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Interview With Austin Rotter, Digital Marketing Strategist

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Interview With Austin Rotter, Digital Marketing Strategist On How The Industry Has Changed Since COVID 

Austin Rotter is a strategic digital marketing and media relations strategist with over a decade of experience working with a number of clients ranging from Fortune 100 brands to hyper-growth companies.

He helps innovators, disruptors, and radicals that are challenging the status quo to increase their media profile and brand awareness through creative, strategic, and results-driven campaigns.  

Since the start of COVID two years ago, how has the digital marketing world changed?

Austin Rotter: Today’s digital media world is officially 24/7. You can’t ignore that. Over the last two years, due to COVID, the larger marketing ecosystem has adapted to a seemingly ever-changing “new normal.” Marketers really have to be quicker than ever to pivot at a moment’s notice.

When reaching consumers, time and attention are the two most important forms of currency marketers have. COVID has totally changed almost every aspect of how consumers engage and interact with both brands and media.

Everything has been thrown out the window in terms of best practices.  It’s scary to think like that, but at the same time, it also gives brands exciting new opportunities to try different approaches, platforms, or messaging that they were maybe once afraid of testing because they thought, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

There’s a lot of buzz around the Metaverse; should we believe the hype?

Austin Rotter: That’s a billion-dollar question right there. It depends on who you ask and how much skin they already have in the game.

If you ask Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who made a massive bet on the metaverse by renaming his entire company to Meta, he is 1000%, all-in on the metaverse and looking at it as their future in a huge way.

Google, Apple, and other major tech companies are all following the metaverse train as well, and they are certainly not alone. They have all been working on their own metaverse-related technology for years, and everyone has their own metaverse-related ambitions in the works.

Not everyone is in love, though. The metaverse certainly has a fair number of critics who are taking a more wait-and-see approach with everything. For every once-in-a-generation idea like the metaverse, there are many busts that still leave a sting on people. Does Google’s glass experiment ring a bell?

It’s still super, super, super early in the metaverse game to really tell how this will all play out, but this feels like a different beast — the one that has the potential to change the digital media world as we know.

Is there one social channel that you find really taking off more than others?

Austin Rotter: Instagram is the king right now. With over 200 million business profiles, it’s no surprise that brands are investing heavily in this platform.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a B2B brand or a DTC player; Instagram, from a business perspective, has options for every company that needs a social layer to connect with customers.

You shouldn’t be asking if you should use Instagram, but ask, “how should I be using it?” It is mission-critical on the social side.

You’re right; building a digital community is mission-critical. What is the best way to achieve that?

Austin Rotter: From a marketing perspective, messaging has always been king. That will never change.

Today, consumers, more than ever, are looking for empathy, warmth, and compassion from the brands they are interacting with.

To really grow your digital community, you need to be authentic. Lacking authenticity is an instant killer and huge turnoff. There is a balance though, that’s very important to remember here. On the flip side, the brand’s messaging, tone, and approach can’t be too over-the-top, forced, or tone dead. It will backfire and leave a bad taste. Once you lose a customer, they are usually gone for good.

For marketers with a limited budget, how can they actually use and leverage influencers in a meaningful way? 

Austin Rotter: The influencer ecosystem has exploded over the last few years, with micro-influencers being a big reason for that. In just a few short years, the total global influencer marketing ecosystem has rapidly expanded. Forget about the hype around influencers; just looking at this in pure numbers: the industry has grown from $1.7 billion to over $14 billion. Insane growth!

One thing is for certain — it has taught eCommerce brands and retailers that they have to be flexible in creating new avenues to engage with consumers, especially hard-to-reach demos like Gen Z.

There’s no shortage of macro (100K – 1M followers). A lot of brands prefer to work with other traditional, more mainstream ones. Some of those reasons are more affordable for budget-cautious brands. They have a highly engaged audience, and it gives brands the unique ability to spread their budget around to several influencers at once, giving them more options to leverage.

