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HubSpot CPO Christopher O’Donnell On Leadership & Making Music - The ROI Online Podcast Ep. 18

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How can you put yourself out there when you don’t know if you’re good enough? When is it too late to chase your dreams? How do you keep going when you’re knocked down? These are questions musician Christopher O’Donnell wrestled with for years.

On this episode of the ROI Online Podcast, Christopher shares the story of how he combined his love of storytelling and his passion for music to create songs that have a million views on YouTube.

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Christopher is the Chief Product Officer at HubSpot, a role that helped him dig into the core of effective communication and leadership. Ultimately, his storytelling expertise is what has helped him succeed in this position. As Steve Jobs once said, “The most powerful person in the room will always be the best storyteller." 

Christopher has always had a solid understanding of story, and this has helped him communicate as a leader and understand his customers’ buyer personas on a deeper level. This talent has also allowed him to create some epic songs. 

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Sharing those songs with the world, however, was a struggle. Christopher had connections to influential players in the music industry, but something always kept him from reaching out. He struggled to overcome self-doubt, something many of us entrepreneurs can relate to.

Christopher finally made the call. He connected with a musician who helped him gain confidence in his work and turn his lyrics into works of art. Today, his songs have over a million listens on YouTube. His band, The Providers, creates catchy songs that shed light on the feelings and problems many of us wrestle with in life: from damaged relationships to racism.

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Topics: Marketing, Communication, Leadership, StoryBrand, Story, Business Tips, writing, Music

Christopher O'Donnell : 

If you want people to remember something, give them a great story. That seems to be the entry point. So if you want to get information across, we as humans are hardwired in our lizard brain somehow, and I'm not a neuroscientist, so I can't break it down. But, you know, all I need to know is that that is the most powerful way to get information across. And of course, leadership is all about as my bosses remind me at work, absorbing confusion and passing down clarity and giving people an idea of what the challenge is and how they fit in. And we all are, you know, since we first as cave people looked up at the stars have this question of, "How do we fit in to everything? Into the universe?" Our day jobs... We spent a third of our life you know, at work and it's deeply important for us to understand how we fit in.

Steve Brown : 

Hi, everybody. Welcome to the ROI Online Podcast, where we believe you, the courageous entrepreneurs of our day, are the invisible heroes of our economy. You not only improve our world with your ideas, your grit and your passion, but you make our world better. I'm Steve Brown, and this is the place where we have great conversations with winners just like you while we laugh and learn together. Welcome back everybody to the ROI Online Podcast. And today, I'm excited for you to meet someone that's very interesting. And, you know, when we think about as a business owner, as a marketing director, as a StoryBrand guide, you know, we believe that the invisible heroes of the American economy are you because you're leading small teams and you're impacting our economy. You're providing opportunities for people to have jobs. And that's why the conversations on this episode and all the rest are so important for you. It's like, how does this help you when the rubber hits the road? So, first, I have a question for you. What do you get when you mix someone who wants to study music, study technology, study poker, and study story. You get someone who steps up to fill a position for a small startup because that's just what they needed in that moment. And then what happens? That little company gets acquired by a bigger fish, a bigger company. And about eight years later, that person who has that unique talent stack becomes the Chief Product Officer for an internationally public-traded company called HubSpot. But wait, there's more. That's not all. He also decides, "Hey, I think I'll start a band. And then like our first album, we'll have on YouTube. We'll have our songs like download like five and a half million views, one-in-something million views, just whatever." I love to introduce you to Christopher O'Donnell. Christopher, welcome to the ROI Online Podcast.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Steve, thanks so much for having me. I've really been looking forward to this.

Steve Brown : 

Good so in the pre-convo with Christopher, here's where Christopher and I connect: obviously, HubSpot. Obviously, marketing automation and sales stuff, just Christopher is this guy that's got a multiple value ads and in a conversation with a business owner who's struggling to be relevant in today's online area. And so, but I think the thing that Christopher and I really want to explore today is this passion over story. Now, we were the original StoryBrand Certified Agency. Last time I was at Inbound, I was wearing the StoryBrand jacket and Christopher came up to me and said, "Hey, I really like that stuff going on with StoryBrand." And so today, we're going to explore: how is it the rules of story really impact a business owner and how they want to apply that to business development? And in particular, where does that go in writing a song? Now, there's a communication challenge with a business leader. So Christopher, talk to us about why why writing songs? Why... how do you plan out communication to lead?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Yeah, why it's without any question the biggest challenge or the biggest, most important part of my job, and thinking back to the different roles that I've had over the years, it's really for every one of those, it's been trying to get better at the power of narrative. Whether it was trying to get my way as a marketing ops associate, my first job ever or at a small startup, trying to get customers on board or understand where we fit in with the story, or the product marketing and product development for $7 billion company. I mean, it is everything. It is absolutely everything. I think Steve Jobs famously said, "The most powerful person in the room will always be the best storyteller." And it really is, I mean, even reading Wall Street analysts notes, it's all storytelling. There's almost no part of the business that you can go into that is so dry and so uninteresting and so playing that it is not actually fundamentally storytelling. So no, that's that's the whole thing. I mean, I'm fascinated by every possible way that we can tell stories. The narrative structure. I have just the books on my desk, I have the seven basic plots here. That's great. I have I just got into this. Some of the great Syd Field screenwriting books.

