Congratulations to the Class of 2021! This is a big accomplishment and a testament to your hard work and the support of those who stood behind you every step of the way.
In your next chapter as a rising professional, you get to discover what you love to do and get better at that step-by-step.
What lies ahead can be life-changing. Some of you will launch new industries, earn Nobel Prizes, start impactful nonprofits, and better your communities. Maybe one of those people is you.
How do you get from here to there?
The first step is realizing that this one-time period of study you just completed is not the end.
In many ways, it’s just the beginning.
You’re navigating your career at a time that’s being shaped by forces unlike anything we’ve seen before – the sudden shift to online education, the push for diversity and equity, the gig economy and new possibilities for working remotely, and so much more.
The good news for all of you starting your job search is that we’re on the road to economic recovery from COVID-19.
Data from our 2021 Grads Guide to Getting Hired shows the hiring rate for fresh college grads returned to pre-COVID levels in October 2020, which suggests that all of you 2021 grads are heading into a healthier job market.
But this is just one moment. The rapid change underway in the workforce is going to be constant. That means you will need to keep learning to keep pace.
Trust me, it’s not the textbook learning you’ve been doing. This is the fun stuff.
Something I wish I knew earlier in my career: you don’t need to have it all figured out at once.
Your job and what you want to do may change – in five years, three years, or next year. You may have a career pivot (or a few), take time off, have setbacks, grow your skills and learn new ones.
At the end of the day, what employers really want to know is whether you can do the job.
So focus less on what job you want in ten years, and more on how you’re going to keep learning over the next ten years.
It can be as simple as taking time to learn something new every day. Listen to a podcast, read articles and books, keep up with trends and thought leaders, or take online courses. Most importantly, build a network of diverse people so you can learn and grow together.
Start with the network you already have of peers, teachers, and mentors, reach out to alumni, or join interest-based groups. These small steps will broaden your network exponentially.
And it works: Members are 4X more likely to get hired when they leverage their networks on LinkedIn while job seeking.
And though you may not believe it now, you’ll soon be in a place to help others with their careers. By building a strong, diverse network you can help others who face significant barriers to opportunity because of their backgrounds, such as where they grew up and who they know.
It’s on all of us to help create a future where two people with equal talent have equal access to opportunity. By giving a chance to one person, we have the potential to help thousands of people.
I’ll leave you with a story that’s been impactful in my own career.
When I was 10, I asked my dad about a Shakespeare quote that had been taped up next to his work phone for years: “When the sea was calm, all ships alike showed mastership in floating.”
He told me that true character and success is defined not by how you act when everything is going your way, rather it’s how you respond when everything isn’t.
I’ve returned to this conversation often because the seas aren’t always calm, something we’ve all learned over the past year.
Congratulations again on this important milestone. Find what you love to do, and get better at it as you go along.
And remember to keep your head up when the seas aren’t calm. Your professional life will be invigorating, exciting, and sometimes challenging – but it will also be life-changing, and maybe even world-changing.
That’s significantly lower than at the height of GameStop mania, but still 55% higher than in February 2020.
Of course, retail investing is about a lot more than Robinhood.
There’s now a rich ecosystem of apps fulfilling a wide spectrum of niches. There are other mobile-first trading apps like Stash and WeBull, investment social networks like Public and Alinea, women-centric services like Ellevest, and so on.
The consumerization of investing has only just gotten started. And that’s a good thing.
The fact remains that retail investing is an immensely powerful tool for individuals to take control over their wealth. Millennials in particular are still woefully under-invested, relative to previous generations – just 3% of equities are owned by people born between 1981 and 1996.
People who choose to use Robinhood and apps like it are challenging the status quo and writing their own rules of what investing is all about.
Hype is not always irrational
Traditional investors like Warren Buffet warn against acquiring assets based on speculation and hype; they preach the gospel of “fundamentals.”
