Meet The Disruptors: Airey Baringer Of TripleLift On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Labels can be useful for quickly understanding something about each other at a high level, but they do a disservice to the nuances and uniqueness that we each represent at a deeper level. They devalue our uniqueness and instead push us to be more similar as opposed to celebrating and appreciating our differences.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Airey Baringer.

Airey is the Director, Product Management, Privacy at TripleLift where he oversees the team responsible for defining and executing the company’s product and go-to-market strategy for privacy and identity solutions. Airey plays a major role in TripleLift’s product development for post-third party cookie solutions, including identity, contextual, and Privacy Sandbox solutions. When Airey is not diving into the latest privacy policy changes, you can find him trail running, backpacking and eating his way through Southern California.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My career has been marked by periods of “falling into things.” Coming out of college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I had a business degree. Now what?

I had never heard of product management until my first boss after college told me I’d be great at it. I gained ambitions to be in a startup and I made that happen. But joining a startup didn’t exactly lead to the riches that I had in my mind. What it did lead to, however, was an opportunity to take on a new project in Privacy. It was in this role that I first realized how big the problem space is for online privacy and consumer data, and how critical it is to broader notions of trust, collaboration, and a functioning society.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The world of privacy and the world of digital advertising are converging, and that is driving significant change. Over the past decade plus, digital advertising has largely been delivered by tracking how people use the internet in order to understand the kinds of goods and services they may be interested in. Ads for the relevant goods and services are then shown to people across the web.

Advertising remains important to businesses of all sizes. Businesses use advertising to reach new consumers, find new buyers, and generally to help them grow and keep the economy running with pace.

But there are large macro-scale changes happening that are driving towards a more private version of the internet and data that are already changing the way digital advertising is served. Specifically, privacy regulation like GDPR and CCPA, consumer sentiment towards ads and privacy, and strategic company positions are all aligned on increasing privacy online. Any one of these forces can be influential enough to move markets, and on privacy and ads, they are converging.

My role is to work with the brilliant people around me to create solutions that balance the need for business growth with the market demand for greater online privacy. To do so, we’ve been re-thinking how digital advertising works and what technical solutions need to exist to deliver outcomes for businesses while respecting consumer privacy preferences.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started my career, I had never heard of product management. And when I started my first role in product management, I was still figuring out what the role entailed. I’m certainly grateful to my boss at the time for seeing my potential, but I really had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. What ensued in my first few months in the role is only funny as I look back, as I’m sure is the case with most professionals.

Having read just about every article on the web that existed about product management, I put my best foot forward — and even went as far as to commit to redesigning the customer facing website in order to gain support for the resources needed for a project I was leading. So there I was, teaching myself how to code in a new programming language, doing the design, and being the product manager with an engineering team based in China that didn’t know how to build website UX… lest we forget that I also didn’t really know what my role was.

I give a lot of credit to my first managers for taking a chance on me and providing me the opportunity to grow and learn. But in hindsight, who did I think I was? I learned many lessons during this time — chiefly, superhuman efforts aren’t likely to lead to successful outcomes.

So what’s funny about this? Six weeks after we released the product that I had bargained for resources for in exchange for creating a customer-facing website, the company acquired a competitor and the prior 9 months of my work were wiped away when all of the code was basically thrown away in favor of the new company’s code.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

In my experience, the best mentor is an unofficial one. I’ve been inspired and enjoyed feedback from many people. From my parents, to good friends, to family, to coworkers, to notable thought leaders, they have all challenged me to think differently and expand my understanding of the world around me. Many thanks to all of them!

From my friends and my family, I’ve learned humility.

From my coworkers, I’ve learned resilience.

From everyone on my list, I’ve learned how to be the best version of myself. I’ve also learned that the growth and learning journey never stops. Keep pushing. Always.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I start from the perspective that products and services should be improving people’s lives. While it’s not possible to meet the needs of every person all of the time with a single product or service, it is possible to optimize for the most positive outcomes for a specific segment of people.

If the net benefit of disruption on the broader population is positive, by whatever measures are important, then the disruption is probably positive. If the net benefit of disruption on the broader population is negative, then the disruption is probably “not so positive.” However, it’s also unlikely that a large segment of people would support a disruption that made their lives worse.

