Episode 17: Jason Shugars, Sr. Dir. - Global Partnerships, Blueshift

Jason talks about how sending an “exit email” can make waves, structuring a partnership, international business practices, sabbaticals and more.


This week on The CoSell Show we are honored to have Jason Shugars, the Senior Director of Global Partnerships at Blueshift.

 

Topics Covered:

    1. How sending an “exit email” can make waves (in a good way!)

    2. How to structure a partnership to promote a mutually exclusive, and thriving, ecosystem

    3. Understanding different international business practices when you want to expand globally

    4. When and Why taking a sabbatical can be the best thing for your career

 

More Questions for Jason?

Brought to you by our host: Taylor Baker for CoSell.io

Listen & Subscribe

 

Apple Podcast   Spotify   Stitcher_Logo

 

Follow Along With The Podcast Transcript

Taylor Baker:
Hello, listeners, and welcome back to The CoSell Show. I'm your host, Taylor Baker, and today, we are going to discuss how to structure a partnership to promote a mutually exclusive ecosystem, how to engage in different types of international business practices, and when and why taking a sabbatical can be the best thing for your career. Who better to talk to you about this with than Jason Shugars, the senior director of global partnerships at Blueshift. Welcome, Jason.

Jason Shugars:
Thank you. Great to be here.

Taylor Baker:

Awesome. We're happy to have you. To kick things off, can you tell our listeners a little bit more about your background and your current role at Blueshift?

Jason Shugars:
Yeah, sure thing. My background tends to be a little diverse, and I think about my career as it stands, I've tend to pursue things that interest me, and so that could be different industries, different companies, different roles, but generally speaking, I've mainly focused a lot on product management and partnerships and so whether that's at big companies or small companies. It tends to be at smaller companies. I feel most at home when I'm able to be part of a company. I feel like I'm adding value, move the yardsticks or whatever the analogy may be. That's a little bit of my background. It's been companies as big as Google, Macy's, Albertsons, companies as small as Octavia or even Blueshift as we're just kicking off and growing.

Right now at Blueshift, I'm working as their head of partnerships and building out really on the strategy, the channel, the execution, whether that's agency, partnerships, reseller partnerships, or even technical integrations. A bit of all three, but as we're growing, that's what I'm trying to identify and help us scale.

Taylor Baker:
Can you maybe tell our listeners a little bit more about what it is Blueshift as a whole does?

Jason Shugars:
Great question. Blueshift, we're in the customer data platform space or the CDP spaces is often kind of said, and really, what that means is we work with the clients, we work with companies to ingest their first-party data, whether that's e-commerce, data, catalog data, email, CRM data, and then we give them the tools and the platform to be able to activate against that, so email, SMS, direct mail, paid media. Whatever channel the company wants to be able to reach out to their customers, we give them the tools to build those journeys. We have AI and ML that serve as predictive scoring to help make better decisions when it comes to marketing. That's in a nutshell what we do.

Taylor Baker:
Very cool. So one of our favorite questions to ask here at The CoSell Show is what is something fun about you that our listeners cannot find on the old LinkedIn profile?

Jason Shugars:

That's a good one. It's not on my LinkedIn, but it typically comes up when you do a search for me. When I was at Google, a company I loved very dearly and learned a lot and to this day, it probably stands as one of my best working experiences. When I made the very tough decision to leave, I wrote an email to the company, which a lot of people did at the time, so it may seem a weird now and a little bit aggressive, but at the time when someone had been at Google left, you would send an email to your coworkers either something funny or clever or something to chronicle your time. It was bittersweet, and it was kind of a love letter. It often was. When I left, I wrote an email and sent it out to the, I don't know, 7,000, 10,000 Googlers at the time, and the title and the subject was, "So long, suckers. I'm out."

Even though the title was a little bit intense or a little out there, I then proceeded to chronicle all the ways, the many ways Google had been so good to me and my journey and the places I'd been and how much I'd grown. It really was, it was a love letter. It was a, "Hey, I've got to go. This is a tough decision, but man, you've been really good to me." I wrote that and got some great responses. People were very, very encouraging at Google.

Then about six to eight months later, the 2008 recession hit. I was at my, the startup by a joint, and I got this call from someone on The Today Show, and they basically said, "Hey, we'd like to interview you about this letter. Is this real? Did you get fired? Did you send this on purpose?" That sort of kicked off a whole string of other interviews. I was on the front page of The LA Times. The tragic or sad thing was my letter was a love letter. The way that media was kind of lumping me in was with other people who had left on more bitter circumstances, and so it was tough. I had to explain, "No, no, no. Even though the subject line is one thing, if you read the letter, it's all good." Yeah, that would probably be the one thing you can't find on LinkedIn but often comes up in interviews.

