This Facebook exec cofounded and then got fired from Pets.com — here’s why she is no longer hiding from this failure

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  • It is important to embrace your failures, according to Facebook’s VP of global marketing solutions, Carolyn Everson, who shared her biggest professional setback in an interview with Join the financial binary options‘s Sara Silverstein.
  • Everson cofounded Pets.com which eventually became a symbol of the dot-com bubble and subsequent crash — while she was at Harvard Business School, and was abruptly fired from it. 
  • She said that while she was devastated, embarrassed and silent about it for over 12 years, she has started talking about it now because it is important for people to see that most careers aren’t always a straight path up and to the right. 
  • Everson also highlighted how she has been studying leadership to identify how effective leaders differ from an enlightened ones. While an effective leader is one that can accomplish a mission and optimize results for themselves or their company, enlightened leaders think about the broader impact they have on the world, she said.

Carolyn Everson is the VP of Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook. She sat down with Join the financial binary options‘s Sara Silverstein at the Cannes Lions Festival to talk about success and leadership. Following is a transcript of the video. 

Silverstein: What learnings have you taken from different parts of your life and brought into this business?

Everson: Well, I’ve been in the industry for about 26 years, and so I’ve had a variety of different experiences across a lot of different marketing roles, everything from sort of offline to online, digital to mobile, TV broadcast, PR, and one of the things that, I’ve learned a lot — I’ve learned, number one, if you are relentlessly focused on the consumer, you are inevitably going to make the right decisions for the business. And that is a lot easier said than done. 

Think of how many companies are organized according to their brand, or in different silos, whereas, you know, a consumer is a person, it is a person whether they shop in your brick and mortar, whether they happen to go online, or they’re on your mobile app, or they see an ad on Instagram, they are the same person, and you have to be relentlessly consumer-centric. So, that’s been one common theme that I’ve learned. 

Relationships matter in this industry. You know, in terms of understanding how the business works, where you can get the best creative ideas, who’s doing the most innovative work. That’s been important. But I think probably the bigger headline is being just deeply intellectually curious, because you constantly are learning. That’s why I’ve stayed in this industry and I’ve not gotten bored. I’ve learned something every single day, from the partners I work with, my colleagues at Facebook, and that’s been incredibly stimulating. It’s been really, really rewarding.

Silverstein: Is there a mistake, a big mistake in your career that has now been a blessing that you’ve learned so much from?

Pets.com sock puppet

Everson: Oh, yes, big, big mistake, big hurdle. I mean, the famous Pets.com, the sock puppet, the infamous sock puppet that probably defined the internet boom and bust was actually my company that I cofounded with the person who owned the domain name. I cofounded it when I was in business school, my second year, got $5 million in funding from Hummer Winblad, and I was fired from my own company after they brought in the new CEO a few weeks before graduation. 

And it takes — lots of people may get fired throughout their career, or laid off. I have still not found somebody get fired from their own company, and I keep asking, but I still haven’t found that person. So, that was devastating. I mean, I’m smiling about it now, I’m talking to you about it very openly, but for over 12 years, I was silent about it. 

I was embarrassed, I didn’t want anybody to know, and so I’ve decided that it needs to be talked about, because careers aren’t always up and to the right, and quite honestly, when you have major failures, they teach you a lot about resiliency, and a lot about getting back on your feet, and one of the things that I learned was to have — my confidence was so rocked back then, and it was really rocked for many, many years. I’m still working on that, like I’m a work in progress around it. 

Every now and then, I will fall back and lose it, but I’m very aware of it, I’m aware of the importance of resiliency, and you know, now I look back on it and it’s become a badge of honor in Silicon Valley to have gotten fired from my own tech startup, but back then I was very embarrassed about it.

Silverstein: And what was the turning point there? What made that something that you could finally grow from instead of something that would shut you down?

Everson: A lot ofsheryl sandberg work with my coach, Lisa McCarthy, from the Fast Forward Group. Lisa and I had worked together at Viacom, and she was coaching me at Facebook, and she had been working on me with my confidence issues. And then there was this one moment where Sheryl Sandberg and I were behind — were backstage in the green room. I was getting ready to go on stage and she said something about, “You know, sometimes you have confidence issues,” and I just blurted out, “That’s because I was fired!” And she was like, “What are you talking about?” ’cause she had no idea. And I told her what happened, and then she said, “So what if I fired you right now?” And my face dropped, and I said, “No, no, no, no. Please do not do that.” And she said, “No, but if I did, you would be fine. You’d be okay.” And I realized, you know, through all the work I’d done with my coaching and really thinking about it over the years that I was doing a disservice to people by not talking about it, ’cause otherwise it looked like my career has gone pretty nicely, you know, moved from company to company, I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of great brands, and I wasn’t sharing that part of the story, and that’s — I’m an authentic person, I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I was not being authentic about that, and I wanted to be, and so I decided to start to speak about it, slowly but surely.

Silverstein: And what other skills do you think require time and lead to great leadership?

Everson: Well, I’ve been really working on this. This is a topic I’m incredibly passionate about. I’ve been trying to observe leaders, I’ve been studying enlightened leadership versus effective leadership with my Henry Crown Fellowship with the Aspen Institute. We’ve done numerous readings around that. I’m finishing up that program in August this year. And I have a set of qualities that I really believe distinguish what an enlightened leader is versus an effective leader, and they all happen to end in the letter Y. I’ll give you some of them. Authenticity, bravery, curiosity, diversity, empathy, generosity, humility, resiliency, transparency, vulnerability are some of them, and those are the softer emotional qualities that I think define a true enlightened leader versus an effective leader.

Silverstein: So, tell me about the work you’re doing to look into the difference between enlightened and effective leaders and what are those?

Everson: I’m really passionate about this area. It’s been something I’ve been studying this by looking at other leaders, and behaviors, and what makes a successful leader, and also my work with the Henry Crown Fellowship with the Aspen Institute, which is really based on this principle about being an enlightened leader versus an effective one. You can be an effective leader and accomplish a mission, you can optimize for yourself, your company, or perhaps a government, or a war mission, but you’re not an enlightened leader. 

Carolyn EversonAn enlightened leader thinks much more broadly about them being a global citizen and they’re part of a much bigger universe, and how can they positively impact society. And so, they realize, enlightened leaders realize their place in this world. And for me, I don’t know how long I’m gonna be on this planet. I mean, we’re all here for a speck of time in the concept of history. And so, for me, I’m very focused on making sure that I am adding value to my team, to the company, but much more broadly to society. I think that’s critical. And there’s qualities that I have observed. They all happen to end with the letter Y, and this is something that’s in the works for me and that I’ll probably write more about in the future, but some of the qualities are authenticity, bravery, curiosity, diversity, empathy, generosity, humility, resiliency, transparency, vulnerability. There’s a few more in there, but that gives you a sense. 

Those are words, when someone is vulnerable as a leader, they tend to open themselves up more and people get to know them as a person, and they can be much more, in that role, very effective. When you are transparent with information, you’re authentic on who you are and what you stand for. That will set you apart. When you can empathize with your customers, your clients, different societies around the world, different cultures, that makes you a more enlightened leader. So, those are some of the qualities that I’ve admired, that I’m working on myself, and I’m certainly very passionate about.

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