Last year Twitter sales exec Amanda Levy quit her job, lived in a hut in Africa with no power and no water, cycled with her father on the Oregon Coast, became certified as a yoga instructor, and traveled the world.
In the process, she abandoned a fat paycheck at Twitter — and an even fatter payoff when the social news site IPOs later this year or early next.
“I was totally exhausted and at a point in my life where I could take a year off and do all the things I never had time to do,” Levy told me recently. “I got to travel the world and see all these awesome places … and help a lot of people.”
Levy recently joined Change.org as VP of sales.
In some sense, it’s a massive change of pace for the career sales executive — most people think Change.org is a charity, or at least a nonprofit. In fact, however, it’s a Class-B corporation, a business whose business is, the company says, “social good.” And in fact there are lots of similarities between the sales work Levy is starting here and what she’s done in the past: leading 150 sales people at Twitter and building a 100-plus sales team at Yelp.
But first, she needed to decompress.
“It was a really really difficult decision,” Levy told me. “In fact, a lot of people asked me, ‘what on earth are you thinking?’”
Not everyone, after all, has a chance to work on even one hot startup in their lifetime. Levy was on her second, having joined Yelp when it had only 10 employees and watching it grow to over 1,000, and leading Twitter’s mid-sized business sales team. But Levy was spent from years in the startup grind and told me that she had accomplished everything at Twitter that she had set out to do.
“I’m not married yet, have no kids, no house … you don’t get many opportunities to say, screw it, I’m taking off,” Levy says.
So she pulled the trigger, went to Africa, volunteered in a village with an 85 percent HIV infection rate and where an astounding 85 percent of the men have admitted to rape, and lived for six weeks without power, without water, and without all the modern conveniences and communications that she had been part of building. After that, she traveled the world, spent time with her family, and did all the things that we often want to do but don’t make time to accomplish.
A year later, she was ready to get back in the saddle. But not quite, perhaps, the same kind of saddle.
Editor’s note: For a similar story, check out VentureBeat writer Rebecca Grant’s tale of serving in the Peace Corps before starting a career in tech journalism: How I learned to survive Silicon Valley while living in a rice paddy.
Whether her volunteer experience swayed her decisions, or she’d spent enough time building consumer-focused businesses, Change.org’s social mandate for local change on a global scale intrigued Levy.
“The goal of our platform is to connect people around a social cause,” she told me. “We use this term ‘micro-movements’ … it’s not one big campaign getting a million people mobilized, it’s a lot of local movements building up to social change. Which, if you look at the history of social change, is how it happens.”
And there were enough similarities to make the challenge familiar. Change.org may be a social business, but it is a business.
Currently, 40 million people use the platform, growing at several million each month, and Change.org has staff in 18 countries. None of that happens without cash, and while the company brought in $15 million in revenue last year plus another $15 million from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s philanthropic venture, Omidyar Network, the costs keep going up.
“We’ve built up this really amazing user base who are interested in connecting to causes they care about,” Levy says. “There’s no way to succeed without revenue, but we are focused on maximizing our impact instead of maximizing our profits … we take every dollar in revenue and reinvest it back in the product.”
That context, Levy told me, is the biggest reason she joined the company.
That social impact is bolstered and amplified, Change.org says, via promoted petitions, which act pretty much the same way promoted tweets on Twitter do, and sponsored campaigns, which connect nonprofits and other organizations with people who have similar values. For instance, users who sign a petition to save the trees in their local neighborhood might then see a message to sponsor the Sierra Club.
“This is the exact challenge we had at Twitter and at Yelp: how to create an ad product that engages people,” Levy says. “Building a sales organization is consistent, regardless of the market.”
And she’s looking forward to the challenge:
“The last year was absolutely amazing,” Levy told me. “And then I stumbled upon this opportunity at Change.org. I feel so lucky!”
Levy is the second high-profile addition for Change.org this year. The company had already added former Yahoo and Google executive Jennifer Dulsky as president and COO in February.
Oh, and the whole yoga instructor thing? While it sounds very relaxing and enlightened, it turns out that’s not Levy’s cup of tea:
“Actually, I hated it,” she told me.