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How to Launch a Successful Business as a Husband and Wife Team (Episode 66)

Founders of Proofpoint Marketing, Mike and Gaby Grinberg are a husband and wife team. Together having over 30+ years of marketing experience, they started Proofpoint Marketing three years ago. Proofpoint Marketing was built on a completely remote model with a customer first mentality. Mike and Gaby describe themselves as a couple of hustlers with agency, corporate and startup experience.

They take tried and true strategic and tactical concepts and apply them to new marketing channels and technologies. Proofpoint Marketing is made up of a team of committed and experienced digital doers with a curiosity for consumer behavior, a knack for business and a passion for driving growth. They thrive in a remote environment.

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Discovering Passions

Gaby has always been attracted to marketing. Even as a young child, not really knowing what it was, the idea of branding, company logos, colors and design were things she was fascinated with. She had a bit of a photographic memory, specifically for the logos, shapes, colors, and taglines of businesses.

In college, she attended Boston University and majored in public relations, a cousin to marketing, with a minor in international relations. Gaby had every intention to move into foreign service, at an embassy, though not necessarily as an ambassador. She was very interested in international relations, and speaks several languages.

As a first-generation American, whose parents both immigrated, Gaby loved the idea of serving her country and working internationally. However, a specific incident stopped her in her tracks.

A very honest professor complimented her on her grades, talents, and passions, but offered a warning. He said “Your strengths are in public relations. I think you should focus on communication, marketing, and PR. If you want to pursue IRR, I’ll support you, but International Relations is a tough gig, and for someone as bright and vibrant as you, you’re going to get trampled on. If you have any intentions of starting a family, or having a husband, it will be difficult in that line of work.”

Gaby knew that getting married and having a family was always going to be part of her plan, and after taking in her professor’s words, she found that they rang true.

This moment solidified her career trajectory, and she hasn’t looked back since.

She started off at a traditional ad agency in Boston right around the time that Facebook was born, alongside other social media networks. Gaby got involved in the digital space, and has worked in-house for large corporations, as well as doing some startup work.

Creative Opportunities

Mike’s marketing journey was a little shorter than Gaby’s. He was also originally not looking into marketing, but rather the creative side of things: graphic design.

At one point, his parents, offering to pay for his studies, suggested he lean into the business world, rather than the arts. Mike’s response? Marketing.

He figured that marketing was as close as he could get to his original passion. He double-majored in Marketing and Graphic Design, believing he would just go down the graphic design path, and learned very quickly through internships that he absolutely did not want to be in design. He found it too subjective, and found his place in digital marketing instead.

Proofpoint Marketing

To understand how Proofpoint Marketing came about, you have to follow Gaby and Mike’s story as a husband and wife team.

When they first met, they were both working for marketing agencies in downtown Minneapolis. Gaby’s company at the time had subcontracted the company that Mike was working for on a project that she was managing for one of their clients. They of course knew none of this until their first date!

It was serendipitous, and they appreciated having the crossover in passions, but they didn’t start out their romantic relationship with the thought of working together. In fact, they were both adamant that they would never work together. At the time, their ideal was to enjoy their careers, which were both quite reliable and successful, and to keep their personal lives apart from their professional lives.

However, as everything in life, you make plans, and then those plans get tossed out the window. In 2015, the young couple found out that they were pregnant, and shortly after their daughter was born.

Gaby experienced severe preeclampsia, and the baby was born severely premature. She was born four months early, weighing less than a pound. To make a very long story short, it was a very unexpected change in their trajectory together.

Soon after, the company that had once been supportive of Gaby, and excited and encouraging when she was expecting, laid her off once the baby came.

The young married couple, first child born severely premature and in severe medical distress, was now on a single income, and had lost their health insurance (Gaby was the primary healthcare holder).

With the medical bills piling up, and their new daughter needing a full-time caregiver, Gaby became a stay-at-home mom.

Just shy of its second birthday, as Gaby was finally in a position to go back to work, the startup Mike worked at went bankrupt. They had lost their funding. It was all over the Minneapolis news, and they found themselves at another major crossroads.

