"I replaced myself as CMO": Open letter from Randy Frisch on passing the torch, and what's next
This past week I publicly announced that I’ve passed the torch as CMO of Uberflip. Since then, and in the weeks leading up, I’ve encountered many WTF messages while also fielding some wild rumors from my inner and outer circle as to how this came to be and what’s next. Let me be super clear—I’m not leaving the business (which I co-founded) or doing this to spend more time with my family (the pandemic covered me there). So why did I arrive at this massive business (and life-changing) decision? This was the right move for our business, our people and, most importantly, our customers. I’m excited to share where we are, why I felt there was a better marketing leader for the job, and how I arrived at my new exciting title of Chief Evangelist.
Last year the average tenure of a CMO dropped to under 40 months, its lowest level since 2009. I remember being perplexed by this stat in late 2021 as I was trying to come to terms with the reality that my past VP of Marketing was resigning after just 27 months, ready to pursue the elusive CMO gig.
I have hosted over 300 podcast episodes where I chat 1:1 with a marketer each week. The last 100 of those shows under my latest podcast, The Marketer’s Journey, explore the path every CMO has taken to get to the executive table. I’ve been fortunate to interview killer CMOs like Coupa’s Chandar Pattabhiram, TripActions’ Meagen Eisenberg, and Sprout’s Jamie Gilpin, just to name a few of my recent favs. Although each of their journeys is unique, there’s a consistent drive to drop the more common VP for the C title. So I knew this is what people wanted—it made sense for a VP to make their move to the top, but why would I make mine and step back?
As I pass the torch to Ben (an exceptional marketer with an accomplished journey), we happen to be at an exciting 10th anniversary since I co-founded Uberflip with Yoav. I’ve been the CMO for five years (or 60 months or 50% longer than the average mentioned above). Obviously, we all want to beat average benchmarks (especially as marketers), but my reasoning for making this change now goes much deeper than feeling accomplished.
Right for our business:
I started to work with Yoav in 2010, a year or so before we truly had a vision for Uberflip. Truth be told, we started Uberflip in 2012 as much to create jobs for ourselves as for our passion to solve for tech. But when your startup takes off, it very quickly becomes less about you and more about the vision, your customers and your people.
At times I have said I feel like the GM of a sports team just trying to put the right vision and people on the field to win. Like a GM, I don’t play on game day—it’s the players (employees), the coaches (managers) and, of course, even the fans (your customers in my analogy) who determine the win/loss outcome. Recently, we turned to Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm as we were reflecting on where we were in our pursuit to win that MarTech championship (for context, Uberflip is the #1 content experience platform → CEP).
If you haven’t read Moore’s timeless book or if it’s been a while, this is a great modern-day Coles notes version that succinctly outlines his findings. In a further condensed summary, the book explores:
“How innovations are adopted by different segments of society as technology matures. Moore argues that there’s a little-recognized gap or “chasm” in this model between the early market and the mainstream market—and failure to cross this gap accounts for the failure of many high-tech products.”
The image below is one you’ve likely seen many times explaining the technology adoption lifecycle.
It was fun looking back at our earlier stages of adoption. Moore describes the key to adoption by Innovators as striking a chord with people who just simply get excited about new tech and want it because it’s new along with the promise of what’s possible.
Back in 2013, one of our innovators was Joe Chernov (also a past podcast guest). At the time, Joe was already known as somewhat of a visionary for his work at Eloqua. Joe has since become a 3x CMO, including his current leadership at rocketship Pendo. Back in 2013 at Content Marketing World, Joe presented a vision of the future of content, including highlighting us as a way to package “the never-ending asset”. I remember being so obsessed with his take of our efforts. The vision and input of innovators like Joe have helped propel our vision in so many ways beyond our MVP.
A few of Joe’s slides can be flipped through below:
If you’re lucky to progress along the cycle to gain Early Adopters, Moore explains that they tick a bit differently. They have a vision of their own and motivation to implement your tech to get ahead of the herd. We were fortunate to have some amazing visionaries like Daniel Day at Snowflake who, at the time, described how he had the vision to use our tech in ways we hadn’t even been able to articulate. The ~1 minute clip from an interview below was so insightful to me and our team at the time, revealing how he was “hacking away” to scale his vision. His hacks became future product releases.
But as I said, it’s been a decade, and we have progressed significantly with the business. The category we coined had gained significant traction from analysts, partners and, most importantly, customers. When trying to plot our latest advancement in the cycle we knew we had no issues winning in the Early Market and had shown numerous signs of ability to cross the chasm into the Early Majority. The key to selling into the Early Majority is leading with messaging around how your solution is safe, easy and leading the way. This type of messaging is key to a more pragmatic business buyer who wants to stay with the herd. For many companies, this means you’re moving into the mass market with scale and I was confident we were ready for this.
