Brenna is originally from Colorado, but has been living in Santiago, Chile since 2009. She has a bachelor of Communication Arts and two minor degrees in Business and Advertising from Gonzaga University and has been working in communications, PR and marketing for tech startups since 2010. Currently, she is the Head of Marketing at Doist, creators of Todoist.
What do you do?
I’m the head of marketing at Doist, which is the company that created Todoist one of the world’s most popular task managers. I oversee marketing, which is an extremely broad term. We’re a startup of about 30 employees across 18 countries. My role in terms of marketing encompasses anything from some HR duties, to writing press releases, contacting journalists, writing copy for our websites, handling promotions with other companies or brands, and much more. It’s been an all encompassing role but has started to evolve into a more overall marketing strategy. It’s kind of a funny story of how I started working with Amir (the founder).
I’ve been living in Chile for seven years now and five years ago in 2010 I was approached by the Ministry of Economy to be a part of a pilot program that was being created by the Chilean government. The program is StartUp Chile. A program where the Chilean government provides a $40,000 grant to encourage international entrepreneurs to start a business in Chile. I was in charge of the PR and communications for that program and Amir actually arrived to Chile as one of the program’s first rounds of entrepreneurs.
After I left Start-Up Chile in 2012, I started a boutique PR and communications agency for tech startups and a couple of local VC funds here in Santiago. One of my first clients was Amir and Todoist. At that time, Todoist was a really small operation– there was only about 5 of us, I think. Once we launched the Android and iOS apps things really started grow like wildfire. As the company grew, I started taking on more and more responsibilities, and now I’m 100% full-time with them.
What do you find most rewarding about your role? Most challenging?
One of the things I like most about the projects I’ve been able to be a part of is seeing something grow from nothing to something really big. I find that to be such a huge inspiration. To see that taking place with Todoist since the beginning has been not only a huge learning experience for me but also just a major day-to-day motivation. Every day I’m more impressed by what our team has been able to accomplish.
One of the most rewarding aspects about working in Todoist is that I can see every single day how our software positively impacts people’s lives. For me, it’s always been paramount to work on projects that aren’t just frivolous– I thrive most when I’m a part of something that will improve people’s lives and makes the world a better place. You can really see how using Todoist helps people get organized, which helps them excel either in their work or personal lives. This increased productivity, in turn, gives our community more free time to enjoy their hobbies or spend time with their family. Getting to read those stories and interact with Todoist users is inspiring on a daily basis.
The challenge, for me, is that sometimes I find that it’s hard to conceptualize our marketing activities on a truly large scale. We have 4 million users which is, you know, the population of some countries! Sometimes I find it a challenge to work on things that are going to make a truly massive impact not only in one small area but to broaden the company’s horizons and find the appropriate opportunities that will help you continue to grow. We get so many awesome inquiries that sometimes it’s hard to prioritize which ones to pursue, you kind of want to do everything.
How do you stay up to date with trends in your industry/field?
I’m a pretty Twitter heavy user and check a couple Twitter lists (general news, important journalists, productivity community) multiple times a day to stay on top of news and trends. From there, the challenge is to decide how to capitalize on those trends and make the most out of something that may not be around tomorrow.
At Todoist, we work hard to follow a long term strategy, so we don’t necessarily engage in opportunities like “What’s gonna be the next Yo app for Todoist?!”. Being able to have a long term strategy and know what your priorities are is hugely important for startups. In fact, I have a recurring task in my Todoist, that reminds me every single day of the week of our top 5 marketing priorities. This helps me keep our priorities fresh in my mind when it comes time to make important marketing and business development decisions.
What are your top five applications or tools?
Todoist - Obviously my number one.
Slack - Our team uses this a lot. We have about 30 people on our team from five different continents, almost 18 different countries so it’s been an amazing app for our remote team.
Skitch - It’s an Evernote app that I use a lot to help me take screenshots and explain stuff virtually.
Twitter - I use this a lot all throughout the day.
Best way to stay on top of email?
