Interview with Liz Reaves Walker '05

Interview by Howie Rhee '04 on May 20, 2011

Tell us about your time at Duke.  What were you involved with, and were you active in any entrepreneurial pursuits? 

At Duke, I was a Political Science major, played Club Soccer, was VP of Dukes and Duchesses, and I was a co-director for Career Week.  I also spent a Summer studying in London, a semester in Sevilla Spain, and a semester in New York with Leadership and the Arts.  Duke introduced me to amazing people, opportunities and ideas, and opened up my world. I didn’t do anything purely entrepreneurial, but looking back, Tony Brown’s Enterprising Leadership class had a lot of entrepreneurial elements. 

In Tony’s class, I realized how much I liked thinking about big ideas and working on projects with the potential to make an impact. I tried to start a women’s leadership network – around the idea of connecting undergrad women with alumni in business - it never really took off, but I loved the experience.  The core elements of Tony’s class of big ideas, innovation, impact and leadership definitely shaped my vision for what I ultimately wanted in a career. 

Out of school, you worked at Marakon and Associates, in consulting. Tell us about that experience. 

I wanted my first job after college to surround me with smart people and put me in an organization that would help me learn.  Consulting was a great fit because I got exposure to smart people, a huge range of industries, and Marakon focused on training and mentoring. 

The core analytical skills I learned as a consultant – financial modeling, how to analyze an industry landscape and identify competitive advantages – built a great foundation for me.  I quickly learned a lot about the power of data.  As the most junior member of a team, I could still can have an incredible impact through data analysis that drove the insights and recommendations for the companies we advised. 
 
After I got over the excitement of doing and learning new things, I realized I didn’t love consulting.  I wanted the opportunity to implement and execute on the strategies I was suggesting to my clients, and there was very little focus on innovation or big ideas.   

You then joined LinkedIn in 2007. How’d you learn about them?  Did you target the company, the region, the function, or other? How did you finally decide it was the right fit? 

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was really passionate about when looking for my next job after consulting.  I read the Wall Street Journal every day and took note of the things I thought were most interesting.  I quickly found that my favorite topics were almost always about consumer internet companies and trends in online marketing.
 
With a focus on consumer internet, and desire to stay in New York, I interviewed for an analyst job at Bessemer Venture Partners (a Venture Capital firm). I loved the interview process and the people I met, but I didn’t get the job.  When I asked for feedback , the advice I received from a Duke grad at Bessemer was to get a few years of experience in a start-up before reapplying to jobs in VC.  From then on, I focused my job search on the portfolio companies of top VC firms (Bessemer, Sequoia, Greylock). 
 
There were a ton of start-up job postings on LinkedIn, so I started using the site and was blown away by how useful it was for my job search. After applying to a job on LinkedIn, I almost always got a call or an email within a day from a real person at that company.   One day I came across a LinkedIn Advertising Account Manager job posting, located in New York.  I applied through LinkedIn, and got a call that afternoon.   
 
Your first role at LinkedIn was in Advertising Sales. How did that role fit from your consulting work or was it a new type of skill set?  For students that haven’t done it before, what’s it like to do sales (and had you done it before)? 

The biggest change was how much more entrepreneurial and undefined the role at LinkedIn was compared to consulting.  My boss was across the country in the Bay Area, and I was the 2nd person in the New York office –  a sales person and I ran around New York to tell marketers and agencies about the LinkedIn story. Few people knew what LinkedIn was, but I had a blast telling the story about a company and a platform that I really believed in. 
 
I had not done sales before, but in many ways my skill set from consulting was perfect for the account management role.  I’d gotten used to having to learn a company and an industry quickly, which helped me pitch to clients and agencies across a wide range of industries. My excel and Power Point skills made it easy to quickly put together presentations and proposals.  I had to put in extra time early on to learn some of the technology I didn’t know – such as SQL and our ad server – but it was well worth the extra investment.  In sales you can measure your progress every day, and I loved how our success was only limited by how good we were at telling the LinkedIn story in a compelling way.  
 
