14 min read

Pallet People: Ish Verduzco

A conversation with Ish on his career, diversity and inclusion in tech, and being a boss ass marketer.

Hello friends ūüĎč,

Welcome to the weekly edition of our newsletter.  The Pallet Post features conversations with awesomely insightful professionals, jobs from companies they recommend, and some of our own takeaways from building a startup.  

Pallet People  is a deep dive into experiences: failures, successes, and everything in-between, of founders, directors, and high-level professionals.  At the top and bottom of each segment you'll see a guest-curated list of companies you can follow to track jobs from!

Today's guest is Ish Verduzco, Head of Growth and Marketing @ Craveit, published author of How Successful People Get Ish Done, and DJ extraordinaire.  


The TD:LR

Breaking Your Way In

She basically leveled with me and said "Ish, you didn't do too well in the interview, but, I want to offer you a different position.  You showed so much passion and enthusiasm for events that we'd like to create a coordinator position just for you".

Diversity In Tech

Well, the reason why huge companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc all have "poor" diversity is because it started with a handful of white males that hired people they knew ‚ÄĒ other white males. ¬†And that's what I mean by network effects, because it compounds as you get larger. ¬†So if you think about that in the reverse, you have a company with 10 people, try to hire with diversity in mind. ¬†Because when it becomes their turn to lead a team they'll hire diverse people as well. Representation is powerful, but if it's not foundational, it can turn into a token. ¬†

Becoming a CMO

First off, you should generally be very good at one specific thing.  There's this idea of the "T-Shaped Marketer," where you can do social, you can do email, you can even do print, but you're really good at one of them.  It's this balance of being able to dive deep into your specific niche, while simultaneously understanding and grasping everything else.  I'm not a fantastic email marketer, but I understand it.  My specialty has always been on social.  When it comes to "Directors," it's important to have that T-shaped expertise.  That will allow you to coach your team members as you build out the team. If you're a leader, you'll understand quickly that delegating tasks is super super important to your success.  The second thing is proactively building a track record.  So, as you work at companies, intentionally taking projects (and jobs) that you know are going to send off the right signals.

Ish's List

Ish has created a list of some of the top marketing teams out there.  Check it out for a curated feed and click the follow button to stay up-to-date on their jobs!

Curate your job search | Pallet
Pallet brings curation to your job search, so you see the jobs that count.

Breaking Into Tech


I went to UC Merced, which is a really small school.  It's the furthest thing from an Ivy league. When I went there, we had four graduating classes before us. Our alumni didn't even have a name to rep the school. We had no reputation. People would scoff at me when I would say I went to UC Merced, They would ask me, "is that even accredited?" I was very involved in college, that's how I got my start. I did everything under the sun, led student events, started my own entertainment company.

I thought that was going to set me up for success. But, when I graduated, I applied to hundreds of jobs and got rejected by all of them.  Moved back in with my parents and got an interim job to start making money.

What'd you do?

I was at a 24 hour fitness. I wasn't even full-time, still living with my parents, trying to save up while still applying to jobs.  Every night I would come home and apply like 10 new jobs every single day. Its a long-winded story, but I promise you it's going to be good.

I'm here with you.

LinkedIn was one of my dream companies, my top three were LinkedIn, Twitter and Snapchat. I just love social media. I loved Myspace when it first came out.  So I always wanted to work at a social media tech company, but I always thought you had to be an engineer in order to work at these companies, which obviously is wrong.

I didn't have any exposure to people in tech.  Eventually, an events role came up doing contract work for LinkedIn. I saw the role, found out a friend from college was working there (as a contractor as well), I hit him up and asked to be put on the phone with his manager.  The next day I drove up from LA to San Francisco to interview, but, that morning, I got a call from the manager who said, "hey, just wanted to let you know, the role has been filled".

Damn, what'd you do?

The manager told me there was another role if I was still interested, and I could still interview that day, so I said, "hell yeah let's do it."  Once I had my foot in, I knew I could figure out my path.  I would continue working at tech companies and use this as a launching pad.