Steve Brown : 

Yeah.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Because I'm just fascinated. Like, I want to understand how movies are written, not that I'm ever going to be a screenwriter, but just the the structure and the impact. There's so much research about how, if you want people to remember something, give them a great story. That seems to be the entry point. So if you want to get information across, we as humans are hardwired in our lizard brain somehow, and I'm not a neuroscientist, so I can't break it down. But, you know, all I need to know is that that is the most powerful way to get information across. And of course, leadership is all about as my bosses remind me at work, absorbing confusion and passing down clarity and giving people an idea of what the challenge is and how they fit in. And we all are, you know, since we first as cave people looked up at the stars have this question of, "How do we fit in to everything? Into the universe?" Our day jobs... We spend a third of our life you know, at work and it's deeply important for us to understand how we fit in. And I guess, sort of finishing the thought here, as leaders, the most powerful thing that we can do is to communicate to each person on the team exactly why we're here, exactly what the mission is, and for them to understand how they fit in. And that's how they bring themselves to work in the best way and ultimately contribute the most value in their role. So it's absolutely critical. I'm a nerd about it. I'm a beginning student always in my life. And I'm thrilled to be here. I love the StoryBrand stuff. I love... You and I had fun at Inbound, running into each other. I mean, this is just the best part of what I get to do every day.

Steve Brown : 

So tell us, Christopher, there was a time in the past where this epiphany happened, where you really... it just clicked with you. how our brains are set up and why story has to be weaved in. The honoring of the rules of story has to be weaved into what we do. When did that hit you?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Ah, that's a good question. I think it was a while ago when I read... It's a quick read. And it's sort of a pop-sci book. It's a lot of fun, but "Made to Stick" by the Heath brothers. Yeah. And it's a really cool... It's kind of along the lines of the Donald Miller StoryBrand stuff. They're definitely... You know, I would put them on the same shelf in my office. But you know, their point that they made around... Yeah, this is when it when it hit me. They make a point at the in the beginning of the book that urban myths are passed down for generation after generation, year after year across the entire world, with so many of the details perfectly intact. And they list out, they tell some of these urban myths, and I'm reading them and I'm like, "I have heard that and told that exactly word for word, the way that they are telling it in sort of documenting it here." And then they reveal the magic trick with you know, a framework and sort of how to think about it. But that's the point that they make is that we really relate to stories. The other point, the other example that they have in there that's fantastic is: whoever the researcher was who was trying to educate the world about trans fat, and showing the numbers and the stats and the medical stuff and the studies and all this kind of stuff. Nobody cared. Nobody cared at all. And finally, they held a press conference and had an entire eight course Thanksgiving dinner or something, you know this huge amount of food on the on the buffet table laid out, and then a bag of movie theater popcorn next to it. And all the press conference was was pointing out that there was as much fat in that bag of popcorn as in the entire Thanksgiving dinner. And then everybody picked it up and it went through... You know, everybody picked up the story of this great story that went out. And shortly thereafter, the movie theaters actually had to completely change their recipes for popcorn. So that was really when it hit me. I thought those were great examples. And then I look at work and think about the the density of information that we need to distribute every day and the thinking behind it. And I like the word that you used when we were just kind of hanging out before this: "the strategic mindset," which is so important for connecting everybody's work. And it seemed at that point that investing in storytelling was really worthwhile a worthwhile pursuit.

Steve Brown : 

