Ep. 212 – BlueConic President & COO, Cory Munchbach

May 6, 2022

Our guest today is BlueConic’s President and COO, Cory Munchbach. 

Cory has spent her career on the cutting edge of marketing technology and brings years working with Fortune 500 clients from various industries to BlueConic. 

Before joining the BlueCrew, she was an analyst at Forrester Research where she covered business and consumer technology trends and the fast-moving marketing tech landscape. A sought-after speaker and industry voice, Cory’s work has been featured in VentureBeat, Wired, AdAge, and AdWeek, as well as spoken at conferences such as FutureM, MITX, and the Association of National Advertisers. 

A life-long Bostonian, Cory has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston College and spends a considerable amount of her non-work hours on various volunteer and philanthropic initiatives in the greater Boston community.

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • What type of COO does Cory identify as based on the 7-types 
  • How to clarify the responsibilities of the internal organization 
  • How to have a healthy conflict with your CEO 
  • Defining the roles of CEO and COO and splitting the responsibilities for each 
  • How to bring seasoned workers into a company with an established workforce seamlessly 

Resources:

Connect with Cory Munchbach: LinkedIn 

BlueConic – https://www.blueconic.com/

Read this article: Give Away Your Legos and Other Commandments For Scaling Startups

Get this book: Culture Map Breaking Invisible Boundaries

Connect with Cameron: Website | LinkedIn

Get Cameron’s latest book “Meetings Suck: Turning One of The Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable

Get Cameron’s online course – Invest In Your Leaders

Our guest is BlueConic’s President and COO, Cory Munchbach. Cory has spent her career on the cutting-edge of marketing technology and brings years working with Fortune 500 clients from various industries to BlueConic. Before joining the Blue crew, she was an analyst at Forrester Research, where she covered business and consumer technology trends and the fast-moving marketing tech landscape.

A sought-after speaker and industry voice, Cory’s work has been featured in VentureBeat, WIRED, AdAge, AdWeek, as well as she’s spoken at conferences such as FutureM, MITx, and the Association of National Advertisers. A lifelong Bostonian, Cory has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Boston College. She spends a considerable amount of her non-work hours on various volunteer and philanthropic initiatives in the Greater Boston community. Cory, welcome to the Second in Command show.

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Looking forward to this. A lifelong Bostonian, I was just reminded of where my dad says he grew up in Boston. He didn’t, he grew up an hour away. What keeps you in Boston?

It’s funny, not necessarily anything specific, I had a lot of opportunities and chances to go elsewhere. I thought I’d go to college somewhere else. I thought I would take a job in California at one point. Just through various moments of serendipity, I have decided to stay put. One of the things that I’ve come to appreciate about that, actually from a podcast, if you know How I Built This with Guy Raz, he had on one of the co-founders of Allbirds a couple of years ago. He was talking about how much there is to building a brand or a project, whatever it might be locally, and talking about the context of the material that they use for the Allbirds.

That really resonated with me is this opportunity to focus in. I like to do a lot and think about things in a lot of different places and areas, and that can get overwhelming and unfocused. Over the last couple of years, I’ve re-centered on Boston, the Boston tech community in particular, startups and initiatives that are in one way or another tied to Boston or the Greater Boston area.

Funny you mentioned Guy Raz, he actually was part of the reason for starting the Second in Command Podcast. Guy and I have spoken a bunch of times at the main five-day TED conference. We’ve been going to TED for years. I remember speaking to him. He had interviewed a number of CEOs that I actually knew on the How I Built This Podcast, but I knew the rest of the story. I’m like, “There’s more there.”

Kendra Scott, I’ve known Kendra since she was $2 million in revenue. I knew her before when it was just her mom and another woman packing up jewelry. Now, she’s a billion-dollar company. There’s this whole side of the story that Nolan, her CEO, could give. I love the guy’s perspective of it, and this is supposed to be completely different. It’s funny you mentioned.

