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Podcast: ft. Chris Kelly - Business Physics and Data-Driven Brand Marketing

NetWise Nov 3, 2021 2:28:50 PM

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Show Notes:

Chris Kelly stopped by the data basement to chat with Adam and Mark. Chris is startup geek since his high school days and is now the CEO of Upwave.
 
Upwave (formerly Survata) is the leading marketing analytics platform for brand marketers. Their software is used by the world's largest brands, agencies, publishers, and platforms to plan, measure, and optimize brand marketing.
 
Here are a few topics covered during the chat:
  • Survata changed its name to Upwave a year ago. They saw an increase in the product footprint and had to redefine what they stood for. Initially they built a way to collect consumer data via a survey. As they grew and built a way to plan, measure, and optimize brand marketing, people still associated the company with survey products (Survata).
  • Upwave was named by Lexicon, the same company that named the Swiffer. A name on its own isn't a brand. Naming a company is a fascinating experience. Linguistics experts are actually used.
  • Chris likens Upwave's service to Google analytics for your brand investment.
  • Coefficients of happiness - if you can't be happy right now you'll never be happy and by the way...you can be happy right now. Happiness resides within you. It's an internal choice.
  • Y Combinator's core thesis of startups: Make something people want and make something with good business physics. Build something people want but also see what is inevitable.
  • We talk about why certain colors and images are more memorable and how people don't have to remember seeing an ad for it to be effective.
  • We touch on the difference between Uber people vs Lyft people. Did you know Uber's first name was Ubercab? 
  • What does branding mean? It's a story. A promise. A commitment. It's the set of all associations a human has with a product or a company. Colors, Jingles, Actors, Imagery.
  • Some messages are so unique, they change perceptions overnight- but that's rare. Most often, messages are series of investments that take time. Rarely does a message stick overnight.

Links:

 

Transcript:

Chris Kelly:

When I was a consultant at McKinsey and a total geek about this stuff, I used to talk about the coefficients of professional happiness on a specific consulting engagement. So I would talk to my teammates about, "Hey, what are your coefficient of happiness on a study? What makes happy on a McKinsey study versus unhappy?" I thought of my new way of thinking about it. Maybe I've become more Zen as I've aged, but my new way of thinking, and I work with a CEO coach who talks about this is, actually throw away all concept of external drivers of happiness and do it as nothing but an internal choice. So his line is, "If you can't be happy right now, you will never be happy. And you can be happy right now." So that's my perspective of... My new perspective is, it's actually not about... If you're looking for the beach or the woods to make you happy, you're just looking for external drivers of happiness versus just-

Adam Kerpelman:

Happiness resides within you.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

Which is the fair way to think about it, but my engineer brain doesn't like that.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. There's something-

Adam Kerpelman:

[crosstalk 00:01:05] tries to find...

Chris Kelly

Exactly.

Mark Richardson:

Try to find-

Adam Kerpelman:

Still tries to find meaning in the signal, in the noise.

Chris Kelly:

Exactly. Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

Which is funny on data driven podcast, because obviously, we care about that. There are just the places where it's never going to work, and you got to learn a different skill than the spreadsheets.

Chris Kelly:

Exactly. Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

Hey everybody. This is The Data Driven Marketer, sponsored by NetWise. I'm Adam.

Mark Richardson:

I'm Mark.

Chris Kelly:

I'm Chris.

Adam Kerpelman:

Welcome back for another hang in the data basement. Thanks for joining us, and special thanks to our guest this week, Chris Kelly, CEO of Upwave. How you doing?

Chris Kelly:

I'm doing great. Thanks for having me on the show.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah. So you want to jump right in and give us a bit of your background and how you ended up with Upwave and running the whole show.

Chris Kelly:

Sure. So I've been a startup geek mostly my whole life. Been doing some variant of businesses you could call startup since the end of high school or early college, in some way, shape or form. And was working for a startup a few years ago and saw the opportunity to start my own. So jumped into YCombinator, and started what became Upwave. And like most companies, the initial vision is not what you end up executing on. So the best analogy I heard about this is kind of an Explorer saying, "Just head West. You don't know where you're going to land, but head west and maybe you'll find new land. Maybe you'll find a new world." I think that's how most startup journeys begin. Sometimes you hear these outliers stories of someone having the full product vision they end up manifesting in their head on day one. And it was just a matter of working towards that vision.

Chris Kelly:

But we were not that. We knew we wanted do something around consumer data for marketers as a way to bring analytics and insights to marketers. That was the west we headed towards, but we didn't know exactly what that meant, and we iterated on a lot of things. And over the years, landed on where we are now, which is what we call brand analytics. That's a category we're trying to define, which... It means that it's a software platform for brand marketers to understand how their brand investments are working.

