Strategic acquisitions to enhance your company’s value with David Galante of Mobivity
Most of us have engaged with, and even built, products and platforms that make heavy use of messaging. But how does anyone know if those messages convert into sales or other actionable metrics? In this episode I sit down with David Galante, SVP of Marketing and Product Management at Mobivity to talk about how their vast point of sale data system does just that, specifically after having acquired and integrated customer loyalty startup, Belly. Stick around for some solid advice from the product hot seat.
Ledge: All right. Would you state your name please?
David: All right. I’m David Galante. I’m SVP of Product Marketing over at Mobivity.
Ledge: All right. Dave, welcome. Great to have you here.
David: Thanks Ledge. Thanks for inviting us.
Ledge: Very cool to have you on. Could you just give a two or three-minute introduction of yourself and your work just to let the audience get to know you a little bit?
David: Sure. I’ve been in mobile since 1999. Started at Motorola back in the days of the StarTAC – which I hear is coming back, which is scary.
I’ve been a software developer for a very long time. Moved into product management and then I joined this company called ExactTarget a few years ago, which grew into the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. So, really made a move from software engineering to marketing cloud development.
I met Dennis Becker, the CEO of Mobivity, and just really loved the story about having the point-of-sale data connected with the mobile marketing data. Really giving a unique value prop to marketers out there to understand what is the revenue impact of the messages that go out.
I built many platforms in the past from a product management perspective that sent out messages, and I’ve always wondered in the back of my head, well, how many of these convert into sales, and how many convert into references to other people joining that program?
A lot of those questions I’ve always asked are being solved with Mobivity platform, with the integration with the point of sale.
So, I’m really happy to be here. The team is outstanding. We’re building some really interesting technology. Leveraging a lot of stuff from Amazon. Really applying machine learning and AI algorithms to our software. Really cracking the code on how to bring customers back more often by sending those really targeted, personalized messages.
Ledge: When we got in touch, we chatted a little bit about the acquisition that you guys did of Belly. I think a lot of people are familiar with that from the customer side.
I would love to know what that was like. This is a due diligence process, many options to choose from. Build or buy in its most extreme sense. You were buying the entire company.
What’s that like from the product and engineering seat?
David: Well, pretty exciting. Loyalty was something that was really a piece of the puzzle we were trying to fill as fast as possible. We really focus right now a lot of our efforts around a national marketing team, sending out targeted messages, but there is the franchisee.
The franchisees are really looking for tools to get their customers to come back more often, but before that can even happen you have to know your customer. Being able to acquire user data in a very seamless way is a tough problem to solve.
We looked at what was working in the market, and definitely people understand how to use tablets. You see a tablet when you walk up to a counter, the first thing you do is look at it and you’re like, “What can I do here?” It’s an engaging platform.
If you think about the logistics of a tablet being deployed to a store, having it dropped there, figuring how to do an easy Wi-Fi connection, the Belly product did all that out of the box. Literally, out of the box.
You open up the box and there’s this amazing looking tablet in a stand with a security cable and a charger. The Wi-Fi configuration is super simple. You’ve got ones with the LTE connections as well.
Looking at our platform and our products, it really filled a gap for giving franchisees and storeowners a complete marketing tool. Now, they can put the tablet out there. They can acquire user data, email addresses, phone numbers. On the backend, they could figure out how to create offers and loyalty programs to drive them back.
Anyone who’s in that industry is looking for that kind of solution to that problem.
Ledge: How did you go about the integration on the backside of two separate platforms? Was that relatively easy? And then you have integration of teams on the cultural front.
Talk about the grit behind something like that.
David: Definitely, the tech stack itself is a really well architected Ruby on Rails application. Belly had some great architecture and engineering skills to build something that scaled very, very well.
Right now, from an integration perspective, we’re looking at the APIs that were already built probably years ago as our main integration points. Right now, the story of Belly is we’re reinvigorating the products, doing some rebranding, going out there and finding, what do our customers like about the product? What can we change? Really building a roadmap from there.
Long-term strategy is, we are at the point of sale, so that would yield some interesting use cases around loyalty point solutions or schemes. Think of the check-in based loyalty evolving into something a bit more revenue-based. So if I’m coming in every single month and I’m spending $100 every single time I visit, should I be treated differently than somebody that comes in and maybe spends $25?
With check-in-based loyalty, everyone looks the same. With our point-of-sale integration, that could change the game and allow these franchise owners more flexibility into how they bring people back.
Ledge: You’re telling a story that most of us in the product and startup and technology and data space, we’re all thinking about; hey, if we just had more data about our customers, we could do fantastic things for them.
Then you have that like, “Hey, I don’t want to be Facebook and be dragged in front of Congress,” nightmare scenario out on the side.
I wonder, what kind of internal thinking and controls and user empathy are you thinking about from a security and personal identified information , PII, and all that stuff? What’s that like in your product planning?
David: It definitely is getting a lot of attention. GDPR is another thing that really is on the horizon. We need to fit into the global scheme of things. We’ve got international customers so if we were to sell a Belly unit to someone in UK, what kind of data protection, privacy concerns or do we have to keep track of?
Right now, everything is very opt-in based. You’re explicitly taking your phone and you’re it to the Belly tablet saying, “I want to join this program.”
When you download the application, the user is giving information about themselves. Through iOS and Android, they’re controlling whether or not they do push notification or they do location-based functions.
All those kinds of controls around location and the push notifications and data, it’s both at the app level. So, when you’re setting up your account you can control how the merchants see you. Then we’re only giving that certain data to the merchant so they can use that for the best way to target you.
