Coming Back: What I Love about BlogHer

BlogHer ’16 is eighteen days away.  It would probably be too ambitious to try and write a post every day between now and then, but I am not one to back down from a challenge.  I’ve written many posts in my head, but with roughly two spare hours a day, it is hard to prioritize blog posts over laundry, thank you notes and general relaxation.  Writing, however, is still where my passion is and I want to get back to it.  BlogHer usually forces me to start putting my thoughts down.

I could just blame it on the movies.   I started at right after I wrote my last post.  It’s been about five years since I made any effort to watch good movies.  Having children eliminated most trips to the movie theater and usually dictates getting to bed before 11, but now I am addicted.


My husband and I have embraced the movie night at home.  We’ve stopped aimlessly surfing and have much better viewing habits.  We are still three seasons behind on Game of Thrones, but I at least feel like I am part of the cultural norm now.  And, VEEP, fills those short snacking half hours, though mirroring the current election a little too closely.  I’ve caught up on the Hunger Games series, seen award winning movies like Brooklyn and The Martian, or simply laughed my butt off watching Deadpool.  All without commercial breaks and in high quality Blu-ray.

Rather than blame the movies, I could blame the work blog we started from scratch.  However, I have a rock star writer who has my back on that one [and she’ll be attending BlogHer ’16 for the first time].  I try from time to time to write, but I’m not a movie critic.  It is, however, a place to see my favorite movies on one of our Red Hot lists.

No, I think what’s really going on is that it is more complicated at this point in life to be transparent.   Whatever I write here reflects upon me and my personal brand.  I am conscious about what legacy I am leaving for my kids.  Despite all the challenges of being a full-time working mom in Silicon Valley, it still is very clear to me that I  have to take a moment to pause that these words will follow me around.  Yet, I also want to be a champion for women who want to be glass breakers.

This is a start.  Let’s see what the next seventeen days bring.

P.S.  This didn’t get published last night due to one little girl who refused to go to sleep.  Guess I am doing two today.





Brands Served Straight Up at Whiskies of World

Today I get to combine my raison d’etre, marketing and mixology.   Last week I took a night off to go to Whiskies of the World event at San Pedro Square Market.   Having never attended a Whiskey festival, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’ve been to many tradeshows over the years for high tech products, but how would this be different?  Besides the obvious tasty enjoyment of fine spirits?

As a marketer and a businesswoman, I often look at events with a different eye—what one might call a “brandometer”.  Did brands I love live up to my expectations?  Did I discover a new brand?  Did a brand I was lukewarm about engage me to a new level?

At regional events such as this, brands often have to make a choice about what type of manpower will staff the event.  This could be a badged employee from the company, someone from their distribution team or a paid brand evangelist.   With the hardware companies I work with, this is always a complex decision as the tradeoff is usually between cost, quality and amount of coverage.   Rather than get into a long discussion about theory, I’ll use a few examples from Whiskey Fest to illustrate the results.

For me the hands-down brand winner at the show was High West.   Often I counsel brands at events or at retail trainings to take a more agnostic approach  and teach people about the category.  Your brand will naturally be enhanced, even when mentioned with other brands.

Organoleptic Journey by High West Distillery

Various tasting cups at the Master Distiller session by High West.

Not every brand is graced with a charismatic leader,  David Perkins is the proprietor of High West and able to carry that role.  He taught the master distiller class that evening.  He led people through the chemistry of distilling or what was called an organoleptic journey.

I won’t lie, there were a few too many chemical equations on his slides, but I learned a couple of things [never drink the heads part of distilling straight, ugh].  Yet, it was what happened next that took the brand relationship to a higher level.

Vanessa and David at Whiskey Fest

Getting the VIP treatment from David at High West Distillery

We were disappointed in the distiller seminar because only a couple of High West bourbons were being tasted.  We had attended the 6-8pm tasting session and had specifically not tasted High West because we figured we’d try them at the special session.  My husband had stayed to ask a question and mentioned that we hadn’t tasted the whole line.  David then offered to take us back over to the expo, so we could complete our High West experience.  There we met the rest of the High West crew—and enjoyed the complete line of High West products.  My favorite was the Bourye ®, which was a blend of bourbon and rye.  High West was almost entirely staffed by their employees.

