Julisa Salas - Director of Growth @ Toast
"My advice is: (1) to be relentless in the pursuit of the right opportunity. (2) Make sure to leverage your network to get intros to the right people and companies. (3) Don’t be afraid to wait until you find a match that aligns with your original search criteria."
From launching her own startup to working at a hyper-growth technology company, Julisa Salas knows what it takes to build a successful company. Born and raised in New York City, Julisa has experience in all types of organizations, starting out in wealth management at J.P. Morgan and making her way to Toast, which was named one of the world's top 100 cloud companies in the Forbes 2017 Cloud 100 List. We sat down to chat with Toast’s Director of Growth about how to transition from finance to tech, how to find the perfect job and how to make an impact at a startup.
Tell us about yourself.
I am originally from Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York City. My parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic in their late 20s - they left everything behind and started building a new life in the United States from scratch. Their perseverance and work ethic has always inspired me to seek out opportunities and push my boundaries.
This mindset enabled me to get into Brooklyn Technical High school, one of eight specialized high schools in NYC. In high school, I was nominated for a Posse Foundation scholarship, which led me to Middlebury, where I majored in English and minored in French. I used J-Term and my summer internships at Middlebury to experiment and try different career paths. During my sophomore J-Term, I was selected for an internship at Lehman Brothers, which was my first entry into finance. I loved the experience and decided to pursue a job in private wealth management at J.P. Morgan after school. Many of my clients were entrepreneurs and had small to medium sized businesses which spiked my interest in either starting a company or joining a high growth startup.
I went to business school to build out my business toolkit and chose HBS due to its focus on entrepreneurship. At HBS, I launched Tressed, an on-demand, in-home styling service for multicultural women, along with a few other classmates. Before graduation, we had to make a decision whether to continue Tressed or look for other opportunities. Having experienced the process of iterating on an idea, designing a go-to-market plan, and launching an MVP, I wanted to join a company that (1) had product-market fit, (2) was scaling quickly, and (3) had a great management team, which is why I was excited to join Toast.
What was your job search like and what drew you to Toast?
The startup job search was more difficult than I expected. Although I knew I wanted to join a high growth startup, I spent a lot of time thinking through the projects I most enjoyed in order to get a sense of what role made the most sense for me. I thought through: Which projects made me feel my best at JPM? Which classes did I enjoy most at HBS? I reflected a lot on my experience working on Tressed. I realized that I was motivated by building, creating, and executing so I focused my job search on go-to-market & strategy roles. In order to narrow down companies, I followed Jeff Bussgang’s strategy for seeking a job in startupland: (1) pick a domain, (2) pick a city, (3) pick a stage, (4) pick a winner.
Before I started searching, I made a list of criteria that was important to me so that I could benchmark opportunities against my original search criteria.
Once I had narrowed in on Toast and secured an interview, I walked into restaurants and asked them questions about their POS in order to get a better sense of the industry. Aside from being a company that matched my original search criteria, I was also drawn to Toast because they were solving a real pain point for restaurateurs.
When starting a new role, what are your tips and tricks for getting up to speed in new work environments?
Roll up your sleeves: be willing to dive in quickly and deeply
Listen: talk to as many people as you can before diving into a problem, you will get a better sense of how to craft solutions that will be a win/win for everyone.
And now you are the Director of Growth at Toast; what does this role entail and what are your responsibilities?
As Director of Growth, I work on the go-to-market side of the business, particularly with the sales and marketing teams. We optimize our funnel and figure out what levers we can pull to increase efficiency. Given how quickly Toast is growing, there are always new ideas on how to tweak our go-to-market operations. Our team runs experiments in order to A/B test theories and hypotheses and it is always rewarding to roll out changes that drive results.
At a fast-growing startup, the organization is changing so quickly that it can be hard to find the perfect fit. What is your advice on how you find a team and a fit?
There are always roles being created at fast-growing companies, so you should never be discouraged if there isn't a role that matches your criteria. I would advise those looking for roles to identify a company that they want to work for and the division they think would be a good fit. Network your way into the company and division. When you are able to connect with someone at the startup, make sure to be well prepared to articulate how you would add value to the startup and, even better, ideas that you have thought of that could potentially help them. It’s an easy way to show people what type of ideas you would bring to the table.
For Toast specifically, I started off in a rotational program which gave me the ability to rotate through three areas- sales, services, and engineering- before deciding where I would settle.
Shifting on that topic, do you have any advice for other women who are looking to break into Tech more broadly?
My advice is: (1) to be relentless in the pursuit of the right opportunity. (2) Make sure to leverage your network to get intros to the right people and companies. (3) Don’t be afraid to wait until you find a match that aligns with your original search criteria. Once you land the right job, don’t forget to pay it forward!
What is an industry trend you are most excited about?
What is your favorite book or article you have read recently?
The book, How will you measure your life?
Who is a female entrepreneur or investor that you'd most like to meet?
Jennifer Hyman, Rent the Runway.
What is your spirit animal?
The Phoenix. I love the idea of transformation and renewal.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
The only limits that exist are those in your mind.