How I Got Here: Episode #3

Rachel Xanttopoulos
Product Marketing Lead, Instagram Ads

Shortly after beginning her career as a management consultant, Rachel Xanttopoulos realized that the job wasn’t a great fit for her long-term. After mentioning to a colleague she’d love to work for the New York Times, she landed in the NYT strategy group and rose up the ranks for a few years before deciding to return to school to earn her MBA at Kellogg, with the intention of starting her own business.

After a business school class exercise in which she pitched the idea to her fellow students led to overwhelming enthusiasm and support, Rachel launched Daybreak, a daily newsletter that summarized interesting events and resources for students at Kellogg. Although Daybreak quickly grew in popularity and team size, the difficulties of building a business from a local newsletter led Rachel to take a job at Instagram after school, where she knew she would learn from a best-in-class company how to monetize a media business – knowledge she may put to use when she starts her next venture. This conversation is brought to you by The Garage at Northwestern University.

After graduating from Northwestern with degrees in Political Science and Economics, Rachel Xanttopoulos went to work for Boston Consulting Group. While she learned lots from BCG she ultimately decided that consulting was not for her and started working at the New York Times in business strategy. She then returned to Evanston to go to Kellogg and within her first week started Daybreak. Daybreak is a daily newsletter for Kellogg students to stay up to date on everything happening on campus and still continues on to this day. ( Rachel credits Daybreak for a lot of learning experiences and it helped inspire her job choice after her MBA at Instagram working on monetization and marketing.

Rachel’s LinkedIn:

Mike Raab (00:05):

Welcome to How I Got Here, a podcast from the Garage at Northwestern exploring interesting journeys of young professionals working at exciting companies and the role that entrepreneurship played in getting them there. My name is Mike Raab, and I love dissecting non-linear and non-traditional career paths and the lessons that we can all take away from those who forged them. In this episode, I’m joined by Rachel Xanttopoulos, who is currently a Product Marketing Lead at Instagram.

Rachel began her career as a consultant at BCG before moving to the New York Times to work in the strategy group. After a few years, she returned to business school where she found a Daybreak, a daily newsletter focused on informing her classmates and improving their business school experiences. Even though Daybreak didn’t become a full-time job, Rachel says that the experience and lessons she learned as an entrepreneur were invaluable and even helped her land her role at Instagram. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Rachel Xanttopoulos.  Rachel, thank you for being here with us today.

Rachel Xanttopoulos (01:16):

Thank you for having me.

Mike Raab (01:17):

Of course. I thought a good place to start would be if you could tell us about what you studied in undergrad and when you got to college, what did you think you were going to do after school?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (01:27):

Sure. So when I was at Northwestern, I studied economics and political science. I originally started out as a political science major. I always thought I would work in international relations or government. Maybe I would be in the foreign service or work at a think tank or be a lawyer or something to that effect. So I studied political science when I first got to Northwestern and then I ended up adding on the economics because I realized it’s so important as you think about creating policy to really understand economics.

Mike Raab (01:56):

Right, and obviously there are for economics majors some kind of typical paths that people take after school? So what did you end up doing after you graduated?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (02:07):

So I ended up actually in consulting. So I really thought I would go more of this government or policy route, but as I studied economics and I made more friends with students who are also studying economics, that just really changed my network of people who have spending time with. I ended up doing consulting, interviewing for that, and one reason that I felt really good about my decision going into consulting, I ended up at BCG and as I went to all these different info sessions, my senior year I’d learned about all the different consulting firms. Something that I really loved about BCG is they kept highlighting all of the social impact work that they do, and actually my first six months there I was able to be on a local government project. So I liked this idea of getting into business, but not moving too far away from some of my kind of passion areas.

Mike Raab (02:56):

Yeah. That’s an interesting mix where you have both the consulting side, but also social impact. So it’s like the best of both roles. It sounds like for what you were looking for.

Rachel Xanttopoulos (03:05):

Yeah. That’s how I felt about it.

