Monthly Archives: January 2015

On Hiring a Team

It’s been about two years since I last hired someone, but I can feel the muscle memory kicking interviewin.  That delicate balance of both buying and selling at the same time; the drive past where the candidate starts towards what I need to know about what they’ve done and how they’ve done it; the explanations of what the role, team, product, and company are like.

The first time I was involved in hiring people it was at a small reseller and I interviewed all our potential college hires.  I learned how to disarm people to get to the meat of their accomplishments.  My favorite example was of someone who leaned back in his chair and proudly told me that he didn’t buy any of his textbooks in college.  I also learned how accurate first impressions usually are in the long term.  It wasn’t solely up to me whether someone got the job or not, but I often was the gate through which candidates had to pass.

When I hired at Dell, it was for my own team that I was building, somewhat from scratch.  I learned that people usually forgot to ask about what the role entailed day-to-day, and that was a major source of issues down the road.  “Solutions Marketing Manager”, as it turned out, could mean a lot of things, and not all of them had to do with what I was hiring for.  I learned that finding things people were proud of was the best way to learn who they really were and what they really wanted.

Maybe most importantly, I learned that a former manager of mine was right in valuing a diversity of skills on a team over any one top contributor, although I probably didn’t appreciate that until far after the interviewing part was over.  Hiring a team from scratch really forced me to think through what I saw the team as growing into.  Handling people’s questions about culture and career path and priorities forced me into forming opinions about those things in a way no other exercise would have.

Now I’m hiring again for my own team, from scratch.  What I’m learning is not really about the process or the hiring per se, but about how to describe the job to someone.  Startup jobs by their nature are less well-defined than jobs at larger, more established companies, and yet someone has to decide to take a job doing something.  I’ve been breaking it down for candidates as I mentioned earlier: role, team, product, company, which seems to work for most people.

What’s also been really interesting this time around is that I am working on our company and product messaging at the same time as I’m recruiting people.  So each interview or phone screen is also an opportunity to hone our messaging, to practice explaining what we do to someone who is smart but not familiar with us, and see if it works.  I’m not hiring IT professionals (our target audience) but people who professionally market and sell to IT professionals are a good proxy.

Hiring: it’s one of the most important things I will do in the first half of this year.

Three places where women don’t check their phones

When I was growing up (in the ’80’s) phones were definitely associated with girls. I can phoenremember spending hours on the phone with my girlfriends, talking about who-knows-what because usually I had spent the entire day with them.  We called boys – sometimes – but those were quick, awkward conversations. Girls were on the phone with girls.

In fact, we all talked on the phone so much that many of our parents set limits to how much we could be on the phone – 30 minutes or an hour on a school night, for example.

Fast forward to today, and everyone I know is on their phone – constantly.  In bed, while watching TV, on the train, in the bathroom, at work, at dinner, at social events. Constant compulsive checking phones and texting and opening up Facebook and Twitter because you.can’t.stop.

At my house, we’ve tried to set some limits on phone use for us adults, but with little success – we’re tethered.

There have been only three situations in the past year where I found myself in environments without compulsive phone checking, and both have been all-women’s events.  Coincidence?

Once was at the Massachusetts Women’s Conference.  With 10,000 women in the general sessions, of course there were people checking phones in the audience, but nowhere near as much as you see at a typical conference.  In the smaller sessions, I hardly saw any phones come out.

The second places was at an alumni mentoring event that was half recent college grads and half those of us in our 30’s and 40’s.  I am pretty sure that I was the only person who took out her phone at all during the 2-hour event, and I did it with a degree of shame!  (In my defense, my husband was traveling and I wanted to make sure the babysitter didn’t have any questions.)

The third is at my monthly professional lunch meeting.  8-10 women around the table, and phones usually don’t come out for 90 minutes until we need to talk scheduling.

So the interesting question here is “why”.  Why are women’s-only events places where we check our phones less?   Here are some hypotheses:

1. Some number of women, for whatever reason, are less inclined to compulsively check their phones.  As such, the phenomenon of contagious phone checking is less impactful.  (Maybe. Not sure how to figure this one out.)

2. Women care less about their jobs, so they’re less invested in checking email when they’re out of the office.  (Just kidding, want to make sure you’re still reading.)

3. Women consider these networking events crucial to their success and don’t want anything interrupting them.  (A good hypothesis.  Especially in male-dominated fields like mine, I’m not running into people in the men’s room or the golf course – so these events are my chance to forge those bonds.)

I think that last hypothesis is the most likely – and I’ll take it even a step further.  I consider the time I spend doing these things “my” time in a way that almost nothing else I do belongs to me.  I’m not saying I have no downtime – I do.  But I might spend it watching TV (with my husband) or shopping (usually for babyDiva) or cooking (which I love, but it’s for the family). And going to professional development events is something that is really, truly, just for me.

Maybe this is how other people feel about the gym.  But that’s another post for another time.


