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Mary Kay Huse of Mandolin: “The interconnectedness of the industry”

The interconnectedness of the industry. It’s cool to see how much artists really do want to help venues, like those who rallied around Saving Our Stages with NIVA. I enjoy being a part of such a passionate industry, that’s well-aligned and shows up for each other again and again. It’s the ‘rising tide lifts all […]

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The interconnectedness of the industry. It’s cool to see how much artists really do want to help venues, like those who rallied around Saving Our Stages with NIVA. I enjoy being a part of such a passionate industry, that’s well-aligned and shows up for each other again and again. It’s the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ mentality.


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Kay Huse, highly dynamic senior executive who leads businesses to new levels of revenue and profitability in the SaaS and technology spaces. She is recognized for her visionary insight in identifying and capturing market growth opportunities while helping to build out an organization’s industry-leading capabilities. Throughout her career she has delivered on critical corporate initiatives around market expansion, product differentiation, revenue, profitability, and customer success. Prior to becoming CEO of Mandolin, Mary Kay was the EVP & COO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, helping drive Salesforce’s fastest growing 1B+ dollars business unit.

Mary Kay is recognized as a digital-transformation thought leader and well-respected industry speaker. She is a graduate of DePauw University, and she actively supports female leadership development and diversification in the technology industry, currently serving as Vice Chairman for Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis. She is also on the board of Nextech, a non-profit focused on computer science education in K-12 Indiana schools.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’ve got two older brothers, so you could say I was born competitive. I was determined from a young age to not let them leave me behind. Annoying to two teenage boys, for sure, but it instilled a drive in me that still holds true today. My mom, who is definitely the most influential person in my life, was an educator who held her own kids up to the highest standards. Sports are part of my family’s DNA and I went on to play college tennis at DePauw University. Sports taught me the value of individual hard work and how to combine the power of those individuals into a winning team. In high school, my summer job was with one of the very first internet service providers and it got me addicted to tech. I went on to get a computer science degree, which put me right back where I started…being one of the only females, hanging with the boys.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote (which I gather may or may not be from Abraham Lincoln) is “Whatever you are, be a good one.” This quote embodies my personal life philosophy and also the values of our entire Mandolin team. I value a diverse world, actively pursuing opportunities to learn from other people whose backgrounds and experiences are different than mine. At Mandolin, we encourage everyone to bring their “whole selves” to work — whatever that means for each individual. But no matter what you’ve chosen as your life’s purpose, I value — and our company values — grit, determination, urgency, and drive.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I remember reading Good to Great in my early ExactTarget days. Our leadership team was encouraged by Scott Dorsey, CEO at the time, to read it. We were at the forefront of a highly competitive market (email marketing) — similar to where livestream is right now — and Scott wanted to ensure that we were not only “thinking big” but understanding the discipline it took to win the market. I think many people think that successful entrepreneurs just wake up one day with a winning idea and make it happen. The truth is that inspired thinking also has to be backed by very deliberate action. The book does an excellent job of providing a framework for how those two things come together.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

I’ve spent my career leading large organizations within SaaS and technology companies, but it all started in the start-up world. I started my career as a business analyst with Rose-Hulman Ventures, but I went on to join ExactTarget, which grew into the leading digital marketing platform, and was later acquired by Salesforce. For ExactTarget, I led the account management and services organizations, before moving to London to lead international expansion. I moved back to the states and stayed in San Francisco working for Salesforce in roles across go-to-market and product and technology. Prior to starting Mandolin, I was EVP and COO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, where I helped drive Salesforce’s fastest growing 1B+ dollars business unit.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

