Melissa Schneider of GoDaddy: Inspiration, resiliency and engaging with new technology is helping drive business growth

Melissa Schneider of GoDaddy: Inspiration, resiliency and engaging with new technology is helping drive business growth

Throughout most of this year during the pandemic, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with executives at a number of technology companies serving the small business community.

And while there are a number of themes that have recurred with many vendors and across the months we’ve been dealing with COVID-19, the ones that have resonated with me have been the descriptions for small businesses I’ve heard over and over again: innovative, creative, resilient and inspired.

During a recent conversation with Melissa Schneider, GoDaddy’s VP Global Marketing Operations & Product Marketing, she went even further in detailing a couple of real life examples of just how resilient and inspired small businesses have been in order to survive and succeed in the midst of the coronavirus.

Interview with Melissa Schneider of GoDaddy

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation. To hear the full conversation, click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

Small Business Trends: What were the initial things that they [your customers] were focused on? What are the biggest challenges and how has that changed over these seven months or so?

Melissa Schneider: I think we at GoDaddy woke up in March the same way a lot of folks did and just recognized the incredible impact that the pandemic, even in those early days was going to have on small businesses. We wake up every morning thinking about the everyday entrepreneur, the smallest of small businesses and thinking about how we can provide all the tools and help that we can to help them succeed online. And so looking at the early days of the pandemic, we reached out and started engaging with folks saying, “Hey, what are your expectations for the future? How is this impacting you today? What can we do to help?” But just in terms of what we saw in terms of impacts, in the early days it was the initial what’s going on?

How am I going to pivot from my brick and mortar business, from my in-person services business to a mode where I have to serve people digitally in a way that I never have before? So we had a set of surveys that went out, we’re engaging with customers everyday live. And what we noticed was that about 75% of them in those initial months recognized a clear impact to their business and to their revenues. About two out of five of them had to, if only temporarily, shut down entirely for some time. But what we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, early days and even in today, is that small businesses and entrepreneurs are incredibly resilient.

Those same conversations we were having with them, we saw that about 70% of them expected to make it through and not just make it through, but they saw growth coming out of the pandemic. So the early days were really about how is this going to impact my business, and I just shared some ways that that impacts actually flowed through. But now what we’re seeing is folks thinking about how they’re going to reopen, how they’re going to emerge, how some of the things that they’ve started to engage with out of necessity online as part of the pandemic are going to translate into long-term growth for them. So we’re very in the middle of this, but I think what’s inspiring is again, to see that resilience be married up with the ability to start engaging with new technology and services to help drive business growth.

Small Business Trends: Let’s talk a little bit about where small businesses are. We have the high flying small businesses who are already built in the cloud, so to speak, but then you also had the traditional ones and they make up the majority of small businesses still that had to either switch quick or die, and it seems like we’re seeing and hearing more and more of these making that switch. So talk a little bit about that in terms of small businesses the traditional guys having to go start selling in the cloud where they were really used to having people come into their stores.

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Melissa Schneider: Yeah. I’d love to share with you just a couple of real examples of people that we’ve seen adapt and make this transition. We had this amazing event with our customers called GoDaddy Open where thousands of small businesses came together to join us in, again, just talking about the ways that that adaptation has happened, the ways that GoDaddy can help to help small businesses make that change, and again, that sense of making it through binding together, resiliency came through as we saw so many of those folks join us to have some of those conversations with folks from GoDaddy and some other small business experts. But I want to highlight just a couple of real examples. One of them is right there in Atlanta with you, Brent. We’ve got Amber and Kibwe Robinson who along with their three children before the pandemic had built up this side hustle called MOKIPOPS, where they were making these health-conscious vegan popsicles.

And they were just at the point of getting to where they were going to scale, get that storefront opened up, create a real operation where they were going to be able to service customers in person when COVID hit. So what they needed to do was get creative, was to think about how do we transition what we thought was going to be to what we know needs to happen. So they were firing up those social channels. They were getting their message out there on Facebook and Instagram in new and exciting ways and in terms of their model, they were thinking about and started to engage with more delivery, a Popsicle delivery. Did they imagine that that was how they were going to be running their business? No. They’re engaging with pop-ups in COVID friendly settings around Atlanta.

So maybe a little plug to visit, and just check them out as an example and in the background know that these are folks that had to just think differently about their business model and what it meant to engage and sell online. And that is an example of someone who was thinking they were going to have a physical storefront. Some of the businesses that were most impacted here were businesses that provide in person services. So at our event yesterday, we talked about a customer of ours named Ramon Bostic in Arizona, he’s a personal trainer. He was going and running a very personal face-to-face service with folks and his business dropped off completely as so many gyms and trainers and yoga studios.

And all these kind of exercise-based and health and fitness based businesses experience with the pandemic. So Ramon started running his classes over Zoom. He said, “I need to start taking appointments online. I need to get out there and engage with customers, again, in social channels with beautiful content that gets them to recognize my brand, my worth and then I need to deliver a way for them to engage with me.” So he’s doing zoom classes, he’s got a great website and he has an amazing social presence thanks to GoDaddy’s recently announced Over capabilities, which allow you to create really beautiful content across your entire online presence. And he’s digital now. He is a digital physical trainer. So when you think about the types of transitions folks had to go through, they run the gamut. But again, like the creativity, again, from delivery to online services, it’s all inspiring.

Small Business Trends: I still see a stat out there that says, and it’s like a stat that hasn’t really changed a lot over the last decade or so, where only roughly about 50% of all businesses have a website. And this as a stat is just … it could be actually longer ago than that, but it’s something that doesn’t seem to have changed a lot over time. Do you see the pandemic affecting companies to say, that don’t have websites, “We have to have one now,” and then on top of that, it seems like they not only have to have the website, they have to have a website that actually digitally transacts business. Are you seeing more companies that hadn’t had one, be interested in one, and then also needing the functionality of being able to transact digitally now with all this going on?

Melissa Schneider: Well, in general we’re seeing more small businesses just recognize the importance of the whole of their online presence, including a site. And just because someone doesn’t have a website, it doesn’t mean that they’re not engaging online. These everyday entrepreneurs start out by jumping into social channels by thinking about the places that already have traffic and engagement where they might want to sell online marketplaces like eBay, Etsy. So one of the things that we’re really focused on at GoDaddy is saying, “Look, as the criticality of your total online presence is coming to the forefront, we’re providing you a way to connect all of those dots together by way of our website’s marketing solution to say you can have your beautiful content that you generate around your brand online that shows up in your social channels where you’re going to be able to generate engagement and eyeballs.

We’re going to help you make sure that you can make sales via those social channels and we’re also going to help you connect that online store presence that you want to build back to the marketplaces that you’re already in or that you would like to be in.” So I think that we’re all shopping more online. Small businesses by necessity need to be ensuring that their customers or prospects can find them and can transact with them and get their products and/or services online. And it’s not just about getting a website, but thinking about having a solution that’s going to allow them to touch all of the places where their customers and prospects could potentially engage with them.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Evan Goldberg of Oracle Netsuite: Businesses Today Have to be Prepared for Radical Shifts in Their Supply Chain

Evan Goldberg of Oracle Netsuite: Businesses Today Have to be Prepared for Radical Shifts in Their Supply Chain

Earlier this week Oracle Netsuite, a platform integrating front and back office business applications, announced a flurry of innovations to help their customers adjust and succeed in the current environment, and beyond.  And before the announcement I was able to catch up with Evan Goldberg, Founder and EVP of Oracle Netsuite, to learn more about the new developments, as well as to get his take on how his customers are adjusting eight months into the pandemic.

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.  To hear the full interview click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

Small Business Trends: How many of these changes in consumer behavior do you think are going to carry over once we get past this pandemic?

Evan Goldberg: I think some of these changes, they won’t turn back. I mean, we have a company, Bedford Industries, that made ties for bread packaging, and they retooled really quickly to make PPE. They were making it just to help local hospitals, et cetera, but they found that they had so much demand for it that they… and this is a B2B company, but they put up a direct to consumer website on NetSuite, in a few days, and suddenly they were selling PPE to the general public. I don’t know whether they’ll continue to do that, but I think that the fact that they saw that they there’s a channel there for them to sell direct to consumer is probably pretty interesting, and I think the eyes have maybe been opened for a lot of companies.

Small Business Trends: Talk about the power of the platform, because customer experience has never been more effected by things like supply chain management before, and if you don’t have that right, the effect it has on the customer experience can be tragic.

Evan Goldberg: Well, a lot of it, initially, were supply shocks, where they couldn’t get their supplies from Asia in particular, towards the beginning of the crisis. And now in some cases it’s flipped, that that’s the best place to order things from. So basically, these businesses have to be prepared for radical shifts in supply chain. They have to diversify. We have a customer, NadaMoo!, who’s a dairy free ice cream maker and they moved some of their supply chain from Asia to Mexico, sort of closer to home. But by doing that, they’re sort of diversifying and making themselves more resilient to shocks. A lot of what we work on at NetSuite is helping customers be resilient to changes in the supply chain. We announced in our most recent release a new supply planning engine that lets them plan based on anticipated demand, but then also can be rerun frequently as conditions change, as they inevitably do in this sort of turbulent time.

Small Business Trends: When you think about the term digital transformation, you’re hearing a lot of folks say that of course the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, but how do you think the definition of digital transformation, what it means to your customers, how do you think that’s changed?

Evan Goldberg: Well, it’s a pretty all-encompassing term and our customers were using digital computers before, and so for our customers, it’s been really a cloud transformation. The other major transformation that we hear a lot of customers are really interested in is decreasing complexity. They have a lot of different systems that they’ve accumulated over the years and they really want to decrease that to just a few. So that’s where NetSuite comes in, because we can provide sort of a one-stop shop for a lot of your needs and your core operations, including HR, which is obviously critical for companies as they grow.

So we’ve been building up our Suite People capabilities, which is what we call the HR component of our integrated suite. We’re seeing increasing adoption of that as we add the capabilities that they need, onboarding better and more sophisticated payroll capabilities, performance management, those kinds of things. So, that’s really the big transformation I think that a lot of our companies are going through, is using the cloud and using it to simplify their systems.

Small Business Trends: And with that simplification of systems, does that also increase the opportunity for them to leverage newer technologies like AI and to be able to take that information coming from all these different systems and actually be able to use it in a way that can make the biggest impact?

Evan Goldberg: Yeah, that’s absolutely the case. One of the benefits we’ve had as becoming part of Oracle is we’re able to leverage their deep R&D investment in things like conversational UIs, which obviously uses natural language. You’re going to see increasingly in future versions of NetSuite that we’re integrating those capabilities. We’re announcing, this week, the NetSuite Data Analytics Warehouse, which uses Oracle’s powerful analytics engine and their Autonomous Data Warehouse, which is their flagship data warehouse capability, all delivered via the cloud, to allow customers to do things like snapshotting, to better be able to see trends, and then also to combine their NetSuite data with other data from other systems, to tie that together. So, just like in AI and machine learning, all this stuff, we’re leveraging the deep investments that Oracle is making, and we’re going to bring them to the fast-growing small and mid-sized business over the coming years.

Small Business Trends: I got a chance to check out that press release. There was a lot of stuff in there, going over a lot of things. Maybe you could give some of the other highlights of what’s going to be announced next week.