There was an article that appeared in Harvard Business Review called The Misunderstood Role of the COO. They talked about these seven distinct types of Chief Operating Officers. You actually carry the President title, as well. What do you think is the difference between President and COO? Is there much of a difference? Let’s start with that.

I know that article very well because in particular, that has been probably the only thing that was written about the role of the COO for a very long time. There was just a total gap. More recently, the last few years, you’ve certainly gotten more particularly on the role of the COO in a startup. There are very rabid opinions on whether or not you need one or you don’t need one, and what that could look like. I actually really like the archetypes that Allison Pickens has come up with. She used to be the COO of Gainsight, for those who maybe don’t know. She has a couple different archetypes that I think are more relevant for tech today in particular, which is my lens on this a little bit.

For me, the context has been, I started as COO, I added the President title as we expanded our own C-team because I am truly second-in-command, I guess. The President title was more of an acknowledgement of that status when we have other C-level executives. In the context of my company in particular, it was honestly the most generic of the C-level titles because my role changes a lot.

SIC 212 | BlueConic

BlueConic: The president was the most generic of the C-level titles because the role changes much.

 

Over the years, I have built or run every part of our business. I started in marketing and sales, and we’re the go-to-market side. For a number of years, I was focused on our customer organization, professional services, customer success. I’m shifting entirely and going to be focused on product and engineering again. In a lot of ways, it’s less operations per se, and more of another catch-all title that allowed me the flexibility of moving my focus and operating very cross-functionally in the business rather than a specific vertical discipline that I was responsible for.

I love that you actually just mentioned the cross-functional versus the one specific area. It’s funny that you mentioned Allison Pickens. She was our guest on Episode 75. She was a great interview. It’s funny, I remembered interviewing her, and then she got mentioned about a few months ago and I reached out. I’m like, “You should be on the show.” She goes, “I was, a few years ago.” Clearly, I’m getting older because I can’t remember. This is terrible. I was so embarrassed. I crawled under my couch and went, “What am I supposed to be doing?” I probably blamed it on like, “I’m sorry, maybe it’s COVID or something.”

Honestly, she’s someone that I would listen to talk twice. Not your instincts in the worst place.

I’m going to re-listen to it again because you just mentioned her again. It’s hard because I interviewed so many that I lose sight of some, and others, I remember very clearly. I had Sarah on, the second-in-command for Bumble. It was this episode that resonated. I remember Allison’s, but there’s some stuff, I guess it was so long ago, that I don’t know what I was going through, but I’m going to give it a re-listen. You mentioned that you know the article well with the seven different types. Do you know what type of COO you would have been based on at Harvard article, or do you want me to throw them out there?

Yes, throw them out there. I do know which one. I don’t remember exactly the language that they used, but I definitely know which one I identified with.

There was partner and mentor, MVP. I used to know these off the top too, and now I’m struggling with what they were.

Change agent.

Change agent was a good one.

Other half. Also, one thing I would say is which one I would characterize myself as maybe has changed a little bit over the years in my time with the company. Probably early on, I was more MVP, maybe it would be that one doing a lot of things that it wasn’t so much to save me. They position it as being like, “We’re giving you this title so you don’t leave.” Again, I was an athlete. I’d been at the company when I got the title for about five years and had done a lot, been part of our fundraise and all of these things that didn’t fit into a particular bucket. Probably, MVP is where it began.

I think probably now, the other half or the partner is probably a better description when we’ve done the decisions and things that we’ve done for the company in the last couple of years. It has been much more of a co-relationship and co-dynamic, but I had to grow into that over the years of working together and playing different functional roles relative to him and in the business before I elevated to that partner or other half type of archetype.

It’s interesting, you’re right. It does change because when I came in at 1-800-GOT-JUNK, I definitely came in as the mentor because I had built franchise companies already and Brian hadn’t. Then it emerged into the MVP where the title switched over and partner for sure for the last couple years. It’s interesting to think through that transition. I recognize why they put that MVP or why they would give you the title, but I think you even said it. Was it to keep you? Was it something that mattered?

