“Influencers Who Inspire” Our Latest Interview With Jason Miller Of Marketo

Jason Miller serves as senior manager, social media strategy at Marketo. He leads the company’s social media efforts, focusing on optimizing social for lead generation and driving revenue. He is a regular contributor to leading marketing blogs, such as Social Media Examiner, Social Media Today and Marketing Profs.

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Pick one: Beer, Wine, Soda, Juice, Coffee, Tea  or Water?

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Stella.

In addition to your social media strategist position by day, you are also a rock music photographer by night. What is the one band you haven’t seen live yet that you would love to photograph?

I have been fortunate enough to photograph many of my favorites including The Cult, Guns N Roses, Motley Crue, Keane, etc. But I am missing one, and that would be Cheap Trick. Their management company has ignored my requests for some reason, but there are two shows coming up here in The Bay Area that I will be attending so I am hoping they respond accordingly this time. It’s free PR for them, so I am very surprised to see them pass up the opportunity.

What parallels in skill sets can you draw from photographer & entertainment writer to the social media magic maker you are today?

Creativity, striving for perfection and the freedom to try new things. Social media marketing is all about how creative you can get while selling to your customers and prospects without selling. There’s a great quote from marketing mastermind Gene Simmons that I always go back to: “We need the people to like what we do. The more they like us, the more they will buy.” That’s been his philosophy regarding KISS and their worldwide domination, but it also applies very well to a company’s social media strategy. The mentality of ‘always be closing,’ needs to change to ‘always be helping.’

In your recent AMA webinar on the topic of Social Media for Lead generation you spoke about “getting out there and trying things.” What ‘things’ do you recommend trying first to increase engagement?

By ‘things’ I essentially mean trial and error. Social channels are simply another touch point between you and your customers and prospects. They move in real time and what works for one business may not work for the other. The idea here is to find success stories and strategies, then make them your own by adjusting the tactics to your audience. Many of your early social campaigns will indeed fail, and that’s ok. The key here is patience and not giving up too early.

How do you keep up with all of your different social networks ? What processes or tools do you have in place to make it easier?

It is challenging, to say the least. Hootsuite is essential for managing multiple social networks, but I really love reading blogs. With the looming death of Google Reader, I have switched over to Feedly to aggregate and read the blogs that I love. Flipboard is also a great option when I want a fully-integrated social feed in a magazine-style format, the only problem there is the filtering. But they are getting much better.

You talked a bit about LinkedIn as a critical social tool for lead generation, and it has certainly improved in the recent months. What do you see as the most valuable way for a business to use LinkedIn?

The most valuable way businesses can use LinkedIn right now is for prospecting, listening and building credibility. There is a cornucopia of insights within the platform, if you know how to set up saved searched-around keywords. There is also a tremendous opportunity to engage with super relevant conversations within the newsfeed and LI groups. I am really excited to see the new products that will be coming from LinkedIn for marketers in the coming months, as I believe they are just getting started.

You also mentioned Facebook as being an important lead generation tool no matter the kind of business you are in. Can you explain why that is the case?

The bottom line here is that if your business or brand, regardless of the niche you are in, doesn’t have a presence on Facebook, you are simply missing opportunities. There are more than one billion people on Facebook; if you think your customers, prospects and decision makers are not there, you are wrong. The important thing to remember is that in the world of B2B marketing, your customers and prospects are not on social to be sold to. Entertain them, tell them a story, give them something to share, help them along the way, and when it comes time for them to purchase, your company will likely be top of mind.

Measuring success is always important to any marketing initiative and tying our work with social back to lead generation is no different. For a small business that may not be able to afford a Radian6 or Marketo right now, what metrics do you recommend looking at beyond likes, shares and follows to determine campaign success. Are there any good free tools that go beyond the average vanity measurements?

That’s a great question. For a small business or anyone just getting started, I would recommend something simple but super effective such as Sprout Social. It’s a pretty decent all-around social tool and provides a nice foundation for anyone looking for a quick snapshot of the social-sphere around their business. Once you begin to get a bit more serious around your social measurement of lead gen opportunities, then you need to start tracking social as a lead source, along with referring traffic and conversions from social. You can do that with Google Analytics. The main thing to keep in mind is that when you start seeing leads come in from social, they are almost never ready to buy. You need to have a lead nurturing process in place, and that’s where marketing automation really shines.

