All Careers Considered: Breaking into the Tech Industry with Kieran Farr

This week we spoke with Kieran Farr, a tech entrepreneur in the Bay Area who has a background in creating tech startups with a focus on video streaming technology. Kieran from IU in 2005 with degrees in Television Production and Business Marketing. In this episode, Kieran shares how starting IU Student TV as a student at IU gave him the skills needed to start his own business. He also shares some great tips for students who are trying to break into the tech industry (hint: don’t fear entry-level sales roles). You won’t want to miss this episode!

Transcript

MOLLY: Hey Hoosiers. And welcome back to another episode of all careers considered. This podcast is produced by the Walter Center for Career Achievement, which is the career services center that specifically serves students and alumni in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. We’re on a mission to help you achieve career success by supporting you in your pursuit of impactful experiences, designing your life, sharing your story and building meaningful connections.

My name is Molly Burkhardt i’m the assistant director of strategic alumni engagement for the Walter Center. And I’m also the host of this podcast. You may have heard that you can do anything with a college of arts and sciences degree, and I’m here to show you that that really is the case by interviewing alumni to ask them how they got to where they are now.

Next up is my interview with Kieran Farr, a tech entrepreneur in the Bay area who has a background in creating tech startups with a focus on video streaming technology. Kieran graduated from the Media School in 2005. And in this episode, Kieran shared with me how starting the IU Student TV during his time at IU really gave him the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur. He also shares some great tips for students who are looking to break into the tech industry. Enjoy the episode.

Alrighty. Thank you so much for being here, Kieran

KIERAN: Yes, thanks for inviting me.

MOLLY: Yeah. So I know you have a lot of experience especially in the tech industry with you know, video streaming technologies and all kinds of really interesting things. And I’m excited to talk to you about your experience, especially in tech startups, and kind of what it’s been like to start your own companies. But I know that you are currently working at Vimeo as the agent in the agency partner program. So maybe you could just start by telling us a little bit about kind of what you’re doing professionally right now.

Kieran: Yeah. So right now I am working at Vimeo. That’s right. And I’m a general manager for the new agency partner program. There’s a lot there. So essentially Vimeo has had a really devoted audience of creative professionals since it was founded. And over the past couple of years, the new CEO, Anjali Sud has been moving the company in the direction to serve large organizations and organizations of any size, also small to medium businesses.

And one thing that we have noticed as a company when we grow to this level is that we can’t do it all ourselves and our customers, Vimeo customers, need help to implement enterprise video solution or a video marketing strategy. And they needed help from these creative professionals that have been Vimeo customers since the beginning.

So we’re kind of going back to our roots as a company and engaging the folks that helped build Vimeo from the beginning and helping to bring them more business. So that’s the ultimate goal is that we’re helping all of these creative professionals get more business through the Vimeo ecosystem by creating a partner network. So that’s what I’m working on.

MOLLY: Okay. Very cool. Thanks for kind of giving us that context. So to backtrack a little bit to when you were a student at IU I’d love to hear a little bit about kind of your experience at IU and kind of what your career goals were when you were a student, is this kind of the industry you were hoping to get into, or what was that kind of like?

Kieran: Yeah. So when I was at IU I was focused a little bit more on the production side of media. And so my, I did two degrees. One was from the College of Arts and Sciences Telecommunications degree. I don’t know if they still offer telecom anymore, but I’m sure there’s some derivative in the Media School.

And then I also got a degree from the Kelley school in Specialization of Marketing. So. I kind of viewed the marketing thing as the backup, but I wanted to get into production and I wanted to move to the West Coast and really get involved with television and film production. That’s what was interesting is that at IU it really started a foundation for my entrepreneurial spirit and what we ended up doing myself along with some other students at the time was creating the first student run television station on campus that kind of still exists today as a student organization, as part of this new Media School, that they created so IU Student Television was what we created and that initiated the spark of the entrepreneurial work that I’ve done all throughout my career, but it’s funny.

So even though that was a university thing with a student group, it really represented all of the key skills that I still use today. You know, now at Vimeo, but previously at my own company and for other companies. So that, that was really the spark that set it off.

MOLLY: Wow. That’s really cool. So tell me about a little more about those skills. What kind of skills did you gain from that experience? Cause that’s really impressive, you know, starting the, this new student run television as a student yourself. So tell me a little bit more about those skills you feel like you gained from that experience.

KIERAN: Yeah. So the quick summary is that we identified a problem and we proposed a solution and we were able to get support for the solution. And it’s really very similar to how you would go from a company or a product or service. So in the case of the student television program We basically said to the university faculty, the teaching faculty, as well as the administration, Hey, look, there’s a problem where students don’t have access to equipment unless they’re doing a course. So outside of that area, they don’t have access to this stuff. They also don’t have real-world experience working on productions and they don’t have a way to expose and share their work. This was actually before YouTube existed in the early 2000’s.

