualified at something that I can make you believe that I’m [crosstalk 00:11:28] to be unqualified.
That’s dangerous. Oh boy, that’s dangerous. It’s so dangerous.
That fine. I’m sure it’s going to backfire at some point.
Oh yeah. Of course. They’ll find out. “No, she’s a fraud.” “No, I’m not a fraud, I was acting.”
Probably at some point.
Can you cry on demand?
Oh, I can. Yes. I haven’t haven’t pulled that one out here, but-
No, that’s a real talent.
Always joke I was made to cry on cue. I’m a very emotional person. And it’s one thing, if you want to bridge into women in tech, it’s one thing that I really concentrate on keeping in check.
Right, right, right, right, right. Of course. Yeah, because God forbid, we are sure our emotions at work and being empathetic or to people going through different issues. So now let’s go over to the people leader side of you. When you look at candidates, so you’ve got a team of different people, you’re looking at candidates, what do you look for in women? We’ll keep it kind of myopically focused on women and not just candidates in general, but what do you look for in women?
I look for the same things I look for in every other candidate, in both men, women, non-binary folks. And I think that my odd take is anyone who gives you a different answer maybe isn’t looking at people equally. A good candidate is a good candidate. And I think particularly, so we’re in a position where we hire a lot of younger folks and the younger generation and I guess I’m 30, so I’m kind in the middle, but we see it, really an equal number of men and women coming into the workforce. When we talk about progress, exciting people, we really see 50-50, and that’s super-exciting to me. So it’s super-easy and people who are coming right out of college, these more entry level positions, it’s super-easy to make sure that we’re hiring diversely, that we are seeing a good number of candidates of different backgrounds, of different genders, of different ethnicities.
It’s easier, because the world view is becoming more progressive as it should on these issues. It gets a little bit more challenging when we to be quite honest, when we look at executives, many of them are a bit older and in 1985, there were less women in the workplace than there are now.
So it’s a bit more of a challenge as you look for more seasoned professionals. But I do find some solace in the fact that it’s not something we see in younger people and so I’m really optimistic about the future here.
Yeah. And again, it’s interesting to me, we’re now getting past kind of the cultural test of, can I have a coffee or beer with this person? Which is littered with biases, right? And we’re getting more into conversations around potentiality. So when we look at someone’s LinkedIn, their profile, or we look at their resume, we’re looking at, okay, the sum of the things that they’ve done leads them to here, do they have the potential?
Do they have the potential to do whatever we want them to do? Do they have the potential, but also desire to do that as well.
Totally. I mean, two things that you said in there that I want to speak to. So I’m huge on hiring on potential. I would 10 times rather hire someone who is passionate with great potential than maybe someone who seems perfect, but less passionate. I would say, passion trumps experience all the time, particularly in tech, because you are always innovating things, move 100 miles a minute, and somebody who is eager to learn and has that star potential, they are going to blow you away nearly every time. I think the coffee, beer stuff, I think that’s really interesting. And I would say that the test of, could I have a coffee or could I have a beer with this person? I don’t think it’s gone away. But I think the things that make a yes to that has gotten a lot broader. I think anybody who tells you there’s no such thing as social currency. I frankly think that’s bullshit to find me anything in life where social currency doesn’t matter.
I think it is just, I hope that it’s not, I think it is less focused on, is this a dude I can make jokes with and that equates to a good beer or like, “Oh, is this an interesting person?”
We’re just using different words.
Chat with them over coffee.
Yeah. It’s people of color would know this, that from the terms, instead of saying, welfare or instead of saying urban area, we’ll say, or instead of saying, people of color will use other code words. And so, they’re really kind of when you kind of talk to them about it and you talk about code words, they can give you a laundry list. Okay, it started with this. And then they started using this phrase and then they started using this phrase and this phrase and this phrase, et cetera. We’ve done the same thing with hiring bias. The biases have diminished in some ways, but they’ve morphed into other types of biases and we’re using just different ways to disguise the bias. And so, I think that because we are growing up kind of in an era of transparency, I think that helps, because it highlights-
It definitely does. And I mean-
When a candidate has a bad experience, they’re going to go on Twitter and tell people about that in bad experience. I think that’s a great thing.
I do too. I do too. And I caveat all of this, but saying that I’m very aware, I’m a privileged white woman.
