Nikki Pechet offers expert advice on marketing and recruiting and sometimes seeks expert advice with her own home improvement needs. She leads marketing at Thumbtack where millions of customers and over 250,000 paying professionals per quarter use the Thumbtack marketplace to complete projects all over the country. Thumbtack provides a platform for professionals to find work and build their businesses on the backs of sales and marketing experts.
In this episode, Nikki explains how she landed at Thumbtack and how she recruits others to join in on the fun helping trade professionals stay productive. Nikki tells the story of how she networked into her current VP Marketing role by using an easy to follow process taught to her at a very young age by her mother. Nikki’s mother is a continuous learner but lacked resources to fulfill her desires. Not letting that slow her down, her mother simply asked experts to explain concepts and procedures at the experts expense and own time simply by asking. If you want to know about holograms, just ask staff at the University of Minnesota to explain it to you.
This episode is full of energy and Nikki has some great advice that is easy to follow on how to hire an expert. About 15 minutes in there, is some interference in the internet traffic but it only lasts for a few seconds. Hang on with us.
Questions During Episode:
- What is Thumbtack?
- Does your marketing you primarily focus on the practitioner or the end customer?
- Why did you chose Thumbtack and what makes the company an interesting place for marketing?
- What excites you most about Thumbtack?
- How did you establish your connections in your close circle?
- What did your mom do? What she a professional or homemaker?
- What are your plans for the future?
- What lessons have you learned from your previous experience that have been valuable as a leading marketer at a growing startup?
- What’s next for Thumbtack?
- How are you building you team?
- How do you know your recruit is the right person for the job? Work product? Passion?
- Do you have a favorite brand you try to mimic?
- Which competitors are in your rearview mirror and which are in your windshield?
- What do you fun?
Links and Mentions
- Bain & Company
- Marco Zappacosta
- University of Minnesota
- Matteo Vianello
- Andy Berndt
- Image courtesy mymorningroutine.com
Full Transcription Follows
Scott: Hi, Nikki, welcome to the show. Thanks a lot for joining me.
Nikki: Thanks so much for having me.
Scott: Today expert guest is Nikki Pechet and Nikki is the VP of Marketing over at Thumbtack and I haven’t heard a thumbtack before so Nikki, what is Thumbtack? It looks to be some type of broker website for home improvement or something like that and I’m interested because I’m about to do a whole lot of improvement on my home so maybe you can help me.
Nikki: We are about to change your life, Scott. Thumbtack is the easiest place to find local professionals for anything you need to get done. So home categories are great examples, plumbers, painters, electricians, handyman, general contractors but we also have events categories so we’re the best place in the world to find a wedding officiate, photographer, a DJ. We have a bunch of personal categories, if you’re looking to get fit we have wonderful personal trainers, masseuses and we also have every lesson under the sun. So if you’re looking to polish up your Swahili or take piano lessons we can help you find a pro for anything on your list.
Scott: Okay. So it’s really for me to hire a professional.
Nikki: That’s exactly right.
Nikki: You come to Thumbtack, we’re both an app and a website, tell us what you need done and we’ll ask you all the questions that we need to get the right information so that we can find the right professional for whatever your job is.
Scott: You know, that’s actually pretty interesting because a lot of my past guests have been helping creative people either market their services or find new jobs or whatever and these are people that are practitioners. And they’re not really attuned to the latest in digital marketing so you’re kind of fulfilling that need for all these professionals that like they just want to work and get projects and you’re helping them with gaining more business so that’s pretty cool.
Nikki: That’s exactly right. We work with an incredible set of professionals. Today we have over 250,000 professionals who pay us every quarter and these are people who typically aren’t spending money elsewhere on digital marketing or really on marketing anything and so it is a way for really talented skilled professionals who have limited networks and limited abilities to find customers to trade their skills and their time for money that can become a sustenance for their family on a schedule that works for them.
