Lose the Distractions & Get to Work

The views and opinions expressed in this episode are those of the guest(s) and host. They do not necessarily reflect those of Abstrakt.

We had the chance to sit down with Jennifer Thronson, SVP of Product & Business Development at Autovitals, to talk all about her experience at early-stage startups.

When you’re looking to join a startup, Jennifer says you really have to like a challenge and even more so believe in the company & founders. 

Other pieces of advice that you don’t want to miss:

  • When joining a startup, you have to be willing to execute. Thinking big picture is great, but you can’t do crazy, fun ideas if you don’t execute and sell anything.
  • If you’re joining a startup in a leadership role, learn as much as possible about the current processes, product, and market before you make any changes.
  • Develop the mindset of getting a little better each day. The startup life is a grind, but if you focus on small, incremental progress you will be more likely to achieve your “big” goals.

Read the Podcast Transcript

[00:00:04.970] – Clare Dobson

Welcome to the startup sidekick podcast where we like to talk to those unsung heroes, the Robin to the Batman, those early stage employees at startups who are in the trenches every day.

[00:00:27.290] – Clare Dobson

Hello, everyone.

[00:00:32.620] – Jennifer Thronson

We have a great guest for you all. She really can do it all. She’s been at the ground floor of a startup employee number three as well as managing the product customer success sales teams all at the same time. So you are going to learn so much. There’s going to be lots of golden nuggets and I can’t wait for you to hear her story. She is currently the SVP of product sales and business development at Auto Vital. So everybody, please welcome Jennifer Thompson. Hi, Jennifer. How are you doing today?

[00:01:10.310] – Clare Dobson

I am good.

[00:01:12.150] – Jennifer Thronson


[00:01:14.070] – Clare Dobson

I’m excited to hear about your story.

[00:01:15.980] – Jennifer Thronson

I know people will once they start listening as well, but let’s dive in before we get into the business side, let’s just dive in. Tell me a couple of things, two or three things about you that most people might not know.

[00:01:27.450] – Clare Dobson

Sure. It’s probably the most uncomfortable I’ll be today. I played in soccer for pretty much my whole life, so still casually play every now and then but did play in college and then coached high school for a long time. So that was a huge part of my life for a long time. Let’s see. I have not seen a ton of movies, so it’s kind of a running joke with friends, coworkers. It’s like something that comes up all the time. I haven’t seen a lot of movies. I quote some sometimes and people are like, do you know what you’re quoting? And I don’t. That’s a pretty funny running joke and I think maybe third thing, I am oddly good at dart.

[00:02:08.890] – Jennifer Thronson

So like at a bar dark. So you sneak up on people and challenge them to some dart games, huh?

[00:02:17.790] – Clare Dobson

Yes, I think I get underestimated so that probably factors into it. But yes, I enjoy a great game of darts and skeeball. Yeah, I’m definitely underestimated more at the darts situation.

[00:02:32.370] – Clare Dobson

That’s awesome.

[00:02:33.220] – Jennifer Thronson

That’s good to know. I will always have you on my.

[00:02:36.710] – Clare Dobson

Team if we ever go out together.

[00:02:40.690] – Jennifer Thronson

So let’s talk about in the startup world, you’ve kind of been around, worked at different companies, but what originally got you into sales and maybe got you excited about that?

[00:02:53.430] – Clare Dobson

Sure. I don’t know how excited I was, to be honest. I had been bartending and finished college with bartending, didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I had a couple of friends that had started working at Yelp here in Scottsdale were kind of telling me about their job and parts of it seem great and then parts where I get yelled at about reviews and I was like, that seems challenging and also fun. And I thought there were things that translated from really bartending but I was also doing schedules and managing liquor orders and things like that. So I seemed a little bit interested in it. Went to the interview, really enjoyed it, got hired on the spot and just decided, like, let’s go for it. So I started as an Ae at Yelp quite a long time ago, learned a ton. I think it was very challenging, but I enjoyed that part of it and made a bunch of friends and just kind of learned the basics of sales and some of the consumer psychology and things like that. So it definitely interested me quite a bit. But I didn’t necessarily plan for that and I really want to get into sales.

[00:04:05.220] – Clare Dobson

I just felt like I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. That seemed like a good intro job, to get some experience under my belt and then kind of figure it out is what I was thinking at the time. I don’t know that I planned on liking it as much as I did, frankly.

[00:04:18.830] – Clare Dobson

Did you realize right away that you liked it?

[00:04:21.320] – Jennifer Thronson

Or is it kind of grew on.

[00:04:22.950] – Clare Dobson

You as you were there?

[00:04:25.030] – Clare Dobson

Definitely grew on me. They’ll tell you this when you get there, and as it is at any job, it takes a little bit to click. We did get yelled at quite a bit, so that was definitely challenging. But I enjoyed learning salesforce and figuring out how a sales process works. And then Yelp does a really great job teaching just the basics of sales, receptive language, asking for the close, those types of things that I thought kind of came a little bit naturally to me. I wasn’t super comfortable making cold calls, per se. That was still.

