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4 Lessons After 11 Years in Silicon Valley

4 Lessons After 11 Years in Silicon Valley

On the realities of opportunity, success, reputation, and relationships in tech


Silicon Valley is a magical place with some strange norms

—perhaps because companies, careers, and fortunes rise and fall with such astounding speed. Here are a few of the quirky, brutal, and hopefully useful lessons I learned during my 11 years living and working in the technology industry’s epicenter.

1. There’s opportunity in what others undervalue

There’s a rigid hierarchy of functions in Silicon Valley. At the top of the pyramid sit the entrepreneurs, the engineers, the venture capitalists. The closer you are to building or funding, the more respect you get—which probably makes sense. But when I began my career in tech, I wasn’t prepared for how little respect other functions get: recruiting, HR, marketing, communications, etc. There’s an assumption that truly great products market themselves or that truly great companies are magnets for top talent. To work in these superfluous fields is either a sign that your company must compensate for its lack of greatness or that you’re but an intermediary for the inevitable.

Of course, not everyone thinks like this. And that’s where the upside to this warped view comes in. At the company level, it’s quite clear you’ll need to out-innovate your competitors by building a better product. But what about the less obvious vectors for competition? With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see where investments in culture have paid off exceptionally well (and where the lack thereof has halted otherwise unstoppable companies). In nascent industries—especially highly regulated ones—educating customers and stakeholders about your product and market may be as core to survival as the product itself.

This opportunity for differentiation also exists at the individual level. It used to bother me that people made certain assumptions about me based on my profession. I craved validation from my peers and resented the stereotypes that came along with PR. But the longer I’ve been in this field, the more respect I have for how nuanced, impactful, and essential our work is, and consequently, I’m bothered less by other people’s projections. An unfortunate consequence of the hierarchy of functions is that it’s harder to attract top talent to the layers we undervalue, which hurts the industry as a whole. But, as an individual, it means that it’s probably more feasible to distinguish yourself as one of the top recruiters or marketers than it is to become a top engineer in a world where that is the ultimate prize.

2. There’s nothing more dangerous early in your career than success

One of our industry’s oft-repeated (and oft-abused) sayings is, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.” It’s what Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt told Sheryl Sandberg to convince her to come onboard in 2001, and I’ve always appreciated the humility embedded in this perspective (for the seat-taker, that is). But we often fail to dwell on the inevitable follow-up question: If you took a seat on that rocket ship, and it was indeed a rocket ship, how do you know if you made any meaningful impact on its speed or trajectory?

Success is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to you early in your career. When you’re on a so-called rocket ship, you’re likely drinking from the fire hose daily, making things up as you go along. If you’re given responsibilities that exceed your experience, you’re probably plagued by self-doubt. Then, at some point, if you’re lucky, the company you’ve helped build is declared a success. And those many bumps along the way are ironed out into a perfect narrative. Perhaps you’re even tempted

to believe it.

Some reputations are built on much less than you would assume.

In Silicon Valley, myths about people and companies tend to beat out carefully considered case studies. Maybe it’s because so much creation happens when companies are still private and therefore less observable. Maybe it’s because there are so many new and invisible forces at work (emerging technology trends, cultural and behavioral shifts) in a company’s meteoric rise that mythology is the only way we can make sense of it. Maybe it’s because we love a good story—and a good creation story most of all.

It’s a balancing act to allow yourself pride in what you’ve helped accomplish without getting caught up in your own personal mythology. Be grateful for the tough times: They will keep you anchored during headier cycles. If you battle insecurity and anxiety on the regular (raises hand), find solace in the fact that you’re probably working harder than you would if you were capable of believing that it was your seat that made all the difference.

3. Some reputations are built on surprisingly little

This is going to seem random, but bear with me: In the 1999 rom-com Never Been Kissed, Drew Barrymore’s character, Josie, is a reporter who goes undercover as a high school student to write about the “cool” high school crowd. But there’s just one problem: She’s super uncool, so she can’t get anywhere near them. Then her naturally cool younger brother decides to relive his high school glory days and salvages her assignment by convincing the cool kids that Josie is, in fact, quite cool. “All you need is for one person to think you’re cool,” he tells her. “And you’re in.”

Silicon Valley can feel a little like high school—in many ways, but especially when it comes to people’s reputations. I’m regularly shocked by how much just one person declaring someone a “rockstar” can open doors and even change the trajectory of a career. And if the person doing the declaring is particularly influential, other people will repeat their pronouncement as a given. The speed and opacity of startup trajectories make it impossible to really know how impactful someone was (how to separate the seat from the rocket ship), so personal endorsements carry a tremendous amount of weight. Which means that some reputations are built on much less than you would assume.

