Covid Resource Center
While we don’t generally think about it this way, our email addresses are like digital ID cards. When companies ask us to fill out forms for access to a system like Facebook, or a simple data download, we often tie some combination of our name, email address, birthday, phone number — even our physical address — together to create an online profile. This takes only a few seconds of our time and we get access to the latest version of Candy Crush, and the majority of people never think about what happens on the other side.
And, frankly, it’s a mess.
As the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal showed with Facebook, even the data that is being collected isn’t even really useful to the companies collecting it. Itis faulty; records are incomplete and inaccurate. This leads to things like Facebook reporting they had more United States adult users for advertisers to market to than actually exist offline.
Kabir Shahani, CEO of Amperity, believes this is probably the biggest issue organizations face today.
“As I spoke to more and more companies, I realized that no one had the answer to what should have been a simple question — ‘How many customers do I have?'”
Hidden somewhere across all the CRM, marketing, SaaS and other tools that a modern organizationuses to track consumers, there was a missing piece. Each tool was creating individual user profiles in their own systems — and these records were not being connected. This led to inflated customer numbers, as someone may register for a newsletter with their personal email but sign up for an account with their work email — and follow company social media with their Instagram or Twitter account.
From a CRM perspective, that is four different customers, when in reality it is all one person.
Armed with the initial understanding of this problem, he set out to try to determine a way to fix it by scrubbing databases and joining user records — ultimately proving that a person is the same person, whether behind a personal or work email address, a social media account, street address,phone number, or whatever information is available.
“I knew this was a problem that needed solving. I told our investors honestly that I wasn’t sure that this could be done at all, and that maybe we weren’t even the right team to do it — and perhaps because of my authenticity they backed us.”
In less than two years, they’ve raised over $37 millionand announced partnerships with Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, GAP Inc. and others. Shahani has advice for others who want to follow in their footsteps.
When he set out to start the business, he started by interviewing people to find their common problems. Once he found one, he ran with it.
“Market validation is the key first step to any business,” insists Shahani.
Shahani’s thought experiment started to come closer to life when he met Dr. Dan Suciu at the University of Washington. Shahanirecalls: “It was a meeting that gave us the proof that what we were doing was theoretically possible.”
Until they could prove it was actually possible, however, they remained transparent and authentic with investors about the realistic limits of their abilities. In turn, this openness gave their investors the faith they needed to back them.
Whether you are building machine learning models or creating the next flavor of Pepsi, it’s always a good idea to involve your customers as early as possible.
Shahanisays, “We may have only ‘launched’ in October 2017, but we were in stealth mode building with partners for almost two years. That gave us time to work on the pilot and have something solid.”
When you’re early on in the development process, it’s much easier to course correct than later.
And as for their mission? Well, if it means we’llget threefewer advertisements from each company, the better off we’ll all be.
When Julia Cheek founded Everlywell in June 2015, she was, by her own estimation, “perhaps the least qualified person to start a health care startup.” And yet, as her Austin-basedat-home lab testing companyapproaches its fifth anniversary, she finds herself overseeing a staff of about 100 people, providing home tests for allergies, food sensitivities, thyroid conditions, and, as of May 2020, Covid-19. The company raised $50 million in its last round of funding and was listed at No. 3 on the Inc. 5000 regional ranking for Texas this year.
In anInc. Real Talk: Business Rebootlivestream, Cheek, 36, spoke withInc. editor-at-large Tom Foster and took questions from viewers.Their conversation ranged fromhelping her team cope with quarantine to making big decisions. Here are some highlights.
In May, Cheek and her board decided to give away $1 million to labs across the U.S.to help them develop a working test for Covid-19. For a startup still counting every dime, it wasn’t an easy check to write.However, Cheek saysthey made the decision quickly. “It took about an hour,” she says. “It was one of the fastest and easiest decisions made in the history of the company.”
She knew that funding those labs would speed up development of an at-hometest. She also had to make decisions internally to offset that cost while doing everything possible to maintain head count. That meant scaling back every discretionary dollar her team could find–Goodbye, office coffee!–in order to do the right thing and keepher team. “I wanted to protect as many jobs as possible,” she says.
“It was the right decisionmade at the right time,” she says now. A month later, she’s hiring.
When asked how she deals with the challenges of running a companyfrom home (with a new baby) as well as whilewitnessing the protests in the streets, Cheek was quick to stress the importance ofmakingsure her colleagues are able to cope. “I worry like a mom about every one of our team members,” she says. That means asking herself how her team is doing all the time and asking herselfhow she can make their days better. Sometimes that means encouraging them to disconnect from Zoom or other digital platforms and take care of themselves. “Our primary focus is: What does every employee need for their mental health?” she says.
As for her own self care, she’sbeen developingwellness routines, including taking many meetings while walking and doing her best to separate her home workspace from the rest of her house.
Cheek spoke at length about the difficulties she encountered while seeking funding as a female founder, despite the fact that she went to Harvard Business School and had a strong network.
“It was hard for me,” she says. “So you can imagine how hard it is for people of color, especiallywomen of color. I heard a lot of noes. What I learned is that it only takes one yes.” Among those yeseswas one on-air boost from Shark Tank‘s Lori Greiner, which doubled Everlywell’s sales overnight.
Ultimately, Cheek says, people needto talk about funding obstaclesopenly and honestly and encourage entrepreneursand investors to confront theirbiases. “It’s important that founders hear stories and become part of the solution,” she says.
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