At Uberflip we have successfully worked with amazing companies like Amazon, Hexagon, and Medtronic. These are companies that I would respectfully label as needing Early Majority messaging. That said, we often managed to land in their organizations because an Early Market visionary worked within. Take Hexagon, a global leader in digital reality solutions. One of our Early Adopters, Jodi Lebow, had recently joined this company. Jodi championed us with her
vision earlier in her career at multiple high-growth startups (that were moreso in the Early Market) before bringing our tech into the 21k-employee, publicly traded force that is Hexagon.
Contemplating what it would take to land at Hexagon without Jodi and her involvement has served to me as a great example of why I was ready to both pass the CMO torch and jump into a full-time evangelism role.
I have no doubt that, without Jodi’s assurances, we would not have landed into Hexagon as smoothly as we did. Despite their scale and needs, we proved (with her assurance) that the partnership could deliver amazing returns on both ends—and it has. We were continually proving this in companies like Jodi’s when we got the chance.
This was an exciting signal. But, we needed a CMO who could better line up our GTM, including marketing messaging and sales motion to ensure we could repeatedly and at scale show this potential to the rest of our TAM (total addressable market). Simply put, this was not my forte. Templating that shift for scale was the job for a marketing leader that had done so and was ready to scale. I was confident this experience would ensure our business could make the jump over the chasm at true scale without falling back.
Right for our business and me:
As much as I saw my gap, I also recognized my strength in our partnership with success stories like Jodi’s and those of others who sit on our customer advisory board. I thrive working 1:1 with champions like these to learn how we can make an experience better and highlight the win.
If you look to the most basic of definitions of a marketing or a tech evangelist (like the one from Wikipedia), you get “an advanced form of word-of-mouth marketing in which companies develop customers who believe so strongly in a particular product or service that they freely try to convince others to buy and use it.” What I absolutely love to do is connect and engage with marketers to learn what they’re doing, either to help them or simply learn from them. This angle has been such a key to me becoming a better marketer and, in some cases, connecting other marketers to do the same from each other.
Earlier this month, as I was working on this post in my head, I was fortunate to jump on a call with two amazing ABM leaders, Hillary and Amber. Our purpose for the call was to plan a panel discussion at a big upcoming conference. We got the panel agenda taken care of in about 5% of the time we had scheduled. The rest of the call was simply educational for all of us. In the follow-up I heard feedback thanking me for making our chat “refreshing” and “candid”. The reality is the two of them made the convo just that. I just got to be the bridge. This is the form of evangelism I believe is most powerful: not my voice, but the elevation and bridging of the voices of our community.
Interestingly, the premise of engaging with our customers is one of our six corporate core values. We speak to the need to LUV the Customer. The spelling doesn’t just emphasize our happy Ü, but breaks down as an acronym to:
This framework is the way I’ve managed to learn from marketers like Joe, Daniel, Jodi, Hillary, Amber, and many others. Those moments of LUV have served to guide product development, our messaging, and my personal grasp of modern-day marketing challenges.
As I’ve realized the opportunity we have in bringing in a new CMO, I also recognize the potential for our company where my full time could be placed as our Chief Evangelist. I’ll be honest—not everyone grasps the title. A family member asked if this meant I had become more religious and was becoming a preacher. That was a fun convo. The term evangelism actually comes from Greek history and the three words 'bringing good news'. This is my goal: to bring good news to you every day. It could be a customer story you could learn from or a simple upbeat thought to get you out of a rut.
Some of the chief evangelists I’ve admired from a distance include Guy Kawaski and his role in Apple’s early rise (and more recently for Canva), Dan’s role at Gainsight, and my friend Sangram’s role at Terminus. What excites me about all of these examples is the companies behind them have maintained not just success, but leadership in their categories. I believe this success is not just because of the voice of one person, like Guy at Apple, but the trickle of advocacy that comes from an evangelist’s reach to activate a community.
When I co-founded Uberflip, we decided to tackle a problem that many marketers could not articulate well on day one: What happens after you create great content? The answer has been demonstrated by many amazing marketers, including those mentioned in this post: Create a great experience. In 2019 I wrote my first book, F#ck Content Marketing, which became an Amazon Bestseller. It reflected years of interactions and learning about the value of focusing on content experience. At the time, I felt like I packed the book with every detail that I needed to be shared. But now, I’m even more excited about the next chapter. Our business now has a marketing leader who can scale us into the mainstream market. And, as for me, I can’t wait to bring good news and help as many of you as possible focus on the experience in your GTM.