Engaging Conversations with… Aaron Burcell

June 24, 2014

We’re excited to bring you the latest in our “Engaging Conversations with…” series where we sit down with client partners and thought leaders to share insights and opinion about the world of marketing, branding and business in the digital age. This week we were fortunate enough to sit down with Vevo’s Aaron Burcell to get his candid insights into the world of streaming video, technology, business and start-up culture. We hope you’ll find his answers as refreshing and insightful as we did.

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Name: Aaron Burcell

Employer: VEVO
Location: San Francisco

Twitter: @aaronburcell
LinkedIn: aaronburcell

Job Title: VP of Growth & Product Marketing

What do you really do?
I coach and I mentor. I help specialists push into pioneer status, and I help talented people with broad skill sets expand their competencies and realize their leadership potential. I do this for direct reports and peers alike. The byproduct of these efforts is a fast-moving, high-functioning organization with impressive growth.

How do you overcome creative blocks?
In order of effectiveness:
1. Exercise
2. Talk to a younger person about anything
3. Red wine

What trends are you seeing in your industry right now?
Music consumption moved online years ago, but now music consumption is getting younger and more prevalent via connected game and mobile platforms. The persistence of powerful receiving devices enables more “watching” of music than listening. Not unrelated, music is getting better and better at marketing anything and everything. Streaming media companies are in a hurry to develop a basic presence on every possible platform. I see only a few players making moves to differentiate themselves and consolidate market share – Vevo and NetFlix being notable exceptions.

In technology, I’m encouraged by a few trends: Responsible digital marketers are focused on visitor/user engagement value metrics. As a result, venture capitalists are no longer pouring money into web and mobile product companies that are too full of holes to convert and retain visitors. That last point is key to creating real value in digital media. This trend counteracts an irresponsible start-up investing mindset that is comfortable positioning massive traffic and distribution as “value” so that they can win from near-term liquidity events.

In the next few years, what’s going to change the most in the industry?
Television metrics are undergoing a massive overhaul. And, content discovery will follow. Search will be unseated because social discovery and passive discovery will become much more powerful and persistent. Additionally, music discovery will become a very competitive market because artists are increasingly opting out of the label ecosystem and going it alone or joining independent collectives.

What is your most successful failure?
That would have to be Learnist. I shared responsibility for launch and significant growth in the first two years post-launch. The company is doing well and tracking toward “success.” The CEO and I had very different leadership and communications styles. He had a military background and experience in large organizations, like Google, and Bain. I have a background in competitive team sports and startups. Because our CEO had no day-to-day operational responsibilities to the product or business, I de-prioritized our communications, focusing on forging strong peer relationships in product development. An irreparable distrust grew between the CEO and me, and I decided to leave and pursue other opportunities. I failed to see the repercussions of my decision. I failed to anticipate the risk of failure I introduced into Learnist by destabilizing the team, creating employee retention issues as I left. I thought I was being disciplined and focused on execution. I was wrong, and I share fault for not making that relationship functional. I know I injured that company, unintentionally of course. I’d definitely do that differently if I had the opportunity again.

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Where did you get your best business advice?
I was 24 and working late at the WebTV offices in Palo Alto. I was making small talk with Randy Komisar, an early investor and virtual CEO of WebTV. I made a reference to 6 degrees of separation when he said, “the rest of the world is 6 degrees, Silicon Valley is 3 degrees of separation. So, you really don’t want to say anything mean. You can’t undo a mean reputation”. I share that story with younger people at least once a month. It’s served me well. I’m sure I have critics, but I doubt anyone would say I’m mean.

What business advice would you pass on?
I’m a part of The Thiel Fellowship community, where I interview/advise very impressive young people. I always share these three things:

1. When someone is talking to you, give them your attention. It’s really important you do this for everyone, not just “important people”.

2. The ability to connect with another person is the single greatest skill you can acquire. Relating to people is more about empathy than articulating shared experiences.

3. Too many people focus on being likable in order to lead effectively. Don’t be that person. If liking people comes naturally to you, you’ll become a leader without much effort.

Who do you follow on Twitter?
@farbood, @ypulse, @mediatwit, @Betabrand, @fmanjoo, @sethrogen, @georgetakei, @corybooker and about 400 others.

What’s on your daily must-read list?
Deadspin, TechCrunch, Grantland and MediaShift.

If you had a Pinterest-style motivational quote on the wall, what would it say?

I remember the night Conan O’Brien said this…

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… it really resonated with me, because I’ve said something similar almost all of my life.

Fill in the blanks.


1) I should have gone home earlier yesterday.

2) I wish that I could remember to call my Mom.

3) The first thing I do when I get to work is ask everyone how they’re doing.

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