Marketer or Engineer?

Turning a fear of numbers into a passion for numbers to succeed in growth marketing.

I sat on the sofa to the right, in case you were wondering. 

I sat on the sofa to the right, in case you were wondering. 

This is part of my Valley interview series, featuring a diverse range of marketers. For some context, read this post to learn why I went to the Valley and then this post to see what I learned. 

If he rattled off his skills, you wouldn’t guess that Axel Amar was a growth marketer. With a commanding knowledge of statistics, experience working with SQL and Python, and the ability to write code, he might sound more like an engineer than someone that went to business school. But for Axel, those are just some of the necessities of the role. 

An Odd Start

Axel started at Turo, a P2P car rental service, in early 2014 as a growth intern. For many business students in France, San Francisco might not seem like a popular destination, but Axel was not new to travel. He had already completed a data internship in Malaysia and was looking for a new challenge. Growth marketing may seem like an odd jump for most, however many skills were transferable. 

For startups like Turo, everything you do needs to be backed by data. Whether it’s an ad campaign, an incentive program, or even a small tweak to the signup process, it needed to be quantifiable. Being comfortable with numbers, Axel had little trouble building a case for his work.

Turo has since grown to more than 150 employees with $80m+ in funding

Turo has since grown to more than 150 employees with $80m+ in funding

From Intern to Manager 

After completing his final year of school, Axel returned to Turo full-time in July 2015. Despite having lots of good ideas, the team didn’t have the resources to implement them. Developing marketing campaigns and analysis are not always the top priority for engineers and data scientists. So Axel did what any marketer would do; he learned how to do both.

Having a solid base in statistics meant picking up SQL and bits of Python for practical use wasn’t that challenging, and an existing background in programming allowed him to champion the project himself. Just a year later, Axel was promoted to Growth Manager and a lot more responsibility. 

Not an Anomaly 

While Axel’s story does sound extraordinary, he assures me it isn’t the case. 

Being able to understand and present basics statistics is key to be a successful marketer. Some business degrees have a lot of mathematics and statistics classes, especially in Europe. On our Growth team, David studied both business and engineering and this versatility helps him a lot in his day-to-day work

Even with a well-rounded background, Axel is still trying to learn more. He mentioned that being able to present well and visualize data is a key skill in growth marketing. 

Makes sense? Let’s give it a shot. 

Say we wanted to test an idea on the Turo web page below. We’ll break down the process and list the data we need to back it.

turo website.png

Hypothesis: By changing the copy from “Rent a car Anywhere” to “Make Your Own Schedule” and the button from “Find a car now” to “Explore the City”, conversion to renting a car will increase. 

Reasoning: People use Turo because public transportation is hard to plan, and they want to see the city on their own schedule. 

Data Needed: Percentage of people that use Turo (1) outside their home city (2) for more than one day (assume vacation), top frequented cities for Turo, walkability of city, reliability of public transportation in city 

Data to Track: Frequency of multi-day rentals in target cities, drop-off rate on web page compared to old page

This is a simplified example, but the case is clearly outlined and is a lot easier to pitch if backed by data. Even if the campaign fails, it was not a ‘random test’ but rather a calculated attempt at increasing conversions. 

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Silicon Valley 101

My biggest take-aways and realizations from my trip to the Bay Area. 

Building a $19B company was a lot easier than I imagined. 

Building a $19B company was a lot easier than I imagined. 

It was 5am on the Wednesday of reading break, and my blaring alarm seemed further than ever. I looked over at my roommate (which wasn’t hard given the tiny bed we were sharing) and we were both thinking the same thing. While our friends were boozing in Mexico, we had the bright idea of ‘discovering the Valley’. There had to be a reason.

In my last post, I mentioned I wanted to go to San Francisco to better understand the work/life culture there and what it took to break into product marketing. Throughout the week, I absorbed countless pieces of advice, insights, and general observations about life in the Valley. Taken with a grain of salt, here are the main things I learned.

1. It's not the company, it's what you do

Walking down Market Street, I saw the offices of Uber, Square, Twitter, and countless other dynamic tech companies. I imagined how incredible it would be to work for any of these companies, regardless of the position. 45 minutes later, after my meeting in that same building, I realized I was a little naive.

