By Emily Stimmel

During the past 20 years, Adam Gross weathered the dot-com crash, founded two companies, worked in marketing, held leadership roles in product management and invested in startups. Every step of the way the Carnegie Mellon University alumnus learned valuable lessons, which he shared with budding entrepreneurs at his alma mater.

His talk, “After CMU: Building a Career in Technology,” was part of the Dietrich College Entrepreneurs Speaker Series sponsored by the college and CMU’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship.

To prepare for his talk, Gross thought of the advice that would have been most helpful to him as a college senior planning a career in the software industry.

“It’s better to be pretty good at two things than great at one.”
Adam Gross

The advice he passed along to his audience at the Nov. 1 lecture was to focus on companies that reflect one’s values — rather than zeroing in on a specific title or status — and to seek opportunities at the intersections of seemingly dissimilar fields.

“Opportunity and the trajectory of a company are what counts,” said Gross, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1994 from CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Pointing to Steve Jobs as an example of someone who successfully blended liberal arts and technology, Gross noted that the Dietrich College sets students up for success across disciplines. In part that’s why he self-designed his major in new media systems and policy through the college’s Student-Defined Major Program.

“It’s better to be pretty good at two things than great at one,” he said.

He described his core skills as creativity in executing ideas, empathy for customers and curiosity.

Since 2013, he has been the CEO of Heroku, a leading platform-as-service (PaaS) provider and part of the App Cloud platform that enables companies to build and scale apps. Before joining Heroku, he founded two companies — Personify and CloudConnect — and worked in marketing and product management leadership roles at Salesforce, GrandCentral and Dropbox. He is an active angel investor within the industry supporting, among others, Docker, Streak and MileIQ.

Randy Weinberg, faculty director for CMU’s information systems undergraduate program,was impressed by the way Gross used his skills to navigate the twists and turns of his career.

“It’s always great to see distinguished and successful alumni return to campus to share their personal journeys,” said Weinberg, who is a teaching professor. “His advice on keeping an open mind to new possibilities, remaining curious and being persistent in one’s endeavors is completely on target. I also appreciated Adam’s honest discussion of the ups and downs of his career and his resilience.”

Mark Vella, a senior information systems major, appreciated the lecture’s focus on learning from every experience — good and bad.

“It was freeing to hear [Gross] talk about how everything matters, but at the same time, nothing does. It’s not about grades, or success or failure — it’s about what you learn,” Vella said.