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!

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.

Samsung CenterStage from The Barbarian Group on Vimeo.

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.

My take on the Sprinklr acquisition of Dachis Group

It’s a good fit; the core Dachis Group principles of social business design fit well with the Sprinklr concept of social experience management.

I’ll write more on the future later, but for now I’d like to take a look back. Over five and a half years, we built the world’s largest social business consultancy, completing six acquisitions, expanding to nine cities, and employing over 250 people. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Dachis Group

In July 2008, here’s what I wrote about what we were setting out to do:

Over the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been focusing on two major concepts: social computing and customer centricity. They fit very well together; becoming “socially successful” today requires that companies use process and technology to facilitate internal and external alignment. Your market is calling for this in a voice that gets louder every day. Unfortunately, many companies try to ignore what they’re hearing – and I see an opportunity in helping enterprises listen, learn, and take action.

Our yet-to-be-named firm will help companies and their new leaders unlock value from social computing within the enterprise, driving customer-centricity and effective engagement. The evidence of success will be found in culture and profit.

The core concept that resonated with our clients and drove the growth of our business was what we ended up calling “social business.”

The end game should be an entirely social business. Not just point solutions to improve existing processes or programs – new ways of connecting and collaborating. Business models will change. Customer-centricity becomes a moot concept, as “us” and “them” no longer exist.

We were successful in helping spark a global movement. In the beginning, we had to fight to win remnants of marketing and IT budgets. Today, businesses understand the need to shift into social business and have devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to prepare for the future. With the successful acquisition of Dachis Group, our part in the story of social business comes to a close and becomes part of a new emerging narrative.

I learned plenty of lessons along the way about myself and others. About SaaS and services. About winning business, retaining business, and losing business. About founders and employees. About hiring people and firing people. About VCs and bankers. About spending money and saving money. About acquiring and being acquired. I don’t have stories about private jets and private concerts, but I do have plenty of direct experience in helping companies engage their ecosystems and become better prepared for business success in the face of the information revolution.

Thank you to everyone who’s been part of the Dachis Group journey: our clients, employees, alumni, investors, business partners, and supporters-at-large.

Articles about startup life that I’ve found interesting.

Hewlett Packard garage


In July 2008, I took a job at a startup — a very different type of company than the large publicly traded corporations I had worked for while building my career. While we were a bit different than the classic “two guys coding in a garage” archetype, many of the articles I’ve seen written about navigating startup life apply just the same.

Corporate life is different when you’re building a startup. If you’re considering joining one, here’s a list of reads to help you understand how to think through elements like how much money you could make, founders vs. employees, corporate politics, et al.

What’s beyond social business?

Let’s face it. Great brands need to be thinking about what’s beyond social business.

Social Business

You might be thinking, “Wait a second…the social business era has just begun!” And if so, you’d be correct…

Let’s rewind it back:

  • 2003 – 2006: Early Adoption. Professionals viewed social media with curiosity and kept an eye out on the trajectory of corporate+consumer engagement. Despite early brand experiments like Randy Baseler’s Boeing blog, most companies were skeptical of the long-term impact of this emerging media/technology. However, some unlucky brands would eventually have no choice but to participate, as detractors used new outlets to broadcast their dissatisfaction – and mainstream media amplified the discontent. Early adopters including Charlene Li, Steve Rubel, and Robert Scoble explained to the world what needed to be done. 
  • 2007 – 2009: Early Majority. Brands decide to get involved. They’re getting educated, listening to consumers using new technology, rolling out internal collaboration platforms, and starting to consider how to integrate “social” into existing operations. However, as the global financial crisis caused the world to slide into the Great Recession, budgets were slashed and program momentum stalled. The silver lining to financial meltdown? Brands had to get clever with what they had on hand and also had time to think strategically about integrating social into their businesses. Thinkers like Jeremiah Owyang, David Armano, and Chris Brogan help move brands, big and small, put pieces together and move forward. I identified over 300 brands using social media marketing.
  • 2010 – 2012: Mainstreaming. Budgets start returning to brands and technology adoption starts to hockeystick. The term “social business” becomes increasingly adopted and companies go on record to report return on investment from their initiatives. The pace of social technology acquisitions and IPOs picks up as investors seek to monetize their bets. Social business leaders including Scott Monty, Michael Donnelly, Richard Binhammer, and Bonin Bough have pioneered the creation of corporate social media teams and the presence of this construct is now common for most brands.

So what now?

Social business certainly still has a way to go. Many brands still lack coherent strategy and tactics for coping with two-way engagement, not to mention internal change management. However, the trail has been blazed by pioneers like IBM, Coca-Cola, and Dell for others to follow. The mainstreaming of social business will continue throughout 2013, as brands focus on scaling programs externally and internally. Emerging challenges like SoMoLo (social/mobile/local) will occupy attention even further. Most approaches are focused on building four of five capabilities outlined by Umair Haque: singularity, sociality, spontaneity, and synchronicity. I see this playing out primarily in employee education and consumer engagement, with a focus on training, tools, and measurement.

But what’s beyond social business?

