Tech Leaders Talk Podcast

Mark Cohen

Strategy and effective teams

In this episode of Tech Leaders Talk, we chat with Mark Cohen ex CTO and CIO of Domain group. We talk about technology strategy and building effective teams.

Mark has been in the technology space for over 23 years. He has a very strong background in the media space, having worked for companies like Deals Direct, Fairfax Digital, Fairfax media and most recently Domain Group. Mark is very people focused and has a great sense of humour which translates well in the show.

In this episode, you will learn

  • 02:24 - Learn about how Mark got into technology
  • 05:37 - Mark talks about how he ended up in media and how he progressed through his career
  • 10:10 - How can a new leader cope with the change from technical to people leadership and how companies let employees down during their transition to leadership.
  • 11:05 - Listen to an entertaining story on how Domain uses podcasting internally.
  • 14:46 - Building trust with your team
  • 16:50 - How to not hate your job
  • 23:37 - How to kill the blame culture
  • 27:06 - How to enable people to work on innovation projects

Never miss a show

Signup for our monthly newsletter to hear about our upcoming shows

Ernst Pelser

Hello listeners, welcome to the show. I'm really excited to have you on the show and thank you for joining us today. I'm really excited to be joined by Mark Cohen, a former CTO and site, a CIO of domain group. Mark, welcome. Thank you. So Mark, do you wanna just want to spend five or 10 minutes on your background, where you come from and maybe how you ended up in Australia? Yeah, so

Mark Cohen

I was originally from Johannesburg in South Africa. I always studied at this university computer science. My first job I started at my first post uni job was working for PPS and insurance kind of company and it didn't take me very long to get into kind of consulting work working on Microsoft technologies. So working for what was then called the Microsoft solution provider. Very soon after we started working myself and a couple of mates figured out we could do that for ourselves. So we started our own little business and then we were approached by an investor who was looking to get into South Africa. Midway through the conversations. I told them, look, full disclosure, I'm actually planning on moving to Australia. My papers have just come through, so you need to be sure you like my business partners because I'm probably gonna leave. And he told me when you get to Australia, come have a chat.

Mark Cohen

We got to Australia just in time for the.com crash and so I got to eat a bit of humble pie and learn how hard it was to start over. So I did actually go talk to him and I ended up working for him running his tech team because his CTO at the time had resigned and was moving back to Ireland. I did that for a few years, ended up going into media. Went back to work in the consulting business again, went back into media again did some work in eCommerce for awhile and then went back into kind of media transactions but Fairfax different role but same company and things kind of organically evolved. And then came time where I was looking to do something new and domain broke out of Fairfax into its own company. And I joined domain just after that and then we took it to the ASX, which was huge fun.

Mark Cohen

And then two years later I've just wrapped up and left now. Okay. Awesome. Awesome. So when you, when did you figure it out that you actually want to be working in tech or was that just something that happened? Tell the story about it. That, so when I went to university, I actually registered initially to do mechanical engineering and consistently through engineering I got my first four maths, physics, computers, electronics and the subjects that did the worst thing where thermodynamics and fluid mechanics and the actual engineering subjects. And so I changed over to computer science and I did computer science and applied maths and I loved it and I cruise through and it was pretty much halfway through engineering I realized that I was studying the wrong thing and it was pretty clear from what I was enjoying at uni already where my real interests lie and yeah, I never looked back computer sciences and an amazing degree to do set me up to, I remember like the course coverage was that they weren't all different types of computer degrees that you get today. There was basically computer science, there was a and I think Mario was the second year that adverts that computer science was not part of the applied math department, which was actually its own department. So it was very nascent. And yeah, I loved it because there was only one course. It was very broad instead. So it was not focused only on software engineering. It was everything that fell into computer science. Yeah, it would set me up pretty well to get up there and do my own thing as well.

Ernst Pelser

And you when we spoke a little bit earlier, you mentioned that you are looking at potentially moving to the UK

Mark Cohen

First. Yeah. Tell us about that story because that was quite a funny story that so I had a friend that I used to work with who moved to the UK and he started his own business and was doing a lot of consulting work, mainly SQL server and, and database related but web development as well. And he sent an email to say I've got more work than I can do. I've got a job waiting if you want to come, just come on over and you know, let's have some fun together. I spoke to my wife who was at the time our papers had just come through for Australia and she didn't want to follow the traditional South African migration pattern, which involves you go to the UK, you save up some pounds, you come to Australia and you buy a house. And she said, we're immigrating wines. And her sister was already living in Sydney. So, not only was it we're only moving to Australia, it was we are moving to Sydney and not only Sydney, but the same neighborhood as her sister. So it was all preordained and pre-calculated and that was it

Ernst Pelser

A curricular acrylic correctly? You said 2001 more or less. Right. Okay. And so you moved into Fairfax, so meta, was there intention to always move into that industry or did that just kind of happened by chance?

