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Office Hours: I led brand marketing teams at Stripe and Google. Now, I’m a brand consultant for climate companies. I’m Erzsi Sousa. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

I’m Erzsi Sousa, a brand consultant for climate companies (and interim director for Terraset, a carbon removal nonprofit).

Before going all in on climate, I ran brand marketing teams at Stripe and Google and led marketing at VC firm Human Capital. I’ve seen and developed brands at all stages—from helping founders build brands from scratch (supporting Human Capital’s portfolio companies), to being the first brand marketer and creating the brand function for a high growth company (Stripe in 2018-2020), to making systems that helped brands scale while balancing both creativity and consistency (Google Cloud had 450 marketers when I left in 2018).

I live in Portugal with my husband and two daughters. We left San Francisco in January 2022 thinking we’d go to Europe for six months, but after spending winter in the Swiss Alps and spring in Scotland, we decided to stick around. I’m obsessed with the outdoors, so I spend most of my days enjoying it and working with companies that exist to preserve it!

Ask me anything about:

  • brand marketing
  • VC marketing
  • climate tech
  • sabbaticals
  • consulting
  • career planning
Thanks so much for joining us @Erzsi!Elphas – please ask @Erzsi your questions before Friday, July 14th. @Erzsi may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi Erzi,We have a lot in common - I've also worked at Google in my past in product marketing! And am also living abroad in Amsterdam as a freelancer. I have an extensive background leading marketing but would love to do more brand consulting work and within climate! As a newer mama, it just means so much to me.1. How did you transition into branding as an account director of double click at Google?2. How did you transition from no climate experience to climate experience and with such amazing brands?3. Finally how are you finding the freelance work that you do? Did you find any of your work through Mixing Board?And do you know any companies needing marketing freelance help? :)Thanks so much!!
Love it @HeyLori - kindred spirits!On moving from DoubleClick sales to brand marketing: I did marketing for a social impact nonprofit outside of work, so that showed the internal hiring team that I got the fundamentals and was clearly invested in the function. That got me the interview, and I’d studied and followed enough about marketing to convince them I could handle a marketing role. My first year in marketing was in growth, but along the way, I had a side project doing customer stories with a brand marketing lead, who eventually brought me onto her brand team. On transitioning to climate: first, thanks for the kind words!! Truly, despite my lifelong type A tendencies, my path into climate was far from planned or prescriptive. I just read interesting articles, talked to interesting people, said yes to interesting projects, and here we are. Even now, I’m purposely focused on brand and climate, but no particular industry or stage within climate, because I want to experiment and learn more across different areas. Just dive in and follow what you find most interesting. It’ll take you somewhere good. (Also, a lot of friends and former colleagues in tech are moving to climate, so there’s that.)On how I’m finding work: it’s all through my network at this point. Mixing Board is definitely one source of it, and it’s awesome—definitely one of my favorite communities out there, I’m always learning and meeting fascinating people. One idea if you’re looking for work: find job descriptions that capture what you do, then email the companies to see if they might be interested in someone part-time/freelance. They might have been searching for so long or like your resume enough to rethink the resourcing strategy.
Amazing, thanks so much Erzi! Your response was incredibly detailed and actionable 🙏❤️I’m really inspired by how you’ve transitioned into new spaces. And beyond grateful for your time. Will give your advice a shot. I’ve connected with you on LinkedIn - I think we have a lot of mutual friends as well!
Thanks for your time, @Erzsi — the life you've designed and your trajectory are inspiring. I'm a creative brand marketing consultant with 13+ years of experience in VC-backed high-growth consumer startups, with a stint in political communications and a corporate legacy fashion brand. I wear lots of hats because I'm naturally curious, creative, empathetic, and high achieving. I think this is an incredible value for my clients, but I'm finding it challenging to synthesize my offerings and talents *because* I have such a diversity of talents and skills.I'm wondering your process for defining and refining your offerings and your own brand story as a consultant. Do you have frameworks you use? How often do you refine your offerings? What's helped you work smarter, not harder when it comes to managing your time and projects?Appreciate this AMA!
