The CMO Files: Sandeep Singh Kohli, Kong Inc

The CMO Files: Sandeep Singh Kohli, Kong Inc

Name: Sandeep Singh Kohli

Organisation: Kong Inc.

Job title: Head of Marketing

Location: San Francisco, CA

Sandeep Singh Kohli is responsible for all aspects of global marketing for Kong, the leading API platform for modern architectures. Previously, he led global horizontal and platform marketing at MuleSoft through its successful IPO. Prior to that, he ran marketing at Piston Cloud Computing and saw the company through its acquisition and integration with Cisco.

Where were you born and raised?  I was born and raised in Bombay, which is the biggest metropolis of India. It's on the west coast of the country - and both the financial capital and movie capital (Bollywood). It is as if someone took New York and moved it to Los Angeles and mashed the cultures.

What was your first job? My first real job was a C software language instructor while I was still in college. It taught me early in my career patience and empathy, two very important elements of teaching.

What was the first product you got really excited about?  This would be the Sony Walkman that my cousin got for me as a gift from his training stint in Canada. I was a sophomore in high school and could listen and dance to music late without disturbing my family. The Sony brand at that time represented quality and innovation, and the Walkman was a great product that represented both.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? A big inspiration for me has been Mahatma Gandhi. While he had a great product with "non-violence," he was also a great marketer. The way he utilised messaging of "the salt march," the way he used the personal brand of the "loincloth" and the way he successfully used PR to connect with British citizens in their homes was instrumental in the Independence of India from British rule. He truly practiced marketing with a purpose.

What has been your greatest achievement? I would have to say the biggest achievement in my career was being part of the successful go-to market strategy and execution at MuleSoft, which helped the company shift gears from smaller deal sizes to large deals at Fortune 500 companies - all of which culminated into the IPO at NYSE, which was a surreal experience.

What has been your biggest mistake? I've always had a startup mindset, but I played it too safe for a while. It wasn't until later in my career that I figured it out and realised that the startup world is where I truly belong.

What is your greatest strength? My biggest strength is navigating through uncharted waters - developing new playbooks for something that hasn't been done before.

What is your biggest weakness? My biggest weakness is navigating through charted waters. Others are better than me on tried and tested paths.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? You either have someone only focused on numbers and performance marketing, or you have someone focused on the brand, design and creativity aspect of marketing. The key is to have a good balance of both.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? Mantra: "Good is not good enough." Squirm: "Company first, and then family and self/health."

What makes you stressed? Intellectual dishonesty.

What do you do to relax? Dance.

What is your favourite song? My current favourite is Cardi B's version of "I Like It Like That."

Which book taught you most? "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don't," by Jim Collins. This book taught me why being good actually gets in the way of achieving greatness. How many people do we know from our previous lives - high school, college - who were really good with a promise of greatness but never actually achieved greatness? This book - while applying it to companies and leaders - is a great life lesson for us in general.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? I don't follow sports. I follow Bollywood (often) and Hollywood (sometimes).

Which country would you like to work in? I would like to work in the UK. I like the London work-pub culture. It would also be a great opportunity to revisit other European countries over weekends. In fact, at one point, we seriously considered moving there.

Which company do you think has the best marketing? Nike does the best marketing. Some say that they are the leading edge of social change in their campaigns, but I believe they know their customer and have successfully stayed relevant for them.

What do you love most about your job? I love that I get to use both my left brain and right brain.

What is your favourite book? Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography, "The Story Of My Experiments With Truth."

What keeps you awake at night? Before I head to bed every night, I watch the news. It weighs on me what is happening in our country today and how it is becoming increasingly misguided by our leaders through attacks on our shared values and facts. Unfortunately, it is a global phenomenon against the fourth estate, which is very troubling.


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