Five questions with TR Harrington, Program 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?

One of my taglines is “an old guy in new media.” I was lucky enough to be a part of the late 90s’ internet startup scene 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 I’m equally thankful for my hidden co-founder (aka my better half).

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

Every three years you should 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.

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. 

Q3: What excites you about the future of technology? 

We can and will develop the mass market alternative energy sources our planet badly needs. 

We can and will greatly improve human health based on technology and biotech-based alternative food sources such as Memphis Meats and the like.

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: What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? 

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.

Did you know that 72% of Coke drinkers also buy Pepsi? 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 is to be distinct (as opposed to being differentiated), consistent, and available. Unilever’s ex-CMO Keith Weed said, “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 at least once per year. Growing the business materially (10%+ month) from existing customers is hard and often stagnant; finding new customers (including new customer referrals) is more productive for net growth.

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

Mostly company culture develops initially from the founding leadership team. Most leaders are made not born. They develop soft and hard skills through (often painful) experience. 

Over a longer period, the culture organically builds bottom-up from the team as well as top-down from leadership. Let the team work together on how to best communicate your company values. Make sure your culture is explained with right and wrong examples to help clarify the message.  

Hire for passion and cultural alignment. Screen for hard skills and capabilities such as math and finance. Since it is much harder to test for personality, culture fit it usually makes sense to have a trial period (for both sides).   

Find ways to bring the team together at least 1x per month and do company-wide sharing on interests that are not just limited to business updates. Help people connect via hobbies, personal interests, etc. If they develop personal friendships at work this usually improves overall staff retention.