In this episode of Recession-Proof, Alex Song is joined by Sam Mallikarjunan, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of OneScreen.ai. They discuss the power of out-of-home advertising, what you should do with your marketing budget as interest rates rise, and why every business should develop cross-functional alignment between finance, marketing, sales, and operations.
- The surprising cost efficiency of OOH
- Marketing with higher interest rates and CAC
- How the current fundraising environment should impact your marketing budget
What is Recession-Proof - a podcast by Ramp?
Welcome to Recession-Proof - a podcast by Ramp. Join us for in-depth, thought-provoking conversations with finance leaders, executives, and investors on the current state of the market and what this means for your business through 2022 and beyond. Hosted by Alex Song, VP of Finance & Capital Markets and Kimia Hamidi, Head of Savings at Ramp.
Sam Mallikarjunan Transcript
[00:00:03] Sam Mallikarjunan: It is not the case that there is not funding out there for good companies, but maybe you should do a thought exercise where you act like there is because it's no longer given that whatever our company is, is considered a good company. There's some happy middle between spending like drunken sailors on leave, which is actually a phrase that somebody used to describe the HubSpot way back in our early days. VC capital was cheap between that and wanting to bootstrap and have positive EBITDA and everything else like that.
[00:00:32] Alex Song: Welcome to Recession Proof, a podcast by Ramp. Join us for in-depth thought-provoking conversations with finance leaders, executives, and investors on the current state of the market and what this means for your business through 2022 and beyond. I'm your host, Alex Song. Sam, how are you?
[00:00:55] Sam: Doing well. I'm looking forward to being on a podcast that talks about more than just marketing and also talks about the finance aspect of it.
[00:01:03] Alex: That's awesome. Welcome so much to the podcast. Before we start, obviously, Ramp is a very, very happy customer of you guys. We've been working together now for quite some time. I know that the folks on our team has had a tremendous experience working with you. Why don't we start by talking a little bit about what the company does, then we'll delve a little bit into your background, and then we can talk a little bit about marketing, the company, the current environment, and we'll jump off from there.
[00:01:31] Sam: Ironically, we started the company on accident. It was originally a hackathon by some HubSpot alumni to help small businesses survive COVID lockdowns. We had the idea what if there was Google display network for the real world. Like Ramp, we'd never really done out-of-home before. I've bought billboards twice in my career, and once was just to piss off competitor. I've spent over $100 million on internet ads. When we did our pilot program and handed out $30,000 to small businesses in Boston, that was great. Enough nothing, it's the most fun I've had doing marketing since they invented social media. People like me ruined marketing.
We all became spreadsheet jockeys, just doing tests on Google AdWords. That's what the company does now, is it's a platform to help people, most of whom have never done out-of-home, who have done Facebook and Google ads, et cetera, help them deploy data-driven performance-oriented campaigns in a four-dimensional context, which is new to most people. It's been fun working with your team as well.
[00:02:29] Alex: Very cool. Maybe for those of our listeners who don't know a ton, I know I don't, know a ton about marketing. Maybe you can run through some of the major categories. It sounds like digital is one category, out-of-home is another, direct mail, you also mentioned. What are the different major categories? What does it include? What does it exclude? What should we think of when we think OneScreen.ai out-of-home? What does that really mean?
[00:02:54] Sam: Out-of-home is the worst name ever for a category. It's the only one that defines itself by what it isn't instead of by what it is. It also includes things like sports advertising, venues, and events. If you're doing a campaign at South by Southwest, and you want to fly a bunch of drones in a QR code shape over the city of Austin, that's all out-of-home advertising. The other big categories are generally direct mail and print, such as newspaper or magazine advertising, broadcast advertising, television, terrestrial radio.