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Interviews

Interview with Ryan Hurley, Founder of Hurley Development

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Interview with Ryan Hurley, Founder of Hurley Development

Ryan Hurley is the founder and president of Hurley Development, a commercial real estate development company based in Vancouver, Washington. A Vancouver native, Ryan wanted to establish a company that was dedicated to transforming the landscape of Vancouver while maintaining the city’s integrity and encouraging community.

Ryan launched into the world of business like a lot of business owners do, by jumping in and taking advantage of any opportunity that presented itself.
Ryan began his career in development with Hinton Development Corporation. While with Hinton, he was responsible for the company’s residential development portfolio, where he gained experience in acquisition, entitlement, construction, and disposition. In this position, he oversaw various aspects of development and helped Hinton grow its portfolio by evaluating development opportunities, conducting feasibility analyses, and creating development strategies.

Following his time with Hinton, Ryan founded Hurley Development in 2009. Today, the company is one of the premier real estate development companies in the region and has carried out several community development projects while raising the bar for sustainable and profitable development.

Ryan Hurley lives in Vancouver with his wife Becky and their children.

Where did the idea for Hurley Development come from?

Our company was born out of the Great Recession. That sounds a little dramatic, but I founded Hurley Development in 2009 because I had to! I didn’t have any other choice. My professional background was in development, and I had worn a lot of hats at my previous company, but they came to the place where they had cut staff as much as possible and tried to hold on to whatever projects they could, and they had to let me go. I was the last employee left, besides the owner. And from there, I either had to give up my dreams, quit real estate, and take a 9 to 5 job, or step out in faith and trust that I was doing the right thing. I knew what I had to do…I started my company, and out of the gate I pulled together a complex multi-party commercial real estate deal involving planning, design, and execution with a local business.

My experience with some small businesses I had partnered with, along with the developer I’d been working for, gave me a lot of insight and helped me build the skills I needed to set out on my own and figure things out along the way. We were painting the plane as we were flying it, with a lot of challenges along the way, but it came together and we moved right into more projects. I cultivated financial partnerships to purchase core buildings in the underserviced downtown where I grew up and on the heels of those projects we launched a rock climbing gym project.

Being from Vancouver, I didn’t just want to establish ourselves as a premier commercial real estate development company, but to also make a positive impact on Vancouver and the surrounding community, which still is the heartbeat of our company today, because I like to build and manage projects, and work with people and businesses to make communities better. In short, I love to “Bring Life” through commercial real estate and anything else I do.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

In a word, engagement. Typically, I’m in a lot of meetings that range from our executive team to company directors to investment partners, banks and financial organizations, non-profits, city government, architects and designers, and leaders of businesses we own. I would not be productive without the help of my amazing staff and tools like our project management software with dashboards and reporting, and an iPhone and laptop within reach.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I absolutely love to create and I am inspired by creation. Naturally, I gravitate toward talking about the what if’s and what could be. But that’s only the beginning. To bring any idea to life, we always need the right people in the room: a team of staff and consultants who bring creativity, expertise, and experience.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I absolutely love what’s happening with smart technology and the nexus it has with sustainability, along with the unique customer experience it can provide.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I have a sense of urgency and a strong desire to keep things moving and get things accomplished, and those two things help keep me and our projects and teams moving forward.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Everything is just a season – life is full of ups and downs but you will make it through and things will end up working out for the best if you stay focused on the right things.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Speed is the key to success. It sounds irresponsible to say speed is the key to everything, but the ability to deliver faster on every level, especially in my world of commercial real estate, is under-appreciated by many businesses.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Pray. It sounds a little strange to some CEOs because we usually think of things like coming in early, staying late, bringing the right people into the room, having wise counsel when we make decisions, and all those things are important as well…but to be honest, no matter what I think I can bring to the table, I’m not superhuman, and I can’t make things happen the way I want them to. None of us can. At the end of the day, it’s all in God’s hands.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Building strong partnerships with our investors and with business leaders has been vital to our growth. We would be nowhere without our partners and colleagues.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I believe there is a lot more that is coming soon in Proptech that will totally change how we do business in commercial real estate and there is a lot of money yet to be made in that arena. If you have a software idea that makes anything easier for a building owner or saves money or adds NOI, get going on your MVP…there’s room for your great idea!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

