AMA with dbt Labs’ Janessa Lantz: Career Advice and Lessons Learned

Jimmy Daly
September 20, 2021

Janessa previously worked at Hubspot, RJ Metrics and PeopleMetrics and she started her career as a marketing assistant and is now the VP of Marketing at a rocket ship startup. You can follow Janessa on Twitter at @janessalantz. Suggested topics for this AMA:

  • Career advice and lessons learned
  • Getting into management
  • "Should I specialize!?"
  • What’s it like to market to devs?

Can you talk a little about marketing to developers? I feel like this scares some of us non-technical folks off, but also seems like a world that is pretty rich with opportunity for content folks

Janessa: I'm currently recruiting so obviously I'm going to say this is a friggin' great career path. Seriously though, the market for developer tooling is exploding. There is a TON of opportunity here. IMO the main thing that it takes for marketers to be successful here is just exceptionally good collaboration. Because you're not marketing to yourself, you have to cultivate a lot of humbleness / low ego, and then build partnerships with people who are the audience. Marketers marketing to marketers are the loudest marketers with the easiest jobs, JOIN US!!!! The marketers who market to non-marketing personas!

You've worked on some quite technical products like RJMetrics and dbt - how did you work to deeply understand the product and audience, coming from a non-technical background?

Janessa: Overcoming my fear of asking very, very stupid questions. That's only half a joke. I didn't set out to build a career in data, but at this point, I've done 6 some years in the data industry. So I guess one thing is just — time! But also, building technical skills. When I joined dbt Labs I downloaded the open source version of dbt on my local machine (with help!). I learned SQL. I made changes to our dbt models and deployed them into production. Our websites were all static sites as well so I learned how to make changes to YAML and CSS, use git, pull request etiquette, etc. At some point, you just have to put the repetitions in. There is SO MUCH mystery around technical skills and honestly, they are all quite learnable. I'm not a SQL master by any means, but I can pull some data. I'm not a front end engineer but it is quite easy to learn some Git commands. Find a technical partner willing to answer questions and learn it! It's legitimately fun and not scary at all

I've seen you around here and twitter and have been curious — you're someone with a content background who now leads all of marketing. What has that transition been like, and what are the areas that you had to learn up on quickly?

Janessa: What has it been like? Humbling. If I could travel back in time I would have spent a lot more time early in my career asking what was happening to the leads I was creating —understanding the SDR process, measurement, how sales people manage deals, why we were winning /losing deals. It's been a big learning curve for me! But also, manageable. I have a great sales partner and revenue operations partners. I have been extremely open about this being my first role owning a pipeline / revenue number and I ask a lot of questions and sometimes the same questions multiple times.

Apart from people, pay, and growth trajectory (and the job of course), what do you think about when considering a change/job offer?

Janessa: What my strengths are, and what I want to nurture and learn. At this point in my career I know that my greatest strengths are not in performance marketing, but I'm quite good at brand / community. The companies where I am going to have the biggest impact are going to be companies who value that and want what I am selling. I think that's important for every role. You want to be careful about taking a job that doesn't play to your core strengths.

Do you have any general advice for others looking long-term to grow from a content-focused role to a broader marketing leadership position? Like how to take on more, how to prove yourself?


  1. Become real and actual friends with sellers on your team — get to know them, understand their day, how they think about the world, what is stressing them out, why they are losing deals, why they are winning deals
  2. You don't need to be a product marketer, but the PMM toolset is very valuable. I did product marketing at two startups before I realized it was product marketing. You just gotta start from understanding your ideal customer profile.
  3. Think outside your function. Marketers get can be very myopic IMO — we get obsessed with blog traffic numbers, or growth of this channel or that channel. It's fun!!! But eventually, you have to connect that to what the rest of the business is doing. This doesn't mean you need to prove ROI on every tweet — just that it's worth understanding how your work intersects with other folks in the org.

Those are a few that feel top of mind, certainly not a complete list.

My question is a little different. What are some of the mistakes that you've learned the most from?

Janessa: Gosh, what a subtle way of asking for my biggest mistakes, which are always the ones we learn the most from. Recently, I've become more aware of a small mistake that I have made many, many times, which is not persisting through the hard things. Understanding the business through the lens of data has always really overwhelmed me so I just avoided it until I ended up leading a marketing team at a data company and truly could not avoid it anymore. But the experience over the past few months of persisting through this has been really wonderful and revealing for me. In retrospect, I can look back at times that I wish I had done more of this. There is something to be said for playing to your strengths, but also I am discovering how personally rewarding it is to bulk up on weak areas.

