Big Data

Sprinklr is the embodiment of a tech unicorn. Solution-focused, data-driven, and generating buzz consistently, Sprinklr boasts a valuation far north of $1.8 billion (at the time of this piece). We spoke with the charismatic founder and CEO, Ragy Thomas, about his company’s startup journey and why NYC was the right place to launch.

Tell us about your company’s beginnings. What did you see (or not see) in the market that led you to launch?
In 2008, I was President of Epsilon Interactive Services Group, a division of Alliance Data Systems that provided email marketing technology and interactive agency services. During this time, I saw that email was changing the way that businesses communicated with customers and realized that the same thing would happen with social media. It was clear that social would create new opportunities and new challenges for how brands communicate with customers.

In 2009, I launched Sprinklr to solve the biggest problem facing every modern enterprise in today’s social world — managing experiences across every single customer touchpoint. Today, Sprinklr provides the most complete social media and customer experience management platform for the enterprise. We help more than 1,200 of the world’s largest brands do marketing, advertising, research, care, and commerce on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and 22 other social channels globally – all on one integrated platform.

What were some of the biggest challenges that your team faced at zero stage?
In the early days of Sprinklr, we were often ridiculed for our strategy. We pursued a platform strategy as opposed to a point solutions strategy, and we were ridiculed for this. If you go back six years, the startup world was going through the notion that you must be really specialized and simple and we just didn’t believe in that. We believed that big businesses needed a comprehensive, unified platform to interact with their customers in a human, intuitive way.

We learned not to get distracted by little things, and focus on the big picture. No matter what’s going on in the market, the philosophy I’ve used to build my business has always been the same: a relentless focus on fundamentals. We’ve focused on revenue growth and creating tangible value for customers with a credible solution to an incredibly pervasive problem. Those are the things that matter, and the things that will always win in the end.

Let’s look at the science behind your product. What makes it different from other offerings in this space?
Sprinklr is the only unified customer experience management platform purpose-built for today’s social world. From the beginning, we set out to build a powerful social media management platform that integrates with an organization’s existing infrastructure and allows employees across every customer-facing department to collaborate with unified data. We provide an external API available to build applications on Sprinklr and have over 100 total connections, including CRM, marketing automation, asset management, profile and message enrichment, and analytics systems.

We pride ourselves in the ability to drive real business results for brands. In fact, the average Sprinklr customer sees a 172% return on their investment in the first year of their contract and 236% in their second year.

Another key differentiator for Sprinklr is our vast relationships with channel partners. Unlike competitors, Sprinklr has a direct relationship and access to more than 21 channel partners, including Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and more. This, along with content for over 120 countries in over 110 languages, paired with the breadth of enterprise platform applications (i.e. Salesforce, SAP, Marketo, Adobe and more) allow brands to achieve a true 360-degree view of the customer by having a presence at every user touchpoint.

Lastly, Sprinklr’s platform is proudly secure for our customers. Leading financial services companies like JPMorgan Chase, Citi, and Wells Fargo depend on Sprinklr because of our governance, compliance and security capabilities. Sprinklr has top-tier security and compliance certifications, such as SOC 1 and 2 certifications, FFIEC, and more.

How do you translate your brand’s message in a way that gets you heard above the noise?
We only have one “true north” at Sprinklr: creating value for our customers. We obsess over it. Sprinklr creates value by helping companies solve their problems, and the Fortune 500 brands we work with have a very big one on their hands: figuring how to engage with each of their customers in a meaningful way, at scale, across every social channel. We provide a unique solution to an obvious problem, and that leads to immense value for our customers.

There is a lot of noise around digital transformation and social media crises, but we don’t feed into the noise. We provide the solution to the noise. And that’s how we get heard.

Let’s talk about brand values. What means the most to your company besides industry success?
Sprinklr is unique in that its core values come directly up from the company’s employees, not down from the boardroom. Our core values are: It’s ok; Sprinkle, don’t shout; Fix it don’t complain; Never ever give up; and Passionately and genuinely care.

These are the personality traits and core values that our company runs on. They’re written on our walls, woven into emails, mentioned in board meetings. They keep us unified.

