SPICY leaders

In her first blog post written for Ant’s Eye View, Kira Wampler (formerly of Intuit – I miss her already) writes about the qualities that make a great leader in the social space.

This was my favorite part of the post, the quality of being interested:

Interested: Are you naturally curious about the world around you, your customers’ lives and your products or services? Do you take a systematic approach for learning new “cultures” and new projects and, most importantly, then apply that learning to constantly improve on your teams and your work. And, my deep belief is that naturally interested people are naturally humble. We’re all learning our way here, and being humble goes a long way when operating in new cultures and partnering with internal teams. Speaking of…do you do more to recognize others than to gain recognition for yourself?

So well said, if for no other reason than the people most interested in life are the most interesting. Plus it’s hard to lead the way if you’re not interested in knowing where the path is leading or that there’s even a path in the first place.

Nice job Kira! Will you come back now?

Two reasons women leave tech jobs

On Sunday The New York Times posted a provocative story about why there aren’t more women in top positions in Silicon Valley. It’s not the first such article about subtle bias against women in business. As a woman working in the software industry I read the article with a combination of disappointment, mild surprise (at some of the more outrageous examples), and the grim recognition of common experience.

The NY Times article focused on the nature of people to revert to long-held biases (including those against women) in tough times, combined with the tendency for women to want to work more socially than men in similar engineering roles. It also touched on long-standing issues for women such as work/life balance and timing when (or if) to have children.

Here’s what none of the articles I’ve ever read touch on, although I can’t understand why. As a woman who used to be a web developer and chose to leave that mostly predictable, job-secure field to join a team of product managers for two reasons:

  1. The “Code Monkey” Bias: Even though what I was doing was far more technical than most of the sales/marketing people I worked with, I often got treated like I couldn’t understand, affect, or God-forbid drive strategy. Nothing pisses me off faster than people who treat me like I’m stupid, and ironically at this most technical time in my career it happened on a fairly regular basis.
  2. The Woman Bias: Never in my life until I was on a team full of men (who did the same thing as I did, btw) did I have the experience of giving an idea in a meeting that got ignored, only to have it brought up by one of my male colleagues ten minutes later to room-wide acclaim.

During that same time I went out to happy hour with a couple of guys I used to work with who had nothing to do with the technology field (the photographers from SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo). Over beers, I heard myself talking as fast and with the shortest sentences I could muster. I slowly realized I was doing it because I expected to lose their focus at any moment. When I looked at their faces, they were relaxed and waiting calmly for me to continue my stories – so different than what I realized I had gotten used to. The sinking feeling in my stomach at that realization was the beginning of the end of that line of work for me.

Sometimes I miss the feeling of satisfaction and control you get when you build an entire website, from beginning to end. But I can still build sites if I want to-and I never get tired of people respecting me and listening to my opinion.

Our office pools are not like your office pools

concurrent user office poolMost offices have a March Madness pool, maybe a Superbowl pool. A few have even have baby due date pools. If you work on online tax software, do you know what kind of office pool you have? Concurrent users. (concurrent users = how many people are online at the same time using your product) About 30 people have given their estimates for what our peak concurrent user count will be today.

Last year our analyst won, so this year we’re all triangulating off her pick. Here’s to hoping I’m $30 richer by tomorrow!

“Happy” tax day, everyone.

Musings from a (former) SXSWi virgin

This was the first year I’ve been to SXSWi. What finally convinced me to go? A combination of last year’s overwhelming number of tweets and Peter Kim’s wise council. Peter told me that SXSW is a place unlike any other conference: you get the opportunity to be with a ton of like-minded, smart people in a social environment. With alcohol. Did I mention alcohol?

