This week, we turn our spotlight towards Gabi Zijderveld, CMO of Affectiva and Boston Chapter CMO Club member.
1. Gabi, what was your first job?
I grew up in the Netherlands and had my first job when I was about 15. I wanted to go on an Eurorail trip with my friends that summer but needed money. So I biked to a temp agency and got myself the most tedious job I’ve ever held in my entire life, working in a factory. My job consisted of standing by a conveyor belt that was spitting out boxes of screws, and I had to occasionally pick up a box to weigh it, to ensure it was sufficiently stuffed to the right specs.
Having grown up in an academic family, we weren’t tapped into the industrial side of labor. So it was good for me to see that side of manual jobs. It really helped me develop a great deal of respect for manual labor because after six hours of it, your back and feet are killing you. My experience also gave me really good incentive to do well in school as I never wanted a job like that again!
2. What are the 3 most important components for your personal and professional success?
- Finding opportunities to build new things. Even when working at a large company, you can find pockets of innovation and entrepreneurship that the organization has never done before. I’m continuously seeking out opportunities or creating them myself to build new products and start new initiatives.
- Consistently looking to collaborate with clients and business partners. It’s important to build an ecosystem of partners around you and – as cliché as this may sound – find the win-win for both parties. If you can establish relationships that focus on the value of the other party, you can really achieve amazing things that are beneficial to your own company
- Coaching and mentoring—especially with your team and direct reports. It’s incredibly rewarding to help team members to grow and learn. You share your knowledge, but by nature of the questions you get, you’re required to do some reflection; and you end up learning a great deal yourself.
3. Name an “inflection point” experience that prepared you for your current position.
I was at a really large company on a career growth path, getting promoted with a senior executive position on the radar. Then one day, I realized I’d become quite the master of playing politics and was super busy with internally focused work. I was beginning to lose touch with our clients and the products we were putting in market for them.
At the end of the day, I like to build new things and I wasn’t doing that. I had this profound realization that big corporations would always be around—but why not go back to a startup where I could build things from scratch again? So I began to think about rebranding myself for a startup, highlighting the fact I’m an entrepreneur at heart. This required a lot of reflection because I had to think about what I really liked, what I thought I was good at, and what value I could bring. That was a real change point for me.
4. What characteristics do you value most when hiring new marketing talent for your team?
First and foremost, passion! People who really enjoy what they do, who have that drive, curiosity and enthusiasm to learn. Like anyone else, I too love esoteric visionary discussions—but at the end of the day when you work at a startup, you need someone who can move with speed, roll up their sleeves and just get stuff done…even if it’s not within their job description.
The people I hire must also be focused on quality. I’m not looking for perfection, but you have to know your audience to build the right things for them—and that means listening and paying attention to detail.
5. What technology are you looking forward to using or implementing for your brand in the next six months?
Much of what we do at Affectiva is very visual—that is, analyzing people’s faces and voices for complex emotional and cognitive measurement. We do use some video for marketing purposes, but I think we need to do a lot more of it. Not necessarily production-grade corporate videos but a series of very tactical “how-does-this-work” and “why-does-this-matter” videos.
6. Which book would you recommend to your fellow CMO Club members right now?
Tom Shapiro’s “Rethink Your Marketing.” I’ve actually known Tom quite a while and spoke with him as he was writing his book. Everything in the book makes so much common sense but when I read it, I had all these a-ha moments where I realized we weren’t necessarily doing certain marketing tactics the right way.
7. Name one Head of Marketing who impresses you today and tell us why.
I don’t really follow one single person; I tend to follow companies or teams that have established a solid brand. One company that’s recently really impressed me is Casper, who has managed to completely disrupt the mattress industry. They ship your mattress through UPS in a box, it arrives at your doorstep, you sleep on it for 100 days and if you don’t like it you get your money back, no questions asked.
I love that Casper has brought tech and ecommerce to a stale industry, and how they do it in a tongue-in-cheek and playful manner. Kudos to the team that created that brand and concept!
8. Do you have a personal mantra, words of wisdom or favorite inspirational quote?
I wouldn’t call it a mantra, but I have more of an operating principle: “good enough is good enough when you can get to market faster.”
We can perfect our science and algorithms and messaging until the cows come home, but there is also a pressing urgency to get our stuff in market quickly and to establish leadership. So you have to be comfortable enough to say “it’s good enough to get out the door.” Sometimes it’s good enough because it’s the first product of its kind in the market, or because it’s addressing the customers’ needs.
Keep in mind, this isn’t about accepting mediocrity. But perfection does not always help you win in the marketplace. If we sit here and perfect things, then our competitors will overtake us.