Success to me is about the people. I want my team to feel empowered, inspired and equipped to tackle any challenge. As we continue to grow and scale as a business, maintaining strong values and a positive culture is critical.

There’s always been this rivalry between Silicon Valley and NYC in tech. What are some tangible benefits to being based in NYC?
New York was an easy choice for me to build our headquarters. My life is here and it’s truly a one-of-a-kind city. The business landscape in New York is incredibly challenging, without a doubt, but it’s the right kind of challenges you need as a startup. If you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere.

For Sprinklr, we also had a big advantage by being physically close to our prospects. We knew we wanted to target the enterprise and Fortune 500 landscape. Being one of the biggest business meccas in the world, and having a big focus on the advertising and marketing space, it was a perfect fit.

Name one place in your company’s NYC neighborhood (restaurant, cafe, etc) that you and your team just can’t live without.
Many employees in our NYC office occasionally moonlight as karaoke superstars and head to Koreatown for all the karaoke spots. Our office is also close to Bryant Park, which is our year-round destination for grabbing a breath of fresh air and our go-to outdoor spot to hang out and relax.

 

Within 5 years, Datorama has become an industry leader, working with more than 2000 brands, 300 agencies, publishers, and tech firms, and counting L’Oreal, Foursquare, and Godaddy among their clients. We spoke with Ran Sarig, Datorama CEO & co-founder, about his company’s meteoric rise.

Tell us about your company’s beginnings. What did you see (or not see) in the market that led you to launch?

Founded in 2012, Datorama was born out of my co-founders and my own recognition that there was white space for a marketing-specific solution that could drastically reduce the complex data problem suffered by marketers of all stripes. As all three of us had experience in the marketing horizontal — in various capacities at advertising technology (AdTech) providers and at advertising agencies — it was abundantly clear through professionals’ daily struggles that there was a need that wasn’t being addressed. After spending some time doing discovery and exploration, it became very clear to us that artificial intelligence (AI) would be the critical technology that would enable us to surmount the emerging and evolving data woes.

What were some of the biggest challenges that your team faced at zero stage?

Probably the hardest part of starting a company is taking that initial leap of faith. Obviously, there’s a tremendous amount of risk involved from a fiscal and career perspective. For each of the three co-founders this was not an easy decision to make as we all had enjoyed strong trajectories and were reaping those benefits. Ultimately, it was clear that our idea was so powerful it needed to be pursued, especially as it would present an opportunity for Datorama to be a first mover in the marketing technology (MarTech) space.

It seems so long ago that we took that initial step but since then Datorama’s grown significantly. We tripled and are now doubling revenue and headcount for four years now. After the first half of 2017 we are on track to do it again. Now our biggest challenge is keeping pace with our momentum. Scaling the business while maintaining our unique culture and focus on innovation is not easy to do. While we’ve made some mistakes, we’ve been quick to course correct and refocus. I am very proud of where the company is today with a global footprint of 16 offices. Since inception we’ve always had a global presence but now at this scale we’re a truly diverse, multi-cultural organization.

Let’s look at the science behind your product. What makes it different from other offerings in this space?

As today’s marketers are burdened by a plethora of point solutions, they are now adopting an integrated approach that connects marketing performance, outcomes and investments across all of their channels, programs and stakeholders. Customers using Datorama’s marketing intelligence platform as the backbone of their marketing organization produce a single source of truth to power better decision making and collaboration. To this end, Datorama provides marketers with smart, assistive AI machine learning technology, out-of-the-box data modeling and automated insights to connect, unify, analyze, visualize and act on their data immediately — at any scale — with high performance.

Essentially, this provides our customers with the ability to leverage AI to collect, cleanse and mash all of their marketing data together, which can reveal all-new insights not previously seen before. The end result is a straightforward way for marketers to analyze their efforts to determine their return on investment and make better decisions going forward to improve campaign performance.