Another up and coming brand, 2Gingers, also did a great job engaging with customers.  Plenty of swag, a refreshing beverage [the Big Ginger] and someone working who was enthusiastic about sharing the brand reinforced my good feelings about 2Gingers, which we used to have to smuggle back from Minnesota before national availability.

Whiskey Fest Swag in San Jose

Best swag of the night was from Canadian Club. Love this shirt!

I also have to give a call out to the gentleman who was representing Canadian Club.  Though we were not familiar with Canadian Whiskies, he was patient in answering our questions while he was dying in the warm California sun. Our unseasonable spring had meant it was almost 90 degrees in the tent.  We also plan to get a bottle of the Canadian Club 12 year which was our first Canadian whiskey sample.

The most disappointing experience of the evening was at Maker’s Mark, which is our house bourbon and has been one of my favorite brands.  The gal representing the brand [with the bigger organizations, it’s not clear who is an employee–I hope she wasn’t] failed miserably at continuing the warmth that I’ve come to expect from the Maker’s Mark brand.  As an Ambassador and someone who has been to the distillery, I expected an engaging conversation around the product and experience.  The table wasn’t even busy and she was just flat.  She had no additional insight about what was happening at Maker’s Mark, nor interest.    This is where I encourage brands to continually audit those who represent them to the public.   In markets that are getting bigger and more competitive, it doesn’t have to be about the biggest splash but rather about the experience the customer has with the brands.

Enough shop talk, what were my top five bourbons that night?  {I should mention that there were a great deal of Scotch whiskies available also, but those don’t tickle my pallet.}

  1. Colorado Gold Bourbon2Gingers and High West
  2. High West Bourye
  3. 2Gingers Irish Whiskey
  4. Canadian Club 12 Year
  5. Michter’s American Whiskey

I’d love to hear from anyone else who attended Whiskies of the World in either San Jose or San Francisco, what brands or whiskies did you love?



PS   And I have to raise a glass to Dean, who has taught me so much about face to face brand advocacy.

Should You Breakup with Startups?

In a way startups are like the bad boys[or girls] in your dating repertoire.  They are exciting, risky and non-committal.  They take you places you’ve never been before–offering you the illusion of riding off into the sunset in your very own Tesla.

When the reality is you are more likely to be shutting off the lights and riding out the door in your office chair.  Startups have been breaking my heart for over 15 years.  The first was BlindGift.  Gifts for the blind, not quite, it was a way to send gifts to people you met online without knowing their physical address.   Interesting idea, just ahead of its time.  It rolled along, but  I left before the acquisition happened and my stock grant went into the pile of worthless souvenirs.

About the same time, I finished my MBA at Santa Clara with some folks who were trying to change the way personal investors could access stocks.  If you think it is hard now for women to get funding,  back then it was almost unheard of.

Then I tried a startup within a larger company.  Less risk, more resources and still the same amount of innovation.  What’s not to like about that?  Well, large companies often have less tolerance for margin draining ventures and suddenly you are handcuffed with big company process and no big company dollars.  Digital writing– it was a nice idea.  At least I got a Demo God award out of it, and a lovely dinner with our CEO for coming home with it.

It was at that point I decided to opt for big company stability for awhile, but with it, more bureaucracy than I ever could have imagined, even in a young and growing division.  Note I didn’t learn the lesson from the previous years–a comfortable boyfriend may not be the one that ignites your passion.

Former startups

Fast forward through three more startups, each more successful than the last [Lexy, Optality, Fluential…if you are keeping track].  The last one was the classic on and off relationship–one day you have money and the next day your burn rate is more than you expected and you find yourself with some extra weeks of vacation.  The promise of the future keeps you hanging on, being able to  help others live a better life, but at the end of the day, technology is always valued more than marketing by the engineers and scientists.

Throughout most of these adventures I’ve been fortunate to have a partner who had a stable job with benefits, making it easier to ride out the lean times.  So, what next?  Do I stay in Startupland or go back to the Big Leagues?  These are the three questions I am asking myself.

