The CMO Files: Eva Tsai, Algolia

The CMO Files: Eva Tsai, Algolia

Name: Eva Tsai

Organization: Algolia

Job title: Chief Marketing Officer

Location:San Francisco, CA

Engineer turned B2B marketer, Eva Tsai has more than 20 years of experience leading marketing and business to define the customer journey, create new market categories, establish recognizable brands, and drive growth worldwide. As CMO at Algolia, the leading Search & Discovery API powering over 1 billion searches daily, she leads worldwide marketing to fuel the company's hypergrowth.

Where were you born and raised? Taiwan. I immigrated to the Bay Area during high school.

What was your first job? Cashier in an ice cream parlor.

What was the first product you got really excited about? My Kodak digital camera. I got it in 1997, before mainstream adoption, and could not stop playing and showing it to others.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? I have been fortunate to have had managers that recognized and appreciated my potential and inspired me to take on new challenges. My previous manager, Tim Eades, is known for always aiming for the moon — pushing himself and those around him to relentlessly think outside the box. I learned a lot during those years. Another manager pushed me to be a "purple cow" in a field of brown cows, defining what I would be known for by intersecting what my function should be doing, what I am good at, and what the company needs.

What has been your greatest achievement? I believe that "courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it," a quote from Nelson Mandela. I'm not a stranger to fear and failure, but I do not let it deter me. My greatest achievement comes from my resolve to stare down challenges.

What has been your biggest mistake? Staying in a job too long, even after I outgrew it, due to my loyalty to my boss. I learned from that experience that a good manager needs to not only develop their own people but also themselves, and always prepare to work themselves out of their current job, so as to push for innovations and career growth for themselves and their team.

What is your greatest strength? Efficiency. When I was a student, I studied with a clock in front of me, with self-determined goals on how much I should have finished by the hour end. I often sort unresolved issues into the "fish" or "wine" category - whether it stinks or gets better with time. For issues in the "fish" category, I process them as soon as I can. Procrastinating or being inefficient is not in my operating book.

What is your biggest weakness? Inability to turn off my mind. I have had my fair share of tossing and turning in bed unable to fall asleep due to my highly active mind. My biggest breakthrough comes from my realization that some questions simply take time to answer and rushing the process does not help.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? Benchmarking with and learning from peers and external sources as much as possible. I encourage my team to do so and practice it myself, including serving on the advisory boards of a few companies. It helps accelerate my learning, formulate strategy, and introspect my blind spots.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? My mantra: Get busy living or get busy dying. What phrase makes me squirm: I will get to it when I get to it.

What makes you stressed? Not prepared or not having made enough progress.

What do you do to relax? Reading a good book that totally engrosses me, and outdoor activities.

What is your favorite song? Mamma Mia movie soundtrack. I have watched that musical and movie countless times.

Which book taught you most? I cycle through reading from business, socioeconomics, and philosophy genres. I enjoyed the following two books I recently read:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Worrick

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? I don't watch sports, but I love participating in them. I have been running and biking for 10+ years.

Which country would you like to work in? I don't think about what country I would like to work in, but rather what countries I would like to visit next. When I graduated from college, I made a wish to myself that I would travel internationally at least once a year to see the world and have pretty much kept that pace. My husband and I have backpacked across Europe, China, Japan and many other places, with fond memories of sleeping in a train station due to unforeseen schedule wrinkles, kissing at the top of Mount Fuji, watching the sunrise at the top of Yellow Mountain, after climbing more than 10,000 steps the day before.

Which company do you think has the best marketing? Marketo when it started the concept of revenue marketing and shifted the mindset for marketing.

What do you love most about your job? I believe that marketing should deliver highly personalized and relevant "Michelin-starred" customer engagements. To do so, it requires obsession with customers, data, creativity and technology. It's an incredibly fun and fulfilling job.           

What is your favorite book? The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. If I could have one superpower, the one I covet would be the ability to see the future. I am fascinated with the future, cannot stop myself from observing all the breadcrumbs, just so maybe that I could peer into the future, if only for a glimpse of it. Yet, to have the honor of peering and anticipating, I have learned, I have to decidedly separate the noise from the signal.

What keeps you awake at night? I live life backwards. I view my life as an intimate dialogue I have with myself. Sometimes, I am kept awake at night assessing my life and choices I have made thus far and whether I will have been be at peace with them when looking back in the last leg of my life. In the end, we are our choices.


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