As far as I am aware, Datorama is the only company to: 1) Apply machine learning to data integration; 2) Have flexible data models that adjust on the fly with user’s needs; and, 3) Leverage AI technology to elevate critical business insights in real time. All of this is delivered in a productized way, which differs from many businesses that provide AI solutions but require lengthy service engagements.

How do you translate your brand’s message in a way that gets you heard above the noise?

One of the greatest challenges operating in the MarTech space is standing out from the crowd. To put things in perspective, in 2011 there were about 150 organizations in the different MarTech landscapes. Today, there are around 5,000. Due to this saturation, there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace and overlapping messages. And we haven’t even gotten into the problem of AI companies overpromising and under delivering — don’t get me started.

For us, the plan was simple. Early on the team’s focus was to onboard as many customers as possible. We sought to prove our value by gaining customer traction and delivering success for them. Now, as a company that’s considered the benchmark in marketing data integration, it makes telling our story easier. The reactions we’re seeing from journalists, third-party research companies like Gartner and Forrester, and from other industry-focused influencers makes it clear that we’re leading the pack with our platform. This is further substantiated by the impact we’re making with our install base, which obviously wouldn’t be possible without a truly cutting-edge solution that delivers on our value proposition.

Let’s talk about brand values. What means the most to your company besides industry success?

At Datorama we’re completely obsessed with our customers. The biggest thing each Datoraman is focused on is ensuring our client’s success. In fact, this has become so central to our mission that we’ve made it a point to measure our very own success based on our customer’s performance working with our platform.

There’s always been this rivalry between Silicon Valley and NYC in tech. What are some tangible benefits to being based in NYC?

While that may have held true several years ago, I don’t think that a rivalry exists anymore as we’re more connected than ever and certain regions specialize in specific industries. New York City’s Flatiron district, for example, has become home to many of today’s leading AdTech and MarTech companies, which is why we decided to put our global headquarters there. For Datorama it’s important to be in New York because it’s, arguably, home to some of the greatest advertising and marketing teams on the globe. As this is our core customer, we find it beneficial to be so close — literally and figuratively — so we can work in partnership with them to deliver greater product innovation and the best customer service possible.

Name one place in your company’s NYC neighborhood that you and your team just can’t live without.

Datoramans are a bit spoiled now that we’re a few doors away from the flagship Eataly, but that’s only the start. Our New York-based team has always been a fan of Dos Toros, so much so that a group carved the logo into a pumpkin during a Halloween get together. I think it’s safe to say it’s always on their minds — just kidding. Personally, I have been a big fan of Eataly’s La Birreria, which is the market’s rooftop microbrewery and restaurant.

Learn more about Datorama here.

Brian Lesser was Global CEO of Xaxis in 2013. This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2013.

Brian Lesser is Global CEO of Xaxis, a leading digital media company experiencing explosive growth in the 26 markets it services across North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Brian sat down to discuss his company and the future of programmatic buying in an uncertain ecosystem.

Are we on the precipice of an ad tech implosion? Many journalists and even a few VC have said that the ecosystem, as it stands, can’t continue. What needs to be done?
Big Data and programmatic provide increased benefits to advertisers, so spending in this discipline will continue to rise. It will ultimately drive increasing numbers of investors and tech entrepreneurs into the ad tech space. As agencies, we need to serve as the trusted advisers, holding the client’s goals as the focus point and helping to shape the landscape accordingly. Not all ad tech companies offer unique services or proprietary data and these simply do not need a spot at the table.

There is a saying that today it is “Math Men” vs “Mad Men”—ignoring the exclusion of female creatives and engineers from that statement—is there an inherent conflict between Big Data and Big Creative that can’t be resolved? Is this about budgets, culture, warring ideas, or something more?
With the growth of programmatic, art and data are actually more closely connected than ever before. Technology and data analysis allow advertisers to reach only the most relevant consumers wherever they happen to access media. Putting the right message in front of those audiences makes this equation even more effective. However, the right data and execution can make up for most creative shortcomings. That isn’t to say that we look at them as two distinct entities. In an ideal relationship, we see it as an opportunity for collaboration – creatives are able to get feedback that’s much more specific and useful to clients, allowing them to refine their approach to get the best returns. Relying exclusively on creative or technology is never going to be as successful as a combined approach.