Scott: That’s pretty cool. So obviously, you guys, do sales and marketing yourselves is, are you primarily trying to get the practitioners or are you trying to get the jobs for them? How does that work?
Nikki: Yes, so we’re a marketplace so we’re trying to do both of those things. I think the biggest challenge that we face is generally on the supply side of finding enough qualified professionals for every customer request that we get. At some point I’m sure we’ll feel more constrained on the customer side but today and I would imagine for at least the next couple of years finding really high-quality professionals who are engaged ready to help customers in over a thousand different categories and in every county across the US, that’s the challenge we’re really focused on right now.
Scott: So do you have a podcast category? Can I find work doing podcast for people?
Nikki: I don’t think we have that category but that’s a good one to look into, I think we could have it.
Scott: I’d love to be the first one, okay?
Nikki: [laughs] Get that.
Scott: All right, cool. So you’ve been over there for a year in some change, why did you choose Thumbtack? What made it a great company to go to?
Nikki: Yes so I’ve actually been here for about two and a half years and which in the real world I think is not very long but in the life of a Silicon Valley relatively early stage company, actually feels like eons so before Thumbtack, I start my career in marketing at Pepsi where I did really traditional brand marketing. And then I went and spent almost a decade at Bain, the large strategy consulting firm doing “go to market strategy” across consumer retail and consumer technology companies and ended up wanting to find something that felt as fun as my time at Pepsi but also felt like it was having a really big impact in the world and I spent time –while I was actually on maternity leave with my first son — talking to over 100 different people about the companies they were working on and spend a lot of time with investors finding out which companies in your portfolio are you the most excited about and why? And trying to find a company that I was really excited about and I also felt like I could really help. And so came across Marco, who’s our CEO and founder, because I was talking to an angel investor friend of mine about a bunch of CEOs I’d met who, I’d honestly just wasn’t that impressed with, even when I really like their company and I said, “I want to find a CEO who I think can be an incredible partner and who will value the skills that I have.” And he said, “You got to meet Marco, he’s one of the best CEOs I have ever invested in.” And I met Marco, at that time I have not heard of Thumbtack which I thought was to be surprising because I do tons of home renovation and so I went in a little skeptical, met Marco heard a little bit of his story and the story of how the company was founded and the amount of progress that the company had made in a huge market. It’s about a seven hundred billion-dollar-market in the US alone and walked away from that meeting thinking I absolutely must work at this company both because of whom Marco is as a leader and because of both the opportunity that Thumbtack has in front of it, one of the biggest markets that exist and is over half still transacted entirely offline and the progress of the company has made more progress than basically anybody else and it’s based in making global services accessible to customers and helping professionals across a thousand categories build their businesses. So I loved what the company did for people like me. I was a new mom trying to renovate a super old house that felt like it was breaking all the time and that was really why I joined as I got into Thumbtack a little further and started meeting some of our professionals, I realize the real magic of Thumbtack is in what it does for professionals, giving people the opportunity to build the business that they want on their terms using the incredible skills that they have to build companies and to employ people all over the country.
Scott: I mean, you sound really excited about it. That’s really, really cool and I’m really interested in the opportunity that you had to have all those conversations, of talking about, talking to different CEOs and angel investors and that’s a really interesting circle. Did you get into that circle from your time at Bain or how did that work?
