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Heart Centered Leadership

Kerry Guard • Tuesday, January 18, 2022 • 56 minutes to listen

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Peter Zaballos

Peter Zaballos, is a Fractional CMO at Authentic Brand.



Hello, I'm Kerry Guard and welcome to Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Welcome back to season 10. Hope you enjoyed my conversation with Amber. As a reminder, we drop our full season of episodes Netflix style, so you can binge or jump around. Either way, no need to wait week after week, enjoy listening your way.

In this episode, I chat with Peter Zaballos, who is a Fractional CMO at Authentic Brand. This is actually perfect timing in following Amber's episode because Peter is a prime example of what it means to be living his best life and to have a company that supports it. Before I met Peter, he sent me an email with something called a “user manual”. We, here at MKG Marketing, we're just starting to look into this. And it was really nice to see firsthand the power of what this document can do. And after reading his user manual, I knew that Peter and I were going to have an amazing, amazing conversation, which we did. We'll tell you all about what a user manual is, but more importantly, how it fits into the bigger picture of how Peter leads, which is heart centered, people centered. Let's take a listen.


Kerry Guard: Hello, Peter, thank you for joining me on Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Peter Zaballos: Thank you. I'm super excited to be here.

Kerry Guard: I'm super excited to have you. Before we launch into our conversation, can you just share with our listeners? What do you do, Peter? And how did you get there?

Peter Zaballos: So, in the past 10 years or so I've been a Chief Marketing Officer at both public companies, and then at a highly funded unicorn in Seattle. And currently, I'm working for a company called Authentic Brand, which is a company that specializes in providing Fractional CMOs to high potential, high growth, small companies who can't afford a CMO but really need the kind of strategic leadership and guidance that a CMO can provide to help them structure their their business so that it will scale. And I found my way into this position primarily because I'm lazy. From the moment I got grades when I was a kid if they were horrible. I was the only kid in my very expensive private school in Berkeley, California that did not go to a four year college. And I went to a Community College, Diablo Valley College out there. And that was an awesome move, because I discovered Math and found that I could actually be okay at it. And I transferred to Berkeley and got a Computer Science degree. And in the steam of laziness, there were two companies interviewing on campus. One of them was Fairchild Semiconductor. They had a job in marketing open, it sounded interesting, I interviewed for it, I got the job. And then it was great. I didn't have to leave campus. But it put me on a path of getting into high growth tech startups, the CEO of Fairchild left to go start a company called LSI logic. I was the 87th employee there. And, you know, it started a series of me getting into early high growth tech startups, and then helping them scale and learning marketing as I went along.

So I was in two semiconductor companies that were early pioneers of some big changes in semiconductors and they went public, and I was a part of that. And then flipped into software, and did the same thing at a couple of really influential Internet software companies like Real Networks, which nobody remembers now. But we were the company that made it possible to stream audio and video over the internet.

And I think what attracted me to marketing was that it's this juncture of how do you take complex technology and make it relevant to people in terms of it's clear to them that you're solving a business problem that they've got, and you're not addressing some esoteric, technical, you know, how to D in the world, but that you're helping them do something more efficiently and better. And, you know, when I took my first CMO job, it was a company in Minneapolis that created the industry's first cloud based supply chain platform for retail. And they had a very embryonic marketing organization. And it was really fun and fulfilling and exciting to help, you know, be able to build a marketing organization from scratch. And that was the first time where it dawned on me that in that role, I also had an obligation to all those employees to think about, what's the culture that we want to have here? And how do we want to do this? And that sent me down another path. And probably the most appealing thing I've done, you know, in my career is helping create the conditions and the culture where everybody can take risks, feel safe, and do their best. But most specifically, you know, the last 10 years of my career have really been focused on how to make it possible for people of color and for women, to be in a position where they can do their best work and take risks. And look at failure as data and look at data as the fuel to growth and success.

So as fun as it's been to be in marketing, and to get into these roles, where you have a real influence on the direction of the business, it's been even more fun to be able to create a culture and see what that culture can do to to help people find their potential and produce great results.

Kerry Guard: I have so many questions. But before we get to those, my next question for you is, in terms of what you're doing now, and in leading teams and culture, and you're really just in general, you answered how you want to answer it, Peter, but know, what's one challenge you're currently facing?