Some voices are stating that Big Data is simply too overwhelming for many marketers—from local marketers to CMOs. How can we reduce the fear factor for marketers without oversimplifying the rich complexity of data and its importance in building solid strategy?
Big Data – the raw material describing hundreds of billions of interactions – is only as useful as the ability to pull actionable insights out of it. The barometer marketers need to apply is actually very simple. Namely, can I use this information to drive better results? And the answer, as shown by the explosion of companies utilizing Big Data to drive their advertising campaigns, is a resounding “yes.” Xaxis helps its clients make sense of the mountain of information referred to as Big Data, analyze it together across sources, and drive more successful advertising activities. It’s not a question of looking at every single data point – it’s using the power of large numbers to draw useful conclusions. And it works.

How has this year been for Xaxis considering the ecosystem’s general uncertainty?
2013 has been an extremely strong year for Xaxis and for the programmatic industry in general. While there’s still a learning curve, we are seeing an increasing comfort level from both buyers and sellers when it comes to incorporating audience buying into their overall strategies. Publishers in particular have become much more open to audience buying technologies, which has led to a proliferation of private publisher exchanges. We see no value for our clients to play in the auction space, so we have worked directly with publishers and media owners to create private exchanges that are only open to Xaxis and GroupM clients. These advertisers get preferential access to premium inventory at scale; and publishers see increased performance for their ads. Specifically, Xaxis is continuing its expansion in international markets, seeing growth of its client list to more than 1,500 advertisers and introducing several exciting new products. This May, we launched operations in Latin America, introducing the first, fully featured audience buying solution for reaching the region’s more than 300 million connected consumers. We’ve also opened offices in Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong and are on track to be operating in 28 markets by year’s end. On the product front, Xaxis had a number of exciting firsts in bringing audience buying to new digital channels. In the US, this includes Xaxis Radio, the first programmatic audio buying product for the digital radio market, and Xaxis Places, which allows brands to sync their online and mobile efforts with their digital-out-of-home campaigns. More recently, we debuted Xaxis Mobile, the first solution to allow brands to sequence and analyze their mobile ads in full coordination with the rest of their digital spend. By year’s end, we will have served more than 500 billion impressions and expect even larger numbers in 2014. And finally, and perhaps most gratifying, we were recently named by Crain’s New York Business as one of its “Best Places to Work in New York City” for 2013. The knowledge, skill and dedication of our people are what makes Xaxis great and we look forward to what the next year will bring.

Brian Lesser is Global CEO of Xaxis, a leading digital media company

Murthy Nukala was the founder and CEO of Adchemy in 2013. This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review in 2013

Mr. Murthy Nukala is CEO of Adchemy, a company that uses proprietary intent-mapping technology to help companies like Macy’s, Verizon and Overstock.com optimize their digital campaigns around consumers’ intentions when they search online. Mr. Nukala believes that digital marketers need to help refocus the advertising technology industry’s emphasis around helping advertisers make money, not simply selling more ads.

Have we failed to communicate to brands and marketers how data really works to connect digital campaigns to real world sales?
I think leading marketers already know that online consumers who are ready to buy convert into sales, both online and offline. For example, Macy’s recently announced that every dollar it spends online leads to $6 of purchases at stores within the next 10 days. The online advertising industry just can’t be focused on selling more ads at higher prices – the industry needs to be focused on helping advertisers make more money.

Why is there so much confusion about Big Data in ad tech? 
This is a typical “boil the ocean” problem. Just because the online advertising industry generates a lot of data doesn’t mean all the data is actually of value. There’s a lot of energy spent building enough capacity to physically store all of the data, moving the data to the same place, merging and cleaning the data, and then having the right tools to analyze the data – all with the presumption that there’s got to be something of value in the haystack. The industry needs to be more hypothesis-driven. What’s driving value in online advertising?  What data will actually help marketers derive more of that value?