Not pictured: the security guard wondering if he should ask me for ID. 

Not pictured: the security guard wondering if he should ask me for ID. 

Airbnb received over 50,000 applications for just 300 jobs in 2015. It’s no question that Airbnb is a competitive place to work, but once you get there, it’s a different story. What you accomplish is far more important than role description. Marketing means nothing if there aren’t any conversions, as does sales if you aren’t hitting quota.

Engineers breed products, marketers breeds leads, and sales reps breeds deals (revenue). I found there is an emphasis of cohesiveness in the Valley; failing to know how you contribute to the bigger picture makes your job obsolete. 

Takeaway: I learned that I need to start focusing more on what the results of the campaigns I run were, instead of what I did to create them. “Increased email conversions by 79%” is a lot more impactful than “Created email campaigns”. 

2. There is no 'right' way to build your career 

I came into my trip expecting to find the perfect path to breaking into product marketing. After a week, my ‘perfect path’ included ad agency work, group sales for an NHL team, and management consulting. It also included having technical skills in statistics and data science, an education from a top tier school, and a plethora of soft skills that a seasoned CEO wouldn’t have, let alone a new graduate.

Takeaway: I learned there is NOT one right way to build your career. People gravitate to different jobs based on interest and personal fit, and the best thing I could do is optimize for learning. I needed to constantly challenge myself with the roles I took on, and always look where to improve.

Two liberal arts majors, but only one runs a billion dollar company. 

Two liberal arts majors, but only one runs a billion dollar company. 

3. You need to be the best  

I’ve been in group projects where one person isn’t pulling their weight, but the team always manages to make up for it. Engineers in the Valley make upwards of $130,000 USD, which means for tech companies, they literally can’t afford to hire and retain people that don’t perform. Initially this was intimidating, but it also yielded a new realization.

Being in the Valley means you are surrounded by high caliber people. Colleagues that willingly work from 9am to 9pm, and manage their side hustles on the weekend. Old mantras like “leave after your boss does” are replaced by a sense of drive and purpose that your entire environment emanates. If you can keep up.

Takeaway: I learned that there isn’t room for mediocrity in the Valley. I found an area that interested me, now I needed to start honing the skills I had and start developing the skills I didn’t.

Tracking results is a lot easier when you have the right tools at your disposal, and know how to use them. I’ll be sending out an exclusive overview of the exact tools you need to track and improve your marketing game. 

Subscribe below to discover the essential tools for product marketers :) 

Canucks in the Bay

Deciphering the hype and finding out what makes the Valley tick. 

Sunny California was not all that it seemed (literally). 

Sunny California was not all that it seemed (literally). 

For anyone interested in getting into the tech scene, joining high-growth companies that are changing the way we live on a day-to-day basis, the Bay area is the gold standard. Having experienced the pinnacle of Canadian tech and looking to take my skills to the next level, I decided to commit my reading break to understanding the Valley. 

I’ve spent the last 6 months honing my skills in product marketing, getting hands-on experience creating the email nurture campaigns, lead scoring, and site funnel layouts for some cutting-edge startups. At first glance, it might seem like I’m ahead of the curve.

But to be honest, I’m a little confused. 

Product marketing is a mystical beast. It encompasses so many diverse areas of a business that being an expert on any one takes years of industry experience. While I want to break directly into product marketing, my lack of knowledge and experience is discouraging. Being a sophomore with a bit of runway before I jump into the real world, I thought I would try to figure out WHAT IT TAKES to be a premier product marketing manager and what elite tech companies are looking for in non-tech roles. 


So I did what any other stereotypical business student would do, and I maxed out my commercial search limit on LinkedIn within a day… But seriously, I reached out to people in my network that work/had worked in the Bay area, and cold emailed a ton of people doing business roles there. Most didn’t respond, some were a little nasty, but a good number of them were eager to help. 

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be posting excerpts from the chats I have and the main takeaways I learned from them. Some of them include Square, Twitter, and Airbnb. I’ll also be sharing some great resources and articles for students looking to jump directly into the tech world, but aren’t quite sure where to start. 

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