Peter Zaballos: Well, right now, I'm a Fractional CMO to a really promising company that I'm working with. And they've largely built the organization analog. They've got incredible software that is a real game changer in their category. But they've largely built it for people and word of mouth. And they haven't had the expertise or the need really to think about, well, how do we scale this business electronically. And, you know, so everything from the buyer's journey, to the role of Persona can play in scaling your business was new. And, you know, there's that saying, you're a prisoner of your success. And introducing that kind of thing, it's not a radical change. But a really substantial change in just the culture of how you get the business done, is hard, you know, and it's a combination of producing data and getting people to look at data and see the value in the data.

And from being productively annoying, you know, to be able to say, you know, nudging people along about this is really the path and having, you know, a woman that worked for me at that company, that was the cloud based supply chain platform, who was just one of the most impressive people I've ever met in my life. Because she was, she's a profound introvert. And she ran our Search Engineering. And so she would just immerse herself in data. And she came to me one time. And like, my favorite moments in my role at that company was when this woman would pull me aside and say, you know I just was looking at something, and I'd love to tell you about it. And then she would tell me about some incredible insight she'd had, because she had been pursuing her curiosity and to take her down this path to realize there was a huge opportunity if we just change what we were doing. And she said, You know, I was looking at one of the high performing pages we've got in our buyer's journey. And we've got two super talented copywriters on our team. And they wrote one of those pages. So I looked at that, and I thought, what if I rewrote that page, purely from an SEO perspective, and just let the SEO determine the copy I wrote. And we tested it, and I found out that it outperformed the human generated one by almost 10 to one.

And she said, You know, I think we've approached this juncture where data is our new editor. And it was a total game changer for what we did. We kept all those writers, but we just trained them to use SEO as how they wrote. And that kind of data is our editor's insight. Where I'm at now is where I'm trying to nudge the organization along to say, this may be counterintuitive like to say we're going to take these super talented copywriters and we're going to totally change their jobs. Seems counterintuitive, because they're super talented copywriters.

And so my big challenge right now is trying to help an organization that's highly competent, highly capable, but largely in an analog domain and move them into a digital domain without losing any of the good stuff about the analog part. But giving them a foundation for scale that they can't possibly do if they stay in a log.

Kerry Guard: One, my SEO team was probably standing up and sharing.

Peter Zaballos: The champions of the organization.

Kerry Guard: Yes. Well, we do a lot of content briefs with our clients for that reason where we try and set the stage from an SEO perspective, and then give them those guidelines and barriers to write with, you know, their expertise to then, you know, layer that in on top of that foundation of what the SEO page could feel like. So yes to that, and I know my SEO team’s listening and feeling like yes, people get it, this is amazing.

The second thing is that we're doing something similar from an analog standpoint, right? I feel like, you've been in more businesses and see more than I have, because I've been in MKG for 10 years, where you've had the pleasure of moving around and seeing more, so you tell me differently, in your experience. But for us, we're now learning the same sort of challenge of how we've done so much analog for so long, that we've actually created lists of what we do on a regular basis that's repetitive? And how do we figure out where we can systematize those things, and either bring in additional help from a Virtual Assistant standpoint, who does to some of the like, nitty gritty, doing like product management and Asana stuff, versus what tools can we bring in to help automate some of these other things. And so, yes, I'm finding this sort of crossroads that you get to as an organization where you have to figure out where can you really put your people power, and allow them to make the biggest impact possible, by removing some of the repetitive things that they get in the habit of just doing on a regular basis?

Peter Zaballos: That's really hard. Because you get into that habit, because you're good at it. You know, and it's comfortable. And how do you put people in a position where they can be productively uncomfortable? And how do you put them in a position, as soon as you take them out of their comfort zone, they immediately start to worry about failure. So how do you put them in this role, and you can only do this through demonstrated examples of where, like, for a while at that cloud company I worked at, that supply chain company, we experimented, we have quarterly meetings, and we experimented with a failure award. And it found out that it just didn't really work. Like the intention was right. But we were really intentional about trying to figure out how to reward somebody who tried really hard to do something that was different, and it just didn't work. And we learned in the process.

When I was I spent seven years as a venture capitalist in Seattle, and I got super fortunate that one of the companies that we had funded that I was on the board of, we got a new investment from one of the legendary Silicon Valley, one of the founding venture firms of Silicon Valley. And not just that, the founding partner was the guy who took the board seat, and he was an amazing person that was about 15 years older than me. But at one point in a board meeting, you know, we had a break, and we were just sort of making small talk. And this guy was from Texas. And he leaned over with his drawl and said, you know, the whole key about venture is you want to find an experienced management team. And then he pauses and he goes, you know, what experiences? It's a disaster that didn't kill you. And, you know, how do you make it possible on your team to let somebody have a disaster that didn't kill them? And have them come out of that and feel like that, that might not have been pleasant. But boy, I really learned something important that's going to help me change how I behave. So yeah, you're you're absolutely at the right juncture of how do we get people who may be doing things that are comfortable, but repetitive, and as a part of that, that we can automate or put tools to, but in doing all of that, people are gonna get scared, and it's gonna be scary to change that way. But how do you create a culture that makes that scary thing where they can be brave, and they can be scared at the same time? And, and take that leap?

