Twitter’s new head of research is passionate about data, business and marketing. And she was born in TT.
WMN spoke with research expert Nikkia Reveillac, who shared her journey.
She was born and raised in Arima and went to Arima Girls’ RC School, then St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph.
But having many relatives living in the US, she said her mother always “had it in her head” that she, too, would end up there to further her education. At age 18, after completing A-levels, she moved to Miami, Florida.
She said she always felt she had an “entrepreneurial side” because of her family.
“My grandfather owned a jewellery store in TT, my aunt is a masmaker (Don Marie Reveillac of Trini Revellers), and my mom would make jewellery out of leather and sell at flea markets. So I came from a family of entrepreneurs and I was always very creative.”
Her mother, Allison, still lives in Arima and is a medical social worker.
Nikkia did a degree in international business at Barry University, Miami. After her degree, she moved to New York in 2001, which she said is a great place to “try to figure things out,” since there are so many opportunities. During that period, she taught dance classes.
Dance is another passion of hers. That passion, she said, not only stemmed from simply “being a Trini” but from going to ballet classes when she was a child. But after an injury, she realised she could no longer keep it up, and returned to the world of business. She did a master’s in business administration and marketing at Baruch College.
“In my head, that made sense – still not knowing what I wanted to do. And I knew it was something I can do, since I couldn’t dance any more and I needed some direction.”
But after graduating in 2005, she said she began feeling lost once again, as it was tough to find a job in the field, since she did not attend one of the top ten business schools in the city.
“I had to get scrappy. I sent out, like 100 different letters to the people who went to the same school (and are employed). I was pretty much was like, ‘Listen, I’m trying to understand what you do, I’m not trying to get a job (from you), I just want some guidance,’ and it led to one woman. And it is perhaps why I’m so generous with my time and will reach out to people, or help anyone who reaches out to me.
“She said, ‘There’s something about your cover letter that spoke to me. I appreciated your honesty, let’s talk.”
Reveillac was told the company, Colgate-Palmolive, usually hired people with “a couple years” of experience and that she was “very entry-level and very green.” But a year later, she was brought in to assist the company by “filling in some gaps” as an associate research manager. Her job was to lead research for the Colgate 360 Toothbrush brand.
“The job was essentially trying to understand the people who use your product. It was a perfect match for my inquisitiveness, and the entrepreneurial side of me, even though it wasn’t about that, helped me go above and beyond.
“I was just happy to create new solutions. I was working part-time in September and because I was working so hard, they created a new position just for me in April 2007.”
She stayed with the company for 13 years and even lived in Mexico and Switzerland to facilitate it. Within those years, she worked her way up to being the director of insights, which required her to lead a team of insights and analytics managers of marketing teams.
But once again, she did what she calls “a very Nikkia thing,” and began looking for new opportunities where she felt she could shine.
“The orientation was, ‘Oh my gosh, all of the stuff that I do, my passion projects I have been doing for years, what if I could find a home for that?’ That is 100 per cent of my work.
“And the other thing was that I have a lot of energy to make things better, make people grow and develop, and as cheesy as it sounds, see teams move forward, solve problems.”
She said the job was restricting her from fully exploring these interests. She wanted to find a “home” that was a good reflection of her values and creativity. Four companies came to mind: Spotify, Airbnb, Twitter and Netflix.
What interested her was “the mission of those companies and that it was small enough that I could have an impact. And I use them. When I travel, I use Airbnb; music – Spotify; Netflix is on my TV all the time; Twitter – love it.”
She received two offers – one from Twitter and one from Netflix – and chose the former. She joined the team last October as director of revenue research.
“Because of the energy I bring, without even knowing it, I was trying to make things better. In three months I reorganised the revenue research team, restructured the way the team worked, introduced new practices for how we engage with the other functions on Twitter like product and engineering, and was doing things that were good for all of Twitter.
“It wasn’t what I interviewed for or what I was hired for, but I was promoted (to interim head of research) within seven months.”
Her predecessor then left in June and she was promoted to head of research.
“There are places where, if you work hard and do your best…you get rewarded, and Twitter is the place.”
She said many people do not realise just how important and influential research is, but people often do it without even realising.