Evan Goldberg: We have a lot of, I don’t know if I’d call them meat and potatoes, but features that customers are demanding now, and increasingly people want really deep integration with their banks, so that all that is automated. Automated reconciliation, so you know your exact cash position at any time. And so we’re doing that. We’ve added smart bank integration for banks all over the world, not just in the US, because we have a global customer base. So I think that’s one of the most exciting things.

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As I said, the NetSuite Analytics Warehouse, for some of our more sophisticated customers. It’s just things that customers can use now. On the commerce, or I guess customer interaction front, we announced expanded capabilities in what we call our My Account feature, which is basically for all types of customers to allow their clients and their customers to have a portal, to see information about their account, pay their bills. If it’s a subscription company, which increasingly, obviously, new businesses are, they can manage their subscription, add capabilities, upgrade, et cetera. Certainly, during this time, our customers really are keen on features that let their customers interact with them in the kind of 24/7, 365, anywhere, anytime manner.

Small Business Trends: Are you seeing more of these companies think outside the box and add and do things differently than before?

Evan Goldberg: Yeah. I mean, we’ve seen a trend for several years where there’s not as much of a clean divide between product companies and service companies. Product companies want to deliver some of their goods as subscriptions. I mean, we see that all over the place with these subscription services for clothes and things like that. And service companies sometimes want to deliver products. I mean, we see that with some of these exercise companies that have both a product and a service. So these sort of hybrid business models require something like NetSuite that can handle both sides of the equation.

I think you’re right that AI and ML and those kinds of things are increasingly important on both sides. So one of the things that we’re doing for both service companies and product companies is predicted risks. If you’re a product company, it’s all about, are you shipping your goods on time and satisfying your customer in that way? They want the right product at the right time. So we can predict risks based on past shipments to particular areas using particular carriers and giving you early warning that you might need to ship something out earlier to get it to the customer on time.

Similarly, on a services side for project-based businesses, there’s project risks. And again, looking at history, applying AI to identify projects that might need a little extra TLC before you start losing money, or worse yet, losing clients. So that’s where we’re taking a broad view of where you can apply AI and machine learning to really help customers now.

Small Business Trends: But what do you expect to see? What are you expecting the climate to be like? What do you expect your customers to be facing at that point?

Evan Goldberg: Right. Well, I’m not Nostradamus, so I don’t actually know exactly what the… I think there’s a lot of speculation that is just that. It’s very clear that, as we talked about, some of the things that are happening are going to continue, even when you can walk around and see people and go to parties and watch basketball games and all that good stuff. And so I think historians will write how the world changed as a result of the pandemic in a few years, but I definitely think that many of the changes that are happening are really positive.

I mean, why do you have to fly all over the country all the time for meetings that can effectively be done remotely? That doesn’t mean all meetings. There’s definitely meetings that you absolutely want to do face to face, but companies being able to be a little more judicious about when they need to fly people around, I think is going to help with productivity. It’s going to help with employee satisfaction. I mean, some employees like hopping on planes, but it gets tiring after a bit.

So I think a lot of these changes are going to allow a business to operate more efficiently. Definitely reaching their customers online in new ways, that’s going to stick, because that’s what customers want, is just easy access at any time when they want to interact with you. 

Small Business Trends: I think it was at the last Suite World, there was an analyst/media kind of thing, and I asked you a question about voice and where does it fit into enterprise applications?

Evan Goldberg: Yeah. I think voice is huge. I tell it to my team on the product development side all the time, how important I think it’s going to be. It’s not for all interactions with your application, but it’s for a lot of them. I mean, some people say, “Well, in offices, is that realistic?” Well, we have call centers right now, so obviously people can talk in offices. I think it’ll be weird maybe for a while, but I think it’s a very, very efficient way to communicate person to person. It could, in a lot of cases, be a very efficient and natural way to communicate person to computer and computer to person. Especially person to computer. I mean, the ability to just ask for what you want in English, and it’s going to be faster than typing. I mean, my wife beat the typing teacher, but she also talks really fast. So even she talks faster than she types. So, I think it’s huge.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Sridhar Vembu of Zoho: Spiritual Economics Goes Beyond ROI, It’s About Balance, Symmetry and Harmony

Sridhar Vembu of Zoho: Spiritual Economics Goes Beyond ROI, It’s About Balance, Symmetry and Harmony

Earlier this week I cohosted a unique livestream event, alongside Small Business Trends publisher Anita Campbell, with Zoho CEO and cofounder Sridhar Vembu and Chief Evangelist Raju Vagesna.  It was unique because we spent the vast majority of the hour plus event talking about everything but what the company is mostly known for – cranking out 50+ business apps that 60 million people use on a daily basis.  It was also unique because it was the first time in about a decade that Sridhar and Raju sat down together (virtually in this case with Sridar being in India and Raju in Austin, TX) for a conversation like this.

The end result of this discussion demands that another decade not pass before another one of these conversations take place.  As bringing these two gentlemen together provided us a glimpse into what has made Zoho the success story it is, allowing us to go beyond the numbers to get a better understanding of the culture, strategy and heart of the company.  In this hour long conversation they talk about why it’s important for Zoho to be an asset to the communities they operate in, the concept of familiarity capital, the ills of “consumeritus”, and why spiritual economics is just as important as traditional approach to economics – and maybe more so.

Below is an edited transcript from a portion of our conversation.  To hear the full conversation click on the embedded SoundCloud or watch the video above.

Anita Campbell: How does a small business owner integrate that kind of commitment to the community together with the need to make payroll and pay the expenses and keep the business going. I mean, how do you balance that? Any suggestions or thoughts?

Sridhar Vembu: Yeah, in fact, it starts with your workforce. That’s where it starts, because before we think of the product, you first have to think about recruitment. You have to have a workforce. Where are we going to get the workforce? For a small business owner, this is the challenge because bigger companies have[resources]  – most of the people are going to work for prestigious companies and that’s common. So you have to figure out how are you going to hire that talent you want, and you need, and how do you get them with the skills you want? So the skill development is a first step I would advise any small business owner to focus on, and invest in your people. If there’s a couple of people who are trusting you with that at all, and coming to join you, think of that as not only that I’m trusting them, but they’re also trusting me.

So if you take responsibility for upgrading their skills, then you’re actually going to have somebody who is very skilled for your business too. They’re also going to have that because you’ve taught them, there’s going to be actually a loyalty factor that comes in. Hey, this person is investing in me. And that is how the community engagement begins. That is the way it actually began for us.

I actually encourage our employees to participate in community life actively. That’s something that I keep pushing. I say, your job here is enormously enhanced when you are active and participating in your to communities. We don’t want to lump Zoho into a community and be an island. We want to be very much part of the community. So that is the second part.

Raju Vegesna: The goal is to be an asset to the community; participating.  And the way you participate also varies by the region, by the company. The way you participate in India could be different from U.S., different from Mexico or Japan, and what that community needs and where the employees are interested in participating. All of those play that role. Nurturing that talent is the key. What percentage is that. Maybe lack of a better term, exploit versus nurture. Where are you just hiring a bunch of graduates or are you investing in nurturing people, particularly in the context of the community? Surely you can go hire all the people out there, but there are more talented people that may not have a college degree.

And what are you as a company doing, to invest and nurture that talent out there because end of the day, it is not… When someone becomes successful, the key really is not about the talent. It comes down to opportunity. The reason for success is opportunity. If you give an individual an opportunity and nurture them through that. So you’re polishing the stone to become a diamond and you’re nurturing them. And there are a lot of talent out there that are not given enough opportunity. And if you can give them that opportunity and nurture them, that will… And it’s not just financial. And I mentioned this earlier, what’s the point of being financially successful if you’re morally bankrupt. And then similarly, this is an important point. It is that that psychic kick that she was talking about that is equally important when you nurture that talent, and there’s a human element to that.

Brent Leary: Raju, if you were in Anita and my’s position, what should we ask Sridhar? What question would be a good question to ask?

Raju Vegesna: How much time do you have, Brent?

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Brent Leary: We got all day, man!

Raju Vegesna: There are a lot of things we discuss internally more than we discussed externally, but Sridhar comes up with a lot of interesting things. For example, he came up with this rule revival, like earlier on this year, and similarly has come up with transnational localism. Maybe we can expand on that a little later. So like that, he comes up with a lot of these things. I would call these a group demander, maybe, or call them “Zoho-nomics”, the Zoho way of doing things, running your business. Maybe we’ll discuss something that he probably hasn’t discussed in public. So Sridhar, can you talk about spiritual economics?

Sridhar Vembu: The spiritual work, that actually has a deeper connection; it’s the opposite of pure materialist focus. It’s not the economics of GDP and numbers.  I’ll explain this a little bit as we talked about this in the context of what is the ROI of an effort like Zoho Schools. Yes there is an ROI number but the benefit is much bigger.  And even the familiarity capital Raju mentioned in the beginning, you cannot actually measure it. You cannot put it on a balance sheet. You cannot assign a number to it. That does not mean it does not exist. You see one of the problems, in economic spaces, is If it cannot be a put on a balance sheet, it might as well not exist in the business world, right? Likewise for economists in terms of GDP and all of that.

Philosophers have argued this point that this is not actually reality, because I want subjective satisfaction of something, of service, of a product. Those things matter as much as the objective ROI. And the biggest proponent of this idea in the tech industry, of course, was Steve Jobs, right? He actually talked about the aesthetic beauty of the product, about the product doing something beyond its objective features and functions. There’s an aesthetic subjective element to it. And that’s exactly the same concept applied in the economic realm. And I actually have three cardinal [rules] that I use, and that is I call them balance, symmetry, and harmony.

In fact I teach this to this village here because we are on the other side of… This village is like the other side of the world from us, San Francisco. What they sell is, rice, maybe some vegetables, okay. What they buy might include all the manufactured products. That includes your smartphones, your TVs, your fans, your tractors, all of them, all the benefits and products, even simple as simple products as clippers.

And if you look at the terms of trade, it does not balance the… In effect, having to buy more value than they can sell. So they bridge it by exporting their own labor, migrant labor, or by borrowing money, getting in a debt trap, or some government transfer programs, in some cases, which in most countries, it’s food. There are government programs to transfer resources to rural areas so that they can afford to buy products. They also sell off their lands. So steadily the farmers have to sell their lands because they can’t make ends meet. So this is the lack of balance in the economy, that what we export out of here does not meet our imports into the village. Okay. That’s balance.

The second idea is more subtle; It’s symmetry. The idea is the composition of what, the technical composition or the complexity of what you sell, must match what you might buy, and I’ll give you a classic example of that that is not met.

Take the oil exporting nations in the Middle-East, they sell oil and buy everything else. They could be rich until the oil prices crash, but then they suddenly become poor, right? So I could be a big exporter of rice, yeah? And buy everything using rice, but when the rice price goes against me, I’m completely screwed. And this happens to [economic] cycles, in developing countries like with Chile and copper, and beef with Argentina, where commodity prices crash. This is true around the world in developing countries. So the symmetry is an argument where the composition, all the complexity of what I buy has to match the complexity of what I sell on the group level, or a village level, or a county level, on a state level.  All of them.

And then harmony. There has to be a semblance of justice and fairness in your distributions system or else we are going to see the social conflict. The U.S. is a very rich country, but a lot of Americans are not feeling rich though, right? And that’s the social conflict. So these are the three foundational principles; the balance, symmetry, and harmony. And I just looked to get them on that, this spiritual economics topic. I hope that gives you an idea.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Mike Katz of T-Mobile: The kinds of capabilities that 5G promises to present can be transformational

Mike Katz of T-Mobile: The kinds of capabilities that 5G promises to present can be transformational

Mike katz interview

Heading into National Small Business Week T-Mobile launched new rate plans for small businesses with Microsoft 365 included, allowing customers access to Office apps, cloud services, device management and advanced security.  To learn more about the offering and how T-Mobile is working with Microsoft to help SMBs succeed in these unprecedented times, I recently spoke with Mike Katz, Executive Vice President of T-Mobile for Business.