As of February 2010, you are a Senior Product Manager.  Tell us what types of things your role entails.  What are you responsible for? 

As a senior product manager, I’m responsible for the vision, design, functionality, and performance of a set of features on LinkedIn.  I develop the product strategy and vision, and then work a great team engineers, designers, web developers, product marketers and PR to execute on the strategy and ship new products and features to the site.  
 
The first product I worked on after moving from Ad Sales to Product was LinkedIn Polls, a product I heard a lot of advertisers asking for while I was on the sales side.
 
Currently I’m working on LinkedIn Today, a social news product that delivers the top 5 stories you need to read to be up-to-speed on what’s happening in a given industry, or set of industries.  I also work on building tools for publishers (such as WSJ and Bloomberg) to leverage the virality and functionally on LinkedIn, through publisher tools such as the LinkedIn share button (www.LinkedIn.com/publishers). 
 
Before working on News, I was the Product Manager for our Premium Subscriptions products, where I launched products like Profile Organizer, and a use-case based subscription platform that included the Job Seeker, Executive and Talent Finder Premium Accounts. 
  
Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, is a fan of people working at startups, gaining operational, and then launching their own startup. Given your experience working there, do you think you are prepared to one day start something (or be a part of something at an early stage)?
 
I think Reid’s advice to get experience shipping products is spot on.  In the past four years, I’ve learned so much about defining product requirements, making product tradeoffs in the development process, failing fast, and developing my product instinct.     
 
I’d love to one day start something, or get to be part of a founding team.   I feel really lucky that my current boss is one of the LinkedIn co-founders, Allen Blue. I feel like his war stories from the early days of LinkedIn – and getting exposure to how he formulates a vision for a product – will also be things I use when taking the plunge on my own. 
 
Tell us what it’s like to live in the Bay Area / Silicon Valley.  What’s the vibe like out there for a young alum? 
I love the Bay Area.   I think it is a great place for people who are passionate, ambitious, and inspired to work on new things.   Being young is an asset and -- from what I’ve experienced -- how far you go has nothing to do with age or politics, but everything to do with hard work, and execution. 
 
I love that people are all about ideas, and so many people are inspired to change the world through technology and innovation – finding solutions to unmet needs.  One thing that surprised me about the Bay Area is how many people I work with that have a political science background similar to mine.  It seems there is a common thread around a desire to make a difference in the world that exists in both politics and technology

When I speak to students, a lot of them know about LinkedIn, though some haven’t yet joined (particularly undergraduates).  Should they join now, and what is the best way to use it? 
 
Yes, they should all be on LinkedIn!   
 
Three tips:
  1. The sooner you start building your profile and your network, the better.  Create a profile, and then start to connect with classmates, professors, your parent’s friends, people you’ve worked with in internships, and people you meet through your job search or career fairs.  With a network, you can start to find who can help connect you to the jobs and companies you’re most interested in.
  2. Use LinkedIn to research companies: Company Profiles on LinkedIn show you who works at a company, and shows you stats on what schools people went to, and where they often work after they leave. Start here: http://www.linkedin.com/companies . Example stats: How many people in your network work at LinkedIn? How many work at Google? How many work at McKinsey?
  3. Get up-to-speed on the industries you’re interested in: A great way to figure out what industries will be the best fit for you is to read the news about what’s happening.  LinkedIn Today let’s you follow the news in a given industry, so see what professionals who work in that industry are reading, sharing, and discussing.  Check out the Internet Industry or the Marketing & Advertising Industry
Anything else you would like to share with students? 

Three things:
  1. Figure out what you love to do and think about, and then work won’t feel like work.
  2. If you can find time, take a Computer Science class – I wish I had while at Duke.
  3. Check out my LinkedIn profile and feel free to send me a note on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/lizreaveswalker
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