But hype is not always irrational; you can make a strong argument that it’s another indicator of perceived value. Do you know what other assets are based on perceived value? The money in your wallet.
As we watch our government lift our economy out of a recession simply by printing more money, it’s reasonable to ask, how much will fundamentals drive our economy moving forward?
At this point, we really have no idea.
Retail investors are saying, ‘We get to have a voice in determining what is and isn’t valuable.’ And as the recent surge of interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) has shown, investing is about a lot more than just stocks and bonds.
Buying fractional shares in trading cards (Mythic Markets), fine wine (Vinovest), collectibles (Rally, Otis), and other lifestyle assets are all reasonable options for investment.
Investing is not always about retirement
Millennials invest for different reasons than their parents did. They’re not necessarily looking to earn enough money to retire to an island in the Bahamas. Many invest in order to live more fully now. For this generation, retail investment is just as much about experience, entertainment, and education.
Research has shown us that millennials value experiences over material goods. They’d rather backpack across the Andes than buy a yacht. Playing the market in a gamified way fits into this desire for new experiences. Like it or not, investing has become another form of entertainment.
More important, most people in my generation have very little practical experience in investing. As of 2019, only 37% of affluent millennials said they felt knowledgeable about investing; more than 40% owned no stock at all.
I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone bet their life savings on Tesla stock or convert their 401K to Dogecoin. Stock prices fluctuate over time; cryptocurrency is notoriously volatile.
But if people have the discretionary income to experiment and educate themselves about equities and cryptocurrencies, now is as good a time to start as any.
Investment apps are a solid investment
Robinhood changed how people invest and, as a result, how financial institutions respond to their customers. Some of the innovations it introduced – like commission-free trading, the ability to buy fractional shares, and its mobile-first mentality – are now table stakes for any new investment app that comes along.
Now the company is trying to change the rules again. Since the GameStop controversy, the company has been lobbying folks on Capitol Hill to advocate for real-time settlement. This would alter regulations about how much cash trading apps like Robinhood must keep on hand during settlement – the rules that led the company to suspend trading back in January.
I’m confident Robinhood will continue to challenge the norms of traditional investment, and that the company’s IPO later this year won’t be impacted negatively by the bad press it has received.
At Lightspeed Venture Partners, we’re bullish on the potential of retail investment apps. Just as apps like G-Suite, Rippling, and Gusto have made it much easier to start a small business and onboard employees, technology platforms like Alpaca and Galileo are making it easier for entrepreneurs to launch new investment startups.
Investing is going to become a much greater part of everyone’s consumer and entertainment experiences. People who’ve been reluctant or unable to invest in the past, such as women and people of color, will continue to participate in much greater numbers.
You can bet on it.
Mercedes Bent is a Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners and focuses on consumer, fintech, edtech investments.
Just like the startup boom in Silicon Valley during the early 2000’s, jumping into a career in crypto is not for everyone. It requires a lot of commitment and time. The best reason to pivot your career to crypto full-time is because you are passionate about what can be achieved.
The three of us come from various finance and tech backgrounds, from big institutions to startups, but we all found our way into crypto.
And while it was hard nudging our way into a boy’s club, crypto doesn’t have to stay a boy’s club. It’s a thriving industry with over $2 trillion in market capitalization (and growing).
Having women at the forefront of the early stages of development of the industry is a positive indicator for a future where priority goes to the right education and access for everyone to join this new crypto club. Last year we saw an increase in women working in the industry by 43%, according to a study by CoinMarketCap.
Here are some of our experiences and perspectives on the future of crypto for women leaders.
When I caught the crypto bug four years ago, the most effective way to learn about and start a crypto career was by attending niche networking events. While this is true in any industry, unfortunately, the gender imbalance at crypto events in particular has created and perpetuated a barrier to entry that often prevents women from becoming involved in the digital asset space.
I went to my first Meetup in a bar in New York City, and I was the only female in a room of forty.