We work some amazing and dynamic marketers and CEOs with fantastic ideas, but sometimes best intentions for writing don’t seem to happen. What is your best tip for inspiring busy executives to crank out the blog posts?

Easy. Go to lunch with them and ask them questions. Record the conversation, then have it transcribed via TranscriptionStar or a similar service. You can extrapolate from there and possibly even have two or three posts from one conversation.

As an aspiring comedian, would you please share the funniest social media update you ever posted or remember seeing across your networks? 

I don’t know if it’s as funny as it is disturbing, but I once tweeted that I woke up one morning still unable to forgive George Lucas for introducing Jar Jar Binks to the world. Somehow it got retweeted tens of thousands of times, and I ranked as the number one influencer for Jar Jar Binks on Klout.

Interested in learning more? Please leave any questions or comments for Jason below.  You can also catch up with him on the Marketo blog or follow him on Twitter.

“Influencers Who Inspire” Our Latest Interview with Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group

Rebecca’s experiences as an editor, marketer and analyst with the Altimeter Group, make her a perfect expert resource for our Influencers Who Inspire series.  She is also the author of The Truth About Search Engine Optimization and most recently, Content Marketing.

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What is your favorite outdoor activity in the summer and where do you recommend going to do it?

Hot weather and I are not the best of friends. Aquatic is my way to deal. Swimming laps, bodysurfing in the ocean, or scuba diving (a longtime passion) – if it’s summer, look for me near the water!

You have spent parts of your career as an analyst, an editor and an author; which of these positions is/was the most rewarding? If you can’t pick one, what are/were the highlights of all three?

I really view all these positions as a continuum. I’ve spent my career exclusively in media, first film, then television, then digital – with a bunch of print experience sprinkled throughout (periodical and book publishing). My job has always been to scrutinize the media landscape, chart its growth, and how to connect with consumers. I also have substantial experience as a marketer (I don’t just tell them what to do – I’ve done it, too!). Admittedly, my marketing experience is confined to media as well: film and television. So basically, it’s been all media, all the time.

The most rewarding part is easy. It’s been being there as one of the most important developments in the history of media and communications has taken place and taken shape. Undoubtedly, the most exhilarating part of my career has been experiencing and watching the rise of digital channels: the opportunities, the pitfalls, the disruption and the possibilities are endlessly fascinating. Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time, right?

As an editor and analyst you regularly hear from PR representatives pitching you for meetings. What makes a pitch or briefing request stand out to you and /or prompts you to respond quickly?

Easy – the ones that indicate the person pitching has done their job. They know who I am, what I cover, and they tailor the pitch accordingly. You would not believe how many pitches I get about a new hotel opening in Tulsa, or executive hires in the meatpacking industry. My contact information is ‘out there’ in lists sold to the types of spray-and-pray PR firms that give the industry a bad name. The concept of “know your audience” isn’t a new one, but it’s what matters most. It’s also critical to differentiate “pitch” from “press release.” Digital changed the press release. Once the news in on the wire, it’s out there. Don’t ask me [journalist hat on now] to cover it. You broke your own story.

Digital marketers want to know — with the masses of new social marketing tools, platforms, buzzwords and best practices — how do you manage to stay current?

All research, all the time. Really. I subscribe to over 200 RSS feeds and scour them all day long. I stay in the traffic. Every week I have dozens of meetings and briefings with people and companies in the industry. It’s a full time job, and then some, and it requires a lot of focus. In other words, you have to concentrate on what matters to your area of coverage. I don’t look at ALL of social media, for example. My arena is the marketing and media aspect of those channels. I leave deep dives on other aspects to my very capable colleagues.

How do you filter the news? What news sites or influencers do you visit/follow as your go to resources for news content to share each morning? (Do you have a news outlet as your homepage or do you search Twitter for keywords that are meaningful to you?)

As I mentioned above, my RSS feeds are my homepage. When Google folds Reader, it will feel as if the internet is broken for a while. I’m currently experimenting with replacements such as Reeder and Feedly. There are also people I follow very closely on Twitter and Facebook to stay abreast.