Taylor Baker:
Interesting. Wow. Leave it to the media to try to spin something to the negative. That never happens, does it?

Jason Shugars:

Right. Right.

Taylor Baker:
Wow. That is so interesting. Do you know like how it got into a media type of thing? Did someone like send it to them? Was it just that much of a love letter that it made, I mean, it made national headlines, but-

Jason Shugars:
Yeah. Well, so I think what happened was someone from The LA Times contacted me. I think it was because of the recession she was sort of doing some, what I thought was, forgive the term, like a fluff piece. I thought this was going to be a soft kind of whenever. Get an interview. She came up, took some pictures. It landed on the front page, and then it just took off like wildfire, random radio stations throughout the US, The Today Show, which was, it was just bizarre because I think what they were trying to do was make it... It was a more interesting story if someone had left Google, "Oh, wow," and kind of gave the proverbial middle finger as they left, which was not what I was doing. Anyways, it was a quite the experience.

Taylor Baker:
Wow. That still, I mean, other than now, because you just told that wonderful story, but does that come up a lot? Do people still know you as Jason, the suck-it Google guy?

Jason Shugars:

It's kind of funny because every three or four years, it would pop up again. I think in 2011 or '12, it made the Wall Street Journal. It was never like just me. It was me and three of the people who had sent a goodbye email, and "is this proper etiquette" and "what are you really trying to do," and in some cases, yes. It came up there and I think probably after that, and so I would routinely... people would be like, "Hey, I saw you were in the paper for this thing." I mean, to be honest, it's always been more of a thing I'm ready to talk about when I'm getting ready to interview someplace like a new job because I'm like, "I'm pretty sure they've seen this. I need to make sure they know this is all positive. I'm not burning the building down when I leave because of my red stapler kind of guy," so.

Taylor Baker:
Wow, interesting. I can't even imagine an email I had written being so nationally reported on. It must've been a really good email. Definitely, listeners, as we are all curious, I will link to one of these articles, and maybe we can read this amazing email. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sharing that. How interesting. We are going to scoot on over to the partnership side of things because I'm sure everyone's eager to hear what you have to say. What are some of the best practices you have seen pretty consistently in most of your partnerships that have been successful?

Jason Shugars:
Great question. I think for me, I'm a very tactile person, and the partnerships that have worked most for me in the past have been the ones where I can spend some time in real life, in the flesh, in the meat space, so to speak, and really being able to get to know somebody because I guess my, and this speaks to my personal philosophy, is we are our careers, but we are so much more than our careers and our jobs.

Jason Shugars:
Really, the key to partnerships for me is getting to know someone and getting to know their business, and then being able to understand how we can help each other. I think if at all possible, in-person meetings, in-person time. It's just so incredibly valuable because it builds the relationship, which helps in turn build the partnership. I think secondarily to that is just being really disciplined about having weekly touch base, having a biweekly or weekly or even monthly touch base with your partner and making sure that you are spending time, continuing to move the business forward in whatever capacity. That to me has, those two things have I think led to the most success in any partnerships business I've built.

Taylor Baker:
In that same respect though, how do you normally structure these partnerships to ensure that everyone is engaged and driven to help each other throughout the maturity of the partnership?

Jason Shugars:
I think, and maybe this is something that's specific to the MarTech space or the adtech space, but to structure the partnership to get it off on the right footing, I think we both on each side of the table need to understand what we're selling, for lack of a better word, what is the product, what is my platform that, and what are the things that work well about it, what are the things that don't, and vice versa. I think that is always, for me, the core platform or pillar that I start with because if I don't understand what the benefits of using my partner's platform are or why we should partner with them, it's a bit of a waste. It feels a bit empty exercise. It's kind of like going on a date without the actual idea of wanting to get to know someone, something along those lines.

The first pillar is, "Hey, what do you do, and how does it work?" That's I think something that really is I consider a best practice and something that is how I start structuring it because from there, then whatever, what the manner of the partnership is, whether it's an agency or a reseller or something entirely different or some combination, you're not really able to have that conversation until you understand what the partner's platform or product does.

Taylor Baker:
Sure. So to go on the other side of that, the nightmare side of the good advice, do you have any partnership horror stories that you could share?

Jason Shugars:

I think... That's a good one. I don't want to name names, so I won't.

Taylor Baker:
Oh, of course not.

Jason Shugars:
Horror stories, I think most of my horror stories are around working at a company where the technology or the platform is relatively new or not well-understood in the market it's trying to get into. The horror stories typically tend to be ones where you're coming in with your platform, and you're disrupting an existing ecosystem, and you tend to face some sort of challenging pushback from people who are already in that ecosystem.

