Inspirational Woman: Laura Warnier | Chief Growth Officer, GoStudent

Laura WarnierLaura Warnier is Chief Growth Officer at the online tutoring platform, GoStudent. Laura joined GoStudent in 2018 to develop the commercial strategy.

She built from scratch a scalable customer acquisition machine and grew the marketing and sales teams from 0 to +250 employees. In 2020, Laura launched GoStudent’s international expansion strategy, launching the company in more than 15 markets to date. Laura is now leading branding, marketing, partnerships, and international expansion for the EdTech unicorn.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Laura, and I am the Chief Growth Officer at the EdTech unicorn, GoStudent. I am originally from Belgium, which is where I grew up. My mother is a headteacher and my father is an entrepreneur, so I’ve always had a passion for education and entrepreneurship – which makes sense given the direction my career has taken!

I left Belgium about 10 years ago to study for my double master’s degree in international management. I initially planned to study abroad for just a brief time; however, I quickly realised that I wanted to continue learning in other countries, so that I could immerse myself in the languages and cultures. I ended up studying in Belgium, Spain, the UK, and Denmark, as well as completing an internship at HelloFresh in Berlin. Upon graduating, I was hired by Google in Dublin as Agency Account Manager for France. I helped marketing agencies and their clients to better understand Google advertising infrastructure and make the right budget decisions regarding online marketing. After three years with Google, I decided to explore new opportunities and relocated to Austria, where I first worked in the telecoms industry before leading paid performance marketing for an international advertising agency. Then, in 2018, I joined GoStudent, which is where I’ve worked since.

As Chief Growth Officer at GoStudent, my role has been predominantly to build and grow all commercial activities – what we like to call our customer acquisition machine. For me, this has encompassed building the processes and growing the sales and marketing teams from 0 to more than 250+ employees and, for the past year, owning our international expansion strategy.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I am someone who always plans ahead. I like to be in control of the steps that I am going to take, when I take them, and why. That said, I am also someone who can adapt to change easily. Often in life, you plan for something that you then don’t actually reach, but in making that plan, and trying to meet that goal, you actually achieve something that is sometimes even better.

For me, the best example of this is taking the step to work at Google. When I was studying for my master’s, I imagined that I would end up working at a large consultancy firm like McKinsey. This was my end goal, and what I was focused on working towards. But life can have other plans for you, and when you get a call from a company like Google, you don’t say no! From that moment, I was on a different path to what I had planned, but one that ultimately I think was better in the long run.

Describe yourself in three words – why do these qualities matter in business?

Driven: Drive is so important because it enables you to stay on your chosen path. You know where you want to go and what you want to achieve, and you just go for it, no matter the obstacles you might encounter. Whilst you might sometimes have to take a detour, you are always focused on the end goal.

Positive: It is so important to be confident about your goals. If you trust your decisions and the people around you, then you will all believe that no matter what, you’ll make it. In any unexpected or tough situation, put a smile on your face and just do it. There are no problems, only challenges, and every challenge brings with it a new opportunity. Embrace whatever you are facing and know you can succeed.

Passionate: Passion brings you energy, confidence, and the motivation to do what you do. Passion in the workplace can appear as restlessness for some, but for me it’s invigorating. Passion is about emotions – it gives you the “why” that you need in order to wake up every day and do what you do.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I have always been someone who is very positive, so I often see challenges as a learning opportunity. When I moved to Austria, I didn’t speak German – my mother tongue is French, and I also speak English and Spanish, and I understand Italian. A lot of the jobs I was applying for required native speakers, and so I missed out. For me, this was a driver to learn the local language so that I wasn’t held back.

At the same time, I also challenged Austrian employers to hire a non-German speaker and showed them that I could add value to their business without speaking their native language. There is a business case for speaking one common tongue in an international company, and I made this when joining GoStudent. Our CTO is originally from Bulgaria, and German was not his first language. English was agreed upon and became a standard requirement. This paid off because it has allowed us to quickly expand and enter non-German speaking markets.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I am proud of the work that I have done at GoStudent. When I joined, I knew that building the commercial activities would be a big task, but I was never anxious – I was excited to swim when thrown in at the deep end. Building the marketing and sales teams to more than 250 people in less than two and a half years is a huge accomplishment for me. To do something like this, systems and processes need to be put into place and you have to be challenged on a regular basis. You then need to take the time to hire the right people. As a company grows, teams need to stay connected and in sync with each other. The personalities you choose for these roles are key to overall success.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

My parents have been absolutely key to my success. I truly believe that the environment you grow up in plays a huge role in defining who you are. As mentioned, my father was an entrepreneur, so from a young age he taught me to take risks and to break rules. He showed me that it can be rewarding to take the path less travelled and encouraged my sister and I to have a strong sense of independence and a bold attitude.