Mike Raab (03:07):

And was that experience at BCG what you expected when you were in college, thinking about going into consulting?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (03:14):

So consulting ended up being totally shocking for me, less because of any of the actual content, but really just what the work experience was like. So I realized as I was working as a consultant, that there was actually a pretty steep learning curve for me in terms of having good business judgment, having some of these technical or operational skills, whether it’s related to financial modeling or analyzing quantitative consumer survey analysis. I really had none of that background, and so it was a pretty steep learning curve for me and some of the best learning I ever had.

So I’m really grateful I had that job, but also I realized going into consulting, I really didn’t know too much of what it was about. I had gone to these info sessions and learned about the companies and learned how to prepare for these case interviews and had mastered that, but I really, I realized once I got there had no sense of what the day-to-day would actually be like, and I realized that actually it wasn’t for me ultimately. And so that was a good learning in my first job out of college, like maybe some of the things were right and the learning was there, but it wasn’t quite exactly what I saw myself doing on a day-to-day basis.

Mike Raab (04:21):

Yeah. As someone who was a film major consulting always felt like this mysterious, like mystical cool thing for all my econ friends and stuff. But I think I also didn’t know exactly what it was. What about that experience made you realize it wasn’t for you?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (04:37):

Good question. I think part of it was, I think as someone coming, and this has changed over time for me, but I think as someone who had newly graduated from college, I think I needed a bit more consistency. It was hard constantly changing areas of subject matter, changing your team, your manager, and it was really like the sink or swim environment in basically being expected to really excel in these areas that I didn’t know too much about, and I think I found that to be pretty daunting and I realized even though I did have a social impact related project at the start of my time in consulting, I wasn’t ultimately feeling like I was contributing to the mission of one organization, and sometimes I felt like we would do a lot of really hard work on all these different consulting engagements, but then at the end of the day, you leave behind this big stack of papers and this big presentation, perhaps with guidance for that company and then you go away and you don’t really see that work come to fruition. You’re not really sure if it’s ever implemented, and then you’re kind of onto the next thing. And I started to wonder whether I was really making a lasting impact at these organizations, even though I was certainly learning a lot.

Mike Raab (05:52):

Right. I think that’s a common theme with a lot of people who go into consulting straight out of school. Can you take us to like where you were mentally in that space of what you were thinking about doing or what you decided to do next and how you kind of confronted that realization?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (06:08):

Yes. It was definitely a tough one, so I was looking around on LinkedIn and I saw while I was just browsing around thinking like, what could I do if I did leave BCG, what would I do? And I saw this job to be in the strategy group at the New York Times, and I thought, oh, this is really interesting. And I was always reading the New York Times on my way to work. And I had always loved the Times, and so when I saw this job, I thought, wow, this would be really great to go work for this organization that I’ve loved my whole life and that I think is the one thing that’s really bringing me joy every day when I have this job that feels maybe that’s kind of challenging or not right for me. And so I saw that job and just got really excited.

It felt like a really natural fit too, because this was to be in the corporate strategy group. So very related to what I’d been doing and consulting, and also offering me this opportunity to have more consistency. To work for one organization really doubled down and focus on that mission. And so I saw this opportunity and at BCG you have a class dean when you’re an associate, and I remember telling her that I saw this job and I was really excited about it. And one of the things that’s awesome about consulting and I think BCG does this really well in particular is the whole time I was there, they’re always encouraging us about other opportunities. And she said, “Oh, I actually went to business school with someone who works there.” and she connected me. And that is how I got that initial connection and went in for the interview.

Mike Raab (07:38):

That’s an amazing story. It has to be so rare for people to get their next job through a contact at their current job. Like it must have taken some courage to go to her and tell her that you wanted to work at the Times. So can you take us back in time, because I think it’s difficult to remember back in, was it 2012 you joined the Times?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (08:00):

That’s right.

