Creative Under Quarantine: Dara Treseder juggles COVID-era marketing for a $2.5 billion startup and a full family life
In our Creative Under Quarantine series, we ask agency and other creative execs to document their lives in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic—from their new work habits to the mundane or farcical moments that come with being cooped up at home.
Our latest installment features Dara Treseder, CMO of Silicon Valley-based digital manufacturing company Carbon, and former CMO of GE Ventures and GE Business Innovation and Ad Age Woman to Watch. She discusses how she oversees marketing as her company has pivoted from 3D-printed shoes, athletic gear and dental wear to produce more than 270,00 face shields and 1M+ nasopharyngeal swabs weekly. All that while embracing the blessings of family life with her husband William and kids Zoe and Johan.
If you have a quarantine story to tell, get in touch with Ad Age’s Creativity Editor Ann-Christine Diaz at [email protected].
Sunday May 10 (Mother's Day)
6:00 a.m. I’m smiling to myself as I read through our company report for this week. More than 300,000 face shields have been produced for healthcare workers and first responders. It’s been inspiring to see our entire community—employees, customers, and partners—step up in such a profound way to deal with this crisis. My thoughts are interrupted by my 4-year-old daughter, Zoe. She runs into my room and jumps in my bed screaming. “It’s Mother’s Day! Happy Mother’s Day!” and then bursts into song—and, yes, this girl has a song for everything! It’s still quarantine season, but it's also Mother’s Day and mine is already off to an amazing start.
7:30 a.m. I’m sitting in a kitchen decorated with flowers, cards and original artwork by my kids and the entire family is dressed up. Since the shelter-in-place began, getting my family to dress up for online church has been quite the challenge. But today was different. My husband William even has a jacket on! I must say, I’m loving this Mother’s Day labor of love.
9:30 a.m. On Sundays after online church, we usually go on a drive to nowhere listening to Disney’s greatest hits to get a change of scenery. We get into the car without any real plan and see where the road takes us. Today, it looks like "the universe"—a.k.a my husband’s cravings—is taking us to Philz Coffee. My husband gears up, putting on his simple homemade cloth mask. I’m amazed that his white mask is still pristine. My lilac mask on the other hand has a lipstick stain that won’t wash away.
10:00 a.m. We make it back home and now have our weekly Zoom call. Since the shelter-in-place began, Willam has been hosting a standing video call every Sunday with a few family friends—we call it our Life Group! This has been a nice way for us and the kids to stay connected with our community. Most of the moms are getting takeout from their favorite restaurant for dinner. I tell my husband we need to get pizza for brunch ... and maybe dinner. I haven’t decided yet.
1:00 p.m. After finishing our second helping of pizza, we’ve all had enough of our "fancy clothes." It’s "comfy clothes" time. I change into my African bubu and share some of the day’s highlights with my Instafam, whose support has been getting me through this quarantine.
2:00 p.m. My phone usage since shelter-in-place started is a "thing." I am still trying to figure out how to turn it off while working from home. While my kids are playing in the yard with my husband, I check my email for the first time this afternoon and pat myself on the back for holding out this long. I have an unread email about our new campaign, Additive MVP, with the subject line “re: Monday plans.” As my finger hesitates over the screen to click to open, I hear Zoe scold me, “Mom, it’s Mother’s Day—please put the phone away.” William offers to take my phone off my hands. I reluctantly agree.
7:30 p.m. William is putting the kids to bed. I use this opportunity to get to inbox zero and quickly write down some ideas I have about our content strategy and plan for June. Even as much as some things are still the same, some things have changed so much since late March at Carbon, and I think we need to look at our strategy again with fresh eyes.
9:00 p.m. I grab a chocolate chip "protein" bar and head upstairs to snuggle with my husband for our planned watching of “Bad Education,” but as soon as we open HBO we check out the trailer for Yvonne Orji’s “Momma, I Made it” for the umpteenth time because like most Nigerian American women: I. JUST. CAN’T. WAIT.
5:00 a.m. I’m sitting in my bed responding to emails. My kids are still asleep, so getting up this early affords me time to get ahead of my work day. Also, my bed is significantly more comfortable than the dining chair I sit on during Zoom video calls, and the thought of purchasing comfier furniture for my home office has gotten so far as putting it on the to-do list. Since COVID-19 hit, the emails, phone calls, requests, and game-time decisions have accelerated due to Carbon’s operational pivot to develop and manufacture personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.
6:30 a.m. I hear little footsteps approaching our bedroom door. Why won’t this child ever just sleep in like her brother?! I continue thinking about how we’ve been iterating our campaigns weekly as we get more insights into what matters most to our audience right now, and I need more time to review our plans for this week. But first, I guess I’ll take a work-break and snuggle with my little human.
