Erin Steinbruegge of Design Pickle: “Know Your Why”

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Erin Steinbruegge, chief marketing & operations officer, talks about how to take a company from good to great

Marketing VP at Design Pickle Erin Steinbruegge is an experienced and highly successfully marketing and operations leader, having held top positions in various high-growth startups. She is a “transformative and results-oriented marketing and operations leader with a proven track record of developing, implementing, and supporting strategic initiatives that lead technology startups from ground zero to multi-million dollar exits.”

At Design Pickle, Erin Steinbruegge makes use of her diverse abilities, including her “strong analytical, collaborative, and decisive leadership to capitalize on market opportunities and develop operations on that scale.” As an entrepreneur and leader, she has been recognized for her “creative problem-solving, direct and transparent communication, team engagement and building a data-driven culture.”

Throughout her career, Erin Steinbruegge has contributed to the success of several companies, including Design Pickle. She has served as the VP of Marketing and Chief Operating Officer of Design Pickle, a company that “offers unlimited graphic design support for your day-to-day business needs.”

Before Design Pickle, Erin Steinbruegge has also worked as VP of Marketing at Coplex, a “Venture Builder that partners with industry experts, entrepreneurs, and corporate innovators to start high-growth tech companies.” The company has launched more than 50 companies since 2017, which has earned it features in USA Today, The Washington Post, VentureBeat, Inc, Forbes, NPR, and Entrepreneur.

In 2015, Erin Steinbruegge has also been selected by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of its “40 Under 40” list.

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Know your why. Why did you choose to be part of this company or endeavor? What did you want when you made the decision to join this mission? Is that still aligned? Erin Steinbruegge, Design Pickle

Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Erin Steinbruegge: I believe the introduction to the Design Pickle culture is something team members never forget. Our new hire welcome package includes your very own pickle suit (these are actually a thing — I had never seen so much green fabric until I received this suit), branded swag, colored pencils for participating in coloring contests with our designer-created coloring books, and, most importantly, an invitation to join the Customer Success team as an “intern.”

For two weeks, new hires — no matter what their role or department — act as a Customer Success representative, working directly with clients to address their questions and concerns. Truthfully, this is the best way to learn about the inner workings of the company — if you never know what our clients are going through, how are you supposed to market, build, or sell the product?

By getting our new hires into this customer-first mentality from the very beginning of their careers with us, we’re able to build and maintain the culture that has become so important, both internally and externally.

Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Erin Steinbruegge: Burn out is a sensitive topic among leaders and entrepreneurs — a lot of people go through it without being able to pinpoint why they’re feeling the way they do.

I have a few tips for avoiding it, the first being the most important: Know your why. Why did you choose to be part of this company or endeavor? What did you want when you made the decision to join this mission? Is that still aligned? It’s really important to stay grounded with your personal purpose, and to constantly evaluate if your purpose is still aligned with the company’s. When this falls out of line, burnout is often inevitable and it’s usually time for a change.

The second tip is to focus on gratitude. In challenging times, reflect on all the things you have to be grateful for in your current position. Business could be slow or in a downturn, but do you get to experience the journey with friends? Are you creating your best work? Are you able to have creative freedom? Perspective is key — take inventory of what matters the most to you, and focus on that.

Lastly, make sure you aren’t always focused on the destination; enjoy the journey along the way. Sure, it’s easier said than done, and it’s easy to miss key milestones when you’re focused on one goal (for startups, this is often selling). But if you find joy and celebration in the small wins, the end game will be that much more rewarding.

Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Erin Steinbruegge: I have so many people to be grateful for along the journey. Athletic coaches, inspirational business leaders, books full of wisdom — it’s a lengthy list. As a female executive, though, I have to give my dad a lot of credit. I grew up with two brothers, and a lot of ambition.

A specific memory that comes to mind is when I was heartbroken about my older brother getting to participate in the Pinewood Derby competition for boy scouts. I was competitive, liked building things, and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to compete just because I was a girl. My dad told me he understood why I was frustrated, and went out and bought an extra Pinewood Derby kit to build and design a car with me. He even built a racetrack so I could race my brother at home.

