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We invited Ron Duque from WeatherBug, he is the Head of Advertising and Ad Tech Operations and has been a part of the adtech industry for around 20 years.
He and Rob Janes from AdButler talked about everything from challenges faced by leadership in adtech to Star Wars to WFH. Here are the broad topics:
Rob: All right! Hey everybody, it's Rob here with AdButler, today. I'm joined by Ron Duque - I got that right this time - head of advertising and adtech operations for WeatherBug. He's an industry veteran with 20 years of experience from AOL to GroundTruth to WeatherBug - and all sorts of things in between. Ron, welcome to the clown show. And maybe you could give yourself a little bit of an intro to everybody who’s watching and listening today.
Ron: Absolutely! I just wanted to thank you and the AdButler team for having me on the show. I think we'll have a really great conversation, so I just wanted to say. Thank you! My name is Ron Duque from WeatherBug, owned by GroundTruth.
Rob: No problem.
Ron: Like you said, I've been in space for quite a long time with WeatherBug since 2013, which is already nine years in one place. I know, in this industry, it's quite a long time. So I started my career on the agency side. Sort of just wanting to be a buyer - get my foot in the door. I saw the ad operations specialist role come up - oh no, it was the coordinator at the time. And I was like, I'm going to get my foot in the door. I don't have any idea what this is. And then I will just go from there, then understand the digital landscape. And then, I moved on to Pictela, a rich media provider and content platform acquired by AOL. And then you hear through your career how the industry - sort of - intertwines within AOL. Like “hey, where you come from”, “What class are you in” and “What part did you come in” - which is very interesting. I love having those conversations with individuals, and it's almost like a family on its own. When you've never met anybody from AOL, and then AOL automatically becomes that link. Then I went to VIBE media, which is a music and culture publication and then came on board to WeatherBug and been here ever since which was later acquired in 2016 by GroundTruth and that's sort of where we are right now.
Rob: Awesome! Awesome! Yeah that's quite the repertoire. Fun fact: I don't really say very often but I did a brief stint at AOL. They had a campus in Moncton, New Brunswick, here in Canada. So I did a brief stint there on the AIM technical support team. So back when AIM was an instant messenger.
Ron: Ah, I still love it. Bring it back. Bring it back.
Rob: AIM and MSN Messenger - like I'm dating myself here but - I missed those, man! I missed those greatly don't get me wrong, I love Facebook or Facebook Messenger and all that stuff now. But I don't know - there was just something exciting.
Ron: Oh yeah. It's not the same.. It's not the same. But. Yeah.
Rob: You know you had MSN and everybody had those little emojis - I don't think we called them emojis back then. Even like before the golden age of the internet right? yeah.
Ron: Oh yeah! The reason why I liked AIM was - just one of the best technologies out there or the ones I miss so much. Maybe not the best technologies out there. I'll just rephrase that why I miss it so much because you just bring it everywhere. Everywhere you go right? And then the advent of you know I messenger sort of became like now you're the green bubble versus the blue bubble or whatever. I know how many times I screwed up all these conversations - like “who is this guy”, “it's Ron.”
Rob: Yeah yep yep oh I'm I'm with you. One hundred and ten percent. Before I go too deep into the ad tech world, for those that are watching today and not listening. You're gonna notice I'm quite the nerd and I am a proud nerd or geek. You know I don't really care what people call me but I have to comment on the amazing stuff you have in the background. Because I am a huge star wars fan. May the fourth fourth be with you - two days ago. You have Star Wars everywhere. What's your favourite piece that you have on your shelf or maybe that maybe not on display all time favourite piece of memorabilia or collect list. For those who are not watching, he's got lego star wars everywhere.