Unsurprisingly, the experience was not only intimidating but also off-putting as my fellow attendees were much less interested in conversations about growing in this industry, but were more focused on the trending news of the day.
While I did continue to attend events despite that first bad impression (and ultimately started my career on Celsius Network’s founding team), it’s easy to understand why many women give up on breaking into the industry.
What’s the right direction forward? Mentorship programs can be a path to inviting women and building more inclusion. Learning how to navigate a predominantly male industry is difficult, but it’s made much easier with advocates on your side who have faced similar challenges.
Having a female-focused crypto mentorship program for women looking to get into the space or just beginning their careers in the industry would create a more welcoming gateway to entry and foster upward mobility and growth of the women who are passionate about building the next wave of fintech products.
While industry entry points have widened since that first event I attended, we still have a long way to go.
Where is crypto going? While many are looking to traditional financial institutions for the next evolution in finance, I believe big tech will be the catalyst for growth over the next 2-5 years. While traditional institutions like MicroStrategy and BlackRock have started dipping their toes into crypto, their ability to stay agile and innovative in a quick-moving, ever-changing market is minimal.
On the other hand, big tech like Apple, Square, Twitch, and Facebook have adaptability and innovation in their blood.
The recent trend for big tech has been bringing their financial stack in house, like Uber building financial products for payments and driver payroll internally. I believe that big tech companies have the means to inject crypto and blockchain payments in a multitude of different ways into their already existing, foundational structure and growing financial products of their own. Most importantly, they can move as fast as the crypto industry.
Headlines have roiled hedge funds, and the bros of Reddit have seized capital markets, sending crypto bros into a chant of “I told you so.”
The act of conquering has historically been a masculine activity, but let’s really unpack this revolution, which included the Internet, a fervent community, and a justice-seeking thesis to protect the people as voiced through visual art, better known as memes. It’s time to wake up and plug into our generation’s greatest opportunity for women.
The muscle required was no more than clicking a mouse and the ability to connect the dots, take risks, and go. If these are the requirements to play a very active role in our economy’s future, then ladies, it has never been a fairer playing field. We have a unique opportunity to define a new era of financial markets and make these changes faster than our predecessors.
I share this not as an observer but as an active builder in this industry who has grown a team over the last 18 months, building an app, website, and API for Americans to access and trade over 50 different digital assets, growing the assets under custody more than 25 times in 12 months.
Women have a real opportunity to lead, create, and define how the world will operate and how the money will move. This freedom contrasts the start of my career on Wall Street, which took about 200+ years since the first American bank opened to place a woman at the highest leadership level. There is so much potential for growth and diversity of leadership and thought.
I’ve made it my mission to hire some of the best and brightest from diverse backgrounds at my company. Our head of business development, Rena Shah, started as a petroleum engineer on oil rigs and found her way into the crypto industry as a crypto miner (crypto mining is the process in which transactions between users are verified and added to the blockchain public ledger) with her knowledge of commodities and obsession with mining using clean energy.
In crypto, we recognize that we all had a life before Bitcoin, and the creativity to apply what we know from prior industries helps us build for a more resilient and inclusive future. We are all so much more than our jobs. Still, I feel confident that digital asset management roles will help more people underrepresented in past industries have the chance to define the digital future on their way to financial independence and freedom.
What would you say to those who say this is bitcoin’s peak and are selling now? The recent parable played out over Game Stop illuminates some of our current markets’ ugly underpinnings today, reiterating the importance of building towards decentralization. But even before that, we’ve seen macro investors all summer of 2020 coming out and validating Bitcoin, with Ray Dalio most recently in January 2021 recognizing the invention’s brilliance.
Beyond the market cycles, I would urge every woman to stay current and learn about this unfolding technology in our generation. Doing our digital homework and research before diving into crypto is critical to owning your future. If it consumes your thoughts every day, then you should apply that passion to the industry itself. Crypto and blockchain companies don’t just need analysts and engineers. Companies like ours are continually looking for the sharpest minds in all professions.
