Metty Fisseha is a dynamic and charismatic tech-centric entrepreneur with roots in the financial industry. She was born in Ethiopia and raised between the United Kingdom and Washington, DC. She graduated from Duke University intending to go to medical school but had a last minute change of heart and went to work on Wall Street instead. She spent the next 5 years working in Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) at the Royal Bank of Scotland then Goldman Sachs.
Metty knew that her path wouldn’t end in Finance. She wanted to explore a more entrepreneurial side of herself so she began to explore careers in Tech. After numerous interviews she found herself accepting a position at Amazon and moving across the country, from New York City to Seattle, WA. She started off working in Retail managing several categories in the Office Products business then she moved into a more tech-centric role, as a Senior Product Marketing Manager in Alexa.
In her free time, Metty Fisseha, or Dagmawit Metty Fisseha (her full name) enjoys yoga, reading and writing. Her passion for travel, commitment to service, and dexterity navigating corporate America led her to begin working on a new business that is focused on connecting people and companies with volunteer opportunities. Metty is also a music aficionado, she works closely managing up and coming indie artist King Deco.
How did you get started with MillenniCorps? What inspired you to start it?
To put it simply, MillenniCorps is a company that brings together young people, their tech employers and grassroots nonprofits. Our mission statement is to build a framework where companies sponsor employees to go on service trips, basically a mini sabbatical if you will, which in turn helps young people feel fulfilled and happy with their jobs. This is in response to trends we have observed in the job market, most notably in the benefits top companies are offering their employees, as a function of more millennials entering the workforce.
The way I got started is I observed higher rates of young people taking employer funded sabbaticals. When I dug into the data I saw that this was happening across pretty much all of corporate America, but with an emphasis in tech as tech companies have historically been the first movers in offering new employee benefits. So I sent out a bunch of surveys to working young people to see if they would even use this service if it was available. Finally I set up meetings with HR business partners at my own company Amazon as well as a few others. I got an incredible amount of feedback from these 2 exercises.
I thought it was interesting that several of the companies I spoke with were thinking about launching a similar program on their own. What this indicated to me is that they are also seeing this trend in the marketplace and need to be a fast mover so that their competitors don’t adopt it first and poach top talent. Many of the HR business partners that I spoke to acknowledged that our working model is changing due to the longer life expectancy and need to keep their benefit packages dynamic to adjust with the changing times. The intention is that MillenniCorps will make this process seamless.
What inspired to take each step in your career path?
I’ve had an interesting path. I’ve done everything from pre-medical coursework, political science studies, Wall Street, retail, tech and entrepreneurship. While these all seem to have nothing in common (and while I could never have predicted where I am today), I can say that they all have a common theme: hard work and perseverance. By putting myself in constantly new environments I am always challenging myself, forcing my ability to adapt and learn and building off cross functional knowledge to bring a unique perspective to the table. This is my primary objective when considering my next career step. I never want to settle into something that’s comfortable. And I do believe that in hindsight it all weaves together very nicely. I don’t regret a single career decision I’ve made, knowing that makes me excited to imagine what could possibly come next.
Most recently, I moved from Goldman Sachs in New York City to Amazon in Seattle, WA. A lot went into my decision making process. First and foremost, I felt comfortable at my old job– I’d had an incredible 5 years in the industry, learned a lot and was very successful. But I knew deep down I needed a change. I’ve spent much of my life on the east coast, which is where my family is currently, so I was itching to get out to the west coast and experience life out here. This coupled nicely with my interest in tech. I was further drawn to the industry because of the constant innovation and emphasis on entrepreneurship. Not too long into my new gig at Amazon, I realized that many of the skills I developed in the financial industry carried over, similarly those same skills are helping me with launching my own business today.
I reflect back on my experience transitioning from Goldman to Amazon as I dedicate more of my time to my own company, MillenniCorps. I don’t think this could have come at a better time. It’s a perfect embodiment of me breaking out of my shell and really pouring my heart and soul into something I believe in. I’ve never been more passionate about something in my life. There’s something so incredibly satisfying about creating and building something completely from scratch, that is your own. It reminds me of a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that I love, which goes “to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded.” I am so excited to release MillenniCorps into the world, where I think it could help many people from all walks of life breathe a little easier. This is what also motivates me to keep striving every day.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Absolutely. Every single time I start something new I feel this pit in my stomach like I am going to fail or that I’m in over my head. That’s what makes me feel alive. Whenever I doubt myself I remember what it is about me that helped me to succeed every time in the past. I’m scrappy, I work really hard and I get things done. It doesn’t matter the context, I will always be that person. That realization usually helps me when I’m feeling unsure of myself.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I always have a hard time when it comes to playing the bad cop especially in business related negotiations. I’ve been working on it, but it’s hard.
A specific instance comes to mind from my time working in Retail at Amazon. Every year we negotiate with our business partners to iron out priorities and resources for the coming year. I had a touch negotiation with one particular business partner, whose business had been shrinking consistently for several quarters as a result of uncompetitive pricing, outdated product selection and a dysfunctional supply chain model. In the interim, a competitor who was more profitable and more innovative was consistently taking market share from them. I knew that in order for us to turn their business around they would have to make a few structural changes to their business model, in everything from product design, pricing, and supply chain. So I offered a plan which demanded pretty dramatic change but I was willing to partner and show them how I wanted to save their business. I knew that I needed to make a painful short term request in order to secure longer term success. It’s important to me to keep a big picture view when doing business, especially at Amazon as we are extremely customer obsessed. We want to ensure that we build an ecosystem where our vendors partner with us to provide an optimal experience for the consumer. The long-term relationships we work with are very important to our success.
