How one of the few Asian American women in the auto industry built a $ 20 million business
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, auto sales are at an all-time high and dealerships are making more money than ever before. Enter Diana Lee. With more than 30 years of automotive sales and marketing experience, Lee has shaped a traditionally male-dominated industry. She is the co-founder and CEO of Constellation Agency, a hybrid digital marketing and SaaS company whose proprietary Alexia software drives and manages highly targeted campaigns.
Since inception in 2016, Lee and her business partner Matt Woodruff have built Constellation into a company with over $ 20 million in sales, with no outside investment. They are well on their way to more than double that number in 2021, with growth of 300 percent from the previous month. Customers include BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volkswagen and more.
Alexia launches and manages targeted advertising campaigns on a large scale, revolutionizing the way automotive companies, dealers, and CPG brands can reach consumers on a hyperlocal scale. Not only does Alexia lead clients to a more efficient advertising method, but she leads the advertising and marketing industry by creating a set pricing model. This, in turn, cuts marketing fee expenses while delivering great results.
Lee began her career in auto sales and worked in the industry for over 30 years before turning the Constellation Agency into a multimillion-dollar company. Recognizing the inefficiencies in automotive advertising, particularly at the retailer level, she co-founded the company with Matt Woodruff, a former strategist at Oglivy and Mather. With the development of Constellation’s proprietary software, Alexia, they quickly went from an advertising agency to a technology company.
“When I started Constellation, I didn’t have a complete roadmap of what I wanted to do with the company, I just had an idea and a great business partner,” says Lee. Over the past five years, Constellation has grown flexibly and adapted to the needs of customers and the advertising and marketing industries.
Alexia was originally developed as an in-house tool for the Constellation team. But when Lee and Woodruff realized they could license the software, they jumped up. “Alexia enables agencies to break through the traditional“ billable hours ”model and get started in the lean way possible,” explains Lee. “Software replaces the vicious circle in which agencies scale their output up and down with people. Agencies will be able to keep their top talent for years to come if they use Alexia to scale their ads instead of their employees. ”
As one of the few Asian American women in the auto industry, Lee has always worked hard to prove her worth. That determination has reflected in their build and in the growing Constellation Agency, rated # 65 among the fastest growing private companies in the United States Inc. Magazine, the 7th fastest growing advertising / marketing company in Inc. 5000 and the 10th fastest growing women-run company.
“In 2019, men had over 75% of jobs in the automotive industry. Of the 23.6% of women in the industry, only 1.8% were Asian women, ”says Lee. In 1989, when she first entered the industry as a 19-year-old Asian college student, the gender distribution wasn’t even that generous. “In such an environment I was at a disadvantage because I was not treated with the same respect as my male colleagues. My success had to be based entirely on merit. I had to be the best at what I was doing, otherwise I had no chance of advancing professionally. ”
At 25, she was promoted to finance manager at another dealership. Most of the salespeople were twice her age and all of them were men. On her first day at work, one of the men came into her office, tossed her a file and said, “Girl, expand this.” Lee was his supervisor. She had to prove that she was someone worth respecting. So she grabbed the folder, ran after him in the showroom and tore up the files in front of everyone, threw them in the air and said, “You made a mistake. You have to start all over again. “Her colleagues called her from then on” the iron butterfly “.
Today, Lee is committed to building and nurturing an inclusive and diverse team to pave the way for other women and minorities in the automotive industry. At Constellation, a dedicated lawyer helps international employees obtain their H1B visa to work with the company. 49% of Constellation Agency employees are women, 50% of executives are women, and 25% of executives are women of color.
In May 2020, the Constellation Agency launched the Do Good Auto Coalition, a nonprofit that aims to get car dealerships to help local communities. It has already facilitated the donation of over 750,000 pounds of food and provided over 600,000 meals. The NGO is sponsored by Constellation along with the participation of Maserati, NBCUniversal, Automotive News and the Elizabeth Elting Foundation and works with leading auto dealers across the country.
Lee has this simple piece of advice for other social entrepreneurs: “Never take ‘no’ for an answer.