In this episode: Applonia Cornolius, Account Executive at Slack, joins us to share how you can get the most out of your time selling in a startup environment. How did she leverage her time in health and sciences when she started in tech? How can you measure growth when it comes to sales and progression? How do you overcome challenges in the tech industry? All that and more!
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In this episode: Applonia Cornolius, Account Executive at Slack, shares how you can get the most out of your time selling in a startup environment and more.
Joseph Fung: Today we’re speaking with Applonia Cornolius. She’s an Account Executive at Slack, and her story is so interesting. You’re gonna hear how she moved on from a very successful career in health and science and gave it all up in pursuit of happiness and started again at the bottom rung as a BDR at a tech startup. She’s had incredible success, and you’re gonna enjoy her journey. Stay tuned.
Welcome to seller’s journey, the podcast where we speak to great sales reps and leaders and share their real stories from start to sales success.
Joseph Fung: Hi everyone, I’m Joseph Fung, and today we are chatting with Applonia Cornolius. Applonia, how are you doing?
Applonia Cornolius: I’m great! Thanks for asking Joseph. Thanks for having me.
Joseph Fung: Thanks for joining us. I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation.
Applonia Cornolius: Me too.
Joseph Fung: so your journey starts in health and science and would love to understand you know what you studied? I understand you did your masters, you’ve had you know fantastic success, I mean watching an awful profit as well. What’s the beginning there? What’s the science background that we can share with our audience?
Applonia Cornolius: Yeah, for sure. So I grew up in Toronto. And I went to school at the University of Toronto. I double-majored in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. While I was you know a university student, I launched an offer profit for underprivileged communities in Toronto, an after-school program for kids to get them engaged in science. I was, if you were to talk to 20-something-year-old Apple, she would say, I think she would say, “I love science, science is amazing, it’s the future”, and I still believe those things. I think back then, I was definitely a huge advocate for science education. I still am. The nonprofit that I launched years ago is still going strong these days. And I couldn’t be prouder of the work that I did and the work that it’s doing today. So after I finished my undergrad, I went on to do my Masters in Biomedical Sciences specifically in Oral Microbiology, so Biofilm Formation and Disruption in Bacteria, super fun stuff, and I absolutely loved teaching as well, over at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Joseph Fung: So, I gotta get this right. You’re teaching science, you teach, you’re masters, and I mean your master’s thesis sounds so daunting. Isolating Antimicrobial and Anti Bio-Cop, I don’t even know where to start. But, and then you went on, your first role was in science and health with the University Health Network. Right?
Applonia Cornolius: Yep! And then I worked for a while over there. I absolutely love the team over the UHN and the work that they’re doing. And so, I led a team of students over there. We, what we did there was we worked on a Therapeutic for Chronic Hepatitis. And it was great work. But I was extremely bored and extremely unhappy during our period.
Joseph Fung: So let’s take into that a bit. I mean it sounds in so many ways that kind of hitting their plan you’re the undergrad, the Masters here in this career. But, you mentioned earlier that you wanted to pursue happiness. What were you experiencing? And you mentioned being unhappy working in Health and Sciences. What was going on?
Applonia Cornolius: Yeah, on the surface, of course, my parents were extremely happy during this time. My parents are immigrants from India and of course, like most Indian parents they you know I was their golden child as my brothers would say. And I would go to work, and you know do well at work I loved my co-workers, but I was, I just absolutely dreaded going to the lab. I didn’t like being so isolated. Even though yes we had a team, lab work, anyone, can tell you, can be very isolating. And can be very, very repetitive. And the work even though we were making strides it would take years before a therapeutic you know would come to fruition. So it was a tough time I was I was just so unhappy, and I knew you know the next step would be a PhD and I knew I did not want to do that. I knew I did not want to invest a PhD if I wasn’t happy doing lab work.
Joseph Fung: So, you’re looking down this you know this kind of fork in the road you’ve got on the one direction a PhD doing something you’re unhappy, and in this other direction, you know the unknown you spoke about taking some time off to figure out what that other path held for you. What was that like? What did you do?
Applonia Cornolius: Yeah, I, it was I was smart with my finances, so, I definitely saved during my time right at UHM and I knew I would need some time to well one network and to figure out what the next thing is. Because if it’s not science, what is it? And the one funny thing is that one of my mentors over at UHM, and he was brilliant, and he’s been there for many years. And he told me, “you know what, Apple, you have such a bright personality. You should definitely think about something in business. And what scientists is that none of us really know, what business means”. He kept saying business to me, and I said, “I don’t know what that means sir. But doc, I don’t get back to you”. What that is?
Joseph Fung: Have you gotten back to him yet? Have you figured it out? I’m still excited!
Applonia Cornolius: He’s living vicariously through me, so he is…
Joseph Fung: There you go.
