Excellence in Action
Adam Yates ’04
Interviewed by Stephen Mendoza • August 29, 2017
Describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
Having graduated with a degree in Mass Communications and Sociology, I looked in a lot of different directions within those two fields and ended up landing in a role at a company called IAC Interactive. At the time, IAC was a conglomerate of different digital properties where I focused on partner marketing. My job was to work across Expedia, Ticketmaster, Match and several other websites and partner with them to help bring their brands to life. My first role at IAC was as a sales assistant for very bright and capable leadership that were willing to give me a chance to grow early on in my tenure and I was able to move up the ranks of the sales organization. Then one day on the recommendation of one of my business partners, Viacom called and asked me if I wanted to represent Comedy Central websites on the west coast; shows like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park. I leapt at this opportunity to learn the television business while also experiencing Viacom’s attempt to evolve in the infancy of the digital video revolution. It also happened to be 2008 and I loved the style and substance of The Daily Show and Colbert, and I was very proud to represent their content, comedy, and intellect to the advertising community. It was also a very unique juxtaposition to my personal passions as I was concurrently part of the leadership team of the 30th congressional district for Barack Obama, managing get out the vote call centers to support his election. I worked at Viacom for almost three years and it was just a very exciting time. It was my first chance to mature as a business person and establish a reputation in the marketplace. It was also my first (and last) private office space.
Because of that reputation, I was recommended for a role in the LA market for a little, but growing, social media company called Facebook. At the time (this was 2008-2009), Facebook was still an unproven business entity, but I met with their leadership team and the concept of building a network of authenticity in the digital space was really exciting to me. At the time, there were only 7 or 8 of us all working in one big open space on Abbott Kinney in Venice (with one bathroom) and I think the majority of the people doing what I was doing were about 10 years older (and wiser) than me. So it really was a chance to mature as a business person, learn from these amazing people who were veterans at Facebook and in the industry and to pivot from a TV centric organization to a digital first platform. Mark & Sheryl were just as inspirational back then as they are now, perhaps even more so, as they saw the vision then of what Facebook has become. Needless, to say I was sipping the Kool Aid. To me, it was a brand that focused on making the world a more open and connected place, mapping the world and Internet with authentic people and things and the power of that network to drive positive change in the world. It was building a utility the world did not realize it needed. After several years in LA, I transferred to our New York office to help grow our relationships with the agency community. When I left it was more than just Facebook, it was this transcendent communication platform that included Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and had 2 billion monthly active users globally. So it was an incredible experience to be on the inside of a rocket ship and be able to contribute and learn from that experience.
In my last year at Facebook, a couple of colleagues and friends of mine from Facebook had taken roles at an up and coming communication and camera company called Snapchat. Listening to them describe the vision, vibe, and purpose of the company, it very much reminded me of my early days at Facebook; an innovative, young, and purposeful organization trying to help people communicate with the things and people they care about… this time with camera at center of that communication. Snapchat was providing people with a vital utility; giving people the tools to communicate in the digital that is as close to face to face interaction as possible. I felt passionate about that and they felt passionate about my work experience. Fast forward a year and a half later and here I am working to continue to push my envelope and continue to mature as a business person. At this point, I’m starting to mentor a group of sellers here and other people who have never been through this experience before which can be challenging and emotional so that’s kind of it. At the same time, I was fortunate enough within Facebook to be able to invest, consult and advise a couple of startup companies in my spare time which keeps you on your feet and gives you other areas to focus on outside of the normal swim lane of your job.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I’ve always been interested in the digital space. It wasn’t necessarily digital that made me excited, it was something I was always passionate about, but it was the people that I met when I first started. The first two people I worked for really impressed me and I wanted to be like both Jim & Nicole. I thought they really composed themselves well, knew their business and I really liked the sales environment they created. Most poignantly, because they believed in what we were selling and they took care of their people. I think you have a really hard time selling if you don’t believe in the products and services you’re providing to people. So that was how I initially got into the digital space and from there it was really just a snowball effect of how many different platforms I could work on and learn from to round out my understanding and my experience of the digital and then, social space.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
UCLA is a pretty special place for me. I was the first person in my immediate family, really my entire family to go to a 4-year university. I wasn’t exactly a model student in high school so I spent 2 years in a junior college environment proving top myself that I wanted to be successful in terms of my education. After 2 years with a 4.0 GPA, I moved on to the big leagues, if you will, and spent an incredible 2 years (and a quarter) calibrating my skill sets and my education in incredible environment of UCLA. UCLA informed my approach to knowledge, business, & professionalism; all of which are vital requirements to being a successful modern business person.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
I was very fortunate in my time at UCLA because I had the opportunity to meet some really incredible people; Many of whom are still my closest friends. I met several people that were a lot like me, from an educational standpoint, being the first in their family to attend a school of this caliber. I also met people who had backgrounds that were varied, challenged, inspiring in their own right. Having experienced the collective rite of passage in that environment in those formative years, created a trust factor that I don’t think you could really duplicate again in your life. So as I moved through the companies I’ve worked at and the startups I’m working on, having those people to consult, guide, and inform on the decisions I’ve made has been invaluable to my success. To me it started with my peer group and one day I hope that I can provide that same kind of help to mentor individuals who are in that environment.
