Lead(H)er: Kelly Esten, Senior Director of Product and Partner Marketing at Toast
Every day that Kelly Esten was a municipal bond sales intern at UBS, a colleague would call her at 7:30 in the morning and ask her to pitch him a bond. He’d give his feedback on her selection and pitch, and soon, her job became more than just putting people on hold when they called to speak with a representative. It became the first major step in her career.
Esten eventually received a full-time job at UBS’s New York and later Zurich office, traveling throughout Europe for the next three years first in the strategy and business development department, and later as chief of staff for the London branch’s head of investment products in Europe.
“As it turns out, what they called strategy and business development I now know as product marketing,” said Esten, now the Senior Director of Product and Partner Marketing at Toast.
At UBS, Esten developed her skills in competitive intelligence, pricing, new product launches, and other product marketing responsibilities in addition to budgeting, team management, and cross-functional collaboration. While the job was an incredible way to spend her 20s, Esten ultimately decided to come back to the States for business school.
Esten graduated from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and, after a successful internship with EnerNOC, joined the company full-time as its first product marketing hire. She helped commercialize a software program leveraging the data from its Demand Response product from $10 million in revenue to nearly $100 million in revenue, eventually progressing to the role of Director of Enterprise Software Sales.
EnerNOC was eventually sold, and Esten sought out a smaller, founder-led company ready to scale. She found Toast and began in her current role there in August 2017.
“I felt like I could have an impact within an organization of this size,” Esten said. “My last two companies have been founder-led, and I think working with the founders and executive team at this level is something really special. Everyone knows everyone’s names and what they’re working on.”
For her part, Esten is working on the management of three key Toast teams. The first, core product marketing, is responsible for messaging, segmentation, sales enablement, and product launches. The market insights team focuses on market research, competitive intelligence, and pricing and packaging, while the partner marketing team is responsible for bringing new partners to Toast’s platform and co-marketing. The company currently has more than 70 integration and go-to-market partners, with which it brings joint solutions to restaurants.
“Product marketing is unique in that it sits in the middle of a lot of things,” Esten said. “Done well, it connects the dots between different departments and makes sure that all of the pieces line up to make a new product launch or segment strategy successful.”
Esten’s department has helped launch several products lately as Toast expands from a point-of-sale system to a comprehensive restaurant management platform. After interviewing customers about their unique pain points and finding that payroll, retention, and training were major areas of concern, the company purchased StratEx in July to incorporate payroll into its offerings.
The acquisition is one of the first of many steps Toast is taking to diversify its product offerings in an effort to better serve its restaurant clients and provide them with tech-based solutions to their challenges.
“Serving a neighborhood coffee shop is really different than serving a full-service restaurant that also offers catering,” Esten said. “From a product marketing perspective, that means we continue to get to launch new products that serve specific segments. Toast has aspirations to continue providing that level of service.”
Quick Q(uestions) and A(dvice)
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I spend most of my time with my family. My husband leads a tech company in Boston, and we have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old puppy, so they keep me busy in my free time. We’ve made great friendships in the Boston area with a lot of other dual-career families with young kids, so we enjoy spending time with them, too. It’s reinvigorating to see other people going through what you’re going through.
What are your strategies for managing stress?
A lot of it is about having some perspective, having interests outside of work, and tackling the hard things first. When stress builds up, it’s usually when I’m putting off something that I’m either dreading doing or something that’s been hanging over me, so doing those things first is a real stress buster for me. It’s also important to make time for the things that lead to feeling less stressed. Finding balance over a week or a month instead of fitting everything into a day helps. Some days are all work and some are all play, and you need to balance it out.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
At least three. I love coffee, so it’s definitely necessary.
What’s one of your favorite places in the Boston area?
One of the really fun parts of being at Toast is getting involved in the restaurant community in Boston. Since joining, I’ve gotten a bigger appreciation for the restaurant community, and working here makes you feel like you’re a part of it. Some of my favorite restaurants are Bar Mezzana in the South End, Eventide in the Fenway, and Puritan in Cambridge -- that one is actually co-owned by a Toaster. Restaurants are our favorite spots to spend time in Boston now.
How does where you are today compare to where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
I definitely couldn’t have named this as what I would be doing 10 years ago. I didn’t know that product marketing existed then, but I had decided that I was going to go to business school to get out of financial services and get back to the U.S. I think the spirit of what I was trying to do is here at Toast, because working for a company with a product I’m passionate about and finding an industry that I really loved were part of my goals at the time.
What do you consider one of your proudest accomplishments so far?
What I get the most fulfillment out of is building a team. I had the opportunity to build product marketing teams from early stages to full-fledged teams a few times now, which I feel really fortunate about. Hiring the right people and giving them the tools and context to do great jobs, launch new products, and empower sales teams has been amazing.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
One of the things that served me really well early on at UBS was saying yes to a lot of new opportunities, like moving countries multiple times and trying out jobs that weren’t why I initially joined banking. I wasn’t in sales or investment banking or wealth management in the end, and I think that’s because I said yes to exciting opportunities that were put in front of me.
Something that we tell newer employees on our team is to work hard, try to have a measurable impact on the business, bring some data to what you’re doing, and have a great attitude. Having a great attitude makes such a big difference, and the rest all follows.