Ron: Oh man, I've got a lot of pieces. You know what? Actually, no one has really asked me that question. But I think my favourite piece is probably that with the Viking helmet on it. Um, and the reason why that’s one of my favourite ones is - When we had our first daughter. So my wife and I have ah 2 daughters - the eldest one is going to be 7 in a couple of weeks and our little one just turned 5 in February. They're both into Star Wars now. But that one specifically was I put that on the baby registry. One of my friends, he was a collector - huge collector of toys and memorabilia and stuff. He was like, “I'm gonna get you this” and so I was super excited when I got it. I was like I don't think anybody's gonna get this for me, but he got out for me. My friend Hector - great person. But I do have a few others that I like. But to put it together, lego and Star Wars together are my favorite things that help me decompress.
Rob: It's funny. You say decompress. That is a great term and you're not the first person I've heard say that in adtech. How do you kind of unwind? I don't know if you work from home - I'm assuming you do? One of the things that I've had a conversation with just recently and mostly with the team here at AdButler. But I've had the conversation with other teams as well that almost everybody has kind of gone remote since Covid happened. From there, it was like ‘okay, well how do you separate and differentiate between work you and home you? It's a little less about the ad tech but more about just that - working from home experience. And for me - I was working from home before Covid happened. So, I kind of got used to it. I kind of got a route. I've built a routine. But it was quite a struggle for a lot of our employees here to start working remotely and especially developers. How did you find that transition? How did you find that transition or what do you kind of teach your team? How do you balance that work and home life? Because it's really hard to separate to say hey I'm done working now.
Ron: WeatherBug has been pretty much remote even prior to Covid. But yeah, it almost feels like you're always working sometimes. Being in the New York area, we do have a central location GroundTruth and WeatherBug; we have an office in the world financial district. So I'd go in every day and I would have a lot of flexibility. If you need to go home and do things, you could do that. But when you start to cut that off. The way I was able to decompress was being on the train and just zone out. Not a lot of people have that luxury - being in New York and the surrounding areas in the burros - people don't have like their own one family house right. I can carve out a part of the basement which is like my dungeon. I made it a point to have a separate workspace so I can cut it.
Very early on I was telling the kids “you can't come down here. I'm working. Daddy's working.” But it wasn't fair to them. This is their space. if you saw what this basement looked like - it's bad with toys everywhere. Not just my toys. The kids' toys, laundry baskets and stuff like that. But you know and then I realized like hey so I need to be able to have let them come down here and enjoy their space. Then introducing my family into the Zoom environment I just didn't care anymore. I wasn't no longer apologizing like “sorry for my kids.”
All they wanted to do is say hi. They wanted to see other people too. Not just me or my wife. They wanted to participate just like saying a quick hello and that'd be okay for them too. So I was unapologetic, very early on to be able to do that and I think that was very very important. Then as restrictions loosened up I started to help with my daughter's soccer teams and coach them. Then there are times when I make a point to cut off - like on the phone to not allow any more notification after a certain time. So I make sure that I turn off the light and I shut down my computer every night. I'm like here's separation because I know if I could do something very quickly I'll just stay.
Rob: Yeah, it's only gonna be a couple of minutes, why not, right? Yeah and then suddenly there are a bunch of little tests that turn into one long session. It's really cool that you mentioned the idea of kind of getting your family involved.
They just want to say hi or something. There was a kind of meme that was popular a year or two ago with the person doing the interview on one of the broadcasts and the kid coming through the door and the nanny pulling the kid back.
Now that's just commonplace right. I have a kid and he runs in here all the time and I just stopped apologizing. It's like - you know what we work from home, almost everybody works from home now - I don't know what you expect right?
Culture changed so quickly and I think it was a very good thing. Everybody's in that same boat and it made the world almost feel a little bit more relaxed which is great. Yeah, it was definitely a strange working environment for a while with Covid.