Nikki: So I have just sort of this belief that I think my mom instilled in me that if you ever want to know something, you should just find the person who knows it and ask them to tell you about it. I remember being in third grade and she was really interested in holograms and found this professor at the University of Minnesota, which is where I grew up, who is specializing in hologram creation and she told them that she really needed to learn about it and her kids did too and so she took my sister and I, we’re like, I don’t know, 8 years old at that time and we have spend an entire day in a hologram lab learning about it which is just that’s exactly how my mom rolls. And so I think she just taught me like, “If you need to know something you just go to the people who know it and ask and have absolutely no fear that they might turn you down for a meeting.” And I’ve found that to be entirely true throughout my career. I believe in being super well-prepared and being really polite and asking for as little time as possible and in always trying to find something that you can do to give back to people who help you whether it’s offering to help people recruit or offering to help do research on something that somebody needs to know about but in general I’m quite willing to ask for meetings with people who I frankly have no business meeting with, and so that was really how it started. I would say my Bain network is an awesome network of people but does not actually include all that many early stage company and so I did start with my Bain network and talk to CMO’s and CEOs of lots of really incredible companies but I ended up wanting to do something earlier stage and didn’t have a strong network of people in the earlier stage community so I just emailed people who knew people who knew people and begged them to introduce me and it’s interesting how I think the Silicon Valley community, in particular, is that I found it to be incredibly welcoming and I would have a great meeting with someone and then I would immediately follow up and say, “Who are the three best people who you know who might be willing to spend 15 minutes with me?” I generally would ask for 15 minutes and hope that I would end up with an hour but be very happy if I only got 15 minutes. So I did that and it builds on itself and as you ask for meetings and people say “yes” and then you have great meetings and it turns out that they also enjoyed meeting with you — hopefully in most cases — it just kinda builds on itself and you meet more and more interesting people. I also found that my network from my early days of Pepsi actually have a lot of really awesome former colleagues from there who’ve gone on to do some interesting things. My network of people from business school who’ve gone on to do really interesting things all around the world and my network of people from Bain, were actually quite helpful and continue to be helpful to people who are in Silicon Valley who aren’t connected to those networks but do have really deep connections within Tack and so I try to do as much introducing people to each other and connecting people who might not find each other as possible. And that also helps make those kind of meetings happen.
Scott: I mean, that’s incredibly insightful on your mom’s part. What did she do? Is she a professional or is a homemaker or why did she have you do that?
Nikki: So my mom grew up just extremely poor in rural Minnesota. She was one of 10 children and her dad was a gas station attendant and made minimum wage so they had absolutely no money and no access to particularly great education so all of her brothers and sisters did end up going to University of Minnesota and all got degrees but she has this life-long sort of chip on her shoulder about feeling like she didn’t get exposed to things as a kid because they didn’t have any money, they never traveled, they didn’t go to fancy schools and so she was a homemaker and like the world’s best mom, when I was a kid and really viewed my childhood as a chance for her to have a second childhood and learn all the things that she didn’t get to learn when she was a kid. I now have kids who, I think have significantly more privileged than my mom had growing up and I still think everything that my mom exposed us to as kids is something that even the most privileged kids today don’t get exposed to but I spent every afternoon, I’d come home and we would do a science project or she’d have some sort of a building something challenge that she would make us do. We spent summers driving around Minnesota sneaking into rock quarries where we would dig for fossils. She just– we had a really interesting time learning about all the things that she wanted to know.
Scott: That’s incredible. I mean that’s a lesson all into itself in terms of how to create your own opportunity and I mean it sounds like what you learned as a kid basically, you know, it got you into Thumbtack, right? Because you just kept asking questions and you kept asking for meetings and you got to a spot that like you sound extraordinarily excited about so I mean that’s a success story in itself, podcast over almost, but that’s really, really cool. I kind of have the same type of history — but this isn’t about me, that’s in the future — but speaking of the future, what are your plans for Thumbtack? I mean since you’ve been there you’ve got your feet completely under you and you’re moving and shaking, you grow in the marketplace, how does your time at Bain and Pepsi and in all your previous experience, what are you going to bring and what are you going to change at Thumbtack?
