Off and Away
Ten years ago on a warm August morning, I left my two young daughters at home with my husband and drove to Samuel Morse Drive for my first day at Message Systems. I was carrying a new yellow Fossil bag and matching wallet and when I entered the building I really felt I had “arrived”. I was making a big step up from the field of IT consulting to a proper software firm! I couldn’t believe that a company with technical powerhouses like George Schlossnagle and Dave Gray would actually hire me. After I put my yellow bag on my new desk things moved very fast – my official start time was 10:00 am. All my forms were filled out and I was up and running on a Mac (another exciting step up) as a “Project Manager” by 11:07 am. Little did I know then that my journey would continue to accelerate for a decade … never slowing down, always speeding up like a rock hurtling into outer space. It’s been an ever-evolving adventure full of excitement and challenges, laughs and tears, and many friends.
From the very beginning at Message Systems, I had complete control of my destiny and my customers’ destinies! Nobody told me what to do or how to do it. I had complete autonomy in managing customer relationships and getting things done. I went with what felt right, but I was able to do that and be successful because I knew my values were aligned with our company values. When I think back, though rather scary, this autonomy was an amazing gift and something many people don’t usually get in their career. I learned so much during this time and I found it deeply satisfying and rewarding. In terms of balancing work and home – again it was in my full control – never once was I questioned about hours worked, my availability or my commitment (many working parents are not so lucky).
Bang-Ups and Hang-Ups
I certainly didn’t always get it right and there many were stressful moments – especially when I felt the heavy burden of being the primary subject-matter-expert on customer deployments. In the summer of 2012, while on vacation in Colorado, I had to help resolve a production issue – no one else had the knowledge and experience to orchestrate the fix. That experience taught me the importance of having a solid backup plan, proper communication, and sharing risk. Whenever I made mistakes, I knew I would always be supported by our team and never feared I would be admonished. The focus was only on fixing the problem and how we could do better.
In late 2014 we started the transition to the cloud (the birth of SparkPost) and that’s when I began working as a “Technical Account Manager” (TAM). This was incredibly challenging because we had to figure out how to support customers in the cloud as we went along. We didn’t have a blueprint to follow but again leaned on some of our core values of empathy, transparency, and gratitude to get us through. That strategy served us well and during that time we developed symbiotic relationships with customers like Zillow (we like to call them “partners”) that still exist today.
As our cloud business grew, I took on a Team Lead role and gradually expanded the team of TAMs. What I looked for the most was a shared understanding of how to approach and treat customers – especially in tough situations. Using that strategy I assembled a strong team of TAMs with a great diversity of experiences, skills, and talents – many more than mine alone. Working tightly together we continue to keep our customers on track and moving forward.
In our SparkPost offices, you will find our values posted on the walls. In that physical context, they can seem abstract, but in our day-to-day world, they are very much alive. We try to consider our values in the smallest of exchanges (like how to phrase a response to a common support request) as well as large and complicated matters (like talking to customers about an outage). Perhaps the phrase “living our values” is overused but I believe relationships are built on the little things (saying “thank you”, a smile, a text message with an update, an extra loop around to pass someone’s desk) and I can’t think of a better way it can be described.
A Great Balancing Act
The past decade has seen my girls grow from toddlers to teenagers and fine lines develop at the corners of my eyes. I no longer have my yellow Fossil bag and we’re a SaaS company now. But things only move faster and now I have a new adventure – the role of VP of Customer Success. I’m excited and daunted by this new challenge but I’ll lean on my experiences of the last 10 years and this company that is now part of me. And for that, I’m truly thankful.