Ron: Absolutely and we have a lot of parents in our workspace too. Sometimes when I see them apologizing, “Oh I'm sorry for my kid”. I say, “don't apologize, I don't worry about it.” If you have to leave your camera on if you don't want to keep your camera on, that's fine. Let's just have this conversation. I understand you’re stressed.eatherBug has been pretty much remote even prior to Covid. But yeah, it almost feels like you're always working sometimes. Being in the New York area, we do have a central location GroundTruth and WeatherBug; we have an office in the world financial district. So I'd go in every day and I would have a lot of flexibility. If you need to go home and do things, you could do that. But when you start to cut that off. The way I was able to decompress was being on the train and just zone out. Not a lot of people have that luxury - being in New York and the surrounding areas in the burros - people don't have like their own one family house right. I can carve out a part of the basement which is like my dungeon. I made it a point to have a separate workspace so I can cut it.
Rob: Yeah, I found allowing that level of openness with the teams makes it feel less stressful. Quote Unquote professional workspace has made a big difference. We actually looked at a few different solutions out there. So we were recently looking at some things to increase like not not necessarily productivity but inclusivity with the team and kind of make them feel more connected so you know right now we're kind of using Discord. So Discord is used by a lot of gamers but we have a work discord where people can just drop in and drop out of live chat whenever they want - kind of like slack. It has something very similar like huddles where you could go in. You could start a huddle. Whereas Discord you could just drop in to talk to somebody drop out. You just make a presence there and you can have a music bot and listen to music together and we've done that was really good. There's been a bunch of new kinds of apps being built around this like there's one called Gather. There's another one called So Work. It's almost like a video game work environment where you have an avatar sitting at a desk and you can see somebody that comes over and walks next to you and when they do this video pops up and you can hear them and stuff and it's really cool. How do you guys approach that now? So if you have people in different time zones. What sort of team building exercises do you do? How do you foster that closeness and in the community?
Ron: Yeah I think um, it really is difficult. Early on, we would do the Zoom stuff or like let's have happy hour. In the morning, maybe once to twice a week, we'd have a morning coffee talk. It would just let's get in like the first fifteen-thirty minutes of the day or during the week people would come in and just just talk. That worked out really well and then after a while no one was joining anymore. I think you just need to evolve each time. So I wouldn't say that there is one thing that works for me. Just find one thing that works for you with the first 2-3 people (you have a very common thing with) and then get other individuals involved. Then start pulling people.
At one point, we were doing a peloton workout with GroundTruth and WeatherBug teams. Like on Fridays live, a 20 minute ride and that worked out for us a little bit. Some people were just able to do it..
Rob: That's awesome. That's a cool idea. I actually might steal that idea. I'm gonna shift gears kind of back to the adtech side of things. It's super super cool to hear about and I just went on a bunny trail just because it's always great to talk to other people that work remotely.
Still less on the tech side more on the operations side - I recently got back from the AdMonsters pubforum in St Petersburg just a few weeks ago.
One of the common things that I've heard from a lot of people whether it's on the tech provider side or the publisher side themselves right now is that a lot of people have just almost started to go offshore to look for people with ad tech experience or ad ops experience. But there's so much happening in the advertising space. Our CEO, Rajiv, he always says that ‘advertising is now the digital currency of the internet’ and it really is.
It's becoming so big and so popular you almost totally forget that you're even looking at an ad most times nowadays. zall of these companies are now trying to find people like they're doing new ways of monetizing. They're doing new and innovative things. And they're looking for people to fit these roles. And everybody is struggling to find people with ad experience whether it's ad ops or or ad tech. They get fresh students out of college with marketing courses and so forth. That's funny because I think you actually have a marketing degree.
Ron: I do, very rare in our space. Yeah.
Rob: Right! Most people I talk to - they come from a different vertical or a different background. I'm a trained paramedic and fire veteran. It's what I did for a long time before I got into this. I was an IT professional before that. So. That's how I transitioned. But I had that same feeling when I went to AdMonsters. Everybody I talked to they were like “oh yeah, I didn't start in advertising I was I was doing something else completely” And then everybody was like quick learner a quick study so they quickly you know got involved in ad tech and ad ops and fell into it but not a lot of people actually had marketing degrees so you know.