Kerry Guard: So how? I mean how do you do it?

Peter Zaballos: You do it by leading by example. You know, when about a year into this role in Minneapolis, we still have a place in a small town in Wisconsin. A whole separate story about how we got to a small town in Wisconsin, but so I had to take the train on Sundays to Minneapolis. And it was a five hour train ride, which was about the best time I could spend, you know, leading an organization because I had five hours to get my head together for the coming week, on Sunday. And my wife sent me a text message. Because he's a super curious person and said, Hey, you should look at this, this guy in Silicon Valley created a user manual for him. And it's a one page document that explains how he operates, what He expects of himself, what he expects of the people around them, and He gives it to everybody in the company. And by the time I got off the train, I had my first iteration of that. And, you know, and I'm on version 4.3 of it now, because it is a living document. But the way you do that, I think is you have to model it yourself. So one of the statements in my user manual is I am going to be wrong on occasion, no matter how uncomfortable or unfortunate that is, and I will admit it, and learn from it and move on. And so, to me, the way you help the team understand that it's safe to do that is by being the person to stand up in front of them and say, I screwed up, I had to do all this work. And then in hindsight, it was a mistake, and I'm sorry about that, or, you know, I recommended we go do this thing, and we just learned that it was the wrong thing to do. But you have to start at the very top. And, you know, just a parenthetical observation. You know, I've worked in companies, you know, that have had billion dollar plus valuations that have been filled with some of the smartest people I've ever known. But it is the rare executive in the C suite who will say that they were wrong. And I was an executive in the C suite of another company where I was the only person doing that, and I sort of felt tricked. Because we were supposed to be vulnerable, we were supposed to say that, you know, what was really going on. And, and I found myself with a group of people who would admit to caring too much, or trying too hard. But not, God, we shouldn't have done that thing that we spent four months on, because it was the wrong thing to do. So I think that you need to be, you need to model this behavior. And then once people see that even you can say you made a mistake, or that you learn something from a failure, it makes it easier for them to feel empowered to go and take that same leap, because it is a leap. You know, we're all trained to feel like mistakes are wrong. And not that they're just data. So yeah, in this case, vulnerability to me, would be like the key catalyst to helping orchestrate those kinds of transitions.

Kerry Guard: Your own vulnerability -

Peter Zaballos: Yes, your own vulnerability. Yeah.

Kerry Guard: Yeah. It's tough. But I agree, incredibly important. And I think I really like what you're saying, too, of like, being very clear about the mistakes that were made, and why they were made and how you're going to come through and learn and do better, but not just being fluffy about it. Like, you know, cutting it, didn't you pretend it didn't happen or blaming it on? You know, I just because I care too much.

And one thing that we do, we do a couple things in terms of this. One thing we do is it's in our values. So part of seeing the big picture is also seeing those Hail Marys you're gonna make, and, and learning when they don't work. Has that been really okay? You know, I'd rather people made the leap to try something different. If it doesn't work, admit it didn't work. Why didn't work, move through it, learn from it, then not try at all? Because then that feels like what if it didn't work? What if it was some amazing thing that you wouldn't have known otherwise? You know, because for all the failures you have, you have those unicorns as well.

And the other thing we do, which we just started doing more of which I'm really excited about, is retrospectives. So we follow the SCRUM model. And so after each project, we sit down and we have what did you love? What did you vote for? What did you wish for? And in those moments, it's really easy to identify the things that went wrong and you can do it a whole host of ways. You can even do it anonymously where everybody just goes to the board. We use Miro, go to a mirror board with little post it notes and post your post it notes in all four quadrants that are, that don't have your name on them. You're not finger pointing, you're not saying anybody did anything wrong, you're not even saying you did anything wrong. You're just saying this thing didn't go well. Right? Talk about why it didn't go well. Let's learn from it to like when you can take people's names off of things and just talk about the problem as well, that seems to really pull out more from people and create that level of transparency and trust with removing the personal side of it.