All of those other categories have been slowly dying as they've been replaced by either consumer behaviors shifting. People get their news more online now than by print newspapers, or by being replaced by digital modern analogs. Broadcast TV is dying almost at the exact same rate that connected TV and OTT, things like Roku, and Fire Stick, and Google Chrome are increasing. Then there's the pay-per-click channels, which is what people like me have historically specialized in, Facebook ads, Google ads, LinkedIn ads. None of what I talked about requires using cookies and mobile device IDs and such, except the people think their phone is listening to them because Facebook ad targeting is so creepy. It's not listening to you by the way. Their AI is actually just that good.
[00:04:14] Alex: That's fascinating. There's so much I think we can delve into. We have so little time. How did you get into this whole thing? Would love to drill into your background a little bit and what led you to out-of-home.
[00:04:27] Sam: I was, ironically, a college dropout. I don't have a bachelor's degree myself, even though I'm a faculty chair at the school I dropped out of. Ended up at this company called HubSpot. I ended up at HubSpot. I was there for almost seven years. Then my last year there, I was a fellow, which if it sounds like it's a made-up title, it's because it is. I wasn't ready to quit yet. They weren't ready to fire me. My wife and I lived in a van for a year, drove around, hit 49 US states. I was teaching at Harvard and at USF, and also just lecturing at various events on inbound marketing.
It's been an interesting journey from the late 2000s where no one really knew what inbound marketing was and how it was supposed to work, to now, it's actually taken for granted to the point where marketers are myopic and don't want to try anything else. They just spend more money on Facebook ads and Google is the new equivalent of just buy more newspaper as was 15 years ago.
[00:05:25] Alex: That's fantastic. Here at Ramp, I know that we are also happy customers of HubSpot. We've been using it for quite some time. That's interesting because when you think HubSpot, you clearly think digital. You definitely don't think of out-of-home. Tell us a little bit about the transition and what has it meant for you in terms of the day-to-day, where your focus has been, and how the strategy has shifted from the before to the now.
[00:05:53] Sam: I'll be honest, before we did this hackathon to help small businesses, I had never really thought about out-of-home. This is incredibly rich and complex, and this is actually the challenge, is like how we had to teach people what a search engine was before we could teach them how to do blogging and get them using those tools. We had to teach them how to think about the real world. It's got a lot more potential, but it also has a lot more complexity.
That, I think, has been the reason why a lot of larger brands haven't adopted it. It's the newer, what they call challenger brands, the early adopters, the innovators, who a lot of them are startups, but they aren't going to crack into the Facebook ad space. It's way over-optimized. You're not going to be Liberty Mutual's Facebook ads team, but you can do a really, really great job in medium where the incumbents aren't.
That's one of the reasons it's been so popular with crypto companies, FinTech companies, direct-to-consumer goods companies that are new, these challenger brands, is because it is the battle space for the consumer's mind share that the large incumbents are ironically ignoring, considering it's the oldest marketing medium in history.
[00:07:05] Alex: It's fascinating that you specifically called out those segments. You mentioned crypto, you mentioned FinTech, you mentioned direct-to-consumer. If I were to think of major, top-of-mind out-of-home campaigns, FTX arena, SoFi arena, the Casper ads on New York subways, now, would all of those be considered rather outs marquee, highly visible out-of-home campaigns? That's quite literally the industry that you're currently tackling.
[00:07:39] Sam: Yes, there's a bunch of different tactics. Like I said, you can do enterprise account-based marketing, or you can do more of an audience-based approach where you're trying to drive site traffic visitation, or you can do the big splashy takeovers. Naming rights to a sports venue may or may not be the best way to allocate budget, but all that falls into the offline marketing or out-of-home space. Most of those companies too, this is our challenge is what we're solving as a company, they use spreadsheets, they use post-it notes. The venues you would be familiar with are running their businesses on Google Sheets.
The business has grown consecutively for over 200 and some odd years, other than the one quarter where people were literally not allowed to go out of their homes. It has pretty good track record of success. The only reason it's seeing digital transformation now is because being blunt, companies like Ramp, aren't going to send faxes to 40 different companies in order to deploy a campaign and then have absolutely no measurement or metrics around how it performed. In fact, if you're a CMO with a good relationship with your CFO, your CFO won't let you.
