The CMO Files: Jen Grant, Looker

Which word or phrase is your mantra? "Just breathe. There's always a million things going on and a million things that could go wrong. In the middle of a crisis, the best thing to do is to just breathe

Name: Jen Grant

Organisation: Looker

Job title: Chief Marketing Officer

Location: Santa Cruz, California

Jen Grant is the Chief Marketing Officer at Looker and loves technology that changes people's lives for the better. Having specialised in building powerhouse brands from the ground-up through press, thought-leadership, tight positioning and word-of-mouth marketing, Jen has developed extensive expertise in B2B demand generation and analytics. She is experienced in B2B and Enterprise Marketing; scaling companies from 0 to 100M in revenue, and leading strategy at the executive level.

Where were you born and raised? Palo Alto, California: When it was just a cute little college town, well before it was the heart of Silicon Valley and Sand Hill Road was the centre of the Venture Capital world.

What was your first job? Out of college, I worked as an actress in a children's theatre production that toured schools on the East Coast. We both performed and taught children's theatre workshops.

What was the first product you got really excited about? The Palm Pilot. I was in business school and it was amazing to have my calendar, classes, meet-ups, clubs as well as all my contacts all in the palm of my hand. The little red sensor that could share contacts between two Palm Pilots seemed magical at the time.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? The women mentors and friends that I've developed over the years. All of my early career moves - going to Google and then joining Box - happened because of these friendships.

What has been your greatest achievement? Being able to grow three tech brands towards an IPO (Box, Elastic, Looker) while still making sure I'm deeply involved (in a good way) with my kids' lives.

What has been your biggest mistake? As I look back on my career, there have been many times where I have stayed too long in a bad situation. I have always been an optimist and that has meant that I believe - always - that there is good in people, that they are trying to do their best, and I assume good intentions. However, the reality is that, in some cases, people don't live up to my hopes for them. There are some who have decided that playing politics and putting down other people to elevate themselves - is how they want to show up every day. And some who are just mean people. And then there are some that are naively unaware of their deep unconscious bias. They don't think they are doing anything wrong, but the small daily slights eventually turn into larger wounds that are hard to close even after moving on to a new situation.

What is your greatest strength? My greatest strength is marketing for scale: taking small start-ups that have found product-market fit, have a few super happy customers and figuring out how to blow it up! It's probably a two-part strength. First, it is in identifying the winner (which includes not just the product, but the team and the vision), and then secondly, building the sales and marketing strategy to take that product to market, taking that big vision - usually industry-changing - to anyone who will listen, and hiring the right kind of people that know how to move fast, pivot, build and ultimately bring the company to an IPO or other event.

What is your biggest weakness? I have so many! I think the one that has hurt my career the most is that sometimes I take a back seat and let others shine. And while this is great for people on my team, for the executives that I put on stage, there are always times where it's clear that many people do not understand just how much impact I have had on a company because I haven't been out in the front of it. I don't like pushing to make sure my own contributions are known - and I love pointing out the specifics of who had what idea. Often in marketing brainstorms, this can get forgotten, but I know when my team hears that I remembered who came up with the first kernel of the idea, that person appreciates it and realises I was listening and respected their contribution.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? Supporting and inspiring creativity in the workplace. It's vital and something marketing leaders need to do more to foster. Often times leaders are risk-averse and they don't want to seem ‘different' or are worried that doing something unique will seem ‘dumb'. This is a dangerous path to even contemplate if you are trying to be unique and trying to stand out from the competition. Have you ever noticed that in an industry the messaging and websites start to merge into one very uniform look with the same basic messaging? This is because of the risk-averse CEO or CMO. They are making decisions based on "what people are looking for" instead of helping find ‘What people need" which puts all of the marketing into the soup of sameness. Marketing leaders need to push up - their executives - and push down to their teams the idea that great ideas come from crazy brainstorms that allow for things that seem impossible. These are the kind of moments that bloom into inspiring great ideas and campaigns that make your brand unique and out of the dull noise of the competition.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? Just breathe.  There's always a million things going on and a million things that could go wrong. In the middle of a crisis, the best thing to do is to just breathe, slow down, try to get your mind focus on the one thing you need to do to take that next step forward. Of course, it works for any other type of situation as well.

"that's not the <insert company name> way."  I am a big fan of creating a unique and strong culture in a company. It's an essential part of scaling to be able to articulate company values and weave them into the fabric of your work life. However, there comes a time when culture can be used as a tool to stamp out differences and stifle diversity. It always sounds positive, like when interviewers at Google used to have to answer the question "are they googley?" Cute, but awful because it eventually becomes a signal for driving sameness in your recruiting and reducing debate, squashing diverse ideas and perspectives.

What makes you stressed? Not being able to see my calendar. I have organised my life into an endless dance between my kids, my work, and my passions. But when it's not in the calendar, I fall apart. The order created by a well-planned week makes everything seem so much easier.

What do you do to relax? I love to ski. My husband and I try to take the kids up to the mountains every weekend we can to get away during the winter. If I had the best most relaxing day, it would be to wake up, drink coffee, do yoga, ski all day, and sit happily by a fire eating cheese and drinking wine until bed.

What is your favorite song? I'm a huge fan of Sara Barielles and 12-year-old my daughter performed the song "She Used to Be Mine" for the Spring Music Concert at her school. I think it'll be my favourite for a while - maybe until her next solo.

Which book taught you most? Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. The biological reasons why companies need to create emotionally safe environments for employees was mind-blowing and inspiring.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? I have three that I follow religiously -- Zoe's basketball team, Zack's volleyball team, and Zadie's soccer team. Spoiler alert: these are my kids' teams.

Which country would you like to work in? I love where I am right now. Santa Cruz, California is gorgeous. Only to be topped by Hawaii. So I don't think about working anywhere else.

Which company do you think has the best marketing? I'm kind of digging Expensify's bold Super Bowl campaign. I've always wanted to be the start-up CMO that did that but never had a product that could benefit from the reach of the Super Bowl. I love that they went for it.

What do you love most about your job? I love mentoring and helping people grow and be successful. While it's fun to brainstorm creative ideas and lead offsites, at the end of the day, it's those moments when someone on my team has achieved something amazing that I feel the most proud and most fulfilled.

What is your favorite book? How can I pick just one? I'll say all the Harry Potter books for now. But I love just about everything.

What keeps you awake at night? Coyotes. We live near a ravine and they cackle all night during the summer. But truthfully, I worry about making sure my kids find that right balance between work and living. I find there are so many people who are too fixated on making money or their title or what company they are at, that they miss the "living" part of life. Exploring new places, spending time watching your kids grow up, watching a sunrise with a great cup of coffee, listening to the sound of the rain…  You don't want to miss out on that.