Meet the Next Gen Builder: Ashley Kramer, CMO GitlLab

Join Francois Ajenstat, host of the Next Gen Builders podcast, as he explores the dynamic intersection of product and marketing with Ashley Kramer, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer of GitLab.

June 27, 2024
Brynn Haynam
Brynn Haynam
Sr. Director, Brand Marketing
Product Meets Marketing episode 3 of Next Gen Builders Podcast ft. Ashley Kramer of GitLab

When you think about product and marketing teams, you might imagine two groups operating in silos—product focuses on pushing out features, while marketing crafts compelling narratives and drives demand. But what if their "unholy union" is actually the secret ingredient behind your favorite products?

Enter Ashley Kramer, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at GitLab, who has ample experience operating on both sides of this line. In fact, she was formerly both CMO and CPO at the same time. And while she never wants to be a CPO again, she can attest to the innovation and success when the roles partner.

This is the crux of episode 3 of the Next Gen Builders podcast, where host Francois Ajenstat dives deep into Ashley's insights on bridging these two critical functions. Listen to it and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.

The journey from code to campaigns

Ashley Kramer’s career trajectory from software engineer at NASA to CMO is anything but typical. Starting in the rigorous world of coding, she quickly realized that her true passion lay in solving problems and crafting compelling narratives.

"I took the most unconventional path to become a CMO," Ashley reflects. "I started as a software engineer, struggled with it, and then found my way into product management and eventually marketing."

This transition from engineering to marketing wasn't just a career shift—it was a personal revelation. Ashley discovered an innate talent for storytelling and positioning, skills that are essential for any successful marketing leader.

At Amazon, her first role after software engineering, she found the perfect environment to cultivate these talents. "At Amazon, I had a program management role that mixed business, development, and product management. That's where I found my love for product," she shares.

It was here that Ashley realized the power of blending analytical skills with creative vision. This unique blend not only made her a stellar product leader but also paved the way for her future in marketing.

The art of balancing product and marketing

Now at GitLab, it’s a similar art and science blend. Ashley’s dual role as Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Strategy Officer offers her a unique vantage point on the collaboration between product development and marketing.

"The best CMOs must know the product and the space. It takes work to understand, but it's crucial," Ashley emphasizes.

Ashley adeptly bridges gaps and fosters collaboration between product and marketing teams with her deep understanding of both fields. Ashley believes the secret to this balance lies in a customer-first approach.

"The best product leaders start with the customer and work backward," she says. This principle guides her strategy, ensuring customer feedback is heard and integral to the process.

"They know how to get feedback and distill it into solutions that achieve goals for many customers," she adds.

By grounding both product and marketing efforts in customer insights, Ashley ensures a cohesive strategy that aligns innovation with market demand. This customer-centric approach guarantees that marketing campaigns are not just compelling stories but true reflections of the product's value, driving both innovation and market success.

And what does it take to break through the norm when your solution is commoditized and everyone is trying to build it and market it the same way?

“The best leaders continue to look ahead. They don’t get complacent that, ‘Great! We’re selling!’” she says. “Always know [that] something is going to happen. Some other solution will come out.” Even if you don’t get every idea right, leaning into why you didn’t get it right will help you break through. And that’s not her only lesson.

Lessons from the field

Ashley’s journey from software engineer to CMO powerfully reminds us that success often comes from embracing diverse experiences and perspectives.

Her ability to bridge the gap between product and marketing has defined her career and driven significant impact at each organization she’s been a part of.

  • Embrace unconventional paths: Ashley’s career took a turn when she realized software engineering wasn’t her passion. “Being a software engineer was hard, and because of that, I didn’t like it,” she recalls. This led her to roles that combined technical expertise with business strategy. At Amazon, she found her groove in a role blending development, product management, and strategy. This experience highlighted the critical intersections between product development and market needs.
  • Value cross-disciplinary skills: At Tableau, Ashley discovered the importance of building great products and effectively communicating their value. This realization was key in her transition to Alteryx, where she took on both product and marketing roles. “I always wanted to lean into the messaging and the positioning and what’s coming next [for the product],” she says. This blend of technical and strategic insight is what she brings to GitLab.
  • Foster strong partnerships: “You win or lose together as a company, as a leadership team, as an entire organization,” Ashley says, emphasizing the relationship between product and marketing. At GitLab, her close collaboration with the product team ensures marketing efforts resonate deeply with their audience. Her success lies in building strong partnerships within the organization, aligning goals, and driving shared success.

Tackling challenges head-on

Navigating the landscape of product and marketing isn't without its challenges. Ashley doesn’t hesitate to discuss the tough times and the moments that tested her resolve. "You need to stay around long enough to get lucky," she says, highlighting the importance of perseverance.

“You need to stay around long enough to get lucky.”

—Ashley Kramer, Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, GitLab

One significant hurdle was the market downturn during the pandemic. "At the beginning, it was scary because we didn't know if companies would keep moving, keep building," Ashley recalls. Instead of retreating, she and her team doubled down, constantly pivoting and refining their strategies to adapt to the new normal.

Internal challenges also tested her resolve. Tight budgets and managing cross-functional teams required focus and resilience. "On my worst days, I remind myself that we’re going to push through this, keep shooting our shot, and something will fall," she shares. This mindset kept her team motivated, even during the toughest times.

Ashley’s ability to turn roadblocks into stepping stones comes from her relentless pursuit of success and her willingness to learn from failure. By constantly adapting and refining their approach, she ensured her team always moved forward, no matter the obstacle.

Tune in to Ashley's story

Listen to our latest Next Gen Builders episode to learn more about Ashley Kramer's journey, her unique approach to product and marketing synergy, and the valuable lessons she's learned along the way.

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About the Author
Brynn Haynam
Brynn Haynam
Sr. Director, Brand Marketing
Brynn Haynam is a brand builder who's always had a passion for the intersection of art and data, and for building world-class creative teams. Before Amplitude, Brynn built and led a brand team at Medallia and helped grow the business from startup to a publicly traded company.

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