I currently work on integrated marketing, reporting to the Performance Marketing team, and am a part of the Growth and Marketing, Content, Comms organization. The work I do changes depending on the company’s needs. I wrote this piece to reflect my journey so far.
I want to start from my university days because it was the first time I remember making an important decision.
What we were told growing up was to go to good schools, get good grades, get a degree, and work in a reputable company.
My decisions were equally predictable. In Singapore where I spent most of my school years, I chose science stream instead of arts stream, took triple science and double math, took up more subjects than the average, and took on leadership positions throughout my school years (staff sergeant, drum major, exec team in student council, etc.). I even added a “third language” German to the mix because that’s what a good student does.
When it was time to go to the university, for some reason, I wanted to study what I felt like exploring. So, while most of my friends went to engineering or business schools, I joined the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences - majoring in Economics at first and then switching to Psychology.
While I pivoted into Psychology (and Economics), I didn’t have a long-term plan. I loved Psychology, but to do it professionally, I had to further my studies. Some of my fellow course-mates went to work in prison wards or mental hospitals. I had some working experience in organizing events, as a research assistant and in private wealth management in the insurance industry, but wasn’t particularly thrilled in any.
So, I set a goal: find a job in a month. Since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I gave myself permission to explore as many options as possible. I was free to do whatever I wanted to help me figure out who I am and what I like doing. Setting a deadline gave me peace of mind to explore at my own pace. Otherwise, I might have woken up and went to bed in anxiety.
The easiest way to get out of my academic bubble and explore the world on a tight budget was via the internet. I watched numerous documentaries on athletes and artists - people who flourish through consistent hard work and discipline. I loved the idea that there’s no shortcut to success.
I watched many TED Talks too, and this caught my attention. In this talk, Rory Sutherland shares how advertising adds value to a product by changing our perception rather than the product itself. He argues that perceived value is as good as the “real” value.
I’ve always been obsessed with efficiency - in the sense of minimizing wastage. And here, Sutherland talk about “creating” resources that don’t exist! (Sutherland calls it “Alchemy” in his 2019 book.)
Ogilvy on Advertising
Rory Sutherland was the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy UK. I immediately borrowed three books from Ogilvy from the library and devoured them (Ogilvy on Advertising, Confessions of an Advertising Man, An Autobiography)). I researched, reached out to hiring managers on LinkedIn, scored an interview even though there wasn’t a publicly available position, passed the interview and got an offer.
Only to turn it down.
Unfortunately, the pay was too low to justify the opportunity. I was willing to put in the work for the experience, but the salary wasn’t enough to cover my basic living expenses.
I felt like I was back to square one. Looking back, it was more like square one point five because my exploration earlier gave me insights into what interested me. I wanted to apply psychology in the real world with real impact.
Mobile App Marketing
Around this time, a friend from the startup community introduced me to a mobile marketing startup. It was the early 2010s when app marketing was still nascent.
I was obsessed with the App Store, downloading and trying every app as they were launched. I could look at the UI and identify what iOS it was written in. I wrote app reviews for fun, sometimes exchanging a review for a free code for paid apps.
The app marketing industry was just emerging and I sensed that it was only going to grow. This was a better opportunity for me - on top of advertising, it promised the scrappy startup culture, new technology, and a greater growth opportunity. And the pay was twice the amount offered by Ogilvy.
Sometimes, what seems like bad news actually turns out for the better.
Mobile Marketing Agency: Fiksu
Back in 2012, Fiksu was the place to be for mobile marketing. It was founded by Micah Adler, who had first hand experience trying to scale his own app, Fluent News.
When everyone was still trying to maximize installs at low Cost per Install (CPI), Fiksu focused on real business value. It was one of the first companies to combine different app marketing campaigns into a single dashboard so the marketer can see the full picture. Fiksu SDK enabled a clean attribution and tracking custom post-install events. Optimizing for post-install events or value is now common, but back then it was new.
I joined Fiksu’s APAC office as the first non-management hire. At first, it was just a two-person team in Singapore. We scaled to multiple offices in the region in Korea and Tokyo. I got to work with top game and app publisher in the region.
As an Account Executive, my days revolved around qualifying and reaching out to prospective clients, representing the firm in conferences, and holding events. Sales is a lot like matchmaking. You need to have a clear understanding of the product you sell, listen attentively to the client’s needs, and match the relevant product benefits to the client’s pain points.
I learned a lot from this role. The sales funnel (numbers game), active listening, identifying key decision-makers, getting everyone on the same page, and how the management updates the incentive structure to encourage specific behaviors, among many things. I also made a lot of friends along the way.