Peter Zaballos: Yeah, you know, I'm a huge Formula One fan, and the Mercedes team, that Lewis Hamilton drives for the guy that runs that is screaming total Wolf. And he has this saying, and this part of the culture, and that's like a 2000 person organization, that you blame the problem, not the person. Even when, like, there's one guy behind the wheel of the car, and if it gets wrecked, it's easy to say the driver messed up. But they're really good about saying there's a whole series of preparation decisions, actions that we all took, that put that person in the position, or that happened, let's go back and look at all of those. And that's one of the things it's easy to say, it's really hard to do in practice, and I love what you're doing. Which is to say, let's do the retrospective. And then, without putting names on anything, let's figure out what happened. And it removes it from the person and instead, on the problem. And now we can figure out how we get there? What do we do differently next time? That's awesome.

Kerry Guard: I am a big fan of Agile as a whole. And retrospectives have been game changing for sure. I want to go back to your user manual real quick, because we also started just by happenstance, literally adopting this like last week, our director put this in place where she had us all go through it. And I was initially like, kicking up dust about it cuz I was like, I I don't have capacity for this, my brain is full like these are really deep questions that take me a lot of time to answer. I wasn't against it, I thought it was a really great idea. I just personally was sort of hit this roadblock personally and filling it in. But the team has been loving it. And they actually each filled in their own. And then they came together and talked about how they can work better based off of their answers from this user manual. And I will go finish mine and open it up. But I just you know, I love how you're using it and setting the stage. What are some other elements within that user manual that you found? That were like sort of “aha” moments for people as you were sharing it?

Peter Zaballos: To me, this goes back to the obligation you have as a leader is creating an intentional culture. And the first time where I felt like I'm straying into territory that feels personally important to me. But I probably need to get a second perspective on, you know, when Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In, well, let me backup a second and say, so my wife and I met in Boston. I was working as a management consultant. She was an editor at Houghton Mifflin. And we eventually started with our first kid, we had four kids and five years. And along the way, it was just easier to say, Okay, well, Christine, why don't you stay at home and take care of this growing number of little kids? And, you know, I'll keep working. And, you know, I was making more than she was, and it just, you know, there's a bunch of societal pressure there, that's very subtle that you don't really notice, but you just, it just was the sensible thing to do. And, you know, she's arguably smarter, more capable, and, you know, much better than I am about what she was doing.

And then, you know, 10 plus years later, we're at a point where the kids are in school and she pulls her head up and goes, you know, well, I've just been doing 10 years worth of unpaid work that's not valued. I want to get back into my career, and she could get back into her career at exactly the same point she left it at, and we realize that we had made it a huge unknowing miscalculation, that the cost of her taking the time off was pretty significant. And that we hadn't intentionally acknowledged that and in hindsight we couldn't get the 10 years back and she couldn't get her career back. And, and it wasn't because either of us was being mean to the other one, it was, that was just the easiest thing to do. And we hadn't thought through the consequences, huge learning moment for both of us.

So, when I was at that company in Minneapolis, I read Lean In which I think was a really important book about technology in society. There's a whole bunch of other things that I don't like about it, but it caused me to start thinking about okay, acknowledging women have a much harder, more difficult path through their careers than men do, because women take on much more of the responsibility for raising and caring for kids. And, like, when I was at that company, Minneapolis, every time a woman on my team became pregnant, I would have people asking me, do you think she's coming back after she has her baby? It's like, nobody was saying that about the men whose wives were pregnant. So I went to Lean In, and I went to Dreamforce that year. There was a great panel discussion with Anne Marie Slaughter, Leila. And I forget the name of the third person, but they were talking about this. And there were 1000 people in this auditorium. And there were about 80 men. And I thought they're talking about the challenges women have in their careers. And these women are in the minority in most places, the higher up you get in the organization, the fewer women there are and where all the men in this room, because all these women know this. And the men are the ones that need to start listening and do something. So when I came back from that, I went to our General Counsel and said, Look, I think I want to change my user manual. And I want to explicitly have a clause in there saying, if you are not naming genders, but just say, if you are contemplating having a family, or you have one, and you want to talk about career and work life changes, then I'm, I'm happy to talk to you about that. And I went to the General Counsel to say, is there any sort of issue with me talking to people about, you know, their family planning decisions and impacts on their career? And this guy was awesome. He's like, no, definitely gonna do it.

So that was kind of the biggest intentionality and change I made to this document that wasn't incremental, I made a bunch of changes along the way that were responding to how more explicitly could we talk about the role failure plays? How more explicitly can we talk about the role intellectual curiosity plays in creating a high performing organization. But the real intentional structural change I made was, I want to create an aperture for somebody to be able to talk about the implications of them, having a family and balancing their career, because I feel like that just doesn't get talked about enough.

