Marco is a co-founder and the Head of Marketing at Elliot. Before Elliot, he spent time as a product developer at Capital One, a product manager at HomeAway, and a direct-to-consumer consultant. His ultimate goal is to advance humanity and civilization, and he believes that Elliot is on its way to doing just that. Here’s his story!
Who are you and what are you building?
My name is Marco Marandiz. I am the head of marketing and co-founder of Elliot. Elliot is a global commerce platform that allows merchants from all over the world to sell and ship products all over the world. It’s a platform where the arbitrary borders of geography, countries, and politics have no bearing on the way that you build your brand and business in 2020 and beyond.
Tell us about your journey from high school to now.
In high school, I was a basketball player and a musician. I decided that I wanted to be a successful musician, so in 2008, at the age of 17, I moved to Los Angeles, got my first apartment, and started making music. At that time, I didn’t have the grit or the talent to succeed. I hadn’t developed those intangible skills yet.
After a few years, I decided to go to school for computer science. Because I wasn’t there to party, I loaded up on classes and got my degree in 2.5 years instead of 4. At the same time, I was working as a software engineer at a biomedical company.
From there, I got a job at Capital One as an engineer, where I was introduced to product management. I realized that I didn’t just want to write the code, I wanted to build products. It turns out that the people who were building the product actually made decisions about how it would impact the world.
My next job was at HomeAway – an Airbnb competitor. At HomeAway, I was a product lead and built out the iOS and Android app. On top of that, the company is a global brand, so I helped with internationalization, launching into new markets, and worked directly with the CEO. The CEO actually hired me after he read an article I wrote entitled I’m Done Pretending Silicon Valley Tech Is Visionary. It was basically a hit piece about how many PayPal clones there were in 2016.
After a couple of years there, I got bored so I started doing contract consulting and working with direct consumer brands here in Austin, TX. At first, I was doing a lot of tactical work, but slowly began doing more strategic work. I built up my social media following by simply writing about what I knew, and apparently that qualified me to be a marketer! I went from complete obscurity to now being seen as a direct consumer marketer and brand strategist. Then, I met Sergio Villasenor, the CEO of Elliot, and he wanted me to come on as head of marketing. I wasn’t sure I knew how to do the job, but Sergio believed in me, and now I’m running marketing at Elliot.
What advice do you have for people trying to build a career where there isn’t an obvious path?
I’ve tried to stay away from giving advice recently. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I don’t actually know a lot. I can only give my own experience as something that people can pull insights from. But, there are three things that I’ve tried to internalize.
One is that you should introduce turbulence and uncertainty into your life as often as possible. Even if you are not comfortable you should do it, because every major improvement or advancement in my career has been because I wasn’t in a place of comfort. For example, I transitioned from working as a Software Engineer at a Biomedical company to joining a 30-person, skunkworks team at Capital One that nobody really knew about. To make that change, I moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco without actually having the job secured. I just quit my job and did it, because I knew that’s where I wanted to be.
Eventually, I got bored and knew that I didn’t want to be a product manager at Capital One, so I started applying for jobs. I was having a hard time finding something, but then I got an offer to work at a company in Austin. At the time, my wife was finishing her degree in Santa Clara, California, so I moved to Austin alone for six months. There was a ton of uncertainty and difficulty. I essentially paid two rents, two car payments, two of everything, all from one income, but that uncertainty propelled me forward.
After that job, I started doing contract work. I thought it was going to be a one-year contract, where I could replace my salary and it would let me get out of my job, but then I got let go from this contract because I wasn’t aligned with the owner of the company from a vision perspective. Just like that, I had no job and no income. I had to figure something out, so I started consulting, writing, and exploring DTC more, which has led me to today. I really think that putting yourself on the edge of what is safe forces you to grow into new areas. It also forces you to remove any identities, or identifiers for yourself. I thought I was an engineer, then all of a sudden I was a product person, and then a marketer. As I let go of my expectations of what type of position I needed, and actually looked at my skill set more clearly, I was able to find a role that fit me and my view of the world better.
The next two are extreme accountability and radical candor. They are the only two things that I think are meaningful and valuable for anybody to create a successful career, because if you can’t be honest with yourself or the people around you, and if you can’t tell people exactly what you want, you are not going to get it. It’s important to be clear that if things don’t work out the way I want them to, I can’t blame somebody else. Only I am responsible for putting myself in a position to succeed.
Together, I think those three things really allow you to set a high bar for yourself, take control of the outcomes, and stop trying to find shortcuts. There are no shortcuts, it just takes hard work.
What does growth mean to you?
I think growth means building on top of a solid foundation. If you don’t have a solid foundation, you need to dig down to where the bottom of something solid is and then start laying things on top of that.
On a personal level, that applies in the sense of knowing what you’re good at and then laying something else on top of that. You’re building solid layers to become a more well-rounded, more experienced, more capable person on a personal level.
In your business, growth doesn’t mean doing scalable things that have no foundation. That means not always trying to do sexy things first, but instead doing the things that might seem boring and might not scale yet and then you can lay more things on top of it.
How do you think about overcoming obstacles?
It goes back to the idea of extreme accountability. There is nobody who cares as much about your success as you do. Realizing that forces you to grapple with the discomfort, and the reluctance to face certain subjects or to have certain conversations.
Instead of trying to figure out a way around it, just go do it and improve in that area. The biggest obstacles that you face often aren’t external, they’re internal. Because if somebody else can do it, why can’t you do it? The only reason you can’t do it is that you don’t believe you can do it and you’re just stuck in your own head.
