Linchpins are driven and self-efficient. They make themselves essential. While rock stars amaze me and underdogs amaze me, those people you don’t see coming and then they zip right past you, they amaze me the most.
Alex is a lot like a car you see in your rear view mirror one second, and then it’s a mile ahead of you the next second.
Alex was on my agency team when working with Lands’ End where I first saw him hit the gas pedal. Now he’s working at a tech startup in Texas and continues to inspire plenty (including me) with his writing.
Without further ado, enjoy the Q&A with this Linchpin.
Q: How do you handle the “What do you do?” question everyone asks when you meet them?
Alex: I like to tell people, “I mow lawns!” Then they usually look at me like I’m a weirdo, and I tell them, “I’m working on a tech startup called LawnStarter and also do a variety of freelance marketing and write for a magazine.” Then they usually still look at me like a weirdo, so I just tell them I’m a happy workaholic.
Q: What’s your story?
Alex: I grew up in a small town, played some sports and started a punk rock band. Then, I went to the University of Wisconsin, where I graduated from the Journalism School (studying strategic communications). I went from working with one of my favorite bands, Shiny Toy Guns, to working with Madison Craft Beer Week, Arctica Race, and and WiCC. Then I got to build the marketing team at WUD Music, which tied together two of my top interests. I think I worked like 35 hours per week the last two years of college, which prepared me for those infamously long startup hours. I’m currently hustling and grinding in Austin, TX, trying to build a tech startup called LawnStarter. I act as the marketing director for Arctica Race, a ski racing company, and I write for a magazine, RSVLTS.
Q: What’s the best part of marketing to you?
Alex: I like building things. I like the feeling of productive energy creating something beautiful, and marketing gives me that sense of accomplishment. From ideation to strategy to tactics and execution, it’s a process that fuses my creative with my rational side. I’m also a huge fan of optimizing processes and getting more out of less, and I like what technology has made capable for optimizing marketing efforts.
Q: What do you see marketers failing to notice, say or do?
Alex: There are a lot of PR agencies, advertising agencies, business development agencies etc, etc, that reach out to us on our contact form or somehow get our emails. Most of them send us obnoxious form letters or terribly written pitches. If you can’t pitch us your business, how the hell are you going to do business development or public relations on our behalf?
Q: Where do you find inspiration to grow, to create, to go?
Alex: I lift heavy weights 4 times per week, do yoga once, and run once (I hate cardio). I read audiobooks in the morning and paperback books at night. I drink a ton of really good coffee. I spend time with people smarter, more successful and better looking than I am. I’m a competitive bastard so that makes me want to get better too. I also spend a lot of time on the weekends either on the water, golfing, or hiking. Something semi-active but also relaxing.
Q: What are three life lessons anyone (marketers or not) should know?
“If you have two choices, choose the harder.”-Paul Graham
Treat everyone like normal people, because they are normal people.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”-Jim Rohn
Bonus: If you don’t ask, you won’t get.
Q: What has been a terrible marketing or customer service experience and how would you have resolved it if you were on the other end?
Alex: AT&T U-verse was a pretty terrible experience. I believe that investing in an amazing customer experience is the best marketing decision you can make. When you’re competing with giants, your competition can outspend you on marketing dollars, but it’s hard to compete with a rewarding customer experience. If I was AT&T, I’d take some of my stupid advertisements off the air and reinvest that money in some competent support staff.
Q: Since I know you well, I know you’ve jumped ship at an agency for a more startup-ish gig. Can you expand on that? What’s so special about startups that you can’t find at an agency? Or am I missing the point completely?
Alex: I could write a book on that question, but I’ll try to sum it up with this: I’ve always been interested in startups & entrepreneurship. I like to feel ownership over my work, and that ownership is something intrinsically lacking when working at an agency, because, well you’re marketing someone else’s work. When I met Ryan and Steve (co-founders of LawnStarter), I knew I wanted to work with them because they were scrappy, hard working, and passionate about building awesome shit. Working on a startup is unique, especially when you do it at a young age. You never get the ‘luxury’ of developing bad working habits. You don’t surf reddit at work because it’s your equity and pride on the line. Startups also have a crazy tight-knit community where everyone is willing to help one another, seemingly without personal gain. Overall, it’s a pretty awesome place to be.
Q: What’s a project you want to start and see all the way through?
Alex: Well, LawnStarter of course! I have a million ideas, and I’m naturally a restless person. But sometimes life requires focus, and working on a tech startup is one of those glorious times. When LawnStarter exits, I wouldn’t mind meeting up with some ambitious co-founders to work on one of these weird ideas stewing in my head.
Q: What are a few habits people need to develop to become successful in business or startups or marketing?
Alex: I’m not too sure what it takes to be successful working at a big company because I chose to join a startup right after college. To be successful in a startup, you need to love working. I believe you also need to know when and how to take a breather and collect yourself. No matter what you’re involved in, I think you should develop a habit of perpetual learning. Our minds ossify when we obstinately believe that we’re experts. I also want to say that you need to ‘network’ to be successful, but I hate the word ‘networking.’ Just be a good person, do amazing work, and reach out to people you want to meet. No need to wear a nametag at a hotel bar.
Q: What do you do that always sees best results?
Alex: I don’t think I’ve found any absolutes in life, but I’ve never regretted putting bacon on a sandwich of any kind.
Q: If you had to give advice to people starting out in the world of PR or marketing or entrepreneurship, what would you say?
Alex: If you’re still in college, focus on getting a ton of relevant and impressive experience. Join some clubs, too. I always wish I did more of that early on. If you’re into entrepreneurship, you may just want to skip the whole college thing. Though your parents may be disappointed, so if you have to do the college thing, get together with some like-minded students and start building something. There are tons of reasonable sounding excuses, but there’s no way around that one.
Q: Do you have a motto you follow?
Alex: I guess I don’t, really. If I had to pick, this is what came to mind first: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”-Mark Twain
Q: Where can people connect with you and find your art/work/writing/etc,.?
Alex: I’ve got a website that I barely update, but I do write for a variety of publications. Your best bet is to follow me on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay Positive & Kick It Into Gear