Five questions with TR Harrington, Program Co-director at MOX

About TR Harrington

TR is a global multilingual executive, serial entrepreneur and MBA adjunct professor with over 25 years of experience in marketing, adtech, product and business development.

TR has been at the forefront of interactive marketing and information technology since 1995 in Silicon Valley and since 2001 in China. Select client credits include work for leading Chinese brands China Mobile, TenCent and Alibaba in addition to his work for leading global brands such as Apple, Gucci, L’Oreal, P&G, Dell, and Citibank just to name a few.

Prior to founding Darwin Marketing (acq. by Dentsu), TR previously held a number of marketing management positions at USWeb/CKS, and Bank of America during the mid to late 90s.

Five questions with TR

Q1: How did you get to where you are today?

I’m an old guy in new media. I was lucky enough to be a part of the late 90s’ internet startups in Silicon Valley and the China mobile revolution from mid-2000s to mid-2010s, when I founded and exited my startup.   

I worked with some really smart, wonderful startup entrepreneurs and investors who taught me a whole lot. And my hidden co-founder (aka my better half) is equally wise.

Along the way, I’ve got the chance to mentor startups in terms of growth and fundraising while seed investing. It’s been a wonderful ride at SOSV: being an evangelist for entrepreneurship has been a privilege and a pleasure.

Q2: What advice for someone getting into your space? Alternatively, what advice should they ignore?

Hire your boss. Show how you will crush the metrics. Then ask for what you want in terms of professional growth. They need to be invested in you if you invest in them.

Every three years, try to activate a new network of smart, interesting people. Work in a few different startup companies and cultures early to supercharge your network. Find your tribes.

Q3: What excites you about the future of technology?

We can and will develop the mass market alternative energy our planet badly needs. We can and will greatly improve human health, e.g. prevent heart disease, based on technology and biotech-based alternative food sources such as Memphis Meats, an SOSV portfolio company.

We should be cautious about the downsides of AI, but in terms of what AI and machine learning can still uncover and improve – I am excited to see that evolve.

Q4: Something you’ve changed your mind about in your career

Byron Sharp’s seminal book “How Brands Grow” has been quoted in recent years by the CMOs of the biggest FMCG brands in the world including Unilever and Nestle, etc.

Did you know that 72% of Coke Drinkers also buy Pepsi? Sharp’s first-party research shows that for any brand, the majority (over 50%) of their consumers who are light buyers (1x per year) also purchase your competitors and recognize little differentiation, despite marketer’s efforts.

If differentiation and loyalty budgets are not producing the best value for the biggest brands and budgets in soda, tea, computers, cars and phones, then they probably will not work for your startup either.

His advice to brands? Be distinct (as opposed to being differentiated), consistent and available. As Unilever’s ex-CMO Keith Weed puts it, “there’s only so many cups of tea [the best customers] can drink in a day.” Instead of focusing on maxed-out loyalty, find more customers who buy just 1x per year.

Q5: What have you learned about building great company culture?

You can write up values and mission statements but nobody will care about any of that if they are not passionate about their work or do not believe in the future of the company.

Most leaders are made not born. They develop soft and hard skills through (often painful) experience. Make sure your culture is explained with right and wrong examples to help clarify the message.

Mostly company culture develops initially from the founding leadership team. Screen for hard skills such as math and finance, but hire for passion and cultural alignment. Over a long period, the culture organically builds bottom-up from the team as well as top-down from leadership.

Reading recommendations

Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston (pre founding of Y Combinator)

The book provides short chapter interviews with Internet 1.0 founders of PayPal, Hotmail, etc. The lessons learned from the 1.0 are still valuable to the 2.0+ internet founders and many of these covered became famous angel investors, serial entrepreneurs and mentors to 2.0 companies. It is an easy read in that each chapter is only a few pages on a different founder and company so you can read a chapter even between meetings.

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