The pandemic changed the music industry, forever. Every industry has had its “moment” where it was forced to change how it operated — retail, travel, finance, healthcare. Now is the time for music and live entertainment. The pandemic exposed a need for artists to be able to connect with fans outside of live, in-person events and ushered in a new way of digital fan connection. And so, Mandolin was born. It’s our mission to help artists and venues create connections with fans and prosper through the music they produce and leverage all the possibilities of digital to do that.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I was living in Indianapolis and had stayed close to High Alpha, which was working on a prototype for Mandolin with Robert Meitus and Steve Caldwell. They were doing the market research at the time, which really validated what they were wanting to do in the industry. They came to me with the idea for Mandolin in the form of a company and asked me to lead as CEO. I was quickly convinced about the opportunity and loved the tech and music DNA my co-founders brought and the early capital investment.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Things have been explosive since the start. We’ve had more than a two hundred shows in the last few months, selling more than 100,000 tickets. We just had a successful 5 million dollars seed round as well, which we’re using to push boundaries as we launch our latest set of livestream features. We’ve got a dynamite team in place with 50 employees stringing across tech and music. We’re also seeing great success with iconic venues like City Winery and Ryman Auditorium, as well as partnering with popular artists and artists’ management firms. Now, we’re focused on taking the platform well beyond livestreaming. We’re really digging in deeper to the real time analytics we are getting from the shows and considering how we might best influence music releases and fan interactions within the different features.

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?

One person that comes to mind is Andy Kofoid, the president for the North America offices at Salesforce. I worked with him at both ExactTarget and Salesforce, and he’s someone who I respect as an exceptional leader: pragmatic, high integrity, calm, and consistent in crisis or in celebration. He’s continued to be a professional mentor for me through the years, but also a close personal friend. While he’s always been kind and thoughtful, he also challenges me and calls it like it is, which has helped me grow tremendously as a leader.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

We were chosen to host the #iVoted festival this past Election Day, a major milestone for us as it was the largest digital concert on record with more than 600 performances. We landed the opportunity to be the sole livestream provider for the festival in just 72 hours, which was a huge rush in itself. But then to see how quickly the team was able to come together to pull it off in just the first few months of us launching — it was an inspiring moment and proved to us all just what we could achieve. It was also incredible to see just how small and connected the music industry is, which was something that was key in our team infiltrating the industry so quickly. I had contacts at City Winery that all knew each other, and it was the relationships I had made over the years that helped us get our feet off the ground.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The number of stakeholders involved in putting on a show and managing an artist is extreme. There were so many new skills I had to dig into, including the art of ticket sales and the mechanics of the financial offers for shows and tours.
  2. The interconnectedness of the industry. It’s cool to see how much artists really do want to help venues, like those who rallied around Saving Our Stages with NIVA. I enjoy being a part of such a passionate industry, that’s well-aligned and shows up for each other again and again. It’s the ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ mentality.
  3. The number of highs and lows that can happen in a single day. I’ve seen this particularly as a CEO and being involved in so many different aspects of the company. Even if they told me, I would not have believed it.
  4. How personal the experience would be. I don’t think I ever realized just how personally I would take everything. When something doesn’t go the way I wanted it to, I find myself getting personally disappointed. Even if I wasn’t necessarily involved, I feel like I was because this is something I’ve invested in from the very beginning.
  5. The true depth of the music industry. I can’t believe the extent of the variety of acts, musicians, and artists out there right now. There are so many incredible acts and musicians. And each has their own dedicated niche audiences and followings. It’s so complex.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

Exercise and fine wine have been my go-to. And building personal relationships with industry people has helped too. It’s given me a good solid network of friends and mentors to work through the uncertainty with.

You are a person of great 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?

Girls, Inc. is a nonprofit that’s very close to my heart. In line with their mission, I want to empower young girls to be strong, smart, and bold. They bring to the forefront the importance of mental, physical, and emotional wellness. And you have to have all three to be a leader in this world where women are wildly underrepresented. Getting more women in tech won’t change the world alone. That’s why I’m working toward more sustainable change. Getting more women in all positions of power.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Michelle Obama, without a doubt. I just think that given everything this year, I’d want her perspective on all the shit that has gone down. She has direct experience with what’s happening in our world both politically and in terms of the civil rights movement, that I’d want to explore with her more. Her autobiography really spoke to me with her unique perspective. When she was given the opportunity to be in a role where all eyes were on her, she had to be very deliberate with her actions and how she stepped into that role.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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