This is like a little bit of the chicken or the egg question for me, in the sense that I don’t care what anyone says. Titles do matter. They are not the ‘end all, be all’ by any means, but it was less honestly, I think about the title relative to the two of us, but more about the perception and the rest of the organization. If you are the Chief Revenue Officer and you start having conversations about product strategy on a daily basis, for the rest of the organization, that might be a little disorienting, “Aren’t you supposed to be focused on this part and now you’re over here?” It’s easy in some ways. The title does some of the shorthand work to explain who you are, especially as you’re growing and you don’t know everybody, they don’t know you.

SIC 212 | BlueConic

BlueConic: As you grow, the title does some shorthand work to explain who you are.

 

For me, I think it was maybe more about formalizing of the ambiguity that is my role, but also the seniority of it. It was more of that, “Again, shorthand, she has permission to be in these rooms and should be invited into them,” or whatever context rather than trying to keep me in that way. The other part for me that was important about getting it was the all access pass, why I would be in a board meeting, and a certain role that I’d have, the optics of that. Less for me, it didn’t start doing new things for me, but more of a solidifying of what I was doing and wanted to be doing, which gave me a lot more permission runway space to do those things for a longer-term basis.

You’ve talked a couple of times around the optics and around the cross functions and having access to different business areas where it doesn’t make sense for the, as you said, Chief Revenue Officer to be in a product meeting or Head of Marketing to be in a finance meeting. As the COO, we’re allowed to be in all the meetings. We’re supposed to be often in all the meetings. How do we clarify for the internal organization, especially as we scale, as we go the 30 people to 100 and 100 to 300? Is it just the typical roles and responsibilities in org chart? How do you clarify what your responsibilities are and how you differ from others on the C-suite or on the leadership team?

This one, I’m not sure we got perfectly right at the beginning. I think more trial and error on that. Part of it for me was I was employee seventeen. At least in terms of the credibility that I had with the rest of the organization, it built along with the work. It is very different if you’re coming in to a COO role maybe at a different stage or precisely because you are in a different stage that you need in some ways to preemptively delineate and say, “As the CEO, this is what I’m giving this person.”

What I would say is there are challenges with that. For me, I would almost say that the challenges were the reverse. We probably weren’t explicit enough. We took for granted that everybody knows each other and we can operate fluidly. As we got bigger, right around that 100 mark and where you had a lot more people coming into the organization, who didn’t have the history, who didn’t know how we interacted and how those choices were made. We had to be much more strict about it. It was actually right around the time that we fundraised our B round at the end of 2019.

Part of moving into the role was also a responsibilities division. Up to that point, I’d been playing the role, but we hadn’t solidified it in that way, and it was confusing for me. It was confusing for everybody, especially as we got bigger. As part of the title, there was a very deliberate org split where Bart took part, and I took another subject to change. We gave ourselves the room to maneuver certainly, but we were much more deliberate at that point in time than we had been up until that point. We might’ve done ourselves some favors maybe if we had done that a little bit sooner. Lesson learned, I think on that one.

I agree as well when you said earlier that titles are important. As much as I believe in a flat org or I even say an upside-down org chart where I have the CEO at the bottom supporting the VPs or supporting the employees. I do think that titles provide some clarity, and people actually need to understand where they fit, not in terms of an autocratic dictatorial style but just where we fit and who do we go to and who’s supposed to be doing what for the roles and responsibilities.

That one in particular is where I find it most important. It’s like, “Who do you consult on certain things?” We may have different answers on some of this and it avoids getting people confused of, “I talked to her and she said one thing, and now you’re telling me something different.” At worst, that creates a lot of animosity and frustration, but at best, it’s super inefficient to do it that way. Having that clarity, as you say, it’s less about hard and fast coming down from on high, but more about being available in the right resource that people know where to go so people can move faster while they’re doing their jobs.

You mentioned you joined at employee number seventeen, and then at some point you guys hit the 100 mark. Where are you now? Tell us a little bit about BlueConic. What’s the company? What’s your product? Who’s your ideal customer? What’s the size of the business today?