[00:08:46] Alex: Actually, let's double click on that comment about the pandemic because that was such a specific apparition. I just remember when the pandemic first hit, I was stuck at home, a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. No one was going outside, aside from the occasional grocery and whatnot, or food delivery. I'd love to hone in on that. What happened during the pandemic? Were there metrics or specific KPIs that you keep track of? How do you keep track of impressions? How do you keep track of ROI? Did the price for out-of-home literally go to zero during, I don't know, maybe those three to six-month period? How did you measure the impact of those very extraordinary couple of months?
[00:09:29] Sam: One, without the pandemic, we wouldn't be here. Andre was engineering executive at Wayfair. He's our CTO and my co-founder. We were all doing other things before we tried to do this hackathon to say, what if your TV paid you, basically was the concept, which is called place-based CTV, which is a subset of out-of-home advertising. We weren't really thinking about out-of-home when we launched this. We were just thinking about, okay, there's this person who has this space who can no longer monetize it the way they wanted to like a barber shop that I had in Boston.
That same phenomenon was going on for everybody who owned a billboard or a stadium or anything else like that. Not what we originally thought of, but it's still all exactly the same is he could only have four out of his eight seats filled during some of the pandemic occupancy restrictions at the barber shop. You could have nobody in a stadium for a while. They were really struggling to deal with the same issues. The way the industry measures impressions is through a nonprofit organization called Geopath, which does their best to estimate what the impressions are.
It's an evolution of the Traffic Audit Bureau, where you literally had somebody who would sit there with a counter and count cars. Their more modern, sophisticated way to do it is actually to reframe thinking of out-of-home advertising or media like you think of real estate. The tools we use are more used by commercial real estate companies. They use mobile device data, consumer data. They use census data. It doesn't require the invasion of privacy, a lot of the internet ads that Facebook ads and Googles of the world that require because inherently, we're thinking about an audience, not trying to target an individual.
Google's trying to figure out the math behind, how do we not be creepy? How do we not target an individual? Through out-of-home, it's inherent, you have a shared experience that you're trying to target. We talk about the buyer's journey as marketers, and that's always been an abstract concept, especially on the internet. We think about awareness consideration, intent to purchase, et cetera. Now, we think about the buyer's journey as a literal thing, you go places to shop, you go places to eat.
If you wanted to reach people in the early days of HubSpot, if you wanted to sell something to HubSpot, we all went to the same dive bar after work. It's called Courtside. It's closed now, unfortunately, and you could have run ads in there and you would've reached the entire executive leadership team of HubSpot, but you have no way of knowing that when you only think about your relationship with a target audience, through the context of these tiny screens, either a mobile device or a desktop or a laptop.
Once you expand your thinking beyond that, it opens up a lot of options and you start to think about, okay, how does this person literally, who has a life move around the world? What roads do they take to go to and from work? What are the places do they shop? Then you can design that experience. I think that's been the big realization for me is one, just breaking my mind free of this is the only context I need to care about. Then two, understanding that a four-dimensional context where you have not just the two dimensions, but you have the ambient marketing that's around me. You talked about the stadium, there's also ads that you can run in the bathroom and all kind of stuff like that.
Then thinking about the time, when are you reaching someone? I won't dive into this data point, but there are 3% of people who go to the liquor store and then go to work. We want advertiser, who's a liquor store. I'm super interested to find out who those people are. In general, if you're a liquor store, it's not going to tell you that you should try and reach people when they're on their way to work. That's again more of how do we think about the movements of groups of people around an actual physical area. That's out-of-home and it's a lot of fun. It's better than running your 5,000 debut test on Google AdWord anyways.
[00:13:12] Alex: That's fascinating. Maybe we can switch gears a little bit. I promise at the top of the episode that we spend a little bit of time talking about macro. The markets have changed quite a bit. 2022 has been a pretty crazy year with the market volatility and the new funding environment. I know that there's been quite a bit of shatter about cost cutting, managing budgets, re-forecasting. I know for a fact that my team here at Ramp is currently undergoing one of these exercises today.