Totally, that... You know, we're in the same industry and so we struggle... I struggle with it for years is: how do I quickly get the business leaders I want to support to get these disconnected things, but they're complimentary? And when you put them in a package, they're so powerful, but how do you take like, "Hey, we got to get our messaging clear, then we have to set you up in some technology in it and not get in the weeds and get confusing. And then we really need to get focused on a campaign mindset to run it through the system," right? And stories, just really connect the dots so quickly. But it's like, you have to really think about it and focus and work on it. You said a key word there, "the framework." You think about every thought leader you follow. There's some framework that they communicate clearly that makes us really appreciate and be attracted to their messaging, books. They do presentations. They speak. And that's how we learned about them. Every great leader gets this and... But I think what's really cool and and sexy about what you're doing is you've taken it and gone this route with this band, and songwriting which is very vulnerable. It's very... You're putting yourself out there to be criticized, judged. Well, even one of your songs, addresses that, but every leader has to get past and see their identity different. Tell us about that journey where it was so impactful you even wrote a song about it, to be criticized about what? You know what I'm saying?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Yeah, it's... I'll tell you to this day, nothing is scarier or harder than doing vocal takes in a studio. Getting in front of a fancy microphone and having the engineer behind the glass and the whole thing and your bandmates, and your friends watching and everything. I mean, I'll tell you, even Prince, even Prince who played all the instruments and played shows at his house, constantly playing music, even Prince recorded his vocals entirely by himself in the dead of night without the engineer even there. I mean, it's so raw and embarrassing and tough. And so that's... Man, I'll tell you that's a quick way to stay humble is to do some vocal takes. And yeah, I mean even years before getting to that point with the band. I remember walking... I had a little baby at the time, my son was one/two years old. And I would walk him into daycare every morning. And walking down Cambridge street in Cambridge, Mass on my way to work, dropping off a daycare every day thinking, "When am I going to get the courage to call this guy, Brad? What am I going to be able to call Brad and say, 'Would you come and play music with me?'" And Brad was in his late 50s at the time and had played with so many of my heroes and toured the world and played MSG, and all these kinds of things. And we'd worked together on a project once and got along well, and I just for years and year and years, I didn't have the courage to just reach out to them and say, "Hey, I've been practicing. I've been writing I've been doing more music stuff by myself. Would you would you give me some feedback? Would you hang out with me?" So the day when I finally called him, he picked right up and they said, "Oh yeah, let's go play music. I'll bring a drummer." And so we went out we played some some Jimi Hendrix tunes one night. And that was fun and everything. But he called me the next morning. He goes, "Look, I played those tunes a million times. You got any songs? Do you have anything that we can do? Is there a journey here that we can look at and think about going down together?" And I had, Steve, probably eight tunes that I had demos up. I had never played them for a single human, not my wife, not my friends, nobody. And I sent them in an email to Brad, and my phone rings two hours later, and he just says, "We're making a record." And it was amazing. And he was able to sort of say, "Hey, here's... Maybe we forgot about these two or these three, but these four, these five, man, let's really... Let's get together and get some get some musicians in here and play. Tell me about the songs and tell me about the stories and all this kind of stuff." And then that energy just sort of became infectious and we got wrapped up in it and ended up making this whole record. And so much of it is is about sort of sharing the story and getting enough excitement going, that it pulls you through those hard parts. Because I'll tell you, by the time we ended up having to go in and do the vocal takes, there was no turning back. We had a music teacher. Both of us share this amazing music teacher, this guy Dave Zanuck. And, and I remember Dave writing me on Facebook and saying, "So you're making this record with Brad, that's great. And you're going to sing." And I say, "Yeah, I'm gonna sing." And he just text me. Just like, "Oh, boy, there's no turning back now." And he was right. So you know, some of it... And that's kind of, you mentioned poker, that's that's sort of the poker thing, too. Sometimes you just have to, sometimes you just have to tie yourself to a hand. You know, sometimes you just have to commit yourself enough so that whatever happens happens, but you know, you're going to see it through to showdown. And it's been a lot of fun.

Steve Brown : 

I want to explore that because one of the things I realized in our agency, getting someone to produce content about what they do is really hard. And so we'd started our agency, that's what was the main value that we started to offer is help them produce the content for them and then publish it.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Sure.

Steve Brown : 

And, and that's a struggle because they have to change their identity to, "Okay, I do have something unique. I do have something valuable even though I'm an attorney, or maybe I'm a plastic surgeon or..." But there's a transformation that we're expecting of them that we have to lead them through. But let's talk about all the arguments you had in your head before you made that call. This is the same thing that a leader goes through, changing their identity, coming out of them what they know their uglies are in the past, to seeing what they could potentially do. They have to win this argument. Help us experience what you were feeling and how did you get past it?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

I remember a story that somebody actually musician that I was working with, I was making a record for her. This was actually how Brad and I met. This was about 20 years ago. And she offered her story of kind of that breakthrough, and it always stuck with me. Now she was visiting some new friends and was in their apartment. And there was a big framed photograph. And this famous photographer who'd made all this money and the photograph was worth all this money and all this kind of stuff. And my friend looked up at it and says to the owner of the apartment, "I could have taken that." And he looked at it, he said, "But you didn't." And I always think about that. It's like, okay, so what were my excuses? "Well, my songs aren't any good. Well, who am I? I'm just this yuppie in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I'm a white picket fence guy, what do I have to say? Or I'm too young, or I'm too old. Depending on the day, I was either too young to be a songwriter, or I was already over the hill." And it's just coming up with all of these walls and all of these barriers and all of these kinds of excuses. And you know what? There aren't that many people writing songs. There aren't that many people out there really trying to do this, and whatever it is that you're trying to do, whatever story you're trying to tell... And this is sort of the brilliance of inbound marketing is that with this transition into the online, whether you're a plastic surgeon or a lawyer, we're a pool. I mean, the famous early HubSpot stories, Marcus Sheridan, and he had a pool business that he was running with his brother. And he just started putting online the answers that he would give over the phone every day. "Oh, well I can tell you when to use a vinyl liner and I could tell you when to do this." And he did that. And he started getting creamed with traffic. I mean, this guy, he's a famous sales coach now and all this kind of stuff, but he made millions of dollars putting pools in because people needed to be told how to think about this. And there's always a human story. There's always a human story and real anxiety and pain, no matter what product or service you have. There's always a human story. Whether it's a song or an outdoor pool or something. There's always a human story, and sort of tapping into that and just putting your best foot forward, getting it out there, you're already ahead of 99% of the other people who like in my friend's example, they never took the picture. They never bought a camera. They never put a little darkroom together in their basement. And so really just even showing up is already a huge advantage. But it's hard. To your point, it's hard and with the technologies... That's my day job is trying to make that technology a little bit easier to to get into so it's more approachable to do marketing automation. But I'll tell you that, even marketing automation. Look, we can make the software easier, but you got to tell the story. The only marketer I know of who has increasing open rates over the course of an email drip campaign uses the same serialized storytelling technique that Lost and 24, these really cliffhanger kind of shows, and uses that in email marketing to get people to keep going. But again, so much of it is that that people just never even click the shutter. They never even take the picture. They never even try.