  1. How much do I like the ambiguity of roles?   Sure, you may have a job description when you were hired, but there are several roles in your organization which no one has thought about yet.   How much do you enjoy being IT, marketing and legal in any given day?   When there’s less than 20 people in the office, don’t be surprised if you are figuring out how to connect your laptop to wireless printer or negotiating a vendor agreement as part of your normal work day.  You have to feel comfortable with fluidity and filling in roles until the organization is ready to have them.
  2. Am I okay with just getting good experience?  I’ve never done a startup with any intention of becoming rich.  Despite the many Silicon Valley success stories, there are probably close to a million failures–and now, vacant domains.    If you want annual bonuses and some guarantees that you can put some money in a retirement plan, then early stage startups are probably not the place for you.
  3. Is work a passion for you?   Even in the most “balanced” of startups [they do exist, especially in the health and wellness arena], you want to check your email on weekends.  You are excited by the launch and are willing to put the hours into making it happen.  This last one is the key area for me.   I love bringing new ideas to market.    I’ve worked on some amazing technologies and maybe they weren’t the right idea at the right time, but every time I believed that someone’s life would be better if we brought it to market.

So, what next?  Like the men who have been in my life, I believe that each company and job bring you the knowledge you need at the right time.   What’s most important to me is who I’m working with, doesn’t matter if it is small or big.  I want to have success with a team I enjoy spending every single work day with.

What about you?  Are you the startup type?

Lean In to Running

Almost four months post-babies, I ran a 5k for the first time in five years. I find that running is something you need to either do and commit to, or do something else instead. Like with most sports, consistency and practice make you stronger and better, but the hard part for most women is: where do I schedule it in?

Even though someone gave me a rugged jogging stroller after my first child was born, I never used it. By the time his neck was strong enough to sit in it, I was back at work and barely finding enough energy to find my bed at night.

Now I have a bigger problem. Even though I take my four-legged kid out for a run with me, whenever I walk out the door my husband is left behind with a three year old and five month old twins. Seriously outnumbered.

Plus, I’m not inherently someone who loves running. My best runs happen when I’m happily chatting along with someone else. I’m what one would call a social exerciser. In fact, I ran my 5k with a friend I’ve known since kindergarten. We hadn’t seen each other in almost two years, but we had a very pleasant and motivating run. It was a perfect way to catch up with each other.

Sharks Fitness Faceoff 2014 Vanessa Fiske

Karen and I, friends for more years than I care to admit at the Sharks Fitness Faceoff

This got me thinking: how do I gather all the women who want to run the Rock n Roll Half Marathon with me in October and coordinate a running schedule where we can leave the babies behind and escape for an hour or two? It all boils down to one sentence: “Ask more of your partner and less of yourself.”

It doesn’t matter who is working or is staying at home. Both endeavors are equally taxing and everyone deserves time to keep themselves healthy. Motherhood often leaves women drained, but we have to remember that the dishes will get washed, the laundry will get done—our health and sanity should come first. Running is an empowering exercise that builds character—reminds you that you are strong. And, it doesn’t matter if you run one mile or ten.

I’m fortunate that I have a husband who is extremely supportive of my exercise efforts. In fact, I think I am getting more exercise than him lately. I look forward to the day when the kids are older and we are out running, biking and skating with them. Until then, it is simply a tag team effort.

For those ready to run, here’s the training schedule I’ll be following. I actually do a run/walk program that is easier on the knees.

For my friends attending BlogHer ’14, my work running buddy and dietitian friend Nancy put together this blog post with some suggested running routes in San Jose, along with tips on how to stay in shape while you’re traveling. For any early arrivals, I’m happy to meet up in the mornings for a quick run.

BlogHer ’14: What Lens are You Looking Through?

I’m so excited that I don’t have to travel this year for BlogHer.  As a native San Jose gal, I’m proud that our city is hosting the 10th anniversary of BlogHer.  It’s been fun to answer people’s questions about where to eat [San Pedro Square Market] or what to go see  [The Tech Museum of Innovation].  I’m also happy to take any fellow ice hockey players to Sharks Ice, which hosts the largest adult league west of the Mississippi, for a quick skate.

I have mixed emotions about BlogHer this year.  I had been hoping that the startup that I work for would be having a space and providing some really cool activities for fellow attendees.  As anybody in the Valley knows, product development doesn’t always go as planned and, alas, a month ago I found myself with some extra time on my hands.  So, instead, I am going as myself and with a blog that isn’t as evolved as I’d like it to be.