Any observations from your vantage point in terms of how companies and customers and suppliers are reacting to the new normal, and what is that doing in terms of impacting marketing? It could be out-of-home, it could be digital in any observations about the broader market environment.
[00:14:00] Sam: I'll open with a caveat, which is, I think that all of us get a pass for not seeing 2020 coming like Bill Gates can do all the TED talks he wants about like eventually there's going to be a pandemic, but none of us were really factoring that into our short-term forecast. The current economic environment, we shove trillions of dollars into the economy. It was going to come out of as inflation on the other side, we had over lots of people being employed and very small unemployment numbers. This macro environment was far more predictable.
I feel like a lot of people used 2020 as just an excuse to forget that we are professionals and have financial operational discipline and should know what we're doing. I think those two situations are very separate. Everybody gets a pass for whatever happened to you in 2020. I think in 2022, we were under a lot of pressure to raise more money last year. In fact, I wrote a rant in the Boston Business Journal because the press told us that our $4.5 million seed round was too small to write about. I pointed out because you celebrate raising money, not efficiently leveraging money.
Just like we built a generation of companies on the assumption that there would always be cheap customer acquisition. We built a generation of companies on the assumption that interest rates would always be near zero. That was never going to continue to be a thing forever. We also built a generation of companies on the assumption that capital would be so freely and widely available that extremely high valuations would continue to be the norm and that we could sustain really long payback periods.
Just because somebody's willing to give you $100 million valuation, if you've got $100,000 a year in revenue, you shouldn't take it. There's something to be said for not taking money. That then creates unreasonable expectations. You're not going to grow into your valuation until you've probably run out of cash. This is the issue a lot of startups are facing right now.
In addition, you still have this macro situation where advertising costs, customer acquisitions getting more expensive. It's why companies who have raised around recently are going to need to raise around in the future, are looking at things like offline media. You've got to grow. You've got to get more customers. Your investors gave you money not to throw pizza parties. They gave it to you to make the company more valuable. The methods of doing that have become more saturated and challenging.
The macro-environment for fundraising one, I think anybody who's actually listening to this podcast, you are suddenly significantly more popular with VCs than you were six months ago. You may not realize yet, but if you have those conversations. I actually was a little frustrated, my team has combined centuries worth of operating experience. Then suddenly, a few months ago, now the VCs are like, "Huh, maybe we shouldn't give $20 million to a first-time entrepreneur who's never done a budget before." The operational and financial discipline operators with a capital O that is valued a lot more now than it was a few months ago.
I think for the right companies, the money is still there. The right companies who are going to make the right decisions about how much they want to raise, what valuation they're willing to accept, what they think is reasonable, how they're going to deploy it, maybe shortening your payback period. Even if that means sacrificing short-term growth, or if you have a very profitable business model, your slack, and you've got 150% net dollar retention doubling down because the best weather to fight in is terrible weather because your opponent is miserable.
I think that's the strategic decision that everybody's having to make right now is as you think about the availability of capital, do you want to raise any, if you do, you need to be able to use it very efficiently and responsibly. They're not just writing checks because you've got a cool metaverse idea. Once you do raise that money, or with the money that you have on hand think very carefully. This is why I was excited when you invited me on this podcast, because nobody ever wants to talk about finance and marketing, have a relationship with your CFO and understand what payback period we can afford.
You can grow yourself out of business. You got to payback period of 24 months. You're spending as if you have that much cash on hand, you can actually grow yourself out of business. That is especially in the current fundraising environment, potentially very, very dangerous. Be rational, be reasonable, be professional finance operators, and everybody's going to be just fine. Let's not all pretend this is some crazy situation that none of us knew was going to happen. We should be prepared and we also know what to do with these kinds of situations, as opposed to the pandemic where I was like, "I don't know, maybe we're going to end up fighting over the last can of tuna fish in this mad max ocean.
