Dara Treseder, MBA ’14: “If You Stand For Everything, You Stand For Nothing”
Peloton VP shares why defining purpose, whether for a brand or for yourself, is the jumping-off point for business.
“If you talk about and comment on everything, your voice becomes background noise… It’s important [for brands] to be clear what matters most to us and why. What’s our purpose? Why do we exist?”
In this episode of View From The Top: The Podcast, Dara Treseder, MBA ’14, Peloton’s global head of marketing, communications, and membership, discusses how she found her purpose as a leader and why the journey to success is not linear. “Remember no matter how high you are, be humble. No matter how low you are, be hopeful,” she says.
Stanford GSB’s View From The Top is the dean’s premier speaker series. It launched in 1978 and is supported in part by the F. Kirk Brennan Speaker Series Fund.
During student-led interviews and before a live audience, leaders from around the world share insights on effective leadership, their personal core values, and lessons learned throughout their career.
Dara Treseder: I try to be the best leader that I can be, and try to model what it’s like to excel as a black woman in business. That’s what I’m interested in. And that’s what I have tried to do.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Welcome to View From The Top: The Podcast. That was Dara Treseder, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Marketing, Communications & Membership at Peloton.
Dara visited Stanford Graduate School of Business as part of View From The Top, a speaker series where students, like me, sit down to interview business leaders from around the world. I’m Chisom Obi-Okoye, an MBA student of the class of 2022. This year I had the pleasure of interviewing Dara, who is a member of the class of 2014. Dara spoke to us about how she has built a career as one of the most influential CMOs in the world and how she has developed the skills to lead Peloton through a critical inflection point. As one of the few Black executives in tech, Dara also discussed the challenges of navigating the business world as a Black woman and the responsibility she feels in creating opportunities for Black people and for people of color.
Dara Treseder: Hello. Hi, everyone. Good to see you. How nice is this for us to be here in person.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Welcome back to Stanford.
Dara Treseder: Thank you. So glad to be here.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: As you can see, we’re all really excited and grateful to have you here, but truly no one more than me. You may not remember this, but exactly two years ago I logged into a Zoom and you were my alumni interviewer for GSB admissions.
Dara Treseder: I do remember. I do remember.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: I don’t know what lies you put down on that paper.
Dara Treseder: I speak the truth. I speak the truth.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: On multiple levels you’ve really made this moment happen, so thank you.
Dara Treseder: Well, thank you. I’m so glad to see you here and thriving.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: So then and now. So when you interviewed me when I was entering the GSB or applying for the GSB, and now as I was preparing to interview you, I reached out to a lot of friends in the industry. And I asked them, “What do you know about Dara?” because I wanted to get some insights and some intel. And the theme that kept coming back, there were three words, ambitious, incredibly brilliant, and really humble.
And I’d love to go back to the beginning, because I think it seemed as though when people articulated that about you they were speaking to the truth of your being. And I know a lot of that’s formed when you’re young in your childhood, in your upbringing. But I’d love to know where does your ambition come from and, really, why it creates that humility that people are so endeared towards.
Dara Treseder: Well, thank you so much for saying that. I have to give a lot of credit to my mom. Because growing up I was that kid, you know. I always dreamed big. That kid that you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, stop!” But I was always so excited. I always dreamed big. And my mom would say to me, “Dara, I like your ambition, but don’t forget to have ambition with contentment.” That was something that meant so much to me. And it’s been my north star right from when I was a child right up until now, and always will be.
And when I think about that it makes me remember no matter how high you are be humble. And no matter how low you are be hopeful. Because I’m never as amazing as I think I am. And I’m never as terrible as I think I am. There’s all that space in between. And so, for me, it’s been about how can I make as much impact in the world. My ambition is not a selfish ambition just about me. For me, it’s about what it represents.
There are not a lot of black women that get to grace stages like this, or be in positions like that. And, for me, I’m trying to demystify that. My hope is that black women who are coming beside me or behind me can look at me and be, “Oh, if she can do it I can definitely do it.” And that can infuse them and inspire them to go and achieve great things. We need a world where more people in positions of power reflect the population. And so I think about how I can contribute to that in a small way.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Well, early in your career you had a humbling moment. You described your career as a failed career in finance. And you were just telling us this story in the back about how that all kind of came into being by you starting a career in marketing. I’d love for you to share that story with us now, and then we’ll talk a little bit more about how you’ve transitioned since.
Dara Treseder: Of course. I’ll keep it real because this is GSB [here], right? I was going through a rotational program. One of those programs where you rotate through investment banking, investment research, investment management and sales entry. And I had my heart set on investment banking because that was the thing that everyone was doing at the time.
And I was from Nigeria and I didn’t really know. I remember how I walked into a place where they had free food — I was a college student — to pack some free food. And I show up in my yoga clothes. Everyone is in a suit because this is actually a recruiting event for Goldman Sachs, believe it or not. As I’m about to quickly leave the room this man walks up to me and he is a partner. And he’s having a conversation with me. He’s like, “Well, clearly you didn’t plan to be here.” And I was like, “Not really.”
And he starts having a conversation with me. I tell him about what I’m doing. I’m leading a fashion show at Harvard at the time called [unintelligible] other school, you know. And he was like, “Well, you seem very entrepreneurial, very driven. This is a production with a lot of people. That’s management. Have you thought about getting into finance?” And I was like, “Not really.” And he gave me his card and he was like, “Contact me.” And I did.
And I ended up getting an internship. That’s how I feel into it. So it wasn’t so much something I calculated. I was just kind of following the motion. And as I was going through this program this partner said to me, “You’re good at investment banking, but you’re great at marketing.” And I remember when he first said that I was like, “Hmm. I don’t know why I’m not quite taking this compliment as a compliment.”
And I think it’s because he was telling me, “Okay, this thing you’re okay at, but this other thing you’re really great at.” And when I took a step back and I reflected on it I realized it was true. I loved the data-driven analytical aspect of finance, but I loved storytelling. I loved being creative. And, for me, marketing I blossomed there because that allowed me to combine my passion for data with my passion for telling stories, and kind of bring those things together.