Chris Kelly:

So the oversimplified analogy I like to use is Google Analytics for your brand investments. So Google Analytics tells you everything you need to know about your web traffic and eCommerce activity. And most CMOs don't have something like that. A similar software platform for all the money they spend on brand, which in many cases is the majority investment. So that's what we're up to. So we love thinking of data driven marketing, and certainly fighting to make that redundant. We think all marketing should be data driven. So if we do our jobs, then your podcast name goes out of business in a few years, if you don't mind that.

Adam Kerpelman:

Then we just expand the brand. Data driven growth.

Chris Kelly:

Exactly. There we go. Yeah. Data driven thinking. It'll be very [crosstalk 00:04:17] like a Gladwell podcast in a few years.

Adam Kerpelman:

There's a franchise in there. We could do data driven parenting.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah, there you go. Actually. Yeah.

Mark Richardson:

Data driven education.

Chris Kelly:

I have two toddlers. I would be all about the data driven parenting podcast. Yeah. Parenting seems very not data driven most days.

Adam Kerpelman:

So I'm curious actually, to start sort of at the beginning of the journey, to what extent did that data driven perspective... Did you carry it into YCombinator and that made it a good match? Or is it a thing that was then amplified by... I've bumped up against YCombinator for 15 years or something at this point. Did an interview for my last startup there. So I was deep enough in to understand the extent to which they are already at that level, hitting you with, interview as many people as you can, catalog their answers, write down your percentages. Very early on you're already starting to do product research that is very data driven if you're following YCs methodology.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. I think that's right. They want you to collect as much data as possible on their core thesis of startups, which is to make something people want. And I believe that's true. My grand hypothesis and startups is it's actually the Venn diagram overlap of two things, making something people want, and making something with good business physics. So I believe you can make people want, that's a hard model to scale. There's variety of reasons a model can be hard to scale. Probably dozens and dozens of reasons. And YC's pretty attuned to the first one. Maybe it's been an year since we've been in it. Maybe they've become more attuned to the business physics portion, but they're pretty amazingly attuned to the idea of teaching you to make something people want, and really knowing there's demand for what you're doing.

Chris Kelly:

And I think for consumer startups, maybe it's easier to go more with your gut instinct and your conversation with friends, because you are the customer and you are the end user. So if you're building a photo sharing app, and you understand your behavior and your behavior of your friends, it's probably easier to predict why some specific new approach to photo sharing might work. For B2B startups that's harder, especially selling to the enterprise, especially if you are a younger entrepreneur... I started what became Upwave at the end of my 20s. So I did not have a ton of experience at the time, selling to the enterprise. I say not a ton, I mean I had zero experience selling anything to the enterprise. I didn't know how enterprise [inaudible 00:06:57] worked. I didn't know how enterprise decisions were made.

Chris Kelly:

And that's common. There's a lot of B2B software startups that start that way with someone who doesn't actually have personal experience. So then it becomes like you mentioned, a question of data, of who have you talked to? Show me your spreadsheet of conversations that prove this. And it's hard to see the signal through the noise even when you do that. It's very common. And I've heard this story from a lot of entrepreneurs. You have an idea for an enterprise software platform. And if you're first time entrepreneur and new to the enterprise world like I was, you can't just ask people, "Hey, where did you buy this?" Because there's nothing new under the sun. Right? There's always something thing that sounds close enough to what you're doing.

Chris Kelly:

There's never been an idea I've heard that's like, "Oh, my God, that came out of left field." No one has ever thought of anything like that. Maybe NFTs are different. There's some NFT for marketer pitch that you guys have heard recently, but any type of software platform, there's always some close enough analogy to it. So it's easy for most people you'd interview in your demand testing exercises to say, "Oh yeah, we get good enough from that. Oh yeah, that sounds like X, Y, Z. That sounds like A, B, C." So it's easy to get discouraged if you're just straight up asking people, "Should I build this?"

Adam Kerpelman:

Right.

Chris Kelly:

And this is not my thinking. This is like the Steve Blank's school of thought and what's been written about out in plenty of books of really digging from the pain points, and really understanding the pain points that are not served by current solutions and having a keen eye for understanding pain points. That's the data that you want your spreadsheets, that's the data you would... If you nailed your YC interview for your new B2B software startup, you probably have your list of, "Hey, from these 16 conversations, these are the three themes identified. So I know something no one else knows, and I put my finger on something no one else has put their finger on."

Mark Richardson:

And it sounds like you guys have kind of hit on that. If I could double click a little bit into pain points you brought up, I think one of the big opportunities it seems like in the analytics space, is this desire to connect behaviors, outcomes on site or in conversation potentially with the sales team, with the deployment of media dollars, right? What are our brand campaigns? What are our awareness campaigns? What are our conquesting campaigns potentially getting us in terms of raw, actionable data, or just returns and profit ultimately? I feel like that's kind of the existential question, startups, mid markets, even enterprise brands struggle to answer a lot of the time. Would you agree with that?