Now, I think we understand what the forces at play are better.
[00:18:59] Alex: Yes, absolutely. I think that efficiency payback ROI is something that hopefully our listeners are now much more mindful of, in the new normal and hopefully are chipping away at that. I think that data analytics is something that we internally have spent a lot of time investing in and that's hopefully going to help us make informed decisions and make the right decisions strategically. If at all, any reactions or consternation or concerns or pull back from the various sectors or from various segments of your customer base.
[00:19:39] Sam: It's actually those companies that I was mentioning whose business models were fundamentally built on macroeconomic factors that are no longer the case. The cheap availability of capital or extremely low-interest rates or extremely cheap customer acquisition, those types of companies are struggling right now and offline media as this unexplored universe of customer acquisition that's much less expensive and more effective than people think it is, is awesome and I encourage people to explore it, but it's not a solution for everything.
That's mostly where we've seen the strain is in a lot of those companies that were built on the macroeconomic dynamics that don't exist anymore. I will say this, like, there's always been somewhat of, let's be honest, an adversarial relationship between finance and basically every other part of the company.
[00:20:31] Alex: You're telling me. [laughs]
[00:20:33] Sam: For those who are familiar with HubSpot, everybody might not be, we had marketing positioning like make marketing people love, make love not spam, attracts don't interrupt. We had very positive affirming brand positioning, but that was a company built by a bunch of MIT Sloan nerds. They were just really, really efficient at managing cash and capital. I remember being in a meeting and at one of the units I was in charge of I think was nonprofits had an LTV to CAC of 7 and the CFOs like bring that down to three and grow faster. I'm like, "Cool, awesome. I know what to do with that information."
To treat the finance team and the finance leadership as if it's an adversarial relationship or to not actually proactively reach out to them. To me, the metaphor has always been like, you're yelling at the person who's sitting in the top of the ship's sales being like, "Hey, there's an iceberg up ahead," or, "Hey, there's land over there that's just filled with random gold." Why are we ignoring or not creating clear lines of communication alignment with a partner whose objectives are fundamentally aligned with our own? Yes, we get yelled at about not filling expense reports out properly, unless you're using Ramp, shameless pitch for Ramp. Campaign to do things the old way.
It's one of those things you didn't know you needed until you had it, but if it actually has decreased the number of times that our finance team yells at people at our company, which I think should be like a KPI. It frees up their time and our time to focus on things like capital efficiency, payback period, how do you set a customer acquisition target against the lifetime value of infinity if your net dollar retention's over 100%, that's a fun math problem. That's the kind of stuff that the finance team can help the marketing team or the sales team and just the go-to-market team in general.
You can help them solve its questions that go to market people generally don't even know to ask. Much less would we know how to solve it. To this day, I don't know why the CFO at HubSpot told me to bring my LTV to CAC down to 3 and grow faster. Well, I know generally why, but there was obviously we were sitting on cash and there was some reason that I didn't have to sit there and analyze that led him to that conclusion. That meant I got to hire people. I got to increase spend. I got to go dominate in Latin America with growth there.
That is the real magic of HubSpot for those who are fans. They've now like a $15 billion company, something like that. It's because they're ridiculously good at aligning between the personas within the business, the unit economics of the business, and the finance teams and the strategy that's aligned to that. They're just really good at math, even though they make love not spam.
[00:23:05] Alex: I think what you described is very profound. Number one, because I think cross-functional alignment between finance and marketing, finance and sales, finance, and operations, et cetera. I think that's just so important is actually cut off in today's environment. I think that's an extremely profound concept. I think here at Ramp, we're working on and hopefully, folks are appreciating how important that is. I think the second thing that you mentioned, which is extremely profound is just the concept of growing yourself out of business.
I think this is something that people, especially folks who are listening to this podcast probably should and can appreciate more to internalize, which is your company could be making money, you might be solvent from a balance sheet perspective and from an equity capitalization perspective, but you have to pay attention to working capital. You have to pay attention to the fact that you could just spend more money than you have. If your assets and liabilities have mismatched duration or if you grow too much beyond the capabilities of your balance sheet at a single moment in time, you might start defaulting on your payments. You might grow yourself out of business.