Kerry Guard: You know, work life balance, I think, is becoming certainly a buzzword. And I think companies are starting to open their eyes to the importance of it. And I think part of that challenge that you're talking about, in terms of, you know, the women in men dynamic, especially as it relates to, you know, families, and generally the man going to work and then the woman staying home. Part of that, I also think, is from companies not giving paternity leave. Yeah, just giving maternity leave. So you're naturally putting a woman in that position to have to take that on, where if you actually gave anybody having children the opportunity to stay home for multiple months and create that bond with their child, then anybody's in a position to partner and take care of children as a collective versus putting all of the effort on one group or another.

So, yes, to that, and then thank you for sitting in that room, which was probably incredibly uncomfortable being one of 80 men listening to these challenges women are facing and yes, you know, well aware and really appreciate somebody you know, taking an active interest in doing something about it starting with, you know, your user guide and families. Yes, to all of that, thank you.

In terms of the culture you're building, there's a lot of things that you've said in these last few stories you share, which I'm so grateful for your stories because they add such color and you're an amazing storyteller. In terms of, we've talked a lot about failure and creating that safe place for that and the importance of it. What other key elements of building a culture, in your opinion, are important from pretty failure to vulnerability? What else would you add to that list?

Peter Zaballos: Well, having a plan. You know, the best part about being a venture capitalist was, the first thing that I learned, and I had some great partners there who we've worked together with before. And that was the first time I've been in an organization where we intentionally, very intentionally stripped out our egos. We knew each other well enough, we'd been through enough, you know, horror stories in work, where there were just four of us. And we thought, we have got to be able to tell each other anything about what the other person's doing. And that put us in a position to realize we're going to look at 300 to 400 deals a year, we're going to fund two. And one of my partners, Len Jordan, is just a phenomenal human. He was the one early on that said, we're gonna have to get really, really good at saying no, because we're gonna say no, a lot. And we have to be the best on the planet at saying no, because that's how we're gonna build our reputation. Not on the people who say yes to, like, we love the series, a round of Docusign. That was awesome. 14 years later, they went public. If we were going to rely on the good word of mouth of DocuSign, we'd have to wait 14 years. But every year, we said no 298 times. And so we got really good at saying no, like, it might take us three meetings to say no, where other people would just send a three sentence cryptic email.

So first thing was you got to remove your ego in the organization, especially as the leader. The second thing, you know, if we looked at 300 deals a year, we took a hard look at 30 to 40. And that meant spending hours and hours with these, these founders. And this is where I learned the value of a plan. You're talking to somebody like when we were looking at DocuSign, they didn't even have a product. But they had a plan. So you're going through this, this slide deck, and you're going through a spreadsheet, and they've got a financial model that goes out three years at least. And that was where I learned that there's no way you know, the revenue is going to be in month 32. There's just no way, you don't even have a product yet. But what this document does, it contains all the assumptions you've got about that business. So at one point, I remember talking to a CEO, as we were just crawling through all the minutiae of his plan. And he's like, you know, why are you just roasting me on this plan, I was like, we need to know what the assumptions are and the data you're using to support your assumptions. Because once you get this plan out into the reality, the data supporting your assumptions is what we want to be tracking. So that we'll know when one of the assumptions is no longer valid. So it's not like I'm going to hold your feet to the fire if you said it was going to be $800,000 of revenue in quarter 14, but that you thought you were going to get a lot of distribution from your partners. And then quarter 14, if that's not happening, that means we have a whole go to market issue that we need to figure out. And we need to look at this plan and understand how earlier we're going to pick up some data that's going to help validate or invalidate some of the core assumptions that underpin the whole business. And fast forward to you know, the last three jobs I've had. One of the elements of this user manual is talking about that, you know, while I love having a plan, I love even more when you are occasional, we determine it's time to discard it to create a more and newer plan. And that goes back to the ego thing. Like every business has got to have a plan for what they think they're going to do. But they have to have the courage to say that, you know what the data is telling us some of our assumptions are wrong. We need to throw this plan out and come up with a new one. That's hard to do if it's your plan. So there's another tenant of this user manual, that's all about letting go your ego because the more you hang on to something because it's yours, the less you're going to be able to adapt.

So I love having a plan. I love knowing what are the assumptions underneath it? And how do we test the assumptions? And I really love this woman that I was referencing, that I worked with in Minneapolis. It's just she was amazing at being able to say, Hey, I'm looking at some data. And I think our plan is rolling now. And let's go, we have to redo this thing. So yeah, I love having a plan. I love checking the data to know when the plan still works? When do you need to recalculate it? I love not having an ego so you can throw your plan away and not have it be a personal thing.