In your upcoming keynote at the Banff Media Festival you will talk about Content Marketing in the form of the Paid+Owned+Earned Media Ecosystem. With content lines blurring more and more, who do you see as the ultimate keeper of the content within an organization?

Funny you should ask, because after I completed a research report (co-authored with my colleague Jeremiah Owyang) on the convergence of paid, owned and earned media, I worked on a just-published piece of research entitled “Organizing for Content.” This research deals exactly with the question, “where should content live in the org chart?” Precious few companies have a an actual content division, yet marketing, PR, communications, community, social media and a myriad of other company components are invested in finding, creating and disseminating content. I invite your readers to download the report, which outlines six frameworks for enterprise content orchestration.

In your opinion, what has been the most important change in SEO tactics over the last few years? How do those changes impact the way we should think about content marketing today?

When it comes to SEO, the fundamental things apply. Good content, well-written, keyword-conscious, and don’t spam or be blackhat.  I was fascinated last year when I conducted research into WHY major brands engage in content marketing. In 57 interviews with really major companies (e.g. Coke, IBM, ToysRUs, Adobe, etc.) only one single brand (Nestlé) mentioned SEO as a reason behind content marketing. My instinct is this isn’t because SEO is unimportant – au contraire – but because it’s no longer channel du jour. Like email (which, by the way, not one single brand mentioned – and what’s in an email if not content?), SEO is becoming a background channel. Like wallpaper – there, but no one’s really talking about it anymore. They’re looking at mobile, social, video. That’s fine – but beware Bright Shiny Object Syndrome, which can cause you to ignore basics and fundamentals.

What one piece of advice (perhaps from your most recent book on the topic) would you offer to a marketer starting a content marketing campaign today?

Strategy before tactics! We’ve seen this occur again and again. A new technology or channel is launched and someone says, “Hey! We need a [Facebook page, YouTube channel, Twitter presence, etc.]. A smart marketer counters with “Why?” What’s the goal? What are the required resources? The budget? How will we achieve it? Produce it? Measure it? Who’s the audience?

On a lighter note, we noticed that you tweeted the tongue and cheek Onion post, the other day, about how much people “love” being sold by sponsored content like videos on publications’ websites. Just for fun, can you share with us your favorite example of sponsored content gone wrong?

Wow – you just reminded me of something that goes way back in my career, back in the 90s when I ran global marketing for a major cable TV network. I came into the office on a Monday morning following the weekend when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash. A rival network was sponsoring a touring exhibit of her gowns. Across the back cover of a major magazine was splashed their ad, with the banner headline: A Dress to Di For!

Lastly, when you venture out of NYC for business travel what is the one thing you take with you, the one thing you can’t wait to leave behind and the one thing you can’t wait to come home to?

1. Laptop

2. Hmmm…maybe my MTA Metrocard?

3. It’s a tie: the cats and the boyfriend

Interested in learning more? Please leave any questions or comments for Rebecca below.  You can also catch up with her at the Altimeter Group website or follow her on Twitter.

PerkettPR’s “Influencers Who Inspire” Series Continues with Lindsey Dunn, Editor in Chief for Becker’s Hospital Review

DunnHeadshotOne of PerkettPR’s areas of expertise is servicing clients within the healthcare industry and because of this, we follow the top publications in this exciting industry.  One of our favorite publications that we read religiously is Becker’s Hospital Review.  We are thrilled to share an interview with its Editor in Chief, Lindsey Dunn.

In your former life, you worked in PR. What made you move to journalism and how does your PR experience influence your role in the media?

I worked for a little over two years in advertising and PR before returning to grad school. I made the jump to journalism after grad school. I had always loved writing and it was my favorite part of PR, and when I had the opportunity to take a job (then, as a reporter), that would allow me to write full time, I jumped at it.

