Urban Airship Case Study: A Personalized Search Aims High and Exceeds Expectations


Urban Airship is at the forefront of helping big brands engage their customers by leveraging the full potential of mobile. With a career spanning over thirty years, Urban Airship’s CEO, Brett Caine, is at the forefront of leveraging a variety of search firms – from small boutiques to big brand nationals – to fill critical executive positions and board seats.

“All search firms are not created equal. Working with a smaller firm may get you a better result and potentially a quicker result,” according to Brett. So when he needed to hire a new SVP Sales to join the team at Urban Airship he tapped Summative.

Brett first partnered with Summative in his capacity as a director at Irvine-based Kareo, the leading provider of cloud-based solutions for independent medical practices, to recruit a chair of the audit committee to the board. Summative stepped in to take over the search after another firm failed to complete it. Peggy and her team successfully completed not only that search, but also a Chief People Officer search and a Chief Sales Officer search. At Kareo, Brett was able to experience firsthand Summative’s commitment to success and benefit from the caliber of candidates they deliver.

Brett said, “I was really impressed with their approach and their direct working relationship with the CEO of Kareo as well as the board members. They surfaced some amazing talent and candidates for Kareo.”

Aiming Above and Beyond the Profile

It was only logical that when it came time for Urban Airship to hire a San Francisco-based SVP Sales Brett turned to Texas-based Summative. While there are many search firms in the Bay Area, Brett placed his trust in Summative to reach far and wide across different markets and segments of the industry to surface the best candidates.

What Brett didn’t know at time was that Summative would reach even higher than he was aiming.

“We were very impressed with Brett and quite bullish on Urban Airship’s market opportunity. Based on our years’ of experience working with fast growing tech companies, we believed the opportunity would be appealing to executives beyond the candidate profile Brett originally had in mind,” Peggy said.

“They brought in the notion of a stretch candidate or somebody who wasn’t looking or someone that could meet the job spec but brought even more capabilities to the company,” Brett said. “It opened up my eyes to the type of talent that was available and was interested in Urban Airship as a company.”

Leveraging Summative as Trusted Advisor

Beyond finding candidates that eclipsed Brett’s expectations, Summative was there to provide advice and guidance throughout the process. This was one of the aspects of working with Summative that Brett prized most. “Having a partner, someone who can actually help me and give a point of view, is super, super valuable to me,” he said.

For Brett, Summative’s counsel served as a touchstone to judge the candidate’s’ viability and their fit with the company. “What I like about the Summative team is that they’ll give me their point of view. They’ll tell me why they think somebody is a great fit and they’ll also tell me what their concerns are.”

Brett also believes that using Summative as a trusted advisor saved him an enormous amount of time, effort, and energy. “It’s not about completing the search in some arbitrary timeline or to put some number of candidates in front of you,” according to Brett. “It’s actually to maximize your time and the candidates’ that potentially meet the criteria.”

Working to Solve for the Open Position

According to Brett, “Summative works with you to solve for the open position. That’s a unique and differentiated skill set. Not everyone does it. Not everyone does it well. That’s my experience working with Peggy and the team.”

For Urban Airship, solving for the open position meant reaching out to Eric Holmen, an executive who wasn’t on the market. What’s more, with his prior experience leading customer success, marketing, and business development, Peggy recognized that Eric would naturally prioritize opportunities that included those functions.

Many recruiters might have chosen to ignore Eric. But, Peggy says, “I had a hunch that Eric would find Urban Airship’s market opportunity irresistible. I also believed that working for a widely renowned and proven CEO like Brett Caine would be a real positive for Eric.”

Peggy’s hunch proved to be a good one. Brett says about Eric, “From the moment we got together, we just really aligned around the future of mobile. He became increasingly excited about the opportunity to the point that he decided he wanted to join Urban Airship.”

A Personalized Search Experience Exceeds Expectations

In Brett’s experience, “What differentiates Peggy and the team is that it’s a very personalized search experience. You not only get to know the candidates; you get to know the Summative team. You get insight and understanding because they tell you what they believe and they tell you what they think.”

Summative’s ability to build rapport with both client and candidate are necessary to find a good match, where both parties have an understanding of the role as well as the style and goals of the CEO.

Peggy says, “We take the time to craft our clients’ stories and the narratives around the career opportunities in ways that motivate highly competitive executives, even passive candidates, to spend time with us. As they learn more about the opportunity, we learn more about their current situation and career drivers, earning the role of trusted coach in the process.”

“The search exceeded my expectations. We got an amazing candidate that we are super excited to have. Peggy and the Summative team went all out to bring the best candidate who wasn’t available on the market,” Brett says. “I’m thrilled with the result. I think the team did a great and the results are speaking for themselves.”

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