“Effective Executive” Series with Eric Newman, VP Products & Marketing, Digby

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We are pleased to share another insightful “Effective Executive” interview with Eric Newman, Vice President of Products & Marketing for Digby.  In this role, Eric Newman helps brands leverage the power of Localpoint, a cross channel marketing platform. During his 18-year career, Eric has ridden the cutting edge of a number of online revolutions at a successful startups, including Demand Media’s Pluck, Powered, IBM’s DataBeam, Ask Jeeve’s Direct Hit and Motive Corporation’s Question Technologies. He holds a M.B.A. from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University and a B.A. in Information Systems and Marketing from the University of Cincinnati.

Eric shared his thoughts on location-based marketing behavior and which loyalty programs top his list.  He also shared his insights with us on why Austin has become such a growing city for tech companies, especially start ups.

What’s the challenge in attaining a location-based marketing strategy?

Using time and place as a real-time trigger for marketing, engagement and customer service in brick and mortar locations adds a whole new dimension to an organization’s marketing and operational thinking – and therein lies the challenge.  It starts with figuring out how you want to react to a consumer’s entry into a store, or presence in a target neighborhood – notifying associates of the consumer’s entry or sending a visit-encouraging message to the consumer as examples.  From there, the retailers we work with are using that real-world event as a key juncture for mapping the consumer’s cross-channel history – understanding that they shopped on the ecommerce site last night and are likely entering the store to put their hands on the product before making the purchase.  That kind of omni-channel use is where location really shines as the link between the on and offline worlds, but it is also the most challenging for an organization to adopt when typically those worlds were organizationally separated in the past.

What have you seen over the last year in terms of measured success of a good location-based marketing strategy?

We have witnessed some amazing results.  While we cannot speak to specific customers’ performance metrics, we can talk about campaigns where 60+% of consumers in neighborhoods near a store opened a location-based announcement with push notification set up by the marketer and then in turn, visited the nearby store to redeem the offer.  We’ve seen social check-in campaigns through the retailer’s app generate astounding redemption rates as consumers walked into the store, received an offer and then shared the offer with their friends.

What are some of the best loyalty programs you’ve seen for customers?

As a marketer I really appreciate the Kohl’s cash program.  Giving consumers discounts they can apply against any product in a virtual cash format makes it easy to earn and easy to spend those points, but all within Kohl’s stores.

As a consumer, I like loyalty programs that offer something a little different as a loyalty reward.  Using earned loyalty points at a grocery like Randall’s to get a steep discount on gas at their fueling station is significant enough to actually spur conversation about it at the family dinner table.  Any time you can get someone teaching their children about a loyalty program, that’s longevity.

What’s your dream customer – i.e., who could use some improvement with Digby?

Location context as a trigger to more relevantly market and engage the consumer is not limited to one vertical or most appropriate for just one customer.  We see interest in Digby from brands in many sectors – from hospitality to dining and even sports franchises – anyone who has a physical place of business and would like to better engage their customers.  Interestingly, we learn new use cases for our technology with every potential customer we meet.  One of my favorite unexpected use cases was a convenience store chain that builds 50-100 stores a year.  That’s millions of dollars of real-estate investment where building on the wrong spot can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars of missed revenue.  In this case, the retailer wanted to identify locations where they were considering store development, and use the knowledge of how many of their app-holding, loyal customers drive by these various locations as a set of decision input into their real estate evaluation.

What’s the connection with mobile apps to successful in-store service?

There are so many use cases around customer service where awareness that the customer is at the store is so important.  For example, a fast food restaurant wants to allow consumers to order their burgers online for pickup in the restaurant.  Doesn’t sound all that complicated until you realize that a fast food sandwich has about a two minute shelf life under the heat lamps.  Get caught at a red light on the way to the store for pickup, and they have to start the order all over again.  Instead, the restaurant wants to use our Localpoint platform to know when the remote ordering customer has entered the parking lot and place the order into the queue at that moment – ensuring a burger ready to go with minimal waste.