And then the last sort of trio, there is I hate the conditional verb tense. Conditional verb tense is so corrosive, I should have done that. I could have done that. I would have done that. It's all like reframing hindsight, and a super negative way. Like something. Going back to what I was told by the venture capitalists, you know, a disaster is the experience that didn't kill you. Don't beat yourself up when the thing blows up.

Kerry Guard: I’m so good at that.

Peter Zaballos: At beating yourself up?

Kerry Guard: Yes. Oh, yeah, I get stuck in loops of like, oh, what I could have done better. And yes, to your point, it's acknowledging what you could have done better. But then letting go and actually going to do better versus living in the past of what you wish you could have done. And I always get there, I always get to the okay, I can move through and now do better. But I do have to beat myself up a little bit.

Peter Zaballos: Yeah, it's hard. It's really hard. Going back to it, I mostly retired. Two years ago, one of the things I started doing was learning how to drive cars fast on racetracks. And that is one of the few things I've ever done in my life, where you have to be right now, right here in this moment, if you're going 130 miles an hour kind of track, and there is a hard turn coming up. You can't be thinking about what happened. The last turn, you have to be like right now, am I thinking about where I'm going? And it's like, there's no conditional verb tense, there's no room for that. And, it's just human. It's human. And it's, it's hard, because you do learn something by saying, What should I have done? What could I have done? But it's that acknowledgement, and then moving forward and shifting your gaze forward. That's the hard part. Because a lot of people and I do this too. You can dwell on the past that, you know, if I'd only done this, we'd, we would have avoided this painful outcome. So this is an example of one of those things, it's easy to say sort of like blaming the problem, not the person super easy to say, eliminate or getting a productive relationship with a conditional verb tense, easy to say, really hard to do. But it's really important.

Kerry Guard: So what do you use instead? If you can't say I should have, I could have, I would have, how do you frame that differently?

Peter Zaballos: Well, for me, it's using that but then it's quickly flipping through. So now what do I do going forward? And flip it into so what? Going back to the you just learned that a core assumption of your plan is wrong. You could have done things differently to make that not that circumstance not happen. But that's not the important part. The important part is he just learned so how are we going to take that and build your new plan? So yeah, go ahead and use the conditional verb tense but only use it in the context of figuring out what is the new plan you're going to go act on? Easy to say, hard to do. But that's the critical juncture, right there.

Kerry Guard: It is, it's so important to everything you're saying. Last question before I get in my people-first questions. You mentioned that the user guide came to you in an email from your wife about somebody else using it. Do you have the original like? Did you follow a format, a template, where did this sort of stem from in terms of you writing your user guide just to give people a starting point for theirs?

Peter Zaballos: So I will track down the original. But for me, I started with a blank piece of paper. I hate to say it, and it was a stream of consciousness at the beginning, and then I sent a copy to my wife, I’m sure she gave me feedback on it. But I think I use this original one as a sort of inspiration. But it was literally an organic dumping of like my core beliefs. But I have to tell you, these were not things I had to dig deep inside me to bring forward, I was taking thoughts that were way in my head, that were a part of how I was running and behaving. And that's why I could do it on the train ride. So maybe the advice would be, if you have to spend a weekend on the top of a mountain in a quiet place to come up with these, they may not be reflective of what you're doing everyday at the moment. So this is a product of things I was thinking about feeling in the moment as I was running this department. And over time, I was able to put more thought in craft the words a bit better, but I guess I'm thinking I'm responding in real time to your question, I would say, start with a blank sheet of paper and then just put down what are the things you're already feeling and thinking and doing about performing your job and your role within the organization? Start from there, and then see where it takes you. But I am sure I can track down the original source of this. The fact that I can't remember the guy's name. I can't remember his structure, I think it is telling.

Kerry Guard: Yeah. Yeah, it sounds like you're able to just completely write from your heart and get it down, which is amazing. And so if it's okay with you, then Peter, how do you feel about me sharing out your user guide and to inspire the next generation of user guide creators?

Peter Zaballos: I'd be thrilled if you did that. And I wrote a blog post on my blog, which is, that explains how I came up with this and has a link to the current version. That's a download.

Kerry Guard: Well, there we go. I will have that in the link in the show notes so people can get started.