I'm assuming your other interview went well?

Not exactly... I interviewed and I bombed it, like absolutely failed so bad.  The role was for a recruiting coordinator, and that wasn't my forté, it wasn't what I was prepared for.  So I left, thinking I wouldn't have a chance.  But at around 5 pm that day, I got a call back from the manager at LinkedIn.

I'm sitting at the edge of my seat

She basically leveled with me and said "Ish, you didn't do too well in the interview, but, I want to offer you a different position.  You showed so much passion and enthusiasm for events that we'd like to create a coordinator position just for you".

Breaking into Marketing


Once you got your foot in the door, what came next?

I transitioned from my events coordinator role into creating my own role at LinkedIn. ¬†It was a blend of branding, marketing, and events. ¬†Basically, as soon as I started, I saw a gap in the marketing team at the company and asked, "Why are we not using social media to try and recruit college students?" We're LinkedIn. We're a social media company. ¬†We should be using Instagram because that's what college kids were using at the time. I pitched it to my boss and they said, "Well you can do it." It started up as a side project - so my start into true marketing was only like 10% of my role, which turned into 20% which turned into 30% and the next thing you know, I was pitching my boss "Hey, it's more valuable for me to be doing this work ‚ÄĒ you can get anyone to do an event coordinator position"

Is your advice for aspiring marketers to get your way in anyway you can and trust you'll be able to eventually create your own role? I think when people think of marketing, the actual specifics of the job function become lost, especially with the rise of social media.

Not necessarily. ¬†If you have a dream company that you want to work at, and there's some sort of coordinator role you're actually qualified for, definitely jump at that. ¬†It is also definitely possible to transition your role. ¬†I did it. ¬†I will say it's somewhat difficult to apply for traditional marketer roles right out of college ‚ÄĒ most companies expect 2-5 years of actual experience, and I'm competing with applicants who have experiences at amazing companies, whereas I had marketing experience for different college projects I was apart of.

How much work did you do on social efforts before LinkedIn "officially" transitioned your role? Is the "official" title important?

I definitely did a lot.  By the end of my time there, I had created entirely new campaigns that had huge overall reach.  But I knew, as I was taking on more responsibility outside of my initial role, that my efforts would become like badges on my resumé.  When you're picking up side projects you can definitely let that be known.  Like, hey, I worked at Linkedin as an events coordinator, but I also worked on these five projects with the marketing team.  So when you're applying to your next startup, they're like, "Oh shit, he worked at LinkedIn.  That means he can operate at scale.  He won't crack under pressure.  He's very qualified for what he does and he's also able to learn very quickly.

Right, so keeping in mind that no matter what you're doing, you're always creating signals you can use in the future.

Absolutely, and I had to build my own signals.  I didn't have the classic education and background badges that a lot of people come into the tech space with.

Diversity & Inclusion in Tech


A major thing you talk about publicly is the importance of inclusion and diversity in tech, I'm curious as to how you navigated that dynamic going in, and if you any advice for young people trying to break-in?

It was really difficult for me because I had always been in situations where it wasn't the most diverse but I didn't feel ostracized.  My high school was pretty diverse growing up, there was always black and brown people around me.

I'm assuming that changed pretty quickly?

Absolutely, now, going into tech, I'm placed into this environment where I'm literally like one of five out of a hundred.  Maybe ten people per 500 employees are from underrepresented backgrounds.  So for others in this space, who are underrepresented and stepping into it, knowing that it's going to be like that is a really important first step.  9.9/10 times, you're not going to walk into a diverse space.  And that's tough.

What worked for you?

Something that helped was making an active attempt to find my community.  Most companies have employee resource groups.  Essentially these are groups of underrepresented people coming together, kinda like a club.  And what we did was just have lunch every Friday and hang out.  We could relate to each other's experiences and we could all collectively put our guard down, and not have to put up a facade.

