The importance of never saying “no” to new opportunities

David Moreno is the CMO at Virtualware—but his journey towards becoming a marketing leader is anything but typical. So, we invited him to chat with The CMO Club to tell us a little bit more about his former life as a professional soccer player, his beginnings as a developer, programmer, and UX/UI designer, and how his career took some unexpected twists and turns that eventually made him realize he was more than ready to wear the proverbial CMO hat. We’re certain you’re going to enjoy—and be inspired by—his story.

Let me introduce myself

Hi, my name is David, and I’m the CMO at Virtualware—an innovative tech company based in Bilboa, Spain that seeks to push the boundaries of virtual reality every single day. Truth be told, when I joined the company over 16 years ago as a UX/UI designer and programmer, I never thought that this would ever be my job title. (But I’ll get to that in a bit…) 

For most of my life, I’ve either played or coached soccer. Or as we call it in Spain, fútbol. I started out as a goalie at the age of 10 and then was eventually recruited to play for a 3 Division club in Spanish Basque country. Unfortunately, when I was 25, I injured my knee and had to retire as a soccer player. But that wasn’t going to force me to hang up my cleats and stop doing something I loved so much. So, I decided to put my experience to work and become a goalie coach for a National 2 Division team. Fast forward to today, I still try to make soccer a big part of my life; the only difference now is that I focus most of my time and energy on coaching teens.

Aside from that, when I’m not at the office or on the field, I’m typically spending time at home with my wife and two sons, ages three and six. My family means the world to me, and I take every opportunity to spend as much time with them as possible. I love being a Dad! 

What it’s like living in Spanish Basque country

We live in Bilbao, Spain—one of the major business and cultural hubs of Spanish Basque country. It’s got an unquestionably welcoming vibe, vibrant cultural traditions and customs, and a unique language that set it apart from the rest of Spain. 

If you love the thought of trying out the world’s most culinary tapas—what we call pintxos—and sipping on wine from the nearby Rioja region, then you’ll love it here. And because the region sits along Spain’s dramatic Atlantic coast, it’s a must-see for nature and surf lovers.

Even though the city has become a tourist destination in recent years, thanks in large part to the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum, when I was a kid, it was quite different: a dark, industrial place that felt more like a big town than a small city. But it has truly transformed into what I feel is now one of the best places to live in the world. 

“My family means the absolute world to me. I love being a Dad!”

Taking family adventures to the road

Because Bilbao still has a uniquely small-town vibe, as a family, we try to get out and explore the world whenever we possibly can. We especially love visiting non-Spanish-speaking places, as it’s a great way to expose our kids to different languages and cultures. 

But you might say we’ve taken a slightly different approach to family travels. Now, we explore the world from the comfort of our very own camper van. Before buying it in August 2021, we had gone on a trip with one of my wife’s friends who already had a camper van, and we absolutely loved everything about the experience. So we thought, why not get one ourselves?

As opposed to flying or traveling from point A to point B via other modes of public transportation, with a camper van, you’re in the driver’s seat (literally) of your own adventure. If you want to make a last-minute change to your itinerary, you can do it. If you want to stop overnight at a lake or explore nature—and truly disconnect from the hustle and bustle of cities—you can do it. The adventure can take you where it needs to take you. It’s liberating! 

Just this past summer, we took to the road with our kids for a three-week vacation through Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, and France before heading back to Spain. It was so fun to spend this time with family, exploring many places we’d never seen before in such a relaxed way. My sons love the countryside, catching butterflies, and seeing animals in their natural habitat. Getting this camper van has been such a wonderful way to bring nature right to him. 

And now that we’ve got our first really long camper van adventure under our belts, we’re already starting to plan our next trip to Norway. This is quite an ambitious plan because it’ll take about 30 hours of driving time to get us there (versus 18-20 hours driving back from Slovenia). But we’re certainly up for the challenge and excited to see the beauty of Northern Europe. 

We’re also planning a long overdue trip to see my brother-in-law in Perth, Australia, but I think we’ll have to leave the camper van parked for that one. 

“When traveling in a camper van, the adventure can take you where it needs to take you. It’s liberating!”

My passions taught me some important life lessons

Aside from my family, which is obviously a very important part of my life, there are two things in this world that I’m truly passionate about: traveling and soccer. 

Let’s start with travel. Funny enough, I didn’t realize how important this was to me until I met my wife. You see, only three months into dating, she moved to Greece to study. This officially began our long-distance relationship. We knew we could make it work, even though, at the time, we both had tough schedules—her with her studies and me with soccer. Even so, we made a point to see each other as much as possible. This gave me a bit of a travel bug. 

Fortunately, at the end of her program, she was the only one in her cohort to find a job in Bilbao, so at least all of the pieces fell right back into place. And if my kids ever ask me how I met Mommy, I can tell them that life simply connected the dots to bring us together. 

Little did I know this was getting me (and my wife) ready for all the travel that I would eventually do with Virtualware—to Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Canada, and the U.S. Before meeting her, I had a by-the-book developer/programmer mindset. She’s completely the opposite; she approaches everything in life with a growth mindset. She opened my eyes to not being set in my ways and, instead, to take on life’s challenges and embrace them wholeheartedly. Truth be told, she’s been my biggest cheerleader throughout my career and in life. I couldn’t be more grateful. 

Now, let’s switch over to soccer. I’ve loved this sport ever since I was a little kid. In fact, all of my closest friends today are the same friends that I played soccer with in school back in the day. So, it has followed me throughout my life. That’s why, even when faced with an injury forcing me to stop playing, I wasn’t going to let that keep me off of the field. 

That being said, I rose up the ranks pretty quickly as a soccer player. I became my team’s captain at the age of 20 and was responsible for motivating other players on my team to succeed—many of whom were much older than me and had tons of experience. Even so, they gave me their trust and support—and this gave me the confidence to be a great leader.