We are about to hit 170. I’m about to have hit the 10X milestone from when I started, which is pretty gratifying. I’ve been now with the company a little over seven years, so seen a couple of these different stages. In terms of the business, we’re a pure software company. We sell into marketing and digital customer organizations in companies that people would know like VF Corp, the parent company for Vans and North Face, Heineken, Molson Coors, Colgate. We work with some really awesome brands around the world.

When I initially joined, it was because the founders had taken a Series A, but are actually Dutch. They’ve moved from the Netherlands to the US to do that fundraise. We have a very bicultural organization, which has gone beyond those two countries at this point as well. I was one of the very early American hires, in addition to being early on in the company’s overall growth. I’ve been here as we’ve scaled up from those early days of well-under a million in revenue, through a couple of fundraises now, and focused on this next stage. We took an investment from Vista Equity Partners, their Endeavor fund, which is focused on growth equity companies earlier this year. Gearing up for this next run, the next 3 to 5 years with them.

Part of what I love about my job was true for sure when I was an analyst is to talk to the smartest people in marketing tech, in digital disruption, and innovation, and all kinds of cool companies. They’re using our technology to help accelerate a lot of initiatives that are key to the next ten years for them. We’re really in good place, good time, things around privacy, a broader digital transformation that COVID has certainly accelerated. That’s been my job internally and externally being able to interface with both halves of what makes our organization special in the business tech.

I’m intrigued to learn a little bit about some of the Dutch differences other than the fact that are they the typical 6’5” Dutch?

Our CEO actually is. He is actually tall. It is totally archetypical.

I’m 6’4″. It drives me crazy. I go over to the Netherlands and I walk, I’m like, “This is ridiculous. You’re all huge humans, and I’m 6’4″.”

They’re all tall. There are some exceptions, but yes, when you meet him, he is exactly what you would expect in real life. It’s funny too, especially with COVID where we’ve done so much hiring, so many people have no idea how tall anyone was while they were on Zoom. Bart, in particular, had a couple of those. They were like, “I’m so used to seeing that guy sitting down. He’s so much taller than I thought.”

I’ve had a couple of those moments as well. What is it like working with the Dutch? What are their differences?

First of all, if anyone works for a multicultural organization, there’s a book called The Culture Map by Erin Meyer that we actually read for book club. We do a book club and we read it. It was the book I wish I had when I started working at BlueConic because it does such an amazing job of looking at different dimensions of how cultures build relationships, how they communicate, all these things that are inordinately helpful in a business context.

SIC 212 | BlueConic

The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business

I say that because it was very rocky at the beginning. There are a lot of things that are quite different in terms of business styles. We call it Dutch Direct. They do not sugarcoat anything. They spent a lot of time focusing on basically where things need improvement without necessarily talking about what we’ve done well, which as an American who’s used to trophy first, feedback second, that was really disorienting at the beginning. A lot of it was more general communication styles, how we think about things. They also generally are more conservative, a little slower moving than what you might expect from an American startup or an American tech company.

Early on, I don’t even know that I knew enough to appreciate that there would be such stark differences. What I think heightened it was you have cofounders who moved their families from a new country to here, and all of the intensity and stress that I could not have appreciated having not worked in an environment like that before, really made those challenges or those differences problematic. We needed to get past them in order to build that relationship of trust and confidence in each other. That was really challenging early on in the early days.

We had quite a few very intense pivotal conversations, moments of vulnerability, and all of that that got us to the place we needed to get to, but it was not automatic. It was not a given. It really took a lot of openness on both sides. It’s been funny because Bart and I are the top of the pyramid. We were about 50/50 at every layer in the org from there down. It does really start with us.

To this day, we’ve worked together now every day for seven-plus years, and we still have our moments where I’m being too American, he’s being too Dutch. We got to work that out together. It’s actually a really strong part of the organization that we have that friction. It makes us really intentional about what we do. It forces us to maybe confront things that are uncomfortable that maybe other organizations would just gloss over or try to cut out. It’s turned into a little bit of what I think is a superpower, but again, it was not a given, not an automatic right out of the gate. That’s for sure.