And so all those things combined, the faculty and the administration said, you’re right. And there is a student radio station, a student newspaper. And so we worked out what are the options to create this? How do we raise money? And that gets into more detail than we have for today. But that’s where I learned how to negotiate, how to figure out what funding options are available. We eventually got part of the student activity fee, which is stuff that goes to like Hyper, If that’s still a thing you know, all sorts of different campus services. And a little bit goes to the newspaper, a little bit goes to the radio station, and then we added on a tiny fee of 50 cents. We were excited about, and that essentially funded the program and led it to be where it is today.

So that was the IU experience. And then when I got to the real world at first, I felt like, gosh, am I missing something? Because a lot of this stuff, a lot of these motions that I’m doing seem very similar to what I did with a student group. But I thought like, you know, isn’t there something special that I should be doing that’s more businessy, but the reality was it’s the same thing. Like, trying to advocate for an organization, whether it’s a nonprofit, whether it’s a student organization, even if it’s on a small scale, are all of the same skills that are used for larger organizations for larger amounts of money. And for more complicated projects, all the foundations are the same.

MOLLY: Yeah, that is so awesome that you were able to kind of get those experiences as a student. Cause I know for myself, you know, jumping into the working world, I did have some of those, but I definitely didn’t have you know, a brand new organization that I had started. So that would have been helpful probably to have, but that’s really cool that you were able to do as, as a student. So when you were getting ready to graduate you know, it’s the early two thousands, you’re getting ready to graduate from IU what was your next step? Did you move immediately to the West Coast or what was kind of your experience like right after you graduated?

KIERAN: Good question. So I’d say there’s two kinds of life events before I went out to the West Coast and one was doing an internship. I worked with Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta, and that’s where I got a sense of what it’s actually like to be in production. And to be honest, that was the point at which I realized that maybe I don’t want to do production as my main thing all the time. Like I really enjoyed it. I learned a ton. My favorite was actually working with the lighting crew and we will work on things like the NBA Halftime Show, Turner Classic Movies, stuff like that.

So it was fun, but it was also grueling. And you’re treated at the bottom of the totem pole. You get paid peanuts. Like there are lots of things that I learned that I was realizing, Hey, I’m interested in more than just the production aspect. So that was one thing. The other thing was, I just wanted to experience the world. And so I participated in a program called BUNAC still exists today, as far as I know. And it’s for recent college graduates who have been enrolled in the full-time program in the past few years to get work visas for Commonwealth countries. So that would be like UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, there might be a few more in there.

And so that was also a kind of a life-changing experience for me to see other trades. Right. So I was a legal secretary, a medical secretary and then. I was dating another IU graduate and she lived in California. So that’s how I moved out to California, And I started looking for jobs, and the first job that I eventually found where I got paid for it was doing motion graphics. So mixing computers and technology with production, and that’s what kind of kick started my continued career in online video. And that’s really where I’ve found [??? ]

MOLLY: Okay. Very cool. And that program you were just talking about, I think BUNAC, how did you hear about that? That sounds really cool. I’ve never heard of that.

KIERAN: I heard about it through one of my friends who had done an IU study abroad program and wanted an excuse to go back and drink in the pubs in Edinburgh, Scotland. So then he organized all of us, his friends and said, Hey, you guys can do this too. And the cool part about it is that. You don’t go into debt traveling. You don’t have to use your parents’ money. You get paid. So like we had a proper apartment flat and you know, that was really the first time that I had to be all on my own and pay for things. And especially in a country with higher cost of living, is that was, that was part of the educational experience too.

Yeah, but that was a lot of fun. I actually wasn’t Edinburgh, Scotland for a couple of weeks in a study abroad trip I did in college and it’s absolutely amazing there. So I bet that was really fun. Yeah. Okay. So then you moved to the West coast and you’re kind of starting your career there. So tell me a little bit about I know I was kind of looking on your LinkedIn, it looks like you had a couple of startups that you founded and started.

MOLLY: So when I imagined kind of moving to the Bay area and kind of jumping into the tech startup scene, I envision it being really competitive. And there’s a lot of, you know, young, smart people that are trying to start stuff. So what was that like? Was it kind of you know, was it. Daunting or what was that experience like?

KIERAN: Yeah, I would say it was pretty exciting and I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do and I still am in some ways. So, you know, I mentioned, I didn’t, I did the motion graphics job. When I first moved there. I got a job at an ad agency and media buying agency. That was another thing I realized I didn’t want to do. I did a job as a taxi driver, which is something I wanted to try not as a permanent career, but just to do it because also before Uber and Lyft existed. And then I was naturally like I gravitated tour. Entrepreneurial and hacker meetup sort of spaces. So honestly networking was critical and there’s like an audio alumni group.