To this day, I credit my experience as a soccer player, team captain, and then, post-injury, goalie coach for teaching me everything I know about being a leader, managing teams, treating people with respect, and beyond. This was such a foundational learning moment at such an early stage of my life. The valuable soft skills I learned on the field have undoubtedly carried over into the workplace. It has made me a better leader, marketer, and strategic thinker overall. 

Sometimes you just need a little nudge

At every stage of my professional life, I’ve had someone—whether a formal mentor or just a colleague who had a lot of faith in me—give me incredible opportunities to do amazing things. Even if I didn’t necessarily have the right qualifications or experience to tackle them head-on.

For example, I got hired at Virtualware as a UX/UI designer in the first place because one of my university professors—who just so happened to work for the company—was impressed with a multimedia music project I did revolving around one of my favorite musicians, Elvis. He loved it. He saw the creativity and passion I brought to the project. This was the kind of energy they wanted to bring into the company during its start-up stage. So, they offered me a job.

And then, new opportunities to develop, grow, and explore opened up little by little. I was asked to go to Mexico to help open up our operations there. Then Colombia. Then Chile. When I got these new roles, I didn’t exactly know what I was supposed to do. But I knew my company trusted me to take the reins in establishing our presence in other Spanish-speaking countries. So, I decided to be brave and said “Yes” to every opportunity I got to learn and grow. And for everything I didn’t yet know how to do, I was willing to put in the hard work to close the gap.

However, it was our CEO, Unai Extremo, and later on the Creative Director in our Toronto office, Joss Monzon, who both planted the seed in my head about one day becoming a CMO. They saw how I was growing in my career at Virtualware and knew that I was getting closer and closer to an inflection point. Joss once said to me, “You have what it takes to be a CMO, but you need to focus on marketing and do that one thing incredibly well.” Up until that point, I’d never really thought that CMO would ever be an option for me. But this conversation gave me the confidence to create a roadmap for my professional future.

At this point in time, I didn’t have all of the technical aspects of marketing under my belt quite yet, but that wasn’t going to deter me. If I didn’t know something about marketing, I took the time to learn as much about it as possible. Once I had this idea in my head that I could become CMO, I did everything in my power to set myself up for success. I knew I already had the soft skills to be a great leader. Now, I just needed to polish a few rough edges. 

The moral of this story is simple. At every step of the way during my tenure at Virtualware, there has always been someone there to support me, cheer me on, and coach me into becoming the person, marketer, and leader I am today.

“To do this, I credit my experience as a soccer player for teaching me everything I know about being a leader and managing teams.”

Proud to be a CMO

You’ve probably caught on by now that becoming a CMO is something that means a lot to me. As a soccer player-turned-programmer and developer, this was never part of my career trajectory. But I’m glad that life sent me on a few unexpected twists and turns, leading me on a path to grow into this amazing role that I truly love. 

Now, what do I love about being a CMO? For me, it comes down to two things: strategy and creativity. First, one of the lessons I learned early on while being groomed as a marketer, is the importance of long-term (versus short-term) thinking. When you’re overseeing an entire marketing department, you need to be able to set a “north star” that everyone can rally around. It helps give meaning and value to the tactics that our team does each and every day to achieve our goals. But it’s one thing to talk about strategy and another thing to see it come to life. Fortunately, the strategy we put into place shortly after I had become the company’s CMO took hold. That was all the confirmation I needed to know I was right where I was supposed to be.

That being said, I’m much more of an ideas guy than a marketing ops pro. I’m all about bringing creativity into everything we do—whether it’s new campaigns, new designs, new ideas, or new products—and instilling a ‘Let’s Try This’ attitude across my entire team. The good news is that my CEO empowers me (and my team) to come up with great ideas and run with them. It’s great having that kind of support from the top down. We are encouraged to take creative risks. 

But I must admit that one of my favorite parts of the job is bringing people together. I see myself as a connector between my team’s various roles and functions. And because I come from a developer/programmer background, I can speak their language, too. It’s one thing to set the vision; it’s another thing to be able to communicate it in a way that everyone on your team can understand—and be able to apply to their day-to-day work life. Once again, I thank my years of playing soccer for teaching me these invaluable skills. 

“I’m all about bringing creativity into everything we do…and instilling a ‘Let’s Try This’ attitude across my entire team.”

My philosophy on work and life 

I tell myself all the time, “Go ahead, don’t think about the worst that can happen, and just do it.” My mother taught me at an early age to be positive—even when faced with obstacles. For example, when I first had the opportunity to become a goalie, I was actually quite short for the position and was concerned that my height would be a problem. But my Mom encouraged me to shift the negative energy I was putting into thinking about my drawbacks and, instead, focus on how I could be the best goalie possible. She taught me the power of positive thinking and, to this day, I know that if I am determined to make something work, it will work. 

Part of this philosophy is really exciting. Another part of it can be somewhat scary. When you take a risk, you don’t always know how it’ll end. I actually learned this hands-on as a goalie. Think about it, every single game I played, I had, at times, thousands of people watching my every move. Did I block every goal? No. Did the fans sometimes blame me for losing a game? Yes. But did that stop me from doing what I loved? Not a chance. 

It certainly takes a good amount of bravery to keep a positive attitude at all times, especially when faced with moments of uncertainty. However, whenever I got an opportunity to do something out of my comfort zone, I’ve simply said, “Yes.” Along my career path, there were a number of times when I really didn’t know where I was going or how to get there. But I wasn’t going to let that stand in the way of growing personally and professionally. (And I thank my wife tenfold for instilling her tireless and fearless growth mindset in me…) 

“My mother taught me the power of positive thinking…and I know that if I’m determined to make something work, it will work.”