Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Growth Pilots

Growth Pilots is one of the more exclusive performance marketing agencies in San Francisco, but they know how to help high-growth startups excel at paid marketing. CEO and founder Soso Sazesh credits his personal experiences as an entrepreneur along with his team’s deep understanding of high-growth company needs and challenges as to what sets Growth Pilots apart. Whether you’re a founder of a seed or Series D stage startup, learn more about Growth Pilots’ approach to growth and partnerships.

Advice to early-stage founders

“I think a lot of times, especially at the early stage, founders don’t have a lot of time so they’re willing to find the path of least resistance to get their paid acquisition channels up and running. If things are not properly set up and managed, this can lead to a false negative in terms of writing off a channel’s effectiveness or scalability. It’s worth talking to an expert, even if it’s just for advice, to ensure you don’t fall into this trap.”

On Growth Pilots’ operations

[pullquote align=”right” author=”Guillaume McIntyre, SF, Head of Acquisition Marketing, Instacart”]“They have good business acumen, move fast and work as an extension to your internal team.”[/pullquote]
“Something we pride ourselves on is working with relatively few clients at a time so we can really focus all of our team’s efforts and energy on doing the highest quality work. Each of our team members works on a maximum of two to three accounts, and therefore they’re able to get very invested in each client’s business and integrated into their team. We really try to simulate the internal team dynamics as much as possible and pairing that with our external capabilities and expertise.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Growth Pilots Founder and CEO Soso Sazesh

Yvonne Leow: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into growth.

Soso Sazesh: I grew up in northern Minnesota where there is no tech industry whatsoever and then after high school, I came out to Silicon Valley and got exposed to the epicenter of the technology industry. I became very interested in startups and hustled to find startup internships so I could get experience and learn how they operated.

After a couple of startup internships, I got accepted to UC Berkeley and that gave me even more exposure to the startup ecosystem with all of the startup events and resources that UC Berkeley had to offer. I worked on a couple of startup projects while I was at UC Berkeley, and I taught myself scrappy product management and how to get software built using contract developers.

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As I was graduating, I had just launched my second startup project and it was growing organically but very slowly, and I realized I didn’t know how to acquire users. So I joined an SEM agency and that’s where I learned and fell in love with digital marketing. I helped companies successfully acquire users at scale using Google AdWords and finally solved for the missing skills I needed. After a couple of years, I ventured off to try my hand at starting a company again, this time with more experience and a co-founder.

We went through the AngelPad accelerator and raised a small round of capital – what would be called a pre-seed round nowadays. It was an eye-opening experience. I gained a lot of appreciation for what it meant to be a startup operator hustling to build a product people wanted and trying to acquire customers.

Startups are a roller coaster and we had a lot of ups and downs. We ultimately we’re not able to raise our next round of funding due to lack of traction and decided to shut the company down. As we were winding down, people in my network started coming to me looking for help with their digital marketing channels.

I started consulting for a few startups and identified an interesting opportunity, which was that very few startups knew how to do paid acquisition well and very few agencies were well-suited to work with startups. There was a huge gap in the market.

Some of these founders would come to me after trying to get paid acquisition to work on their own, but they didn’t have the time or expertise to do it properly. Some of them would hire an agency and not see results, because most agencies don’t understand the needs and grow-or-die nature of fast-moving startups. These agencies wouldn’t allocate the time and resources needed to really understand these startups and work closely with them to make their paid channels work.

So that’s exactly what I did and I was able to achieve results for them. I combined my previous expertise as a digital marketer with my recent startup operator experience and this allowed me to successfully help the startups I was consulting for. Due to the network effects in the startup community, I soon had more companies who wanted to work with me than I could take on alone and that’s what led me to start Growth Pilots.

Yvonne Leow: Awesome. How does Growth Pilots differentiate itself from other agencies?

Soso Sazesh: Growth Pilots is “the” performance marketing agency for high-growth companies. We’ve worked with over 120 venture-backed companies over the past five and a half years, and we have really tailored our service offering around the unique needs and challenges of high-growth companies as they move from stage to stage. We’ve had this internal framework that breaks down paid acquisition needs based on company stage.

The first is what we call the early stage. At the early stage, companies are looking to establish and validate their paid marketing channels. These companies are typically seed stage or Series A startups looking to find channels that allow them to hit their metrics to achieve their goals for their next round of funding. These companies require a lot of time and attention, which is a bit paradoxical because their budgets are not very large.

The second stage is what we call the scaling stage. This is when companies are trying to achieve escape velocity and growth matters above everything else. This typically happens at the Series A through Series C stage. Their business model is working and ideally within sight of positive unit economics if not already there, but the main focus is acquiring customers at the fastest rate possible and less so on efficiency or profitability. This stage requires all hands on deck and non-stop testing and optimization to squeeze out as much velocity as possible from each channel. The stakes are very high at this stage and category-leading companies often emerge here.

Finally is the late stage. These companies are typically Series C or Series D and beyond and preparing for an exit or IPO. Growth often becomes slightly less important at this stage and the focus shifts to efficiency and improved unit economics. Optimization becomes even more critical at this stage and measurement and attribution get a lot more sophisticated to fully measure the impact of the paid channels.

The needs of companies are vastly different at each of these stages. Our focus is on helping companies achieve their goals within each stage and helping them move to the next stage.

Yvonne Leow: Cool. If I’m a founder and I’d like to work with Growth Pilots, what can I expect are our next steps?

Soso Sazesh: The first step is understanding the business and assessing if there’s a mutual fit. We’re very selective about the companies we take on because over the course of the five and a half years we’ve been able to establish which business models and verticals are conducive to paid marketing success.