I think that's extraordinarily profound and for what it's worth amongst even our customer base, we have thousands of SMBs and lower middle market companies, a few enterprises, that's a comment that we're definitely hearing more and more now as well from our customer base which is, here's something that we didn't really think that much about maybe 6 months ago or 12 months ago, which is just working capital. Now, people are becoming much more circumspect about cash conversion cycle and payback periods.
Coming back to a lot of the concepts that you were discussing as well. It's extremely profound and people should have been thinking about it for a long time. Now, obviously, more and more people clearly are thinking a lot more about it. It's much more top of mind.
[00:25:09] Sam: For those who remember 15 years ago, when Salesforce did their whole no software thing and the SaaS industry was born, investors thought we were insane because we were saying, "Hey, we're going to spend 18 times more than the customer's going to pay us on a monthly subscription and it's an annual contract, but trust us. Don't worry. They're going to be around on month 19 and we're going to profit after that." When you phrase it like that, it sounds insane, but we built an entire industry, entire economics model off of that.
The same thing is true now. My favorite Jeff Bezos quote, "We don't solve for percent margins, we solve for absolute dollar free cash flow per share." If you can do that by lowering margins, you generally should, some vendors on the supply side let us pay them with our Ramp card. We're like, one, thank you for the cashback, two, thank you for the extra 30 days of cash hold. That lets us keep our margins low, lets us use more budget towards the media spend so the customer's more likely to be successful and so it creates that virtuous cycle.
Those concepts of Halligan who's this former CEO and the founder of HubSpot, had this shtick he would do where like you've got a box and your box is this money making machine and you put money into the machine and magical things happen on the inside and then money comes out and the volume and velocity of the inputs and the outputs is the enterprise value of your business. Then inside the box is all the magic that is whatever your business model is.
When you think about it that way, which is fundamentally a finance or an economics question. What's the value that we're creating? You can measure weekly active users, but what does that correlate to in terms of the growth of the business? What does this magic box that you put a dollar into, magic stuff happens on the inside, and then many, many more dollars come out, and how fast that can happen? It's definitely something that I think a lot of VCs are taking more seriously now, a lot of startups are taking more seriously now, executives need to take a lot more seriously now.
It is not the case that there is not funding out there for good companies, but maybe you should do a thought exercise where you act like there is because it's no longer a given that whatever our company is, is considered a good company. There's some happy middle between spending like drunken sailors on leave, which is actually a phrase that somebody used to describe the HubSpot way back in our early days. VC capital was cheap between that and wanting to bootstrap and have positive EBITDA and everything else like that.
Again, that entire sentence, if you take that to most of your CMOs, they will not know most of the terms we just used. Much less understand their implications. I think this is what I have always valued and our chief [unintelligible 00:27:52] used to be my boss at HubSpot actually. She was the first VP of marketing. It's like bowling with the bumpers up. Just tell us what boundaries we can operate within because we don't want to worry about EBITDA. We want to worry about what alliterative phrase we can use on the billboard that's going to really stick in people's minds.
Again, literally coffee mug of billboards from a company called Buc-ee's, two reasons to stop number one and number two. That's great copy. That's what I want to spend my time working on, but I can't do that unless I have a solid grasp on how that fits into the magic box of bringing money in, money going out, and the volume and velocity of how that goes.
[00:28:34] Alex: There you go, ladies and gentlemen, how do we recession-proof a company and the right way to interact between marketing leaders, finance, and other folks on the executive team? One last question I want to leave you with is potentially for the rest of 2022, maybe you can hit us with one thing maybe that's keeping you up at night and one thing that you're extremely optimistic about. Not going to force you to make any predictions, but what are you focused on right now? What's top of mind for you personally? One positive and one negative.
