With more than twenty years in marketing and sales on behalf of B2B tech companies, Denise knows what it means to build companies that change the way things are done. In fact, her first startup— Blockbuster Videos—brought movie rental to neighborhoods, disrupting the entertainment industry nearly two decades before Netflix. It was there where she discovered her love of working with early stage companies and more importantly, her love of marketing. Since then, she’s supported countless startups in executive roles, taking 10 organizations through successful IPOs and acquisition exits.
What in your career are you thankful for?
I believe in people and they have believed in me. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with incredibly talented people. I’ve also paid my dues, working across all areas of marketing from telemarketing to event marketing, demand generation, and finally strategy. It wasn’t easy, but it was never dull and always valuable. I learned every aspect of marketing and found my passion. Working “my way up” made me equally adept at strategy as execution – which is rare.
What is one insight that you have gained that others often overlook?
Execution isn’t a commodity. People undervalue what it truly means to execute nor understand the nuances of execution. There are a lot of stats thrown out—including that 9 out of 10 startups fail. The truth is there are very few Facebooks. You have to have a big market, good product, differentiated positioning and a team willing to learn and work extremely hard. And even then, there’s a timing and a randomness that come into play. The startup world is challenging, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
How can early stage companies best utilize mentoring opportunities?
It’s important to understand the type of mentor that best suits your needs. Too often entrepreneurs want to be mentored by the biggest name CEOs. But the reality is very few people need a big name, they need someone experienced and ready to get in the trenches and get their hands dirty That’s what I love about mentoring. I get to listen to identify gaps in their GTM, positioning and messaging all while helping to figure out both the company near and the long term goals, strategies and plans. Sure mentors with name and brand recognition might give you validation and exposure for funding, however, making sure you have people who are a part of your program that are willing to lend you not only their expertise, but time to secure the series A.
Mentorship: How do you define it?
For me, mentoring is utilizing your education and experiences to provide guidance on the topics that you know best. My personal mentoring philosophy is this: Mentoring is not based on showing how smart I am. My goal is to really understand where a business is and what their needs are. Specifically, working with the founder to identify what success looks like to them and what they need to achieve it and to move forward to Series A. I listen first, then ask questions, and finally provide guidance. The order is so important. Listening is key. To be a great mentor requires a lot listening.
What is the advice you would give the Pre-Career version of yourself?
Don’t underestimate the importance of establishing and nurturing relationships Pick three relationships that you want to focus on at a time, and invest each week in building those and extending your broader network. There are no shortcuts when it comes to respecting people.
What advice do you have to give the next generation of business leaders?
Great leadership is not defined by arrogance, but the ability to surround yourself with people that are better than you – dedicated people ready build a great company together. Manners matter—in everyday life and in business. You may forget, but others will not. Don’t let arrogance be an attribute of your leadership because you will fail.
Books/podcasts/other education sources you recommend:
Latest book: Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets, this is a book on category creation for early stage companies. I recommend that you read this book to define your category and learn how to build crazy successful tech companies.
PodCast: Legends and Losers