I sat down with Alex Diaz, UW alumni and Uber Product Marketing Manager in the skyscraper building in downtown gloomy Seattle. From mistakes to his time at UW, Diaz describes his highs and lows as he navigates the marketing industry.
Q (Kobashigawa): Product Marketing Manager sounds like a very technical position at an app company such as Uber. Do you have a strong technical background?
A (Diaz): I want to say I don't have to be techy, but I need to be able to comprehend what's going on. I by no means could look at code and figure out what's going on, but I know this is a certain type of language. At the end of the day, my role supports the product manager. I look at a product manager’s mission and say what needs marketing and what doesn't; I see where product marketing can support the vision. Sometimes, I work with engineers so having some type of competency comes in handy, but at no point am I expected to code.
Q (Kobashigawa): You are a UW alumni, correct? Tell me about your background and what originally drew you to marketing.
A (Diaz): Yes! I ended up being a Communications major, focusing on method communications. It just made sense that there was this methodology with a scientific name behind it, but for me, that just felt like how people should communicate. I just said yes to community events such as start-up weekend, Ted talk events, and creative mornings, which allowed me to meet people and learn concepts, but I essentially paid for my internships. There was a course where you are allowed to have an internship instead of class. At the end of your internship quarter, you write a paper to receive credit. I basically had 3 or 4 internships that I paid for, because they counted as classes, while I was at school. That was what got me super exposed.
Q (Kobashigawa): Why are you still at Uber? What gets you out of bed each morning, ready to take on the day at work?
A (Diaz): No month or no year at Uber is the same. My track record before Uber was that I was at a place for a year and a half to two years. I didn't stay long at a lot of the companies I worked for, and a lot of it was figuring out what I wanted to do. I was unsure of what the next move was, but I had a friend who got me started. He told me, Uber is a rocket that doesn't stop moving. It was very much a rocket that was moving while they were building it.
Within a year, I was the keynote speaker for the chamber of commerce for the Tri-Cities area but I was also at a city council meeting in Everett to advocate for a ride-sharing bill. I found myself doing this combination of policy, marketing, and operations. It was never the same thing.
The reason why I stay at Uber is because no year has been the same, and my role has been very much this fluctuating base of what I am interested in. I think that's the thing that has made me stay. I cannot think of a time where I am not learning. I'm not bored and I think that is my biggest issue. I find myself bored and hungry, and Uber has very much kept me on my toes.
Q (Kobashigawa): So it really seems like no day is the same? Is that true?
A (Diaz): I love the reaction when I show my friends my calendar because it looks like a Picasso painting. There is a lot of color coordination and no week is the same. I have weekly and biweekly meetings, but two weeks ago I was working on a rental marketplace, and this week I am working on a concept for how to prevent people from churning off the platform on top of the rental market place. Next week, I might kick off some research we need related to the people churning, but no week has been the same for me.
Q (Kobashigawa): It seems like now, everybody uses Uber. Ubering is even a well known verb! How do you break up your demographic when marketing to different populations?
A (Diaz): I think there are different ways to look at Uber usage. Let's start big and go small. Starting with a big picture view, some folks use Uber for transportation, public transportation, bikes, scooters, cities that allow uber to be used for public trains or buses. Some people use it for delivery, so UberEats, and people that use it for logistics, so the freight business, and there are a bunch of other sides for it. If you want to look for the earner side, people that make money taking you from point a to point b, people that deliver your food, people that make money from the freight business, people that make money from charging the bikes and scooters.
At first, everybody is just a user. And then after you define the massive user base, you look at the behavior patterns that we are seeing and start making profiles. As big as we are, it just comes down to who uses Uber and why.
Q (Kobashigawa): You’ve accomplished a lot in your time at Uber, but what is your proudest moment?
A (Diaz): The most meaningful project I ever worked on was my Drag Show On-Demand project. We had Uber kittens, so if you were in a specific area during a certain timeframe, if you opened up the app, there would be UberX, UberSelect, and UberKitten. If you were lucky to get one of the cars, the driver would show up with a basket of kittens that you could play with.
So, we decided to do the same concept and have Drag Shows on Demand. We worked with a RuPaul's Drag Raceand some local queens. We let folks call a drag queen to their event for a free show and photoshoot with the local queens or RuPaul queens, and at the same time, we would hand out flyers or information about local events. At the same time, we raised donations while having this crazy funky event. There were so many moments that were affected by something that if we didn't push to make it happen, it never would have occurred. We worked hard on it but the outcome was more than any publicity in the paper, it was personal.
Q (Kobashigawa): On the other hand, what is your biggest mistake and what did you learn?
A (Diaz): Launching Uber in Montana went well, and the one of the things I did was have different promotions for the first month. What we noticed was after the second week, there was a huge spike in spending. It turned out that when I built the promo codes, they were not specific to Montana, and instead everybody in the entire midwest could use them.
I felt so bad. I overspent my budget and in the grand scheme of things, it was okay. I honestly should have worked out a system where there were checks and balances where I was checking in with, if not my manager, my team frequently to have gut checks. There was almost a mentality that bit me in the butt and I should have realized that there is something to be said about working in teams.
Q (Kobashigawa): Do you find a good balance between work and life throughout your busy job at a rapidly growing company?
A (Diaz): A mentor once said to me there is no such thing as work-life balance, there is just life. The main point of what he was trying to say is that your work is a part of your life. With the number of hours you put into work, hopefully, you like what you do. There is no such thing as a work-life balance because you cannot separate the two. It is healthy to separate when you work, but they are not in two different worlds. At that point, if your life's one big bubble, where does work fit into that bubble compared to everything else.