And, I think it’s something that just requires focus. I think there are ways that companies and people are making great strides in this area. I think there’s, and I know there’s still a ton of work to be done, but we have a hiring manager here who I think has put some phenomenal practices into place. She and her team actually screen assessments with the picture and name removed.
So you actually don’t even see a name on the assessment. It’s literally just the work. And they have been able to boost diversity on their team a ton. Yeah. So it works. There are strategies that work, and I really, kudos to my team of recruiters. They’re all super-passionate about this. And when your recruiting team is focused on it, they push hiring managers to be focused on it. And then it’s not just hiring diverse talent, it’s retaining diverse talent.
An inclusive place for all of them where everybody feels welcome. And that’s a different focus.
100%. Programmatically, you can attract. And once you attract, that’s fantastic, but then you’ve got to engage, you’ve got to promote, you’ve got to retain, you’ve got to do all these other things, which programmatically, you’ve got to go and now care and then do, time, money, and energy. You got to do these other things to make sure that it happens or it won’t, people will leave. I do like the conversation that kind of a more global conversation or around skills where people are doing like what your hiring manager’s doing, what your recruiters are doing is they’re kind of strip away everything and get down to if it’s Python let’s do something really myopic. And you either know it or you don’t, and if you know it what level do you know it at the breadth and depth of Python? Where are you on that map that has nothing to do with whether or not you’re Protestant or non-binary, or you live in an urban area, or you live in a country or whatever, none of that matters. It’s you’re plotted then your knowledge, your skillset, skills in that particular area.
Now that’s separate from potentiality, there’s different ways to kind of look at potentiality. Let me ask the paths question, what would you like to see? If you could wave a kind of a magic wand and can fix some of the, not just fix things, but to just help people understand kind of the non-traditional path. Again, your background is a great example. So we started with a great example of someone that didn’t go to Texas A&M, didn’t get an engineering degree, didn’t go, like all the typical stuff, right? And went through a STEM or a charter school and this whole bit. You’re a great example. Again, if you could wave a wand and fix this, how would you fix it in the people that have similar positions to you, but also executive, I mean, not also executives, but the entire C-suite board?
That’s a really interesting question. That’s a really large question. And kind of two things. You hit on something like you either know Python or not, I don’t know Python, don’t know that I couldn’t learn it.
I can’t even spell it, let’s be honest.
There are some skills, there are two buckets of skills, right? There are transferable skills, and then there are hardcore, like you actually did. I can’t look over contracts. I don’t have a legal certification to be giving out, litigation advice. So there are some skills that absolutely 100% require specific training in a specific degree. But I think, if I could fix all of talent acquisition and I caveat this by saying, I feel very lucky at the company that I work for. I think we do a really good job of that. I mean, there’s always room for improvement, but we are a testament to transferable skills work. I think that you have skills that are necessary for a role. A lot of times you can’t see those on a resume, but I try to encourage people to have a healthy dose of imagination of what might come out of that line item on LinkedIn.
And then, also knowing that anything that’s a differentiator for you, like you were listing off non-binary, Protestant, all of these things, particularly in a tech company where innovation is so important, all of these things breed innovation, you want so many different minds and backgrounds at play when you are crafting something for the future world, because that’s what the future world looks like. And so, all of those different perspectives set you up for success. I mean, they’ve done a ton of studies that diversity at the top means successful company in most cases. There’s a reason for that. That is how you get innovation when ideas get pushed on and pushed back on and morphed into something new and morphed into something better that’s innovation. And that’s what every tech company is going for.
It’s also, it’s better representation of your customers.
What y’all do, you have a diverse customer base?
Our customer base is anyone with access to the internet.
So, how do you deal with kind of the construct of ambiguity in tech? You know what I mean? There’s people again, there’s people that you and I probably both know that just don’t deal well within ambiguity. And then, there’s folks that just thrive in ambiguity for some odd reason. And I don’t know if that-
I might not recommend a tech company for those who don’t. I mean, at least a startup-y one.
Those don’t thrive a little bit in ambiguity. I always have, inherently moving up to New York unemployed with a dream that was going to make me about $3. I’ve always been a bit more comfortable in ambiguity. And I think it’s just a different personality. It’s not right or wrong.
No, no, that nontraditional path-
Yeah, it’s a nontraditional path that I think makes you a bit more comfortable with the gray.