Steve Brown : 

So facing this fear, I call it courage. There's bravery and there's courage. Courage is you being naked and scared, but you still run toward the thing that's scaring you, right? And bravery is like you practice, you practice, you practice and you've gone through the scenario 100 times and so you wear the protective gear, but you're extremely effective. And there's this time that business owners just have to be courageous, they had do it because it has to be done, even though they don't feel brave, right? And so you started doing that. How long did it take you to make that call, to expose the songs that you hadn't shared with anyone?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

I definitely... Probably three years. I probably wrote... And I wrote 100 songs, I ended up sending Brad eight of them. And I think he thought four or five of them were worth kind of going further on. So yeah, it took a really long time. And then before that, it took me years in my late 20s. I majored in music. And then as I got older and wanted to sort of have a family and be a real grown up and so forth, I kind of put the guitar in the closet and stepped away from all that. And it took me years to have the courage to even go grab an instrument and sit back down and say, "I'm gonna practice." I mean, that actually was as hard in my late 20s, early 30s, as it was years later calling Brad or years after that, trying to do guitar takes in front of a bunch of people in the studio or vocal takes. So it's amazing. Sometimes the courage is... It's just you in a laptop, and you still need that courage. Which is very humbling.

Steve Brown : 

Totally. So I was listening to Brad, one of his talks. He was doing one of his lessons.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Yeah!

Steve Brown : 

Okay. And so he says, first you have to imitate. Then you have to assimilate. And then you have to create. And so I was thinking about that. That's a framework, okay. And he has a system. So you imitate because you need to learn. There's things you're going to learn that no one can say to you, and it wouldn't sink in to you. So you have to go through that experience. Imitating. Whether it's a business owner as a leader, whether it's a parent. Then over time, you start to simulate assimilates the stage where you and I can be talking about this unique experience that we share and, and the light bulb goes off and we say, "Oh, I'm not crazy. Someone else is experienced." Then create is where you give yourself the permission to put your unique perspective on it. That's where that's pretty much the stages of a business. The stages of a leader. I love that framework that he talked about.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Oh, and talk about a framework that... He obviously is speaking in a musical context and if you want to be an amazing bass player, you should go learn to imitate James Jamerson. It's very clear. There's like the number one thing... I don't think there's a bass player alive that would disagree with that. You got to go and just imitate note for note for note everything that James Jamerson did and then Ray Brown and Tommy Cogbell and there are a million others but, if you don't have that... Like in music, they say "having it under your fingers," and just kind of being able to live in that world a little bit. Even if you are absolutely obsessing over note for note what somebody else has done in the past. And I do that at work. I do that at work all the time. If it's a reading a book about a great leader, I'm reading "Ride of a Lifetime" right now, by Bob Iger, CEO of Disney. It's a great book. Or "Shoe Dog," Phil Knight. Sometimes you pick up these things, and you say, "Hey, this is an interesting aspect of leadership style. I'm going to try it. And then you go out, you actually try these things." And then over time, you start to notice what's working and what's not working. And and for me, in the assimilate stage, there's a word that I really gravitate toward which is "authentic." And it's that bridge, as you say, between imitating somebody else and then finding your own voice in it. I've tried a million things in my leadership style, and a lot of them haven't worked. A lot of them haven't worked. And I try to get the feedback on what's working and not working. I also know from within myself what works and doesn't work. And I have a speaking coach who's really, to be honest, he's a storytelling coach more than a public speaking coach. And finding the things where I could just do it all day because it is coming from within me. And you know what? We watch game tape. We watch game tape of every time I do anything in public speaking internal or external. And we take the Zoom recording, and we break it down. And we watch parts of it and it's totally painful. But we also look at Martin Luther King. We look at JFK. We look at all these game tapes of other leaders, and he shows me what they're doing. You know, the repetition that MLK would do the repetition and the notes and the pitch and all these kinds of things. And then I can go into work, and maybe I'm announcing a rework or something or a new product or something like that. And I can try that technique that we saw somebody else do. And over time, the ones that kind of stick are the ones that it doesn't feel like I'm faking it. After a certain point, it feels like I've discovered a little bit more of my own voice, and then the Create part is just letting it rip and going out there and trying something new. I don't know if I'm quite at the at the Create stage yet. But I look forward to being there someday.

Steve Brown : 

I want to pause here just for a moment and talk to you about a program that we have just released called the ROI QuickStart Academy for authors. Every day. I talk to business owners just like you who struggle with quickly getting their fundamentals in place. We want to create a great foundation and we want to grow our business but things that are in our way: our lack of knowledge about the specifics we should put in place, what kind of technology, what kind of messaging and what kind of campaigns? And that problem exists for authors as well. And we just gel so good with authors because, well, I'm an author, and I understand everything that you struggle with. You have a great idea. You have a great book. But what do you want to do? You want to get your book in front of more people. You want to make it easy for them to find you, learn how they can schedule a time to talk with you, hire you for a conference, or maybe sign up for the services that your book promotes. So what is the QuickStart Academy for authors? Imagine working with a small group of like-minded authors, and the experts from the ROI QuickStart team. It's a great way to get your messaging clear, to be confident with the technology in your marketing automation, and how to run a strategic campaign to get you more of what you want from the investment of your book. To learn more about the QuickStart Academy for authors, you can visit roionline.com or click in the link in the show notes below. And now, back to this episode. Well, you're doing the work, you'll get there, so the light bulb went on with me on the similarity of a presentation to a song when I was watching Simon Sinek and his golden circle, or the "Why?" presentation. So if you watch that, if you were to break it down into a story he's got the opening. You get some familiar and then he does... And I'm obviously I'm not a music dude. But the refrain. That's the repeated part over and over?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Yeah. Absolutely.

