Hannah Smith On Why She Joined a 12-Person Startup, Adjusting to a Management Role Early in Her Career, and What It’s Like Overseeing Operations For A Fast Growing Startup
Hannah, What’s Your Story?
I graduated from Stanford in 2016 with Distinction in History. I also minored in Creative Writing, and I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa senior year. I played lacrosse, and I’m now working at InGenius Prep, a college and graduate school admissions counseling company, in New Haven, CT.
What were some of the things your were looking for or interested in when you were preparing to transition?
I have always been interested in higher education, but when I was searching for jobs, I knew I wanted an organization where I would have a lot of responsibility. This was huge for me. I needed a place where I knew my superiors trusted me and where I could take ownership over the projects I was assigned.
InGenius Prep only had 12 employees when you were considering it. Can you tell us a bit more about the company and what drew you to it?
InGenius Prep is a college and graduate school admissions counseling company. We pair students with Former Admissions Officers and writing experts to work throughout those processes, and since I joined the team of about 12 people, we have expanded to 125+ full-time employees, 7 offices in East Asia, two offices in Canada, and an office in LA. You can check us out on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the US!
I accepted my job offer 100% because of the people. Yosepha, one of the Co-Founders who hired me, played D1 basketball at Yale, and from our first conversation I could tell that she had the same value set I had developed in college. This team (and it truly is a team) at InGenius is made up of some of the smartest people I have ever met, and while I took a risk accepting a job at a small startup, I knew it was a smart risk to take because the caliber of the people running it.
How would you describe your experience since joining the company?
I wasn’t completely sure what working at InGenius Prep would look like when I signed on, and my role has changed so much in the past three years that it’s nothing like what I started out doing. That being said, coming into a fast-paced working environment and being able to adapt to a new workload, work style, and set of responsibilities has made me successful here. Like at most startups, I have learned an incredible amount by having to work across different teams, and I really attribute that ability to grow and push myself to my experiences as a student-athlete.
My experience overall has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m sometimes shocked thinking about the skillset I have acquired here. Being 25 and managing three separate teams and operations on an entire continent is pretty unbelievable. In terms of the company, I believe wholeheartedly in the work that we’re doing with students, especially as we expand our pro-bono efforts.
How have you been able to grow through your work at InGenius Prep?
I started out in a digital marketing role, although that was more of just a title since my actual responsibilities included sales, business development, and college counseling. Now, as the Managing Director of our North American operations, I have the pleasure of managing and working with our teams across the US and Canada. It involves a lot of meetings with prospective and current students, presentations, workshops, accounting for the revenue in my region, managing different teams, and traveling throughout the world.
That’s quite a bit of growth. Is there any aspect of it that’s been extremely challenging?
I was thrown into a management role my second year here. Developing management skills, maintaining confidence in my own voice, and learning how to lead a team in the business world has been harder than I thought it would be, but athletics have made a transition into management much easier. I care a lot about the relationships I build with my coworkers and the culture I maintain as the leader of a team.
Is there an example of a pro-bono project you worked on that you’re proud of?
I actually leveraged my connections from the women’s lacrosse world to set up a partnership with Harlem Lacrosse – a nonprofit organization started in Harlem that works within inner-city public schools to introduce athletics as a way for students to develop in and outside the classroom. These kids we’ve helped on their college application processes are by far the most impressive students I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
What was the toughest part of the transition moving away from Stanford Lacrosse?
Nobody talks about losing your team after your season ends. For most collegiate athletes, you’ve been a part of a team since you were three or four years old. And that bond only gets more intense as the sport does. Your teammates are your best friends your biggest advocates and your support network. I am convinced there are few other bonds as strong as those you hold with a team. Besides my teammates, there is nobody in my life that has seen me simultaneously naked, crying, and bleeding.
Do you feel you’ve found a similar team dynamic at InGenius Prep?
This transition of leaving my team and moving to somewhere as completely random as New Haven was by far the toughest part of my transition. But yes, I’m grateful to have found a strong replacement in my coworkers. We refer to ourselves as the InGenius “team” / “family.”
Why would a startup be a perfect fit for an athlete?
Startups are the ideal environments for athletes: they’re fast-paced and intense, you work closely on a small team, you build close bonds with coworkers, and you never stop learning. I think the act of taking smart risks—whether it’s going for that interception or taking a job at a startup—is something that athletes understand, and I hope that anyone reading this considers those good risks during the job search.
I cannot imagine what my life would look like if I had to sit at a desk all day and make spreadsheets at a large firm. While some people will excel (pun intended) in those types of roles, I knew I needed something more exciting, active, and risky when I was searching for jobs. And it has really paid off!
What would you say is the most important you learned as a student-athlete that is applicable to you today?
Resilience is probably the most important skill I’ve learned. Especially in a fast-paced working environment, you can’t get totally knocked down when you mess up. Picking yourself up, listening to feedback, moving forward, and learning from your mistakes is key. I’m pretty convinced that athletes are able to apply this skill better than most people!
Stanford Lacrosse also taught me to see the bigger picture. Especially when it’s 6am and you’re running 300’s, it’s easy to get bogged down by what’s happening right then and there. But being able to look back on every moment playing lacrosse—both singularly and collectively—has helped me realize that it’s about the process, about how you grow over time, and about how you strengthen bonds not only with your teammates and coaches, but with the way you identify yourself.
Finish this sentence: My biggest strength as a leader is…
My ability to motivate others and push people to their potential.