Of the unicorns out there that exist with ad tech experience and ad-ops experience, you're even more rare. But that's been a struggle for some publishers across the board right now. “Hey, we need people ideally with experience and things like that.” Have you noticed the same thing? And if so what has been your resolution to it like what are you guys doing to kind of find the right people?
Ron: Yeah, I think we're looking for individuals who are able to think freely, right? I think in the ad operations world itself, we just want individuals to know what is that problem, how do I fix it - just problem solvers.
Let's take the Lego pieces into ad tech right. So you're looking at sometimes you can freely build something on your own and make it sort of like what it looks like almost to the speck of you want you. You built the foundation of a Lego piece like let's look at an X wing. My godson can build an X wing from a scratch on Lego pieces. On his own he can make his amazing modifications to it or he'll buy the prepaid pre use ones where you follow the instructions a lot of us will do right. Now you're translating that into the reddits and to documentation and figuring this out. And then I'm building this X wing and what he'll probably do. He could probably take some pieces and add to it or remove it to make my X wing look way better than it really is so those are the individuals. How we start to think about and maybe that's sort of like the tests we give, like almost a product test and like you know, build something for me out of Lego.
We are looking for someone who is inherently a problem solver and pretty good at it. Of course you need to have those individuals who understand the space. But how do we get more engineers who can solve the issues or help to build the tools that we need to help solve for the things that are in ad tech and in our space.
How do we convert some really good account managers - who are able to speak to our clients. Our account managers are great communicators and help to build those gaps in those bridges between the teams. I think the history of ad operations is a vocational trade.
Rob: Yeah, I am 110% agreed. And having gone to AdMonsters and I'm sure you've gone through them in the past. If I say the name Rob Beeler - you probably know exactly who I'm talking about. He recently started doing a base camp.
Ron: I was there. I was there at the Base Camp.
Rob: Oh man I didn't, how was it?eah, I am 110% agreed. And having gone to AdMonsters and I'm sure you've gone through them in the past. If I say the name Rob Beeler - you probably know exactly who I'm talking about. He recently started doing a base camp.
Ron: It was an amazing experience. As you said, Rob Beeler. Rob, if you're listening to this you know, we love you. He is a great connector in this space right? If you speak to him for like 15 minutes he will almost crowdsource for you. Like this person knows this, this person knows that - let me get these 3 together to have a conversation and whether that conversation just goes anywhere.
It may not help any, but at least you're sort of like helping your network and extension. Being at Base Camp was great because we had, you know, very high level individuals. Um, who really wants to make sure that our environment remains clean. People who are thinking about the users and the people who are customers that use our products. How do we make that easier? How do we automate processes across the entire industry? The people, the intelligence, collective brain power. How can we collectively solve these problems without having to like to sit there and dedicate 15 hours to billing a reconciliation.
Get your teams out of there and to automate that process even though you still need individuals to do that like think about the things in those tools. Um at a higher level so that we can really concentrate on things that we can help solve and push our industry forward.
Rob: I love it! I love it! I hope he continues to do more of those. That whole idea of cumulative brain power that we have and how we are there is really cool. Advertising challenges in the world that we can really solve with technology right? So that's super awesome. I love it. Love it. Yeah, shout out to Rob Beeler, by the way. Hopefully he listens at some point. We love Rob here as well.
A lot of the conversation that we're having today. I kind of had a similar talk with him at AdMonsters. It was like he and you share kind of the same ideas. It’s almost like “hey you need almost like a vocational sort of training for this” - you almost said word for word. You know guys like yourself and Mr. Beeler, who are basically industry veterans and industry gurus. And you guys have the same sentiment so that's really really good to hear. You know hopefully somebody kind of takes that bull by the horns and runs with it.
Ron: Yeah, hey it's not just him, there is a whole band - yourself included - like there. There's a whole group of individuals who think the same. How do we start to do this right? and like to bring more mind power into our industry. It's just to make sure that we get ourselves organized. And start you know do we want to be the ones that put that together. Do we set that off to like somebody like an organization to start off like that vocational piece as well.