Any predictions for 2014 in terms of marketing behavior, from a B to B or B to C standpoint?

Location is becoming white hot right now as organizations see the relevancy and depth it can add to their customer relationships, and the ROI it can drive in terms of incremental store visits, conversion and cart size growth.  Generally speaking, this technology applies best to the B to C experience, given the nature of shopping behavior where consumers visit malls, stores and other retail locations.

Weigh in on Austin and its growth in the tech world – how would you say Austin has changed over the year climate-wise for tech companies?

Austin is an incredible place for technology and has been for many years.  A startup community increases in velocity as it builds momentum with entrepreneurs at all organizational levels building startups and then facilitating the sale and integration of the startup into larger technology companies.  This creates a powerful secondary effect of drawing larger companies into Austin and then setting up the entrepreneur to make a run at their next big idea.  Austin has been doing this successfully for 20 years and has mature, fertile field of technology companies and startups spanning from the B to C space, like MapMyFitness who recently announced acquisition by UnderArmour, to B to B and even hardware solutions.  The whole city has adopted tech as a mainstay of the economy and culture and the tech companies fit right into the “Keep Austin Weird” message we are known for.

Have you gone to SXSW? What’s your experience or viewpoint on it as a value for organizations or evangelists?

SXSW is an amazing mix of digital technology, media, movies and music.  However, its meteoric growth has moved well beyond its roots as an interactive conference to an expansive showcase.  The biggest challenge is navigating the breadth of things you can do during the show, ranging from actually learning something in session, to hobnobbing with the digital elite, to immersing yourself in the non-stop party swirling around the event.  You need a SXSW plan of action before stepping foot into the show and sign up for the sessions you need as early as possible to ensure attendance.

Top marketing outlets you read?

Being all mobile, all the time, I spend most of my reading budget on sites like Mobile Commerce Daily and the Location Based Marketing Association.  I augment that with industry specific sites like Stores Magazine and Advertising Age.  As a technology product guy, I cannot live without Business Insider or our Forrester relationship, as industry analysts give a deep, cross-vendor view of the world that is hard to find from more traditional industry media publications.

PerkettPR Turns 15 – Thank You!

ppr_15_anniversaryIt’s hard to believe that this month, PerkettPR has been in business for 15 years! I started the agency with a vision to deliver a unique and valuable experience for companies seeking a better marketing and PR partner. Although we started with a focus on VC-funded startups, we have expanded our expertise over those years to include servicing some great public companies as well – Fleetmatics, Constant Contact, WebEx, Time Warner Telecom, Juniper Networks and many more. We continue to work with startups that need creative, effective and amazing market launches – and to build crediblity, awareness and engagement for more established companies around the world in the tech, higher education, health care and consumer lifestyle industries.

Like any 15-year-old, we’ve got the energy and excitement to continue with unbridled enthusiasm and a belief that we’re unstoppable. Unlike most 15-year-olds, we know who we are, what we want to be and where we’re going. That’s not only a nice feeling, but a great place to be in order to deliver tremendous value to our clientele. We don’t need to be the biggest, but we do strive to be the best. We don’t need to be the most popular, but rather we’re grateful for the network we do have. (We take great care to support those who support us.) Our corporate vision is to be the most innovative, creative and effective communications partner that our clients have ever worked with.

