Ad Ops All Stars: Ron Duque, WeatherBug
by Kathleen Booth, on May 26, 2021 9:00:00 AM
Ron Duque is an ad operations leader at WeatherBug. His 15+ year career in Ad Ops has taken him from MEC Interaction to AOL, Vibe Media and GroundTruth before landing him at WeatherBug. During that time, he has managed Ad Ops teams ranging in size from 3 to 50 people, both in the US and globally.
Over the course of his career, Ron has seen it all and learned to "work smarter, not harder" so that he can manage stress, prevent burnout, and find a level of work-life balance that works for him and his family.
In this episode, he shares what he looks for when hiring, how he approaches managing Ad Ops teams, what's involved in mentoring up and coming ad ops professionals, and more.
Listen to or watch the full episode, or read the transcript below, to hear more about Ron's journey as an Ad Ops leader.
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Kathy: Welcome to Ad Ops All-Stars podcast. I'm your host, Kathy Knott. And today we have an amazing guest. His name is Ron Duque from WeatherBug. Thank you, Ron so much for joining us. Really excited that you're able to be with us today. So where are you talking from?
Ron: Well, thank you for having me, Kathy. It's a pleasure to be here and thank you again for including me. I'm currently in New Milford, New Jersey, where I live with my wife and two daughters, both five and four. They are with their grandparents right now. Normally, they'd be here participating in the conversation, which sort of...they're into it now. They're usually jumping in as I... Who am I talking to today, daddy?
Kathy: That would be the best. See, at least you get that. I've got all the ones that are out of the house. So when they're coming in here, they're asking me if I have money so that they could go buy White Claws. They'll be there soon enough, I promise you. One of the things I always like to start with is, if you could explain what you do. If you were talking to your five-year-old, how would you explain what daddy does?
Ron: So the first thing I do explain to them, so they know that daddy works for WeatherBug and it's a weather company and weather app on mobile device, which makes it very simple. But being able to lay that foundation is like, what that does? It's just as easy to explain it to an adult than it is to a five-year-old on what ad operations or what I do, because to this day, no one my family still understands what I do. They know to a point where we help to keep the internet free because of all the ad space, but they know I work in technology. Sort of making sure that they app is running smoothly. Making sure our ads are up and working with our vendors. And then other than that, that's sort of where it stops. And then sometimes they ask me like, "So can you help me with my computer and get rid of all the sounds?" There's a difference between ad operations and difference between IT.
Kathy: Exactly. I've got a hard time explaining what I've been doing. And I'm just..."All those ads that pop up, mommy works with that." And so often the easiest way to explain things, Obviously, you're in New Jersey. WeatherBug's headquarters are I think, in New York. So with everyone being at home, how is COVID really impacted that day-to-day workflow for you?
Ron: So our parent company GroundTruth, our main office is actually in New York, like you said, in one world. But before we were actually with GroundTruth, our company was based in Maryland. So a lot of the WeatherBug team itself has been very remote. So a lot of our engineers I work with from the remote offices, our client services team. So our account manager is working in Maryland, a small office there with some engineers. We have a team in Vancouver. We have a team in Mountain View. Our SVP now is in Maryland as well. We have some team members in Connecticut. We've always been very spread out. So we've been very fortunate to sort of have been able to work sort of a remote team even before the pandemic.
Ron: But since then, our teams globally has been... Everybody has learned to sort of understand the life that is now introduced within your personal life and work life.
Kathy: So they know your kids.
Ron: Yeah, everybody knows. Zola and Annalee, they know my wife Lindsay. And so they've seen them grow like my daughter's growth from even way before, probably since they were three and two or two and one, see them actually grow. And each time they see him, they're like, Oh my God, you know, it's great as they pop in and out, they've grown so much.
Kathy: That's really cool. Because, obviously it sounds like for you guys, in particular, you haven't skipped a beat at all. And there are so many other people who were in this industry that miss being in the office. They have not been working from home and had the luxury of, everyone being virtual essentially. So for you in particular, at least the people that you work with. Have you noticed that some people respond to it really well? Some people are not responding to it? Well, we've got some people on our team who just need human interaction. And so this has been so hard. "This is fine. This is enough human interaction for me", but like they need like actual human contact.