This is troubling, especially because influential people tend to skew white and male, as do their networks, which only reinforces existing power structures. But it’s also an incredible opportunity to elevate deserving but underappreciated and underrepresented people—especially if you yourself are influential. I doubt many people know how much weight their words carry. Of course, if you’re not accustomed to wielding this power—or asking for it to be wielded on your behalf—it can feel pretty uncomfortable. Women in particular have a harder time transitioning from the personal and emotional to the transactional in their relationships. My female friends and I have discussed this extensively and have even experimented with a “favor swap” event where the whole point is to get transactional. Maybe this is what Lean In Circles should have been all along—lead with the favors, not the feelings.

4. Your former co-workers are your rocks, so keep them close

This one is simple, but important. We all know how critical it is to build strong relationships inside a company, but it wasn’t until I moved on from my first startup job that I realized how incredibly valuable co-worker relationships become after you leave. After years together in the trenches, former co-workers know your strengths and can call you on your bullshit. And once you’re no longer co-workers, all those pesky work-related complications and politics disappear.

Your non-co-worker friends will of course cheer you on, but if you’re in a rut professionally or trying to figure out if you’re the one being difficult in a dysfunctional work relationship, no one can help you troubleshoot like your former colleagues. Same if you need a substantive ego boost. And because your relationship started in a work context, it’s also much easier to be transactional, whether that means asking for intros, references, funding, or feedback.

I first jotted down these lessons in a fit of preemptive nostalgia in November before moving to NYC. Now I’m nearly three months into my new life here, still working in the fast-paced world of startups, but on a different coast and in a different category: beauty. It’ll be fun to see which of these lessons translate, which don’t, and what new lessons emerge. Maybe I’ll even write about how my new home compares to Silicon Valley… just give me another 11 years.

Article Produced By
Ashley Mayer

All things communications. Beauty by way of venture capital and enterprise software. Newly in New York.



It’s time to pay serious attention to TikTok

It’s time to pay serious attention to TikTok

              douyin tiktok musically

If you haven’t been paying attention to TikTok,

you haven’t been paying attention. The short-form video app hailing from Beijing’s ByteDance just had its biggest month ever with the addition of 75 million new users in December — a 275 percent increase from the 20 million it added in December 2017, according a recent report from Sensor Tower. Despite its rapid rise, there are still plenty of people — often, older people — who aren’t quite sure what TikTok is. TikTok is often referred to as a “lip-syncing” app, which makes it sound like it’s some online karaoke experience. But a closer comparison would be Vine, Twitter’s still sorely missed short-form video app whose content lives on as YouTube compilations.

While it’s true that TikTok is home to some standard lip-syncing, it’s actually better known for its act-out memes backed by music and other sound clips, which get endlessly reproduced and remixed among its young users. Its tunes are varied — pop, rap, R&B, electro and DJ tracks serve as backing for its 15-second video clips. But the sounds may also be snagged from YouTube music videos (see: I Baked You A Pie above), SoundCloud or from pop culture — like weird soundbites from Peppa Pig or Riverdale — or just original creations. These memes-as-videos reference things familiar to Gen Z, like gaming culture (see below). They come in the form of standalone videos, reactions, duets, mirrors/clones and more.

The app has been growing steadily since it acquired its U.S.-based rival Musical.ly in November 2017 for north of $800 million, then merged the two apps’ user bases last August. This gave TikTok the means to grow in Western markets, where it has attracted the interest of U.S. celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Tony Hawk, for example, along with YouTubers on the hunt for the next new thing. But unlike Vine (RIP), YouTube or Instagram, TikTok doesn’t yet feel dominated by micro-celebs, though they certainly exist. Instead, its main feed often surfaces everyday users — aka, amateurs — doing something cute, funny or clever, with a tacit acknowledgement that “yes, this is an internet joke” underlying much of the content.

Okay, okay.

But that’s because those of us trying to talk about TikTok are old(er) people who grew up on the big ol’ mean internet. Cringey, frankly, is an unfair label, as it dismisses TikTok’s success in setting a tone for its community. Here, users will often post and share unapologetically wholesome content, and receive less mocking than elsewhere on the web — largely because everyone else on TikTok posts similar “cringey” content, too.

You might not know this, however, if your only exposure to TikTok comes from YouTube’s TikTok Cringe Compilations. But spend a day in the (oddly addictive) TikTok feed, and you’ll find a whole world of video that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the web — including on YouTube. Videos that are weird, sure — but also fun to watch.

It’s a stark comparison to the existing social media platforms.

Users today are engaged in the culture wars on Twitter (ban the Nazis! protect free speech!), while YouTubers are gaming the algorithm with hateful, exploitive, dangerous and otherwise questionable content that freaks out advertisers. And Facebook is, well, contributing to war crimes and the toppling of democracy.

