Ros Hodgekiss: Magical thinking is in the air in San Francisco

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Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance.

Ros Hodgekiss has been working for Australian success story Campaign Monitor for the last five years in San Francisco. Recognising an opportunity for the company to have a presence in the tech capital of the world, she took the suggestion to her bosses, who were not only receptive to the idea, but encouraged her to take the plunge. 

While studying at the University of Technology Sydney, Ros spent a considerable amount of time living and working in the Philippines and always enjoyed “having the benefit of being able to touch on different cultures.”

Over a candid conversation, Ros offered Advance her insights as to what it is in the air in San Francisco that makes the inhabitants so hardworking and successful, and what, if anything, would bring her back to Australia.

Throughout your tenure living in San Francisco have you noticed any changes in the quantity of Australian expats moving over?

When my husband and I first came here five years ago, we felt fairly confident about the move because we knew two other people in our inner-circle who had come the year prior, so it really helped to have the path somewhat paved for us.

Since then, there have been many people we know from Australia make the move also. You could say there has been a bit of a snowball effect in the last five years. I think moving to San Francisco now isn't so much of a risk as it was five years ago as there's a really active Australian community here.

Is it important to have a job secured before you go over there or is it the type of city that's conducive to hitting the ground running?

My husband had secured an engineering role at Apple ahead of time, who were amazing in that they flew him out and allowed him to take to the city a bit before we settled. I actually came here knowing really about nothing about San Francisco and not having spent any time in the US as an adult. Luckily, Campaign Monitor was incredibly accommodating to the idea of having a remote employee when I suggested it to them.

However, that’s just one approach. There’s another route that involves coming out here for a period of time and really getting involved in the community. For instance, if you're interested in joining the tech industry, it’s important to come along to the meet-ups to network, and join the Facebook groups to get an insight to what jobs are available and what the climate is like. I would definitely recommend spending a bit of time in the Bay Area to get a feeling for whether or not it's the sort of lifestyle that really suits you.

Did you want to go to San Francisco or did Campaign Monitor suggest you move?

I put the suggestion forward to my company that I go over there, it was possible to do much of what I was doing in a remote capacity. It made a lot of sense to the company because at the time I was a community manager so it was the kind of role where I could really operate on my laptop and just get it done. The other thing to note is that the majority of our customers are actually in North America. So, from the time zone perspective and being immersed in our customers’ base perspective, it made a lot of sense.

What was the biggest drawcard for wanting to move to San Francisco?

I have a sense of adventure that’s a big motivation in my life. Before moving I thought; what's the worst thing that could happen? Best case scenario was that I was going to further my career in an idea-generating tech epicentre, and perhaps get some good skiing in as a bonus. At worst, I would come back to Australia with a new experience under my belt, and continue working there.

It's not a very bad Option B is it?

Not at all. My husband and I visit the topic every now and then; when will be the right time to move back to Australia, when the realities of settling down, having children, choosing schools and all the rest sets in. It's at that time that you realise that Australia is a really great place to be, it certainly offers more benefits in terms of access to great education and healthcare than the US.

Is Campaign Monitor known as an Australian company in the US?

Our presence has remained relatively neutral in terms of the local cultural identity in the US. When we amped up our marketing efforts a few years ago there was definitely a temptation to really play on the Australian origins, but the marketing team that came in weren’t actually from Australia and I think that they recognised the benefit of pitching ourselves as being a global company.

Do you think it's one of the best success stories of an Australian startup to successfully scale?

I believe that Campaign Monitor is one of the standout startups or IT companies from Australia to scale successfully. I think especially in a scene where there are a lot of high-growth companies out there that still haven't been able to turn a profit, it's quite remarkable.

Much of the growth we experienced was through very organic marketing. We didn't have a marketing team until about two or three years ago; it was just me on the community side, manning all of the social media and producing our content. I was wearing a lot of hats for many of those years, and it was very satisfying to see our presence grow.

Do similar roles to yours exist in Australia or is there a much bigger scope for jobs in San Francisco and the US?

In the US, it’s a matter of scale in many ways. The bigger the company, the more capacity there is for a specialisation. That said, customer success wasn’t an area that I was familiar with until I moved to the US, it wasn’t until I was here that I actually knew it was a thing. A similar role that would be applicable to both Australia and the United States would be an Account Manager whose goal is focused on retention and growth.

What is it in the air that makes people in San Francisco so hardworking and successful?

Magical thinking is in the air in San Francisco! There really is a collective attitude here that there is an infinite amount of possibilities to make something work. I think it’s one of the few places in the world where you can talk about quiet, random ideas, and almost always find somebody who wants to take it to the next level. I think people really do get a lot of energy from that.

What's your favourite thing about living in San Francisco, work aside?

The opportunity to travel across North and Central America has been exceptional. Since moving to the US I've learnt Spanish, which has been great not just to be able to experience elements of Mexican culture, but also visit places like Cuba and Guatemala and immerse myself in those cultures.

What's something that you didn't expect before you moved?

What's dramatic about San Francisco is that there's a very obvious spectrum between very wealthy people and those with next to no income, and the poverty and the issues that stem from that.

Living here has really made me think about my place as a human and what I can do to give back, it has made me think about it in a way that I never really thought about when I was living in Australia.

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