Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up in Bangalore, in south India during a time when India was rapidly coming into the new capitalistic economy from a previous socialist bias. As a child I grew up seeing my parents and relatives choosing careers that ensured long term employment, pension benefits and stability- primarily in the government sector. As a teenager, I witnessed the complete reversal in terms of the more lucrative opportunities being in the private sector bringing with them the concepts of high growth, high risk that were totally alien to my parents’ generation. So you could say I was a pretty confused child. I had the concepts of loyalty, thrift and value of education drilled into me as a child but as I made my way through high school, it became pretty clear I craved the excitement, hustle and risk taking of being in the “new” economy. Life was a constant balancing act between what I was drawn to and what I was reared to.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
Like a lot of indians in my generation, I figured studying engineering would give me access to the new jobs being created by software companies in India at that time. I studied computer science and engineering and I have always had a bent towards logic based problem solving, so it was a decent education. My first job out of school was working for Intel as a software programmer. I learnt a ton of languages like C, C++, Java etc that I have come to realize have become the currency of the new world. My belief is that most areas of business, medicine and education, at a minimum will undergo significant disruption fueled by technology and having a conversant grasp of how the language of software works is crucial for anyone wanting to be successful in those fields.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
I call myself a failed software engineer turned marketer. I was pretty bad as an engineer but even as a software engineer, I was always interested in business. By the time I was 24, I had read authors like Drucker and Stephen Covey which only fueled further interest in business. I decided to go to UNC to pursue an MBA. The only problem was I didn't really know what I wanted to do with an MBA. I tried learning almost every discipline during the 2 years - finance, accounting, supply chain - the only discipline I actively stayed away from was marketing. I was fairly contemptuous of marketing because it seemed to have a lot of big words and big personalities. So I decided to go into consulting because I couldn't make up my mind. I loved consulting because it exposed me to all kinds of altitudes of problems - big and small, strategic and tactical, one project deciding the price of bread for Walmart in the AK region, another deciding how to optimize direct store delivery for Coke. Along the way I had an epiphany that I loved delving into all problems that drove market share, penetration top line growth and realized this sum total of problems represented marketing. I decided to build a career in marketing and deliberately started to take on multiple roles in multiple industries to start rounding out my craft in marketing. Along the way, I have had various responsibilities within various functional leadership roles in marketing in entertainment and gaming, technology and connected devices. Each of them had their special epiphany moment that contributed to where I am today.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I serve as Klaviyo’s head of marketing where I have responsibility over all aspects of how we go to market with Klaviyo’s product and brand. I see my role as three fold - being a custodian of the Klaviyo brand (how we show up, how we align our brand to customer expectations and how we internally align the organization to our brand ambition), driving commercial success of our platform by aligning the distribution models with our messaging (how we advertise, how we create the right value proposition and messaging and how we enable our go to market partners to be successful), and building a high performance team (attracting and retaining talent, providing an environment where people can succeed and intertwining with the fabric of the company so that we make everyone successful).
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
Emphatically no! I never thought I would be in a CMO/head of marketing role. It used to bother me that I didn't know what I wanted to do esp when I saw the clarity my peers had. However, I have realized that not knowing has given me a richer background, and frankly has been more fun. A big secret right now is, I have no idea where I will be in 10 years!
For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?
Well my path to CMO/head of marketing has been fairly unusual so my series of steps may not work for everyone. However I have realized there are 5 timeless truths that will help anyone who is either looking to get to this role (or whatever role this will be in 10 years time), or generally be successful in whatever they are trying to go after
Put yourself in uncomfortable situations - Given the speed with which the world is changing, unless you are constantly learning, you will fall behind. The best way to pack a lot of learning into a very short amount of time is to take on a job where you probably know 50% of what to do. It's highly uncomfortable and very very hard but that's the only way to optimize for long term success
Learn some hard skills - I can’t understate the importance of having a net of hard skills, It could be programming, it could be excel manipulation, it could data analysis, but no matter your role, particularly in marketing, this will be more and more needed in the future.
Be totally authentic - Someone famous said don't be the best, be the only. There is literally no point in wasting time being someone else when you can be the best you possible. Again it's not easy to do, you will have constant doubts, you will want to be like everyone else, but realize that being authentic is not only the other option but being anything else will set you back
Hold your goals lightly but path tightly - I know of plenty of people who never thought they would end up where they did but almost all of them had discipline, rigor, a deep learning mentality and they never compromised on that. I do believe being flexible on your goals but being really clear on how you spend your day/week/life is important
Be additive - Life is a team sport. We can’t go at anything alone. Being additive to people and situations not only makes things fun, it makes things way way more satisfying and meaningful. Add to your employees, peers, your boss, your family, your community - in whatever little ways you alone can
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
There are a number of actual functional skills I need to do my job well. For example, I need to be a storyteller, I need to understand the latest changes in the advertising landscape, I need to understand how to position a product better, I need to understand how to create more inbound demand etc. However, in my opinion there are more strategic, meta skills that will trily differentiate me from others and to be honest will help me continue to grow and develop over time.
- Constructing a mental model: To do my job well, I need to bring all the pieces of marketing together into a cohesive “system” that operates as one big interlocking system of gears. For that, I need to build a mental model of how everything comes together, what the intersection points are, what the overlaps are, where things are in conflict etc.The faster I can build this mental model, the more nuanced I can make it, the better I am at my job
Operating rhythms: I run a large team, I can’t run a team this size without being a good operator ie setting up the operating rhythms, processes and workflows that enable everything to be aligned and rowing in the same direction. This requires putting on my administrator hat at least in the beginning
Leadership: My super power is recognizing talent - especially understanding and identifying potential that sometimes people themselves miss. Without investing significantly in people and talent, nothing really happens. This is probably one of the most important skills that I need to do my job well
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
We have a product that is growing amazingly well organically, our customers love us - so much that they take us with them wherever they go. All of this despite the fact that almost no one knows about us. Our product is so deep and complex that half the time we can’t explain what it is truly that we do. That's the most rewarding thing about my work - is figuring out how to tell the world what we do and why in a way that not only resonates but also gets more people to realize what they can do with us. In addition, I am excited about the possibility of creating a social movement about how SMBs, ecommerce businesses can own their own destiny. More to come on that soon :)
The most challenging is the lack of time. Someone more clever than me said, it's not a time problem, it's a prioritization problem. However given what the world needs right now, I do think we are running up against time constraints - so I am working constantly, my team is working constantly and I am worried about burnout on different levels
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
When I worked for a smart baby monitor company, I was 6 months into the job when the pandemic hit us. Our demand dried up, people delayed purchases and we came close to taking big decisions on downsizing. However, working with my team, I started a series of marketing and revenue programs that turned things around. Not only did we do well, we grew 2x during the pandemic, kept our people and their salaries, and continued to give our customers the best quality product and service that they needed to keep their babies safe. I have never been more proud.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I have a ton of activities that I am interested in - bollywood dancing, working out, hiking, surfing and any water related activities. Fortunately my son is also an extremely active kid so our whole family does a bunch of outdoor things together. We are planning a hike to Macchu Picchu in the near future :)
How do you manage stress?
Reading books is my one big stress buster. I love getting lost in the realm of fantasy and imagination. My secret hope is to write a fantasy book someday :)
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
Oh man, At least 3. But I also drink chai and black tea. So my caffeine consumption is through the roof
What's one of your favorite places in the Boston/New York area?
South end. A friend of mine took me around and I absolutely loved it
Any book or podcast recommendations?
The PIvot is a great podcast. I can offer a ton of book recommendations - my favorite ones of all time: Leadership is Language, Sapiens, The Art of Impossible, Smarter, Faster, Better, Daring Greatly
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
Don't worry :) It will all work out as long as you keep pushing towards your destination. Figure out how to focus on your strengths, shore up your weaknesses with people, technology or time and keep learning every single day. And remember kindness pays back multiple fold.