Mike Raab (08:00):

Yeah. The state of news and online publications and newspapers, obviously there’s been a lot of disruption and innovation since, and it sounds like your role was in the strategy group at the Times. What was the experience like being there and what type of projects were you working on?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (08:18):

It was fascinating, really interesting time to be there. It basically, the Times is really facing this innovator’s dilemma. One of the things that was really top of mind at that time was how Facebook, where I am now and Google, really had a lot of the market share for digital advertising, and so at the Times we were thinking about, wow, a lot of this is really going to Google and Facebook. How are we going to innovate and continue to grow advertising? And the other projects I worked on were things more on the [inaudible 00:08:50] side. For our customers, do we want them to migrate from print to digital? Is that what’s going to be best for the economics of the business, and looking at some of those economics and some of those customer needs. So playing a little bit in both spaces.

Mike Raab (09:04):

Yeah. It sounds like it was a great learning experience, but also just to get exposure like you said, you’re looking over at Facebook where you are now and Google and trying to decide what decisions you have to make at the Times to capture some of that market share. Was that kind of your first exposure to “tech”?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (09:25):

Yes. It’s so funny because the New York Times is a newspaper company, but that was actually my first ever exposure to technology. When I was an undergrad at Northwestern, the Garage wasn’t there yet and we didn’t really have this concept of entrepreneurship or tech. Coming out of college, I felt very lucky to even be in the know about these consulting roles, but I definitely had no clue about the opportunity to maybe be a product manager or a product marketing manager. None of that was just even on my radar.

And so it wasn’t until I got to the Times and I started to see around me, not my direct team, because I was more on the strategy team, but in looking at what all these other teams were doing that we were partnering with, there are all these people who had these what I thought were very interesting roles that were so close to the customer, thinking about how do we actually innovate, and digital one, that was really interesting for me to see these new digital products that were being created and I kept thinking, wow, this work in strategy is really impactful, but how cool would it be to be the person who’s creating these digital experiences? And I realized it’s not just the journalists who are moving the Times and what made the company special forward, it was also the people who worked in design and who worked in marketing and who worked on product, who were also directly shaping these customer experiences.

Mike Raab (10:44):

I like that. That’s an important realization. And so you spent a few years at the Times and kind of rose up the ranks, but eventually decided to leave to go back to business school. Can you walk me through what made you make that decision?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (10:58):

Yes. So I think basically there were a few things that were motivating me to go back to school. One was I wanted to get much closer to the customer. So I was thinking maybe I should pursue a career in product or in digital marketing, and so I thought going back to school would be a great way to kind of change careers. Another reason is, I was just interested to learn more soft skills or management skills. I had been promoted at the Times and I was in the strategy manager role, but even though I had learned a lot around how to do a lot of this analysis or strategy work we were doing, I still felt there was a lot I had left to learn in terms of soft skills, whether it’s navigating organizational complexity, negotiation, some of these other kinds of education you can get in business school. So I was very about that kind of learning.

And the third thing is I became very interested in becoming an entrepreneur, and I know this will sound … Maybe this will make people scratch their heads a bit because I think you don’t often hear, “Oh, I want to be an entrepreneur. Well, I should go back to business school.” But actually I thought that would be great, because I started looking around at some of these different MBA programs and one thing I’ve noticed about how education is changing is so many of these MBA programs now are very focused on entrepreneurship, and so, as I was looking around, I was seeing these programs, like at Kellogg for example, we have sell fellows, and so it actually seemed like a great opportunity to take two years and kind of have a safe space to double in entrepreneurship if you didn’t quite have your idea yet and didn’t want to be doing it on the side while you were working.

Mike Raab (12:46):

Right. I think that’s become a very common theme. At least at Kellogg is students who know they want to start their own business, but by going to business school and taking a couple of years, you kind of give yourself permission, not only to learn a lot and use all the resources of Kellogg and business school and, and new contacts, but also that you don’t have to make a living on it, or you don’t have to be working on it after your day job as well.

Rachel Xanttopoulos (13:10):

That’s right.