In addition to filling us in on the new offerings and the Microsoft partnership, Mike also shared how small businesses are using mobile and cloud technologies – and their own creativity and innovation – to transform their businesses to meet the changing needs of their customers.  Mike also shares how 5G broadband wireless technology holds the promise of being a game changer to those businesses from a variety of perspectives.

Interview with Mike Katz of T-Mobile

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To hear the full interview click on the embedded SoundCloud player.

Small Business Trends: In your press release announcing the Microsoft partnership, T-Mobile said that this National Small Business Week was the most important one in a decade.  Can you tell us why you feel that way?

Mike Katz: Yeah. It’s a great question. This has been, maybe to put it mildly, a challenging year for all of us. Probably and hopefully, cross your fingers, this is the one time in our lifetimes where simultaneously all of us, everyone in the entire world, is going through the same thing together, and it’s been hard and it’s been stressful, and there’s not a single one of us who haven’t had some impact on our lives. But if you think about how this pandemic has affected small businesses, you can make a strong argument that they’ve been disproportionately impacted, especially if you go back to spring when many of us across the country were in full shutdowns, small businesses rarely can afford to keep the doors closed for a day, let alone weeks or months on end.

I know you’ve seen some of the statistics. The number of small businesses that have not been able to make it through this pandemic is alarming. I’ve read things, as many as 50% of our 25 or 30 million small businesses in America aren’t going to make it through this pandemic. It’s been devastating for small businesses, and I think it’s really important, as communities, that we come together to help small businesses, because I know it sounds cliche, but they really are the backbone of this country.

Small Business Trends: Let’s talk a little bit about what small business means to T-Mobile, and then we’ll get into all the other cool things.

Mike Katz: Small business, they’re incredibly important to us. We serve millions and millions of small businesses today, and mobile, because it’s become one of the most important technologies in small business. The partnership that we have with small businesses, the importance, I think, is reciprocal, because we’re providing them with the technology that many small businesses are using literally to run their business. They’re incredibly important to us, and we work with small businesses across the country and across all of our different channels. I have a team that goes out directly into the locations of small businesses and works with them, not only to sell them services, but set up their services. And then now, that we’re combined with Sprint, we have over 7,500 retail locations across the country, and a huge portion of the daily traffic that we see inside of our retail stores are small businesses, either owners of small businesses or key decision-makers inside small businesses. And so, a lot of our daily work across this entire company is with and supporting small businesses.

Small Business Trends: Since it is coming up on National Small Business Week, and you just explained the importance of small business to the T-Mobile, let’s talk about this partnership that you just announced with Microsoft.

Mike Katz: We’re really thrilled about this one because, like we were just talking about, it’s been a rough year for small businesses, and small businesses oftentimes are the underdog. They’re depending on the business and the industry they’re in. They could be fighting, some of the biggest companies in the world are competing, maybe not fighting, but competing with some of the biggest companies in the world, and oftentimes don’t have access to the same kinds of resources. Many small businesses that we work with, they don’t have big IT departments and they don’t have their own help desk that’s helping the people that work there with all their different technology needs. And one of the things that we’ve really tried to do with small businesses is keep what we do as simple as possible, because business owners of all sizes, but particularly small businesses, they’ve got more stuff to worry about than dealing with their wireless company.

What we’ve done with Microsoft is we’ve enabled every small business that does business with us the ability to get access to free Microsoft 365 licenses. Small businesses can take advantage of all of the suite of applications that Microsoft 365 has within its suite, Excel, PowerPoint, the kinds of productivity tools that many businesses rely on to run their day to day operations, but also some other great features like cloud storage that enables document sharing and storage of documents. We’re really, really excited. We think this is going to be something that small businesses feel like is really helpful to them, both in their productivity, but also in their cost management.

Small Business Trends: What are the kinds of concerns that they have specifically around what’s going on with trying to stay in business, with trying to stay connected with customers, and just trying to keep afloat, basically?

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Mike Katz: There’s some things that we’ve heard that have been consistent, and the feedback also has evolved over the course of the pandemic. I think in the early days, weeks and months of the pandemic, it really was… I don’t have a better way to put it, it was triage. It was, hey look, our operation is shut down. We have no revenue coming in and we need to figure out ways to pay the bills and keep our employees, whenever possible, safe, secure, and employed. And that was one of the things that I was just blown away with, with some of the small businesses that we worked with, which was how much of their efforts, particularly early in the pandemic, were about ways that they could keep themselves focused on making sure they didn’t have lay people off, many of these small businesses are family run operations, their employees either are family or treated like family, and they wanted to find ways to make sure that they weren’t the cause of a negative impact to the people that work for them.

I think in the early days of the pandemic, it really was about how can we ensure that we can prioritize the things that are the most critical for us and really limit spend where we can. We got a lot of feedback from customers about, was there ways to either defer their bill? Could they limit the amount of services that they were buying from us? Maybe there was customers that were buying fully unlimited services from us, but they recognized that business was going to be either completely shut down or slowed down for a while, so they wanted to adjust services accordingly, which then consequently saved them money. It was a lot of that kind of, I’ll call it, optimization or shifting around services to help them meet their short-term financial objectives, but also to right size relative to what was going on in their business.

Then I think as the pandemic became our normal, we got a lot of feedback around, how can we operate successfully in this new environment? I can tell you, it really spurred a huge wave of innovation. And you were just mentioning things like digital transformation, and how do you take a restaurant that’s completely brick and mortar and their business is stuffing people inside of a building and then stuffing them with food. How do you shift your business model to one that looks like that to one that can work in this environment now, where people have to stay socially distanced and safe? A lot of the conversations that we started having with customers were, how can we use mobile to facilitate some this new way that our business can operate?

We saw some really great examples. There’s a restaurant, I’m in Seattle, a restaurant here in Seattle called Canlis, which is like an institution restaurant in Seattle. Seattle is kind of a laid back city, you have the start of grunge music and stuff. It’s the only place in Seattle where you actually are required to wear a jacket when you dine. It was shut down March, April, completely shut down. And they went through a massive shift in their business model to go from a fine dining sit-down restaurant with professional waitstaff and chefs to one where they transformed their entire waitstaff into delivery drivers, and they equipped all of them with phones and tablets.

They created a mobile POS system that they could use to take orders, but they kept their entire waitstaff employed by turning them into delivery drivers and turned their entire business mobile. It’s been a great success story, both for them, but also for the local community, because they haven’t had to lay off a single person. They even took the piano player that plays inside the restaurant, and they created essentially like a podcast with him every week, so people can listen to a live piano music from the piano player at the restaurant. It’s just been incredible. There’s so many of those stories of innovation, of people that were in desperate times, who went through this incredible transformation to keep their businesses afloat and to keep their employees employed.

Small Business Trends: Where does 5G fit in and how do you think 5G can help, particularly in situations like we’re in today?

Mike Katz: Yeah. It’s a pretty exciting time in this industry, and obviously, we can geek out on this kind of stuff, because we live it every day, but we really are in the beginning stages of what I think will be one of the biggest technology transformations in wireless. I think that’s saying quite a bit, because if you think about wireless a decade ago, when the industry went from, if you remember, 3G into 4G, that was a huge transformation. That was that era of smartphones. 10 years ago, you never would have thought of pulling up an application and punching a button and having a stranger show up in a car. And you just think about all of the innovation and capabilities and reliance that people now have on their smartphone as a result from the technology transformation from 3G services into 4G services, which really unleashed the power of smartphones.

This transformation from 4G into 5G has the potential to be even bigger. The kinds of capabilities that 5G promises to present really can be transformational. You’re talking about things like, today, the average mobile network in America runs at 30 to 40 megabits per second, download speeds. You’re talking about speeds, just in the next couple of years with 5G, that on average are 10 times higher than that, 300, 400 megabits per second with peak speeds over a gigabit per second. Mobile networks that have the same or better capabilities than what people are used to in their traditional fixed line, home or business broadband.

Network latency, one of the things that all of us who have been living on video conferences over the last few months recognize how important latency is on an internet connection, because how many times have you had these experiences where you’re in a meeting or even a one-on-one and everybody’s talking over each other. That’s really ineffective latency and how responsive your ISP is. You’re going to see dramatic decreases in latency with 5G, and I think that will really improve current experiences, like the one that we’re having right now, but it also is going to, I think, be a catalyst for the invention of a whole bunch of new experiences.

You hear all these buzzy things about virtual reality and augmented reality, but those things become a real possibility with a high capacity, high bandwidth, low latency network, where you can have experiences in a virtual or augmented environment that feel natural, because they don’t carry the latency. I think there’s a lot of ingredients for big transformation. I think the near term thing, especially for small businesses that’s going to be interesting, is the displacement of traditional either IT services or traditional services that were delivered exclusively through fixed wired providers that can now come through the wireless network.


This article, “Mike Katz of T-Mobile: The kinds of capabilities that 5G promises to present can be transformational” was first published on Small Business Trends

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Susan Marshall of Torchlite: Demand for Certified Salesforce Freelancers Increased During Pandemic

Susan Marshall of Torchlite: Demand for Certified Salesforce Freelancers Increased During Pandemic

The economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused businesses of all sizes to layoff valuable employees.

And many of those businesses still need to get things done in order to survive the current state of affairs. Especially things related to maintaining relationships with current customers, on top of finding ways to bring on new ones.  Which is why I was really interested in talking with Susan Marshall, founder and CEO of freelance marketplace Torchlite.

Torchlite specializes in placing CRM professionals certified in Salesforce products and services.  Salesforce is also Torchlite’s biggest investor.

Interview with Susan Marshall of Torchlite

During our LinkedIn Live conversation, Susan talks about how Torchlite differs from general freelancer marketplaces, what’s driving the growth of their marketplace, how the Torchlite model works from both freelancer and hiring business sides, how SMBs are tapping into the community of “flexperts”, and why they are so selective of who becomes a Torchlite freelancer.

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.  Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full discussion.

Susan Marshall: So Torchlite is exactly what you said it is. It’s a marketplace. It’s a place focused specifically on Salesforce products. So if you are a certified Salesforce administrator, technical architect, app developer, you’re looking for some additional ways to supplement your income. We’ve found an increase in the number of people looking for additional work with approval of their employers and Salesforce has a great training program and certification. So a lot of people are getting skilled up there to make themselves more marketable. You can come to our site and you can create a profile, let us know what your hourly rate is, your availability and then if you’re a business marketer, somebody who needs a project done really quickly, who even needs ongoing managed services, you can come and you can find one of these people. Then our system connects you, we handle all the payment, we handle … just think of it as Uber for Salesforce services. So our technology sits in between the driver and the writer, and we handle everything else, including the payment and reviews and all of that.

Small Business Trends: What’s the state of things? What are you seeing in terms of the demand for folks that have these Salesforce skills currently and how has the pandemic impacted things?

Susan Marshall: I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Just like all of us, if it was going to have a negative or positive impact on the business, but overall positive. We did lose some clients who just either went out of business or just budgets were slashed. So that had some impact on us. But for the most part, we’re seeing an increase in demand for freelancers and I think it’s largely because there’s a hiring freeze, so companies can’t hire people like they were, but they still need to get work done, and so they can take usually what’s called program dollars that they would spend on advertising or something else, and they can move that over to hire contractors to help them. So increasing demand and it’s less risky to hire a contractor because you don’t have to necessarily commit to two or three years of their services.

