Interview with Gail Goodman
Gail Goodman joined Constant Contact in 1999, when the company had six employees. Today it has 625 employees, with more than 300,000 customers worldwide.
An Interview with Gail Goodman President, Chair, and CEO, Constant Contact
Date: March 16, 2010
Entrepreneurial Heroes Interview with Gail Goodman [intro music]
Lucy Sanders: Hi, this is Lucy Sanders and I'm the CEO of National Center for Women and Information Technology or NCWIT. This is our next podcast interview in a series of interviews with women who have started IT companies and/or who are CEOs of start-up companies and the technology spaces. And today, we have Lee Kennedy with us, who is a serial entrepreneur and right now with Bolder Search and also with NCWIT Board of Directors. And Larry Nelson from W3W3 who has just informed us that tomorrow is his eleventh year of his Internet...
Larry Nelson: ... Talk radio show.
Lucy: Yeah, absolutely.
Lee Kennedy: Congratulations, Larry.
Lucy: Well, in this interview is very exciting for all of us who send mail out and who know about Constant Contact. We are interviewing Gail Goodman, who is the President, Chairman, and CEO of Constant Contact. And she has done so much, both personally and through her company to really revolutionize the way that businesses reach out and send mail to their stake holders. And really since she's doing Constant Contact, the number of customers has just skyrocketing. NCWIT is a customer. We use it for our newsletters and our campaigns and everything else. So, welcome, Gail, it's good to have you with us.
Gail Goodman: Great to be here and thank you for your business.
Lucy: Well, you're welcome. Well, we are really eager to hear first, before we start into our entrepreneurial questions a little bit about what's going on with Constant Contact lately? Catch our listeners up a little bit.
Gail: Right, for those of you who don't know Constant Contact: Constant Contact is 100 percent focused on helping small businesses, non-profits associations who look great. That's staying connected to customers, clients, members. So, we started with email marketing and that's absolutely our kind of flagship product. But, over the last couple of years, in addition to growing how many customers use Constant Contact, we also added two new products. Event marketing, so to help people run complete closed moved event registration, take money for the event and that whole community advice for business.
Lucy: Of course.
Gail: And an online survey tool to help people hear back from their customers or members with feedback and learn more about who those folks are, true demographic questions. Today, we have over 325,000 customers around the world who count on our service to stay connected to their most important audiences. And we are just immensely grateful to that group for their business.
Lucy: Well, I didn't really know you had an event marketing tool. So, we have events.
Gail: That's fabulous.
Lucy: I'm going to have to go take a look at it. Gail, you're the CEO of a Tech company, an obviously you're immersed in Tech every day as you think about what Constant Contact is going to be doing in the future. What is it about technology that really interests you and how did you get into a technology company?
Gail: Well, I have to say that I had the technology bug pretty darned early. I started using a computer when I was in high school, which to many of the listeners may seem obvious, but when I was in high school, they didn't have personal computers. You had to actually go find a big computer and something that looked like a refrigerator box and actually program on paper tapes and now I'm starting to sound like a dinosaur.
Lucy: No, Gail, you're sounding just like Lucy and Larry. [laughter]
Gail: But, I just love technology pretty early on and what excited me as I went through my career was not the technology itself, but the problems that it could solve for real people and real businesses. And so, as my career matured, it was all about solving customer problems and that really is what still excites me and makes me get all into the new and emerging technologies. How can this solve a problem that couldn't be solved with a mainframe, with a laptop and now that we have the Internet and mobile devices and it all creates new opportunities to solve problems.
Lucy: Well, as you look at technology today, do you have specific technologies that you think are really leading the charge in terms of being innovative. What technologies interest you the most?
Gail: As a business person thinking about what we do for our customers. The technology that interests me the most are the social networks and mobile. As a consumer, I'm really interested in the convergence of the smart phone with identity geo targeting and all that that brings together. I think it's consumers, we're just getting so empowered with the iPhone in our hands to do things so dramatically differently. It's like trying to go back and forth with trying to be a consumer and then thinking about what does that means for our business customers, how can they take advantage of that.
Lucy: That's definitely the way that you have to think even in your business because your business is all about how consumers use your product. So, if we switch back to you, you started off as a techie and you loved solving problems. What moved you into being an entrepreneur and what is it about entrepreneurship that you love?
Gail: The thing that moved me into entrepreneurship was really this combination of wanting to solve customer problems and really feeling like I was ready to earn my own destiny. I had spent a career working for others, sort of frustrated at the pace of what I could do with a pace of change, with the pace of innovation and it just got to the point where it was time to put my money where my mouth was and see if I could do it better than all the people I was thinking I could do it better than.