Ron: I am, I have to say, I'm probably one of those people that need that human contact. So, when we were able to...when we soft opened our offices back in I think, I believe in September as option. If anybody wanted to go on, because they felt they were being a little bit more productive. And we capped it off at maybe 15 people in the New York office, which we have three quarters of a floor four. Right. So make it very socially distant. You have to do a survey in the morning. And our HR team did a really great job to ensure the safety of the employees to make them be able to come in. But you know, our sales team, they're people, they're people individuals, right.
Ron: They need to have that personal experience with one another. And so I believe some of them are, do struggle a little bit, but have been able to, say, "I'm done with these". Everybody has the Zoom fatigue. Right. And especially I think the sales people and even the account managers as well, because it works so closely with the sales team. But I think it, there are definitely is that, and I think it's with everybody, you need to have this little small element of a personal connection. So when you're in, especially when you're in a meeting together. You sort of get the feed off of each other's energy. Other than that...It's a little hard to...see when...and I know we do have that Zoom fatigue and everyone's just, everyone wants to shut off their cameras. But just to get those valuable facial expressions. Or it's sort of that body language, knowing if, are we going in the right direction in this conversation? Are we vibing together? And what we're talking about? Do we need to have a little bit more of that? So, I think that's sort of our teams have balanced it as well as we could.
Kathy: Well, I will say, I think you're being really generous to your sellers and your account managers. I think what they miss the most is jean parties and sunglass parties and all the freebies.
Ron: Oh yeah. The entertainment definitely is the thing that everybody wants to get back into. Just reconnect them. Fortunate enough, sometimes we get invited to do other things with which is great because, I have no problem being the bad guy or the soft seller as an Ad Ops person. Then I'm sure like a lot of Ad Ops people too, when they're part of those conversations are the soft sell. And this is exactly the reason why taking them out. Why you should be buying from us or what the issues are that we can't do this or that. And, how do we work around that together? Like, let's just cut out individuals here that, we can work through this together and then get to a correct resolution.
Kathy: So you looking at your work history, you've worked with teams of all sizes. And if I was to do the Goldilocks test with you, what's the size that works best for Ron?
Ron: That is, I would say, that is a tough question.
Kathy: They're all your babies, aren't, they?
Ron: It's definitely, is different in each experience I've had. I would say, I think the really good pocket of a team of about 10 total, right, is probably where my sweet spot is. I mean, as you mentioned, I've managed a team as small as three or four to as large as 50 globally. Right. And I love having a massive, a large team because I get to interact with each person individually and see the vastness of that. But also like when you have a much smaller group, it's a little bit easier to be lockstep as far as like a team as a whole.
Kathy: Yeah. And really forming that camaraderie. Like you just really know each other intimately. And I think specifically in add ups, you kind of touched on it briefly earlier. Your job really isn't just dealing with your team. It's really working with your sellers and working with product and working with engineering. And there are so many people that you have to touch. If you can be in lock step with that core team, it makes all that other stuff so much easier. So in terms of hiring, for add ups. Are there specific qualities or traits that you're looking for? When you're interviewing, are there certain things that are on your checklist of do's and don'ts?
Ron: Yeah, I think the one thing I look for is, are they generally just asking questions during the interview? So what that shows me is that they're curious and they need to learn more. So I may be just throwing out a question and it can go anywhere. Obviously there's no right answer to a lot of the questions that we asked in that operations. But, where can we take that a little bit further? Do you understand where this is going? How can you spin it and show me that you're thinking of things a little bit differently than maybe what I'm viewing them. And then sort of also at the same time challenged me with these questions.
Ron: Don't be afraid to ask me the question, because everybody uses, I could do that. Oh, I could do that. I can do that. Everyone could do everything at the interview. But I don't mind if you send me like, I haven't experienced that before, but I'm willing to learn that. That's one thing, to the willingness to learn the trade. Because there's no school for this at all. You just get thrown into the fire and learn each day. But what those questions are, it's a little, I guess it depends on sort the candidate I'm interviewing.