So, yeah, once he said that I’ve been in marketing pretty much ever since. I doubt this man even knows who I am. And I think that’s a reminder when you’re in a position of leadership of the impact you can have on people’s lives by the things that you say or don’t say. And I think about that a lot.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: One of the jokes that gets said about Millennials is that we can’t keep a job for more than two years, present company included. And I think there’s a lot of emphasis that’s placed on staying power. So being able to stay with a company for decades, an entire lifetime, etcetera. One of the things that’s really remarkable about your career is like it seems to me that you’ve always known when it’s time to either stay, or when to leave. You always make a transition at what appears to be the right moment. So I’m curious to know how you assess opportunities as they come your way, or the ones that you seek out. And what are some of the principles that guide you in that decision-making?
Dara Treseder: I guess the largest principle that guides me is the ambition with contentment, which I’ve talked about. But I also think about how I chase opportunities that create other opportunities. I ask myself, “Am I able to bloom where I’m planted, or is this a time where I need to go to grow?” And, for me, if I’m still learning and I’m still growing, then I need to stay where I’m at and I need to continue to bloom. But if the sunlight is gone and I’m not learning anymore, it might be time to go to grow.
So I try to focus on that. Not so much how much money am I going to make, or is this company doing better at this point in time, but I try more to focus on where can I bloom? Where can I thrive? Where can I contribute the most that I possible can? And, for me, it’s all about learning. I’m a life-long learner. And so I think as long as I’m learning, as long as I’m able to contribute to the best of my ability then I’m going to stay there and I’m going to bloom. But when the sunlight is gone, I’m going to say goodbye and I’m going to go to grow.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: One of the things I’ve really admired about you is how intentional you have been about professional development. I think here and maybe in the Bay Area more broadly there are a lot of startups. Sometimes leadership is framed as something that happens spontaneously. Like you’re walking around one day. You suddenly have a great idea. You then build a 5,000 people company. And, suddenly, you’re in a crisis and you have to lead through that crisis.
But you’ve been really, really intentional. And so I want to understand a little bit more where that intentionality comes from. And, also, through your experience in developing yourself as a leader. So coming to a place like the GSB, seeking out an executive coach, etcetera, what have you learned about yourself as a leader?
Dara Treseder: How many people have taken Touchy Feely, or are going to take it, Interpersonal Dynamics? Okay, I see some hands in the room. I love that class. It was a very painful class, but I loved it very much. There is how you see yourself. There is how other people see you. And there is how you think other people see you. And sometimes there could be a discrepancy between those three things.
And I think one of the things that I learned at Stanford in this Interpersonal Dynamics class was about the importance of how to bring those things together and create less of a gap and a distance. Because you don’t want there to be that much distance. There’s always going to be some distance because that’s just the reality of life. But how can you bridge that gap?
And, for me, I really focused and spent a lot of time thinking about the impact that I can have on others. And really thinking and trying to be quite intentional about how I can’t control what you do, but I can control what I do. And I can control how I react to what you do. And just really placing emphasis on controlling what I’m able to control is what I’ve kind of leaned into and what I’ve really focused on.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Switching gears a little bit to your career in marketing. So the business environment right now just seems incredibly volatile, for lack of a better word.
Dara Treseder: That’s a good word.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: I think the role of a marketing team, the role of a CMO has become so critical at this time. It feels like a really exciting time, but also a really terrifying time to be a marketer. Before we begin talking about that a little more, I would like to know from you, especially knowing that at different companies a CMO means so many different types of functions, types of responsibilities, how would you write your own job description as it exists today?
Dara Treseder: So I lead our Global Marketing Communications and Membership Team. And marketing kind of comprises of every aspect of marketing; product marketing, demand generation, creative, consumer strategy and insights. And then our Communications Team; internal communications, external communications. And Membership is really the organization that focuses on our subscription business; our membership business, how we continue to be a place that our members want to be at, show up at, and how we’re engaging them at the deepest levels.
So I think my job is the full spectrum of marketing, where I think about how do I generate interest and awareness, all the way to how do I capture that interest and bring you into the fold, into the ecosystem. And how do I nurture that, and then how do I turn you into an advocate, as someone who not only sticks around, but you help bring other people in. So that’s how I think about it.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Social media has really changed what marketing looks like over the past few years. I think it’s created this environment in which brands, especially consumer brands are expected to be in conversation with their potential buyers, to always be on, to have a voice, to have a personality at times. If we think about brands like Wendy’s, or some of these others that are like very, very active on Twitter. And I think as part of that brands have become really embedded in the sociopolitical discourse that happens outside of these media channels. And so I’m curious about what challenges and opportunities that this expectation has created for brands, and how you address that at Peloton.
Dara Treseder: So I think consumers want to know who you are. That’s just the world that we live in now. And I think it’s really important as a brand that you’re clear on who you are and what you stand for. I think that’s really important. At the same time, if you stand for everything you stand for nothing. Right? And if you talk and comment about everything, your voice starts to become background noise. So I think it’s really important that you’re clear on what matters most to us and why. Some of you might remember that question. It’s a good question for a brand to ask itself. What’s our purpose? Why do we exist?
And then make sure that you are standing up and having a voice in those issues that are most relevant to you. I like to say it to my team this way. I’m like, “We want to [sleigh] in our lane, but there is a lane.” Think about what happens if you’re driving on a highway and everyone is just going — that is chaos. Right? And I think as a brand you can get into a lot of trouble when you forget about that. Because it’s like, “Why are you talking about this?” And it almost can be a distraction to your actual purpose and mission.
I always say we want to be purpose-led, not cause-led. Because when we’re cause-led, then we’re all over the place. When we’re purpose-led, we’re showing up for causes that are in line with why we exist, what matters most to us. And at Peloton we’re about improving people’s lives through fitness. So whenever there are things that are in that space, we want to show up there. We want to have a voice there.
