My Marketing Success Story & Marketing Career Advice

I have always thought of myself as different, creative and out-of-the-box. I loved researching and understanding how things worked, and even though I hated math, I loved how numbers always had a truth to it that made sense to me. In college, I was going to major in accounting until my sister Huong gave me the idea of turning my personality traits into a marketing career move and that's where it all began; I will be forever thankful to her for implanting that idea into my head.

There are some people out there that think my success in marketing is by being lucky, and I can tell you that it's far from true. It was not luck that got me where I am today & this story proves that. I do not believe in luck as I have worked extremely hard to be where I am at today in my career and to sum it up, I am where I am today by being myself & doing what I believe in, being honest, loving what I do, and giving my full 110%.

In August 2007, I was determined to find a marketing internship at a company with a focus on my personal interests and hobbies, which at the time was street art, fashion, & music. I knew marketing was extremely competitive and wanted to get ahead while I was in college. The strategy I used to find my dream internship was to incorporate the keywords that related to my interests into the job search, in this case it was keywords like "street art", "street fashion", "music". I figured that it would be a good way to find my true job "match", and I was right. I ended up finding a start-up in the Silicon Valley called RIOTTT that focused on exactly what I was looking for; it was a street lifestyle, art, & fashion blog with a focus on well-known influencers of the industry used to generate content in order for RIOTTT gain digital partnerships. I reached out to the site expressing how interested I would be to intern for them (unpaid) & learn marketing. Jim Chu, CEO of RIOTTT (at the time), responded back to me and wanted to chat on the phone to gauge my interests. The call went extremely well and he immediately gave me the position over the phone and told me to come in the week after; my marketing career began with Jim giving me that opportunity. Thanks, Jim!

The experience was less than a year because the business didn't survive due to an unrealistic business model but it was the best career ride with a great small group of amazing people who I loved seeing every single day. Jim Chu was an amazing mentor & teacher; I learned so much about how a start-up worked within a niche market and how online marketing worked in general. He introduced me to early social media & web analytics, and from there I developed an understanding for analytics and how to generate traffic to the site using viral methods. From this internship, I was also able to network with the biggest names in the industry from street artists to liquor labels (10 Cane Rum) and street clothing retailers (Karmaloop). When the business ended, Jim gave me a book called "The Long Tail" that he highly recommended; I read it and it changed my life.  Until this day, I still look up to Jim and follow his adventures as he builds ventures to impact the world positively.

Jim is now the CEO of dloHaiti, a social venture that provides cheaper, cleaner water to poorly served markets in Haiti.

When my adventure at RIOTTT ended, I found myself working at two paid marketing internships at the same time while working a part-time job and going to college full-time. The first internship was at DeNA, Japan's largest social mobile gaming network, and the second internship was at Kaboodle, a social shopping website that was acquired by Hearst Corp. I had a short stint at DeNA and found it to not be a great culture fit for me within a work environment.

Kaboodle was where my marketing career developed & transformed; I started off as an intern and within my three years (2008-2010) there went from working in community development & promotions to product marketing and search engine marketing. I had three title changes and multiple salary raises due to my dedicated hard work. Kaboodle was an experience that I will never forget; I learned from so many wonderful mentors and had an A+ leadership team to look up to:  

  • Manish Chandra, former CEO (and founder) of Kaboodle, is like the brother that I've never had, mentoring me through the many paths of my marketing career and challenging me to excel & to think differently. Manish is the leader that operates with his heart first bringing everyone on-board with his well-thought vision and strategic decisions.  
  • Gautam Golwala, former VP of Engineering, is an insightful and realistic leader who always fights for what his team believed in and supported his team in any way that he could, putting them first before anything else. I've never seen so many dedicated people admire anyone more than Gautam.
  • Keiron McCammon, former CTO & VP of Product (and co-founder) was the one who pushed his team to the limits and made them believe that anything was possible to do. Keiron had great strategy and drive, empowering his team to excel. 