Steve Brown : 

So people don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it. That's his refrain. But he does... He does this: introduce you to something familiar, but then he brings in this new thing that like, "Oh, wait a minute, I'm gonna listen to that." And then you get comforted by the reframe. Now, people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. I remember that. But every great presentation has a version of that. And that's it. So that was like, I really wanted to explore that with that with you. When you're writing your songs, let's talk about why. First, you decided on genre, your audience, your songs. Now I don't... So this is not like crushing on, you're an artist and you have a band, but this is a business application process.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Oh, it's very... I mean, it's a little bit logical on Cartesian at the highest level a bit formulaic. Even reading about how to write a screenplay. It's formulaic in a certain sense and there are certain criteria and there is... There are ways of doing leadership talks. And Simon Sinek. There are things about his talks that are consistent and that work and that have existed for centuries and centuries in the oral tradition of storytelling. And so I love this topic: what are the things to kind of look for? Well, you need characters. You need characters. And if you are a plastic surgeon and you're marketing your services, you need characters. You need stories. You need before and after. You need transformation and redemption and freedom and a problem. You need to start these stories in medius race. I remember seeing Simon, he spoke at Inbound one year, and at the time he had this great talk that he would give. And he comes out and he's in the middle of a story of these army guys who are pinned down in a valley and, you've heard that story, right? It's great story. But he just comes out on stage and you're here and he has a whiteboard up, and he's going to do this whole business thing and everything and he comes out and he takes, you know, 5/10/15 minutes and tell us an army story that starts with a couple of guys in the trenches who think they're going to die. That's a great technique, like these are the techniques that we're looking for. So if I get up to announce a new product, if I'm working on the positioning, and the feature set of a new product, I want to know the person. I want to know, at the beginning of that talk, when I go to sort of take this narrative and get everybody excited about it, it's going to be about somebody in their life. It's going to have a face. It's going to have a name, you know, they're going to have a name they're going to have, we're going to know what kind of car they drive, we're going to know how they get a promotion, we're going to know how they get fired, we're going to know what they think of their boss, we're going to know all of that context. And that's the interesting part. We get to the software. We get to the sort of what we're going to do. I actually just had a one on one with one of our engineering VPs this morning. And we're working on the architecture for a bunch of stuff together and the really nitty gritty details. But when we get an hour to talk to each other in person, we just want to go through these stories. So we spent our time talking about. We can slack and email about you know how to do SQL this and you know, distributed systems. That's that's stuff that we can kind of deal with in almost downtime. The real energy with each other is understanding the stories. And I pulled them onto a call the other day with somebody, I'm like, "I just want you to see this person. Before we get into the software, I just want you to see this person, and we ask this person questions about their career. 'Tell us, in 2013, this career transition, tell us how you fell. Tell us the story of your career.'" And by the time we get to the end of that, guess what, I don't need much of a Google Doc for the VP of engineering. He gets it. He knows he knows. This is what sucks about this job, and he can daydream on it. And this is the key for leadership too, is that if you give people that narrative and the human story, your people will come to you with ideas you would have never thought of. Because they start daydreaming about it. It's like the dog walking time for me or some people call it the shower time, the shower cycles, like that especially in this day and age, it's so much of when we actually do our creative work. So back to songwriting, it's all the same stuff. It's in media res, starting something in the middle of a story and creating these characters. And then the art there is to leave enough of it universal so that you're saying something specific. And you have a very specific idea as a writer of the actual narrative arc, but as opposed to a movie where you actually show a lot of those details, in a song, it's almost entirely left to the imagination. So if you think of "Josie" by Steely Dan, it's this song about homecoming. It's this song about this character, and she comes home and there's this amazing excitement about her coming back. And that's kind of all you know. It's kind of all you know, but it's an incredible song and we can sort of reflect our own lives onto this moment of homecoming, which is, like "The Odyssey." You know when Josie comes home, it's like Odysseus coming home to Ithaca. You know, at the end of at the end of the Odyssey. These stories are universal.

Steve Brown : 

So that, that point you're making right there, there was a million versions of a homecoming in all these people's heads sparked by the framework of that song. But we put our details in it. And it's our story. And it's like, we hear that song, we think of that moment in time sparked by someone doing some work following a framework, and releasing that in us.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

That's exactly it. And if you do that at work, what happens is, you're telling a story. You're leaving a lot of the details open. And that's what's really key, working with... And not to draw off of sort of false parallel here. I mean, it is literally exactly the same. Working with engineers and working with drummers. It's literally the same because you want that person to do something that you couldn't quite describe.