I’ll be looking and experiencing BlogHer ’14 through a marketer’s lens.  What brands created the most buzz through their sponsorships, activities or swag.   I attended BlogHer ’10 as a vendor.  It was an invaluable investment of time that prompted the creation of a new line of headphones for women.  It wasn’t about just changing the color.   Everyone kept coming up to us and asking if we had smaller sized headphones.  Women’s ears are smaller and the standard size just doesn’t stay in.  And, when you hear it over and over for a couple of days, you listen.

Angel and I sharing a delicious moment with the Pillsbury doughboy at BlogHer '10.

Angel and I sharing a delicious moment with the Pillsbury doughboy at BlogHer ’10.

I’m excited to be on the attendee side this year and be contributing thoughts.  I’m one of the lucky that have received an invitation for the Merck for Mothers event.  I bet they don’t even know how near and dear the subject is to me.  As someone who has experienced preeclampsia in two pregnancies and had several friends with postpartum bleeding episodes [it’s more common than you think], I’m all for trying to educate as well as find answers.

During the show I’d love to hear about your experiences with the brands.  Feel free to comment here, come find me [I’m in the BlogHer app] or tweet me @mktgmixologist.




What I’ve Been Doing

How can a marketing person not be updating their blog?   You know the importance of it, though what usually happens is the brand you are working on becomes more important than your personal brand.

I’ve been working on launching a new adventure, Calio.  I find it fascinating that technology has not transformed the weight loss industry yet.  It is an industry worth over $60B, yet many of the methods are the same.  Expedia changed the way we book travel.  iTunes changed the way we listen to music.   Where’s the innovation in weight loss?  Wearables have been a step forward, but they are data collectors–meaningful analysis and insight are not readily given.   I am so excited to be developing and nurturing a brand promise.

If launching a new brand isn’t enough, my blogs at Calio will make it really clear what reasons #2 & #3 are for not blogging.  Here’s a hint [Before Blog; After Blog].

If you are interested in losing a few pounds this summer in a totally different way, post a comment and I’ll send you a beta invitation.  Meanwhile, enjoy this quick and easy salmon recipe to get you started on good eating this summer.


Super simple salmon



Spin and Other Delights at SF PR Summit 2013

Yesterday I took a break from the challenging road of startup marketing and spent the day being inspired by peers and leaders in the media, technology and life.

The overarching theme of the conference is storytelling, which is really the new buzzword for marketing.  Storytelling has always been at the heart of brand creation and elevation.   Even in the driest B2B presentation, you are creating the image in the buyer’s mind of a better organization, driven by the successful use of new tools.  

As the app marketplace becomes increasingly more and more crowded, the latest numbers being over 1 million offerings in each of the Apple and Google stores, it is becoming more and more difficult to elevate products above the noise.  Some thoughts on taking your product to the next level from yesterday’s speakers:

Noel Lee of Monster Cable– Romance your product, make others fall in love with it.   No one “needed” better cables, but his passion to help others experience better audio has driven category expansion and profit.

Kym McNicholas– Show me, don’t tell me.  Create an emotional connection.  Every good product interview should revolve around five must have points and there should be stories for each.  Stories that don’t involve the words:  revolutionary, game changer, leading and thought leader.

Brian Solis- Businesses need to create experiences to succeed in the future.   Good marketing “creates a sense of urgency to do something with it.”  This is key to preventing your app from being removed from someone’s phone.   Check out Brian’s new book for more.  “What’s the Future of Business?”

My favorite panel was on competitive analytics.  What is clearer and clearer to me every day is that marketing requires more math than ever before, which as a liberal arts major who took the minimal amount should frighten me.  But, it doesn’t as I think that all the new available data just makes me smarter than ever before.   The key is figuring out what the right metrics are for your business, which will tell you whether or not your strategy is successful.

Favorite speakers who I’d like to hear on a panel again:

Jolie O’Dell @jolieodell

Kumi Rauf @ilovebeingblack

Jai Decker @jaidecker

Chris Heuer @chrisheuer

Sarah Cornwell  @sccornwell


Sites/Apps that I need a minute to check out:

Tracker, Kissmetrics, Compete, TimeHop


Want to get inspired today?  Follow the conference on Twitter at #sfprsummit