And then we’re also seeing an increase in demand on the supply side, more freelancers coming to the platform because they’re trying to, again, supplement their income because they don’t know what might happen to their positions so they want to be smart about that and also diversify their skills and their capabilities. So we have one freelancer who is a director of marketing, but decided to go and get their technical certification on marketing cloud so that not only can they … They understand the strategy and the messaging and maybe even how to manage teams, but now have more technical skills and they’re trying that on as independent contractors. So overall a lift on both sides. It’s been good, and I think that we’re looking at the world differently now. We’re not all going to be in the office, the way we work with and manage people is going to be different going forward. And so these online platforms like ours that connect people and allow them to collaborate online are really important right now.

Small Business Trends: How do you go about certifying the “flexperts”?

Susan Marshall: We have several different products that we support. So if you’re looking for an expert on Salesforce Essentials, which is their small business product, you’ll log on and you’ll likely get matched with somebody who is handpicked by Salesforce. Salesforce is the largest investor in our company and so the advisors that are on this marketplace and who are certified specifically on Essentials have been handpicked by them. So that means that their certification has been verified. They know for a fact that they’re technically certified, but they also interview them for their soft skills. So if you’re going to be interacting with a customer, do you follow up? Do you ask the right questions? Are you reliable? Those kinds of things. So those are just as important as their technical capabilities.

Small Business Trends: And you also have a way to track their actual experience … They’ve got great certs because, there was a term back in the day when I was a developer, it’s called a paper certified, paper MCSEs. So they’d take all the tests but had zero hands on experience. How do you make sure that those flexperts, they got the credential, but do they have the experience to go along with it?

Susan Marshall: We do that just like you would interview a full time employee. So they give us references, we follow up on those. We make sure that who they are is who they say they are, and 9.9% of the time, everyone’s being honest. It’s so easy now to be able to check to see if people are actually who they say they are and if the work is as good as they say it is. So we do that follow up. We also have reviews and ratings within the system on both sides. So after a project is done, or even during a project, a customer can rate the freelancer’s work and vice versa, which I think is good too.

Then we also have some governance over the project. We have customer success representatives who log in regularly, they check to see how the status of the project’s going and if something goes sideways, they can swap experts in and out to make sure that everything goes well for everybody. People are human though and just to be completely transparent, sometimes things do go sideways and people don’t work out well together because of different personalities or expectations. So that’s part of the service that we offer too, is just try to mitigate that as best we can.

Small Business Trends: What are the things that are driving the market right now?

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Susan Marshall: My background is in marketing and on the marketing cloud. So we have a lot of those types of experts and we need more and more and more of those. So that means creating customer journeys. Those are personalized emails or cross-channel communication based on your past browsing behavior or your past purchase behavior or data about you and your company. So we need a lot of marketing cloud experts. Salesforce is selling a lot of a product called Datorama which is an analytics tool and a lot of requests for that. I just got off the phone with a freelancer who just got his third certification on Datorama and I will be able to put him to work right away because there’s such a demand for that. Again, Salesforce and Datorama have these great certifications so if you’re at home and you have extra time and you’re climbing up against the wall because you can’t go to your concert or go to a restaurant, maybe go get your Datorama certification and learn something new and make some extra money.

Small Business Trends: How are actual SMBs leveraging Torchlite in this particular time?

Susan Marshall: Salesforce has been great and they’ve been very sensitive to what’s happening in the SMB market and some of the real losses that people have experienced. So they put together a program that we are managing which allows a small business owner to go to Torchlite and to get two hours of free consulting on essentials. So they just use a coupon code and they go in and they can get $500,000 worth of work for free that Salesforce is supplementing. So they realize that a small business owner wears multiple hats, they’re trying to run their business, manage teams, create the product, service customers, handle back office things. So they can’t be a CRM expert, and that’s okay. I think small businesses try to do everything and they need to be a little bit more opportunistic, especially now.

What are they good at?  What should they outsource? And in this case, Salesforce has made it either free or affordable for them to go and get a Salesforce essential certified expert to help them migrate their data. I hate to think of a small business owner up at 2:00AM struggling and stressed out and trying to enter in all their data into their CRM and figure out what the dashboard should be and just pulling their hair out when there’s somebody there that they can do that either for free or less than a thousand dollars, help them get it going. It’s money well spent.

Small Business Trends: Hiring a flexpert, how would they go about getting started? What would their first steps be?

Susan Marshall: They can go to and can go hire a flexpert and you can see it on our website. They can select what’s called a playbook. So really those playbooks are just pre-packaged services. One playbook is getting all your data into the system. One playbook is configuring your reporting and dashboards. So they can select one of those and then we’ll match them with that expert or they can just say, “I just need help. I don’t know what I need exactly, but just give me somebody to help me for a couple hours.” And so we’ll match them to somebody just by them filling out the little wizard of what they’re looking for.

Small Business Trends: Is it like a pay as you go or pay after the task is complete? How does that work?

Susan Marshall: For the playbooks, we design those so that it’d be very clear and transparent what you’re paying for and what you get. There’s a price in the playbook. They range between $345 and $500. So really affordable. You put down a down payment before the project gets started to show you’re committed and for the expert to take the time to actually connect with you. That down payment is as $100 and then once the project is complete, then those funds are released to the freelancer.

Small Business Trends: Is there anything unique or different that they should know when it comes to what you guys do compared to the general freelancer marketplaces?

Susan Marshall: We are very niche. We are very focused on Salesforce products and also content creation related to that. So if you need a writer or designers who can write or design an email for example, we have those kinds of people. The fact that we’re very focused on Salesforce is one. The fact that we have a close partnership with them means you’re going to get the best experts and they’re highly accountable. There’s not 57 million of them. We have less than a thousand of them. It’s a community and we take care of each other. So it’s small, it’s niche and then we also have the playbook concept. One of my goals in starting the company was to make sure as best as possible, the freelancers knew how much money they were getting and the business knew exactly how much it was going to cost and how long it was going to take and what they were going to get at the end of it.

So a lot of these are open ended. You’re connecting with somebody who’s maybe not as closely vetted. We only accept 4% of the people who apply to the marketplace. So it’s more controlled and transparent and very focused on sales and marketing technology.

Small Business Trends: You say it really is a community of folks because it’s such a niche area that you’re focused on. I guess it becomes a community. When I think of these more general marketplaces for freelancers, I think it’s more cut throat.  It’s me versus the world. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that. If I was a freelancer, how would I be able to become a part of a community like this?

Susan Marshall: Cutthroat is the right word. And I think when you have massive marketplaces like that, there’s a natural race to the bottom. Sort of like, “Okay, you’ll do it for a hundred, I’ll do it for 85. “You’ll do for 85, I’ll do it for 75.” And then next thing you know, they’re unable to really fulfill their commitment because they’ve got too many projects going on or it doesn’t work out. So we want to protect the freelancers and make sure they get paid what they deserve to get paid. They come in and they set their hourly rate, we mark that up 15%. So just like other marketplaces, our platform does make a commission on top of that, but we start with what their rate is and there’s no bidding process or anything like that. So this is the rate, this is what it’s going to cost.

We’re very, very focused on protecting our freelancers and making sure that they get what they deserve. But then we also make sure that we only get the best ones as well and we cultivate those. So we have things outside of the actual marketplace where we’re educating one another and we’re sharing ideas and that kind of thing too, and you can do that when you’re smaller. Upwork can’t do that when it’s 57 million people all over the world in different languages and they’re awesome, but that’s just not who we are.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Melissa Bradley of Ureeka: African American Women are Starting Businesses 6 Times More than White Male Peers

Melissa Bradley of Ureeka: African American Women are Starting Businesses 6 Times More than White Male Peers

Due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the protests that originally broke out in response to the killing of George Floyd captured on video, corporations have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to social justice causes, as well as to help struggling small businesses.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Salesforce have committed grants and funds to increase entrepreneurial opportunities to people who traditionally have been shut out of billions of dollars represented by the top venture capital firms – Women, Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.

And the company that Facebook and Salesforce chose to facilitate their SMB grant programs was Ureeka, a startup founded by Melissa Bradley, David Jakubowski and Rob Gatto, that provides mentorship and guidance through their platform to help their community membership of entrepreneurs’ get answers to their most pressing questions.

Interview with Melissa Bradley of Ureeka

I recently had a LinkedIn Live conversation with Ureeka cofounder Melissa Bradley to learn more about Ureeka’s mission to help underrepresented entrepreneurs succeed, and her own recent experiences raising $8.6M in VC money. Below is an edited transcript from a portion of our conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.

Small Business Trends: Tell us about your personal background.

Melissa Bradley: So I’m a serial entrepreneur and investor. I’ve spent the good portion of my life trying to start businesses and run businesses that I have working for someone else. So I am a typical entrepreneur. And during the course of time where I’ve probably now created about four or five businesses, I’ve always run into two big problems. One is finding people who actually believe in what I do and are willing to support me. And we can talk about what that support means. And two, finding investors. And part of that is obviously because I’m a woman. We know the statistics are not in favor of women getting investments. And then some would say, I have the double burden, I say I have the double opportunity that I’m also a woman of color. And I’m also gay, which is sometimes transparent and not transparent. So I’ve got a few things that do not put me in the typical category of white, male, straight starting business.

And so I have found over the years, that it’s been really hard for people to one, be willing to even listen to me and understand my idea, but two, and probably more importantly, believe in me and my idea since many of my businesses have specifically focused on people of color, which is ironic, right? Because demographically, we are about to be the majority. In many states, we are the majority of the population. We are clearly a trendsetter when it comes to culture. We clearly rule certain industries. Like we just talked about sports and fashion and media, and now beginning to really emerge in finance and FinTech. But they don’t look like me.

And so I have struggled with access to people who are willing to help me in terms of good advice. I’ve struggled with access to people willing to invest in me. I’m not looking for a handout. And I’ve struggled for people to actually even want to, in some cases, do business with me. As my first company, people have said if I knew that you had been a person of color, I’m not sure I would have contracted with your company, which is just absolutely absurd.

Small Business Trends: Tell us about Ureeka.

Melissa Bradley: Ureeka is a platform that is designed to democratize access, short and simple. Our whole mission is democratize access and reduce friction, particularly for small and medium sized businesses. But recognizing that the next wave of entrepreneurs are indeed women and people of color. We have a very specific focus on reaching out to them and making sure that they can grow the business they want to grow. And that is done primarily through coaching support, through access to content, that behind the scenes chatter that happens in those firms. And then also access to capital.

Small Business Trends: You talk about Ureeka’s intentionality to go after the “fastest growing, largest and most interesting market opportunity – which is not the Harvard and MIT pedigree, but the underrepresented entrepreneurs”. Why is that Ureeka’s area of interest?

Melissa Bradley: I think there’s two major drivers. So one I’m a finance major, right? So I go where the numbers say. And so I think it’s important because African American women are actually starting businesses six times their white male peers. And so it’s just a natural evolution with a 40% decline in white men starting businesses and a sharp increase in the number of black women in addition to women in general. I think it just says, that’s where we need to be spending our time, right? When investors say, “Who is your market?” We want to pick a fast growing market. No, not rocket science.