But if it’s not directly connected to that issue, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to take stances to help our employees and our team members and different stakeholder. But you might not see us necessarily being the loudest voice in the room because I firmly believe if you’re not going to take action you shouldn’t speak. I believe that. Why? Because you’re taking space of people who are actually taking action. And I think it’s performative, and I don’t think we should do that.
I think if you’re actually going to speak about an issue, take action. If you don’t have an action you can take, maybe you should allow the people who are actually doing something about it. For the attention of the spotlight to be on them so you’re not taking space away and energy away from where the momentum is. And I think that’s really important as a brand.
And then the last thing I’ll say on this issue, as you can see I’m very passionate about, is that I think things like this need to be inside-out. What do I mean by that? You have to first start with charity begins at home. You need to make sure that you’re doing the work internally before you start talking about things external. Now, you will not be perfect. No brand is perfect. Because you will never get 100 percent of everything done internally, but the work must begin internally. If you start talking about things externally that you’re not doing anything about internally, that is actually, I think, going to backfire on you as a brand. And it can put you in hot water, and we’ve seen that happen.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: How do you balance that desire to have a personality through a brand, or for a brand to be personable with also the need to be able to grow your market, or grow your customer base? How do you balance doing so without alienating potentially new customers?
Dara Treseder: I think that’s a really good question. And that’s why I talk about your lane and when you’re [sleighing] in your lane. I might not agree with you, but I can respect you. Do you know what I mean? There are people you don’t always agree with, but that’s a thoughtful perspective. I have a different point of view on this, but I respect who you are, I respect that you’re authentic, I respect that you stand up for what you believe in. What people do not like is what they perceive as being performative, or hypocritical.
Those are the two things that I think really alienate and separate you as a brand from your consumer. When they feel like you’re not being authentic; so you’re just telling me what you think I want to hear. You’re not necessarily saying what you believe in. Or this doesn’t really align with how you normally show up; so I’m asking question, question mark, question mark.
And I think that the best thing you can do is how can you be authentic to your purpose, how can you be consistent about it, and how can you make sure that anything that you’re speaking about or you’re talking about you have action to back it up and you started the work internally before you started going outside.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: So you joined Peloton at a really exciting time. The company was experiencing a lot of growth. If you walked by the Schwab Residential Center at 6:00 p.m. any given night you could see people in their little windows doing a class.
Dara Treseder: That’s great. Thank you all for being Peloton members. It’s awesome.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: And now things have changed. From the industry standpoint, or from the news standpoint Peloton is being said to be struggling as a business. What are some of the things that you believe that you will have to get right in your role, knowing that growth is sometimes a function of marketing? What do you believe you have to get right in your role for this moment to be able to continue to grow Peloton?
Dara Treseder: I’ll start with what has changed and what is the same. because I think that’s an important context. So what has changed is the macroeconomic climate has changed. That has changed. There was a pandemic. I don’t know if you all remember. We were all stuck indoors. And now that’s changed. We’re in a different context. So the macroeconomic context has changed.
What has stayed the same is that people still want to be motivated to lead a healthy, happy life. People still want an exercise option, an option to move their body and care for their mind that is going to inspire them, that is going to make them want to show up. And one of the things that I think is amazing about Peloton is that. in spite of everything that we’ve been through — and we’ve been through some things, it’s been a wild ride — our members continue to show up.
And that is because our focus on improving the lives of our members, and our focus on our member experience continues to remain true. That continues to be our true north, that continues to be our north star. And I think that it’s important to remember that. Because I think if we take our eye off doing what’s right for our members and putting them first, we can’t do that. So I think as a business we’ve got to make sure that first and foremost we are serving our members. We are making sure that we’re providing them with an engaging experience that they want to show up to every day. That’s job number one.
And as a marketer, I need to make sure that my organization is doing everything that we can to support our members and put them first. Then I think the other thing that we’re doing is we’re making sure that people understand who we are and what we do and what we offer. And give all of the credit to our incredible founders, who found this out to be true before the whole world caught up. This idea of connected fitness. I can get an engaging workout from the comfort of my home. This wasn’t really something people thought could happen. And they built this. They created this category, which I think is amazing.
And now, as the world is evolving, how do we show how that continues to expand in this new macroeconomic context? So we have to show that, yes, we were relevant in the pandemic, but we’re still relevant now. That motivating, incredible experience that wee provided hasn’t gone away. We’ve got the Peloton bike, we’ve got the Peloton treadmill, but we also have the Peloton app, which has outdoor running. It has a variety of exercises, so you don’t have to only use it in the home. You can use it in the gym. You can use it on the go. So being able to really tell that story of how Peloton is really helping to drive and help people stay fit, be motivated, not only in one space, but in multiple spaces, that omni-channel experience, I think that’s really important. So that’s something as marketers is job number two.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: So looking internally how are you leading the team that you head, and then also thinking about the executive team, as well, through this critical inflection point?
Dara Treseder: Leadership. It’s so funny. Everyone’s like, “Leadership.” Welcome to my TED Talk. I think it’s so easy to think you’re a good leader when everything is going great. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, “Oh, I’m a great leader.” Well, maybe it’s just the macroeconomic context. I think it’s harder to lead when things are tough. It’s harder to lead when things are tough. And I think that’s really where who you are shows up and the impact you can have on other people’s lives show up.
And I think my number one thing is I’m a people-first leader. I believe that to the core of who I am. I treat people how I want to be treated. And that is fundamental to me in my life and in my work. And I carry that through every step of the way. That means when I have to make tough decisions I make a tough decision the way I would want someone to make a tough decision with me.
It means when I have to communicate difficult news, I communicate difficult news in a way I would want someone to communicate that to me. It means when I have to encourage someone to change, or try something, or do something different, I make sure that I am putting their interests first and I’m helping them see what’s in it for them. Because I think when things get tough it’s easy to take your eyes off the people and focus on the problem.
