Do your homework. Learn your industry and competitors inside and out in order to clearly articulate and define what you are solving for.
Surround yourself with a diverse mindset and inclusive culture. We all know great minds think alike, but in order to win at business, you need opposing thoughts and unique perspectives.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauri Baker, Partner & COO, Pause Commercials, Inc.
For the past 20 years, Lauri has a proven track record of delivering hundred-million-dollar revenue growth with extensive experience in digital media and over-the-top video. Prior to Pause Commercials, Lauri was the Senior Vice President of Sales for Discovery Inc.’s streaming business. During her leadership, DiscoveryGO became the fastest growing, most profitable business within Discovery’s global portfolio. Earlier in her career, Lauri served as a distinguished sales leader across global organizations such as Verizon Media, The Huffington Post, Yahoo! and BusinessWeek. Recognized for her work as Co-Founder of HuffPost Partner Studio in 2012, Lauri was named one of NewsCred’s 50 most influential content marketers and pioneers in the world of native advertising and branded content.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I love answering this question and have shared it with many aspiring business students, interns, and young colleagues alike. I moved from the Midwest to NYC after college to pursue a musical theatre career on Broadway. After years of touring the country and performing on some of the largest stages across America I came to a crossroads, I had just married my college sweetheart and was ready to settle down. As many of us do in between gigs, I turned to temp work. One of my first assignments was working for the Senior Vice President of Advertising Sales at BusinessWeek Magazine, a strong, fierce woman who I quickly admired and revered. Connie managed a team of seasoned sales professionals, dressed to the nines in their Armani suits, while entertaining clients daily at the best restaurants in NYC. I was enamored. Several months into this temporary assignment, Connie asked me if I would consider a full-time position as her Executive Assistant. After a few days of serious consideration, which included coming to terms with having to say goodbye to my on-stage career, my response went something like this: I would love to, but on one condition, you teach me everything you know about sales so I can do what you do. I didn’t move to New York to become someone’s assistant; I came to make a name for myself. Within three years, I was promoted twice and became a Sales Executive for one of the top business magazines in the world. I’ve been disrupting the media industry ever since and honestly, the stage is even more grand.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Well, it’s only been 8 months since I began working with Pause Commercials, so every day quite frankly leads to a discovery and/or interesting story. That said, I think what’s most interesting to me personally, is that I started during a global pandemic and have never actually met my partners in person. What’s amazing, is that it hasn’t mattered. The relationships I’ve built with Charles Johnson, our Founder, and Ramin Nadaf, our CTO, are based on pure respect for what we contribute to the business and non-biased desire to worry about nothing other than our business goals. Grant it, we’re on opposite coasts, so our meetings are via ZOOM, but I can’t wait for the day we can travel safely again and I can meet my business partners in person.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ll share a fun story that turned into an unexpected career lesson learned, definitely not a mistake though. While just starting out at BusinessWeek magazine, I befriended one of our mailroom employees named Roy. Roy Rizzo was the happiest, most friendly face to grace our halls each and every day. “No packages today, Lauri,” he would say EVERY time he passed my desk, often bumping into my cube and knocking a box or two off his cart. He became my sunshine, my everyday laugh. You could hear him coming from a mile away. One day, I had an opening in my calendar, so I invited him to lunch. At the time, I didn’t realize just how special lunchtime was for him, he told me, “I get one hour, Lauri. That’s it. I’ll meet you downstairs in the lobby at 12 noon. Don’t be late.” At noon, I met Roy downstairs to find him in a fresh pair of clothes, a plastic bag in hand with what seemed like his life’s belongings and a huge smile on his face. It warmed my heart. For the next 10+ years, Roy & I met once a month for lunch. Long after I had left BusinessWeek and up and through his retirement. It never mattered where we went, or how many colleagues I might bring along, all that mattered to Roy was that he had someone who cared enough to spend time with him and listen to his stories. Often, the same stories. To Roy, it was his favorite day of the month. To me, it was a profound education in empathy and the art of listening.