How Tina Fey and Amy Poehler let me down

After watching too much NFL this weekend, I skipped watching the Golden Globes. But I like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, so I watched their opening monologue (dualogue?) on Monday morning.  You can watch it here.golden_globes_amy_tina_2015_-_Google_Search

I found parts of it funny, but a few parts of nagged at me as not funny – not only not funny, but offensive.  Then I read this commentary on how they made this the first feminist film awards ceremony.

And I thought, “wow – that’s exactly NOT how I felt about it.”

The two items I was most uncomfortable about were mentioned in this article: one was the “game” they played of which of two actors they preferred physically, and one was their set of jokes about Bill Cosby.

If we look at their “game” my immediate thought was – wow – if two guys were hosting the Globes, and started comparing which of two actresses they found more attractive, we’d probably be disgusted.  Where is our disgust for the converse?

And regarding Bill Cosby, I was deeply offended that women would make jokes around someone accused of a lifetime of sexual assault and abuse.  Is there any way that his alleged victims would have found that funny?

This all reminded me of a discussion that my professional networking group had last week. We were talking about the things we do as women to fit into men’s cultural dominance in our industries.  I gave the example of becoming an NFL fan because if I didn’t follow football I couldn’t talk to my sales guys or customers for 7 months a year.

We didn’t come to a great conclusion.  I mean, we all kind of agreed that if it didn’t offend your “self” (watching football vs going to a strip club) that it was probably good and maybe even necessary.  But I’m not sure any of us walked away satisfied or comfortable with that answer.

In this excellent post about women in Silicon Valley, Nancy Householder Hauge takes Sheryl’s Sandberg’s style of assimilating into the Temple of Male Behavior to task directly.  She writes, “Until people who have created their success by worshipping at the temple of male behavior, like Sheryl Sandberg, learn to value alternate behaviors, the working world will remain a foreign and hostile culture to women.”

As will, likely, Hollywood.  Brava to Charlize Theron for going after the $10M Sony should have offered her, but she had to go get it.

Anyway, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have done a lot for women in entertainment.  Along with other leaders in women’s comedy like Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Rosanne Barr, Ellen Degeneres, and Rhea Perlman, they have demonstrated that women can be funny on the big screen and the small, as actors and producers, and succeed at the highest levels.

So isn’t it time Tina and Amy do it on terms that are comfortable for women?

When did product marketing get hot?

I’m hiring for a few roles on my team, and have had several discussions with recruiters this week.  One of them commented that last year Product Marketing was the role in the highest demand – that it was very competitive because everyone seemed to be hiring for it.

I should mention that she mostly works with high-growth startups in the Boston area.

I’ve been thinking about why this might be for the past few days.  Here’s what i’ve come up with.

1. She’s lying in an effort to inflate her value and increase my salary range.

Verdict: unlikely.  She’s came highly recommended from a trusted source.

2. There’s some weird perfect storm in Boston that is causing a surge in demand for this role.

Verdict: unlikely.  Most of the tech startups in Boston sell to a national or international audience.

3. All the interest in “content marketing” (driven by buyer’s access to information outside of relationships with vendors and VARs) is actually interest in what we used to call “product marketing.”

Verdict: Now we’re getting somewhere.

This idea is really interesting to me because it’s happening in my field right now.  Here’s the basics: Corporate Executive Board (and many others) suggest that buyers are 60% of the way through the buying cycle by the time they reach out directly to the vendor.

The natural takeaway to that is that if vendors want to influence these buyers, we have to get in front of them where they are looking – and that might be third-party sites, organic and paid web searches, conferences, and communities.  They aren’t simply reading an article about us, then typing our URL into their browser to learn more.

So there is a new industry of people who know how to find these buyers, and who run these communities, and conferences, and who will syndicate your content to channels where these buyers are looking, sometimes in what seems like a vendor-neutral perspective.

And it’s not to trivialize or minimize these people’s jobs, because I’ve met many of them and this is a real thing, but at the heart of it, it’s the people who understand both the technology and the buyer, and who know how to communicate it, who have to create the content.  And that’s product marketing.

Put another way, the industry is shifting from a model where buyers turn to vendor sales teams to usher them through the process to a model where buyers do more of their own research and only contact vendors later in the process.  This means vendors need to shift the makeup of sales and marketing to have fewer people in traditional sales roles.  Then there is more pressure to hire people who can create and deliver the content buyers are looking for early in the process, and participate in technical communities.

Enter product marketing.

(Psst, if you live in Boston, work in tech, and find either of these roles interesting, let me know!)

Grande non-fat extra-hot decaf caramel latte

As a welcome to 2015, Boston has been gifted … winter.  It is cold out there!  So this morning red cupon my way in I stopped at Starbucks for a grande non-fat extra-hot decaf caramel latte. You know, just a cup of coffee.

I had to say my order three times – once to a barista who was filling in at a cash register, once to a manager who shooed her back to the bar and rang me up, and then again to another cashier who finally charged for my order because the first cash register was out of service.

And that is a mouthful – grande non-fat extra-hot decaf caramel latte.  (Nevermind the stress of saying it in the right order and the shame of accidentally calling it a “medium”)  So by the time I got to the guy who was ringing me up, I just said “grande caramel latte” because those were the items that impacted what they were going to charge me.