I have worked in finance my entire career and have frequently been the only woman in the room, meeting, or panel. One of the things I love about the blockchain space is the diversity I have found.
Anchorage has worked hard to create a diverse environment with an all-female legal team, three female department heads, and a growing number of women on our engineering team. Our former general counsel, Katie Biber, is now on the advisory board, utilizing women at all organizational levels.
What would you say to those who say this is bitcoin’s peak and are selling now? Crypto is about so much more than the price of bitcoin. Do you want to be a part of the next generation of global finance? Do you like shaping the future instead of catching up? Do you want to make things better for everyone by providing financial inclusion and lower transaction costs? Then yes, now is the perfect time to jump in.
I would urge everyone to do his or her research before diving into crypto. Learn about the up-and-coming projects in DeFi or the markets, and then decide where your skills can be used. Crypto and blockchain companies don’t just need analysts and engineers. Companies like mine are continually looking for the sharpest minds in all professions.
As the online ecosystem for thought leadership has continued to populate, many have turned their attention away from social media numbers, worrying it’s too competitive. And while it’s true that the battle for an online footprint has never been more fierce, it’s also never been more important to claim your unique stake on the Internet and create content that proves that you’re an expert in your field.
The importance of building internet thought leadership cannot be understated. This can be done via guest-posting for credible publications, building out a watch series on video-compatible social media sites (like IGTV or YouTube) or posting regularly on Medium or LinkedIn. The following are the core reasons why building thought leadership through these means can be the boost you’ve been looking for in your career.
It denotes credibility
Nowadays, a byline for a major publication or a considerable social media following is the near-equivalent of a degree from a top-tier university. From a social perspective, it suggests that you have something to say that people want to listen to – large groups of people, specifically. Well-known publications only choose top writers and thought leaders to contribute, and while many call your social media following a vanity metric, it still says something about your credibility to onlookers.
This credibility matters for opportunities you may have your eye on. This could include speaking engagements at events or conferences, new career opportunities or even impressing key stakeholders like investors. Thought leadership entails that you stand behind a cutting-edge idea or concept in your respective industry, and that others look to you as a leader within it. Bylines and follower count prove this leadership, which means you’ll be at the top of the list for TV appearances, panels, and conferences where your opinion and research can offer value.
It creates exposure
The powerful part about a large audience is that it creates exposure for you, your brand, and what you can speak to. Every reader who finds an article you wrote for a publication is another set of eyeballs that can keep you top of mind for opportunities. Every social media follower who consistently tunes in for what you say is another set of eyeballs that can go to bat for you when their boss or a friend asks for a recommendation for a podcast guest or expert.
And they fold into one another. For every article you write that does well, more readers learn who you are and are likely to follow you on your social accounts. When you share your latest piece on your social accounts, you’ll get more readers.
Exposure also matters for marketing. Everyone who consumes the thought leadership content that you create is a potential customer, a potential investo or a potential repeat customer (and you’re proving your credibility to all of them).
Choosing your thought leadership niche
All of this sounds great; so how does one get started? Begin where you already have a significant amount of expertise. If you’ve started a business, what do you know that is critically important for other founders to know? If you’ve successfully raised money or invested, what have you learned? My top suggestion is to niche down. The best thought leaders have a clear and concise mission statement that helps them stand out amongst the noise of these admittedly competitive fields.
For example, rather than saying you’re a thought leader in “starting a business and raising your first round of funding,” perhaps you could tailor your content more specifically to address “how to find your first round of investors who share your company’s core values.” Then, add to this specific thought leadership niche with research about why a full startup team having shared values leads to explosive business growth, and how companies should create their pitch decks with this in mind. The more niche your content is, the more memorable you will be.