Mark Cohen

50 50 chances and intention. I was always, since I came to Australia, I've been very interested in web and web development and digital tech and how digital changes companies and Fairfax at the time had Fairfax, digital had been established. It was, it had been around for a few years already. They were one of the few companies where you could, traditional media had created a digital business and it was running at arms length. It was not part of the actual legacy media company. So they had a little bit more room to be disruptive and to try new things. And that was what was really appealing and interesting.

Ernst Pelser

Okay. So you move from a development role and then you pretty quick quickly moved into sort of the management role. We spoke earlier about where and we'll come on to the story as well with the gods to the podcast, but you talk about how a lot of technical people get sort of almost automatically transitioned into management roles but don't necessarily get the support. What, what were the sort of, some of the big lessons for you in that transition? Sure.

Mark Cohen

And how did you cope with those? It's a, that's a huge question. In my first, first troll out of uni, I remember the C C T O I think he was a CIO at PPS, was a guy named rod pinner and they did personality profiles across a whole bunch of the team and I were doing kind of career development planning and I remember talking to him and he pulled out the profile at the done on me. I don't remember which tool it was, what it was called, but my profile was, it was kind of the exact opposite of what they actually say as good for tech. And back then, he already said to me, your, your career path is going to go to the intersection of business and tech. It's not going to just be tech. There was a lady at PPS at the time who's was running change management for them and he was joking obviously, but he said, whatever you do, don't let her see this profile because it was, you know, the [inaudible] exactly that profile a person who get the business to adopt new tech and to drive that.

Mark Cohen

And so that kind of traits where they showed up in my profile from my first job and it's, it's kind of stayed true. So every role I've had, I've always gravitated towards how do we get the business to get the most possible value from their investment in the tech team. And that is not only about short term investments, it's about longterm gain as well. So you know, you grow your people and you support them and then they stick around and you have the right cultures of people happy to come to work and you have diversity of thoughts and opinions that you don't all come to the same conclusion. So you've got your, your odds of success are better. And that's kind of just been the fundamental principles since I started off. So I, I did kind of float up pretty quickly into a leadership role.

Mark Cohen

I think I'm about to jump ahead. No, no, no. Please continue. So I floated up into a leadership role relatively quickly when I went into consulting. The day that we resigned, three of us resigned to start a business together because we'd out that we were all capable of doing the work. And that was the same day that the offered me promotion into it would have been my first, what they call the business unit manager at the company where I was working. So the business unit was like what we'd call scrum team today. And I remember a lot of people didn't like the promotion cause the acronym for business unit manager was bum. So on the day that we resigned, there was the option to become a bum or to go for yourself.

Mark Cohen

Yeah. And it kind of just played off from that point on. So once we started on in business, you had, we were technical, we were hands on the, the three of us who founded the business. But at the same time, as soon as you start hiring people, someone's going to have to be the people manager. And that kind of leadership thing emerges very quickly. Okay. Okay. How would, what would your advice be for younger people who, you know, want to become leaders but they, you know, they're still technical, but what it become needed is how do they prepare themselves so that they don't suddenly get hit by the domestic transition? You know, and it's sort of like, Oh, how do I deal with this now? How would, what your recommendation to them? You really need to understand why you want to move into people management.

Mark Cohen

Because in a lot of, especially smaller companies, they don't have a career development framework maybe or you know, they don't have a technical path and a management path. So are you going into people management because it's, there's a linear single path in the company. We are junior, mid, senior engineer team lead. And if that's the kind of scenario that you facing, be careful about why you're doing it. If you want a raise, if it's about the financial remuneration and you're looking for the next step to make more money, you might have outgrown the company where you work. So you need to consider what is your actual motivation. Sometimes you have a senior developer who should be maybe going into the architecture path or you know, principal engineer, something that's more technical and hands on and stays individual contributor. And sometimes you actually see it play out a light where you see a person who's a natural leader.

Mark Cohen

There was a lady that I worked with at domain who you could see it when she was, I think she was a few months into the role and she was that natural charismatic person. Low key understated people would gravitate to her. And you could see this is going to be a team lead. You can kind of see the tendency very early. So self-awareness fear, peer, sorry, self-awareness. Peer feedback is probably one of the most valuable things as well. So ask people, what do you think I do? Well, even if it's formalized and you have an HR team and they do three sixties, put your hand up for a three 60 and get feedback. You mentioned how you are using podcasts in domain group. Do you help people grow in a leadership perspective? Explain a little bit the problem and you know, and how that, because the outcome there was quite funny actually how it had happened.