Manish and Gautam are now the co-founders of Poshmark, an iPhone app that allows you to shop the closets of women across the country. Keiron is now the co-founder of Bonfaire, a members-only online luxury showroom featuring world-class designer shoes, handbags and accessories available only for pre-order. 

I wore multiple hats at Kaboodle and am very thankful for that. Kaboodle introduced me to search engine marketing, which is what I have been focusing on in the last six years of my career. I used my time at Kaboodle to learn my strengths and weaknesses. I succeeded and made many waves. I also failed at certain tasks but picked myself up, moved forward & learned from them. Kaboodle taught me to accept failing because only from that will I learn and grow. Being in the social shopping & fashion vertical, I was able to build my network with well-known retailers and start-ups. It is true that choosing the right company can lead you to an awesome network of people to build relationships with (and become friends with). 

The former team at Kaboodle (circa 2008-2010) is still like a second family to me and a big group of us still keep in touch and see each other regularly. I will never forget the overnight work sessions, sleeping in my office, and the fun parties that came with all of the hard work that we put in. This was the true start-up life that I experienced.

I left Kaboodle due to a re-org & leadership change that I didn't agree with to go to a virtual gaming start-up called enVie Interactive; the company was short lived but the team there was fantastic and had such great heart. While at enVie, I developed the KPIs and metrics reporting system and started their acquisition marketing program from the ground up. The leaders of the company Philo Northup and Stacey Hirata are held close to my heart and were one of the most driven & passionate leaders that I've worked with.

Philo is working on his many ventures and his love for art cars. Stacey is now the Head of Publishing at Green Throttle, a gaming company looking to revolutionize the mobile and console experience. 

Let's go ahead and fast forward to RockYou in August 2011, which I'll actually skip. 

Today, I am currently at Alibris, the largest online books marketplace, and I lead all of the acquisition efforts, taking care of search engine marketing, display retargeting, comparison shopping engines, and most recently managing SEO initiatives.

Marketing is a form of gambling for me. I get to spend money that is not mine and see what type of return I can get. Then when I'm able to gauge what I can get in return, I think of strategy and place my bets all over again. However, the difference with marketing and gambling is I don't just get 'lucky' with marketing; it has to be thought out methodically and it involves proper testing to see how effective the marketing is. Marketing involves segmentation of audiences and ensuring what I am offering them is relevant through the right messaging and most importantly, landing them to what I think they are looking for. Keeping all of that in mind, as a marketer I think my success is most attributed to treating people like the human beings that they are and not just another conversion.

So now, I share with you the secret sauce to my marketing success (hey, it's worked for me!): 

  1. Stay true to yourself & always find a career in something that you can truly be passionate about. If there is a company that you feel extremely passionate about and feel like you can contribute to them, reach out to them directly even if there are no jobs available & don't be afraid to express your interest.
  2. Do not overlook opportunities presented to you; consider every opportunity and how it would work with your marketing career path but again, only choose companies that have a product you'd be passionate about.
  3. Choosing the right company is the gateway to a network that you can connect & build relationships with. Having real relationships with people will create friendships and a support system for you which is more valuable than just a contact.
  4. Work as hard as you can to push yourself and give your full 110% at everything that you do.
  5. You will fail at some things and succeed at others; failing is a fantastic way to learn what your weaknesses are and admitting to your failures & finding ways to move forward is a great way to develop and grow into a leader. Share your stories with others.
  6. If you do not fully embrace marketing, you will not succeed or enjoy what you do, so be sure that this is what you want to do and love it like your own child.
  7. Be in the mindset of assessing, testing, and evaluating outcomes for not only marketing but your entire personal life.
  8. Be sure to connect with the leadership team at your company because they could be great mentors to learn from -- and become friends with them; I always made an effort and attempt no matter what low-level position I was at and this for sure has carried its weight.
  9. Treat those you market to like human beings and think of how you want to be treated. You cannot market effectively when your goal is to just gain conversions. Think of the user experience first!
  10. I am an educator first and a marketer second. Share what you've learned with others on your team and bring them on board. Shared knowledge is key to working as a team to succeed.


Posted by: Brenda Ton