For instance, marketplaces, e-commerce, B2B SaaS, mobile apps, and other business models where there is a transactional component is typically a good candidate for paid acquisition. We want to know what the goals are and we want to be able to confidently say that we believe we can achieve the goals at hand. If we can’t say that, we won’t take the company on.

Step two is determining what stage of our framework the company falls into and what the opportunity looks like. If it’s an early stage company, it’s more about assessing the product, the market, and how reachable their target customers are online.

For scaling-stage and late-stage companies that are already up and running, we’ll dive into their current accounts and assess what the opportunity looks like and put together a strategy proposal based on our findings and outlook.

Yvonne Leow: What’s the typical length for each project or partnership?

Soso Sazesh: We’re not project-based so when a company comes to work with us we effectively become an extension of their marketing team. There’s no set duration. We’ve worked with some companies for five years and some companies we’ve worked with for 12 months.

If we work with a company less than 12 months, something is wrong and we probably shouldn’t have taken that company on as a client but you don’t always know how things will play out. Overall our goal is to work with companies in a long-term capacity as an integrated partner.  Something we pride ourselves on is working with relatively few clients at a time so we can really focus all of our team’s efforts and energy into doing the highest quality work.

Each of our team members only works on a maximum of two to three accounts, and therefore they’re able to get very invested in each client’s business and integrated into their team. We really try to simulate the internal team dynamics as much as possible while balancing and pairing that with our external capabilities and expertise.

Yvonne Leow: Are you at the point in your experience that you can apply certain growth strategies and guarantee success?

Soso Sazesh: Guarantee is a tough word, but having worked with more than 120 startups we are definitely at the point where we have enough data points where we can look at a given business and assess the viability of whether they’ll likely see success on paid channels. Success being a combination of scale and efficiency.

Yvonne Leow: Can you talk a little bit about how you and your team assess that?

Soso Sazesh: The first things we look at are business model, product quality, and whether or not product market fit exists or is likely to be achieved. Even a great business model in a large market combined with a poor product or lack of product market fit is unlikely to succeed with paid acquisition. In the absence of having a live product, or if a company is too early to assess product-market fit, we look at other data points that we have found to be good indicators of viability. Some of these include competitor success with paid marketing, the founders’ backgrounds, amount of capital raised, and who their investors are.

Yvonne Leow: What were some of your greatest lessons learned when you started Growth Pilots?

Soso Sazesh: In the early days of Growth Pilots, there was so much activity and growth that we ignored important things like team infrastructure and people operations. We saw the effects of this in the form of team morale taking a hit and people not seeing a future with us. We eventually took notice and course corrected by investing heavily in people operations and employee development. In an ideal world, we would have done this much earlier.

Another interesting reflection is how critical the work we do is. I think this is what a lot of agencies get wrong. You need the commitment to work with startups. You can’t be one foot in and one foot out when a company may live or die by the work you are doing. A lot of the companies that we work with explicitly outline what goals they need to hit in order to raise their next round of funding and it becomes very clear what part we play in that.

Yvonne Leow: What advice would you give to early-stage founders who are deciding whether or not to work with an agency?

Soso Sazesh: When you work with an agency it’s really important to have clear goals and expectations established up front. A lot of times early-stage companies hire agencies, and agencies will gladly take their money, but the agency isn’t really investing the time that’s needed to get results. So asking “What does it look like to work with your agency? Who’s going to be working on my account? How much attention can I expect to receive?” Those types of questions are really important to clarify and especially at the early stage.

Yvonne Leow: What’s a common mistake you see founders make when it comes to growth?

Soso Sazesh: The most common mistake I see is not doing the upfront work and investment required to get optimal results with paid acquisition. A lot of times you see the founder mentality of move fast and figure things out later kicks in, but this can be dangerous when it comes to paid marketing when you’re directly paying for traffic and customers. This leads to companies not seeing the performance and scalability that they actually could and it contributes to the negative perception of channels like Google Ads and Facebook Ads. VCs, for example, love to bash paid marketing channels as being too expensive or too saturated. There is certainly some truth to the channels getting more crowded but at the same time, you would be surprised how poorly setup and managed some of the accounts are that we look at, including companies that have raised tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yvonne Leow: Thanks for sharing. Last question: what is your payment structure?

Soso Sazesh: We charge based on a tiered percentage of ad spend managed with a monthly minimum retainer fee of $10,000 at the lowest level. Our minimum fee is frankly much higher than a lot of other agencies and that’s by design. This goes back to what I was saying before about early-stage companies requiring a disproportionate amount of work relative to their budgets in order to be successful with paid acquisition. We apply a lot more focus and resources than other agencies and this allows us to achieve success where other agencies can’t. The tradeoff is that we need to charge more to deliver this higher quality of service.


Founder Recommendations:

“They helped me raise $5M+ and ran one of the most successful pre-order campaigns in 2017.” – Roderick De Rode, Venice, CA, Founder & CEO, Spinn, Inc.

“They have helped us dramatically accelerate our growth and act as an extension of our internal team.” – Digital Advertising Manager in Corte Madera

“They helped us establish a low customer acquisition cost before we were even able to ship product and help us convert site visitors to customers when we had influxes of traffic from press we received.” – Stephen Kuhl, NYC, Co-founder & CEO, Burrow

“Largely instrumental in the way we optimize and measure success of our mobile app install campaigns.” – User Acquisition & Growth Strategist in Denver

“Growth Pilots is a great partner. I on-boarded them to build out, optimize and scale all paid search and social campaigns for Instacart. In a few months, paid search and social became some of our best performing channels. They have good business acumen, move fast and work as an extension to your internal team.” – Guillaume McIntyre, SF,  Head of Acquisition Marketing, Instacart


By Yvonne Leow

Salesforce is buying data visualization company Tableau for $15.7B in all-stock deal

On the heels of Google buying analytics startup Looker last week for $2.6 billion, Salesforce today announced a huge piece of news in a bid to step up its own work in data visualization and (more generally) tools to help enterprises make sense of the sea of data that they use and amass: Salesforce is buying Tableau for $15.7 billion in an all-stock deal.

