Maura Smith

Words have a meaning and purpose. Exude confidence even when you aren’t confident. Don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks. Be present and have fun.


Maura Smith is the senior vice president of Pepperjam, an affiliate marketing solutions provider that’s redefining its category through innovative technology and service expertise. Maura has more than a decade of performance marketing insight and plays a key role in developing marketing and customer-centric strategies, thought leadership, and educational content for Pepperjam clients and publishers. Pepperjam is committed to empowering marketers to control their own destinies by enabling the profitable acquisition of high-value customers while protecting brand safety.

Where did the idea for Pepperjam come from?

Pepperjam was born (literally) out of marketing jarred jam. We had one goal in mind: to drive commerce by selling jam. But even 20 years ago, driving commerce was not as simple as it seemed. Commerce is fickle, challenging and ever-changing. It requires an understanding of the current landscape, some sort of guide and tools to get you quickly from point A to point B.

In the early 2000s, selling jam was limited to malls, mom-and-pop shops and the burgeoning and relatively unknown internet. Our motivation wasn’t jam sales, though — commerce was at the core of our company. We sought to enable commerce and conversions, providing transparency and clarity where it previously did not exist. Based on customer feedback and self-experience, we wanted to change what limited our clients, ourselves and our industries.

When we started out, we grappled with challenges related to identifying publishers in the market, as well as tools that stymied our ability to execute in the affiliate marketing space. Those struggles created a desire to solve the problems that plagued the market. Instead of proactively recruiting publishers in networks, brands had to wait for them to apply to programs. Unfortunately, brands didn’t know whether the publishers that applied would be a good fit for their program or even whether the information they provided would be relevant. Brands had minimal communication avenues to reach publishers and had to rely on network-owned mail systems.

What did we do? We allowed two-way relationship creation in a platform. We applied a rating to publishers to lend clarity to the validity of their profile info and created a chat feature to create a new distribution channel for making deals. We also sought to innovate by creating new ad types that would support publishers and brands of all shapes and sizes.

Centered on the idea of solving existing problems, we ended up creating a new technology vision and idea. We created a transparent platform that made it easier to create relationships and forge connections. That burning desire to solve lingering problems steered Pepperjam onto its current path.

Jam started our journey, but relationships and the ability to nurture those connections molded us into commerce creators.

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

No day is typical, but what is a daily constant is coffee. Lots of it.

To ensure I’m as productive as possible, I begin every week with personal and professional to-do lists. The more items I cross off, the less anxious I feel! I also use documents and systems to track projects within my department and across the company. To make certain I have the time to do everything I want to do in a given day, I block off time in my calendar for everything from meetings and appointments to ideation and organization.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Starting from a completely blank slate is not always my ideal scenario. I usually need an idea, a thought, a bit of content, or set parameters before I can begin to consider the various aspects of bringing something to life.

Once I have this idea, I attack it through multiple mediums (verbal, written, visual). Everyone learns differently. Some are inspired by a verbally communicated idea, while others need visuals to bring a concept to life. That’s why I like to have verbal, written and visual content to support my ideas and bring them to fruition.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Influencer marketing. I love its accessibility, its authenticity and its low barrier to entry. It’s also a great way to discover new products and brands.

I am a huge believer in word of mouth and recommendations from friends — particularly for books and TV shows. Influencers have basically helped broaden this concept at scale. While there is potential for shady practices in this arena, the opportunity for marketers to leverage influencer marketing is still on the rise.

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

Recognizing that not all individuals are created equally. Team members require different managerial styles, incentives and motivations to uncover the value they can provide.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Stop caring about what others think about you. Words have a meaning and purpose. Exude confidence even when you aren’t confident. Don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks. Be present and have fun.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

That I’m approachable. I might not seem like it, but I am! I tend to be more of an extrovert around people I really know, and I’m more introverted around people I haven’t had a chance to get to know yet.

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

Plan when possible. There are admittedly times when I fly by the seat of my pants, but there have also been moments when I have failed to plan accordingly. That failure to have a strategy ahead of time definitely led to painful lessons along the way.

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

Collecting market feedback. Honest feedback uncovers blind spots and provides objectivity that can help you accelerate or correct course for major initiatives. Whether you’re collecting feedback via in-person interviews, NPS surveys or win/loss interviews, it provides incredible value to your business.

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

Valuing failure itself. Every entrepreneur encounters moments of failure at some point, but the entire experience is wasted if you cannot take some sort of lesson from the failure. Learn what you can from all of your experiences — good or bad.

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

Airports should have gyms. That way, you could at least be productive during a long layover or delay.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

Personally, I spent $100 on a relaxing massage to alleviate some stress. It’s important to have outlets to decompress after a difficult day at work.

Professionally, I spent $100 as a targeted spend on Facebook. When done effectively, this sort of investment can rapidly generate worthwhile leads.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We use file-sharing software and collaborative services through Microsoft OneDrive.

I’m also a big proponent of one-click dialing for conference calls. I’m never able to remember the nine-digit access code for conference calls, so this has been a godsend.

What is your favorite quote?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Benjamin Franklin

Key Learnings:

  • A failure to plan is a plan to fail.
  • Leverage and implement feedback on a regular basis.
  • Be yourself, stop caring about what people think, and have fun!
  • Stay organized, but not so much so that you become inflexible.
  • Recognize and value the individuality in others.


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