Lucy: Obviously being in a start up that pace is fast enough for you right?
Gail: Yeah, and the very interesting challenge for me now is, I joined Constant Contact in '99, there were six people. But, the place was definitely fast enough. Today, we are 625.
Gail: And I could hardly call us a start up anymore and how do we just keep that pace of innovation going? How do we keep internal entrepreneurship going? How do we make it easy for people to get things done and make decisions? And I am increasingly challenged to keep solving the same problems I came here to solve.
Lucy: That's in interesting topic. You know, we have another interview series called "The Toolbox Series" where I think this idea of, how do you take a startup that has grown to some significant size and keep that innovation, start moving? That would be a very interesting topic.
Larry: Yeah, it certainly would.
Lee: And that's amazing that you've been there. It'll be 11 years, this year?
Gail: Eleven years in April.
Gail: Me and Larry, we're both doing our 11 year anniversary. [laughter]
Larry: Yeah, I'll tell you. I was thinking that, wow.
Larry: You know, along the way I'm sure that you had either mentors or role models, or people who helped you out along the way. Well, who would that be that you would pick out that has influenced and supported you in your career path?
Gail: I'm going to go with two answers here.
Gail: And one seems just a tiny bit trite. But, my parents really were huge influences here and I think the thing they did for me that is pretty unique, for their generation for women, is they really gave me a huge belief in myself and the confidence that I could do or try anything. And that was really a huge piece of what gave me the confidence to step out from under, you know, the corporate safety net and go alone.
Lee: That's wonderful.
Larry: Yeah, great.
Gail: And then, along the way, you know, my best role models have been my CEO peer mentoring group. So, when I was about two years into this adventure, I joined a group of other venture-backed tech CEOs, who sat down together for a day-and-a-half a quarter and really talked about what we were doing to grow our businesses. You know, the role of the CEO, how to manage the board, how to raise more money. And we helped each other grow into our CEO roles. And so, I would say all of them were role models and I learned something from each and every one of them, because we each brought unique backgrounds and experience sets to the table and created an environment where we could be completely open about the issues and challenges we were facing in our business. Lee: And you sat down each quarter for a day-and-a-half solid?
Lucy: Wow, well, that's pretty intense networking.
Lucy: That's awesome. Well, you know, and your statement about your parents, we see that time and time again at NCWIT, that, in fact, encouragement of parents, especially to women, young women, who are interested in technology. As you said, you were interested in computing in high school, at a time when there really wasn't... It was hard to be interested in computing in high school. And that encouragement from your parents, I think, is quite a factor. So, switching gears just a bit, from the encouragement of parents, to something maybe not quite so pleasant. We always like to ask the people we interview the hardest thing they've ever had to do in their career. So, why don't you tell us the most difficult thing? You mentioned working for others and then you started Constant Contact as an entrepreneur; what's the toughest thing you've had to do?
Gail: Well, I think the toughest thing I had to do was, you know, really face the fact that Constant Contact might not make it. So, we were venture-backed, the good news is we got some money before the Internet bubble burst. But then, we needed some money after the bubble burst, and money was pretty darn hard to come by. And so, as the cash balance was dwindling and I was counting down how many payrolls I could make, while I was frantically running around the world hat in hand, I needed to write a shutdown plan. And we got within 10 days of pulling the trigger on that.
Lee: Wow! And you got funding?
Gail: You know, get the executive team in a room, tell them the plan. Tell them we're... You know, at that point, it looked more likely than not, that we were going to shut this thing down. And I think it was... You know, the full employee base never knew how close we got. But, looking around the table at the team who had been working hard every day and saying, "Guys, I think it's over," was the hardest thing I had to do.
Larry: How many employees did you have at that time?
Gail: More than we should have. [laughter]
Lee: Oh, no!
Lee: Well, that's a great story. Right? And that it turned out happily ever after this.
Lee: So, Gail, we have a lot of young people listening to our podcasts and we would love for you to... If you were sitting here with them, what advice would you give them about entrepreneurship?
Gail: Well, the thing I would say, is get a good solid foundation before you strike out on your own. So, get some experience first working for a company, and be very observant about what works and what doesn't work. Leadership style, management style. You know, it is very difficult to be figuring these things out for the first time in an environment where you are, you know, absolutely supposed to be running the place. And as you think about those first sets of jobs, be very thoughtful about the set of experiences you want to get. And I would say, get as close to the customer and the value delivery point as you can. So, if you're in a professional services company, you know, get into the client engagements. If you're in a software product company, get into product management. So, you see how the sausage factory produces a product. And not everything you're going to learn there, you're going to want to take with you, but get some stripes somewhere else. Not only will it give you an experience and guide to your own leadership and management style, I think it'll make you much more fundable, if you're going into a business where you're going to need some other people to vote for you and give you their money.
