Q&A

Anya Pratskevich by Anya Pratskevich | May 13, 2019

Thomas Pan currently heads up mobile user acquisition marketing at Twine, a popular fintech app that helps people save and invest for their financial goals. In his career, Thomas has worked in several different industries including banking, gaming, ride-sharing, and healthcare. We caught up with Thomas to learn about his career path and what he learned along the way.

How did you get started in mobile?

After college, I joined Bank of America as a corporate financial analyst. The work wasn’t very challenging. In my spare time I started reading tech news and learning about the startup world. Working in tech looked exciting and fun — and very different from my day-to-day life at the bank. So I decided to make a career change.

Because I didn’t have much work experience, I knew I had to come up with a strategy to stand out among thousands of job applications from fresh grads. Instead of writing a traditional cover letter, I created a presentation that captured my profile and personality in a fun and visual way.

This strategy worked: six out of seven recruiters got back to me. I applied for positions in sales, growth, and business development. Even though I wasn’t fully qualified, companies wanted to talk to me, including Scopely, a mobile game publisher based in Los Angeles. Because I was an avid mobile gamer myself, I instantly connected with the team and was offered a job.

Like a colorful interactive ad that stands out among thousands of text ads, my application captured the audience’s attention. That “ad” had a pretty good conversion rate and got me my first job in mobile.

What qualities are most important to succeed in app marketing?

The number one quality is the drive to never settle. An app marketer needs to always be hungry for more: drive stronger performance, design more eye-catching creatives, uncover more insights through data, or thoughtfully challenge partners to deliver better results.

The second quality is curiosity. Marketers need to stay relevant by reading news, going to conferences, and talking to industry peers. A good marketer always stays open to learning from others.

The third quality is being generous with sharing your knowledge and information. Of course, you don’t want to share sensitive information, such as the number of users, LTV, or exact cost per user. But sharing general insights, tips, and struggles is critical to help others grow and move the industry forward. At the end of the day, it’s all about execution and not what someone knows, but what one does.

What has been your most career defining moment?

During my time at Scopely, I was lucky to be part of a game launch. I saw the entire app lifecycle, from development and beta testing to alpha testing, launch, and beyond. On the day of the launch, we were up at 4 or 5 a.m. and stayed in the office until late in the evening to celebrate with the team as our app climbed to the top of the charts on the AppStore and Google Play in 18 countries. Today, that title is still one of the top-grossing games at Scopely. That was very exciting and truly a career-defining moment for me.

Who has been your best advocate/mentor in the mobile industry?

My biggest mentor is one of my managers, I won’t disclose the name. I’ve found that great mentors and leaders are quite humble. They don’t care about the glory. A great way to understand their impact and validate their work is to look at the career progression of their direct reports. When these direct reports leave the company, where do they go? Do they move on to become managers, directors, and CMOs? Identifying great talent and giving them soft and hard skills to become leaders takes time and effort, but it’s a true marker of a great mentor.

What are some of your career inspirations in the industry?

For years, I’ve been following Eric Seufert from Mobile Dev Memo. He publishes great content on mobile marketing. His articles focus on foundational topics that often get overlooked, such as how brand and performance marketing can work together to build a sustainable growth strategy.

In general, I find people in our industry very inspiring. Mobile marketers come from different backgrounds and industries. Because we work with numbers, the industry doesn’t discriminate by location, race, or gender. It doesn’t matter where you were born or which school you attended if you are passionate and willing to work hard.

What are 3 tips you’d offer to new mobile marketers to help grow their career?

What are 3 tips you’d offer to new mobile marketers to help grow their career?

First, always ask questions. Some questions might be dumb, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to ask them anyway. Be that person who raises your hand in the crowd. Ask your question, because 10 or 20 people in the audience might want to know the answer but don’t have the courage to ask.

Second, share your knowledge generously. I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s so important.

Share your knowledge with your industry peers, including competitors — unless it’s sensitive. We often have the same struggles and challenges, and you never know what you can learn from them.

Third, take a different perspective. When you make a decision, ask “why should we do this,” but also ask “why not?” It’s the same question, but taking a new angle can help you look at a problem differently.

What do you see as the biggest challenges mobile marketers need to overcome to succeed in the mobile industry?

Depending on how long you’ve been in the industry, the challenges are different. For marketers who are new to the industry, it’s understanding the mechanics of different channels, fraud, and how to work with other teams internally. Also, it’s understanding the larger ecosystem and how it impacts user acquisition on micro and macro levels. For marketers who have been in the industry for three, five, ten or more years, the challenge is often the fear to have their views challenged. Mobile marketing changes very quickly, and you need to stay open to new approaches and tactics. Many seasoned professionals stick to best practices, but these best practices change over time so you have to remain flexible.

What advice do you wish someone offered you at the beginning of your career?  

Don’t put your phone number in your email signature, because you’ll get cold calls from vendors. On a more serious note, don’t be afraid to take leaps, such as joining a new vertical. I’ve done it a few times. It may not work out — and I’ve had that experience — but you will learn very quickly what’s a good fit for you. Whether it’s joining a small startup or a larger corporation, choosing a different vertical, or going from the advertiser side to the vendor side—if you don’t take leaps, you’ll never learn what you like and don’t like.

What resources (blogs, companies, sites, etc) are “must-follows” for mobile app marketers?

I recommend following Seth Godin, a famous marketer and writer. I also enjoy reading Scott Galloway, a professor at NYU who teaches brand strategy and digital marketing. His Friday newsletter includes a balanced mix of professional and personal anecdotes that cover high-level issues, such as social media and privacy. Robert Glazer from Acceleration Partners also has a great newsletter called Friday Forward. People like Seth Godin, Scott Galloway, and Robert Glazer have been in the industry for a while and have proven lessons to share with those of us who are much younger and still learning.