Don’t be in a rush to find something that sounds particularly enticing just for the sake of it. It’s important to let your genuine passion shine through. What do you genuinely want to research and talk about over the course of your career? Of course, you can pivot as your research and experience takes you down different paths, but for the most part, your thought leadership should reflect who you are, what your experience is and what you hope to continue to build.
The first step is to begin creating content. Many top publications expect to see a portfolio when you apply to be a contributor or submit a guest post, but this isn’t an “always” rule. A portfolio could consist of blog posts, articles for smaller publications, TV appearances, or a strong audience base on a platform like Instagram or Twitter where you specialize in sharing research and expertise around a niche topic.
Just ask social media thought leader Gary Vaynerchuk, who is a vocal advocate for thought leadership on social media. As he shared with CNBC, “Become a practitioner. Please don’t underestimate the social network ecosystem … it’s ccommunication. It’s not social media. Communication is fundamentally how the world turns; and I implore this audience to triple down on their efforts of being a written, audio or video communicator on the platforms.”
At the heart of it, communication is what thought leadership is really all about. The more you can take to writing, speaking, and sharing your message – backed by research, experience, and expertise – the more you can make a true difference in this world and attract compelling opportunities for your own career while doing so.
The pandemic driven digital transformation of B2B marketing to digital first has created all new levels of competition for time, attention and trust. In this environment, the importance of building credibility and trust is essential in order to deliver stand out customer experiences. But how?
B2B brand Thought Leadership certainly plays a role and as the trends in trust focus more on individuals over companies, the opportunity to optimize content experiences through executive thought leadership and influence are growing. The more influence B2B brand executives have, the more credibility the brand has.
But how? How can B2B marketers build awareness, credibility and influence of their key executives with content? Here are a few tried and true tactics that continue to work in today’s digital B2B environment:
Client Testimonials – The customer success story is often one of the first things that catches the eye when looking at potential vendors. Common mistakes include testimonials that are too enthusiastic or those that are benign but packed as if they’re something special. Testimonials should reflect issues of interest to the target audience and also include supporting quotes from key B2B brand executives.
Case Studies – For deeper consideration, B2B brands want to drill down into the specifics of how a company does what it does and the results achieved. Case studies present a picture of a company’s breadth and depth of ability to solve a variety of issues and insights about the story from key B2B executives adds credibility to the study and to the brand.
Industry Awards – Getting recognized by a respected third party can mean a quick trip to the credibility club. However, such awards are only as meaningful as the credibility of the entities giving them out. Whether a B2B brand is receiving or giving out the awards, key executive should be involved and cited.
Being Quoted by the Press, Blogs – Being cited as an authority on a particular topic in a high profile publication can be instrumental for building a key executives reputation and credibility and by proxy, the trust and influence of the brand. Relevant media pickups should be curated on the brand’s newsroom or on brand social which is another opportunity to highlight relevant brand executives.
Influencing the Influencers – It has become a universal truth that buyers trust people more than brands. As a result, there is a significant growth in influencers within various B2B industries. B2B brands can tap into influence by collaborating with individuals that have the trust and attention of customers as well as by building the influence of existing employees. Influencer status could be a consideration when making certain new hire decisions as well.
Speaking at Industry Events – While most events in the B2B world are now virtual, there are more of them, which presents a great opportunity for key B2B executives to showcase their individual expertise as well as the thought leadership of the brand. Not everyone gets to start out giving keynotes, so be prepared to do some breakouts and work up the ladder of speaker status.
Representation on the Brand Web Site– A web site still says a lot about a company and the leadership. Social proof of thought leadership for key executives gives a strong signal of credibility for their expertise and participation in the industry.
Editorial Contributions to Industry Publications – Contributing articles to prominent online or print publications gives companies an opportunity to show their unique problem solving abilities and expertise. By association with the publication, the B2B brand also gets a boost in the credibility department.
Advertising and Sponsored Content – One way of “buying your reputation” is to advertise in all the places your target audience looks for credible information. This takes a crack creative team and a healthy budget. Featuring key executives in sponsored content can send very strong signals of industry credibility.
