Somebody's Gonna Be An SEM Leader -- Might As Well Be You

A few years ago, the California Lottery ran a great advertising campaign with the tagline “Somebody’s Gonna Lotto, Might as Well be You.” I’m not a Lotto player, but I was really attracted to the philosophical message of this campaign. I’ve actually adopted it as a mantra at work: Somebody’s going to create the greatest digital marketing agency, might as well be us!

I think this philosophy applies to everything you do in life: Why not me? Why shouldn’t I be CEO? Why shouldn’t I win a marathon? Why shouldn’t I marry the girl of my dreams? Someone’s gonna win – why not me?

So let’s say you adopt this mantra and decide that you want to become an SEM leader. You can define leader however you want: founder of an agency, VP of marketing at a large spender, perhaps even the head of product at AdWords.

So what does it take to achieve this lofty goal? My advice is simple: Take the hard way. You read that right: Don’t get on the easy road. To be an SEM leader, you have to constantly push yourself to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can. That means taking jobs that will challenge you, probably require long hours, and will push you to your intellectual limits.



When I look back on my career, I can distinctly identify two decisions I made for the hard way that got me to where I am today. The first occurred in 1999, when I decided not to practice law (having just graduated from law school) but instead move to San Francisco to get an Internet job, with no money nor qualifications. My first job when I arrived was user-testing a PC game called “Barbie Supersports” for $20 an hour. So while my law school friends were earning six figures and had offices and executive assistants, I was rollerblading with Barbie for hours on end. But it paid the bills until I landed my first job in the industry.

The second hard decision came in 2004. I got an offer from Yahoo to join its SEM team. When I came to SF, working at Yahoo was my dream job; to finally be offered a position there meant a lot to me. But I also had an offer from a startup called Adteractive. Adteractive didn’t have the name recognition of Yahoo, but it was clear to me its marketing was at a level way beyond virtually anyone else in the Bay Area.

I knew that Yahoo would have been an easier place to work, and it had the cachet of a big brand (so my friends and family would be impressed)! But I turned down Yahoo and went to Adteractive. Over the next two years, I truly learned online marketing (often working until 11 p.m. at night). I learned how to analyze millions of rows of data, how to apply game theory to bid strategy, and I even wrote an algorithm for bid management (we tried to build it internally and failed, but our COO left shortly thereafter and founded Marin Software). Had I not taken that job at Adteractive, I never would have had the SEM knowledge necessary to launch my own agency.

I recognize that not everyone wants to be CEO of their own agency or lead product at AdWords. There are many different paths in life, and many of these paths put much more emphasize on family or hobbies, or something other than work. This article is for those of you out there who love SEM and want to become SEM leaders. So take the hard choice. Choose a job for which you think that you might not be qualified, or one that you know is going to require well over 40 hours per week. Choose the path that will make you sweat.

Unlike the California Lottery, success in SEM is not luck, it’s about the right decisions and hard work. If you want to be an SEM leader, the opportunity is there for the taking – why not by you?

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