Ruben Ugarte: Spotlight on the expert

Ruben Ugarte is a lifelong learner, always eager to explore new topics and share his knowledge with others.

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Our “Spotlight on the expert” series digs deeper into the stories of our expert contributors. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Ruben Ugarte has a passion for learning. Whether it’s marketing, languages, technology, new board games or even stand-up comedy, he’s always looking to find out more and share it with others. It’s easy to see how this has driven his career, going from direct sales to data analytics to consulting on strategy and decision-making and writing for MarTech.

Q: You’re a Canadian, but that’s only a part of your background, right?

A: I was actually born in a little country called Honduras, which is in Central America right next to Costa Rica and my family moved here when I was 12. So I did elementary school there and I did high school and college here. I got this bit of a double perspective on very drastically different worlds.

And I went to college for business and then I dropped out about halfway through my business degree. I was not enjoying the classes at all. I was just not finding it useful. I remember going to the first-year courses, like econ 105, like economics macroeconomics classes — huge, huge class 400 students in a big lecture hall, three-hour lecture. I would fall asleep for the entire three hours.

After two years of that, I thought it seemed like a waste of time and money. And at the time I was working on this technology start-up with my dad, doing it part-time.

And I thought, let me go do this full-time. Worst case I can go back to university in two or three years. So overnight it went from this very theoretical “this is what business is” to being in the office of a prospect and asking, “What do you need? How can I help you? Do you want to buy our software solution?”

Q: What was that like?

A: It was a great introduction to sales and marketing and how to really do it. That went on for about three or four years. The company did okay. You know, we had some customers, but we could never really scale that. We realized if we wanted to take it to the next level, we had to raise venture funding.

So I went down to Silicon Valley, talked to a few investors and it became apparent that if I really wanted to take venture funding, I needed to commit the next five to seven years to the venture. And that’s when I realized I was not really ready to do that, not for the next five years.

So we shut down the company, we sold the software, we transitioned customers off to competitors and this is where some of the marketing stuff kind of stuck. I really liked the marketing that I was doing in that company.

Q: How did you get into analytics?

A: I’m a front-end software developer by training, so I was like, “OK, this seems like I could take some of the coding skills but really do it in the marketing world, doing it with marketing people.” 

I started helping other technology companies with data and helping them set up stuff from really basic tools like Google to more advanced dashboards and eventually data warehouses and a bunch of other stuff. 

Dig deeper: How hybrid teams can make better decisions

I loved it because then I became almost like a translator. I could understand the technical elements that had to be done by their developers, but I could then translate it into something that made sense for marketing teams: This is how you use metrics, this is how you measure success. This is what a statistically significant A/B test is. I did that for about five or six years until I got to something slightly different, which is what I do today.

Q: What is it about marketing that appeals to you so much?

A: Marketing is much more of an art than science, even though there’s a much more scientific approach to it now, especially in the technology world. You see a lot of this is the playbook, this is the framework, this is the step-by-step that you can take to launch a successful marketing channel or campaign or something. I think it really dismisses the fact that it’s really an art and it’s something that requires creativity.

You have to think about the different elements that go into it. It’s almost like you’re trying to put together a puzzle, but the puzzle itself is changing shapes and forms. That really appeals to me that, that kind of thinking of doesn’t need to be 100% scientific.

There’s some intuition and art perspective that goes into how you reach the right customer. Who is the right customer? What kind of message would get them to engage then you start to introduce things like psychology and what someone thinks. And maybe, in the end, it’s almost like a humanistic approach of how you get humans to buy something that could help them in their lives in some form.

Q: So now you’re focusing on strategy and decision-making, how did that come about?

A: About three years ago, I started to shift my work away from the data perspective. I was doing all this data with all those marketing teams and non-marketing teams and there was still a gap. I realized we had these great reports and dashboards, but somehow the decisions that were being made were not the best. That was always a bit confounding. And I was like, “Oh, it’s interesting you have the data here, but you made a completely different decision.”

So I started to shift my work into helping marketing teams and eventually other teams with decision-making, which is really broad, it’s much broader than data. These days my work really has transformed into a focus on strategy, which is to me probably the purest form of decision making.

And I really enjoy that work. It’s completely different. It’s really not tech heavy. There’s still an element of data there when you’re trying to formulate a strategy or make those decisions. The work is very different and even the way it gets delivered is different. So that’s really fun.

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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