Chris Kelly:

Totally. Mostly enterprise brands. I think the more money you spend, the deeper this pain point runs. That's our mission is to try to bring data science to measure that question of, does branding work? I like this Eric Schmidt quote from... It's probably 15 years old now, but I think it's still valid. He said, "Marketing is a last passion of unaccounted for spend in the enterprise." And that's still true. And marketing budgets have grown even more since Eric Schmidt said that quote years ago. So it's even more true now. It's amazing to think about the amount of money being spent on marketing, and there's still uncertainty of when and where it adds value to the enterprise. And people are drawn to the easy things to measure. So it's easy to say, "Well, I spent money on this campaign. Some people bought my potato chips two days later and I think I can directly attribute that ad exposure to that potato chip purchase. So there I go. If I'm a CFO, maybe that's how I think of marketing. And that's how I'm going to ask my team to spend more money."

Chris Kelly:

And of course, that's not how branding works. We all know, and all marketers know that's not how you think of branding. You can't look for the immediate payoff and behaviors that happen right after someone is exposed to your campaign. And the analogy we say is, it's imagine buying a building that you're going to earn rental income on. So you have your spreadsheet model and you say, "Cool, I'm going to buy this building. And I hope with my first three months of rent, I'm going to pay back the capital that I used to acquire the building."

Chris Kelly:

That's of course silly. And if anyone did that, you'd say that's a bad real estate investor. You have to pay off for years and years of the investment in that building. So you're not going to get your monies back in three months. And branding also has to be thought of that way. No one's clamming for 12 years of payoff from branding campaigns, but certainly not weeks months, and sometimes even quarters. Sometimes there's plenty of evidence of the 18 months plus 24 months plus payoff of branding investments. And that creates this challenge. The challenge we see is, you talk to CMOs, and they all tell you they know if they're running a consumer brand. That's our focus is selling software to consumer brands. If you're running a consumer brand, you know that brand building works over time.

Chris Kelly:

You know that there are long term payoffs, long term dividends through brand building. However, the CFO makes you prove today that that investment is worth it. So you have this trap where you know this pays off every time. You know in the real estate analogy. You know you're going to get rental income for a long time, so it's worth buying this building. But the CFO say, "Nope, we got to look at our one year MTA model, and tie all this stuff back to sales." And that creates this challenge that we've heard a million times from consumer brand CMOs is, how do I show my company? How do I show the finance team? How do I show the board that I'm going to build a brand, and make these investments that pay off maybe over a few years? To change awareness, to change favorability, to change consumer perception of brand, you can't run a campaign and have that happen overnight, right? No one goes from not hearing about a car to seeing one car commercial, to running to the lot to buy it. Right?

Adam Kerpelman:

It's the boring part of Madman they don't show you.

Chris Kelly:

Exactly.

Adam Kerpelman:

Which is now the thing has to run for probably a couple years before we've successfully rebranded Pan Am to be whatever, the vacation airline.

Chris Kelly:

Exactly. Yes. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Madman ends with Don Draper has the beautiful idea that's just obviously right when there's no data behind it. So we have the repositioning, you're now the vacation airline that's family friendly, and then boom, and then next episode. CMOs don't have the luxury of thinking that way. They have to activate against that message for years, and spend... Some of our customers are spending over a billion dollars a year in brand efforts, which is a lot of money. So it's very hard to understand, how does this stuff actually work?

Adam Kerpelman:

In a sense, the struggle there is just kind of the life of a marketer. We're trying to make it better with data, but the lag is actually in human behavior, and adoption of essentially... Like if we really want to be academic about it, the understanding and adoption of the memes that you are trying to proliferate via this brand, the rebrand or whatever, just takes time. It's got to move through the squishy human system of like, "Oh yeah, sweeper. That's that thing you use to clean your kitchen."

Chris Kelly:

Right. Exactly. And then when I walk in the store and make my decision... The psychology of this is fascinating, which is why I love the idea of marketing analytics as a discipline, because it is that proverbial left brain, right brain merging. Right? You have to understand the art and the creative side of messaging, and understand the math side, the spreadsheet side. So yeah. In your script for example, I may see that a message 20 times if I walk in a store and choose that over a competing product. Yeah, it does get into the squishy side of understanding the human brain of why certain words and certain messages, certain imagery and certain colors are more memorable. And then how all ties together how the words and colors I see on the television commercial, maps the words and colors I see on the shelf when I walk in the store to buy the product.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's even sort of just a funny thing to talk about, because I think it involves a lot of phenomena that happened at the almost reptilian level. And so you start to point out to people that you saw that thing 35 times before you decided to buy it. They're kind of like, "No, I saw it the one time." And you're like, "Oh, you don't even know." [crosstalk 00:15:39]. What's going on in the algorithms?

