Blog: meet the mentors


By Brita Belli

anne macdonald YEI Mentor Anne MacDonald has worked in marketing for the past 33 years, leading Fortune 100 companies through significant shifts in strategy and positioning. The experience she gained as Chief Marketing Officer for Citigroup she brought to Macy’s, where MacDonald says that as President and Chief Marketing Officer she “led the team to created a true national brand,” after Macy’s increased their footprint from 250 stores to 850 stores across the country. She also helped grow Macdonald next took on the challenge of building out a direct-to-consumer business for Travelers Insurance companies as their Chief Marketing Officer.

Her path to YEI started with a chance encounter at her rowing club. She began talking with fellow member Rob Bettigole, managing partner at Elm Street Ventures and member of the YEI Operating Board, about some of the student businesses in development at YEI. “He taught me a lot about venture capital and small companies,” MacDonald says. She’d always worked in large corporations and was interested in going to the opposite side and learning about and working with entrepreneurial startups.

Soon she was brought into the YEI mentor fold and has helped teams navigate difficulties and to focus on critical questions of building not only a great product—but a solid communications plan.

“It’s more challenging in a digital world, because the audience is fragmented,” MacDonald says. It’s a struggle to create awareness and trial of your brand, she adds, noting that “forced tweets” are not going to win over supporters.

Rather, MacDonald stresses the importance of building a tribe. “Initial users may not come back,” she says, “the tribe stays. They want to be a member of something worthwhile, that meets a need or fills a desire, something that makes a difference. What has never changed is the importance of the quality of the product or service you put out there.”

She notes that most of the teams she’s met with spend the majority of their time on building their technology and preparing to pitch to investors. “I encourage them to spend even more time on whether they’ve perfected what they’ve gone into business to do.”

MacDonald adds that her ability to help teams is directly related to teams’ showing initiative and reaching out to her for advice and connections. She mentioned one team that discovered she was on the board of a media company who asked her to present their idea before a particular executive on that board with extensive experience in data gathering and analysis.

“I was not formally assigned to that team. That was bold and ambitious,” she says. And it worked. The media executive was intrigued and is arranging to meet the students in New York. 

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