Peter, this was, you know, I talk a lot about people first and our organization and what we're trying to do, and part of my personal mission is to bring people first to as many people as possible. And I think this conversation did just that of how to build a culture and a team around building them up and creating those safe places for them to fail. And something we talked about in our initial conversation, which I think is so powerful, that I do want to mention here is that as the leader, you're sort of taking that back seat unless somebody fails. I remember you saying something along those lines like, why did you give, you know, it's just as much our fault as leaders, if somebody fails, as is, you know, and we talked about that, right, not taking on the problem, then saying it's all your fault. We can't help it as humans, it's what we do, but also lending that support as the leader of like, I take responsibility in this as well. And like I got you, I think it was something really powerful, you said to me.

Peter Zaballos: Yeah, no, that was a fun part of our conversation. So I answered that in two steps. One, you know, the best part of that company I worked for in Minneapolis was we put a user conference on every year. And I got to pick the keynote speaker, and I got to pick the band for the party. But it was super fun. About one year ago, we got Simon Sinek to come and Keynote, our user conference. And I've got to spend time with him one on one beforehand. He's just a phenomenally present human being. And he was speaking about the book that he published back then called Leaders Eat Last. And he did a lot of research and the Marine Corps and the military, because they are an organization that is all about cultivating strong leaders. And the title of his book came from something that he said he just observed that when there was a group meal, there's no written rule anywhere. And the Marine Corps Code of Conduct about who eats first. But when it's meal time, the lowest ranking people eat first. And it's the highest ranking people that the last. And he said this is because these highest ranking people know that it's the lowest ranking people that need their trust.

And it ties into the story that I shared with you when we talked earlier. About another epiphany I had as a leader, I was working at this company who had built a product that 80% of the revenue was threaded through. And it was a product that worked in the browser. And they had built it in such a way that it used Java in the browser. And we had about a two year notice that all the browser makers were going to obsolete and remove the drive in the browser, because it's a huge security risk. And just about the same time, the woman that ran Customer Service at our organization, had a one on one with me, and she said, You know, I've got this really talented person on the customer service team that really likes to be a product manager. And I think you should meet her. And I said, Of course, I said, Yes. And I met this person who is super talented, super soft spoken, super unsure of herself. And, but boy, she had ambition. And so I met this woman, we got along great, we agreed to keep in touch. Like next month, this woman's manager is in my office saying, So I mentioned that this woman would like to be a product manager. And what are you doing about that, and it took about, you know, four or five months of both the woman and her manager coming in. And I thought, Okay, this woman clearly deserves to give this a shot. So we brought her on as a product manager. And she knew this product was a browser based product inside and out, because she was on the phone every day helping our customers with it. So she became the product manager for this product. And boy, she was breathtakingly awesome at this. And before she knew it, she's running an 18 month project, you know, with the product design team, the developers, the product team, to construct a replacement product, and not just a replacement product, a replacement product that had to ship on us by a specific date, or all of our customers, legacy products would be turned off, I mean, talk about pressure. And she ran this program like a boss, she was amazing. And she'd have 40 people in the room and just ticked through everything that needed to be done for over a year. And when it got time to launch the product, I pulled her aside and said, you know, this is your product, you've been the one that, it is here because of you and your ability to orchestrate the entire company around this. So when you go launch this, I'm not going to be anywhere visible, because this is yours. But if there's ever a problem, if anything comes up, we're going to switch roles really fast. And it's going to be my problem. Because ultimately, I'm the one responsible for what this product is going to turn out like. And if there's any problem at all, I own the problem, you own the success. And the good news was nobody ever saw me. Because this woman was so good that she introduced this product flawlessly. It was amazing.

But yeah, you know, going back to remove the ego and learning from what Simon Sinek said, like your role as a leader is to take all the blame and none of the credit. And I think that we could use more of that in the world. But it was like one of the best moments of my life, seeing this woman just knock this out of the park. And do it because she totally earned it. And she was super competent. And the best part even still is. She's now the Director of Product Management at a super successful high growth technology company. And she's taken all these capabilities she’s had and channeled them into a really successful career. She's just a total badass.

Kerry Guard: That is awesome, I love that story. I could hear it over and over again. And I love Simon's Leaders Eat Last. He also wrote a book called The Infinite Game, which talks a lot about this type of leadership and vulnerability and no ego. So that's another book to definitely pick up as your, you know, learning leadership style in this way.

Before we go Peter, my three questions for you and allowing people to see behind the marketer, the amazing marketer that you are and learn a little bit more about you. The first one is Have you picked up any new hobbies in the last year, year and a half, as the world went into lockdown and shut down now as we're starting to come out. Have you explored anything new given the world we lived in 2020, 2021?