The latter is publicly traded and this deal will involve shares of Tableau Class A and Class B common stock getting exchanged for 1.103 shares of Salesforce common stock, the company said, and so the $15.7 billion figure is the enterprise value of the transaction, based on the average price of Salesforce’s shares as of June 7, 2019.

This is a huge jump on Tableau’s last market cap: it was valued at $10.79 billion at close of trading Friday, according to figures on Google Finance. (Also: trading has halted on its stock in light of this news.)

The two boards have already approved the deal, Salesforce notes. The two companies’ management teams will be hosting a conference call at 8am Eastern and I’ll listen in to that as well to get more details.

This is a huge deal for Salesforce as it continues to diversify beyond CRM software and into deeper layers of analytics.

The company reportedly worked hard to — but ultimately missed out on — buying LinkedIn (which Microsoft picked up instead), and while there isn’t a whole lot in common between LinkedIn and Tableau, this deal is also about extending engagement with the customers that Salesforce already has.

This also looks like a move designed to help bulk up against Google’s move to buy Looker, announced last week, although I’d argue that analytics is a big enough area that all major tech companies that are courting enterprises are getting their ducks in a row in terms of squaring up to stronger strategies (and products) in this area. It’s unclear whether (and if) the two deals were made in response to each other.

“We are bringing together the world’s #1 CRM with the #1 analytics platform. Tableau helps people see and understand data, and Salesforce helps people engage and understand customers. It’s truly the best of both worlds for our customers–bringing together two critical platforms that every customer needs to understand their world,” said Marc Benioff, Chairman and co-CEO, Salesforce, in a statement. “I’m thrilled to welcome Adam and his team to Salesforce.”

Tableau has about 86,000 business customers including Charles Schwab, Verizon (which owns TC), Schneider Electric, Southwest and Netflix. Salesforce said it will operate independently and under its own brand post-acquisition. It will also remain headquartered in Seattle, WA, headed by CEO Adam Selipsky along with others on the current leadership team.

That’s not to say, though, that the two will not be working together: on the contrary, Salesforce is already talking up the possibilities of expanding what the company is already doing with its Einstein platform (launched back in 2016, Einstein is the home of all of Salesforce’s AI-based initiatives); and with “Customer 360”, which is the company’s product and take on omnichannel sales and marketing. The latter is an obvious and complementary product home, given that one huge aspect of Tableau’s service is to provide “big picture” insights.

“Joining forces with Salesforce will enhance our ability to help people everywhere see and understand data,” said Selipsky. “As part of the world’s #1 CRM company, Tableau’s intuitive and powerful analytics will enable millions more people to discover actionable insights across their entire organizations. I’m delighted that our companies share very similar cultures and a relentless focus on customer success. I look forward to working together in support of our customers and communities.”

“Salesforce’s incredible success has always been based on anticipating the needs of our customers and providing them the solutions they need to grow their businesses,” said Keith Block, co-CEO, Salesforce. “Data is the foundation of every digital transformation, and the addition of Tableau will accelerate our ability to deliver customer success by enabling a truly unified and powerful view across all of a customer’s data.”

More to come as we learn it. Refresh for updates.

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Mailchimp expands from email to full marketing platform, says it will make $700M in 2019

Mailchimp, a bootstrapped startup out of Atlanta, Georgia, is known best as a popular tool for organizations to manage their customer-facing email activities — a profitable business that its CEO told TechCrunch has now grown to around 11 million customers and is on track for $700 million in revenue in 2019.

To help hit that number, Mailchimp is taking the wraps off a significant update aimed at catapulting it into the next level of business services. Beginning later this week, Mailchimp will start to offer a full marketing platform aimed at smaller organizations.

Going beyond email, the new platform will feature technology to record and track customer leads, the ability to purchase domains and build sites, ad retargeting on Facebook and Instagram, social media management and business intelligence that leverages a new move in the artificial intelligence to provide recommendations to users on how and when to market to whom.

When the service goes live on Wednesday, Mailchimp also plans a pretty significant shift of its pricing into four tiers of free, $9.99/month, $14.99/month or $299/month (up from the current pricing of free, $10/month, $199/month) — with those fees scaling depending on usage and features.

(Existing paid customers maintain current pricing structure and features for the time being and can move to the new packages at any time, the company said. New customers will sign up to the new pricing starting May 15.)

The expansion is part of a longer-term strategic play to widen Mailchimp’s scope by building more services for the typically-underserved but collectively large small business segment. Even as multinationals like Amazon and other large companies continue to feel like they are eating up the mom-and-pop independent business model, SMBs continue to make up 48 percent of the GDP in the US.

And within that, marketing is one of those areas that small businesses might not have invested in much traditionally but are increasingly turning to as so much transactional activity has moved to digital platforms — be it smartphones, computers, or just the tech that powers the TV you watch or music you listen to.

In March, we reported that Mailchimp quietly acquired a small Shopify competitor called LemonStand to start to build more e-commerce tools for its users. And the new marketing platform is the next step in that strategy.

“We still see a big need for small businesses to have something like this,” Ben Chestnut, Mailchimp’s co-founder and CEO, said in an interview. Enterprises have a range of options when it comes to marketing tools, he added, “but small businesses don’t.” The mantra for many building tech for the SMB sector has traditionally been “dumbed down and cheap,” in his words. “We agreed that cheap was good, but not dumbed down. We want to empower them.”

The new services launch also comes at a time when an increasing number of companies are closing in on the small business opportunity, with e-commerce companies like Square, Shopify and PayPal also widening their portfolio of products. (These days, Square is a Mailchimp partner, Shopify is not.)