I've had in prior roles, less so at Blueshift, but in prior roles, I've had situations where I needed to partner with a particular platform or integration, and they did not want to work with me because they knew that we were disrupting their business. It's less than a horror story and more of a challenge. I did have a particular partner say, "Listen, the only reason we're working with you is because our clients said we have to." Yeah, that kind of antagonism was really not that much fun, but I think that might be [inaudible 00:11:10] with whenever you're breaking into a new space.

Taylor Baker:
Do you have a really exciting history in partnerships working globally and on the worldview of partnerships especially? I'd really kind of like to dig into that side of your experience. What similarities and differences have you noticed in the global market versus the market here in America?

Jason Shugars:

Yeah, that's a great question. It's interesting. I think this is one of the things that's frankly is the most exciting part of being in a global partnerships role is, A, the ability to travel, but B, the chance to really mix it up with different cultures and different business styles that are very unlike what it is to do business here in the US. Case in point, if you're doing partnerships in Europe, the mentality, you may think that "Oh, well, you know how we do business in Germany and Italy and Spain is all the same because they're all European." Well, that's obviously not at all correct. The way a business meeting might run or a partnership maybe might run in Germany versus how it's going to run in Spain are wildly different ends of the spec. The same goes with the UK.

For PubMatic, I worked in London. I was based there helping start that business, and it took me a long time to really understand that, and this is maybe a broad stereotype, but working in the London space and trying to get traction for your partnership's channel really is almost first and foremost relationship-driven. If you haven't had a chance to have a pint with someone at a pub, there's a very slim chance you're going to get them to do business with you, whereas the opposite end of the spectrum, in Germany, it's almost sort of bleakly transparent at times where when you have that first meeting, there's not a lot of fluff, there's not a lot of nice words. It's basically, "Okay, why are we meeting? Let's get to that. Let's cut to the chase," which is also refreshing.

I think my experience in all those different markets, Central America and Asia as well, it really is just a whole, it's like putting on a whole new suit of clothes and being able to be a different person in those meetings. Right now, we've had some discussions with various markets in Asia, markets in Europe, and this is where if you have any sort of pseudo-language skill, if you've taken Spanish or Japanese, using a little bit of that language helps, and frankly, it makes a lot more fun because, again, getting back to your earlier point, partnerships is all about relationships, and meeting someone in the middle and being able to relate to them as a human first really helps the business and frankly makes it a lot more interesting.

Taylor Baker:
Oh, for sure. Do you find... I mean, learning a language takes quite some time. In that process, maybe when you're learning a language, have you found that the people you've been speaking with at other companies are kind of cool with you trying because I've been in personal situations, not necessarily professionally abroad, when you're that American stumbling through your foreign language, and they're like, "Okay, this is... just speak to me in English." Do you find that they have the patience for helping you out or they appreciate that you're trying?

Jason Shugars:

Yeah. Yeah. I think they do. In fact, I feel like it warms up the conversation almost immediately. I speak, I'd say Spanish is probably my best second language with German a close second. I used to speak basic Japanese and some Mandarin. Those languages, as all languages do, they tend to get a little bit rusty over time. But when I'm in a meeting with someone who speaks Japanese, I will try to refresh my Japanese and introduce myself in Japanese and kind of use some praising. I know that my language strengths, they are not as good as they could be, so by all means, I'm not going to try and run the meeting in Japanese or even in Spanish, which is probably a little bit easier, but that trying alone I think really goes a long way. There's usually a smile like, "Oh, you said it. You were close," "You were correct," or, "You're [inaudible 00:14:49]," so-

Taylor Baker:
You almost said it right.

Jason Shugars:
Yeah. That I think is... and then frankly, it's a personal joy for me, so I'm, tend to be a happier person.

Taylor Baker:
How refreshing. I'm so happy to hear that they're open and excited to hear you try to be honoring of their culture and their language because I've been met with some of like just, "Just speak to me in English." In your experience, what would you say is the most important thing or things to focus on when you're looking to take your brand global?

Jason Shugars:
That's a tough one. I think it really depends... Well, I guess the way I think about it is, first and foremost, you have to do discovery, you have to understand the market. I think in deciding which markets to launch your brand or to start pitching your product before you ever have boots on the ground, I think you have to understand what that ecosystem, what that country, what that region needs or wants, and is your platform, is your product good fit? There are a lot of online ways and tools to do that discovery without having to actually buy a plane ticket. For me that's always step one.