The second thing I would say is that we also know that, that market is typically burdened and saddled, yet they do great things, right? I mean, African American business owners and Latino business owners are actually the highest employers in this country. So it just speaks to the fact that go where the numbers are, both in terms of employment and startup and growth opportunity, but also go where there’s a market need. And there’s some research that I did almost two years ago now that said that it takes a black entrepreneur a quarter of a million dollars more to start the same exact business as their white peers.

So there’s clearly a market opportunity and gap. And I don’t know about you. I don’t know the record of the RAMS, but I’m going to bet on the underdogs, right? If nobody has given me money and nobody’s paying attention to me, but I am killing it when it comes to job creation, then I’m going to go with them. And so that’s really what the drivers are and what the whole premise in terms of why it’s important that you go after underrepresented founders. And there’s also a slight nuance there because I know in this world of high tech, there also tends to be a focus on VC backed businesses, which tend to be tech businesses. And those are great. We love them. We are a tech business, but we should also know that there’s all whole swath of businesses that are not tech businesses that are doing well, and that are making millions. And only 10% of black entrepreneurs even run tech companies.

Now, we want to change that. We want more folks to feel good about that, but you get 90% that are not running tech businesses, that are running retail businesses, that are running food businesses, that are running hospitality businesses. And the world is basically saying, “We don’t care about you because you’re not VC ready.” So we just really went where we saw there was a huge opportunity and a huge need and communities that we know that nobody else was paying attention to. And so in some cases, we’re following the numbers. And in other cases, we’re capitalizing on what we call first move advantage because everybody else is ignoring these folks.

Small Business Trends: Why is that still the case? Why is the market still a market? Why are VCs still really just completely ignoring this opportunity?

Melissa Bradley: So I think there’s a few reasons. I think one is that the market is the market, right? I mean, I think that people have to understand the drivers of being a finance person. So I don’t want to just throw out bias and racism because that’s part of it. But the reality is, investment is based on past precedent. And so unfortunately we are perpetuating this historical under investment because nobody has seen a winner yet. And we’re all waiting for a winner. We forget though, you can’t get a winner if you don’t step outside the box. So I think one is the markets are just naturally driving repeatable, scalable behavior that one would argue is not broken. I mean, the markets appear to be working, not for everybody, but they’re working. So there’s really no incentive to break that trajectory.

The second thing is which I hear and I struggle with, but in some cases it could be true, is I don’t know where they are. And so yeah. Not every entrepreneur is hanging out at MIT or Stanford. I’m in DC. There’s tons of entrepreneurs sitting at Harvard University. There’s tons of entrepreneurs at HBCU, but no one is going there to scout them. And I think part of it is they don’t know. And let’s be honest, there is an additional cost, emotional and financial. And we do have to understand that for better or for worse, the margins that are allowed to do any kind of innovation in finance are limited. And so people tend to be relatively risk averse.

And then the final thing I would say is that I don’t think media… I’m so grateful to be here and have seen your work and really appreciate you. And all the folks that you talk about have started doing these panels. I don’t think people even know we exist. I think that there is a few anomalies, right? That make the success stories that back in the day, I’m dating myself. We used to have ebony. We had black enterprise. And you get that one. As long as you could find one a month, you’re good.

But all of the social media that’s happening, I think the successes that we do have get lost in the noise. And so people struggle to say, “There’s one, there’s one, there’s one.” And let me be clear. Pattern recognition sucks, but it is a way to at least create the proxy for people to say, “I can at least think of what.” And I think we’ve got to do something where people can at least think of one, because once you get to one, the beauty of this community of entrepreneurs and particularly entrepreneurs of color is everybody knows each other. It is a highly supportive ecosystem.

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So if you can find one and you call them on the phone or you text them, they’re going to give you at least 10 to 20 others that are doing just as good if not better than themselves. So I think those are just a few reasons that we’re finding folks aren’t really focusing in having this conversation.

Small Business Trends: You guys also recently raised a pretty significant amount of money and from a number of different venture firms.

Melissa Bradley: We did.

Small Business Trends: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.

Melissa Bradley: Yeah. So, coming from the East coast and not looking at me like my co-founders, venture is not typically my first path of thought around raising money. But when we realized after about a good six months of trying things and piecemealing things together, we realized this really could be a tech company. And it just seemed a natural opportunity to say, “Let’s go raise some venture capital.” And we had the conversations like do you think people are going to give us, the three of us money? Do you think people are going to invest in the idea where we’re actually trying to talk to people like me?

And I have to say, as I’ve told everybody, I was pleasantly surprised. I had been to Silicon Valley before. I had worked out there before. I knew a lot of these firms. And I would say the openness, I think in part, because they knew Dave, our co-founder through both prior investments, but also in a very colleague collegial way that there was an openness to at least listen. No one shut us down and said, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.” And everyone’s biggest question was how are you going to get these businesses to trust you?

And we said, “We’re still working on that. We don’t take that for granted. We’re still working on that.” But it was clear that everybody who came in saw a gap in the small business market, right? Everything is so fragmented, such redundancy that they saw a real opportunity to aggregate, not consolidate. And because we had a partner strategy from the onset, they saw that we were not trying to be Pac-Man and eat up the ecosystem. We’re really trying to firm up and shore up the ecosystem.

So with that, we got some great response. We got some folks who said, “Let me wait and see.” And of course now they’re like, “I wish I had not waited.” But we were thrilled to be able to raise $8.6 million from folks in the Midwest and on the coast who most importantly were willing to support what we’re calling this next wave of entrepreneurs. They had lots of questions, but they believed in us, which was important and that’s all of us equally. They believed in our focus because we were very clear. This is a business that’s going to be open to all, but we’re going to laser in on women entrepreneurs of color. And nobody backed down from that. And in fact many said, “I hope you can pull it off because we’ve seen many iterations before you. And it hasn’t happened.” So we are very fortunate to have some amazing investors behind us.

Small Business Trends: Talk a little bit about the grant programs, but also I guess folks are trying to figure out, well, why does Facebook or Salesforce, why do they need somebody like Ureeka that we’ve never really heard of?

Melissa Bradley: We asked the same thing. Why do WE need Facebook, Salesforce, etc? We actually turn the tables because money is a dime a dozen, right? I mean, I think post George Floyd, everybody… Money is raining out windows. And we wanted to be mindful, right? That if we were going to enter into these partnerships, there were three things that were happening. One that it was legitimate, right? That there was a real honesty and earnestness around helping entrepreneurs of color and not just some quick media blurb to get you out of the public fray. The second thing was is that they weren’t just going to give money. And I know that sounds crazy because everybody says, “What do I need? Money, money, money, money.” But I say the same thing to entrepreneurs that I say to my kids. “What do you need the money for?”

Money is a means to an end. And I will tell you, in my years of doing this work prior to becoming Ureeka, we did a pitch competition. And we had a young lady that won $25,000. And she was over the moon. We followed up with her three months later and I said, “Hey, do you want to come to this program we’re running because you just seem like you might need some assistance.” She said, “Girl, I’m on the next plane because I have yet to cash the check. Because I don’t know what to do with the money. Because my needs far exceed the check size. So I’m just sitting here looking at it.” And then, so that was important that we weren’t just going to be giving money.

And then the third thing is we wanted to again, make sure that we were able to continue the relationship, right? Because again, writing a check is just the beginning, not the end. So, once we realized that all of our partners wanted to do that, what we were able to do is partnering with all of these companies that you mentioned after we did our due diligence and they did theirs and not only deploy the capital, but make sure they had access to free coaching. Make sure they had access to free content and then obviously help them with some of their problems.

Some of the biggest problems we’ve seen in all of this is having offline businesses pivot to online. And I don’t know about you, but I’m barely managing Twitter and Instagram. And oftentimes I need the help of my kids. You’re probably so much better than me. And so we find that there’s a level of expertise that people were going to pay somebody to do that. And I lose my mind when entrepreneurs outsource too much because then their goal is your intellectual property. And so we were able to say, “You got a grant, but you also got some coaching. You also got some one on one assistance.”

So we have companies like Keeping You Sweet, right? That makes what I think to be some of the best gluten-free sweet potato, natural cheesecakes you ever seen, alternatives to sugar, that are now selling in whole foods market. I had a knee replacement. There’s a company run by a black doctor, Kirsten Shepard Ahmed who has this gel I think is magic, but it’s called Pain Stopper. And we helped her get past $100,000 a month by being able to really help with the coaching and the consulting assistance. We’ve seen people’s Facebook followers go up 500% because they were a part of the coaching program with a company called Harvest 9 with the number nine. They got the coaching and then wanted more. They had 100% increase on Instagram.

So, money is a means to an end. And so I think we were able to make that value pitch to the companies and then tell the entrepreneurs that they got more than just money. It really increased our trust, but it also increased our value to the entrepreneurs because let’s be clear, people are writing checks left and right. But if I don’t know where to spend it, I don’t know who to hire. I don’t understand how the algorithms work in IG or Shopify, what good is it? And we find when I mentioned to you earlier that it costs a quarter of a million dollars more for a black entrepreneur to start the same business. About 30% of that is just churning through professional service providers who don’t have our best interest at heart. So we really solved a perpetual need in a time of crisis to help these entrepreneurs survive.

Small Business Trends: You keep talking about raining money. I’m like looking out my window right now and I don’t see money raining … There’s a lot of people that are saying, “I don’t know where to get money.” Are you saying that money is becoming more accessible or available because of what’s happened recently with some of the social unrest?

Melissa Bradley: I would say that more money is becoming available. I think the question is still, it’s raining. Now whether or not we can reach over the balcony and get it before it passes us is a different story. But sure. There’s a behind the scenes Google Doc, right? Going around of all the commitments that everybody’s made since George Floyd’s death unfortunately. I’m giving us till Christmas and people’s guilt and concern may or may not wear off, but there’s a lot of folks who have stepped up, I think some in tremendous earnest. And I think it’s okay to say self-interest because they’re businesses are small businesses and so why not invest in your customers? And then I think there are others who are putting out dare we say, vanity programs and that’s up to them, right?

But I do want to reiterate, there is a opportunity that I’d say most major companies right now are investing in some kind of program and outreach. Many of the first four runners were money. Some of them are now saying, “How do I use my team and my staff. I’m sitting on a wealth of expertise. How do I give back?” We have a lot of companies including Salesforce that gave us employees to be coaches. I mean, imagine like duh, but how amazing that was, right? To have people on the inside, tell us how to make this stuff work for you.

So yeah, I think that there are lots of programs. Now, let me be clear. It’s raining, but there’s still a catch. There’s still caveats. There’s still prerequisites. But I would say there’s been a tremendous spike in individuals and institutions, both philanthropic and not, that are really trying to think about how do I get more money in the hands of black and brown entrepreneurs. We’ve seen PayPal doing it. We’ve seen Netflix doing it. Even companies like a Netflix that you never would have thought about this before. I think people are catching on A, we’re a viable marketplace. We have over a billion dollars purchasing power. But B, again, they’re beginning to really look at the data and say where some of the fastest growing small business is. How do I make sure that I start that relationship with them.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Kelly Jones of CVS Health: We’ve teamed up with Salesforce to Make Going Back to Work Safer, Easier

Kelly Jones of CVS Health: We’ve teamed up with Salesforce to Make Going Back to Work Safer, Easier

As we head into the Labor Day holiday weekend, many companies are focused on having their employees return to the workplace to accelerate efforts to get business back on track.   To help companies safely bring employees back, Salesforce and CVS Health are teaming up to integrate Salesforce’s workplace management platform, which allows for wellness monitoring and manual contract tracing, with CVS’ Return Ready offering, which offers tracking and insights on COVID-19 testing.