Right. What are other traits that you look for? I mean, that’s one of the things that you’re looking at again, nontraditional, you’re looking at people for their potentiality. You’re looking for transferable skills, people that can deal with ambiguity at some level or another… It’s funny, because in some ways, getting back to your acting career, precision and agility, you’re looking for folks again, all candidates. Of course. We’re just talking more about women in kind of the nontraditional paths to success. You’re kind of looking for and agility in candidates.
Absolutely. And I think my favorite thing to look for in candidates is resourcefulness.
I think that that is actually the top skill that I look for, because all I know from theater and all I know from everyday life is things rarely go exactly as planned.
Yeah. That’s a Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth,” yeah. It’s true.
Totally. But you want somebody who is going to be able to pivot and be comfortable pivoting and be comfortable tapping into their creativity and recognizing that it doesn’t always have to be planned A, sometimes plan B can be just as good. And so, people who are resourceful, give me a ton of confidence that no matter what a job throws at them, they’re going to succeed and therefore the company is going to succeed. You could have the smart, I would take the more resourceful over the smartest person in the room any day.
Yeah. Rarely is the smartest person in the room, the smartest person in the room. It’s just, it’s stuff in their head. At least that’s been my experience. I do want to ask about drive, ambition, work ethic, those types of things, because again, you mentioned transferable skills and resourcefulness kind of got me to thinking about this. How do you look at like again, someone, a candidate that might not have all the things that you would want to check off the box of a job description, et cetera, but they’ve got other things, they’ve got some transferable skills, they got potentiality. What do you think about ambition, drive, work ethic and how that plays into kind of nontraditional paths for women?
Absolutely. Oh, okay. So what do I think about drive and work ethic and ambition?
They’re three things that I love and I love to see in candidates. I like to see drive and ambition. I think ambition can have sort of a bad connotation.
I don’t like to use it that way. I think somebody is ambitious to do big things, just wants to do big things, you need that work ethic to back it up. People who are ambitious and have a great work ethic, those are the people who end up succeeding. So it’s really, you can have a work ethic and not be super-ambitious. And you probably would have a great successful career with less highs and lows than your ambitious counterparts and that’s fine, that’s a personal preference. I don’t think ambition’s a dirty word. I love ambitious people, I work with a lot of them. I think it just means that you have someone innate drive in yourself to change something or do something a little bit differently or do something big. And whether that is to make a name for yourself, whether that is to change the world, that doesn’t so much matter, because I often think the output’s going to be the same.
I’ve found and I’m going to ask you the same question, but I found that I need people around me that kind of balance me out, right?
People, I mean, friends and family have said, “William you’re like the sun.” Yeah, a little bit of the sun gives you a tan. A lot of the sun gives you cancer.
Well, everybody’s best skill is usually also their fatal flaw.
100%, 100%. But I found-
I think, many times I am the only woman or one of two women in a room. I don’t think, I don’t know. I mean, it’s an interesting thing to think about has my ambition had to be any different than my male counterparts? I don’t know. I know that I am ambitious, I know that I am driven and I know that a good work ethic and decent communication skills have gotten me pretty far.
Quick question on the being the only one in the room. I know the downside. So we don’t have to go too far are into the downside, because that’s pretty obvious. Is there any part of you that likes being the only in the room. And it’s a weird question, but what I’m trying to get to is, do you have a kind of more power in a way I kind of a weird way to then kind of represent? Or is it just all-
No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that I ever sit in a room and I’m like, “Man, I’m glad I’m the only woman in here.” I don’t feel that way at all. I’m lucky to work with an executive team that values my opinion and values everyone’s opinion in the room. But no, I wish there were more women around that table and it’s something I’m vocal about.
I love that. Last question with folks that thrive around you, what have you discovered about those folks?
That they have a great sense of humor.
Sarcastic, dark? Where are we going?
I really, I like all of that. There’s a great sense of humor, good work ethic, strong, grounded, positivity.
Do they push you?
They absolutely push me. I oversee some fantastic teams who push me every day. They’re smarter than I am. You hire smarter than you, if you’re doing your job right. So they do, they push me. I’m blown away by their ideas every single day. It’s one of my favorite parts about my job are the teams that I work with and the teams that I directly oversee. I like to be more of a partner than a manager, but I view it as my job to let them shine and get things out of their way.
I love it. Alli, we could talk all day, but it turns out we have work to do. So thank you, thank you for coming on the podcast and just carving out time. This has been great.
Of course. Thank you so much. This is a blast.
And, and thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.