Thank you, @jdalfeen!!I force myself to take the same advice I give to companies I work with (easier said than done): if you focus on your niche, you’ll get your target audience and you’ll get business from people outside the bullseye. Just because you don’t say you do something on your website doesn’t mean you don’t do it. You just have to have and own an angle. Stand out. Be different. Be known for something specific or people won’t remember you for anything at all.Similarly, my frameworks resemble the questions I ask the founders I work with:++ Who’s your audience? ++ What are their needs? ++ What do you offer that solves those needs? I love when people clearly answer these questions without getting fluffy or prosaic. Human, real-talk, grounded in target audiences and their needs. Emily Vernon at Intangible Branding (https://www.intangiblebranding.com/) and Pat Shores at worktwenty (https://www.worktwenty.com) do this well. Both are also awesome people who are brilliant at what they do.
Hi @Erzsi thank you so much for your time, and so glad you are doing this. I am a full-stack marketing professional with approx. 8 years of experience working on brand-building, new user acquisition, and demand generation. Over the past 3 years, I have been trying to build a profitable freelance consulting practice helping seed & series A startups with their marketing needs. However, it has been slow; most clients I had were referrals, and work coming in is sporadic. Can you share some pointers from your experience on how you went about your consulting journey?
Hi @Erzsi, Thank you for your time! It's awesome and motivating to see how you've pivoted your career to different subject and fields. What is your advice to transitioning to a new field or sector? I feel like I'm pigeon-holed into my current field even though the skills are so transferrable. I feel like people see the word "crisis" and run! (I'm in crisis management and want to do strategy and ops/COO/Chief of Staff roles for companies).
Hey @marniesuss! I hear you. Some thoughts:Do the things that will get you the next job. Be the obvious choice. Let there be a trail of breadcrumbs that make you the obvious person. Write blog posts or build a website, even if they’re just for a future hiring manager. Want a chief of staff role? Interview 5 chiefs of staff and throw out a substack analysis of what you learned. It’s not about making sure everyone knows you did it, it’s about proving to the people that matter that you clearly get it. Are you applying for those jobs? If not, do it. Keep on doing it. You’ll get better at it over time, and eventually you’ll get the interviews. Take each bullet on the job description, and show how you’ve done that before. (Literally, make it as easy as possible for them to say “we need X, she has done X.”Be patient and keep at it! You’ll get there. Not getting a job isn’t an insult to you, it just means you’re not the perfect match for their needs right now.
Thank you so much @Erzsi! This is great, actionable advice. Appreciate it!
Hi Erzsi! It's so nice to meet you and thanks so much for your time with us this week! I have no question but comment, Alex Roetter is the best! I was most recently working with at Moxxie as an investor. He is one of the smartest persons I have met/worked with so I feel immense pride and gratitude to have learned from him. The work of Terraset is also incredible and big congrats on launching the platform, we need it!
Alex Roetter IS the best! His energy and enthusiasm are infectious. We need more people like him in the world, and in climate in particular—he sees potential, opportunity, and upside, and just wants to get after it. Meeting him and getting to work on Terraset with him has been one of the absolute highlights of the last 18 months.
Hi @Erzsi Thank you for sharing your story with us and being available to answer our questions. I'm a Marketing Manager with experience in the Construction industry. On my last product launch, I went beyond and designed the most sustainable marketing plan I have ever done. It was my way to contribute to the Planet, but yet, not the ideal. It was so hard to find prepared vendors or eco-friendly materials to work with. Do you adopt this philosophy to your/ your clients' marketing plans? Do you follow any standards? How to keep your marketing plan "green"?
Hi @Erzsi, I'm a green tech senior account executive at a PR firm. How do you see the role of brand marketing evolving in the climate sector, and what opportunities and challenges do you anticipate? Also, what skills do you think are needed to advance in the industry as marketer and comms professional?
