Leadership Edge with Owlet CMO Kady Srinivasan
Kady Srinivasan has 20+ years of experience working with some of the largest consumer brands in the world. Most recently, Kady helped lead Dropbox through a successful IPO and prior she worked at EA marketing some of the world’s biggest entertainment franchises, like Starwars. She has a strong track record of delivering strong results across highly entrepreneurial companies with diverse audiences in the technology, enterprise and entertainment space.
Between balancing her role as Owlet’s CMO, which calls for frequent travel between San Francisco and Salt Lake City, Kady is a mother of one, and a regular guest speaker at Stanford University where she shares her wealth of knowledge on marketing and tech. While Owlet continues to revolutionize incredible technologies for families, Kady is at the forefront, driving business forward, alongside a state-of-the-art team of engineers, developers and data scientists. And as a mom herself, Kady knows first-hand how Owlet’s products are impacting the lives of families every day.
Kady holds an MBA from UNC Chapel Hill and a BS in Computer Science from Bangalore University in India.
Thank you for joining us Kady! Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A few years ago, I was part of a team helping a blue-chip CPG company launch a new breakfast category. As we conducted research, we kept finding that in particular markets, pancakes and waffles were predominantly the breakfast of choice, while cereals and oatmeal came in a distinct second. These findings got us excited to create a whole new breakfast cereal that would be able to capture that market! Thankfully, someone suggested we first test that concept with ethnographic and focus groups. While doing ethnographic research, it became clear that cereal was not a preference for most families with 3+ kids in certain areas because buying milk was more expensive than pancakes and waffles. If we had forged ahead without consumer validation, we would have never been successful. This experience taught me one of the most valuable lessons in my career- getting out of the trap of relying on spreadsheets and participating in groupthink instead. As hard as it is, seeking and integrating consumer feedback is the most important thing you can do as a marketer.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Many moments have built my career, and each step was a tipping point on its own. I like to compare my career to something that struck me after reading the book Atomic Habits, by entrepreneur James Clear. In this book, Clear talks about the temperature that an ice cube melts- 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the energy required to raise the temperature of ice from 27 to 29 to 31 still matters. You may only see results when you hit 32 degrees, but you wouldn’t have seen the ice melt had you not done all the prior work. I feel that way about my career.
The lesson I have for others is to do the hard thing. Every two years you should put yourself in a position where you are super uncomfortable, you are being stretched way outside your comfort zone and preferably doing things other people would look at as really hard. Look at your career in cycles of going out of your comfort zone, learning and getting comfortable, and then again pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I believe this kind of discipline will pay off in the end.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When I was introduced to Owlet, I knew this was the product that would solve the problems that I had encountered as a new mom. Owlet is the kind of company I have always wanted to work for: a brand with a strong vision, a clarity of purpose and mission, a problem that desperately needs solving and truly amazing founders that have created a culture and legacy that will live beyond themselves. I am completely blown away by Owlet’s vision and desire to reduce the number of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) cases, and it’s probably one of the most mission-driven companies that I will ever work for. After hearing the customer stories and seeing the products coming to market, I knew I needed to be part of their mission. Owlet’s products become the voice of the baby, helping parents take action when their baby needs immediate attention. I realized I had dodged a huge bullet because I didn’t have all of this information when my baby was born, and I want to help other parents now and I’m certain that working for Owlet will be the most impactful work I ever do. It’s much bigger than any one person.
The Owlet Smart Sock has saved more than 500 lives, and I love reading the powerful parent’s stories we receive every week. We’ve received nearly 600 stories over the past few years of parents sharing how impactful Owlet products have been in their life.
See below for an Owlet customer story.
“I never write anything about products. I’m the one who reads reviews constantly but never contributes, until now. Here’s my advice about the Owlet Smart Sock… buy it.
