In Conversation With | Ashleigh Berger - General Manager at Breather (Toronto)

Ashleigh Berger is the General Manager at Breather (Toronto). She is in charge of launching and growing Breather in Toronto, so you can get peace and quiet on demand in the city! We are excited to have her on the inaugural MARKET panel!

Tell us about what you do at Breather

I am the General Manager for Breather in Toronto. What that means is that I am responsible for the launch, growth, and overall P&L of Breather in Toronto.

Tell us more about Breather

Breather is an app that unlocks access to private spaces around the city. We are a network of private spaces that people can use to work, meet or relax at their convenience.

Guests may book one of our beautifully designed spaces for as little as 30 minutes at a time, up to an entire day, and we currently have over 100 locations in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Montreal, Ottawa. Soon we will have spaces in Toronto, LA, Chicago, DC and London, UK.

Fun Facts: Every city has its own look and feel and inspiration for the spaces, all aligned with the Breather brand and user experience across the platform. Every space has a table for meetings as well as a space for lounging plus Wifi, whiteboards and anything you may need to be productive! Also, all Breather spaces are cleaned after every use!

What was your path to marketing and where you are today?

I got into marketing fairly early in my career. Right out of university I landed a role in sales at G Adventures, a small-group adventure travel company. I worked in sales for two years and got a really deep understanding of the customer since I was spending a majority of my days on the phone with them. I understood who they were, what their needs were and how our products fit in with those needs. I was really surprised with how I could organically change my sales pitch and anticipate their questions based on the demographic of the person. This is where my interest in marketing came in. I started volunteering some of my time doing side projects with the marketing department so that I could see if it was something I was interested in pursuing as a career. I loved it! When an opening in the department became available I applied and so began my marketing career.

When I started in a marketing coordinator role, there was increasing focus on online marketing which marked the beginning of the Marketing & eCommerce department at G Adventures. Because of my knowledge of the customer, I was able to easily use data to really understand who our travellers were, what their trip progression was, when they were researching and when they were booking and I built product marketing campaigns and promotions around that data. I was also responsible for launching our eCRM program which still exists today.

After three years in marketing at G Adventures, I came across an opportunity to join an eBook startup at a time when the eBook industry was still at the ground level. At the time I was a Marketing Specialist but I took a step down in my career path and and joined Kobo eBooks as Marketing Coordinator just so that I could get the opportunity to work there. I focused mainly on email marketing and promotions but it was the first time that I felt like I was becoming pigeonholed into one specific area of marketing which I didn’t want. I wasn’t ready to commit myself to just one area of marketing or even one area of the business. I wanted a more holistic view of marketing and business in general.

Up until that point I was comfortable making business decisions from a marketing point of view but I always felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle when it came to making decisions that were in the best interest of the overall business. I equated this to not having a business degree (I did a BA in Psychology at UWO) so I took time off to write the GMAT and went back to school for my MBA at the Schulich School of Business.The knowledge I gained during my masters was everything I needed to help me fill in the gaps and think differently when it came to solving business related problems. In between my first and second year of my MBA I got the opportunity to intern at Google here in Toronto. There were 112 interns in the US and just two in Canada so I was incredibly honoured to have been selected for this program. The way their internship program works is that they give you an assignment at the beginning of your internship and you have 12 weeks to execute. It allowed me to build upon my previous marketing experience and apply what I had learned in the first year of my MBA. It was fun and obviously working at Google was great experience for me.In the second half of my MBA I went to Hyderabad, India to complete my degree at the Indian School of Business. It was really the first time that I had international exposure from a business perspective so when I came back to Toronto and graduated, I really wanted that experience in the real business world.

I made the decision soon after graduation to move to London, UK to get international business experience. In the first month of arriving, I met the founder of a startup called Hostmaker, who had just launched a concept site two weeks before. Hostmaker is a startup that provides hospitality services for AirBnB hosts such as housekeeping, linen rentals, guest check ins and full property management on AirBnB. When I joined the founder we had just one housekeeper and two homes in London that we were servicing. I built the operations and process of the day to day business, managed the product and technology and, by the time I left, we were managing over 300 homes in London and had gone through two rounds of funding. We had also expanded into Rome and Barcelona. It was a lot of work and a very rewarding experience. I don’t think I would be sitting here in my role at Breather without this experience.

What do you find most rewarding about your role?

I’m so lucky that I get to work for a company that I believe so deeply in while introducing it to fellow Torontonians. I was born and raised in Toronto so to see these two merge together is very rewarding. Breather has so many different use cases and benefits for various groups of people. Whether it’s being more productive with your team, saving money on office space, or simply finding peace of mind. Not to mention how it’s improving the overall efficiency of the Toronto real estate landscape. To be able to drive all this makes me a very happy person.I’m also loving the conversations that I’m having with people around the launch of Breather in Toronto. Everyone is very excited and that makes my role much easier.

How do you define success in your role?