Thank you to everyone who has believed in that vision – especially clients who have hired us repeatedly over the last decade and a half. To have folks move on to other companies and hire us over and over again is always the best testament to our ability to deliver ROI. I’d like to specifically thank people like Karen Leavitt, John Burnham, Donna Parent, Greg Shenk, Mark Pascarella, Mike Doyle and Jonathan Tang – clients who have not only hired us more than once, but recommended us to others. Thank you to so many industry friends like Jon Swartz, Michael Krigsman, Morris Porter, Stephen Hultquist, Ann Handley, Christen Rice Gentile, Marie Domingo, Mike Pratt, Stephen Dill, Jeremiah Owyang, Rick Faulk, John Jantsch, Joel Libava, Terry Frechette, Robert Scoble, Tyson Goodridge, Sarah Austin, Chris Selland, Aaron Strout, Karen DeWolfe, Dayna Verstegen, Diane Hessan, Kate Brodock, George Hulme, Russell Mix, Jennifer Leggio, Don Dodge, Ramon Ray, Mitch Wagner, Tory Johnson, Michael Arrington, Rachel Happe, Laura Lake and others who have worked with us in various ways over the years – whether writing with or about us, inspiring us through engagement, sharing their opinions on our clients or our campaigns, serving as pseudo mentors and advisors, or simply speaking up on our behalf during times when we could not. Your support – subtle or blatant – has helped us to continue to work with great people and companies, and to learn and grow in a myriad of ways.

There are so many other people – family, friends and of course, current and former employees, even industry “frenemies” – who I am eternally grateful to for helping us reach this 15th year. I have learned from each of you – both good and hard lessons – and I am grateful for such a strong network of intelligent people to learn from every day. I am also very blessed to have such a great group of employees – many of whom have stayed with PerkettPR for more than half of its life! And anyone one who knows the typical retention rate of an agency, knows why that’s such an amazing attribute.

Speaking of our employees, a few of them thought it would be funny to celebrate 15 years by sharing awkward teenage photos of us at that age. Click here to Like us on Facebook and see them – and to find out “What we know now that we wish we had known then.”

Here’s to another 15! Thank you!

“Effective Executive” Series with Eliot Buchanan, Co-founder and CEO of Plastiq

Eliot BuchananThis week’s “Effective Executive” interview is with Eliot Buchanan, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastiq, an online service that allows people to use their credit cards to pay for things when they couldn’t before. We asked Eliot about his early days building the Company, the challenges he has encountered and what he is passionate about.

As you worked to build Plastiq, how long did the entire process take?

I would say the first two years at Plastiq were spent almost exclusively on building and testing the business concept, talking with customers, understanding the marketplace, and building relationships. Like many industries – though perhaps even more so in financial services – forming key relationships in the marketplace is one of the biggest assets (or, if lacking, drawbacks) of an early stage venture like ours. For us, this was true from the very beginning. We were very focused and invested heavily in building social capital with the ecosystem before even asking (and getting) that ecosystem to adopt our product.

What obstacles or challenges did you encounter in the earlier days of Plastiq?

There were many. I’ve always said that the most exciting time in an early company is the first month or so. That’s when you think you have the best idea in the world that needs no money, will scale infinitely, is without competition, and you estimate that you can sell it for a billion dollars. After the first month, reality starts to set in, and various roadblocks happen. I’m sure these feelings are comparable for other companies that are driving disruption and innovating within an industry.

I think what has allowed Plastiq to thrive, however, is that we have embraced each of these roadblocks as a challenge and this has fueled important and necessary change. Perhaps a competitor had highlighted an important aspect of the ecosystem that we missed in our early days, but which we only now learned unexpectedly. Or take the need for capital. Any entrepreneur’s toughest challenge can be raising money. But through that process of pitching and speaking to hundreds of people – each of whom was a potential customer of my product as well – I was able to learn so much about how I could describe my own business to different audiences. This allowed me to better align myself, understand various challenges, and strive to improve them.

Another aspect worth mentioning – and I suspect it’s universal to the start up process – is the true daily rollercoaster ride. I am confident that no one except the entrepreneur experiences as many ups and downs in a single day. But it is also this same process that can lead to building the grit and character required to creating something big. This has been true of Plastiq since day 1 and it absolutely remains true today.

Can you describe how your Harvard education prepared you for your role today, leading the company and being its strategic advisor/visionary?

I get this question a lot, and I generally think about my time at Harvard with some frequency. I suspect this is because I enjoyed my experience there. I think there are two aspects worth mentioning.