I think my experience in PR has shaped how I work with PR people and companies and has made me more open to the role they play in shaping media stories. There are a lot of businesses in the healthcare space that produce (and share with the media) excellent surveys, studies, reports, etc., that we do not have the resources to create on our own. Journalism as we know it is going through a huge transition as we work to create excellent coverage with limited resources. At the same time, you see more active efforts by brands to be known as “thought leaders” through reports they share with the media, and their own custom content. This melding of independent journalism and content marketing worries a lot of people, but my belief is that consumers are smart. We have a journalistic responsibility to 1) make clear the source of content and 2) speak the truth. Most content marketing still abides by this; even it is more promotional than traditional journalism. So my hope is that as we transition to new business models for journalism, independent trade publications like ours will continue to thrive alongside other models.

Favorite Chicago restaurant/bar/dive and why?

I love Brick’s Pizza in Lincoln Park. It has great pizza and an even better beer list. It’s located underground, in a window-less, very old-school setting. It’s actually right next door to a now-defunct bar called The Catacombs. I mention that only so you get a true feel for the place. It’s always packed and they don’t take reservations, but it is a can’t-miss spot in Chicago’s often cold weather. There’s something cozy about going underground in the winter for hot pizza and cold beer. I recommend trying the “Grease Fire,” but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Becker’s Hospital Review publishes a ton of content – how do you keep up?

I don’t! I sure try, but I am certainly not the expert on everything. My role is more to educate and empower our reporters on the voice we want our publication to have and the stories that are important to pursue. The reporters are really the experts on each area they cover. If I have a question on a meaningful use, I know our HIT reporter will have an answer, without looking it up. Same for our M&A reporter, who could probably tell you every transaction in the past year. They are in charge of being experts on the beats they cover, and they, not me, ensure our readers have the most relevant news and feature articles for the areas they oversee.

Of course, I edit and guide their features, we talk about angles, sources, and all those other things, but I’m really more of a mentor that oversees the overall direction of the pieces on the website. I have my hand a bit more directly in the editorial development of our e-newsletters and print issues, but overall, they are the ones ensuring our coverage hits on the most relevant issues.

How has Obamacare impacted Becker’s editorial coverage? Or has it?

It has certainly given us lots to write about! House Republicans, who are now making their 37th attempt to overturn the healthcare reform law, recently put out a report stating that enacting ObamaCare will take 190 million hours per year. The point being, there are a lot of new regulations that have to be created, commented on, revised and released to enact many individual components of the law. We report on each of these rules and analyze how the new regulations contained in the rules could impact hospitals and healthcare providers. It’s an obligation we have to our readers.

ObamaCare also is a catalyst for a lot of the other trends we are seeing in the industry: consolidation, pay-for-performance, unique agreements between providers and payors. Each time a hospital merges, we cover it. Each time a payor starts an accountable care organization, we cover it. There’s certainly a lot for us to be on top of.

Based on your many interviews with hospital administrators, what’s keeping them awake at night?

Without a doubt, it is the challenge of the transition from moving from a fragmented, fee-for-service delivery system to a value-based one. In a fee-for-service system, your doctor is paid for every service he or she provides to you. As we look 5-10 years into the future, it’s more likely your physician will receive a set fee based on your individual risk to oversee care for you for the year. If they keep you relatively healthy and out of the hospital, they make money. If your condition gets worse or isn’t managed properly, they lose money. It’s a whole new business model for hospitals, and they can’t make the shift overnight. I think the concern of CEOs and CFOs of hospitals is how quickly they should shift to this new model, given that insurers still, for the most part, pay on a fee-for-service basis.

What keeps you awake at night?

To be honest, I sleep pretty well. Of course there are the occasional times when I have that running mental list that keeps me turning, but for the most part, I do my best to enjoy my time after I leave the office without stressing about things I can deal with tomorrow. I’m a big fan of “The Energy Project,” and first discovered it when I read an article by its founder, Tony Schwartz, in the Harvard Business Review.  He coaches companies and executives about how closely productivity is linked with getting enough sleep and taking time away from the office to recharge. It’s kind of crazy that this guy has becomes a business guru by simply telling people to stop obsessing over work, but so many people do! For writers, a key part of being great at what you do is being creative. If you’re tired, hungry and at a desk for 12 hours a day, you’re probably not going to be churning out your best work. I encourage our team to leave the office for lunch, take a walk around the block in the afternoon if the weather is nice, and leave at 5 (if their work is done, of course). You can actually be more productive and produce better work if the hours you work are more focused and without distraction.

