As part of my series about “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Herrera.
Paul Herrera is The Chief Operating Officer & Co-founder at Maven Road, a global business intelligence firm specializing in consumer insights, social listening, audience analysis, and brand perception studies. Paul leads new project development at Maven Road, focusing on those that require significant technical expertise in planning and execution. His work designing custom solutions for clients and his efforts to keep the company on the cutting edge of developments in social media has helped solidify Maven Road’s reputation as a firm of constant innovation. In his spare time, Paul is an avid runner and enjoys reading.
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 started my studies at the University of Alberta; I obtained my Bachelor of Commerce degree in Finance. After I finished my studies in Canada, I completed a Master of Business Administration at Concordia University in Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations. I also met a certificate program on management at Harvard Business School Online.
First, I worked in technology companies and pharma industries managing operations for a couple of years; until my partner and I had the opportunity to build Maven Road.
A business intelligence firm focused on deciphering big data and creating actionable insights that enable our clients to develop and maintain strategic market leadership.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I wouldn’t call this something funny, but we took on consumer research related to social media when we started our business. Our approach focused a lot on channel formation; we had a very obtuse view of the consumer’s voice in digital channels and only concentrated on understanding specific social media. We were very much relegated to only having a piece of the information, and our impact was limited. We lived in a bubble where we understood that behavior was only limited to specific channels, and it always had to connect to a brand directly. At that moment, we didn’t understand the consumer and how they can connect with a brand.
However, we quickly learned that analyzing social networks or digital channels goes beyond the direct connection of an individual or person with a brand. From the brand’s point of view, sometimes we are often biased in thinking that user conversations always connect to the brand, product, or service, but sometimes the footprint or the tiny clues that consumers leave go far beyond that.
Still, they see digital channels as a way to voice their anguish or frustration or their love for a particular brand, and many times they are not directly talking about your product. So, to listen to a consumer, you have to develop a different mindset and seek to understand his preferences, consumption habits — information that allows you to go beyond demographics and truly understand who the consumer is.
None of us can 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?
Yes, there are a few executives from Google that trusted our work from the beginning. Our first significant project was with Google Ads. They hired us to determine the impact that positive or negative commentary could have on acquiring potential corporate clients.
The research was remarkable; our team identified the connections that allowed us to understand how user comments can impact advertising strategies. This project was essentially a stepping-stone for Maven Road, and we are grateful for it.
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?
The work we did for Google Ads made us realize the amount of disconnect that exists in terms of consumer needs. Our vision was born from the curiosity we had to interconnect different sources of information and integrate and connect data gathered from consumers’ online and offline behavior to generate a more comprehensive view of solutions.
I agree that purpose-driven businesses are more successful in many areas, and we work on this daily. Having a corporate purpose and not implementing it within the organization is the equivalent of purchasing a ticket to your dream destination but never getting on the plan.
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?
We help our clients obtain consumer information that can often go unnoticed. We find connections between different consumer touchpoints that are often not explored, and we help them understand other trends or correlations between different consumer behavior patterns.
The data can provide information that helps determine what elements stimulate the consumer and lead them to something that a product, a brand, or a service can offer; it’s all about connecting with the consumer and their real needs. We provide interconnecting information from consumer data points to corporations that sometimes see it in a limited way.
Which technological innovation has disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
The development of machine learning processing capabilities and various artificial intelligence models have significantly improved operations in the industry, making it possible to input information into systems and models that help scale how data is calculated and used.
But these innovative technologies have also presented challenges because it’s not always clear how to apply them strategically.
Companies that prioritize data usage and analysis understand the value of these new tools because they provide the data necessary to understand clients and identify opportunities that ultimately inform business decisions and drive strategy.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
There will always be disruption and, thus, always a need to pivot and adapt. At Maven Road, we constantly innovate and work tirelessly to learn about new technologies and how to best apply them for optimal results for our teams and customers.
We understand that we need new knowledge and infrastructure to address business and marketing challenges for global corporations.
One of the ways we have pushed ourselves to innovate is by forming strategic partnerships with other companies with specific areas of expertise that can further elevate our work. For example, Sprinklr has helped create, manage, and optimize valuable social experiences for our clients. This tool has provided us a complete, integrated, and collaborative set of social capabilities to offer the best services; nowadays, Sprinklr is one of our leading data providers to pivot the new technological innovation.
It has been exciting to see our partnership with Sprinklr evolve throughout the years, from a tool to a consulting arm to a great partner to have within corporate endeavors.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Our “Aha moment” came from combining all available data into something more holistic to help companies connect the data and inform business strategies.
