The CMO Files: Terry Erisman, GridGain Systems

What keeps CMOs awake at night?

Get inside the minds of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job... and what keeps them awake at night.


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Terry Erisman

Organisation: GridGain Systems

Job title: CMO

Location: Foster City, California, USA



  1. Where were you born and raised? 
    I was born in a farming town in the northwest plains of Colorado. My family moved to the Denver area when I was young and I was raised in a suburb called Westminster, between Denver and Boulder. I attended Harvard in the Boston area for college – the first in my extended family to graduate from college. I returned to the Denver area for a couple of years, then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend business school at Stanford. I’ve been in the Bay Area for nearly 30 years now.
  2. What was your first job?  
    My first job was mowing lawns and shovelling snow from sidewalks around the neighbourhood beginning when I was 13 or 14 years old. When I turned 16 and could drive, I went to work for an AMC movie theatre as an usher which lasted through high school.
  3. What was the first product you got really excited about?   
    My first job after business school was as the head of marketing for a laser company. While looking through some old books, I found a theoretical model for a new laser wavelength. Working with the senior laser engineer, we were able to create a working version of the new laser – a project which earned my first patent. Needless to say, an exciting product for me personally – and the first of my six patents.
  4. Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
    I was very fortunate to work with a marketing expert named Shelley Harrison who owns a company called LaunchPad. The firm would typically send in the first marketing person for their startup clients, working with them for 6 months to launch the company. We would follow a defined process to take the startups from beta technology through their market launch. Shelley had launched around a hundred companies at the time I joined the firm. I learned a great process for taking companies from beta technology to establishing themselves in the market under Shelley’s tutelage and greatly expanded the breadth of my marketing skills.
  5. What has been your greatest achievement?
    On a professional front, four of my employers have appeared on the Inc. 500/5000 in the past decade during my tenure. Three of those companies have appeared in the Inc. 5000 over six of the past seven years as a direct result of my time with the companies. On the personal front, I’ve helped over 400 students from the Bay Area gain acceptance to Harvard. I also coached girl’s basketball for many years and now six of the girls I coached are heading to college on athletic scholarships this fall.
  6. What has been your biggest mistake?
    My biggest mistake was probably not studying computer science in college and going into the software industry immediately after business school. I enjoyed the nearly ten years I spent in the laser and hard disk drive industries after business school but was much more challenged and fulfilled once I transitioned to software and SaaS during the Internet boom in the late 1990s.
  7. What is your greatest strength?
    I am very analytical. My college degree was in chemistry and I have always tried to apply the scientific method and be numbers driven throughout my business career. I’ve often been able to quantify market needs and business opportunities by gathering and analysing data effectively.
  8. What is your biggest weakness?
    Vanilla ice cream.
  9. What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?  
    One of the skills I learned as a marketing consultant was how to conduct market research. I have found that market research is a skill my peers often neglect. As a general rule, venture funded companies develop products that are close to what the market demands. However, effective market research generally identifies 4 to 5 key gaps between what potential customers want and what the company has developed – the people developing the solutions are not the people who are going to be using the products.
  10. Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
    “Hope for the best, plan for the worst” is a phrase I live by. “We don’t have any competitors” is a phrase that always makes me squirm.
  11. What makes you stressed?
    Dealing with developers who think that building technology they think is cool means lots of customers will show up and pay money for it.
  12. What do you do to relax?
    Go to the gym.
  13. What is your favourite song?
    Some of my favourite songs are “To Leave Something Behind” by Sean Rowe, “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, and “Bruises” by Train.
  14. Which book taught you most?
    The Razor’s Edge by M. Somerset Maugham
  15. Do you have a team or sport that you follow?
    I’ve been a Denver Broncos fan since I was a child. I became a Boston Red Sox fan during my college days. I played basketball at a high level and have drifted from team to team over the years following the different dynasties – Boston Celtics in the 80’s, Chicago Bulls in the 90’s, Miami Heat in 00’s and now the Golden State Warriors.
  16. Which country would you like to work in?
    Australia. It was the one country I’ve travelled to over the years that I thought I would really like to stay in for an extended period of time.
  17. Which company do you think has the best marketing? They’ve created an incredibly strong brand by delivering great service at good prices. They were also one of the first online companies to leverage their customer behavioural data and turn it into a highly effective recommendation engine.
  18. What do you love most about your job?
    As with all of the startups I’ve worked with, I’m constantly learning. One of my biggest joys is synthesizing data from a wide variety of sources to figure out where my company fits in the market and how we can leverage our differentiation to create sustainable competitive advantage.
  19. What is your favourite book?
    Anything by Terry Pratchett.
  20. What keeps you awake at night?
    The knowledge that, no matter how well or poorly things are going today, “this too shall pass”.