Marketing is something that Mailchimp had already been dabbling with over the last two years — indeed, customer-facing email services is essentially a form of marketing, too. Other launches have included a Postcards service, offering companies very simple landing pages online (about 10 percent of Mailchimp’s customers do not have their own web sites, Chestnut said), and a tool for companies to create Google, Facebook and Instagram ads.

Mailchimp itself has a big marketing presence already: it says that daily, more than 1.25 million e-commerce orders are generated through Mailchimp campaigns; over 450 million e-commerce orders were made through Mailchimp campaigns in 2018; and its customers have sold over $250 million in goods through multivariate + A/B campaigns run through Mailchimp.

There are clearly a lot of others vying to be the go-to platform for small businesses to do their business — “Google, Facebook, a lot of the big players see the magic and are moving to the space more and more,” Chestnut said — but Mailchimp’s unique selling point — or so it hopes — is that it’s the platform that has no vested interests in other business areas, and will therefore be as focused as the small businesses themselves are. That includes, for example, no upcharging regardless of the platform where you choose to run a campaign.

“We are Switzerland,” Chestnut said.


By Ingrid Lunden

Edgybees’s new developer platform brings situational awareness to live video feeds

San Diego-based Edgybees today announced the launch of Argus, its API-based developer platform that makes it easy to add augmented reality features to live video feeds.

The service has long used this capability to run its own drone platform for first responders and enterprise customers, which allows its users to tag and track objects and people in emergency situations, for example, to create better situational awareness for first responders.

I first saw a demo of the service a year ago, when the team walked a group of journalists through a simulated emergency, with live drone footage and an overlay of a street map and the location of ambulances and other emergency personnel. It’s clear how these features could be used in other situations as well, given that few companies have the expertise to combine the video footage, GPS data and other information, including geographic information systems, for their own custom projects.

Indeed, that’s what inspired the team to open up its platform. As the Edgybees team told me during an interview at the Ourcrowd Summit last month, it’s impossible for the company to build a new solution for every vertical that could make use of it. So instead of even trying (though it’ll keep refining its existing products), it’s now opening up its platform.

“The potential for augmented reality beyond the entertainment sector is endless, especially as video becomes an essential medium for organizations relying on drone footage or CCTV,” said Adam Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of Edgybees. “As forward-thinking industries look to make sense of all the data at their fingertips, we’re giving developers a way to tailor our offering and set them up for success.”

In the run-up to today’s launch, the company already worked with organizations like the PGA to use its software to enhance the live coverage of its golf tournaments.


By Frederic Lardinois

Marketing tech vendors need to find right balance between digital and human interactions

As I walked the long halls of Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas and listened to the company’s marketing and data integration story, I thought about the obvious disconnect that happens between brands and their customers. With tons of data, a growing set of tools to bring it together, and a desire to build an optimal experience, you would think we have been set up for thrilling consumer experiences, yet we all know that is not always what happens when the rubber meets the road.

Maybe part of the problem is that data sitting in databases doesn’t always translate into employee action when dealing directly with consumers. In many cases, the experience isn’t smooth, data isn’t passed from one source to another, and when you do eventually reach a person, they aren’t always knowledgeable or even nice.

It’s to the point that when my data does get passed smoothly from bot to human CSA, and I’m not asked for the same information for the second or even third time, I’m pleasantly surprised, even a little shocked.

That’s probably not the story marketing automation vendors like Adobe and Salesforce want to hear, but it is probably far more common than the one about delighted customers. I understand that the goal is to provide APIs to connect systems. It’s to stream data in real time from a variety of channels. It’s about understanding that data better by applying intelligent analytics, and to some extent I’m sure that’s happening and that there are brands who truly do want to delight us.

The disconnect could be happening because brands can control what happens in the digital world much better than the real one. They can know at a precise level when you interact with them and try to right wrongs or inconsistencies as quickly as possible. The problem is when we move to human interactions — people talking to people at the point of sale in a store, or in an office or via any communications channel — all of that data might not be helpful or even available.

The answer to that isn’t to give us more digital tools, or more tech in general, but to work to improve human-to-human communication, and maybe arm those human employees with the very types of information they need to understand the person they are dealing with when they are standing in front of them.

If brands can eventually get these human touch points right, they will build more loyal customers who want to come back, the ultimate goal, but right now the emphasis seems to be more on technology and the digital realm. That may not always achieve the desired results.

This is not necessarily the fault of Adobe, Salesforce or any technology vendor trying to solve this problem, but the human side of the equation needs to be a much stronger point of focus than it currently seems to be. In the end, all the data in the world isn’t going to save a brand from a rude or uninformed employee in the moment of customer contact, and that one bad moment can haunt a brand for a long, long time, regardless how sophisticated the marketing technology it’s using may be.


By Ron Miller

Adobe announces deeper data sharing partnership with Microsoft around accounts

Microsoft and Adobe have been building a relationship for some time, and today the two companies announced a deeper integration between the two platforms at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas.

It involves sharing Marketo data, the company that Adobe acquired last September for $4.75 billion. Because it’s marketers, they were duty-bound to give it a new name. This data sharing approach is being dubbed Account Based Experience or ABX for short. The two companies are sharing data account data between a number of sources including Marketo Engage in Adobe Experience Cloud and Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales, as well as the LinkedIn, the business social platform Microsoft bought in 2016 for a whopping $26.2 billion.

Microsoft has been trying to find ways to put that LinkedIn data to work, and tools like Marketo can use the data in LinkedIn to understand their account contacts better. Steve Lucas, former CEO at Marketo, who is now Senior Vice President and head of the Marketo team at Adobe says accounts tend to be much more complex sales than selling to individuals, involving multiple decision makers. It’s a sales cycle that can stretch on for months, and having access to additional data about the account contacts can have a big impact.