I think it all stemmed from the overwhelming amount of unstructured data available from social media. Suppose a company wants to understand what consumers are saying about its products, the sentiment towards the brand, or what motivates consumers to buy a product; that’s a lot of information to analyze and apply strategically. That’s where we come in; we want to help these companies by synthesizing all available data into actionable information that will help make strategic business decisions.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Our firm has grown a lot over the years. Our main advantage is that we have the expertise and tools to develop quality products in a short amount of time. We have a talented team and internal know-how that we have been building for the past four years. Our processes have been validated by leaders in the field, including Google artificial intelligence engineers, top-level marketers, and many more.
At Maven Road, our products offer consumer intelligence on user conversations and behavior related to our client’s services, products, or competitors. Our services cover a wide range of capabilities to understand consumers, such as Netnographic Research, Social Listening, Trend Tracking Monitoring, BI & Data Visualization, and Machine Learning, just to name a few. As a result, we unlock potential by transforming unstructured data into executive-ready, actionable insights.
We can connect data science with social science research, such as anthropology and sociology. We look for ways to validate the technology, business needs, and consumer understanding with a scientific background but from a human perspective. For the company, the humanities are essential.
We work every day to improve our services thanks to the expertise of our international teams and their different capabilities; currently, we have more than 100 team members working on consumer intelligence products for our clients. We prioritize our clients and take the time to get to know them and have a clear understanding of their goals and aspirations.
Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you started this pivot?
Another “Aha moment” was when I had the opportunity to measure the impact of offline surveys on consumers’ interests. During my experience with Google, one of our clients, the leader of the G-suite marketing team, taught me the value of those kinds of research tools; they did consumer panels with different groups of people around the world to understand what they think of a brand.
I had the opportunity to do “silent surveys,” a way to survey consumers without realizing it. That allowed me to understand the consumer and learn that we need to connect the offline info you get about them with the online data you can get from social media; that was a huge learning experience.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
During disruptive periods, the most critical role of a leader is to be an effective, proactive communicator. It is crucial to convey the commercial vision of the organization to team members. Sometimes the disruption leads to a path that wasn’t on the plan. If there is no effective transfer of information to all areas of the organization, there may be a disconnect between operations and management. The business opportunities we have can generate confusion and chaos If I do not communicate our vision effectively to my corporate body. That’s why I think communication is so fundamental.
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? Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I’ve found that it’s most important to be transparent about the company’s business expectations, be direct with our team, and encourage openness. We strive to keep every member of the team informed of changes and updates that may occur. I also believe in trying to create a team organization with as little hierarchical structure as possible.
A positive culture and climate are crucial to maintaining morale during difficult times. No matter how uncertain things maybe, a true leader finds the opportunity in every situation and models that mindset to the team. Our leaders strive to set an example and be optimistic and encourage team members to engage and share. Building connections and improving the dynamic between team members enriches the work and enhances the result.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Sometimes companies feel very comfortable and confident with the “status quo.” I think it’s essential to develop an organizational culture to adapt and reformulate different patterns and methodologies that were probably not connected to your earlier processes.
Many disruptive technologies can change processes, methods, and information systems, leading to disorganization. As a team, we need to have the ability to adapt to a new approach and also new technologies. Therefore, it is necessary to reinvent ourselves to adopt these new technologies to exchange information and communicate better and faster among all the team members and relevant stakeholders.
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.
Technology, changing and dynamic, presents us, as leaders, with constant challenges we must face, reinvent ourselves, and continue our commitment to meeting the expectations of consumers, clients, team members, and other stakeholders.
In my opinion, the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in this context are:
- Be adaptable to change. You need to be flexible when faced with challenges and achieve transformational leadership, which involves observing new facts and seeking new forms of leadership capable of generating vision and purpose.
- Be pragmatic. Try not to invest emotionally in specific processes related to past technology.
- Be humble: Not all information or new technology may be easy to learn or accessible.
- Embrace reinvention. There are different ways to achieve goals; using resources in this new digital age means unlearning and learning new routes to achieve success.
- Empower others. The new digital world gives space to train workers in strategic functions, enhancing their capabilities through the tools provided by technology.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole. — Theodore Levitt.
This quote is famous in the Product Management and Management Consulting world, as experts from the Jobs To Be Done framework widely use it. It helps us understand that although people pay for a product or a service, they want a solution that will improve their lives. Usually, as companies, we focus heavily on the specs and solutions, but we tend to forget the most crucial part of what the client needs.
If we can fully understand, internalize and act on what motivates the client, we can design and develop better experiences and solutions. Understanding our clients’ needs and motivations and putting them in front of every decision we make is the only way we can constantly build long-lasting relationships.
Having a customer-first approach is how I like to prioritize my decision-making.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow us on our social media accounts to stay up-to-date with everything going on at Maven Road.