Solving for social at scale requires implementation of solutions for today, not tomorrow. That’s delivering on mainstreaming.

Along the way, the concept of “social business” risks losing meaning, similar to the reductive definitions placed on originally expansive concepts like BPR and CRM. Is the pinnacle of social business success equal to the presence of robust two-way communication? That’s difficult for many brands and a step forward for sure, but ultimately limiting. It’s only focused on plateauing on the top of the social media S-curve.

It’s critical that brands position themselves to participate and potentially own experience ecosystems. In a world of increasing connectedness, brands must employ a holistic point of view with regard to consumer relations, employee collaboration, and value chain management. This requires thinking through communications and how they’re aligned with products and services.

“Social” describes everything we do, but technology always underpins the change. As Deb Schultz has said: technology changes, humans don’t. The rise of social business has not been about figuring out humans – it’s been about how people and companies use new technology to communicate, transact, and entertain.


Social Business Index: Bringing the Left Brain into Social Business

To answer these questions, left-brain thinking comes into play. In the traditional marketing world, market mix modeling (MMM) – correlative measurement of multi-channel media spend and sales results – can provide some answers. In the digital world, web analytics allow marketers to track activity and fine tune efforts. In the “social” world, finding a solution to “tick and tie” numbers hasn’t been easy. The unstructured nature of social data creates challenges in automated analysis. Many vendors have access to data, but won’t monitor sources unless they have financial incentive to do so. Moreover, most social media measurement focused on keyword mentions – useful for calculating buzz levels, but missing a wider perspective on social business activity.

Dachis Group would like to promote more left-brain social business thinking and help brands get a holistic perspective on their positioning relative to competitors and others. Today, we are opening up our Social Business Index to the public, offering perspective on the world’s “most social” businesses.

Composite Index and Ticker

The Social Business Index (SBI) is the first lens into the Dachis Group big data analytics platform, covering over 26,000 brands from over 20,000 companies, including over 100 million social accounts worldwide. We’ve invested significant time and energy into the SBI, sourcing from APIs, data buys, data partnerships, scraping, crowd sourcing, company contributions, and our own internal data team. We have had over 100 companies participating in an early access program leading up to this launch to help harden the data and provide insights on different ways the data can be used.

The SBI offers an unbiased, objective approach to how “social” a company and its brands are, helping make sense of social media activity’s impact on business performance, starting with competitive positioning. This is the first in a series of lenses into the platform that will help brands answer performance questions that have been addressed to date by subjective analyses and self-reported results.

Public access is now available at – brands can register for more in-depth access to the tool. 

It’s time for left-brain thinking in social business.



The Dachis Group Collaboratory

At Dachis Group, we call our corporate blog the Collaboratory.

I cross-post all of my social business thoughts there and it’s where the collective intelligence of our company surfaces when our professionals can budget thinking time outside of client service obligations.

Over the past week or so, there’s been some great content posted in the Collaboratory, including:

If that content sounds useful and interesting, I encourage you to subscribe to the Collaboratory by email or RSS.

New dogs and old tricks

Shel Israel recently wrote an elephant-identifying post titled Why SM Consultants are Coming in From the Cold.


I call it an elephant-ID post because it focuses on industry mechanics that are all around us, but no one is talking about directly. To summarize what stood out to me in Shel’s post – social media is no longer highly disruptive and consultants who made themselves famous during the normalization now need to align with larger companies to help the early ideas scale in practice.

Jevon called this a period of “social media arbitrage” where the consultants that Peter Shankman hates and Shel calls know-nothings were the Sylvester McMonkey McBeans or carpetbaggers making money in this market shift. Thankfully it’s over and we’re moving on to the era of social business.

This normalization is hard to miss. Look no further than the Taco Bell crisis earlier this year and the adept use of social media to stop the crisis dead: it’s social business as usual.

Professionals have been departing for greener pastures all around. Looking at the career path of the social business professional, stability is key with volatility increasing in the market as a good reputation and high visibility are hard to build. People seem to be in constant motion. Chuck Hemann leaves WCG while Aaron Strout and Brad Mays join. Shwen Gwee and Zena Weist join Edelman Digital, Michael Wiley and Blagica Bottigliero leave. Kira Wampler and Shauna Causey depart Ants Eye View. Jeremiah is tracking these moves on a regular basis. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a war for talent.

And it’s not just individuals. The economic downturn led to an inflection point roughly last fall, where you could see the capitalist tendencies everywhere signaling social media’s “Summer of Love” era was over. It must be the money.

I was employee #1 at Dachis Group and it’s energizing to see how we’ve been leading the shift to social business. Today we’re the world’s largest social business consultancy. Profitable. Have delivered over 500 social engagement experiences. And that’s tiny compared to what we’re working on now.

But we need help – as Shel identifies, individuals can’t meet the demands of today’s market and even small companies are overutilized. Dachis Group needs to run with some “new dogs” – professionals who have fresh legs, energy, and a knack for social business, who know “old tricks” – that is, have been consulting strategically, managing accounts, and designing experiences since back in the day.

If that’s you, then consider joining us.