Amanda Armstrong, Founder of Athari, joins us to share her story of developing the skills to climb the ranks in sales and how to give back once you’ve earned your stripes.
Connect With Amanda:
Joseph Fung: Hi, I’m Joseph Fung and I am so excited to have Amanda Armstrong with us today. Amanda is a speaker, a coach. She’s the founder of Atari. Amanda, thank you for joining us.
Amanda Armstrong: Thank you for having me.
Joseph Fung: Oh, I’m so jazzed. I know that we’ve got some fun stuff to cover. But maybe we could start off with some kind of fundamentals. I know this show isn’t about pitching but maybe you could share what’s the one sentence elevator pitch for you and your company?
Amanda Armstrong: Sure. So my name is Amanda. I am the founder of Athari, Athari coaches and empowers women to find their dream jobs, build purpose driven careers and achieve their greatest potential. So we do both career coaching and sales coaching.
Joseph Fung: Considering that we are looking to help inform and inspire people in their career journeys, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have you on our show for our first guests. This is so exciting.
Amanda Armstrong: Thank you. I’m excited also,
Joseph Fung: For sharing your story, maybe you could start us off at the proverbial start. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
Amanda Armstrong: I grew up born and raised in Toronto around Yeah, in St. Clair area. So right in the heart of the city. I went to school in London, Ontario Western University, and I studied business and specialized in entrepreneurship at the Richard Ivey School of Business.
Joseph Fung: Oh, fantastic. Now, you studied entrepreneurship, but you didn’t start off by founding your own company, right?
Amanda Armstrong: No, I did not. I actually spent 10 years working on women’s entrepreneurship programs in East Africa and the Caribbean and working with startups and social enterprises before becoming a full time entrepreneur myself.
Joseph Fung: Oh, wow. So a lot of people make the mistake of thinking their first role their first job sets the course of their their career and that it’s a kind of an inevitable direction. Maybe you could share a little bit about what what’s your first job? You know, what, what was the first step
that you took because you came out of school.
Amanda Armstrong: So the first job out of school, I mean, just like most students and young people in recent grads, it’s it’s tough. It’s not easy finding that first job figuring out what you’re passionate about figuring out how to successfully navigate, navigate the job, search and land that opportunity. My first job out of school was working with a small nonprofit called the Canadian foundation for AIDS research out of Toronto. It was actually a nonprofit that I had initially volunteered with in high school. And so how I landed that opportunity was through a connection of mine through you know, I already knew someone because I volunteered with them and they offered me a position there.
Joseph Fung: This is such a great, great story because earlier you shared a bit about that idea of not for profits and selling and and we usually ask the question, how did you get into sales, but you’ve, you’ve got a different story there. Maybe you could share a bit more about how that not for profit experience really was sales experience?
Amanda Armstrong: So the most interesting thing about sales is that no one really introduced me to sales. No one really talked to me about sales as a potential career opportunity. I went to business school and it was either marketing, consulting, accounting or finance, sales was never an option. And so I never knew sales really existed. And I didn’t really know anything about careers in sales. I worked at the Canadian foundation for AIDS research for six months and three months was calling high schools. It was cold, calling high schools across Canada and trying to get them to participate in our HIV AIDS campaign. So that was my first introduction. sales. Although I did not know it was sales until, you know, 5, 6, 7 years later.
Joseph Fung: So I love that journey. You know that that kind of late realization, but you’ve also had a very successful career in what we would constantly call a sales rule. I’ll come back to that. But, you know, you spoke a little bit about that aha moment realizing that was sales, you know, was that the most surprising or is there something else that you think was the most surprising part of your career in sales?
Amanda Armstrong: Most recently, I worked at a tech startup called HiMama in downtown Toronto, and the fast growing tech startup in the early childhood education industry. I think the and that was my more, I would say, traditional sales role that I worked in for the past four years. I would say what surprised me the most or what, what made me the most passionate about sales is the impact in the value. So you know, sales is one of those roles, where you really are making a massive impact on the company and the industry. And you know your customers and there’s so much value that you have to bring to the table, you’re bringing in, you know, a tremendous amount of money that pays people salaries and ensures that the company can remain remain in business. And so I think the impact in the value that you have as a sales professional, is tremendous.
Joseph Fung: I love the fact that you spoke about impact and value. We were teaching a class earlier today, and one of our recruits spoke about how it was a bit of an aha, a life changing moment when they realized that sales was about delivering value to the customer in the right way, not really
about trying to jam a product down a pipeline. It sounds like you had a similar realization. Is that kind of a fair representation? Did you have a similar experience? Amanda Armstrong: 100% I worked in an industry filled with female business owners early childhood educators and mothers. So I was on the phone speaking with, you know, women all day. And it you know, it was 100% for me all about how can I support these female entrepreneurs with their daycares with their childcare centers with their small businesses? And how can I provide the greatest value to these, you know, female entrepreneurs and business owners so we can positively impact young children and families around the world.
