As part of my series about “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Rosen.
Alexandra Rosen is the Sr. Director of Venture Forward, GoDaddy’s multi-year research initiative focused on entrepreneurs and their impact on the economy and the unique insights into their backgrounds, needs, and challenges. Prior to GoDaddy, she launched global programs and partnerships across live entertainment, the Olympics Games, enterprises, and the public sector at Cisco and ran some of the first online marketing campaigns at Google for customers.
Passionate about empowering people and businesses to reach new goals through technology, creativity, and connected experiences, Alexandra was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator and a mentor at the Silicon Valley UpWest Labs incubator. She completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and her MBA at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
First, thank you so much for this opportunity!
I’ve always been drawn to two things, creativity within frameworks and bridging divides.
I came to the United States as a refugee from the former Soviet Union, not speaking any English. Watching how hard my family worked to navigate unfamiliar situations and establish ourselves really inspired my desire to help bridge opportunities for others.
This led me to a career in technology, which aims to connect people and offer access to new opportunities. I started working at Google while still in college in the mid-2000s, where information was being democratized and the ability to advertise outside of traditional media like TV and newspapers was now possible and affordable. I then moved to Cisco, the backbone of the internet, where it wasn’t about what was made but what was made possible through connectivity (e.g. Olympics, concerts, and global collaboration). I was able to apply creativity through ad writing and strategy at the former, and through launching partnerships and producing videos about programs and customer and industry solutions co-developed at the latter.
Three years ago, I joined GoDaddy. I wanted to apply the many lessons and experiences I’d had from enterprises to now supporting and advocating for the everyday entrepreneur and GoDaddy’s 20M+ microbusinesses in the United States. Venture Forward is an incredibly unique initiative, and I was fortunate to get in on the ground level to help bring to market the research capturing businesses with less than 10 employees who have a very large economic effect on their local communities and our greater nation.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
That’s a great question… In my first job out of college, I was working at Google in AdWords. This was the first time many people had ventured into trying online marketing, because it was a new platform and way of thinking. In a way, it was the wild west, with a new model of how it worked and a technical system for how to work it. So people needed help — from small businesses to big brands. I was that person who would listen to their goals, understand their budget, and help craft the strategy, ads, and search terms. There was an incident early on with one client whose business was on the smaller side. He was sensitive to the budget amount recommended, and after we set on an approach, his search terms ended up being too popular, the ads too good, and his monthly budget got spent within a week. He received many clicks, but too fast. He was very angry.
I felt terrible. I recognized how vulnerable a position it is to have your heart on your sleeve about your business. It’s scary. However, instead of internalizing his reaction as his new account manager, I stored this interaction as a pivotal example of how important it is to be sensitive to people taking risks with the goal of growing a business. The lesson in empathy, in navigating ambiguity when your dreams and revenue are on the line (as I too was new in this brand-new digital marketing world) has served me well as I’ve moved onto launching new ventures with startups, bridging unprecedented partnerships with enterprises, and now at GoDaddy helping provide insight into the needs of microbusiness entrepreneurs.
Is there a particular book you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Yes! The book “Grow” by Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer of Procter and Gamble, and The CMO Podcast about Prosperity Through Purpose that followed his book and has frequent episodes.
Jim was my professor at UCLA Anderson business school, and thanks to him, my concept of marketing and brand relationship building was redefined forever. He opened my eyes to the fact that brands driven by ideals not only did more good but did better (financially) — specifically they outperformed the market in terms of profit! One of the mottos I developed and used throughout my career following that book was to aim to be a value-add, not just an ad.
I use that with the startups I advise, and it’s a core component of what drove me to GoDaddy and to the Venture Forward initiative. We are here to help advocate for the often unseen, uncaptured microbusiness entrepreneurs.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
According to our Venture Forward data, 31% of microbusinesses have started since 2020. And in 2020, we saw 2.3 million more microbusinesses started than in 2019! COVID changed the way a lot of people think about a lot of things, including their careers. Some people who may have lost their jobs took it as an opportunity to start their own businesses. And about half of the 80% of people employed full-time when they started their microbusiness, left their job to do it full-time.
Others enjoyed working remotely and decided to go the entrepreneur route to give themselves the freedom to work from anywhere. And some, feeling the pinch of the current economic situation, want an additional income as many rely on it for supplemental income (40%). In addition, we’re seeing entrepreneurs trending more diverse and younger. Since 2020, two out of three entrepreneurs under 30 started their microbusinesses. In that same timeframe, two out of five Black entrepreneurs, and over one-third of women started their own microbusinesses, which really goes to show that the face of entrepreneurship is changing and there’s a lot of economic opportunities.
As research from our Venture Forward National Survey done in February 2022 shows, the top three reasons people started a venture was to be their own boss, pursue a hobby or passion, or they had always dreamt of being a business owner — and an additional strong reason was for their business to contribute to their community!
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow businesses/organizations in the Post-Covid Economy?
Personally, the work I am doing at GoDaddy through Venture Forward is really focused on helping advocate for and support micro-businesses in the Post-Covid economy. Through this work, my team and I have the incredible opportunity of regularly meeting with mayors, economic developers, and various organizations across the country to draw attention to the importance of this population to a strong and resilient economy and illuminating data that informs the policies and programs that create environments ripe for microbusiness activity. Our data shows that by adding microbusinesses to communities, median household incomes increase, and unemployment goes down — not to mention at least two wage jobs are created for each of these entrepreneurs. Data in the hands of people who can put it to work is incredibly powerful, and I want to help do all that we can to educate those people making decisions so they can grow their economies through these businesses.
How do you encourage small business owners?
If small and microbusiness owners could see the data that we see about how much they move the needle for not just themselves, but for their whole communities, they would be so inspired by their own power. It’s no small feat to be a small business. It takes a lot of grit, focus, and bravery among many other attributes.
Another practical way to encourage small and microbusiness owners is to make it as easy as possible for them to obtain support and resources. Across the board, and over the years of our research, we’ve seen that the top three things entrepreneurs need are: easier access to capital (over half need less than $5k to get started!), help with marketing and skills training, and technical assistance (like getting their business set up online). The easier these ancillary, yet crucial aspects can be, the more encouraging and easier it’ll be for them to focus on their passion: running their business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Such a great question, and also a tough one because there are so many good ones. One that comes to mind is “change is inevitable, but progress isn’t.” It has felt especially relevant in the past few years as so much change has been forced upon us. Sometimes we just needed to float, and other moments we’d buckle down and push through the discomfort. I felt it really opened us up to defining for ourselves what progress means. I once heard suffering is pain without meaning. This reinforces a similar notion to me. We have to find the meaning and the goals that resonate as we navigate our lives — whether that was prioritizing self-care during the pandemic or changing what we can control, like finding a more fulfilling work situation. For me personally, that has meant being really in touch with myself on what’s important to me. Visualizing what fills me with joy if I fast forward to 3 months or 1 year from now, and then taking the steps to get there, even if it means short-term pain and challenges.
How can our readers further follow your work?
All of the latest publications, research, and data can be found at godaddy.com/ventureforward! You can also find me at www.linkedin.com/in/alexandrasasharosen/.