First, in terms of formal preparation, I would strictly say that Harvard offered no formal education that applied directly to what I am doing at Plastiq, or any business for that matter. Before you raise concerns about the Ivy League education system, let me clarify my statement a bit further. Harvard is a liberal arts college, and it focuses on teaching students to appreciate a broad range of interests and perspectives. This established a foundation that allows the thought and reflection necessary to be “creative” and innovate or go outside established boxes.

In fact, formality, in this respect, would be the exact opposite of what – in my view – would engender entrepreneurship. The academic informality at Harvard (and I’m not saying it’s perfect) encouraged me to think more as a “generalist” rather than a “specialist”, and pushed me to better understand what I wanted to do, what needed to change in the world, what could be improved, and what mattered or didn’t matter to me.

The second aspect is all about people and character. This is not unique to Harvard but more broadly any successful “college” experience. While at Harvard, I was surrounded by incredible people. Challenging people. Some people I didn’t like (that’s life). And others I didn’t understand (that’s growth). Whether it was my roommates, classmates, or teammates (I was on the varsity squash team), I found myself constantly challenged and pushed to become a leader, to get along with others, to learn from them, admire them, cherish them, and help them. Some of my hardest days as a college student were learning seemingly basic skill sets within a team setting. It’s extremely difficult for me to sit here today and imagine how I could be leading a group of talented executives without having gained a hands-on “education” about people – their strengths and flaws – as well as my own while I was in college.

Can you explain what you feel it means to be a true “entrepreneur”?

In my view, an entrepreneur is a leader of change and a motivator of trust in others to carry out that change or at least respect that it is happening without them and around them. In this respect there is no financial instrument linked to the definition of “entrepreneur” or their outcome, and we see many “entrepreneurs” in non-business pillars (presidents, activists, religious leaders, sports icons – these are all entrepreneurial in many of their aspects). Entrepreneurs in any “field” must all lead people through the toughest moments. They will always have many doubters, a lot of competition for their business or at least their attention, and they must always be “on” no matter what time of day it is–where they are, or who they are with. The world – or at least their world – is ceaselessly watching.

In terms of “serial” entrepreneurs, I don’t really appreciate the term, as it focuses too much on the “business” and a quantification of success. I think, at least in my view, one only becomes an entrepreneur after one has been through a number of ventures, and in thus the very “serial” nature of the term is really a pre-requisite to being a “true entrepreneur.”

Being part of many other ventures, do you enjoy the start up culture? Why or why not?

I’ve always been a self-starter and have consistently been drawn to solving problems, taking risks, and I’m never afraid to “try the new.” There are many things I love about being in an early stage company, but suffice it to say, I had a normal 9-5 job once and lasted only a few weeks (probably because I wasn’t qualified).

I think what I enjoy most about the environment I am currently in is the people; each day I am forced to be a better leader – even a better person – in order to move the company and our vision forward. I never thought leading and motivating could be all I do in a day while still being exhausted, satisfied, and ready to wake up the next day – eagerly – at 5am. It doesn’t quite make sense, except perhaps in the start up world. That’s a neat feeling and it’s a lot of fun.

Outside of work, what else are you passionate about? hobbies?

Being an entrepreneur, my list will be noticeably short…

I was a big squash player in my younger days as well as in university. I’m slowly getting back into the sport, which I enjoy very much. I like traveling and the outdoors – my former college roommates and I do a multiday backpacking trip each year ever since we graduated.

What is next for Plastiq for the remainder of 2013?

If I told you I’d have to kill you (kidding). One of the things I enjoy most about our company and my team is our somewhat paradoxical obsession of laying low and being patient but then ultimately going out with unprecedented scale and impact in everything we do. This doesn’t mean we wait until we get everything right (mistakes are, after all, the ingredients of success for an entrepreneur), but rather that we feel comfortable in our own skin and like being humble, before ultimately letting the world know that we’ve abruptly taken over a marketplace.