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think the most difficult challenge for women in general is to successfully balance both work and family. At least, it is for me. We want and deserve to succeed at both. Managing the stress of maintaining a loving home environment with a thriving business career has been a work-in-progress. Working in media in NYC, I’m expected to entertain clients multiple nights a week, and then travel cross country and/or abroad for days, if not weeks at a time. There were periods when it was really hard on my family, I know that. They needed me home, but they knew how important my career was and still is, to all of us. Today, technology makes it much easier for us to be in two places at once, i.e. work and home so we can have dinner together and tuck our children into bed. Unfortunately, that still comes with judgement, although many companies do try to support employee’s work/life balance. The reality is, as women, we will always be forced to choose and the competitive nature of corporate America will, more often than not, reward those who choose work, and that’s sad.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are actually several female figures in my career that have had a significant impact on my success. As I mentioned earlier, if it weren’t for Connie Bennett at BusinessWeek I wouldn’t be here today. For her mentorship and support, I am forever grateful. I also had the incredible privilege of working with Arianna Huffington, author, mother, and businesswoman, who changed the trajectory of my career in ways I could never have imagined. While working together at The Huffington Post, Arianna & I enabled an entirely new relationship between publishers and marketers, with a focus on companies that have a proven culture of “Corporate Social Good.” With Arianna’s support, and often by my side, we collaborated with Fortune100 companies to share their global stories through co-branded publishing partnerships that elevated conversations around global maternal health, sustainable food, financial literacy, sleep & well-being, and so much more. It took an army of incredible people to pull this together, who are all making a difference in their companies today. I am grateful for each and every one of them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi actually said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” Be the change… is how it’s simply expressed today. At my home, I have this inscribed on the mirror in front of my Peloton where I have always been my most creative and inspired, in life and in business. The word “change” is substantially larger than the rest of the phrase. This particular life lesson provokes peace and clarity while empowering me to move forward and choose to make a difference however and whenever I can.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Do you have a subscription to Hulu, Peacock or HBO Max? Have you cut the proverbial cable cord and purchased a Roku or Fire stick to watch “Live TV” via Sling or YouTube TV? At Pause Commercials, we believe the new streaming economy deserves a fresh start that benefits both consumer and provider. That’s why we invented a new pause-ad technology that doesn’t interrupt the viewing experience. As consumers, we all want access to premium shows and movies, and the price we’re willing to pay varies on the quality of content and/or amount of advertising we’re willing to sit through. We are hoping to improve this value exchange by working with entertainment companies, distributors, and mobile game developers to ensure innovative “pause ads” are available across all premium over-the-top (OTT) environments via our patented technology.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well, first of all, it might help to understand what a “pause ad” is. Quite simply, a pause ad is an advertisement, either a commercial or display banner, that appears when viewers are streaming their favorite shows across any app or platform and activate the pause button on their remote control. What makes us stand out, is our patent. This capability, which has never been done before now, allows for incremental revenue streams for publishers and distributors as well as an innovative, uncluttered environment for marketers. Any over-the-top (OTT) video distributor that wants to leverage the pause button to deliver an advertisement, must either license our IP or integrate our ad-tech. Having spent the past four years reimagining the traditional commercial experience at both Discovery, Inc and now Pause, I have no doubt that this particular technology will transform the relationship between publishers, distributors, and consumers in an epic way.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our patent was granted in July, so our focus is getting our capabilities integrated into the tech stacks of distributors, publishers, and mobile game developers. The sooner we can license our technology into the streaming ecosystem, the more revenue publishers can make, the more innovation marketers can leverage, and the more premium content consumers can access. We call that a win, win, win.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Do I think there are enough women in Tech? No. But I do think we’ve made some strides in how we get more girls and young women interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. However, we have a long way to go. Data and technology will soon be at the core of all industries and women need to be prepared for those jobs up and down the management chain. Data scientists, software developers, programmers, and coders have been historically male roles however I have no doubt that more and more women will learn these very important skills and play a significant role in the future of Tech.