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Real talk: Güven Soydan on management, privacy and product

Just before 2020 ends, we interviewed our new VP Product, Güven Soydan on the many topics of his role: product and people management, remote work, Apple's privacy features, and his mission for the product team. It's a refreshingly open conversation that ends on a heart-warming note. Just what we need.

Tell us about yourself and your history in this industry

I started my advertising career in sales at a very old-school sales house. “Hello, you wanna buy 20M impressions for the entire year? Ok that’ll be 60,000 TURKISH LIRAS. Here are the websites we’ll show your ads on. Yes of course we’ll send you screenshots.” I used to call the owners of the websites and do the whole plan. It was a horribly manual and boring job but taught me pretty much everything I needed to kickstart my career.

I worked a lot with the big media buying agencies and started getting interested in “special projects” - Flash applications that took over the websites, expandable banners that looked cool, anything that was beyond the standard banner placements really. So I started designing these different ideas that would match the content of the websites, sell it to the agencies, and then build it with the site owners. That was the first time I got the taste of creation for work. It was a rewarding feeling and I wanted to keep doing that. Though it took a while to become a product manager - the profession that was driven by that feeling - I have always been grateful for my manager and the owner of the company I worked for, to have let me do the thing that I actually wanted to do. This was also the first time I saw good management.

« That was the first time I got the taste of creation for work. It was a rewarding feeling and I wanted to keep doing that. »

Mobile? What mobile?

I was offered a job at the group buying craze of 2011. I was to bring my knowledge of digital marketing to manage the advertising budget of the company. The entire advertising budget. This was the time I was recommended to own performance marketing - specifically SEM. After hundreds of hours of work, maybe months of constant focus and improvements, we have built, I believe to this day, one of the best SEM optimization platforms at that time, in house. It required everyone across the company -from the offer editors to every developer- to be involved and I am certain that it was some pioneer work for its time. In 2011 we had an almost absolutely personalized digital advertising, without the usage of any identity whatsoever, only depending on the intent of the user.

There was a goal that we have validated to be achievable and impactful. We have built basic proofs of concept to validate again and again. Doubled down on the value and prioritised ruthlessly. Again, it was the people who guided me that created that beautiful feeling of accomplishment through collaborative creation.

Only after that I have started getting involved in mobile advertising. Mobilike, a mobile advertising sales house back in Istanbul, recruited me to own the performance products. Madvertise, a company from Berlin has just acquired Mobilike and they have put their strengths together to bring innovation to Turkey’s mobile advertising market that was recently flourishing.

Instagram was not yet bought by Facebook. My iPhone was a 4S.

I was working on mobile attribution technologies (adjust and AppsFlyer have just been founded, HasOffers was the King) and how to run successful CPI campaigns when I was invited to Berlin to own the adserver features of our parent company Madvertise’s platform. One of two people that came over to Istanbul to speak to me from Madvertise was Pan, Remerge’s CEO himself. He was my first ever manager in Berlin. And he is once again the person that I report to. I deeply and genuinely admire the support I have received from Volkan and Şekip of Mobilike and every single person at Madvertise (and later on, LiquidM).

In Berlin I worked at a couple of companies like Fyber and Applift that have been in the same industry. Because of my education and also background from previous work, I always was interested in data and optimization. As a product manager, I have worked on every single part of the adtech stack from mediation SDKs to buying optimisation algorithms. I have to say that I always enjoyed the demand side a tiny bit more.

At OLX as the owner of the advertising product, I started focusing on the experience of the end user and I carried this approach in the game publishing platform I have led the product at.

My entire experience of digital advertising, and specifically of performance oriented advertising (a glorified naming for “ads of advertisers that ask the right questions”) has led me to Remerge, a very suiting name as I get back together with my colleagues Pan, Martin, Ben, Mike and others as a person that has been humbled hundreds of times by the profession of product management and the industry that is the unwanted child amongst builders of software.

I believe Martin & his team’s work so far has been beyond excellent and I am looking forward to redeeming my blunder years at Madvertise.

You have a different story on how you joined Remerge. What was that like and what was your deciding factor?

That’s right! I almost joined Remerge before. I took a detour of 3 years before I actually did join. I have been a friend of the company and was the dude who was at every party but never got the chance to actually work with the amazing people of Remerge.

Güven, in the penguin suit, at Remerge's 4th Anniversary Party.

Eugen has always been a dear friend and a trusting consult on product management. After years of “when are you going to join?”, he said the door was still open and I walked in. Eugen has moved to the position of VP Strategy that he’s already doing great impact at, and I took over the management of the team plus the ownership of the product.

On my last call with Eugen before I joined, he mentioned the changes that were coming to the industry: I was actually excited about that state of chaos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way a person that is comfortable with that much uncertainty. But the combination of everything: Pan and the team, the culture at Remerge, the company’s positioning across its customers and partners, my will to solve massive problems while building autonomous and hyper-effective teams… The stars aligned correctly. Those stars are actually the opportunities and my personal values.

I appreciate everyone at Remerge for the great working environment they have created and I believe that was the most important reason. I already knew it was the case.