“With these new account-based capabilities, marketing and sales teams will have increased alignment around the people and accounts they are engaging, and new ways to measure that business impact,” Lucas explained in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal at CRM Essentials, who has been working in CRM, customer service and marketing for years sees this as useful partnership for customers from both vendors. “Integrating Microsoft Dynamics and LinkedIn more closely with Marketo gives Adobe’s Experience Cloud some great data to leverage in order to have a more complete picture of B2B customers,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The goal is to close complex sales, and having access to more complete data across the two product sets can help achieve that.


By Ron Miller

Adobe and Salesforce announce Customer Data Platforms to pull data into single view

Marketing analytics is an increasingly complex business. It’s meant to collect as much information as possible across multiple channels from multiple tools and provide marketers with as complete a picture of their customers and their experience in dealing with you as possible. Perhaps not coincidentally, Adobe, which is holding its Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas, and Salesforce both made Customer Data Platform (CDP) announcements this week.

The Customer Data Platform is a complex construct, but it’s basically a marketer’s dream, a central database that pulls customer data from variety of channels and disparate data sources to give marketeers deep insight into their customers, all with the hope of gathering enough data to serve the perfect experience. As always the ultimate goal is happy repeat customers, who build brand loyalty.

It always comes down to experience for marketers these days and that involves serving up the right kind of experience. You don’t want the first-time visitor to have the same experience as a loyal customer. You don’t want a business customer to have the same experience as the consumer. All of that takes lots and lots of information, and when you want to make those experiences even more personalized in real-time, it’s a tough problem to solve.

Part of the problem is that customers are working across multiple channels and marketers are using multiple tools from a variety of vendors. When you combine those two problems, it’s hard to collect all of the data on a given customer.

The process is a bit like boiling the ocean and to complicate matters even further it involves anonymized data and non-anonymized data about customers being stored in the same database. Imagine those two elements being hacked. It wouldn’t be pretty, which is just one reason that these kinds of platforms are so difficult to build.

Yet the promise of having a central data hub like this is so tantalizing, and the amount of data growing so quickly, that having a tool to help pull it all together could have great utility for marketers. Armed with this kind of information, it could enable marketers to build what Salesforce’s Bob Stutz called “hyper-targeted messages” in a blog post yesterday.

Stutz used that same blog post to announce Salesforce’s CDP offering, which is not the same as the Customer 360 product announced at Dreamforce last year, although you would be forgiven for confusing the two. “Salesforce Customer 360 helps companies easily connect and resolve customer data across Salesforce and 3rd party applications with a single customer ID. Our Customer Data Platform builds on this unified identity foundation to deliver a “single view of the customer” for marketing professionals,” Stutz wrote.

Adobe, which announced its CDP use case today, sees it in somewhat similar terms, but its approach is different, says Matt Skinner, product marketing manager for the Adobe Audience Manager product. For starters, it’s powered by the Adobe Experience Platform and “brings together known and unknown data to activate real-time customer profiles across channels throughout the customer journey,” Skinner said. In addition, he says it can use AI to help build these experiences and augment marketer ideas.

Both companies have to pull in data from their own systems, as well as external systems to make this work. That kind of integration problem is one of the reasons that Salesforce bought Mulesoft last year for $6.5 billion, but Skinner says that Adobe is taking its own open API approach to the problem.”Adobe’s platform is open and extensible with APIs and an extensive partner ecosystem, so data and applications can really come from anywhere,” he said.

Regardless, both vendors are working hard to make this happen, and it will be interesting to see how each one plays to its strengths to bring this data together. It’s clearly going to be a huge data integration and security challenge, and both companies will have to move carefully to protect the data as they build this kind of system.


By Ron Miller

Clari platform aims to unify go-to-market operations data

Clari started out as a company that wanted to give sales teams more information about their sales process than could be found in the CRM database. Today, the company announced a much broader platform, one that can provide insight across sales, marketing and customer service to give a more unified view of a company’s go-to-market operations, all enhanced by AI.

Company co-founder and CEO Andy Byrne says this involves pulling together a variety of data and giving each department the insight to improve their mission. “We are analyzing large volumes of data found in various revenue systems — sales, marketing, customer success, etc. — and we’re using that data to provide a new platform that’s connecting up all of the different revenue departments,” Byrne told TechCrunch.

For sales that would mean driving more revenue. For marketing it would it involve more targeted plans to drive more sales, and for customer success it would be about increasing customer retention and reducing churn.

Screenshot: Clari

The company’s original idea when it launched in 2012 was looking at a range of data that touched the sales process such as email, calendars and the CRM database to bring together a broader view of sales than you could get by looking at the basic customer data stored in the CRM alone. The Clari data could tell the reps things like which deals would be most likely to close and which ones were at risk.

“We were taking all of these signals that had been historically disconnected from each other and we were connecting it all into a new interface for sales teams that’s very different than a CRM,” Byrne said.

Over time, that involved using AI and machine learning to make connections in the data that humans might not have been seeing. The company also found that customers were using the product to look at processes adjacent to sales, and they decided to formalize that and build connectors to relevant parts of the go-to-market system like marketing automation tools from Marketo or Eloqua and customer tools such as Dialpad, Gong.io and Salesloft.

With Clari’s approach, companies can get a unified view without manually pulling all this data together. The goal is to provide customers with a broad view of the to-to-market operation that isn’t possible looking at siloed systems.

The company has experienced tremendous growth over the last year leaping from 80 customers to 250. These include Okta and Alteryx, two companies that went public in recent years. Clari is based in the Bay area and has around 120 employees. It has raised over $60M. The most recent round was a $35 million Series C last May led by Tenaya Capital.


