Toronto has one of the largest technology sectors in North America, with over 200,000 people working at over 13,000 companies. In recent years, city has created more jobs than San Francisco, according to StartUp Here. In 2018, investor funding hit a record high, with USD$3.5 billion invested through more that 471 deals. We’ve also seen Ottawa’s Shopify, the ecommerce platform for merchants, hit $1B faster than any other software-as-a-service company (SaaS) in history. This includes companies created by our neighbours to the south in Silicon Valley.
Toronto’s tech sector is booming, especially with sales roles and investments as financial institutions like the Silicon Valley Bank open up offices here. On top of the SVB, high-growth Silicon Valley–headquartered technology companies like Docusign, Okta, Lever, Snowflake and PagerDuty, among many others, are opening up regional sales offices in the 6ix.
Canadian owned Hootsuite opened a Toronto office in 2017 that has become home to more than 100 employees. There are plans to double that over the next year. A quick Google search will show that many technology companies, including Canadian-founded (but headquartered in the US) company Slack, along with Pinterest, Lyft, Uber, Postmates and Bumble have all been reported or rumoured to go public on the NYSE in the next 12 months. With these IPOs coming, many early employees can expect a financial windfall as well.
Now try Googling “black woman” and “software sales”. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any stories about the people who are making a killing at their companies––who are both minorities and women.
Even with all this opportunity, in one of the most diverse talent markets in the world, women of colour, struggle to find their place with job opportunities in tech.
This is especially true in sales, where women make up only 20% to 30% of most software sales teams, and where just 21% of VP level sales leaders are female. All this despite studies showing that women close deals at a higher rate than men. Both Hubspot’s study and the work done by professor Joel Le Bon at the University of Houston attest to this.
On International Women’s Day we wanted to highlight the achievements of talented women of colour who have careers working in or with hypergrowth software sales teams.
Our aim, in part, is to show other black women in tech who feel like they might be the “only one in the room” that they’re not, and, secondly, to show the young black women of tomorrow that it’s possible to make a name for themselves (and a lot of money) in Toronto’s technology scene.
Here Are Their Stories:
Malaika Olayiwola, Business Development Representative, Slack
Malaika works at the software-as-a-service communications platform Slack as a BDR. She did her undergraduate degree in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Kent, two hours outside of London, UK. She supported herself through university by working a part-time job and still earned her First Class Honours (equates to a very high GPA in Canada). She also did her dissertation in Political Theory.
A couple of weeks after graduating, she was offered a sales role as a BDR at the first company she interviewed with: Thomson Online Benefits, a global benefit and employee engagement SaaS platform. There, she received world class training, coaching and support while the company experienced an incredible growth trajectory.
She thrived in the cold call–heavy environment, selling to HR leaders and working alongside Account Executives, doing ride-alongs and on-site meetings all over London. After her initial success, she was promoted to Global BDR, calling into EMEA and the East Coast of North America. After visiting Toronto several times and reading about how it was a thriving tech hub and a place known for diversity and good quality of life, she decided to live abroad in Canada after Thomson’s acquisition by a large consultancy firm.
Continuing her streak of not being employed for more than a couple of weeks, she applied to Influitive and received her offer letter a month before leaving the UK. A week after moving to Canada, she started her role as a BDR before connecting with Slack about becoming one of the first BDRs and helping to build out a new team in their Toronto office a year later.
She joined the company because Slack’s values aligned with hers. She was excited to be an early sales hire in Toronto at a SaaS company in hyper growth mode, and a part of a small team of five: one Account Executive, a Sales Development Representative, two BDRs and one Director. She is happy and grateful to be a part of a number of employee resource groups focused on providing support and community to people of color and women at Slack.
Sue Farah, Marketing Analyst, Demand Generation, Salesforce
Sue works at the cloud-based customer relationship management giant, Salesforce, as a Marketing Analyst on the Demand Generation team. She did her undergraduate degree in neuroscience and psychology at the University of Toronto. During her time at UofT, she volunteered with Science Rendezvous promoting science and technology with school-age children and at Health Out Loud, which promoted health literacy in the university community.
While working with Health Out Loud, she was also their conference co-chair and had Olivia Chow speak at their event the year she ran for mayor.
After doing social psychology research for 3 years leading up to her graduation, Sue realized she wanted to do something else with the rest of her career. She got a role as a Brand Manager at Marc Jacobs, where she was introduced to sales, having weekly and quarterly sales targets. From there, a friend introduced her to the Kleiner Perkins backed retail technology startup, Tulip Retail, founded by the former founder and CEO of Well.ca, Ali Asaria, who was also on the team that created Brick Breaker at Blackberry. She succeeded in sales as a BDR (Business Development Representative) generating opportunities for the enterprise sales team.
While at Tulip, she shifted from sales to marketing out of a desire to broaden her skill set. She overtook responsibilities for copywriting, supporting the field marketing and events team and being the salesforce.com administrator.
After learning about salesforce.com’s sophisticated processes as a global SaaS organization as well as the values she shared with them, like giving back to the community, trust and equality, she decided to join their marketing team. She is active in supporting their black employee resource group, BOLDforce Toronto.