Joseph Fung: So I know that these correct questions they weren’t on the list that I shared with you earlier. So I hope you’re okay veering into the deep end a little bit. But I’d love to hear a bit more about what that was like. Everyone always comments about how startups tech startup sales often is a heavily male dominated environment. And you just spoke so warmly about the experience you had with entrepreneurs and, and a day kind of a women led customer base and company you know, we’d love to hear a bit more around what were some of those highlights and and what stuck out to you as you reflect All those.
Amanda Armstrong: I think one of the things I loved about the company and I will say when when I first joined because things did change drastically over the three and a half years, when I first joined the company, and there were 10 of us, besides two individuals to two employees, it was 80% female. So I worked at a tech startup that was actually dominated and primarily led by women. And we worked in I would say, like a, you know, 95 to 99% female industry, early childhood education. So that was one thing that I was super passionate about, and that I really loved working at a tech
startup that was actually female dominated. However, Joseph I will say, over three and a half years as we grew from 10 to 100 people, unfortunately, it dropped from about 80% female to probably closer to 50% female. So you know, there were growing pains included in that but very proud of, very grateful to work in a female dominated industry at a tech startup.
Joseph Fung: But still, I mean, maintaining that 50% is quite remarkable in this space where a lot of companies sit at 20 and below so still, you know, hats off to the team at at maintaining it, although you’re not quite at that full 80% still a much stronger position that a lot of other similar companies.
Amanda Armstrong: Yeah, for sure. I think there’s there’s challenges for women working in sales, I will say that I saw across the board, a lot of women tend to undervalue themselves undersell themselves, they face imposter syndrome, anxiety and really like doubt themselves and their ability and their capabilities. So I think I really saw that in sales and people’s performance was the women would really face additional challenges and greater challenges when it came to confidently
communicating and confidently selling and believing in themselves.
Joseph Fung: You Do a lot of coaching with sales reps and entrepreneurs and the like. Are there any specific recommendations that you generally make that that our audience might value?
Amanda Armstrong: I mean, first of all, working with a coach is fantastic because coaches are your personal cheerleader. We’re here to lift you up. We’re here to challenge you. We’re here to help you with your mindset to ensure that you can overcome challenges of imposter syndrome and insecurities and self doubt. Reading books really transformed my life and my career and my mindset. So you know, there’s a great book called Mindset by Carol Dweck, which is fantastic. There’s a ton of other great sales books, The Challenger Sale was really good, To Sell Is Human was pretty good. So I think reading sales books, reading mindset books, and being surrounded by other really inspirational people helped me to achieve really great levels of success in sales and in my entire career.
Joseph Fung: Now, I spend the rest of our time speaking about this because help the women that you borrow and in the tech industry and in the sales space is a big passion of mine. But I want to make sure we don’t lose the time to also tell your story. So we may come back to some of that. But I’d like to bring it back to you for a moment if that’s okay. All right. Awesome. Now, you mentioned something earlier, that idea of helping women in particularly have the confidence to, you know, pursue that sales career to put themselves out there. And you shared something with me earlier about that learning opportunity and learning how to ask for what you want and chase that prize. Could you share a little bit for us, you know, where where did you learn that? What was that experience like and what was that in your journey?
Amanda Armstrong: I feel like this may have stemmed from early childhood education potentially in my parents, and you know, my parents gave me a lot of freedom and independence and they really didn’t hold my hand. I would say like, they really let me let me be Free in a lot of ways and
encouraged me to be independent to move away for university to be on my own, you know, to be financially independent and you know, cut me off from their, from their their bill after graduating all of that. So I think maybe it stemmed from my parents, but I actually worked with a friend who was a coach of mine. And in her coaching program, she talks about asking for what you want. And a lot of women don’t do this. And so I started, I started asking for what I want, and I started speaking up and as I became more confident in my career, I really you know, did not hold back on being honest and open about my beliefs and my values and my goals and my what I want it so yes, I think my parents I think the coach that I worked with, and I think working in sales, I learned a ton about negotiation.
Joseph Fung: On on that on that negotiation on the learning sales, when you speak to people who have considered you Using a coach or I haven’t, one of the things I’ve heard often is people say, Well, I say have a really been as successful in their careers. And you have, I mean, not only are you running your own company, but you shared a bit around that journey from being an average rep to the top sales rep. You know, maybe you can share a bit about that journey, because that’s such a unique path. And I think such a testament to you know, how that approach can yield dividends.