Meanwhile, TikTok often presents an alternative version of online sharing. Simple, goofy, irreverent — and frankly, it’s a much needed reset. For example, some of the popular TikTok memes have included videos of kids proclaiming what a great mom they have, as they drag her into frame, or they remind people to pick up litter and conserve water. They might give themselves silly, but self-affirming makeovers where, afterwards, they cite themselves not as “cute” but rather “drop. dead. gorgeous.”

They might spend hours setting up gummy bears as Adele concert-goers, learning how to do a shuffle dance up a set of stairs or in a dance battle their dad. Or they may showcase some special talent — drawing, painting, gymnastics, dance or skateboarding, perhaps. They do science experiments, make jokes or use special effects for a little video magic. They shout out “hit or miss!” in public places and wait to see who answers. Sometimes it’s dumb, Sometimes it’s clever. But it’s addictive.

Of course, it is still the internet. And TikTok isn’t perfect.

The app has also been the subject of troubling reports about its “dark” side, which is reportedly filled with child predators, devious algorithms, dark patterns, and teens bullying and harassing one another. It’s not clear, however, that TikTok’s affliction with these matters is any worse than any other large, social, public-by-default app of its size.

And unlike some apps, concerned parents — or the users themselves — can set a TikTok account to private, turn off commenting, hide the account from search, disable downloads, disallow reactions and duets and restrict an account from receiving messages. It is concerning, however, that under-13 kids are setting up social media accounts without parental consent. (But, uh, have you seen Fortnite and Roblox? This is what kids do. At least the TikTok main feed isn’t worrisome by default, we’ve found.) The bigger issue, though — and one that could ultimately prove damaging to TikTok — is whether it will be able to keep up with content filtering and takedown requests, or handle its security and privacy protection issues as it scales up.

Content and community aren’t the only things contributing to TikTok’s growth.

While Vine may have introduced the concept of short-form video, TikTok made video editing incredibly simple. You don’t need to be a video expert to put together clips with a range of effects. It’s the Instagram for the mobile video age — in a way that Instagram itself won’t be able to reproduce, having already aligned its community with influencers and advertisers. TikTok’s sizable user base, meanwhile, is due not only to its growth in Western markets, but because of its traction in emerging markets like China and India.

This allowed TikTok to rank No. 4 worldwide across iOS and Android, combined, according to App Annie’s data on the most-downloaded apps of 2018. On iOS, TikTok was the No. 1 most-downloaded app of the year, mainly thanks to China. At times last year, TikTok even ranked higher than Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. Both App Annie and Sensor Tower agree that TikTok scored the No. 3 position for most installs among all apps worldwide in 2018.

Now, TikTok is growing in India, says Sensor Tower.

The country accounted for 27 percent of new installs between December 2017 and December 2018, and last month was the source for 32.3 million of TikTok’s 75 million total new downloads — a 25x increase from last year. Some of this growth comes from ad spend, according to a report from Apptopia, which examined the app’s widened use of ad networks. (It’s also driving people bonkers with its YouTube ads, some of which are highly questionable.).

The revenue is starting to arrive, as well.

Worldwide, users spent $6 million tipping their favorite live streamers, a 253 percent year-over-year jump from December 2017’s total of $1.7 million, Sensor Tower estimates. But live streaming is not the default activity on TikTok — it added the feature after shutting down Musical.ly’s live streaming app, Live.ly.

Article Produced By
Sarah Perez


Sarah currently works as a writer for TechCrunch, after having previously spent over three years at ReadWriteWeb. Prior to her work as a reporter, Sarah worked in I.T. across a number of industries, including banking, retail and software.



6 Actionable Marketing Trends for 2019

6 Actionable Marketing Trends for 2019

The hot item on everyone’s agenda heading into 2019:

how to climb to the top in today’s ever-changing, omnichannel, content saturated marketplace. Keeping up with the innovations and trends of the industry is key to developing actionable marketing plans and breaking through the noise. Here are 6 actionable marketing and advertising trends to take notice of as you finalize your 2019 marketing plans.

1?—?Welcome the New Layer of the Lead Funnel: Fierce Brand Loyalty

What do all of these direct to consumer (DTC) brands have in common? Each of these DTC companies have disrupted their industries and are proving the power of a strong brand narrative and streamlined shopping experiences. The return… fiercely loyal communities of brand ambassadors. The modern consumer is interested in more than just product features. They strive to cultivate an emotional connection with the brands they invest in. These successful DTC brands make engaging customer experiences their core offering. In turn, their customers

convert into loyal advocates.

The modern consumer is interested in more than just product features. They strive to cultivate an emotional connection with the brands they invest in.

We are seeing other consumer-oriented companies taking notice and doing something about it. Gigasavvy’s Brand Strategy Director, Kristy Gulsvig, notes, “in 2019 true brand engagement will come first, and the sales and leads will follow.”

In 2019, all companies should be asking themselves:

  • Do consumers understand who you are and what you’re about?
  • Are consumers excited about what you offer? Why?
  • How can you create a connection beyond product features and functions?