My baby was born full-term, with no issues, but as a paranoid first-time mom, I had bought the Owlet Smart Sock. He’s worn it every night since we’ve been home. Sunday night I put my happy 8-week-old baby to bed and hopped in the shower. Two minutes later I got our first ever red notification. I rushed to him, checked on him and he looked fine. I thought it was a fluke so I changed the Smart Sock to his other foot and got back in the shower. I received a second red notification but again checked on him and he seemed fine. Then another notification.
I finally decided to take him to the hospital, thinking it was probably nothing. At the hospital, they found that his oxygen levels were low (as the Smart Sock had indicated to me) and he was immediately put on oxygen and taken to ICU. He was diagnosed with Bronchiolitis, which is similar to RSV. He had no fever, his mood was amazing, and he was eating and sleeping great. I HAD NO IDEA SOMETHING WAS WRONG. This might have potentially saved my baby’s life. This is the only thing you need for your baby. My son is here today to prove that.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, we are gearing up for the launch of Owlet Band, a wearable device that is a safe way for expectant mothers to hear their baby’s heartbeat at home. Owlet Band uses passive listening technology embedded in ultra-thin sensors to collect signals from inside the womb, without the use of harsh sound waves. Expectant mothers can wear the band daily to get important insights into the wellness of their developing baby during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The Owlet Band App also comes with two audio options for relaxing and meditation while the band is monitoring the baby.
When I was pregnant with my son, I had a harrowing experience that required me to rush to the hospital. I was immediately hooked up to a big noisy machine and monitored. But, when I heard my son’s heartbeat, beating strongly and clearly, I felt an incredible sense of peace and relief. When I got home, the anxiety and fear spiked, and I found myself wishing I could stay hooked up to a heart rate monitor that would let me know my baby was okay. Owlet Band will allow expectant mothers to check in and let them know their baby is okay.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
One of the best questions a marketer can ask is ‘how is this product transforming someone’s life?’ Whether the product has been in the market for a long time or it’s a new category, markets and consumers evolve so the product itself has to evolve. As long as you know who the product is appealing to, why it’s appealing to them, and how it’s transforming their lives, you will be able to have success in marketing.
You can’t be married to anything for too long. We’ll spend several months to several years on the development of a product, but you have to be agile and flexible with the ever-changing tech industry.
There is no one person who has the best ideas. Work becomes more efficient when you tap into the collective wisdom and resourcefulness of the full team.
It’s easy to forget about customers when you are working with revenue and numbers. You have to ask yourself ‘what are we doing this for?’ My answer is “we do things because we are a mission-driven company and we are here to help families.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been incredibly grateful to have a whole village of people that I have depended on for various things along the way. I have been fortunate to have super smart, talented, supportive, and caring people who acted as mentors, coaches, and teachers as I continued down my career journey. In particular, I don’t think I would have achieved any level of career success without my husband, who has been an incredibly supportive partner. My brother has also been one of my biggest fans and confidants all my life.
My biggest paradigm shift as a leader came from Andrew Wilson, the CEO of EA. He taught me the power of building a “followership”. Up to that point, I measured my leadership in terms of how I managed lean, extremely talented teams. Andrew taught me that in order to have a broad-based impact, you have to build followership — not just with your team but cross-functionally and with people with varied functional expertise. The mark of a leader is how committed this diverse followership will be to the leader’s vision. Andrew transformed EA and I had the rare privilege of learning directly from him as EA became a powerhouse brand.
There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?