What were the first three months like?

Intense! Taking over a team is no joke yet it’s every product manager’s nightmare to take over already built products. I think by the end of these three months I have quite a good grasp on the trajectory that will take us to where we want to be in a couple of years.

I have spoken with so many team members, learning about the past and the future, our strengths and weaknesses while getting constant input on what’s coming.

The first three months has been about creating a mind map that shows the world of Remerge and its future while positioning our team on that map. We have spent a lot of time working on our compasses, defining the right goals and product management principles. We’re more than ready for the massive action coming in 2021.

What's cooking in the product team? What do you hope to achieve in the next six months?

It’s such a big question. The product team is focusing on becoming an extremely impactful team as its priority. Things that actually will be worked on are going to follow naturally. We’re focusing on three things:

1) Make customer the focus of every single thought,

2) Redefine efficiency in building and become one with an extremely versatile tech team,

3) Measure the impact, no excuses

Following a ruthless and rigorous process of focusing on the measurable impact, we have narrowed down the directions we’d like to take Remerge towards. We are going to focus on two objectives: becoming the obvious choice for performance marketing and building a platform for Enterprise customers.

We believe that what differentiates Remerge is hidden in its customizable platform approach (about everything from business models to optimisation algorithms), our relationship with our customers that is built on transparency and honesty, and our superior scale in the ability of handling RTB requests.

The next six months are about bringing all these together and building on our strengths while getting ready for the huge elephant in the room.

The hot topic. What are your thoughts on the new iOS14 privacy features?

Yes, there it is, the elephant. I’m a big supporter of digital privacy and despite being a part of “the great sin” (digital advertising eating the world), I believe it’s a change that is for the better in the long run.

I don’t believe Apple keeping its grasp on personal data is necessarily the saviour here. However, the rationale of our collective mind and the debate we’re having across the world with our hyper-connectedness is driving the market in the direction that is very interesting.

There are a couple of reasons why.

First of all, let’s accept this- it’s gone too far. I fundamentally oppose the ability or the power of manipulating the human mind. Yet the whole existence of humans is built on the premise of us being storytellers, the ability of tracking every single individual and -not only that!- being able to take action on the knowledge collected on them has shown its true face in so many different aspects in our recent history. It’s specifically fascinating to notice the roots of modern PR and the ideas & innovation that Edward Barneys has brought being used by political campaigns in the beginning versus the ugly face and the effects of extremely optimised messaging and usage of personal data showing in the greatest political campaigns ever established.

« It gets dirty once there are no rules. I welcome Apple’s unprecedented decision considering the grand scheme of things. »

It’s exciting and playful when we tell stories. It gets dirty once there are no rules. I welcome Apple’s unprecedented decision considering the grand scheme of things. Maybe it’s even getting back to the roots. The “early-evil” of advertising that promised “The Big Other” instead of echo-whispering our most private secrets to our ears.

The second important reason is a simple customer-oriented perspective. Measurement has gone extremely granular because of personal tracking. We have become so obsessed with the quickest and most leading metrics possible to optimize here and now, we have forgotten how we have been measuring impact. Event-based attribution is great as a model of reality and it has done so much for cleaning up the bad players of our industry but the causality of our actions and the complexity of our world cannot possibly be reduced to that. As a product manager, I find it really exciting to think about different ways of measuring the business impact of advertising without being able to attribute it to a person.

Apple’s SKAdNetwork solution seems to be once again the MiniDiscs (the music storage technology that lived only a blink of an eye) of our times. It’s just a learning platform for all of us to see how hot the fire is. Once we touch it and feel it, there will be fascinating measurement technologies built in the industry I am sure of it.

Working globally is a key part of your role. How do you maintain and develop remote relationships?

I gotta be honest, working remotely is so natural now that the only thing that we need to work around is the different time zones. As a team gets bigger, prioritizing our connections and optimizing the touch points become very important. Remerge has that culture so it hasn’t been difficult at all.

There are certain principles I follow:

  • Always be aware of all aspects of our business: I personally keep in touch with our leaders across the globe as well as enabling my own team to reach out personally to our customers everywhere.
  • Consolidate when we can: Manage time zones well by enabling the common working times for collaboration.
  • Keep asynchronous where we can: I have found out over and over again that written and public communication is more superior than what our biases tell us. I encourage my team and peers to keep communication organized and in public spaces so that the work is prioritized and handled by the wisdom of the community.

Once there is absolute trust in an organisation it’s inevitable that this style prevails because it is so much more efficient and productive. Remerge has a great foundation and culture of working asynchronously and invests a lot in enabling the team to be better at it at all times. It’s been doing wonders.

Any last words or learnings you would like to share?

Love, trust and understanding will prevail. Even in the darkest times, in the chaos of merciless mechanics of business and individual pragmatism, there will be people working together, trying to make a difference via community and not personal achievements. I believe the future inevitably is in the hands of those people. I’m glad to be working with a lot of them at the same time.

Franchesca Tan

Senior Global Content Manager

Based in Berlin

Responsible for Global