Steve Brown : 

Yeah.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Any want them to do something where at the end of the take, you're just like, "Holy crap." And I have those moments at work, where an engineer will Slack me and go, "Hey, yeah, you said that with this one thing that people are really nervous to do this. And so here's a way that we could do a dry run of this thing. And so they could see what would happen without having to commit to it." The engineers, we met about this, and we're talking about that, and I'm sitting there and I'm like, "That would be incredible." And I would have never seen that. Usually you're going in and you're going, "Well, how long would it take to do X, Y and Z thing I thought of?" and everything like that. You're way better off telling the story and having people come to you or having the drummer do a great take and then the drummer say, "Give me one more. I'm going to do in a different way." And then that's the take, you know. So it's very much about the open space in the narrative and letting people be creative and kind of own that story for themselves.

Steve Brown : 

That's... So I call that ninja leadership, okay? It's indirect leading by having the confidence to not be in control or having to drive. But you dropping this catalyst into this person's mind and releasing this energy because they can see the vision where you're going on the horizon, but they're gonna bring their value to it, and you get something you could have never, never even conceived, much less direct.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

It's absolutely true. So this happened the other day. I love that ninja leadership that's... We had we had one recently where we're going to ask a bunch of teams to do a bunch of work and so we met with them and they sort of submitted how they're thinking about it and their early thoughts and so forth. And I'm pushing off on all sides any conversation of timeline. And my brilliant chief of staff at work, she said to me, "So when are we going to... At some point here, we need to have a timeline." And I found myself saying, I was like, "You know what, we need to let them fall in love with it first. We need to give them the time to really do their own research, talk to their own customers. And sleep on this and fall in love with the problem we're trying to solve before we start asking, 'Hey, when can we get this done by?' I mean, there's no it yet. We don't know what it is. I can give them a starting point of, 'Yeah, I think it's this. I think it's this. I think it's this.' But I'm I'm in many cases better off saying, 'Here are the people you ought to talk to. Here's the way we're thinking about these different products and who they're going to be for.'" And this is a famous product management trick. Anytime somebody, like a founder or something says, "Go build this thing say, "Oh, I'd love to. That sounds fascinating. Can you introduce me to five customers who would want this?" And what will happen is almost all the time it just disappears. Or you talk to the people and you realize they don't need it. Or more often, what happens is you'll talk to people and you'll come back to that founder with a better idea and say, "Hey, I explored this and this is where my imagination took me."

Steve Brown : 

I love... So I love that example. That example that you just described. Think of where you are in your leadership journey. You weren't in the imitate leadership answers to that question. You weren't in the the assimilate. That was in the Create stage of leadership. Right? You wouldn't have been able in four years ago, in whatever position you had with HubSpot, you wouldn't have came with that answer because you were still struggling with yourself identity, where you fit in the organization in a lot of ways. So you would have given some version of this assimilated. You would have, like, "Timeline needs to be between this window and this window." But that answer you just gave is in the Create stage of leadership. That's cool.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

I'm sure I could find somewhere where I stole that way of thinking. But for me, it's authentic. Like that's the good and bad part of working around me is that autonomy and that sort of creative space. I feel really, really strongly about it. And there are some product leaders and some folks who do what I do, where they just have the whole vision in their head and they go and they tell everyone down to the pixel exactly how it's gonna play out. And I'm not that way. And I think music really showed me that. Because I can make a demo, and I can play the instruments. I made good enough piano player, I can do a piano part. But it's not going to be great. The way you get a great piano part is you make the best demo you can and then you show it to somebody you think would be amazing. Adding their thing. And then you shut up. And you let them kind of just say, this is the famous thing that happens after take, "Your take, it's pretty good." And then they go, "Well, you know, give me another one. Give me another one. Give me another one."

Steve Brown : 

But they need to feel safe to to go, "Yes," but you need to feel safe. So that demo has to attract them and sell them and help them see the bigger version of what you're describing that you can't put into words.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

That I think is the professional challenge that is most attractive to me, is what you just said. I've always wanted to be around people who are way better at me at a million different things that I just thought were so cool. And to kind of try to be the person to get them to share a vision and then do something that made everybody kind of just go, "Wow, how cool is that?" I was never the best musician that I hung out with. I always hung out with people who are way better than me. And you know what I was the one who brought the four track, I was the one who sort of said, "Hey, why don't we do that thing that last couple of bars that you folks were just playing. Let's look that up. Keep going on on that thing." That's the part that I find really, really fascinating.

Steve Brown : 