How do you define consumer intent in a Big Data dominated industry?
Consumer intent is a consumer’s objective – what he or she trying to achieve at any point in time. One way of looking at the online advertising industry is it’s dominated by Big Data – tracking every single click of each consumer, combining that intelligence with demographic data, and then trying to make good inferences about those users. However, another way of looking at online advertising is that it’s really dominated by intent. The majority of dollars spent in online advertising is really spent in channels where consumer intent can be clearly inferred, whether that’s paid search, on a media or e-commerce website, or a mobile app.  Channels where consumer intent can’t be inferred are of less valuable to advertisers since they don’t allow for the level of personalization that consumers have come to expect. Obviously, the channel where consumer intent is stated most explicitly is paid search. However, as we see more and more people come onto the web using mobile devices, we’re going to see consumer intent become more implied, based on the app they are using and the their location.

How do we shift the focus from keywords to intent?
Before explaining how we shift from keywords to intent, it’s first important to explain why the shift matters in the first place. Because different people who are actually looking for the same thing use different keywords in their search queries, it’s not uncommon for a search marketer to acquire and manage dozens, if not hundreds of keywords for a single product. For large brands, this translates into having to manage literally hundreds of thousands of keywords— a very expensive, time consuming and ultimately sub-scale task. Moving from keywords to intent is not just a cool new way of looking at your SEM campaign – it’s a way to make more money. A lot more money. As a result, many very large advertisers have already begun to make the transition from managing their paid search campaigns around keywords to managing around intent. By managing campaigns around the underlying intent of a consumer’s search query instead of keywords, our customers are simplifying their campaigns by 1,000 fold and reaching more prospects with more relevant ads. Marketers, according to our case studies, who have used Adchemy IntentMap technology to shift from keywords to intent have increased their ad spend by 90 percent or more, on average, while meeting or exceeding their ROAS goals.

What’s the difference between a “point solution” and a true improvement on the existing ad tech ecosystem. Where do you believe that Adchemy fit in?
At Adchemy, we’ve seen how point solutions can really introduce choke points in other parts of the customer acquisition funnel. For example, in display, showing a banner ad that says, “Which of these celebrities is Paris Hilton?” might generate a lot of clicks – because everyone knows who Paris Hilton is – but the same banner is going to cause your landing page conversion to plummet. Looking at paid search, Adchemy has found that, for some of our clients, using the verb “Buy” in ads has a much higher click-thru rate than other verbs, but post-click conversion is actually very bad and, from a system-wide ROAS perspective, other verbs are better than “Buy”. Any solution that optimizes just one level of the customer acquisition funnel is a point solution. Any solution that looks to maximize ROAS, or maximize revenue while meeting or exceeding a target ROAS, is a true improvement to the ad tech ecosystem. Adchemy offers the latter.

Murthy Nukala was the founder of Digital Jones, which was acquired by Shopping.com, a $130 million company that was the best-performing IPO of 2004. At Shopping.com, he held the position of senior vice president of enterprise products, overseeing the company’s strategic initiatives and businesses. Mr. Nukala has also held management positions at Composite Software and Sand Hill Group, where he guided the firm’s technology research agendas and investments.

This article originally appeared in The Advertising Technology Review’s Digital Content Supplement in 2014.

Marketers and creatives have begun to think like machines when developing campaigns, say some industry experts. They’ve discarded the use of emotional nuances and socially-derived cues for a click-centric logic which places an emphasis on Big Data directives rather than storytelling. The industry’s struggle with engagement rates for traditional digital formats like banner ads is derived not only from short online attention spans, experts say, but also from a broader disconnect between the ad tech ecosystem and consumers. The experts’ advice? Get human, leave your ad tech silo and don’t be so lazy in developing strategy.

According to Droga the industry has become “lazy” – flush with cash and cynical about the value of creative inspiration- biding its time by unleashing an ocean of digital sameness rather than iconic branding moments.

“Anyone who’s ever failed to close a pop-up knows that advertising today is more about interruption and intrusion than compelling narratives or a good laugh,” wrote David Droga, the creative mind behind one of the industry’s most lauded agencies, Droga5.  “We don’t add value. If anything, we often take it away.” According to Droga, the industry has become “lazy” – flush with cash and cynical about the value of creative inspiration- biding its time by unleashing an ocean of digital sameness rather than iconic branding moments.

