June + Lyft Co-Founder Matt Van Horn On The Emerging Entrepreneurial CMO + Need For Horse Blinders And A Challenger Mindset

As hailed in Forbes’ newly unveiled list of entrepreneurial CMOs, the role of senior marketer at brands big and small is now to ride the shotgun to CEO and demonstrate an agile and disruptive mindset across everything, from the customer experience to general business growth.

In a world where growth mandates are punishing and the courage to succeed is sometimes scarce, I thought who better to seek advice for today’s CMOs than from one of the most successful founders of recent memory. Matt Van Horn is the co-founder of Lyft, along with co-founder and CEO of June, the smart oven that took the world by storm. Matt has a unique perspective on what it takes to be a frontline entrepreneur, with expertise that is cross-functional and focused on growth. What follows is a summary of our conversation:

Billee Howard: As you and I have talked about, there is a new entrepreneurial CMO model that is taking shape in the marketplace. Can you share any best practices from your experience as an entrepreneur that may be helpful for this aspiring breed of marketer?

Matt VanHorn: Absolutely. I think one of the great things about my entrepreneurial journey, which has only misled me a few times, is that you have to put on blinkers when you believe in something regardless of the obstacles. I was convinced that we wanted to build the best countertop oven in the world, with a camera in the top that would recognize most food being cooked and cook it perfectly every time. There were so many reasons we shouldn’t have started this company, so many reasons we shouldn’t have and were trying to find easier ways to get things done. Still, we put those horse blinders on and didn’t listen to all the people telling us it was a bad idea. Who needs this in their life? how will you build it What do you know about manufacturing etc.?

We just had the belief that we need this product in our lives and we went for it. I think in an environment where you are a CMO you need to figure out how to take your idea from paper to reality. Create an early version of your vision because that will convince everyone around you, like the CEO and the founders and the board of directors, more than just talking about it. Take your belief and execute an early version of your vision to show, not just explain.

Howard: This is excellent advice and a great transition to the next question. Today’s CMOs need to build and create alignment between marketing and product while having a clear vision. What are the key things to consider when working towards this type of synergy?

VanHorn: I firmly believe in the philosophy that you should never have the board meeting in the board meeting. I think such conversations can happen, especially in companies with a lot of meeting culture, and you can make decisions early on by building on them. Maybe I’m old school, but I’m happy to walk into the meeting knowing I have a yes in the works. I think achieving that takes a lot of face-to-face time with the right stakeholders to present your vision and work toward alignment. Then, when the big meeting gets together, everyone just says, okay, sounds good. Maybe people who haven’t been in the room where it’s happening will say, “Wait, how was that easy?” But it wasn’t easy. You put in a lot of work to get everyone involved with your vision on board. I think investing in that extra time and one-on-one interactions can be extremely valuable for today’s CMOs and for any leader.

Howard: In building and developing June, it was interesting that you mentioned to me the embedding of a real-time customer feedback loop into the process, which impacted everything from the design to the overall experience. What are some key takeaways you can share regarding building these types of processes or infrastructure?

VanHorn: we were very fortunate that a core thesis of June revolved around sensors and intelligence. How do we use sensors and intelligence to make the best product in the world? When you think of a camera, a camera is a sensor. If you think of data from probes, that’s a sensor. And data from customers is a very important feedback loop, essentially another sensor. Something we have in the June app is, say, you’re making a steak; You can mark this with either a happy face or a sad face. If you give him a sad face, you can say it was because the steak was overcooked, undercooked, etc., then a ticket will be created with our customer support team associated with your personal cooking session. So if you agreed to share your details with us, we have this camera video of this chicken that got messed up. For example, we had this one customer who came up to us and said, “Hey, you burned my chicken on the outside. But inside it was still raw. I thought this was supposed to be a magic oven and I want to return it.”

We were able to pull the video log and find out that the customer had a very, very cold chicken. It was frozen when he put it in. He had the probe in, but he didn’t have the oven treated for this program. As a result, and the extremely cold bird, he was unable to get up to temperature. What’s amazing is that we could see this with all the sensor data and we responded with, “Hey, you know, you’re still within your hundred days, we’re happy to bring the oven back for you.” However, we looked at the sensor data and believe this was human error. why don’t you try Let’s just take your chicken out, let it preheat, then put your chicken in and see how it goes.” The next day, the guy posted on Facebook, “You won’t believe this. Yesterday I had the worst chicken of my life, I wanted to return my oven and then the June team was able to tell me it was my fault because of the camera, because of the sensors. Then tonight I had the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life! Like, oh my goodness. Thanks, June.” That’s the kind of wow moment you can create in your customers when you have the right customer feedback mechanisms in place that allow you not only to listen to your customers, but to respond to them in a meaningful way, to create long-term relationships.

Howard: That’s convincing. Many Thanks. CMOs fear failure for many reasons, some of which are their own fault. Due to a variety of factors, leaders sometimes lack the courage to have a challenger mentality. Can you talk to me about things to keep in mind related to overcoming the fear of challenging the status quo?

VanHorn: It’s boring not being ambitious and trying interesting and aggressive things. In today’s environment, as a CMO, as a leader, as an entrepreneur, just doing what you’re supposed to do isn’t very interesting and probably won’t get you very far. I think if you don’t challenge the status quo, try new ideas, and try to revitalize an environment, especially as a marketer, you’re missing out.

Marketers today need to step in, be ambitious and try different things that have never been done before. Think of it like a baseball reference, right? You’ll hit every swing you don’t make. Right. you have to swing You might be able to hit three swings, but if you’re just holding the bat and not swinging to the fence, you have a 0% chance of hitting a home run. But if you hit the plate at least three times, there’s a chance you’ll swing for the right thing that hits and really makes a difference. I think this is the opportunity we all have today as marketers, executives and entrepreneurs.

This mindset needs to apply whether you’re at a startup or a Fortune 500 brand. Size should not limit you and the “challenging the status quo” mindset should prevail.

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