Yahoo!, Microsoft, Webtrends, Involver, BitTorrent, Mozilla, Lytics. This isn’t a random list of some of the most influential companies of the digital age. It’s the resume of Lytics president Jascha Kaykas-Wolff. But this list doesn’t nearly do him justice. He was also at the forefront of innovations like e-commerce, product suites, agile marketing, and customer data platforms.
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Jascha’s LinkedIn page describes him as a business executive with creative flair. And this flair is evident from his passionate way of speaking. He even co-hosts a podcast about life in Silicon Valley.
“My first job was at Yahoo! in the late 90s,” Jascha kicks off. “E-commerce was just developing, and it was the first time someone used structured data online. Today it’s the standard in literally every industry. This experience led me to Microsoft, where I co-founded Windows Marketplace, today known as the Microsoft Store. It was the first e-commerce store where you could purchase and download an operating system (Windows) and Microsoft software. This was the early 00s, when everyone was still buying CD-ROMs.”
Jascha's Eureka! moment:
You started out in tech and were involved in the Microsoft Store. How did you end up in marketing?
“At Microsoft, we were measuring the interactions on the website with tools like Webtrends. We were among the first to adopt an agile approach. Customer data is very dynamic, it’s constantly changing and evolving. An agile approach allowed us to immediately act on that data. All this first-party data didn’t just give us information. It gave us the opportunity, and really the obligation, to create better user experiences. This spurred my career in marketing and ultimately brought me to Lytics, which is built around this fundamental idea.”
Let’s talk about agile marketing first. You even wrote a book about it. What is the link between leveraging customer data and the agile approach?
“I learnt a lot from the lean practices at Microsoft in the late 90s and early 00s. I later hosted ‘SprintZero’, the very first agile marketing meeting, in my offices in San Francisco in 2012. Traditional teams are structured to create, execute, and report on a plan, and then come up with a new plan.”
“The successes of teams I’ve been a part of have been around their ability to collect data and act with it immediately, not after the fact.”
“The successes of the teams I’ve been a part of have been largely around their ability to collect learnings - or data - and act with them immediately. Not after the fact. That’s critical for every organisation today. When someone’s willing to provide you with data, act on it. You can’t do that in traditional organisational structures. It’s not just about the technology, but also the team structure, the processes, and the format in which you work.”
From Yahoo! and Microsoft, you then moved to companies like Mozilla and BitTorrent. How did you experience that shift?
“BitTorrent had its ground-breaking peer-to-peer philosophy and Mozilla was focusing on ‘people instead of profit.’ Our focus was on creating products that were good for the people and the internet and educating consumers. By challenging the establishment, we could really explore the power of first-party data. One thing that struck me was that, when consumers are in control of their data, their online experience becomes much better.”
Is that ethical awareness for the consumer something that grew during your years in Silicon Valley?
“I learnt along the way the importance of knowing your customers and delivering a great experience. There’s one major problem with a lot of companies: they have a very one-sided relationship with their customer. They are trying to extract value from them. It should always be a fair value exchange: the product or service should be equivalent to the data you’re extracting from consumers. As a business leader, I feel obligated to understand who my customers are and how I can deliver value to them.”
“Most companies are trying to extract value from customers. There should be a fair and equal value exchange.”
What do you mean exactly by ‘extracting value from consumers’?
“Most companies take customer data for granted, and we treat consumers crassly because of it. It’s still quite prevalent on the internet. If I’m interested in a product and I want to find a review, I’ll need to go past a block of advertising, or maybe fill in a quiz or give up my email address just to read the content. It’s insane that companies consider this a fair value exchange.”
“We used to say at Mozilla that a lot of companies treat their customers like ‘robotic lawyers’. When you subscribe to a service, you need to accept the terms and conditions. Hundreds of pages in legalese, for which you need the stamina of a robot and the understanding of a lawyer. All that to use an application or understand what kind of cookies will be dropped onto your browser.”
Are you optimistic that we can still alter the fabric of the internet to a fairer model?
“Some days I’m optimistic. There are enough consumers that acknowledge the importance of the value exchange. They will only jump through the hoops if they get enough value in return. Over 60% of internet users are using adblockers, and VPNs are becoming more popular. Consumers are voting to do things differently by using these tools.”
“Over 60% of internet users have an adblocker. Consumers are voting to do things differently by using these tools.”
“We’re starting to see nation-state-sized companies making changes that will force all companies to operate differently. Governments are making regulations. That triumvirate of consumers, companies and governments will eventually lead to actual changes, I believe. Not as fast as we’d like, but we’re getting there.”
Aren’t these nation-sized companies responsible for what got us here? This internet of data is created by the Googles of this world, and it seems impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
“In essence, it’s about good actors versus bad actors. The amount of available consumer data and the number of bad actors out there have created this unsafe environment. But I don’t think companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple make the internet a worse place. Yes, they collect, organise, and activate more data than any other companies in the world. It’s a major contributor to their business model.”
“However, I believe they are generally good actors. They do everything they can to put forward great experiences for us. We’re all using their services every day. They’ve created a value exchange that is noticeably and demonstrably real.”
“Yes, Google, Microsoft and Apple collect more data than any other companies in the world. But they also offer a lot of value to users.”
What role can Lytics – which you are president of – and CDPs in general play in this evolution?
“A critical one. The landscape has been tilted heavily in the favour of these gigantic companies that have the infrastructure to collect, organise and utilise first-party data and create great experiences. It’s been very difficult for every other business to compete with that.”
“CDPs are a great equalizer in that sense. They help small and medium-sized and even large enterprises to rationalise, understand and act with first-party data. It allows them to be competitive with companies like Google or Amazon, who were digital natives. CDPs are critical for businesses to establish a meaningful relationship with their customers.”
“CDPs are a great equalizer. They allow small companies to compete with Google or Amazon and build a meaningful relationship with their customers.”
Do you really think small companies can compete with Amazon?
“Absolutely. The technology is available. What CDPs won’t do is change the operations of your business to create those experiences. They won’t help you to operate ethically and create a fair value exchange. CDPs offer the technology, but they must be combined with good business practices. That combination is the most important evolution we’ll see in the next decade. That’s what gets me excited about this industry.”
When will it no longer be profitable for companies to do things ‘the old way’, for instance with third-party data?
“I believe it’s happening now. In my time at Mozilla, we looked at the best performing companies in the world, measured by the performance of their stock. Specifically, the S&P500. We compared them to the list of most-trusted companies in the world. What we found was pretty fascinating.”
“The companies that were most trusted outperformed the S&P500 over the course of several years. By a pretty big margin. What that tells me is that businesses that consumers trust are the ones that perform well. That insight gives the management of any business the power to say to their board: we will create the best product and deliver the best experience we possibly can, and we’re going to do that in a meaningful way. Not fraught with pop-up banners, crazy retargeting or spammy practices, but an actual meaningful experience.”
“Companies that are most trusted outperform the S&P500 in the long run by a pretty big margin.”
“I am confident that we’re on the right path. We have the technology that allows companies to perform as well as the 100 most trusted companies in the world. In the next few years, we will help companies that have a good product or service to create a real experience that will delight existing customers and bring new ones in.”