Sourabh Kothari on Event Strategists’ Most Valuable Resource

Author: David McMillin       

Sourabh Kothari, Director of Advocacy, Brand, and Content for Signifyd

EDUCATION I never had the opportunity to attend college in my youth, so when I was an assistant vice president at Merrill Lynch, I decided to leave Wall Street to study what I love: storytelling. After attending film school at Los Angeles City College, I graduated with a degree in economics from San Francisco State University. I really hit the jackpot at San Francisco State University when I met my future wife, completely by coincidence, walking across campus.

MY FIRST INDUSTRY JOB In 1999, I joined Merrill Lynch as an audio/video technician and quickly began supporting roadshows across Southeast Asia for institutional and private investors. As a member of the events and IT teams, I was given the chance to create larger, more impactful digital event experiences and to run webinars and videoconferences. As these events and meetings grew, I was ultimately promoted and transferred to Merrill Lynch headquarters in New York.

MY PREVIOUS THREE JOBS My five-year career on Wall Street helped me save enough money to go back to college full-time. When I graduated in San Francisco, I joined ON24 to work directly with strategic clients who were pushing the boundaries of digital engagement. This role increased my exposure and experience with live events as I was directly responsible for global live broadcasts, interactive webcasts, and virtual environments.

A couple of years later, I was recruited by Cisco to build out their global webinar and virtual events program. Soon after, in a rather unconventional move, I requested that my team of digital-event experts and video storytellers be allowed to separate from global events to form a new entity known as “rich media marketing.” This team grew quickly, producing flagship programs that captured a million views on YouTube, generated hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of leads, and earned two Emmy nominations. Our content from webinars, videos, and keynotes captured at live events was translated in up to 12 languages for use across the world by Cisco’s regional marketing groups.

WHAT I DO NOW In 2016, a friend of mine who had joined a startup that was using machine learning to eliminate fraud for online retailers contacted me. They were experiencing exponential growth but had no brand beyond a company name and a logo. As a storyteller, I couldn’t resist building a brand from scratch, so I left my role at Cisco to build advocacy, brand, and content for Signifyd.

MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT MY JOB I travel across the U.S., Canada, and Europe to meet with Signifyd’s e-commerce merchants and capture their stories. I’ve met business owners at every level, and I can say with confidence that these are some of the busiest, innovative, and most competitive entrepreneurs you’ll ever meet. I’m fortunate to be able to bring their stories to life. Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to serve as an advisor for content strategy for PCMA’s Digital Experience Institute (DEI).

MOST INFLUENCED IN MY CAREER BY I would likely have never had the courage to leave my hometown of Hong Kong to come to New York (on a one-way airline ticket), if it weren’t for the friendship and example set by Mark Kusten at Merrill Lynch. Mark and I managed videoconferences for Merrill Lynch’s top executives, connecting them with other leaders and customers around the world. His mentorship and encouragement gave me the confidence to believe in myself. I learned how to stay calm under pressure from Scott Ray at ON24, who showed me how any problem can be broken down to manageable components quickly.

Dannette Veale at Cisco is one of those rare geniuses who can grasp any concept and do two things quite easily at the same time. She is one of the world’s leading digital events experts.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM MY BIGGEST PROFESSIONAL MISTAKE One mistake I’ve repeated few times throughout my career was not quitting soon enough. I have stayed in jobs for years longer than I should have simply because I got comfortable. I gained mastery in a certain field and my pride distracted me from my hunger, my drive, to learn and do more. I’ve learned how to read the signs and know when it’s time to move on to the next challenge.

MY NEXT BIG CAREER GOAL I’ve had an amazing career facilitating and enhancing events for some of the world’s leading brands. Now it’s my turn to return the favor and build a brand and company of my own. As such, I am the co-founder of an artificial intelligence startup in stealth mode. We’re gathering attendee feedback to help event organizers improve event experiences without polling their audiences.

MY ADVICE FOR YOUNG MEETING PROFESSIONALS Recognize and respect the scarcest and most important resource of all: time. When you’re young, time seems endless. But time is precious. Do what you love today, and let it guide your tomorrow. Don’t wait for anyone or anything. What isn’t right today won’t be right tomorrow.

Prioritize how you can improve your event experiences by making the most of the time your attendees are spending with you. Can you save all of them five minutes? For an event with 1,000 attendees, you just saved 5,000 minutes, or 83 hours, or two weeks’ worth of human effort. By contrast, is your 45-minute keynote going to be memorable? If not, you’ve just wasted 45,000 minutes, or 750 hours, or four months of human potential.