Have you actually been in a position where you could hire interns from UCLA or have you been able to mentor current UCLA students in some way?
When I first graduated, I did some mentorship at UCLA, in fact, one of the programs I was involved in when I was there was to help teach and inform students taking the LSAT. I did that for several quarters when I was in school, but here and now we have internship programs at Snapchat that I am more than willing to help UCLA students explore but I’ve never had the opportunity to connect them to that system within Snapchat.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
I think one of my biggest challenges was joining Facebook back in 2009 as a younger person and having to swing above my weight, so to speak, and be a mature leader in a group of leaders. So really forcing myself to engage my clients, ask the hard questions, and reach out to skeptical advertising executives who I thought were out of my league, and build a foundation of trust. People didn’t really believe in Facebook very much at the time, if you could believe this. Facebook in a lot of ways was a nonessential marketing platform and that was the general consensus because the majority of those 200 million people using the platform were not the people making decisions about marketing plans and strategies for fortune 500 companies; many of them were those people’s assistants and still in college.
We had to convince people of the value of Facebook amidst a great deal of skepticism from our clients and the marketplace. Keeping our belief in the company vision despite this type of sentiment was crucial in our ability to succeed. That, and finding clients that saw the potential and supporting them in their goals and careers. So my biggest challenge was sticking to my guns, and continuing to push the belief that a network of real people is a place where brands can extract a considerable amount of value. It affords the opportunity to create ads that actually matter to them. So the biggest challenge was just pushing through, persisting, and getting to a point where we move from irrelevant, to nice to have nut non-essential, to being essential and foundational, to marketing strategies from Proctor and Gamble to the coffee shop around the corner. So that was probably the most challenging thing, but also the most fun and rewarding.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in marketing & advertising?
This is going to sound funny coming from someone who works in digital marketing in a platform where things disappear after 10 seconds, but having the ability to communicate in written and spoken word that is cogent, clear, and concise, is becoming a lost art in business today. I think making sure you understand what that is, as simple as that is, is really important. Building relationships, building a network that really matters, is also really important. My experience at UCLA is a great example: I built a small but powerful network of people that I respect and trust and that to me is a microcosm of what makes a successful business person. That and try to never surprise your partners and give people the benefit of the doubt. As it relates to marketing today and my advice, I would say it is such a dynamic and changing world, so try and inform yourself from as many different angles as you possibly can, especially when it comes to different ways in which brands and marketers are using different platforms to achieve fundamental business objectives. Also, don’t discount your own personal experience of how you consume media, how you appreciate marketers marketing to you, and how important your generation is in the mindset of marketers. This new generation is basically the next generation of smartphone owners, car owners, of pretty much anything else. People need to understand their (your) voice and just like when I started at Facebook, a lot of those people who were making the decisions don’t get it, so that’s a valuable piece of intelligence that this new generation has that others didn’t. At the same time, be cognizant of the fact that these people have been working in the business for a long time so try and learn as much as you can about what came before you. That’s just going to make you a well-rounded, and powerful business person.
How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?
Being 3,000 miles away is a little tough, and having a 6-month-old at home makes it equally challenging to have that outreach. I will say, for me, even having this conversation of talking to someone who is going through what I did so many years ago, it makes me want to have more interactions with the young people who are coming up now. Either as soon as I get back to California or if there is something I can do for UCLA here in New York, I would be more than happy to have that conversation.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I would probably say It’s threefold. Number one, It’s a very prideful moment to be able to say that I was the first person in my family to go to a school like UCLA. My mom (and inspiration) did it while I was growing up. She went back to school to pursue a career but I was the first one to matriculate out of high school. I think my experience has been a great example for my 18-year-old sister and my 17-year-old brother. My sister is going to be attending UC Santa Cruz in the fall so it definitely came full circle from a UC perspective. Number two, I think, from a reputation standpoint, people hear UCLA and it really does mean something. It’s really funny to hear people’s responses, we’re not ivy league but we have a reputation out there in the market of being very credible and a very reputable school that’s taken seriously. That’s exciting and relative to some of our competition in town, I won’t name them by name. I wouldn’t give up my Bruin status for anything in the world. Number three, I would honestly say it is the fact that I met so many of my lifelong friends in the time that I was at UCLA. It makes me proud that I have that to look back on and have that collective memory with those men and women.
I have really enjoyed being a skipping rock on innovative and growing platforms so I think I’ll continue to work at Snapchat to grow and innovate in this environment. At the same time, I’ll continue to give advice and support to a few of the startups that my friends have begun, which I think are doing quite well. Eventually, when my wife and I have one or two more children, we’ll make our way back to California and there’s a very good chance that there’s a sandwich shop in my future as I am a passionate about cooking and creating the perfect sandwich. So when technology gets old or I need a break, I’m going to go into the delicious art of Sandwich design.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Stephen Mendoza earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from UCLA in 2018. Prior to joining the Partnership UCLA / Alumni Career Programs team as a student staff member, Stephen had successfully completed internships with Ernst & Young, J.P. Morgan, and Disney. Through the Excellence in Action alumni spotlight series, Stephen expanded his network, met successful business professionals, and shared their advice and life experiences with the greater UCLA community. Stephen is now building his career as a Financial Analyst with Wells Fargo Corporate Banking.
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