I got to thinking – who at Starbucks actually need to know what parts of that order?  How much value is there in their business systems knowing that particular combination is important to me?

I’ve had the same thought at the supermarket, when I’ve bought, say, two pints of ice cream (don’t judge!) and they are different flavors, but the cashier rings them up as two of the same flavor.  I mean, with all the computing power and analytics behind Big Data, don’t Ben and Jerry or at least Stop & Shop care that the same person who buys Chunky Monkey also buys Chubby Hubby, rather than two pints of Chunky Monkey?

And it seems like there are two issues – one is knowing the customer (she buys those flavors together) and the other is inventory (we have two fewer shots of decaf than we had before this transaction).

Maybe there is enough volume at supermarkets and Starbucks that it just doesn’t matter. Maybe Starbucks knows that decaf is under-reported by 15% and rung up as high-test, so they compensate for that.  Or maybe they track stock based on other indicators, not based on transactions.  Maybe two Chunky Monkeys get rung up as often as two Chubby Hubbys.  chunky-monkey

That leaves the customer side of it – knowing what customers want what things. And here’s where I really wonder what’s going on.  Something like “extra hot” probably isn’t rung up on the cash register.  (Even if I’m a more fairly compensated Starbucks barista, when it gets busy at the store, I’m going to focus on getting the drinks out, not ringing up all the adjectives).

But wouldn’t Starbucks want to know if everyone who orders decaf also orders extra-hot?  Even selfishly? (Maybe there’s something chemical that’s causing the coffee to come out colder. Or maybe the people who order decaf want it to warm their hands.)  What about a sudden increase in extra-hot requests without a change in weather?  (Maybe there’s something wrong with the machines at that store.)

And milk preference – what if people who order caramel lattes almost always order them with whole milk?  Maybe that means that skim caramel lattes don’t taste as good, so if someone orders that (~$.50 upsell on the caramel) they should be offered whole milk to try to gain them as a syrup-adding customer.  Or maybe it means that people who order whole milk lattes are prone to being open to syrup combinations, so they should be offered a “hazelnut caramel” whatever-a-ccino with an extra syrup upsell.

The truth is, Starbucks is doing pretty well without my crack team analysis.  I just spend so much time reading and learning about Big Data from the technology side that the mechanics of implementing it in retail are a fascinating thought experiment for me.

2014: My Year of Transitions

I hate change – and transitions.  And in 2014 I’ve had a boatload of them.  When I look at 20142014, I think it may be the year I learned to be more comfortable with change.  Let’s see what changed in my life this year:

In January, I left Dell after 8 years and in March I joined Infinio.  We sold one of our cars and I began commuting by MBTA.  In June, mrDiva and I jumped at the chance to buy our dream home next door to our former home, securing our ability to stay in our wonderful neighborhood.  Our summer was about renovations and moving, then mrDiva resumed his travel schedule to the West Coast while I absorbed lots of change at work as I learned how dynamic being at a startup really is.

If you don’t know me in real life (or you don’t this part of me) it’s hard to express exactly how much I hate change.  I recently got a tablet to replace my 5-year old Dell laptop and I hate it.  I don’t actually hate it, but I hate learning how to use it.  I felt like this when I got a MacBook Air for work.  You know, the world’s favorite laptop.  I just hate change.  So to change jobs, homes, and routine in one year – that is a lot for me.

And oh yeah, all the while, babyDiva went from toddling and babbling to running and speaking in full sentences, as almost-two-year-olds are wont to do.

Truly, I think it is being her mom that has contributed the most to my being comfortable with change.  Being a parent has been just a major lesson in dealing with uncertainty – not just the daily uncertainties of “will she like ziti on tuesday” and “does she want the stuffed dog in her crib tonight” but Big Uncertainties like “am I teaching her to be confident” and “will she grow up to be happy and healthy.”  You know, the things that you have no control over.

Being a parent has also been a great lesson in transitions – first off, my kid is great with transitions.  One classroom to another at school – no sweat.  New house – no sweat.  Mom travels one week, Dad the next – no sweat.  She just adjusts very well to things.  But she is also constantly changing – babbling to words to sentences seemingly overnight.  Rolling over to toddling to walking to running.  Acquiring new words at a daily clip.  New gross motor skills; new fine motor skills – it’s like coming home to a different kid every few days.

People talk about how being a parent is great for being a professional, but that’s usually about multitasking.  I was already a great multi-tasker.  Being a parent is great for my being a professional because it’s made me more comfortable with change, with uncertainty, and with transitions.

And it is a great thing to be good at transitions…..because (spoiler alert) in May of 2015, we will excitedly welcome miniDiva (or miniDivo) to our growing family.

I’m thrilled with how 2014 turned out and the positive changes for my family.  I’ve worked hard, learned a lot, taken a lot of risks, and ended up in a happier place.  I can only hope for more of the same in 2015.

Happy New Year to all.