Unfortunately in this particular case they were not at all perceptive to this message. I got a lot of pushback on the basis that they had been in the industry for much longer than we had, and that we didn’t know the business well enough. I could see that they were so entrenched in the detrimental mentality of “this is how we’ve always done it” and that they were very averse to change. However, it was clear they wouldn’t budge. As a result of that, our relationship with that business partner changed and their business continued to decline but at a faster rate.
After a few weeks of pain, they reached out to me and indicated they were willing to come back to the negotiation table. I was so grateful for that. My mentality is better late than never, we will do what we can. By the time I left the team about a year later their business was slowly hobbling down the path to growth as a result of the changes we implemented. I’m glad it worked out but I distinctly remember how hard it was for me in the process.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I always get this question. People look at my track record, Duke University to Wall Street to Tech, and they ask me how I do it all or what my secret is. My response isn’t sexy, but it’s honest: the fact of the matter is I am scrappy. I have always been a do-er. Find a way or make one is one of my life mantras. I thrive in change and I work hard, these 2 things have laid a solid foundation for my success in everything I’ve done. Also given my unconventional background I’ve accumulated a good balance of book smarts and street smarts, quantitative and qualitative analysis. These things complement each other and are essential skill sets for succeeding in business, no matter where.
In the last 7 years since I graduated from college I have observed the way I tend to lead and how I manage business relationships. I have noticed a common theme in every different setting I have worked in: I lead with empathy. I believe in compromise, and I think that trust is your most important business asset – internally and externally. I always ask myself how I can connect with someone or a company, I want to understand what keeps them up at night. What their objectives are. Then I ask myself, how can I fit inside that framework? How can I make things better? This leads to mutual understanding and true partnership. I strive to make this a part of everything I do.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Similar to how I hate delivering bad news, I absolutely love fixing things – especially relationships. These occasions are by far my most memorable accomplishments in my career.
One particular time comes to mind while I was at Goldman Sachs. I found myself doing business with a partner who had a history of bad experiences with Goldman. This coupled with gradual neglect solidified their dislike for the company. I had 2 options: I could focus on completing the immediate business transaction and forget the rest or I could reframe my interaction with them around a longer term relationship. The path of least resistance was obviously the former, but I knew I would be doing myself and the company a disservice if I did that. I had to try and fix it. I spend the next few weeks just connecting with them, with no ulterior motive. No business transactions, just consistent value adding to their business. I would send them analysis, reports, anything that would help them do their jobs. With time, they trusted me enough to explain to me what happened and why they felt disgruntled with Goldman. I acknowledged I couldn’t go back in time and solve it but I could ensure nothing like that ever happened again. Through trusting me, eventually they grew to trust the company. Slowly we started trading with each other. A year and half later they were one of our top partners. By the time I left Goldman, they were completely capable of managing the relationship on their own. That was an incredible learning experience for me. It reiterated the importance of business empathy, of boardroom compassion, of seeing past the façade of the company and treating one another as people. I truly believe that from this foundation is where sustainable business relationships are built.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
This is my favorite question. I am so excited to see what comes next. I can tell you what I am working on and what I anticipate but if my history has taught me anything it is that I have no clue what incredible experiences life has waiting for me. So at this stage I have been with Amazon for almost 2 years and I absolutely love it. What an incredible company. My work is interesting and every day I get to bring joy to our customers. I also think Seattle is a cool place, it’s really become home. However in typical fashion I am still striving for more. When I am not in the office then I am working furiously on MillenniCorps. This is my passion project. I’d love to see a scenario play out where I am able to incorporate the work I do with Alexa into MillenniCorps; that would be a great synergy. Eventually I plan to spend all my time working on my business. But not yet, I still have so much to give to Amazon. It feels like I am just getting started or, as we say at the company, it’s always day one.
Do you have a launch timeline for MillenniCorps?
My original intention was to finalize my vision for MillenniCorps by the end of 2018 and launch broadly. At this stage it’s more of a moving target. I have gotten incredible feedback from mentors, family and friends. I am a bit of a perfectionist so I am constantly tweaking and optimizing. I want to build it out a little bit more then I will feel comfortable releasing it into the world. To that end, I’d like to do a beta launch by end of Q3/start of Q4 and go from there.
What business podcasts or books have inspired you?
I love podcasts. I really enjoy How I Built This with Guy Raz. This podcast hosts interviews with the founders or CEOs of many large companies. They discuss how their businesses began, the challenges they dealt with, and how eventually they built it into the success it is. I find it highly relatable to hear these creative stories, and their experience with entrepreneurship motivates me to keep going.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
With MillenniCorps I realized just how expensive legal fees are. There are so many things that happen behind the scenes that require a lawyer which in turn requires money, including incorporation, taxes, hiring law, and other small business legal concerns. It’s a lot. I don’t have a legal background and I knew this was one area I didn’t want to be careless in so my first and ongoing business purchase is a good attorney. It’s really put my heart at ease and allows me to focus my attention on my business.
What advice would you give to your college-age self?
I would advise young Metty Fisseha to stop trying to control where life will take you. The journey should be enjoyed, not forced. Focus on the things that you can control and make the choices that will make you happy in that moment. That is all that is required. Know that in the grand scheme of things many decisions are trivial and trust that you are capable to make the right move when it matters. Never lose sight of who you are and the person you dream of becoming. Treat everyone with the same level of compassion and respect you would treat family or close friends. And last but not least, have fun