🎙️ Interview with Kevan Lee of Oyster, Buffer, & Vox
SVP Marketing at Oyster. Former VP Marketing at Buffer and Managing Editor at Vox
Hi there 👋
As you may recall, I’m starting a new series of interviews on this newsletter to go along with the regular dose of startup marketing playbooks, templates, tips, and trends. The first batch of interviews will be starting soon (you can click the link below to suggest a favorite marketer you’d like to see featured). As a preview of what’s to come, I thought I would “dogfood” the interview template this week and share with you all some of my answers to the questions.
Check out my interview with … myself. :) Hope you enjoy!
Say hi anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
Interview with Kevan Lee, SVP Marketing @ Oyster
Kevan Lee (me!) is the author of this weekly Substack newsletter as well as the SVP of Marketing at Oyster, a software startup that helps companies everywhere hire people from anywhere. Fun fact: He’s been writing this newsletter for six years, he’s been on Substack for three years, and he’s had people asking him to do an interview series for two years. About time he finally got around to it! ~ Kevan
A brief history of Kevan
Education and work:
Journalism degree from Seattle Pacific University
Sports reporter for various newspapers in the Northwest USA
Managing Editor at Vox
Content at Buffer → VP Marketing at Buffer
Interim Head of Marketing at Polly
Head of Marketing at Oyster → SVP Marketing at Oyster
Marketing consultant at Feedly, ProductLed, Reforge, etc
Adjunct professor at Boise State University (teaching “growth hacking”)
Where you can find him
Kevan works with the lovely folks at Oyster. You can check out what they’re up to on the Oyster website or on social. He also writes a weekly substack newsletter (this one) and makes the occasional appearance on LinkedIn and Twitter. His website has an archive of writing and resources.
1. How do you explain what you do to your parents, friends, kids, or non-industry people?
KL: I build worlds around companies and products -- worlds that people want to inhabit (hopefully). I'm like a Disney Imagineer who dreams up new ways to make the Disney experience magical. Replace Disney with [your company name]. It's a little bit of art, a little bit of science. A pinch of magic.
My job is also unique in that I have to plan what will happen today but also need to plan what will happen three years from now. I'm allowed to change those long-term plans, of course, but the practice of thinking ahead helps me decide what to do next.
2. What does your morning routine look like?
KL: I have the great fortune to work remotely and to set my working hours to be whenever I'm happiest and most productive. For the past seven years, I've built this remote work life around family.
Wake up at 5:30 a.m., turn on the computer and get to work.
I start my day by clearing out my Slack mentions. Since I am US-based and I work with many people who are Europe-based, I can get answers back to people and engage with these coworkers well before their day ends. My 5:30 a.m. is London's 12:30 p.m.
Once Slack is clear, I jump to Gmail and clear out everything so I'm at inbox zero. Often, I may not check my inbox again until the end of my workday. My personal rule of thumb is to reply to every message within 24 hours so that no teammate is blocked for any longer than a day.
After Slack and email are finished, I spend the next hour doing deep work. Mornings are my best time for focus and energy, plus our work channels like Slack are quieter since most of my U.S. and Americas teammates have yet to log on. The deep work is highly dependent on my current projects and priorities. Typically, at the end of each day I'll make a tomorrow list of all the things I want to accomplish the following day. This is helpful for clearing my head but also for giving me a clear starting point for the next morning's deep work. Example tasks might be: writing strategy docs, penning a newsletter, reviewing campaign briefs, building slide decks for the exec team, etc.
I schedule no meetings this early in my morning because 1) it's my most productive deep work time, and 2) I just got out of bed.
At 7:00 a.m., I log off for two hours to spend time with family. We get ready for the day, eat breakfast, and I take my son to school.
I'm back at the computer by 9:00 a.m., which is when meetings start. On most days, I'll have between four to six hours of meetings, which is a product of my role -- 1:1s, leadership cals, cross-functional alignment calls, etc. We're quite asynchronous at Oyster, which probably saves me from even more meetings than I have already.
3. Can you share a photo of your phone’s home screen, your computer desktop, or your browser window?
(click to enlarge)
KL: I run a very lean desktop setup. I work on an iMac, and I do pretty much everything in the browser -- Slack, Spotify, Asana, you name it. I don't think I've downloaded any Mac apps for any of my main tools.
(I like the lack of clutter - "A messy desk means a messy mind" - but there's also some part of me that believes less software makes my computer run faster and live longer. Definitely don't quote me on that, though! I'm sure it's a placebo effect. )
On my Chrome browser, I have three tabs pinned and always in this order:
I use keyboard shortcuts all the time, so I'm able to switch between tabs very quickly, which is why the order of the tabs matters. I've also started using Chrome's tab groups. Jury's still out. I'd love any tips on how others use these effectively!
My phone is similarly simple. I’ve been a big fan of the Readwise app lately, which reminds me of five of my past Kindle highlights each day.
