Masha Finkelstein

May 23, 2016 Mark Emmons

“There’s a real creativity that comes with being a marketer.”

Masha Finkelstein

Age: 32

Family: Husband Fedor; sons Tima (4) and Misha (1)

Position: Demand Generation Lead at BetterWorks

Home: Sunnyvale, Calif.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in molecular biology at UC-Santa Cruz after transferring from Novosibirsk State University in her native Russia.

Career: Hortonworks, Adchemy, Accelovation (now NetBase Solutions, Inc.) Previously was a laboratory research associate at Maxygen and Genomic Health, Inc.

Favorite movie: Bollywood film “3 idiots”

Influential books: “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov and “Shantaram: A Novel” by Gregory David Roberts.

Interests: Family and education. Finkelstein recently blogged about the idea of schools incorporating the BetterWorks’ concept goal-setting into the teaching process. “I’ve been visiting schools and thinking about how education works because our oldest son is starting kindergarten next year,” she said. “I’ve been a little disappointed in what I’ve seen with public education. I would like to play some role in trying to change it. The idea of learning to love to learn is very important to me.”

Favorite apps: Redfin and the tile game 2048

Fun Facts: In Russian, “Masha” is the diminutive form – or nickname – of Maria. Her husband originally is from Latvia.

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Masha Finkelstein’s first two jobs out of college involved working with mice. And no, not the kind used with computers.

You know, the real ones. Four legs. Long tails. Fur. 

Finkelstein was a laboratory researcher contributing to studies that hopefully would someday lead to medical advancements. The work was rewarding. But being around rodents? Not so much. That helps explain why Finkelstein made a career change into a field that better suited her love of working with people and numbers – marketing.

“There’s a real creativity that comes with being a marketer,” said Finkelstein, 32. “You’re always thinking about campaigns and marketing channels that will get attention. When you’re in the lab, it’s just so long before you see results and get solid data. But in marketing, you can come in every day and see what you’re accomplishing. Then you can make good business decisions based on that.”

As a demand generation lead at the goal-setting software company BetterWorks, Finkelstein is part of a new wave of marketers who are bringing together technology acumen and the human element of building relationships.

One of her good friends, Hanna Kushnireuskaya, said it’s no surprise to her that Finkelstein excels in data-driven marketing.

“Masha is a fighter,” said Kushnireuskaya, a quality assurance engineer at VMware. “She’s very goal-oriented. She’ll pick a goal and then do everything possible to achieve it. She does whatever it takes to get the job done. She’s such an information-based person. She’s so good at gathering everything together on an idea, and then she gets going. It’s really impressive.”

And making big changes in her life was nothing new for Finkelstein. As a teenager, she found herself at a crossroads. Where should she live: sunny California or deep-chilled Siberia? What she chose probably would surprise most people.

A native of Novosibirsk, Russia, Finkelstein immigrated to the United States with her parents and younger sister when she was 15. They moved to the Bay Area when her father got a software engineering job. But after a year in Northern California, she still wasn’t adjusting to life in her adopted country.

“California was very, very different from what I was used to in Russia,” Finkelstein said. “I was leaving lifelong friends. I was in a bigger school. I was shy. And because I didn’t speak English very well, people didn’t understand me. It was just hard.”

So, she decided that those Russian winters weren’t so bad after all. She returned to Novosibirsk – a city known for its academics and located deep in the heart of her homeland – to live with her grandmother. (And for the record, Finkelstein said that while it’s true the winters are long and cold, the summers also are beautiful.)

Science-oriented, Finkelstein would study biology at Novosibirsk State University. But after two years, she was ready to give the United States another try. A little older and wiser, Finkelstein found herself more adept at navigating – and accepting – the differences between the two cultures.

“If you walk down the street in Russia, you don’t smile at people,” she said. “It’s just not done. So it’s a little scary when you come here and everybody’s smiling at you and asking, ‘How are you?’ But I got used to it. Later when I went back to Russia to visit, I even thought: ‘Why isn’t anybody smiling at me or asking how I’m doing?’”

She completed her education in molecular biology at UC-Santa Cruz and, after graduating in 2004, went to work in biotech. (Hello, mice!) It was at her first company that Finkelstein began to suspect she wasn’t cut out for a life of wearing a white lab coat. So she began doing small projects for the development side of the business. That eventually would open the door for her marketing career.

Kushnireuskaya and Finkelstein became friends through their children, who attended the same daycare center. They’ve also had similar life experiences – Kushnireuskaya immigrated to the United States from Belarus. Finkelstein’s personality, she said, is perfect for the marketing field.

“She’s very friendly, very open and honest,” Kushnireuskaya added. “She’s one of those people who will really listen to you and wants to know how you’re doing.”

Anastassia Fink, another Bay Area friend who also emigrated from Russia, added that she always has been amazed that someone who studied biology in college would excel as a marketer.

“But I could definitely see how she would choose people over mice,” said Fink, a consumer marketing specialist at Symantec. “She’s definitely a people-person who is very team-oriented and enjoys the startup environment because she has a little more room to try different things.”

Finkelstein quickly demonstrated a knack for getting potential customers interested in tech products. She worked as a marketing technologist analyst at the company that became NetBase Solutions, Inc., and as a campaign analyst at Adchemy – where she worked with Fink and first took on a role in B2B demand generation.

“Masha is extremely organized,” Fink added. “She’s so good at setting tasks and priorities. I don’t know how she follows through with her to-do list so well. When Masha is focused, she’s really focused. And she’s really good at following the customer through the journey. She never loses sight of that. Her focus is always on the customer.”

She later went on to big data firm Hortonworks, where she rose to senior marketing manager. Earlier this year, she joined BetterWorks – which has been making a splash with its transformative approach to making the goal-setting process at large companies more collaborative and transparent.

“It helps employees and companies get aligned so you know exactly where everyone is in their progress,” Finkelstein said. “You can see the projects that everybody is working on. I think it appeals to Millennials because it fits their culture very well.”

What appeals to Finkelstein is seeing the steady progress she makes in helping the business grow. When she worked in a laboratory – where success might not be apparent for years – it wouldn’t be possible to create a dashboard to track her successes.

“But I recently built a dashboard just for myself to measure what I was accomplishing – pipeline, revenue, lead sources,” she said. “I like watching it and seeing the numbers change every day. That’s what drives me.”

And there is another benefit to being a marketer.

“No mice,” she said, laughing.

About the Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at mark@leandatainc.com.

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