My mother was also an incredibly strong influence. She is one of the most driven people I’ve ever known and has an incurable restlessness, meaning she never gives up, even in very tough situations. She gave me my go-getting attitude and positive outlook, which I am immensely grateful for.  She also gave me my passion for learning languages – she spent many years teaching English and Dutch before becoming head of a school.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

Personally, mentoring is not something that I pursue. I have tried it once, to see if it would help with personal development; however, I quickly stopped the process. I think it is incredibly important to have someone to talk to; however, I often find that a close friend, colleague, or an expert in a certain field is a better fit than someone with the title “mentor” or “coach”.  The key is to have someone close to you that will help you process your thoughts or someone with knowledge/experience you don’t have yet who can challenge your decisions and thinking process. For this reason, I am a big fan of company networking and knowledge sharing. The opportunity to listen to others in a similar space to you, that might have had the same setbacks or concerns, and to discuss alternative experiences or ways of dealing with a situation, is so important.

For me, mentorship is about constant feedback and communication, rather than, for example, a monthly catch up. At GoStudent I aim to be available to anyone that wants to speak with me, and I am committed to supporting my team on a daily basis; however, I am not specifically coaching any one individual.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I’m a strong believer that problems need to be solved at the source. I personally don’t recall in my career being left out or less considered because I’m a woman. But I know not every woman has my luck. What I’ve seen however is the common interests, qualities, and ways of doing things that women share and that men share, that can make it easier to work with people of the same gender. I’m always wondering how it would look like if 100 years ago, women would have been the majority in management positions. We might face the same dilemma as today: but the reverse.

So, what is the solution? Quotas are a good accelerator in large corporations and public structures, to ensure that the next generation of managers to be hired will be an equal mix of gender. In the startup industry, where founders are often younger, it’s about helping women to better balance their lives as mothers and managers. This can be achieved by initiating better childcare infrastructures, and by busting dated stereotypes. We need to stop believing that women are the best caregivers for a child, and we need to stop the myth that a mother has less time or energy to dedicate to her work. Women bring different perspectives and competences to the table, as well as the ability to challenge views and ideas. Half of a company’s potential customers and employees are women and the best way to attract them is by having equal decision makers in a company.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Embrace your differences. Teenage years are never easy – we try so hard to fit in with a group of friends or adopt a new trend, just because everyone is doing it. It’s important to question if it makes sense to you to make these choices. Do you really want to? Will it make you happy? We, as people, must be confident in who we are – we don’t have to follow the crowd to be accepted. Just come as you are.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

GoStudent is only five years old, so we are still a fairly young company. My future goal is, however, also my next challenge. I am keen to keep growing GoStudent until we have hit our target of becoming the no 1 global school. This is such an exciting mission; however, as we get bigger and expand into even more markets, more challenges will come. We will need to work hard to ensure that there are open channels of communication within the company, that our message and product is consistent in every country, and that we are still remaining true to our values. These are not insurmountable, though, and I am looking forward to embracing and learning from these challenges.

What is the key to success in your career?

I have always made sure that I own my future. I embrace who I am. I don’t try to fit the mould and I have learnt to be confident with my own strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits. I am proud of who I am, and I am not afraid to show that when I need to. Equally, though, I know when it is appropriate to sit back and learn from my surroundings. To be successful, one needs to understand when they can learn from someone else and seek out the best experts possible. My main job now is to hire specialists to help develop our various teams – these people come with years of experience, and I am excited to see what they can teach me.

What is one piece of advice for women that feel stuck in their career?

I always say that the day I am bored in my job, I know that I am doing the wrong job. If you are beginning to feel disillusioned, then focus on what you can change, not what you can’t. Can you hire additional support to take on parts of the role you no longer enjoy? Can you request a transfer? Could you suggest a new way of working? Can you take on new responsibilities? Figure out what makes you excited and focus on that. If you feel that the spark you once felt for your workplace has gone out for good, then take proactive steps to make a change. Open your eyes and look at what is out there: talk to as many people as possible and apply for every role that makes you feel motivated or excited, even if you might not have the perfect CV. Feel empowered to reach out to companies you admire and tell them why they should hire you. Don’t be afraid to hear no. By putting yourself out there, you are taking proactive steps towards the future that you want.

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