To learn more about the partnership and how it can make it easier for companies to bring employees back in ways that keep them safe while still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently spoke with Bill Patterson – Salesforce EVP/GM of CRM Applications, and Kelly Jones – Division Head, National Accounts Business Unit at CVS Health.

Interview with Bill Patterson – Salesforce and Kelly Jones – CVS Health on How to Bring Employees Back Safely

Below is an edited transcript from a portion of our conversation.  Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.

Small Business Trends:  Before we get into the partnership, maybe each of you can talk about what each of your companies were working on to help get people and companies safely back to work.  Bill, maybe you can tell us about

Bill Patterson: It’s a solution that we built on the Salesforce CRM platform infrastructure to really help organizations come back to work. Plan coming back to work, plan their safety for their employees, and to operationalize new policies, new procedures, new focus around things like wellness that I think are really just such a critical function for businesses today to kind of reopen their operations.

But the other thing that did was it really inspired us to lean in with the health and medical expert community. We have great partnerships with the UCSF Medical Center, working with great data sets like the New York Times around just the rate of testing and progression of the COVID-19 virus as we think about around the world. And we wanted to also lean in with our partners. I could not be more excited to have our partner in CVS here today really to kind of talk about how the power of applications, and data, and ecosystems come together really to manifest this new era of safety. I think that’s really just kind of the inspiration that we had in creating this new product line.

Small Business Trends: Hey, Kelly. Maybe you could tell us about Return Ready.

Kelly Jones: Kind of similar to Bill, when the pandemic initially started, we realized we’ve got some amazing assets that we can leverage nationwide to really help the nation, our citizens, our employers out there in the economy. From the beginning just about, we’ve had our focus on increasing access and accessibility to testing for COVID-19. It’s evolved from community testing … just open to the public at our CVS drive-throughs… to now what we call Return Ready, which is really an offering intended initially for employers.

And then we realized there’s a need as well for universities to be able to offer COVID testing on their own outside of just the public option, so that they can really get either back to work or to help with business continuity as well. We offer testing now as well through our CVS drive-through sites. But additionally, we can essentially stand up a laboratory onsite at an employer or campus to be able to increase that local access to testing, and basically give folks an easy button to be able to get testing.

Small Business Trends: What brought you guys together? What brought the combination of what Salesforce is doing with, with CVS and what you’re doing with Return Ready?

Bill Patterson: I think both of us really are cultures of action. As you talk about and hear Kelly’s words, there was a lot of great innovation that CVS has in its arsenal to be able to help at this time. What we know is that the focus around testing, tracing, quarantine … these are kind of key primitives that we’ve proven to be successful to help economies get into a better position to be able to reopen. As we went forth with the announcement, I think it was May 6th, it was not long after that we had a great partner in CVS wanting to stand alongside us to really come in and make this ecosystem really something powerful.

Kelly Jones: Just as we think about testing, it obviously plays a really important role in COVID management, workplace management, campus management. But that’s not the only thing that needs to happen really to have a comprehensive view of what’s going on in a community. You need to be able to take action off of those test results as well. That’s really where we saw a partner, or an alliance, possible with Salesforce where we could complete that circle. Looking at wellness checking, as well as the contact tracing. And with testing kind of sandwiched in between, and being able to inform both of those or be informed by those tools in those solutions as well.

Bill Patterson: Yeah. Brent, just one other thing that kind of led to the orientation of this. In this time, given the state of the pandemic, the opportunity for the private sector and the public sector to work with one another … We leaned in very early with the state of Rhode Island and Governor Gina Raimondo to use the Salesforce platform to stand up rapid contact tracing for citizens of that state.

Rhode Island today is one of the most densely populated states in the nation, and has done an amazing job with their contact tracing experiences. Also, Governor Raimondo was very instrumental in making the initial connections between our organizations. It’s not often that a software company and a health company have worked together closely, but she was very instrumental in it, and also made those initial.

Walking through an Example of How to Bring Employees Back to the Workplace

Small Business Trends: Could you walk us through how a potential use case, or maybe a typical use case, would be for this partnership?

Bill Patterson: Yeah. I’m happy to start. And Kelly, maybe you can kind of add in … especially the employer-led testing scenario I think would be great here. But Brent, you’re totally right. Man, there is nothing typical here. I think we’re all experiencing a relative degree of newness around the comfort of coming back to the office. The one thing that we do know is that data, and access to data, and clear access to data is super paramount in terms of planning the operations about coming back to work. We leaned in very heavily with and our Tableau data hub around public and private data sets coming together giving that information to decision makers, whether that be HR directors, facility managers, operations managers who have to plan the opening of their facilities.


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The first scenario is just clearly access to data to make those decisions more harmonized. The second thing we did was we built out a wellness surveying application. And this example would be in the event that you were going to plan, say, a reopening of a building let’s say in San Francisco like where I work here in Salesforce Tower, you would want to notify everyone that the building is open. But prior to coming into the building, let’s have you go through a wellness test in a wellness check at-home before you get in your car or hop on public transportation.

The wellness application for, we built in partnership with the CDC. We modeled all of the initial questions for CDC guidelines for just overall screening. Those questions also can be modified or tailored to the needs of any state, any geography, any sovereignty that has maybe different data requirements to capture in the moment. All that data is stored privately, and with high degrees of discretion in the Salesforce platform. It’s not shared. It’s encrypted. It’s something that won’t be used for marketing or sales reasons. But the wellness application basically says I’m eligible to come in, but that’s where that platform kind of stops. This is where really getting into testing as someone gets into the workplace is really paramount, and I think a great opportunity for Kelly to share how the CVS solution comes in.

Kelly Jones: That’s exactly right. If you’ve got the wellness monitoring upfront, somebody raises their hand through that monitoring application that says, “Hey, you know what? I’ve got a fever. I’m not feeling well.” What do you do at that point? That’s where an employer could direct them to Return Ready depending on which mode of testing that they chose to have available to their employee population, and give them that access and direction on where they could go get a test.

And then conversely if they’re already at the worksite, they’re feeling well, we have a lot of employers that are using testing more as a proactive surveillance tool to make sure that folks are remaining negative, that they’re not there potentially asymptomatic working onsite as well. It gives them that option … just one more risk reduction tool in their arsenal of workforce strategy and business continuity.

And then conversely if somebody does test positive, whether it’s because they were feeling ill and they got a confirmation, or just through that proactive surveillance testing, then that’s where our solution has really robust comprehensive reporting that the employer can access down to individual-level results. We get consent to be able to share that information back with their employer, but then what does the employer do with that information?

They need to do contact tracing. Especially if that individual had been in the workplace, we need to be able to be sure that if they are in a type of job function where they were interacting with other employees or might’ve passed through an area. That’s where that contact tracing and the tools offers can really fill in that gap, and give the resources, and the technological aspect to be able to do that contact tracing in a less manual way than what a lot of employers started out with, which was truly just an Excel spreadsheet trying to keep track of it. That got old pretty quickly. So, being able to really do that full continuum from symptoms all the way to contact tracing, and then that testing is so critical in the middle.

Small Business Trends: What do companies need to do to be able to take the most advantage of this partnership? Are there things that they have to make sure they’re organizationally ready to handle before they jump full into this?

Kelly Jones: I think from the Return Ready perspective, we’ve designed an offering intentionally that’s meant to be very personalized and configurable by employers. We have multiple different types of testing that they can make available to their employees. Really, it’s sitting down, having a conversation, and allowing us to be consulted with them to help them design a testing offering that really meets their specific needs. Whether that’s rapid testing that’s right there on site, if you’re taking advantage of the 1,800 and growing CVS testing sites around the nation, or doing an onsite collection event. A large scale collection event where we can get everybody at one of their facilities. We have samples collected all in one day.

Having just that consultation, and talking to somebody who understands what a lot of different employers are doing and trying to manage is how to really start the process at least from a testing perspective. And then once they’re up and running with us, that’s where that tie in to happens where they can allow the testing results to be available within It’s an easy action on their part, but that’s certainly something that … we recommend taking action off of the data, and is a great place to do that.

Bill Patterson: Kelly just said the perfect word, which is action. What employers need to do is act. And what employers need to do is act in the spirit of what is right for their employees, what is right for their customers, what’s right for their communities around them. It’s more than just kind of investing in technologies. It’s really being willing to step into boundaries that maybe once were not clear. As you mentioned, Brent, companies now need to be respectful with data around the health of their employees. They need to help all employees understand the new policies and procedures that will come back into the workplace, meaning maybe I’m not allowed to have personal items on my desk anymore. That might be a new policy that you really see as a result of kind of this crisis coming full suit.

But at the end of the day, it’s really action. I think that what we need right now are not really those just to sit on the sidelines and watch as this game is unfolding, but really get in there. Take care of your employees. Take care of your customers. Know the role that we have to reopen business to get our communities back and thriving again. This is truly something I think we need to make sure that we have a culture of action hitting our business landscape around us.

Small Business Trends: Is this aimed at any particular kind of businesses, or sizes of businesses? Who is this for?

Bill Patterson: The virus doesn’t discriminate if you’re a big business or a small business, nor do our technologies. This solution really for can be used by the smallest of businesses and the largest organizations around the world. I think that our partner in CVS is also really excited at making sure that everyone has a chance to participate here as well.

Kelly Jones: Yeah, and I’ll echo what Bill said. Yeah. We’ve designed the solution in such a way that it’s really about what the employer needs to address their specific type of work that they do, the type of job functions that they do. And if they have enough need for testing given their business, we are happy to be a partner with them to be able to provide that for them.

Small Business Trends: There’s a lot of … each state could have different regulations or different rules. How do you help with that part of the process?

Kelly Jones: From a Return Ready perspective, we actually handle all of the regulatory reporting. When you see all those statistics out there on how many positive cases there are, if that test was performed by CVS Health staff, we are handling the reporting to those agencies that then report it out publicly. We make that easy on the employers and then take care of that for them.

Bill Patterson: Yeah. Same on our side. We have built it … is a really an open platform so that if there are different regulations. I just saw last weekend that maybe six feet is not the required distance that we need to now be spending, so maybe it’s now 10 feet. Well, those are variables that can be easily modified quickly inside the platform, and things like your shift scheduling, or your distance spacing for Qs can be accommodated appropriately. We find out new things about this virus every day. I think sometimes it’s a little confusing for businesses about what are the actions that need to be taken, or should we wait for more clarity here? But technology can facilitate so much good. Again, working in this open platform way is something that we definitely want businesses to have the tools they need to mobilize.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Robin Bordoli of NextRoll: B2B Buyers Spend 83% of Their Time in Buying Journey not Engaging with Vendors

Robin Bordoli of NextRoll: B2B Buyers Spend 83% of Their Time in Buying Journey not Engaging with Vendors

One of the most dramatic, eye-opening data points I’ve seen lately comes from a recent Marketplace Pulse article suggesting ecommerce has seen a 44.5% increase over the past quarter in the US.

As impressive as 44.5% of growth sounds, it pales in comparison to seeing it in graphical form. And, as Marketplace Pulse points out, that’s the fastest increase in over two decades, pushing e-commerce share of total retail to 16.1%. And for even more drama, if you take out auto sales and bar/restaurant revenue, online sales accounted for 22% of overall retail sales.  More than one out of every five dollars…now that is some serious drama.