Have you always worked in healthcare media? Why?

As I mentioned earlier, I came from the PR side, and there I worked on consumer product accounts. Becker’s was my first role in healthcare media. The reason I was able to get my initial job here was due, in part, to some experience I had in grad school editing academic medical papers that were eventually submitted and accepted to peer-reviewed journals.

Despite not actively choosing healthcare media, I couldn’t be happier. I always knew I wanted to work in business media, versus consumer, and healthcare is a subsector of that. I’m lucky to be covering it in such an exciting time. Hospitals are going through transformational change and looking to publications like ours to help keep them abreast of the changes and inform their decision making. Although it’s a several degree leap from what I do to the patient who receives great care, I do believe that the content we put out every day ultimately helps hospitals delivery higher quality, more affordable care.

Biggest pet peeves? Work and personal.

I am a very to-the-point person, so I’m not a huge fan of meetings. Without an agenda (and more importantly a leader that keeps people on point), they sometimes turn into a “let’s talk about everything about this project” fest, and you have your busy writer on deadline who is thinking “this is a waste of my time, I just need to write.” Meetings are sometimes necessary — for example, to share our editorial strategy, goals, provide feedback, etc., but when I go to one that starts getting away from its purpose, it’s something that bothers me.

Personally, I don’t like when people are late. Emergencies arise of course, but I people who are chronically late definitely unnerve me.

You get pitched by PR pros every day – having been on both sides of the equation, do you think you’re more accepting of the PR pitch than others or more critical?

I think I’m friendlier than your average editor when responding to pitches, especially calls. I used to get some really rude voices on the other end back when I was an intern pitching. I too much prefer email, but I at least try to not ruin the day of the person on the other side. I think of my 20-year-old self calling up some middle-aged tech reporter and all the anxiety I felt!

That said, I really wish PR people stood up to their clients more and made a case for smarter pitching, both in terms of angle and targeting. For example, if a product gets an award for being “green,” most outlets don’t consider that newsworthy, yet I get tons of these types of email pitches every week. Companies are paying agencies for their expertise, yet the PR leaders are afraid to say, “Hey, we can draft, revise and go through the approval process with you and your attorneys to write a release on this and then charge you to distribute it on the wire, and then charge you for 15 hours for our AAEs and AEs to pitch it. Or, let’s just have our AE send a quick, informal email or Twitter message to the three or four reporters at the two outlets that actually cover this kind of news. The latter will save you, probably $2,500.” I am making up the number, but you get the idea. I guess it means fewer billings for the agency, but wouldn’t the top companies flock to someone who wasn’t afraid to at least propose this approach to them?

What is next for you for the remainder of 2013?

Professionally, I am focused helping us meet our key growth goals for the year, which are 400,000 visitors per month to our website and 80,000 subscribers to our E-weeklies. We are really close on the website goals, with just about 385,000 visitors last month. So, growing our E-weeklies is a key priority now. Part of our growth is organic, of course, but I am also trying to work with our team here to develop an active social media plan, and also more actively market our brand to healthcare executives. We have a slew of journalists here who really are poised to be thought leaders in the areas they cover, so now we just need to look for opportunities for them to get in front of our audiences in this way.

Personally, I definitely want to take more time to give back. We do quarterly service projects through Becker’s, but I’d like to do more individually. I’ve done mentoring before, and it is so rewarding. I plan to get involved with that again after summer, when the new school year starts. I volunteer for a program that works with at-risk youth specifically on their writing skills, so it’s right up my alley. Working with teenagers on their personal essays is probably some of the most challenging, satisfying editing I’ve ever done.

 

“Effective Executive” Series with Eliot Buchanan, Co-founder and CEO of Plastiq

Eliot BuchananThis week’s “Effective Executive” interview is with Eliot Buchanan, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastiq, an online service that allows people to use their credit cards to pay for things when they couldn’t before. We asked Eliot about his early days building the Company, the challenges he has encountered and what he is passionate about.

As you worked to build Plastiq, how long did the entire process take?

