As part of my series about “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Are Traasdahl, Founder and CEO of Crisp, a data-sharing platform for the CPG industry.
Are has more than 20 years of experience in mobile and digital technology. He was the Founder & CEO of Tapad Inc. In 2016, Telenor Group acquired Tapad for $360M, making it the fifth largest venture-backed M&A exit in New York since 2009. Prior to Tapad, he founded Thumbplay, a mobile entertainment service that he grew to more than $100M in revenue in less than 3 years before he exited the company. The company, later acquired by Clear Channel, is now called iHeartRadio.
Traasdahl is a frequent contributor for outlets such as CNBC and Bloomberg News, and he has been featured in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Ad Age and other major news publications. He was named Global Startup Awards™ Founder of the Year in 2016 and EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was raised in Sør-Trøndelag, a small village of less than 10,000 people in Norway. My family was filled with idealists and activists for both social and environmental causes. I vividly remember my dad in his office writing thousands of letters on behalf of Amnesty International on his typewriter to help address injustices in the world. The path I chose as a tech and business entrepreneur was not necessarily my expected one.
After finishing my studies, I moved to Oslo and began working for PA Consulting Group. Telenor, one of the world’s largest mobile telecommunications companies, then approached me to work for them. At the time, Scandinavia was at the forefront of mobile technology and they eventually sent me to the U.S. to start a new company on their behalf. From there, I came to love entrepreneurship and technology and have been founding and building companies ever since.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I believe that establishing trusted relationships is the foundation for success, in business and in life. But when I first moved to America, I didn’t know anyone. I would work from about 4am to midnight every day, coming back home only to sleep. The doorman of my hotel finally came up to me and said, “Do you have any friends?” “No, not really,” I answered. And then he said, “Do you want to go out and grab a beer or something?” I realized that I needed a friend, and he was my first. So, a bit after that, I started getting one friend and then two friends. And that’s how I slowly built a network and a community in New York.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
After selling my last company, Tapad, my family and I had the privilege of traveling for 14 months to over 30 countries — it was truly the trip of a lifetime. During our travels, I witnessed first-hand the staggering imbalance of the food system through my children’s eyes, and this made a deep impression on me, certainly influenced by my upbringing. When we returned to the States, I began meeting with my serial technology partner Dag Liodden, who also grew up in a Norwegian family deeply passionate about social issues. After hundreds of hours of research and meetings with experts in the industry, we determined that the root cause of food waste is slow-moving, unused data. And that’s when we founded Crisp.
The food supply chain is ripe for a real-time, single-source-of-truth data solution to help address the mismatch of supply and demand that simultaneously creates growing food insecurity and waste. Dag and I personally invested an initial $12M to allow Crisp to focus on building world-class technology and products the right way. We are joined by an amazing team and partners in the food industry working together to solve this problem.
We’re founded on what we call a double bottom line approach. If our customers succeed, they drive more profits for themselves and revenue for us — and together we also contribute to solving one of the world’s biggest problems.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Crisp is an open-data platform for programmatic commerce. We’re on a mission to reduce food waste by enabling data-driven collaboration and automation in the retail supply chain.
Crisp leverages the power of the cloud to connect, normalize and analyze retail data sources to provide real-time insights and trends. Food suppliers, retailers, distributors and brokers use Crisp to manage supply more efficiently, reduce waste and grow their business.