And, actually, I believe that’s when you need to lean into your people the most. Because you can’t solve the problems by yourself. Winning is a team sport. And in order to win it means you need all of the people on the team to believe in what you’re saying, to rally around you and to come together to do that. And so I firmly believe in putting people first. And that’s something that I continue to do with my team. I’m really proud of this.
Because in my entire career, since I started managing people, I have never, ever had anybody who directly reports to me come to me and say, “Hey, here’s my resignation notice.” It’s never happened. Because I always have conversations with people. I always understand, “Hey, how are things going? Are you blooming where you’re planted, or is this a time for you to go to grow?” We have honest conversations. My team knows they can rely on me. My team knows they can be honest with me.
And so because of that, because I put them first, guess what? They also put me first. They think about me. And they think about the impact. And not only do the [unintelligible], but they put each other first. And so it allows us to navigate tough times, I think, in a much better way.
The second thing that I think is really important is controlling what you can control. There is so much you cannot control. But guess what? There is so much you can. But how do you take the assets that you have and do something with what you’ve got? I think so many times we go, “Oh, well. If only this could change.” You know what? Can’t change that, but there is a lot you can change. So how about we do a lot with what we have. I’ll give you an example. I’m a storyteller. I told you at the beginning.
One of the things that’s happened to us at Peloton is we have this passionate member base. I see some of them in the room. We can talk about your favorite instructors after this. But we have a passionate member base. And what that means for us is, as we’ve gone through the different things we’ve gone through, our members have actually taken to social media to tell their stories.
So there was this phenomenon that was happing, which was several members going to social media and saying, “Hey, I was the biggest Peloton skeptic. Here is what I actually wrote publicly on social media in 2018. I wrote, ‘I will never, ever use Peloton. This is an overpriced coatrack.’ Here’s what I’m saying today. This thing has changed my life you all. This is like the best investment I’ve ever made.”
They were publicly going to social media to say this. And guess what? Many times they were tagging me. This was amazing therapy to read at the end of the day. I was like, “This is great. I’m not going to Twitter. I’m going over here. This is amazing.” And it was such a motivating experience. I was talking with my team, my Head of [unintelligible], [Ali Zahedi]. And I was like, “What if we just turned this into a campaign?” And the whole team rallied. It was amazing
It was the quickest campaign ever. Everyone was like, “Let us take this.” What is the campaign? It’s simple. It’s literally the person’s name, what they said previously, and what they’re saying today. That’s it. That’s the ad. And we put it everywhere. And it was remarkable. Not only did it galvanize our member base, but it was inspiring for our employees, as well. It was so great for people to say, “You know what? There’s always going to be skeptics, but there is also always going to be believers.”
And it was such a magical thing, and it meant so much to folks. And I think that’s an example of how you can — I couldn’t control what everybody was saying, but I could shine a light on something else that was being said. I could shine a light on what our members were saying. I could amplify the voices of our members. So I think that’s an example of how you can look — and sometimes you’ve got to do a little bit of data mining, deep mining — but you can look at what assets you have and you can use that to control the situation.
And then the third thing, the final thing — I learned at GSB to keep it to three things — is communication. Over-communicate. I over-communicate. Every week with my team I have weekly standup with everybody in my organization. It’s my sacred time. The only time I miss it is if there is something super-important or urgent. My husband knows. He’s sitting right here. Even when we’re on vacation I’m like, “It’s standup time, you all.” And I’m like getting in there. It’s really important to me that I’m connecting with my team every single week. Guess what? During the hard weeks I showed up.
And I remember people on my team said that to me. They were like, “We thought you were going to cancel because we were like, ‘Well, is she going to show up today?” This [unintelligible] going to be lit. I’m bringing my coffee to this. What’s going on? But I show up. When it’s hard I show up. When it’s easy I show up. On good days I still show up. And I think it’s really important. How do you show up? Are you always showing up? Are you communicating? Are you sharing as much information as you can with your team?
Chisom Obi-Okoye: While you were at Stanford, like many of us you caught the entrepreneurial bug and you started two companies.
Dara Treseder: Oh, yes.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Do you want to speak about that?
Dara Treseder: Well — [Laughter].
Chisom Obi-Okoye: You then went on to build really big global brands, Apple, GE, you were at Carbon, and how you’re at Peloton. Many of us are in the stages of deciding whether or not we want to build, or join. And I’d love to know a little bit more about your experience making that decision for yourself. Whether you would pursue what you were building while you were at Stanford, or join another company.
Dara Treseder: So the way I think about it, I think about impact. You can have a small impact, you can have a really massive impact. And I remember when I first started when I was thinking I was going to be an entrepreneur, my husband said something to me, which was very interesting. He was like, “I feel like you really enjoy the management perspective more than the founder stuff.” Like going around fundraising. I was very nervous. I didn’t want to take money from anybody. I just wanted us to continue to pour our money into it. That’s not really how it works.
But I loved the management piece. I loved the marketing of it. And so I started to have real conversations with myself. At GSB, during my class it was like, “What are you doing?” “Oh, I’m starting my own tech startup. Do you want to come work for me and be my cofounder?” It was literally like everyone was doing that. So I didn’t want to miss out. I was like, “I don’t want to miss out. I don’t want to be the loser of my class. Okay, I’m going to start something.” [Unintelligible], shopping, something.
And I think the lesson I learned there is don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do what’s right for you. And for me, I remember it was very humiliating when I first shut down all my startups. Because I would run into people and they’d be like, “Oh, how’s the startup? Mine’s still going, by the way. I hired my third engineer.” And I’d be like, “I shut down my startup and I got a job.” And I was so humiliated. But guess what? I’m really happy about the path that I took, because it was the path that was right for me.
And I’m sitting here because one of my bosses and mentors, Joe DeSimone, who is over there — hi, Joe. Show Joe some love, you all. Joe is amazing. He’s a professor here, too. And I got to work for amazing people like Joe. Joe was the founder and CEO of Carbon, and he hired me as his CMO. And that was an amazing opportunity to work in creating this category of 3D printing. We had the largest use case of a 3D printed consumer product out in the [world] with these Adidas 3D printed shoes.
