I love internet memes, so how could I resist when Tim Walker tagged me for this one? Like Tim, I’ll try to keep it within the themes I typically mine here: marketing, social media, careers, etc. But the focus won’t render this post impersonal. To quote Loudon Wainwright III from ‘One Man Guy’, “Almost all these songs I write somehow pertain to me.” So I’ll start with the career arc to date, work it into my focus on marketing, and conclude with the next big thing on my horizon.
- I did not set out to be a marketer or even a businessperson. I dropped out after my first year of college to play in bands. It was 1979, so the fact that I didn’t play an instrument at the time didn’t slow me down. I bought a bass and was in a band within two weeks. Columbia, Missouri was constraining for a music career, so we moved to Chicago. One of my bands (Club of Rome) was well-known on the scene there to the point that some kids from the suburbs called Smashing Pumpkins opened for us on occasion. (They were terrible but I hear they’ve improved). These days music is just something I play for the kids, but I played a lot as an acoustic solo in Austin in the late ’90’s, including the SXSW music festival a couple of times.
- Being well-known on the local indie music scene is fun but doesn’t pay well. I worked as a bartender. At one of those jobs, in a Theatre District cafe called Periwinkle, I poured drinks for both Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and George Wendt (Norm from ‘Cheers’). As a bartender, serving Norm a beer was a bigger deal than fixing a spritzer for Plant.
- Tending bar is steadier work than being an indie rocker but I wasn’t getting solvent doing either. Without my wife’s salary as an RN we wouldn’t have made it. In the late 1980’s we relocated to Austin, TX to be closer to her aging parents. I took advantage of Texas’ low in-state tuition to finish that long-delayed education. At the age of 35 I graduated with a BA in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin. I would not have been able to achieve that without Austin Community College giving me the chance to raise my GPA and my skills. If I’m ever able to give a multi-million dollar gift to an educational institution it’ll be ACC. There is something noble in giving a second chance to people willing to work for it.
- I did what anyone with 13 years of bartending experience and a Sociology degree would do: I moved into management at the local restaurant chain where I’d tended bar. After two years I was fired. Because I was going through the motions but not focused on growing and maximizing the business. It remains the most powerful business lesson I’ve ever learned: business is all about the business.
- I took that lesson to my next job, managing a retail import store called Tesoros Trading Company. The focus I’d learned let me turn around a troubled business by focusing on the people. We couldn’t pay much but we needed educated staff who could expertly discuss folk art and crafts from around the world. So I transitioned to a labor model using lots of part-timers: mostly graduate students from the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) at UT. They were happy to work for low pay in exchange for doing work they found meaningful. Working with grad students made me think about grad school. I began the application process for a Master’s in Social Work to turn that long-dormant Sociology degree into a career. One of my employees, Ronda Brulotte (now teaching at the University of New Mexico) asked “Russ, are you sure that social work is what you want to do? You won’t make any more money than you do now. You’re good at managing businesses. Why not get an MBA?” I responded “I don’t know…does an MBA make more money than a social worker?” She gave me a withering glare that said “Look it up, idiot”…so I did. I learned on the spot how to calculate a no-brainer ROI. Two years later I had an MBA from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin with a Marketing concentration. Ronda, I owe you!
- Just as with the bass, I learned quickly. Jobs weren’t plentiful for the Class of 2002 but I scored a gig at Sabre Holdings in Dallas-Fort Worth. I learned to turn data into insight and insight into profitable business decisions. I moved into a pricing role at Dell, which developed both quant and competitive analysis skills, and then into a Brand Management role to focus on P&L management as well as merchandising. From there I moved to a variety of roles at Hoover’s. First I managed Pricing. Next I managed a team of rock stars in implementing a Product Marketing framework that let us define and launch new products in a disciplined way that meshed with our cross-functional partners. My next role at Hoover’s was an unofficial one: executive turnover left us without a VP for eight months. I served as the go-to guy for Marketing, which was great learning: working with the executive team on the highest-level strategy and working on the basics of execution in all areas of Marketing. Once we had a VP on board, my final role there was to lead a small team in evangelizing a philosophy of Customer Lifecycle Management throughout the organization. Treating subscription customers in a transactional way degrades the lifetime value (LTV) of your customers. More importantly, it degrades your business karma. The approach is not yet implemented throughout, but my role was to sow the seeds.
- On 1/5/2009, I’ll start as Senior Product Marketing Manager at Solarwinds. I could do a separate post on “Seven Reasons I’m Excited About This New Gig”, but here are a few. It’s a startup that has the audacity to take on the big boys in network management software. The business model is disruptive to the way those big boys sell – after fending off disruptive competitors at Sabre and Hoover’s, I look forward to being the one firing the torpedoes this time. I get to learn about a whole new competitive space and master a whole new geeky lingo. Community (based around the Thwack site) is a key part of the go-to-market strategy, not a bolted-on afterthought. And the culture and atmosphere is perfect for me: the intensity and drive I loved at Dell combined with the sense of fun and endless possibility I treasured at Hoover’s.
OK, if you’ve made it this far…I’ll reward you by tagging seven people sure to be more interesting than myself.
- Harry Joiner at marketingheadhunter.com. If you’re looking for an ecommerce gig he’s a great guy to know. And his blog ties great career advice with virtual bands on YouTube and everything else.
- Chris Barton at bartography. A Hooverite and the man who’s talking me into a side career writing children’s books. Even though I only have one moderately good idea. And even if I do it, my books won’t be as good as his.
- Casey Barton (yes, spouse of the above) at redneck mother. “Raising children, lettuce and hell in Texas.” One of my favorite blogs dealing with parenting. I don’t know what would happen if you called her a “mommy blogger” but I’m not going to risk finding out.
- Michael Hickey at Stone and Sea. Another Hooverite with always thoughtful and thought-provoking writing from the master of the great over-the-cube-wall conversation.
- The Cranky Product Manager. Not someone I know personally, but as a curmudgeon in the Product Marketing/Product Management world, I love her blog.
- Jackie Huba and/or Ben McConnell at Church of the Customer Blog. (Hey, split it up if you want into 3.5 things each). Great thought leadership that fueled my desire to move Hoover’s towards a customer lifecycle-focused model.
- Kate “Best Last Name in the World” Dickman at CommuniKATE. Musings on social media, current events and whatever else pops into her mind.
The rules (please break them randomly):
- Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post
- Share seven facts about yourself in the post
- Share seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs
- Let them know they’ve been tagged