Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Scott Rubin, Chief Marketing Officer at Lux Capital
I spoke with Scott Rubin, chief marketing officer at Lux Capital. Scott studied literature at Harvard and took a nontraditional path into tech. He had always been quite entrepreneurial, and none of the more mainstream career paths (such as banking, law, or medicine) spoke to him, so after graduation, he moved to Madrid and started a cross cultural communications consulting agency. He was fluent at Spanish, having studied it at Harvard and even served as an interpreter for the Department of Justice in Boston in his senior year.
After several years in Madrid, Scott was drawn to NYC, where he wrote and directed commercials in Spanish for the US market and then to the West Coast, where he took a role in advertising, which was his first functional step into marketing. Around this time he completed his masters in writing at Johns Hopkins University and was first introduced to tech writing. After his masters, Scott returned to San Francisco where he quickly found the need for his talents at the intersection of technology and writing in the consulting world. He worked closely with many high growth tech companies through the dot com boom and bust and saw firsthand the significant role that storytelling played in building these companies and the broader tech industry as we know it today.
Following his time in tech, Scott began working more at the intersection of regulation and policy consulting for a think tank. Around this time, he caught up with his friend, Karen Wickre, at Google for lunch. Coincidentally, Google was hiring for talent that fit Scott’s expertise. Scott was looking for advice from Karen on whom he should meet to figure out his next move but could not fathom what he would at a company like Google. She immediately saw a fit and referred him.
At Google, Scott spent several years on both the communications and public policy teams, managing Google’s public response on controversial content on its platforms, including YouTube, and handling issues , such as child safety, censorship, and freedom of expression. In December 2009, Google was breached by an entity associated with the Chinese government, which brought Scott into a highly impactful project, managing Google’s response to the first ever major corporate espionage announcement associated with a foreign government.
Scott’s work on this drew the attention of Google’s EMEA team, and he joined their group shortly after in London, leading communications in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. There, he saw firsthand how technology can be a positive force in communities. He saw how Google was the only source of global information for communities in South Africa and how Google supported marginalized communities ensuring continued information access during the Arab Spring. He truly experienced how storytelling, communications, and tech could come together to improve people’s lives.
After several years in this role, Scott moved back to San Francisco to head all of corporate communications and public affairs. In transitioning back to the US, Scott was looking to rebuild his network. As part of this process, he was introduced to a16z and met many of their partners. They were coincidentally looking for a partner to promote the firm and to support the portfolio, and Scott was looking to learn more about building tech companies from seed to growth (which he had not previously seen from working solely at large tech companies). So he joined them, working closely with Marc Andreeseen and other key team members in projects around communications, branding, and marketing. After two years at a16z, Scott joined one of their portfolio companies, Tanium (in the security space), as Chief Communications Officer and then as Chief Marketing Officer.
After some time in the early stage startup world, Scott was recruited by Atlassian to run brand, creative, and communications. There, he set up a new editorial team, creating a media platform separate from product marketing to share stories of teamwork, leadership, and collaboration.
While at Atlassian, Scott was contacted by an executive search firm initially inquiring if he would recommend anyone he knew for the Chief Marketing Officer role at Lux Capital. Scott was interested in going back to VC and was especially inspired by the hard sciences and deep tech focus that Lux had, a space that he felt could truly make a meaningful impact. He appreciated Lux’s contrarian, rebel style of investing and the unique blend of humanity, compassion, and technical rigor that their team members and founders had. So he joined Lux Capital as Chief Marketing Officer, focused on building Lux’s brand and supporting its early stage portfolio companies in marketing, brand, and communications.
Scott shared his advice on empathetic communication, active listening, and career growth.
Be learning focused, not careerist. At every crossroads of Scott’s career, he has optimized for personal and professional growth. His framework for career decision-making has been centered around what skill sets he hopes to learn, what new perspective he hopes to gain, and what unique network and community he hopes to connect with. While being overly title focused can lead to short term gains, using these learning-oriented priorities makes for more internally fulfilling and externally impactful careers in the long term.
Speak in human. Many of the challenging communications projects Scott has worked on have involved incredibly emotionally complex issues, such as corresponding with people whose family member’s deaths are displayed on YouTube videos. In these situations, instead of speaking in an overly formal corporate tone, Scott intentionally integrated the human emotions, understanding, and empathy.
Ask “why does this matter.” When Scott works with founders on marketing technically complex companies, he always encourages the entrepreneurs to focus less on the “what” and more on the “so what.” Instead of describing every complex nuance of their product (which can unintentionally confuse or alienate the nontechnical population), emphasize the impact through answering questions like: what does this mean for you or your family? Why do you care? Why does this matter? Tell the story as if you were speaking to someone whose life could be transformed by your innovation.
Communicate with narratives. Humans have an innate sense of narrative. We can just feel when the arc of a particular story is satisfying whether in movies, TV shows, books, or even songs. When communicating your own message, tap into this. Figure out what narrative works for your audience and convey the natural resolution in the story arc.
Withhold pattern recognition when listening. Scott has an incredible ability to pattern recognize, which has certainly served him well in many facets of his career from crafting key strategies to learning new languages. However, pattern recognition can be dangerous when practicing active listening. If you enter conversations with your own pretext and with the mentality of searching for patterns, you may misinterpret what the other person is saying. Control your impulse to fill in the blanks and try to truly hear the other person’s perspective.
To this end, Scott has found it helpful to go into each conversation with an initial set of questions to set boundaries, to make eye contact with people throughout, and to adopt his own form of notetaking: drawing diagrams as people as speaking to track and visualize the different threads of their message in their own words.
Be bold in your thinking. Looking back on his time at Harvard, Scott has found this to be one of his key lessons learned. Just because it is, doesn’t mean it has to be. Don’t simply accept things because they are what has been laid out. Dare to step away from what is expected.