[00:05:00.090] – Clare Dobson

Very awkward to me and I felt very nervous like everybody does at first, everyone does, but after it kind of started to click, I was like, oh, I like this. And it was super challenging, which I enjoyed. And especially there, I think it’s a sales job where you can kind of like the mechanics are all there and kind of provided to you. So I was very about hitting the metrics, doing all the steps and seeing process work was really interesting to me and I felt like I can figure this out. Like I can do this if I can stop being so awkward on the.

[00:05:32.440] – Clare Dobson

Phone as everybody feels when they first start cold calling.

[00:05:38.170] – Clare Dobson

Well, and you’re right on top of each other and it’s so uncomfortable when you haven’t done it before. And I feel like I’m an extrovert, but I’m kind of shy until I’m not, if that makes sense. So I was not comfortable just being totally awkward in front of all these people. I was the person kind of whispering on the phone or I’d call and hang up. So definitely had to overcome a lot of that stuff. But I felt like it was going to be helpful long term. So I just kind of powered through and the management was great and the people I was working with were great. So it quickly became like, who’s going to be the best on our training team? And that part I think I probably enjoyed maybe too much.

[00:06:22.090] – Clare Dobson

That’s the soccer side, the competitive side coming out.

[00:06:25.210] – Clare Dobson

Yes, I think so.

[00:06:27.290] – Clare Dobson

Let’s talk about so then your next adventure. You went to Capal and I think.

[00:06:32.130] – Jennifer Thronson

We’Re around 30 or so. So a startup, definitely small, but not.

[00:06:37.310] – Clare Dobson

Necessarily the ground floor yet.

[00:06:39.470] – Jennifer Thronson

What did you first learn there? What was the difference between a bigger.

[00:06:43.020] – Clare Dobson

Company like Yelp and then moving to as employee number 30?

[00:06:47.890] – Clare Dobson

Great question. The biggest difference was certainly the lack of process or really anything that had been built out. Like they didn’t have sales decks, they didn’t have any type of scripting or anything like that. At Yelp they say this, you say this, they say this, you say this, and we had none of that. It was kind of like go figure it out. And that was an event tech company, which I’d like some experience in venues. Obviously. I had worked in a lot of restaurants. I knew a lot of sporting teams and things like that. So I felt comfortable with who I was selling to. But historically the company had hired mostly people with specifically like event planning experience and I did not have that. So talking with just other people that were in the role or in the other surrounding roles felt like it didn’t really translate. And I was able to quickly identify some of the things we learned at Yelp would absolutely work here and why aren’t we doing some of that stuff? But yeah, I’d say the biggest change was just like, lack of process and materials and even like, metrics. So I had to be really comfortable with that quickly.

[00:07:55.240] – Clare Dobson

And it was definitely very different than Yelper. They’ve got a whole training department, and here they were like, hopefully you figured.

[00:08:01.940] – Clare Dobson

Out how long do you think did it take you to kind of transition and realize, like, okay, I need to.

[00:08:08.030] – Clare Dobson

Start putting stuff together. I’m just going to take the reins on this because there’s no one else.

[00:08:11.540] – Clare Dobson

Doing it.

[00:08:14.110] – Clare Dobson

Like, day one.

[00:08:15.360] – Clare Dobson


[00:08:15.840] – Clare Dobson

That’s awesome. Yeah, I knew some people there in different offices, so that was a dual sided marketplace, and we had different office about ended up like 25 or so offices around the country. Phoenix was third, and so there were other people in the roles in other cities, and then there were other kind of departments or people doing different things also in Phoenix. So I felt like I was kind of warned there’s not a whole lot built out here. We haven’t figured it out yet. We’re going to try not hiring someone from events and hiring someone with some sales background that also knows venues. And they didn’t formally say, like, can you please figure out something that will work? But that’s kind of the challenge I put on myself. So I kind of knew that going in, and I did prepare quite a bit and reached out to people had put together probably that first week I was like, what do you mean we don’t call anybody? What do you mean we don’t try to find the owners online before we walk into their venue? So there were just things that I thought were really basic that hadn’t been done.

[00:09:19.030] – Clare Dobson

So I just started documenting all of that and kind of employed it myself. It worked great. So kind of went from there. But yeah, really quickly, I think it was a little bit the structure of the company as well. The people in my role on my side of the marketplace reported to people in Chicago, so I didn’t have lost that was there every day training me and walking me through how to do it. It was very much like, here’s your goal, you figure out how you make it happen. So I kind of went in with that mentality, which I think helped.

[00:09:52.310] – Clare Dobson

And you think that for people looking to possibly join a start up, do you think that’s a skill that they have to have?

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