Brand, Culture and Recruiting

Marketo Retrospective Part 5
As part of a series, I am doing retrospective lessons from my 9 years at Marketo. So far, the learnings have been in fits and spurts. Also, not much complaining so far.  Today, I’m thinking about how Brand Identity evolved at Marketo and specifically how it related to culture and recruiting.

DISCLAIMER: I have always been on the product team, so my perception is colored in that way. I know alot less about how sales people perceived the company.

2007, The Startup
Startups in the Bay Area usually have a particular vibe about them. If you have seen the show Silicon Valley, you know the type. Hyper-technical engineers paired up with over-the-top type-A executives/sales. The brand you have as a startup has to do with what technologies you are using and how well you explain your vision.

At Marketo in 2007-2008, we had a very, very low-key brand. We worked, we went home, we came back and worked some more. We didn’t get drinks together or have picnics with each other’s families. We just worked.  The first company bar-b-que was in the parking lot. It was pretty low-budget. The first holiday party was at the CEO’s house. I guess you would describe our brand as introverted. We weren’t the team to socialize all over the place. When people interviewed, we just tested their coding skills. We didn’t really spend time selling the vision.

2010, The Rocketship
By 2010, things were going REALLY well. We were selling product like crazy and growing people by leaps and bounds. However, we had never really worked out the values, vision, mission or brand. It was a lowest-common denominator approach. Nothing offensive, nothing lovable. We were just there.

This is the big tragedy for me. Marketo was a rocket ship at that time and we should have been the hottest place to work. We should have had our pick of the pre-IPO litter. However, the lack of focus on brand and culture led to a different outcome. Lots of B players were hired in those years. Even a bunch of C players got through.

No one likes to believe they are a C player (or worse), but truth is truth. People are different. This is why we interview and try to get good candidates. Brand and culture help you attract and close the best people. When you walk in the office, how does it look? Does it look like Apple or Google or more like Dunder Mifflin?  At Marketo, we looked alot more like Dunder Mifflin than we should have. We lost something by saving money on the environment. (Dunder Mifflin decor is less expensive)

Additionally, the lack of written values made interviewing and evaluation a crap shoot. By this, I mean that each interview team used different rubrics to decide who was a good fit and who wasn’t. It also made people who joined the company feel that there wasn’t a set of cultural norms to adopt, so they just kept their own culture. This led to a diffusion of culture and a lack of common vision.

2011-2012, Get ready for IPO
The brand become more professional and polished. Written values finally became a priority and were rolled out. They are Customer Passion, Results First, Speak the Truth, One Team, and Aspire to Be Great. For a year or two, they helped bind the company together. However, they started to wither after a while. Values are like plants. They need constant attention or they will start to die.

This is hard to say, because I mostly loved my time at Marketo. However, it wasn’t a perfect place. I think we allowed culture, values, brand and recruiting to all get second-class status. This led to the outcomes you would expect. Low quality of new hires, slow cultural absorption, more arguments about value decisions.

Value decisions are crucial to the health and wealth of a company. The values aren’t meant to be “mom and apple pie”. They aren’t meant to be good things like “be nice”. Rather they are tools to help you make a decision between choices that are equally good/bad. When faced with those decisions, you need to decide your character as a company and use that to make the decisions.

For example, there was a time when the competition (Eloqua) found a badly written response by a support rep in the community. If transparency was the corporate value, we would have fixed the problem and left it open to public view. However, that wasn’t the value of the company. Since that day, the community was closed to the public. (Customers only)

2013-2016, Post-IPO
Once you go IPO, it’s alot harder to hire the best-of-the-best. You have old technology and old offices. It’s hard to compete with Goliaths like Facebook and Uber. However, the public market demands a ton of growth or they punish your stock price. Here is where Brand could have helped a bit if we had a more lovable identity. Unfortunately, the brand was simple and professional, not lovable. The pressure to grow made hiring difficult and many people left the company with their IPO payday.

This led to a rapid infusion of B, C and some D players. This was a hard time for me personally. I started feeling more and more disconnected from the success of the company. One of my personal values is transparency, so I say all of this knowing it looks bad on me. I’d rather be honest with you though. I hope I am not hurting anyone’s feelings about all of this. (Even the D players)

2016, Vista Acquisition
This is a tricky time for Marketo. New owners, new executives, possibly new direction. Alot of people will likely churn. Brand, values and culture are more crucial than ever. I would suggest rolling them out again, fresh. Create a new beginning with a new mission. You have to start somewhere.

I don’t know what the future will hold for the company I poured my heart and soul into for 9 years. I truly wish them the best.

In hindsight, I think this is the area that could have improved the overall trajectory of the company the most. A company is, in the end, the people that work there. It can’t do anything without the people. Attracting and keeping A players is crucial. Think about your website: What does it look like to an A player? Don’t just sell to prospects, sell to new employees. Spend time on your environment and make it compelling. Keep your technology up to date. Get the values written down early and talk about them all the time.

That’s what I learned about Brand, Culture and Values at Marketo. I hope it was helpful for you to see that side of things. Again, no company is perfect and this post shouldn’t diminish my respect for the company and team that took it as far as it did.

1 thought on “Brand, Culture and Recruiting”

  1. Thanks so much for writing this. Now I can understand why the culture is so f’ed up at Marketo. I’ve always believed that you have to *start* a company with a distinct set of core values, have a way to measure if you’re executing on those values, and hold everyone (especially management) accountable for embodying those values. It’s a pity what happened to Marketo, because the technology truly is innovative.

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