You spent your pre-MBA career at Inductis Consulting, leaving after almost three years to earn your MBA at The University of Chicago. What prompted you to pursue your MBA at that point, rather than later?
I studied math and econ in college and was looking for broad exposure to business issues. I joined a boutique consulting firm, which was a great learning experience. I was thrown right in the deep end. But it was a smaller shop, which means a narrower range of functional topics and clients. From there, my decision to go back to business school came from a place of wanting to keep learning, to build a broader network, and to take a step back and think more holistically about my career and what I wanted to do.
While you mention that you were industry and function-agnostic when entering your MBA program at the University of Chicago, you made the decision to return to management consulting after business school, this time at Boston Consulting Group. How did that happen?
Heading to UChicago, one thing I was certain of was that I was not going to look for consulting internships; I wanted to use my MBA summer to try new things. I split that summer between Time Inc. and American Apparel – very different places, but each a great opportunity to try something different.
One of my projects that summer had me managing a team of 6 undergraduate interns on a very consultant-y type of project. That was by far the most rewarding part of my summer, so when I came back to campus after the summer, having spent some time thinking about what I enjoy and what I was looking for next, consulting again seemed like a pretty natural fit. Then when I got back to Chicago in the fall I recruited for consulting, really hit it off with the people I met from BCG, and landed in their New York office.
When you headed back into consulting, you already had about three years of experience under your belt. How was your experience with Boston Consulting Group different from your experience at Inductis? What were you looking to get out of your consulting experience this time around?
There are two main differences between a place like Inductis and a place like BCG. One is the broader functional set of problems that I was exposed to at BCG. Both from an industry and functional standpoint, smaller firms, while offering great experiences, can be a bit limiting if what you are looking for is variety. BCG, on the other hand, offered me the full gamut, and I took advantage of that. Second, I think in general the conversations were more elevated; we were working on more difficult problems, just by virtue of all the great CEO, Board, and senior leadership relationships that BCG came in with.
Going back into consulting, did you ever anticipate staying at BCG for nearly seven years?
Most people who go into consulting don’t anticipate staying more than two or three years. For my part, I was definitely working on a series of one-year plans, taking time at the beginning of each year to step back, reflecting on what I had done over the last year, and asking myself if I saw enough opportunities to continue to develop and grow over the next year, or two, or three. I think that if you enjoy the work and you enjoy the team dynamics and the culture, that all can lead you to stay on much longer. You are continually getting opportunities to learn and to take on new challenges that you don’t find anywhere else.
What drove your decision to leave the firm despite those continual new learning opportunities and challenges?
I had some great experiences during my time in the Principal role, but I was also aware that my entire career to that point had been in consulting, and I was finding myself drawn to more hands-on operating roles. That all led me pretty convincingly to start taking a more serious look at other opportunities.
Having come to the conclusion between year six and year seven, how did you decide what particular opportunities, companies and industries you wanted to pursue?
My last few years at BCG were concentrated in CPG, technology, and media. I looked at opportunities in all those fields, but I also had some good friends at venture-funded technology companies, and the more I spoke with them, the more interested I became. BCG has a really strong alumni network in New York tech, which became an incredibly valuable resource for me during my search.
Once you made that decision, how did the opportunity at Sailthru come about?
They actually found me: a recruiter from the company reached out, and it was one of those right-place/right-time things. I had a number of conversations with them over the span of a couple months, met the team and sensed a really strong fit: a fascinating company with a high-performing team in a dynamic space, with tons of space for someone like me to come in and have an impact.
What was the transition like moving from management consulting to a start-up environment after nearly ten years of consulting experience? Were they any surprises or challenges?
The biggest change for me, which is probably true for anyone transitioning from a large consulting firm to an early-stage company, was not having a team of five or six consultants to manage. Right now, my team is quite lean, and that’s the way it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. That means that I am spending a lot more time in Excel these days. It also puts heightened importance on developing the team around me, and prioritizing projects in order to get the most out of limited resources.
Once you transitioned to Sailthru, you were the first consultant on the ground. What was that like? Did you have a plan going in to hit the ground running and to make the most out of time there from day one?
Strategy functions aren’t too common for companies at this stage, so just the existence of the role was a very positive signal to me about their openness to someone with the consulting skillset coming and contributing. I came in with a first-100-day plan that included learning about the company, the people, the culture and the competitive space, then uncovering a few quick wins and some longer-term initiatives to take on. Not the most specific, but if I had gone with a more defined week-by-week plan I don’t think it would have stuck – it’s hard to know exactly where to focus until you’ve spent some time listening and learning, and the time element is different when you’re joining a new company vs. when you’re starting a new consulting engagement.
Now a year in, are you currently working to build out your strategy team?
My philosophy is that strategy can become a talent pool for the organization. My plan is to bring people in, get them to learn the business, to help them figure out what they want to do, and to then find a role for them elsewhere in the company at the right time.
After joining a company while in its early stages, what is your company today compared to what it was when you joined last June?
It’s been quite a year – we launched a new product (an on-site complement to our email platform) and completed our first acquisition, which added mobile messaging to the product suite. So there’s a lot of excitement around not just having a great vision around retention marketing, but really executing on it and starting to see it play out in the market. Things move really quickly at a place like Sailthru, which was what drew me to the space in the first place. It’s exciting knowing that you can go to work every day and have the opportunity to make a huge impact in so many ways.
As the head of the strategy function of one of the fastest-growing companies in North America, where do you see the company going and how are you preparing for that within your role?
As quickly as we’ve been growing, there’s plenty of runway ahead of us – new channels, verticals, geographies. At the same time, we are playing in a highly competitive market, and so the imperative for us is to demonstrate what makes us different, which we accomplish by making our customers successful. If I can help us keep a close eye on the market, execute effectively and stay focused on what really matters, then I’m putting the company in a position to succeed.
Looking back at your time in consulting, do you think you could have gotten to where you are now without those experiences? In general, what do you find has made up your recipe for success?
I think the better question is “How do I define success for myself? What is it that I want to do? What is it that makes me happy?” I stayed at BCG as long as I did because I really enjoyed the work I was doing and the people I got to work with. For other people, that calculation might be different. Everyone has their own recipe for success.