Amanda Armstrong: I think the important thing for every single young person and every single person out there that is getting into sales or building a career in sales, it’s really important to know and that we all started somewhere and we all experienced failure, sales if that’s that’s what you do in sales, you experience failure more than if you experience success. So my journey I didn’t start off as the top sales rep. I didn’t start off bringing in thousands of dollars every month to the company. I started off as an average performer. I had challenges I spent the first year average and then not hitting my targets month after month and then being put on a performance improvement plan. And then eventually after about a year and a half, I started getting ridiculously good at sales and you know, product knowledge and industry knowledge and, you know, communication skills, negotiation, consulting, selling with confidence. So it was a journey, it was a journey, and it took a lot of investment in my personal development, my professional development, reading books, participating in training, investing in coaches. So it was a journey and everyone experienced that failure. And even when you are a top sales rep, you still experienced failure. But mindset played a big role in that hustle played a big role in that and you know, constant learning and development.
Joseph Fung: So looking back at that, I mean, those challenges are clear. And, you know, you can hear it in terms of the, the way you described it as your voice. So if you were looking Looking back at yourself, say 10 years ago, you know, what’s one piece of advice you’d give past-Amanda?
Amanda Armstrong: So this when I thought about this question, actually, I was thinking about something else. I was thinking more about my mindset around money, but I think that’s real nails. So when it was 10 years ago, I was a young, passionate student, you know, graduate, recent graduate, and all I wanted to do was something that I was passionate about, even if that meant volunteering, even if that meant taking an unpaid internship, even if that meant taking an opportunity abroad, where I just received a stipend. So I really sacrifice money early on, and I thought, Oh, I’m not I’m not a greedy person. I don’t need money. I just want to do something that I’m passionate about. And what I would tell myself 10 years ago is that money isn’t a bad thing. And that, you know, we can use money as a force for good and that I really believe in financial freedom and financial empowerment. And I think a lot of again, young women hold themselves back, even from a financial perspective and a success perspective, because they think Oh no, I’m good where I am and I’m okay and I don’t need I don’t need more money. But the reality is that money can really like help us make an impact in the world and as a social entrepreneur as a purpose driven professional. With money that means we have the opportunity to you know, invest in the charities that we want to invest in or the small businesses support our parents support family members, and do the good in the world that we are really passionate about. And I think again, women face often face imposter syndrome and insecurities and self doubt. So we hold ourselves back and we tell ourselves, oh, you know, the salary is enough for we you know, we’re just starting out so we don’t deserve anything more than a 35 k base. salary, but what I would like to tell myself 10 years ago is that you deserve a lot more than what you are getting. And that you deserve to have money, you know, to be able to pay rent and save for the future and traveled the world and you know, do good do all the good in the world that I want to do.
Joseph Fung: I love that clarity, you know, you deserve more. That’s that’s so, so powerful. Hey, journeys as much around you know, where someone came from to where they’re heading. So, you know, almost almost last question for you. If you think about where you’re going, you know what’s something you would hope to concrete congratulate future Amanda for?
Amanda Armstrong: Yeah, so Joseph, there’s two things I’m really passionate about that I am on a journey to achieve right now through my business authority. One thing is around meaningful employment. So of course coaching and impact And women to achieve their greatest success that that is my number one thing, but I also hope to grow and to scale my business so that I can actually create jobs and create meaningful employment, not only for heat people here in Canada, but for people in Kenya and for other parts of the world where unemployment rates are a lot higher, you know, especially with COVID-19 right now. I mean, unemployment is you know, on a on a rise at an all time high, everyone being laid off. So my one of my biggest goals is to be able to create jobs. And the third goal is access to education. So our Athari’s a social enterprise and we provide scholarships for talented students in Kenya that are not able to access to education for financial reasons. So what I want to congratulate myself for is for creating, you know, hundreds of jobs for amazing young people and young women around the world and for providing students you know, with the opportunity To attend school.
Joseph Fung: I’m so excited to see that feature. And I’m so excited for in that future when I could say hey, we interviewed Amanda when that’s such a great vision. I love it. Thank you. I want to wrap up with some rapid fire questions if that’s cool, yeah, do it. Okay, so some fast ones. We’ll keep them short. But again, wrapping up and getting an idea of who Amanda is. Let’s start off with what’s your favorite sales tool?
Amanda Armstrong: The phone?
Joseph Fung: Love it. And oh, man for that cold calling experience. That’s bang on. Okay. What’s your favorite movie?
Amanda Armstrong: Step brothers.
Joseph Fung: Such a great choice. Oh, I can’t wait to hear all the other answers to and when you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Amanda Armstrong: I want to be a professional soccer player and an actress.
Joseph Fung: Love it. Ah, this has been so fantastic. Amanda, thank you so much for joining us. I’ve enjoyed this conversation so much and I’m so looking forward to that. Next time that we chat!
Amanda Armstrong: thank you so much for having me Joseph. It was so nice chatting with you and, you know so grateful to be a part of it.
Joseph Fung: Awesome. You take care. Hope you have a wonderful day.
Amanda Armstrong: Thank you