Mark Cohen

So, so talk us through that story. So we were looking at how we can train our team leads because there's a, there's a, a real gap in terms of technical leadership development. There's a lot of leadership development out there and it's the, it's kind of all generalists. In tech you need specific tools and it is 50% texts. So when you're moving into your first leadership role, it's never going to be a a hundred percent leadership and the tech is not someone else's job in that transition. What most companies do and what we had happening as well as it's you're an awesome junior engineer, got in mid level, you are, and also mid go to senior, you're an awesome senior. Welcome to being a leader. Good. Like, let's see if you sink or swim. So to try and make more people swim and less sink, we wanted to develop trainings so we could actually point people at repeatable, scalable training material.

Mark Cohen

We started at leadership guilds, which was a team, these Guild, which would meet once a week and we would run training and specific training, like we ran one on radical candor, which is if you don't already candidates Kim Scott's book, it's worth looking at. And people loved it. So it was that kind of thing where, how do we give you a specific tool set that's gonna be useful to help you grow as the people manager, not just the tech, but we assume the tech bits licked. And the one thing that we encountered was the training in order to be repeatable. It couldn't rely on say, me showing up and running training. So we wanted to make a video series and talk to people who had already done what you've done and put the videos into a learning hub that we had at work.

Mark Cohen

On the first day that we were recording a video, I forgot to start the video capture, so we only had audio. And so we made a podcast by accident and our HR business partner one spoke something about, she said something to me on Slack about is this your accidental podcast? And then that became the name and stuff. So we had domains, accidental tech podcast, which the recording was terrible because it was a tradie was an MVP just to test if people would be interested in listening. But the content was actually pretty good. So we ran five recorded and published five and then we opened them up externally and put them into iTunes as well. Which was, it was really interesting. It was a good exercise. When you when you approach a new role, how do you work with the team initially to bring them on board and work out a strategy on how you're going to move forward, build trust and all that type stuff?

Mark Cohen

What's your approach building trust is, there's some really good stuff you can actually read in terms of formalized approaches, but ultimately I think what it comes down to is you bring your whole self to work. You be 100% authentic. When I introduce people, when I introduce myself to people, I'll very often tell them about, you know, my life, not just what I do for work. If I come into work, I'm an incredibly easy person to read. If I've had a bad day, I walk into work and people who know me within like five minutes, we'll say, what's up? You know, it's, you can read it on my face. So for better and for us it's, you know, exactly what's going on with me. And that kind of, I don't really like to call it vulnerability, but being transparent, being open, being honest, and just being authentic.

Mark Cohen

That actually builds trust. The other thing which is really important is in fact, anyone who's a parent has probably learned this just organically. As soon as there's an issue that needs to be dealt with, you approach it straight away and not too soon because you want to be 100% certain, you're going to be able to deal with it in a calm way and not get emotional and not react. But as soon as you can do that, you deal with it. If you sit on something for two weeks or three weeks and then have a catch up with someone and say, you know, three weeks ago you did this wrong, firstly you've lost time relevance. So it's kind of, it's gone from being something that they're actually going to be learning from to an academic exercise, rather approach it straight away. And secondly, there's always a way to approach everything and to play the ball, not the player.

Mark Cohen

So talk about what went right, what went wrong, how are we going to do better next time in a way that the person doesn't feel as if this is an attack? Sometimes it's going to have to get a little bit personal, but whenever you can make it not personal, it's always better just to talk about what is it that we're going to do better. This went wrong. I need you to do it this way next time. Please come and talk to me before you respond rather than after. Don't send an angry email, whatever it happens to be. As if you catch it straight away, that's the way you change behavior and you don't erode trust. Cause if you sit on it for two weeks and they are getting a vibe from you that something's not right, then you're kind of damaging the relationship.

Ernst Pelser

It becomes bigger, doesn't it become bigger? You did a very interesting talk. I think it was at ignite, if I remember correctly. This was with quite a few years ago. So hopefully, you know, it still rings about that you went and talk about Harting not hate your job. Your opinion then, or what would you spoke about then? How do you see that being different to now or do you still kind of think the overall message is more or less the same? I still think it's pretty active.

Mark Cohen

Good. The funniest thing about that talk standing up in front of the entire ignite audience in Sydney and talking about how to not hate your job in like couple of rows from the front, right at the stage. Maybe three people back on the stage.