This one is simple for me: it’s my cell phone bill. That might sound like a strange answer, but my phone helps me check in on colleagues, business deals, friends and family…and I’d be 100x less productive without that part of my life, and not only in business, in relationships.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I love the simplicity of Google calendar for my personal planning, and how solid Microsoft Teams is for my video meetings. Those two technologies never let me down.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Beyond Business by Lonnie Gienger. It challenges business leaders to reframe how and why we do business. What if our businesses could make the world a better place? What if all of us business leaders decided to do that and help each other do it?

What is your favorite quote?

From the Bible, it’s Acts 20:24 “For none of these things move me, nor do I count my life as dear to myself, but that I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me to testify to the gospel of grace.” Another way to put it is, “What matters most to me is to finish what God started: the job that Jesus gave me of letting everyone I meet know all about the incredibly extravagant generosity and love of God.”

Key Learnings:

  • As a leader, who you surround yourself with and bring onto your team has a significant impact on your success. A reliable, creative, and driven group of people are vital to carrying out your ideas.
  • Always consider what more can be done, for your team, your customers, your company, and your community.
  • Looking at processes and pain points will give you insight into what needs to change or be improved.
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interviews

Interview with Marin Smiljanic, Co-Founder of Omnisearch

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Marin is the co-founder and CEO of Omnisearch, a startup building the next generation of search technology. As a software engineer, Marin accumulated years of experience at both fast-growing venture-backed startups as well as Big Tech. Prior to becoming a startup founder, he spent three years at Amazon, working on Amazon Web Services and Alexa.

Where did the idea for Omnisearch come from?

The idea for Omnisearch came during my time at Amazon. As in any large company, we had hours of training videos that we needed to go through, packed with really dense technical information. And it was difficult and time-consuming to find information inside those materials – you can find videos by title or description, but it was impossible to find exact moments where the information was covered and navigate straight to them. I talked with my co-founder Matej Ferencevic, a spectacular engineer with lots of startup experience, about the idea and we decided to go all-in and try to solve this for good.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My day is mostly spent meeting with lots of people: the Omnisearch team, our outside associates and advisors, investors and, most importantly, customers. Since I’m in charge of the business side of the company, I do a lot of sales calls and overall just try to get people everywhere excited about us and our product. I still try to get in a bit of coding, especially if there’s a new feature that needs to be prototyped or some cool recent development that can be applied.

In terms of productivity, I keep a pretty thorough to-do list and try to prioritize my tasks for maximum benefit. While I don’t use Trello right now, I used both that and Asana in previous projects and I’m seriously considering going back. Apart from that, I make sure to have all the relevant tasks in Google Calendar with the appropriate reminders.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Primarily by just coding. This is definitely the biggest upside of having a technical background. Especially with the large number of tools and services available today, the barrier for trying out and launching a product has never been lower (though the flip side is more competition). Granted, most of the business aspects of the company are now on my plate so there’s less coding for me on a day-to-day basis. But the gist is the same.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’ve been extremely bullish on the advances in deep learning in the past few years. I often feel like the public debate about it lacks nuance, either dismissing neural network-based AI as not truly intelligent or, more often, fearmongering. I genuinely believe that the wave of AI-related advances since 2015 has been monumental – from mastering more complex games to image recognition to language models, these new approaches massively outperform earlier ones. I always make it a point to stay on top of these advances and try to think of ways to apply them to real-world problems.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Picking the right colleagues. I’ve always believed this was essential for a founder and is in fact one of the main benefits of running your own company! It’s always great to find people whose skills and, more importantly, passions complement your own. I’ve worked with amazing programmers, graphic designers, marketers, and salespeople. Our track record has so far been good and I expect it to stay that way.

What advice would you give your younger self?