Mike Raab (13:12):

And so you actually did start a company while you were at Kellogg. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how that idea came about?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (13:19):

Sure. So I started Daybreak. So when I was at the Times, I became educated about this concept of service journalism, which was something I didn’t know about previously. And I may not be defining this exactly correctly, but the way I came to understand it was that service journalism is about creating content for people that’s not just informative or entertaining, but that actually helps them with their own lives. So for example, think about content that helps people figure out how to manage their finances.

So I wanted to do something to create content to help people, and I wasn’t quite sure what that would be and actually the initial idea that I had is I wanted to create a site for recent undergrads who were moving to New York to help them figure out just how to navigate that move or just their life after college, and probably I came up with that because that was an experience that I had had pretty recently.

And I remember moving to New York right after college and being completely overwhelmed, not understanding how to work with a broker and what that experience was like for getting a New York apartment. That was quite something, figuring out how do you start paying back your student loans? How do you  refinance or what lenders should you work with? How do you find a roommate or how do you even understand what these different New York neighborhoods are if you’re someone who’s just showing up in New York for the first time?

So I originally wanted to create a site to help people navigate these different potential pain points from graduating from college and being new to New York for the first time. That was an idea I had. And I remember I was talking to my manager at New York Times about this on the last day of my job as I was getting ready for business school and telling him what I was really interested to do, and he actually had an idea for me. He said, “Why don’t you start something like this on a smaller scale when you get to business school? That could be a great opportunity to try out something similar and it might not be New York, but maybe you want to create something for undergrads because they’re also going to be new to where they are for the first time and they could also use some of this kind of help.”

And he actually suggested to me, maybe you want to scope this down a little bit, the idea of creating a site to tackle all of these different areas is pretty big scope and not too focused, and I think something that’s so important is really being able to focus on something very specific and manageable when you’re starting a business. And at the time the skim was getting really popular and I thought, oh, this could be an idea. Maybe I could have an email newsletter that could go out to people every morning and this could help them kind of navigate their day.

And so I got to Kellogg and I was thinking about starting this, and one of the realizations I had just in my very first week of Kellogg was that actually Kellogg students were struggling a bit more than I anticipated. I had assumed getting to school that actually Kellogg students being a bit older, having some experience in their career wouldn’t really be facing any kind of like challenges being new to the area, but that actually wasn’t the case at all, because for many Kellogg students and for anyone who’s been to business school, it can be so overwhelming everything that you have going on every day.

What are all the different companies that are coming to campus? Who all the guest speakers that are coming? What are the events that are happening? What if you’re moving to Chicago for the first time? How do you know your area? Because so many people are coming from out of state or out of the country. So it just became clear to me that people were really overwhelmed in this new environment. There was a lot of information overload and that actually, maybe if I had a newsletter for Kellogg students, I could help make their day-to-day more manageable and make them have it a more seamless, successful experience while while they were in business school.

Mike Raab (17:08):

I love that, that your first idea of your customer or your classmates very easy to get access to. So did you start just writing the newsletter yourself or how did they kind of begin?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (17:24):

I did. So I think one thing I remember is I was very nervous to get started on this. Looking back to your point, it feels like a really low stakes thing. Like it’s just your classmates, but I was actually very nervous because I didn’t know anyone at school. It was my first week. I thought, “Oh, what kind of impression is this going to make if I start creating this thing, and will anyone read it or be actually be interested?” And so I was very self-conscious about this, and I remember I was in class the first week of Kellogg and I remember on our first … It’s like more of a soft skills building class and I remember the professor asks something like, he was trying to make the point of how could we benefit each other as a network, I think. And so he asked us to go around and share dream ideas that we had, and it didn’t have to be for business. It could be just anything.

