15 Years Ago, I Began My Marketing Career

January 3 marked the 15-year mark of my career as a digital marketing professional, nearly all 15 spent focusing pretty heavily on email marketing. Friends may remember my first job out of college was at Microboards Technology, a small optical media manufacturing company headquartered in Chanhassen, Minnesota. But do you remember the interesting tale of how I got the job, and the funny first days of work?

I graduated from Dakota State University in Madison, SD on December 16, 2005 with my degrees in Multimedia/Web Development and Computer Graphic Design, and good friend Nick Sandbulte and I both decided we would relocate to the Twin Cities to begin our careers. We both, of course, had the proximity to the Twins and Vikings high on our list of reasons for relocation. In the weeks leading up to graduation, I was feverishly applying to entry-level web and design related jobs online. As I was told to do by a professor, “always follow up by phone several days after application!”

I only did that once, but it turned out to be sound advice, because when I called back for the Microboards job (technically it was a temp agency called Aerotek), the guy gave my application a second look and decided to interview me right then and there! I passed the screening, and he made the call to Microboards that he had found a great candidate. On December 22, I was contacted by Microboards to come in for an in-person interview with the marketing manager, Aaron Pratt. Whether or not I landed the job, Nick and I decided this would be a great opportunity to scope out an apartment in the Twin Cities. We packed up his Monte Carlo and made the five-hour drive east, where we toured an apartment or two and spent the night with some friends.

The next day, Nick lent me his car and I drove out to Chanhassen for the interview. I must have blown Aaron away, because within the hour I received a call asking if I could come back again the next day to interview in front of the entire leadership team! This was exciting, but problematic. Nick and I had intended to leave that afternoon. Nick needed to be home for his family Christmas celebration, and we drove his car. I called around and my good friend Liz Burke offered up her apartment for the night. Nick would drop me off at Liz’s, even though she would be staying at her boyfriend’s house, and I would have to call someone to drive me to the interview the next morning. After that, I was rather clueless about how I would get back home to South Dakota for Christmas.

Let’s not forget the time I used the company’s large format printer to make my own cardboard cutout double! Yep, got in trouble for that one. Sorry Mitch.

Little did we know, a Christmas miracle was in store. When we got to Liz’s apartment, by some bizarre coincidence, Liz’s next-door neighbor was Nick’s best friend from high school! Nick and his friend couldn’t believe their eyes! They got to talking, and a solution was found—the friend would lend Nick his extra car to drive home for Christmas, while I took Nick’s car to the interview. I would just have to drive his car back to South Dakota and we’d all get our cars back to each other at some point.

I arrived at Microboards the next morning (after going to the Mall of America and buying a new dress shirt so I wasn’t wearing the same clothes on back-to-back days). Showing no signs of nerves despite being alone on one side of the table with six C-level executives on the other, I did the interview and was on my way back home. Before I had even arrived home, I got another call from Microboards saying I had been hired for the role of Marketing Assistant. My first day would be January 3.

A lot of stuff happened between that interview and January 3. Nick and I got his friend’s car back to him, despite having to literally pull the headlight knob with one hand the entire way to keep the lights on in the dark. We struck out on finding an apartment with immediate move-in dates, but Liz again came to the rescue and offered us a temporary place to stay—her apartment futons!

My first day of work at Microboards was January 3, 2006. I showed up at work for the one and only time in my career wearing business clothing—slacks, dress shirt, tie—and immediately realized how wildly overdressed I was. Aaron showed me to my desk in our two-person marketing office, and led me to my computer. It had been a while since I’d used a Windows machine, and Aaron apparently took note. He looked at me fumbling around and said “Oh, you’re a designer… I bet you’re used to using a trackball mouse.” I had no idea what he was talking about but nodded ‘yes’. Before I knew it, Aaron was out the door and on his way to Office Depot to procure a trackball mouse for me, something I had never seen or used before. But now, I was stuck with it! Great first five minutes…

My first ever assignment was to design a CD label for the purpose of showing off the sharp, vibrant colors that could be produced on the PF-2 disc printer. You dropped a spindle of 100 blank-label CDs into a gravity-fed contraption, and one by one the discs were to land on a belt and print the image, then slide off into a tray. The machines printed well, but often jammed up, and it took some work to perfectly align the design on the disc. Nevertheless, the product was quite a success. There were more expensive versions that also burned CDs or DVDs simultaneously. When customers requested a sample disc, I would print one of my sample discs and drop it in the mail. Naturally, the design included my own face, if I remember correctly.

Another early assignment was to create an “email blast”—a new term to me—for the disc printer that would go out to our distributors and partners. Microboards didn’t sell products directly, so most of the email marketing efforts were educating the people who would go on to sell our products. One such company was Data Memory Marketing in Columbus, Ohio, a company where a fellow fresh-faced marketer named Ryan Bartholic worked. (The story of Bart and me eventually meeting is one best enjoyed in-person over drinks with us talking over each other.) The email was nothing but a flattened JPG pasted into the body of an Outlook message with a hyperlink, then sent to a large distribution list with a very basic subject line like “For immediate release”. In January 2006, I thought that was how email marketing was done! There were no metrics, no data, no sign the email was even seen or delivered. (Later, we’d move over to Constant Contact.)

As the weeks went by, I settled into the role more, and wound up taking on a crazy amount of different projects. I managed all company travel and trade shows, produced product videos, designed the annual product catalog, wrote press releases, designed magazine ads, designed the company website, and much more. I even began attending trade shows, flying to Las Vegas and San Francisco multiple times per year. The company culture was actually great. They had lots of happy hours, great Christmas parties, golf outings, boat rides on Lake Minnetonka, and even Twins season tickets for the taking.

Another great perk—and great story—from the early days at Microboards was the free Friday catered lunches. Each employee took their turn organizing lunch from a different restaurant. There was a $300 budget for the 40 or so employees. Most people usually did Potbelly or Chipotle, and passed around order forms. I, however, had a hookup at the local Buffalo Wild Wings, and was able to get NINE HUNDRED WINGS for the company. No sides, nothing else, just 900 bone-in wings. For about 40 people. When the day came, it turned out a lot of people were out that day or away on business, so we were down to maybe 23 people or so. I unloaded the 30 drums of wings from my trunk and set them in the lunch room, waiting to be hailed as company hero for securing on average 45 wings per person. When all was said and done, there were 700 leftover wings. 700! And wings don’t exactly reheat well. I stuffed the break room fridges to the gills and took home whatever else I could, but not even I—who at the time was getting pretty hefty from my new life as a desk worker—could come close to choking them down. I was relieved of my turn in the lunch rotation from then-on.

I don’t know if the work got to be too much, or I was bored, or the windowless office got the better or me or what, but after five years I was mentally checked out of Microboards and began searching high and low for my next opportunity. That, of course, would take me and Lauren to Texas. While I was definitely over Microboards at the time and thrilled to be moving on, I do look back on those days pretty fondly. Definitely some good people, some great career building blocks, and of course, the Bartholic connection which has led me to where I am today!

Aaron, me, Wayne, John and Dean at the Christmas party at High Timber Lounge.

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