For my leadership series, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and interview Lindsey Shepard, CMO, Mozilla through Web Summit. Lindsey Shepard leads Mozilla’s marketing organization. As CMO, she guides them to find ways to attract people to Mozilla products, at a time when there has never been more need for privacy-focused solutions to the challenges of online life.
About Mozilla Mozilla Corporation is the non-profit-backed technology company behind pioneering brands like Firefox, the privacy-minded web browser, and Pocket, the content discovery platform. 235 million people around the world use its products each month. Founded in 1998, Mozilla’s mission is to ensure the internet is a global public resource, open and accessible to all.
Web Summitt Web Summit is Europe’s largest technology event bringing together 100,000 attendees from over 150+ countries virtually this year. Forbes has said we run “the best technology conference on the planet”; The Atlantic that Web Summit is “where the future goes to be born”; The New York Times that we assemble “a grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I wish I could say that there was some master plan behind my journey. Like most folks, my story includes a lot of elbow grease, luck, and serendipity. One “a-ha!” moment that has really driven me forward happened while I was prepping for the TedX talk I completed during my time at GoldieBlox. I was working with a coach, and he was encouraging me to dig deep into my personal experience through the filter of the work we were doing. I kept pushing back on him and finally, completely exasperated, threw my hands up and blurted out, “who am I to talk about myself in front of all these people?” He looked me dead in the eye and said, “who are you to refuse to share your story?” It was a real lesson that when reframed, the imposter syndrome that most leaders deal with can actually serve as a motivator. This lesson has pushed me to not only draw from my professional experiences when moving through my career but from my life experiences as well.
What is your blueprint to success? To be a successful leader or to have a successful company, you need a team that feels successful at an individual level, too.
As a CMO, a critical part of my job is to make sure the amazing people on my team have access to work that excites them, gives them a chance to flex, and has an impact on the business. To do this work well it’s important to involve your teams in the process. Too often, leaders hand down goals, strategies, and plans without leveraging the brilliance of their people. Collaborative strategy building takes longer, sure, but results in a team that has some skin in the game, and understands how their individual work is contributing to the bigger picture.
What do you stand for? What is/are your life philosophies?
I have a few mantras that I live by:
“Hold it loosely” – In times of great change, sometimes you need to take a step back and let things spin a bit before you can act. This is healthy for us. Sometimes we hold on too tight and just end up getting taken for a ride.
“Share early and often” – I truly believe that any project – personal or professional – with only a single name on the ‘by line’ is destined to fail. Don’t be afraid to talk about the things you’re exploring, even if your ideas are half-baked. It might light a spark in someone else that can make things even better.
“Family first” – one of my favorite bosses, Gary Briggs, gave me some advice that I think about all. The. Time. I was considering a few professional options, and he said “pick the thing that gives you the most time with your boys.” He is a father and I know that advice was from the heart. Obviously, it’s impossible to follow that advice to the letter, but making sure family is always part of the calculus keeps me sane.
“There’s always money for books” – This one speaks for itself. My mom was a public school teacher and we didn’t have a lot of extra cash when I was growing up. However, anytime my brother and I wanted a new book she made it happen. My kids know that this is a standing rule in our house, too, and I feel so grateful to be privileged enough to follow through.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? First up, I wish someone had told me that it’s not just OK for women to talk about money, but it’s essential. Generations have been taught that it’s not their place to talk about how much they make or what they believe they are worth. For sure, men have used their own methods to keep women in the dark. But now with more women leading companies and sitting on company boards, those of us in any position of power can push to change this. And for those who don’t yet have power – know your worth and speak up for it. Secondly, you don’t have to be liked to be successful. Again, women are still fighting the battle to prove that likeability does not equate to performance in business. Sure, it’s nice to be liked by your employees – but it’s not essential to driving change and I would rather be respected than liked.
Finally, understand that your value is the sum of everything you do and not just what it says on your email signature. I’m a baker, a gardener and an astronomer, as well as a chief marketing officer. I bring my whole self to work because I chose a place – and was lucky to land – where that’s celebrated. If you don’t work in such a place, know that your full value isn’t being realized and there is something better out there for you.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? I’m on a personal mission to bring back magic to performance marketing. All marketing is a combination of math and magic. I believe we’ve become too hypnotized by the numbers – by first-party data in particular – and sacrificed some of the brainpower we reserve for creativity. I encourage my teams to take their own hypotheses (well-grounded in research for sure) and then use them to test and explore what stories will resonate with our audiences without harvesting your personal data.
Most recently we’ve been doing that as we iterate on the first campaign I launched as CMO last year, which we called Unfck the Internet. It encourages people not just to switch off from tech experiences they don’t like, but to take active steps to make their part of the internet healthier. We also just started a TikTok channel @mozilla, giving people easy tips for leading a better life online. I love TikTok because it exemplifies the kind of no BS storytelling that I firmly believe we are all going to be held to.
Another part of my job is to help the people on my team access interesting and exciting work that helps them to get the professional experiences that keep them motivated. More tactically, I’m helping them figure out how to tell stories that help the average person that may not be tech savvy understand what’s going on online, how their data is being used, how to spend their time better online themselves and ultimately build a better internet with their choices. One of the things I’m excited about right now is working with our consumer media manager, Damiano, to hone my own skills in telling our story to more of those people. For example, I recently had a blast talking with Live the Glamour host Dawn Del Russo, about tips to preserve your online privacy. Dawn regularly focuses on fashion, style, beauty, and lifestyle tips so, for example, it was a special thrill to help her take the three steps you need to take advantage of Apple’s new privacy protections on the iphone.
Do you have a life hack that’s always come in handy? Music has always been an incredibly important part of my life. My husband and I first bonded over a mixtape! But I’ve been making playlists for every big project since I was in high school and used to sit in my bedroom learning the lyrics to my favorite songs. It fired up my creative mind then and it still does now whenever I’m starting something big. Of course now I have Spotify with soundtracks for everything from driving, to running, to painting, to hanging out on the back deck. There are some pretty obscure ones, too!
The playlist I have on rotation today is called “Stone walk up possibilities”. My 14 year-old son, Stone, is a baseball player and will have a chance to choose a ‘walk-up’ song during his season next year. This is a HUGE deal and we aren’t taking it lightly. The playlist is all over the place right now during this brainstorming phase. Options currently range from “Groove is in the Heart” by Dee-light to “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
So, my life-hack is: If you can’t make it part of your regular routine, don’t forget to turn-on and turn-up the music when you’re stuck figuring out how to start something that seems a little or even very daunting. Music has the power to get you out of your head and seeing things from another point-of-view.
If there’s a problem you’re trying to figure out, there has to be one great singer who has solved it or at least made a profound observation on it – sometimes in as little as three minutes! My hack seems to be spreading. Last week, in the middle of making some ambitious plans for the second half of the year, my team spontaneously started every daily stand-up with a Dolly Parton track and you could feel the energy rising across the virtual room because of it! I’d like to think everyone who attended left that meeting with a little more determination to do their best that day.
What do you want the readers to know? Anything worth doing is hard. Do not be afraid of raising your hand to take on new challenges that you don’t feel ready for. There’s nothing to it but to do it, and the hardest things are usually the most rewarding. Believe in yourself. — Follow me online at Twitter @shepardlindsey LinkedIn @lindseyshepard/