How do you make a name for your brand in an industry teeming with barriers, amidst well-established competitors? Just ask the team at Visible and their fearless marketing leader Minjae Ormes. As the first all-digital wireless carrier in the U.S., this offshoot brand from Verizon is challenging traditional teleco conventions, tapping into modern-day, direct-to-consumer strategies while leveraging the power of an established network. From building a lifesize "music box" to represent its transparency to being shortlisted at Cannes for its anti-store 404 campaign, Minjae shares how applying an entrepreneurial mindset and throwing out the playbook is helping the brand gain traction.
Tell us about your background and why you chose to join Visible?
My background is in media, tech and entertainment industries, where I got to practice the two most important foundations of marketing: storytelling and relationship building. Now I get to bring my experiences to an established industry such as teleco – which creates more human connections than any other industry – and help establish a new brand and experience. I came to Visible to help build something new, to reset the bar on customer experience, and to take on the challenge of solving big problems.
What major challenges did you have to overcome as an entrepreneur?
I feel I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my career whether it was helping build a fast-growing and evolving product like YouTube, or starting my own business helping other entrepreneurs and brands take themselves to the next level. One doesn’t have to be working at a start-up to build your entrepreneur muscles and learn to see opportunities in the future that don’t exist yet. I’d say the biggest challenge I’ve faced at times has been finding resilience. Not everything I’ve tried has worked out the way I intended – and sometimes I’ve had to go at it multiple times, or try different angles -- and because I tend to be the type of person who throws her entire self into something, that process in itself can be quite taxing. But I would not have otherwise become as resilient as I am today, had I not persevered through some of my hardest days – and it’s an incredibly valuable mindset as the pace of innovation continues to accelerate.
What makes Visible a Challenger brand?
We’re striving to reimagine the way people think about and interact with their phone service. It’s something that’s such an essential part of people’s daily lives and yet, when prompted, most people’s impression of their phone service is “It works... what else do you want?” at best, and at worst, filled with negative experiences.
"Most importantly, we may be challengers but we are here to serve with humility and humanity."
We are well aware of and inspired by what has come before us and what’s ahead in innovation and infrastructure building in the telco industry. And at the same time, we’re not afraid to think completely outside the telco industry box in order to test new and different ways to better our experience and relationship with consumers. Most importantly, we may be challengers, but we are here to serve with humility and humanity – we don’t yet have answers to everything, and that’s why the feedback from our members and prospective customers are so critical to what we do.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and why?
I’ve been a part of a number of discussions recently about the rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands and how their approach to building brands and products by putting experience first and foremost has created a new path. I wouldn’t say that what’s happening with the DTC trend is necessarily new. To me, this feels like a renewal of commitment from a group of brands and people behind it who unequivocally believe that focus on storytelling and relationship building will lead to better consumer experiences. And that’s what is so exciting about it – as technology and tools continue to evolve, I hope that more of us who are building brands and products don’t lose sight of the fact that we are, at the end of the day, here to serve people.
What are the biggest changes in your industry and how are you staying ahead of them?
As we continue to work on creating the first all-digital wireless carrier, I’m reflecting on the evolution of e-commerce shopping and buying experience – how can we incorporate these trends into those shopping and interacting with Visible? I’m also thinking a lot about how to continue simplifying the entire experience one would go through as a wireless customer, and how we build the Visible brand based on these principles and infuse the spirit into every part of our product and customer care experience.
"The way in which we go to market... is heavily influenced by our community of members."
For me and my team, that means we open up our apertures as broadly as possible and take inspiration from everywhere, including cultural trends as well as how brands outside of the telco industry are approaching their relationships with consumers. For instance, the way a number of DTC brands like Glossier and Warby Parker have cultivated and nurtured their communities, while their products and businesses were still in the development process, is something that’s been at the core of Visible as well. Starting with our earliest members, we saw tremendous response and excitement for what we’re offering and wanted to make sure they are part of the feedback loop. The way in which we go to market, interact with our members and prospects, and even build and ship features, like mobile hotspot, is heavily influenced by our community of members.
What are you currently working on that’s innovative?
We’re currently working on building Year 2 of Visible Connect, our social good accelerator program which supports a number of nonprofits that are using the power of mobile technology to address some of the most critical issues in our communities. Through Visible Connect, we have the privilege of supporting these organizations in every layer of their business, from financial grants to guidance and resources around technology, operations, marketing, and leadership coaching.
"...launching Visible Connect was really launching part of the foundation of the company."
We launched this program last year even before our product and service were out there. This was a unique tactic because at the time, Visible was in stealth mode and no one knew that we’d launch the core business within months. We didn’t have any name or brand recognition and weren’t able to leverage one for the other or vise versa. But launching Visible Connect was really launching part of the foundation of the company. We pride ourselves on being community driven, and our employees were steadfast on creating a program that would impact communities far beyond our reach. We consider ourselves lucky to have been able to impact 4 million lives through the first year of this program. We are excited to see what impact we can help create in year two.
Tell us about the big learning moments you’ve had along your career path?
"...one can belong somewhere without fitting in or blending in."
You are sitting at the table because you belong. And one can belong somewhere without fitting in or blending in. In fact, it’s your unique perspective and experience that earned you that seat at the table, so you’d better bring your entire self to work and show up every single day. It took me a long time and many stumbles to figure this out because we’ve all been conditioned in many ways to live up to other people’s expectations of who you should be, and how you need to show up in order to fit in.
In earlier parts of my career, I was hesitant to speak up or ask questions because I was afraid of making mistakes, or saying the wrong things, and worst of all, worried about what other people would think about me. With more experience over time, I realized that the way to keep earning that seat at the table was to contribute to the dialogue and decisions we were making as a business, and especially in new and hyper-growth stages, it was more important to ask a lot of questions rather than striving to know the perfect answers. So now I know what it means to ask “good” questions and bring your whole self to work, and try to practice this every day so as to create a safe space in which everyone on my team, no matter what stage of their career, can dare to ask the scariest questions and help propel this business forward.
What one trait do you think is most critical to leading a Challenger Brand?
"...think bigger and weirder when problem-solving."
Curiosity. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked in industries and brands that challenged me to think bigger and weirder when problem-solving because the businesses we were building at the time were all trying to stay ahead of cultural and consumer trends. And now, working in a completely new industry, I have to stay curious every single day so that I can quickly absorb and learn from my colleagues who are deep experts while bringing my marketing expertise to the table. I’m constantly energized by the process of learning something new and encourage my team to stay curious so that we leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of creating a new kind of phone service and the experience that comes with it.
What advice would you give to other marketing pioneers?
I’m humbled to be asked this question. When I was leaving YouTube to join Visible, a number of friends questioned my decision because I was leaving what is an established player known for growth and innovation, for something completely new and unknown. A year later, and I can say with confidence this was the scariest and the best decision I could have made... So don’t be afraid to take a leap and cross over to the unknown. The beauty of jumping in head first into a new industry and an opportunity is that your learning curve gets steeper again, while your ability to make a potential impact to the new challenge that much more meaningful.