Erica Galos Alioto is a former lawyer who changed careers and began working for Yelp when it had just 15 employees. She helped grow the sales team to more than 2,200 employees over the span of a decade. Now, she works for real estate startup Opendoor, where she oversees human resources, talent, learning and development. This is how she parents.
Name: Erica Galos Alioto Location: San Francisco, CA Job: Head of People and Development at Opendoor Family: Her husband, Joseph; 10-year-son, Dominic; 7-year-old daughter, Athena; and Elvis, the pet lizard
Tell us a little bit about your family and your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
This is a funny question because if you asked me 20 years ago what my life would have looked like 20 years from then, it would have been completely different than it is now. It has taught me not to plan my life out too far in advance because if you do, you may not be open to all the great options that present themselves to you.
My plan since I was a child was to go to law school and become an attorney. I did that and I hated it. I got into my dream law school and got the job at my dream law firm and I realised it wasn’t at all what I wanted. What I had envisioned it being was very different than what it actually was. I spent way too much time doing things that didn’t energize me and not enough time doing the things that did energize me, and it left me feeling exhausted and depressed.
Luckily, I met a great guy in law school who I ended up marrying and who has been my biggest champion, and he encouraged me to leave my job and find something that was a better fit. I left and decided to join a startup whose mission I was passionate about, Yelp. It was a small company at the time (less than 15 employees), and I approached them and asked to join. They said they were hiring a salesperson, so I took that role (at a base that was 90% lower than what I was previously making) and I put all my energy into helping make it successful.
As the team grew, I started managing and my responsibility continued to grow. I was asked to move to Phoenix to run the office we had opened there, which was not something I had planned to do, but we jumped on the opportunity. We had originally intended to spend a maximum of 18 months in Phoenix, but we made great friends, loved the lifestyle, and had our second child there. My husband ended up getting his dream job (as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Department of Justice), so we ended up staying for four years.
When it was time for our kids to start school, we moved back to San Francisco to be near family, and I took over leading all of the Yelp local sales team, which ended up being over 2,200 people. After 11 years at Yelp, I was ready for a new challenge (and a break), so I took a little time off and spent time with my kids and started on a book I had wanted to write. I also began advising some great startups and realised how much I missed working with earlier stage companies.
Shortly thereafter, the CEO of Opendoor reached out and asked if I’d be interested running the People team there, which was a path I had already been considering. I loved the company’s mission to empower everyone with the ability to move, and the team, so I joined the company and have been here for over a year now.
As Head of People and Development, I oversee all recruiting, human resources, learning and development, HRBPs and workplace for the company and have helped the company scale from 400 to over 1,300 team members.
As for family, that turned out exactly as expected. I married a great guy who understands the sacrifices and responsibility that comes with being married to someone who has a busy career. He’s an incredible partner and my biggest cheerleader. We have two wonderful kids who make us laugh all the time. I feel very fortunate.
Has becoming a parent changed the way you work?
Definitely. It made me more efficient. I don’t spend as much time chit-chatting and catching up with others because I know every minute I waste during the day is time I could be spending with my kids. My kids are at an age where they hold me accountable for spending enough time with them. They give me a hard time if I’m not home for dinner and have implemented a rule that I’m only allowed to travel once every three weeks for work.
How do you decompress?
I love to work out. I like to run, power walk, do yoga and weights. I also just got a Peloton which makes it much easier to fit in workouts at any point of my day. I’m big on mindfulness and meditation, so I try to find time to meditate before I start the day. I also find time with friends or time outdoors with the kids to be a great way to decompress.
Tell us about a family ritual.
One of our rituals is to have everyone at dinner share the best part of their day or a way they helped someone that day. We also have a thing in our house called FSN (Family Snuggle Night) where everyone sleeps in our bed (though as the kids get bigger and their kicks in the middle of the night get harder, this is becoming more rare). We’re a pretty energetic group, so there’s a lot of singing, dancing and playing musical instruments that happens around the house.