Syreeta Taitt, Account Executive, Health & Life Sciences, Salesforce
Syreeta works as an Account Executive selling into the healthcare sector at Salesforce. She was born in the UK and lived in Switzerland and Kenya. She came to Canada as an international student and took Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University. At Ryerson, she was part of the West Indian Student Association and worked as a fundraiser, calling on alumni to donate back to the school.
After graduation, she leveraged her post-grad work permit to stay in Canada for 3 years. Her first job was as a Bilingual Customer Service Rep at a SaaS accounting platform that was acquired by Wolters Kluwer.
From there, she deepened her experience selling SaaS to property management accounting space at firms like Yardi Systems and Concierge Plus. In the time between Yardi Systems and her next play, JDR Consulting, Salesforce reached out to her regarding a role as an Account Executive. She initially passed on the opportunity due to timing (she was close to an offer with JDR) but eventually ended up at Salesforce after a year and a half. At Salesforce, she’s thrived and has consistently over-achieved quota quarter after quarter.
Syreeta feels that Salesforce is one of the best companies she’s ever worked at and is empowered to do her great work. She was very involved with leading the launch of BOLDforce Toronto as President in August 2018. She helped launch BOLDforce partly because she believes that the black community doesn’t have enough representation in the tech community. Through BOLDforce, she has had the opportunity to work with Salesforce’s sales internship program, Futureforce. She has also virtually mentored SNHU (Southern New Hampshire University) students out of Rwanda.
Alecia Maragh, Account Executive, Wisely
Alecia works as an Account Executive at Wisely, the AI startup that helps not-for-profit organizations fundraise more efficiently. Like Malaika, she did her undergraduate degree in International Relations and Political Science, albeit halfway across the world at the University of the West Indies. She too earned First Class Honors. She also has her Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics.
While at the LSE, she won a speaking competition and was selected to give a Tedx Talk on Human Rights. Both in her undergrad and her masters, she won prestigious awards like the UWI Open Scholarship and was one of three Jamaicans to win the Chevening scholarship.
After starting her career in the not-for-profit sector at NGOs like ChildFund in Washington DC, she decided to make a career transition into software sales. She started at Wisely after receiving an introduction through a friend to the Co-Founder and COO.
She also made the move following her own research into the growing tech sector in Toronto through media outlets like Mashable, Fast Company and TechCrunch. After meeting the team, understanding their vision, and connecting with their deeper mission, she was excited to join their team.
Amena Agbaje, Partner Manager, US East, Shopify Plus
Amena works as a Partner Manager covering US East as part of Shopify Plus, working with members of Shopify’s ecosystem and internal sales teams to sell the platform. She received her Bachelor of Commerce from McMaster University, also the alma mater of Jonathan Abrams, the founder of Friendster, a social media platform that was a predecessor and source of inspiration to the likes of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
While at McMaster, Amena won the MARS Apprentice competition, earning her all her tuition being paid for in her last year. During her time doing case competitions, she learned she had a knack for building business cases and presenting in a clear and concise manner.
After graduating from McMaster University, she heard about what was then a small company called Shopify before she started working at MTV as a production assistant. She moved on to do a paid internship at Alliance Films before realizing it wasn’t what she was passionate about.
Around 2009 and 2010, after doing research online and thinking about where she wanted to go in her career, she decided she needed a “web 2.0” role in social media or website sales.
After unsuccessfully trying to get into various companies, she changed strategies and was able to land a role at Hudson Bay Company’s e-commerce team, where she was hired by another black woman. She worked at HBC for 3 years and moved onto Well.ca. At Well.ca, she worked her way up from online buyer before transitioning to Town Shoes, where she managed a team of five people. At Town Shoes, she developed an interest for discussing different technology platforms and implemented reporting systems where there were no systems in place before.
Towards the end of her time at Town Shoes, Shopify, the e-commerce platform, popped up on her radar again. This time, there was a role as a Merchant Success Manager, selling to the role she had been in for almost a decade. That, coupled with her interest in platform discussions, seemed like the perfect fit for Amena. During her time at Shopify Plus, she was sold on the idea of joining the Partnerships team, which worked with high-volume merchants. She took on the Partnerships role because it was in line with what she wanted to do, how she wanted to learn, and where she saw herself in a couple of years. Today, she is also on the leadership team of Shopify’s black employee resource group.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can start a career in tech sales, PIPELINE is hosting a free event called “How To Get Started In Tech Sales and Customer Success” on March 27th at 6 pm (1 University Ave, Toronto, ON M5J 2P1, Canada).
Radz Mpofu is a recruiting and software sales professional with over almost a decade of experience. He was an early sales hire in Canada at PagerDuty, as well as at Tulip and Ashley Bridget.
His educational background is in marketing and computer programming. In his free time, he volunteers as a mentor at Backstage Capital and helping underestimated groups learn about and get into tech sales via his website, getintotechsales.com. He’s based in Toronto, Canada.