Chris Kelly:

It is. It is amazing how there could be a mismatch of ad recall to ad [inaudible 00:15:51]. And we've proven this a million times overlooking at customer data. People don't have to remember seeing an ad for it to be effective. I always laugh when I meet people say, "Oh, advertising doesn't work on me. I don't make decisions that way." I say, "You're right. You must be the outlier that this market [inaudible 00:16:11] years have figured out how to build brands and drive growth.

Mark Richardson:

You've got the bulletproof brain. Yeah.

Chris Kelly:

You got the one bulletproof brain out there. Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

Did you find it on Instagram? Then you saw [crosstalk 00:16:21] a lot of times.

Chris Kelly:

Exactly. Yeah. Or you heard your friends talking about it. Where do you think that message was implanted-

Adam Kerpelman:

So I think the idea of lag is maybe an interesting way to chase into the broader idea of business physics, which I think is an interesting to talk about. The thing that to chase for our particular set of listeners, the data driven community.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

But I think if you chase the physics analogy, it would be inertia, right? I mean, there's kind of this upstart inertia to adoption of this new project. And ultimately, it filtering down into the things that are easy, like funnel analysis and sales and stuff, but...

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

But you're talking about a broader sort of thing. When you say business physics more... I haven't heard it put that way, and I love it because my engineer brain it's like, "Yeah, it's all engineering." Physics engineers are fundamentally learning physics so that they can build impressive things, if you're talking about civil engineering and stuff.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

But it's a great counterpoint to the idea of, you want to build something people want, but also if you be something that's inevitable, because you understand where the race is to the bottom of things that are currently valuable is going to be, that strikes me as more like the physics thing. If you can see where things are rolling downhill, and just run a little further down the hill, that's also a really good way to do software as a business.

Mark Richardson:

I think of, when Uber and Lyft came out. You remember how it wasn't like... You didn't see a big, "Hey, billboards, commercials everywhere, we're Lyft. Meet Lyft, ride with Lyft." You saw pink mustaches on cars and you're like, "That's new, that's different." And then Uber comes out and it's the more VIP. It's black, it's white, it's kind of got this red carpet feel. It was very organic. And it was two very distinct choices to branding, to fix or create that need in people. This idea that ride sharing would be better for the environment, would reduce drunk driving, potentially all these things. But they didn't lead with those. Those product, those value propositions. They just led with funny looking cars, fun things on cars.

Adam Kerpelman:

If you're real with what they were really solving was, I don't like dealing with cabs in Los Angeles, because you have to call and they yell at you, and then they don't show up.

Mark Richardson:

And you got to tip for a minute, and you don't know what the total is going to be. Yeah.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. It's funny. I'm convinced this has been written about a bunch, but Uber started in San Francisco. I believe it started in San Francisco, to the San Francisco taxi scene specifically was so bad that if those entrepreneurs lived in New York city, they would never have started those businesses. Because I moved a while ago from New York to San Francisco. The first pain point you see in a pre Uber, pre Lyft version of San Francisco was, you cannot get a darn taxi. Your plans for the night would hinge upon, "Well, if we can get a taxi, we'll go to that restaurant and go to that neighborhood. If we can't, then we'll stay local." And it was such a massive pain point. I have never lived in LA, but I'm sure it was similar, but that was such... It's funny to think of those massive billion dollar businesses only existing because the founders lived in the city with such a bad taxi situation-

Mark Richardson:

It's funny, ironic too, because the Bay has such a great public transit system. If you use it, it's not bad. It's not quite New York, but it's not bad. It's not LA.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Nothing in the US is anything close to New York subway, but yes. I'm a BART rider, was pre pandemic, so I know the value there, but yeah. To your point on the branding aspect of things like Uber, Lyft, and then to the broader point on business physics. Yeah. Lyft is really interesting. Uber, Lyft specifically were great branding case studies, because they came out and they appealed almost to an identity. There was an era in San Francisco, probably in the... I don't know. 2013 through '15 era, when Uber or at least Uber X and those, they were exploding. They moved away from just the fancy black car you order for a night out, to replacing taxis. And there's almost an identity where Lyft was the fun, accessible, carefree. People were either Lyft people or Uber people.

Chris Kelly:

For a while it meant something. It was almost an identity. And a good brand is an identity. The automotives are absolutely an example of this, right? When people buy cars, they're signaling to the world how to perceive them. Volvo people and BMW people and Toyota people need different things, and that's because of the successful brand campaigns and brand stories that those companies have told for decades. And Uber, Lyft was like that. Interesting aspect of their business though, it was an odd marketplace where they shared supply. The idea of being an Uber person or Lyft person faded. And my theory of why it faded was the product was the exact same, because they couldn't prevent drivers from only being a Lyft driver, Uber drivers, by all the behavioral economics they threw at them to drive-

Mark Richardson:

They had triple dipping.

