Going the Distance
Taproom feat. Liz Walton Egan
Welcome to Taproom, where I introduce you to some of the wonderful humans I've gotten to know over the years. I aim to share their stories, and a lesson or insight that leads you to interesting explorations of your own.
Our Taproom guest is Liz Walton Egan, CMO at Sprig. Liz and I first met as undergrads at Northwestern University (Go Cats!) Friends with my then-girlfriend (and now wife), Nisha, it was important that I impressed Liz to ensure she had positive things to say about me!
Upon leaving NU, Liz spent time as an account exec at a PR agency before she moved to the startup side and establishing herself as a marketing force in the New York tech ecosystem. She joined Yext in 2012 and spent the next ten years taking the company from an early-stage startup to a publicly traded company, most recently as the SVP of Growth. Having recently made a move from Yext to Sprig, we cover:
🔎 Getting into marketing
🏁 Going the distance with a company
⚖️ Balancing parenting and work
🧴 Side hustles
Let’s jump in!
Did you know that marketing was what you wanted to do?
Absolutely not. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I think it was my parents who nudged me towards marketing. In Northwestern I majored in classics, Latin and Greek. Then I tacked on Economics as a double major, so I could get a job. I wouldn't say I use any of that classics background in my day to day, but it taught me how to think. And I really liked project-based work, which is why I gravitated towards marketing.
I had a couple of marketing and PR internships while in college, and that felt like it was a good fit, so decided to pursue it. Right out of college I spent two years at a PR agency, working with big traditional brands like WeightWatchers, Degree Men, and Hanes. And I realized I didn't like big, traditional marketing, so was looking for something else.
What drew you to technology?
You may not know this, but back in college I had a tech blog (that no one read),which really got me interested in the space. My grandfather was a professional inventor (which is my fun fact.) He invented the cardboard six-pack that holds bottles. He also invented the thing that makes the washing machines spin around. And my dad is an entrepreneur who took a piece of my grandfather's technology and built the whole company around it. So I was interested in tech and, as you know, decided to join a tech startup, Stamped, founded by some Northwestern guys with great investors. It was acquired by Yahoo in 2012. Then I went to Yext and spent almost ten years building Yext from about 75 people and $10 million of revenue through an IPO to 1,400 people and about $400 million.
That's a fantastic fun fact! After Stamped what led you to choosing Yext?
When Stamped was acquired, Google Ventures made a lot of introductions to companies in New York. And I think you learn a lot by walking into a startup's office (at least pre-pandemic). You can really sense the energy, and you can see what companies are growing. And I remember walking into Yext unclear about what the company did, to be honest. But the energy was so special and palpable. And the people just seemed like they were the right mix of smart, ambitious, hungry, and hardworking. I felt like I wanted to be in the mix of that. They were going upmarket from small business into enterprise and needed someone to work on enterprise marketing. It is a lot more thought leadership storytelling and for that, my PR background was really applicable. So it was sort of like the right role, the right team, and energy for lack of a better term. And then I just never got off the ride.
You spent almost ten years building a single company. In today's world, that's a lifetime. What keep you there?
I like building companies and the way I can most effectively help a company grow is through marketing. So, in many ways, I kind of signed on to see it through because I wanted to see what that whole experience was like. My motivation was to build the company, which helped me weather the ups and downs that are natural as a company grows. It just made me more resilient because I wasn’t focused on what my portfolio of marketing campaigns would look like. That doesn't really matter to me. My 'portfolio' is the companies I get to help grow. I also took the perspective that staying on was a learning opportunity. I kept seeing that we would bring in these leaders at Yext who had just seen the movie before and I thought to myself, "I want to see the movie, because even if I don't agree with how everything is done, that means I can learn and do it differently the next time."
And, if I'm lucky, I'll get to be on this rocket ship ride a few times.
The idea of 'tech marketing' has obviously changed a lot in the decade-plus you've been doing it. What are some of the biggest changes?