Nikki: Yes, so one of the things that I think is most fun about working in any technology company in marketing but at Thumbtack, specifically, is that marketing as a function within companies has just entirely changed over my career. What I did at Pepsi which was when I was there, cutting edge brand marketing versus what the sort of the best in class marketers are doing today is entirely different. And I think a lot about what prepared me for the team that I’m leading today and the things the things that I need to get done and I think the DNA of deeply caring about a brand understanding who your customers are and exactly what they want and then over delivering on their the greatest best brand like that’s what Pepsi was all about. It was about taking something that was, a sugar water and creating things value that made people desperately want to get it and so that DNA of brand storytelling combined with what I learned at Bain which was like deep analytics and logic so figuring out what the objective was and then analytically understanding how you could get to a desired outcome, setting up really rigorous tests and making sure that you were doing the best possible thing that you could do to get there. That combination has been really powerful for me and I think the best marketer is certainly in Silicon Valley and I would say more broadly have that combination of storytelling and brand expertise but also a deep understanding and appreciation for performance and measurability. And so that I would say is the most interesting thing about being in marketing today and it continues to evolve pretty quickly which makes it a fun job to continue to evolve in over my career.
Scott: Yeah, I think marketing I have a skewed view but it evolve so fast and there’s new tools and techniques that, that pop up so quickly, you continuously have to pay attention on what’s going on around you otherwise you just become irrelevant and I think that makes it fun in itself and you get to meet interesting people, right? So interesting people, how are you building your team? Are these people that you know? Are these people that cold call you like you cold call everybody else or how does that work?
Nikki: I don’t think I’ve hired anybody who’ve cold called me. My general approach to recruiting is figure out exactly what we need as a company in the next 6 to 12 months and be ruthless about making sure we are only building the teams that we absolutely need and making sure that we’re only building teams that we have the entire executive team and rest of the organization where they bought into. And then once I figured out what I think we need I just try to go find the best people in the world doing that thing and I generally believe in finding one or two people who, you are sure are the best people to do it and then just wearing them down over the course of many, many months to recruit them to come. So I’ve hired a couple of people who I think are just world class at the things they do. Most recently our creative director, Matteo Vianello, who came from Nest. Tony Fadell hired him as one of the early creative talents to build the Nest thermostat brand. He built that brand from nothing into the company that it was, sold it to Google and I spent many, many months helping him understand why he should take a massive pay cut and leave his large team and enormous budgets to come to Thumbtack and build the creative team within marketing from scratch and he has been here for a few months and he has done and incredible job and I think it’s just a good example of, “Find somebody who thinks that they would never take the job that you want them to take, know that they are the right person to do that job and then sell aggressively until they take it.”
Scott: So how do you know that they’re the right person to take the job or you just looking at the past performance? Like, well, the Nest example, that’s an easy one but for instance, someone else that maybe didn’t have that, a big bang acquisition like Nest, what are you really look for? Is it more of a work product? Is it more of a passion? Is it more of a energy level like yours or what primarily do you think you look for?
Nikki: Yes, that’s a great question. I think it’s a combination of all of them. And I would say anytime I’m hiring for someone new I go out and try to find the people who were just killing it in that function and try to understand. I spent a lot of time before we hired a creative director talking to Google about their brand studio and talking to Facebook about the Facebook Factory which is their design team within marketing and trying to understand like who are the people who have been just wildly successful in these roles and where do they come from and why were they successful and many of them were people who came — Andy Berndt, who’s the head of the marketing design team at Google who’s just an absolute creative genius — he came from an agency and when David Lawee who was the head of marketing when he, when Andy joined, when he hired Andy he knew he was taking a really big risk on an agency person who haven’t been in the house before and he was very thoughtful about the specific things that he needed to know about Andy before he made that bet and Andy’s has been wildly successful at Google and so spending time with David Lawee and