Interviews, Marketing & Comms

Balancing the Grind With Vidhya Ravi, Director of Marketing at Automattic

July 28, 2019

Vidhya Ravi is the Director of Marketing at Automattic, the company behind Jetpack, WooCommerce, Longreads, WordPress.com, where she is focused on building the product marketing function.

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Photo credit: Vicki Nolfi

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’ve worked in Marketing for the past 11 years, but my career started five years before that in corporate finance. I went to business school at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business (University of Michigan – Ann Arbor) because I wanted to move into consumer marketing. I was excited by the idea of making and selling products that changed people’s lives.

After business school, I went to Procter and Gamble to start my career in brand marketing in their beauty division in Los Angeles. At that time, I was both a newlywed and a San Francisco Bay Area native.

I knew that I wanted to eventually come home to the Bay Area to start a family, so when the chance to work at Ghirardelli Chocolate defining and building their seasonal business came along – I jumped at it.

While working in the Bay Area, I was constantly exposed to the innovation and excitement in the technology industry. It was just a matter of time before I left consumer products to work at Intel where I led the partner marketing and go to market process to launch the first mobile phone with Intel Inside in India, as well as many other products and projects.

It was at Intel where I had the chance to start leaning into leadership by leading cross-functional teams and eventually leading small teams with members I managed directly.

During my time at Intel, I had both my children (a boy – now eight years old, and a girl, now five years old).

Four years after joining Intel, a recruiter reached out to see if I’d be interested in joining Facebook. They needed someone to define their partner marketing approach for Internet.org – Facebook’s effort to increase digital inclusion globally.

At Facebook, I had the chance to hone my leadership skills. First, by establishing a function and learning how to manage team members both locally and internationally.

We built great relationships, and I did some of the best work of my life from a marketing perspective. I eventually moved on from Internet.org to Facebook’s AR VR team, where I worked on plans to define and bring to market new emerging tech products. I also led marketing for Facebook’s global program for startups, FbStart.

As much as I loved my life at Facebook, and the incredible opportunities I’d had over the last four years, I itched for something more. My children were getting older, but I didn’t want to compromise on shortchanging time with them to continue growing my career.

I needed to find a new way to build my career – and that happened when I started speaking to some of the marketing leadership at Automattic (the parent company behind WordPress).

Automattic was adding a new function to the company – product marketing. I was asked if I’d like to come in to lead and define the function for the company. It was a hard decision to leave Facebook, where I had built my reputation and a created foundation to do great work.

But Automattic is a fully distributed, asynchronous company and that meant I’d have the chance to both lean into my career and be there for my family in ways I couldn’t while working full time in an office. It’s been almost three months, and I love it!

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Since moving to remote work, my life is very different than it was when I was in the office. We don’t have a lot of meetings at Automattic, so most of the day is open, and I can set my schedule.

I’m usually based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I’ve been working out of Daufuskie Island, South Carolina for the past few weeks. My husband’s parents live here, and my kids get a chance to spend some of their summer here having fun.

Yesterday, I woke up around 6:30 am, made coffee and worked for about two hours until 8:30 am. Then I went fishing with my kids in the Calibogue Sound and had lunch in Harbor Town, Hilton Head.

We came back to Daufuskie, where I headed over to the island clubhouse and worked from 1:30 pm to 6 pm (taking two meeting Zoom calls during that time). I picked up the kids at 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm to go swimming. We ate dinner at 8 pm, and everyone was in bed by 9:30 pm. I did a little more work from 9:30pm to 11:30 pm. Most days don’t go that late or aren’t that busy, but this day was an excellent example of the sort of flexibility my job offers.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Absolutely, and a great example of how that’s working out is in the previous question. It’s made a significant difference in my life. Not only can I do more with my family, but it’s also helped me do more of the things I want to do for myself.

Without a commute, I’ve gotten back two hours a day. I’m able to work out more, write more, and I’m actively looking for volunteer positions to help organizations whose missions I support. I no longer worry about the location or timing of things during the day.

If I need to attend something at my children’s school in the middle of the day, it’s not a problem. I spend less on childcare and get to spend more time with my children. Best of all, I can take off for the mountains, the beach, or wherever – and work remotely if I don’t want to take a formal vacation.

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4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

In general, I’m a firm believer that you have to scope roles to your strengths and focus on the things that make the most difference. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve shifted my focus to not just doing the things I know how to do.

Instead, I spend my energy influencing others to buy into a vision so that the impact of my thinking is broader than just the tactical execution of what needs to be done. That point took some work to grow into, but once mastered, it helped me grow as a manager and a leader.

When working remotely, it’s essential to figure out a schedule to stay motivated. Especially with asynchronous work culture, it’s easy to either get wrapped up in personal activities or get so wrapped up on work that I end up working around the clock.

Every morning, I survey my day and determine the blocks of hours I’ll work and from where I’ll work. And I stick to it! It’s also important to focus on one or two things to get done each day.

Some jobs are broad in scope (like mine is currently), and it’s easy to try to boil the ocean and end up having no impact for a lot of effort. Pick something every day that you can push through or get done. It makes a huge difference.

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I love this question because the answer will be different for everyone. I think work-life balance has meant different things for me to varying points in my career.

Right now, it means not having to give up my career progression or achievement at work and being able to spend time with and be there for my family nearly every day. That’s what drove me to consider a remote work arrangement.

There are things that I miss about working in an office – mostly the social aspects. But I also know that I’m gaining so much in flexibility, health, and time with my family when I work remotely.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I’m a compartmentalizer. I try to keep specific times for work and specific times for not work. I do whatever I can to not work weekends, or not work too late at night for too long.

It still happens sometimes, but as long as it’s just once in a while, that’s fine. I know that I need time away from work everyday, and a good break from work at least once a week (usually the weekend suffices), for me to function at my best.

When working in an office, if I needed to do something during the day for my family or myself, I just booked it on my calendar and did it. I didn’t ask permission, and I didn’t talk about it at work – there wasn’t a need to unless it was going to affect my ability to do my job.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

Several! I like First 90 Days, which has been helpful when I’m starting a new role or a new position.

I also like Julie Zhuo’s Making of a Manager. It’s a great introductory book for first time managers, and a refresher for anyone that’s been managing teams for a while.

I just started digging into Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World, which I’ve found fascinating.

I also try to keep up to date on the latest marketing and leadership news by subscribing to Harvard Business Review (and listening to their podcast Women at Work), Extra Crunch, and perusing LinkedIn.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Taking a few minutes each morning to know what I want to do with my day (from a life and a work perspective) and then stay focused on that.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Don’t be afraid to try something different. There can be a lot of pressure to figure out how to make your career work under traditional constraints.

Some people think veering away from that traditional path means that you’re killing your career. That’s not true.

It’s possible to do different things at different points in your career: changing functions, working remotely, moving to contract or consulting, or taking time off. If you position your experiences accordingly, they can add to your expertise while giving you the life experiences you want.

I care a lot about helping people become their best at work and at home. I write about different work related topics on my Medium Blog, and I share stories about my life as a working mom with kids on my WordPress blog – Have Kids, Will Work.

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