Feeling nervous about following your dream? Matt Potter pivoted in his career several times before settling at Movable Ink.
We don’t always start as we mean to go on. Some of us take the scenic route to the job we’re really meant to end up doing. It can be scary, of course.
If you want to hear from someone who has pivoted multiple times in their career, Matt Potter is the man to talk to.
Starting out in science, Potter is now the regional vice-president of EMEA for email marketing company Movable Ink. Here, he tells Siliconrepublic.com about the career journey that led him there.
What first stirred your interest in a career in digital marketing?
I’d love to say there is an amazing backstory about how I came across the world of digital marketing and specifically email. However, while it’s much less exciting, I would say I genuinely fell into the industry completely by chance.
What education and jobs led you to the role you now have?
I completed a degree in analytical chemistry at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and was planning to go into forensic science. Some research later, I decided that studying blood or hair for the rest of my life just wasn’t for me.
After moving to London to be with my now wife, I worked at Compaq (now HP) in the administration team, handling orders and stock movement.
My wife was working in a direct-marketing agency and mentioned that one of her colleagues had recently left to work for an email marketing company. She said there was an account management role open there, so I went for an interview and my journey began.
During my time there, I really enjoyed advising clients on our technology (E2 Communications) and the early stages of email marketing. I also enjoyed being part of the sales process, looking at the challenges that marketers were having and working out how technology could help address them.
A couple of years later, four colleagues and I left this company to start CheetahMail in the UK and take the next step in email marketing. Starting a company from the ground up was an incredible learning experience, and it taught me so much about how business works, how to build and keep teams, and eventually what happens when you go through an acquisition.
Fast-forward 10 years, I was running the annual client conference for the now branded Experian CheetahMail, and my current CEO, Vivek Sharma, was due to speak about an innovative software company that was completely changing email marketing, called Movable Ink.
10 minutes later, one audience wowed and one Justin Bieber Twitter example demoed, and I was hooked. The idea that email content could change in real time at the moment of open was something completely novel to the industry. In a few minutes, Sharma had blown a huge hole in the email marketing world, and I knew I had to be part of it.
What were the biggest surprises you encountered on your career?
I think the biggest surprises were that, for someone who likes order and predictability, I pivoted several times in my career without a second thought.
I went from a science degree into administration for a technical organisation. I left that to go into digital marketing for a technology provider. I left that to start a new company. I then left that established company after 12 years to work on my own from my house.
The last move, to start Movable Ink in the UK, in hindsight was a huge risk. I had a family and house to consider, but I felt the risk was mitigated by being in an industry that I knew, and for a company I had such a strong belief in.
If I have any advice, it would be to follow your instincts – if you can afford to – as you don’t know where it will lead.
Was there any one person who was particularly influential as your career developed?
I have had several great managers, senior leaders and co-workers. I’ve also had my fair share of not-great ones!
However, my manager in the early days at CheetahMail – Jude Hudson (CTO) – taught me important and frustrating lessons in equal measure. Hudson has a way about him to give you a level of confidence in any given situation and to create calmness. Very little can get done if you are running around at 100 miles per hour. Take time to reflect and plan before you execute. It may feel counterintuitive to ‘not work’ immediately when the pressure is on, but this logic pays dividends later.
Hudson also helped me to learn to blame myself before others, to look at each situation and think what you could have done better. Sure, other people make mistakes, but could you have trained them better or helped them more? It was a frustrating lesson to learn for someone who considers themselves a perfectionist but, again, it proved itself to be the correct logic.
What do you enjoy about your job?
I enjoy something I never thought I would: variety. Coming from a scientific background where you yearn for order, accuracy and predictability, working at Movable Ink should, in theory, not appeal to me.
No two days are ever the same. Our technology is adapting so rapidly, there is always something new to learn. Our clients are learning with us and have amazing challenges ahead of them that we can help solve.
Finally, we’re a growing team so there are always new people with new ideas and varied backgrounds.
Sometimes, I think that I would like to have had a job that changed the world or made life better or safer for people. I didn’t end up doing that, but I can help people be successful, I can help them enjoy their jobs and I can help brands create amazing experiences for their customers. For now, I’ll settle for that.
What aspects of your personality do you feel make you suited to this job?
Our global company values are curiosity, empathy and grit. I think I balance nicely against these tenets. The scientist in me is naturally curious, but also means that I have an interest in data and the interrogation of it to glean results.
Having spent so much time in the email marketing space, I have empathy for the email marketer, and this allows me to work out what part of our offering is not only best for the end-recipient, but what will also help make them successful. As for grit, I’m from the north of England – we’re born with it!
How did Movable Ink support you on your career path?
The biggest support Movable Ink offered was to give me a chance. To take a connected, client experience expert with a science background in a country 3,000 miles away, trust them with your brand and to start a whole new region that will have to be driven by selling, is a massive leap of faith.
Ongoing, I have been given great support from HR and talent on how to grow a team and retain them, including specific training around interview techniques, diversity and unconscious bias.
Being part of the executive team has allowed me to gain further insight into the running of a business from start-up through to a rapidly scaling SaaS company.
I hope this confidence, training and learning from Movable Ink will prepare me for whatever I choose to do in the future and hopefully allow me to share what I have learned with others.
What advice would you give to those considering a career in email marketing?
Email marketing is often called out as a dying or even dead discipline. However, spending on it continues to increase, usage remains constant and nearly all other marketing relies on it as a backbone.
It is precisely this last point that makes email marketing so interesting in my eyes. Being involved with email exposes you to all disciplines – social media, e-commerce, web, ads, CRM, data, analytics, creative and more. It allows you to work for technology companies, agencies or brands; in large teams, small teams or even on your own.
My own experience would lead me to suggest getting exposure in a tech company or agency, in the account management or client experience function. This will not only allow you to build your knowledge but also enable you to work with a whole host of brands and skilled marketers as well as with your sales team.