There are a number of memorable marketing campaigns that appeal to me for various reasons. In general, I think the best campaigns are the ones that identify a key hook for a large number of customers and demonstrate empathy for the pain point that set of customers are feeling at that moment. The more culturally relevant the hook is, the more long-lasting it will be. To that end, my favorite was an ad that P&G ran for Tide during the last Olympics. The ad showed a mom putting in many hours of cleaning, laundering, cooking and then finally going to her daughter’s room to wake her up for school. It simply said, “To all moms everywhere”. I found this to be immensely powerful from a creative execution standpoint as well as a grabbing onto a key cultural moment.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
The best campaigns identify a unique pain point for a large number of customers and then figure out a way to talk to that pain point. Sometimes it’s just acknowledging that pain point exists and creating a sense of empathy. More often than not, it’s offering a solution that solves that pain point. The best marketers are able to articulate that pain point really crisply and be able to talk to it without coming off as “salesy”.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
I believe marketing will become an even more powerful discipline in the future. The single biggest change in modern marketing has been the availability of data for decision making. However, it doesn’t always mean that the data is being used in the right way or that it’s actually helping reach consumers in the right way. Hence the trend towards more cynicism and distrust. I believe that data should be married in a healthy way with gut feel and real consumer orientation to drive decision making. That’s one of the biggest trends I see happening now is that the pendulum is swinging back towards intuition and non-quantitative decision making.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
It’s ok to say no (even to your boss): I learned a little too late that if you have to be successful, you have to take on a few things and do them spectacularly well. Sometimes that means saying no to the people that matter the most in your life — family, friends and even your boss. Without this discipline, you end up on a road to mediocrity.
Invest in other’s success: One of the lessons I wish I had learned early on was investing time and effort into making my peers successful. For too long I thought of career success as a zero-sum game and wasn’t an effective collaborator. Now I have realized that it’s not only a good thing for my company but also for my own sense of connection and self-worth.
Territory vs the map: When I started off, I was intensely focused on the short term and achieving big shiny moments and letting the future unfold itself. But the larger success comes to those who can think a few steps ahead and read the map vs just the territory they are standing in. I wish someone had shown me how much more powerful having the patience to work on the map vs. work on the territory could be.
Contributing to a larger mission: A lot of successful people gain success when they are contributing to a larger mission that may or may not have anything to do with their immediate career prospects. As an MBA I was told that this equates to others taking credit for your work and taking advantage of you. It’s not true — the ones who can contribute to a larger purpose and shared ideals are the ones that demonstrate selfless integrity and are likely to come out ahead in the long term
Love the negative feedback: I never ever wanted negative feedback and almost always found a way to rationalize it away. Ultimately if your aim in your life is to grow, this has to be a critical part of your arsenal. It’s not comfortable but I am much more accepting of negative feedback now than I was before.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
As a consumer, marketer and business professional, I have found that nothing beats a product that works and delivers on the value it promises. This is the single biggest way to gain trust and advocacy for your brand. Beyond that, it becomes Marketing’s responsibility to drive awareness and education of the product so that more people recognize how this product can add value and transform their lives.
The biggest and most effective tactics that marketers can employ are as follows:
1) Showcase all the ways your product can add value to a consumer’s life — Emotionally, functionally and rationally.
2) Make it easy for them to share the love — With friends and followers, whether it’s on the product’s website landing page, Instagram, Facebook, newsletter, etc.
3) Surprise and delight — Do more than consumers expect, whether that’s through loyalty programs, exceptional customer service or feature benefits.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I am a big fan of Harvard Business Review for strategic marketing skills. I also love books like Make it Stick, Switch, Nudge, etc. that parse human psychology into predictable behaviors. It’s super interesting and very useful for a marketer to think about ways to influence consumer awareness and behavior.
Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?
Of all the people in the world, if I could get to have dinner with one person, it would be Michelle Obama. I don’t think it is easy to achieve what has done, but she has carried it off with so much grace and dignity and class, I am in awe of it. After reading her memoir, Becoming, I was so struck by one incident when she goes through an intervention with David Axelrod and Valerie Jarett and how she comes out of it more resilient, authentic, and somehow more powerful. I wish I could find her sense of strength in myself someday.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would start a movement that educates every kid above the age of 10 how to handle money. In a world where more information is accessible to kids, more resources are available, and there are more opportunities for them to communicate with each other, life skills like money management should be prevalent across the board. I would love to start that movement.