What’s been your proudest moment as a parent?
We focus a lot on gratitude, and we try to help our kids have perspective, which can sometimes be difficult in the bay area. For my son’s birthday last year, he asked for a number of things—an electric skateboard, a scooter, etc. In the morning, we gave him a few small gifts (a book, a map, etc.) but none of the big gifts he had asked for. He was grateful for all of them, and never complained about not getting what he wanted. In the evening, we presented him with another gift, which was a scooter he wanted. He was thrilled, but surprised and told us he had thought the gifts in the morning were his gifts, and that he didn’t expect or need anything else. It was awesome to see all of our work teaching them gratitude pay off.
What moment are you least proud of?
There are many, but let’s just say I’m not good with stress in the mornings. When I’m trying to get out of the house to get to a meeting on time and the kids are moving slowly and I have to drop them off and then get to work, I can become a different person. It’s a bad example for my kids about how to deal with stress, so I make sure to apologise for my behaviour and explain to them that I’m trying to get better at it.
What do you want your kids to learn from your example?
I want them to learn that it’s important to do what you love and to prioritise your time. I don’t care whether my kids are the smartest ones in their class or get into the best colleges. I just want them to be passionate about what they do and to find joy in it.
Has anyone ever given you a piece of parenting advice that has really stuck with you?
I’ve received a lot of parenting advice, but one piece has stuck with me. It’s about perspective. Being a parent who works full-time, it can sometimes be difficult to feel like I’m able to give my kids the same experience many other kids have and stay on top of everything going on. My kids’ lunches aren’t always as special and I might buy something from the bakery for the bake sale rather than bake it myself. But every parent makes mistakes sometimes — some mistakes worse than others. Even with our mistakes, we’re great parents so we should focus more on that. Looking at it from this perspective has helped me be kinder to myself when I do things like drop my daughter off at pajama day at school the day before it’s actually pajama day.
What are the gadgets, apps, charts or tools you rely on?
For my personal well-being, I use Calm and Headspace for meditation. I use Instacart for getting groceries delivered when I don’t have time to go to the store, and DoorDash for getting meals delivered when I don’t have time (or desire) to cook. I use Duolingo to learn new languages. And of course, living in San Francisco where we’re surrounded by tech, one of the parents at our kids’ school built an app called ZoomX, which is for scheduling and coordinating school pick-up, carpools and after school programs.
How do you balance a fast-paced career with parenthood?
There have been many moments as a parent where the demands of parenting seem to make it impossible to continue working full-time. I remember when my daughter was about four months old, my childcare fell through so I put her in a Baby Bjorn and brought her to work, and walked around bouncing her during meetings to keep her calm.
As Head of People at Opendoor, I want to help working parents find ways to integrate the two, so we have events that include children, and our team members know they can bring their kids to work at any point if they need to. This past year, we had a number of our team members affected when schools were unexpectedly closed due to a teacher strike in Arizona and the air quality in San Francisco (as a result of the wildfires). In both cases, we invited parents to bring their kids to work, and set up movies, art stations and pizza for them. We’ve had other times where people have brought their kids in because they didn’t have childcare, and in every case, the team welcomes the kids with open arms. It takes a lot of the pressure off parents when things fall through.
The one thing I would tell other parents who are juggling a career:
There are ups and downs. There are moments it feels unsustainable, but you’ll get through it. My mum was a single parent working three jobs with three kids and little to no childcare help, so I always think if she was able to make it through it, I have nothing to complain about.
Also, it’s important to prioritise and communicate what’s important to you. I think a lot of times, we are afraid to set boundaries because we’re worried about people thinking we aren’t committed, when usually that’s just in our heads. Open communication about what’s important to you as a working parent and blocking out time to do those things makes it feel more sustainable.
It’s also worth mentioning I realise this totally depends on your workplace, and some people don’t have this kind of flexibility and don’t have other options. Where this is the case, my advice is to just try to take a little time for yourself each day, even if that’s 5-10 minutes, to breathe deeply and be present.