Kevin Knight | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin Knight

Background:  

Kevin Knight is chief marketing officer for Experticity, which connects retail associates and other real-life influencers with consumers to create a more informed buying experience Following business school at MIT and an 18-month stint with Microsoft, Knight joined Facebook's marketing team, returning to San Francisco and was roughly employee number 100 at Pinterest. He spent a little over three-and-a half years at Pinterest, and began advising Experticity in January 2015. CEO Tom Stockham asked him to come on board as CMO last spring, and Knight ended up taking the job in October. 

The Mistake:

I wasn't saying no to anything at all.

I was about a year into my time at Facebook, and they dissolved my team.

They said, 'Your job has been dissolved, but of course, we'll find you something else. We know that you really want to move to New York, so we're going to give you this strategist job in New York.' 

The job is to be kind of a creative and brand strategist, embedding with our biggest clients to come up with actual Facebook campaigns to spend their money.

So I thought, you know what, I’m going to take this job, it may not be the plan, but I’m going to be super-super open minded. This serendipitous move to New York, on the heels of my [previous] job getting dissolved, was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career.

I wanted to prove myself, and I was getting to the point where I was four years out of business school and I wanted to start managing people and so I was just doing everything. I was taking every meeting that I could, trying to get as much experience as I could, [and] trying to get my fingers in as many pies as I could. 

After a few months of that, the head of the team, Facebook’s Chief Creative Officer announced that we were going to introduced a new management layer on the team. So I went through the interview process, and I did not get the job.

Luckily, I had this really good, transparent relationship with my boss, and I said, 'It's really important for me to pursue a path in management. Why didn't I get this job?'

And she very transparently said, the key role for somebody managing a team of creatives is to get the ideas in their heads shipped. You've got to actually ship work, we can't just pitch. And while you've been a great member of the team and you have management potential, you haven’t actually shipped anything.

So I looked at this and I said, all right, I've been spreading myself too thin. I had nine accounts on my list. I said, I just can't support all of these. I'm not doing any more client meetings, except for one client. And that's going to be Pepsico.

Because I had so much time to dedicate to this one business, I was able to build really good relationships there, learn their business, [and] understand the business. 

I put together a pitch for them that went on to be the biggest campaign in Facebook history. We took that account from spending a few hundred thousand dollars a year to spending tens of millions of dollars a year in less than 18 months.

For me personally, all of a sudden I had something I could be known for.  

You have to prioritize, and if you don't, you end up not giving yourself the bandwidth to be able to do your best work.

The Lesson:

The lesson here was a very hard one for me to learn – because I'm an impatient, overambitious person – is you just have to say no. You have to prioritize, and if you don't, you end up not giving yourself the bandwidth to be able to do your best work.

Now that I’m in a C-level role, in a lot of regards, the buck stops with me – certainly all of our marketing efforts. It was kind of a wakeup call when I got here that if I don’t advocate for and hold people accountable to ruthlessly prioritizing and saying no, that I can’t count on it happening. I've had to really develop the ability to do that on a much bigger scale than just with my own time. I had to do it with my team.

Shortly after I joined the company, I moved them from having an all-in goal of the number of new members we want to bring to Experticity, to just focusing on a handful of categories.

If we pursue every opportunity we have, with 225, 250 people, we’re not going to do any of them well enough, to establish beachheads. And if we don't establish beachheads, then Experticity 10 years from now won't be anywhere near as successful as it could be.

Follow Experticity on Twitter at @experticity.

Pictured: Kevin Knight | Photo courtesy Experticity.

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