Applonia Cornolius: He’s very excited of where my journey has landed. But at the same time, I told him it wasn’t easy, but you know to him he’s like, “oh, you know you’re fine! I told you business”. So, to answer your question during that period, that time off, I really leverage LinkedIn. I looked at a lot of different roles. I saw you know the big guys Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, Google. I saw you know a lot of programming roles. And I had to really reflect on, do I really want to become a programmer? Because technology was interesting to me. But, I also knew that I would have to invest in school again. And that was something that I wasn’t truly passionate about after speaking to a few developers in Toronto.
Joseph Fung: So, you did mention that you were attending some events and networking some events. And that you mentioned the meet up specifically with TechTO. Can you share a little bit about kind of those events? And how they impacted your journey?
Applonia Cornolius: Oh, 100%! I absolutely loved TechTO because; first off the community, there is amazing. And they truly highlight the talent in Toronto and specifically for startups. A lot of startups. They attend TechTO and they’re always looking for talent. So when I went to my first TechTO years ago, I actually went on a lunch break from work. Because, I was curious, I was inoculating something in the lab, and typically TechTO are usually in the evening 6:00 to 8:00. And I actually took a break, went down there, I was like what’s this. And I absolutely loved the demo that was taking place at the TechTO event. I watched someone present. And I started talking to people you know afterwards at the Networking Event, and I said, “Oh, so what do you do completely. You know bushy eyebrows”, I’d like, I had no idea what was happening. And some of them had said to me, “oh, we have a customer support role. Would you be interested? And I said, “I don’t know.” and I started really doing some research on, what CS is? What marketing looks like? What sales is? And what, wanted me to join the engineering team?
Joseph Fung: This is great. So you’re getting all of the job titles, all the terms or you’re figuring out the business thing. You landed a great role to start with. But, it was at the entry-level. Can you share a little bit about how you landed that role? And what it was like when you started?
Applonia Cornolius: Yeah, for sure. So, it was at a TechTO event, actually, there was a female sales rep from a company called TradeGecko. She had put her Twitter handle on one of the screens and said, “Oh, tweet me if you’re interested in this role. We are hiring aggressively at TradeGecko.
Joseph Fung: Do you remember who that was, by any chance?
Applonia Cornolius: Oh! I don’t her name. Oh! I should remember her name.
Joseph Fung: We will find out and let her know because she gets quite the impact on you.
Applonia Cornolius: Yes she did, she, so here’s the thing. She, I was hired, and then she left. She pursued another role. So, this is the reason why I don’t remember her name. But she was incredible because, you know she you know made it clear, “Hey! We’re hiring. Don’t worry about if you don’t have any experience. We will train you”. And she well first off she forced me to create a Twitter because I did not have to Twitter her. So I created a Twitter, I DMed her on Twitter and said, “Hey! I’m interested. I don’t have sales experience. But, I promise you, I’ll work really hard and now try and learn as much as I can”. And she you know fast forward one interview and a quick background check, and I was working at TradeGecko.
Joseph Fung: Wow! Now you mentioned that when you started, it was a struggle. Can you share a little bit about that for our audience?
Applonia Cornolius: Yes, and I just remembered her name. Her name is Brianna.
Joseph Fung: Hey, Brianna if you’re listening, you had quite an impact on Apple way to go.
Applonia Cornolius: Yes, I’m sure you know what I did run into her when I worked at HiMama. But, in any case. When I first started at TradeGecko, I was completely terrible. Meaning, I sounded like a robot on the phone, was very awkward. I wasn’t myself. You know, Joseph, you can probably tell within the thirty seconds we’ve spoken that it’s pretty easy to talk to me. But for some reason, when I got on the phone, at first, I was so nervous. I was shaky and when the business owner would ask where are you calling from? I think one of my calls back then said, “I was calling for Gecko Trade. I was that nervous.
Joseph Fung: But, you’ve clearly overcome it. Because you advanced and you know took on new roles. What changed?
Applonia Cornolius: Oh my goodness. I took a lot of feedback when I first started at TradeGecko. And one thing that led to me doing so great without bounce sales was, I see sales as a craft. So every day I had a notebook I would write down what. I did well for the day and what was complete garbage, and I really leaned on the feedback not only from my sales manager but for my teammates. I’d ask them, “Hey! What do you think?” and I would write down things that they would suggest and then implement it in the next call or the next day.
Joseph Fung: Now, I love how you mentioned your teammates because you also told me a story about making a close friend when you first started at TradeGecko.
Applonia Cornolius: Yes! So this is a shout-out to Martin. So Martin and I, we started the same day at TradeGecko as be BDRs, and he and I have grown substantially since then. We’ve kept in touch he was devastated when I was actually poached for another start off in Toronto. he was devastated he was like no, and then I asked him just come with me, and he stayed so he…
Joseph Fung: There you go.