talking to Andy, I’m trying to understand what was it that made you confident that he was going to be great and so talking to people who are really incredible at the thing you need them to do, understanding what their path was and trying to pattern match that and so, yeah, Matteo is a good example of somebody who had just absolutely killed it and Nest which is one of the companies he worked at. I think, a big risk that I was worried about with Matteo was Nest from Day 1 was a company that was very brand first, willing to invest and making the brand looked and feel a certain way because the entire differentiation was, “We’re going to make a product that is a very very expensive version of the existing products on the market and yes the product is better but if the brand wasn’t there to support it, it never would’ve worked.” Thumbtack is actually really different in that way, like Thumbtack, for free, finds customers the right professional for a job that they need done in a way that nothing else in the world can do for them and so it solves such a dire need for customers that we actually need less of those sort of magical brand experience in order to grow really fast or in order to sort of build towards the opportunity that we’re focused on. Now that doesn’t mean that we do not want to invest in brand but it means that, the way we invest in brand is different and it’s much more about the product experience and the consistency of what were delivering and so, in that way, I think Matteo was a little bit of a bet because what I needed him to do here is really different from what he did at Nest and so I spend a ton of time talking to him about specifically what he would do here. What team he would build, what budget he would want, how he imagined things evolving over time and that’s also something I spend a lot of time doing when I was interviewed for jobs, was making sure that whoever I was going to be reporting to in this case talking to Marco about exactly what I would want to accomplish and what team I would need, and what budget I would need, what my approach would be and how I imagine spending my time just to make sure if there were things that I had in my head that were not quite right. We figured those things out early and so that’s something with all senior hires. I spend quite a bit of time work planning and at least the lining on here’s the first six months will look like so that nobody is surprised once they’re actually in the building.
Scott: That’s really cool. I like that story. What, you know, you talked about brand quite a bit. Is there– do you have a favorite brand like outside of Nest because you sound like you worked there too because you love it so much and that’s cool.
Nikki: I love Nest.
Scott: Is there– do you have Nest in your house?
Nikki: I do have a Nest in my house. Installed it myself.
Scott: You didn’t hire anybody from Thumbtack to do that?’
Nikki: I am a big — I love doing stuff myself which actually is there’s a lot of people on Thumbtack who hire a pro to sort help finished jobs or to help to get the job started but a lot of our best customers really liked to be involved in doing jobs and I am certainly that way.
Scott: Do you have a favorite brand that you try to mimic other than Nest and anybody out there that you like?
Nikki: For Thumbtack or for just brands that I like in general?
Scott: Just things that you like and then we’ll move on to Thumbtack.
Nikki: Yeah, so there’s a lot of brands I like, Nest is certainly one of them. I would say, I think Facebook is a really good example of a brand that grew out of a product experience and for a long time, didn’t think at all about investing in brand and over time sort of realize the impact they were having on the world. And started investing in brand more as a way to sort of be responsible and think about, “You know because we’re having this huge impact on the world we need to be delivering an experience and delivering on a promise to our customers around privacy and around sharing that is consistent with the impact that we want to have on the world.” I think that’s a really interesting sort of organic one. I think Amazon is a really interesting brand because they haven’t invested in brand, in kind of the typical way that a Nest or a Nike or a Pepsi would but again they’ve invested in operations and in the product experience and in pricing to deliver on customer expectations. I mean customers didn’t even have any of the expectations that Amazon has built and they were willing to lean in and say “Free shipping matters” and having the absolute lowest price matters and having infinite selection matters and those are all things that customers wouldn’t have thought to ask for because they seemed impossible and so I love the willingness of–based also on the other leaders they are to say “We’re going to do the thing that we know people need” even one people can even imagine that they need that thing. I think that’s pretty incredible.
Scott: Yeah. It’s very Steve Jobs, right? “I don’t use focus scripts because people don’t know what they want”. Yeah, that’s totally great and then, so yes about Thumbtack so in terms of Thumbtack, what brands do you try to mimic and then I want to ask you if you keep a competitor in your — which one’s in your rear view mirror and which one’s in your windshield?