I would say the first two years at Plastiq were spent almost exclusively on building and testing the business concept, talking with customers, understanding the marketplace, and building relationships. Like many industries – though perhaps even more so in financial services – forming key relationships in the marketplace is one of the biggest assets (or, if lacking, drawbacks) of an early stage venture like ours. For us, this was true from the very beginning. We were very focused and invested heavily in building social capital with the ecosystem before even asking (and getting) that ecosystem to adopt our product.

What obstacles or challenges did you encounter in the earlier days of Plastiq?

There were many. I’ve always said that the most exciting time in an early company is the first month or so. That’s when you think you have the best idea in the world that needs no money, will scale infinitely, is without competition, and you estimate that you can sell it for a billion dollars. After the first month, reality starts to set in, and various roadblocks happen. I’m sure these feelings are comparable for other companies that are driving disruption and innovating within an industry.

I think what has allowed Plastiq to thrive, however, is that we have embraced each of these roadblocks as a challenge and this has fueled important and necessary change. Perhaps a competitor had highlighted an important aspect of the ecosystem that we missed in our early days, but which we only now learned unexpectedly. Or take the need for capital. Any entrepreneur’s toughest challenge can be raising money. But through that process of pitching and speaking to hundreds of people – each of whom was a potential customer of my product as well – I was able to learn so much about how I could describe my own business to different audiences. This allowed me to better align myself, understand various challenges, and strive to improve them.

Another aspect worth mentioning – and I suspect it’s universal to the start up process – is the true daily rollercoaster ride. I am confident that no one except the entrepreneur experiences as many ups and downs in a single day. But it is also this same process that can lead to building the grit and character required to creating something big. This has been true of Plastiq since day 1 and it absolutely remains true today.

Can you describe how your Harvard education prepared you for your role today, leading the company and being its strategic advisor/visionary?

I get this question a lot, and I generally think about my time at Harvard with some frequency. I suspect this is because I enjoyed my experience there. I think there are two aspects worth mentioning.

First, in terms of formal preparation, I would strictly say that Harvard offered no formal education that applied directly to what I am doing at Plastiq, or any business for that matter. Before you raise concerns about the Ivy League education system, let me clarify my statement a bit further. Harvard is a liberal arts college, and it focuses on teaching students to appreciate a broad range of interests and perspectives. This established a foundation that allows the thought and reflection necessary to be “creative” and innovate or go outside established boxes.

In fact, formality, in this respect, would be the exact opposite of what – in my view – would engender entrepreneurship. The academic informality at Harvard (and I’m not saying it’s perfect) encouraged me to think more as a “generalist” rather than a “specialist”, and pushed me to better understand what I wanted to do, what needed to change in the world, what could be improved, and what mattered or didn’t matter to me.

The second aspect is all about people and character. This is not unique to Harvard but more broadly any successful “college” experience. While at Harvard, I was surrounded by incredible people. Challenging people. Some people I didn’t like (that’s life). And others I didn’t understand (that’s growth). Whether it was my roommates, classmates, or teammates (I was on the varsity squash team), I found myself constantly challenged and pushed to become a leader, to get along with others, to learn from them, admire them, cherish them, and help them. Some of my hardest days as a college student were learning seemingly basic skill sets within a team setting. It’s extremely difficult for me to sit here today and imagine how I could be leading a group of talented executives without having gained a hands-on “education” about people – their strengths and flaws – as well as my own while I was in college.

Can you explain what you feel it means to be a true “entrepreneur”?

In my view, an entrepreneur is a leader of change and a motivator of trust in others to carry out that change or at least respect that it is happening without them and around them. In this respect there is no financial instrument linked to the definition of “entrepreneur” or their outcome, and we see many “entrepreneurs” in non-business pillars (presidents, activists, religious leaders, sports icons – these are all entrepreneurial in many of their aspects). Entrepreneurs in any “field” must all lead people through the toughest moments. They will always have many doubters, a lot of competition for their business or at least their attention, and they must always be “on” no matter what time of day it is–where they are, or who they are with. The world – or at least their world – is ceaselessly watching.