Crisp is leading the retail industry toward a seamless programmatic commerce model that facilitates collaboration between all trading partners with unified, real-time data. With programmatic commerce, the food system can keep ahead of rapidly evolving consumer behavior, identify disruptions, deploy resources, predict traffic across channels, track inventory, and replenish both virtual and in-store shelves at speed and scale. The result will be a supply chain that is truly data-led, consumer-first, predictive, agile, and resilient.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
A major disruption to the retail industry recently was the rapid adoption of e-commerce, accelerated by the changing consumer behavior we saw as a result of the pandemic. In response, retailers and brands were forced to compress their 10-year digital transformation plans into a matter of months. Now, the retail industry must learn to thrive in an omnichannel world — one in which both brands and retailers have a 360-degree view of the consumer, can anticipate their wants and needs, and optimize product assortment and fulfillment to meet demand, all while providing a seamless experience across in-store and online experiences. It’s a huge challenge, but there’s a lot of opportunity involved for those who can adapt successfully.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Crisp made some changes to our priorities because of the pandemic. While our product initially focused on forecasting — understanding a clear picture of future demand to ensure accurate production and supply — we saw that the pandemic made forecasting based on previous years’ sales obsolete. Brands actually needed to know what was happening right now: everything from where their product was being sold, to where the product was in stock, to how much inventory was available at distribution centers and how fast products were selling in stores. So, we focused on arming brands with these real-time insights shared from their distributor and retailer partners’ data, which helps all parties involved have a clear understanding of what is happening and what to do next. One trend we saw in the pandemic was that partners who collaborated and shared data with each other more successfully navigated these changes and could respond and deploy solutions faster.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Things are going very well, and it’s a very exciting time for Crisp. We’re continuing to add brands and retailers with revenue ranging from $10M-$25B onto the Crisp platform and forming critical partnerships across the industry. Last month, we announced an endorsement from UNFI, the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor of health and specialty food in the US, as the chosen platform to help their network of supplier partners access real-time sales and supply chain data. Partnerships like these help us build connections across distributors, brands, and retailers, which creates a network effect. We’re also using advanced technologies like AI and Machine Learning to not only make data accessible but actionable.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
When we founded Crisp, we thought about the work culture we wanted to build as much as the product we wanted to build: a place where our team is supported and energized to do the most rewarding work of their careers. So it gave me great pleasure to announce that Crisp was named one of the year’s Best Workplaces in Inc. Magazine this year. Crisp was founded on the belief that we can make a positive impact in the world through efficiency and technology. Our goal is to create a work culture for our employees that is both collaborative and fulfilling for an entire career. Our first company value is that “our parents should be very proud of what we do.” We find that this can keep us moving forward even during challenging times.
One way we stay engaged as a team is by eliminating what we call “work waste”: all the things that take up our team’s time and energy during the day but aren’t necessary to real progress. We have eliminated internal email, have few regularly occurring meetings, and embrace asynchronous collaboration via tools like Slack and Confluence, so our team can focus on workflows that make them happiest and most productive. I believe this also makes our team nimbler and more adaptable when facing disruptions.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment: It’s better to test a lot of things to achieve a great idea, rather than be stuck to one initial plan or idea (which might be good, but probably not great yet). Your end result will be better because of the iteration and learning that comes from a more adaptive process.
- Innovate with small groups: Form dedicated groups focused on innovation, adaptation, and disruption. These groups don’t need to think about how new ideas will impact the existing business or be tied to the constraints of the old business (“Is the new thing going to reduce our margins or upset our existing customers?”). For the smaller team to be successful, they need to be able to think bigger and broader. You can figure out implementation and address constraints later.
- Co-create with customers: Find existing customers who need transformation and partner with them on innovative ideas. If you develop something together, you’ll arrive at a solution that will likely be useful for many other customers.
- Paint a clear picture: Develop a common understanding within the team of your desired future state. What is the world going to look like in ten years? Paint a clear visual picture that everyone can relate to and can see themselves in. The visual piece is key — it’s hard for people to understand a big idea that’s just in writing.
- Leverage best-in-class tools: Our team uses Trello boards and the Kanban methodology, which helps us organize projects in a way that makes it easy to move and pivot. They also enable short cycles of success and help you build cross-functional teams that can collaborate by visualizing project goals and tasks.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Moving from a small village in Norway and then coming to the US, I always felt like the underdog. But I decided that the only way to overcome that was to just work harder than everybody else. So, I would get up at 4 and 5 every morning. I never let that fear get in the way of what I knew I could do if I worked hard enough.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find Crisp at gocrisp.com, and keep track of what we’re doing via our social media and our blog. You can also find me on LinkedIn and on Twitter, where I will continue to share insights and experiences from Crisp.