We caught up with a former Changing the Conversation panelist, Carolina Velasco, to discuss her career moves since then. Follow along as Carolina, now the Business Unit Manager of Open Entrepreneurship at IT University of Copenhagen, shares the unexpected ways her sales skills helped her carve out a place for herself in a completely new, well, everything: industry, function, AND country!
Tell us about what you’re doing now, and where you’re heading…
CV: I’ve moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, and I’m working at IT University of Copenhagen (ITU) as the Business Unit Manager of Open Entrepreneurship. My responsibility is to take the research and introduce it to industry--intrapreneurs or entrepreneurs typically--with hopes that we can translate that research into spinouts or startups, and create new tech based off of that research.
Where did the Open Entrepreneurship Model come from?
CV: The OE model came after Prof. Jes Broeng had spent time at UC Berkeley learning about the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship and Bridging the Gap programs during his sabbatical. He was inspired by Cal’s methods and when he returned, he applied and was awarded a four-year grant that created a community between four Danish universities (AU, AAU, DTU and ITU) interested in increasing the number of research-led start-ups and spin-outs through industry (entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs) collaborations. Each university has its own business unit and has their own version of how they are incorporated into the university. Additionally, Open Entrepreneurship at ITU is uniquely introducing industry to researchers during their ideation and early research stages. We believe that, by receiving feedback during the earlier stages of research, we will see an increase in the utilization and impact of our researcher's research on industry and society.
How did you get to your current role?
CV: Danes are extremely well educated; not that I’m not well-educated, but I don’t have a master’s degree or speak Danish. Knowing that, I had to change the conversation and try to sell my skills in a different way. I started looking at my experience in sales, and I identified the aspects I really enjoyed about the work; it had to do a lot with process of creating trust quickly, relationship-building, connecting people and creating greater impact at scale. I also really enjoy creating awareness, communications and marketing. So, I put a few words together, created a 30-second elevator pitch, and I started pitching it to anyone who would listen (respectively anyone in tech who I could tell had a similar work values to mine). I started working the circuit, too— going to tech conferences, attending networking opportunities and asking for help and feedback from the locals. These were all aspects of sales.
When you don’t know where to go, you have to get creative. I share that because, by sharing my story often, asking for help and being open to constructive criticism from the locals, “the village helped this child find a place.” I shared with each of them what I wanted to do and how I wanted to drive impact, and lo and behold, one person said, “Oh, that makes complete sense; that’s exactly what we’re looking to do!” So, long story short, I was offered three different roles in 80 days and ended up going with the university.
How were you able to navigate this new cultural and professional landscape?
CV: Throughout years of experience in sales, you learn a lot about listening and really doing your homework. I love understanding how people think, how they work and how they make decisions. In preparation for the move, thankfully, my boyfriend introduced me to a podcast by Kay Xander Mellish: “How to Live in Denmark,” and I read books and articles about expat experiences in Denmark. I put on my anthropologist cap to learn about the culture and what things Danes are and are not comfortable with. I tried to understand who they were so that when I did come to them with this very untraditional idea, I understood the best way to communicate and influence them to at least take a coffee meeting with me. Then there was the hustle too-- following-up, and being resilient in the face of rejection, which are all sales skills, of course.
You had a great run at LinkedIn. How did your experience there provide you with a foundation for what you’re doing now?
CV: When I first started at LinkedIn, we were less than half a floor in the Empire State Building and the company was less than 3,000 people worldwide. There were still a lot of things that needed to be made from scratch. I remember one of our senior leaders saying, “Always keep members first, protect the integrity of the data that we have, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your mom to find out about.”
With values like that in place, they said, “go create.” So, that idea of going and creating something from nothing, while still achieving your quota were two things that, when I found the role at ITU, I knew were going to be important learning aspects of my role again.
Who in your life has had the greatest influence on you in your career?
CV: Different people at different times. The first person that comes to mind right now is my then boyfriend, now fiancée 😊. The reason I’m in Denmark is because of him, and he’s been unbelievably supportive. I think when you go through big changes like this, you don’t know what to expect and what’s going to happen when; there is a lot of uncertainty and it is more emotional than expected. I didn’t have many expectations, but having him as a person who was constantly translating and trying to figure out how to help me— helping me to find the information I needed and really opening up his network to provide me access to the Danes – has been unbelievably helpful. I don’t think I could have done it without him believing in what I was capable of and having faith I would figure it out even though he didn’t always fully understand what I wanted to do or why I wanted to create a role from scratch.
Why would you recommend sales as a career?
CV: When I was first offered a sales role at university, I did not want to do it. In my head, I had this idea of a “pinky ring salesman” —someone who was very manipulative, dishonest, lazy and tried to cut corners—that’s not who I am.
Through my first real corporate job, I learned there’s an art to sales. Within the first couple of months, I realized that I was a very poor listener (laughs), and all of a sudden, I started noticing that there are these basic elements of communication—listening and responding, especially digitally or in a written format —that are so crucial to building genuine relationships. I also realized that those skills and relationships could help me both in business and in my personal life.
I now have a deep respect for sales; those who do it well have really learned how to listen, ask questions, clarify, negotiate, problem-solve and communicate effectively—those are soft skills that are really taken for granted. Often, when things go my way, people will say “oh, you’re just charming,” and I eyeroll at that because what is happening is that I am actively listening to what they’re saying and taking the time to learn about them because selling isn’t about you, it is about them and their wants and needs. I genuinely love learning about people, so I’m constantly curious, and this is a skill you can develop. You use these skills whether you are dating or a parent negotiating with a teenager- these are basic everyday human skills that people often don’t realize they haven’t mastered until it is too late.