Chris Kelly:

It was the same product.

Mark Richardson:

Double dipping. Yeah.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. So it was silly at one point to say, "It's the exact same. Same dude in the same Toyota Corolla that pulls up, and he has two phones." You can see it, and you saw his two phones. And one was a penny cheaper. I remember telling someone, "How odd is this that I'm literally choosing a penny difference because it's the same product." I couldn't think of many marketplaces where you would share supply like that. So it's kind of odd marketplace economics. That to me is what ended that idea to really tell distinct brand stories. They still do a good job, but I think they're both still smart advertisers and still do a good job telling unique messages of what they stand for. But I think when the consumer decides in those two, you still kind of know it's the same product. To their credit, I still see people who have an identity of one or another. I know people who have never ordered Lyft or never ordered an Uber.

Mark Richardson:

Me too. Oh yeah.

Chris Kelly:

Sometimes it's, "Oh, I had this really bad experience." But it's kind of like airlines. You always had a bad experience. Will never fly that again until you need to, because it's [crosstalk 00:23:02] price.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's an interesting in the physics context even. So they both as a business strategy, saw the race to the... They saw what was downhill, right? The cheapest prices is going to win on some level of this thing. And so they spent a lot of money subsidizing those rides, to make it cheaper than is actually maybe sustainable in the system. And now you're seeing this. Like, Lyft was always, I think in terms of numbers, a little behind Uber. And they've started to even out as Lyft has tried to pass them on the moral high ground of we treat our drivers better, because they've now recognized that inertia is going in a direction that I think is... If people understand that you just can't make a ride that cheap without having the people that work for the service not make a living wage.

Chris Kelly:

Correct. Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

Then it starts to be a different branding fight that I think Lyft is out in front of certainly compared to Uber.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

And their management changes and staff-

Chris Kelly:

I think that's right. Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

[crosstalk 00:24:04] to do just to not look bad.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Mark Richardson:

I mean, I know people. I know there's tons of people who just read three articles about Travis Kalanick and made the decision right there. Like, "Nope. Not supporting that guy."

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah. So it was a personal brand. Yeah. Travis was still high profile. His personal brand became part of the Bruce brand. That was something you heard a lot of anecdotal evidence saying. I read a bad Travis story, so not using that product. But on the-

Mark Richardson:

Whereas with Lyft, they were immune from it sort of.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don't even know their founder's name. I think it was John someone, but I don't... Yeah. They probably to their credit, stay out of the press. But it's interesting. You mentioned the economics of it. There's a joke that every one used to tell at San Francisco for years, is why Uber and Lyft so cheap? It's because you're splitting with a venture capitalist, because the venture backers had them take over the world and grow at all cost that there was that. And it was well known. How is it possible that it's this much cheaper than a taxi? How is it $12 for an Uber and $26 or 36 or 46 for a taxi? You said that's human, is a person living in San Francisco needs to earn a living wage. So how does this work? I think the cat's out of the bag now. It wasn't profitable and a lot of it was funded by VCs. I think that was the right move.

Chris Kelly:

I think Uber and Lyft at the time were doing the right thing. So I'm not saying it was irrational. They did what it took to grow, so they were world class growth engines. They knew what they were doing. But now I think that they're public companies and have a different audience and investors. They need to just be more profitable in their mature markets. And at that point, you have to think of what is the difference? The human driving a taxi, human driving an Uber, there's not really that much of a tech advantage, which is why I'm sure there's still... I imagine if you're at those companies, you're still betting on some version of self-driving cars at some point in the future, because that eliminates what? 50, 80% of the cost base civil rights. Imagine that's still part of their plans. It's cool. I think that stuff is probably further away than people realize. It's been a few years away for 12 years, but I know we'll come eventually.

Adam Kerpelman:

I mean, on some level, they're running into the problem that human time is the only thing that actually has value to humans. But nobody thinks that way because we layered economic incentives on top of it. And so now everyone thinks about money instead, but in the end... I guess to follow almost that crazy philosophical thread, let's throw it broader. I want to talk ultimately about how there's sort of a way to understand all this stuff, where brand wins everything. And that's a good example of somebody had a first mover, but the better brand over time ends up winning. But just from your perspective, even broader, what do we mean when we say branding? As distinct from marketing or advertising or...

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. The very abstracts. I love it. And yeah. And then we can get abstract on your business basics. Right? I'd love to hear your reaction to my academic theories there. But to your brand question, the age old high level poetic definitions you hear of a brand is a story, or a brand is a promise, or a brand is a commitment. And I think those things are maybe too abstract and poetic, but still true. I don't have the crisp definition for this, but I believe it's the set of all associations a human has with a certain product or a company. So it is why, to your Swiffer example from earlier, you know everything from the word to the imagery you see, to the colors, to the jingle, to how they talk about what it does, to who they show using it.