If you’re immigrating to a foreign country, pick a large, established company for your first job. There’ll be a lot of immigration- and work-related bureaucracy to navigate early on and it’s helpful to be working for a company that has these processes already in place. Afterward, go work for startups since it’s way more fun and the pace is a lot faster!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Remote work is fine for more senior people, but I believe that for people earlier on in their careers it’s extremely important and beneficial to have more senior team members around, since they can ask questions more freely and get a better understanding of both the tech and business sides of the company way faster, and it helps them get “unstuck” faster.\

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Talk to your customers. Every now and then you’ll find a founder who is able, Jobs-like, to dictate to the market. But this is extremely rare, especially in B2B. At Omnisearch we’ve always had a culture of gathering feedback from customers and taking it seriously. The caveat here is to not be too jittery and to not be afraid of saying no. But it’s been incredibly beneficial for us and we got a number of excellent feature requests by listening to customers’ problems. In fact, a lot of our product evolution happened in response to the feedback of customers in the EdTech space.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Being creative about customer acquisition channels. Our initial traction came through a partnership with a public company in the EdTech space, where we built an integration on their App Store and started selling to course creators around the world. I think this is a pretty underrated way of generating initial traction and more companies should consider it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Our fundraising journey wasn’t easy, and we got rejected some twenty-five times before finally landing our investment from GoAhead Ventures. It was a tough time, especially since living in Vancouver without a salary was a recipe for ruin. But for problems like this the solution is plain perseverance. We took investors’ feedback seriously, polished our story, and made sure our value proposition and go-to-market strategy were tighter. So the advice is to just power through the No’s and remember that highly, highly accomplished founders faced the exact same problems.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In the past year or so I’ve become a bit concerned about the possibility of widespread outages of cloud providers since an event like that can bring down a massive number of online businesses. Respectable experts even estimate a major AWS outage to have the same impact as a global recession. I’d love it if there were a hassle-free way for customers to deploy software to multiple clouds and make their environments safer.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I got Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” from Amazon and really loved it. I’m a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s work and of various forms of science fiction. It helps you imagine the future and it’s not a coincidence that the man was brought on as an advisor at Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We use Slack as our default means of communication. Though it’s got myriad issues (notifications, search) it’s still invaluable. I remember being a skeptic way back in 2016, but I’ve since been converted.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recently read “Becoming Steve Jobs” by Schlender and Tetzeli and absolutely loved it. The book is pretty different from the usual Jobs hagiography in that it tries to analyze why he was so much more effective in his second act at Apple as opposed to his first stint. It devotes a lot of time to NeXT and Pixar and shows the effect those companies had on teaching him how to deal with people. And it’s not afraid to show times when his legendary vision misfired (for instance at NeXT). Overall, an incredible book about one of the giants of the industry. For more recommendations, I recently wrote a Twitter thread with my favorite business books!

What is your favorite quote?

“When the facts change, I change my mind” – John Maynard Keynes

Key Learnings:

  • Picking the right coworkers in the single most important part of running a startup.
  • Read books about successful companies and founders and see which part of their story can be applied to the challenges you’re facing.
  • Talk to customers a lot, especially in B2B. Don’t take it too far and let them dictate your roadmap, but gather as much information about their pain points as possible.
  • Make sure to stay on top of cutting-edge technical developments, at least from a high-level standpoint.
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interview with Ekke Uustalu, Co-Founder of Planyard

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Interview with Ekke Uustalu, Co-Founder of Planyard

Co-founder of Planyard with a background in B2B software and cyber security. Now tackling profitability forecasting in larger construction companies to make sure they don’t go out of business due to insufficient visibility.

He was born right when Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 90s. This experience has been invaluable as he saw the rapid development and life quality improvement this new way provided.

When growing up, everything in his life was digitalized – the communication, the school work, government and medical services. This meant that that was since childhood the normal. He couldn’t really expect less than excellent and user-friendliness from any service. This part is probably normal for 99% of Estonians though.

He studied computer systems in his university studies and found entrepreneurship interesting from early on. He worked in various startups during studies and attended various startup events and competitions. Some of these competitions were also where the first attempts (and failures) at personal startups took place.

