About a decade ago, I was standing at the top of the Empire State building when someone nearby asked why New York City seems to have two distinct areas with sky scrapers. Have you ever noticed? Have you ever wondered? The answer is what I’ve concluded to be one of the most important considerations with regard to not just building architecture, but as it pertains to building a business. The answer, has to do with the stratum.
Via the definitive source for every question encyclopedic in nature: When planning civil engineering projects or other large constructions, the strata of the area where the construction takes place is a significant factor in design decisions. For example if a canal is to be built on a route where the strata are not watertight, the canal will have to be lined with some form of waterproof material (usually clay). – thanks Wikipedia!
Marketing vs. Advertising & what that has to do with Stratum ¯\(°_o)/¯
Not long ago, a new acquaintance, here in Austin, kicked off our get-to-know one another meeting by asking how I could have recommendations on LinkedIn for skill in both Online Advertising and Online Marketing, “What’s the difference?” he asked.
It’s at this point that I had to pick my jaw off the floor while being struck by an epiphany: How many business owners, entrepreneurs, and startups have no idea what it means to design a business for growth?? Here, in one simple question, is perhaps the most profound insight to the challenge that 99% of entrepreneurs struggle with in building businesses. Are you advertising or are you marketing? Perhaps more fundamentally, do you appreciate the parallels between building skyscrapers and scaling new ventures? Have you figured out what the stratum in building has to do with the architecting a business for growth?
Growth Hacking or… the responsibility of the CTO and CMO
Admittedly, my thoughts here are the result of a series of seemingly unrelated events. Isn’t that the way it tends to go? Sparked by the early days of Growth Hacking (a concept with which we still find ourselves in infancy), I’ve been considering the point at which the CTO in an organization will merge with that of the CMO. The idea, simply, is that business today is so intrinsically dependent on both technology and marketing, you have to wonder if and when that chief executive will be one in the same.
And then, a month ago, an old and admired acquaintance (with whom I vaguely recall playing poker in Montauk, NY at a Yahoo! Sales conference) shared some concise perspective via AdAge that helps, perhaps, establish this important point of fact, without making the leap so significant as going to say that your CTO and CMO should be the same person – CMOs: Time to Learn a Little About Ad Tech
Greg Coleman, VP of Global Sales at Yahoo when I was cutting my teeth as a sales engineer and advertising programmer, now President of Criteo, pointed out that “In recent conversations with dozens of top marketers, it is clear to me that the game of digital media and advertising is changing too fast for most.” We’re all familiar with that – most marketers have a hard time keeping up, but who hasn’t encountered a business owner or entrepreneur who has no clue what’s possible or appropriate anymore? Taken in context, Yahoo, for all it’s trials and tribulations, did one thing with the internet exceptionally better than anyone else: it once understood the critical importance of both Sales/Marketing and Technology working together for the sake of the business. Indeed, I was at that very Sales conference with Coleman because Sales, therein, didn’t work in a vacuum; marketing and advertising engineers, like myself, were critical to the experience advertisers had with Yahoo – and in turn, the effectiveness of Yahoo’s Sales organization.
With that context, Coleman goes on to say, “And as hundreds of ad-tech companies clamor for attention in this space, marketers are not set up to go through the vigorous testing loop needed to understand which technology or technologies can help their business grow at a faster clip.”
Of course, the industry has been exploring this evolution of business for years. From the early days of web development and SEO, we asked whether the marketer or the web developer should be accountable for search optimization (unfortunately, many might argue, marketers seem to have “won,” relegating SEO to a marketing channel rather than an inherent quality of the technical prowess of one’s website).
More recently, local Austinites Sam Gaddis and Colin Osburn, whom I’ve come to respect tremendously, flagged and caught my attention with this great article from Franco Beschizza: Is mobile the responsibility of the CIO or CMO? I don’t mean to simplify the article but it could be this concise – Yes. Adds Jay Patel, CEO of IMImobile in the article, “The increasingly active role of CMOs in technology reflects how technology decisions are becoming more important to revenue generation, rather than the productivity and cost optimisation issues CIOs have traditionally been focused on.”
“CMOs are no longer working alone. Internal partnerships with their CFO and CTO are critical to their success. With a huge focus on performance and metrics, the entire C-suite needs to come to the table with a vested interest in the right partner(s),” Coleman went on to validate the direction we’re headed… “To be successful, marketers need to align closely with their CTO staff. This team must be incentivized to test and engage in this process. While CMOs are often held hostage by their CTOs – as goals do not line up in many instances – both departments must align their priorities in order for a testing environment to be successful and meet the needs of the company.”
And that begs the question, are you merely advertising or do you understand the role of that technically inclined marketer (or marketing inclined technology leader)? How many businesses appreciate that the role of Marketing is to architect your growth, just as an incredible CTO architects your technology infrastructure?
And thus, after that long walk down memory lane, I’ve started to consider that your organization must constantly be asking itself how it is architecting it’s own growth. Let’s consider again New York.
