“I’m not special. I just work hard.”
Family: Husband, Nathan
Position: Chief Marketing Officer at LeanData
Home: Mountain View, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in fine art photography at Georgia State University
Career: Varied jobs included photography lab manager, waiting tables and bartending, and graphic artist before starting a marketing career at 3B Scientific. Later was the online marketing manager for the Dutch facilities management company Planon and a marketing technologist at BloomReach. Became the LeanData CMO in April, 2015.
Honors: The only five-time Marketo Champion
Favorite movie: “Coming to America”
Influential book: Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action”
Interests: Gardening, board games, wine tasting, camping.
Fun Fact: Hosted first lady Michelle Obama in 2011 when she visited the East Atlanta elementary school where he used organic gardening to help students improve classroom performance. “When I started working there, I told them that we’re going to create a garden so great that the first lady will come visit. Eighteen months later, she was there. It was a wonderful experience. She has a regal air, but she also made us feel so comfortable.”.
SUNNYVALE, Calif. – It started with a cocktail napkin.
Adam New-Waterson was waiting tables at an Atlanta restaurant on a slow, rainy night in 2006. He noticed the manager using a napkin to sketch out vague directions to their chain’s other locations around the city for a patron. New-Waterson thought: I can do that better. So, he went home and designed a helpful map that could be handed out to customers.
It was so good, in fact, that the restaurant’s public relations firm offered him a graphic artist position the next day.
“That moment probably describes my whole life,” said New-Waterson, 35. “I am a builder. I had never done graphic design. But if I don’t know how to do something, I will figure it out. I try to learn something new every day.”
Over the past decade, New-Waterson has learned a lot. After not taking a single marketing course in college, he became a largely self-taught marketer. Today, as the CMO at Silicon Valley software company LeanData, New-Waterson is at the forefront of incorporating technology into creative marketing strategies that tell a compelling story. He is in demand as a conference speaker both for his outgoing personality and his willingness to share what he knows.
“Adam is like a ball of energy who just rolls along and gathers you up,” said Michelle Rice, a friend who is a CNN copy editor. “His enthusiasm is infectious. He’s always looking out for that next big idea. He’s always trying to do more and push the boundaries.”
That “can-do” approach didn’t just happen by accident. It was born out of necessity.
The understanding that nothing would be handed to him came during a traumatic period in his life while he was attending Georgia State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art photography. In under a year, New-Waterson endured the loss of four close relatives – including both of his parents. And when the Atlanta photo lab he had been managing unexpectedly closed, bouncing his last paycheck in the process, New-Waterson found himself at a crossroads without a family support system.
“I had no money in my bank account and my parents were gone,” he said. “My skills at that point were wet darkroom techniques to make images on paper. I was thinking: ‘What can I do just to eat?’”
New-Waterson turned to waiting tables and tending bar – something he continued even after accepting the job at the public relations firm. What friends remember most was how New-Waterson somehow managed to soldier through both personal tragedy and professional disappointment without allowing himself to become permanently beaten down.
“He had to quickly figure out who he was and how to survive,” said Joseph Allen, who later worked with New-Waterson at 3B Scientific. “He could have moped around and felt sorry for himself. But Adam didn’t take that path because he knew that wasn’t how he was going to get ahead in life. He learned from those tough times about who he had to become.”
At 3B Scientific, which specializes in educational training materials, New-Waterson discovered marketing automation. Hired as a freelance catalog designer, he still can remember sitting in a conference room and hearing about Marketo, Eloqua and Silverpop for the first time.
“It opened up a new world for me,” he said. “There was a higher level of sophistication than just email blasts. Marketing has always been about figuring out how to get in front of the right audience and persuade people to buy what you’re selling. But I learned that by leveraging new technology, you can do that better.”
New-Waterson likes to say – only partly in jest – that he earned a master’s degree in Marketo. What he couldn’t learn on his own, he sought out from the tight-knit community of Marketo users. He not only became the expert at his company, but New-Waterson was named to the first-ever Marketo Champions class.
Added Allen: “The thing that’s still amazing to me is that he really doesn’t have a technology background. But he really took to marketing and innately understood it in a way that improves a company. When he focuses on something, he doesn’t waiver until it’s done.”
It was the same in his spare time. After completing a Master Gardener program, New-Waterson volunteered to run an organic garden at an East Atlanta elementary school where the majority of children are on the federal free lunch program. The garden was such a success that first lady Michelle Obama even visited in 2011.
“Adam left a huge impression on these kids,” said Rice, who now oversees the garden. “He was teaching low-income kids that they didn’t have to eat potato chips. It’s just not that hard to get kids to eat healthy foods, and Adam helped them understand that.”
Meanwhile, New-Waterson’s career was taking off. He joined facilities management company Planon as the online marketing manager – spending two years at the corporate headquarters in The Netherlands. In late 2013, his Marketo community connections helped him return to the United States and land with the Silicon Valley big data company BloomReach as a marketing technologist.
In April, at The Marketing Nation Summit conference, the vice president of sales at a marketing software firm was speaking with New-Waterson about his job description.
“They say marketing technologists will become the next CMOs,” she told him.
“Funny you should mention that”, New-Waterson responded.
He was just about to become the CMO at LeanData, which has developed software that bridges a troublesome gap in the popular Salesforce.com platform – matching leads into accounts.
“The first time they came to BloomReach and explained what their product did, I was like: ‘Wait, you can do what?’” New-Waterson said. “They were doing something that nobody else did by removing the manual labor of connecting people to accounts. I was impressed because they solved a real problem that we were all experiencing.”
That’s why he accepted the offer from Evan Liang, the chief executive officer and co-founder of LeanData, to join the three-year-old startup. From Liang’s perspective, he saw New-Waterson as someone who didn’t just speak about marketing technology – but was an expert at using it.
“We believe other companies are going to be following us and hiring technologists like Adam in that role,” Liang said. “We just see ourselves as being ahead of the curve.”
New-Waterson, though, also doesn’t underestimate the role of his art school education in becoming an effective marketer. Technology will help you get messaging in front of an audience, he said. But marketing still is about connecting with people – a skill he first sharpened with his photography.
“There is something very vulnerable about putting 20 pieces of art on a wall, and then sitting in the back and listening to what people think and how you make them feel,” he added. “You learn to let go of your emotional attachment and improve yourself through that feedback. You have to do the same thing in marketing and all business.”
And through his career journey, one thing has never stopped – always trying to learn something new.
“Anyone can do what I’ve done,” New-Waterson said. “I’m not special. I just work hard.”
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