By Ron Miller

Campaign Monitor acquires email enterprise services Sailthru and Liveclicker

CM Group, the organization behind email-centric services like Campaign Monitor and Emma, today announced that it has acquired marketing automation firm Sailthru and the email personalization service Liveclicker. The group did not disclose the acquisition price but noted that the acquisition would bring in about $60 million in additional revenue and 540 new customers, including Bloomberg and Samsung. Both of these acquisitions quietly closed in 2018.

Compared to Sailthru, which had raised a total of about $250 million in venture funding before the acquisition, Liveclicker is a relatively small company that was bootstrapped and never raised any outside funding. Still, Liveclicker managed to attract customers like AT&T, Quicken Loans and TJX Companies by offering them the ability to personalize their email messages and tailor them to their customers.

Sailthru’s product portfolio is also quite a bit broader and includes similar email marketing tools, but also services to personalize mobile and web experiences, as well as tools to predict churn and make other retail-focused predictions.

“Sailthru and Liveclicker are extraordinary technologies capable of solving important marketing problems, and we will be making additional investments in the businesses to further accelerate their growth,” writes Wellford Dillard, CEO of CM Group. “Bringing these brands together makes it possible for us to provide marketers with the ideal solution for their needs as they navigate the complex and rapidly changing environments in which they operate.”

With this acquisition, the CM Group now has 500 employees and 300,000 customers.


By Frederic Lardinois

Seismic scores $100 million Series E investment on $1 billion valuation

Seismic has been helping companies create and manage their sales and marketing collateral since 2010. Today the company announced a $100 million Series E investment on a $1 billion valuation.

The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and T Rowe Price. Existing investors General Atlantic, JMI Equity and Jackson Square Ventures also participated in the round. The company has now raised $179 million since inception.

What is attracting this level of investment is Seismic’s sales enablement tools, a kind of content management for sales and marketing. “What we’re trying to do with our technology is to help marketers who are striving to create the right content to help the sellers, and help sellers navigate all of the content out there and put together the right pieces and the right materials that are going to help them move the sales cycle along,” Seismic CEO and co-founder Doug Winter explained.

The inclusion of an investor like T Rowe Price often is a signal of IPO ambitions, and Winter acknowledged the connection, while pointing out that T Rowe Price is also a customer. “We do have a goal to be public-ready as a company that we are aiming for. We are the leader of the space, and we do feel like striving to be a public company and to be the first one in our space to go public. It’s a goal we are going to push for,” Winter told TechCrunch.

But he says taking this investment is more about taking advantage of market opportunity. The money gives Seismic the ability to expand to meet growing sales. Today, the company has more than 600 customers averaging more than $200,000 in spending, according to Winter.

The company acquired the Savo Group in May to help expand its market position. Seismic is based in San Diego with offices in Boston and Chicago (from the acquisition). It also opened offices in the UK and Australia earlier this year and plans further international with the new investment.  The company currently has more than 600 employees including 185 engineers and project managers, and plans to keep hiring as it puts this money to work.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce acquires Rebel, maker of ‘interactive’ email services, to expand its Marketing Cloud

Salesforce’s Marketing and Commerce Cloud is the company’s smallest division today, so to help beef it up, the company is making an acquisition to add in more features. Salesforce has acquired Rebel, a startup that develops interactive email services for businesses to enhance their direct marketing services: recipients of interactive emails can write reviews, shop and take other actions without leaving the messages to do so.

In an announcement on Rebel’s site, the startup said it will be joining Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud operation, which will integrate Rebel’s API-based services into its platform.

“With Rebel’s Mail and API solutions, brands, including Dollar Shave Club, L’Oreal and HelloFresh, turn emails into an extension of their website or app – collecting data, removing friction from the conversion process, and enhancing the customer experience. Rebel will enhance the power of Salesforce Marketing Clod and fundamentally change the way people interact with email,” the founders note. It sounds as if the company’s existing business will be wound down as part of the move.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed in the Rebel announcement. We have contacted both the startup and Salesforce for further comment and to ask about the price. To date, Rebel — co-founded originally as Rebelmail by Joe Teplow and Trever Faden — had raised only about $3 million, with investors including Lerer Hippeau, Sinai Ventures, David Tisch, Gary Vaynerchuk, and others, so if the deal size is equally small, Salesforce likely will not be disclosing it.

Salesforce has made a number of acquisitions to build and expand its marketing services to compete with Adobe and others. Perhaps most notable of these was buying ExactTarget, one of its biggest-ever acquisitions, for $2.5 billion in 2013. (And according to some, it even wanted to buy Adobe at one point.) Competition has been heating up between the two, with Adobe most recently snapping up Marketo for $4.75 billion.

But on the other hand, marketing is currently Saleforce’s smallest division. It pulled in $452 million in revenues last quarter, putting it behind revenues for Sales Cloud ($1 billion), Service Cloud ($892 million) and Salesforce Platform ($712 million). Adding in interactive email functionality isn’t likely to float Marketing and Commerce Cloud to the top of that list, but it does show that Salesforce is trying to improve its products with more functionality for would-be and current customers.

Those customers have a lot of options these days, though, in targeting their own customers with rich email services. Microsoft and Google have both started to add in a lot more features into their own email products, with Outlook and Gmail supporting things like in-email payments and more. There are ways of building such solutions through your current direct marketing providers, or now directly using other avenues.

What will be interesting to see is whether Rebel continues to integrate with the plethora of email service providers it currently works with, or if Salesforce will keep the functionality for itself. Today Rebel’s partners include Oracle, SendGrid, Adobe, IBM, SailThru and, yes, Salesforce.

We’ll update this post as we learn more.


By Ingrid Lunden

SessionM customer loyalty data aggregator snags $23.8 M investment

SessionM announced a $23.8 million Series E investment led by Salesforce Ventures. A bushel of existing investors including Causeway Media Partners, CRV, General Atlantic, Highland Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also contributed to the round. The company has now raised over $97 million.