Somebody said they want to run a marathon or something like that, ad then he said, okay, who can help this person? And then the idea as you would quickly see there are so many people in your class who would willingly jump up and offer to help you. And so I remember I shared that I had this idea for a business or … Back then it might not have even framed it as a business. I might’ve even just framed it as like something I wanted to do at school. And I was really surprised by how many of my classmates sort of raised their hands and were like, “Oh, I can help you.” And someone said, “Oh, I used to blog at the Huffington Post or I used to have a beauty blog or I can help you with X, Y, Z.”

And people seemed like excited and energized about the idea, and that’s not something that I was really anticipating. So I think just immediately getting this very warm reception from a few people to my idea and knowing that your classmates at business school saw your venture as like something they wanted to help with, definitely is heartwarming. So that really gave me the confidence that, okay, if I try this thing, it’s not like I’ll be scrutinized or judged. People will only like actually … Not only, but a lot of people actually want to help and want to see me be successful with this.

And so my roommate actually helped me get it started and we got people to sign up. And then I think the thing that really surprised me is after I started writing this, it really took off. I remember checking those MailChimp numbers every day, and I guess taking off as maybe an exaggeration as we were just at Kellogg, this was local only for Kellogg students, but I think seeing the numbers grow pretty quickly from at first just like 25 people in a class I was into over a thousand people every day, and every day I could see that like 80 to 90% of people or more were opening this thing and reading it, that’s when I realized, “Oh, this does have some legs and people are enjoying this.”

And for a long time, I was the only writer on this and this led to two learnings for me. One was, I was trying to do too much by myself. It’s so important to have a team. For a long time I would write everything myself. And so I basically had no free time at business school for a long time, because I would write in between classes, people would go out and have fun at night. Business school is very social. There’s a lot of social opportunities, and instead I was home writing this thing and just doing it on my own. It was really kind of exhausting, but I was so excited. I just didn’t even notice the time going by, but it led me to the realization that it is important to have a team and doing everything by yourself is not great.

So eventually I did get a team and that was a much more sustainable model where I had a classmate who wrote Tuesdays and another one who wrote Thursdays, and then I got to the point actually where I was just editing and I didn’t have to write any of the days. So that was a good learning, good to have people on your team and not try to do every single thing by yourself. The other learning for me though that I think it’s kind of interesting is, I was more focused on the content part than the business part.

I started to realize that what I really enjoyed was less the piece around trying to like make the scale and grow the business, but I was actually most interested in the product side of things, the content creation, the design. Creating the actual experience for people, I think that’s the part where I was really feeling creative every day and I realized I was focused on that so much that it was not really going to become a scalable business or really a business at all if I was really spending all of my time just on this creative content part. I was kind of over-rotated in that direction and I need to start thinking more about the business aspect of this as well.

Mike Raab (21:56):

I was going to say just from what you were saying earlier, it seems like you were really excited and passionate about creating this content and writing it, and like you mentioned earlier, the service journalism aspect of it of helping people out and especially when they are people that you know or that you go to school with. As you had this realization that maybe you didn’t want to start putting ads into it or charge a subscription fee, what did you think about as far as like how to make a business or instead of just a hobby of this?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (22:29):

Yes. So I did start to think about monetizing it because I realized I loved working on this so much. I thought, wow, this would be amazing if afterschool I could do something like this full-time. And so I started to think through what would be some different models where that could work. So one model for example could be that this expands to other schools. So maybe Northwestern undergrad has this, maybe business school at Stanford also has this, maybe this could scale.

So I first started to think about this school’s model and the way that I thought about monetizing it is there are two different things I thought of. One was, could we have some kind of sponsorships from businesses because if you’ve ever been to business school, you know that a lot of these different businesses, like maybe consulting firms, maybe like Accenture or something like that, they’re all trying to market themselves to students. Since I thought, maybe a consulting firm like McKinsey learns that there’s a thousand students who are potential employees for them who are reading this thing every day, maybe they would want to sponsor this or be the exclusive sponsor of Daybreak, and so maybe there is some kind of opportunity there.

