How I landed the job: From product manager to CMO at Skookum
This story is part of a new series on “How I landed the job,” going step-by-step through job changes and negotiations at some of Charlotte’s best places to work. To be considered for a story, please email [email protected].
The career path, as told by Erika
(Lightly edited for clarity and brevity.)
Coming out of college I was this wide-eyed college student, thinking the world is waiting for me. I couldn’t wait to graduate and take on all the opportunities. I had the goal that I was going to work really hard in my 20s and by the time I was 30 I’d be a marketing executive at a company.
And reality hit once I graduated. I went on a handful of interviews for marketing positions – I had one woman tell me to my face that my salary expectation were a joke. I spoke with another company that legitimately wanted me to drive an ice cream truck for a year before I could start to work on the marketing agency with clients.
After several months of brutal interviews, I got to a point where I had the opportunity through a friend of a friend to go work for a tech startup with a funny name (Yodle), or I had an interview with a Fortune 100 company here in Charlotte. I ultimately decided on Yodle. When I started they were 100 people, headquartered in NY with a small office in Charlotte of 10-15 people.
Yodle at that time was working on developing an online marketing platform for small business owners. The idea is that you own a hair salon, the best you can do is your craft. You don’t have resources or tools for major marketing or to make a marketing hire, so we wanted to create the software that made it easy. I thought it was an interesting problem, so I took a job as a client services rep. Basically I had about 100 small business clients that I worked with and helped them get their account set up, and managed their online marketing, their paid search, their website setup.
It was pretty brutal.
“I had a nice title (interactive marketing specialist) but it was basically customer service.”
At the time our software was still new with a lot of kinks to work out, features that weren’t in the product yet. Utimatley the solution didn’t work for everyone, and for the people it didn’t work for they were really angry, so I’d have to hear about it on the call. I would get reamed out with people cursing, really terrible. For 10 good clients there’s one bad one.
During that time I had terrible anxiety. I dreaded going to the office, had stomach pain – I was always scared of the messages I had waiting for me when got into the office. I stuck with it and I became really interested in the technology side of the business. I wanted to help people and I felt bad when it wasn’t successful.
We were a small company and I had access to a lot of senior leadership the product team, developers, so I just started to ask a lot of questions and making suggestions on ways we could improve the product.
“I learned on the job how to develop and release software.”
I didn’t go to school for computer science, but everything I learned about software development was really from hands-on experience and from asking a lot of questions.
Having relationships with a few select people really helped with the ramp up. I was with them for four and a half years. The company grew to 1,000 people (from 100) so it was a period of tremendous growth. It was the director of product who said I had an eye for product, and asked if I would be interested in coming on board as a junior product manager.
I moved over into the product department at Yodle which was awesome, and I was the only product manager in Charlotte. Everybody else in product was based in NY. So I felt lucky to have been given that opportunity, but with that was the caveat that I needed to travel once a month for week at a time so I could get face time with execs, the team etc.
I did that for about a year but it started to become clear that all the management/senior positions were in New York. So I started to explore other options and see what I could do in tech here.
Four years ago it was a development shop. They did a lot of work with agencies and smaller companies and wanted to shift from tactical to strategic digital product partner. They were looking for someone with product management experience to figure out how to offer that to clients.
I came over to Skookum to become the first product manager and work directly with our clients to understand the problems, the outcomes they were looking for, and ask how best to accomplish them with software.
I did product management with clients for about a year and a half, and then started to get slammed with products. We brought on more managers, and eventually I was promoted to director of product and design.
About a year ago our CEO came to me and said, hey, we want to get serious about our marketing and would I be in interested in leading that opportunity? I said yes.
I was promoted to CMO one month before I turned 30.
What’s your best advice for interviewees?
For product managers you need to have done product work, but really what I‘m looking for is getting to know the person. I’m really looking to have a conversation and learn about their personality. The things I look for, like being a good conversationalist, I don’t think you can fake in an interview.
My advice is to be yourself and be authentic because if you are trying to answer things in a way that you think I want to have them answered, that becomes apparent. Even if you don’t know the answer and you’re like “I don’t even know” just be real and say, “That’s a really interesting question. I don’t have an answer for you right now but let me go back and collect my thoughts and I’ll shoot you an email with a follow-up response.”
I’ve had a couple candidates do that and it stood out to me. I admired their candor and willingness to admit when you don’t know something and also I love the follow-up.
“Be on time, know who you’re talking to and send a thank-you.”
Those three things, those are fundamental and you’d be so surprised at how many people can’t achieve all three. If you want to work for me, and I’m taking time out of my day to chat with you, maybe just do a little bit of research and know that I’m not in HR, I’m your future boss.
You’ve prioritized health and wellness in your career – how do you do that?
There’s never a good time to make your health a priority but it’s so important. Growing up I played sports and in college I did a lot of running but my first job was basically at the computer for 9-10 hours get yelled at – it took a toll.
You have to figure out how to prioritize physical and mental health. It’s something I’ve been working at for a while now. I work for a tech company but I leave at 5 o’clock and when I leave I don’t check email. I don’t got on social media until I’m back in the office the next morning. When I leave work, it stays at work.
Crossfit, daily meditation, eating right, turning off the technology and spending time with my family… That has played a really big role in my ability to advance my career. That’s what gives me a clear head. I can evaluate things objectively.
So, for real, how do you not check email at all after you leave work?
This is something I would say I’ve started about March of this year. It happened when I went on maternity leave about a year and a half ago. I was going to take 3 months off and I had a conversation with my boss; he told me he didn’t want me to worry about work while on leave and that I should focus on my family.
So leading up to that I worked out a plan for who would handle what in my absence and felt confident in the people I was leaving my work with. I felt they could handle things and I trusted them to do that. My out-of-office on maternity leave basically said, “Here are the people you can reach out to if you need help with these items. I will be deleting all email when I return.” Figure it out, or follow up.
“When I came back I opened it up to thousands of emails and I selected all and hit delete.”
It was so liberating that I was like, how do you achieve that feeling without going on leave? So I started to wrestle with going offline away from work. In the beginning it was challenging, I felt tempted to get on my phone and check things but I did things like deleting social apps off my phone, putting my phone in a completely separate room, and meditation honestly helps with that. Taking some quiet time.
I get into the office the next day and take an hour catching up on email, but you’d be surprised at how much stuff is not urgent. The company didn’t implode because I didn’t respond to an email at 9 p.m. If it requires immediate attention, my colleagues have my cell phone and they can text me but there’s only been one instance where that’s been needed.
“I’ve been fortunate that it’s a part of our culture.”
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