Does he speak the typical 5 to 7 languages as well?

He flirts in a lot of them, sticks mainly with Dutch. It’s funny because we have now folks who have not just English as their second language, but 3 or 4 others, and making sure, especially with Zoom and different dynamics that everyone is able to, “Say thanks if your only language is English because all these people are working so much harder than you are to participate in these conversations, process information.”

It’s funny because I actually think in a lot of ways, so much talk about diversity, inclusion, belonging, the fact that we’ve never had a homogenous environment was actually really valuable for us as we added folks from all kinds of walks of life. We’ve never had a meeting where everyone talks the same, looks the same, is the same. That’s left a lot of room for other vectors of diversity to fit in really well. Not something we knew from the jump that that would be the case, but it has really been valuable as we’ve scaled and been intentional about those initiatives and incorporating new people into the org.

For sure, it would be. I’m intrigued about, you mentioned that you had to work at building trust. Can you give me a specific thing, a tool, or a system? I know you said you had to have some very vulnerable and open conversations. Was that just it? Is that what it was? Is it just being open and vulnerable and throwing it all out there and letting it build?

I really do think it’s that. I’ll give you maybe the most pivotal moment in this. It was about a year and a half after I started working there. We had just built up a lot of tension within the management team. There was a lot of frustration on both sides, ill communication, felt very insular, like an us and them dynamic. We had our management team offsite. One of the activities was to have everyone write on a whiteboard or whatever, something we’re doing well, something we’re not doing well, an obvious area for improvement, and something else, doesn’t matter.

We all got a couple minutes, three Dutch folks, three Americans on the team at the time. We wrote up on the board. For something we’re doing well, Bart literally wrote the word ‘nothing.’ That’s what he wrote. I went ballistic. I said to him, “Then what are we all doing here? If I’m busting my ass, I’m doing the best I know how to do, that may not be good enough. I’m totally fine with you telling me that. If I’m missing, then why are we pretending? I don’t know how to get around this.”

What was fascinating was his response. He was shocked that I took it so personally, not just how upset I was and how offended, which I think ultimately made him realize that I cared about the business and cared about what we were doing, but also he didn’t intend it to be that vicious. I took it as this maximal assault on my work ethic and all the things that we’re doing. For him, that was just a very Dutch response. We were early stage, there’s so much work to be done. From his perspective, nothing is done at the level that he wanted it at.

What happened from there was a two and a half hour airing of how frustrated the team was with us and our expectations for constant feedback and whatever, which was totally unfamiliar to them. We expressed how difficult it was like, “We’re trying to do a good job for you guys and for this team, and we don’t know how we’re doing. We can’t figure out what that’s going to look like.” That was an example of the vulnerability of all of us to share what was painful, to talk about that, and a willingness to work together and keep talking about it.

That for me is the biggest thing is that nothing is ever going to go perfectly smoothly. You’re deluding yourself if you think it is. Keeping that stuff top of mind, gut checking each other, figuring out a way to communicate like that. Without that, I certainly wouldn’t still be there. It would have been untenable. We all would have been in each other’s ways forever, and instead, look where we are now kind of thing. That vulnerability, the willingness to have the conversations and put it out there without that on all sides of whatever the discussion is, you’re dead in the water.

Pat Lencioni in Five Dysfunctions of a Team calls about the absence of trust and the fear of conflict, the artificial harmony. You guys have really worked through that and you need to have that healthy conflict. How do you have conflict with the CEO when you’re the President/COO? How do you two have that good healthy conflict when there’s leadership team members around or if you’re at a board meeting? Or do you try to have the conflict outside of those doors and be a united front when you’re inside those walls?

Very much the second. The two of us have had many very difficult conversations, existential about our role, “Can we keep partnering together? Is this the right dynamic?” All of these things over the years, never ever with an audience. It is so important to us because ultimately, the thing that we’ve been able to build our dynamic on top of, that trust, comes from a place of believing that at the end of the day, everything we’re doing is 100% about BlueConic and about the business.

