Yosepha Greenfield On Life After Yale Basketball, Launching InGenius Prep, & How She Maintains A Company Culture Across Multiple Continents
2011 was the first time Yosepha Greenfield really had to think about pursuing something other than sports. At that time the former Yale Women’s Basketball Captain was wrapping up four years on the hardwood in New Haven, where she helped lead her team to its first postseason play in program history. Looking for an environment that could give her the competition and challenge that basketball provided, she left New Haven and its long winters for the hustle and bustle of LA’s entertainment industry. Two years of working her way up, always being on call, and chasing the path towards talent agent gave her a strong set a professional skills, but left her wanting to have more impact in her career goals.
Six years later, she can say she’s found that direction leading InGenius Prep. As the company’s Co-Founder and COO, Yosepha has helped students all over the world get into college and graduate school while helping the company gain recognition as one of the fastest growing startups in the country. In this interview, Yosepha Greenfield discusses the early days of InGenius Prep, a typical day managing her team, and how basketball prepared her to lead.
How do you reflect on your college basketball career at Yale?
My four years at Yale were some of the best in my life. When I think of my time on campus, what surprises me is that most of my best memories involve my team—not necessarily while playing basketball, but while spending time together. The relationships we built — whether through being pushed to our limits on the court, track, weightroom, or infamous Payne Whitney stairs, or taking classes together, eating in the dining halls, or going to every single social event together — have been the most meaningful part of my Yale experience. They frame the way I view every game, challenging moment, or “best night of my life”.
As a college basketball player, you spent your summers primarily focused on training. How prepared were you to no longer have basketball in your life?
For me, basketball was all-consuming. I lived and breathed it for 10 years, and before that, I lived and breathed Tae Kwon Do. For years, I had one focus: to excel in my sport. This meant that all of my summers in high school and college were spent in the gym and not getting internships or exploring career paths. Though this certainly paid off for basketball, I felt truly behind in terms of knowing what I wanted to do post-college, or more accurately, post-basketball. When I look back, I think that I mentally prepared myself to move on from basketball since I knew I did not want to play at a professional level. But at the same time, I don’t think I prepared myself for the vacuum not having basketball would create. I know that, now, it wasn’t actually the basketball I would miss, but rather, it was having something to work toward, to pursue relentlessly, to live and breath. I needed to find my next project, challenge, passion—whatever you want to call what basketball was for me for so many years.
Can you talk a little bit about how you went about transitioning and finding your first role at United Talent Agency?
When I started at United Talent Agency, I took the same approach that I took with my sport. I worked as hard as I could, I got there first (I was even tasked with opening the entire building at 5am when I was in the mailroom) left after my boss, and tried to learn quickly. I did not know as much about the entertainment industry (movies, writers, directors, scripts, actors/actresses, etc) as some of my peers, so I put in the time to catch up. I basically shifted all of my effort and focus towards getting good at my job. And the good news is that doing so didn’t require many pushups!
Describe your two years at United Talent Agency. What skills did you gain and what did you learn about yourself?
At UTA, I was in the mailroom for a few months and then was placed as an assistant to a Motion Picture Literary agent. This was honestly such a good first job for me out of college. Since I didn’t have too much internship or summer job experience, I had a lot to learn professionally. And UTA throws literally anything and everything at you; it’s a sink or swim kind of place. You have no choice but to learn quickly.
First and foremost, I learned that you should never take no for an answer and that there is almost always a way to get something done. I remember one time one of our clients called us on the day of the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). He said that he wanted two tickets to the event for him and his new girlfriend. He also wanted red carpet passes. Now, this event had been sold out for months. I couldn’t just go online and buy these tickets. Instead, I had to make probably like 30+ calls, cash in some favors, and run around the entire building to somehow pry these tickets from someone else. And I got it done. No was not going to cut it.
I also learned how to do a lot of things at the same time and to handle a high intensity/high pressure environment off the court. A regular day looked like: I would have a headset on listening to my boss’s phone conversation while taking notes on my computer. At the same time, I’d be printing and stuffing an envelope to send a potential script to a director, picking up the handset to answer the other line, and making the split decision on whether or not my boss should get off his current call to take the new one. All the while I had to ensure my boss did everything he was supposed to do as a takeaway from the first call. And you could NEVER drop a call. It was fast. Who knew working the phones could be so complicated?
Lastly, and I think most importantly, I confirmed my understanding of myself that I get extremely committed to whatever I am doing. I was working extremely hard at UTA but was working toward a goal (being an agent) that I wasn’t very excited about. I knew that I needed to pursue a career that motivated me on a deeper level—one that I was excited to live and breath.
In school, was starting a company something you saw for yourself or something you could have imagined?
