On the lighter side of things, we ask Jason VandeBoom, Founder and CEO of ActiveCampaign, about what makes him tick.
What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
Closing my first customer in 2003 was a super-impactful moment. Back then, I was a solopreneur, selling a piece of software via a free directory listing, with the aim of funding my living expenses at art school. I was amazed that someone was simply willing to pay me for what I created. More recently, the realization that ActiveCampaign has grown to such a size – we’re 850 employees globally and counting – that it’s no longer possible for me to know every detail of everything that goes on here is truly exciting.
What first made you think of a career in technology?
I’ve always liked the idea of building things. As a kid, that meant building things out of wood. Then, as a teenager in the late nineties, I became fascinated by computers and, after pushing my parents into buying one, I spent a lot of time tinkering. For me, part of the attraction of technology is the fact that what you create can have an extraordinary impact on multiple people or businesses; it’s unique in that.
What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
I want to keep growing and that means surrounding myself with smart people who have complementary skills and who’ll push me to do more and do better.
As ActiveCampaign has gone from a start-up to a sizeable company, I’ve strived to provide my leadership team with autonomy but, given the chance, I’m like water – I’ll get into all the little niches and nitty gritty. Staying close to the details – and our customers – is really important to me. Creating a buffer between yourself and the frontline can feel comfortable but it can also result in your not understanding your customers’ pain points, and the opportunities you have to help solve their problems. That’s how businesses go off track.
What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?
Digital Transformation, without a doubt. It’s been talked about for years by big business but last year forced millions of businesses of all sizes to think about what it meant too, and to do something about it. Many are just scratching the surface of what’s possible and those that don’t go down this path may struggle to maintain mind and market share with customers.
How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?
It’s evolving. I have two young kids and I try to make sure they come before anything at ActiveCampaign. Spending time with them gives me so much joy. Skiing is my favorite hobby and the rest of the family enjoys it too. I also love what I do and have enormous fun at work, so that helps as we navigate the continual ups and downs of a fast-growing business.
If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
A lot of people would say what if the potential of SaaS and customer experience had been recognized back in 2005. Where would ActiveCampaign be if we’d scaled quickly in the first few years? But I’m grateful for the first decade where we were a small team focused on really understanding our customers’ needs and how to solve them.
We laid the foundation for ActiveCampaign, and that’s why we’ve been so successful as we’ve scaled within the last five years. Being an entrepreneur of some sort was always my game plan but not because I saw it as a means of making a lot of money, or owning a successful company. It was more about my wanting to create things and to pick what it was that I’d create.
What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
Personalization is a big one. The technology exists but we’re now seeing more focus on democratisation. That means making it easier for small businesses to get value from it, without having to spend big bucks that they might not have, and ensuring the personality and human touch of their enterprise isn’t lost in the process. Bridging the gap between in-person and digital experiences has also become a hot issue, in the wake of last year’s race to embrace all things e-commerce.
What are the region specific challenges when implementing new technologies in APAC?
It’s not enough for a new market entrant to offer a tool for small and medium sized enterprises. You need to be providing ‘recipes’ and a game plan of how to get started. Without those things, you can have the best technology in the world but you’re unlikely to get much traction in a diverse market like APAC. And having a genuine local presence is so important. That’s why we set up our regional headquarters in Sydney and hired people who had expertise in marketing, customer support and education, and a deep knowledge of the region.
What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
ActiveCampaign is one of those overnight success stories that has been almost two decades in the making. Most of our growth has come in the past few years and that’s necessitated me handing off a lot of operational responsibility to my leadership team and taking more of a big picture view. Being grounded for a lot of last year made it a bit tougher to stay across our international operations but, as economies and societies continue to open up this year, I’m looking forward to getting back among it. Spending time with our people and talking to customers about the challenges and opportunities they’re facing post-COVID and how we can help them will be my priority.
What advice would you offer to someone aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?
My advice is not to obsess over title. Instead, focus on what you find interesting and pursue that aggressively. Success from title, compensation, influence will all come. Don’t narrow yourself down too soon – seek out a variety of experiences because that’s actually helpful in any type of leadership role. It might lead to a non-traditional career path but it can also make for a more interesting and joyful journey to the top.Click below to share this article