Six years, $60 million, and all I got was this stupid hoodie.

Voting for SXSW 2015 sessions has started.

Austin panorama during SXSW 2014

If I get the chance to speak next year in Austin, I’d like to tell you about the last six years of my working life.

Between 2008 – 2014, I committed my time, energy, and intellect to build a startup company as the first employee into a multi-million dollar, multi-national social business advisory and big data analytics company. We received quite a bit of funding from Austin Ventures along the way. The company was ultimately acquired by Sprinklr and the only tangible reminder of my experience I have left is the classic cliched symbol of a startup company: a logo hoodie.

I could probably write a book on what I wish I knew then. (Maybe I will someday.) In the meantime I’d like to share the highlights of what I learned about startup life. The great reads out there make even more sense to me after having lived the experience.

I guess it’s only fair to disclose that I don’t intend this to be a sixty minute smack-talk session. Even without the snark, somewhere in between the trips to Las Vegas, managing people managing their personal brands, working with acquired companies under earnouts, writing a book, and creating an entirely new category of advisory called “social business,” there are some lessons worth sharing.

This would be my seventh year speaking at SXSW Interactive; if you’re interested in hearing more, I’d appreciate your vote.
Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!

After a month in Seoul

Sunset over Itaewon

It’s been a month since I left Austin and started as chief digital officer at Cheil Worldwide. I’ve been almost entirely focused on work and in many ways, “the work is the work.” Strategy formulation, change management, and matrix operations are fairly straightforward. Of course not everything is the same and after a business trip to New York last week, here are some differences that surface in my mind, in no particular order.

Social media is a lot less active when most of your connections are time shifted 13 to 16 hours from regular business hours. More signal, but lower volume.

I’ve been consuming most of my English-language news from BBC and CNN. Lately most of the coverage has focused on Gaza and Ukraine. Korea’s English-language media outlets focus very little on these topics and instead discuss regional politics, e.g. relations with China and Japan, celebrity dating gossip, and continuing Sewol ferry issues.

There are many, many coffee shops in Seoul. Some of them have outlets in the US, mainly California. One popular chain is called Paris Baguette; recently, it opened a store in Paris.

Seoul has a lot of traffic. You can expect to spend a lot of time sharing the road with many other Hyundais and Kias.

Korea is one of the most wired nations in the world. Broadband internet penetration is almost 100% and high-speed wireless is almost everywhere. Subways tend to be quiet with every other person watching TV on a Samsung mobile phone. Step into an elevator and most of the younger people will be KakaoTalk-ing. A mobile phone number is the key to making many services work.

However, when it comes to tech infrastructure, especially e-government, Korea is stuck in the days of internet past. As described in this blog post which Jeremiah Owyang pointed out to me, Microsoft Windows, ActiveX, and Internet Explorer are still the only way to get many sites to work. Even running a virtual machine on Mac won’t work in many cases. Maybe Seoul could follow in New York City’s footsteps and hire a chief digital officer, or learn from Code for America and start up a Code for Korea.

There’s a lot of baseball on TV in the evenings, showing Korean professional league games. During the day, there are LA Dodgers and Texas Rangers games. If the Red Sox picked up Ryu or Choo, it would save me the cost of a MLB.TV subscription.

It seems increasingly strange when I read articles in the marketing and advertising trade press mentioning “global” topics. Usually, these articles are mostly about a US topic, with mention of a foreign country. It’s one thing to be a business tourist — it’s quite another to do business globally.

The cost of living here for an expat is steep and surprisingly higher than New York and San Francisco, but more affordable than Beijing and Shanghai. Times have changed quickly.

I wonder what will seem different after I’ve been here for a quarter…

Bringing digital innovation to the retail experience

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks in Seoul getting up to speed on my team’s capabilities as well as our assets across the network.

Last week, Cheil client Samsung introduced a new digital showroom experience called “CenterStage.” I just got here so I can’t take any credit for the build, but I can certainly be proud of everyone who was.

The concept was built by The Barbarian Group, based in New York and part of our network. My digital experience team in Seoul provided input into the prototype, along with our brand experience team, which designs physical spaces like Samsung retail stores and installations at CES, IFA, and MWC.

Barbarian Group’s Cinder is the installation’s underlying code, which won the first ever Cannes Grand Prix in the Innovation category. Samsung products are the heroes of course and looking good is easy when your client also happens to make massive 4K digital and LED TVs like the ones used in CenterStage.

Everything that can be digital will be, even the traditional home appliance department, which for years has looked more like a scrap heap than a 21st century shopping experience.

Week One at Cheil

Today marks the beginning of my first full week as chief digital officer at Cheil Worldwide. I arrived in Seoul last week and have been getting settled into my new role, meeting the teams resident at headquarters and starting to plan forward.

As word got out last week regarding my change of scenery, I appreciated all of the kind words and mentions on the interwebs. Now the hard work begins.