Kathy: So, I know also with you building teams, it seems like what I know about you. You really formed this bond with your team members and with the people around you. And you really enjoy mentoring them and really helping them grow. And I know just historically for myself, it's typically like entry level. And so there is a great opportunity to mentor people. I guess my question is, I'm one of those people, my management style is, it's okay to fall down. What's not okay, is if you fall down and don't learn something from it and there's no takeaway. You can't just keep falling down. So, what's your management style? Like how do you feel you connect with your team?
Ron: I think we absolutely share the same philosophy there and that I will, I don't care that you mess up. I expect you to mess up. I want you to mess up, but learn from those mistakes and then build on that and move forward. Right. But because, I don't want you to feel like you're...and at the same time, I don't want you to feel like you're walking on eggshells every time that you're trying to do something. Take a leap of faith and know your abilities and your team is there. I'm there to help you. That's what's most important. You can only, and I feel like a lot of my growth has been with, because of my previous bosses in the past. So they've allowed me to make mistakes.
Ron: Right. And then allow me to course correct. And then learn from there. And it's only right that I do the same too, because when I started off and built my career and learned the skills that I've learned on the way. I've made a ton of mistakes. And you try to tell people, I expect you to make mistakes. Don't keep making the same mistakes. At some point you need to learn from this and then move on, and then you will continue to make mistakes, but there'll be different ones. And you'll learn from that as well. So that's sort of like the normal.
Kathy: I love that. And like I said, I'm a huge proponent of that as well. I mean, it's never easy if it's a couple of a one hundred thousand dollar mistake. We try not to make those mistakes, but those happen too. And, no one's dying. I always say, this is, we're slinging ad banners. No, one's dying on a table somewhere in an operating room, relaxed. We'll get through it. With that said, if you have someone on your team who is walking on those eggshells, as you paraphrased, how do you handle that? If you find someone who just isn't comfortable in their skin and is really nervous and just wants to make you happy. How would you, from your managing skills, specifically work with that?
Ron: I think we've had a couple of those. And I try to at all times as much as possible, try to put myself in their shoes. What makes them nervous? What is making them so nervous that they keep screwing up or not believing that they can do the job that they're doing. So I may actually have them team up with somebody else. Maybe it's my fault and how I'm training an individual. Or maybe if they are able to shadow somebody else. Seeing a different perspective on how to do that sort of process. Maybe they can grow there or having...Here at GroundTruth, I was managing a client services team. So that included revenue operations, which we switched over from campaign management, ad operations, and turn into revenue, operations, account management, and client services.
Ron: And sometimes just knowing the mindset of what an account manager that their counterpart is expecting of them and helping them walk through that. It actually helps them to sort of grow as well, so that they have that communication together instead of an ad operations perspective. So looking at it differently sometimes helps them. And then me taking a step back and saying, all right, I'm not going to touch this for a while. And then I'll, I'll come back. When I spoken to the care manager or whoever else that they're working with and say, how do we evaluate here? What does this look like? Are they doing well? Are they not doing well? And usually they'll be very receptive to it. But, if they're not, then obviously you have to do the hard task of going through the PIP, which is never not something anyone is ever happy to do. But we're still running a business. We still have to do right by our client. Right.
Ron: We're a client facing company, or a group. And so those are the hard things that we have to as managers and leaders of our groups that we have to take. So that we can ensure that the integrity of our team remains high, or like the output of our team remains high.
Kathy: Have you ever had a PIP that actually the person did a full 180 and turned into one of your rockstars?
Ron: Absolutely. 100%. Yeah.
Ron: Absolutely. And you cheer them on too, and you let them know, at one point you tell them, just because you're a PIP doesn't mean, this is the end of the line. We're just giving you a little bit more of a push. Use this as an opportunity to really hone your skills. And then, the reason why you're here is because we believe that you can just do this job and do it well. So I think a lot of that also is the encouragement. Nobody wants to see a PIP, but you still have to be able to go out there and encourage the individuals to do the job well.
