July 15th, 2021

Mobile Champions – Laura Teclemariam, Netflix (Part 1)

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With an extensive history in tech, video games, and product management, Laura Teclemariam is no stranger to the mobile ecosystem. Her resumé boasts roles at Microsoft, EA, Glu Mobile, Warner Bros., and even a stint at Tapjoy as Product Manager of Platform & Mobile Tools! In 2020, Laura embarked on a new role: Director of Product Innovation, Animation at Netflix. As if she hasn’t been busy enough, she’s also a champion for diversity in tech, gaming, and animation.

At Netflix, Laura leads the vision for product innovation in the animation ecosystem, and she’s constantly on the lookout for new ways to entertain the world. We recently sat down with Laura to discuss the state of the mobile industry, the importance of telling diverse stories, and how all of her experience led to her role at Netflix.

What We Learned:

  • Cross-platform is the future: Mobile games can happily coexist alongside their PC and console counterparts.
  • “Ads are bad” is a myth: Research shows that mobile ads can actually enhance the player experience and complement monetization strategies — as long as they’re not an afterthought.
  • Diversity is good for business: Having more diverse people in the room leads to authentic experiences that resonate with new audiences.

Thanks for chatting with us, Laura! Can you tell us more about your career and how that led to your role at Netflix?

Sure! I actually started out in software development at Microsoft, and from there, I tried my hand as a founder in entertainment advertisement technology before making my way to Tapjoy! From there, my career path evolved into product management for game development, and all of those experiences really helped prepare me for my current role at Netflix. Being the Head of Product Innovation for Animation means I get to help transform businesses so that they can have a global impact, just like I’ve done throughout my career. 

The analogy I always use is that my career wasn’t a ladder, working from one rung to the next — it was more like a jungle gym. I was on a ladder, then I was on a swing, I went down a slide, and all of these diverse experiences really helped prepare me for what came next.

I love that analogy! Have you always been interested in video games? How did you get into mobile gaming? 

I definitely had a passion for video games at an early age. My mother, like any parent, was trying to find a way to keep me motivated and get good grades in school. I really have her to thank for my love of gaming because, at the time, I had a Nintendo Entertainment System, and I would just spend hours on it. So she made a deal with me: if I got good grades, I could get a new game. Of course, at that time, Nintendo had a long list of games, so I said, “I’m going to bring home all As, mom! You just wait!”

I call those early days my golden years of falling in love with gaming, and that continued all the way through college and translated into studying software development, electrical engineering, and computer science. After a while, I realized I really wanted to do something that combined the worlds of technology and entertainment. I would say my entire career and my life’s mission is about having an impact by taking those two industries, these two ecosystems, and innovating within them.

Between your time at Tapjoy and your experience working on mobile games, you’ve got your finger on the pulse. What are the biggest emerging trends that you see in the mobile world?

It’s been an interesting journey for mobile games. Ten years ago, mobile was still considered a new platform, and gamers played on PC, consoles, and handhelds. Developers and publishers were just starting to translate those experiences to mobile. Mobile gaming has exploded since then, and it’s just continuing to grow. We see particular growth in specific markets, like the Latin market, the Asian markets, the African markets.

Meanwhile, in Europe and the Americas, you see a subtle shift to cross-platform titles. So almost two paradigms are happening in mobile right now: the continued expansion of emerging markets and the evolution of mobile gaming alongside PC and console games. These cross-platform dynamics are starting to be researched and explored, so expect to see more companies catering to that.

In your experience, how do mobile gamers interact with monetization efforts, whether it’s ads or IAP?

So when I started, and even at Tapjoy, a typical game developer would say something like, “I have this cool game, and it’s going to make millions of dollars and bring joy and excitement to millions of fans.” Then the game comes out, and it’s a little bit softer in terms of installs staying through day seven, so the developer uses ads to monetize what engagement they do have — almost like an afterthought.

Even ten years ago, we were telling game companies not to think of ads as an afterthought. You want it to be seamless, and not incorporating this strategy from the beginning leads to bad player experiences. That’s how we get the myth that ads hurt monetization efforts — it’s not the ads; it’s the negative experiences.

Countless research has shown the opposite effect — ads catered to and directed at the right segment of users can actually enhance the player experience. Ads can increase retention and complement your monetization strategy. Unfortunately, those myths still persist, and some developers still don’t think about ads until after the fact. What I’d recommend to game developers is building advertising into the monetization strategy from day one.

You know, this is the type of thing that I’ve communicated, organized, and shepherded at major studies. So if I’m telling this to major studios with million-dollar portfolios, then indie developers should be doing the same thing, too.

How about the value exchange between the user and advertiser with rewarded ads? Do you feel like there has been a perception shift there?

I think the magic happens in the value exchange when you have marketers and brands who can bring authenticity to the process. By examining what users are interested in and helping them find brands that they already love or might be into based on their preferences, brands enhance the whole exchange and make users feel like they’re getting even more value.

Where the value gets lost is when brands are only focused on getting as many impressions as possible. Then the brands are exposed to users less likely to engage, so that makes the rewarded ecosystem less valuable. That’s where things like machine learning are useful because you can use it to tap into which brands will resonate with which audiences and just continue to add value.

You’ve been a huge advocate of diversity in the gaming and tech industries. Can you elaborate on these efforts?

Let me start off with a business case. When you think about diversity in games, a lot of people say things like, “Gaming’s been around for 30 years; why should we change it?” At the same time, the key goals for any business are to develop revenue models, grow revenue, and expand.

Typically when we think about diversity, we’re purely thinking about having different people in the room. What I’ve tried to communicate is that those two things actually coexist: when you have diverse people in the room, they can bring authentic stories and authentic experiences to help resonate with new customer bases — which means opportunities for revenue growth. So really, diversity helps companies maximize their profits, which is a really linear way of thinking about it. So when we talk about diversity, that’s the business case.

When it comes to advocacy, I’ve focused my efforts on a few key organizations. The first one is Black in Gaming, a foundation I helped create in 2017 and currently serve as Chairwoman of the Board. Black in Gaming is all about getting black talent into the pipeline to get hired and help create those authentic experiences that I mentioned. Advocating for this effort is important to me as a woman of color and because it’s something all leaders in the entertainment space can give back to within the industry.

We’re currently looking to partner with companies and assess their talent pipelines. That way, we can help them figure out how we can help them acquire the right tools to hire more diverse talent and engage with diverse communities.

The second organization is Women in Animation. I don’t have a leadership role there, but I highly encourage folks who are interested in animation to explore that nonprofit as well. WIA provides resources and connections to help women advance in the field of animation with the ultimate goal of equal representation.

The last organization I’ve been active in is Women in Product, which has helped me significantly. It started as a social gathering over dinner, and now it’s grown to thousands of people. It’s all about the women in technology companies who are driving products and helping others understand the tools at their disposal.

There are a lot of challenges we face in such a male-dominated ecosystem, not to mention the challenges of the tech industry in general. That’s why I’ve focused on these three very targeted organizations; I really wanted to make an impact on representation in the talent pipeline and the product itself.

Tapjoy would like to thank Laura Teclemariam for taking the time to join us! Laura will be back for part two, where we’ll discuss diverse hiring practices, working on fan-favorite IPs, and the future of the industry. For more insights from our Mobile Champions, check out our interview with Ngozi Ogbonna, Senior Director of UA at Fairygodboss.

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