A Q&A with Employee #8: Scaling a Start-Up Into a Sustainable Business - LiquidPlanner

A Q&A with Employee #8: Scaling a Start-Up Into a Sustainable Business

Allison Willbur | April 3, 2020

An empowering Q&A with female executive Jen Morrisey, VP of Product, about the her part in scaling the business (and insights along the way.)
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When I was approached by our blog team to contribute an article for Women in Tech Week, I knew immediately what my contribution would be. I’ve worked very closely with one of our earliest employees and current VP of Product, Jen Morrisey, for the past five years, and I can’t think of a more inspirational and passionate leader. Jen has been a customer advocate and product fanatic over the past decade at LiquidPlanner.

A few fun facts: She’s in her seventh role at LiquidPlanner and spent her early days building and growing the early customer base. She then focused heavily on retention and getting customers to value (which, as the Director of Customer Success, I now own.) Today, Jen brings her customer experience lens to product development, where she works on exciting product innovations for the future of the company. 

A quick note: We, like others who are able, are observing social distancing practices — and hosted this interview remotely. 

Would you like to start off by sharing a little bit of your background and history before joining LiquidPlanner?

Well, with my double major in Business and Art History, I never thought I’d be building technology products! My first role out of school was at the Starbucks corporate office and I quickly learned through a few projects that project management was calling for me. After a few years of consuming a lot of delicious coffee, I went into project management consulting and supported clients with project controls and best practices.

 

So, as the title of this post implies, you’re employee number eight. One of the originals, practically! At the time, what drew you into wanting to be a part of this team?

During my time consulting, I realized that traditional project management tools just weren’t adding the value I thought they should. My clients struggled to keep their plans up-to-date and they absolutely dreaded using their project management solution. During this period of the late 2000s, the founders of LiquidPlanner were building a project management solution unlike anything the market had seen. I caught wind and ended up having coffee with Charles Seybold, a co-founder, to learn more about their technology and goals, and joined the team just a few weeks later.

 

Let’s go back in time 10 years, what were the early days of LiquidPlanner like?

During our start-up days, every employee — from developers to finance — fit into a conference room. We’d talk roadmap and triage customer requests and bugs — so many hearty debates were had and big ideas discussed! Our culture was very much centered around being “the LiquidPlanner family”. We spent a significant amount of time together, went through ups and downs, and were a very supportive unit for one another. 

 

Were there any apparent strains, being such a small team?

We launched our first version of LiquidPlanner during the Great Recession, so we were the definition of lean and scrappy. Towards the end of the month when I was in Sales, I remember staying up all hours of the night to close international deals. For several product releases early on, Support would sleep at the office until all of our help guide articles and videos were ready for launch the next day. Though long hours were had, we believed so much in our mission to revolutionize project management that the late nights were fun, exciting, and very much worth it!

 

I’m sure — as with any startup — you’ve felt some of the growing pains that come with scaling the business; do any particular challenges or obstacles stand out as learning opportunities?

LiquidPlanner soon started to experience significant YOY growth and, in tandem with ramping up hiring, we moved into our current office for more space (and gorgeous views.) Once we could no longer fit every employee around a conference table, keeping the growing company on the same page was a challenge. It didn’t take long for information silos to build up across the company and it was slowing us down. We needed to quickly figure out how to communicate and align everyone to a common goal; which luckily, we did.  

 

And do you recall any pivotal moments in your career trajectory within LiquidPlanner?

One of the most pivotal moments in my career was when I put together a paper for our CEO on lost potential revenue due to customer churn — the snowball effect of ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) growth if you can retain customers. I was in Sales at the time and very interested in how the product and the customer experience tied to lost customers — which coincided with the early origins of Customer Success for us. Weeks after writing this up, I moved into the first Customer Success Manager role at LiquidPlanner and this changed my career trajectory entirely. It led me to my first executive leadership role and, paired with what I learned working with customers on our product along the way, ultimately positioned me to head product development as I am today. Which is, by far, my favorite role yet. 

 

Let’s dive a little deeper and talk a bit about the company (and yourself) really finding success. At what moment did it register that this vision was becoming a reality? Are there any milestone moments you can recall?

Absolutely! Hitting the first $1M in revenue mark and celebrating at the local pub near our first office (which, by the way, happened to be above a marble masonry next to a target range). Another big milestone was moving to our office in Eastlake. [A waterfront neighborhood in Seattle] This was the first time our growth became very real to me. 

 

That’s incredible! So, as mentioned earlier, you’ve had more than a handful of different roles since joining LiquidPlanner. In which role did you learn the most?

Every role I’ve served for the company has been completely unique and I’ve learned so much in each one. That said, the greatest personal and professional development occurred for me when I accepted my first executive leadership role. I learned first-hand how powerful creating a clear strategy can be and how important it is to align team members to the greater purpose. When you can find ways to lift your team up, provide them space to be creative, and get everyone rowing in the same direction, amazing things can happen. 

 

Speaking of — you’ve been on the executive leadership team for a while now — what was that transition like?

When I first stepped into my leadership role, some of the first advice I got was: leaders don’t get to have a bad day. The idea being that you can’t get knocked down by obstacles and that you need to be a steady pillar of support for the company. I very much agree with this sentiment. I also agree that being authentic and your whole self must somehow fit into the equation. As I became an executive leader, I’d also just become a mom and had a 6-month-old at home with many sleepless nights and the personal stress of being a new parent. It took patience with myself and a dedicated effort to find the right balance — but it is possible!

 

And as a leader of a growing company, in a rapidly evolving market, what’s been the biggest takeaway from sitting on the ELT in recent months?

With some exciting product innovations coming down the pike, our company has had to band together more than ever before to prepare for our future. Intentional and open communication has been essential in making this happen. I really encourage all teams to focus on communication — especially in moments like this.

 

Jen, thank you so much for your time today — this has been an incredible learning experience. But before we go, is there any career advice or insight you can share with the other women reading this?

Be confident in the value you bring and pursue what you are passionate about every chance you get. The more you do, the more opportunities to do what brings you joy will come.

 

This post, as part of LiquidPlanner’s Women in Tech Week, is meant to highlight the talent, innovation, and creativity women bring to the technology community. This week, we’ll cover a range of topics by women authors in project management and technology roles to share their stories, perspectives, and tips on how to succeed in your career, know your worth, and help eliminate gender bias.

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