And it was incredible to do that. For me, what I have realized is I don’t yet have an idea, but if I don’t do this idea, I’m willing to give everything up for this idea. For me it’s like, when I meet people like Joe, incredible people who have those ideas, I want to contribute to that. I want to help them build that. For me it’s about how can I have the most impact. And so far, for me it’s about making the most impact by being where I need to be at any given point in time. And for me it’s been joining these incredible companies and helping scale and grow them as a marketing leader. It’s okay if you’re not starting a company. You’ll be all right.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: On the side you do invest in people who are starting companies. And so from your perch now as a brand expert I’m curious to know what signs you look for when you’re evaluating a company or a startup and you want to declare them as having the right mix of brand, product, strategy, etcetera?
Dara Treseder: The passion of the founder. I just told you what I didn’t have. Those people, I’m like, “Yep, those people.” Like the people who are, “I need to build this. I’m willing to give everything up to build this. I believe in this so much that I’m willing to put everything on the line for this.” That passion. Because guess what? Your founder journey is not like this. That’s now how it works. It might start out great with that great press article that comes out. And then your consumers don’t show up. Oh, and then you get product market fit. The unit economics model breaks down. Oh, but then [unintelligible] we got the unit economics to work. All scaling is really hard, and really hard. The journey is not linear. It’s like a jungle gym. But if you have someone with passion, I think that’s really important.
The second thing is, is this someone that people want to follow? Do you know what I mean? You know, those people like Joe. People you love. You want to work for them. I’m excited. My husband knows, sometimes a little [unintelligible]. When I’m passionate about something I’m working for it where I’m in it. And there are people who inspire you, people who motivate. Not everyone has that gift. I think that’s really important to have as a founder. Because not only are you the idea creator and generator, but guess what? You’re the first CMO and you’re the first head of sales. You need to recruit and attract people to that idea.
So having that magnetism, being someone that people are willing to be like, “Yeah. You know what? I’m going to take a risk and come join you on this adventure.” I think that’s really important. And then the third thing is curiosity. When I’m looking to invest and I ask questions and a person has an answer to everything, I’m not going to invest. Because the reality is there are many things we don’t know. And we need to be comfortable saying, “You know what? I don’t actually know that, but I’m going to go and I’m going to learn and I’m going to get back to you about that.”
And guess what? If they actually get back to me they get extra bonus points. Because many people say that and they don’t follow up. It’s that curiosity, not thinking you know everything. None of us know everything. I feel like we live in the age of backseat drivers. “Oh, my god. I read this one tweet and I know everything.” Backseat drivers will drive you off a cliff, believe that. Backseat drivers will drive you off a cliff. So I think it’s really important that people are curious. They’re willing to ask questions, and they’re willing to admit what they don’t know. And it’s okay. Because I think people who are humble enough to say, “You know what? I don’t know everything. I don’t know that,” those people always are more successful than people who think they have all of the answers.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: I want to switch gears and talk about identity, because I know that racial justice and gender equity are issues that you are incredibly passionate and supportive of. You are so interesting to me, because you had to sort of learn what it means to be black in America. Many people might believe that being black or black identity is a monolith. But in Nigeria where you were born and where you grew up doesn’t really [unintelligible] 500 other ethnicities in blacks doesn’t show up there.
In London, or in the United Kingdom where you went to school, and then in the U.S. that’s really where this racial construct started taking shape. I would love for you to share with us what that journey was like for you. And what were some of the lessons that you learned as your identity sort of mutated across these borders?
Dara Treseder: It’s so funny, because growing up in Nigeria, yes, everybody was black, but there was colorism, which I like to think of as a shade of racism. And growing up in Nigeria I wasn’t light-skinned, but I wasn’t dark-skinned. I was kind of in the middle. And my older sister is dark. And almost everybody we met would always say, “Oh, Dara, you’re so light and so pretty.” And they would look at my sister. And I remember growing up just hearing that over and over and over and over and over again.
And Nigeria is a former colony. And it’s amazing what that does to you and what that can do to your mind. I’ve actually never told this story before. I don’t even know why I’m sharing this. Maybe I’m all emotional in the GSB. But I remember growing up, there was a time where I felt like I wanted to make my skin lighter. And I went to the store. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I bought the worst possible cream. And I put it on my skin and it was awful. I had a complete allergic reaction. I literally transformed my skin. I looked like a leopard. It was not good.
I’m glad that actually happened, because I was like, “You know what? Better to be one color and look great.” So not ever going to do that again. But I learned a painful lesson when I was very young, but I was glad I learned that lesson. When I came to the U.S. it was interesting. I remember someone referred to me like, “The dark-skinned girl.” And I was like, “Oh, who?” And they were talking about me. And I remember that was my very first vivid memory, where I was like, “Wow. I’m not the one. I’m now the dark-skinned person.”
All the experiences I had of walking through Harvard yard and people wondering if I went to school there. And those experiences, or people thinking I was the cleaner. I actually had to do dorm crew, which if you went to Harvard you know what that is. It’s where you cleaned the dormitories of kids. And many times it’s the underrepresented minorities cleaning the dorms of our rich, white counterparts.
And that can be painful. I remember going through these experiences and realizing, wow, when I walk out the door nobody cares where I am. I’m just black. I’m a black woman in America. What am I going to do about that? And I remember asking myself, “What am I going to do about that?” At the time I didn’t really have much. But I thought to myself, “Well, how about I try to do the best with what I have. I’m going to a great school. How about I try to be the best leader that I can be, and try to model what it’s like to excel as a black woman in business. That’s what I’m interested in. And that’s what I have tried to do.
And that’s my passion. That’s why I show up every day, no matter how hard it is. For many people I’m the first black boss that they’ve had. For many people I’m the first black female boss that they’ve had. And I think about that. And I think some people are going to walk in here and they’re going to not have any assumptions, and some people are going to walk up with some assumptions. What can I do to change that? What can I do to impact that? And I think about that a lot.