At its core, SessionM aggregates loyalty data for brands to help them understand their customer better, says company co-founder and CEO Lars Albright. “We are a customer data and engagement platform that helps companies build more loyal and profitable relationships with their consumers,” he explained.

Essentially that means, they are pulling data from a variety of sources and helping brands offer customers more targeted incentives, offers and product recommendations “We give [our users] a holistic view of that customer and what motivates them,” he said.

Screenshot: SessionM (cropped)

To achieve this, SessionM takes advantage of machine learning to analyze the data stream and integrates with partner platforms like Salesforce, Adobe and others. This certainly fits in with Adobe’s goal to build a customer service experience system of record and Salesforce’s acquisition of Mulesoft in March to integrate data from across an organization, all in the interest of better understanding the customer.

When it comes to using data like this, especially with the advent of GDPR in the EU in May, Albright recognizes that companies need to be more careful with data, and that it has really enhanced the sensitivity around stewardship for all data-driven businesses like his.

“We’ve been at the forefront of adopting the right product requirements and features that allow our clients and businesses to give their consumers the necessary control to be sure we’re complying with all the GDPR regulations,” he explained.

The company was not discussing valuation or revenue. Their most recent round prior to today’s announcement, was a Series D in 2016 for $35 million also led by Salesforce Ventures.

SessionM, which was founded in 2011, has around 200 employees with headquarters in downtown Boston. Customers include Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Barney’s.


By Ron Miller

Adobe could be the next $10 billion software company

Adobe reported its Q2 FY’18 earnings yesterday and the news was quite good. The company announced $2.2 billion in revenue for the quarter up 24 percent year over year. That puts them on an impressive $8.8 billion run rate, within reach of becoming the next $10 billion software company (or at least on a run rate).

Revenue was up across all major business lines, but as has been the norm, the vast majority comes from the company’s bread and butter, Creative Cloud, which houses the likes of Photoshop, InDesign and Dreamweaver, among others. In fact digital media, which includes Creative Cloud and Document Cloud accounted for $1.55 billion of the $2.2 billion in total revenue. The vast majority of that, $1.30 billion was from the creative side of the house with Document Cloud pulling in $243 million.

Adobe has been mostly known as a creative tools company until recent years when it also moved into marketing, analytics and advertising. Recently it purchased Magento for $1.6 billion, giving it a commerce component to go with those other pieces. Clearly Adobe has set its sights on Salesforce, which also has a strong marketing component and is not coincidentally perhaps, the most recently crowned $10 billion software company.

Moving into commerce

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen speaking to analysts on the post-reporting earnings call sees Magento as filling in a key piece across understanding the customer from shopping to purchase. “The acquisition of Magento will make Adobe the only company with leadership in content creation, marketing, advertising, analytics and now commerce, enabling real-time personalized experiences across the entire customer journey, whether on the web, mobile, social, in-product or in-store. We believe the addition of Magento expands our available market opportunity, builds out our product portfolio, and addresses a key underserved customer need,” Narayen told analysts.

If Adobe could find a way to expand that marketing and commerce revenue, it could easily surpass that $10 billion revenue run rate threshold, but so far while it has been growing, it remains less than half of the Creative revenue at $586 million. Yes, it grew at an 18 percent year over year clip, but it seems as though there is potential for so much more there and clearly Narayen hopes that the money spent on Magento will help drive that growth.

Battling with Salesforce

Even while it was announcing its revenue, rival Salesforce was meeting with Marketing Cloud customers in Chicago at the Salesforce Connections conference, a move that presented an interesting juxtaposition between the two competitors. Both have a similar approach to the marketing side, while Salesforce concentrates on the customer including CRM and service components. Adobe differentiates itself with content, which shows up on the balance sheet as the majority of its revenue .

Both companies have growth in common too. Salesforce has been on quite a run over the last five years reaching $3 billion in revenue for the first time last quarter. Adobe hit $2 billion for the first time in November. Consider that prior to moving to a subscription model in 2013, Adobe had revenue of $995 billion. Since it moved to that subscription model, it has reaped the benefits of recurring revenue and grown steadily ever since.

Each has used strategic acquisitions to help fuel that growth with Salesforce acquiring 27 companies since 2013 and Adobe 13, according to Crunchbase data. Each has bought a commerce company with Adobe buying Magento this year and Salesforce grabbing Demandware two years ago.

Adobe has the toolset to keep the marketing side of its business growing. It might never reach the revenue of the creative side, but it could help push the company further than it’s ever been. Ten billion dollars seems well within reach if things continue along the current trajectory.


By Ron Miller

As marketing data proliferates, consumers should have more control

At the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas this week, privacy was on many people’s minds. It was no wonder with social media data abuse dominating the headlines, GDPR just around the corner, and Adobe announcing the concept of a centralized customer experience record.

With so many high profile breaches in recent years, putting your customer data in a central record-keeping system would seem to be a dangerous proposition, yet Adobe sees so many positives for marketers, it likely sees this as a worthy trade-off.

Which is not to say that the company doesn’t see the risks. Executives speaking at the conference continually insisted that privacy is always part of the conversation at Adobe as they build tools — and they have built in security and privacy safeguards into the customer experience record.

Offering better experiences

The point of the exercise isn’t simply to collect data for data’s sake, it’s to offer consumers a more customized and streamlined experience. How does that work? There was a demo in the keynote illustrating a woman’s experience with a hotel brand.

Brad Rencher, EVP and GM at Adobe Experience Cloud explains Adobe’s Cloud offerings. Photo: Jeff Bottari/Invision for Adobe/AP Images

The mythical woman started a reservation for a trip to New York City, got distracted in the middle and was later “reminded” to return to it via Facebook ad. She completed the reservation and was later issued a digital key to key to her room, allowing to bypass the front desk check-in. Further, there was a personal greeting on the television in her room with a custom message and suggestions for entertainment based on her known preferences.