He always went out of his way to make sure I was included and didn’t “gender stamp” activities — I was always treated as an equal. Because of this, I saw the world that way and I always believed I could accomplish anything regardless of gender.

A great company has a successful business model and a team full of people that love and believe in its vision and mission.

Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Erin Steinbruegge: A good company has a successful business model and people that will loyally or responsibly show up to work every day.

A great company has a successful business model and a team full of people that love and believe in its vision and mission.

Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Erin Steinbruegge: I probably don’t need to drive home the point about being data-driven again, though it is important — you need to analyze the data to understand why the business has reached a standstill. You want to be able to look at the business objectively, and maybe even with an outside advisor or board member who will give you candid feedback. I have seen this occur more than once because a founder or leadership team simply hit their limits without realizing it, and needed to bring in more experienced leaders (or in some cases, just different perspectives) to take the business to the next level.

Leaders should also ask questions like, “Is the business giving the team space to innovate, or is the team completely at capacity maintaining the status quo?” Maybe there is a completely new business model, pricing structure, or feature that would change the game. Or maybe there are new channel strategies to consider that would help you tap new markets. How about an M&A play to acquire new customers and talent?

Moral of the story: assess things as unbiasedly as you can with data and someone that can provide an outside perspective free from internal bias, and give your team time and space to innovate.

Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Erin Steinbruegge: Innovation and focusing on customer relationships are key activities to weathering the storm of a tough economy. This year’s pandemic has proven that to be true for so many businesses. You have to think about what you can do differently that still aligns with your mission, the competencies of your team, and the things your customers value. This can take shape in a multitude of ways.

I’ve been impressed with what I have seen in small business innovation this year — things like winemakers taking the winery tour virtual and creating unique tasting experiences for businesses who want to engage their clients, restaurants reinventing their menu to align better with the takeout experience, and local performing arts groups performing in parking lots.

Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Erin Steinbruegge: Communication, communication, communication. Communication will always be the biggest challenge in a business, especially those that are fast-moving and utilize a remote workforce. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone has different communication styles, especially over Zoom or Slack. I should probably say communication two more times because of the rule that you need to say everything seven times for it to stick.

Aside from communication, time is easily the most underestimated aspect in all high-growth companies. We all want to achieve 3 years of results in the first 6 months; however, that’s not realistic. I’ve said this previously, but enjoy the process and be patient! If you focus on setting up the right processes first, everything else will come in due time.

Communication will always be the biggest challenge in a business, especially those that are fast-moving and utilize a remote workforce.

Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Erin Steinbruegge: A smooth and positive onboarding experience is absolutely critical to the customer experience — but don’t let that be your “goodbye” point. Analyze your customer base and segment them into groups based on needs to truly layout what you want the customer experience to be. This analysis is critical to the long-term customer experience — clients in the first 90 days have very different needs than what it takes to create a surprise and delight experience for a customer of 3 years.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Erin Steinbruegge: The reality is some people are saying bad things about your business whether you have a presence on social media or not. Why not be proactive and participate in those conversations? Why not see them as an opportunity to learn and innovate?

There are always going to be trolls on the internet, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from engaging happy customers, delivering fun, lighthearted content to fans of your brand, or learning from the experiences of customers who aren’t happy.

A common mistake I see is going too big, too early. Erin Steinbruegge

Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Erin Steinbruegge: A common mistake I see is going too big, too early. Most founders are filled with passion for their vision, and, understandably, want to start executing everything as soon as possible — usually without a plan. The product will achieve product-market-fit and scale faster if founders adopt a lean approach of starting narrow, testing, learning, and optimizing, rather than diving in headfirst.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Erin Steinbruegge: Okay, here is a lofty wish: to give everyone in the world the ability to travel and learn about other cultures and experiences in a safe environment. I believe travel develops empathy, understanding, and an appreciation of the differences that make this world a uniquely beautiful experience. Maybe virtual reality will help us achieve this!

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Erin Steinbruegge: You can follow me on LinkedIn or join us in the “pickle jar” — we’re @designpickle across platforms.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Erin Steinbruegge: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story with you.

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