I mean, I just, it was a time of my life also where I’m just going out all the time. So I’m not working, going to these meetups, these user groups. Hackathons, you know, all sorts of things. So the community was really where I started to understand what are the opportunities available and then what are the potential roles for me? Like where do I fit in with these companies? So a lot of different potential answers. Cause there’s not one path for everyone. There are different paths. The path that I would recommend to most people is actually to start in sales and specifically to start in the role known as an SDR sales development representative.

Most companies hire folks that are out of school and don’t have a lot of experience with this. It is starting at the bottom of the totem pole, but it’s an excellent way to understand the fundamentals of how SAS companies operate. Technology companies. And then to understand how sales works, even if that’s not what you want to do for all of your career.

So I learned that the hard way by trying to start my own company first. And I would say that kind of a lack of sales experience made it draws out your, you know, your company existence, because the first couple of years I’m literally just figuring out what it fails. And so that’s one shortcut I recommend to everyone, even if you want to do your own thing, It’s super helpful to work in sales or marketing, some sort of public facing capacity that connects the customers to the product and a mid entry-level role. It’s fine for you to learn everything about it. And with that ammunition of that knowledge of the industry, of the more general practices of sales and technology, you then have a good foundation to start a company. But again, I didn’t do that. I went the wrong way. So I spent a lot of time. It was also a company I started with other new grad. That’s a long story, but basically we wanted to build our own like TV station. Didn’t have the money. So we made our own like online video portal and we wrote the software to support that. And that software ended up being more valuable than the content. And we spun that out and got funding from one of the accelerators called 500 startups. And then that became its own software product called vid caster. And we went through the whole life cycle of a startup. We raised about $3 million at our largest revenue, we were making about a million and a half per year Kering revenue. We had customers like GoPro, Hewlett, Packard, Microsoft, like big, big names. And it was almost like getting my MBA, I would say MBA through trial, by fire. I did not get rich off that but it was a good start to understanding like how startups work.

MOLLY: Yeah, that’s really helpful information and a good transition to my next question, which was going to be about you mentioned students should really take a harder look at those entry-level roles in sales and marketing. And you know, we serve students in the college of arts and sciences primarily, and a lot of our students might not of that as being there, you know, a job that they should take maybe because they’re not in the business school and they’re thinking I don’t really want to go into business. So what would you say to students that a way they could market themselves and market their liberal arts degree to kind of get into you know, the BDR role or an entry level type of role?

KIERAN: So I think the first thing to think about is the product or service overlap with what you studied. So this is going to be a horrible example, but I’ll try my best. So let’s say that you have focused in literature writing. There are many, many technology companies that focus on that vertical. There’s a growing number that are offering, for example audio to text transcription services that are combined with editing. You know, there’s these new blog, sorry, like podcasts. That’s the thing we’re on, there’s this new podcast editing software where like, it shows the words. So that’s just one example where almost any category of liberal arts study has a corollary in, you know, tech business. And you can find that.

So that’s the first thing. If you are finding that’s too limiting or there’s just not enough opportunity, then start opening it up to. Connecting that study focus to the skills of those roles. So these SDR BDR roles are primarily communications role talking to complete strangers, a lot of them and helping very quickly for them to get answers and for the company to get answers from them about whether or not they’re fit for the product.

So really what that’s about is communication skills and developing a rapport with people. And then being efficient about how you structure your day. Those are things that anybody can learn. And many people have already developed being a student going through four years of postgraduate education is like, that’s the sort of skills you get. So I think that either summarize it, you’re going to find a company that offers a product, a service that falls directly with them, your degree or area of study, or you kind of map what you’ve studied in a more general basis to the diversity of that role.

MOLLY: Sure that’s really helpful. And, you know, we tell our students that you can do anything with your liberal arts degree, but I think kind of breaking it down and kind of helping them understand these are the, those little skills or experiences that are really helpful. And the entry-level role, especially in this industry. So that’s really helpful. I’m going to switch gears a little bit. I am curious, I’ve talked to a lot of different people for these episodes. A lot of them, you know, in Indianapolis, if you in DC, New York and I think you might be my first person I’ve talked to that lives in the Bay area, and I’ve been there a few times. It’s you know, absolutely beautiful, amazing place, but I do know that it’s pretty expensive. So if you don’t mind sharing, what was it like moving out to the West coast as like a young professional and kind of, you know, any place to live and all of that. What was that like on kind of more of like a personal standpoint?

