Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

You might have noticed a little change in the subtitle of our Silicon Valley Tales blog. Four years ago, I invited my friends to write about their experiences in Silicon Valley. After two years, the posts slowed to a crawl. Many of us, including me, had life changes that included relocation. First I moved to Portland, Oregon and now I live New York City. Some of the other authors are traveling the world or living in different states and countries. The booming tech economy is spreading across the globe, and I finally realized it gives us the opportunity to tell new stories.

I’ll start with New York City. Most people move to this little island at the start of their careers. It’s a bit weird to arrive here in the middle, but it’s been a great adventure so far. The hardest thing to get used to isn’t the weather, (although everyone tried to scare the crap out of this West Coaster) it’s the sheer volume of people. 1.6 million people live in the 22 square mile space that makes up the island of Manhattan. Think about doubling the population of San Francisco in half of the space. On top of that, the number of people doubles in any given weekday from employees commuting into work.

I knew I was signing up for a lot of neighbors when I moved, but there have been two times in the last five months where the sheer volume of people just shocked me. The first time, I was trying to find my way to my new office in the morning commute. Yes, I was one of “those people.” I was wandering down the street, phone in hand, trying to use Google Maps. I missed a turn and wanted to course correct. I looked up to make sure I wasn’t going to get run over by stopping my tracks. I was. For sure, I was. There was nowhere to step out of the way of the traffic stream. A block later, I finally navigated into a gap to catch my breath. After I finished having a panic attack, I found my building and walked around the block to get back to the correct set of doors.

Finding the right entry doors in Manhattan is kind of like a game, especially when you take the subway. This is where the second “crowd-experience” happened. When I lived in the Bay Area, I took BART for ten years. Before I left, commuters politely queued for the next train and boarded in an orderly fashion. That doesn’t happen here. Luckily, I only live one express stop away from my office. Every morning, I head down the subway stairs and stand with the rest of the crowd on the platform. Then, we all try and shove in the train the best that we can. As a side note, it’s been interesting to watch the subway crowd size change based on the days of the week, holidays and the weather. One day, right before Christmas, I was standing on the platform. My train pulled up and stopped. The doors opened, and the force of the crowd shoved me into the train. I’m not sure that I even took one step. It was one of the weirdest sensations that I have ever had.

Even with all the people, you can have some amazing experiences in the pockets of quiet. One night I was wandering home pretty late, and it started snowing. It was my first snow experience in New York City, and it was magical. There were maybe five other people in Union Square at the time. I was standing on the sidewalk in heels with no gloves or hat, staring at the sky and smiling like a crazy person. I looked over at a guy who was manning his food cart. He chuckled at me and gave me a thumbs up. That pretty much sums up my New York experience so far. It’s a little crazy. I’m not quite prepared. There are a ton of people, but most of them are pretty great.

My So Called Life—Day Job or Dating

“My So-Called Life” was a 1990s TV show that showcased a bastion of teen angst.  Many of the shows plots focused on Claire Dane’s character, Angela crushing on heartthrob Jordan Catalano. In the new world of single adults, does this type of angsty behavior still happen? Does anyone have time for it?

18z8n5rf74zw8jpgI have dated a lot. Sometimes I love dating and sometimes I hate it. To be honest, I’ve been on a dating hiatus for a while now.  It just seems like so much work and I put so much energy into my work day that I just want to be quiet when I go home at night.

I had a revelation this week. I think my day job is sucking up all my personal dating juice. Who knew that B2B Marketing and dating have so much in common? I don’t know why I didn’t see this before. It seems pretty obvious.

Here are a few things you have to do for both:

  1. Communicate authentically. Don’t try and be something you’re not. People see right through that. It’s one of those kindergarten lessons that stay with you for life. It’s the worst to meet someone in person that oversells themselves on a dating profile. Same is true in marketing.  Don’t oversell your features or promise things that aren’t in your product domain.
  2. Build relationships. You have to meet people and then get to know them. Building relationships often gives you insights that you wouldn’t see by just basing decisions on a first impression. Sometimes it takes awhile to see who a person is. Sometimes it takes awhile to see what product is like.  If you build a relationship by adding value to that person’s world and listen to what they are looking for, it’s likely they’ll come around.
  3. Find a channel that worksNot all avenues are equal. Find the best path to leads. Optimize and limit the areas that don’t work. It sounds cold, but you might be a Tinder or Hinder person in the digital dating world. Match.com and EHarmony might be too time consuming for you. Find the channel that works best for your personal habits.  Same is true in B2B marketing. We’re constantly optimizing digital channels to find leads that meet the needs of our sales teams.
  4. Setup qualifications. It’s important to know what you are looking for so you can make sure you are moving in the right direction. Also note that it’s Ok if  your criteria changes over time. (Do I really have to expand on this? I think I’ll skip it.)
  5. Leverage your network. I think every daytime TV host has done a show on this topic. Who are your brand or personal influencers? Can they help connect you to people that are qualified targets?  I don’t expect Oprah to walk out and say “here’s a boyfriend for you.. and a boyfriend for you.. and a boyfriend for you” but a hint or a direct question to the right person may put you in the path of exactly the person you are looking for.  The same is true for your company or product. (Is Oprah not a contextual reference anymore?) 🙂

So what’s a girl to do? How do you save some energy for your personal brand when it’s part of your start-up day job? Suggestions and adult Jared Leto substitutes welcome.