Curious about your goals for your marketing team in the next few months?

Janessa: We launched a rebrand and new website in June and have been very focused on building our campaign muscle. We also released a podcast in June that is already averaging 1100 downloads / episode which I am so happy about! Heading into Q4 our focus is shifting into...

  • Hosting our 2nd user conference — Coalesce (online).
  • Dipping our toes into paid advertising
  • A new content series aimed at building search traffic that targets SQL users who do not yet use dbt (the perfect audience for us!)
  • Building our field marketing capabilities! We're hiring a team leader for this function

Would love some of the companies (SaaS or not!) that you admire when it comes to marketing / content / editorial / events etc. Second question: what is the best restaurant in Philadelphia?

Janessa: HashiCorp is just a phenomenal company on so many fronts, great products, great developer community, great leaders, great brand. I look to them for inspiration on so many things. HubSpot remains a leader from a cultural perspective. I learned so much from my time there. For example, when I joined dbt Labs I got to introduce the team to the joy of hiring plans (something HubSpot did really well) and my new 12 person team was like "wow! this is so cool! we've never seen anything like this" so that was fun. GitLab from an operational perspective and a transparency. Any remote-first company has to pay attention to GitLab. They publish their internal handbook publicly and I have referenced it so many times to see how they do / think about things. I don't always agree with them, but learning from them is invaluable.

Stripe from a developer experience perspective. Pre-Stripe developer marketing was rather ugly and Stripe was like "no, you can be beautiful, easy to use, and built for developers." They just have a remarkable brand all around.

What are 3 hard skills according to you that can help content marketers:

  1. Grow to a broader leadership role?
  2. Stand out and be in the top 5%(ish)?

Janessa: Learn to make decisions with data — even if the data is limited or imperfect, everything gets easier if you start with data (ever spreadsheet formula I have learned is a gift. If you've got time, learn SQL). Great way to do this as a CM is to write data-driven content because that stuff performs very very well. Practice building a growth model and make an attempt at forecasting.

Dismantle your ego — wait, is that a hard skill? Maybe! Because it takes real time! My Yin Yoga practice has helped enormously here. Learning to breathe through discomfort and be present in the moment and offer grace to myself and others.

Get as deep into operations as you can — learn the systems that power your work. what happens to a view / or contact that you create as a result of your contact? Where do they go? Who interacts with them? Learn to track down information in your marketing automation system and CRM. When you have questions — find an operations person who can help you find the answer.

What is your process for collaborating with your product and R&D teams to create content that will be valuable for the engineering community?

Janessa: I think a lot about balance in how I'm putting the team together. Particularly, the ratio of technical marketers (and by that I specifically mean marketers able to use our product) and non-technical marketers (again, they are still technically proficient, just not dbt users). We can't have a marketing team of all dbt users — it's just not a viable recruiting strategy. BUT we need to that skillset.

So for example, our head of acquisition was previously doing consulting work — using dbt to help small marketing teams make better decisions with data. Again, no way I can build a recruiting strategy around this! But it is invaluable to have a content leader who is also a product user. He is uniquely able to speak the language of our users and bridge the gap to internal resources and connect this all back to SEO goals we think about this on all marketing groups:

  • What is our ratio of technical PMMs (people who really know the product) to generalist PMMs (people who really know product marketing)?
  • Do our event managers need to know the product? (A: no, but they need partners with dedicated time to help shape content)

I realize this is probably one level higher of an answer than what you're looking for, but it's what I'm able to give This stuff is hard! It's why I often feel frustrated by the volumes of content marketing advice written by marketers marketing to marketers — the advice doesn't work when you're writing for an audience that is a different persona than you the writer!

You mentioned in this tweet that "gate vs. ungate is the stupidest debate in marketing." which one is the truth?

Janessa: There is no one truth! It's just one big old, it depends. The question is never to gate or not to gate. The question is, what do we gate? What do we give away ungated? Or Even, for whom should we gate this? Or even, how long should we gate this? Marketers are still arguing about

What has been the toughest part of scaling a team? Were there any great and unexpected lessons that you’ve learned?

Janessa: Gosh, I think my big one was undervaluing marketing operations. I wish I had hired this person a year ago! We waited too long and then found ourselves in a very challenging recruiting market (thankfully we have a signed offer!) Ops is just so foundational and it has shocked me how quickly we are building up tech debt on the ops side. Without a strong ops foundation it's very hard to scale literally anything.

Cookie Consent

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.