Success can be measured in different ways. Obviously, user growth, driving revenue and launching locations are all top of mind, but I also think success comes from our failures.When you launch a new market, you certainly have support from other cities. But ultimately Toronto and its people are unique, and there will be a lot of trial and error.I’m also in the process of hiring a team, who I believe has the potential to be the strongest across all of our markets. So success will mean keeping them engaged, reducing roadblocks and ensuring that they have everything they need to be the best at what they do. Providing a secure and fail safe environment is really important to me when launching a new market.

Are you going to be hiring in the next little while?

Yes! So as I mentioned I’m growing the team at this very moment. I am looking for an Acquisitions Manager on the real estate side, a Growth Manager on the marketing front and eventually an Operations Manager to run the day-to-day. I’m also looking for Operations Associates to ensure the best in-room experience at our locations.

What do you look for in someone you are hiring?

In no particular order...

A) Do they have the experience we need for them to hit the ground running

B) Can they be held accountable to the numbers

C) Are they hungry to work at Breather and believe in our vision

D) Culture fit

E) Are they smarter than me

What do you find most challenging about your role?

A big component of my role is people management, and from my previous experience of managing people, it takes some time before knowing how to get the best work out of everyone on the team. Everyone is unique and has different motivations and this can take time to discover. It’s a welcomed challenge and something that I enjoy tackling.

As a marketer the biggest challenge is accepting the fact that technology is constantly changing and that it is really difficult to keep up with everything. There was a time in my career when I once tried to keep up with all the latest trends and resources, but I think once you accept that you can’t know everything, you start to focus on one area that’s interesting to you.

How has the definition of marketing transformed in recent years?

The fundamentals of marketing are still consistent in that you try to provide the right product, to the right person, at the right time, and at the right value. But what I think has changed is that consumers have become smarter and companies need to be more customer centric.

We now look at the customer to tell us information about our next product feature and marketing strategy should really be aligned to business strategy within an organization. They don’t exist separately from each other as they used to in traditional marketing.I also think users are demanding a “less is more” mentality in that we don’t need to cram a website or an ad with every selling proposition in the books. Keeping it simple sells better.

How do you stay up to date with marketing trends?

I don’t! [laughs]I really don’t. I keep up with the news and happenings that are specific to Toronto and dive deeper from there into topics that I’m interested in.

What are your best sources for reading about marketing?

I do keep up with Hacker News (Ycombinator) as a starting point but also PSFK and the usual tech publications - TechCrunch, TechVibes, The New Yorker, Wired, New York Magazine, Skift, etc.

I’m big on the local publications as well - Toronto Life, BlogTO, BetaKit. They help me keep Breather local marketing initiatives relevant.

What are your top applications and tools?

Being on a remote team, it is important that I keep focused and stay productive in my day-to-day work.

1. Slack - For communication with the Breather team in any market and department

2. CityMapper - It’s a great app out the UK that has local Toronto transit information. It tells you the best route, time of travel, when the subway/streetcar is coming and when you need to leave based on the time you need to arrive somewhere. It’s similar to Google maps actually but a much better ux.

3. White Noise App - Since we haven’t launched yet, I’m working in coffee shops and loud spaces with lots going on around me. This app helps me focus by giving some good constant background noise. Campfire is my favorite to work to. Also, full disclosure, I sleep with this app on so if you’re a light sleeper who easily awakens during the night by sound then you should download the app.

Best Time Saving Skill

This seems like a no-brainer but I plan my day out the night before and prepare a mental workback schedule for the day. Since I’m out hitting the pavement most days I need to find places to work between meetings. Having the location decided before I head out makes the day run smoother. I also like to have backup locations just in case it doesn’t work out. I cannot wait for the new Breathers to open! That will help a lot.

How does decision making process evolve as your team grows?

The way I hire and manage people is really with the trust that my team was hired because they are the best at what they do.With that trust in mind, team members are empowered to make those decisions and be accountable for them. Working on a small team allows for natural transparency so that’s never really the issue at Breather but transparency across all levels of the organization is key to decision making.

What is the greatest piece of marketing advice you have ever received?

When I moved into digital marketing my manager said to me, “You can’t be an expert at everything digital - there is so much to know on the technical side that you can get lost in the details. So just accept the fact that you can’t know everything and you’ll then start to zero in on what’s important to you.” It was like instant relief.

How do you define value of a product and how do you deliver or communicate that value?

Value is created if the product or service directly address a pain point and the customer is willing to exchange something for that product or service - doesn’t necessarily always need to be currency. Value should be communicated by unique selling propositions or how that pain is addressed through utilization. If you focus on the pain and how the solution removes that pain, value will be conveyed.

How do you suggest that others find their way through the field of marketing?

Nowadays, marketers are being forced to move into very specific areas of expertise. You’re an email marketer, a content manager, a community manager, an SEO expert - you get the point. If you’re early on in your career, try get into a role that would allow you to see all facets of marketing before deciding which area to focus on.

If you are already a marketer, make the customer your best friend and know them inside and out. With this knowledge there are opportunities to move into other areas of business should you ever want to move your career in a different trajectory.

For those who are trying to get into marketing from non-traditional marketing backgrounds, try volunteer if you have a marketing department within your organization or with other startup/marketing organizations in the city. Volunteer and attend events or other things in order to get visibility within the marketing team and show your enthusiasm. That is how I did it.

Just put your hand up.