4. How do you measure success in your role?
KL: Broadly-speaking, I feel that I am successful if I'm able to spend each day being the type of person I aspire to be: kind, encouraging, positive, and generous. You might notice that none of these success criteria require that I be a startup marketer, so it could very well be the case that I end up doing something else one day and this newsletter becomes Kevan's thoughts on ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) or education or bread-making.
That being said, I do have numbers that I'm accountable for at work. :)
We share revenue goals across our go-to-market team. My sales counterpart reports on these on a weekly basis.
I am accountable for pipeline generation from our inbound channels, which include paid search, paid social, and organic levers like SEO and word-of-mouth. I have a specific dollar amount of pipeline I need to generate each quarter, though in today's climate we're looking at monthly progress.
Beyond revenue and pipeline, I have goals for marketing-qualified leads, which are a leading indicator for pipeline. And I have goals for brand reach, which is a leading indicator for ... everything!
If you're curious how we measure brand reach, I wrote about my Buffer process here, and we're using the same process at Oyster.
Beyond these numbers, I measure success at work by ensuring that we have solid growth, a blossoming brand, and a happy, engaged team. We measure this last one through quantitative employee engagement scores and qualitative feedback and 1:1s.
5. Which work project are you most excited about right now? Can you tell us a bit about it?
KL: Pretty much everything I write in my weekly newsletter is what I'm working on at a given moment. So recently you can see that I've been thinking about Marketing Mix Modeling, I've rolled out a learning and development program, and I kicked off integrated marketing campaigns with my team.
One upcoming project I'm particularly excited about is our annual Oyster conference for People Ops leaders called Ascent. This year's version is a one-day virtual event with a number of amazing speakers and panels. (It's free to register if you'd like to see how we run virtual events.)
What I particularly love about Ascent is the brand strategy behind the event. Everything from the name to the visual language to the program is built with our brand identity in mind: elevating the People Ops persona and building trust with authentic, relevant, unique content. Speaking of unique, check out the design for this year's event!
More tactically, some of the pieces that go into this project include:
Using Hopin as our virtual events platform for Ascent but also for our annual job-seeker event called Bridges and for our always-on webinar programs
Getting speakers lined up -- We just finalized our last batch, three weeks before the event :sweat
Aligning on a promotion plan. Ours includes a heavy dose of organic promotion through our content channels and our employee advocacy, but we're also doing paid promotion to drive signups. We expect to receive 1,000s of registrations.
Performance tracking and post-event followup. Bless our marketing operations teams for figuring out ways to track Ascent registration and attendance all the way through our lead funnel so we have clear reporting afterwards.
6. What are three staples of your "media diet"?
1 - One of the absolute best curators I know is Sari Azout. She has an email newsletter called Check Your Pulse, but she's recently launched a brand new company called Startupy that is something like a human-powered search engine. It, too, has a weekly newsletter, but if you want to dive super deep into some marketing and tech rabbit holes, I'd highly recommend the Startupy product itself, which contains 1,000s of articles, new tools, topics, and trends that are personally curated by a hand-selected community of folks.
2 - I just started a new podcast called Shameless Acquisition Target, which is about the host's very-meta journey into creating a podcast with the express purpose of selling the podcast and all its associated rights for a lot of money. I first heard about the podcast and its host Laura Mayer in a newsletter issue of Why Is This Interesting, which posts a highly-recommended Monday Media Diet interview every week.
3 - I tend to read a lot of books. You can see everything I read here. Many of my favorites lately have been novels or essays that are not particularly business-related. But, of the business books I've read in 2022, I would recommend
The Sea We Swim In, a wonderful exploration of why stories matter
The Psychology of Money, a book about personal finance but also contains a number of broadly applicable lessons on how to think
Your Next Five Moves, a book about business strategy
BONUS: How did you get your current job?
Like a lot of you, I was recruited for my current role.
A quite impressive recruitment pitch arrived in my LinkedIn messages one day; it was a five-minute Loom video explaining the business and the opportunity. I had recently started a new job at Polly as their Head of Marketing, so it took something pretty unique and extraordinary to even get my attention. I'm glad it did! The recruitment process from that first interview took about four weeks -- I met the CEO, met some senior leaders, then did a case study to share in front of a panel of Oyster people. The case study was one of those moments of incredible anxiety and impostor syndrome, culminating in a euphoric feeling of peace that I had done my very best regardless of the outcome.
More generally, I got my latest job at Oyster after spending the previous eight years advancing through various roles in technology startups. I began my career with a heavy content focus at Vox and at Buffer, where I was hired as a content writer. As the Buffer team grew, I took on more leadership, eventually leading all of marketing. Buffer's Product-Led Growth motion and the iconic brand we built have proven very useful jumping-off points for future jobs at Polly, at Oyster, and consulting for various startups and tech companies, like the amazing folks at Feedly.
About this newsletter …
Each week, I share playbooks, case studies, stories, and links from inside the startup marketing world. If you enjoy what’s in this newsletter, you can share some love by hitting the heart button at the top or bottom.💙
I’m a marketing exec who specializes in startup marketing and brand-building. I currently lead the marketing team at Oyster (we’re hiring!). I previously built brands at Buffer, Polly, and Vox.
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