A particularly popular advice for founders or tech employees is to simply find or embrace a hobby to help them realise there’s more to life than shipping a new feature, but many would respond that it can be hard to find the time.
Not so for Susanne Ronnqvist Ahmadi, vice president of international marketing at HubSpot, who has balanced her marketing career with her love of mixed martial arts (MMA) for 20 years.
A semi-professional MMA fighter and former presenter of televised MMA events in Europe, Ahmadi first got into the sport in the 90s because, she laughed, “I just wanted to be a cool chick.”
“It was the 90s, and this was before the internet and I didn’t know much about martial arts, so I basically checked the Yellow Pages and found a venue close to my house,” she said.
As her love for the sport grew, Ahmadi’s marketing career also began to take off, but there was never any question that she wouldn’t balance the two.
“Working really intensely in startups or in a tech company where the expectations are that you spend sometimes abnormal amounts of time just working, working, working, it’s good to have an area where you can release your energy physically, and I think martial arts is the ultimate sport for that,” she said.
“It’s the ultimate sort of game where you’re constantly under attack and at the same time you release a lot of energy from your own attack, so to speak; it’s like chess, where you have to predict your opponent’s next move as your plan your own.”
From a fringe sport in the 90s, MMA has now become a multi-billion dollar entertainment vehicle garnering interest from an increasingly diverse, fast-growing audience. With that interest has come support from colleagues, and nowhere more so than Hubspot, where Ahmadi started in January.
“We have a culture that is very strong around transparency. I work remotely, based in Stockholm, but I’ve never felt like I’m not part of the company even though I’m thousands of miles from my friends and colleagues in the other offices,” she said.
“It’s an open, transparent, and welcoming company unlike any other company I’ve worked for in the past 20 years. I’ve felt as much an Australian being here in this office this week as I feel Swedish, and I’ve never experienced that before.”
As a marketer, working at a company focused on marketing was also a welcome change for Ahmadi. In previous roles, she said, she had often felt that marketers were secondary to those working on the business side of an organisation.
“I always felt like I had to educate the leaders of the company – people looked at marketing and didn’t really understand it,” she said.
“I’d been looking at HubSpot for many years thinking, ‘wow, that’s where the smartest marketers are’, so I was very flattered and happy when they first contacted me and talked about how to grow HubSpot internationally.
“Here I get to spend time with the greatest marketers in the world, where before I had to educate companies on how to do marketing effectively.”
A lot of the world’s best marketers are in Australia. Four years after HubSpot touched down in Australia and opened its Sydney office, Ahmadi said the region presents “unlimited opportunities” for the company, with local marketers tech-savvy early adopters.
Of particular interest is the growing small business (SMB) space: while the tech and startup world has been aware of HubSpot for years, the company has also been working to help SMBs up their marketing game. Key to its approach are its free resources, from HubSpot’s blog to ebooks, courses, and guides, which aim to make it simple for anyone to get started.
“Our whole strategy is about helping them grow, so our whole approach to our customers and prospects is to constantly keep educating and delighting them with insights and tips and tricks and tools to help them with their marketing,” Ahmadi said.
“I think a lot of our success is about our client base, and potential client base, seeing us as a repository of insights for how to do their marketing. Even before becoming a customer, so many businesses can get started without a huge investment just by reading our blog.”
Ahmadi believes that, when it comes to marketing, businesses can draw inspiration from an MMA fight; particularly for SMBs, leveraging the right tools can help them punch far above their weight.
“A couple of years ago you would be forced to use different kinds of tools, then get them connected; you would spend so much time trying to get just one view of your customer. I think now the possibilities of getting to market fast with your message, without having to pay for everything, creates a fantastic opportunity for startups and SMEs,” she said.
“The more empowered consumers we have, the more choices customers have and the higher expectations they have, requires decreased time to market and increased relevance and context, which is just a huge opportunity for smaller companies.”
Image: Susanne Ronnqvist Ahmadi. Source: Supplied.