Another thing I did was share my experience with members on my team.  If people feel comfortable sharing their story, it peels back the curtain a little, right? If people on your team don't know how you feel, it's going to be harder for them to empathize with you.  But then again, you don't want to be the guy yelling "Hey, I feel like I'm underrepresented"

How do you lean into sharing your experiences without becoming "that guy"?

It sucks that it's this way, but it's a matter of taking that step, "Hey, here's my background.  Here's how it's kind of different to y'all." And just finding that moment when it's appropriate, when your team is just getting to know each other.

Do you see that dynamic changing anytime soon?

It's certainly not going to happen in the next five years.  Younger companies have a chance to build those foundations.  It all comes down to hiring and network effects.  But this is definitely a multi-decade problem.

Can you elaborate on that?

Well, the reason why huge companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc all have "poor" diversity is because it started with a handful of white males that hired people they knew ‚ÄĒ other white males. ¬†And that's what I mean by network effects, because it compounds as you get larger. ¬†So if you think about that in the reverse, you have a company with 10 people, try to hire with diversity in mind. ¬†Because when it becomes their turn to lead a team they'll hire diverse people as well. Representation is powerful, but if it's not foundational, it can turn into a token. ¬†

Definitely, that's something we're trying to put an emphasis on at Pallet.  We only have 8 full-time employees.  But we're being careful not to cultivate an environment dominated by one group.

Well it starts with self-awareness, right? The fact that you guys are thinking about that is a huge step.  It's all about being intentional.  If you're not intentional about it, you're gonna end up with the same demographic as every other company.  So if you guys are going to interview 10 people, you should at least make sure that some of those slots are reserved for women and people of color.

Totally. That is a very important step in our hiring process.

Nows the time!

Stepping Into Leadership


What were the steps that got you to that coveted CMO role? Paths to c-suite positions seem to be so varied. ¬†What takes you from, "ok, I'm a social media marketer and I understand that aspect of the team to‚ÄĒ ok, now I have the skills and perspective to define the entire marketing strategy for a whole company?"

First off, you should generally be very good at one specific thing.  There's this idea of the "T-Shaped Marketer," where you can do social, you can do email, you can even do print, but you're really good at one of them.  It's this balance of being able to dive deep into your specific niche, while simultaneously understanding and grasping everything else.  I'm not a fantastic email marketer, but I understand it.  My specialty has always been on social.  When it comes to "Directors," it's important to have that T-shaped expertise.  That will allow you to coach your team members as you build out the team. If you're a leader, you'll understand quickly that delegating tasks is super super important to your success.  The second thing is proactively building a track record.  So, as you work at companies, intentionally taking projects (and jobs) that you know are going to send off the right signals.

What are the right signals?

When it comes to leadership roles you definitely want to show that you can handle pressure, visibility, that you're able to take a lot of responsibility at once.

Can you give me an example of when you were intentional about a job or project you took?

I led diversity partnerships at Snapchat.  Diversity, as we've discussed, is a super hot topic.  It's high pressure and easy to fuck up.  For me I think that showed my future partners and employers that I was able to handle that.  Leading partnerships also meant that I could be methodical and break things down.  I had to think about a larger scope than just "social media".  I could build an entire strategy.  Then, in my previous role, which was global social media marketing lead for LinkedIn, I was one of about three leads at the whole company.  My business line was responsible for $2 billion of revenue for the company.  So to be able to say, "Hey, I didn't really manage anybody in that role, but I had an incredible amount of pressure, XFN partners on me, collaborators that I had to work with on a weekly basis, the list was like 30-40 people globally"

So, if I'm hearing this correctly this was your playbook:

  • Hustle and grind your way in
  • Once your foot is in, increase the scope of your role
  • Be strategic about your next steps

I actually skipped over a step.  I also took about 20 online courses on marketing in my free time, while I was an events coordinator.  I was known as the "marketing kid" at my company because I was super young and super motivated to learn.  I wasn't just the guy who knew instagram, I started to begin defending my ideas. That was really important.

When did you know that you eventually wanted to direct an entire marketing team? Was it always a longterm goal or was it more of a result of the natural promotional flywheel?

