Erika Carney – CMO of Skookum Digital Works

Read. Even if it’s just for a few minutes here and there, it keeps your mind sharp and exposes you to new ideas. It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of go-go-go. Taking time out to learn while putting the “do” on pause is really important.

Erika Carney is the CMO of Skookum Digital Works. She has worked with digital products throughout her tenure at Skookum, where she previously served as the director of product in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Since 2008, she has served in marketing and product management roles at high-growth software companies. Erika was promoted to CMO of Skookum in March. She oversees the company’s marketing and communications programs, as well as its internal product development.

Skookum is a software design and development company with offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Denver, Colorado. The brand develops custom software solutions for the web, mobile, and the Internet of Things. Its customers primarily consist of middle-market and enterprise companies looking to create new revenue, realize new efficiencies, and improve their employees’ and customers’ quality of life.

Where did the idea for Skookum Digital Works come from?

Our co-founders, James Hartsell and Bryan Delaney, met in college when they were randomly assigned as roommates. After graduation, they both accepted jobs with the Department of Defense as programmers. They quit their jobs after two years because they were fed up with the bureaucracy, process bloat, and acceptance of mediocrity. They believed there was a better way to create software — software that people actually like to use and that creates a real impact for businesses.

Skookum was founded in 2005. The word “skookum” means strong, brave, or impressive, which is exactly the type of company they’ve built.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I use Trello to organize all of our department initiatives. It gives me a really good view of what we’ve got going on at any point in time. I have columns for “Cool,” “Warm,” “Hot,” “Doing,” and “Done.” I move tasks from one column to the next as priorities change. There’s something very gratifying about seeing things progress vs. having them remain static on a to-do list. It really helps with momentum.

On a typical day, I arrive in the morning, tackle email, add any new initiatives to the Trello board, and then plow through my “Doing” column. I try to keep Wednesdays and Thursdays completely open by not scheduling any meetings. This uninterrupted focus time is really important, especially because I’ve been doing a lot of copywriting for our new website.

We use Slack for internal communication. It’s helpful because you can create channels to funnel ideas and dialogue around specific projects. For example, we have a “Marketing” channel, a “” channel, and a “Skookum-sourcing” channel where we crowdsource ideas from the entire company.

I check Slack periodically throughout the day, and before I head home, I update the Trello board to reflect the day’s progress.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bootstrap them! We’re a small marketing team with lofty goals and lots of ideas. I make it a point to try to understand the full range of talent within our company. For example, one of our project managers does videography on the side. One of our sales reps is a great (and fast) copywriter. There’s obviously a lot of development talent here, so we can create a landing page pretty quickly.

I work with our COO to capitalize on any free time anyone has. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you really take the time to get to know people, their strengths, and their passions.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The Internet of Things is really exciting. It’s getting a lot of attention in the consumer market with home automation, smart cars, and the Apple Watch. But there’s potential to completely disrupt entire industries like manufacturing, oil and gas, healthcare, retail, and logistics — just to name a few.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Say, “No.” There are so many things that can divert your focus and rob your time. Especially now that I have a little girl, my time is extremely valuable.

I’m direct with people when a meeting doesn’t make sense, an initiative shouldn’t live under my department, or I’m not willing to spend the money. I try to be polite and to the point; it’s not beneficial for either party if I drag something on.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

My first job out of college was in customer service. It was pretty terrible. People were cordial for the most part, but every so often, I would get reamed out. It gave me awful anxiety, but I stuck with it and learned to take things as they come.

I am a much less anxious person today because of that experience. It definitely prepared me for the more high-stress, high-pressure roles that would follow.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Exercise. I’ve found that working out is a really great way for me to relieve stress. I used to be very active in high school and college, but I became sedentary with my first job. About three years into my career, I decided to make exercise a priority.

Five years and one baby later, I leave work at 5 p.m. sharp on Tuesdays and Thursdays to make it to CrossFit class. No matter what else I have left to do, I just leave. It will get done the next day. Working out clears my mind and brings me back to center.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Read. Even if it’s just for a few minutes here and there, it keeps your mind sharp and exposes you to new ideas. It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of go-go-go. Taking time out to learn while putting the “do” on pause is really important.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Hire all the smart people, and don’t worry too much about fitting people into tightly defined roles. Smart, motivated people find ways to get things done and motivate those around them to do the same.

Speed is really important when it comes to growing a business. You want people on your team who don’t need a lot of oversight and can be resourceful. We went through a period of hyper-growth not long ago, and I grew our product and design department from two people to 12 in about 10 months. I must have read 300+ résumés and conducted close to 60 interviews during that time. I looked for these four things: Are they smarter than me? Will they elevate the talent of the collective team? Are they bullshitters? Are they passionate?

I cared very little about what was written on the résumé. Sure, they needed to have product management or design experience, but there are many aspects of both roles that can be taught. You can’t teach somebody to be motivated, honest, influential, or intelligent.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

There was a period of time when I was too focused on perfecting our processes and not focused enough on growth. We had a steady stream of new business, an eight-week lead time, and lots of interest in our services. We had nearly doubled our staff, and things like new hire training, process optimization, and sales support were becoming more of a challenge — not impossible, but not as straightforward as they were when we were a small team. I became very focused on putting measures in place to keep things in check, ensure consistency, and improve the quality of our deliverables — all things we should have been doing (and still are), but I took it a bit too far.

I became a bit too rigid with how we were going to work, the types of projects we would take on, and the time we needed to complete things. It started to become hard to buy from us, but it was easy to turn people away when we had a line out the front door. Gradually, we started to notice dips in our sales projections, and our reps were becoming more and more frustrated.

There was a “come to Jesus” moment. We reevaluated our processes and stripped all the “invisible” stuff — things we did behind the curtain that produced nominal value for clients. I refocused on growth and providing a great experience for clients rather than a perfect one.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A social media site for just college students! Just kidding.

This is a hard one. We need authentic New York-style delis in the South. You can’t get a good bagel down here to save your life. There are so many Yankee transplants in Charlotte; it would be a home run.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

Dinner out with my husband. With busy careers and a new baby, it’s important for us to spend time together.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Slack is a great tool for internal communication. I love that there’s a record of communication for every client project and internal initiative.

I’m also a big fan of Google Hangouts. We use this internally and with our clients. Face-to-face communication is so important when it comes to relationship building and trust. We have an office in Denver, so it’s important that we all feel connected and comfortable with one another. A lot can be misconstrued when you can’t read body language or tone.

I also really like Google Drive, specifically Google Docs. We’ve pretty much abandoned Microsoft products like Word and Excel. Drive makes it so much easier to collaborate and comment; plus, I can work on the same document across multiple devices.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. It’s a fascinating take on how to manage people. It gave me a lot of clarity, helped me figure out how to effectively focus people, and helped me come to grips with letting some employees go.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

I had the opportunity to participate in Owner Camp a few years ago and met some pretty awesome people who run software design and development companies. Here are a few who regularly put out insightful content: Nancy Lyons, Tracey Halvorsen, Richard Banfield, Greg Hoy, and Jennifer Dary.

I also really love the First Round Capital blog. They put out some great content about product development and tech culture.


Skookum on Twitter: @skookum
Erika Carney on Twitter: @erikalcarney