Peter Zaballos: Well, learning how to drive cars really fast on race tracks as one. And I mentioned in an earlier conversation about four years, five years ago, my youngest taught me how to play Halo. The three boys and I play Fallout 76, twice a week. Their level in the hundreds, and I'm a level 334 right now. So it's gone from them helping me through all the boss fights to where they come and say we were to get dad because we got this boss fight and we need all these big guns. So that's been super fun. And they dragged me into other stuff, like, we've played Apex legends and Team Fortress II. And I suck at that, because I just sort of started playing video games when I was eight, like they did.

But actually, you bring up a really good point like, life would not be fun if you weren't doing something that you weren't good at learning how to get better at it. So yeah, and the fact that car driving is a very steep learning curve. When I go to racetracks all the time I hire a driving coach. And I have some friends that I do this with. And we were at this racetrack in California, Thunder Hill. And there's this long straightaway. And then a very fast sweeping left hand turn. And I was talking to one of my friends and I said, you know, I think I got the mechanics of this down, like I know when to turn in. And then I went to apex and said, it's fear that I'm dealing with. And he looked at me, he's like, Yeah, tell me about it. That's the whole thing. It's, anybody can drive around a racetrack, can you drive around a racetrack at the point where you feel like you're about to go off the road, and you're not. So that's been super helpful, because it really helps you put yourself in a position where you have to confront fear. And we're all confronting fear every day. Yeah. And you got to live in the moment.

Kerry Guard: Second question for you. If you could be with your team, you know, the world's opening up again, people are getting back in person and I know a lot of us are going to stay remote. But even then we still are going to come together, hopefully, you know, here and there, periodically to get some FaceTime. And so when that happens for you, if you could have any song playing overhead to set the vibe, what song would you play?

Peter Zaballos: Oh, that's a tough one. Disco Yes, by Tom Misch. He's this British guitarist, who I discovered through Spotify, because I was listening to somebody else. Frank Moody, I was listening to a Frank Moody mix from Spotify. Tom Misch was on it, and I literally played that song like 45 times a day. It's awesome. Very energetic.

Kerry Guard: I'll add it to our Spotify playlist, so everybody can check it out for season 10. Last question for you, Peter. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Peter Zaballos: Ah, someplace I haven't been to. Going back to Lewis Hamilton, I was listening to a podcast with him. And he did a really good job of explaining how he wishes he could go to Italy for the first time again. And there's that actually, I sent my daughter with three kids, our daughters, the oldest and then we have three boys. And she will tell you, it's three boys to equal one girl in this family. But she's awesome. And we saw that movie Snowpiercer when it came out. When we left the theater, she said I wish I could see that for the first time again. So I would say I'd like to go someplace I haven't been to before. Like there's, I think I mentioned to you earlier, my wife and I both speak French. We spent a lot of time in France. And I love it. It's lovely. But going someplace you haven't been to before. That would be really, really fun. I've never been to India. Maybe that's the next place.

Kerry Guard: There you go. That'd be awesome. Let me know if you head there. This was awesome. Thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate you and your time.

Peter Zaballos: Likewise, thank you for the opportunity. This was a fun conversation. Thanks so much.


That was my conversation with Peter. How good was that? I consider myself a heart centered leader already and I still had so many takeaways. Peter's an amazing storyteller and what an honor to have heard him tell so many stories around clear examples of what heart centered leadership really looks like.

If you'd like to learn more about Peter and what he's up to these days over at Authentic Brand, you can find him on LinkedIn or visit

In my next episode, I chat with Lavanya Ganesh, who was kind enough to take time out of her vacation in my old stomping grounds of New York City, and what a perfect place to be, as we had our conversation around the customer experience and the importance of thinking through help people truly engage with your brand end to end. She gives a lot of consumer examples because she's literally the shopping district of the world. But as B2B marketers, we are starting to pay more attention to how consumers have been marketing and how we can do a better job of being more empathetic and human ourselves. At the end of the day, no matter what we're selling, or the problems we're solving, it's for humans, so we need to treat our buyers that way. Sorry for the tangent. I just love this conversation with Lavanya. Head on over and check it out.

Thanks for listening to Tea Time with Tech Marketing leaders, the podcast that helps brands create demand via transparent measurable digital marketing. I'm your host, Kerry Guard, and until next time.

This episode is brought to you by MKG Marketing the digital marketing agency that helps complex tech companies like cybersecurity, grow their businesses and fuel their mission through SEO, digital ads, and analytics.

Hosted by Kerry Guard, CEO co-founder MKG Marketing. Music Mix and mastering done by Austin Ellis.

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