Take one look at Marc Boroditisky's LinkedIn profile, and it's immediately apparent that he is an innovative and successful sales leader. But it's also quite clear that he hasn't had a traditional career path.
Boroditsky has founded, built, and sold several companies, including Numera and Passlogix. When Passlogix was sold to Oracle, Boroditsky signed on to lead their Identity Management product lines. Then, after advising Authy, the two-factor authentication startup, Boroditsky joined on as President and COO. A casual lunch with Twilio founder Jeff Lawson led to Authy’s acquisition and a role as Twilio's VP & GM for Authentication before moving to a sales leadership role. In 2020, he took on global responsibilities as Chief Revenue Officer for Twilio.
In a recent blog post, Boroditsky weighed in on how Twilio is building a world-class sales organization and what that looks like. It was such an insightful discussion that we asked to chat further to learn more about his unique background, how he ended up at Twilio, and how mentors — including his mother — helped shape his approach to leadership and customer relationships along the way.
12 Questions for Marc Boroditsky
Many candidates applying for sales jobs at Twilio are just starting out. That got us thinking about your early-in-career story. Tell us about your first gig out of college.
When I left college, I did what many people did back in the 1980s; I took what I could get. There wasn't this expectation people have now, of optimizing for career potential. I was lucky to land a clerk job in the marketing department of a big bank doing, basically, whatever they wanted me to do — answering the phones, doing telemarketing, or tabulating campaign results.
The cool thing was they had a portable computer, one of the first — a Compaq Portable. I knew how to use Lotus 1-2-3, so they asked if we could figure out how to get data out of the mainframe and provide real-time reporting. I didn't know if it was possible, but I said, "Sure, I'll try."
We got a terminal emulator card and started pulling data and dropping it into spreadsheets to produce reports that were just a day old instead of up to six weeks old, which was typical at the time. Our team quickly became the source of all types of reporting, and I was promoted through six roles over the next nearly five years before I left as VP of Business Planning. It was a very, very formative experience, not one I planned on, but one that I capitalized on.
So was that the end of your banking career?
I left knowing that I didn't want to work in banking, but I knew I definitely wanted to do stuff with computers. So, in 1989, after a couple of contract gigs, I started a company in the electronic medical record space based on exposure I had growing up as the son of a radiologist.
From there, I've been through four startups, selling one to Oracle, before joining Authy, a bootstrapped 8-person startup in the two-factor authentication space. I was in the role for a matter of months when I had lunch with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson. When the check came, Jeff said, "We should do something strategic." I'm like, "Yeah, we're a little company. We're not really ready to partner with companies like Twilio.” And Jeff said, "No, we should do something really strategic. We should buy you." The rest is history. Authy got acquired, and I joined Twilio, leading the authentication team.
It sounds like an interesting career trajectory.
Yeah, it was odd. Just the other day, I was speaking with someone about our hiring process and I realized that I haven't actually filled out an application since my very first job. Luckily, I have the unique situation that the subsequent companies I worked for were connected to something I started. But many opportunities presented to me were ones I hadn't anticipated, like being asked to run sales at Twilio.
Would you say that serendipity is a guiding principle in your career?
Yes, that's one of them. The reality is that you don't really know what's going to happen. If I have any advice to give, it's "Don't fixate on the destination of your career." All you'll do is frustrate yourself about details that don't matter and miss out on opportunities that do. Have a notion of where you want to go and what you want to do, but don't let it keep you from considering new opportunities that come your way.
So, are you saying that keeping your eyes and your options open is important?
Absolutely. And I'd follow that up with "Make the most of every opportunity." You can't predict and control everything, but you can certainly impact your options by consistently showing up ready to do your best work with a great attitude. Do that, and not only will you be given the best opportunities, people will actually want to work with you. Having good luck helps, but it's unreliable. There's no substitute for doing really great work and having a great attitude.
What about team building?
