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Four lessons from four marketing leaders in tech

In today’s issue, I want to share the top early-career mistakes made by four marketing leaders who I admire, and the lessons they learned in the process.

I truly believe in life, there are no mistakes or failures, just lessons learned. Hopefully, by reading this, you will learn important lessons that will help you in your career.

Ok, let’s dive right in.

Mistakes and Lessons from Marketing Leaders

1. Emilia Korczynska - Head of Marketing at Userpilot

What is your biggest early career mistake?

My biggest career mistake was not getting into marketing earlier and thinking I need to go to school or get certifications to do that. I started out my career as a journalist. I love languages and have a degree in Linguistics. But I am introverted and just didn’t see myself moving on to marketing or feeling I have what it takes to do marketing.

How did you learn it was a mistake?

I was working at a translation agency when clients started asking me to produce content. That was when I realized I like content marketing and could do it, as it’s the perfect marriage between my interest in languages and journalism, which involves doing a lot of research.

So I embraced that and moved to work for tech startups which allowed me to dive deep into the topic and allowed me to do really interesting work. I started building out entire marketing functions using my strong background in content marketing. As a matter of fact, today at Userpilot our marketing is 100% inbound and focused on organic SEO, which has been working well for us.

Knowing your mistake, what would you/have you done differently?

I would focus more on what I am good at, and not chase fads or try to do everything. This extends both to my own career and business.

For instance, I was trying to learn Google Ads but had absolutely no interest in it, so I hired someone to do that while I focused on what I am naturally good at - content marketing.

2. Alex Henthorn-Iwane - VP of Marketing at Firstbase

What is your biggest early career mistake?

My biggest mistake stemmed from not paying attention to the first-team/second-team principle. This concept is from the popular book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The first team consists of your peers, such as other marketing leaders while the second team consists of people who report to you.

I got so focused on taking care of the team that reported to me that I didn’t spend the time and focus needed to build enough connection and communication with my peers.

How did you learn it was a mistake?

This led to a situation where my team’s results were outstanding, but my peers didn’t understand the value we were bringing. That led to a lot of needless friction and (for me) heartache. It’s a lesson that definitely got burned into my psyche.

Knowing your mistake, what would you/have you done differently?

I would focus on the first team as much as the second team. Sometimes that means having difficult conversations. It’s important to not shy away from engaging those peers who may have a particular agenda. Engage them with the best intention and goal to help the company. This way your motivations are clear and clean and aligned with the company. Do not let the situation devolve into turf wars simply because you don’t want to communicate with your first team.

3. Anand Patel - Director of Product Marketing at Appcues

What is your biggest early career mistake?

My biggest early career mistake is not taking into consideration how important a role my manager plays.

In the first 4-5 years of my career, my focus was just on finding a job, any job. Part of that is due to graduating during a downturn. It was not until I joined Paysafe that I realized how pivotal a great manager is to your career success. Having a manager who cares and supports your growth is one of the great accelerants you can have.

How did you learn it was a mistake?

Partially, it was a positive feeling I had after finally getting a manager who 100% supported my growth. But what really brought it home was when I got a promotion after a year. A big reason for this promotion was my manager advocating for me and being my champion. I didn’t realize this was possible in any of my previous roles.

What would you have done differently, or what have you done differently as a result?

I would’ve done a better job of evaluating my manager before taking my early jobs, which is something I definitely do now. Now, when looking at opportunities, three of the top priories are whether I will enjoy the work and learn from it, the type of people I will work with every day, and the kind of manager I will have. That last one has started to positively impact my career trajectory.

4. Brian Lee - Product Marketing Lead at JPMorgan Chase

What is your biggest early career mistake?

My biggest early career mistake was not tailoring my approach to the interviewer.

I was interviewing for an internal promotion, and as a part of the process, I met with potential future team members and cross-functional partners. I asked pointed questions about what was working, what wasn’t, and how they would improve things. This helped me formulate what I would do if I was hired for the role.

I made it to the final rounds and was interviewing with the big wig regional manager. During our discussion, I brought up that I spoke with her team and that based on their feedback, there are some items I heard as areas of opportunity. I even offered suggestions and I thought she would appreciate my directness.

How did you learn it was a mistake?

I thought I was a shoo-in for the role after the interview process especially since I was already doing a lot of what the role would require. Unfortunately, I didn’t get this role. The HR representative told me afterward that some of what I said was taken as rather harsh and that it’s important to consider your audience/who you’re talking to and their perspective.

Knowing your mistake, what would you/have you done differently?

Looking back, I could have been more tactful in approach/tone and possibly also solicited the manager’s perspective. I also could have brought up the great things about the team and what I perceived as operating well.

This is now something I consider when giving feedback in general - it’s important to give ALL feedback, the bad AND the good.


Reflecting on the Wisdom of Marketing Leaders

That's all folks, thanks for reading! Which of these spoke the most to you?

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