Even if I rabidly disagree or he rabidly disagrees, if you believe 100% that you would never do anything bad for the company, that’s the middle ground, even if it sometimes feels like a tiny island. We meet on that island. Sometimes we need to let the water come down a little bit before we do. We try to have those, especially if they’re more of the interpersonal bigger things, certainly.

Sometimes, there’s a version also of the good conflict that does happen out in public with the rest of the management team where we disagree with each other. The key is knowing when it is escalating too far and when we need to just pause for now, step away, and then resolve the differences another time. That comes with working together over a long period of time. Neither one of us would ever want to have something that shakes everyone’s confidence in our leadership, quite frankly. Some of that stuff is too much information, too visible, and is not good for the rest of the company to see. We have to have it actually in order for us to keep moving forward and making sure that we stay on the same page.

How did you and the CEO decide or split roles? You mentioned that you split roles and you left it open to change later if you needed to. How did you originally decide how to shift or split up the roles and responsibilities? Have you redistributed those at all over the last couple of years?

Probably, most of it is just driven by what the business needed at the moment, and then deriving who’s the right fit based on skillsets. For example, I really enjoy interviewing, hiring, being part of that. When I took over the whole customer organization or the half of the business I took over back in 2019 was customer success writ large that included things like professional services, support, account management, CSMs, etc., and then also the people function. In both of those cases, that was three management team level hires that needed to be made. I was running them, but I needed to hire those three people.

Whereas at the time, the part of the business that he was running had the key pieces in place, so that’s where he focused. That’s been one example of, “Where does it make sense to split these things up?” In other previous times though, when I was more close to the go-to-market side of things, it was when we were building a category, it was a lot more of the leadership, and needing to figure out product market fit.

As the former Forrester Analyst who knows this market and was responsible for that, being super close to the pulse of those things and what our RFPs are all saying and all of that stuff was really critical actually to me filling that role. A lot of it is very much time dependent, context dependent on what is needed by that part of the business when, and which of us is better suited skillset wise to do that well for the next 12 to 18 months. Typically, it’s how we think in those types of increments.

Have you been there during the Series A and Series B, or did you come on after the Series A?

Right after the series A. I was one of the fourth hire after the Series A.

How has the company changed then just during the Series B even, or just even coming in that initial stage when you’ve got funding? What has changed in the company? How have you had to operate differently? What would be the good and the bad?

It’s not even so much finance round dependent as it has been some of those key milestones of finding product market fit. You can see it in the graphs and the data over the years of like, “This was the moment when the flywheel started to really build.” In the very early days, that Series A timeframe, a lot of it was just figuring out what resonated in the market and trying to be as scrappy as possible while not doing things that could never fail, but just making pragmatic trade-offs about what needed to happen there.

It was mostly experimentation, trying to use the cliché “fail fast” without it being an abject failure. For me, fail fast has always meant stop doing something quickly, even if it’s objectively a failure. The thing that makes it not a fail is just that you learned from it. We failed a lot, without a doubt. I would argue objective failure, but we learned from it, “How do we make sure that we are smarter going forward?”

Probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed in the three financing stages, Series A to B, B to Vista, and now in the few months since the Vista investment, has a lot to do with the people that are successful at each one of those stages, and who you need doing what kinds of jobs as the company grows and scales. Some people are so good at being Swiss Army knives or whatever, and can do a lot of things, but they can’t hit the level when they start to do specialization, or they do have to focus.

I’ve imagined many of you have read or seen Giving Away Your Legos piece by Molly Graham in First Round Review. That is like my Bible. I read that a couple of years in and was like, “This just names the thing that is so hard about this.” That is probably the most obvious place of change in what’s been honestly some of the hardest conversations, to be fair, but also some of the most gratifying. I remember the days where we didn’t even have people applying to work here. Now, we have thousands of applicants coming in on a monthly basis. That blows my mind. Those things that we see on the other side. That’s been really different.

