It’s not often customer service inquiries turn into dream jobs, but for Katie Mundo that’s exactly what happened. Katie shares how she went from working at a small bank in Oklahoma (and a Birchbox admirer) to managing their brand development in New York City. She tells us how she got the job, what her schedule looks like and what key elements played a role in her success. Enjoy!
Instagram Handle: @k8mundo
Location: I work in NYC, but live in NJ
Occupation: Brand Development Manager at Birchbox
University: Villanova University
Secretly Obsessed With: Dogs and pizza. Also obsessed with keeping my skin looking youthful and radiant!
On My Nightstand: Jurlique Rosewater Balancing Mist and C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve, a Diptyque candle
Last Thing You Read: Something Blue by Emily Giffin (for the second time – it’s one of my favorites!)
How did you get started?
I was a Birchbox subscriber for a while before I ever got my first job at the company. I admired the company’s mission, light-heartedness and woman-driven business. I once placed an order from their e-commerce shop that had a slight issue, so I ended up contacting customer service for help. I had been checking their career site often to see if there were any openings, and I went out on a limb and asked the customer service representative if she would forward my resume along to the recruiting team.
To my surprise, she actually did send it directly over and I got an email the next day asking to set up an interview. Just a few weeks later, after many phone calls and Skype interviews, I got the job! I started at the company working on the Customer Operations team as a Discovery Specialist. Our team was mainly responsible for answering all customer inquiries and helping them navigate the Birchbox experience. Through this position, I developed a whole slew of skills from learning how to be humble and patient when hearing out a customer’s frustrations and concerns, to managing and executing team-based and cross-team spread projects. In my first role, I also learned more about the startup culture and learned to adjust to the fast-paced, ever-changing environment.
How did you work your way up to Brand Design Manager?
After a year on the Customer Ops team, I wanted to learn more about the other external-facing side of the business, and moved to the Brand Partners team. As a Campaign Strategist on the Brand Partners team, I interacted directly with numerous brands (both big and small) and helped both strategize and execute multi-channel marketing campaigns. All during this time, and even before my time at Birchbox, I’ve had a strong passion and interest for beauty products and development, so I was eagerly looking for ways I could get involved with the Brand and Product Development team.
While still in my Campaign Strategist position, I was promoted to manager and spent time working with hair and fragrance specific brands. The right opportunity then arose after a year on the Brand Partners, and I ended up being the right candidate for the manager role on the Brand Development team. At this point, I had just about 6 years working experience, 2 of those years being at Birchbox. I had finally found the role I was meant to be in, and have been loving my job every since my transition.
What was it like to leap from banking to Birchbox?
Before Birchbox, I was actually living in a small town in Oklahoma with my then boyfriend (now husband), and working at a local bank. There were only around 15 employees at the bank, so it was very small! I had worked in corporate NYC before moving out to OK, so I was eager to get back into that environment after working at the bank. What was new to me, was working at a startup where nothing is routine and there’s something new happening everyday. I still maintained that customer-facing aspect in my first Birchbox role, but it was NOTHING like I had experienced prior. Overall, I was excited for the leap and ready for a new, exciting, challenging career.
Tell us about your daily routine.
Not sure I can really give you my daily routine, because no day is the same! As for outside of work, I try and run in the mornings when I can to squeeze in some exercise. Then I commute into Manhattan from NJ and usually get to work around 9:30am. When at the office, I catch up on emails from the evening before and quickly look at sales reports and online reviews of certain brands and products I work on. I’m lucky enough to sit right next to my manager, so we are constantly collaborating and chatting about things that are going on.
At Birchbox we live and die by an organizational, project managing program called Asana, so I will make sure to check that and follow up on any project tasks that are assigned to me. We also use Google applications a ton, especially Drive for documents and sheets (excel), so I pretty much always have a million tabs open on my browser and I’m constantly updating these docs and sheets for upcoming meetings and such. At Birchbox, we like to brainstorm and collaborate face to face, so I usually have a handle of meetings on my calendar where we discuss upcoming brand launches and campaigns. In between all of this, the Product Development team is constantly giving me new hair and makeup products to test and try, which is the most fun part of my job. (I’ve been at Birchbox almost 3 years now, and I can’t tell you how many products I’ve accumulated!)
During the week I usually have a couple of phone interviews sprinkled into my schedule, and I love speaking with potential candidates about my experience at the company as well as why they want to work at Birchbox. Often times I have larger meetings scheduled out a couple of weeks where I might be presenting, so I like to throw on my headphones for an hour or two and dive into outlining and putting together my presentation or notes. Some days all of the things I mentioned happen, and some days are fully dedicated to brand launch preparation and strategizing – but that’s what makes everyday interesting and challenging!
What key elements played into your success?
