How simple words of encouragement long ago changed his life and became the genesis of an idea.
James Brown planted a company sown from the seeds of encouragement he’s received. Now, he’s passing that encouragement onto others.
EncourageX is a brand-new platform, a bridge connecting customers with simple, intentional, and consistent ways to encourage others in their life. We recently sat down with him to talk about the new company and how it all started.
James is a member and longtime friend of the CMO Club. His most recent role was CMO of Superior Energy in Houston. He’s held leadership positions for such marquee brands as Kraft, Dow Chemical, HP, Compaq, and Shell Energy. James holds a business degree from Notre Dame and an MBA from Kellogg Business School of Management at Northwestern. Originally from Chicago, James now lives in Houston, Texas, with his family.
CMO Club–What is EncourageX?
James Brown – Everyone is going through something. We all need a little encouragement along the way. I’ve developed a platform that allows you to encourage the people you care about in a personal, authentic, and consistent way. We’re helping people who have all the right intentions but may not understand what they can do to encourage that person they care deeply about, to know what to say that can make a real difference, a way to give those we love the feeling that we are truly there for them. If they are recovering from a sexual assault, or if they’ve recently come out of the closet, we can help you reach out. If they feel like they’re alone and no one understands, for any reason, your child, your spouse, or an employee, anyone at all, we can help you support and encourage them.”
CMO Club – What were the seeds of the EncourageX idea?
James Brown — There were a few things I can point to that happened, that have stuck with me through the years. The first was when my family relocated to Springfield, Missouri from Chicago when I was thirteen years old. A friend I’d only known for about five months turns to me in homeroom and tells me I should run for Freshman Class President. “Run for what?” I say. “President of our class,” she says. I think people will respond to you. I’ve seen people engage with you. People would support you. I thought about it a lot all that day, and later, over dinner, I let fly that I was considering running. Mom spoke up before I’d even finished.”
“Those kids are not going to vote for you. You don’t look like them, and you don’t talk like them. You’re not from here,” she says. The following day I head into homeroom, and my friend is waiting outside the door. “I thought about it,” I say, “but I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do. My mom wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea.”
“She looks at me and says “I have three things to tell you. Number one, your mother is wrong. Number two, I’ll be your campaign manager. And number three, you’re going to win.” At that moment, for the first time, I felt the power of another person genuinely believing in me, encouraging me, in this case, more so that I believed in myself. It changed the trajectory of what I thought was possible, from mediocracy to, at that particular moment in my life, the impossible.
CMO Club — So EncourageX has its roots in that day?
James Brown — Without a doubt. It was the tattoo put on my heart that anointed me with possibility.”
CMO Club – You mentioned a few other things that helped shape the idea.
James Brown — I came up with this concept of E-Grams, encouragement messages when, after grad school, I fell in love, or thought I did. The relationship went back and forth for a while. During one of those breakups, I was trying to find a way to stay connected to her, to let her know I hadn’t given up on the relationship. I knew I wanted a way to let her know I was thinking about her without being too intrusive, so I came up with this idea of collecting thirty or forty quotes that I thought spoke to her life, not necessarily in a romantic way, but just simply as a human being. I sent her a quote a day, seven days a week, to her email address. I remember days, then weeks going by without a reply, but I kept it going. On day twenty-eight I get a response. It said, I really like this one. There’s something amazing about that experience of trying to encourage her in a very personal, authentic, and consistent way which became the true concept for EncourageX, this whole idea of using technology to be there for someone without physically being there. My wife’s dad was also an inspiration to me. He was a prominent physician who dedicated a day each week, without any pay, to help heal those less fortunate than himself. A great man.”
CMO Club – Did the quotes work?
James Brown — It did. We ended up getting back together for a while. I then came up with the idea of celebrating her one day a week, just celebrating who she was, with little gifts and personal notes, special events we shared. It made me realize sometimes you need to make more defined gestures. We get comfortable and sometimes complacent in our relationships, not just our romantic ones, even with our children. At some point, there was this epiphany where I realized relationships mean everything to us. And there’s a need to be intentional with those relationships, letting the people we care about know you want to be a part of their life.
CMO Club – When did EncourageX become more than just an idea?
James Brown — “Well, I’d been mulling it around for about fifteen years, turning the idea over and over in my mind, all the while leading marketing teams for both HP/Compaq and Superior Energy, long after that relationship ended. At the time the technology hadn’t advanced yet to where it could be viable. It was the integration of smartphones as true handheld computers that allowed this to go forward and become a reality. Then the downturn hits, and the price of oil drops twenty-five dollars a barrel. I decided to leave after a generous offer came. My wife says to me “You’ve done everything I could have ever asked from a husband. You’ve earned the right to work on this.”
“Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I start to develop power-point decks to try and flush out the different pieces, the database calendars, the delivery mechanism, the curation of items, words, phrases, then audio and video content, next gifts, goodwill, and eventually events and unique experiences. I remember thinking I’m venturing off into what might turn out to be the impossible. No one has developed a platform like this before. But, just because it doesn’t exist doesn’t mean I can’t build it. As I sit here today, looking over the platform, I can’t help but think how far we’ve come in just a year and a half. It’s the personification of everything I’ve talked about and thought about from that fateful day so long ago.”
CMO Club – Wow. So you’re up and running, then?
James Brown — We are. We’re in a soft-launch right now, with a full push coming soon. We’ve already landed our first few big clients, including Comcast, who told me they’d been waiting for something they can use for employees and eventually customers for some time. The deal closed in sixty minutes.
CMO Club – What do you say to someone that has that seed of a dream inside? What advice can you give them?
James Brown — I wish I hadn’t waited fifteen years. Had I not been more accepting of doing the corporate path I may have been able to get here a little sooner. You know, in marketing, companies are all looking for that thirty-five-year-old up-and-coming marketer. Most of our careers we work on products that we are assigned and never get to choose. It’s hard to find those big opportunities later into your forties and then your fifties. Make it a point to work on something that you’re passionate about. Work on it as a hobby until it’s a business. The day will come when you need to jump off the cliff. Jump. Don’t die with your best music on the song sheet.”