Chris Kelly:

All those things are the set of associations your brain consciously and unconsciously absorbs when you see either advertisements or just any exposure to that product. That's what branding is. And that's why it's so powerful, because it's not something that you can put in someone's head overnight. Sometimes there's these amazing stories of a message that resonates so well and is so crisp and unique that it changes overnight how the population talks about a specific product or company, but in reality, that's not how it works. In reality, this stuff takes time, and there's a series of investments you make. And in a perfect world, all of your marketing efforts, all tied to your brand story, right? In a perfect world, the press release, and the TV commercial, and the digital ads, and the sponsored article, on your Instagram posts, they all are telling the same story and all align. People have a very tight association with what that brand stands for, but certainly easier said than done.

Mark Richardson:

To piggyback on that, I'm curious because your company, Upwave, went through a branding transition a couple years ago. I don't know exactly when it was, but you were called Survata for a while, and then made the transition to Upwave. Can you talk about the reasons you felt it was necessary to make that switch given the context and the challenges of branding as you just outlined them?

Chris Kelly:

Yeah, definitely. So yeah. It's funny timing. We rebranded a year ago yesterday, so we are one year and one day into our rebrand that I consider a success for the various ways we define success. And yeah, we did the rebrand because of increase in our product footprint, meant we had to redefine what we stood for. So we started as Survata out of YCombinator because... and you can see survey and data buried in there. I was not smart enough to make that a blend of survey and data. I just was going for a fake Latin vibe, but people assumed it meant survey data over time. And that made sense for our initial product, which was based on consumer survey data, giving insights to brands based on consumer survey data. So made sense for years. And as we grew, we expanded the product enough that it no longer made sense. People would assume we competed with survey platforms or things like that, when we didn't. [crosstalk 00:30:47].

Mark Richardson:

Did you get to foresee? Was it behavioral? Stuff like that?

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. We assumed though that this... I did an employee satisfaction survey. Yes, it was survey monkey. Are you guys similar to them. It was the wrong association, and that speaks to the specific naming part of a branding, which I can speak to. We actually used a naming firm that... Funny you mentioned Swiffer. I think they actually named it Swiffer.

Adam Kerpelman:

Is it Lexicon?

Chris Kelly:

It is Lexicon. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:31:19] Lexicon. So, shout out to our friends-

Adam Kerpelman:

Full circle.

Chris Kelly:

[crosstalk 00:31:22] who helped us do that.

Adam Kerpelman:

I think it's Swiffer constantly, because we... Actually, is when Mark and I were working together, the first wave in 2010 or something.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

I had a consultation with them about something we were working on, and it was just... It was an eye opening experience when they gave me their quote. It's no joke, the analysis they do before picking a name.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. No, it's great. Yeah. I'm sure they won't want me. I won't disclose our economics publicly, but they were flexible with us. I joke with them. I was probably the cheapest client they ever had, because I said, "Hey, we're a growth stage startup. I can't spend a lot of money on this. You work with Procter & Gamble on Facebook and Intel and car companies, and national telecom companies. We don't have that budget." Basically I think I told them, "I have a number. Tell me where I can [inaudible 00:32:11] this number." And they said, "Oh wow, that's a small number." But they gave me. It was not as much time as they get, but they were great. So I thanked them and I recommend people work with them or someone like them who's a professional. I appreciate they were flexible to work with our small budget.

Adam Kerpelman:

To be clear, it wasn't that high now that I've been at it for 15 years, but at the time, it was me, Mark and another dude in a little office in Hollywood going, "We're going to make music videos."

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. We were posters. Yeah. Seed stage. It's funny. Yeah. It's funny. When I was in YCombinator, if I met a fellow seed stage or pre seed stage startup that was paying a fancy branded firm I'd say, "What the hell are you doing? Come on, just pick something, move on." I think that's why it could change as we showed and the bunch [crosstalk 00:32:59] people in our class, not only change the name but pivoted the business. But I think once you're at scale, it's great downside protection to have smart set of eyes on it. But it was really interesting to see there the art of the naming portion brand was fascinating. To bring in professional linguists who can talk about why certain words are memorable and they mean, and words are... I think they have a phrase like surprisingly familiar, or sneakily familiar, or something like that. Why when we think of Dasani, it sounds smooth, and Pentium sounds like systems, and Chips and Swiffer, and [inaudible 00:33:35] sound like nice-

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah. Those are my two favorite examples because Swiffer sounds so much like what it is, just...

Mark Richardson:

It sounds clean. Yeah.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah, exactly. The association.

Adam Kerpelman:

Also, I'll say you're a good company on random Latin names. My last startup had a random Latin name, Juris.

