Expert Interview: Chris Conway, Maxia
If we’re famous for anything here at Outshine, it’s our insatiable need to know more. And we’re lucky enough to be in an industry that’s just as curious as we are.
So when friend-of-the-firm, Chris Conway, co-founder of Maxia and a growth and analytics expert, recently joined us in our office for a couple of days we couldn’t wait to pick his brain. In our first expert interview ever, we’re digging into what Chris is watching in the world of customer acquisition, data analysis, and business intelligence, plus hear about his new venture too.
From automation and privacy to the holy grail of customer acquisition, check out some of the highlights from our conversation.
Outshine: Chris, can you tell us a bit about your journey from the world of SEM into product development and business intelligence tools. What’s that transition been like?
CC: With a background in data analysis and financial forecasting, moving into customer acquisition with tech companies felt very natural. Digital marketing is very much measurement-based, and I wanted to use the tracking that’s available to manage that analysis end-to-end.
After doing that for six or seven years, and consulting on my own for a year, I kept seeing the same questions and challenges come up at the executive level. I see it all over social media too - with so much information, which metrics should we look at to understand the value of your customer for the long-term and therefore the health of your business. Metrics that go beyond the LTV to CAC ratio.
That’s part of the reason I started looking for an opportunity on the product side. I wanted to create a tool that gives companies something pre-built and standardized, so executives and founders can understand not just the current state, but also the future health, of a SaaS business. And, on top of that, push this information into marketing systems, starting with ad platforms but extending into automation.
We started building it about six months ago and now we’re moving into the launch phase with an MVP available and looking for early customers. It’s pretty exciting if a bit frightening too. But I would have been a customer for this kind of product, so I see the interest out there.
Outshine: You just mentioned automation. Given what you know about both sides of the marketing equation - ads and SEM on one side, and business health and LTV on the other, how do you think marketers can make the most of all the automation opportunities out there?
CC: The key to taking advantage of the advances in automation lies in our ability to share data across platforms and across software. Something like event middle-ware like Segment can be really useful because it can make sure that your data is consistently distributed between your different platforms, whether that’s marketing automation or ads technology.
To me, the holy grail really is customer data integration into the technology stack. Sharing precise and consistent data across multiple platforms, having a record of each customer, and knowing what they’re worth to you at each stage from a revenue perspective. And, overlaid on all of that, to base all your marketing or email automation on getting them from one step in the customer funnel to the next.
It’s a straightforward idea, but it’s difficult. We’re building a product that helps you to get one step closer to that.
Outshine: So, you mention customer data. And in today’s landscape that has to be connected to privacy regulations. How should we be preparing for more rigorous expectations of privacy given all the developments in platform technology?
CC: Automation and privacy are definitely connected. And I do believe that data privacy will limit some of the ad technology. Things are already changing, with email in particular, given GDPR in the EU and California’s new regulations coming in 2020.
I think people today should be choosing tools, first and foremost, that comply with the strongest data privacy rules. While EU standards are higher than in North America right now, I think that’s where we’ll end up. But if you choose the right tools, that comply with the strictest requirements, you won’t have to reverse out of anything in the future. For us, because we can connect directly to billing engines, we’re actually building our own custom system that doesn’t rely on any personally identifiable information, not even email addresses.
Long-term, I think the ad technology and the marketing sphere will evolve from cookie-based tracking to something else. Whether that’s a work-around or if it addresses a primary concern about data privacy, that’s really yet to be seen.
Outshine: Let’s talk a little more about what’s to come. What’s something you’re really interested in or looking forward to in the last months of 2019?
CC: Well, advancements on the data side are really exciting. if you’d ask me a year ago, I would’ve said the AWS stack with a Redshift database was the best platform out there for startups, but recently we’ve been really impressed with the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). In the end, we decided to build Maxia on GCP because we believe it’ll be more scalable, more efficient and more affordable in the future. Additionally, because of the ad technology component in Maxia, along with the increasing usage of Google Spreadsheets in the industry, it’s a great fit for our technology stack.
Years ago, everything was in Excel, and now Google Sheets is becoming pretty prevalent and it connects directly with BigQuery, which is a potential game-changer. Built-in, you’ve got all this machine learning and a lot of advances on the data science side, which is making this technology incredibly accessible. It’s a really interesting space and as it evolves, it’ll be something I keep watching.
Outshine: Why? What makes that particularly useful for B2B businesses?
CC: Look, I get that everyone wants a silver bullet. Right now it’s AI. A few years ago it was Big Data. Tomorrow, it’ll be something else. And the idea that one of these new technologies is going to solve all these business problems just isn’t the case.
My philosophy is really the opposite, I think that it’s small to medium improvements that compound to get you to your goal. What’s great is that things like AI and automation can help you take those incremental steps today. However, it is still an all-too-common perception that some technology exists that can magically solve everything, and this is what creates the hype.
From my perspective, the most important decision a business can make is to identify the right goal, the right KPIs to be measuring yourself against. That’s something that accurate, clean data and associated technologies can really help with. They can help us - and our partners and agencies and teams - understand how a company generates revenue and then how can we maximize that revenue with an appropriate ad strategy. Allowing you to be sure that what you’re reporting in from your ad platform or performance marketing metrics actually reconciles to what the team is seeing in terms of acquisitions.
How to get there often isn’t flashy. It requires sustained periods of continual improvement that compound over time to create the hockey stick growth that everyone strives for. That’s what I think B2B businesses should be aiming for, rather than some kind of silver bullet.