2013 is no different. For the first quarter most of my team was universally focused on a single goal, while the broader market would have probably asked, “sorry, who is Plastiq?” At the end of March, we launched our product that addressed the largest payment opportunity in Canadian history, and was the first and only provider to allow tax payments for all Canadians on any credit card of their choice.

What I will say about the remainder of 2013 is that the March launch for tax was not about “pay your taxes”, but was more about “welcome to Plastiq.” We have a lot more in store.

“Venture Capital Insiders” with Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners

Over the years, we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many industry influencers with whom we have relationships – media, entrepreneurs, analysts and more – and we’re excited to expand further with our new “Venture Capital Insiders” series. Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners did us the honor of kicking things off.

Jeff is a General Partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, whose investment interests and entrepreneurial experiences cross consumer, Internet commerce, marketing services, software and mobile start-ups. Jeff currently represents the Firm on the boards of Cartera Commerce, ClickSquared, DataXu, i4cp, Plastiq,  SavingStar, SimpleTuition, tracx, and is a Board Observer at  ZestFinance.  He was previously a Director at Brontes Technologies (acquired by 3M), BzzAgent (acquired by Tesco), Convoke Systems, go2Media, oneforty (acquired by HubSpot), PanGo Networks (merged with InnerWireless), Ready Financial (merged with AccountNow), and Transpera (acquired by Tremor Video).

Jeff’s book on venture capital and entrepreneurship, Mastering the VC Game, is an insider’s guide for entrepreneurs on financing and company-building. The book has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, TechCrunch and The Financial Times as an essential guide for entrepreneurs.

Jeff serves as a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School and teaches a class on entrepreneurship and lean start-ups called Launching Technology Ventures.  He has co-authored three HBS cases that are taught in “Founder’s Dilemma” (Curt Schilling’s Next Pitch) and “Launching Technology Ventures” (Foursquare and Predictive BioSciences).  Jeff is also the co-author of “Ruling The Net,” a 1996 Harvard Business Review article on the Internet’s potential for commerce.  He is also on the Board of MITX, the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange, and is a Founding Executive Committee Member of FirstGrowth Venture Network, a network of venture and angel investors supporting first and second time entrepreneurs building exciting companies in the New York area.

Jeff’s popular blog on helping to demystify the venture business for entrepreneurs, “Seeing Both Sides,” can be found at www.SeeingBothSides.com, which is syndicated by BusinessInsider.com, Reuters, PE Hub and others.  You can follow Jeff on Twitter @bussgang.

How is the VC climate different now than it was 10, 15 years ago?

There are two new phenomena that impact the VC climate as compared to 10-15 years ago.  First, entrepreneurs require less capital than they used to – thanks to the declining cost of technology, the cloud and the application of the Lean Start-Up methodology.  Second, new companies are able to accelerate their growth much faster than ever before, thanks to global broadband penetration, the cloud and the social fabric that connects consumers and businesses.  As a result, seed investing has also proliferated as a method to get connected to young start-ups early in their development, and growth equity investing has become popular for companies that achieve product-market fit and have the privilege of scaling fast.

What makes Boston’s VC climate unique?

Boston is the second strongest entrepreneurial climate in the world after Silicon Valley and arguably the most diverse and dense.  With its deep information technology roots, burgeoning health care industry and emerging energy sector, Boston has emerged as one of the hot spots for entrepreneurs and investors alike.  As a result, every major technology company is either headquartered here (e.g., “anchor companies” such as Akamai, EMC, Thermo Fisher, Vertex) or has a large presence in the region (e.g., eBay, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle).

Any advice for the first time entrepreneur seeking institutional investment? 

The odds are against you – most VC see hundreds of opportunities for every one that they invest in – so recognize that you have to have something special to attract institutional investment.  Make sure you do your homework before approaching an investor.  Entrepreneurs seek money once every few years, but investors are pitched by entrepreneurs every hour of every day.  Thus, there is an information asymmetry that entrepreneurs need to work hard to overcome.