I think step two is to reaching out through LinkedIn or other ways and having conversations. You do some discovery, you make some assumptions, and then you test those assumptions. Once you've tested those assumptions, have those conversations, and then see what makes sense. I think at that point, if you're lucky or if things are trending positively, beginning to build a relationship with one I guess test partner or test relationship and see how that works because things like the financial aspect of things or what a platform costs or what a partnership costs in one country versus the other, those challenges will always be there, but I mean, if you're able to at least start with is there a product-market fit for my partnership with my platform, then that's, to me, I think the best practice.

Taylor Baker:

Wonderful. I want to switch. Something that is on your LinkedIn that I found utterly fascinating, it sort of zigzags our topic a little bit from partnerships, but back in 2013, you took a sabbatical in Central America volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary. I have so many followup questions to that, but my main question right now is what inspired you to take that time away from your work to give back?

Jason Shugars:
To be completely transparent, I was pretty burned out. I had left... Let's see. I left Google a month or two before the recession, joined a startup that almost pretty quickly blew up and shuttered about a year later, and then took I think a month in between finding another role. Ended up at PubMatic, and PubMatic was an amazing wild ride. We grew like gangbusters, learned a ton. But at the end of that three or four year stint, I was running on empty. As I left PubMatic, I realized I need to... I don't want to sit on a beach per se and do nothing, but I need to use a different gear in my head. I need to continue to have something I'm working on, but it needs to be completely out of the range of stuff that I normally work on.

Jason Shugars:
I had initially planned on really just hopping from wildlife sanctuary to wildlife sanctuary and volunteering because I love animals, and I'm really into those kind of things. What ended up happening is I went to Honduras, and the plan was to go to Honduras, then Venezuela, then Costa Rica and volunteer a number of different sanctuaries with no return ticket after... which that's always fun. After landing Honduras, I kind of fell in love with the country and with the project I was working on, and then they needed somebody that could step in and run the project. Everything just lined up.

I think, for me, it definitely scratched that itch of being able to do something that felt like I was giving back and it was not anything like I'd worked on before. I think it just really helped me refill my gas tank, reenergize my emotions, reenergize my brain to continue to solve problems and work on things that I find it interesting, but at the same time, feel just relaxed.

I think, this is funny, but I do think the fact that I didn't have a set time of when I was coming back, like I didn't have a "I'll do this for a month and come back or I'll do this for two months," I literally just said, "I'll do this until I'm ready to come back," that was the key indicator for me that that made it worthwhile because I will never forget, I'm sitting in a hammock after having worked all day, relaxing. The sun's going down. I'm on an island off the coast of Honduras, and I'm like, "I think I'm good. I think I'm ready to go back." I think a week later, I was back in the States.

Taylor Baker:
Wow. I am just like glowing with the amazingness of everything you just said. I think far too few people give themselves, one, the break to begin with. We live in like such a crazy time where people work 90 hours a week and there is no such thing as a work-life balance because it's just work-work, and life is when you sometimes maybe go home and sleep. I just, first of all, I think it's so amazing that you gave yourself that pause and that break to not only just give back, but to take the time off in the first place, but I love that you went open-ended because I don't think I've ever done anything in my life where I've been like, "We'll just see." Even when you go on a fun trip, like I went to Greece for my honeymoon, you know it's going to end, and you have that end date. You can enjoy while you're there for sure, but you're always like, "I leave in five days. Well, I'll leave in two days."

Jason Shugars:
Yeah.

Taylor Baker:

You kind of have that hovering over you, but the fact that you went there and just were there is really cool.

Jason Shugars:
Thanks. Yeah, I hear you on the sort of end-date thing. I think I didn't realize that was going to be as beneficial as it was until after, but yeah, I had same feeling, even if it's a month-long vacation or a week, you just think, "Oh, but then I got to go home at some point."

Taylor Baker:
How were your friends, family, colleagues, et cetera? Were they really supportive of that, or were they like, "Are you insane? If you leave, you're not going to go to pick back up," or, "What do you mean you don't know when you're coming back from Honduras?" How did the people in your life react to that?

Jason Shugars:
That's a good question. First off, my wife was incredibly supportive. I think she had seen sort of... She knew that I was on empty, and I wasn't... like going and joining another company or doing a job or just taking some random time off on a beach was not going to do it, and so I think she was incredibly supportive. She even came down and visited a couple times, so that was awesome.

