PEN Profile: Harish Peri

We established the Primary Expert Network - a select group of NYC Tech’s leading operators and functional experts - to help us support our portfolio companies through the inevitable challenges of the startup lifecycle. The PEN is such an impressive bunch that we created the PEN Profile Series to introduce them to the community at large, and to provide insights into how these influencers think and lead today’s most exciting startups. 


Harish Peri is a product marketing force, having held leadership positions at Blackrock, Salesforce, Nielsen and now Head of Marketing at Lifion. Central to Harish’s success is his ability to listen to customers with a deep sense of empathy, and his ability to translate their pain points into impactful product development. Harish has a contagious energy, and is always eager to lend his unique perspective to members of the Primary Expert Network.  

@ADP | Lifion is hiring

Hometown: Pune, India

What brought me to New York: New York was my first home in the US.  I moved here to attend Columbia University where I got my BS and MS in Comp Sci.  After stints in FinTech (before it was called that), and after 7 years of living and breathing SaaS tech in San Francisco, I moved back 2 years ago to be closer to family. So you could say I’ve come back home.

Why I love the NYC tech scene right now: The NYC Tech community is still in its infancy - it's still hungry to prove itself.  Everywhere I look, there are companies with amazing tech and robust business models building creative solutions to real business problems.  And it’s not yet flooded with ‘not-so-smart money’ like the West Coast.  So there is still a natural weeding out of ideas that don’t demonstrate market potential.  There’s also a great sense of being in this together and working to develop the community as a whole - there isn’t much of the zero-sum mentality I observed out West.

Favorite business meal/drinks location:Markt in Chelsea. It leaves the option open for Belgian beer, which is always good for me!

Hidden talent: I’m a beat boxer and I play a drum called the Cajon. I am part of a band in the suburbs with a couple other middle-aged dads. We’re going to make it BIG someday.  Until then, we’re appropriately named Minimum Viable Band.

Last thing I Googled: A crash cymbal and a hi-hat. I’m looking for some accent sounds to go with my cajon.

Biggest professional challenge you’ve overcome: In one of my prior product marketing leadership roles, I inherited a well-meaning but junior team with little to no product marketing experience. After six months of fighting an uphill battle about teaching them the discipline of product marketing, my biggest accomplishment was putting them through a one-week training called Pragmatic Marketing. A truly defining moment for me was when the team huddled around my desk halfway through the training and told me they finally understood customer centricity and buyer personas, and what great marketing really looks like. It was so fulfilling to me to watch my team absorb those lessons and apply them to do great things.

Business apps you can’t live without: I run my life on Wunderlist, and hopefully Microsoft doesn’t mess it up too much! It helps me prioritize in the crazy sea of things that are going on in my life, and it’s very gratifying to be able to move tasks off my plate.

What I’m best at: Getting people fired up. Whether it's customers, employees or teammates, I can appeal to people at a visceral level and motivate them. This comes from an understanding that conversations - with individuals or large groups - are less about pushing my agenda, and more about being empathetic to my audience's needs.  Basically, Marketing 101.

Thing that drives me most crazy: Corporate politics. It really pisses me off when people have hidden agendas and take actions for reasons other than driving business results or delivering customer value.

My first job: Coding in Java and PL/SQL for UBS’ mortgage backed securities business.

How I keep stress at bay: I try to keep everything in perspective. Every time things start to go sideways, I remind myself that my family comes first. I have two kids, and I’m in this for them. It's family over work for me every time.

How I keep my team engaged: By constantly focusing them on customer needs and our overall mission. If you can’t articulate the customer problem you’re solving (could be internal or external customers) and you can’t articulate what your motivations are, then you need to step back and reassess. Once I have alignment on the ‘who and why’, I’m happy to let my team figure out the ‘how and what’ without having to micromanage people.   

My key mentor: The person I’ve learned the most from was Tom McCleary from Salesforce, SVP of Strategic Product Partnerships. He taught me to think in a cross-disciplinary way - to start with the customer problem and figure out how to leverage sales, product management, product marketing, development, external partners and all the resources of the company to deliver the most value without getting caught up in corporate silos and territorial BS.  

Other than mine, NYC Tech company I most admire:Chartbeat. I’m a big fan of their mission to elevate quality and engagement as the true benchmark for great content.  I’m a also a big fan of their CEO, John Saroff - I think he perfectly embodies the no-BS customer-centricity that I value in senior leaders.