Women's History Month - Anita Brearton
by Ellen Corsie, on 24 March, 2020
As it’s Women’s History Month, we’d like the take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on the badass women who work in the marketing and technology industry. This is a series of blog posts we'll be publishing to celebrate the incredible work they do for the industry. So without further ado lets introduce you the amazing women in martech.Introducing Anita Brearton
Meet Anita Brearton, Founder/CEO of CabinetM. For those of you that might not be familiar with CabinetM, they help modern marketing teams manage the technology they have and find the tools they need. The CabinetM marketing technology management platform enables full lifecycle support around technology discovery, qualification, implementation and management, providing critical visibility and leverage to save time, money and drive revenue. The company has built the industry’s most comprehensive database of over 14,000 marketing tools, and currently has the largest set of marketing technology adoption data as a result of hundreds of marketing stacks that have built on the platform. For additional information: www.cabinetm.com; @cabinetm1
What’s your job title, if you could choose an 'honest' job title, what would it be?
My current title is Founder/CEO. As far as an honest job title, Founder actually fits the bill. As a startup founder I have to perform a million different tasks from ordering the coffee, putting toner in the printer, to developing the strategic plan and development roadmap. Every day is different and you never know what is around the corner.
How would you summarise your career journey?
I would summarise my career journey as an accidental perfect match. Joining a high-tech startup was not something I even knew was a possibility when I left university (pre-Internet). I saw myself in a corporate environment which I now know would have made me miserable. Jobs were scarce when I graduated so I applied to every entry level business position I could find (again, pre-Internet). My first job was with a newly public data communications firm and I remember telling my family – good news – I have a job offer, bad news – I didn’t understand anything they said to me all day. Through that job I learned that I love the autonomy of working in a startup, the lack of hierarchy, and the ability to see the direct impact of my work. I started in engineering program management and then moved into marketing. I’ve been fortunate to have had an entire career in and around startups, and have experienced the rush of being part of an early stage company that grows into a public company. I’ve also been on both sides of an acquisition which was sort of fun and sort of not.
About ten years ago I made a slight detour and spent a couple of years on the investment side of the startup world, investing in women led startups and running an angel investment group. It was a tremendous education and eliminated any fears I had about raising money for my own startup. After a couple of years doing that, I was driven back to the other side of the table by some VCs that were on a board with me and ended up running an e-commerce startup for tween girls (don’t ask). The time I spent there was a crash course in dealing with every business problem you can think of – that could be an entirely separate interview. Everything I’ve done in my career set me up to start and run my own company. We founded CabinetM five years ago with a mission to help marketing operations team manage and optimize their marketing technology stacks. So far, it’s been an exciting ride and I just love working with our customers – not an idiot among them; they are some of the smartest people and most genuine people I’ve worked with in my career.
What has kept you the most motivated throughout?
The challenge of learning and doing new things. I would die a thousand deaths in a repetitive job. I really like that every day is different and that I’m challenged in a million different ways. Even though my career has been in the startup world, CabinetM is the first company that I’ve founded and I can’t even begin to describe the thrill of signing new customers and seeing them get value out of what we’ve created.
What has been the biggest barrier throughout your career journey?
Honestly my gender. I was hired for that first job I mentioned above as a result of a bet between the CEO and VP of Human Resources. The VP of HR bet the CEO that a woman could do as good a job as a man in the function that I was hired to perform. I spent the first year of my career at the age of 21 being asked to perform ridiculous tests for the CEO so that he could try and make the case that I couldn’t cut it. I ultimately succeeded and he became a big mentor and supporter. That was just the first of many times my gender became an obstacle. I’m dealing with it now raising money for CabinetM, we’ve had investors tell us startups are too hard for girls, and others tell us we weren’t attractive enough to raise money.
Do you think it's important to maintain balance between your personal life and work - do you have any advise for how you achieve this?
Yes, I believe it is important to maintain balance between your personal life and work but I’m not very good at it. What I am good at is making sure that I book tickets for concerts and the theater, I’m less good about exercising but am trying. I’m getting better at stopping work in the evening and giving myself permission to take some time for myself.
In general, founding a startup is not conducive to work/life balance for two reasons: 1) You have a responsibility to the people you ask to join you on the journey and to the investors that have given you their hard-earned money, and 2) It’s not just about managing time. One of the most profound things a colleague said to me when we were starting the CabinetM journey was it’s not about the 60, 80, or 100 hours that everyone claims to work, it’s the fact that you think about your startup 24 hours a day – there is never a time when it is not top of mind and that can be exhausting. I think that perfectly sums up startup life.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Revel in, and enjoy the challenge. Stop worrying that you aren’t up to the task – you are!
What would you like young women to know who want to get in to marketing/technology?
Jump in, learn as much as you can, but take the time to learn marketing strategy and communications fundamentals. Tomorrow’s marketing leaders will be the ones that can leverage technology in service of a marketing strategy and vision. Being a technology operator is not the same as being a marketer.
Who's a professional woman you admire?
There are many. I can’t name just one so hope that you’ll let me list four.
First my CabinetM co-founder, Sheryl Schultz, she is the yin to my yang. We are both marketers and that’s where similarities end. We have different strengths and perspectives and have perfected the art of arguing passionately without it becoming personal. CabinetM is a reflection of both of us.
Second, Jean Hammond, successful entrepreneur, investor, founder of Learn Launch, and all-around startup champion. She was our first investor and we like 100s of other entrepreneurs have benefited from her wisdom and tough love.
Third, Stephanie Newby, founder of Golden Seeds and a committed supporter of women in business and in startups. When times were tough at CabinetM she rallied her network and delivered the $100K we needed to keep moving forward. Thanks to her, we’ve never looked back.
Finally, Betsy Walton, writer extraordinaire. Betsy could take anything I said or wrote and instantly transform it into compelling text. It’s a skill I don’t have and next to wishing that I could sing (or at least carry a tune) it is the one I most covet. Sadly, Betsy passed away far too soon. There’s not a week I don’t wish she was still working alongside me.
Best advice you ever received ? Professional or otherwise.
In 1996, a mentor told me that I had to learn to disconnect emotionally from my work. It took me until 2013 to really understand what he meant and to be able to put it into practice. And when I did, my life literally changed in an instant.
He wasn’t telling me to not be passionate about my work or to infuse my work with emotion. What he tried to communicate was that I shouldn’t wrap emotion around things that weren’t going well at work. We all know what it’s like to come home at night feeling miserable about a meeting that went wrong or some criticism that was leveled at us, or feeling a failure and responsible because an initiative failed. I burdened myself with a lot of unnecessary emotion.
In 2013 when I was running the ecommerce company and things weren’t going well due to lack of funding, I was asked to some really crazy things by a member of my board including “reduce costs by 50%, move offices, take the infrastructure out of the cloud, and double revenues all at the same time.” All of a sudden, I realized that I was capable of a lot of things but fixing crazy was not one of them. And in that moment, I let go of the emotion and started to look at everything through a non-emotional clinical perspective. And when I did, I found that I not only performed better but that I enjoyed my job a whole lot more. Now, no matter how crazy things get or how many highs and lows we have, I roll with it and don’t get emotional. Work is work. Life is life.