Our Black in Tech series features the career path & advice from Black professionals in the tech industry. In this Q&A, which is our first profile for this new series, Darryl Auguste - EVP, Strategic Projects at EverQuote shares his story.
VentureFizz: Where did you grow up and what were you like as a child? What did your parents do for work?
Darryl Auguste: I grew up in Woodbridge, NJ, which is ~45 minutes outside of New York City. As a child, I was pretty close to the stereotypical nerd. I was always good at anything related to numbers and spent a lot of time playing computer & video games. I grew up as a huge New York sports fan and was a long-distance runner from middle school through high school. My mom likes to tell anyone that will listen that I wanted to be a pro basketball player when I was in elementary school… which didn’t really work out for me.
My mom & dad both immigrated to the US when they were younger - from Chile & Trinidad respectively. Ever since I was a baby, they ran their own small business that they named “Darryl’s Corner”, which they still run today. Primarily, they sold a variety of household wares - ranging from kitchen utensils to fine china to spices - at their store, online and at trade shows & flea markets. Many of my memories as a kid were when I would be with them after school or on the weekends helping out & helping them run their business. It wasn’t the most glamorous work, but they always made sure that we had what we needed. I’m extremely appreciative of them for that and the work ethic that I was able to take away from just seeing how hard they worked day in and day out on their own terms.
VF: What inspired you to get into the tech industry?
DA: Actually, I accidentally stumbled into the tech industry. When I was looking for internships at the end of my junior year of college, a friend of mine suggested that I apply to an internship program at Google. I had no idea what the work in tech was like, but I wasn’t being particularly picky about internships because I needed a summer job. Ultimately, I ended up landing the internship and really enjoyed the atmosphere. It felt like a good mix of a professional atmosphere, in terms of getting your work done, blended together with the laid-back, social aspects that I enjoyed. It was great to have all those perks available to me as a cash-strapped college student!
VF: Where did you go to college? What did you study and what did you do after graduating?
DA: I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Yale for my Bachelor's. I studied Economics & Mathematics and graduated in 2009. After graduation, I went to work at Vistaprint in Lexington as an Associate Analyst on the Consumer Analytics team, partnering closely with the Retention marketing team to improve customer lifetime value.
VF: You joined Cogo Labs in 2011. What was your role there?
DA: Originally, I joined Cogo Labs to expand my skill set beyond the Retention marketing-centric role that I had at Vistaprint. Little did I know at the time that my role would quickly grow into building out the Email Marketing team for Cogo Labs. At the time, Cogo Labs had very little experience with email as a marketing channel, so I was able to use my background to help start & build out our first dedicated Email team. Our team was responsible for creating & running the email marketing programs for all of Cogo’s incubated business units from the ground up. It was my first time managing anyone or building a team and I learned a tremendous amount from that experience - largely by making my fair share of mistakes as a first-time manager. :)
VF: How did you get involved in EverQuote?
DA: I started working with EverQuote when I was still at Cogo Labs. EverQuote came out of the Cogo Labs incubator right around the time I started, so the team that I managed was actually responsible for running EverQuote’s email remarketing campaigns in the early days. When I decided that I wanted to explore making the jump to EverQuote to help build their business unit, EverQuote’s CEO, Seth Birnbaum, took me out for a 2-hour lunch to talk about everything that they were doing and how he saw me immediately becoming a leader within the company. At that time, EQ had fewer than 20 employees. That conversation made the decision a no-brainer for me and I’ve never looked back since.
VF: What has your career path looked like and can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position as EVP, Strategic Projects at EverQuote?
DA: I’ve been at EQ for nearly 7.5 years now and, at one point or another, have overseen all of our Analytics-related business functions. Initially, I started as the lead of our Email Marketing team and was tasked with building a complete team. Nearly 2 years later, I was asked to take ownership of our Consumer Marketing & Analytics department, which spanned all marketing channels as well as all analytics functions across the company. It very quickly grew to a team of 30+ over a couple of years. In addition to our consumer marketing responsibilities, we also helped start the functions that ultimately became Product Management & Analytics, B2B Analytics & our Auto, Home/Renters, Life & Health insurance business unit teams.
Currently, I serve as EVP, Strategic Projects. After leading the department, I wanted to move into a role that was a little less management oriented and a little more hands-on since I’m still a start-up & tech guy at heart. I get a little antsy if I can’t help drive projects directly and pull some of the levers myself. Our team’s primary focus is helping drive high-value initiatives across the company - whatever they may be. The projects are usually a combination of high complexity, extremely data-driven, and/or cross-functional. It was a natural progression for me after having years of experience working across the organization. We’ve been able to work on several projects across the company in collaboration with our marketing teams, our product teams - we even helped our People Operations team kickstart our DEI efforts over a year ago.