Chris Kelly:

There you go.

Adam Kerpelman:

It was a legal tech startup.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. There you go. That's a common approach, but yeah. That was a fun, intellectual, interesting experience to go through the name portion of it. It's interesting. They argued. And I never wrapped my head around why this is the case, but when they present different names to you, they make it clear that you... or they argue, there is no light bulb moment that... there is no, I'll know when I see it moment, that a name on its own is not a brand. So you can't actually look at a string of texts in black and white and say, "That's the name even though they're not..." You need to look at it in the context of colors and logos and imagine it on billboards, imagine it on your website. So they had a good theory on that, of not looking at a name standalone, which I don't know if I fully believe, but I certainly see the aspects. I certainly understand some aspects of that. And that to me was another fascinating part of the process as well.

Mark Richardson:

I think that takes a lot of the current, just media and advertising environment into consideration. Before the 50s or 60s, you could have done branding. It would've just been the name. Right? Sears and Roebuck. That carries a lot of weight, but now you have to think about digital connected TV. How is this going to-

Chris Kelly:

Yeah, [crosstalk 00:35:15].

Mark Richardson:

How is this appear on a LinkedIn-

Chris Kelly:

Oh, you save icons now. Right? They think of like when you-

Mark Richardson:

Right. On Twitter.

Chris Kelly:

The more logos a name of... Yeah. How just to save on your website. And we thought of, when you present at conferences and you're given different environments for your logo, you have... And this is shifting the logo part of it versus the naming part of it. But the naming part, we thought of how does it work in other countries? How easy to pronounce? What does it mean? Don't take a word that means. Something bad in other languages. The logo part you have to think of-

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah. That's one having started in entertainment. That's funny to point out. It's easy to find. Movies are titled differently in every country where they're released.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:35:54] nuances of language.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's a place where the artists have a bit more power usually to be like, "No, the name is Tomorrow Never Dies, because that was the name of the book or whatever." I'm trying to think. What's that Tom cruise movie where he keeps reliving the same day?

Mark Richardson:

The day...

Chris Kelly:

Vanilla Sky.

Adam Kerpelman:

[crosstalk 00:36:11] or something? Oh no. Well, Vanilla Sky is same what I was thinking.

Mark Richardson:

The Edge of Tomorrow.

Adam Kerpelman:

Edge of Tomorrow. That's-

Mark Richardson:

Edge of Tomorrow.

Adam Kerpelman:

It was Edge of Tomorrow in the US. And they even rebranded it in the US because it didn't do well. So now it's called Live Die Repeat or something, but it's-

Mark Richardson:

Yeah.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Oh, that's-

Adam Kerpelman:

That was an example of one that had a bunch of crazy names all throughout the world because it didn't play the same and...

Chris Kelly:

That's right. And Vanilla Sky is [inaudible 00:36:33] in Spanish. That was open your eyes in Spanish. That's [crosstalk 00:36:35] that was branded differently.

Mark Richardson:

That a beautiful movie.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

But what's interesting about talking about how many logos you end up with, actually kind of segues into the crazier point that I was going to make and then we'll get out of here because we're almost out of time. But I think the exciting thing at the branding end of stuff, is it really makes you look at the idea that stories drive everything. And all of those stories matter, because all the stories land different places. And so the logo is an easy way to think of it just because it's sort of like, well, you want a bigger, different, logo at a conference, than the tiny little thing that goes in your favorite con. That applies to the memes all the way down.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

Throughout your company, right? What do you stand for? What's your mission? Like Uber and Lyft, is really a perfect example. But what I get excited about, and I think this is the thing that I see emerging a lot in kind of crypto communities. And over there, if they want to be negative about it, they call it tribalism. But all that tribalism is in a digital ecosystem, is people deciding the memes that they prefer to adhere to, and then letting that drive all of the development that does the open source projects and stuff, but branding isn't really different. I mean, I freely own that this is a podcast sponsored by NetWise, and it's a branding exercise in order to put a thing that we think should be out world out there. But it's driven by that idea, right? The broader idea of get data driven marketers in one place. Let's all agree what this stuff is about so we can all be better together, but at the core it's just that meme, data driven X, right? The way we talked about before.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. No, that's funny. And it's funny you mentioned Uber and the [inaudible 00:38:25] brand. I was going to mention the idea of flexibi... I've learned going through our rebrand to add onto your earlier question. The importance of having a runway for your brand and not... There's actually downside being too specific. I think it's easy in startups to pick a very descriptive name that's very specific. And we learn that as bags you can outgrow it. We use more than just consumer sentiment data to measure brand investments. We have a search data we pull in. We're looking at ways to have sales data in our platform. There's all sorts of data that we can bring in. So we found in our brand, it was limiting to just be associated with one of those data sources through consumer surveys. And if you look back at Uber, people often forget their first name was not Uber. Remember what it was, it was Uber Cab.