1:30 p.m. One of my favorite Zoom calls—our daily leadership team stand-up—is wrapping up. I have always had global teams, but this is the first time I am leading a fully distributed team that requires a certain synchronicity due to the nature of requests and demands. One key reflection that makes me smile is that our CEO, CFO, general counsel, and chief people officer are all women. I ask them to hang on while everyone drops off so I can get a screenshot of us. Zoe is on her fake phone having a conference call too. Her “leadership team” is made up of three dolls, one pony, and one unicorn. It is glorious.
5:00 p.m. I now need a Zoomathon break and it’s time for HIIT-ing (push-ups, mountain climbers, planks, jumping jacks for 20 minutes that never ever get easier). I don’t need an excuse for the pizza or the chocolate chip snacks—just balance …a nd a break from everything else.
6:30 p.m. “Mommy, what’s inspiring you today?” Zoe asks me. We’ve been using this as our dinnertime conversation starter since the shelter-in-place began. I start to talk about the story of a customer, Loving Eyes Foundation, who we’ve recently celebrated for their work helping children with craniofacial anomalies by creating custom eyeglasses. She’s intrigued and wants to learn more. I promise we’ll watch the video after we’re done with dinner and she’s eaten all the broccoli on her plate.
7:30 p.m. My son Johan is asking for us to dance to Baby Shark. We pretty much dance to this every night. I’ve tried to introduce him to other songs we can dance to, but it usually ends up with one or both of us crying. So, Baby Shark it is. I guess it could be a whole lot worse.
8:00 p.m. The kids are asleep and work part deux begins. I’m prepping for my meeting with our CFO Elisa tomorrow. I text my CMO group to touch base on what they are seeing and hearing. I’m reminded that it’s important to not just focus on what’s happening at the bottom of the funnel, but more importantly what’s happening at the top and middle of the funnel. Who needs to hear from us right now and why? Good points!
10:30 p.m. I convince William that it is worth staying up to watch an episode of our latest indulgence, ”Gomorrah,” an Italian crime drama series on Netflix. I get away with almost anything the week of Mother’s Day.
5:00 a.m. I’m up early again. I have to respond to emails from students who attended a guest lecture I gave at Stanford the previous week on the future of manufacturing. Most of the questions center around agility to move from producing 3D printed shoe insoles to face shields in such a short period of time. It’s a question I’ve been fielding a lot lately and have answered honestly—this is the power of producing products digitally. We just did it. Looking back, part of the challenge was communicating value and urgency in a way that empowered but didn’t overwhelm. So the approach was simple: Listen. Listen to designers, listen to product leads, listen to customer partners. Then go. So instead of providing the right recommendation(s), it has been about asking the right questions. It’s something as a strategic communicator I’ve been anchored by throughout this process.
8:00 a.m. Now breakfast is over; it’s time to go for a walk with the kids. Thankfully, we live right near a trail that’s open which we have nicknamed “Adventure Road,” and my husband usually walks the kids along the path every morning. Today, he is on a conference call, so I get to step up and lead the bird, snail, and squirrel sighting.
9:00 a.m. Today’s Zoomathon begins. My first call is a fun one. I’m meeting with our communications agency, OutCast. We’re reviewing our upcoming communications plans for the next few weeks. We’re seeing a lot of interest in upcoming webinars that are unrelated to COVID-19 and it’s a bit surprising, but does confirm some data in reports I was reading that 41 percent of consumers are ready to hear from companies about topics unrelated to COVID-19. I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means for my work moving forward.
9:30 a.m. It’s now time to review the daily update. One of our partners, Resolution Medical, is ramping up the production of nasopharyngeal swabs for healthcare organizations to increase testing capacity for COVID-19. I want people to know about the truly inspiring work, but I know how delicate a balance it is to drive awareness at this sensitive moment. I’m in the middle of taking copious notes when I turn and see my daughter painting her nails on the carpet. Nail polish is everywhere. I can’t tell if this is an accident or she’s trying to punish me for ignoring her. I pretend not to notice. What’s the point? No one’s coming over for a while anyway.
1:00 p.m. It’s time for our daily leadership team stand-up led by our CEO Ellen Kullman—who formerly was the CEO of DuPont and led during the 2008 financial crisis. I’m learning so much from her about how to lead in a time of crisis. A principle of hers that really resonates with me is: “You can’t over-communicate during a crisis.” So much of what we are doing right now requires buy-in, and how you communicate that to different stakeholders really matters. This daily stand-up helps us and our teams stay connected and in sync.
