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

Mixing It All Up

This post marks the start of a different journey for me.  For years I have had my social media life in silos, never mixing work and pleasure. I’m still a few weeks away from a blog over haul, bringing forth visuals and navigation that will allow you to read the subjects that you care about, whether it be marketing, mixology, Bay Area living or parenthood.  Until then, enjoy a sampling of what’s to come.

Refreshing Watermelon Vodka Cocktail

Saddle Creek Cooler

One cup of  seedless watermelon, cubed

2 oz. vodka

Sparkling Ice Kiwi Strawberry Soda

Take large highball glass and put cubed watermelon in the bottom.  Using either a long spoon or wooden spoon handle to muddle.  Fill glass half way up with ice.  Add the vodka, then fill to the top of the glass with sparkling water.  Stir thoroughly [at least 30 seconds to mix the watermelon puree with other ingredients].  If you wish, you can substitute the sparkling water with blood orange Italian soda.


Marketing to Volunteers: How Do You Get People to Give Their Time?

 A couple weekends ago I was in a room with twenty-seven volunteers, working with our city councilman to help make our district and our city a better place.   He’s new to his position and reaching out to his constituency to find out what matters and to create a leadership council.  

There’s just one problem—over 70% of the folks there were over 50, if not closer to 70.  Even though our district has their share of retirees, I can tell you for a fact that 70% of our district population is not over the age of 70.    When the attendees were asked what the #1 concern of their neighborhood was besides crime/safety issues –the answers varied but included potholes, gophers, code enforcement, fiscal responsibility, parks, graffiti, and the next generation of leadership.

They, too, were wondering where the younger faces were.  Why was it so hard to get people to volunteer for leadership positions?  In talking with a gentleman afterwards who has a son my age, he said he blames himself.  He understands that we are a time-crunched generation, but he feels like he failed to instill the value of giving back– and not simply by writing a check.

Running a neighborhood group as part of a larger parents’ organization I see the same cycle repeated.  In a recent blog by the Hands On Network,  they cited that in the recent year [2011-2012] only 26% of the US population volunteered.   I’m actually surprised it is that high as you talk to most leaders of a volunteer organization and they’ll tell you that 10% does the work for the other 90%.    When this happens, leadership gets burned out and the future of the organization is in jeopardy.

I’ve solved many complex marketing problems in my time, but I find that convincing participants to become volunteers is my hardest marketing challenge yet.    Some tactics that I am looking at using in the coming months include:

  • Recognizing Talents and Strengths—sometimes all it takes is reaching out to someone and telling them that they did a great job.   Then, asking if they’d like to apply those same talents for more people.   For instance if you know someone who has an extensive set of Pinterest boards, why not ask them to start a Pinterest presence for your organization.
  • Strategic Intent and a Higher Inspiration—members of your organization usually believe in your cause, but are they clear about what the organization hopes to accomplish in the next three- five years?  I had the great privilege of studying under the late C.K. Prahalad, author of many books and articles on topics like core competencies. His co-authored article on Strategic Intent I’ve never forgotten. Organizations and companies often struggle when there isn’t a shared understanding of the greater vision.   No one is clear what to do next because they aren’t sure where they are going besides the next event.  Reiterate vision, mission and purpose in your communications.
  • Creating Smaller Pieces—most people are afraid of long-term commitment and endless meetings that they don’t have time for.   Whether it is an annual event, reviewing by-laws or managing a social media presence, create opportunities for people to contribute that are time-bounded.   Most people can give an hour or two, and they are more likely to if that is the real commitment.

That’s just my starting point.  I’d love to hear from the non-profit community about how you get your members, especially your 25-45 year old members,  to volunteer.