I'm going to try and summarize an entire chapter from my book.  In the opening chapter, I say that before you achieve any goal, in this case becoming a leader, or more specifically a marketing leader, you have to start with yourself and break down your "self-concepts"

What does that mean exactly?

It's like siloing the areas of your life that define you.  Early on in my career, I asked myself: what do I like to do? What do I hate to do? What projects do I thrive in? What environments do I thrive in? What would I do for free? Breaking down every moment of my work and treating myself like a science experiment.  Writing all these things down, then looking back and reflecting back on what contributed to the way I feel now.  Identifying segments of my past that have a theme.  Like episodes.  So for me, ages 0-12 was episode one because when I was 12 years old my dad passed away.  12-18 was another episode because it was marked by a lot of confusion.  And so just being able to look at these blocks and identify trends.  What was the through-line? For me, I realized I've always been addicted to progress. Being able to say, I did X, Y, Z, and you can see it my content, I DJ'd in Las Vegas, I started my own company, I wrote a book.  I like being able to build things, I don't like to maintain.  When I started my career off at LinkedIn, I knew this about myself.  And I knew that one day, I want to be in a position where I'm leading the team.  I didn't say, "I want to be a CMO or I want to be Head of Marketing".  I just knew, by the time I was 30, I wanted to be in some type of leadership role.  And everything I did was going to prepare myself for that.

Really from everything you've said, it sounds like planning is important, strategy is important, but really you have to figure out what you can do now. ¬†So many people on Twitter or on LinkedIn, are trying to figure out how to essentially become someone like you, how to get to leadership, and what's more important is really asking yourself, "how can I become better at the job I'm currently at? Where can I provide more value, even if it doesn't align with my 10 year plan"‚ÄĒ recognizing that, all the progress you make in the present will eventually come back to you.

Exactly, because with that mindset, it motivates you.  You understand that everything you do will get you closer.  It's not going to happen in a year.  It takes time, and you've got to build your track record.

Something else I really believe in is the science of luck.  You can create luck for yourself, and it all comes down to putting yourself in the most amount of situations possible.

Is luck what caused the jump to CMO?

Back in my LinkedIn days, I met the founder of Crave It, (where Ish now works as CMO) Bomani.  We didn't even work on the same team or in the same department.  He was a sales manager, but we just kind of met up one day.  He always had the idea for Crave It, and we would  talk about it, over coffee or whatever.  He wanted tips I had from my experience on the marketing team at LinkedIn.

A few months into my time at Snap, I wasn't super happy with my situation and around the same time, Bomani and I had a one-on-one where he told me he needed a director of growth and marketing.  He asked if I knew anybody I could refer him to.  He prefaced that by saying he'd love to hire me, but he knew I was working at Snap.  He couldn't match my salary, and just basically brushed me off from the start.  That night, I just thought about it for hours.  I couldn't get it out of my head.  I wrote down all the pros and cons - what would I gain, what would I give up, what can I see myself accomplishing here in the next three years. Eventually I came to the conclusion: "fuck it, I'm doing this." So next time we met, I told him, "I know you're looking for referrals, but I'd like to pitch myself and show you why I'm the best fit".

I think everybody can kind of take a page on this ‚ÄĒ even though it sounds like you were already wanted, you still felt the need to pitch yourself. ¬†It feels like you've really kept that mindset throughout everything. ¬†Obviously, it went well, this time I'm sure.

Yeah, it went really well.  And absolutely, I'm always going to be that way.  It definitely helped that he was familiar with my work and it at the end of the day it was really just a matter of me planting those seeds all those years ago.

Ish's List


Check out this link for my list of companies! You can follow and get jobs too.  

Curate your job search | Pallet
Pallet brings curation to your job search, so you see the jobs that count.

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Purchase Ish's book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08B33T3S5?tag=&linkCode=osi&th=1&psc=1

Check him out on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ishverduzco

And visit his website: https://www.ishverduzco.com/