Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind With Matt Kerbel, Head of Marketing & Brand Strategy at Canoo

Matt Kerbel is the Head of Marketing & Brand Strategy at Canoo, a Los Angeles-based company creating electric vehicles available by subscription.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’ve spent my entire career in marketing, nearly 15 years. It’s been an interesting journey that kicked off on the agency side in Toronto where I’m from.

When the recession hit in 2008, I had a realization that I wanted to move over to client side as an in-house brand marketer so I used business school as a conduit to make that dream a reality.

I fortunately found my way to UCLA Anderson, which helped me land my first client-side role as an Associate Marketing Manager at General Mills.

Since then, over the past decade, two main things have occurred:

  1. I have moved from Fortune 500 retail-focused companies (General Mills, Activision) to tech startup direct-to-consumer companies (Lyft, MeUndies, Canoo);
  2. I have organically gravitated towards challenger brands who are looking to steal share from incumbents and shake-up/evolve the status quo. Being a marketing leader in this type of environment and mentoring the next generation of marketing leaders have become two of my professional passions.

Today, my title is In Charge of Marketing + Brand Strategy at a unique electric vehicle startup called Canoo. Everything we do is intentionally different and a commonsense evolution from what we’ve all come to know as “the way things have been done” in automotive.

Our car is super different (an EV with exceptional space and value); our business model is different (you subscribe rather than own, finance or lease); even our job titles are different because we prefer a flatter organizational structure. We are seeking to build the next great brand in automotive, putting the consumer first and preparing for a future that will become increasingly electric, autonomous and shared.

You can check us out via our site, traditional social channels, our podcast Get In Let’s Go, Medium, and some other fun stuff down the road (pun intended). We’re launching in 2021 and will be opening up our waitlist soon.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

No two days are the same. Lately, much of my focus has been spent on the foundational elements that will set us up for success today and tomorrow – research, positioning, strategy alignment, hiring and resources, marketing technology, partnerships, activation planning and – of course – supporting my team every way that I can.

The common thread is that everything I do has to be something that will help us make informed decisions, take calculated risks, and execute consistently and excellently. We are fortunate to be working on something that is 2 years pre-launch; it’s imperative we do it the “right” way.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Funny you ask. I’m currently working remotely today, at a coffee shop because my car was having a brake issue this morning.

Less than 6 weeks into my tenure at Canoo my wife and I welcomed our second son. The company was exceptionally flexible with regards to paternity leave, and time off in general. This isn’t something that happens every day, so they were very serious about ensuring I really enjoyed and soaked in that precious time.

Culturally, we have a very understanding and empowering environment. Micromanagement is a swear word in my vocabulary, and in Canoo’s as well. We want people to have the freedom to deliver results in a way that works for them, so long as they have alignment with their team and manager, and are not a bottleneck to progress.

This has really helped me adjust my routine without feeling the paralysis of guilt. Now that I have two kids under 3 years old, mornings are a little trickier. I do always aim to make it in by 8:45, but that doesn’t always happen.

As a result, I spend more time at night preparing for the next day or week ahead, but I do not ask or expect that of my team unless they decide to do so on their own terms.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

A few things have been helpful to me:

  • Block time in the morning, where possible, and have meetings in the afternoon. The best thinking is done in the morning, and it’s also an opportunity to knock out tedium without interruption.
  • Use an hour or so on Sunday to prepare for the week ahead. This can pay huge dividends.
  • I tend to use a system called Top 3’s with my teams: each week, they update the top 3 things for that week. They may have 20 things (very likely), but if nothing else that week should be focused on firstly tending to those critical items. It helps each team member have transparency to one another’s top tasks, and helps me ensure priorities are aligned across the house.
  • Meeting agendas. Never underestimate the power of a good meeting agenda.

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I often say “I work to live, I don’t live to work.” I am passionate about what I do, and it’s become such an important part of who I am.

However, I equally live for the moments I spend with my family and I hope to look back – when all is said and done – being proud of myself as a husband, father, son, brother, friend and professional. Those first 5 are as much work as the last 1, so it’s critical there is more than enough time dedicated to enjoying, nurturing and developing those relationships.

Balance to me means having the circumstantial variables in place that enable me to achieve both personal and professional milestones. That means setting expectations up, down and across the organization, and at home. It means transparency and communication to beget the necessary trust needed to achieve this.

Lastly – often forgotten – it also means I need to carve time to work on myself, continuing to reflect on and evolve my definition of balance and what it means to me at that point in my life.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

Clear expectations, both at home and at work, help to avoid any last-minute scenarios that put the other parties’ backs against the wall.

Prioritizing time to work on myself – things like exercise, learning and mindfulness – has become priceless. Carving it out is the challenge, and forming a habit of it around such a busy life is a perpetual challenge. Nevertheless, it’s critical.

Gratitude and perspective is key. Let go of grudges when you can. Know that people generally come from a place of positive intent. Appreciate the odds of even being here right now, and having this astronomical opportunity. It helps!

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I like a lot of what both Tim Ferriss and Mark Manson have written. I either read their books, or listen to them via audiobook or podcast. The most important thing that they do is talk about top-of-mind issues in the context of today, not yesterday.

Times have changed, and are always changing. There are certain universal insights that are timeless (ie. care less about typically “stressful” small things), but also suggested solutions to issues that are more current or challenging the way things have always been. There’s that challenger mentality again.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Spend time with my boys. You may ask yourself “How does that help you be successful at work,” and the answer is this: if I haven’t carved time to really focus on my sons that morning, then that will set a negative tone for the day. At the end of the day, this is all for them after all.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Do human things to ensure you don’t become a “drone” who always says work is “fine.” Seek opportunities to work on things that excite you, and that you are passionate about. Stay connected to people. Breathe. Share. Give and take feedback. Maintain perspective. Be kind to yourself. And give your time and energy to those who need it.

A helpful exercise is to always think about your legacy. It’s cliché, but think about how you’d want to be remembered, or spoken about. Seek to actualize those things in your life, and deprioritize everything else.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.