ICYMI: Meet HubSpot’s Chief Product Officer, Christopher O’Donnell
Welcome to In CASEYou Missed It, where I take a brief break from my Weekly Walks to get to know some of the most interesting and innovative personalities behind the greatest startups in the world.
This time I’m talking to Christopher O’Donnell, HubSpot’s Chief Product Officer, to learn about the best tool he’s discovered in the last year, a major social issue he believes everyone should know about, and why Bob Marley is his role model.
How do you explain what you do to your parents, friends, kids, or non-industry people? What’s your elevator pitch?
I struggle to do that well. I tell them that I do what I do with music, but with software engineers.
Do they understand that?
If there were a HubSpot movie, who would play you?
I’d like to think it’d be Leonardo DiCaprio, but my friends would probably say Jonah Hill. And the reality is that it’d be Michael Cera.
Who’s your favorite superhero?
Batman, because he’s resourceful.
And if you could pick any superpower?
My children ask me this all the time. I’d pick patience. It’s the thing I’m missing the most.
Is there a new skill you’ve been working on during quarantine?
Sidewalk mosaics. My family is big into chalk art.
What’s the most useful non-HubSpot tool you’ve discovered in the past year?
Wistia Soapbox. It’s just perfect for getting complex ideas across when you can’t meet face-to-face.
Is there a song that gets you pumped up in the morning, or when you’re working out?
“How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston.
Do you have a favorite podcast?
Armchair Expert with Dax Shepherd.
If you could invite anyone to dinner, who would it be?
Is there something you’ve learned in the past six months that you think everybody should know?
The depth of housing discrimination in the United States—how far back it goes, how deep it goes and how hitched the generational struggle becomes as a result of redlining and housing discrimination.
How do you manage your inbox?
I use my inbox as my to-do list. Life is about knowing what should be an email, what should be a Slack and what should be a meeting—so I don’t love doing lots of creative work through email. Email is most useful for sharing information and keeping groups up to date. That really helps me because I don’t have a ton of big, long, controversial debates happening in email at any given time. I try to keep those things in other venues where we make faster and less stressful progress.
What’s your morning routine?
Once I’m up, I think about and make a list of everything I’m grateful for. Then I make breakfast for my kids, have a cup of coffee, take a shower and go to work.
What are the most important qualities of a leader?
Seeking feedback, bold decision making and effective storytelling. And hiring people who are better than you.
Who is your role model?
Bob Marley—and he’s also my favorite musician. First of all, he fostered a very tight-knit, high-performing community that worked extremely hard. People don’t talk about how much that band rehearsed.
He also did whatever it took to have the means of production for creative flexibility. He drove a forklift in New Jersey long enough for him to have enough money to build his own studio. And he was very generous. He was very community focused, and he gave back basically everything he ever earned.
As a leader, he constantly sought feedback. He studied with Joe Higgs and surrounded himself with people who pushed him to be better. He worked extremely hard. He was the first one up in the morning and the last one to go to bed.
We talk about imitate, assimilate, create as the creative journey for a maker, and he started by imitating rocksteady, and then really created reggae over time—an entirely new sound that both borrowed from existing traditions of soul, Motown, ska, rocksteady, blues and rock and represented an entirely new sound.
He created something totally new that wasn’t just a band, or an album, or a set of albums, but was an entire sound, a new way of making music. So that’s about as good as it gets for me.
How long have you been playing music?
Over 30 years. My focus is on guitar as the instrument, and then also songwriting. We were talking about flexible and effective storytelling, and to me the most powerful way of telling a story is song.
Songs are the stories we relate to the most and remember the best. It’s the most deeply human and ancient form of story. The oldest books in the world were, for generations, songs that were sung as epic poems.
How can we listen to your music?
We’re on Spotify.