Adam Kerpelman:

Right.

Mark Richardson:

I did not know that.

Adam Kerpelman:

Too limitive. Yeah.

Mark Richardson:

I'm a trivia nerd.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah, it was Uber Cab.

Mark Richardson:

That's great.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. They operated that for a while. I want to say... See if I can do a quick Wikipedia search to find when they switched, but at least a year, maybe a couple years, they operated as Uber Cab. I remember the first time I took it, it was Uber Cab. I think they got actually in trouble from the SF powers that being around [inaudible 00:39:38] of the cab, because they want a cab, they think there was-

Adam Kerpelman:

That'll piss the union off.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, the union was not happy.

Adam Kerpelman:

Cab drivers.

Chris Kelly:

I'm sure that was part of it. And in hindsight, it was smart. It expanded their limit. Right? You wouldn't get your food delivery from a cab company, you wouldn't get a [inaudible 00:39:55] drive from a cab company. Think of all the transportation, products they can roll out under the more flexible brand. So we went through that and when we did the naming exercise, it was a lot of advice I got from other entres who'd done that is actually, don't be too specific. Don't try to think of some [inaudible 00:40:12] of too clever words that makes it easy to... or take an easy path of, "Hey, we are this thing and that thing. Let's jam them together and be very specific." It's a tough balance of not picking a completely empty word that isn't easy to build any associations around, but you need flexibility.

Chris Kelly:

So that to me is a fasting part of branding of, find that right balance of being able to attach associations to a word, but also having to be flexible enough, so as what you do changes. And when you're a startup, this is especially important. Maybe CPG companies, they're smart enough and they want to know exactly what the product will always do forever. So they don't really need to think about this, but for a startup, if you're rebranding, it's a startup. I guess unsolicited advice for listeners. Think a few steps ahead. Think of all the things you could ever be, and think of really the category you're playing and not what your product is just today, because that I think can lead to limited naming selections.

Adam Kerpelman:

Well, and like you said...

Mark Richardson:

That's great.

Adam Kerpelman:

You started your rebrand story by saying, "We needed to adjust what we stood for." Right?

Chris Kelly:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

And so it's easy to think of like, "Oh, we need a sexier logo." And it's kind of like... The conversation actually starts all the way back at something deeper like, what does the organization stand for now with this new whatever we're working on? And then you ladder up to the eventual things of like, okay, you want to name in a logo that matches what that is.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

Think of it that way makes it easier than just sort of sitting down and going, "We need a designer, and we need 10 versions of a logo."

Chris Kelly:

Exactly.

Adam Kerpelman:

Then we'll vote or whatever. It starts in a different place, the exploration.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah. Maybe in an ironic note to end on in this podcast is, what we're describing is the hardest parts of marketing to be data driven. It's hard. And I think none of us are advocating for the removal of people's opinions and gut feel and instinct. Certainly, at some decisions you'll always operate that level, but it is hard. It's hard to get a lot of data quickly on a naming decision. So there's different ways to do it. Certainly you can use feedback surveys, certainly you get your colleagues and peers and investors and other people's feedback on it. And we did that.

Chris Kelly:

We try to strike that balance, of not doing anything by committee. If you try to look for... It's not a democratic election to pick a new name or new logo. That's always a recipe for disaster, but you also want enough set of eyes on it to be a sanity check, because one brain is never enough to think of all the connotations that a name [inaudible 00:42:57]. So you need a trusted brain trust of people from different perspectives, different backgrounds and viewpoints to look at a name or logo and be that sanity check and give you their blunt-

Adam Kerpelman:

A sanity check is a great term, I first ran into in the open source communities, that I appreciate across the board. It's sort of just like, "I don't even need to look for typos, but can you check this out again real quick, just to make sure I'm not nut? I'm looking at this for 20 hours and my eyes are crossed.

Chris Kelly:

Yeah, exactly.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's a code thing very often.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah. Even the smartest most creative people experience burnout and need that fresh perspective.

Adam Kerpelman:

Well, awesome, Chris. As happens with our best guests, I have three more questions on post-its, things I wanted to talk about. So have to have you come back, but for today, we're out of time.

Chris Kelly:

Love to rejoin. Yeah, that was great. Thanks for having me. Happy to be back-

Adam Kerpelman:

Thank you for joining us. And where should people find you if they want to connect?

Chris Kelly:

Could find us at upwave.com. U-P-W-A-V-E.com, or on Twitter at twitter.com/upwave.

Adam Kerpelman:

Awesome. Cool. Well, thanks everybody for listening. This has been another Data Driven Marketer, sponsored by NetWise. I'm Adam.

Mark Richardson:

I'm Mark.

Chris Kelly:

I'm Chris.

Adam Kerpelman:

Thanks joining us.