I think, people in my life were curious. There was plenty of jokes about like, "Have you disappeared? Are you running drugs in the jungle of Central America? What's going on?" I think this is, I just remembered this, this is something else I did is when I was there, I also took like a sabbatical from social media and being online at all. I put my phone in a box, and I checked it once a week just to make sure that people were alive and nothing had burned down, but that also I think helped me really be present with where I was. I think really just kind of, be in the experience I was having and not really think too much about what's going on back home or what is this friend doing or that friend or whatever. I mean, there was definitely some jokes, some questions, but everyone was, frankly, a lot of people were very envious or jealous, and I feel them. Whenever I hear someone taking a sabbatical, I'm like, "Dang, I remember that. I need to do that again."

Taylor Baker:
Do you have any upcoming sabbaticals, itching at the old sabbatical [crosstalk 00:22:45]?

Jason Shugars:
Nope. Not yet. But let's see, so they say, the conventional wisdom I've heard is it's good to take one every seven years of some period of time. That would put me sometime in 2020, maybe taking a couple of months of doing something. But I think with Blueshift, I'm really... I'm also in this phase of like building and growing a company, and that's really exciting for me, and I feel like my gas tank is full, so I wouldn't want to take one just for the sake of taking one, but that refreshing yourself spirit I think is pretty awesome if you can do it.

Taylor Baker:
Absolutely. Wow. One final followup question to this because I'm still so fascinated by this whole experience. How did taking this sabbatical affect your career when you did return home?

Jason Shugars:
I mean, to be honest, that was sort of my biggest fear, taking that much time or even just taking an unknown period of time, I was worried. I was worried that I would have a challenge finding a job when I came back. I was also kind of in a space where I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do next. When I came back, I was able to do some consulting, and it was also I think at a point where I wanted to switch lanes a little bit and start getting my product management skillset up and running. I think that was, it was actually almost, I think, the perfect end chapter, new chapter time period where I was able to go, "Okay, I've been doing this partnerships thing in the past. Let me go see if I can learn how to do product management and go find a job doing it."

A couple months later, I was able to do that, and which then led me down a whole new path, new career path of being a product manager in some new companies and new industries. I think that was definitely a fear, but as far as I can tell, it didn't impacted my career at all negatively. If anything, it impacted my career positively, so yeah.

Taylor Baker:
Oh, I'm so happy for you and delighted by everything you just said. That is so wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Jason, you have been so amazing. Do you have anything exciting coming up, whether at Blueshift or maybe another trip, even if it's not a sabbatical? Just anything to look forward to?

Jason Shugars:
I'm super pumped and super stoked to be working at Blueshift. We're kind of in this, it's almost like the perfect company growth phase that I like to look for where we're growing, we're evolving, we're being successful, we're having wins, we're having losses. It's a horse race. We're signing deals with clients that are amazing. The company culture is fantastic, and so I think it's really ticked all the boxes for me on just what I want to be doing, both as a job, where I want to be working and the industry I want to be in.

If you'd asked me this prior to Blueshift, I probably would not have said, "Hey, I want to go work for a CDP, I want to go with for somebody like Blueshift," but it's just funny how those things work out. I think the exciting thing for me is really just this path and this road we're on in building out the company and the people I work with. I say that with all sincerity. It's not a marketing pitch for me. This is... I'm very much a "who I am is who I am," and if I can't be that person at work, I'm typically not very happy, and so being able to be myself at work and help build a business and doing it is just, it's a blast.

Taylor Baker:
Congratulations. I'm so glad you have found your place there. It's, can be hard to do that sometimes for sure, but when you get there, you want to keep it going.

Jason Shugars:
Yeah, I've definitely had a... I've had a lot more misses, strikes at bat in finding places where I like to work than I have ones that do, but I think that's just the nature of work.

Taylor Baker:
Well, sure, but then all those experiences help you get to where you are today in that whole [crosstalk 00:26:20]-

Jason Shugars:
That's very true.

Taylor Baker:
I find that very much to be true, yes. I think our listeners are going to have a lot of followup questions for you and about iguanas and all kinds of fun stuff. How can our listeners reach you if they want to ask you any more questions?

Jason Shugars:
Yeah, I mean, I guess LinkedIn or Twitter. Email is always great.

Taylor Baker:

All those things. Yeah. I will-

Jason Shugars:
All the things.

Taylor Baker:

Don't worry, listeners, I will list all the things in the notes so you can reach out to Jason. In the meantime, Jason, you have been an amazing guest. Thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge, insights, and general fun with us here-

Jason Shugars:
Thank you, Taylor.

Taylor Baker:
... at The CoSell Show.

Jason Shugars:

This has been a blast. I've had a lot of fun talking with you.

Taylor Baker:
To all of our listeners out there, thank you for listening, and be sure to tune in next week for even more exciting co-selling content. Now, go get your partnership on.

Similar posts

Relationship-led growth is the future. Join our community.