“If you are somebody who is trying to get a gift for someone and you want to make sure it really is thoughtful and the reaction is ‘OMG, you know me so well,’ that’s research. That’s what we do every day.
“But people don’t call it research, we call it being nosy or trying to understand.”
With Twitter, she explained, “You need to understand how they’re using it. Everything we do is with that in mind. If we didn’t care about users, we wouldn’t do any research. We are making sure we continually improve people’s experience on the platform.”
Twitter recently rolled out a “voice tweet” option that allows users to tweet recorded audio. Many users thanked the platform for the move, saying it was an option they had always wanted. And though it is currently in its test phase, Reveillac said this is one example of how research can bring forth changes that are welcomed by users. Research also helps with deciding what content they wouldn’t allow on the platform, which includes identifying what may be offensive to certain cultures, minority groups, et cetera.
“It is very much the lifeblood of every company and if you’re trying to deliver something, whether it’s an article or a piece of clothing or a better experience on a platform, you’ve got to know the users. You have to know what makes them tick. You need to understand how they’re using it. So anything we do is with that in mind.”
In a question and answer segment recently hosted by her research team, she also said the core foundational elements of research are, “…curiosity, a desire to find the truth no matter what, and a passion for helping others understand the truth.”
In addition to her friends and family, many fellow TT users congratulated her on Twitter after the official announcement was made on Twitter’s profile. She said she was “incredibly humbled” by the response.
“I’ve been on the other side, sitting at home cheering for people that have any bit of TT blood. When people were like, ‘I don’t even know who you are but (you’re a) Trini,’ I was so proud.”And then I guess the girl in me was always working hard and always trying to do better – I always had a bit of impostor syndrome. So when people say, ‘Nikkia, you inspire me, I’m so proud of you,’ there are still moments where I’m like, ‘Me? I’m just being myself.’ It was a mix of emotions from ‘OMG, I can’t believe people are so excited’ a little of ‘I feel honoured and humbled,’ and a yearning to do even better and just bring Trinis along.”
Her family, she said, is “extremely proud” of her.
Asked what she misses most about TT, she said the food and the ethnic diversity.
“I miss seeing black and brown faces, I miss the accent…We are a happy people and I miss that energy. I miss the fact that a lime could happen any time, anywhere…being able to just say ‘I feeling for doubles’ and go get it.
“And more than anything else, I am missing the melting pot that is our country. I mean, there’s a ton of stuff we still have to unpack as a republic, but nothing like what is happening here in the US. That is a different level of heaviness.”
She said she is a “Carnival baby” so she returns home with her American husband Daniel Saks and two daughters – seven-year-old Joni and four-year-old Shiloh – to participate each year. They have been together for 17 years.
“I take three weeks off every year. I let my kids play kiddies Carnival. I’m very connected to home and I try to make sure it’s a meaningful trip, so not just Carnival but spending time with my family.”
Asked what she loves most about Carnival, she said, “The freedom. I have a hard time describing it to people who never experienced it, but it is where every creed and race find an equal place. You’re on the street celebrating life, wearing whatever you want, and no judgement. And what a thing to experience in this life. A moment where you could just be fully yourself, fully open, fully embraced. There’s nothing like it. Carnival is under my skin.”
This year, she played mas with Bliss Carnival band for the first time. She said since its inception, she had been playing with Tribe.
Some of her favourite soca artistes are Kes the Band, Ian “Bunji Garlin” Alvarez and Machel Montano. She added, “(Neil) Iwer (George) surprised me this year (with Stage Gone Bad). He really did well this Carnival, he deserved Road March. It was a great song.”
She has kept her TT accent throughout her time in the US. She said she never understood fellow citizens who would return with a completely different accent after a short period.
“I remember the first time I came back from college, I had friends who were sounding like Americans and I was like, ‘I’m very confused, it’s been three months.’
“I’ve always been proud to keep my accent. People have reached out to me and say the fact that I still sound the way I do is an inspiration.
“I’m always like, ‘Hey, how yuh going? Nice to see you!’ which is very Trini. Calling people in my life who is a family friend ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ just out of respect, things like that…”
She said her husband has even learnt to make some TT dishes.
She said she doesn’t have to “try hard” to maintain her culture in the US as it “just comes naturally,” and that her “Trinidadian and Caribbean energy” is always appreciated by those she comes into contact with.