Nikki: Yeah. Good question. So on brands, we try to mimic, there aren’t any brands that we try to mimic like we are who we are and the company is now old enough that we sort of have DNA that’s deeply embedded in who we are, so, I want to be the brand that we are. The companies that I look at into the sort of brand experience is that I look at is interesting analogs to us. Two which are very different. One is Google. I mean, in many ways we are a vertical search engine, we’re a really good vertical search engine and the biggest search vertical. But, the way that Google has built the company which is entirely around it, incredible product experience, that’s just unassailable by competitors. That’s one thing that I think is a really interesting analog for us to look at which is like core product experience, core matching experience above all else. A very different one that I think about a lot and we talk about it a lot is Airbnb, Airbnb has taken a very different approach where their product is really wonderful but the brand that their building around community and around diversity inclusion and around impact on the world is very different and they have a real focus on hospitality and community that I think is interesting for us to look at is we think about this set of pros, with 250,000 pros, building community around them with millions of customers, building community around them, helping connect them to each other just as we’re working to connect ourselves to them so I think that’s another really interesting analogue.
Scott: That’s super. No, and I like all those two. I’m a big AirBnB fan cause I just like that. I liked that they just made it easier to use, underutilized capacity and help everybody out as well. I like that. What do you do for fun? It sounds like you work all the time and recruit people like 24 hours a day. Do you ever make time for yourself?
Nikki: I’m not great at making time for myself. I would say the vast majority of my time goes to working, which I love and spending time with my two little boys. I have a one-year-old and a three-year-old and I try to spend it as many hours while they are awake with them as possible. Going on adventures and doing all kinds of things with them. I would say, if I have one free minute, the first thing I always do is some sort of a home project. I am a constant remodeler, redecorator, I love learning how to do new projects around my house. My ideal is doing a project that I don’t know how to do. In partnership with a pro who is willing to teach me how to do it. So, I try to do basic electrical work myself, thanks to a Thumbtack pro who taught me at least the very basics of not electrocuting myself. I love decorating. I love building things. I love refinishing furniture so all different types of projects around my house.
Scott: That’s cool, very tactical. You must need that like before and after look.
Nikki: Yes, that’s exactly right and I love power tools so anything that can involve power tools, I’m into.
Scott: Do you have a chainsaw?
Nikki: I do have a chainsaw, actually. I had a fence built and the person who was finishing the fence was going to come back to — one part of the fence was too high and he was going to come back the next week to fix it and I just wanted it done that day. So, one time, I bought a chainsaw and cut the top of the fence off. It felt like a justifiable need for a chainsaw.
Scott: Yeah, especially in California, I can’t believe they even have chainsaws but that is [laughs]–
Nikki: Those are from husband are some sort of a Home Depot purchase. I love Home Depot.
Scott: Yeah, yeah. Me too. Me too. I got my chainsaw on Home Depot. And I’ve worn several chains out. It’s like the ultimate power tool.
Nikki: Yeah, I should not yet worn chains out. I don’t use that as much as I would like to but I do, I like to go out in the woods and cut down a branch from a tree or that kind of thing as well.
Scott: It’s great. So, Nikki, if somebody wanted to ask you a question, contact you, what is your channel of choice? You like Linkedin? Twitter? Do you have a Thumb– are you a Thumbtack professional where we can hire you for project management? What do we need to do?
Nikki: Linkedin is probably best. I aspire to be a handy man on Thumbtack. I have not quite found the time to do it but I also think my handyman skills are not quite up to par. But one of my goals is be a good enough handyman that I can actually respond to customer request on Thumbtack but for now, Linkedin is a good spot.
Scott: Okay perfect. And then we’ll link to your page so people can know who you are. Do you have, anything that you want to close with? Any closing advice for aspiring marketers out there?
Nikki: Find a product and a company and a group of people that you absolutely love and pour your heart into it. I think that’s my best career advice for marketers and planning one.
Scott: Well, perfect. I really appreciate your time today Nikki. I love the energy and I love you, like I totally want to work there now because you have so much energy and–
Nikki: We are hiring.
Scott: I really appreciate the time you invested and the listeners and wish you the best.
Nikki: Thank you so much, Scott, we appreciate it.