You’re giving a keynote to a large group of builders, what do you tell them?
Your strengths today can be your weaknesses in the future. Being very good at something right now doesn’t mean you will automatically be able to transfer that skill into the future responsibilities and needs that you have. That means, if you know how to do something well, do it well enough until you can teach somebody else to do it and then go learn the things that you aren’t as good at so that you can understand that better to train the next person to do those things.
If you’re a builder, it’s good to be hands-on but being hands-on can also be an excuse to not continue growing and developing other parts of your own skillset and abilities.
I have a friend who is an amazing engineer. He’s been an engineer since before I even started my degree and he has never managed anybody. He hasn’t successfully launched any products independently and has trouble seeing things through to completion. He has a lot of limitations because he loves programming, but he is not actually growing. He may be more technically skilled in the specific area of engineering he was good at when we first started building stuff together 8 years ago, but he is less well-rounded in his career. It turns out that being too good at something is actually the thing that stops you from getting better at other things that help you move forward.
How do you feel about work-life balance?
I hate work-life balance. I don’t like that idea. I think the simplistic version of work-life balance is overrated. I think the hard work of being prepared to show up and do good work requires you to be in the proper mental space. So if I feel like I am burning out, I take the day off. Even if it’s in the middle of the week, I’ll just do a lazy day and move my meetings.
I think work-life balance is about being in touch with your needs and then respecting that. For me, when I am stressed out about work, there are times that I just want to be done, and take a break and not do anything. There are other times when I just need to accomplish something so I am not as stressed out and that means working longer. The key is being in touch with what you need, because everybody’s balance is different.
I think I would rather live an unbalanced life where I am leaning more towards action than satisfaction. And if that means I have an unbalanced life where I don’t spend much time with my friends or taking care of myself, but I have accomplished something that is meaningful in some way, I’d rather have that life.
Balance looks different for everybody. Self-care looks different for everybody. And it is not caring for yourself if you feel disappointed 10 years later that you didn’t accomplish any of the dreams you had.
What books, podcasts, or movies have been particularly impactful to you in your journey?
Akimbo by Seth Godin. It’s pretty standard as far as marketing stuff goes, but I think what I like is that he doesn’t say anything that is of the moment. Everything he says is timeless. He is almost like an anthropologist in the way that he talks about human behavior and marketing, and he is never wrong because he is not trying to tie it to a specific moment. I like him because he teaches me about humanity from a psychological perspective and from our motivations, and that plays into a lot of things that aren’t marketing.
I also like Freakonomics because, again, it’s about the psychology and the behavior behind the way the world operates.
My favorite book is Ender’s Game and all the books in that series. Reading it was the first time I’d ever read about the application of strategy in novel form. I didn’t have to learn phrases and terminologies of what strategic options are. It teaches you how to think strategically, but in the form of a fun book about kids in space fighting wars. It teaches you about force and consequences–how much force to use in certain situations–as well as opponent psychology and game theory.
Actually, read any book by Orson Scott Card. I have read multiple series and different things from him and it’s the same type of writing–very engaging, no fluff, and a great narrative.
If you were interviewing yourself, what questions would you ask yourself, and how would you answer them?
My first question would be: How much help do minority people deserve versus how much responsibility should they take for themselves to be successful?
Recently somebody mentioned that at Elliot, we are founders of color, but that’s not how I see myself. I’m just a founder. My co-founder, Sergio, and I don’t expect anybody to give us anything. We don’t expect a second chance because we’re minorities or anything like that. From some of the conversations I’ve had recently, I’ve noticed that there’s almost this expectation that I should be successful because I’m trying. Nobody cares how hard you work, they only care that what you do is valuable to them. I’m clearly aware that I am black, and Sergio is clearly aware that he is Latino, but we don’t talk about it as a reason why we should get funding or a reason why you should support our business. What we’re doing is bold and ambitious, and we have done all of the necessary work to get to where we’re going. It has nothing to do with what I deserve or if people should give me a leg up because I’m a black man. No, I don’t even want it.
I use the NBA as an example. If you want to play in the NBA, that’s great. If you want to dunk, that’s great. But, nobody is giving shorter basketball players a shorter rim. If you’re 5’9″, you have to work harder to dunk than if you’re Yao Ming. Your disadvantage doesn’t mean that other people have to help you up or that you deserve a handicap because you’re in a worse position. And for me, I don’t see myself as needing a handicap, I see myself as competing on the same level as everyone else. Beyond that, what could have been considered a need for a handicap a few years ago, is now making me a much better professional, because now I perform much better because I’ve had to overcome certain obstacles that others haven’t.
My second question would be: What is your long term vision for your life and for your careers?
My goal is to help advance humanity and civilization. I don’t believe that people have specific control over the outcomes in their life. You have to take the opportunities that are given to you.
So my long term goal is that at the end of my life, everything I’ve done in my life should have progressed, improved, or assisted people in their lives in some way. Whenever I stop feeling that in the work that I’m doing is when I move on to the next thing.
What we’re trying to do at Elliot is enabling commerce for the four continents that don’t have a de facto ecommerce platform. They can’t even sell in or ship to other countries, and we’re giving them that opportunity. In America, we build businesses because we’re bored or because we have the privilege to do it. In other places, entrepreneurship is a necessity for life. But they don’t have the tools that we have to build their businesses. I think that’s a meaningful thing. If this is all I do, and Elliot is a very successful, big platform, that supports people all over the world and I die right after, I’m good with that, because it actually has an impact on the world.