"I do completely buy into the fact that education is the most powerful tool with which to change the world.”
Jillian Goldberg, VP of marketing and investor relations at GuardKnox, talks to Michael Matias about her career - from education to cybersecurity and everything in between.
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The traditional journey of somebody who's VP of marketing and investor relations at a cybersecurity company is not to be a high school science teacher in Teach for America. Take me through your journey.
Even five years ago, if you would've told me where I'd be today, I would have told you you're crazy. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is like the epitome of middle America. I was a huge soccer player. I always really wanted to be a doctor. I actually got into medical school and decided after working in a hospital every summer of college that it wasn't what I wanted to do. I think what I had fallen in love with was just not what it was. I was contacted by Teach for America to apply. I said, "I don't know if this is what I want." Teach for America is a division of AmeriCorps. They take struggling low-income, failing school districts, and we are brought in for two years.
What brings you even to say, "I'm going to go for this"?
I've always been very attracted to education and youth in general. I do completely buy into the fact that education is the most powerful tool with which to change the world. I am very blessed at the life my parents gave me. I didn't have the same kinds of struggles that a lot of my students and fellow teachers had. I did, as a kid, have a lot of medical challenges. I had wanted to go into medicine initially because I wanted to give back. I realized I didn't have to do that through medicine.
I was in Texas, so my students were first-generation immigrants. I was two generations removed from my students' stories. My grandparents, my great-grandparents came to the United States with a dream like so many. This is the value of hard work and a dream. I think there's nothing like it.
In your day-to-day life, what are you taking from Teach for America?
I actually think every skill I have that has led me to the professional I am today I learned from teaching. Taking a very complicated concept and really finding a way to message it is just like building a lesson plan, starting with the end in mind. Time management, prioritization, stress, juggling 5,000 things at once.
I also think there's this perspective that teaching gave me. We get so caught up in our day-to-day lives and how stressful work can be. But this is not life and death. What I'm doing here, it's amazing. It's changing things. But I don't go to bed wondering if my students are going to have enough to eat or what's happening in the homeless shelter. Also, there were gang fights I had to separate; I was a teacher during a school shooting. With the resilience that I learned and the thick skin that I have, it takes a lot to faze me.
Take me to your decision to enter the tech ecosystem in marketing and cybersecurity as somebody who's not brought up in the Israeli ecosystem.
It's even more of a non-linear path. I came to Israel. I got my master's of public health at Tel Aviv University in emergency disaster management. Worked for IsraAID, worked with MDA. I thought this was how I was going to continue to give back. One of my professors said, "I'm starting this company, and you have to come work with me." I said, "What are you talking about? This is not my path. I'm just here for my education."
That's the CEO of GuardKnox, Moshe, and he gave me some of the best advice: my background, my resume, my formal education is a suitcase of skills. I can take that suitcase with me wherever I go. I looked at the opportunity, and I said, "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity I cannot give up." I truly believe that not coming from that background helped me because I understood what my potential clients were thinking, the mind-set they're coming from. I have to teach myself this stuff, and it makes me a better teacher and a better marketer. I don't have the same biases, maybe, that everyone else has. I have to work harder at times, but it's about working smarter.
What did you learn about translating something as deep tech as cybersecurity to language that people would easily understand?
GuardKnox does not define itself anymore as a cybersecurity company. When I first joined, they were automotive cybersecurity. Our team comes from the Israeli Air Force, where they developed cyber defense systems in fighter jets and missile defense systems. We said, "This is an amazing message from defense aviation to automotive, the same technology approach." It was a very simplistic message that people could really grasp. But we quickly realized that our true USP is so much bigger than just cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity is that foundation that actually enables more levels of connectivity. It got even more technical. We define ourselves as a “cyber-tech tier supplier.” We actually provide solutions and technologies for the next generation of electronic architecture of vehicles. I call it the "smartphonization" of the automotive industry. We're a platform that you can actually download apps and give yourselves a personalized, customized experience in the vehicle. From a marketing perspective, we went through a process of building a new category, which I don't recommend anyone doing during a pandemic. It was very challenging. But we did it.
Walk me through that building a new category phase.
A lot of what you have to do is humble yourself and say, "Let's go back to the drawing board." I think it's very challenging to say, “I don't know what we're doing.” We spent a lot of time with clients asking, “How are you seeing us? What is our true value add to you?" We work with an amazing marketing agency who really helped us with strategies. I will say the good thing about the lockdown was I had time to just think. I spent a lot of time with our CEO and just thinking and coming up with this idea.
Where does your actual passion lie? If you look at yourself and your future careers, who's Jillian, really?
I think we ask ourselves that all the time. Education was a lot of my passion; technology is my passion. What that common denominator is is the future and how we leave an impact and a change. I've been really honored to be a part of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which has now just launched an entrepreneurship program. It’s about how we connect with people. That, to me, is where my passion is. I don't know where I'm going to be, but I know who I am.
I want to take you back to childhood. In middle school, what really got you going?
My life was soccer. I was very driven by medicine and being a soccer player.
What inspires you on a day-to-day basis?
What inspires me is the youth. That sounds kind of funny working in mobility, but the idea is that we're changing things for the next generation and we're actually leaving something better than what we were given. If you think of the mobility industry, it's such a fundamental industry that is moving us around the world. I feel like I'm doing something to change that. That's what gets me up in the morning.
What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
Positive. Ambitious and driven. Those things definitely come from the sports background.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan