Three Of My Clients Got Acquired This Year, And Then One Of Them Acquired Me

For the past few years I’ve specialized in digital marketing consulting for B2B SaaS companies. I’ve really enjoyed helping my clients build out their marketing programs to reach their target markets. I’ve helped bootstrapped and VC-funded startups define their positioning, increase their brand awareness and thought leadership in their niche, and generate increased leads and sales. I’ve learned so much. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve also had the privilege of working with some phenomenal people and teams.

A Series of Client Acquisitions

One of my clients, a Google Ventures-backed veteran in the SEM space, famously shuttered this year. But most of my clients, I’m pleased to say, have wildly succeeded this year. Among this list of successes included three acquisitions: Learndot, a Customer Education platform for Customer Success business sold to ServiceRocket in January 2015; Taxify (part of ShipCompliant), a Boulder, CO-based B2B tax automation SaaS was acquired by Sovos Compliance in April; and, most recently, Frontleaf, a Customer Success analytics platform was acquired by Zuora in May to become their Z-Insights product line.

Joining ServiceRocket As Senior Manager of Growth Marketing

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Robert Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbury the day after joining the company.

Hiking near Los Altos with ServiceRocket CEO Robert Castaneda and VP of Enterprise Ray Bradbery the day after joining the company.

I had loved working with the Learndot team. I did some of the best work of my career at that point with founder Paul Lambert and the Learndot crew. One month after the Learndot acquisition (February 2015), ServiceRocket hired me to consult with them on a part-time basis to help promote Learndot, and we quickly ramped up to a full-time consulting engagement. In retrospect, my work with ServiceRocket was a bit like falling in love–slowly at first, but then all at once. I hadn’t realized it, but even before I was consulting with ServiceRocket full-time, I was thinking about them and our work together constantly, reflecting often on the amazing team with whom I was working and the really interesting and creative projects we were working on.

With the amazing ServiceRocket team at Gainsight's Pulse Conference 2015

With the amazing ServiceRocket team (and special guest SalesLoft) at Gainsight’s Pulse Conference 2015

I truly believe in ServiceRocket’s mission, leadership, values, and culture, driven by extraordinary CEO Robert Castaneda. ServiceRocket enables Customer Success for software companies and their enterprise customers through training, support and utilization. When ServiceRocket invited me to join the team as a full-time employee as Senior Manager of Growth Marketing, it was a dream come true. My work as a growth marketer is a fun and challenging blend of content, PR, social media, and demand generation, and is truly further extension of all of the work I’ve been doing in the Customer Success world all along. The team is led by VP of Marketing Colleen Blake, an award-winning Silicon Valley Woman of Influence and incredibly talented marketer and leader. I feel honored to work with and learn from her and the rest of the talented ServiceRocket team every day.

Final Thoughts

I’m so incredibly proud of my amazing clients who have “leveled up” in big ways this year, as well as the small but meaningful roles I got to play in their successes. I’m also prouder than I can express to be a full-time Rocketeer! I am still learning constantly every day, especially from leaders in our field who inspire me, and I look forward to continuing on that journey and creating valuable marketing experiences and content for ServiceRocket customers and the Customer Success industry. I plan to continue blogging here to share insights, news and ideas from the world of customer training, Customer Success and SaaS marketing. I hope you’ll stay connected and continue growing with me on this journey in the membership economy.

Thanks for reading. Sarah

How Liberal Arts Colleges Prepare You To Work For Startups

Liberal arts grades can do very well at startups.

The Internet is filled with articles featuring college dropouts who’ve achieved impressive successes in the startup world. There’s this piece from Mashable, this one from Upstart, and this article from Forbes, just to pick a few. There have undeniably been those who do well outside of the confines of college as they prepare or launch their startup. However, while it’s certainly not the right choice for everyone, I’ve recently noticed how my liberal arts education profoundly prepared me for daily life working with startups.  I had some startup-relevant experiences through work and internship opportunities during college, but I’ve also found immense value return down the line even through just what I gained in the classroom.

Here are a few of the ways that I’ve found liberal arts colleges prepare you to work for startups:

1. You learn to go to the source.

source

My alma mater, Vassar College, has a saying, “go to the source.” This means getting to the source of an issue in order to find answers. It applied just as well in history classes as it did when solving issues as part of student groups or through community service projects. When you go to the primary source to solve a problem, you can often find new insights that you’d miss if you only checked out secondary or tertiary sources. My friend Cordelia, also a Vassar grad, wrote a fantastic piece on how she sees her role as a developer at Salesforce as that of an archaeologist. Cordelia writes that she often excavates old code, and must learn to understand it before she can build upon it in new code. This “go to the source” attitude applies to startups that are attempting to make an impact or disrupt existing industries by offering new value in the marketplace. Going to the source also involves questioning previously held beliefs about what will work best through doing multi-variate testing of landing pages, social campaigns, ads, and more. By being trained to get to the source to find solutions–including through understanding the experiences of your customer and his/her pain points–you’ll be many steps ahead of your competition.

