17th May 2018
I Can Be... a Sales Person
I Can Be meets Georgia Steele Matthews, Head of International Sales at PixelPin, a cyber security start-up in London.
You work in sales and technology. How did you end up in those industries and is it something you always wanted to do?
No, it wasn’t what I always wanted to do or thought I would do. I graduated with a degree in English Literature, but I’m also a trained actor. I did puppetry and I’ve done pantomimes with school children, but I was always interested in technology. After graduation, I found it hard that as an actor I’d be elevated at one point on a really big job and then have to wait a long time before the next opportunity came along. I saw business and technology as a way to get that progression, so I started looking for jobs in cyber security.
I come from a family of very strong females who have sold all their lives. My grandmother ran her own newsagents and was really enterprising, so I knew that selling was something I could do. Sales also gave me the chance to perform.
It’s really interesting that you make the comparison between the performance as an actor and as a sales person. Was that something you were expecting or something you discovered?
I didn’t expect it, but you put on your business hat and you can speak to anyone. It enables you to be confident because, no matter what you might be feeling first thing in the morning, when you take on that role on you can go out and do the job well.
aside from Indulging your love of performing, What are the other benefits of working in sales and technology?
You get very good at communicating, not just in terms of selling, but in speaking to people from all walks of life. Cyber security affects everyone, so I go into schools, banks, businesses and speak to people and those interpersonal skills will help me to learn from them. I also love learning and selling involves doing a lot of research. I look up all of the latest threat reports and find out about database breaches and data hacks. I can watch the news and bring those stories into meetings because cyber security is so relevant to the world.
Working in sales can also lead you into other roles. It’s a great starting place for anyone that wants to go into business because once you have that skill you can transform and transfer that into a managerial role. I started off as a sales executive and now I manage a team. Because you’ve started from ground zero and worked your way up you can help people in your team to progress too.
You said that fast progression was important to you, how long did it take you to work your way up to being a manager?
Two and a half years, which is quick. This is one advantage of working for a start-up. We have a small team of about 15 at the moment, and I would advise anyone who wants to start out in business and has a go-getter attitude to try working at a start-up. It gives you so much space and creativity to go into work and say, ‘I want to learn about this’ or ‘I want to do that’, and you’ll be given that opportunity to further yourself. You can work in a small team where every single person makes a difference. It’s a great place to explore who you are now and who you want to be.
Are there any drawbacks to your job?
It's very independent and you have to be prepared to take risks. Sometimes that can be very scary but I’ve found that whilst that could be a drawback it can also be an advantage as sometimes you take a risk and it really pays off.
One of the scariest things I’ve ever done was in the first three months after I joined PixelPin. I was offered the opportunity to go and pitch our product at an event in Taiwan at the Academy of Banking and Finance. I had no experience of speaking to banks and I’d never been to Asia. I hadn’t even been on a plane by myself for a few years! I had to do a 30-minute pitch that was translated into Taiwanese live in the lecture theatre and I was absolutely scared rigid, but I did it. It changed the way that I thought and felt about myself. Those experiences help you realise you’re actually much stronger than you think and that you can grow as a person.
So by embracing something that could be a drawback it became a really positive experience. What other highlights have there been in your career so far?
In January I was invited to breakfast at Downing Street for a meeting about exporting to Japan. Going to Downing Street was scary enough and going up the staircase past all of the Prime Ministers’ pictures was terrifying. I was meeting ministers and peers and walking into the room and finding myself as one of only two women and the youngest person by about 30-years was really scary.
But, because I’d done my homework, and I’d been to meetings with two or three of the ministers before, I walked straight in and they said “Hi Georgia, nice to see you.” Everyone in the room turned around to look, as if to say, ‘Who is this girl?’. Sometimes when you walk in as a young woman you get an interesting mixed reaction from people and I overcame that. They didn’t know how hard I had worked to prepare and they under-estimated me, so that felt like a major achievement.
I’m going to a meeting at Buckingham Palace next week, which will be another milestone. PixelPin is part of the alumni at an event called Pitch@Palace, where people can pitch ideas for different businesses. We’re going back to offer advice and talk to people about what we do. Those are big events, but the little things can be amazing too.
When I first starting working in this role, our head of sales was an avid skydiver. He rang me on a Sunday night and said that he had broken his foot during a sky dive. We had a huge meeting the next morning with a multinational systems integrator and we were the only two people going. I called our CEO and blubbered down the phone. I told him I couldn’t do the meeting alone and he said, “You’re going.” I told him I couldn’t go alone, what if I failed? He said, “If you walk to the edge of the cliff you’ve got two options. When you jump off the cliff you will either fall and die or you’re going to fly. You’re going to fly.” I did the meeting on my own and the company is still one of our clients today. I still get butterflies thinking about it, because it was such a big step for someone with very little experience, but through support from my boss I was able to go in and do it.
Sometimes there’s a conception of sales as being a very masculine profession, almost aggressive. Is that something you’ve found and do you think being a woman has affected your career?
Entering the room as a woman in this industry can be a challenge. One of the questions that unfortunately still sometimes gets asked is “Who’s the boss here?”, as though it wouldn’t be you. That happened a lot more when I first started in sales and I think there is a misconception and a perception amongst the older generation that sales should be left to the men.
There is also a misconception of sales as being very aggressive. In my experience the sales people who are aggressive might have a few quick wins, but they won’t have long-lasting, positive relationships with their clients. You need to listen and work with people rather than bullishly attack and actually that’s where the female sales people I’ve worked with have a big strength over the guys. Most of them go 110 percent further than some men do to build those relationships, understand their clients and get more deals from them.
If you didn’t work in sales, would acting have always been your plan B?
Acting was always plan A! I grew up thinking I would act and I think I will always be performing in whatever role I do. It’s a passion that I still have, but I can exercise it through arts and culture at the weekends and in my personal life.
Young people might be surprised to hear how different skills and passions link to a myriad of jobs.
Absolutely. At school, I also went down the arts and English route. I thought I wanted to be a singer, or an actor, or be on the stage. My school never really introduced me to the idea that there were other things out there that I could do with that passion for performance. My teachers would have laughed their heads off if they’d been told I’d go into business. They thought I was destined for acting and Shakespeare, but acting is such a transferable skill.
If you’re good at English, you can write fantastic reports. If you’re good at maths, you can understand the statistics you need in a sales role. If you’re good at science, you could be a founder. All of our founders are engineers and have come from a science background. Our CEO has a degree in chemistry and now runs a cyber security company. It’s all about expanding your mind to think that you can use your skills for so many different things. That’s what I Can Be is doing, which is awesome!
What advice would you give to any young women who were looking to get into a similar role to yours in technology or sales?
I think there’s a misconception about women in business. We should take inspiration from women on television, people like Baroness Brady from The Apprentice. Take those women who are out there and look at how hard they are working. For kids in secondary school, it’s easy to see how successful they are. Karren Brady is a great example because she’s the Vice-Chairman of West Ham Football Club, a business that is overwhelmingly male, but she does it so well. I can’t say it’s not a battle, but it’s great to have a challenge and if you’re strong you can do it.
Don’t be afraid, be fearless. Never ever think that you are not worthy of anything in this world. That’s something my grandmother, who is 89 tomorrow, has always said. Anyone can do anything. You need to work hard, enjoy life and just go for it.