I think there are two sides to it. First, the buyer is much more sophisticated than they were five to ten years ago. There is so much technology at their fingertips that you have to communicate with them in more of a product marketing voice than simply "here it is, buy it." So in that way I think you have to really treat them with more respect. The other is that as a marketer there's just a lot more technology that is purpose-built for your work. But you have to be careful not to overcomplicate things with technology. I think you really have to understand how the systems work and, and be a data focus marketer to succeed today.
And what about the biggest changes for you in terms of your personal evolution?
I think I've gotten to be a much better marketer. I really understand how to target an audience and then reach them with the right message in a variety of different ways. But I've also spent a lot of time growing as a leader. At Yext I think my org was sixty people at the end. How do you manage that scale and help people grow their careers and do good work? That's really, really fun stuff.
The biggest change though, is that I had a family over the past couple of years and so my relationship with work has evolved. And I think for the better. As a leader, I'm more empathetic because of having a family. But I also now have a much more defined work day and the way I work has changed.
What has been the biggest difference with your relationship to work pre- and post-kids?
I'm sort of embarrassed with how work defined me before I had kids. It was my biggest hobby and a lot of my source of self-esteem. But then I had kids, and work wasn't my world anymore in the same way. At the same time, it also showed me how important work is to me. That's not the case for everybody after having kids. For some people work may not be as important anymore. But I really like working, but just I need to contain it because I don’t have as much time as I used to. So I think the thing that has changed the most is my relationship with time because I only have so many hours in the day that I can physically be at my computer, and I don't want to sacrifice time with my family.
Speaking of time, you've got a thriving side hustle, Dally Goods, that you've worked on with your husband over the last two years. Can you tell us more about that? And most specifically, why do you pursue it?
My husband is a creative director in advertising, so he's the creative side to my very operational mind. We had long been brainstorming ideas of things that we could do together and a couple of years ago we had this idea to start a brand that was based on this idea of 'slowing down.'
I also saw Yext getting a lot bigger, it wasn't the startup anymore. And I like to roll up my sleeves and have a challenge. I wanted to try out building a company, not just from the marketing side, and learn what it's like to run a business. And, inspired by my grandfather inventing things, I loved the idea of a durable good—something you could hold in your hands.
Pre-pandemic, we all lived these fast-paced lives that were sort of unrelenting. And we take these trips to try to find these moments of respite. And we were like, well, what if you could incorporate that in your everyday? How would that change your life and your mental state?
So, our first Dally Goods product is hand-wash. It might seem not connected to time and slowing down. But actually, this is a design object that sits on your sink and can serve a reminder to slow down every time you walk by it or use it. People don't think of soap that way, but it's something you use six times a day, hopefully, more. It may actually be your most used consumer packaged good, especially with kids.
Since launching it’s been featured in Vogue, GQ, Architectural Digest and is carried by Anthropologie. So for me, Dally Goods has allowed me to scratch the entrepreneurial itch. It's been a lot of fun!
And so now you've left Yext and joined Sprig, a relatively early-stage company, as the CMO. What led you to that decision after an amazing run at Yext?
After two kids, I was ready for a new challenge. And so I thought about whether I wanted to go later stage or early stage. And I actually wasn't thinking of the early stage, as you recall. But, ultimately, the time I enjoyed the most during my last decade was the building and scaling stage. And Sprig really caught my eye in terms of the growing category of user research and its really strong, early success. The taste-makers of tech, like Dropbox, Square and Loom are already using it and it has top investors: Andreessen Horowitz, Accel, and First Round. So I was excited about the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and do that work because I think that will ultimately be the most fun. I joined Sprig because I believe it's a rocket ship and want to go the distance again.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of Taproom! For more from Liz and all things marketing and side hustles, follow her on Twitter. And check out Dally Goods for some exceptional products to help you slow down. And finally, if you enjoyed this week’s issue, why not click the button below and share it with someone else!
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