“Technology is changing the world so fast, and I always wanted to be part of it.”
Family: Wife, Clara
Position: Director of Marketing Operations at mobile marketing automation company Kahuna
Home: Cupertino, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Stanford and MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business.
Career: Thermal engineer at Intel before moving into digital marketing with jobs at QuinStreet and eBay. After graduate school, he worked at Clickable and Marketo as a marketing operations manager before joining Kahuna.
Honors: Marketo Champion
Favorite movie: "In Good Company"
Influential book: “Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time,” by founder Howard Schultz. “It’s kind of a rags-to-riches story,” Chen said. “But it’s really about how people are the most important part of your company.”
Interests: Reading, coffee, gardening. “I’m like a lot of Californians – concerned about the environment,” he said. “And planting native plants is a small thing that I can do to help.”
Fun Fact: Chen became a coffee connoisseur in his youth. He grinds his own specialty beans and is trying his hand at “latte art” – designing surface patterns such as a leaf. “I’m not the type of person who has a lot of superficial interests,” Chen said. “I believe in picking one or two things that you really want to do, and then dive deep into them.”
PALO ALTO, Calif. – When Patrick Chen was growing up, his father would point out the Chinese restaurant each time they were driving along El Camino Real. And he would repeat the story.
How he came to the United States from Taiwan, alone, knowing only basic English and just $200 in his pocket. Having to work as a busboy and waiter despite his college education. Later bringing his wife over from their homeland, earning a San Jose State graduate degree and becoming a successful Silicon Valley civil engineer.
That classic immigrant’s tale of striving for a better life left a profound impression on his son.
“It is amazing because he really started at the bottom,” Chen said. “Knowing my parents’ struggles and what they went through to provide for me and my sister, it made you feel like: ‘Wow, I really have to do something great with the opportunity they gave me.’”
Emulating his parents’ work-ethic and willingness to take leaps of faith, Chen is creating his own mark in Silicon Valley as a marketing technologist. At 32, he’s currently the director of marketing operations at Kahuna, which is making waves in the exploding mobile marketing automation space.
“New technologies have always interested me,” he said. “When you grow up in the Valley, you’re surrounded by tech your whole life. Technology is changing the world so fast, and I always wanted to be part of it. Now, the mobile market really is the next big thing.”
Chen had to alter his career path to ensure he was part of it.
“Patrick has always taken things upon himself,” said his father, John Chen, “We pretty much left him alone because he already knew where he wanted to go. He figured out what he wanted to do on his own, and then found jobs doing that.”
He had a good role model. The key moment in John Chen’s up-by-his-bootstraps story came in 1975 when he emigrated from Taiwan just as the Silicon Valley technology boom was gaining strength and fruit orchards were being replaced by office parks. Working at restaurants, like the one he would show his son, gave him time to enroll in graduate school and apply for his wife to join him.
“All immigrants come to this country looking for a new life,” said John Chen, 67. “When you’re young, you’re not afraid and have dreams for the future. You just have a belief that you can do something like coming to a brand new country.”
His career took him to tech companies like IBM, Intel and Google, where he now helps build out data centers. They raised their children, Teresa and Patrick, in suburban Saratoga. Patrick Chen said while many second-generation Asian-Americans feel pressure from their high-achieving parents to perform well academically and get into good colleges, it wasn’t like that in his family.
“I knew they had an expectation,” said Chen, who also speaks fluent Mandarin. “But I put more pressure on myself because of what they had earned. I was totally aware of what they had accomplished.”
After graduating from Stanford with a mechanical engineering degree, he followed in his father’s footsteps to Intel as a thermal engineer – making sure laptops properly dissipated heat. While the work was interesting, it didn’t have that changing-the-world vibe.
“Thermo-dynamics hasn’t changed,” he said. “All those laws and rules are still the same, and we were just applying them to new products. But I was watching how quickly things were changing with the Web.”
So, Chen bet on himself and made his own jump into something new. He pivoted into search-engine marketing, starting with QuinStreet and then eBay. After a break to earn a graduate degree from New York University’s Stern School of Business, he was running the marketing operations team at Marketo as it was going public. For a marketing technologist, it was the perfect place. Chen, though, began feeling a little restless.
“I felt like we had done a lot of the hard things at Marketo,” he said. “Some of the challenge was gone, which happens when you go from a smaller company to a bigger one. I really wanted to try something that would really stretch me and requires everything.”
And that brought him to the Palo Alto-based startup Kahuna, which is at the forefront of the mobile marketing revolution. After mostly working in B2B, Chen was intrigued at how marketers were thinking about using mobile devices to engage with individual consumers in a highly personal way that could influence their behaviors.
Just think about the cellphone, Chen said. It’s a little computer that’s always with you. Figuring out how that phone can be part of a wider B2C marketing strategy appealed to him.
“With mobile applications, there’s no sales funnel,” he said. “It’s wild. You can use a phone, a tablet, and now even a smart watch. There are so many points of entry on so many different devices. You’re engaging with a brand in so many different ways. It’s hard to force-fit a funnel into that new world. That was a real interesting challenge – learning how to market to people in that scenario.”
Thinking hard about the merging of new technologies and human interaction is how Chen came to use LeanData, which improves the Salesforce.com CRM platform by automatically matching sales leads to accounts. In fact, as one of the early customers of LeanData, Chen’s feedback has played an influential role in refining the product.
That just fits his personality – figuring out ways to use technology to improve business.
“I’d say that it’s really worked out for me,” he said. “I like what I do.”
By the way, that Chinese restaurant is gone now. But the impact it left on Chen still remains.
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