Lead(H)er Profile - Dafna Sarnoff, Chief Marketing Officer at Aura banner image

Lead(H)er Profile - Dafna Sarnoff, Chief Marketing Officer at Aura

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Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Dafna Sarnoff, Chief Marketing Officer at Aura.


Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?

I was born in NYC, and we moved out to a rural area in Westchester when I was in middle school. My mother described me as “determined” on my nursery school application. I cared a lot about school, and my high school math teacher was a life-changing mentor. When I wasn’t at school, I was at the horse barn. I rode competitively, but the biggest lessons learned were from my coach, who demanded a work ethic that included mucking stalls, stacking hay, grooming and caring for the horses, and much more. But I think my friends (and some of my teachers) would also have described me as someone who laughed and joked around a lot.

Dafna Sarnoff Aura

What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school? 

In college I majored in mathematics. I remember considering majoring in English, and having a conversation with my Dad who suggested if I was on the fence then maybe I should consider that math might help me out a bit more later in my life. I was annoyed but took that advice, and I’m glad I did. My first job after college was at Bain & Co, when management consulting was much more generalized than it is today. There were over 100 of us right out of undergrad who started in the Bain office together. I was so lucky to have had that as my first formative job-- both for the training and data-driven orientation that stuck, but also for the smart fun people I met, who are my closest friends even today. I also got to work in all kinds of different industries: information services, packaged goods, healthcare, heavy truck wheel manufacturing, and more. 

Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?

Truthfully, a lot of my early career path was not particularly planned. I applied to business school from Bain, figuring if I got into HBS I would go-- so I did. Most of my job changes came from relationships with people I’d worked with before, including American Express, where I started as a manager in the Consumer business, and had several different jobs over 10 years, eventually joining the executive team for the Small Business division. Amex is a well-run, marketing-led company, and was a great training ground in that respect, and for understanding the value of a great brand. 

Another truly formative experience was the four years I spent at Yodle. I joined as a VP of Performance Marketing, and eventually reported to the CEO running Marketing; I was part of the executive team that pitched and eventually sold ourselves to Web.com. Yodle was my first experience in a tech start up. I learned so much from our CEO about operating a company around agile product development, as well as how to create a demanding, fun, and values-driven culture. 

My CEO at Intersection was a ranked poker player, and among the things I learned from him was perspective on risk, and taking failures in stride as part of what is necessary to ultimately succeed.

Aura has also been an incredibly rewarding learning experience. Our CEO, Hari, combines true entrepreneurship with a deep understanding of capital markets. He attracts a huge network of partners and investors and brings his own hands on personal experience with taking companies public. He pushes all of us to move fast with an eye towards big things; he generates a sense of us being destined for greatness.

What is your current role and responsibilities?

I’m the CMO of Aura as well as the D2C business leader. I run Marketing, Inside Sales, and Customer Service for the company.

Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally?  Was it always your goal to be in this position?

I never had a specific career objective, but I knew I wanted to continually take on more responsibility and learn new things in each new job. It feels great to be part of the leadership team of a dynamic company aiming for greatness, with a mission to create a safer internet for people as our world grows increasingly complex and reliant on digital transactions.

For people who are looking to be in a similar position, what advice would you give to others in terms of helping them achieve their career goals?

Advice that I keep trying to give people (including my kids!) who are new to the workforce:

  • Learn as much as you can outside your own area-- it will help you do a better job for the company.
  • Actively cultivate relationships with people at all levels across the business. They might be the people who get you your next job!
  • Learn what your manager is doing that you can do for them.
  • Keep a solution-oriented mindset. If you bring a problem, bring a way around it, even if it’s wrong. This distinguishes great people from good people.
  • Speak up with your ideas-- the best ideas can come from anyone, and aren’t necessarily tied to experience level.
  • Solicit feedback and make a commitment to act on it, from your manager and from your mentors. 
  • Remember that a strong work ethic, and being someone that others like to work with, will take you far.

What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?

The most important skill I need to do my job well is the ability to attract, retain, develop and motivate great talent, and to get our team to work well as a unit, and with other teams across the company. If I can excel at that, I can staff to any of my own personal weaknesses, which is critical for any leader. Of course, it’s also important to have a strong library of experience to draw from across different Marketing challenges.

What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work?  What’s the most challenging?

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is working with my direct report team, learning from each other, and creating opportunities for everyone to grow and succeed. It’s magic when the team chemistry kicks in. It’s also really rewarding to crack a tough problem using data and creativity, and see the results in the P&L.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

My proudest professional accomplishment is to have re-entered the workforce and continued to grow significantly after taking 8 years out to be with my 3 boys when they were little. Eight years is a long time to be out, and the first year back was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done professionally. 


Q&A

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I’ve been making room for my yoga practice a few times a week for 25 years, so I’m committed to keeping that going. I love walking around NYC. On the weekends I try to take serious down time, and spend time with my husband and sons, and the rest of my family. My husband does the cooking in the family, but the pandemic really brought out the baker in me!

How do you manage stress?

See above!

How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?

Zero! I drink water.

What's one of your favorite places in the Boston/New York area?

In New York City, I love The Hudson River Park, and I walk there all the time. Also the Highline and Central Park. One of the best things about the pandemic is realizing you can really walk anywhere in Manhattan.

I lived in Boston for eight years, and my favorite spots were running the bridges along the river. Also love the Gardens, the Commons, Beacon Hill.

Amazing spots in both places where everyone can go!

Any book or podcast recommendations? 

My husband, Geoff Rodkey is a comedy screenwriter and also an author. I recommend The Tapper Twins series for middle-grade kids (fun-to-read books about boy/girl twins in Manhattan). His first adult novel, Lights out in Lincolnwood, (a dark comedy about a suburban American family coping with a global calamity that upends all of modern life) comes out this July. The influence of our lives and our kids are present in much of Geoff’s work, including Daddy Day Care, his first produced screenplay, which was inspired by his staying home to take care of our oldest son when I went back to work at American Express.

What advice do you have for recent college graduates?

See above. To summarize: Work hard, be proactive, reach out and get to know people and the company, figure out how to help your manager, bring ideas and solutions not problems, ask for and act on feedback, be someone others want to work with.

About the
Company

Aura is a technology company dedicated to simplifying digital security for consumers.

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