Meet Jason Brown, one of four Product Solutions Experts based out of our Durham, NC office in the American Underground. Jason sat down with Joanna to fill us in on what his typical day looks like, what he thinks is the future of the retail customer experience, who inspires him, and what diverse hiring in startups actually looks like in practice.
"The best part of my job is communicating with people from various backgrounds who all have very different goals and value success differently. [...] I place a lot of emphasis on hearing people where they are."
Why are you here at Dor?
I liked to think that I chose Dor, but it’s very clear that this is where I need to be in my career. I understand the process of sales at a large organization, and that perspective is needed in a startup. But when you’re in sales at a large company, you don’t get to sit down with the CEO and have a conversation about why a decision was made. Whereas here at Dor, I can call our CEO Michael Brand right now and say, “Hey, I don’t understand this,” and he'll take the time to explain it. I appreciate that.
What’s a typical day in the office look like for you? I ask because I know you don’t have typical days.
No, I don’t! The whole team takes a consultative approach that centers on providing the correct solution for everyone, which means that my day is often full of thinking about different scenarios posed by our clients and conceptualizing solutions we could provide them, then connecting with other teammates here and in San Francisco to problem solve together. Sometimes that means unusual hardware configurations or a custom pricing structure. At the heart of what we do, we’re listening to what people are asking for and taking it back to the drawing board to make a better product.
To me, the best part of the day is sharing with my teammates. Our sales and marketing team in Durham is very close-knit, so we’re constantly sharing insights with each other on what’s working well. That’s the beauty of our day, getting to be together in that space. Just this morning I shared a project overview with the team to get some input, but also so they could take something away from it. This is the first 9 to 5 job where I come in and work in a team environment every day. I highly value it.
So much love for our Durham office! Do you work closely with our teammates in San Francisco too?
Absolutely. Our San Francisco team is a dynamic group of highly skilled creators and problem solvers. I have confidence that when I’m placed in an unorthodox use case, they will have a solution. I continue to be floored by not only their talent, but their quest for customer success.
"Our sales and marketing team in Durham is very close-knit, so we’re constantly sharing insights with each other on what’s working well. That’s the beauty of our day, getting to be together in that space."
And speaking of your typical day. Favorite lunch spot in downtown Durham?
Well, it’s changed, since I’ve been meatless now for a couple of months. You can catch me at Dashi or Pie Pushers or Toast. Not eating meat has forced me out of my comfort zone, so I’m having fun trying new things.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Communicating with people from various backgrounds who all have very different goals and value success differently. That’s the best part of my job, especially since my perspective wasn’t valued growing up, so now I place a lot of emphasis on hearing people where they are.
I think Sean, our VP of Sales and the head of the Durham office, has done a great job of assembling a team with many backgrounds and opinions. That’s interesting when you look at other startups and how they’re trying to be “diverse,” looking at ethnic background as diversity, whereas I think Dor looks at it as different skills and talents being brought to the table.
Right. I was just saying to a coworker that if we didn’t have anybody over the age of 40 in our organization, we’d be signing up to fail. We couldn’t succeed if only one generation was shaping a product that’s supposed to be for everybody.
I didn’t realize early in my career that that was what I meant by diverse. Early in my career in mobile tech, I always thought it was weird that these 40- to 60-year-old white men were telling the mobile community, kids and teens, what they wanted.
So often when a hiring manager in San Francisco gets a resume, they already know what type of production they’re going to get out of a person based on the schools they went to. Whereas if you want true diversity, you have to take a risk on the people who didn’t go to those schools.
That all goes back to the practice of hiring: “Does this person fit our culture, and do they understand what we’re trying to accomplish? Can they be compassionate and respectful?” You can’t read that on a resume. They have to be in the room. And if you won’t even bring a prospective hire in based on the school they went to, then that’s a problem with the way you’re hiring.
"You can’t just eyeball foot traffic. I have a retail client that staffed the most employees on Saturdays. But after using Dor, that client realized Tuesdays and Wednesdays were their heavier foot traffic days. They could see that in a calendar, instead of guessing."
Agreed. Moving from startup talk to retail talk: If a retail store owner tells you they aren’t counting foot traffic and don’t see value in those metrics, what’s your response?
My response is simple: “Okay, then how do you quantify your success?” Foot traffic is connected to every metric that store owner needs for success. In this day and age of instant gratification, it’s all about what type of audience you can attract to your physical space. Because if you can attract a large amount of people, that’s the holy grail. Now you have them in your domain and you have their attention. How do you then drive revenue? Or how do you open their mind to want to come back?
And you can’t just eyeball foot traffic. I have a retail client that staffed the most employees on Saturdays. But after using Dor, that client realized Tuesdays and Wednesdays were their heavier foot traffic days. They could see that in a calendar, instead of guessing. Dor allows you to check your assumptions against the truth, and find ways to reduce staffing costs and increase sales based on when you’re driving that traffic.
Where do you think the retail industry is headed in the next three to five years?
Brick and mortar is going to get ridiculously intelligent. I envision stores where you walk in with your family, your phone buzzes and tells you that the item that you generally shop for is on sale, showing you where it is and the quickest way to get there. The retailer understands who we are and why we’re there. The customer has ownership over their experience because the information is in their hands.
Can you name some of your favorite retail brands?
As a dad, a brand that my wife and I love for our kids is Primary. Most kids’ clothing makers I think operate under the assumption that parents want novelty. Primary just makes basics and do it very well.
Being here at the American Underground and being local, I shop a ton at Runaway, the streetwear retailer/lifestyle brand below our office. I’ve been in Durham for nine years. I want to support a local business, buy quality goods, and through my clothing be loyal to this area. I think they’re doing a great job of disrupting streetwear and the t-shirt industry.
"I’m willing to take a risk if it resonates. [...] I don’t ever see myself as a finished product. But I want to be able to change my narrative as I go."
How did your sales career begin?
Three points shaped me. The first real job I had was with a retailer called City Sports in Boston. I was 16 and loved sneakers —
Yeah, who makes those shoes you’re wearing?
Uh...this company called Gucci? [laughs]
So anyways, that was my first sales job, and that was where I understood I was good at sales. The second point was my junior year of high school, when my French teacher told me I could go on a class trip for free if I convinced my classmates to sign up. I doubled the roster. That was when I realized my influence. The third was my sophomore year at Guilford College in 2003, when a rep from Alltel noticed my interest in mobile tech and put me in front of his boss. That was the start of my career in mobile tech, and I didn’t realize at the time the wild ride I was jumping on.
So those three points influence who I am as a salesperson, but they also show you I’m willing to take a risk if it resonates. I believe those scenarios come about for a reason.
Which influencers and entrepreneurs inspire you?
A few years back I read The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I think his mind is interesting. The book is written in a way that spoke to me. He’s very close to the hip-hop community; his whole process is diverse, in terms of the people he surrounds himself with. He’s made the transition from entrepreneur to VC (venture capitalist) that I want to make someday. He’s close to this guy named Steve Stoute, who understood early on that hip-hop culture was really black culture, and it was undervalued in the marketing space.
Who else...Everette Taylor over at POPsocial, Dawn Dickson at Solutions Vending is doing her thing, and Tristan Walker with Bevel is a huge one for me. I identify with his process. These people realized their circumstances and that not everyone in their community would understand it, and don’t see themselves as a finished product.
I don’t ever see myself as a finished product. But I want to be able to change my narrative as I go. And that’s where I’m at. I’m at Dor and I’m proud to be a part of it, where I’m assisting but I’m also learning. I love where I’m at in this moment in time.
Well, we’re glad you’re here in this moment too. Thanks so much for chatting with me!