I've been trying SO hard for almost 3 years to find a new job. No matter what position I apply for, at whatever company, regardless of who I reach out to, or how many in-person events I network at, I cannot seem to find ANYONE willing to hire me for ANY job. I am a Data Scientist at a large bank and am a Master of Engineering student at an elite university. I am personable, kind and empathetic, with great social skills. I am aiming for any tech or non-tech job that pays decently well and does not involve coding/programming. What am I doing wrong, and can you please help steer me in the right direction?
Yes, to build on this, I’m curious about securing a remote role. I get a lot of opportunities but they are in person or hybrid, and I’m in a position right now that demands a remote job. I’m curious, because so many seem to be fully remote. 🧐
Hi Erzsi,Thanks for your time here and congratulations for your amazing career.You moved from the US to Europe and I did the opposite, from Spain to Philly. I'm SEO consultant with seven years of experience. I want to ask you about career planning. I moved here with my partner with the goal of getting a good job and to be more valued as a professional when I come back.I would love to be able to work for a big company like the ones you worked for: Google, Microsoft... but I know it cannot be easy.Any recommendations to get a job in a big company and to succed in the role?Every tip is welcome:) Thank you so much,Ana
Hello Erzsi!How did you find your way to Terraset? Also what advice do you have to make yourself more visible if you are not working for a major company such as Google? Sometimes talented people abstain from certain companies, but would like to still be seen for groundbreaking or off-market opportunities. Thank you for your generosity!Bria
Hi Erzsi! Thanks so much for joining us for Office Hours! I have two questions:1. As a bit of a working nomad myself, I'm always curious to hear what grounding and acclimating to a new environment looks like for others. For me, it's being able to buy groceries for a month(s) long stay and getting to do some home cooking/meal prep. What are some activities you and your family tap into to ground yourself after a big move or acclimate to a new place?2. Prompted by your LinkedIn post, why is your name Erzsi? Would love to hear the story behind your name :)
THE @Josefina! Hey there! 1. I walk a lot. You see things walking you don’t notice driving, and it gives you a different perspective. Street names, architectural gems, hidden parks, low key coffee shops. Details are everything. Hiking to high vantage points helps too. It helps to see and place everything in context. Then I look at maps. And walk to the places I’ve seen from up high. I triangulate it all. It starts to feel familiar. We like to frequent favorite local spots that serve cheap coffee or drinks and go enough that the folks behind the bar to know our order. Here in Portugal, it’s a cafe in the middle of a protected dune. In Switzerland, it was a mountainside hut with a resident bernese mountain dog that we could ski down to or hike up to from our apartment. Common thread: places where you can appreciate the outdoors, even from indoors. 2.Erzsi is short for Erzsébet, which is Hungarian for Elizabeth. My dad’s parents were Hungarian—they lived in Budapest before immigrating to the US—so my parents loved both the name itself and the way it connected to our family history. That family history is fascinating, and I love that my name gives a reason to talk about it. So thank you (and I’m sorry in advance) for asking!My grandfather fled Budapest in 1939 as Nazi influence spread across Hungary. He arrived in the US, joined the OSS branch of the US Army and fought in Europe and North Africa during WWII. After the war, he was sent back to Budapest to arrest Nazi officers—a fitting reason to return to the home he’d been forced to flee. While there, he went to a play, fell in love with one of the actresses, and eventually smuggled her back into the US. That woman is my grandmother, they started a family back in the US, and here we are. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in between, but since you just asked about the name Erzsi, I’ll stop there. However, if you’re the curious type that wants to keep going, here you go: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/05/the-man-who-counts-the-killings/376850/
Wow, that was fascinating to read. I am glad I asked! As I was reading it I was thinking "they should make a movie out of this". What a cool story (and grandparents!) to your name! And yes, walking + going to local coffee shops is another great one for acclimating :) Thanks for sharing, Erzsi!