If you say, “I want to be a targeted over email only,” we’re holding that true and keeping that channel as the only communication channel there is. Versus somebody that comes in and says, “You know what, I want to use SMS.” We’re building the product out so you can choose which channel to use and staying true to that spirit.
Ledge: We’re engineers, so we know that we have the happy path and the roadmap and all those things, and we also all have stories of catastrophic learning opportunities, let’s put it that way. Things that just didn’t go the right way. The speed bumps you hit on the way.
Our listeners love those stories. Really tangible ways that they can learn from your experience and go, “Here’s a thing that we did and that I wish we didn’t do, or an opportunity that we really learned a lot that I would skip if I could.”
What are some stories like that, from your experience?
David: Well, Ledge, that’s a great question. You know what? Maybe not just the Belly acquisition itself, I think things been going pretty smoothly there.
One thing I would say is we’re buying software that a lot of great engineers contributed to. There is always tribal knowledge that seems to stay around with engineers. Not everyone comments their code.
One thing to really look at is, when you’re looking to buy someone, getting all their credentials in one place. Like, where’s your login for the Apple iOS or iTunes Store, and all that kind of stuff, so that you can do those simple updates really quickly.
We got all those ducks in a row before we did the acquisition and made sure that those will be smooth, but I’ve heard horror stories of not being able to do stuff like that in the past. Those are some tough things to learn through.
I’ll tell you what, overall, in software, being in product management you feel like you are responsible for the product. And when things go wrong you are the head on the chopping plaque, so to speak.
So, I think this was a really good opportunity to learn how the engineers built a product, from a product manager perspective. It gives me an idea of how hard is it to do certain things.
If I’m asking for a new function to be built, and build the iOS and Android application, knowing how it’s architected gives you an idea of how hard would that be to actually do. I think that’s a new thing to learn. When you build a product from the ground up, you’re learning how that is as you go along.
Whereas when you buy something, it’s like, boom, here, this monolithic product that you just bought with 10 or 15 different packages and STKs that are in there. And then you’re just like, “Wow, I think it should be so simple to add a little button.” Then you find out that , oh, well, it’s exposed to this platform or it’s a web view and it’s not really a native part of the app.
All those kinds of fun things were going through now and learning.
Ledge: How do you think about… When you’re moving from the engineering seat into the product seat – I talk to a lot of tech and product leaders – I’m finding a trend in the discussion that there’s this massive convergence of product and engineering. Where we used to think maybe those were two parallel or even horizontal tracks, and you would move one to the other, it just seems to be a huge convergence there.
I wonder what your experience has been, sitting in both seats, and how your perspectives have changed?
David: I think the best mix is product-focused engineering teams.
Before Mobivity, I worked for a company called Emarsys and we had our entire development team in Budapest, Hungary.
So, they’re in Budapest Hungary, I’m in Indianapolis, Indiana, running the product, and the way that worked really well is that we were both product-focused. I had certain product goals I wanted to build, and they had a really strong sense of responsibility about the product performance, the look of it, constantly improving.
We worked together that way of both understanding that we were responsible for building something unique and beautiful and useful. It’s really, really beneficial.
I went from having to write very, very detailed requirements to being a bit more high level because the team and engineers all understood what was the purpose of this feature, what was the purpose of this new report, and when this feature gets deployed what is the impact of that? And when you’re building like STKs for example, for apps, understanding that that STK is going to be integrated in someone’s app and if the app crashes because your STK screws up, it’s on you.
I think just having really product-focused engineers is really helpful.
Ledge: Let me take that one step further. How do you hire and evaluate and just know that you have a product-focused engineer, versus maybe…?
You and I have a similar vintage. When I was writing software, we were allowed – and/or banished – to the basement to sit in the dark and slam away on code and never ever, ever, ever allowed to talk to an actual business user.
It’s just not the case anymore. I wonder, what are those particular heuristics to know you’ve got the right people on that engineering team?
David: I think it’s just, in this interview process, understand what do they do in their free time?
A lot of developers like to build their own. Have their own projects. And if they’re building, let’s say, customer-facing applications, they have felt that pain.
So, going back to the Emarsys example, a lot of those guys were building a lot of games, actual video games and chess games and things like that. They were used to having customer coming back and saying, “Hey, that really sucks,” or, “Your app crashed.” They were used to being their own product manager for their own side project. I really felt like those were the kinds of engineers I wanted to have on my team because they understand what it’s like to have direct feedback from a customer.
I would say that’s how I could identify the rock stars a lot faster. There’s always just a personality assessment too. I would just say, if you got a developer you’re interviewing and they’ve got an app out there or they’ve got a customer-facing or client-facing product or application, that’s usually a good sign.
Ledge: All right, last question. I give you one piece of paper and a Sharpie, and you can write a letter to yourself 10 years ago. What are you going to say?
David: Buy more Facebook stock.
Ledge: And sell before 2018?
David: Yeah, right. I would probably just say, “You’re right about mobile. You’re right about mobile being big.”
Like I said, I started with mobile at Motorola in ’99. There was a couple times there we’re like, “Where is mobile going?” I remember watching the iPhone get launched while at Motorola thinking, oh my god, what’s going to happen next? and just kept sticking with mobile because I thought this is something that’s going to be around for a long time.
I’m glad I have. Mobile is not going anywhere.
Ledge: Awesome. Well, Dave, thanks for joining us. Thanks for your insights today.
David: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.