Also, most notably, a lot of it is how agile you can be. It’s not that you stop trying to be agile. I use the mantra right now, “Slow as smooth and smooth as fast.” You have to take the time at this size to slow down, to write it down, to double check the question, to not just run as fast as you can, pause, consider it, and that is going to make us faster later. I would never have said that in the early days, just fast as fast in the early days, but now we need to have a different mindset. Those are the kinds of things that I see changing the most as we’ve hit those pivotal moments over the last couple of years.

I love that whole smooth is fast. Where are you focusing your time now? I love that you also mentioned how much easier it is now to get employees as you’re bigger. There’s another segue question in there that I’ll ask. Where are you focusing your time currently?

I have what I think of as my horizontal and then my vertical responsibility. As I said, vertical responsibilities, I have given full ownership of the customer organization to far better than I was at as Chief Customer Officer. Officially, that transition is done. I’m going to start focusing more again on product and engineering within my day-to-day vertical responsibilities. I still own the people function, as well. All of HR, people ops, those kinds of things, still ladder up to me.

What I consider to be my horizontal responsibilities are things around the management team, making sure that we’re hiring key roles. I play a very active role in hiring across the whole company. I don’t interview everyone at this point, but I come very close to that process. How we think about that diversity, equity, inclusion, I mentioned. I’m the executive sponsor for making sure that we’re thinking about that in the right ways and doing the right things there. Obviously, working with the board and the company vision.

Overall, that can’t be just run from one part of the organization. Even though I have that vertical component, I still want to be on calls with customers. I still want to see what’s coming in RFPs. Part of what makes me good at what I do is I genuinely love all of it. I’m super curious about every part of the business and learning what I can and putting it together.

On the other hand, I’m hyper aware of how that needs to diminish and become a little bit more focused as we get bigger and have those people in seats, but we’re not quite at that point yet. We’re probably 12 to 18 months from me needing to be almost fully vertical because we have the key pieces and everyone’s onboarded. Like I said, 12 to 18 months probably looks very different than right this minute, but that’s how I spent my time today.

At the stage you’re at right now, you’re clearly starting to bring in some senior seasoned talent from the outside, and they’re coming in over top of 2 or 3 layers of people that have been for a few years. How do you navigate that? How do you help them do that without causing too many ripples?

We think a lot about in our onboarding and our first 90 days. I don’t know if this is necessarily unusual, but we are rabid proponents of what we call new kid goggles. You only get one chance to see this business with fresh eyes, and then you are in it. We really do stress that people spend their first 30, 45, 60, 90 days absorbing. For senior leaders, that is difficult. They want to have an impact quickly. They often feel out of water. The way that they feel like they can reorient themselves is by doing what they used to do and doing it here as a comfort animal. We don’t want you to do that actually. You will sit in that discomfort. We’re going to help you get through it, but coming in and just immediately starting to make change is not how you tend to be successful here.

As we bring that in, the benefit of it is that people can spend time just absorbing and learning and taking that in. For me, I haven’t had new kid goggles in seven years. I benefit from what you tell me that I haven’t seen afresh and never can again. What I think the other impact of that is, and it’s mutual for the folks who are already here, it allows them to also adjust to the presence of a new person before they start making those changes.

It’s building awareness and comfort with each other rather than feeling like someone’s going to come in, and within two weeks has a new work chart, or has totally taken us off in a different direction. That helps everyone, especially at this stage too, where we employ a lot of people who built the thing or this is their baby, one piece of the business. They may not want to be the one who becomes the VP or the director. They like staying an individual contributor, but they’re also really proud of it. They’re not just going to hand it off to the next Joe Schmo because I said so.

That initial onboarding period that is so focused on taking it all in, absorbing, being patient, letting yourself be uncomfortable, shows to me that you have the curiosity, you have the humility, those are two core values of ours, to see how we do things, and then start to figure out the right places and the right time. That’s very much in the slow is smooth, smooth is fast. I assure you, if you slow down in your first couple of months with us, you will go faster for longer than if you try to hit the gas as soon as you get here. That helps on both sides of the equation long-term.