Thanks for sharing! How much of your initial few gigs as an independent consultant came from your prior companies? How much time do you spend as an independent consultant doing sales vs. working on projects?I love the idea of going independent but the idea of constantly having to drum up sales is intimidating.
I’ve been lucky to have all my projects come through my network, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing sales. It just means life is a very long soft sell :) I don’t like marketing myself. I’m not a Linkedin Thinkfluencer and I’m not tweeting clever memes. My way of finding work is more natural, subtle and behind the scenes. It’s staying in touch with people I worked with, in case they come across something I’d be interested in (and since they know me best, chances are it’s a good fit). It’s sending emails to companies I look up to. Saying yes to things with interesting people. It’s quality over quantity.But that’s my way of doing things, and everyone has different skills, networks, and financial goals. Some tips if the independent thing intimidates you:++ See if you can get a few jobs on the side while you’re still working full-time. Build your portfolio and freelance network. A lot of the work comes through word of mouth, so this will get you on that track.++ Look for communities that center around your specific area of expertise. For example, I’m a part of Mixing Board (https://www.mixingboard.co/) a community of awesome brand & comms folks, including a bunch of consultants. I’ve gotten help with practical freelance questions (eg. S-Corp vs LLC setup), and connected with people who’ve brought me in on projects eg. (I met Kristen Winzent from The Regenerates, who eventually introduced me to the founder of Terraset.)++ If you work with startups (or what you do is something startups need), reach out to VC portfolio teams. They look after dozens of companies and can connect you with founders that might be interested.
I know it's past the deadline for questions, but do you have any email outreach/intro message templates you've found to be particularly successful with VC teams?
I'm interested in getting into the climate tech space. I'm a privacy engineer at Google, so the most likely move would be to a company that has a fair amount of sensitive consumer data.1. What are some consumer-facing climate tech companies you find compelling?2. What's it like moving from the massively comfy arms of a big-benefits company like Google to flying your own plane? More pointedly, it sounds like you are part of a two-earner family - would your path have been any different if you were in a single-earner situation?
Some consumer-facing climate tech (ok, also climate adjacent or sustainability-focused) companies I’ve had my eye on include Mill, Pachama, Commons, Rivian, Allbirds, Sweetgreen, Stripe, Shopify, Apple, and Tesla. Check out this Guide to Software in Climate Tech (from a former Stripe colleague, Ben Eidelson). Might be relevant for you given your background: https://www.climatepapa.com/softwareI didn’t move right from Google to consulting—I went to Stripe (850 people) then a VC firm (sub-50 people) before going solo, so it was more of an evolution than a jarring leap. Having those stages in between helped, but even more than that, it made me want to do my own thing.My path would be different if I weren’t in a dual-income family, for sure! Part of why I was able to take a break was because my husband had a full-time job. (He’s since started consulting.) But it would also be different if I didn’t have 2 young kids. Or if I’d stayed at Google longer. Or gotten the perfect job somewhere else in the US. I couldn’t have predicted I’d be living in Portugal in 2023, but here we are. There are too many variables out there to control or predict where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing. I’ve come to a place where I optimize for experience that matter most at the time, based on the factors at the time. For example, when we were living in California and our kids were younger, we prioritized national parks within driving distance, because driving was easier than flying. Stuff changes. Life has chapters. This is just one of them for us.
Hello Erzsi - Love your story! What was the most intimidating part about leaving your corporate job to be your own boss to help other companies with their branding?
Thanks @TCBottenSimilar to another question here, I had training wheels, so my path to consulting was a gradual evolution. I went from Google (bigco) to Stripe (850 people when I started → 3,500 when I left) to a VC firm (25 when I started → 45 when I left). Having experience with companies of different sizes helped prepare me for consulting life—especially running marketing at Human Capital, because I worked with our founders and portfolio companies.
Hi Erzi! What advice do you have for someone who is works in the marketing/advertising world but wants to change to a career that aligns with your environmental values? It seems most companies that have an environmental focus are smaller companies or are not hiring marketing professionals.