KIERAN: Well, to be honest, and I’m not just saying this because it’s not your podcast. It was my friends from school. My friends that helped create kind of my first social network when I moved here. And then, you know, it starts there and then to broaden out to their friends, their coworkers. So that was a very meaningful part of coming to the city. You know, I actually moved there knowing a bunch of people already, and that sort of started the network from which to grow after that. Then, like I mentioned before, a lot of just trying to network as much as possible, meet people and see what is this place like? As far as like affordability and being out there. No, I did get spoiled and Bloomington where I remember I was probably has changed completely, but they had some brand new apartments where I got a deal for like $ 475 a month with a studio, like a one bedroom apartment. And, you know, then you move to San Francisco where you can’t even get a room for that amount of money.

But you figure it out and you, you can afford usually even on a basic salary, a room in a shared apartment. And that’s where most career professionals start. And I, I was in that situation for gosh, probably 10 years in San Francisco. And, you know, moving now, I’m living with a group of friends, like people who I want to live with, not just complete strangers that you kind of go through those levels.vYou know, the places places get nicer. And then what typically happens, you meet someone, then you have enough money with your incomes combined actually afford either renting or eventually purchasing a place of your own. So I think the network is really important and the good news is that’s what you’re developing as part of going to you.

MOLLY: Yeah, absolutely. That makes complete sense. So I’d be curious to hear what’s next for you, or do you have any, you know, kind of big goals that you’re hoping to, you know, start a new business or, you know, any kind of endeavors that you have lined up that you’re working on right now, besides obviously your role at Vimeo?

KIERAN: I mean, what I’m really excited about in the longterm is augmented and virtual reality. And more specifically there’s a standard called web XR and where the X can stand for a V whatever. And so this is a standard that works on web browsers to create augmented and virtual reality immersive experiences. And it’s something that is still new. It’s kind of where video was. No internet video and the two thousands. That’s where we are with this new industry of immersive technology. So just like the transition that we’ve seen and the impact of online video and the last two decades, we’re going to see the same sort of impact in their adoption and change over the next two decades with immersive technology.

But we’re right at the beginning. So that that’s exciting to me because I see a lot of the same patterns from a technology from them. Business like adoption and tooling and ecosystem perspective. So that’s, that’s what I’m looking at. And as a way to stay active in my coding you know, outside of Vimeo, I use that as an, as a both creative outlet in a way to continue learning JavaScript and HTML. So that’s, that’s been a career, you know, career safety planning ops in addition to online video, which is a good industry for now.

MOLLY: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Kieran. It’s been great. Getting to know you and hearing more about your career, I would love to just kind of open it up to you. If you have any kind of, you know, last words of wisdom or advice for students who might be hoping to pursue a similar type of career that you have, or moving out to the Bay area, getting into tech startups. Do you have any kind of words of advice for those students?

KIERAN: Yeah. My number one word of advice is to not be scared by entry level sales jobs. And it was scary to me. I avoided those at the beginning. And it wasn’t until I matured as a person that I realized how critical those roles are too, the companies and to society. So don’t hate on sales jobs. Give it a try because sometimes that is the most valuable experience that you’re going to get learning about an industry from the inside out.

And I strongly encourage folks to consider things that are closely related to that. So customer success. Solutions, you can have a basic understanding of computer technology and be a solutions engineer for certain types of products. So there’s so many of these things that are available in that kind of hybrid space between sales and marketing and support that are awesome opportunities.And then they give you the foundation to grow into other areas. So you’re not stuck there forever. And if you’re working with a company that values its employees and you don’t like sales, they will help you move to other opportunities that are better suited for you. So. Those are great ways to open the door. Take, take companies up on that opportunity.

MOLLY: Yeah, that is perfect advice. And then if students want to connect with you or maybe ask any followup questions, would there be a place they’d be able to get in touch with you?

KIERAN: Yeah. Twitter, LinkedIn that’s easy. You can email me as well, but yeah, any, anything.

MOLLY: Okay. Perfect. Well thank you so much, Karen, almost great talking to you today and take care.

KIERAN: Thanks Molly.

MOLLY: Thanks so much for listening today and thanks to my fantastic colleagues for providing production assistance and inspiration for the podcast each week. Those folks include Ian, Sory. Camryn Schreiner, Maureen Langley, Amy Cornell, and my entire Walter center team to learn more about the Walter center at IU and the services, resources, and events we offer.

Please check out our website at careers.college.indiana.edu. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to receive timely updates from the Walter center as well. To connect with alumni like the one in this episode, please make a profile on the Walter center success network. It only takes a few minutes to create an account and start building your professional network.

If you liked what you heard today, be sure to subscribe on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcast to make sure you don’t miss an episode. And last, but not least feel free to reach out to me, Molly Burkhart personally on LinkedIn, or send me an email with any questions or feedback you might have.

Thanks again, everyone. And we’ll see you next time.

By Camryn Schreiner
Camryn Schreiner Videography Intern Camryn Schreiner