Digital division office

So what exactly is the role of a chief digital officer? Broadly speaking, this executive’s charter should include formulating digital strategy, implementing operational initiatives, and managing organizational transformation, all with a particular focus on emerging technologies. In a service-based company like Cheil, a top priority for a CDO like me is to expand our digital proficiency across the global network in order to deliver innovative client work. A related goal is to harness the inherent talent, creativity, and curiosity of our people and give them pathways to bring great ideas to life.

For further exploration on the role of a chief digital officer, you can request a copy of a related report I wrote for Constellation Research.

I’ll continue to publish thoughts here as we build, change, and explore the future of digital ideas that move.

Following footsteps, in reverse

Seoul from Namsan

Decades ago, my parents left Korea and immigrated to the United States. They were 30 years old, had no family in the US, and left almost everything behind in the country where they had grown up.

I have always respected the courage they had and wondered if I could hypothetically do the same. When I turned 30, I was working at PUMA in charge of global marketing operations as well as digital marketing, living in a Boston suburb with a top-rated school system, and making a decent salary (but shoveling a LOT of snow). I was settled and to follow in my parents’ footsteps seemed infeasible and inadvisable for the path that I appeared to be on.

But now, a half-century later, I have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my parents. It just happens to be walking back the way they came, as I’m moving to Seoul.

Revisiting the Connected Agency

In February 2008, I co-authored a Forrester report called The Connected Agency with Mary Beth Kemp (who is now at Ogilvy in Paris).

At the time, we observed that different types of agencies faced different challenges:

  • Traditional agencies were stuck in mass media mindsets
  • Digital agencies understood interaction but lacked branding chops
  • Specialists were creating new silos instead of integrating

Our solution was a model called The Connected Agency, focusing on three key shifts:

The Connected Agency

This prescription was based in no small part to the shifts underway in the digital marketing and social media landscape. While we didn’t get the answer entirely right (i.e. that agencies would integrate with communities), the shift from blasting out push messaging to facilitating consumer experiences is well underway.

Coincidentally, four years later my colleague Dave Gray wrote a book called The Connected Company. His take on why the future is podular:

If you want an adaptive company, you will need to unleash the creative forces in your organization, so people have the freedom to deliver value to customers and respond to their needs more dynamically. One way to do this is by enabling small, autonomous units that can act and react quickly and easily, without fear of disrupting other business activities – pods.

The future is podular

A pod is a small, autonomous unit that is enabled and empowered to deliver the things that customers value.

Six years after The Connected Agency, I think it’s time to revisit the model and incorporate the lessons learned from years of social business design.

Adios, Austin

Austin panorama

I moved to Austin four years ago to grow a company and it was acquired earlier this year.

The skyline has changed a bit since I’ve been here and it’s already very different from four months ago when the picture above was taken.

I’ve also enjoyed my time working remotely with Constellation and recently published my first piece of research, which points in the direction I’ll be heading.

More on that next week. But for the last week I’m here, I’ll enjoy some breakfast tacos, barbecue, and local brews.

Review: Connected by Design

Once in a while a big idea comes along that helps make perfect sense of what’s going on out there. As companies continue to struggle with digital disruption, R/GA’s Barry Wacksman has identified one (perhaps the) key pathway to success: functional integration. Now, along with Chris Stutzman, he has expanded on this thinking in a must-read book: Connected by Design.

Connected by DesignThis book expands on the concept of functional integration originally introduced to the world at Cannes in 2012 and explains how world-leading brands including Nike, Apple, and Google have driven digital business transformation by building connected ecosystems that enhance customer experiences, lock in loyalty, and create competitive advantage. I’ve been thinking about this idea for a few years now from a different angle: own the experience, own the future, watching how the companies above as well as Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have been building out their businesses.

The seven principles of connecting by design are:

  1. Utility is relevance
  2. Context is king
  3. Synergy captures customers
  4. Reimagine value creation
  5. Redesign value delivery
  6. Redirect toward value capture
  7. Lead like the world depends on it

Business leaders need to understand these principles in order to break free from legacy brand-building approaches including aimless product line proliferation, oversaturating media spend, and incremental innovation. Barry and Chris explain not only what is going on, but why the model works and how other brands can employ it, even if they are not in a high tech industry.

Connected by Design is a must-read book for anyone who wants to understand how to survive and thrive in the digital age. You can download and read the book’s introduction here. While you’re at it, check out Part 3 of this video to hear Barry explain the concept of Functional Integration. Congrats to Barry and Chris on a book well-written (and Karen Murphy at Jossey-Bass/Wiley on editing)!

The Case for the Chief Digital Officer

I’ve just published new research with Constellation focusing on the role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). CDOs are relatively new and many organizations desperately need them to help build capabilities and competitiveness.

