Feedback, Failure & The Marketing Jungle Gym – Part 1 with Marqeta’s Vidya Peters
Tricia Gellman: Hey everyone. I'm Tricia Gellman and I am the CEO of Drift. Thank you for joining this episode of CMO Conversations. Every episode, we try to uncover ways to build success in the ever- changing world of marketing. I'm lucky today to have with me Vidya Peters, the CMO of Marketa, a global card issuing and payment processing company in the world's first open API platform. In other words, Vidya is a CMO at a company that is disrupting in its higher industry that's been around for decades. And I'm lucky that I met Vidya last year around the time that I was starting at Drift and she was starting at Marketa. Now that we've both gotten our feet under us. I knew I had to have her on the show to talk to you about what she's learned in the last year, what's to come and how she brings her unique mix of background as an engineer and marketer to the table. First, why don't you give your introduction yourself in terms of who you are as a marketer, and anything else you want to say at your role or about Marketa and what you are trying to do.
Vidya Peters: Thanks for having me, Trisha, it's always so much fun chatting with you, and I'm looking forward to the time we're going to spend together today. Super excited to chat with you. A little bit about my experience and the work we're doing at Marketa. What attracted me to Marketa is Marketa is in the really fun FinTech space where it's completely disrupting industries, just as you've mentioned. There's an age old problem of," Hey, I need to make a payment and that payment needs to be on a card." And typically you and I think of the cards in our wallet, which I think are pretty simple in what they do, they check your balance and then they authorize and they make sure you're not being charging this in a country that you don't live in. Those are some standard checks. Now imagine a really smart card that could verify the vendor that you're shopping at, what exactly you're buying. Should you be buying that? Should you be buying it for that amount? Are you paying the right person? Imagine that level of security and control with a really smart card and that's the problem that Marketa solves. And you're probably using experiences powered by Marketa all through your day without even realizing it whether you're ordering your groceries on Instacart, your breakfast on DoorDash, if you're shopping and using inaudible or you're using Uber, and there's just a ton of different disruptive companies that Marketa has powering in the background. A little bit about me, I stumbled into marketing through trial and error, and what I've loved about it is being close to the customer and having this really special balance of doing super creative work, but also be very numbers and results oriented. And I think that's a very special combination that you don't find in too many functions, and it's been so much fun. And I feel like new to marketing jobs are alike, and it's been just such a great adventure to be able to do it here at Marketa.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I love that you just called it an adventure. I feel like my career has been the same way where I started out as a graphic designer in a time when the world was moving to digital for that role, that part of the world. And it really shaped my career into now being in technology and doing marketing and tech, which is not really what I thought I would do, but every sort of role that I've had has opened up some new adventure for me, which I think is really cool today, we can talk about the way that this has opened up adventures for you. So I like to call it the jungle gym. A lot of people think of their career as a ladder, but in fact, it's really much more of a jungle gym. And I think that's when you say it was an adventure, that's what you did, but can you walk us through some of your earlier experiences and how you think they've shaped your role as a marketer today? Because I think everything we bring to the table as a marketer is shaped by something that's informed us along the way.
Vidya Peters: Absolutely. I think people have a fallacy in their minds that you start your career, you know exactly where you're going to go and how are you going to get there. And for me, it was definitely a jungle gym. It was also just trial and error, which is trying on different things and seeing if they fit. And I started my career in strategy consulting. I did that for a few years and found that it was unsatisfying to me at the end of the day because I wasn't executing anything. So then I tried on product management and I was a disaster at it. Product management requires you to have a really high attention to detail, be extremely maniacal about flows and experiences and how everything ties. And to be honest, my eyes glazed over. And it was a very humbling experience because you've come into technology and there's a little voice in your head that says you really should be good at product management. And it is an incredibly important function and role. And there's so much shame when it doesn't work. But what I realized is," Okay, I'm just not that great at it. Let me go try something else." And then I went into marketing and I absolutely loved it. And I think that's where success happens is when your own personal skills and strengths fit really nicely with the demands of the role that you're in. And that's a really special combination. And that's when you end up being in the flow of your job and you wake up every morning and you're energized by what you're doing. And so it took me many trials and errors to find marketing and to really find my groove in it.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. So let's talk a little bit more about that. I think of consulting as touching a lot of different parts of a company, having a very wide view and also in a way trying a lot of different things. Do you think that helped you to recognize that you were failing in product management and also where you could maybe re- insert yourself?
Vidya Peters: So every experience brings you a set of strengths and opportunities. And what consulting does is it gives you an incredible amount of confidence going to unknown situations, scenarios, industries, problems, and asking simple objective questions to break them down and to understand them. And that's a wonderful skill to have. The weakness that consulting gives you is that it gives you this fallacy, that you understand a lot about something, even though you haven't spent much time in it. And that is very dangerous. And so essentially what consulting teaches you is to be a mile wide and an inch deep. And while it sort of gives you that wonderful strength to go off into the unknown, you never truly become an expert in anything. And truly don't have the war scars from execution and delivering and knowing what works and what didn't work and how you let teams through challenges. And so, consulting gave me the courage to go into product management, but only product management taught me that I sucked at it.