Applonia Cornolius: He and I have kept in touch, and we talked sales here and there. And you know I joke with Martin because he is significantly younger than I am. Joke with him that we probably wouldn’t be friends if we hadn’t had met through workers
Joseph Fung: But we love an interesting point that you bring up. I mean you had a very successful career and then started again. And that can be a daunting thing, especially there’s an age or a kind of time in life difference. Can you share it? What was that like? And how did you manage to cope with that?
Applonia Cornolius: Yeah that initially it was very very tough. But how I saw it was, I kept reminding myself as to why I’m doing this in the first place? I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing before. And you know I did all the right things that everyone talks about, you know you go to school, you study hard, you put in your time, and I wasn’t happy. And figuring out you know what actually makes me happy what type of environment makes me happy and what type of career that I would want is what really pushed me through the tough times when I wasn’t doing so great as a sales rep. And even though there was an age gap. I truly appreciated their perspective because they were just completely in love with sales. You know and that that always was encouraging for me was having co-workers that were so passionate about sales and so passionate about getting better at their craft.
Joseph Fung: You’ve used that phrase a couple of times you know the craft and continuous improvement, and I’d love to double down on that because you also shared when you stepped into your first Account Executive role that was a whole new batch of struggles.
Applonia Cornolius: Oh yes!
Joseph Fung: Can you share a little bit over that? And how did you overcome that to excel at the craft?
Applonia Cornolius: So speaking of a badge, yeah, you’re you’re gonna laugh at this, but when I started at HiMama sorry to make you laugh when I started at HiMama, I actually started with three other reps, and we formed a rap group actually…
Joseph Fung: You are right out! That’s great!
Applonia Cornolius: So, we formed this rap group, and we actually have a video that we made and shared that one of our stand-ups over at HiMama…
Joseph Fung: Oh my goodness!
Applonia Cornolius: It was a funny and crazy time. And so, I do keep in mind these other reps were younger than I was as well. But I learned so much from them, and we have a great bond, and we grow together and so when we were all kind of we call it graduation at HiMama, we all graduated from BDR to an Account Executive. We all kind of hit the wall at the same time. And so I didn’t feel alone. And so part of the reason why I was able to get through that was just you know talking through, okay, how do we pitch better you know we know how to set up the meeting but how do we actually close. So having those conversations was great to have at colleagues and of course if my sales manager who was amazing at the time. But I think it’s important to lean on your teammates when you’re going through a rough time at work.
Joseph Fung: So, there’s some incredible stories of challenges and that move from science and health to business in sales.
Applonia Cornolius: Yes!
Joseph Fung: Thinking a little bit about these, I know I promised you wouldn’t keep you too long. I’d love to kind of cap off with a couple of questions if it’s okay?
Applonia Cornolius: Yes!
Joseph Fung: you’ve been on this great journey, and you’ve accomplished a lot. And you spoke about chasing happiness. What’s the future hold for you? You know what do you still hope to accomplish? And yeah you spoke about you know what it was like looking back at the 20-something-year-old Apple. If you cast your eyes forward another ten years you know to Apple of the future, what do you want to congratulate her for doing?
Applonia Cornolius: oh for choosing happiness, for growing exponentially in your sales career and for being able to you know help the next generation, land those sales roles for helping so many sales reps with their career.
Joseph Fung: I love it! Do you have time for a couple of rapid-fire questions before we wrap up?
Applonia Cornolius: yeah! For sure.
Joseph Fung: Nice! Okay! Tools, what’s been your favorite sales tool?
Applonia Cornolius: A hundred percent, the telephone.
Joseph Fung: nice! Solid! Reliable! I love it!
Applonia Cornolius: Yes!
Joseph Fung: Outside of work, movies, what’s your favorite movie?
Applonia Cornolius: Okay huge nerd here, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”.
Joseph Fung: That’s definitely one of my favorites, the entire series.
Applonia Cornolius: Right?
Joseph Fung: I don’t know, I could pick one though, I mean, it fits together so well!
Applonia Cornolius: It does, right.
Joseph Fung: Okay, last one, I mean we started in science, we’ve gotten into sales, but when you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
Applonia Cornolius: Well, a scientist, and I did it.
Joseph Fung: There you go.
Applonia Cornolius: Yeah
Joseph Fung: Apple, thank you so much for sharing your journey. This has been such a delightful conversation.
Applonia Cornolius: Thank you! This has been wonderful! Thank you so much, Joseph!
Joseph Fung: I’m glad that we could share your story. And I’m really looking forward to tell your next adventures and see where you are heading.
Applonia Cornolius: For sure! Thanks!
Joseph Fung: Well, we’ll chat soon. Hope you have a great day!
Applonia Cornolius: You too! Take care!
Joseph Fung: Okay!