And so, for me, my journey has been about how I can help elevate black women and women of color, in general, in the United States. And how I can use my platform to show and demystify and make people see, “You know what? If you’re a young, black girl, [unintelligible] you could definitely do it.” And just really try to inspire people and show people. Because you can’t be what you can’t see. And I think it’s important to see that. It was really important for me to see Ursula Burns, the first black woman, CEO of a Fortune 500 company. That meant so much to me. I’ve never even met her. I talk about her all of the time.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: You do.
Dara Treseder: People think we’re friends. No, I’ve never met her. I’d love to.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: I thought you were.
Dara Treseder: If you invite her to View From The Top let me know and I’ll come say hi. But it meant so much to me. And now here we are in 2022, and there is still only three. Still only three; Ursula Burns, Rosalind Brewer, and Thasunda Duckett. That’s it. It’s 2022. What are we going to do about that? I ask myself that question.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: That intersection that you described of race and gender you spoke to a little bit in your response is so nuanced. I sit in the same place. And especially in the U.S. it comes with so much baggage. What did you have to unlearn about that identity in order for you to be successful?
Dara Treseder: When I first started out I wouldn’t talk about anything black. I don’t want people to see me as like the trope of the angry black woman. I was like I don’t want that. So I wanted to just be easy-peasy Dara, calm, neutral, okay to be around, never gets annoyed about anything. And I wasn’t really showing up as myself. Because I’m sure you’ve already seen, I’m pretty expressive. I’m pretty passionate. And so I was just like don’t say anything, don’t do anything, don’t be [unintelligible]. And I was like a shadow of myself.
And I remember this incredible boss that I had and he was amazing. And he is gay and he’s other. And one day he pulled me aside and he was like, “We other people, come, let’s have a little talk.” And he said, “You can be yourself. I’ll let you know if you get too far. How about that?” And that was amazing to me. To have someone that I knew was kind of looking out for me. And he understood what I was going through, how I was trying to navigate these spaces.
And that’s why I think mentorship is so important. It wasn’t the CEO of Goldman Sachs that was mentoring me. A lot of times I get notes from people, “Hey, I would like you to be my mentor.” And sometimes I reply, “Have you asked any other black women in your organization, or anybody that has shown an interest in you?” I think sometimes we think we need the top of the leader board to be our mentor. It’s actually who cares about you the most. That’s who should be your mentor; who believes in you, who wants to invest time in you.
And I learned so much from him. It helped me realize that I could show up more as myself. Guess what? I also realized there’s a cost to that. You’re the person that makes the comment, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we have a diverse slate?” There are some people who are not going to like that. It’s going to upset some people. When you make comments about, “Hey, could we make sure that we are promoting –” — because I think about recruit, retain, promote, and protect.
Because guess what? Everybody says they want diversity. When you add a diverse person to an organization, guess what happens? It’s like a transplant. You add an organ that the body wants to reject. It’s just the truth. Because it’s a lot easier when we’re all the same. It’s easier when we all think the same things. It’s harder when we have different perspectives and points of view. It takes work. Are we willing to do the work? We should all be willing to do the work.
And I think what I’ve done and what I try to do everyday is make sure that I’m that voice in the room. That I ask those tough questions. That I push those issues. It doesn’t come without a cost. But what I’ve also learned is that there is a time and a place. And as a black woman what I’ve realized is many times people want to know are you really on the team. Say that again. People want to know if you’re on the team. What do I mean by that?
People want to understand why are you making that comment. Are you making that comment just to be disruptive, or are you making that comment because you want us to be better? So what I try to do is do everything that I can to make sure people understand I’m on the team, but I want us as a team to get better. And that’s how I try to navigate. It’s not easy and I don’t do it well all of the time, but that’s how I try to show up.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: As one of the few black execs at Peloton, and also in the tech industry just more broadly, I’m certain that you get pulled into a lot of conversations where it might not really fall within your scope as the marketer, but it’s so core to your being. I’m curious about how you manage the weight of that responsibility of being a steward on behalf of your community, whether that’s black, women, immigrant, etcetera. And what do you believe that other allies could be doing better to help, so that you don’t have to shoulder so much of that?
Dara Treseder: Well, there’s a saying. It’s not my saying, but I love the saying. Pressure is a privilege. Pressure is a privilege. I think about that. So there are hard days. And during those hard days I remember I’m here for a reason. I literally tell myself, “Dara, pressure is a privilege.” And when you are in a position of privilege what are you going to do about it? So if I think this is hard, how much harder is it for people who aren’t yet where I am in my career? So I can’t be like, “Oh, this is too hard.” You know what? I tell myself, “Grow up. Life’s hard. Keep pushing.”
Because I have a daughter who is six years old. I want my daughter to be dealing with different things. I don’t want my daughter to be dealing with this. I don’t want my daughter to be having these same conversations. So that means I have to be willing to do the work. And I am willing to do the work. And I do the work. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t get tough. And that’s why I think you need a support system. I have my amazing husband, who is here, and my sister. I have my family. I have my friends. I have my mentors. Rob Siegel, you’re here. Rob, yeah. I have a good Rob story we’ve got to come back to. I’ve got to tell you that one. It’s a good one.
And I have these people that support me and love me. And so I have a support system. And that’s really important because it gets hard. And some days I’m going to go home and I’m going to cry. And I’m going to be like this is really, really hard. And I need someone or people to remind me of who I am and why I’m doing what I’m doing. So I think that support system is so key. And I think that’s something that the GSB and the Stanford community really provides. My very best friend in the world I met at the GSB. And my husband and I, every Sunday we have a Zoom call with her and her husband. Every Sunday. And she’s my sister. My support system. We talk about everything. So I think having a support system is so key and so important to navigating that.
And then the third thing I’ll say is protect your peace. You have to protect your peace. I remember the very first time a press article was written about me and I was so proud. I was so excited. I emailed it to my mom. My mom was like really great. “Dara, you’re never as great as they say you are.”