The culture that you're lucky to be a part of has provided you the safety to be in that create stage of your leadership. Imagine giving that answer that you did, but being in an organization that's like, that's a great opening to attack you and diminish your leadership a little bit for my game. That's beautiful. I love that example.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Well, we do have a lot of safety at work, and it took years and years and years and a lot of vulnerability and a lot of breakthroughs, breakthroughs around becoming, for me, becoming more open to feedback. And I found that once I started getting more open to feedback, I started getting a lot more of it, particularly from from peers and colleagues, which was totally transformative. And then also telling people when I was really impressed. That was a remarkable breakthrough for my own imposter syndrome, which with which I struggle mightily, as I suspect most of us or almost all of us do. When I see something that's intimidatingly good at work, I started this a couple of years ago, I just reach out to them and tell them. "That was a really amazing presentation." I saw a guy at work do a three hour presentation on pricing and packaging. It's like one of the hardest things to do and the easiest thing to poke holes in and like you're saying, it's just a total political minefield, there's nothing like it. I saw this guy at work, Brad Coffee, do this. And he did this two hour executive team meeting and he led this thing. I just had to write him a note afterwards say, "I could never have done that. Like that was a clinic. That was really amazing." And you know what? He sent back to me a couple of nice things too and gave me some some tips on how to think about approaching a problem like that. So it's hard fought and building this software, I have to say, one of the most encouraging things about it is seeing people leave situations where they don't feel safe because they have a skill set. They have the freedom. You have freedom you can go and work with companies that you feel comfortable working with, whose missions and whose personalities and so forth, you have that freedom. That is why I want to build software and business software in particular, because you actually on a good day, give people the freedom to pick up shop and go and say, "Hey, look, you know what, I don't..." I talked to a woman the other day and she said, "Yeah, I was at this job as director of marketing, they wanted me to do all this cold email and do all this kind of stuff. And so I just left." And she picked up and got a job somewhere else, brought HubSpot in, built them a website. She was a hero, and she's like, "Oh, I love the leaders at this new place," all this kind of stuff. I think that the psychological safety is massive and it's hard and it requires a lot of our own vulnerability if we want that ourselves.

Steve Brown : 

So HubSpot is one of the most enlightened sales centric organization I bumped into. I've really been impressed at the acumen of sales, enlightened sales, not arm twisting sales but enlightened. But when I was listening to a couple of your songs, like "All I Know." So listen to that song. Now, you have some persuasive application going in there. And there's a book, "The Challenger Customer," not "The Challenger Sale," it's "The Challenger Customer" and it talks about the power of "you" phrasing in your messaging. So when you take... Often will go, "So we love helping people because we see this going on and we do that," and that's nice. But it doesn't pull me into the story. But when you say, "You know, Christopher, when you were struggling with sharing these songs with Brad..." And you probably had that conversation with yourself four/five, let's say two years and finally you do this. You're sucked into that story. And that story sticks with you. That was one of your things of that picture example, that story stuck with me. But the "you" phrasing and songs is pulling me into that very general narrative, but I get to fill in all the details but when you say, "I know you but you.." And I'm sitting around going, "I know an example where that applies in my life."

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Hmm. We used to joke in high school about Steely Dan song. I actually mentioned a Steely Dan song. They're all written in the second person. It's like "You were standing..." It's like all in second person. We used to goof around and make a fake Steely Dan songs and the whole joke of it was there on the second person. But you know what I saw that the other day. I was looking at, somebody had written up a few examples of some great product marketing. It's the kind of stuff we share around all the time, like, "Oh, look at these. I went and I looked at folks doing this kind of thing and here are the messages." And I that was my note in the Google Doc. I was like, look at all these taglines. These three taglines, we really like are all in the second person. They're all about you. And talking about the StoryBrand stuff. We were kind of goofing on it inbound. The hero's journey, obviously. And then Donald Miller's kind of whole thing with StoryBrand to me is this idea of you being the hero. And it's not about us being the hero. Apple... I don't think Apple bother doing a press release. They launched like the coolest office ever built in the world. They're not going to do a press release. Like, "Hey, look at this awesome office we built. People have to fly drones over to take pictures of it." Apple doesn't care about telling that story. When Apple goes and this is Donald Miller's example, to market the iPod, it's black dancing silhouettes, so that we can imagine ourselves so that we can live for a moment in the idea of dancing like nobody's looking at us. Like we don't care at all. That is what they're selling. And so I just absolutely love that. I love the second person. I was talking to her head of Product Marketing about it yesterday, she had a cool tagline idea. And I was like, that's in the second person and it's challenging and it's so exciting, and I love it so much.

Steve Brown : 

So think about the anthems that... At certain times in our life, we had this anthem song. Right?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Yes!

Steve Brown : 

But I was, not that this one was one of mine. I'm curious about what yours were. But you think about Foreigner. "You're as cold as ice." And they have the songs that take advantage of this. What was your anthem, by the way. So here when you're like, I want to study music, I want to study story. I want to study poker. What's your anthem?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Oh, I mean, so many anthems over the years. Well, when I was a teenager, I read somewhere that the music you listen to when you were 13 is the music that you most identify with emotionally for the rest of your life. I was listening to Blues Traveler back in the day, you know, and that stuff was written in the second person. Run Around. And you know, it's all about like, "Why do you want to give me the run around? Why are you doing this to me?" What were the other anthems... Later on "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon. I mean, what an amazing song where it starts in the second for the verses are in the first person. But the punchline is in the second person. "I was running around, always looking down," you know, and "every face I see..." He tells us a beautiful story and then the punch line is, "I could use somebody like you". And so it just it takes the listener and it builds up almost like stretching a rubber band builds up all of this tension. And then it places the listener at the heart of the story in this really, really beautiful kind of last minute kind of way. So those are a couple of those are a couple of anthems but man, I mean, there's so many. "High Tide Or Low Tide," Bob Marley, deep cut. The Bob Marley stuff is really close to my heart. And always sang it to my kids, grew up kind of listening to it. "High Tide Or Low Tide," that's a great one. "You'll be by my side," again in the second person. Absolutely. It's all about these like placing the listener in the universe, making promises, fulfilling those promises.