In terms of “serial” entrepreneurs, I don’t really appreciate the term, as it focuses too much on the “business” and a quantification of success. I think, at least in my view, one only becomes an entrepreneur after one has been through a number of ventures, and in thus the very “serial” nature of the term is really a pre-requisite to being a “true entrepreneur.”

Being part of many other ventures, do you enjoy the start up culture? Why or why not?

I’ve always been a self-starter and have consistently been drawn to solving problems, taking risks, and I’m never afraid to “try the new.” There are many things I love about being in an early stage company, but suffice it to say, I had a normal 9-5 job once and lasted only a few weeks (probably because I wasn’t qualified).

I think what I enjoy most about the environment I am currently in is the people; each day I am forced to be a better leader – even a better person – in order to move the company and our vision forward. I never thought leading and motivating could be all I do in a day while still being exhausted, satisfied, and ready to wake up the next day – eagerly – at 5am. It doesn’t quite make sense, except perhaps in the start up world. That’s a neat feeling and it’s a lot of fun.

Outside of work, what else are you passionate about? hobbies?

Being an entrepreneur, my list will be noticeably short…

I was a big squash player in my younger days as well as in university. I’m slowly getting back into the sport, which I enjoy very much. I like traveling and the outdoors – my former college roommates and I do a multiday backpacking trip each year ever since we graduated.

What is next for Plastiq for the remainder of 2013?

If I told you I’d have to kill you (kidding). One of the things I enjoy most about our company and my team is our somewhat paradoxical obsession of laying low and being patient but then ultimately going out with unprecedented scale and impact in everything we do. This doesn’t mean we wait until we get everything right (mistakes are, after all, the ingredients of success for an entrepreneur), but rather that we feel comfortable in our own skin and like being humble, before ultimately letting the world know that we’ve abruptly taken over a marketplace.

2013 is no different. For the first quarter most of my team was universally focused on a single goal, while the broader market would have probably asked, “sorry, who is Plastiq?” At the end of March, we launched our product that addressed the largest payment opportunity in Canadian history, and was the first and only provider to allow tax payments for all Canadians on any credit card of their choice.

What I will say about the remainder of 2013 is that the March launch for tax was not about “pay your taxes”, but was more about “welcome to Plastiq.” We have a lot more in store.

Influencers Who Inspire: Interview with Jon Swartz of USA TODAY

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Photo courtesy of USA Today

In a special edition of our “Influencers Who Inspire” series, we’re chatting with award-winning technology journalist, author and avid San Francisco Giants fan, Jon Swartz. Jon shares his thoughts on smart phones and peer pressure, guerrilla marketing tactics that actually work and how reporting compares to baseball.

We read your article on BlackBerry’s Z10 launch and their plans for a comeback; so tell us, what is your ‘go to’ mobile device?

I used a BlackBerry up until two years ago when the trackball wasn’t working as well as it should. At the time, I faced some peer pressure from my colleagues in the Valley to get an iPhone. There used to be a lot of iPhone bias in Silicon Valley, but it has gone away now for the most part. More people are using Androids, and I would certainly consider a move to a BlackBerry or Android from the iPhone. I can live without the iPhone. I find the battery life is awful, and I have to have a charger with me at all times. As a result, more restaurants and bars have charging stations (at SXSW we saw this all over the place).

You know, BlackBerry CEO (Thorsten Heins) is right; he calls the iPhone passé and says they (BlackBerry) have the same problem that Apple did. “We need to earn our laurels back.” It’s true because in tech things become old fast; the shelf life of these things aren’t very long now. Apple has traditionally done a great job of that, making the old version obsolete as they quickly move on to the next thing. So it’s no surprise others are following suit here.

We know you are huge San Francisco Giants fan. How did your obsession with baseball begin?

When I was six I went to my first game. I also got to see Willie Mays play when I was a kid, so that got me hooked for life. I also loved playing the sport. You become infatuated with it, and it never loses you. Baseball also has a long season, and it takes a lot of patience. It’s a lot like reading a novel. It’s not like other sports where the season is more like a quick sprint. The upside is that you can go to a game and actually explain what’s happening. You can also count on always seeing something different. I have probably been to more than 1000 games, and there is always something new to explain or something you haven’t seen happen before.