As one journalist pointed out in the press event, this level of detail from the hotel is not something that would thrill him (beyond the electronic check-in). Yet there doesn’t seem to be a way to opt out of that data (unless you live in the EU and are subject to GDPR rules).

Consumers may want more control

As it turns out, that reporter wasn’t alone. According to a survey conducted last year by The Economist Intelligence Unit in conjunction with ForgeRock, an identity management company, consumers are not just willing sheep that tech companies may think we are.

The survey was conducted last October with 1,629 consumers participating from eight countries including Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US. It’s worth noting that survey questions were asked in the context of Internet of Things data, but it seems that the results could be more broadly applied to any types of data collection activities by brands.

There are a couple of interesting data points that perhaps brands should heed as they collect customer data in the fashion outlined by Adobe. In particular as it relates to what Adobe and other marketing software companies are trying to do to build a central customer profile, when asked to rate the statement, “I am uncomfortable with companies building a “profile” of me to predict my consumer behaviour,” 39 percent strongly agreed with that statement. Another 35 percent somewhat agreed. That would suggest that consumers aren’t necessarily thrilled with this idea.

When presented with the statement, Providing my personal information may have more drawbacks than benefits, 32 percent strongly agreed and 41 percent somewhat agreed.

That would suggest that it is on the brand to make it clearer to consumers that they are collecting that data to provide a better overall experience, because it appears that consumers who answered this survey are not necessarily making that connection.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that at a press conference after the Day One keynote announcing the unified customer experience record, many questions from analysts and journalists focused on notions of privacy. If Adobe is helping companies gather and organize customer data, what role do they have in how their customers’ use that data, what role does the brand have and how much control should consumers have over their own data?

These are questions we seem to be answering on the fly. The technology is here now or very soon will be, and wherever the data comes from, whether the web, mobile devices or the Internet of Things, we need to get a grip on the privacy implications — and we need to do it quickly. If consumers want more control as this survey suggests, maybe it’s time for companies to give it to them.

IoT devices could be next customer data frontier

At the Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas, the company introduced what could be the ultimate customer experience construct, a customer experience system of record that pulls in information, not just from Adobe tools, but wherever it lives. In many ways it marked a new period in the notion of customer experience management, putting it front and center of the marketing strategy.

Adobe was not alone, of course. Salesforce, with its three-headed monster, the sales, marketing and service clouds, was also thinking of a similar idea. In fact, they spent $6.5 billion dollars last week to buy MuleSoft to act as a data integration layer to access  customer information from across the enterprise software stack, whether on prem, in the cloud, or inside or outside of Salesforce. And they announced the Salesforce Integration Cloud this week to make use of their newest company.

As data collection takes center stage, we actually could be on the edge of yet another data revolution, one that could be more profound than even the web and mobile were before it. That is…the Internet of Things.

Here comes IoT

There are three main pieces to that IoT revolution at the moment from a consumer perspective. First of all, there is the smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. These provide a way for humans to interact verbally with machines, a notion that is only now possible through the marriage of all this data, sheer (and cheap) compute power and the AI algorithms that fuel all of it.

Next, we have the idea of a connected car, one separate from the self-driving car. Much like the smart speaker, humans can interact with the car, to find directions and recommendations and that leaves a data trail in its wake. Finally we, have sensors like iBeacons sitting in stores, providing retailers with a world of information about a customer’s journey through the store — what they like or don’t like, what they pick up, what they try on and so forth.

There are very likely a host of other categories too, and all of this information is data that needs to be processed and understood just like any other signals coming from customers, but it also has unique characteristics around the volume and velocity of this data — it is truly big data with all of the issues inherent in processing that amount of data.

The means it needs to be ingested, digested and incorporated into that central customer record-keeping system to drive the content and experiences you need to create to keep your customers happy — or so the marketing software companies tell us, at least. (We also need to consider the privacy implications of such a record, but that is the subject for another article.)

Building a better relationship

Regardless of the vendor, all of this is about understanding the customer better to provide a central data gathering system with the hope of giving people exactly what they want. We are no longer a generic mass of consumers. We are instead individuals with different needs, desires and requirements, and the best way to please us they say, is to understand us so well, that the brand can deliver the perfect experience at exactly the right moment.

Photo: Ron Miller

That involves listening to the digital signals we give off without even thinking about it. We carry mobile, connected computers in our pockets and they send out a variety of information about our whereabouts and what we are doing. Social media acts as a broadcast system that brands can tap into to better understand us (or so the story goes).

Part of what Adobe, Salesforce and others can deliver is a way to gather that information, pull it together into his uber record keeping system and apply a level of machine and learning and intelligence to help further the brand’s ultimate goals of serving a customer of one and delivering an efficient (and perhaps even pleasurable) experience.

Getting on board

At an Adobe Summit session this week on IoT (which I moderated), the audience was polled a couple of times. In one show of hands, they were asked how many owned a smart speaker and about three quarters indicated they owned at least one, but when asked how many were developing applications for these same devices only a handful of hands went up. This was in a room full of marketers, mind you.

Photo: Ron Miller

That suggests that there is a disconnect between usage and tools to take advantage of them. The same could be said for the other IoT data sources, the car and sensor tech, or any other connected consumer device. Just as we created a set of tools to capture and understand the data coming from mobile apps and the web, we need to create the same thing for all of these IoT sources.

That means coming up with creative ways to take advantage of another interaction (and data collection) point. This is an entirely new frontier with all of the opportunity involved in that, and that suggests startups and established companies alike need to be thinking about solutions to help companies do just that.