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HERstory: Susan Su

Head of Marketing, Reforge

Susan Su is a growth and marketing leader specializing in content strategy, remarketing, and retention as well as building out early-stage teams. She is currently the Head of Marketing at Reforge. Previously, she was a full-time partner focused on growth-stage investments and educational programming at 500 Startups. Prior to that, she held marketing and product leadership roles at early-stage companies including AppSumo and Inside Network.

How did you break into leadership?

My path to leadership was paved with a lot of doing! Early on, I focused on excelling as an individual contributor and making sure I worked as close to the core of the business as possible. The core of the business is the engine that keeps everyone coming back—customers and employees alike—and is usually directly connected to current or near-future monetization. In my case, I ideated, built, and launched the first paid subscription products for several of the early-stage companies that I worked with. I often wore the hats of product manager, product marketer, business analyst, sales manager, and customer service representative. It was like being a founder of my own company but within the (still small!) umbrella of an existing business and brand, which I was also in the process of building. Getting in early was the key to opening up these opportunities to learn and grow by doing.

What unique obstacles or challenges have you faced as a woman in a tech leadership role?

Where do I begin! I’ve faced the same challenges as any other talented and ambitious woman in business. The most insidious obstacle is the invisibility of biases towards men and men’s ideas.

How often have we, as women, been in a position where we need to make our male boss feel like our ideas were his own for him to accept them? How often have we accepted less recognition—financial and otherwise—because of a deep, ingrained belief that hard work will be rewarded without having to ask for the reward?

Credibility and credit are the biggest obstacles women face. For our part, we must ask for it, and look for it, and call it out on behalf of our colleagues.

How do you negotiate a higher salary?

I used to think I was good at negotiation because I always try, but I recently learned that men make on average THREE attempts (three full back-and-forth exchanges), while women on average make zero. The takeaway here is that if you are asking once, it’s not on par with male colleagues and candidates. So, the first rule of salary negotiation is to get comfortable not only asking, but asking again and again.

After that, it’s important to remember that information is your ‘unfair’ advantage. Go in equipped with as much comparable information as possible. You can get this by using public sources, like Glassdoor, but also by working your network. Don’t be afraid to talk salary specifics with your friends—especially women! I’ve found that male friends are MUCH more open about how much they make, or were offered, and it’s a major advantage they bring to any negotiation.

If someone asks you, “How much compensation are you looking for?”, your reply should be, “How much are you willing to pay me?”

Knowledge is power, so don’t be afraid to acquire it and use it in a negotiation.

If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I would play the career game like a man! Not because men are better than women at career-ing (let’s make it a word!), but because we deserve that same level of confidence, recognition, and remuneration. Go out and get it—proactively, fearlessly, and relentlessly.

What’s been the highlight of your career thus far?

I’m proud of each and every accomplishment that my teams have been able to come out with. At Reforge, that means serving thousands of ambitious and earnest growth and product professionals at companies that touch our lives every single day. It is an honor (and very flattering) to hear that what we created (everything from our tech platform to our marketing content) has changed the lives of people whom I admire!

What’s your advice for up-and-coming marketers?

Our outer reality is a direct effect of our inner thoughts. Many of us now know that confidence begets winning, not the other way around, but we forget that we can control and generate that confidence with our own thoughts and the deeds that spring from them. If you want to grow in your career, start by embracing the capable, charismatic winner inside—and then give her a doorway so that she can step out and shine.

Thanks to Jes Kirkwood who conducted this interview in June 2018.

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