Classic MashUp

Welcome to daylight saving. That time of year when the days get longer, the temperature gets warmer and we reboot Silicon Valley Tales – The Extended Version. More and more of our authors (including myself) find themselves living outside of Silicon Valley but still have great experiences to share. To get us started, I’m going to share a mashed-up classic.

Richard Scarry

Some of my favorite childhood books were from Richard Scarry. (Not coincidentally because my cool, big-brother loved them.) If you were a US-born GenXer, you grew up with these classic books that showed you animal figures in perfect caricature of town people, country people or city people. Imagine my delight, when I saw a modern reboot of “Busy Town” by Ruben Bolling on the Tom The Dancing Bug website.

But, low-and-behold, it set-off a big debate about what should be included among my circle of friends. Here are ten things that came up.

  1. Too many suits—there should be more skinny jeans and hoodies
  2. Tesla; there needs to be a Tesla.
  3. The tech executive should be wearing a black oxford and black jeans.
  4. There should be a disproportionately priced modern house located downtown.
  5. While the “naked” cat is appreciated, it should really be taking a selfie,
  6. Everyone should be looking at a mobile device.
  7. Coffee should be more prominently featured
  8. “Content” made it, but no social network?
  9. The rage pundit should be doing a podcast.
  10. What, no food truck?

In reading some of the original comments, one person says, “being fresh on the job market, this is freakishly accurate.” But of all the comments, my favorite is “At least my hero, Lowly, (the worm) is still doing something real.” What do you think should be included?

A Shazbat Remembrance

14704844300_f92c38cd25_oIt’s not every day that someone mentions the latest celebrity death and the entire office gasps. There are so many reason to be sad about the passing of Robin Williams. How depression impacts people. How it relates to addiction. The passing of one of the funniest people on the planet.

I grew up in the era of latchkey kids. My Mom went back to work when I was in 3rd grade, right around 1978.  I’d walk up the hill to my house, make a snack and go turn on the TV while i did my homework. Yes, TV became my friend.  And right around 1978,  one of my best friends was Mork. Mork and Mindy was one of those shows that you watched with you parents and everyone laughed. Sometimes my parents laughed at a really strange part and for two seconds I wondered why.   Even with those crazy suspenders, Mork made the most complex, adult issues seem easy for an 8 year old.  Years later, it was great to watch the re-runs and revisit all the jokes  that had previously gone over my head.

Another childhood favorite was Popeye. This movie brought together cartoon characters, live action, musical numbers and clearly took all the scariness out of Shelly Duvall’s role in The Shining. I was never a huge fan of the cartoon, but it was a movie my brother and I could both agree to watch as young children. (God forbid)

As I got older, the roles Robin Williams took had a familiar father/teacher theme.. Dead Poet’s Society, Hook, The World According to Garp, Good Morning Vietnam, Good Will Hunting, etc… In a world where everyone told you that you can’t change people (especially men), Robin played roles that did. He made his students better people, learned to love his children more, and helped a really smart guy communicate better. As a young woman deep in the dating pool, it felt like he hit the trifecta of unobtainable change.

After that, he joined the wonderful world of Disney.I am a huge fan of Disney animated movies. I remember when they said that the next animated movie was Aladdin. After Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, I couldn’t imagine how they were going to make this move featuring a male lead enjoyable. Then they added Robin to the cast and it was a whole new world. My favorite tweet remembrance so far comes from Aladdin via The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science,”Genie, you’re free.” It’s become somewhat controversial but I take it to represent his metaphysical state now, not how he got there.

On and on it went. At every major milestone in my life, there was a Robin Williams movie that accompanied the change.  I couldn’t bear to watch when he played dramatic parts, but he alway came back to the quirky, funny and vulnerable roles that I loved. I know every generation goes through this type of experience. The passing of a major entertainment figure that marks a moment of time. I think it came too soon for Robin Williams. I think it might feel too soon for everyone. Maybe my parents said the same thing about Elvis.

Photo courtesy of: Tecnomovida Caracas

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.)

juliebigwheel 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

photo-2

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.

Communication

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.

Technology

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.

Helplessness

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.