Chisom Obi-Okoye: That sounds like a Nigerian mother.
Dara Treseder: I know, sounds like a Nigerian mother. Yeah, exactly. With all the emphasis, “You are never as great as they say you are.”
Chisom Obi-Okoye: That’s where the humility comes from.
Dara Treseder: “But you’re also never as terrible as they say you are. God is still doing work with you.” Literally it was what she said to me, verbatim. I remember it. I think about that a lot. And I think that’s really important. Because when you’re doing the work and you’re going through it you get criticized. Are you doing enough? Are you doing too much?
For some people you’re never doing enough. And for some people you’re always doing too much. And then there are people who are like, “Yay.” Thank God for those people. “Yay.” And you’ve got to navigate all of that. And so, for me, it’s about protecting my peace and making sure that I don’t allow those backseat drivers to drive me off a cliff.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: My final question for you. You alluded to this earlier. There is the infamous question on the GSB application what matters to you most and why. How did you answer this 10 years ago when you were applying? And how would you answer this now?
Dara Treseder: That’s a really good question and I’m going to answer it. First, I’m going to tell you my Rob Siegel story because I think it’s really important.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: He’s sliding over.
Dara Treseder: He’s going, “Why? Why is this happening right now?” I think it’s really important. It’s really important. There’s a lesson here. Before my first CMO job — this is a big deal, my first ever C-suite job — I was interviewing for it and I was like, “I need someone to talk to.” Rob, do you remember this? And I’m like, “Rob, SOS. Can we have a conversation?” He was on a plane flying somewhere. He was like, “What time is it? I’m going to call you.” He called me and had a conversation and gave me that confidence.
I say that because it’s so important to be there for each other. And that was so critical for me. At the time I had imposter syndrome. I was definitely ready for the job, but guess what? I’d never done it before. I like to say there’s a lot of half-baked people walking around looking for fully-baked people. You know some of those people? All of us have a first time. Now I’ve been a CMO multiple times. but there was a first time. Someone was going to give me that shot, give me that opportunity; Sue Siegel, incredible woman, who gave me that first shot. Amazing leader.
I needed the confidence to know that I could do that. Rob gave me that confidence. He sat with me. He listened to me. He helped me — [Audio gap]. Invaluable. Changed my life. You never know when you’re going to change someone else’s life. So when someone in the Stanford community reaches out to you, SOS, don’t ever be too busy. I think about that now, by the way, when people reach out to me. I remember Rob and I remember, hey, I’m not too important, I’m not too busy to be there for my friends, and be there for the people that matter to me. Okay. Now I’ll answer your question.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Thank you.
Dara Treseder: What matters most to me and why. I wrote what matters most and, Derrick Bolton, thank you for accepting me into the GSB. I wrote what matters most to me is my Christian faith. And it’s because it gives me the strength to live by my values. It was what mattered most to me then, it is what matters most to me now, it is what will always matter most to me. My values of love, of acceptance, of respect, of inclusiveness. I talked earlier about treating people how I want to be treated. There is so much in the world we can’t control.
I think many times sometimes we forget about forgiveness, we forget about love, we forget about respect. And it’s always about my way, my view, my perspective, my thought. And, for me, my faith reminds me not just to think about myself, but more importantly to think about others. And as a leader my faith inspires me to be a servant leader. I tell my team, “I want to serve you. I’m here to serve you.” And, for me, that’s what matters most.
And at the end of the day, when I had talked about that protection of peace, we’re all going to go out in the world. And I sit here with all these amazing people. You’re all going to start companies and maybe you’ll hire me, all the tech CEOs up there. And you’re going to build great things and you’re going to do great things. And I think it’s really important not to forget. For me it’s my faith. For you it will be something else. One of my best friends is an atheist who is like, “I don’t get this whole thing.” I’m like, “That’s okay.” For you it’s going to be something else. But whatever matters most to you and why, don’t ever forget it and don’t lose sight of it.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Thank you, Dara. You are truly remarkable. And I knew that when you interviewed me. We’re going to turn to some audience questions.
Female Voice: Hi, Dara. First of all, thank you for being here. My name is Melanie. I’m an MBA 2. I will say, I wanted to say a big thank you to your family. I actually went to [unintelligible] when I was six years old.
Dara Treseder: Oh, my God. Oh.
Female Voice: And that was a really big transition for me when I was moving from London. I used to cry a lot at the school. And your mom used to make pancakes for me in the house. So thank you so much.
Dara Treseder: [Unintelligible] pancakes.
Female Voice: They are my favorite food. But my question is one about family life. I know that men don’t often get this on this stage, but it’s so important.
Dara Treseder: [Unintelligible].
Female Voice: Yeah. It’s so important for us as black women in the school. We often talk about that there aren’t enough leaders in front of us that can talk to us about our lives outside of work. And so I wanted to talk to you about how you balance everything, but not just that. How you are very intentional about the qualities in your home, looking after your kids, raising that family in the U.S. as an immigrant. There are so many questions in this, but it’s really just about balance and family and the choices that you’ve made.
William Treseder: I’m also interested in the answer to this question.
Dara Treseder: That’s [funny]. That’s my husband. He likes jokes. Look, I’m going to keep it real. There is no balance in my life. There’s only harmony. Many times I’m out of balance sometimes. It’s been a year for me. [I don’t know if you know the year I’ve had]. It’s been a year. And you know what? Work has come first a lot of the year. And I’m so blessed that I have an incredible husband, who also has a career, so we’re a duo-career couple, a duo-career family. But it’s not my job to raise the kids. It’s our job. And we’re thinking about that and we’re looking at that.
And guess what? Sometimes when things are really crazy for me he’s like, “Okay. I’m lead parent now. Okay? So you’re not just going to breeze in here with your 30-seconds of thoughts and breeze out. I make the pancakes how I want to make the pancakes.” She just said pancakes, so it’s in my head. And I think that’s really important, that partnership is so key and so important.
