Undertaking a gigantic project like this, even when I didn’t necessarily “feel ready”, was probably one of the biggest growth opportunities I’ve ever experienced, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else.
MEDIA 7: You have been named as one of the Top Women Leaders in SaaS and one of the accounting industry’s Top 20 Influencers under 40. Could you please elaborate on your journey?
JOANIE WANG: I’ve always been the type of person who would follow my interests and figure out the details later, so it would have been hard to imagine that when I decided to study International Relations in college, I’d end up in the Fintech SaaS space! After I graduated college, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I tried my hand at all sorts of roles from luxury travel planning to edit/research for children/teen novels to business development for a leadership development nonprofit. It really helped me figure out what I was good at, what I enjoyed doing, and what kind of leader/support system I wanted to be for those around me. And while that didn’t follow a typical out-of-college career trajectory, I really look back and appreciate the time I spent doing that, because when I started at Expensify 7 years ago, it helped me recognize where I could make an impact as well as the opportunities ripe for picking at an employee-centric company culture that I’d never seen before.
When I started back in 2014, I was hired for writing copy and managing events, but as our strategy evolved, so did my role. In my seven years at Expensify, I’ve had so many incredible opportunities that just would not have been possible at another company – whether that be leading the development of a Super Bowl commercial with the world’s first expensable music video, dreaming up an all-expense-paid partner conference in Maui (then Bora Bora 2 years later), or spearheading our internal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program in a way that would help ingrain these principles into our everyday work. Not only that but I’ve had the opportunity to become a mentor in the company to help others be successful as well. At the end of the day, my journey has never been a clean, straight road ahead, but I have loved every moment of it and I am excited for what still lies ahead.
M7: In your tenure you have helped grow Expensify into the most renowned expense management platform around, being the driving force and launching some of the company’s biggest marketing initiatives. What do you think makes ‘Great’ Marketing?
JW: I think great marketing means being relevant to whoever it is you’re speaking to – that is, you are able to effectively communicate how you solve someone’s problem. At the very heart of it, clear and simple communication is key because if you can’t make your product relevant to someone’s needs, they will not care about your product, no matter how great it is. Once you are confident in your message, then the fun begins - you can begin layering other factors such as creative ways to convey that message, perhaps work in a way to let people use the product, clever copy, experiment with relevant trends/cultural observations, etc. but at the heart of it, none of this matters unless your marketing is relevant to someone’s needs. If you can solve your audience’s problem, then your product becomes something they can’t stop talking about, and they will effectively become your biggest champion. That’s what I think makes great marketing.
If you can solve your audience’s problem, then your product becomes something they can’t stop talking about, and they will effectively become your biggest champion. That’s what I think makes great marketing.
M7: What’s top of the list for what Expensify wants to achieve this year and as you start moving into the next year?
JW: There’s a lot to be excited about around here, but depending on how the Delta variant goes, we’re really looking forward to getting back into conferences and re-engaging with potential customers and current customers alike directly at live events! Being part of the accounting community has always been super important to us, and we’re excited to get back into it should it be safe to do so.
M7: Expensify recently launched the massively successful Super Bowl ad campaign, could you please shed some light on this experience?
JW: Yep! In 2019, we decided to launch our first advertising campaign, and we thought what better way to start than with the Super Bowl, a cultural phenomenon in itself, but also the only time when people look forward to and even anticipate the ads. Going into it, no one on our team had ever done a campaign like this before, and we were excited to partner with an ad agency that could help us deliver something truly unique that no one else has ever done before. We know the task ahead of us was going to be huge – expense management is dull after all – but we knew our product would sell itself once someone could use it. Our planning team developed a short list of criteria that we wanted to make sure we had, which were:
1) Celebrated/had a connection to the host city, Atlanta.
2) Embody our values, culture, and the very simple message we wanted to deliver: “You weren’t born to do expenses.”
3) Give viewers a reason to pay attention and anticipate our: 30 spots in the week leading up to the big game.
4) Gave viewers an excuse to try out the product.
In addition to our ‘must have’ criteria above, we knew there needed to be a certain level of entertainment value, precisely because this was the Super Bowl, and so we decided to create a music video with a song that you could easily find on a Spotify Hits playlist. To pay tribute to the host city, we wanted to work with an artist from Atlanta, so naturally, we went with a rapper since the city is famous for rap and trap music. And finally, we developed a way for viewers to try our app by making the entire music video, as well as the final: 30 commercial, expensable, which meant that viewers could join in, try the app, and play along to win cool prizes. This way they were able to see how easy it was to expense receipts in their everyday life.
The experience itself was incredible – we immersed ourselves in this project completely for about a year before the big game. There were days that were a huge treat, like being onsite for filming and getting to meet the talent, but there were also days when our team would be sitting in a conference room going back and forth on every single word used in the messaging. Undertaking a gigantic project like this, even when I didn’t necessarily “feel ready”, was probably one of the biggest growth opportunities I’ve ever experienced, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else. The growth came not just from learning a whole different skill set in terms of creating, developing, and executing on a multi-pronged campaign that spanned nationwide, but it also helped me hone my skills as a leader, collaborator, and project manager. In the end, we created a campaign we were super proud of – not only that but something our entire company was incredibly proud of, despite differences in musical tastes – and we were so successful that 2 Chainz invited us to be a part of his followup music video as well with another scannable item!
Surround yourself with people who are invested in your growth, and you theirs. That way, when you see an opportunity that helps you achieve a goal – you can go for it!
M7: What marketing channels do you use and which ones do you see as the most promising given your target customers?
JW: We’ve always built the Expensify app with the end-user in mind, and naturally that means that we’re able to grow our presence by harnessing the power of word-of-mouth and accelerating it. As a result, the channels that work well for us are those that involve engaging with the community – think in-person events, conferences, knowledge sharing, and more. We look for unconventional ways to stay relevant in people’s lives by solving a common pain point that almost everyone has faced in one way or another: getting paid back. Expenses are an IOU loan that the employee extends to their company, and filing an expense report is simply the method of getting paid back. When we engage with our community, we’re able to turn each happy customer into a champion, and that helps us grow.
M7: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
JW: Surround yourself with people who are invested in your growth, and you theirs. That way, when you see an opportunity that helps you achieve a goal – you can go for it! Don’t worry about if “you’re ready” or not – chances are you might not ever feel ready when an opportunity presents itself, but as long as you are open to grow and learn as you navigate through the opportunity, you’ll come out at the end more experienced and confident with your own abilities. That kind of exponential personal and professional growth only comes when you and the people around you are all invested in moving each other forward.