5:00 p.m. I have my first 30 minutes of "free time" before a meeting with Elisa. It’s an important meeting for discussing upcoming marketing activities and benchmarks, so I want to use the time wisely to prepare, but my daughter has other plans for me. She wants me to play with her and points out the fact that “I can’t hide.” Hide-and-seek has been a go-to strategy for gaining an extra 10 minutes for work. So for 15 minutes, we have a pretend tea-party on Mars that includes a lively conversation about whether or not aliens are in heaven. For the other 15 minutes, I prepare.
6:30 p.m. The meeting with Elisa went well. We’re tracking with a close eye and measuring the effectiveness of various campaigns and adjusting as needed. The digital manufacturing industry requires a strong voice of leadership and insight, so we are working on activating our owned channels to communicate to prospects and customers while controlling ad spend—its not tighter, it's smarter. I want to celebrate this small win, so I reach for yet another peanut butter chocolate chip snack. Original plan: Have none. New plan: Have fewer than four and have another dance party after dinner with my kids to Beyoncé. It’s high time they learn that the Queen trumps Baby Shark.
4:30 a.m. I’m already up and I hear my phone buzzing. It’s my Mama calling from Nigeria. I love our daily, early morning chats. She is always interested in reviewing the new ‘artwork’ by the kids. This never gets old for her. She’s finally come to terms that for the first time since they were born, she won’t be spending the summer with her grandkids. I know this is making her sad. Her mother died while she was pregnant, and she never got to be a grandmother, so pausing this tradition hits her hard. However, she is always the silver lining seeker, and she reminds me we have so much to be grateful for, including conversations with Zoe and Johan and watching them as they’re learning to express themselves more.
7:00 a.m. We’re having breakfast while I work with Johan to identify items around the home that begin with each letter of the alphabet. I’m hoping this is sufficient intellectual stimulation for him today because this is all the “formal education” I’ve got lined up. I’m suddenly wondering if Johan got the short end of the stick by having me as the parent in charge of his learning right now. Zoe’s literacy and numeracy skills have been blossoming with William as her teacher. If I’m honest, I’m not sure how much progress Johan and I have made together. Let’s just say if William is getting an A+ for teaching, I’m getting a solid C+, and there is room for improvement.
9:00 a.m. I love days when I kick off Zoomathon with my team meeting. Although we miss the whiteboarding sessions and hallway conversations, we’ve gotten to know each other better through this shelter-in-place. We’ve seen inside each other’s homes and met each other’s spouses, kids and pets. I know this will be one lively meeting—we’re in debate mode. We’re seeing increased interest from designers and engineers who want to learn more about how to accelerate product innovation with our Digital Light Synthesis™ (DLS) Technology. We’re churning out a good amount of content every week to nurture this audience and are debating if we should go faster or slower. Rich, our VP of Brand and Tim our VP of Product Marketing & Demand Gen have a lively debate. We establish some engagement and conversion targets we’ll review in a few days to make sure we’re striking the right balance.
10:20 a.m. I get up to walk and talk. I call our co-founder and executive chairman, Dr. Joseph Desimone, who has been leading Carbon’s collaboration with our production partner Resolution Medical and a coalition of researchers, including Stanford Medicine and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to develop, test, and now scale production of nasopharyngeal testing swabs. Resolving the national shortage of testing swabs is critical to combating COVID-19, and I love getting a live update from Joe on how things are going.
2:00 p.m. It’s now time for a one-on-one with my boss, our CEO, Ellen. As always, she has some great insights and tough questions that encourage and inspire me to look at the bigger picture, revisit our strategy—what are we saying now, who are we saying it to, and why does it matter? I’m always reinvigorated by these meetings with Ellen—she knows exactly how to motivate her team and get results.
5:50 p.m. Before I dial into my last Zoom call, I check on William and the kids. They are in the garage, which William has turned into the play area. It’s also the classroom. They are at "school," which consists of painting, puzzles and playing with toys. William has mastered the art of keeping an eye on the kids while actually engaging in Zoom calls. It’s a struggle for me so I leave the garage and run back upstairs to participate in a discussion about how to reimagine our virtual events to keep them exciting and interesting. I know this is top of mind for many of my CMO friends, so I add a task to my to-do list to send out the summary.
8:00 p.m. I open up a slide deck from Tim and I start to type “What’s an easier way to talk about the power of Digital Light Synthesis Technology?” Ha! I love being able to get into the weeds with some of the smartest people about digital manufacturing, but part of my challenge is to make the unexplainable—digestible. The science behind the technology is mind blowing, but the challenge continues to be making this matter to people outside of the manufacturing space. This crisis is going to put additive manufacturing front and center because of its dynamism and adaptability. People will start to see a whole new approach to manufacturing. We can scale, we can design quickly, and digital manufacturing is here to stay.
10:00 p.m. Deep exhales, an episode of "Gomorrah," and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Just what I need to end the day.