Tricia Gellman: But then I think it's curious, because I think a lot of times, if people were in that situation, and I love that in this discussion, you're being totally out there, like this did not work for me because a lot of people also wouldn't do that. So thank you for sharing, but a lot of people then would feel very trapped and unsure of what to do. And I think it would be interesting if you have one little thing that you could give advice to the listeners of, how did you mentally maintain competence in yourself and also identify, where is that next place you should poke to kind of move out of the situation that was not going well and try and find something else?
Vidya Peters: It's a really great question. And it took me many years to get to a place to understand this better, but one of the words I really dislike and we use it a lot in a language and that's the word failure. And I use it personally a lot too. In fact, you and I chatted and I talked to you a little bit about my failures and then I reflected back. I'm like, those weren't failures, that's really stupid of me to put that label on it and here's why. When I started in undergrad, I started in computer engineering and I found it really hard and my grades were not great. And I thought I'm really failing at this and I should switch to something else that I can be better at. When I go back and reflect on it, how awful of me to put that label, that I'm failing at something, it was hard, but it also means that-
Tricia Gellman: You were learning, you were growing.
Vidya Peters: inaudible and I was growing and that's where probably some of the biggest expansion my skills were happening. And I just wish I hadn't been so harsh on myself and I had actually stuck my way through it. And so what I want us to challenge ourselves on is when things get hard, can we be a little bit objective and a little bit more empathetic with ourselves? And that I think is a really important combination that we often don't do. We actually move quick to judgment and quick to a harshness, which funnily enough, I also sense in my own words, just when I told you I was awful at product management, it's so intrinsic in us, but here's what I found helpful is when I realized that product management was not my calling, I said," What are the attributes in this role that don't align with my skills? What gives me energy and what doesn't? Can I just be objective about it?" I mean, there's some things that-
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Which I think is challenging, whether you want to label it as failure or just learning or challenge. And I think if you're not feeling challenged and you're just feeling complacent in your job, you're probably not pushing yourself enough. So I love this idea that maybe it's not failure, but there's something in it that you weren't enjoying and you didn't think that you wanted to continue in it. And so I love this idea of really being objective and looking at," What is it that you like? What is it that you don't like and why?"
Vidya Peters: Exactly. And then being empathetic and having some self- compassion instead of beating yourself up to say," Okay, well, where can I find more of the things that give me energy, rather than take energy from me?" And I like to apply that. And I share this also with my team for ongoing learning and growth. So we all have performance reviews, we all get ratings and it can be a challenging time to give the feedback to receive feedback. And one of the things I love to do is whenever I get my opportunity areas, I publish it. I share it with my teams and I tell them," These are my top three areas of opportunity. I want to share this with you because I want you to help me. When I do this, call me out and I want you to help me overcome these." And I do it for a couple of reasons, because I want us to be objective about the things that we all have to learn. It's not personal. It doesn't mean I'm any less of a human being or a leader than you expected me to be. But also second, this acknowledgement that we all have our opportunity areas and we all have learning to do. And so why not just disempower those things from having this emotional burden and just saying," You know what? I have stuff to work on. You have stuff to work on, and this is what it is and we'll work on it together."
Tricia Gellman: I love that. I think that's super helpful. And the advice in this conversation of how to evaluate what you're doing well, how you're stretching yourself. I think it's really valuable for the audience. So now going through this jungle gym, you've had roles in smaller companies. You've built up bigger teams. When you started at Marketa you had to start pretty much from scratch I think you said in terms of building out the team. And so I think one thing that's really important in our role as a CMO is hiring the team. You may inherit a team and have to determine if that's the right team, or you may, as you have in this current role hire from scratch. And I think you have an interesting perspective on hiring and growing the team. So maybe you could share a bit about the approach in what makes a great team and how you focused on hiring.
Vidya Peters: Hiring is one of the most important things you can do as a leader. And it's one that you have the privilege of doing. I felt like it was my privilege to build this marketing team. And one that I did not take lightly, everything that I learned about hiring. I learned at MuleSoft, my previous employer, where they took hiring very seriously. And I'm proud of what MuleSoft taught me about hiring. So these are all the learnings that I have that I'm very happy to share with you. There are three important attributes I look for. Number one, is the person smart and intellectually curious? I don't mean smart in grades, but do they connect the dots? Are they intellectually curious? Do they ask you thoughtful questions? Not the standard questions that they wrote down, but do they truly care about the business, about the industry, about the problem you're solving, about the customer that you're serving? And are they able to make connections in a way that shows that they're really driven about finding that answer to that problem? So, number one is the smarts of intellectual curiosity. Second, it's really important to me and I'll say this could be controversial, is that it's really important to me that they haven't hopped jobs every couple of years. And you start to see this pretty commonly in the Valley. And here's why. I think that it takes 12 to 18 months for any individual to even figure out the lay of the land that they're in. You make certain bets and you put them down. And the actual payout for many of those bets doesn't happen until after. It happens from 18 to 36 months. So when someone is leaving jobs every two years, the question for me is, do they stay long enough to actually see their work through? Or were they just putting a few things down and off to the next thing?