[00:29:05] Sam: One of the things keeping me up at night or that I'm concerned about with the macroeconomic environment that we have. Things like FinTech and in particular things like buy now pay later were just coming into their own. The idea that you can use specific information asymmetry. Somebody has paid their Facebook ads bill on time, every time for 10 years. It makes them a very good credit risk if they're trying to buy a billboard from clear channel.
That kind of information is symmetry and banks have never been able to price that into loans that they make invoice factoring. It's super expensive because it's highly generalized. It has to be based on business history. That whole notion of how do we solve for the volume and velocity of cash through an ecosystem? It was really cool companies like Capchase were working on like how do we help SaaS companies accelerate their earnings because somebody sign a 12-month contract. For some percentage of fee will advance that, increase the cash flow of the company.
It was helping customers buy better, buy more easily buy faster. It was helping companies grow faster because they were able to accelerate their cash flow. Unfortunately, many new industries, it was started during an era where the timing was right. Interest rates were near 0% for quite a long period of time. Now that is changing. The availability of capital and interest rates, the ability to have really, really cheap capital while we figure this out, like how does this pricing work in the FinTech, the [unintelligible 00:30:42] space? That's really disappointing and that worries me. I hope that industry figures out a way to get smarter faster and deal with the increasing costs of capital and interest.
In terms of what I'm looking forward to, I've always believed that when analyzed on a long time horizon doing the right thing is generally also good for business. I think we proved this with inbound marketing at HubSpot, I was very proud I think it was 2015, the search volume for inbound marketing exceeded the search volume for cold calling. There are memes and jokes about how we don't want to get people calling us at our homes and we see now that same trend with data privacy and how we want to be marketed to, how we want our information to be used.
I'm optimistic that the world is going to start, social and political pressure is going to start forcing companies to think about the ways in which they are messaging and marketing to their consumers, and forcing networks and mediums to think about how they're monetizing it. Google and Facebook are making a lot less money now because they can't steal your data. Out-of-home advertising has groups of audiences so that the math is much easier, but you still want to be able to tell a data story.
It can just be one to many instead of one to few, but I also don't lose sight of how we originally started this and the thesis that we had was how would it change the world if the world's most targeted marketing medium wasn't Google or Facebook, but it was, for example, a small business owner. What if the screen in my barber shop could know a lot about me, I mean really, really smart? It could make lots and lots of money, but the screens in the airport were dumb and didn't know anything about me because I don't really care about the airport making more money.
What if we had that granular control over how our data was essentially spent, in terms of how it was monetized by the people who own a physical space? I think we're moving in that direction carrot and stick, the stick being that the governments and societies are forcing us to, otherwise, we're just not going to be able to have any data. Then the carrot being that it turns out that you have much better performance when you have people opt into sharing their data, when they understand why their data's being used. People still to this day think their phone is listening to them because the ad, it's not like we've checked Facebook's AI is just that good, but it creeps them out.
If they understand why they're seeing a message if they understand, if they find it credible, if they don't feel like their privacy has been invaded it actually does increase the ROI, and actually increases the willingness people to give you even more information. I'm really optimistic about that. I think I mentioned earlier, my first webinar for the industry I opened with the line, why does sci-fi always portray us out-of-home as a dystopian hell hall, like Blade Runner, Minority Report et cetera. Sci-fi is a pretty good predictor of the future.
In general, people don't think marketers are going to be responsible with the tools that we have today. I think that that is the result of just incredibly uncreative thinking on the part of marketers and brands. I think that that doesn't have to be the future. It's not the future any of us want to build, not the future, any of us want to live in. I actually think it will be a less ROI, positive future to be able to like scan your eyes and say your name and stuff like that. Far less ROI positive than being able to create experiences that consumers actually want to have.
Pessimistic. I really hope we can find a better way to manage cash in this country than banks and invoice factoring and what we've done in the past. I think that the FinTech and space was just beginning to really make things better for companies like mine. Optimistic. I think that the world is being pushed and pulled towards having more profitable customer acquisition models by treating consumers better.
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