You know they're gonna be a lot of people. You know who is gonna come in and you know say I have a great program for you I think you're in the mind right? College may not be right for you or you know taking higher education past college is not gonna be right for you. But you took a different path than somebody else. You have what it takes - I believe for you to be successful in this industry. And you'll have industry veterans - powerful women and individuals who are good, who are willing to build you up and make sure you are successful.
And I think that's what our community does is make sure that - yeah at 1 piece where our companies are fighting for those ad dollars and those users to be part of that - but internally off the side we're pulling for one another.
Rob: Oh man, Yeah, dude, that's exactly it. So a few years ago, you know, I went to another AdMonsters event. We are AdButler, an ad server, right. So obviously we compete with Google and we compete with Smart and things like that as a company. Yeah, we're competitors. But when we got to the event, we all sat down. We're like hey you know what we're all like you know ad tech experts.
At this point we all went out. We sat down. We were like what are you guys seeing in the industry like how. How are you solving for this like it is no longer. We kind of as individuals broke down those competitive walls and it was way less about being competitive as an industry or as a business rather it was more about hey as an industry as an advertising you know.
Veteran or whatever you want to call it right? It was like hey guys. How do we empower each other? How do we get better? How do we increase our skill sets so that we kind of elevate the whole advertising stack as it were right as opposed to just.
Being competitors it's like hey I'm going to steal business from you. It was more along the lines of hey what works for you? What doesn't work for you. What do you see - which is super cool. You know IAB, they try to come up with these tech councils and so forth. But it's really cool to see you know things like you know Beeler tech and stuff where get all these people from different companies that might be competitors. They might work together and so forth, but it's no longer about the company. It's more about the industry and that's more about the individuals and that's ah yeah, it's funny. You don't, at least in my experience, haven't really found that with any other kind of industry.
Ron: No, not at all. Especially when you're in thick. A lot of my friends and my family have no idea what I do. To be fair, I don't know what they do.
When they hear, they can’t wrap their head around like “wait you work for this type of industry where everybody knows everybody, you go out and have a great time and then also you want to be there to talk shop collectively together”
We have - What are we doing wrong? What am I doing wrong? I can add that to my peers like here's my situation. This is what I'm looking at. What am I not thinking about? This didn't work for exactly what you said.
But then you are like I use parts of these 3 suggestions. To make it my own and stitch those things together to make it like to behave something, be a little bit more successful and then continue. And then you know you tell that story to the rest of maybe somebody who's asking the question down the line like then now you're that fourth like I took the flavour of these 3.
Rob: And I think you're right, right? It starts with people. It all starts with the people. So I am glad the way this went because. Anybody that's listening I think they're gonna have the same feelings. The sentiment is shared kind of across the board with anybody in industry so we will definitely have a part 2 and get you back for part 2 Maybe even a part three. We'll see how it goes but this was absolutely fantastic. I appreciate it so much before we sign off.
Like to give you a couple of minutes to let our guest roll out the red carpet to you? What's new with yourself or with WeatherBug either or you know what's coming down the pipe. What are you guys working on and what are you excited about?
Ron: Yeah, on the Weatherbug side, trust is key for us so we work towards trust. We want to make sure that we are looking through the lens of the individual users that come to us. And whether it's on the advertiser side or the consumer side, we want to make sure that everyone who works in our space trusts us. We want to push the industry forward making sure that our technology wins.
We are already AdExchanger best in class header bidding award. So we will continue to push that and push help to push the industry in that way. We know that you know the privacy sandbox is pretty much rolled out already. How do we connect that ecosystem together I think where we're internally on the GroundTruth and WeatherBug side. We're actively thinking about that and ideating.
Rob: That sounds absolutely amazing. Thank you so much again for your time. We're gonna end the podcast here but we'll definitely have you back for part 2. And we'll start touching on more of the ins and outs of the actual ad tech itself. Thanks!
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