I’ve learned that finding, developing, and retaining the best people has a far greater impact on everything we do than anything else. People really matter — especially in our industry, where we tend to get caught up in the speeds and feeds and the tech and the features and functions. But when you really look at it in the abstract, you can't make, sell, or support the stuff we build without people. Leaders can fail at everything else, but if they hire and develop a world-class team, they'll succeed regardless. Then, if the way you behave and the way you treat people let them know they matter, they'll be motivated to want to do more and want to do better.
This is all great advice, thanks. You’ve probably learned some interesting lessons during your career.
I've had some great mentors along the way. But some come to top-of-mind because I take their advice to heart pretty much every day.
Paul Biddleman was a VC investor in one of my previous companies, and he told me that it's super important to be clear about what to say "no" to. We're all surrounded by infinite opportunity, and knowing where you draw the line helps you and your team stay focused.
There's also Rob Ryan, who is a tech entrepreneur and was a chairperson at one of my previous companies. Rob used to talk about being market-driven and listening to what the customer wants, rather than merely pushing our features and functionality. He’d say, "A-level products and B-level marketing result in a B-level company. But B-level products and A-level marketing result in an A-level company."
One of my favorites is Jay Chiat, who founded the Chiat/Day ad agency. His rule was to "Learn from the next generation." Jay believed "experience" is stuck in the past, so surround yourself with young, bright, high-energy people. They're the ones building the future.
My mentor on selling, Chris Mahl, taught me that forcing customers to buy the way you sell reduces your opportunities. Instead, aligning with the way customers buy creates an amazing experience for them and results in the highest potential sales productivity.
Finally, there's Marianne Boroditsky, my mom. She'd tell us not to compare ourselves to others. "There's always someone smarter, thinner, richer, and luckier than you," she'd say. "Compare yourself to yourself." She'd ask, "Are you learning, growing, progressing, making a better life for yourself?" If you were, great. If not, do something about it.
At some point, we've all had an opportunity to take a different career path. Anything you would have done differently?
I have no regrets, and I don't think there was an alternative path. I've been extremely fortunate to live at an extraordinary time, to learn from — and be surrounded by — exceptional people, and have incredible experiences that have resulted in great opportunities. However, this is probably the last stop in my career. I may have other options down the road, but I don't think there's anything better than what's happening at Twilio right now.
So, how do you switch off? What do you do with time away from work?
Every Monday, I send my team a "Start Of The Week" email to let them know my priorities and make sure we're aligned. I always start with what I did over the weekend or on vacation, which often includes time with the family doing outdoor activities like skateboarding, biking, skiing, and hiking. Also, my wife and I enjoy great food and wine. And I've gotten into building with incredible LEGO kits.
My son, Connor, is big-time into LEGO, so my interest started before the lockdown, but lockdown was a big acceleration. Building with LEGO has a beginning and an end, which for me is really important because so much of what we do has no end. I love it. It has the childlike inspiration, the feeling of creating something new out of nothing. You look back at what you've made and say, "Wow, that's cool," and feel like you've accomplished something. LEGO does that for me.
Anything else learned during the pandemic?
The lockdown reinforced what's important, and we shared this message with our Twilio teams: Above all else, take care of yourself. Then take care of your family. After that, be there for your community. Once those three things are on track, then it's OK to focus on taking care of Twilio.
Last question: in your opinion, what does the ideal hire at Twilio look like?
We want collaborative people who are humble, who listen and support each other. When I interview applicants, I pay attention to how much they say, but I pay equal attention to how much they listen. Candidates who only talk aren't going to be the best partners or the best collaborators. I want to know that people on our team will treat every Twilion and every customer with respect and sensitivity by being prepared to collaborate and support their needs. Basically, we're looking for all hires to be owners, and we're looking for them to wear the customer's shoes. If we get those two things out of a candidate, everything else falls into place.
Twilio's has job openings worldwide, with a number of open sales positions focusing on small business (growth), mid-market, and enterprise companies in most every region. To learn more about what it's like to work at Twilio, please visit our careers website.
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