When thinking about this question, there were a few elements that really stuck out in my head. The first was refocusing and really thinking about what I wanted out of a career. There have been times throughout my professional career where I really just felt lost and couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do – and I felt scared of the unknown. I didn’t just want any old job, I wanted a career where I could grow and thrive. Whenever I felt this way, I would spend a lot of time reflecting on what I’ve done up till that point, and refocus my mind on what I really wanted for myself. (Note: NEVER think that you are trapped in a job, company or career path – you can always make a change, even if you have to start from the beginning. Especially if it’s affecting your mental and physical health – it’s not worth it.)
The second key element was speaking up and going for what I wanted. There were times when I felt afraid and nervous to express my interest in another position, or that I wasn’t senior enough for a promotion. And then there’s always the awkward, intimidating pay raise talk. But then I realized, no one is just going to hand me all the things I want – I have to go after it. If I hadn’t spoken up and voiced my desires, I never would have gotten my current position, a promotion or a raise. That’s not to say that all these things don’t happen naturally after hard work and dedication. But sometimes, if your manager or superior feel that you’re comfortable with the way things are, then changes won’t necessarily happen.
What’s the best piece of advice you received?
So I’m going to get pretty specific, because I’ve received a lot of great advice over the years but this piece really impacted me the most directly. As long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with public speaking. I never took theatre and always would rather write the paper instead of present to the class in group projects. However, you can’t always avoid presentations in a professional career. I felt like my fear stunted my career growth and progress, so I made excelling in public speaking a professional goal. I communicated this goal to my manager, and the piece of advice he gave me, the little nugget I will carry on through the years was…”fake it till you make it.”
Now, this isn’t encouraging you to pretend to be something you’re not to get ahead because that will never work out well. It’s more about having the confidence that you know the most about certain material than anyone else in a room you’re presenting to. Exude this confidence, even though it might be a facade to just get you through the presentation (or let’s say, a job interview) – no one will ever know how you might be nervous as heck on the inside. And hey, if you forget a key fact or a main statistic in your presentation, it’s not the end of the world – there’s always follow up meetings and emails. With this piece of advice in mind, I’ve felt less pressure and anxiety when presenting and I’ve actually become a better presenter because of it.
What struggles did you face getting to this point?
Let’s face it, the career world can be really tough at times. I’ve encountered numerous obstacles and struggles throughout my professional career, which ultimately have made me even stronger and have taught me a great deal. Two of the biggest struggles I’ve faced are self-doubt and lack of confidence. I especially faced these struggles early on in my professional career when I was younger and first starting out. It’s only natural for young women to feel this way as they try to navigate the career world fresh out of college. Over time, I gained more confidence in myself and my capabilities and these feelings began to fade away. With experience and professional feedback, I felt that I was a success and stopped doubting myself. As young professional women, we must believe in ourselves and shoot for the stars! We all have our support systems, but only we can make things happen for ourselves.
Who was the biggest influence in your professional life?
I have had so many wonderful support systems throughout my career: my loving family, amazing friends and some really stellar coworkers. But, the biggest influence in my professional life has been my husband. He has ALWAYS had confidence in my abilities and has supported my dreams and career moves. He has challenged me and pushed me to go for what I want and be the best person I can be, both personally and professionally. He’s the hardest working, most motivated and dedicated person I know and has had a great influence on how I look at my career. Even after a rough day at work and a terrible commute, he’s there with a smile and a glass of wine, ready to talk about my day. I am so very lucky to have him in my life, and know that he will always be there to support me.
What accomplishment are you most proud of? When do you feel most successful?
I feel most successful when I’ve finished executing a major cross-team project or right after I’ve completed presenting in a meeting. At that point, I’ve completed something I’ve spent a lot of time on and worked so hard for. Whether or not the project or presentation went perfectly, I take time to reflect and congratulate myself on getting through it all. You have to revel in even the small accomplishments because otherwise you’ll feel like you’re on a hamster wheel at all times unable to reach the end goal. Of course, there will always been room for improvement on the next project or presentation, but don’t forget to take a minute and do a little fist pump.
What advice would you give to girls looking to enter your industry/space?
I hope that my interview for Mavenly has provided some good insight and advice to all who are reading! In the end, if I could leave you with two pieces of advice, it would be don’t give up and everything happens for a reason. There were so many times when I just wanted to give up, leave my current job and move to Italy, eat pizza and drink wine all day (never gunna happen – but a girl can dream!). But I stuck to it, thought about what I really wanted and strategized.
My mom used to always say to me “Kate, everything happens for a reason,” and I hated hearing that cliche. I never understood how you could live your life under that assumption. However, the older I’ve gotten and the more experiences I’ve had, I now know what she was talking about. Try and remember this advice when you get denied for an opportunity or you get a new manager that’s known for being a hardass. You will learn from these experiences and will one day look back and say to yourself “wow, it was all meant to be.” I hope you’ll write to Mavenly or me if this does happen to you because then, you have succeeded in being who you always dreamed.