He also tried Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) product selling which failed quite miserably as the product was completely custom designed and was just a one-time thing. The product was also partially a safety device so Amazon deciding to now allowing to sell the product was a good learning point. Never give too much decision power to someone else. Also, don’t make safety products without having great suppliers. 🙂

After a short stint in a cyber security company, he was invited by acquaintances to work on Planyard. This has been the main focus for the past few years.

Where did the idea for Planyard come from?

The idea for Planyard came from our acquaintances working in the construction field. Many of them work as project managers and complained that they don’t have good tools that help them do financial tasks efficiently.

They often need to use multiple unlinked spreadsheets with duplicate data where the processing and data copying takes way too long. So when one of our founders had multiple discussions with these PMs, he was able to identify key issues that we started to work on once the mockups were confirmed.

So now we are providing a cloud-based software tool for construction companies to automate much of the annoying manual work they have to do anyway. This can save up to 5 days for each project manager per month. Additionally, colleagues and managers can also easily see what the status is if the company prefers to share the access inside the company.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Since we are a small bootstrapped team, the day consists of various tasks that have to be done – often some development work, marketing actions if we have some content planned, calls with customers and representatives from tools that we integrate with.

It is important to list and then prioritize all of the things that need to be done in the day to make sure that you can really focus on the important tasks. Depending on the task, we have different Trello boards to track them or for stuff only specific to me, I also use Gmail snoozing to not lose anything.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We often hear about problems that our customers are having. When we hear these brought out, we have to validate that many or most of our customers face similar issues. When we validate that indeed this is a relevant issue for many people, we then start work on solution proposals.

We then make very low-quality mockups that we can validate with all of the parties and often do multiple rounds of these discussions to tweak the solution before we start implementing it.

This means that we can be very sure of the technical solution before we do anything. We might make small adjustments to the design or the process later on, but the fundamental assumptions are correct, thus reducing the amount of rework we have to do.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Young and/or tech-savvy people who are becoming decision makers in (construction) companies. They have grown up with productivity tools and user-friendly tools and expect that when they try to find a solution. Also, a more bottom-up management style is nice since everyone’s’ opinion matters and the boss doesn’t decide alone.

This means that our potential customers are more open to embracing technical solutions that will make their life easier. Additionally, when looking for solutions, they are very selfishly trying to find a great experience. That differs from the “old school“ enterprise sales where the management would just decide for something and the end users would not really benefit from it.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

If you don’t get it 100% clearly, just ask again. I think I need to fully understand the problem and why it is a problem to be able to solve it for the customer.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Ask more questions before rushing to propose solutions. You probably didn’t fully get it yet.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Probably not that unpopular, but raising money is not everything. Raising money too soon can hurt or end your business.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Blocking out time for deep focus time. This is probably more a techy thing to do, but having the freedom of no distractions for some part of your day really lets you achieve a lot.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

We still need to do a lot of work on our online presence and messaging, but we for sure are already seeing successes from our SEO efforts however limited the time is that we put in there.

In short, it’s better to be where the customers are searching for you instead of cold calling and reaching out to them yourself.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A few years ago, I tried doing Amazon FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) as a business. We developed our own product from scratch for just a one-time event.

The production delays and strict Amazon restrictions meant that we actually could almost not sell any products to our customers before the date. We lost a lot of time and money doing this, but I learned to value my own control over the process more. In that case, we did make a lot of mistakes on our own as well. But giving so much power to someone else can be risky as they can just shut you down when they decide to do so.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I recently heard of an idea for an app to order food in the restaurant. So basically Uber Eats to eat in – no waiting for the waiter, no payment struggles, and the possibility for the company to do dynamic pricing.

I’m not sure if it is a great idea, but it’s an idea.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Trello. Keeping track of what you need to do, what you did, and to prioritize what needs to be done. Without structure, you just do whatever you want to in the morning and that probably won’t take you too far.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

What is your favorite quote?

Change in all things is sweet – Aristotle

Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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