Not Easy, but Bringing the Thunder: 3 Takeaways from a First Year VP of CS

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By Lauren Costella

I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge. In fact, I’ve always been one who believes that nothing could ever ruffle my feathers. After all, I put myself through physical and mental craziness being a competitive swimmer for over 17 years, so I know that mentally and physically, I can do anything…right?

This past year, I took on a new challenge in my career: VP of Customer Success at Medrio. While not physically grueling, I definitely felt challenged in my ability to deliver great results for our incredible customers. And my biggest fear was disappointing them. Through this journey, I realized that I’m probably not the only one who has been in this situation of starting a brand new job that’s really, really big and really, really important.

Inspired by two different songs: “Not Easy” by Alex Da Kid, and “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons, I thought I would offer my my top 3 takeaways in the hopes it encourages others to keep going because it’s “Not Easy” but when you keep going, you’ll bring the “Thunder!”

Big Takeaway #1: Sincere Appreciation for the Decisions my Prior Bosses had to Make

I know it’s a weird takeaway, but when I was in the trenches, as an individual contributor or even middle management, many times I would examine what we were doing and question why. There were times that I knew we could do things better, and I knew how we could get it done. I was always very supported in pursuing those different approaches (thank you, bosses); however, there were times when I was told to wait or told that those ideas weren’t priorities. I remember how frustrating it was to hear that, and I thought, “I’ll never run things that way.”

More often than not, we have limited purview into all of the dynamics occurring within a company. My bosses had to make difficult decisions, and when I said I would never make those same choices, I now seem to find myself in similar situations. As a leader, you have a responsibility to make the tough choices because you have the full picture, and sometimes you’re privy to information that the team doesn’t have. Making those challenging calls, without always the ability to share why, is one of the toughest moments I’ve had to face as a new executive team member. As such, it makes me appreciate what prior bosses had to do (more so now than ever before), and it seems appropriate for me to recognize that and them.

Big Takeaway #2: Just Keep Swimming

No matter what level you’re at within a company, complexities in our jobs and personal lives can distract us (rather easily) from accomplishing goals. This isn’t necessarily new for me, and in fact, I would pride myself in being able to be sharply focused. However, as a new executive this past year, I didn’t (or maybe couldn’t) anticipate the whirlwind of day-to-day activities that changed so significantly from my prior roles. I had led teams and managed complex global operations, but as the executive lead for the department, there were some things that just really threw me for a loop, and while it was frustrating to not accomplish everything I thought I would have this year, I look back now and think, the biggest advice I have for anyone starting is “just keep swimming.”

Job Stuff that I didn’t anticipate:

  • The major business changes that happen when you take funding for the first time. We had to (and rightly so) completely change the way we measured the business.
  • Having my entire team turn over, while building a proactive CS division. Of the 22 people on the team today, 18 have been here less than a year. And not only is CS a new division, it is a new concept for the clinical trial industry.

  • Our entire executive team was hired only one year ago. So while I’m learning, they are learning too, and yet, we have to make decisions together.

  • Leading a team to plan for, execute, and then (unanticipatedly) firefight the biggest release of our company history. While I’ve been through many releases before, to go through such a huge release in a regulated space, I couldn’t have anticipated the incredible amount of work needed by the entire team to make this successful.

On top of all the job stuff that I didn’t anticipate, I experienced a major personal crisis when my brother had emergency brain surgery. He came out of surgery with incredible success but nevertheless, a super stressful time. None of these things are necessarily excuses for getting off track, but what it taught me was that sometimes things take a little longer to accomplish than you think--whether work or personal whirlwind distractions. And it’s important not to beat yourself up too hard over it. Instead, don’t give up, keep pushing toward those deadlines, and look back at what you have accomplished.

When I look back now, I can see that we actually accomplished a lot! We built out a brand new hiring and onboarding program for new CS employees, launched a brand new Customer eLearning/onboarding program, created a new Customer Community, we built an entirely new division of CSMs, revamped our Professional Services team, and hit our performance goals. Wow!

Big Takeaway #3: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel and Trust your Kick-Ass People

I can’t begin to say where we’d be without the incredible folks on the team and within Medrio. Specifically, on my team, I was blown away by how incredibly well folks stepped up to take on new responsibilities. For example, one of my Senior CSR’s stepped up and took over managing the entire support team. He grew it from 2 to 12 people, raised our Case CSAT score from 88% to 93% and moved our closed on first contact from 18% to 33% in one year!

And finally, don’t be afraid to utilize the amazing CS Community! I received so much help and guidance from a ton of great resources!

It’s “Not Easy” stepping up into a big role, but I can tell you (from experience) that it’s possible. Just don’t give up too soon! And you’ll quickly find yourself and your place and be ready to bring the “Thunder!”

Are you a new CS Leader or looking to improve upon your existing skills? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that proudly offers a complete CS Leadership Training Program that can provide you with practical tools to strengthen your professional toolkit. For more information on this program and our other classes and workshops, please visit

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Lauren Costella - Lauren is a change agent, communicator, leader and passionate champion for Customer Success in business, since a great customer experience drives retention, growth and brand advocacy. Her expertise centers on building early signs for risk and growth, defining cross-department success plays, team enablement, operations and process, and selecting and implementing CS software. When she’s not working as the VP of Customer Success for Medrio, you can find her serving as an advisor and blogger for the Success League, an active board member for the Customer Success Network, and blogging generally about her CS experiences on the CS Playlist. Lauren has her MA and BA from Stanford University. She was a former USA National swim team member and enjoys staying active with running and surfing in the Bay Area.