TapInfluence CEO Promise Phelon on the impact of having a great mentor

Twenty Ten Talent - Promise Phelon

Promise Phelon is the CEO of TapInfluence, a leading influencer marketing platform headquartered in Boulder, Colorado. With a robust background in spearheading high-growth tech companies, Promise’s career expertise includes software as a service (SaaS) growth, raising capital, product innovation and attracting talent.

Prior to TapInfluence, Promise served as Chief Revenue Officer of the Resumator where she led sales, marketing and business development. Prior to the Resumator, Promise was the CEO of The Phelon Group, a technology-enabled services company that was acquired in 2009. Promise also served as CEO of UpMo, an enterprise talent management SaaS system used by some of the world’s largest enterprises, where she drove growth, financing and product strategy.

Promise tells us about starting a company while still at college and how meeting a valuable mentor impacted the trajectory of her career.

I find science and math to be incredibly interesting, as an undergrad at Southern Methodist University I graduated with a triple major in Chemistry, Religious Study, and Marketing. I started a company when I was in college that helped physicians build a marketing framework for their practices and I eventually sold that business, which funded my ability to attend Pepperdine University where I completed my MBA in Strategic Marketing.

College was a launch pad for me. I realized I could build businesses and to never underestimate the value of what you build.

I got super lucky and met Barbara Britton while I was Pepperdine. She really affected my life. She was my mentor and helped me figure out how to navigate being in business school. Barbara was a phenomenal business leader and had just been recruited by a startup called BEA Systems. I said, “Hey, can I come work for you?” I had no idea what they did but I knew I wanted to work with her.

She took me up to Silicon Valley and I worked as an intern, literally in a corner outside of her office. I did due diligence, I did product and services marketing, I did strategy, I did whatever I could get my hands on. I worked for BEA for that entire summer and I realized, “wow, I want to be in tech, and I want to work in a fast-growing company.”

After my internship ended I came back to BEA and eventually became head of product marketing. I was surrounded by really phenomenal people who became the bedrock of Silicon Valley. We were in this fast growing company and at that time I was able to carve out a space for myself. It was just an amazing experience.

There’s a difference between a mentor, a coach, and a champion. Barbara Britton was my mentor but she was also my champion. When I screwed up she’d say, “you were a total idiot in that meeting. Here’s my advice on how to handle that in the future.” I was open to the coaching and acted on the feedback. It was more than just mentorship. Barbara was my first investor when I started another company, she wrote the first check. I think there’s something different about attracting folks who want to mentor you, versus people who want to see you succeed. That was key from my perspective.

I do the hard stuff in the morning, which means a lot of problem solving. The rest of the day I’ll spend on planning. A lot of it is laying down the tracks right before that train hits it. A lot of my day is spent on that. Right now, I touch all the functions inside the business, which is evolving as we add more leaders.

I love the strategy. I love fundraising, which I’m constantly reminded is a little strange, but I enjoy it. I love the idea that marketing, and especially how you market, can actually be a differentiator. I think there’s something fascinating about how customers experience your brand and how people fall in love with your product. Even if a competitor has more features, or better fundamentals there has to be a reason for the market to fall in love with you.

The best advice that I act on every day came from my older brother, who was this incredible track athlete. His sport was the high jump. It’s probably the most elegant thing I’ve ever seen. There’s this combination of beauty, and grace, and then power. He’s only 5′ 11” and he would compete against guys who were over six feet tall. I remember my brother was going to a track meet and I said, “are you going to try to beat those tall guys?” He looks at me and he goes, “I’m not going to try. I’m going to go out there, I’m going to crush it, I’m going to win.” He set state and regional records.

I think there’s something about willing things into existence that you have to do when you’re a woman, and when you’re black. I believe that trying is giving up before you lean into whatever it is you have to do. Don’t try, just do.



Interview by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema

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