Kathy: So in, doing the job well, it's interesting that you say that because in ad ops, in particular. There's a fine line of this sense of urgency to get this campaign up. That's time sensitive. And, Oh my God, Oh my God. And it's Friday afternoon. That account managers is just getting everything over to you, because the agency just got everything over to them and it's got, thousands of lines and it's private. It's got to go live. At same time, there is...we need flawless execution. That's why our clients keep coming back to us. How do you balance that line with your team? Because it's pressure, pressure, pressure. And then it's, but quality is important.
Ron: I think some of that has to do, or a lot of it has to do with just communication with your account manager and your seller. And just setting expectations internally. And just being very Frank with them. We can say, we can get this up, but then you have to deal with your client on all the reporting, we're not hitting any of your deliverables. You're going to have that conversation, but we'll set it up fast and dirty. Shit in and shit out, right? If that's what you want, that's what you're going to get. So let's have it, at least give us enough time work with us.
Ron: We can get one thing up for each section, quality. If you have something running and say, something's working there. And trust that we can probably pull some other individuals within team to help out throughout the day or on Monday. Especially on a Friday, it's the worst. And especially if it's...We're going to have a long three-day weekend, Mondays off. Most of the sellers are taking their clients out to lunches because it's end of the quarter. End of the month. Let's go celebrate this and that. And so it's a summer Friday, which is a great one.
Kathy: Oh when I hear "summer Friday" I want to rip someone's face off. I'm like summer Friday? Where? My team has never had a summer Friday. Literally, want to kill someone, I hate those two words.
Ron: Yeah. I agree with you and there was definitely some times where we had to...when summer Fridays were enacted in the company, we sort of had to like create our own summer schedule as well. And so, all right, we don't have Fridays off, but we're going to allow our teams to take off. Come in super late on Monday or have some sort of abbreviated schedule or do some sort of coverage. So you learn to be very creative with holiday scheduling and summer Friday scheduling with teams. So that make it seem like everyone's all hands on deck where some people are able to take off a little bit and enjoy.
Kathy: I mean, that's really great to hear because this is the type of job that people could burn out very easily. And it sounds like you're doing all the right steps, to make people stay engaged, have fun, learn, grow. When you're doing all of this mentoring and investing in people, add ups, typically outside of whack jobs like you and I, don't end up staying in it forever. It really is one of those things that is, let's get my foot in the door. And then you've got these babies that you've raised. And then every department wants to steal them and they want to go and you're so happy for them. What does career pathing typically in your opinion look like? For ad ops? Do you let them go and see if they come back. Do you try to keep them?
Ron: I mean, I've been there, right? We've all been in those. The reason why I try to be, create these crazy schedules or work with teams, very close. Cause I've been there. And I hate being, I hated the 4:00 AM's I'm sitting there pulling reports and trafficking out campaigns. 2:00AM, 4:00 AM holidays. The family sitting down for Thanksgiving, but what are you doing? You're setting up for black Friday. And then everyone's, you know it's a holiday? You know what, this actually pays like the bills. If there's a little bit something with Ad Ops people, really like to have that...a little bit of that mental torture for ourselves. I'm going to make this a game and see how, if I can crush this on a black Friday so that our clients can be, oh wow, this seem pretty seamless for you guys.
Ron: And then you do see that, thank you for...You see the thanks from the client. And sometimes in the majority of the time and in the past, ad operations being that backroom sort of function has been very thankless. But now individuals. Not now, but in the past couple of years or several years our counterparts have been very thankful because they understand. As he started walking, higher level people up individuals in the company, what you're the function of that team does now. They take us up by, wait a minute, without this team, this entire teams is the backbone of our company. Without this, we can't do much. We can have all the sellers, but if we don't have anybody there to execute on these contracts or these IOs, you're not left with anything or with anyone doing anything.
Ron: I love it when our companies spread out with former ad operations people because it's sort of, we really are injecting ourselves everywhere. We with product sellers, engineering, strategy and operations. Just sort of, they run the gamut, it's so great. They would, hey Ron, we want another person. I know we keep beating up your team for an operative, but we think this is a great individual to fill the gap where we need them. If they're interested, take care of them. That's all I asked for is, you take care of them so that they know that they're feeling love. They always have a home with me. If they hate you, they can always come back to me. So I think you just sort of got to let them see, fly the coop.