While I don’t think I had gotten quite that far yet, I do know that I have always valued leading others. As the Captain of every team I’ve ever been on, what mattered most to me is setting the culture for my team and being the person that everyone can rely on or look up to. While I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an “entrepreneur” or a “risk-taker” perhaps like most people who know they want to start their own companies, I do know that I’ve always wanted to lead people, set the tone for whatever I’m a part of, and work hard toward a goal. What better way to do this than by running your own company?
Why was getting into the education space so important to you?
Education has always been prioritized and highly valued in my family, perhaps because I come from a Jewish family! I have been fortunate enough to go to some of the best schools—Harvard Westlake for middle and high school, and Yale for college. I have seen, time and again, that higher education opens doors—for career trajectory, personal development, and so much more. It’s exciting to help our students along their educational journeys.
On another level, I have always enjoyed mentorship and helping others. As somewhat of a more well-known person in my community growing up, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to make an impact. I see it as more of a responsibility. Whether that’s been as captain of my own basketball team, as a mentor to young student athletes, as a speaker at events, or just as a friend giving life advice, I’ve always taken pride in being a role model and making a positive impact on other people’s lives.
In the education space, we are in a position to majorly shape young lives -- on a big scale. It’s exciting. It’s a lot of responsibility. And it’s highly rewarding. It’s definitely worth living and breathing all day every day.
Your company now has about 140 employees across 11 offices. Can you describe what it was like in the early days when it was just you and your other founders working remotely? How did you establish yourselves as a team and reach your first milestones (first office, first clients)?
In the early days, I was in Los Angeles, my co-founders Joel Butterly and David Mainiero were still in law school at Yale and Harvard, respectively. We spent a lot of time on Google Hangouts. To this day, the Google Hangouts ringtone really brings me back, probably not in a good way as we were quite tired back then. I have been around a lot of hardworking people in my life, but I can honestly say that my partners at InGenius, which since starting now includes Chief Education Officer, Erin Gu, are the hardest working people I know. We didn’t take on any investment money and instead took a more scrappy approach that required doing more than our competitors did. We reached out to thousands of people on a daily basis, took calls at all hours, pivoted quickly, and never put ourselves above any of the tasks that needed to be done. We did the hiring, marketing, sales, customer service, operations, accounting, and everything else ourselves. When we started having a little success both here and in China, we decided to buckle down even more, come together in the same city, and open our first office. I packed up and moved back to New Haven, something I would have never thought would happen in a million years. Only InGenius could make that happen!
What does a successful day look like for you?
A successful day starts with a big cup of coffee and getting through all of my messages before China (and Korea) goes to sleep. It continues with emails and meetings—interviews (we do a lot of hiring!), team meetings, occasional sales calls. A great day leaves me a chunk of uninterrupted time to work on my own projects, check things off my list (I use sticky notes), and to workout for about an hour before heading into my evening meetings (I have 6 direct reports in East Asia). Then I’d have a little time to clear my inbox and WeChat messages before eating a late dinner with my fiance.
Coming from team sports, how do you manage and run your team at InGenius Prep to create a great startup culture?
Firstly, we’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing team full of talented, driven, and interesting people. They’ve made it easy. In our management approach, we’ve always emphasized giving people responsibility from the get-go. New people are given projects that they can take complete ownership of. While sometimes these projects turn out to be unsuccessful, people always learn best by doing and they certainly learn from these experiences. We have also worked hard to balance out our intensity by creating a comfortable and casual working environment. Like I would with my former basketball teammates, we eat lunch together, go out for drinks, talk about our weekends, and celebrate birthdays. I spend a lot of time with the people I manage, which helps our working relationships. I work to earn their trust so that positive and less positive feedback is easier to give. And perhaps most importantly, always lead by example. For me, this used to mean win every sprint, compete in every drill, or do the most reps. Though this means something totally different now, I still try to lead from the front.
Your company has received recognition as one of the fastest growing companies in the US. What about your company’s growth are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the people that make up the InGenius family and the culture we’ve created. We’ve been able to maintain our tight-knit, intense, dynamic, yet casual and team-oriented team culture in every single office around the world from top to bottom. In all 11 offices across continents, teams, and positions, the people on our team believe in our mission, take ownership over our goals, and genuinely enjoy working together to push the company forward.
When you’re hiring, what are you looking for in potential applicants? Who is your ideal candidate?
I definitely prefer to hire around talent rather than prior experience. I look for candidates who are hard working, who demonstrate a strong desire to learn, and who are great communicators — people who I would genuinely enjoy being around. My ideal candidate is someone who will push herself to get the job done well, who will enjoy both the process and the result, and who connects with the team on a personal level.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self before facing the transition away from sports?
I would remind myself that the skills I learned as a student-athlete would pay off. Once I no longer had “basketball player” as my identity, the driving force behind who I was and where I fit in, I felt a little lost and unsure of myself. If I could go back, I would tell myself that everything I learned—the hard work, discipline, time management, efficiency, commitment—would translate to my professional life soon enough. Just approach your job or career with the same mentality that you approached your sport, and you will find a way to be successful at whatever it is you decide to do!