Employee Advocacy – How employees talk on social networks and wherever they connect about relevant industry topics can have a significant impact on the perceived authority and credibility of brand executives. Fueling employee advocacy with brand information that may be useful to their own social engagement can create value for everyone involved.
Search Engine Visibility – When people search on topics relevant to your industry, your brand website and social channels should show up. But so should the content authored by the thought leaders at your brand. Formats can vary from text to video to audio. In many cases social conversations create interest, but findability in search creates trust.
Brand – Message – There’s a lot that goes into creating a personal brand. Each interaction between a prospective company and something that communicates information about the B2B brand is an opportunity to make a brand promise. Repeat interactions provide the opportunity to keep that promise. Thoughtful messaging and image also convey important messages that evoke feelings which can either build or detract from credibility for both the executive and the B2B brand.
Press Releases – Sending out press releases to wire services and directly to cultivated lists of relevant industry publications sends signals of your credibility. And with clever pitching, they might even get you some press coverage.
Social Media Footprint – Forums, Social Networks, Images, Videos, Podcasts – The boon in social networks usage by those in the B2B world gives abundant opportunity to see another side of a B2B brand. Forums can be very useful to connect helpful and knowledgeable executives with prospective customers and even the media looking for insights. Promoting unique knowledge through social media formats and networks can give important indications of a B2B executives expertise in formats that can match the information consumption preferences of a variety of potential clients.
Research Published – In the same way that faculty at Universities gain prominence and reputation by publishing research in professional journals, B2B brands that have the insight and resources to conduct real research and publish their findings create very strong signals of credibility. It is not only the execution of such research that makes it an effective “signal” though. The intelligent promotion by key executives of these learnings is as much or more important.
Industry Association Involvement – Investing in the future of the overall industry through association involvement by key executives and thought leaders can give the impression that a B2B brand has a higher level commitment than those that are not involved. Being involved with setting industry standards, guidelines and even training programs can set a B2B brand apart and give an indication of their expertise.
CEO, Executive and/or Company Blog – Blogs can still be effective at imparting a company’s philosophy and corporate personality. Company web sites tend to be dry and careful or conversely, full of hype. A well written and promoted blog can do amazing things for a B2B executive and brand’s reputation in an industry.
Podcast and Social Audio – Audio content is decidedly on the rise in B2B through an increase in the popularity of podcasts. Social audio through new platforms like Clubhouse and features of existing social platforms like Twitter Spaces creates an opportunity for B2B brand executives to showcase their expertise, network and engage a community.
Word on the Street, Buzz, Word of Mouth – First and foremost, doing good work is the cornerstone of building positive word of mouth. At the same time, successfully engaging the tactics on this list will build positive buzz, but the longevity of that buzz is only sustainable if the B2B executives involved deliver results. There is such a thing as over-marketing and people are smart enough to realize that one person can’t do everything. Making it easy for clients to pass on the good news or making sure testimonials are properly promoted can extend a B2b executive’s reach with nominal marketing investment.
Being Included on Industry “Lists” – No matter how you slice and dice it, getting included on a list sends a signal. Lists are inherently controversial because getting included means others are excluded. If you know how to create and promote the right signals, like doing great work for clients and letting the world know about it, getting on the kinds of lists that build credibility is pretty straightforward. Alternatively, a B2B brand can make its own list and use a key executive to communicate the criteria. If you can’t be king, be a kingmaker.
If you’d like to learn more about building B2B thought leadership with brand executives, be sure to tune in to the March 31st Edition of LinkedIn’s Live with Marketers: The Business of Executive Thought Leadership featuring Alex Rynne and Amber Naslund from LinkedIn and myself as we cover:
What a compelling executive presence can do for your business
Examples of effective thought leadership on LinkedIn
How to measure your thought leadership efforts
How to create a compelling and engaging profile
How to integrate brand, executives and corporate communication