Kathy: Okay. A couple quick questions. This is my numbers game. Ready? How many interrupted weekends have you ever had an add ups?
Ron: Uninterrupted, weekends? Lately, man. Uninterrupted. I would say lately, they've been pretty uninterrupted.
Kathy: Okay COVID doesn't count, pre COVID.
Ron: Yeah. Pre COVID. I'm always checking something or always finding something. It's always, you leave the house first. Go to the mall or whatever. Do shopping or the bank. My computer is still downstairs, I need to check just one thing. So it's zero weekends. I say, I don't think ever has it been, unless I'm on vacation. That's a big thing for me now. For a couple of years now. If you're off, you're off. That's the one thing I really push on individuals. I can join a call if you need me. No, this is your time off. I'm not trying to drag you into this. But for me, not a lot.
Kathy: See, I feel like we've touched on all of these already, so they're not even good anymore because you've already brought them all up, which is super annoying. It just shows how aligned we are. I was going to ask you if you've ever had an uninterrupted holiday. Because I can remember specifically, it was a 4th of July and it was a huge takeover. And I could not find our CTO anywhere. I wanted to literally murder, got the Uzi out of the closet. Any uninterrupted holidays
Ron: I've been very lucky. I've had some in an uninterrupted holidays, but certainly have had my fair share of not being able to do anything on a holiday. Or I've had to, on vacation, brought my laptop with me because I'll be in the air for five hours, I can get stuff done. Very early on, my wife, when we were first dating, she was like, why are you always working? If you're off, you're off. It doesn't work that way in digital. I'll explain it to you at some point. But thankfully she's very understanding.
Kathy: Okay, the last one. How many times has a seller tried to negotiate with you like you're the client?
Ron: All the time. Respectfully. So all the sellers, but all the time. It's always a caveat. You can't sell this now, but this is what we're thinking about doing. And then it becomes, so we have this new product that's ready to go. We could sell it to you for X amount. Yeah, that's not even on the roadmap. I think we talked about in passing and we think we can follow you build at some point.
Kathy: Yeah. That wasn't a real product. Come on.
Ron: How they create their own products, which is great. Always great right?
Kathy: Can you just sell the lemons that we have in the cart instead of some apples that we don't even have?
Ron: Exactly. It's the variety of lemons that we have, right. We have only one lemon. You're also putting in hybrid lines.
Kathy: Well, it's interesting because it's, the seller's like, no, they only want lemonade and you almost have to sit down with them and say, what is it actually that the client is looking to do? Because I've got water, I've got sugar, I've got lemons. I can make them what they're looking for, but just don't just give me lemonade, tell me what they're trying to achieve. And I can build it for that. Right?
Ron: Yeah. Flavored lemonade is a craze. I guess that's what they want. But you know, the relationships I have with the sellers, we try to say, we want to have a product where we can build it once and replicate it a thousand times. Where it looks like it's being built a brand new product every single time. Right. And I learned that very early on. Especially in a startup with who I reported up to the CTO. Who's one of the co-founders. And that's sort of, when he told me that, it was an aha moment. Where he's like, you don't necessarily have to work harder. You just have to work smarter. And he's always hitting me with that constantly at that time. And even now, when I still connect with them, he's always dropping me little nuggets of knowledge, which I always appreciate.
Kathy: It sounds like a wonderful mentor. So you've been lucky as well.
Ron: Yeah, I've been very blessed in my career with multiple mentors and even individuals who have just given me a chance and who have challenged me. No Ron, this ad operations thing is your thing. You just need to think of it a little differently. It's not just, setting up tags. Think of it as an ecosystem of technology. When digital was still pretty new and I was at MEC, now Wavemaker. So when it was called The Digital Edge and I'm definitely aging myself right now with that. Not a lot of people will probably know that. So if any listeners out there recall that, that's should be an indication of how far back my career goes. But one of my mentors there was saying, think of it like holistically and where do we go from there? And just keep building from that.
Kathy: Well, look, I'll make you feel younger. I worked at AltaVista when that was the search engine. So I'll date myself for you. The other question I had was, with ad ops constantly evolving, there's always new regulatory changes or platform updates. How do you just stay informed with what's going on? Are there certain blogs or podcasts, or any type of events that you guys go to obviously pre COVID. What do you do to stay smart and up on it?