VF: What do you attribute your success to thus far and what types of obstacles have you had to overcome along the way as a Black professional?
DA: I’ve always been a “just figure it out and get it done” type of person. From my background, I bring a unique perspective to tackling business problems that many others don’t have. I’ve found those to be invaluable, particularly at start-ups. Beyond those two, I’ve found that I’m extremely observant and a fast learner. Not only has that been helpful in tackling day-to-day business problems, but it also helped me figure out how to navigate the corporate world. When I noticed early in my career that the people progressing rapidly were very well connected to key decision makers, I made it a point to create a strong network of empowered sponsors that had my back & were invested in my success.
In terms of obstacles, I’m not going to lie - being a Black executive in tech can be tough since it’s fairly lonely. Most of my interactions with senior leaders across the industry have been in large rooms where I was the only Black person at the table. I spent much of my time figuring out how to balance bringing my own full perspective to those conversations while making sure I “fit in”. Much earlier in my career, there were many times where I felt like I was being slighted or that I wasn’t getting the opportunities to advance that I deserved based on my work. Those opportunities seemed to go to people that didn’t look like me and had more “traditional” backgrounds.
VF: What types of programs and initiatives does EverQuote have that support diversity, equity, and inclusion?
DA: We still have a long way to go, but I’m very proud of how much we’ve done in a year’s time. We started investing as an organization when we were still ~250 employees since we knew it was the perfect opportunity to become the model for what a tech company should look like - instead of being at 2000 employees and wishing we had started earlier. Currently, we have 6 employee resource groups (ERGs) that put on several social, community & educational events every month. We’ve partnered with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) - Boston chapter & SheGeeksOut to support their efforts in the community, as well as learn ways that we can continue to improve. We’ve conducted detailed analyses on our People Operations efforts and have made changes to our hiring process to not only identify candidates that are underrepresented, but to improve the interview process by making our practices more inclusive & actively monitor our biases. We also just kicked off a pilot program focused on accelerating the professional development of underrepresented individuals.
Recently in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, our Black ERG, EverBlack, held a company-wide town hall to share our experiences with our colleagues. This past week, we also donated $200,000 to various organizations dedicated to promoting racial equality & justice through individual donations & company matches. These are just a start and there are many more initiatives in the works to make sure we create a fully diverse & equitable atmosphere for all of our employees.
VF: What advice would you give to other Black professionals who are interested in joining the tech industry?
DA: If you’re interested in tech, I’d say just do it and start learning. It’s a fast-paced industry with immense opportunity and your perspective is desperately needed. There are so many resources available to learn new skills independently, regardless of your role. A lot of people tend to think of tech as primarily software engineers and data scientists, but there are roles available for pretty much every background. You just have to look for them.
Make sure to network, make new connections, and get to know decision makers. Even if you don’t find an opportunity immediately, these are good people to know when a new role comes up.
Find a company, a team & a manager that support you. Your professional success should be as important to them as it is to you and there’s no reason to settle for anything less.
Last but not least, imposter syndrome is very real but remember that you belong here as part of this industry just as much as anyone else. When I started out, I felt like I was so far behind but I quickly realized that no one had all of the right answers - if they did, they would’ve done it already. My opinion was just as informed as theirs was, they were just more confident turning that opinion into an action plan.
VF: While general awareness of the problem of diversity in the tech industry is a step forward, to make a lasting change, real actions need to be taken. Do you have any ideas or suggestions on what companies or employees can do to step up and make a difference?
DA: For an industry that prides itself on being on the cutting edge of society, we’ve been far too complacent in addressing these issues. Inaction is the enemy of progress. Start by committing to do *something* and then continue doing it. That could be educating yourself independently, making concrete action plans, or challenging yourself to do something different. What we’re doing today certainly isn’t working and the DEI statistics throughout the industry speak for themselves. In my experience up until recently, most people have fallen into the “passive” ally category because they know DEI matters, but they don’t know what to do since it’s not their area of expertise. It’s going to be uncomfortable at times, but you need to start. Be direct, genuine & thoughtful in what you do. Include people that don’t look like you in decision making conversations - without them, I can guarantee you that you’re missing a key perspective.
There are too many talented people out there and too much information available to not educate yourself. The onus shouldn’t be on the applicants or employees to find you - you have to go find them. We don’t allow that mentality when it comes to how we develop our products or plan for growth, and we shouldn’t allow it for DEI either. We need to treat DEI with the same level of importance & visibility that we do for our quarterly financials or product releases. It won’t be easy and it won’t be glamorous, but it’s absolutely necessary and it starts with you (yes, you!). I genuinely believe that the future of the tech industry will look very different than it does today and we need more new leaders to pave the way, especially in today’s society.
Images courtesy of Darryl Auguste.