Going Against the Flow: Leyla Seka, Head of Salesforce

04/30/2015 04:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

Leyla leads Salesforce, Salesforce's all-in-one customer service app for fast-growing companies. Attracting some of the leading customer-oriented brands such as Yelp, SnapChat, Fitbit, Bonobos, and Disqus, has become known as the savvy customer support app that connects agents with e-mail, phone calls, and social channels.

Prior to her current role, Leyla was responsible for building and growing the Salesforce AppExchange, the world's leading business apps marketplace. In her five years managing the AppExchange team, she helped grow Salesforce's robust and innovative partner ecosystem of startups and ISVs building and selling the next-generation of enterprise apps.

In her six years at Salesforce, Leyla has held a variety of positions across product management, product marketing and business operations helping to build a scalable infrastructure to support the company's business. Prior to Salesforce, Leyla worked in product management and marketing organizations at Primavera Systems (acquired by Oracle), Evolve Software, Vivant and Eutron SPA. Leyla also spent two years as a Peace Corps officer in Mali West Africa. Leyla holds a B.A. in International Relations and French from the University of California at Davis and a MBA from the Masagung School of management at the University of San Francisco.

Leyla Seka (Photo courtesy of Salesforce)

What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and what makes for a successful entrepreneur?

Leyla: Being a successful entrepreneur really stems from passion--relentless passion and a drive to innovate and change things, combined with a desire to grasp a vision and push yourself until you achieve it. I liken it to hiking, since no matter how big the mountain is, I always just keep my head down and focus on the steps in front of me. Sometimes I look up and the mountain inspires me, sometimes I look up and the mountain scares me. Still, one foot in front of the other in the relentless pursuit of vision--whether that be climbing a mountain or running a company--is the key.

What are you most proud of in your professional career?

Leyla: What I am most proud of is the company I keep, the teams I build and the people that work with me and for me. Business is a team sport, that is all there is to it. I feel very lucky that I seem to always be on the best teams. For example, when I first came to Salesforce, I was beyond fortunate to have old colleagues come and join me. It allowed me to work much faster then I would have been able to alone. We already knew each other, we already were a team---these folks also helped some of my newer executives and team members get to know me more quickly. The ability to say that after seven years, I still work with folks I started with here at Salesforce, is probably one of the best things I can say about my career to-date.

If you could do something over in your life, what would it be?

Leyla: I would have believed in myself more and worried less. I have this wicked tough exterior, which has helped me get through a lot, but underneath I am quite a softy. I have always wrestled with my own version of the impostor syndrome. On some level I think it is good because it makes me strive for more, but on occasion it makes me worry about things that don't really deserve my attention. I continue to work on this and imagine I will my whole life.

Tell us about an instance where you had to go against the flow to realize your goal.

Leyla: Everything about my personality goes against the flow! In my career, I grew up in Product Management, so I was often the only woman in the room. I knew I loved technology and wanted to stay in an industry where I could be myself--so I did just that. When managers asked me to be "less-Leyla" and quiet my voice to blend in better, I didn't do it. I decided that being me--authentically me--would make me a better contributor to the team and I could feel like I was being true to myself.

If you were to give advice to your 22-year-old self, what would it be?

Leyla: Learn how to code. Honestly, I am mad at myself that I don't know how to code. If I could code, I think I would be unstoppable. I also would have told myself to remember that hard work, dedication and the will to take risks will always be the things that create a rich life, so don't ever stop doing those things---it gets harder when you get older.

Follow Leyla Seka at @LeylaSeka, and check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at or