Just a Small Town Girl

Every day I talk to people who are amazed that I grew up here, in the Bay Area. Honestly, I really feel like a small town girl.  (Apologies in advance to my family who are featured in some of these photos.)

I grew up in San Carlos and back in the day, we didn’t lock our door, we knew all of our neighbors, and the kids stayed outside until it got dark. I rode this big wheel all the way up and down the block for hours without seeing my parents. I did however stop and visit with most if not all of my neighbors from my very best friend to the man we called my surrogate grandfather that lived mid-way down the block.  We played football in the middle of the street and my brother taught me how to ride a bicycle. (Yes, with no helmet!)

When we (or my Mom) needed a break, we went to one of the local parks. We played in the  sand (not tanbark or cushioned pads) and digested whatever parts of it that made it into our mouths.  We flew and jumped off the swings and played on the metal based slides. We basically ran amok so the mothers could sit on the sidelines and chat.  They somehow managed to keep one ear tuned into our cries or complaints but mostly told us kids to, “figure it out.” Some 40 odd years later, we are still good friends with one of these families. I have actually shared more than 30 Thanksgiving meals with them over the course of my life and my food expectations are shaped by having “the best Thanksgiving ever,” year after year.

michaelfarrelsBirthdays were wondrous things that included gifts, and goodie bags and if we were really good, a trip to Farrell’s. (Note my brother’s birthday is dangerously close to Christmas, hence the hat) I think these were all over the place but there was nothing like getting the giant bucket of ice cream and toppings delivered to your table by trumpeting, drumming food-servers. It was like your personal “American Idol” moment where the spotlight was all yours.

Then there were the activities. It was mostly organized sports but also Bluebirds, Scouts, music and swim lessons. A myriad of community driven opportunities to keep my brother and I engaged  for hours. (Mostly so we didn’t smack each other during the summer months.)  I couldn’t wait until I was big enough to go to the local high school and take a swim lesson from a teenager! If I was super brave, I might jump off the diving board. This photo was taken at San Carlos High School  which has since been razed to make way for more single family homes.

As I got older, we had more interesting adventures, including visits to Marine World Africa, USA. This amusement park, now located in Vallejo, used to sit in an unincorporated part of Redwood City. If the fading Polaroid photo had more of a background, you might actually recognize it.  For the few years that I worked at Oracle, I took a large amount of joy looking out the window and remembering that the elephants used to be right outside.  Yes, that’s right a variety of tigers and lions and.. well not bears, used to live on the land that has since been taken over by Oracle among other technology vendors.

There’s always been those five really hot summer days when the peninsula hits triple digit temperatures. Just like every other family, we would climb into the station wagon, where my brother and I would sit in the waaaay back with the dog (again – no seat belts, or car seats). Then we’d inch our way over the hills to the coast.  We’d rush into the water only to run out five minutes later when our feet had turned blue from the freezing ocean.  We built sand castles, buried each other and searched up and down the beach for our favorite sea-shells. Sunscreen? What’s that? We tracked all that sand into the station wagon and stopped at the A&W for root beer and hamburgers on the way home. This was the “drive-in” A&W – not drive-thru.  At this A&W, someone came to your car, took your order and delivered your food to your window. Imagine that. You had those tiny trays hanging off your car window that no one used. My Dad would pass back the food and we stuffed our faces. This added french fry detritus and crumbs to the sand until you couldn’t tell which was which.

So, I laugh when I hear my friends tell stories of their “small town” life. They are more like my childhood than most expect, but they usually involve a lake instead of the ocean or some geo specific sport like field hockey. The net-net, I feel blessed and cursed at the same time. I love everything about the Bay Area except how ridiculously expensive it’s become to live here. But that point aside, honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.  (I’ve tried.)

Startup Marketing Madness

Standing room only for sales and marketing startup advice.

Two weeks ago I attended an event targeted at startups. The content focused on how to model sales and marketing organizations in a growing company and who to hire. There were a few items that I found really interesting.

  • The VP of Marketing role is the most difficult hire for a small company.
  • Demand generation is the core competency for hiring criteria.
  • It will be difficult to get seasoned professionals, so look for someone to grow into the role.
  • If the person hasn’t shown results in 6 month, it’s probably time to make a change.
  • No one is mentoring the next generation of marketing leaders.

