Leadership Perspectives 2014: Lessons from Technology and Digital CEOs

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As we move into 2015, it’s clear where the market going. Many of us who work in the social media and tech space have helped propel this industry forward as it makes significant inroads into the fabric of organizations.

The road has been long and for some of us, it’s still challenging.

Any start-up businesses requires a lot of gumption to persevere in the face of market complacency. The last decade has proven that the rise of social channels, the radical changes related to media consumption, and the slow erosion of traditional channels have changed things irrevocably; we have exciting technologies and new ways of doing things.

2015 will mark a change for technology and the ‘new’ face of marketing will begin incorporating these new practices that many of us, who have worked in the space for sometime, have been using for years.

With that in mind, I approached some leading CEOs in the tech and digital space, people whom I admire, and asked them to give their top 3 lessons they have learned as players in a ever evolving industry.

Kerry Morrison, CEO and Founder, Endloop and Norm

  • I think the biggest learning for 2014, was the concept of listening to and seeking out advice from those around  who are more experienced and more proven than yourself, digesting that information deeply, but then doing what you think is best…even if it flies in the face of said advice.
  • Recognize that being in charge of or founding anything will be jaw-droppingly scary, almost every minute. Accept that and use that fear as fuel.
  • Understand that no one, not your parents, nor siblings, nor your spouse, and certainly not your closest friends will understand almost anything you are doing. They won’t understand the choices you make, the worries you have, and certainly not what is motivating your decisions. Seek out other founders and talk openly and honestly about your struggles. Do not under any circumstances pitch these people.


Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich and author of Spin Sucks

  • You need to decide if you’re going to continue to be a really great communications pro or an excellent company grower. If it’s the latter, stop doing the work and start building your business.
  • Always hire smarter people than yourself. It’ll be hard. You won’t like it most days. But it’ll be worth it.
  • Don’t get defensive when your team calls your baby ugly. If you really listen to what they’re saying, you’ll find new opportunities for company (and personal) growth.


Shawn Bayati, CEO, Business X

(a business community that offers its clients credibility, new sales prospects and the tools/intelligence to convert prospects to customers )

  • When things are going well, remember to share the credit. When things are tough, take responsibility .
  • Trust your gut.
  • Work hard yes, and play hard too – balance is everything!


Daniel Newman, President, Broadsuite  and author of Millennial CEO and The New Rules of Customer Engagement

  • My dad: Chances are you have a strength that truly allowed you to get the business started, but you will quickly hit a point where you will need to surround yourself with others to take your journey to the next level. Don’t underestimate the value of finding those people and bringing them along for the journey.
  • My accountant: Businesses are far too focused on top line revenue; always worried about how big they are. Worry about profitability. Build a business that makes money and that can be done with revenue but also a certain frugality that most great entrepreneurs have.
  • Referrals and retention are far too important but also way too often overlooked by most businesses. Don’t get caught up looking for your next deal before you have a plan to keep the clients you have and to grow with them effectively.


Matt Hixson, CEO Tellagence

  • Don’t react immediately to emotional situations – your first reaction is usually the wrong thing for leadership.
  • Always think about the greater good of the company.  Individual decisions may be hard but they have to be put in context.
  • It is better to be successful than right.


Sabaa Quao, President and Founder, /newsrooms

  • As an entrepreneur, I’m reminded that nobody believes in you until you’ve proven your point, and preferably you prove it decisively! It’s going to be a lonely pursuit and clearly not everybody’s cut out for this lifestyle, no matter how glamorous they think startup life is. It’s not.
  • I remind all the entrepreneurs who are committed to their projects to remain perfectly delusional, ignore the naysayers, and drive your projects to their necessary conclusions. Yes, that sometimes means to crash and burn. AND THAT’S NOT FAILURE. I’m tired of this glorification of failure. It sucks. Avoid failing (or, if you must, fail upward). Get on with your next thing, that’s what you do.
  • And last, because I’ve founded a social media and content marketing company, I’m increasingly aware of the dependencies of our industry. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, and the usual suspects remain important BFFs “Best Friends, For Now…” The platforms we rely on are still, arguably, flaky and erratic as they define themselves. Sure, renting is always an option, but  deep down, if you can own your own “land,” you’re always happy in the long run.


Ryan Pannell, Founder, Synergis Capital Management

  • Remember that nothing has meaning until you give it one. No act, no circumstance, no outcome means anything until you have interpreted it by applying your own biased evaluation criteria to it – evaluation criteria which are almost certainly flawed. If the next time you have a strong emotional reaction to something you examine the meaning you’ve given whatever it was that caused the emotion, rather than simply following through on what you’re feeling, you can avoid all kinds of ridiculous shit.
  • Start every day from a place of gratitude, and remember that while the Universe doesn’t owe you a damned thing, it will provide an endless stream of opportunities. If your mind is grateful, you will see all of them.
  • Whenever possible, invest in the support of others. Altruism consistently pays the highest dividend of any investment that I am aware of, and ultimately the only one that will matter to you when the last breath leaves your body.