But something was missing. The nature of the role was that the relationship with the client ended with the closing of the sale. But I wanted to follow through to see if we met the clients' goals. I wanted to be accountable for the sales pitch I gave.
In addition, I wanted a role that was closer to the core value of the company.
Account Management + Performance Marketing
Fiksu’s engine was optimizing mobile advertising campaigns. I wanted to be a part of that, so I worked my way in. In the second year, I transitioned into account management with a performance marketing partner, and in the following year, I started working on performance campaigns myself.
My time at Fiksu gave me the foundation of the mobile ecosystem, from what happens when an ad is clicked to attribution, the attribution waterfall, different types of and their revenue models, and managing campaigns across channels effectively. Working with clients from various industries gave me a good overview of business metrics.
And then Machine Zone reached out.
Performance Marketing at Machine Zone
If Fiksu gave me an overview of the mobile ecosystem and the business strategies, Machine Zone offered me depth.
Back in 2016, it was the time when mobile marketing was at its peak. With not much regulation on privacy and data collection, many companies gathered data for very targeted campaigns.
I might be biased, but Machine Zone was hands down the best in performance marketing. Marketing was all about how to buy media more efficiently at scale - which boiled down to data. It was a performance marketer’s heaven. Given the large marketing team, each marketer had the luxury to go deep and analyze the performance. We dug into publisher-level optimization, going through click logs, detecting fraud, analyzing the performance at a microscopic level. I became proficient in handling data - not only in SQL, but also in understanding the nuances in the data.
After a while, I wanted to explore more. So I volunteered to lead side projects like building pre-registration websites with attribution pipelines and websites for influencer campaigns. It was gratifying to own a product from start to finish. I wrote product requirements, designed the user flow and the data flow, worked with cross-functional teams to launch a working product. But something felt missing so I kept exploring. Along the way, I picked up python to automate the boring stuff, took a full stack web development course, finished a book on data structures and algorithms, just for fun.
Then, I started wondering how I’d form my marketing team from scratch. When I asked myself this question I realized how much I don’t know. I knew the ins and outs of digital marketing, the technical and execution, have managed most of the channels - but how do I lead a larger team across all aspects of marketing? There was more to marketing: the overall strategy, product positioning, communication with the audience - owning the entire marketing funnel from discovery to conversion to retention.
And a fintech startup reached out.
Marketing at a fintech startup
I joined Robinhood in mid-2018. I was drawn to the company’s mission and by the small team. When I joined, it was just one other performance marketer (who has since left the company) and me.
The company and the user base have grown significantly since then. My role has changed over time based on the company’s needs. First, I worked closely with the data engineers on the marketing data pipeline to ensure we have the right data surfaced for the marketers. Then, I scaled up media buying for app install campaigns on major channels. Now I’m focusing on audience-based integrated campaigns.
I’m still working at the same company so it’s too early to summarize my experience, but here are some key learnings so far:
- Coming from a company with a huge marketing team and being used to doing very detailed campaign optimization, I had to unlearn my ways. Prioritizing my time and effort on tasks that would yield the most returns was more important than a perfectly optimized campaign.
- There’s a limit to how much you can do as a person. You need to build up your team, whether internal or external, to increase your output.
- There’s no one-size-fits-all marketing. The marketing needs differ by the industry, and changes as the company grows. It’s important to learn to adapt quickly.
Marketing is changing rapidly. With the increasing focus on privacy, tracking at the install level will become more challenging. The amount of content available is exploding as people become more comfortable creating content, thanks to apps like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram. At the same time, the endless stream of content is overloading and shortening people’s attention span.
What’s next is what I’d call brand marketing 2.0. Companies will need to acutely understand their brand persona, humanize it, and engage with the audience in a way that feels personal across multiple channels. I say 2.0 because the brand marketing will no longer be only about huge campaigns. Instead, we need to bring the brand to every digital alley where the audience hang out and engage them in an authentic way.
My career journey is still in progress. While I didn’t start my career journey with a long-term map, I spent time to explore who I am and what I like, and I continuously review and make deliberate adjustments along the way. In short, I:
- Spend some time to explore who I am and what I like.
- Decided to join an advertising industry.
- Chose mobile marketing as it checked multiple boxes (startup, advertising, tech).
- Optimized for learning and experience, moving from sales, to account management, to performance marketing.
- Joined mobile gaming company, best in class for performance marketing.
- Thought about what I would do if I were to start my own marketing team. Discovered gaps in my knowledge and wanted to fill them better.
- Switched to fintech industry for multiple reasons: the mission, size of the team, the opportunity to make an impact.
- Adapted my role based on the stage of the company.
- Most recently switched to integrated marketing.
- Ongoing exploration and learning.
Image credit @heidifin.