What makes your book, Mastering the VC Game, an insider’s guide? What’s different about the advice you give vs other insider guides?

I think entrepreneurs have found the book valuable for three reasons.  First, it’s written by a practitioner.  I’m an active investor, not an author or consultant, and so my perspective comes from being engaged in the business for a decade.  Second, I used to be an entrepreneur, so I have empathy for their struggles to build and fund a company because I’ve been there myself.  And I know what information I would have wanted back when I was an entrepreneur.  Finally, I interview over a dozen VCs and entrepreneurs – folks like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman – to explore their case studies and wisdom.  This mix of an informed, personal perspective and compelling case studies seems to be what is resonating with entrepreneurs.

You teach at Harvard as a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School. What do you learn most from your students that helps you navigate the VC world? What are their biggest challenges as aspiring, upcoming business leaders?

I learn a tremendous amount from my students – it is very much a two-way street.  They give me great insight into what’s hot in the market, what the latest trends are and what some of their biggest challenges are.  At the macro level, their challenges are similar to all entrepreneurs – finding a unique, differentiated market opportunity and marshalling the capital and human resources to pursue it.

Talk a little about your co-authored HBS case study that is taught in “Founder’s Dilemma” (Curt Schilling’s Next Pitch) - where did 38 Studios go wrong? Did they? Was it the RI business climate?  How will it – or did it already – change the VC landscape moving forward?

The Curt Schilling case is one of the most interesting I have worked on.  Curt was trying to do two very ambitious things at the same time.  First, he was trying to build a hugely valuable business from scratch in a super-competitive field.  Second, he aspired to personally transform himself from being an All Star baseball player to becoming an All Star entrepreneur.  Many professionals attempt personal transformations and so Schilling’s efforts, which were so dramatic, provides great lessons for entrepreneurs in this area.  As for what happened to 38 Studios and the situation with Rhode Island, I’ll leave that for a future case.

How does the VC environment differ from the East Coast to the West Coast?   What are the challenges in navigating the differences?

The differences are more modest than many observers try to make it and there are many East Coast VCs who are investors in West Coast companies and vice versa.  Both markets are very competitive, but the West Coast is probably even more competitive, as there are more investment professionals managing more capital.  As a result, the deals can be pricier than East Coast deals.

Did you want to be a Venture Capitalist when you were a kid? What led you to this career?

No, I wanted to be an entrepreneur when I was a kid.  I had never heard of venture capital until I came to business school and met a few firms.  When my partners started Flybridge and asked me to join them in founding the firm, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

What is next for you for the remainder of 2012?

Whatever my investors, partners and portfolio company CEOs tell me to do!  They are the customers I serve.

Persuasive Picks for the week of 05/02/11

Measure Metrics6 Social Media Metrics for SMBs To Track
Congrats! You’ve finally launched your brand on a few social platforms and you’re starting to make some headway with your efforts – but, how do you really know if you’re doing it right or if its working? Tracking a few basic metrics will help keep you on track, and Lisa Barone suggests a few to help get you started via this post on SmallBizTrends.com.

Social Media And The Modern Startup
Fast Company Expert Blogger Aaron Arnold explains how “social media allows early adopters to share the experience without the risk of being the entrepreneur creating it” via his own personal experience.

Social Media Policies: Let’s Talk About What You Should Do
Creating a social media policy for your organization can be a tricky task. Its almost like you need to be controlling without being controlling, right? Most organizations base their policies on telling employees what they can’t do when it comes to using social media. This GigaOm.com post from 

Video and Social Media Marketing: Getting C-Suite Executives To Lead

How Barbie & Ken Were Reunited by Social Media
Mashable‘s Erica Swallow began writing about Mattel’s social campaign to reunite Barbie and Ken earlier this year, and I selected her initial post as a Persuasive Pick back in January. This week, she follows up with more detail about the campaign and shares the results of its success.

Image Credit: RambergMediaImages