In summary:

Digital disruption has affected every industry around the globe, bar none. Emerging technology has shifted the balance of power from long-standing institutions to newly formed entities that have been designed to capitalize specifically on the contemporary operating environment.

Constellation’s PESTEL (political, economic, societal, technological, environmental, and legislative) framework helps identify the major elements of the shift to digital, but today’s brands are not staffed or structured properly to succeed in this transformation.

A Chief Digital Officer is the leader to help companies navigate successfully through the current era of digital disruption. The CDO charter includes formulating digital business strategy, activating operational initiatives, and managing organizational transformation.

But the roles of CDOs are not one-size-fits-all; brands should hire and focus this executive on a critical set of industry-specific challenges.

The responsibilities of a Chief Digital Officer vary based on industry and company need; I’ve identified three major types of CDO segmented by business model and customer value proposition.

To download a summary of the report, click here.

For additional perspective, see Beyond the CIO/CMO – The Rise of the Chief Digital Officer from my former colleague Dion Hinchcliffe.

For Sale: A Craigslist Story

I put an item up for sale on Craigslist. This is what happened.

 

+13477044073: is your [item] still for sale 11:29 AM
Me: Yes it is 11:30 AM
+13477044073: (1/3) I am pleased with the price.so I would love to pay you via PayPal,the PayPal charges is on me,If my offer is accepted, Get back to me 11:31 AM
+13477044073: (2/3) with your PayPal email and your name or send me an invoice [email protected] so i can pay you right away , i would arrange pick 11:31 AM
+13477044073: (3/3) up after payment is received. Confirm the sales to me by removing it from post. 11:31 AM

 

So many flags. Grammar. Punctuation. “invoice.” “pay you right away.” The email address led to some more clues and the name “Charles W. Marthenze.”

And then this happened.

 

+17856705185: [item] still available for sale? 1:22 PM
Me: Yes 1:23 PM

 

+17856705185: Are you the first owner? 6:18 AM
Me: Yes, since 2001 7:01 AM
+17856705185: I hope the condition is exactly as described? 7:03 AM
Me: Of course. You’re welcome to swing by and see it in person. 7:05 AM
+17856705185: Ok,get back to me with your paypal name and e-mail so that i can proceed with the payment. 7:08 AM
Me: No, you should really come by and see it first. What part of town do you live in? 7:09 AM

 

+17856705185(1/6) I am an honorable military woman and you will receive your money cash in hand before this is picked up. However,it easy and free to 7:10 AM
+17856705185: (2/6) open a paypal account. Just go to www.paypal.com & register an account.Paypal is the world leading payment master that protects both 7:10 AM
+17856705185: (3/6) buyer/seller. We are on a secured transaction with paypal. Above all, it’s like instant cash. As soon as you open an account, get 7:11 AM
+17856705185: (4/6) back to me with the name and email that you linked with your paypal account and I will have your money sent asap.I feel more 7:10 AM
+17856705185: (5/6) comfortable sending my funds via paypal due to their various security measures at ensuring safe and secured transaction between both 7:10 AM
+17856705185: (6/6) buyer/seller. 7:10 AM

 

Me: What branch do you serve in? 7:11 AM
Me: Answer my question and I’ll give you my name and Paypal email. 7:16 AM
Me: Hello? 7:35 AM
Me: Are you still interested? 7:35 AM
Me: I have my name and paypal email ready for you. 7:36 AM
Me: I respect you, honorable military woman! 7:36 AM
Me: You can be the second owner! 7:36 AM
Me: What is your name and Paypal email? 7:36 AM
Me: Can I just send you the money directly? 7:37 AM
Me: I guess it would be pretty far to drive from Topeka to see the table in person, huh? 7:38 AM
Me: What do you think about the condition? 7:38 AM
Me: Why are you suddenly so non-responsive? 7:40 AM

 

Me: I just signed up for a Paypal account and I need you to tell me what to do next. 7:42 AM
+17856705185: Get back to me with your paypal name and email to enable me make the transfer of funds. 7:44 AM
Me: ok 7:44 AM
+17856705185: What is the delay all about I am still waiting to have your paypal email and name so that I can make the payment. 7:48 AM
Me: are you ready to receive the requested information, my official paypal name and email in order to enable you to make the transfer of funds? 7:48 AM
Me: oh, I’m so excited to sell this to you!!! 7:49 AM

 

Me: Can I trust you? 8:27 AM
+17856705185: Why not? of course yes. 8:28 AM
Me: OK great. So you just need my name and paypal email then and you will transfer the $500? 8:29 AM
+17856705185: Yes. 8:34 AM
Me: Charles W. Marthenze, [email protected] 8:34 AM
Me: Let me know when you’ve made the transfer! You can also text me at my other phone number: 347-704-4073 8:35 AM

 

+17856705185: You must be a lunatic,go jump into an active volcano and DIE. 8:41 AM

 

Social business and beyond.