Such rapid and dramatic changes in consumer behavior, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is causing companies to react just as dramatically in order to stay connected with their customers. Which means the way they market and advertise is constantly changing, whether your selling to individual consumers or other businesses.

Interview with Robin Bordoli of NextRoll on the Impact of The Pandemic on Marketing

To dig into how these seismic changes are impacting ad and marketing technology usage by companies of all sizes, I recently held a LinkedIn Live conversation with Robin Bordoli, CEO NextRoll, a provider of data platform and account-based marketing (ABM)and D2C (direct to consumer) technology.  Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.  Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation. 

Small Business Trends: What has been the biggest impact on both B2B/ABM and D2C (Direct to Consumer) marketing during the pandemic?

Robin Bordoli: It’s absolutely true that February, March and April, the world basically hit a pause button. So buying decisions get delayed, investment decisions get delayed, you retrench into what am I doing right now? What’s absolutely essential? And that was the first impact of COVID-19. But the second one, which is longer lasting and more structural is a shift from offline activity to online activity. It’s an acceleration of digital transformation. So what that means in our AdRoll business, which is the business that serves direct to consumer marketers, is that consumer behavior means I’m no longer going to my local store or I’m no longer going into a physical store, I’m actually ordering more online.

And what it also means is there’s been a rapid growth, I sometimes like to describe it as a Cambrian explosion of direct to consumer brands like brand new companies getting born that are selling stuff for your garden, home fitness equipment, new ways to entertain yourself. There is an explosion of these companies as people are spending more time at home and categories are getting born as well. If I can’t go to my gym, I need to exercise, maybe I do need some dumbbells at home, maybe I need some exercise bands, maybe I need some wobble boards to help with my core strength. So that’s one big shift, offline to online, which was already happening but if you go look at some of the data that’s now getting published, the growth rates of e-commerce as a percentage basis is the highest it’s ever been year over year, over the last decade.

B2B Sales Go from Face to Face to Digital Interaction

So we’re seeing that in the numbers now. In the B2B/ABM space, which is where our RollWorks business operates, it’s similar in that before companies when they were selling, a lot of the selling they would do would be face to face. They would be going onsite to a customer, they would be going to a trade show and having face to face interactions. That activity has also gone online and gone digital. So now I’m selling over Zoom or I’m selling over LinkedIn live or I’m selling over Google Hangout, Google Meets, or the trade shows. The trade shows haven’t gone away, they’ve just gone virtual. Look at Okta which is a big customer of ours, and they hosted Oktane, which is their big customer event. And they went from, “Oh my God, it’s going to be in person to I’ve got to do it virtually now.”

When that happens, then those digital signals means you can be much more targeted and efficient about how you run marketing and sales, because what used to be offline and invisible is now online and connected invisible. So that shift to online buying behavior for B2B buyers is also an accelerant for our business as well. So that’s a couple of ways and so if I go back to those shapes, the V, the U, the W, and the L, there’s another one that’s being talked about now, which is the K. So the reason the K shape is being talked about is for some companies, they’re actually coming out of it and accelerate, they’re going up the-

Small Business Trends: Oh, the escalator.

Robin Bordoli: Staircase, and some actually for the other side and going down the staircase. So there are companies, there will be winners and losers in this structural shift. The ones that are optimized for a digital businesses are the ones that are disproportionately benefiting from this.

Small Business Trends: What’s been the biggest needed change for marketers in the pandemic who are trying to connect with customers who are scared, who have had to change their way of doing traditional things overnight, and how are marketers having to change their messaging and their approach, not just change their technology, but change the way that they’re listening or the way that they’re addressing customers and going forward?

Robin Bordoli: If there’s one word that you need to have front of mind as a marketer in this environment, it’s empathy. You can’t just deliver the same messages in a rote form, and automation, automation, automation, it’s about empathy and walking in the shoes of your customers and understanding. It’s interesting for our businesses because our marketing team is marketing to fellow marketers. They’re not marketing to folks in IT or engineering, they’re marketing to other marketers. So in some level they should be able to immediately be empathetic because they understand the role, but I think the second aspect of this, and this is a larger commentary, not just about our business, but about all business, which is I think one of the new norms that is emerging is being human, being authentic, being a little bit messy.

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We’re on our camera’s right now. This is my bedroom. You can see behind our house is under construction right now. So this is our bedroom and it’s also our TV room with our kids. And my daughter could walk in any moment. My son could walk in any moment and bring me lunch, bring me a coffee. One of the new norms we’re establishing was that’s okay. And by the way, not as it is okay. But if you see that, you should say hi to that person. You shouldn’t make them feel awkward. So I think empathy is so, so important as a leader in these times to be open, to be authentic, not to try and have a veneer up that we’ve got all the answers and we’re buttoned down, that’s sort of gone away.

Be real, be authentic, be open, be vulnerable in that as well. And then the other aspect of that is there’s definitely a… Thought leadership in my mind is a slightly poisoned term at this point. Thought leadership has a sense of people talking down to you. It’s a little bit like, “Oh, I’ve gone up to the mountains and I’ve got this with me and bringing it down to you, and I’m not telling you exactly how I got it or why I got it, but it’s magical and it’s mystical and just trust me.” And so we almost think of ourselves as the anti-thought leaders. And what we want to think about is practical, pragmatic, real world advice. And so we’ve done things like seven minute webinars where you’re going to get seven real, real actionable tips in seven minutes, come on for seven minutes because by the way, who’s got 30 minutes to spare these days?

So come on for seven minutes, listen, we’ll follow up with the materials if it’s resonating. But experimenting in both different formats, as well as what we actually deliver. And so we did, for example, a canceled events guide when this started to hit hard in February and March, and the first trade shows were getting canceled, for a B2B marketer that’s incredibly scary because typically as a B2B marketer, that might be about a third of your budget. So you think, “So where I spend a third of my money has just evaporated overnight. What do I do?” So we came out with a canceled events guide of, okay, here’s a playbook, very specific to this. So it wasn’t thought leadership. It was okay, here’s a very detailed playbook to think through how to now actually navigate this particular situation. So I think that’s the other aspect of it, Brent is be human, be real, be open, be a little messy. It’s okay. That’s what…

How to Go From Empathy to Business Growth

Small Business Trends: Empathy is great. But how do you go from empathy to growth? Great question from Anand Thaker.

Robin Bordoli: Empathy is about establishing a connection. Growth is then actually using that connection to bring about action or change. So I don’t think of them as separate. We’re not just there to put an arm around a marketer and commiserate, we’re there to have empathy to connect and then actually give them something concrete, constructive, pragmatic as to how to face the challenges that they’re now facing. So for example, in the B2B market, in the ABM world, one of the natural things that happens when you have a macro economic crisis is a sudden narrowing of your aperture. It’s like, “Well, I can’t take on new projects. I’ve got to just focus on what’s right ahead of me this week, this month, this quarter. I can’t think about next year. I can’t think about two years or three years from now. I want to make sure that what I’m spending dollars on right now is working right now.”

And that actually plays into ABM. The fundamental promise of ABM is just spend money on the accounts that matter to you and can become your customers rather than the spray and pray. What’s been the dominant demand gen methodology over the last decade, which is lead based, and the analogy there would be fishing with nets. So let me create some content, put big nets out into the ocean, scoop up all these fish, 90% of them aren’t relevant to me and I throw them back and 10% I keep, they’re the accounts that actually buy for me. We’ve moved to a world where actually the data and machine learning capabilities are now such that you can be much more targeted to the accounts and the right people within accounts and making sure you’re spending money just on those accounts in a much more targeted way as well.

So to a certain extent, COVID-19 actually reinforces that. In these moments of crisis, you tend to shrink and focus. And that’s already the message of RollWorks and account based marketing as well. I think that empathy and growth, they’re not enemies, they’re companions and you need the empathy to create the connection with customers, and then you need the value and the technology to deliver growth.

Small Business Trends: B2B buyers are looking for deeper relationships with vendors or brands. Are ads limited only to the first interactions? How can ad-based tech deepen these relationships beyond the impression?

Robin Bordoli: Yeah, it’s a great question. In our RollWorks business, we think about account based marketing and B2B buyers; here’s the fundamental problem as a marketer you’re trying to solve. There’s three parts to the problem. The first is you’re trying to identify who are the best fit accounts. Who are the accounts and the people in the accounts have the best likelihood of becoming customers for my business, not generically, but my business. So there’s an identification problem. The second then is the engagement problem. So how do I engage those buyers as early in their buying journey as possible, and then stay connected throughout the entire buying journey? And then the third is how do I measure what’s working and do more of what’s working and less of what’s not? And those are the three fundamental problems as a B2B marketer you’re trying to solve. The RollWorks platform starts with that first bit, the identification.

So looking at what are the best accounts and the best buys from a fit perspective, from an intent perspective, and from an engagement perspective. So that’s the starting point. If you move into the engagement part, digital advertising is the only channel that has the potential to stay with a buyer, both connect with them at the earliest possible point in their journey, and then stay with them throughout their entire journey. Email can’t do that because email, they have to be known to you before you can start to do that. So you’ve got to remember journeys, if you go and look at the data, B2B buyers today spend 83% of their time in the buying journey not engaging with vendors. They are doing so much work before they engage with a vendor that if you only wait until they’ve engaged with you…

Small Business Trends: Forget it.

Robin Bordoli: They’ve already made up their mind, or they’re just confirming a few things. So the power of digital advertising is that it can start in the buying journey’s much earlier and then actually progress across that. Now in order to do that effectively, the messaging has to change as that buyer goes through different stages. So that’s where personalization comes in. Personalization, is this the CMO versus the individual person that’s going to be using the technology? Where are they in their buying journey? Are they just starting to become aware of this category? Are they about to sign a contract? Have they actually closed, because this isn’t just to get them initially, but you want to continue to reach out to them around expansion and other use cases. So the power of digital advertising is core to account-based marketing. As email was to marketing automation, digital advertising is to ABM because it’s a different problem that you’re trying to solve.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Patrick Knight of Adobe: 57% of Parents Feel Closer to Coworkers Now Despite Working from Home

Patrick Knight of Adobe: 57% of Parents Feel Closer to Coworkers Now Despite Working from Home

This week Adobe released a US-based study of one thousand currently employed people who usually work in an office setting to see how they are working during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Among some of the findings include:

  • Zoom fatigue is real – Only 33% of workers surveyed feel video conferencing is as productive as in-person meetings and another 34% say they’re starting to experience video conference fatigue. Instead, 78% of workers are using email to connect with colleagues, while 56% prefer making phone calls.
  • Distance makes relationships grow stronger – 42% of workers feel they know their colleagues better now vs. when they were in the office.  Of this group, a whopping 60% of parents admitted to feeling closer to fellow parent-colleagues as they bond over homeschooling their kids and adjusting to working life as stay-at-home-working-parent.
  • Work/life balance is more critical than ever as workers decrease the number of minutes a day they check email by 10% (352 in 2019 down to 315 in 2020.) To keep the work/life separation, 53% of workers are waiting until they officially start the workday to check email (compared to 48% in 2019)

Interview with Patrick Knight of Adobe on Changing Work Behaviors

To dig in more to the study I had an opportunity to speak with Patrick Knight, Sr. Deliverability Consultant at Adobe, to get more takeaways and insights from the study. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player below to hear the full discussion.

Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation.

Small Business Trends: Interesting to see that so many people feel they are more productive working from home than they were going into the office.

