How Nicole Hakakian Zig-zagged Her Way into Partnerships
This article is part of our Women in Partnerships series, highlighting female professionals in the partnerships space. To learn more about the series and the Women in Partnerships group, check out the series intro.
Nicole Hakakian is an Ecosystem Marketing Manager at Klaviyo where she was recently hired. Today, Nicole joins us to discuss her role at Klaviyo, her career in partnerships, what it’s like being a woman in the industry, and advice for others looking to succeed in their career.
Taking on Partner Marketing at Klaviyo
Nicole Hakakian joined Klaviyo in June and is already enjoying the extremely collaborative team, sharing, “I was just hired to start on the partner marketing team. It is a team of six and it’s a really interesting time at Klaviyo. Klaviyo has an established partner program that was launched by a lean team, just two years ago. The partnerships team has multiplied since then and the function has grown significantly, bringing validation to the idea that one of the keys to Klaviyo’s success would be building mutually beneficial relationships with ecosystem partners — agencies and consultants, product integrations, developers, and more. Not only are Klaviyo customers more successful because of our Partners, but our Partners are finding greater success through our programs, too. Klaviyo is doubling down in Partnerships and also Ecosystem Marketing, where I am one of four new hires on a team of six marketers. I believe this is an outstanding investment in the future of Klaviyo’s ecosystem and it makes it a very exciting time to join the team.”
Klaviyo’s Ecosystem Marketing team is responsible for customer acquisition, partner acquisition, and partner experience and enablement. Nicole’s background in partner operations and ad tech, combined with her experience launching and scaling new programs, made her a perfect fit for the fast-growing function at Klaviyo. “I was doing a lot of components of partner marketing in my last role. Klaviyo is looking for someone to really formalize the partner experience and be there to build a relationship outside of the traditional scope of partner management. This role will be more aligned with project management — I’ll be responsible for breaking into new customer segments, with the end goal of reaching new customers through our amazing partners. There’s no shortage of them here.”
Breaking Into Partnerships
Before Nicole took on partner marketing at Klaviyo, she ran partner operations at BuySellAds. “I was responsible for creating and scaling partner programs with the goal of providing our end customers with successful marketing experiences. Logistics and operations played a large role as I explored the arenas of recruitment, onboarding and enablement.”
Before landing at BuySellAds, Nicole had extensive experience in a variety of functions. “My background is pretty heavy in Customer Success and relationship management — those have been mainstays in all of my roles as well as digital marketing. There has always been an air of customer-facing success. That perspective is really helpful and unique from a marketing perspective. My career path is confusing with some — it’s more aligned with sales than marketing, but those two things are connected for a reason.”
Nicole hasn’t had a very linear career. In fact, she did a lot of zig-zagging. “It took me a while to learn that’s okay. A generalist must be adaptive to learn how key features can be beneficial in different scopes. There’s no linear explanation as to why I am where I am. I started in coworking where I was doing sales and memberships. Then I got into digital publishing and was an account executive at Digg. There, I became fluent in how to grow customer segments and target customers. I was kept on board post-acquisition where my role scaled significantly – growing to manage operations and advertising for one web properly to over 200.”
Successfully Building a Team at a Startup
Nicole supported a few different teams during her time at BuySellAds. “I started as an independent contributor. BuySellAds had an Account Executive team of six and no one in Customer Success nor Client Management. They were focused on sales metrics but not focusing on churn or retention. My first instinct was to formalize a process.”
“I was offered the opportunity to build out my own team. That was my first time being a people manager. I learned that when you’re a people manager, you’re working for your team, not yourself. I hired a team of two and learned a lot about hiring and what makes for a good hire. About a year in, once I felt I established a cohesive team, I was needed elsewhere. I maintained a dotted line to the Customer Success team but moved to focus on formalizing our partnership program.”
Building out her team was Nicole’s proudest accomplishment of her career. At a startup, you don’t have the same resources that a larger company would have like HR or a formal hiring process. Instead, Nicole was building the tracks as the train was moving. “You don’t really know how difficult it is to be a good manager until you’re put in that position. I really loved the relationship-building aspect of it. I want the people I’m hiring to be happy and healthy employees. It did get very stressful at times. You’re not really responsible for your bottom line anymore, but you adopt the obligations of everyone around you.”
The Female Experience in Partnerships
Nicole is lucky enough to be on an all-female team in her role today. “My team is entirely female — it’s a really exciting time for me. Previously, in my roles, leadership teams consisted almost exclusively of white men. There was very little diversity in the organizations that I’ve been a part of.”
“About two years into my role at BuySellAds, they did hire a Female Director of Operations. Looking at her, her background, and how she presented herself in meetings with leadership and everyone else was incredibly impactful for me. She always treated everyone with respect and made their jobs easier. A really amazing skill she had was to listen to what I was saying and restate it in a much more cohesive way, which is something I still strive to do.”
Being a woman in a mostly male team is hard sometimes. “There are so many factors that I really had to work on and see that I could advocate for myself. It’s jarring being in a room and feeling like someone is treating you differently than everyone else. It’s just bananas to be there as a ranking contributor and feel different. I’m confident, however, that the experience wasn’t for naught. I learned a lot about how to advocate for myself — not just as a woman, but as an individual.”
Advice for Women in Partnerships
Nicole shared a few impactful pieces of advice for all women in partnerships. “Don’t be afraid. There were so many times I would rehearse what I wanted to say before saying it. I would practice and take down notes. And if that makes you feel more comfortable, go for it, but you don’t need to set time aside to rehearse if you’re passionate about something. If the message is appropriate and warranted you should always advocate for yourself. Don’t second-guess yourself. Trust your gut intuition.”
The Value of Women in Partnerships
While Nicole has an incredible female team today, she didn’t always have female coworkers she could turn to for input and advice. Women in Partnerships provides those connections to others in the industry and builds a sense of camaraderie.
About Women in Partnerships, Nicole shared, “It’s so hard to describe why it’s important to have groups like this. It feels so inherent now after being a part of it for a year. The first woman I met through Women in Partnerships was Joni. She is incredibly impressive and great at connecting women who know how to help. It’s a network where you can really see movement happening, progress being made, and excitement building. It’s great to bounce ideas off of another individual and feel inspired to do what you do every day. It’s also important to have a trusted space to check your concerns, check your thoughts, and know that you’re 100% safe.”