Peter was right about everything including the alcohol. But to really “get it,” I needed to experience the event first-hand. Here’s how I sum up why I loved SXSW: serendipity. When you are in a place as small as downtown Austin, you could “happen to” run into/recognize people you’ve only known online before, people you admire from a distance but hardly ever get to see, people who do what you do at other companies, people you do business with in Austin, and in my case, even catch up with a high school friend who works in the same field as me. (It turns out if we had been more organized we could have had a small-scale Paly reunion right there in Austin – next year!) When was the last time you ran into a list of people like that all at the same place?

I go to a lot of conferences. It’s been a long time since I got much out of keynotes, breakouts, or panels. To be honest, it’s come to the point where I only attend conferences I’ve been asked to speak at. SXSWi was different though. And I’m glad I went. Go if you want, or don’t go, it’s up to you. If you do go, you might “happen to” run into me there next year.

TurboTax is among AdAge’s “America’s Hottest Brands”

Today TurboTax was honored among the case studies of America’s hottest brands on AdAge. Pretty exciting to see our team’s work featured so prominently in the study: from the social media side the Super Status contest, our partnership with NBC and the offline advertising team, and finally our Twitter Google network ad were featured. Our display advertising rockstar Brian Hovis’ work got major props as well. Picture 1

The “New” Advertising

Usually when people talk about advertising, they're thinking in "Mad Men" terms: the "we'll create a need for you and then tell you what to do about it" school of advertising. Social media has changed all that. Online social networking has ushered in a new world where word of mouth behavior and recommendations, always a huge factor in purchase decisions, is now visible and increasingly measurable online. Since a recommendation from your friend is more effective than a traditional banner ad, advertisers are taking notice.

Instead of fighting the instinctive human desire to talk to one another about experiences and products, smart marketers work cross-functionally with product teams to create ways to improve the product experience with strategically placed human conversation. The smart advertiser knows those helpful conversations are themselves, brand assets. Armed with those assets, smart advertisers find ways to deliver those helpful conversations to new people by using their distribution channels.

Best Buy's Twelpforce initiative is a great example. To improve the customer shopping experience (even before customers step foot in the store) Best Buy employees reach out to customers with questions via Twitter. They used one of their distribution channels (tv advertising) to inform the masses about this new way to engage with the brand. Smart!

TurboTax won 3 OMMA awards

TurboTax was
recognized as an industry leader during the Online Marketing and Media
Association Awards this week. Although we were delighted to be finalists in 6 categories, the celebration went to the next level when the winners were announced – 3 groovy-cool winners statues are coming to live on our team's "mantle."

Here are the categories we won in:

1. Social: Best Use of Widget – SuperStatus
To start with either of the other two awards would be less than genuine, since this is the award I personally had the most to do with. Since joining Seth's incredible Online Advertising team last year, we've been blessed to win a handful of social media accolades and awards: Ad Age's head-to-head comparison for social media, The San Diego American Marketing Association Marketer of the Year award, even the Bazaarvoice Best Overall Social Commerce Award. As thrilling as each award has been, I must say none of them has been as exciting as this: winning an OMMA award for the Widget that was the centerpiece of the SuperStatus contest. Big ups to Dailey advertising for making the whole thing possible with their great idea and design. (Not to mention nominating us)

To cap it all off, we beat HBO and Disney in this category. As a huge fan of both (we all are), we were pretty humbled by our win.

2. Rich Media: Single Execution – TurboTron
Brian Hovis – take a bow! Brian and Dailey worked their tushes off this year and it all paid off. The TurboTron banner was designed for a homepage takeover of Yahoo. It was so successful it literally ranked as the #2 most interacted-with banner of all time, plus the banner itself was incredibly creative. (Again, Dailey kicks butt).  For those who think social media and advertising don't mix, Brian took the great content created by our customer reviews, Live Community, and Super Status contest and made it part of his banner. The nature of advertising is changing in a good way, thanks to people like Brian.

3. Best Financial Services Integrated Online Media Campaign – TurboTax
More accolades for Brian Hovis.

Finally Mint.com, a company soon to be part of the Intuit family, also won an award for their outstanding blog.