Patrick Knight: You’re right, 73% of parents feel that they are equally, if not more productive working from home. And the reason for that is flexible schedules, right? It’s the primary reason. They feel that they can balance their life a little bit better. So for example, you can put the younger children down and maybe it’s nap time and then you can schedule your workload there. Or maybe after dinner, or maybe a little bit earlier before the kids wake up.

It forces you to have more control over things there. And when you’re in the office, you don’t have too much of that because of other things like commuting and so on and so forth. So yeah, having that flexibility is great. And then in turn, you can then have that time with your family and children and so on and so forth. So it’s really about that work-life balance that you can really take more advantage of versus being in an actual location.

Small Business Trends: And even though we’re Zooming all the time now and using instant messaging apps, email and phone are by far the most popular communication channels for work.

Patrick Knight: Why is email so high? The first thing is that email is a communication channel that’s not an on-demand type of video conferencing. And just as a sidebar, there was a time where marketers felt that email was not going to be the communication channel anymore. But in the deliverability world, we knew that email would always stand strong. So they felt that SMS may take over instant messaging and other media.

However, we see that email is on top. And the reason why is because instant messaging and other forms of communication tend to be more interrupting, more intrusive. So if you think about that Slack conversation, that conversation may never end and you cannot be productive with that. It’s like the same for on-demand video conferencing.

With email, it gives you more control over your schedule, your time checking your email and when you respond. So this also allows you to get more done versus being on these calls. You ever had a video conference call or even an in-person conference that could have been handled with email? But because it’s so easy to push that button and say, “Well, I can get this person on my screen. They use it.”

So additionally or secondary, the phone communication also has that same effect. So this is the reason why you’re seeing email so high and you’re seeing the correlating information here between the video conferencing and email and why it’s a communication method that’s more preferred and you’re seeing it more.

Small Business Trends: Do you think if you did this survey a couple of months from now, that number for “Zoom Fatigue” would be significantly higher at this point?

Patrick Knight: Absolutely, because I think again, we’re going back to these… I think we already abuse meetings in general. Now we’re just going to take it to a whole other level. And then on top of that, we’re still stuck inside. So we’re going to have more of these meetings. And I would think that number would shoot up if not even maybe another 40% in the next few months because of where we are today.

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Small Business Trends: One of the more interesting findings was that doing web conferencing meetings seems to be making coworkers feel like they know each other even better than they did when they were doing face-to-face meetings.

Patrick Knight: Yeah, absolutely. I thought this was interesting as well. And this made perfect sense to me. So nearly half of American workers say they know their coworkers better than when they were in the office. Then nearly 60% of parents reported feeling closer to their colleagues as they bond over things such as homeschooling children, adjusting work schedules due to lack of childcare, even occasional guest appearances of those pets or children or someone’s running across the screen. Sometimes a cat may… I’ve seen it where, it was on a call with a client the other day, and their cat just came right on in and just started touching the screen and everything else.

And then you also see the background of your office because it gives you more of a understanding of who that person is. You see people every day at work. You hear about the children, you hear about pets, you hear about what their interests are, but seeing it, which is another means of sensory that is pretty powerful, sight, that brings that bond together. And that’s the reason why it’s actually not surprising to me to see the numbers and results that we have so far.

Small Business Trends: And maybe this helps to explain this a stat that says 93% of folks surveyed say they feel brands were striking the right tone with their email communications during the pandemic, because, quite honestly, when I was looking at this the first time around, I was like, “Are you kidding me? 93% feel like brands are hitting it out of the park on the messaging?” But you have a theory for why this is the case.

Patrick Knight: Absolutely. So, yeah, we can see clearly that 93% of consumers feel that most brands were striking the right tone with emails, especially when we talk about COVID and despite the increase of focus on COVID from brands related to safety. That was a large percentage of it, just COVID-related emails in general.

Brands understand that connection means everything when it comes to their consumers, especially through email. Because email is a… It’s a conversation. I always say that email is a two-way conversation. So if you’re just sending out information and you’re not really relating or targeting or creating really relevant content, email is pointless. So I think with COVID it was very relevant for everyone. So hence the reason why I think they are really sending out the right communication, we care, we understand and we’re here for you.

Now, what’s interesting is that 66% of those consumers, they still want the email offers. Thank you for telling me about COVID, thank you for understanding and now I want to engage more because of the fact that you care and we’re trapped at home. Everyone’s buying online. So they want to receive those offers from those brands and they want to understand exactly what those discounts look like. Because I can tell you right now, most of the companies that have an online presence, they’re doing amazing because of the fact everyone’s ordering something. I have to tell my wife, “Stop ordering from Amazon. Stop it!”

You just want to hit that button and literally every day somebody comes here. My doorbell rings and there’s a package and it’s just not my household. I’ve spoken to many. And because the brick and mortar is going away for right now, the email really is what drives traffic to a website. So if you get an email about an offer that is relevant and it’s engaging, then that’s going to just drive that customer to your website, where they’re going to purchase and purchase and purchase.

I can tell you, I have had countless conversations during even freelance, I did freelance Livability for a while, and every client that I would talk to, even now, engagement is important. Engagement drives something called email reputation. And so if your reputation is actually really good, your chances of you reaching the subscriber, it’s their inbox, not their spam folder, it’s a heightened situation there. So I absolutely agree that they should continue with the same enthusiasm, the same strategy, the same energy that they have now. And that, in itself, will drive the traffic and the revenue that they want.

Now, them going back to the old ways, I think that because they’re seeing such great responses, I think more and more people are going to understand why engagement matters, why reputation matters, why they need to keep sending those very well thought out emails versus the batch-and-blast method, which previously was the thing to do before COVID. So once we start seeing the results of things, this is the direction I think, or hope, people will take.

But that will be up to everyone else to see. I can tell you that there’s great learnings here, but it’s really going to depend on the individual. And just as a thought again with that, I recommend always engage. Whatever you’re doing now, continue because this is what’s going to keep your brand alive. This is what’s going to build the trust with a subscriber and your customers. This is what’s going to drive conversions and open rates. And that’s where the meat is. That’s exactly where you want to be.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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CRM Playaz on TikTok: Customer Data Trumps Engagement Numbers

CRM Playaz on TikTok: Customer Data Trumps Engagement Numbers


The CRM Playaz are not going to buy TikTok. Let me explain why.

Last week Microsoft made it known publicly that it was interested in acquiring a stake in TikTok, a wildly popular video sharing platform that has been in the news a lot lately.

But the Microsoft news seemed to set off a bunch of reports that other companies were also interested in, including Apple and Twitter.

In fact, so many TikTok acquisition stories started cropping up my CRM Playaz co-host Paul Greenberg and I started exploring whether we should put a bid together … OK I was just kidding on that one.

And yes, I didn’t need to say I was just kidding for you to know I was just kidding.

But with all the TikTok acquisition talk going on, the Wall Street Journal published a report this week that found TikTok “skirted a privacy safeguard in Google’s Android operating system to collect unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices”.

Given this news and the obvious repercussions it has for data privacy, what does this say about the dedication to customer experience if any company decides to buy TikTok knowing all of this?  It’s an internal conversation big companies are having.

With 800 million active daily users TikTok is creating a level of stickiness and engagement most companies crave, but are the black hat tactics with user data allegedly being performed worth the potential legal issues?  And more importantly is it worth losing the trust you’ve built up with your customer base?

Paul Greenberg Interview – TikTok Customer Data vs. Engagement Numbers

Paul and I took that up for the latest CRM Playaz ep, and all I can say is after talking about it we’ve decided to withdraw our non-offer to buy TikTok. But does that mean anybody else should?  Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.

Brent Leary: Do you think Microsoft is still as interested in buying TikTok?

Paul Greenberg: Well, let’s say this, I think they are more cautious. I don’t think they’re dropping the idea because ultimately, there has to be some resolution of that. I don’t know what the tactic was that they used. I didn’t read the article. But look, ultimately, anytime there’s a potential legal issue of substance involved, which would potentially impact the operations of the potential acquisition, if I’m the company, I go on hold until that solved. And so, if I’m Microsoft, whether they are holding back or not at the moment, I would, and wait until… Again, I don’t know what the issue is, and I don’t know how easy it is to resolve. I haven’t a clue. But when you get that kind of public uh-oh, then you say uh-oh yourself and step back.

Brent Leary: It said that “the tactic, which experts in mobile-phone security said was concealed through an unusual added layer of encryption, appears to have violated Google policies. The identifiers collected by TikTok, called MAC addresses, are most commonly used for advertising purposes. The White House has said it was worried that user data could be obtained by the Chinese government and used to build detailed dossiers on individuals for black mail or espionage.”

Paul Greenberg: What? So-

Brent Leary: Yeah, that doesn’t sound good. No.

Paul Greenberg: Sure doesn’t. Sounds pretty seriously bad.

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Brent Leary: So I don’t think I want to touch that at this point, but does Microsoft need to touch… Why would they… I [crosstalk 00:02:11]-

Paul Greenberg: Look, TikTok to me is still just a phenomenon. It’s not… there’s so many of those. The thing is, in the longterm, if it ends up like Instagram, yeah, then there may be a good reason to buy it, even though maybe out of their price range by that time. At this point to me, it’s a phenomenon that’s been really, really pushed forward by the pandemic. But it’s like the QBs and these short… what was that one that would disappear after a…? Snapchat, right?

Brent Leary: Oh right, after 12 seconds or something.

Paul Greenberg: Snapchat’s around, but it’s no longer a phenomenon because people are moving off to other things. And TikTok, at least for me at this moment, in its history, is like Snapchat early on, phenomenon that could go to absolutely nowhere potentially or settle into something less, or end up an Instagram. It’s just no telling where the thing is going and is no indicators. And nobody could convince me otherwise, that there’s some way of deciding its fate now.

So given that Microsoft would be pretty much required because of everything else, well, on the one hand, they may be required to pay an inflated price. On the other hand, they may be able to get it for almost nothing, if it’s going to actually be banned by the government, otherwise. So TikTok ownership might want to sell, not fire sale, but cheaper than they ordinarily would have. But does Microsoft need it? God, no.

Brent Leary: Yeah. I highlighted the exact action, it says Tik Tok, “skirted a privacy safeguard in Android’s operating systems to collect unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices, data that allows the app to track users online without allowing them to opt out.”

Paul Greenberg: Okay. Well, there you go. Okay, Microsoft, just forget it for now…

Brent Leary: You gotta think about this. And this is probably a conversation for another day. To me, if you, knowing all of this is going on and then still buying this, what does that say about your commitment to customer experience? Not just data privacy, the customer experience, because… This is for a longer discussion at some other point. Data privacy is becoming a much more important part of the customer experience. And when you buy something that is from a company that is doing stuff like this, what does that say to your commitment to customer experience by way of data privacy?

Paul Greenberg: Well ultimately, you’re dealing with issues of trust always. And how can you trust the company that’s willing to acquire somebody that’s violating your actual privacy and actually, ignoring your wishes too?

Brent Leary: Yeah.

Paul Greenberg: You’re probably not going to do well with something like that. And when it boils down to it, what TikTok does isn’t all that amazing either.

Brent Leary: This is not just, oh, we made a mistake. This is, oh, we got caught being devious about what we’re wanting to do with that data. That’s a whole other ball game for me.

Paul Greenberg: Yeah. I don’t know. Microsoft, forget it, okay? Do me a favor.

Brent Leary: Yes and we will do the same. We are going to remove our offer…

Paul Greenberg: Right.

Brent Leary: Immediately.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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