Revisit the last three bullet points. You need to grow into the role but you only have 6 months to be successful.  Wait .. what???  I guess we all need to be ready to take a leap forward without any resources for help. l always did like a good challenge.

So how do you make sure you put yourself on a successful path? I’m still learning but these are the things I’ve found important.

Build your own network of mentors.

I’ve been fortunate to have incredible bosses and colleagues with different marketing competencies. There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve called my network for advice on strategy or an area where I was light on experience. These people can make a world of difference on  important projects.  I also have access to our corporate advisor who provides great executive perspective on the really difficult problems.

Align priorities with the executive team.

You can be walking into a firestorm of issues and in a small company you can’t  fix them all right away. Assess the impact of all the work needed to be done, prioritize projects and get agreement with the executive team on the things that need to be done.

Realize not everything will go right.

This has been pretty hard for me. I had the same role for about 10 years with very little change.  I was really good at it. Now, I have more responsibility for areas in which I don’t have a lot of expertise. Things don’t always go right. The most important thing is to recognize when things go wrong, admit the issues and correct course..  The great thing is that I’ve learned more in the last 6 months than I have in the last 5 years.

The buck stops here.

I still find myself pulling reports or looking at data  as if I were preparing a recommendation for someone else. Then my internal voice says, “wait you have to make that decision now.”  I pull the data again and make sure I have all the information that I need to make the best decision.    After that I double  check the data against what my gut is telling me.  If I’m stuck, I’ll go out to my network for opinions and then usually run tests of the things I’m unsure of. (The best part about being in marketing is getting to test your theories)

Hire smart people.

With a small team, I don’t have a lot of time to correct mistakes or micro-manage projects. I need direct reports and vendors that can articulate needs clearly and manage my input on the projects that they own to meet deadlines. I’m pretty honest with these people  on my expectations so we can all be efficient on what are usually very busy days. This is how I’ve always managed my projects, but now I include mentoring my staff  toward taking that next step forward.

When do you take the next step?

When I last looked at job opportunities, I went on about 30 interviews in 2 months. My decision to take on more responsibility boiled down to one thing. With a lot of people, I felt like they were bringing me in to solve the same old problems. I wanted some new challenges to take on and I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity.

23 Days and Reporting

We ended up having a gap for today’s Silicon Valley Tale, so I thought I’d write about something not that close to home – The disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370.


I’m so confused by the communication strategy. It seems like every day some other person is holding a press conference about the condition of the search, the reasons behind the disappearance or some garbage floating in the ocean.

Is this reporting style an impact of the twitter-era, real-time news world that we’ve come to live in? It’s been 23 days of leading headlines – the majority of them erroneous.  I think everyone wants resolution on the situation but this has frankly been painful. I don’t blame the families in China for wanting absolute truth of the plane’s demise.

Speaking of: shouldn’t this be about the families and company’s responsibility to account for the situation? Every day some new country, company or private citizen comes forward and frankly just creates a lot of noise and mis-information.  At this point, there’s very little opportunity for anyone to come out a hero in this situation.


As a child of the Silicon Valley boom, it’s almost incomprehensible that in this day and age, there is no “real” way to track the location of this plane.  If you take Edward Snowden at his word, we are being tracked every minute of every day from the purchases that we make to our physical location via our smartphones.

March 20, Malaysia Air, Flight 370 Search Zone Courtesy of cbsnews.com

They have millions of dollars of equipment invested in airplanes. How is it that  everything is still dependent on the little black box?  No one ever thought to push that information into the cloud?  If nothing changes, in 7-10- days when the black box transponder batteries fail, these poor families will be out of luck. The industry will have to defer resolution of the situation to satellite data analysts inventing a new mathematical model to track satellite waves bouncing off the ocean.  I guess that’s better than nothing.


Seeing that same headline every day makes me feel helpless. Satellite data, radar data and 20 countries commitment to search. There’s still nothing. They are left to use ships and airplanes to do a physical search using map grids in the largest area ever undertaken – and it took them 23 days to get this far.

After 9/11, I heard that it takes a tragedy to make significant changes in the way companies and countries do business.  I hope the airline industry takes this head-on, so that no future family has to endure a marathon of pain. Otherwise, we might as well start talking about a new Bermuda Triangle.