Steve Brown : 

So, where do you see... Where do you see that the business leaders that are listening, the StoryBrand Guides, the marketing directors... This big lever of really clear storytelling, it has to go into the platform or the technology of the day. It'll set perennial application perennial or universal principle always be applicable and legitimate. You go back 4000 years, it was standing on a rock in front of a bunch of people, and you go back 150 years, you're standing on a wagon, talking to some folks, selling snake oil. Or maybe that's not a good example. But it's everybody.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Luckily, marketing has come a long way I think.

Steve Brown : 

How do you take the technology of our day and bake that in? And how... It's a legitimate business application. Period.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Yeah, I think the the most obvious starting point there is personalization. And looking at what Amazon has done, and trying to each of us provide for our own customers a level of personalization and relevance. And so that story is just tailored really to each person. And then from there, yeah, we can get into the the technology and, you know, smart content on your website and different offers that you're putting out in different sort of stories that you tell and the use of different more relevant case studies. All of that stuff is is absolutely real. And we can all find online a million examples of how to think about that. But for me, when it comes down to is actually using StoryBrand, it really comes down to the problem section of that SB seven framework, and really understanding the villain and the internal, external, and philosophical problem. That to me is is the really hard part. The rest of it, not to underplay the rest of the steps, they're really important. But the rest of it is, I think, kind of easy and mapping those things onto the technologies is actually pretty easy once you have once you have the problem statement in the villain really nicely identified.

Steve Brown : 

Totally. I love to start by envisioning our desired transformation. So when we when we talk about what the desired transformation, what's an aspirational image? It helps me see the change that we want them to make. And then we can start building out the character better. The external problem, obvious problem, but then what's our insecurities, that internal problem?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Yes.

Steve Brown : 

That's really cool. I love that you're, you're utilizing that and talk about it so well. So we're wrapping up. Just a couple of questions here. And then first of all, so this is a great conversation.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

I can do this all day. I love this. I love this.

Steve Brown : 

And so that's awesome. Why is it Boston bands? What's the deal with Boston and bands? Why? You think about anthem songs. Boston, literally, or Aerosmith? Yes. Right. Why Boston? What's going on there that makes it like a center of good music or good bands?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

I don't know no, man. I don't know. It's a drinking town with a baseball problem. I guess. I don't know. I mean, part of it is the sports culture. I think, Dropkick Murphys, and you know, Sweet Caroline some of that stuff, you know, obviously takes hold around here because of the sort of sports site Geist, that's definitely a big piece of it. Aerosmith. Huge. Boston. Huge. I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is. I mean, there are a lot of things. A lot of really bright people around a lot of universities, the Berklee College of Music, you know, really. So it becomes sort of a pilgrimage for a lot of people in their music careers to kind of at least do a stint in Boston at some point in their lives. I don't know maybe that's maybe that's part of it. I'm not quite sure.

Steve Brown : 

So would you would you say the success of your songs are because you really honoring the rules of story and those are really focused strongly on those? To have that many downloads on YouTube when this is your first public swing at marketing yourself, so to speak, what's going on?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

I think also is we're very much in the audience discovery phase of this. And so it's kind of getting the music in front of as many people as we can. And then kind of understanding who's responding to it, whether it's age, demographics, or geography, and just kind of finding pockets. And it's sort of doubling down there. So it's probably a bit of the marketing analytics type A-ness. Yeah, and I would love to think that it's, it's the stories in the songs, but we got to find the people who they speak to. And we're still very much in that in that kind of phase.

Steve Brown : 

Dude, that ties the knot really well in this conversation on how story and the application of technology and this marketing is a legitimate business process. Your product is a legitimate business here. It's not just making songs for fun necessarily, that's an outlet. It's fulfilling, but it... There's... The rubber's gotta hit the road to justify you continuing on to that so that's a great way to tie it up so. Is there a point where Marky Mark Mark Wall Walhberg, he's like going to take this and put it in one of his movies because he's super Boston focused. Is that in your marketing plan?

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Well, I would appreciate the introduction. That would be great.

Steve Brown : 

All right, Christopher, thank you so much, man. I value and I appreciate you and this has been a great conversation. I think the folks are going to get a lot of value out of this.

Christopher O'Donnell : 

I hope they really do. Everybody, check out The Providers on Spotify. And if anybody's curious about working with HubSpot, go to a HubSpot.com/jobs. We're hiring remote, every department you name it. It's great place to work number one place in the U.S. according to Glassdoor to work. So come introduce yourself and come hang with us if you so feel!

 

Steve Brown : 

It's a place where you're going to imitate, assimilate and begin to create because that culture is there at HubSpot. Christopher. Thanks for being on the ROI Online Podcast.

 

Christopher O'Donnell : 

Thanks, Steve. Thanks for having me.

Steve Brown : 

Thanks for listening to another fun episode of the ROI Online Podcast. For more, be sure to check out the show notes of this episode. And feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, where we can chat and I can help direct you to the resources you're searching for. To learn more about how you can grow your business better, be sure to pick up your copy of my book, "The Golden toilet," at surprise, thegoldentoilet.com. I'm Steve Brown, and we'll see you next week on another fun episode of the ROI Online Podcast.