2. You learn how to create compelling, data-based arguments–and, if needed, adapt them.

Using data to make arguments in startups.

In liberal arts college, every thesis you argue needs to be backed up by supporting references and sources. Learning how to stake a position based on data is what I do all day long working with startups. Why should a startup post in LinkedIn groups at a certain of day? What is the optimal number of blogs to publish per week to fuel the inbound lead generation funnel? What budget should a b2b startup allocate for display advertising, and on and on. All of these questions can and should be answered by data. Additionally, data changes over time, and it’s crucial to be willing to go back to the data and continue to test your hypotheses to see if they still hold true. In liberal arts environments, we learn to question as new theories, studies and data emerge. This is crucial to being effective and agile in the startup world, as well as keeping up with the ever-changing digital marketing landscape.

3. Learning ethnography prepares you to study the experiences of your startup customers.

Learning how to address the needs of your customer in startups.

Many liberal arts colleges have an anthropology or sociology requirement that teaches you how to do ethnography, which Wikipedia defines as “research method designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study.” Ethnography training has helped me immensely in learning how to collect data and survey responses in order to understand and address my startup clients’ needs, fears, and goals, as well as those of their target customers. By studying ethnography, you can also gain valuable insights into bias and how we often project our own experiences onto others. When startups don’t assume what their customers want and instead actually take the time to truly understand their customer’s experiences, they are usually rewarded with customer loyalty and increased success in the market.

4. You gain an understanding of how to approach and deliver constructive feedback.

Constructive feedback is very important in startups.

In my college nonfiction writing seminars, we had a concept called the “feedback sandwich.” Structuring criticism with what worked, what didn’t, and what was good but could be slightly improved (sharing some negative feedback betwixt positive feedback–hence, the sandwich) is incredibly effective. Sometimes feedback has to be 100% constructive, but often, there’s great stuff mixed in with not-so-great stuff. When editing writers’ blogs, I try to always highlight what’s good as well as what needs improvement. It usually helps us all focus on the constructive criticism without taking things too personally.

5. You learn how to lead small groups that can effect big changes.

Tribes by Seth Godin.In college, student groups I was involved in rallied together small groups of students, faculty, and staff to organize service projects, bring speakers, plan events, and more. Learning how to mobilize small groups to effect change is an invaluable startup skill. Seth Godin calls this phenomenon of small, strong groups making an impact “tribes,” which you can learn about in his book and Ted Talk on the subject.

6. You learn to recognize and understand societal inequality.

Inequality still exists in startups.

The liberal arts classroom offers many opportunities both through coursework and class discussion to unpack and recognize societal privilege and inequality among diverse populations. In the startup world, there’s still an undeniable lack of diversity at the leadership levels. Being aware of inequality and why it’s existed throughout history through the lens of a liberal arts education can help us move towards embracing a more equal startup world. Brad Feld, MIT grad and local Boulder VC, wrote a powerful article about increasing the numbers of women in leadership roles in tech.

7. Liberal arts colleges teach you how to write well.

Writing well is crucial to startup life.

This is the single-most important thing I learned in college: how to write a damn sentence. It behooves each of us in the startup world to learn how to express our ideas through cogent, clear writing. I took it for granted that I could write during school, but after, I’ve found it is pretty much crucial to my everyday life: writing social media strategy plans and social media posts, website copy, client proposals, startup client blogs, creative briefs, content marketing maps and, of course, emails.

8. You learn how to think broadly in order to solve problems.

Businesses need to think broadly to solve problems.

Liberal arts degrees are all about interdisciplinary thinking, and you have to think across silos in order to be effective in startups. I really like this Customer Success Summit talk by Jeanne Bliss on how startups can solve problems across departments. In order to address your customers’ needs, you’ll need to think broadly and across your startups’ departments.

Concluding Thoughts

Nothing can replace real-world startup experience. That’s why groups like Tradecraft, which train smart people to work in high traction roles at startups, are so great for those starting out, as they immediately immerse participants in real-world startup work. And, of course, in technical roles, it’s crucial to find people with technical skills above all else. But, for anyone worried their liberal arts college education isn’t helping to prepare them to achieve their goal of making a difference at a startup, I’d encourage them to reconsider. I’d also suggest strongly hiring liberal arts grads for your startup!

Does your startup hire liberal arts grads? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.