Don't worry—the tides of change are in your favor! More companies will become climate companies over time, just as more companies have become tech companies. It’ll just become more naturally integrated into business practices and strategies. A lot of climate tech is early, but there are still plenty of opportunities out there for marketers who want to do good work for the environment. There’s a *very* extensive doc aptly dubbed So You Want To Work in Climate that’s full of communities, job boards, newsletters, and more. Definitely check it out: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1QzarGBkRUvTSx8qu92O0d3zJ6XkblfyyMONSPUsoLgs/edit#gid=0Some other specific resource worth checking out: ++ Work on Climate - https://workonclimate.org/++ Climate Draft - https://www.climatedraft.org/++ Clean Creatives - https://cleancreatives.org/++ Creatives for Climate - https://www.creativesforclimate.co/Lastly, if you come across a person or agency in marketing or advertising that’s doing something cool - send them a note! That sort of personalized, genuine outreach often goes somewhere eventually.
hi @Erzsi, As someone who has been working remote for the past three years, I'm curious about how you presented your sabbatical and also how you set boundaries to be able to soak up outdoors. Do you set office hours? How do folks know when you're available / v unavailable and how do you communicate that?
Working remotely for a company full-time is definitely different than working remotely as a consultant. And remote cultures vary widely by company. So I can share my experience and some tips, but it’s pretty dependent on the specific scenario.I set expectations for working norms whenever I start a project, and those norms flex based on the project and people. It’s about understanding the goals and folks I’m working with, talking about how they operate and collaborate, and finding the best ways to partner and drive the outcomes they need. No client (or manager) is the same.For example, I’ve been a part-time fractional head of brand for a global climate company for the last year. The project requires coordination across teams in London, Singapore, and California, so we acknowledged upfront that there would be 1-2 early and 1-2 late meetings each week for each time zone. I do async work whenever it fits my schedule. We’re on slack, but don’t expect immediate answers, especially with the time zone differences. Some practical tips:++ Communicate deadlines and priorities, and ask others about theirs. For example, if someone emails you asking for a strategy doc, ask them when they need it by. It’s easy to assume everything is important and has to be done now, when it might not be.++ Try a “Working with” doc. They’re great for establishing working/personal norms, especially for remote companies. I learned this at Stripe from then-COO Claire Hughes Johnson and have preached the “working with” gospel since. Claire talks about the Working With doc here: https://growth.eladgil.com/book/the-role-of-the-ceo/decision-making-and-managing-executives-an-interview-with-claire-hughes-johnson/And her own Working With doc is here: https://growth.eladgil.com/book/the-role-of-the-ceo/insights-working-with-claire/
@Erzsi so much about your story inspires me - from your corporate stints (I'm also in brand marketing) to your move abroad (also on my bucket list) I'm so excited to see your journey. I'm wondering how you are able to work abroad? Did you secure a visa? Do you typically work in North American time zones? And what about your experience in the corporate world did you highlight when you went to make the transition to climate?Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!
Thanks for asking those questions! I want to move abroad too!
First - thank you! I love talking to folks who have done or want to do similar adventures, and it’s been cool meeting more of them. The consultant and expat communities are strong! Also - do it! Get after that bucket list.Our approach to living abroad incorporates both what we want (eg. outdoors) and need (eg. visas). On the practical side, the most crucial factors were exactly what you asked about:- We wanted to live somewhere for at least a year, which meant we had to live somewhere with a visa program that we qualified for and that didn’t require employer sponsorship. - We wanted to have time zone overlap with the US, since most of our clients and network were based in the US. (We’ve since started working with more European companies, but still have a few evening meetings during the week.)The universe gets pretty small when you combine these work considerations with our personal preferences (outdoors, international schools, less than 1 hour to major airport, etc.). It’s all an equation—writing down all the factors, looking at the possibilities, getting in the weeds on the logistics, and making a decision.
Hello! I'm curious to learn how you make the switch from brand marketing to climate; any tips or insights would be great. Thank you!