Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Jane Alexander, Chief of Staff to the CEO at Carta
I spoke with Jane Alexander, Chief of Staff to the CEO at Carta. Jane joined Carta to help democratize access to equity ownership, and in addition to being CEO Henry Ward’s Chief of Staff, she leads the Communications, Corporate Marketing, and Policy teams. Jane shared her perspective on equity education, career growth, psychology, and advice for her younger self.
On equity education, Jane notes that one reason for the exponential growth in the wealth gap is that some people sit on the equity stack through equity ownership while most people sit on the debt stack, earning only a salary — a debt product with bi-weekly coupons. To help close the wealth gap, Carta is working toward making issuing equity as simple as issuing payroll so that more people can be equity owners. The long term vision of the company is to make every asset available to every person.
Carta uses its data to produce free and public reports analyzing equity distribution, including their annual Table Stakes report, which analyzes equity distribution by gender, race and ethnicity. Jane helped to launch their quarterly State of Private Markets report this year, which shows that 65% of vested options go unexercised, representing a massive amount of financial wealth that many employees are leaving on the table.
Jane notes that there are many barriers to exercising vested options, including financial access and liquidity, but lack of education does not need to be one of those barriers. Through their new Equity Essentials Initiative, Carta aims to ensure that learning the hard way (through missed financial opportunities) is not the default. By demystifying legal jargon and equity grants, Carta hopes to empower employees to make the most of their equity grants. The program is free for all, and Carta aims to roll it out to 100K employees at startups nationwide. Carta has also launched an equity resource center with answers to frequently asked questions on topics ranging from 83B elections to option selling, and the team hopes to expand the education initiative to include founder education series and other facets of the startup ecosystem, including angel investing.
On career growth, Jane shared about her curiosity driven approach. When Jane was starting at Harvard, she chose her concentration based on which classes she was most interested in taking, rather than choosing which classes to take based on which concentration she wanted to graduate with. Jane has taken a similar approach to career building — working on the most interesting problems at the time, and connecting the dots looking backward.
Jane graduated with an interest in entrepreneurship. Advice from a mentor was that the two most important skills for a founder are building product and selling product. So Jane began a career in sales to learn that craft. After several years in her sales role, she began to think more at organization level about topics such as employee retention, career success, and collaboration, and wanted to learn more on these fronts. That curiosity led her to the founder of a company called RelateIQ (since sold to Salesforce) and joined his team soon after. She loved and learned from the way in which he encouraged his team members to lead with curiosity, question the status quo, and do things the right way.
When RelateIQ was acquired by Salesforce, she joined the Salesforce team to run EMEA revenue for the RelateIQ product lines, which taught her how to not just run teams but full business segments. She moved with a team of six to Dublin, Ireland, to build out the European customer base, from first customer to millions in ARR.
Throughout her career, Jane is always looking for the next most interesting problem to solve.
On psychology, Jane highlights how her time at Harvard in the psychology department shaped much of how she approaches business and leadership. She worked in the Implicit Social Cognition Lab on studies around implicit bias, which showed her the big gap between how we think versus how we think we think.
In the professional world, Jane has taken this human element of understanding people’s core motivators to everything ranging from customer negotiation to managing up to motivating teams and teams of teams to working cross functionally. To Jane, psychology underpins most things in career and in life. Paying attention to what drives people and what might be underlying interactions is competitive advantage.
On advice for her younger self, Jane underscores that if you are growing quickly things often get harder over time, not easier. As a softball player in college, she notes that even as you improve as a player if you continue to uplevel your competition the game still gets harder. The same is true in a professional career. Scaling the difficulty of what you take on is often what sets the pace of your learning curve. Remembering that can help in those particularly challenging moments — even if it is difficult in the moment, once you are through it you will have set a new bar for what you are capable of.
To sign up for the Carta Equity Essentials series, visit https://carta.com/resources/equity-essentials/. The next event is at 10 am PT on January 26th.