Ron: So I've been heavily involved with AdMonsters for a long time. And I think some of the brightest minds in ad operations are part of that group. And there's always somebody thinking about something new or just the willingness to share information within that group is great. Rob Beeler's Beeler.Tech, I love Rob and the group there. They're sort of, his own thing there. And I think he's also has been a really great connector of people. So I can go to him and say, hey Rob, I'm thinking about doing this. He's says, I know somebody because I just had this conversation with three other people and you probably never met them before, but let me connect you with them. And so I'm talking to him. And then what we do also at WeatherBug, is we do a monthly call with the revenue team on what's in the industry right now and how does that impact us?
Ron: And so, how are we looking at those connections. In January, because nobody was able to go to CES, we at WeatherBug, we actually created a sort of a CES sort of format. So we invited all of our partners, potential partners to have. A hour, hour and a half conversations as if they're going to...I've never been at CES, but you know, if you were going to someone CES to have these meetings, that's what we sort of did. And then put that on. It was my boss, Mike Brooks, who was the SVP of revenue at WeatherBug whose I had that brilliant idea. And Ed Arrandale who's the head of our programmatic. They set up all the meetings, met new people, you know, and then really got into the weeds of what's coming out now. What we can expect. And then, also obviously with the iOS changes coming up. Getting different perspectives from like so many companies has been really great too. And how that, we've sort of continue that trend going forward.
Kathy: By the way I was told once by one of the leaders in one of the companies I worked in, the reason they don't let really good Ad Ops people go to CES is they don't want you to get poached. So you know that. So, I know everyone wants to go and party there, but it is actually a sincere form of flattery and it's a compliment. So in your opinion, if you were to pick one person in Ad Ops that you think is doing really outstanding work and that we should highlight and maybe interview, who would you point to?
Ron: Just one person?
Ron: Oh man.
Kathy: It's okay.
Ron: You know who always comes up to mind when sort of, if there's a paddle going on. So Stephanie Layser from News Corp is always somebody if something comes up within the industry or programmatic or Header Bidding or anything, or Prebid. You want to hear her take, you know that she really understands the space. Really pushing the industry forward and challenging all our counterparts to do better? That's one individual that pops up very quickly in my mind. But there are so many others that I would say that do really well too?
Kathy: Yeah. That's a really nice group of people. And I think one of the things that I've always found with people who work in the same industry that we do is, they have a lot of passion and they're fun. They work hard and they play hard. And so it's a really good group of people, you also realize, shit travels downhill. And so if things are going to break, it's really like the last man on the totem pole is the Ad Ops team. They're the last people that are there on a Friday night. They're the last people who get updates on the platforms that they're working on. Everything is very manual. And so you really see this amazing bond. The team really supports each other. If something big comes over, everyone will take apart because they want, not someone sitting there until 10 o'clock at night. And I don't know, it's just a really great group of people. So I'm crying.
Ron: I absolutely agree with you on that one, when you're saying, who can help out this one individual. Just when you thought only maybe one person, they're like, I just need to figure finalize these two, three things and I'm here to help. And then it sort of snowballs. You're absolutely right. You're like, I can help. I could help. I can help. All right, we just need two people, right. Well, let's just divide and conquer. If we could get like five people to do it, let's just do it. Which I love, always love seeing that. Especially when you're mentoring, individuals just love seeing growth and how happy they are. Even though it is very thankless, they understand, they want to continue to grow and you love to see.
Kathy: Yeah. It's awesome. Well, the other awesome thing is you, I don't want to take too much more of your time, but I cannot thank you enough for joining me. I literally could probably talk to you for three hours. So we're definitely going to have to get you back. Just really enjoyed learning about what you do and how you work with your team. And I think it's just a lot of stuff that everybody that's in this industry can relate to. So thank you. And anyone listening, thank you for joining this episode. Ad Ops All Stars podcast. If you enjoyed this, please consider liking it on Apple podcast or the podcast platform of your choice. And to hear more interviews with other Ad Ops experts, you could go to clean.io and check us out there. So thank you very much and have a good day.