Startup Career Spotlight: Hannah Zhang


We’re back with another Startup Career Spotlight Series. Today, we’re talking with Hannah Zhang. Hannah is currently Enterprise and Sales Development at Mural. Hannah graduated from Carleton University in Civil Engineering and holds a Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE) from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University. She is fluent in English, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), and Bitmojis! We talked with Hannah on her compelling career path and how she got in sales and went all the way to San Francisco.

Can you talk about your career path and where you are today?

I am an engineering grad from Carleton University and recently completed the MMIE program at Smith. I was pretty lost after finishing engineering, I knew that I love using the engineering systems and design thinking and applying that to real-world problems (Engineers Without Borders inspired me a lot throughout my undergraduate in this). I pivoted my job hunt to start ups and was a finalist in Venture for Canada, that’s where I learned about Queen’s MMIE program that is joint with the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. I wasn’t even planning on graduate school but knew I had to check it now and went through all the application process, after the interview to learn more about the program, I was so drawn to it and wanted to pursue it. I actually got an acceptance offer before Venture for Canada didn’t take me in as a cohort that year. But it’s the greatest thing that happened to me because of that extra year of personal development and growth at Queen’s. I met some of the greatest and inspiring people there, gained a global network of alumni both from Smith and Queen’s, automatically have new friends when I moved to SF! I got amazing career and program coaches that always knew how to ask the right questions, a process I learned to be more self-aware today. I learned from the best faculty members with many interesting backgrounds and industry experts that came to do talks and really got a great overview of startups and corporate innovation.

Now I am MURAL helping enterprises accelerated their design thinking, lean and agile transformations. We make remote design work, our digital whiteboards empower modern teams to visually explore complex challenges and collaborate on researching, brainstorming and designing ideas. MURAL is currently being used globally by clients like IBM, Steelcase, IDEO, Autodesk, Stanford GSB, Intuit, Trello and more.

The main lesson I learned is to be ok with rejections, and believe that it will always lead you to the next-best thing. I mean if you go back and erase all your mistakes in the past, you wouldn’t be who you are today. You should always be grateful for who you are today.

How did you make the leap to land in San Francisco?

I am extremely passionate about the intersection of business, design and technology. Huge nerd on design thinking and IDEO inspired me a lot throughout school. A lot of the design related things I researched was based in SF, so I reached out to the only person I knew working here back. She was a mentor/friend and just someone that inspired me overall, she was a guest speaker at a Women in Tech event at Carleton. She encouraged me to come visit for a week to just experience what it’s like and set-up as many coffee chats as I can to learn more about different career paths. So I flew to SF in March and talk to as many people as I can and visited tech companies for one week, I met software engineers, product managers, entrepreneurs, VCs, designers to get career advice. Great Canadian and university alumni communities out here and I am so thankful for all the kind people willing to give back their time to a student to share their experiences since they all went through something similar. That whole trip inspired me so much that I knew I wanted to go back to launch my career in SF. I reached out to my current manager now to tell my story, education background and passion for design thinking and eventually they took me.

What inspired you to get into sales and business development?

Back in school, everyone wanted to get recruited in the big names or go into consulting or finances and sales or biz development at a startup weren’t exactly the most popular option for people to consider. But if you have that entrepreneurial bug in you, sales would be a great way to learn about a lot of things, especially at a startup.You get to touch many things, interact with your end users, understand your customers, give feedback to the product team, problem solve. You get to learn a lot of skills in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship world.

We have many students and recent grads in the community. What advice do you have when it comes to careers?

Do your own thing and embrace in what you believe in. Don’t go down a path or feel like you “need to” do something or be somewhere just because everyone else around you are or seem to have it all figured out. You are the only person that truly know what you want and what feels right. So just keep doing what you believe in and eventually, everything will click when you go backwards to connect the dots. The worst thing you can do when you’re young is not to take any risks or play it safe, and look back ask yourself what ifs and it’s actually a hard but brave thing to do. Get curious, reach out to talk to people, and try things!

For someone who is completely new to sales but is looking break into sales what advice do you have?  

Be part of a team/product that you strongly believe in and all your passion and excitement will show! Remember that you’re not “selling”, you are helping people in need solve problems.

What are some of your favorite books and resources in sales?

A more beautiful question (book) and learn from others the industry and found some insights and try new things.

What challenges do you think startups face when it comes to sales?

Adapting to change personally or in the market, and also know your customers well individually and help them get to impact. 

How do you stay motivated?

I would ask myself why I started something in the first place and surround myself with a community of people that will motivate and believe in me. There will be a lot of no’s out there but sometimes you just need one yes. 🙂 I like to listen to TedTalks or read about a new topic I am interested in, and try something new often in my life.

What is the best advice you have gotten?

This is a hard one since I received many great advices from a lot of amazing people. The one that came to my mind is “Have a plan, but also be ready to throw that plan away.”