I definitely use Todoist for Gmail. I’m one of those email freaks where if I see emails in my inbox I get stressed out. So I know a lot of people say that a productivity tip is to only pay attention to your inbox in the morning or the afternoon. A lot of things that I do in terms of marketing and especially PR are quite time-sensitive so I don’t really feel that I have that luxury. I turn a lot of emails into tasks so I don’t see them in my inbox. I can just make it into a task with “Respond to this today” or “Respond to this person by tomorrow” etc.
I send a lot of PR pitches to journalists and then I’ll go directly to my 'Sent' email folder and turn that email into a task to follow up a week later. If I didn’t have that I would be a complete disaster! I wouldn’t know when to write who or how long it’s been before I need to reach out to them again. That’s huge for me.
What is your best time-saving trick?
I tend to batch my tasks. For example, I’m part of the board of directors of the Girls in Tech chapter here in Santiago. I can see in my inbox right now I have 6 emails from another board member. I’ll leave those aside until I have a free moment and then I’ll attack all at once. Rather than working on a press release and then responding to a Girls in Tech email and then editing a blog post and then responding to another Girls in Tech email, etc. I find it a lot more efficient and easy on my brain to complete similar tasks together.
I know this is kind of against the productivity norms, but a lot of people say to complete your most important task at the very beginning of the day. I do the opposite. I complete the fast and easy tasks as soon as I can first thing in the morning. Then I feel like in the afternoon that frees me up. I don’t have annoying tasks on my to-do list, like watering the plants or whatever else it might be. So I get a freer state of mind that way.
Structure of your typical day, how do you divide your time?
In the morning, I usually start working around 9am. One thing that I love to do before I start working is take my dog for a long walk and during that time I do an inbox cleanse. I'll archive emails that I can read later or delete the ones that I don’t want to see. So when I sit down in my office my inbox is organized.
Then I do a mix of more menial tasks because like I said I have this weird stress if I see tasks that I can do immediately, I get frazzled if I don’t do them. I get those out of the way and check all my emails and check Slack.
Usually around 11am I start working on more in-depth projects. I keep going on those for the rest of the afternoon and I'll also take a couple more walks during the day to clear my mind and listen to podcasts or something.
Around 4:30pm I’ll have another productivity boost before finishing for the day.
Why do you do what you do? What makes everything worth it?
I love my job. So many times during the weekend I cannot wait for Monday. I love working with my team. I’m so proud of the things that we’re doing and I know that we’re making a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives. That is definitely something that pushes me to excel in my job. I feel like everyone else on my team really strives for excellence so having that precedence is an inspiration to me.
I’m just proud of the product that my team has created. Even though we all work remotely I still feel like I love my co-workers just like anybody else who’s sitting in an office. Even though I’ve never met 99% of them in person.
When I see people who use Todoist who say things like “I’m so much more organized now, thank you for providing this tool that has made such a positive impact on my life.” That is awesome, that’s a huge motivation.
What is the greatest piece of career advice/wisdom you’ve ever received?
I previously worked more on the PR side of things, doing a lot of press outreach and working with tech media. One thing I found, especially here in Chile is that a lot of people think that if you get published in TechCrunch it will mysteriously solve all of your problems. You'll get you hundreds or thousands of new users and you’ll immediately get VC funding and your life will just be easy. It’s a strange phenomenon that’s very unique to tech PR. I have some past clients who have barely had a product, and maybe 100 users but they say "put me in TechCrunch." It doesn’t really work that way…
I think what a lot of people are missing and one thing that I’ve seen in tech and communications and the startup world is this. The most important thing that anyone can do is focus on having a truly amazing product. A recent video I was just watching before our call actually had this great quote that rung true for me. Something like “quality is your best business plan.”
If you focus on having an amazing product that people will actually want to use, then it won’t necessarily be so paramount that you be published in TechCrunch. If you have a product that is going to solve a real problem for people, then a lot of your work is already done.
That’s what happened with Slack. They didn’t really do any marketing and they grew pretty massively because it solved a key problem for a lot of teams. That’s one piece of advice that I would give.
Just getting your name out there, just having social media and just having press media isn’t going to solve all your problems.