The Chief Marketing Officer At XO Group Has This Advice For Female Founders: To Succeed In The Tech Space, Put The User’s Needs First

We’re halfway through the week, and it’s time for a boost of inspiration to keep us going. Our #WednesdayWisdom blog series taps into the minds of industry leaders and disruptive visionaries who are working to build the future of entrepreneurship.

During the five weeks of the 2018 Project Entrepreneur Accelerator, we’ll share advice and insights from individuals at companies hosting a female founder from the PE Accelerator Class and learn more about why they believe so strongly in empowering and supporting women entrepreneurs.

Dhanusha Sivajee is the Chief Marketing Officer of XO Group, Inc., the home of premier wedding planning destination The Knot and brands The Nest and The Bump. Prior to joining XO Group in 2014, Dhanusha was VP of Global Marketing for Bloomberg Mobile, where she helped launch the Bloomberg Businessweek & Bloomberg TV iPad apps (and won an award for her work). Prior to Bloomberg, she worked for HBO creating cross-platform marketing campaigns and developing the go-to market strategy for HBO GO, the HBO streaming app.

Dhanusha is a powerhouse marketer, technology leader and advocate of women in business, and we sat down with her to learn more about her personal commitment to women’s empowerment, what she’s working on at XO Group,  and her best advice for non-technical female founders building tech companies.

Dhanusha Sivajee, Chief Marketing Officer at XO Group

NEW YORK, New York City, Executive Dhanusha Sivajee photographed at the offices of the XO Group in downtown Manhattan (Photo credit: Preston Schlebusch)

We are delighted that XO Group is incubating Project Entrepreneur Finalist Mara Lecocq, Founder of Secret Code, during the 2018 PE Accelerator this summer. What are you most looking forward to about incubating Mara at XO Group, and what’s one thing you hope she’ll take away from her time with your team?

Mara is a savvy, strategic entrepreneur and we’re thrilled to have her at XO Group this summer! She’s a perfect match for us. Her book Secret Code is incredibly inspiring and empowering to young girls – exactly aligned with our mission of empowering the next generation of female leaders. Just as we can share a wealth of knowledge with Mara from across our areas of expertise in marketing, PR, sales and business development, we’re excited to learn from her and her research and experience in tackling the diversity problem in leadership and technology. We were once a start up more than 20 years ago, and are happy to pay it forward by sharing our learnings through this incredible program.

Empowering women is part of XO Group’s company culture—Co-Founder Carley Roney is on the board of Rent the Runway, and XO Group leads its own female empowerment initiative, XOFoundHERS, which motivates women to achieve their personal and professional aspirations. Why are you personally committed to women’s empowerment, and how do you empower women outside of your role at XO Group?

The dictionary definition of the word “empower” is to give or permit power. To me, women already have the power. Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of our buying power and influence. In addition, study after study shows that companies with women in leadership roles perform better. Fortune 500 companies with at least three female directors saw…

  • their return on invested capital increase by at least 66 percent
  • return on sales increased by 42 percent
  • return on equity increased by at least 53 percent

To this end, as women, I believe we should be focused on reminding each other of the power we already have. It’s ours, we own it and we should all be using it to further our personal and professional aspirations. Outside of my day job, I try to dedicate time to help women realize their full power potential in a number of different ways, including mentoring, serving as more of a formal sponsor to women, and also supporting programs and initiatives that give women more access to broader networks for inspiration, advice and capital.

You started at XO Group as a marketing executive in 2014 and are currently the Chief Marketing Officer. You’ve also held senior marketing roles at AOL and Bloomberg Mobile, where you worked on mobile apps and technology. In your opinion, what is the most important thing female founders need to consider when developing marketing strategies for their companies, particularly early-stage companies?

At the core of any marketing strategy, be it for a large corporation or an early-stage company, is their brand. A company’s brand is a story that is always being told through every communications touch point.

From a marketing perspective, it is important for a company to spend time developing and aligning on the various elements of its brand – what does the brand stand for and represent, and how does this personality come to life in its brand voice and visual design etc. Once the brand has been developed, its consistency across all marketing channels is key.

Marketing’s role is also to focus on acquiring and retaining customers through the entire life-cycle experience, so early stage companies need to focus on hiring marketers who are great at driving return-on-investment and who are focused on increasing customer lifetime value.

You’ve been intrapreneurial in leading large companies into the mobile technology space. While at Bloomberg, for example, you helped launch a full suite of mobile products without a technical background (and won a Webby Award for your work). What leadership advice do you have for non-technical female founders building tech companies, or who might be leading technical teams?

At my time during Bloomberg and now at XO Group, I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing product and tech teams who have created incredible, award-winning products, such as The Knot Wedding Planning App and The Bump pregnancy and parenting app. As simple as it sounds, the key to any great product is putting the users’ needs first—solving fundamental problems for them and then constantly testing and learning along the way.

Regardless of whether you are leading technical teams or not, I believe that a company’s culture and core values are the key to leading and unlocking the power of human capital. At XO Group we have six core values that we live by each and every day.

Love it

  • Love our users – Couples and business partners depend on us. Deeply understand our users, put them at the center of everything you do, and delight them every day.
  • Do the right thing – Be respectful. Act with the highest integrity. If you see something that isn’t right, say something.

Own it

  • Ask why 5X – Dig deep and find the story behind the data. Seek new ideas and diverse perspectives at every turn. Look externally for bends in the road.
  • Debate it – Listen with an open mind and be eager to learn from others. Develop well-informed opinions. Encourage constructive conflict to get to the right answer.  
  • Own your outcomes – Set clear, ambitious goals and hit them. Expect obstacles, persevere, and play to win. Hold the DRI responsible.

Do it

  • Move fast – Communicate and act with focus and urgency. Either agree, disagree and commit wholeheartedly, or escalate  immediately.
  • Get better every day – Welcome the gift of feedback. Get “comfortable being uncomfortable” in your quest to grow. Find and develop people who make our company stronger.  

What is the most exciting project you’re currently working on at XO Group? What’s next for the company?

It’s exciting to work on brands that are so purpose-driven and play such an important role in people’s life. At XO Group, through our family of brands – The Knot, The Nest & The Bump – we help couples navigate and enjoy life’s biggest moments together. The Knot is the #1 wedding planning app and we are continually focused on building new technologies that help our couples plan a wedding that is uniquely them.

Since its launch in 1996, XO Group has empowered millions of women to stay true to themselves. From giving brides the confidence to break the rules brilliantly, to encouraging moms to free themselves of mommy-judgments, our family of brands has always sought to breed generations of FoundHERS—women who love who they are and are founders of their own purpose and mission in life, however they choose to define it.

I’m particularly excited about XO’s FoundHERS movement that inspires and empowers females leaders from all walks of life to own their own purpose and mission.