Prior to founding Sailthru, Neil was the Chief Technology Officer for MusicNation, an AlleyCorp company, ASmallWorld, and Money-Media (acquired by The Financial Times). Today, Neil is also an adviser to several startups, including Refinery29.com and Zootoo.com and is a Venture Partner at Bowery Capital, a seed stage venture fund focused on transformational upgrades to enterprise technologies. Neil was also named to the The Silicon Alley 100 in 2011 and 2012 as one of New York City's most influential and coolest technology leaders.
How did you get into the tech industry?
As CTO of a few companies prior to starting Sailthru, I found myself constantly looking for a way to communicate with customers on a 1:1 basis. I tried every solution on the market to both learn more about my customers’ individual interests and behaviors online and subsequently deliver messages to them across all digital channels at the right time and with the right content. No solution existed to do this, so I built it in Sailthru alongside an incredible team.
Tell us about Sailthru. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
At Sailthru, we believe that the key to an exceptional customer experience is to understand each user on a personal level - their likes and dislikes, browsing behavior, etc. - and only deliver what they need and want when the occasion arises.
In founding the company, everything I pulled from regarding entrepreneurship and customer service I truly learned from my dad, who was a greengrocer back in England. He knew every customer that walked into his shop on a personal level and, as a result, benefited from intense customer loyalty. Even when larger shops opened up in the area, they stayed away from having produce sections because they simply couldn’t compete with my father’s loyal market share.
What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to Sailthru's success?
In the last few years, Sailthru has entered into several partnerships that provide additional capabilities to our customers and strengthened our presence in the industry. Ultimately, we want to help today’s marketers do their jobs with ease and creativity; partnerships help us do that. For example, we have an integration with Facebook Custom Audiences, which enables brands to streamline the process of hyper-targeting ads to specific users and lookalike audiences. This was a process that used to be incredibly time consuming and manual. Solutions partners are also an area we’re committed too and more will be coming in that area for us in early 2015.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
We’ve seen a lot of activity in the marketing automation space of late as legacy vendors acquire smaller companies to obtain their technology and attempt to build out their “marketing clouds.” While this means the market is expanding and moving at rapid speeds, there is a difference between companies that have to accumulate the right technology to provide what marketers are asking for, and those in which this sort of technology is built right into the very core of the company’s infrastructure. We're going to see a number of brands realize they cannot survive on legacy marketing technologies and opt for next generation technology - like Sailthru - which was designed to natively meet the needs of today's marketers.
Know what you don’t know.
Every user is unique.
Your greatest success as founder of Sailthru? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
When we founded Sailthru over six years ago, we began providing a solution for marketers that fundamentally shifted how they organized their customer information and subsequently delivered 1:1 messages. We told people it was okay to think about the individual versus the campaign - this was a very disruptive approach and we were the first to tell them that this change was okay.
Since that time, the omnichannel personalization market has risen up behind us. Many companies have tried to shoehorn their legacy products to look and act like ours - with little success. The greatest success as Sailthru’s founder - so far - has been to remain resolute in our product and roadmap, especially through those early days. We built a product that can truly do anything marketers need it to and keeping a solid focus on solving the unique challenges facing ecommerce and media brands was no easy feat. Being first and staying true to our product vision is my biggest success.
That success brought with it many difficult moments over the years. When you’re doing something that no one else does and it’s early days, you have to fight for visibility. We knocked on every door to get people to rally around the idea of this industry change. As in skiing, making the first tracks can be difficult, laborious and overwhelming at times. By surrounding myself with the right people, we were able to overcome those moments and thrive.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Always seek out ways in which to grow, both as a leader and as a business. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are more experienced than you are so you can gain new insight and ideas - finding time to network is critical even if you want your colleagues and investors to see you “heads down.” It’s also not enough to just build an amazing product, you must ensure that you’re equally focused on its commercial viability and early traction. The right strategy and network in place to drive that adoption is key. Your product has to not only be easy to sell, but also easy to buy.
Favorite travel destination?
Any place with really good slopes so I can ski!
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
I’d love a ‘wurst from Sternen Grill in Zurich and a cocktail from Freemans.
What literature is on your bed stand?
I’m sure many tech entrepreneurs would agree, my bed stand is stacked with Douglas Adams and Jim Collins. Depending on how my day goes, I pick up one or the other.
Role model - business and personal?
I’m continually in awe, personally and professionally, of Richard Branson. Most recently in how he’s gracefully handled what was a terrible circumstance and yet he pushes forward with innovation and drive.
Past, present, future - it’s always skiing.
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
The Information’s Q&A with Aaron Levie was pretty great from the perspective of staying the course and believing in what you’re building: https://www.theinformation.com/Aaron-Levie-We-re-Misunderstood
What's next for Sailthru?
We’re rolling out an incredible product called Sailthru Sightlines and we’ve been really focused on it lately. We built Sailthru Sightlines to harness the constant stream of data points that consumers offer today’s marketers as they move through their individual customer journeys. Sailthru Sightlines analyzes all customer actions, reactions and engagements in real-time to deliver accurate predictions for future user behavior. While Sailthru is already known for recommendations, the ability to arm marketers with predictions will now allow them to actually know which specific users are likely to purchase or generate pageviews.