Gabrielle "Gabie" Boko defines leadership as being passionate about an idea that you can change hearts and minds. She thinks almost everyone is an expert in one way or another, and encourages people — especially women — to embrace their inner confidence.
Boko is the executive vice president of marketing at Irvine, California-based Sage North America, which provides software to small and medium-sized businesses. Before her appointment in July 2013, she held senior marketing roles in a number of major software companies including SAP and Cognos.
She also has marketing experience in smaller, entrepreneurial start-up businesses in areas such as performance management and business process management.
The Hard Work of Entrepreneurship
Born and raised in Alaska, Boko jokes that she has innovation in her blood. She sat down with CMSWire recently to discuss her career in marketing, sales and channel development with leading technology innovators, as well as her participation in WomanCon 2014: The Women’s Entrepreneurs Conference.
Sobel: From 2002 to 2004, you had your own consulting firm, GKB Inc., which assisted smaller companies establish and execute marketing initiatives. Now you are at a large technology solutions company and you seem to be doing pretty much the same. Can you explain a bit about starting your own business and now working for companies that provide services to them?
Boko: From owning my own small business to working for a company like Sage, one thing remains constant: my passion for helping small businesses. Starting my own business showed me firsthand the challenges small businesses face each day, better equipping me for my future role at Sage.
I learned a great deal about what it takes to make it through the initial start-up phase. Sometimes I feel entrepreneurship is romanticized, but in actuality, it's very hard work, with tremendous benefits, of course. I get so much satisfaction from my role at Sage, knowing I am helping make everyday management of a startup or small business simpler for those chasing their entrepreneurial dream.
As we all know, the economy has experienced some significant ups and downs over the last few years, and it’s been tough. Many people have gathered the courage to start their own companies and it is our job at Sage to support these new business owners. That’s my No. 1 mission at Sage.
Sobel: In one of your recent blog posts you noted “Startups, established firms and marketers of all types can learn from the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge by taking a series of very simple steps." Can you elaborate?
Boko: The Ice Bucket Challenge is every marketer’s dream. It is simply amazing how rapidly the campaign has spread and how much awareness and funds have been raised for
ALS. Here are a few of the lessons I found beneficial for marketers, social media experts and other professionals:
- Create a simple and clear objective. One of the many reasons social media platforms have taken off and are still here to stay is that they are simple for users to understand and use. That being said, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge met the user’s preference by keeping the message direct and easy to understand – ALS is a severely debilitating disease and funds and awareness are needed.
- Add humor and minimize effort. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing your friends and family cringe after ice is poured over their head? The Challenge’s “ask” is entertaining and one that participants want to pass along. Better yet, putting ice in a bucket, pouring it over your head and having it recorded requires little effort. If you’re asking your target customer to insert too much personal information or travel across the county to participate in your social challenge, take a step back and re-think how you can simplify your audience’s efforts.
- Use the power of multiplication. When possible, allow consumers to engage their network to participate in the initiative so the original consumer gets returned joy in others’ participation. Bonus for you as a marketer is the increased exposure your brand receives, all from the mouths (or social properties) of your consumers.
Sobel: You say social media is a two-way street. While it helps companies to raise their awareness, it also allows customers to express themselves about brands — and also gives aspiring entrepreneurs opportunities to find the next great business idea. Can you explain that a bit more?
Boko: Social media is a great way to spread awareness of your company’s efforts in a fun and authentic way. On the flip side, social media allows your customers to engage directly with your brand, creating real-time conversations. Social media is also an excellent way to gauge how customers feel about your brand and your product or services. While some people take to social media to express frustrations, there are often bits of constructive feedback that you can learn from.
For aspiring entrepreneurs who are in search of the next great business idea, there are many social media pages to keep an eye on. Social media has become a go-to for news and current or forecasted trends. Some social channels also offer “popular or trending pages” where entrepreneurs can be on top of what is new and in demand. And don’t forget crowdfunding platforms when searching for the newest and greatest. By understanding which ideas and products are getting funded, it can give entrepreneurs an idea of where the market is headed.
Sobel: On a Fox Business Interview back in October 2013 you talked about a Sage study that said now is the best time to start a new business. Can you talk a bit about that?
Boko: At Sage, we’re constantly asking for feedback from entrepreneurs and small business so we can better understand them and address their needs. In October 2013, we surveyed start-ups to better understand their journey. Something that shocked me was the amount of time in which start-ups are getting off the ground.
Our study found that most small businesses take off in under nine months and are making profits and able to pay themselves within a year. Forty percent of those surveyed were able to go from idea to start-up in less than three months, and 72 percent achieved this milestone in less than nine months. Fifty-seven percent of all respondents were fortunate enough to make their first sale within the first three months of starting, and nearly half were able to pay themselves within six months.
One of the biggest surprises we found was the difference between new and established entrepreneurs and whom they turn to for support and help. Newer entrepreneurs were more likely to turn to their family and friends or mentors and coaches, while the more established sought advice from accountants, lawyers and bankers.
This was surprising because it seems that new entrepreneurs would be looking toward the specialists when in the early start-up phases, rather than speaking with family and friends who may be more inexperienced in the entrepreneurial world. Just goes to show you how much people trust their family and friends opinions when making bigger decisions.
Sobel: You were a featured speaker last month at WomanCon 2014: The Women’s Entrepreneurs Conference in New York City. Your topic was “Who are you? Tweet your brand in 140 characters or less” Can you talk a bit about the conference and your presentation?
Boko: I was very excited and grateful to be a part of this year’s WomanCon. The conference brought together some amazing women entrepreneurs and businesswomen. Year after year, we are seeing women catching up to and passing men in graduation rates, employment, earnings, and consequently, spending – creating a SHEconomy.
Conferences like WomanCon are important because they give women the chance to join together and learn from one another to continue female growth in decades to come.
Everyone has a personal brand and it’s absolutely critical, now more than ever, to fully understand and believe in who you are. In my keynote, I addressed how woman can be firm, direct and unique in what you stand for and how you can best communicate this to your ideal audience. In our personal and business lives, a solid brand acts as the foundation for all of your marketing and sales activities, and is going to be more effective, more powerful, and more sustainable than just marketing your products and services alone.
Sobel: Finally, what kinds of resources can you recommend for readers interested in starting their own businesses?
Boko: A wealth of knowledge, experience and forecasted trends are at your fingertips with the Internet. In this day and age, it is hard to develop excuses for not having the answer or at least trying to have the answer. I am constantly consuming information.
You can learn so much from others who have gone through a similar situation to yourself, so ask for help. Another great resource is a mentor. Mentors are a fantastic sounding board for new concepts and will tell you the truth that is sometimes hard to hear. Don’t expect mentors to find you. Instead, look for the people you admire, those whose career path you’d like to emulate. Professional organizations are a great place to start. Just remember that potential mentors can be anywhere, you just have to be open to the experience.
However, no matter how much you read about starting your own business, there is no better experience than jumping in and experiencing it first hand. Some people wait around for the “right” moment to start their business. But truthfully, most successful entrepreneurs became successful by jumping right in and attacking the unknown or the unforeseen challenges ahead.