2?—?Data Fueled Marketing Campaigns

From Mark Zuckerberg testifying before US Congress, to the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU, customer data has been the buzzword of the past year. But what does this mean for marketers entering 2019? How do marketers responsibly use data to fuel tailored and

personalized marketing campaigns?

Being responsible with the customer data that we are provided is essential. From this place of respect, marketers will earn the fierce brand loyalty as we drive relevant and highly targeted campaigns

Gigasavvy President, Kyle Johnston, elaborates, “a sound marketing strategy should always be data driven. The problem is most organizations don’t know what to actually do with their data to drive good decisions. In its simplest form, good data should help your brand’s story to be more relevant. In an age where we are overloaded with content, relevance is often overlooked, but is also the most important step in obtaining your audience’s attention.” Johnston adds, “only from creating that attention, does your brand have the opportunity to connect on a human level and build an actual relationship with the consumer. Only then can we even begin to talk about loyalty. Everyone wants a loyal group of brand ambassadors, but you have to work harder to earn it in today’s marketplace. This is the area we want our clients pushing into in 2019”.

Being responsible with the customer data that we are provided is essential. From this place of respect, marketers will earn the fierce brand loyalty as we drive relevant and highly targeted campaigns.

3?—?Social Media from A… to Gen Z

Introducing: Gen Z?—?the first generation to grow up with the internet and social media as a regular part of their everyday routine. According to a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 45% of teens now say they are online “almost constantly.” That’s almost twice the percentage of teens who answered the question when Pew conducted the same survey three years ago.

So what does this mean for marketers and executives?

In 2019, influencer marketing and ambassador programs will continue to grow in demand. Gen Z consumers understand that these individuals are paid, but the personal connection and transparency of the brand interaction offsets any dissonance that they might have during their purchase process. In November of 2018, Instagram announced that the social platform will have additional machine learning tools to help identify accounts utilizing third-party apps to purchase fake followers or likes?—?continuing to reinforce that brand’s prioritize transparency during influencer campaigns. 2019 will be the year that the buzzword “authenticity” will actual be

put to the test.

Gen Z will be the generation to challenge how we consume social media and give marketers the opportunity to set the standard for strategic and transparent campaigns.

Finding a correct influencer to fit a campaign is a highly personal and investigative process… especially with Gen Z in mind. We think of everything from voice of the influencer to engagement rates and potential conversion metrics. It’s the science of digital storytelling. In the future, Gen Z will be the generation to challenge how we consume social media and give marketers the opportunity to set the standard for strategic and transparent campaigns. In turn, brands will feel the benefits as vanity metrics diminish as a focal point, and instead the drive will shift to a healthy ROI.

4?—?Branding Converts to Engagement

Today’s consumers are looking for more than just a product to purchase; they are looking for a brand to invest in. At the intersection of strategy and design, interactive brand stories come to life. In application, our Wahoo’s Fish Taco 30th Anniversary campaign did just that. Wahoo’s found a way to convert customers into brand advocates by involving fans in their history: from distributing custom designed stickers echoing popular surf brands, to a documentary-style brand video

sharing the heart behind the tacos.

Today’s consumers are looking for more than just a product to purchase; they are looking for a brand to invest in.

This interactive campaign resulted in a dramatic increase in Wahoo’s Fish Taco sales as well as a boost in social media engagement and followership. Everyone from the casual Southern California surfer to pro skateboarder Tony Hawk in Japan joined in.

5?—?Design of the Future is Here

Surrealism and imagination are taking over the design space moving into 2019. From banner ads to interactive web design, marketers can expect to implement vivid color combinations, as well as dreamy color transitions. To break through the noise?—?the designs create their own. (Note the announcement of Pantone’s Color of the Year… right in line with this trend)

The design experience should be curated to draw the consumer into an element of brand ownership. This piece of ownership comes from layers of customization of messaging and imagery. Clients need to engage with their audiences in meaningful ways?—?at a quick pace. Because of this, motion design is now deeply embedded in the customer journey. Movement is a critical component to enticing the audience to click and view the promotional content. Design and technology will continue to overlap with a strategic approach to brand experience.

6?—?Hey Siri? (SEO and Search)

Google claims that 50% of searches will be conducted using voice search by 2020. Voice search growth statistics have exploded with the introduction of “smart speaker” devices, such as Amazon’s Echo,

Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod.

When consumers talk to their devices?—?instead of typing?—?they use very different terms than long-form text search

Heading into 2019, we can expect changes in the way people search with their voice. When consumers talk to their devices?—?instead of typing?—?they use very different terms than long-form text search. With this change in consumer behavior, our tactics should also change as we understand the fundamental differences between voice and text search.

Article Produced By

Riley Insko

Digital Marketing Strategist and Coffee Drinking Content Creator