But the other thing, too, is I try to do with my kids — I have a daughter who is six and a son who is four. And my daughter, who is six, she kind of understands things a little bit more now because I have conversations with her. “Hey, what’s really important to you?” She’s got a musical coming up in May. It’s very important to her. It’s in-person. You can join on Zoom, but it’s in-person. And she said to me, “Mommy, this is in-person and I want you there in-person.” You don’t know my daughter [unintelligible]. If you do, you’re like, “Yes, ma’am. I’m going to show up there in person.”
So she has that ability. I’ve created that space where she can express herself. And she can tell me what she needs, so I know what’s really important to her. So guess what? There’s something really important happening on my job, and I’m like, “Nuh-uh. I’m going to be in person at my daughter’s school that day.” There is nothing that is going to keep me away from being there.
Now, am I at every — she had gymnastics. Am I at every single gym? No, I’m not. I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to sit up here and tell you that I am because it’s not true. I’m not at everything. But the things that matter to her I’m there and I show up for that. So, for me, I kind of think with objectives and key results. So I have my objectives and my goals, the things that are important to me and I do that.
Another one with my husband, every year we try to go to a marriage retreat. We try to do it every year. No matter how challenging it is, we make space for that. It’s an objective. It’s important. We sit there and think about our vision. What are we going to do? We plan. We’re intentional. That works for us. It doesn’t work for everybody. Not everybody needs this. Some of my friends are like, “Why? Why? Not necessary.” We love it. It works for us. Do what works for you.
But it works for us, that intentionality. And so for me it’s about creating those spaces and being stubborn about the things that matter most to my family, and making sure that I prioritize that. The other things, there’s no balance, like I said. There’s harmony.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: One more.
Female Voice: Thank you for being here. You’re really captivating, so it’s been awesome to hear you speak. Different from the family life going back to organizations. I think one of the things that my prior organization struggled with, especially during the pandemic, and I experienced this in athletics, as well, is how much leniency and understanding do you give to your employees in hard times? And would that be in their personal lives, or at work? And you seem like you’re exceptional at managing teams. How do you balance being an understanding leader with hardline expectations on work, and showing up, like you said? And expectations that your team display grit and determination that are concomitant with being in an ambitious workplace environment.
Dara Treseder: So I answer that question with a story. Everyone is going through a journey, even if you don’t know it and you don’t know what that journey is. And, for me, having constant communication and being open with my team, and keeping it real. I really try to keep it real. I don’t do it well or perfectly one-hundred percent of the time. But I always try to show up as my authentic self, and I always try to keep it real.
And what that means is I ask questions. And the people that work for me that are closest to me know they can tell me exactly what’s going on. So I was talking to someone who worked for me, had a job. The person had a very, very big job. And they were like, “This job right now for what I have going on in my personal life, this is a lot. And I don’t know if it makes sense for me to keep doing this.” And we had that open and honest conversation.
And that helped me understand, oh, wow, this is a lot. How can I support this person? And so I started to think about how I could support and make sure that they have the team around them to support them, and I’m able to support them. But, ultimately, the person decided, “I’m not sure that this type of job makes sense for me anymore.” And I remember when he called me to tell me. He was very nervous and thought I would talk him out of it. I didn’t. I asked him why.
And when he explained to me, he said, “When I first took this job I worked until 10:00 p.m. that day. And I haven’t stopped, and it’s been several years. I have young children. I have family that live abroad. I need something different.” It made sense to me. And so I asked him, “Well, what do you want to do?” And he said, “I ultimately want to leave.” And I was like, “How soon?”
And we talked about it and we worked out a plan, a beautiful plan that worked well for me, for him, for the organization, for the company. And I think this comes back to being people first. Ultimately, I’m like what is in the company’s best interest is a lack of disruption. For a leader this big that is ultimately what is best for the company. But it’s also what’s best for him. So how can we work together on a transition plan that is going to make sense?
And by the way, I’m guilty of this. I think we’re all guilty of it in some ways. We don’t always put ourselves in other people’s shoes. So we want to do the most expedient thing, not always the right thing. And I think where, as leaders, you can make a bit of a difference is when you ask yourself, “Actually, if I was in this person’s shoes, what would I want someone to do?” How would I want someone to treat me? And then do that.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Thank you, Dara. We’d like to close View From The Top with a lightning round of questions.
Dara Treseder: Oh, wow.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: And we have a few for you. Is it better to be an Arjay Miller Scholar, or Friend of Arjay Miller?
Dara Treseder: Friend of Arjay Miller. See you in Vegas.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: What was the last song you sang out loud? I know you love singing.
Dara Treseder: I got a feeling tonight is going to be a good time. It’s always a good day to have a good day.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Tunde or Cody Rigsby?
Dara Treseder: Both. Trick question. Both. I love all of our instructors equally.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: And then my last question, what are you most hopeful for?
Dara Treseder: I am most hopeful for the future of the world. It’s inspiring to me when I hear my six-year-old, or even my four-year-old — the other day we were having dinner. We’re trying to teach our children how to have conversations, so we have these little cards and we ask everybody the question. And it’s like if you had to give a speech, what would it be about? And my four-year-old said, “It would be about painting the Earth.”
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Hmm.
Dara Treseder: I know, very interesting, right? Tell me more. And later in the day I talked to him about it and he was like, “Because I really care about the Earth and I really care about the environment.” And it’s just a simple example into the next generation. They care so much about so many important things. When I was four it was like Cheetos, or whatever snack they had in Nigeria. I don’t even think they had Cheetos. I don’t know what it was. It’s like this generation cares so much, so deeply about equality, about justice, about the environment. About things that really matter.
And I’m hopeful about that. Because when people care about something, they take action and they do something about it. And that means that the world is going to continue to become a better place. And that leaves me hopeful and inspired.
Chisom Obi-Okoye: Dara, that was excellent. Thank you.
Dara Treseder: Thank you. Thank you all so much. Thank you.
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