And then the other thing I thought about was local businesses. They’re also in Evanston, for example, where Northwestern is there are so many local restaurants and I thought maybe they would want to advertise to these students and know that, that would be a great way to drive awareness with them. But what I learned is that this is so hard to scale. On the restaurant side, it was really challenging. Well, the third thing I should say in terms of these sponsorships that I thought about was really kind of this branded content opportunity. Like one that we ultimately did was with Accenture. We had the Kellogg ski trip.

And so consultants are always traveling and so Accenture did some feature in daybreak about, hear from the expert travelers who travel all the time. How should you pack your suitcase, or something like that. So we’re kind of thinking about how could we integrate the advertisers into the content, which seemed like a fun idea, but it’s ultimately really hard to scale local advertising, and one of the challenges was that with advertising and email, especially from local restaurants that are offline businesses, it’s not really easy to measure the results.

Mike Raab (24:48):

Right. Like the attribution that this customer is at their restaurant because they read it in Daybreak, the effectiveness.

Rachel Xanttopoulos (24:55):

Yeah. It’s really hard, unless you can integrate it with some kind of reservation system, or you can have some kind of coupon code or a QR code or something like that. It’s not very easy to prove to the restaurants that you actually drove any sales for this offline business. It wasn’t easy to scale this and get a lot of like consistent business. And I realized if your scale was to universities all over the place, you’re always going to have the same challenge of needing the same local businesses.

So I think at some point I realized during school that it was just going to be really tough to create a scalable product. I mean, aside from the scalability issues we’ve talked about with getting the right businesses and scaling it to other schools, even the content production, this was even if it did scale to, let’s say a hundred other schools, you would always have to have someone writing all of this content. Doing so, I think I realized that this maybe didn’t have a lot of legs as a business and that’s when I realized I might not pursue this full-time.

And I also think I became comfortable with that because at this point I had been working on it for quite some time and I was even maybe ready to like spend time on something else. And I … Let’s see. So I knew for sure I wanted to stay in media and I knew I wanted to be at the intersection of tech and media, and I saw this job at Instagram and I realized, okay, this is a great role. This is the next thing I should do. And there are a few reasons for that. So just to tell you a little bit about the job that I have now at Instagram, I work on our monetization product marketing team, working on our ads business, and there’s a lot of strategic work involved in thinking through what’s going drive the business forward, what ad products we should create, how do we really make sure this is a growing business?

And so I liked the idea of this job because it enables me to leverage, whether it’s a skillset I had from the New York Times strategy group or BCG, so I can still continue to do that strategy work that’s intellectually engaging to me and very business focused, but it’s also a media/tech organization that’s growing quite quickly and has a lot of media elements to it, and what I was especially interested in about it is … Again, where I was struggling a bit with Daybreak was figuring out how to monetize it and I thought, well, again, as we talked about a little bit from my time at the New York Times, there was always this acknowledgement that Facebook really had like the best in class advertising business.

And so I thought, okay, if I ever do want to have my own media product or organization at some point, and I want to make sure that when I go back and do that, that this is really scalable and that it actually can produce a meaningful business, I thought the best thing then for me to learn next is from the basically one of the best digital advertising companies in the world. How can I really learn to monetize a scalable media business?

Mike Raab (27:58):

I was going to say, and it sounds like this was intentional, but it was interesting that your struggle with Daybreak was figuring out how to monetize content and scale it, and your role now at Instagram is monetizing content. And it also sounds like that was intentional because maybe one day down the line, you’ll start another media company and you want to have learned from like the best in class of how best to do that.

Rachel Xanttopoulos (28:24):

That’s right.

Mike Raab (28:24):

That’s great. I’m curious. Did Daybreak come up at all in your interviews with Instagram?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (28:31):

A little bit. I think there were fewer questions about the Daybreak product itself and what I was hoping to do with it, but I think there was some acknowledgement that I was interested in media and interested in news, and I think some of the questions I was asked, what I would do in working at Instagram or what my ideas were, I think were based on some understanding that I was attempting to work in this media monetization area already and that this was a space I was passionate about.