It’s easy to reach the conclusion that the stratum is affecting the height of skyscrapers between the heights of the city; in between those two parts of town that reach to the sky, is a part of Manhattan Island that simply can’t support buildings of such height. But is that all that’s in play? Yes, the groundwork is a significant, perhaps the most significant, consideration for a entrepreneur; the ground is, after all, your market, and the amount of real estate available at that location helps determine how big you can become. In determining where to grow you business, you establish how quickly and significantly you can build. Are you building in the right market?
But that’s hardly the only consideration. The foreman and construction crew, familiar with the technology available, techniques, and resources, might be compared to your technical and product teams. At one time, the size of the skyscrapers there were certainly limited by the strata relative to the technology and techniques available with which to build there. What Coleman and others are pointing out is that that technology, for business, is evolving so rapidly, that what was once impossible is now possible; keeping up with that evolution, is almost impossible and certainly so for any one, traditional skillset. Where once a building could only reach 15 stories, now it might go to 50 – the technology has changed to enable greater heights.
As your building grows, so do your needs for interior design, maintenance, and repairs. In a sense, your customer service, support, and account management capabilities as a business. No one will pay for a building that doesn’t suit their needs, appeal to their taste, and ultimately, work. As buildings run down, finding themselves dilapidated, so too, quickly, go businesses as leaders become satisfied with what they have, happy with their recurring revenue through tenants that merely hang on because the cost of moving to a new building is too great. But over time, that building starts to crumble and it’s eventually abandoned – that is, without interior design, maintenance, and repairs; without world class customer service, support, and account management.
And no amount of commercial brokers and realtors can force people into a building that’s insufficient. Sales, can’t move your product or service if these former considerations aren’t completely understood, supported, and optimized. The job of the realtor is to find a tenant but if your business, your building, is sub-par, falling apart, or poorly designed, you are wasting money on a resource that can’t efficiently deliver.
Combined with on site security, your maintenance and real estate departments serve as business analytics; constantly informing you of the building and helping you optimize, evolve, and maximize revenue therein. Who would dare to invest in a building that reaches to the sky without such things?? Astoundingly, business owners do it all the time.
So the CEO, the business owner, is responsible for this right? Not at all; well… perhaps. Donald Trump is hardly the architect of Trump Tower (does he still own that??) – but he is the visionary, the public face, intrinsic to the brand and culture affiliated with that building. He’s not the architect, nor should be the CEO; but I suppose he is responsible isn’t he? His is the job of finding, hiring, and retaining the incredible individuals who help that building reach it’s heights and make it work. The architect, I’d offer, is the CMO.
Your CMO must be a Growth Architect
Building architecture starts with a fundamental understanding of the stratum. What can be built, where, how, and with what. Marketers who excel, are those that understand that marketing begins with such a solid foundation and that organizations scale by optimizing all of these considerations while leveraging the human resources on which growth is dependent. No building goes up with a foreman alone, and yet, entrepreneurs, particularly technology companies, do just that all the time – the CTO is building something without an architect and the CEO is driving the vision, excitement, and direction, without a blueprint. An architect’s partner is indeed the foreman; as someone who can interpret the vision and make the best use of their own experience, that of the team, and the available resources to design a business that can grow to exceptional heights, only as partners with the foreman can that be accomplished. Beschizza, Coleman, and Patel are all pointing out that in building, one simply does not work without the other; so why do businesses try?
The role of an architect is to completely understand not just the stratum and technology with which to build, but the role that Sales, Designers, and intelligence will play in optimizing the building (er… your business). More than that though, an architect knows the surroundings and infrastructure of a business. To extend the building analogy, an architect knows that designing a building in New York, that looks like it should exist in Southeast Asia, will have a certain impact. More importantly, the architect knows how the wind conditions, temperature, weather, roads, available parking, and other external forces will affect the design of the building. Your building also has plumbing, electricity, and other operational needs that affect how tenants (your consumers) will experience the building – are you able to retain them, are they excited by the building because it uses green energy instead of pulling from the grid, does the building have a high Net Promoter Score and word of mouth?
With those inputs, your growth architect designs the vision and plan for your growth; helping direct how to deploy those technology and human resources on behalf of your scale. Such an architect helps put the building in front of the right planners, public relations professionals, and media outlets to create awareness and excitement and puts the technology (the foreman) and vision (CEO) in the right places to extend the impact of that plan.
And what of Advertising?? Doesn’t a marketer do that? How is that different?? Advertising for tenants or customers is just that – ads in the local trade magazines, a sign in the lobby showing that office space is available, some direct marketing to realtors to help fill the vacant space. Advertising doesn’t build a 50 story building, it only helps fill it if you have a significant building worth filling.
And at the end of the day, an architect doesn’t just help the building grow tall, the architect helps secure investors who are, well, investors in this analogy… money is money people. There are tremendous benefits to having the right investors, sophisticated capital, or connected cash; regardless, who in their right might would try to design and build a building without an architect?? How many investors have told you to go pound the stratum because you don’t have any plans from an architect to validate that what you’re vision is realistic and that you have a plan to ensure that 50 story building doesn’t tumble to the ground?