Ben Watson, Founder and Partner, Group XI

  • Be yourself.It’s harder than you think to be self aware, self directed and self sufficient at the same time so there is no point trying to be something you are not and messing that up.  Go with what you know, who you know, and build from there.  The payoff in confidence, acceptance, and native leadership ability is already in the mail with your thank you card.
  • Miss out on FOMO(fear of missing out). Don’t fix Facebook’s UI or Lego’s strategy to get more girls as customers unless it’s your job.  Having an opinion is important but not as important as making informed decisions for the people and clients who depend on you.  YOLO, and you have X hours per day and you need some of them for food, music, sleep, love, laughter, friends, family, books, movies, exercise and petting your dog. Focus seems logical for the few hours that remain billable.  YOLO trumps FOMO.
  • Reward awesome work with awesome experiences. I have a picture in my business plan of toes in the sand of a beach somewhere sunny, which is intended to be an incentive for us true north busy bees. There’s a catch though – everyone thinks it’s all about them, but it’s not for me. It’s actually for my team.  That’s another whole issue, but I know that I cannot do what without the small team of experts and analysts who help me change the world every day. When their hard work is done and they deserve a break, I like to teach them how to dance, take them kitesurfing, rent a track and the motocross bikes and the instructor to get us moving, hit the rails in the snow park, or all grab an instrument and make some music.  In my experience, the the memories are far more valuable than the dust that award was going to collect.


Shelly Kramer, CEO and Founder, V3

  • Know what you’re good at. Do that. So many times business owners try to be all things to all people, and for most of us, that’s nearly impossible. Whether your company is mature or new and growing, the same lessons apply. Be honest with yourself about the skill set you possess. Do an equally honest assessment about the services you’ve sold to your clients. Look for the gaps and augment your team as needed so that the two align. Trying to do both does a disservice to both you and to your clients and ultimately sets you up for failure. Budget the money to bring the right human assets on board so that you can focus on what you’re really good at and let them do what they’re good at. You’ll never be sorry.
  • Don’t sell tactics. It’s easy to fall into the trap of selling tactics when, all too often, that’s what your clients want. All too often people who call themselves marketers either don’t have a firm understanding of marketing or they mistakenly think that selling tactics is a good way to build a business. It’s not. That’s because in most cases selling tactics doesn’t deliver results, so when you go down that path, you’re selling your clients something that’s most likely not going to work and you’re both missing the bigger picture. Today’s marketplace demands and understanding of how the Web works and how that impacts business, profitability and growth.
  • Be adaptable and keep learning. The world of marketing is constantly evolving and our role requires us to not only be ever adaptable, but also to be learning all the time. The reality of our world is that what worked a year ago probably won’t work today, and it definitely won’t work tomorrow. The advice we give to our clients is to be nimble and adept and to embrace change and to re-imagine their organizations and it’s important that we do the same. Marketers today who consider themselves good at everything are kidding themselves. No matter how capable and intelligent we might be as individuals, our world and the field of marketing has gotten so complex and so sophisticated that we can’t possibly know it all. Resolve to be constantly exploring and experimenting and learning about new disciplines and platforms and channels and people who do things that you don’t do, embrace collaboration and discovery, and know that the things you can do together with others will likely far out perform the things you can do on your own.

Lastly, here are my lessons:

  • Stay humble. It’s something my parents have taught me. Despite the number of accolades you receive, no matter how far you progress, just remember where you came from. Your company’s success is not yours alone. It’s the collective. Success means careful execution of the vision. Each cannot live in isolation of the other. ALWAYS acknowledge the contribution of others. It’s what will keep the team whole and the company strong.
  • Stay passionate. This is what gets me up in the morning. It’s why I surround myself with people who have the same drive – to do amazing things and to make a real difference. People driven by passion don’t count the hours; they count the clients they’ve satisfied.
  • Take advantage of serendipity. I don’t believe in luck. Nothing great happens by circumstance or by chance. I do believe that you can cultivate serendipitous moments and transform them into awesome opportunities. Build value. Share your knowledge. Don’t expect anything in return. And that’s precisely when serendipity rewards you.

Here’s to a fast moving, exciting 2015!

Photo Credit: “Tech Cocktail’s Miami Mixer & Startup Showcase” by Jaymes Gardzinski  CC BY SA

0 thoughts on “Leadership Perspectives 2014: Lessons from Technology and Digital CEOs

  1. azulh says:

    Excellent post. I hope it receives wide distribution. Hugh

  2. hessiejones says:

    azulh Thanks Hugh:)

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