Alum feature: Meet Mike Caplan

Program: The Portland MBA

Graduation Year: 2008

Program Schedule: Part Time

Please briefly describe your career path and what led you to choose The School of Business at Portland State.

I started my career working at ad agencies large and small on the account management side. After three to four years of working mostly B2C accounts (The Chicago Bulls, Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants and White Hen Pantry to name just a few), our agency won its first tech client — a company that offered connectivity solutions to Fortune 5000 enterprises. Before the cloud, companies had to set-up their own on-premise networks and tech ecosystems. Unfortunately, most of the hardware and software in these ecosystems didn’t natively talk to each other, creating a big need for connectivity solutions. Our client was the category leader at the time.

I jumped at the chance to work on the account because it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I became an expert on our client’s first-of-its-kind offerings, the gaps in the marketplace that made them so valuable and the buyer’s ongoing needs. I also carved out a valuable role in our agency and ultimately led our new Tech Division.

About 18 months later, the biggest tech-focused, B2B shop in San Jose, CA recruited me, and I moved to Silicon Valley in the summer of 2000.

And then 9/11 hit the U.S. and the employment market around the country and the world grew quite bleak. Advertising and marketing jobs were hard to find, and any opening typically drew the attention of hundreds if not thousands of qualified (and in many cases, over-qualified) candidates. I quickly became aware of what I knew — and more importantly, what I did not know — and how those knowledge and experience gaps limited viable job opportunities. It took me almost four months to get my next agency job in Portland, OR.

After living in Portland for about 18 months knowing this was where I wanted to lay down my roots, I applied and was accepted to The Portland MBA. I chose PSU’s MBA program because of the courses, the professors, the flexibility to continue working full-time and because of the PSU alumni network that I hoped would prove beneficial over time as my career grew and evolved.

What skills gained at PSU and early in your career have you found most valuable in the long run?

The most significant benefit I got from going through The Portland MBA was expanding my knowledge of business outside of my areas of expertise: marketing and advertising. Having attended a liberal arts college, I had never been exposed to accounting, pricing strategies, setting/maintaining a supply chain, etc.

Filling those knowledge and experience gaps while at PSU was incredibly valuable. This new-found knowledge enabled me to add more value to my clients and the agency that employed me instantly. Most importantly, it gave me the confidence I needed to start my own marketing agency — which I did four years after graduating.

What inspires you personally and professionally?

I want to be the best at what I do, and I want to work with people who I respect and learn from every day.

It’s why I started The Fiction Tribe with my business partner almost nine years ago. Our shared passion for technology and B2B marketing, our goal to be the best Tech B2B Agency on the West Coast, and our mission to work with clients and employees who share our passion and push us — that is my inspiration.

What advice do you have for current or prospective graduate business students who are interested in your field?

  1. If you’re not learning, leave your job: It’s easy to get fat and happy in your current job. If you’re not learning — and if your employer is not motivated to help you learn and grow — start looking for a new gig. Think of yourself as a great white shark: If they stop swimming, they die. The same is true for you in the professional world. When you stop learning and growing, your career stagnates, and over time you will be replaceable and unmarketable.
  2. Be proactive and make yourself uncomfortable: Talk to your employer about where you want to go in your career. Tell them where you’d like to gain experience and where your true areas of interest lie. Any employer worth their salt will welcome this approach and will give of their time in ways you may find surprising. And for those employers that rebuke your request? See #1.
  3. Own your mistakes and never repeat them: Everyone makes mistakes. And I mean everyone. Do not be that person that deflects blame, makes excuses or passes the buck. Own it. Be forthright and honest. That’s what leaders do, and that’s how you will gain or maintain the respect and trust of your co-workers, clients and customers. And then don’t ever make that same mistake again.

What does “redefining business” mean to you?

Redefining business means never being satisfied with any aspect of your business, always looking for new competitive edges anywhere you can find them, and identifying gaps in the marketplace and offering unique solutions that fill them. 

What are the most pressing challenges or opportunities for your businesses in 2020?

The most pressing challenges for The Fiction Tribe in 2020:

  1. Creating new offerings to help clients accelerate their pivot to the new post-COVID digital world and remote workforce.
  2. Maintaining premium pricing as buyers view last year’s innovation as this year’s commodity.
  3. Building upon strong employee and client/customer relationships in the “new normal” of COVID-19.

The most pressing opportunities for The Fiction Tribe in 2020:

  1. Taking advantage of competitor weaknesses to grow our footprint in large client brands.
  2. Speeding our client’s shift to digital given the “new normal” of COVID-19.        
  3. Rethinking our offerings to the market to add more value at higher price points.

With the rise of racial justice and calls for equity amid the coronavirus pandemic, cause marketing and authentic storytelling are in high demand. What lessons do you want to share with marketers and communications professionals who are coming up at this time?

Always strive to be your best self. Focus on strengthening your emotional intelligence so you can better appreciate and understand those around you. Be there for colleagues in need with your actions, not just your words. Care for people who you see are hurting or feeling left out. Learn to recognize/read your colleagues so you know when they need support.

Comments are closed.

Blog at

Up ↑