Baseball is a half-year long, and it changes with the seasons. In spring there is so much optimism, and then comes the summer when things really heat up. In the fall when things wither away, it gets dark and cold and with it comes a sense of desperation when the season ends. That is the beauty of the game. It’s very logical to me and different to other sports in that you can’t run out the clock. You HAVE to finish the game. No matter how well you played and how many runs you are up by, you have to FINISH.

Are there any lessons from baseball that can be applied to business?

Yes, I would never assume anything about anything. Baseball teaches you that you can’t assume something is over until it’s over. Like in 2002 (World Series game) when the Giants had a five-run lead over the Angels with only eight outs left. They had to keep playing until the end and ended up losing the game.

It sounds a little corny but in baseball it’s a different sport. It’s hard to excel if you have to prove it every day. That’s the same as being a reporter; you have to prove yourself daily, but when it’s over it’s over. With so much content and so many articles, today the shelf life for stories is too short. You finish a great story and you are proud of it for about 20 minutes before you have to do something else. You have to move on.

We are all constantly inundated and bombarded with news from all different sources. So every day you have to reinvent yourself to always do more. It’s like Freddy Lynn (MVP and Rookie of the Year) – he came out of nowhere like a comet. But then pitchers found his weaknesses. Unless you can adapt and reinvent yourself every day, you will hit a rut. BlackBerry went through it, and Apple went through it, too. In tech it happens all the time.

Speaking of re-inventing, with the most powerful images getting clicks in social media today, do you find yourself framing your stories differently with visuals or video in mind now?

I do think more about storytelling and how to interest the reader, but rather than visuals, it’s more about the people and the stories. It is necessary to think that way, though, and I am trying to do more of it.

How has your job changed in the last six months?

It’s crazy. In addition to reporting, I oversee all tech coverage in the paper. So I edit and manage people, too. While I’m talking to you I’m editing a story. It’s actually a story on baseball, and it’s coming out next week. There is no shortage of data in baseball, but trying to figure out which data to use and how to use it is the challenge. Just like in reporting, in baseball they too are struggling with deciding how much time to give to data. I have ton of notes but the bigger problem is what parts to use in the story. People ask all the time, “Why you didn’t include us or mention us?” There is only so much you can do given bandwidth and the amount of content to sift through. I write for people who are on the go and always busy, and you have to find a way to keep your story succinct.

Would you tell a student today to go into journalism?

I would say if you are a good writer you can work anywhere, as everyone wants content today. It is so important to have good writers. Smart companies like Salesforce and Mark Benioff understand you need to tell stories to get your customers to want to buy your products.

Has working with PR people changed?

Not really; I have been working with the same people for the last 10 years or so, and pretty much the same good ones. I always work with a core group of 50 of them that I seem to always interact with. It is like cultivating any relationship you built it over time.

What kind of (PR) people do you like to work with?

They should know their company well. Most people I work with have been there a long time. I like working with internal people who can get you what you need faster. They are usually more responsive. I work with a lot of good people. People at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple; they are all on top of things and respond. Apple is much more responsive, and Yahoo is getting that way, too. They don’t have a choice anymore. Everyone used to have to wait to go to Apple, but now they have to cooperate with us and be responsive.

What was the nicest/most memorable thing someone has done for you?

I have so many stories of people doing something for me in my personal life. But in work life, I would say the most memorable “nice” things people do for me and/or others are services like the airport limos at SXSW and the SXSW survival bag. There was a company called Tagged that provided airport limos to drive us from the airport to town at SXSW. That was nice, convenient and smart.

If you had to cook one meal what would it be?

Pasta. Everyone likes and agrees on it in our family. Jackie is Italian, and pasta is the one thing that I would get no argument on.

What do you do when you’re not working, or at a baseball game?

We have four kids ages 12-25, so it’s a full house, and we are always going from one event to another with them so that means not a lot of free time. We do like to travel a lot to different places and really enjoy our time away.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Writing cover stories and features I can spend time on. It’s rewarding to do something that no one else is doing. Feature writing is a little different than what everyone else is doing. You always remember your great feature stories. They include more original thinking and have a long-term impact on things to come. They give you something to be proud of.