Larry: You listeners out there pay attention to that reply, because I wish I had heard that, before I started my first company. But...
Lee: That is. That's sage advice.
Larry: So, Gale, you talked about your parents, the CEO mentoring group, and so on. Getting right into you, what are some personal characteristics of yours that have made you a successful entrepreneur?
Gail: So, I'll highlight four that I think are pretty important. And I'll start with tenacity. I just refuse to fail. [laughter]
Gail: Every obstacle was a challenge to be taken on. The second kind of directly relates to that which is I am an analytic animal. So, when I see challenges I don't react to them emotionally, I react to them analytically. Let's diagnose it. Let's do the root cause analysis. And let's fix it. The third thing is that I am a continuous learner. I understand that I don't know what I don't know, and I'm not afraid to get help from others. Talk, you know, peers... One of my first reactions to a problem we would have in the business is who might have solved this problem already? And how do I get access to them to figure out how they solved it? So, I'm always reading books. I am always talking to others. I am always trying to pick people's brains. And the final piece and probably the hardest piece, for me, because it wasn't natural, is I think it's important as an entrepreneur that you be immensely open to the feedback of others and recognize the weaknesses in yourself so you can complement them with the team. And so I ask for, and on a good day listen to a lot of feedback.
Lucy: Well, and I think that, I'd add a fifth characteristic that you didn't mention. You have a great sense of humor. A great laugh, I have to think that that helps get through the day as well.
Gail: If you start taking yourself too seriously you're in deep trouble.
Lucy: Yeah. We think so too. We don't take Larry seriously. [laughter]
Larry: We'll talk offline, Gail.
Lucy: So speaking of your day. You have a lot of work in your day obviously running a successful company like Constant Contact. And yet you have a personal life too. We like to ask how people bring balance into their life knowing full well that perhaps most people are totally unbalanced when they're in the situation that you're in. But, we find that they amazingly have coping strategies so they do have a personal life as well. So, why don't you tell us about how you bring balance there?
Gail: Yeah. Just a couple of things. I have so many interests outside of work that I have been unwilling to give up because of that tenacity. So, that's really helped. So, I happen to be a tennis addict as a player and watcher. The good thing about tennis is you've got to schedule it. So, you've got a bunch of other people waiting for you on a court, you don't blow it off. So, it happened to be a very good hobby because other people were waiting for me. To all the tennis players out, all I need to say is doubles with three people is really not as much fun. And I never said, wow, I'm not going to have that much time for that this quarter. I'm not going to sign up for the contract with the ladies. I just did it. And so that formed some anchors of things that got me out of the office and got me moving and fun. The second thing is I have always prioritized the people who mean the most to me. My family, my friends, you cannot let those relationships go. They are the most valuable thing in your life. Someone once told me that story, just think about the world from, sitting on your porch in your 80s, looking back on your life. Very few people are going to say I wish I had spent more time working. The number one thing you hear is that I wish I had spent more time with my family. And you never get a chance to go back and do that. So, I've always been very clear that while on a given day a work priority might overwhelm a family thing. As I look at weeks and months, I can't let that happen more than occasionally. Lucy: So, it's an integration process as opposed to this perfect idea of balance.
Gail: Yeah. You never get the perfect idea of balance. But you've got to keep the priorities in place.
Lucy: Absolutely. Well, Gail, we have loved talking to you, and it's been so interesting. We have one last question. You've achieved so much. Give us a little insight into what's next? What's next with you? What's next with Constant Contact?
Gail: So, we at Constant Contact feel like we are just getting started. We are thrilled to serve 325,000 customers. There are 27 million small businesses in the US. And when you add non profits and trade associations, the number gets up to 40 million. And we think those small organizations succeed based on customer intimacy and relationships. And our vision is nothing less than to help them revolutionize that success formula. And so we are on the march to a million, and just unbelievably excited about it because small business is the backbone of the American economy. It employs half of the private workforce and has typically been the very first to hire coming out of recession. So, literally our mission for this year is to re-energize America's small business and pull the United States out of the recession.
Lucy: We're behind you.
Lucy: We're behind you.
Larry: Wow. Gail, I just wanted to thank you for joining us today. Gail Goodman of Constant Contact. And this is Lucy, Lee, and Larry. You know the three Ls. It's really our pleasure. Your interview will be up on ncwit.org. It will also be on w3w3.com. And we'll have it on a podcast, a blog, and that social networking stuff you were talking about. So, thanks for joining us today.
Gail: That's great. See you all on Twitter.
Lucy: All right. Thank you Gail.
Lee: Bye Gail. [exit music]