As an example, rideshare services disrupted taxis. In many instances, taxi drivers were harmed because their business suffered, but riders, people who would have otherwise taken taxis or commuted in a different way, ultimately had a better outcome. Additionally, the services enabled more people to become drivers and work on their own time to earn more money. The follow-on impacts include taxi drivers becoming rideshare drivers. It has also forced the taxi industry to innovate in order to compete.

The net impact could be argued to be positive in the medium to long term for a majority of people even though it caused short term pain for some.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Create structure where there is none. People generally crave structure and predictability. This is why change is so hard for so many. It breaks the structure or expectations they have. Part of the task of innovating is creating structure that resonates with others and allows them to come on the journey with me.

Amateurs do strategy. Professionals execute. In the early phase of my career, I was always interested in strategy, but I didn’t know how to take strategic thinking and make it real. I thought the strategy was where the real thinking was done… the fun part. Strategy only matters if it can be executed. Executing is really fun… it’s more fun than strategy. Creating something, from nothing, with a team of people pulling in the same direction.

If you achieve all of your goals but leave a trail of blood behind you in the process, you fail. I was quite early in my career still, and had just started a new job. I was working hard, trying to prove myself because I didn’t feel I belonged… a bit of imposter syndrome. I came off harshly and received some feedback that I was challenging to work with. I was trying to force the idea that I belonged. My boss pulled me aside and shared this with me. I’ve remembered it ever since.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

In my immediate future, I’m going to continue working towards improved outcomes for consumers, publishers, and advertisers in digital advertising. Beyond that, the world is my oyster.

Longer term, I’m interested in helping solve problems that have an outsized impact on people’s lives. I don’t have plans in the works at the moment, but there are certainly ideas that I’ve placed on a shelf to explore later. Perhaps it’s time to dust a few of them off.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Meditations was published as a book, but was actually Aurelius’ personal journal. He was a practicing stoic, and at the time, was the most powerful person in the world as the leader of the Roman empire.

The book resonates because it gives insight into the mind of a human and a leader based on the stoic ideas of “goods”: courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance. It helped me develop resilience, a stronger sense of conviction, an awareness of my own (vs. others) thoughts, and to attempt to optimize my own behavior to enable the achievement of others as a means to achieve great things together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — Epictetus

For me, this quote represents a willingness to question my own beliefs, to be open to new ideas, and to be more accepting of the different experiences and wisdom that exist.

This is both a vulnerable position to take, and a position of unimaginable strength. It takes strength of character to open myself to the idea that there are superior alternatives to what I created myself and that those alternatives didn’t originate with me.

My life experiences, the opportunities I’ve had, and the lessons I’ve learned have all been magnified when I was most willing to be vulnerable, tell the world exactly what I want, and be open to the idea that the responses I receive back may not be in the form I expect. In fact, to the contrary, the most amazing life experiences I’ve had came from being willing to move out of my comfort zone, respect, honor, and learn from the wisdom of others, and enable my unique self to lead the way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need a movement that eliminates the use of labels to define people or put them into groups. Each of us is far too nuanced and we all have far too many different experiences to fit neatly in a box.

Labels can be useful for quickly understanding something about each other at a high level, but they do a disservice to the nuances and uniqueness that we each represent at a deeper level. They devalue our uniqueness and instead push us to be more similar as opposed to celebrating and appreciating our differences.

Labels make it easy to identify the “other”, where “other” means different from me and usually somehow wrong or bad or undesirable. My life has shown me that people from all walks of life are far closer than we realize or may be willing to admit. When we understand the details of people’s lives, we find that those people don’t fit neatly into boxes, or groups. Our life experiences don’t make a zero sum game and it’s entirely possible and desirable that we can all get along without needing to be in the same recognizable group or share the same descriptive label.

Instead, we should treat each other with the respect and honor that we expect from others. We should work to understand each other’s unique experiences, qualities, and wisdom. We should seek to learn from each other.

How can our readers follow you online?

Find me on LinkedIn. I don’t do much on social media and I don’t publish much.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Meet The Disruptors: Airey Baringer Of TripleLift On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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