Mike Raab (29:00):

Yeah. And so I think I know the answer to this question based on the answer to that one, but was working on Daybreak a worthwhile venture for your time on business school even though you didn’t scale to work on it full-time after school?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (29:13):

Oh, absolutely. No question. Daybreak brought me so much joy and I mean, there were so many benefits. One was, I was proud that I made the effort to actually try to do something on my own and spent that time experimenting. I think that’s really valuable time that now as I’m so busy in my full-time job, I definitely would not have had kind of the same time on the side or just even the same kind of feeling like this low pressure and being able to the freedom I think to experiment without much risk. So I’m really glad that I kind of tried that out.

And then also Daybreak enabled … I mean, this is specific to Daybreak, but Daybreak enabled me to meet so many people, because I was always doing these interviews for Daybreak or meeting a community. I really felt like I got to know a lot of my classmates, a lot of professors, a lot of people in the administration, and so for the community that I ended up with. And then I think just hearing all the comments from people that sometimes I still get today like, “Oh, I love Daybreak. That really made my day.” That feels really gratifying to know that maybe I made some people’s day just a little bit better during that time is a really great feeling.

Something that’s amazed me about Daybreak is it has lived on at Kellogg’s since I left. I graduated in 2017 and I remember just a couple months ago in September, the start of the school year for 2020, it was popping into my inbox again, which I couldn’t believe. So somehow at Kellogg it’s managed to stay constant and it lives on which really amazes me, but I think that’s probably pretty hard to do in a scalable way at multiple institutions.

Mike Raab (30:56):

That’s amazing that your legacy lives on. That’s great to hear. And so last question for you. What would your advice be for a young Rachel who’s still in school, and maybe two different questions here. One is thinking about trying to start her own company, and second, who wants to work at a company like Instagram one day?

Rachel Xanttopoulos (31:21):

Good question. For someone who wants to start your own business, I would say don’t be afraid to tell people your few things. One, don’t be afraid to tell people your idea. I think I was really shy about articulating to anyone that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial. Maybe it was imposter syndrome. I think I felt like people would judge me or laugh at my idea. I think when a lot of people have these ideas, they’re probably a little bit outside the box and that’s what makes them special. But don’t be afraid to tell people in your community about that idea because chances are they will actually help you and want to support you.

And then for someone who wants to work at Instagram, my advice would be to just continue to follow your passions and continue to work on things that are interesting to you. There’s no one set path that will make somebody a good … There’s no cookie-cutter mold really for working at Facebook, which I think is great. So I think just follow your own passion, get the experience that you are interested in and that you think is valuable and chances are, if you’re still interested to work at Instagram and Facebook, that experience probably applies in some way.

I think I wouldn’t try to see that job as this North star that then you have to take a certain path to get to. You’ll find that there are people who work at Instagram and Facebook who have public policy backgrounds, who are engineers, who were like me and were liberal arts majors in college. People who have started their own businesses and decided instead to go corporate and some people leave and come back. It’s really very fluid. So I wouldn’t say you need to feel like you need to pursue just one specific path or there’s anything you have to do in order to be able to join Instagram.

Mike Raab (33:15):

I think that’s great advice and a great place to end. So thank you so much, Rachel, for being with us.

Rachel Xanttopoulos (33:21):

Thank you.

Mike Raab (33:23):

If there’s one lesson I would take away from Rachel, it’s how she’s guided by her interests and passions, not any specific title company or job. Her interest in having a positive impact on people and working in the media industry draws straight line through her career, and were especially expressed in Daybreak, the company she founded as a business school student that lives on to this day. I hope you heed her advice that there is no one set path, and that instead of the destination, you should focus on getting the experiences that you are interested in and passionate about.

How I Got Here as a podcast from the Garage at Northwestern and is produced by Melissa Kaufman, Ben Williams and Elisabeth Wright. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate and review us on your favorite podcast platform.


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