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Or not even putting things down because I agree with you it easily takes six months, if not longer, to understand your environment and just start to move projects forward.
Vidya Peters: Yes, exactly. It takes six months to even know the space you're in. Then you put a few things down, then you'll actually learn on whether that paid off or not for you to then take crosstalk. But there's also a more important reason there is it's an indication for me of grit, which is there is no perfect job. You're going to find problems in every job in every company. You're going to find people that you don't like, you're going to not get as many resources as you wanted and find more hurdles than you expected. That's just life. And so the question is, were you there and were you able to see it through or did you complain and then go on to the next thing? Because I assure you those problems never go away. So that's the second thing that I look for. And then the third is impact. So that's great that they're smart that they're connecting the dots that they're staying in the role long enough to actually see what's working, what's not, but the third is, were they successful in that? And so did they get increasing responsibility? Did they take on additional areas? Did they get promoted? Can they talk to me about the impact that they have rather than just the activities that they ran? So those are three of the most important things that I look for when I'm hiring. And I think hiring is who you have on your team is 80% of the job. And so I think the lion's share of your time should be spent on hiring.
Tricia Gellman: Now what about the fact that I think some people have had four or five, six, seven years in the same sort of like role of department, hopefully in that time they moved up from manager to senior manager, director, whatever that might be. But both of us have been on this jungle gym, so we probably didn't do four years in a specific role and then move to something else. So what's your perspective, two parts, one on people who are really doing this jungle gym so they haven't been in a specific role and function for three to four years at the time? And two, the other thing I see that impacts how long people are in their roles is when a company gets acquired. I see a lot of people saying that I left because the company was acquired, blah, blah, blah. So maybe if you could talk to those two points and how you view them against your sort of consistency and impact.
Vidya Peters: Yeah. That's a great question. I think there's always opportunities in your career where your company gets acquired there are layoffs, I mean, talk about this unprecedented year that we've had. So many people have been impacted without having the option to see a job through, or maybe they try to function and it wasn't a great fit and they went on to try something else. And that is absolutely great when you talk about it, what I'm listening for is how are you talking about that? Is it from a point of learning," Hey, I tried this, I kind of messed up and I had to go somewhere else and do something." Great. You're honest. Are you reflective on what you learned and how that changed the next choice that you made or are you throwing your team under the bus? Are you throwing the company under the bus? So I also look for your own reflection and your point of view on it. And third, then I look for the next decision and choice that you made. So a couple of these make a ton of sense, but if your entire career is a track record of those, then I'm going to ask," Okay, are you making the right choices for yourself?"
Tricia Gellman: Yeah, I think that's something I've applied before is maybe it's just poor judgment. If this person is making poor judgment about their career in terms of these consistent moves, which from the talk track sound okay. But on paper don't really look okay it starts to reflect potentially a poor sense of decision- making and judgment.
Vidya Peters: We're all human, we're all learning and that's absolutely right and okay. But by the 10th switch that you made, that was 18 months you go," Okay, I'm not so sure anymore."
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. Now you're in a company that is disrupting a space that's been around for a very long time. I mean probably if you go back the very early exchanges of finance, which relate to what you're doing back in the 1800s or something, and yet you're disrupting that space. And I think part of what you told me earlier was that you have taken an approach to your hiring, that you don't want people who have been in FinTech and done it over and over because that's not what you want. Is that true? Is that what I took away?
Vidya Peters: Yeah. It's a really good point to show whenever I look at hiring, I just look at those three criteria. Those are most important. So you're absolutely right. I'm not looking for, did they exactly do FinTech? Did they do inaudible processing? Did they check this box at this company? And here's why. I honestly believe that if you have the right DNA and the mindset and attitude, you can learn anything. Skills are easy to acquire. It's really hard for me to coach your mindset and grit. That takes a really long time to come. And so you'll figure out FinTech and payment. The other attributes are a lot more important for me.
Tricia Gellman: Yeah. I love that. And I just love the idea of bringing together a diverse group of people. And so I think, if you're in FinTech, if you're in healthcare, if you're in MarTech, whatever it is. If everybody comes from the same space that also becomes limiting, especially when you're trying to disrupt the space. I mean, if you're just trying to do the same thing over and over, maybe that's the right approach. I don't know. It's too boring for me, so I wouldn't want to be there. But I think this idea of bringing together diverse perspectives, especially when you're trying to disrupt, it makes a ton of sense to me.
Vidya Peters: I think that's exactly right. I mean, if you are trying to solve an actual problem in a whole new way, you can't be bringing the old solution makers to this space.
Molly: Hey, everyone, Molly here from Drift's podcast team, this is where we're ending today's episode, but don't worry we'll be back next time with part two where Trisha and Vidya go even deeper on the importance of hiring and leadership. Before you go, make sure you're subscribed to the feed wherever you're listening from. It's the number one way you make sure you don't miss an episode. If you really liked this episode, please be sure to leave a six star review wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you're looking for even more CMO content, we've got a newsletter for you. Once a month, Tricia shares the customer centric data- driven and barrier breaking marketing headlines that are defining today's CMO. Sign up at drift. com/ chief- marketing- officer. Thanks.