I love that for sure. Two more questions. One is you mentioned a couple of times your prior role with Forrester as an analyst. What do you think has served you well with that kind of experience in the COO world?

So much. I am so grateful for the time I spent at Forrester, which was a very unexpected place for me professionally. I did not envision anything of what I ended up doing. My role at Forrester, it was a couple of things. One is it’s MBA concentrated. You’re actually talking to the best and biggest brands in the world, you’re hearing about their problems, you’re working with analysts who are brilliant when you first start. You get to such a wide lens on so many things that are going on in industry and the cutting-edge.

As an analyst specifically, part of the job is systems thinking, and having an interview with 10 or 12 different companies and brands, and then distilling a story from that. That’s executive leadership in really critical ways. What is happening in all the different parts of the business, crafting a vision, crafting the strategy from what you see from the market. It’s a lot of input, and effectively articulating an output from there and doing that consistently and intelligently and effectively. That’s what being an analyst is.

The only thing about being an analyst that I stopped enjoying is the job itself doesn’t change. Your research doesn’t really change too dramatically, and the outputs that you’re expected to create in a company. That’s obviously not true. The inputs are changing so often all the time. You need to be ahead of it in a lot of ways. Then how you tell the story, knowing when the story needs to change. All of those kinds of things are directly related.

I am so much more effective as a leader in my role because of my training, so to speak, in thinking rigorously and concisely, and directly, which is a hallmark of Forrester Analysts. All of that was super valuable. Then of course, part of why I got the job in the first place was that I was a subject matter expert in what I was covering at Forrester, and that’s the industry that the company was in.

I’ve had the dual benefit of getting to be an operator in a very real way as I’ve grown with the company, but it started with a much more externally-facing function, positioning, product marketing, that kind of stuff. I’ve gotten probably more of a 360 of a company than most get to just by virtue of the intersection of that, which was all Forrester.

I want to go back to the 22-year-old Cory. I want you to give yourself some advice. What advice would you give the 22-year-old just starting out in her career that you know to be true now?

I would say two parts that I really did. Be patient and look for gray. The last few years in particular have taught me so much about needing to, “Eyes on your own paper and take the information and be comfortable with it and don’t just act.” One of my favorite academics is this woman, Tressie McMillan Cottom, who talks about how everything is true at a certain level of abstraction.

I have found that to be day-to-day now, what I need to remind myself of is that, “I know the business. I don’t know everything, but you need to have the patience to not get distracted by what everyone else says is happening in the industry, or how you’re supposed to respond to a global pandemic or any of those things and find truisms that are actually true for you and your context and your organization.” That takes patience that 22-year-old me didn’t have. It takes a willingness to sit in that discomfort and find that gray and that nuance. That 22-year-old me definitely didn’t have. I’m not sure 30-year-old me had it, but let’s focus on 22.

SIC 212 | BlueConic

BlueConic: You should have the patience not to get distracted by what everyone else says is happening in the industry or how you’re supposed to respond to a global pandemic and find truisms true for you, your context, and your organization.

 

Thank you so much. Cory Munchbach, the COO and President for BlueConic, thanks very much for sharing with us on the show.

Thanks for having me.

I appreciate it. Thank you. 

 

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Written By Cameron Herold

Written By Cameron Herold

Cameron Herold is known around the world as THE CEO WHISPERER. He is the mastermind behind hundreds of companies’ exponential growth. Cameron’s built a dynamic consultancy: his current clients include a “Big 4” wireless carrier and a monarchy. What do his clients say they like most about him? He isn’t a theory guy—they like that Cameron speaks only from experience. He earned his reputation as the CEO Whisperer by guiding his clients to double their profit and double their revenue in just three years or less. Cameron is a top-rated international speaker and has been paid to speak in 26 countries. He is also the top-rated lecturer at EO/MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program and a powerful and effective speaker at Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer leadership events around the world.

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