When technology emerged as the passion he wanted to pursue in life, Justin Keller thought his future waited for him on the West Coast. But as he unearthed more about tech and found his true calling, California palm trees gave way to Indiana sycamores, and he found everything for his career and more in the place he first called home.
For an English and psychology double-major at Indiana University, a career in tech was an interesting pivot. It first began as a special set of courses he took that centered on management skills, where he received essentially a crash course through the Kelley School of Business and built up skills that would serve him throughout his future career. Through this opportunity, Justin began networking with prominent tech leaders in Indy, which led him to the Scott A. Jones Internship Program where he worked on unique projects like building autonomous vehicles in the Nevada desert with DARPA.
The internship led to a job; Justin ended up becoming the first non-founding employee at Cha-Cha and spent five years with the company in communications. He found a place to use his skills to advance his knowledge of marketing while growing a young startup organization. It’s where he truly discovered both his tech bug and startup bug. “I really got passionate about tech and went full-bore,” he said.
His startup bug called him toward new ideas and ventures, which eventually required him to develop new skills and consider new places to live. At that time, he felt that San Francisco and its booming tech sector offered the promise he was seeking. After completing his MBA at Purdue University in 2011, he packed up his car the day after graduation and moved out to San Francisco to chase that bug.
Justin KellerVice President of Marketing, Sigstr
His work experiences hadn’t yet caught up to his bug, though, so Justin needed to immerse himself in the software-as-a-service knowledge base quickly. “The first guy who hired me really took a chance on me, a kid from the Midwest,” he said. “I stayed up overnight, watching videos on YouTube, learning as much as I could wherever I could.” He proceeded to master marketing with SaaS companies in several different roles during his time in California, creating his portfolio of marketing successes.
He spent his working days in San Francisco and his off time at home in Oakland. Each city had its own special flair and flavor that he enjoyed. “In San Francisco, you can’t throw a rock down the street without hitting someone you can learn tech from,” he said. “You’re constantly absorbing the SaaS playbook; the level you steep in that knowledge is unequalled around the world.” After work, Oakland offered Justin and his wife some unique opportunities to explore and enjoy. “We love food and counterculture, and Oakland is the epicenter of interesting, weird things,” he said.
After seven years working in San Francisco, though, Justin started to look back to the state he left. “Family was the main driving force behind our move,” he said. “But we knew we wanted to move back to Midwest.” In August 2017, he again packed up his life in moving boxes, and he and his wife made the trek home to Indiana. What he found surprised and delighted him. “Indy had come a long way since I’ve left,” he said. “And now, as a city, we still have a long way to go, but we’ve definitely taken admirable strides.”
When he arrived, Justin went to find a job in Indy’s tech sector. He received great help in his search from High Alpha, who helped him dig into the different companies operating around Indy. Thanks to these conversations, he filled out an online application for Sigstr and was soon in front of their team to fill their Vice President of Marketing role. “The leadership team at Sigstr was definitely a big draw,” he said about his interview process. “There’s a real yin and yang kind of relationship between the leadership styles of Dan [Hanrahan, Founder & President] and Bryan [Wade, CEO].”
Once Justin got to Sigstr for his first work day on a small but mighty marketing team, he was truly surprised by the atmosphere and climate in the office. Used to a cut-throat business environment where employee loyalty was in short supply, he found the camaraderie at Sigstr to be a welcome reprieve. “When I arrived at Sigstr, I was bowled over by amount of enthusiasm and loyalty,” said Justin. “People live and breathe Sigstr here. People figure out how to develop their careers in the company. They’re always asking, ‘How can I create a company that I love?’”
Now ten months into the job, the company has grown tremendously, and Justin has uncovered some of the challenges with a recently booming tech market like Indy. He’s found that despite having a strong history with digital marketing firms, Indy has a need to develop talent from an earlier age to be ready to jump into a marketing-tech focused role. “Things that are important to learn are the actual tactics of running a company,” he said. “Important pieces like the sales funnel aren’t taught in schools, and components like marketing automation are just plain missing.”
This need has inspired Justin to think about solutions to help Indy’s talent, especially university students, be better prepared to plug into the tech companies populating Indy. “I’m really interested in figuring out how to build professional marketing students right out of school,” he said. “I’m always asking: how can I help shape these students? They need to be trained on what digital advertisements are and how they work, digital automation, and the shape of the tech sector here.”
Like Justin learned early on, the internet offers a bevy of resources to offer the first level of knowledge to get future SaaS marketers started, to answer the calls of the tech and startup bugs that brought Justin home to Indy. “There are no shortages of online resources,” he said. “You can go out there and learn what Hubspot is, what a drip campaign is and theories to segment audiences.” He believes opportunities presented by organizations like Eleven Fifty Academy or other tech partners can help further develop students and get them ready for the workforce. “When a Google analytics bootcamp comes to town, students can go in and after a couple of days walk out with a skill that’s marketable, right there on their resumes,” he said.
Sigstr has grown significantly since Justin’s arrival, filling up their offices overlooking Indy’s Monument Circle with the talent who understand the product and where it fits in marketing tech. More skilled people are answering the call of their startup bugs at places like Sigstr with the same passion that brought Justin home.
You can learn more about Sigstr by reviewing their stories on our Tech Directory.