Their immediate thought was to bite the bullet and get corporate jobs. It would be safe, secure, even if it wasn’t ideal. Their second idea was, “Or, we could do something crazy.”

During the interim, as Gaby took care of their child, Mike started taking on some consulting work while also working full time. He started growing those accounts over two years, and even started a site.

After sitting down and really asking themselves if they wanted to go corporate, it was a side-hustle that became their full-time hustle. They decided to take the clients that he had, these small accounts, and turn them into something.

This is how Proofpoint Marketing – the husband and wife team was born.

It was certainly inspired by their daughter, her prematurity, and of course all of the little unpredictable bumps and valleys, but there was something more to the change.

Somewhere along the path of each one losing their jobs, circumstances that were completely out of their control, poor management decisions that caused a company to go into bankruptcy, they decided that they were tired of having other people dictate their careers, and their family life.

Now, they are in full control of their destiny, of their income, of their family life, and the culture and company that they can create; Mike is CEO, runs agency operations, and agency strategies, while Gaby runs agency marketing, employee and client success, and HR.

Starting the Company as a Husband and Wife Team

The very first challenge they faced was finding more clients. They had three client engagements at the time, and they weren’t very big. Looking long term, the business wouldn’t be sustainable without more clients.

In solving this problem, they learned it’s better to find your niche and invest in it, sooner than later. In the beginning, they made the mistake of working with anybody they could, which led to them firing their largest client after just a few months of working with them. They transitioned from everything, to all B2B, into specific industries like med tech and manufacturing companies

The next challenge was figuring out when and how to scale. Do you start with contractors? Do you hire full-time people?

Since then they’ve settled on a hybrid of full-time and contractors, depending on the roles and circumstances, but it took them a little while to find what worked for them.

They knew fairly early on that they were going to be remote- it just made sense. Why would you want an office when you could go without one? As soon as they started hiring people, they realized the choice wasn’t as easy- in order for it to work well, they actually needed to build a remote culture.

When Covid hit, their biggest issue really came to light: sales. As two experts in the marketing world, they found that their difficulties in finding clients became even worse overnight. Luckily, they connected with a Sales Rep on their podcast that they took on to their team, and now have their sales needs completely covered.

Working Remotely

No amount of technology and tools will answer the questions when transitioning into remote work. Technology is great, but without applying new theories, expectations, and tactics, there will be problems. You can’t copy and paste a “normal” in-office culture into a virtual setting.

The value of remote is asynchronous communications. You have to lean into that, and figure out how to build your culture and your process.

Outside of that, their tool stack is fairly straightforward. They have a project management tool, Click Up, Slack for communication, Workforce, Gusto for payroll, and even various tools from Google for business.

Finally, Gaby and Mike believe it’s imperative for remote companies to document their processes and procedures. Document your standard operating procedures for each area of your business, and keep track of the changes you make. In 6 months, you’re able to isolate certain problems, and look back to what changes (or lack thereof) might have contributed to the issue.

Work-Life Balance in Proofpoint Marketing

From the very beginning, Gaby and Mike knew that they wanted to address some of the issues they had within their previous business cultures, specifically in the way they were treated while dealing with the birth of their daughter.

At its core, Proofpoint Marketing is a family first company.

They don’t claim to be like a family. In fact, they are nothing like a family! However, they want to be a family first company: whether there’s a family emergency, a kid is stuck at home, husband’s sick, mom is in the hospital, whatever it may be, their employees can feel safe knowing their job is safe, and there’s a team ready to support you.

They want to encourage their team members to take care of their families, because ultimately they’re working for other needs, not completely for the success of the company. They’re working for their passions, and they’re working because they have other people that rely on them.

To learn more about Proofpoint’s values, vision, and career opportunities, you can head over to the Proofpoint Website. Mike and Gaby are also very active on LinkedIn, and recently the husband and wife team launched their B2B marketing podcast, Show Me The Proof, Get To The Point.

For more content like this, listen to The Jeff Bullas Show.

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