Gary Briggs on life after Facebook: ‘Do I miss being relevant? I don't ever think I was’

Gary Briggs exited Facebook at the end of 2018

It’s been almost a year since Gary Briggs, the former chief marketing officer of Facebook, walked out of the company's Menlo Park headquarters for the last time. Since then he’s happily applied a career’s worth of tech marketing experience as a board member, an advisor and an active Democratic Party supporter – but don’t expect a high-profile comeback from the nicest marketer in Silicon Valley.

Last month, The New York Times published a story under the headline ‘Why don’t rich people just stop working?

It’s a question that will have flickered through the minds of anyone who has ever crossed paths with Sir Martin Sorrell, Marc Pritchard or Sheryl Sandberg. Why not throw the towel in, abandon the headaches and the conference calls and retire to a sunset island off the coast of Seattle?

Some people do it. Gary Briggs did it.

Facebook’s very first chief marketer now lives a life that is pretty close to idyllic. He’s put miles between himself and the surrealist techscape of Silicon Valley to spend more time with his wife, Catherine, and pick up the work that makes the most sense to him when he wants it.

So far, that’s included a few advisory roles and a few board positions with Etsy and Petco. He chose the latter two for reasons of pure interest and intent: he loves dogs – chocolate Labradors specifically – and he’s keeping a keen eye on the future of commerce.

He personally knows the chief executives of both companies.

With so many connections, why not do more, invest more, consult more, make more?

“I don't like to talk about money,” he tells The Drum. “I don't want to spend my time thinking about money. I just want to work with people. I'm just going to do the things I want to do when I want to do them.

"I just want to spend time with my wife and be with the people I want to be with.”

A present state of mind

The quiet life of a semi-retired Silicon Valley chief marketing officer could have been very different. Briggs recalls a time when he was working at eBay in the mid-00s and fretting over the social ladder as much as he was climbing the professional one.

It was, he says, “one of the first points in my career – I almost got fired, I was having a really hard time”.

The solution was to force himself to stop himself from chasing the next best thing. He stopped looking over shoulders at parties.

“There was too much social anxiety over what was going to be next,” he says. "I felt that when I was younger and realized it didn't serve me very well. [I discovered] the best way I can serve myself and others is just to be present to others I talk to.”

He went on to take that attitude to Google, to Motorola and finally to Facebook, where he led marketing for five years. He announced his retirement in January 2018 after discussions with Sandberg and the then-chief product officer Chris Cox; the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke three months later.

“I had talked to them about when the right timing was going to be, and as it turned out ... well it was not a good time, as it turned out,” he admits.

Still, he stuck through Facebook’s annus horribilis to guarantee an effective handover with his successor, HP’s Antonio Lucio. Comments left on his farewell Facebook status described a marketer and a boss who looked people in the eyes at parties.

“Facebook is better because of your talent, leadership, and kindness,” wrote Sandberg. Another former colleague described Briggs as “the most welcoming and friendly chief marketing officer on this side of the Fortune 500”.

Ready Set, go

That doesn’t mean to say Briggs is not in demand for his interpersonal skills alone. Airbnb’s former head of global product marketing, John Gargiulo, asked him to lend his advisory skills to his new venture, Ready Set.

“Gary is the rare exception: he is that exceptional marketer who's been around for a while,” says Gargiulo, who co-founded Ready Set alongside Sambou Makalou. “And I think by virtue of being in the thick of it at Facebook he sees the future better than almost any recent CMO that I've met, and we have the same kind of vision of what's coming.”

That vision, Gargiulo says, is less about advertising as “art” and more about “selling things” through efficient, trackable technology. Ready Set has been built to help performance marketers quickly get their hands on social video assets without having “five months and 50 meetings to wait to run stuff”.

All videos are created in-house from monthly shoots in LA. The company boasts it can produce up to 82 different social video ads in a day, providing client with a creative asset library to test and learn from.

Other than potentially taking on another board position and aiding with the Democrats’ campaigning, Briggs isn’t planning to fill up his schedule with much more. He misses the people more than the full-time grind life, and has a new life as an empty nester to mold around him.

“Somebody said to me when I was leaving Facebook, ‘aren't you going to miss being relevant?’” he remembers. “And I said, ‘I don't ever think I was’. It's not important.

“You get invited to all the parties and all the games ... but I don't really care. I really don't.”

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