Good marketers fill buildings. Great marketers design buildings that are taller than thought possible by knowing how the available technology, resources, and people can turn a 15 story building into one that’s 50.
Growing vs. Scaling Business
The same analogy can be drawn from almost anything that grows. The great trees of Marin County, just north of Silicon Valley can only exist there, where the market dynamics exist for the seeds planted to truly grow.
Pick up a Saguaro cactus from Arizona and move it to Texas (where cartoons of old often implied they could be found), and at best, it will wither, shrivel, and in surviving, be a pale comparison of what those plants should be when their roots are established in the right place, with the right resources, and the ideal atmosphere for them to excel.
In thinking through the tree comparison, it occurs to me that there are a couple catch-22s that many many technology companies fail to appreciate. Businesses like Facebook, Foursquare, Highlight, and WhatsApp are great examples of ventures that depend on ubiquity. Market adoption drives the value of their user experience.
Ask yourself if your user experience is dependent on users or providers. The design, layout, and benefits of the business may indeed be compelling but if, at the end of the day, it works only if all my friends use it (or enough merchants are there that it is meaningful), you have a tremendous road to climb.
In the context of buildings, consider the financial centers of the world, the trade centers, or even embassy’s. On their own, they don’t function or create value for our economy nearly as well as the buildings that exist throughout the world – there is an embassy in every city, a trade center in every economy; each enabling the others to leverage their ubiquity to create value. Consider instead buildings with a specific purpose; you can build a water treatment plant anywhere you want but if you then have to also build a waterway or pipes from the source of water to the plant; what exactly are you building?
The fundamental point I’m hoping to explore with you is that growth architecture isn’t about getting you customers, more revenue, or even merely growing. Businesses can always grow by doing that. The question is how you architect your business so that it can scale to new heights; so that a foundation laid for a 50 story building, indeed can be a 50 story building. Filling it is easy; have you given your business the ceiling in which to grow?
The Way We Work is Evolving
The culmination of these ideas stems from a recent exploration of how and where we work, and how that’s changing. I found this recent Facebook post, via Reddit, incredibly amusing, and a simple point of validation that the pace at which technology is changing, is enabling us to do more, build higher, and scale faster but, at the cost of leaving many behind who simply can’t keep up.
The Future of Work
Through my work with space (work spaces, coworking, incubators, accelerators, etc.), it’s become clear to me that not only is the way we work evolving but that where we work is the very foundation of this shift.
A few years ago, Jeff Brenman, founder of Apollo Ideas, and oDesk, put together this tremendous presentation about how the way we work is drastically changing. The slides practically speak for themselves and certainly affirm the idea while validating many of my points above.
|If the way we work is indeed changing, as Brenman outlines, and where we work determines if and how we collaborate (where we work sparks ideas and innovation), then make the leap with me…
The very building we architected above, determines the foundation of your next venture. While how you work establishes the culture and ethic of your success, the building itself, where we connect, collaborate, and toil away, is truly the foundation.
Understanding the Way We Work so you can Architect Your Growth
Or, damn Paul, this could have been a much shorter article
(I wasn’t sure which way to go with the title this section)
Why make so many mind-warping leaps between buildings and trees and foundations and stratum?
I was moved to write so much after piecing together all of these disparate ideas and events but ultimately, it comes full circle to the idea that a CTO and CMO must be conjoined at the hip.
In your economy, in your city, in your business, does that effectively happen? Probably not. And it isn’t just a cultural or knowledge based distinction between those two individuals; no, our entrepreneurial society has grown up establishing the idea that tech and marketing are polar opposites – that tech founders don’t need marketing; that marketers can hire developers… SEO after all, something that affects web development and site performance, is a marketers job. it’s all hogwash.
The true growth architect, the person who will build the companies of the future, is that person who has already blended technology and marketing into one. And the only ventures with a shot at success today are those that understand how to architect their growth for scale and success tomorrow.
And it’s through our evolution of how and where we work that we’ll bring about this change. If your community draws an invisible line in the sand, sorry, the stratum, between business and technology, it’s no wonder your developers, engineers, and technology visionaries never connect with the marketing, sales, and business development leaders who help ideas grow. The building that fosters collaboration, teaching and demanding an appreciation of these very principles, is the one where innovation happens; and the foundation for growth of a building, the architecture, is not just an analogy for scale but the cornerstone of your own venture.
Not long ago, I explored those very ideas with the International Association of Science Parks and the City of Austin in considering how we architect our future through space. Fundamentally, the presentation was about fostering innovation and collaboration through space. Ultimately, it was about putting these people and skills together to make magic happen, through building:
The days of a marketer simply getting you customers or running ad programs are dead; unless you’re satisfied with a small building that’s doing just fine but will probably be dilapidated in 5 years. Most business owners are satisfied, and call my bluff if you aren’t in the same position I am in talking with them; I have shades of that Facebook conversation all the time: “Wait this calls for even more questions… you know now that we can do X right?”
Stop merely acquiring customers and trying to figure out and keep up with what works; start architecting your future.