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Honestly, for female entrepreneurs, it is the ability to secure funding. Female founders and minority entrepreneurs continue to struggle to raise the capital necessary to compete. This issue is compounded by the fact that few women and minorities are employed by venture capitalist funds. Until diversity is more favorable on both sides of the capital exchange, change will be gradual at best. This is despite the fact that according to Forbes, on average, women-operated, VC-backed tech startups generate annual revenues that are 12% higher than male-operated tech startups.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Technology is changing so rapidly, that I can’t imagine any tech leader having the time to stand still. Algorithms, software updates and real-time customer feedback should have any business constantly innovating just to keep up. That said, I have personally found that when growth stalls and sales flatten, it’s usually the result of a business misalignment. Business units with mis-matched priorities that compete for resources and ultimately stall progress. Sometimes the best “restart” comes from hearing how those misaligned priorities are impacting your customers. Honest feedback can be humbling and empowering all at the same time, often resulting in a shared desire to work together, across business units to solve problems and recharge growth.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
That is the holy grail for any company. As someone who has spent their entire career with a revenue goal attached to my name, I’ve had the opportune experience to learn firsthand what works and what doesn’t. Successful sales teams, at their core, need a continuous mix of inspiration, education, accountability, and acknowledgement. Great stories and curiosity for our customers business, not only lead to tremendous outcomes but transformational client relationships as well. High-performing teams start with inclusive leaders who provide the building blocks and culture that create regular opportunities for people to express their ideas, needs and concerns. You don’t hire high-performing sales teams. You build them.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
We’re incredibly lucky to be in the media industry where there are hundreds of thought leadership events annually and no shortage of opportunities to discuss our company and/or network with colleagues. This has been a game-changer for us, especially during a time when everything is virtual and can be accessed without traveling.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Listen to their needs and customize a solution that best fits their business
- Provide measurable, data-driven, key performance indicators that prove success
- Technology that prioritizes simplicity, convenience, and customer first
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
I couldn’t agree more, especially when you consider how attrition impacts revenue estimates and forward-looking statements. At Pause Commercials, we’re still in our early days — as is the OTT streaming ecosystem in general. We’re learning with our partners together, solving for a greater consumer experience. This is why we’ve built our business model to take our partners size and scope into consideration. By limiting partner risk, we’re confident we can control customer churn.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Start with Why. An extraordinary business book and TED talk by Simon Sinek explains how individuals can be influenced by motivation or inspiration. Both tap into the same part of the brain; one driven by fear, one driven by hope. Businesses that rise to the top choose inspiration to motivate both employees and customers by focusing not on WHAT their companies create, but WHY?
- Do your homework. Learn your industry and competitors inside and out in order to clearly articulate and define what you are solving for.
- Surround yourself with a diverse mindset and inclusive culture. We all know great minds think alike, but in order to win at business, you need opposing thoughts and unique perspectives.
- Leave your ego at the door. You will fail, probably more than once. You’ll make wrong decisions, probably more than once. On the wall of my son’s room we had “Dream Big and Dare to Fail” because failure is inevitable and also the greatest teacher if we’re open to its lesson.
- Be married to nothing and open to everything. Be the change and not the smartest person in the room.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It was during my time at The Huffington Post that I found my strength for making a difference and developed a passion and belief that major corporations have both an opportunity and responsibility to elevate important conversations in our society. Today, the trifecta of social media, tremendous resources, and trusted communities, make it so accessible for brands to impact social change for good. Always’ “Like a Girl” and Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” are just two examples of incredible movements that inspired real conversation and change. I would love to see more companies take action and step up when our people and/or communities fall.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Bozoma “Boz” Saint John, the newly appointed CMO for Netflix. This is such an incredible time in our history and her journey and presence within our industry is inspiring. I’d love nothing more than to discuss business and hear her thoughts about how this unprecedented moment will shape the future of business, culture, media, entertainment, education and so much more.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!