Not only have consumers become annoyed with elements of tracking and visually intrusive ad formats, said many industry figures interviewed in the writing of this article, but the ecosystem doesn’t seem to connect the phenomenon of consumer ad blindness with its own behavior. “We are facing lean times if we don’t clean this mess up,” said one ad tech executive off-the-record. “We have a good chunk of the ecosystem built around ads that fail most of the time and another chunk of the industry is supporting the companies serving the failing ads.”

Brands with high engagement rates online and powerful multi-screen campaigns focus on creative storytelling, according to Martini Media CEO Skip Brand.

The fact that the banner ad ecosystem is facing a crisis of engagement faces little debate, but why those ads are failing is something that “no one wants to talk about,” said the executive.

Brands with high engagement rates online and powerful multi-screen campaigns focus on creative storytelling, according to Martini Media CEO Skip Brand, an industry veteran whose company’s clients have included Microsoft, Visa and Ebay. Rather than a click-obsessed vision of media which sacrifices creative impact for traditional models of mass appeal, marketers ought to reexamine their overall strategy in terms of ROI goals. Playing it safe- connecting with the widest swath of consumers with oft-used methods and themes- might not be as beneficial to marketers’ bottom line in the long-term as creating a meaningful brand experience through high-impact content within the ad.

“It is not rocket science,” wrote Droga. “The best ads tell great stories.”

Yet storytelling – and the ever-shifting lines between great stories and forgettable ones- is digital marketing’s most difficult exercise. “A marketer’s challenge,” said Pam Hamlin, President of Arnold Worldwide Boston in an earlier interview, “is to embrace the rapid adoption (of new technologies) and consistently create relevant content that breaks through.” That emphasis on storytelling and groundbreaking creativity means that marketers and creatives must cede a bit of control- to each other.

“A marketer’s challenge,” said Pam Hamlin, President of Arnold Worldwide Boston in an earlier interview, “is to embrace the rapid adoption (of new technologies) and consistently create relevant content that breaks through.”

Creatives need to focus on brand directives rather than on showcasing their digital know-how. Marketers need to learn to trust creatives enough to allow them to infuse their campaigns with new ideas that have the potential to elevate their brands to new levels of social relevance. “It is critical that brands stay true to their core value,” Hamlin stated. “This is especially true for iconic brands. What they stand for, their DNA, remains the same as they evolve their marketing approach to stay relevant in new and innovative ways.”

The industry is slowly waking up to the wane of the old ways of marketing, according to some industry watchers and shifting towards a new model of engagement-focused, content-centric campaigning.

Nonetheless, creatives like Droga believe that the downward drag of a cash-obese, creativity-phobic ecosystem is winning- for now. Thinking along with the robots- that the bigger agency is always the best,  that the most clicks means the most engagement- hasn’t worked for the industry so far. Now, Droga and other analysts believe, new ideas and new methods of reaching consumers have the best chance of gaining legitimacy and making the industry relevant again.

So content is king again, but not just any content- relevant, engaging content that amplifies social and commercial connections across multiple platforms without interrupting users’ online experiences. That means content that is better than just a facsimile of native content- it is transformational content. That means content with enough weight to attract users’ attention on its own, without employing a Trompe L’oeil to fool readers into a (worthless) click.

“As the world moves to a user-centric one from a context centric one it will favor media companies and platforms that have multi-channel capabilities,” said Will Margiloff, CEO of Ignition One. ” That is, those platforms designed to deliver sequenced marketing messages (that are tailored) to the users’ world wherever they are.”  Those messages should be contextual but also truly engaging and respectful of users’ needs for real value in brand interactions, said Margiloff, whose firm is a leading digital marketing solutions brand.

“If we don’t change things this will be another 90’s bubble- only on a much, much bigger scale,” said the ad tech executive, who noted that his company would be taking steps to shift towards content publishing in the next year.

Follow Carla Rover on Twitter

 

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