Mark Cohen

Yes. He's, he's a fantastic guy and he has a good sense of humor. So the talk went down well, but I think that's probably

Mark Cohen

Made it more terrifying than anything else. All my colleagues in my bus right there. Yeah, it's tricky. That talk, I signed up to talk at ignite and I was very focused on, it was actually a conversation with my boss and the leadership team at the time. It was my boss was a guy named Andrew [inaudible] who was the CIO and CTO for Fairfax. And I reported into him along with, so N the product technology, which was the, the, the teams that built the digital products. And so we were very digitally focused and the culture was very different to, let's call it the legacy media business. And then even within tech, the ma one pier head enterprise systems in internal tech, which was much more traditional as opposed to the digital end and how you manage that in the environment and how you stopped friction and how you dealt with one area of the business where they were.

Mark Cohen

There were redundancies happening at times and other areas that we had to pay more money to retain people. Like it was, it was a two speed economy in one business. And so there are a lot of conversations around that and around why people would quit. And we'd had a conversation about that. And I remember Andrew that she said that our tech leadership team meeting people don't leave for the hygiene factors. If you've looked after the basic hygiene factors like PE, that's not what makes them start leaving. It might be what makes someone accept a new role. Cause you know there's a significant race and it crosses their risk threshold, but that's not why they start looking. And that got me thinking about it and that kind of feel that, that top

Ernst Pelser

Okay with regards to, so when it comes to entering a new business or line of business for that matter, how do you start approaching figuring out what strategy

Mark Cohen

I want to follow for your, for your team and for your business? What's your approach for that? I went to change jobs about more than a decade ago. Someone gave me a book called the first 90 days. Okay. Yes. It's a really good book and I kind of use that philosophy. Not, not as a textbook, but just as a heuristic spend. I spend time talking to people. The first thing I do is I just try and get a real feel for not the cultural values that will be on the posters in reception, but what do they actually do? What is the lived culture every day and how far can you push things without alienating people and Y you go through a recruitment process and there'll be a job and they'll tell you why they're hiring the role, whatever. When you get there and you start talking to people about why they believe you there as opposed to why the management team created their own maybe or you're not this you, you want to get a real idea of the expectations on you from the most junior person you're going to work with to the most senior and that's going to up what's expected of you and help you define your tech strategy and what you're going to do within the team.

Ernst Pelser

Mark Cohen There's also that thing when you arrive in a company you don't know what you don't know. So if you come out guns blazing, there's a very high probability that you're going to miss the target. So let's spend a few weeks talking to people. Often what I've done in the past is I've had a script of questions and I've asked everyone I've met with the same questions and I want to know what they think needs fixing, who the key players in the tech team are, who the, you know, get, get a feel for the whole businesses perception of your domain. And then that gives you a foundation of this is where we started from. And then that's always a, that's always my first two to four weeks. It's just get a feel for what's actually happening, warts and all, and then figure out what you want to take on.

Mark Cohen

Okay. And then, so once you work on your under start understanding what the business needs, what people's expectation or view how do you sort of continually communicate? Okay. Yes. The direction we're going, you know, through both through your team as well as through your stakeholders, which are,

Mark Cohen

When I was working at Fairfax probably nine or 10 years ago, we used to do reports for the CEO and we would track the key tech initiatives and product technology or digital tech, the kind of thing that the CTO would normally look after. There's a big overlap between the, the remit of the CTO and the product team because the majority of work is shipping product or work out with your products. They covers who's communicating what. So there's no treading on toes. Back then when I was working in that role, we instead of doing a CEO report, we kind of felt there's one, maybe it's going to an exec team, so maybe eight, 10 12 people and reading a report that's not really transparency. So back then I set up an account on MailChimp and I got a list of all the email addresses from the company.

Mark Cohen

This was an MVP hack and we started doing a weekly tech update. We moved to Fort Nike sprints at some point. So then we started doing a fortnightly tech update and I've had that running pretty much ever since. And so the reason we did that was we created a tech newsletter that went to the whole company and that points along the way I've surveyed and said, should we, can it, is it relevant? Do we need to tweak the format? And what I found at domain in my last trial in particular was the people who loved it the most were the people in the sales team because I gave them the finger on the pulse of what's going on in the tech team, which gives them things to talk to their customers about and makes them feel more connected so that the readership rates, when you look at the stats in MailChimp, we were getting like 65% open rates, which is pretty good for a Ford Nike newsletter.

Mark Cohen

And then one of the things we did back early on was we're trying to understand, so the informal communication was great because everyone read it and people in the company from the CEO down to the most junior developer got the same view of what was going on across tech. We introduced the section at the bottom back pretty much nine, eight, nine years ago called red flags and under red flights, if we had an artist, if we scored an own goal and took something down, if something went wrong, we always put it in the newsletter and told the whole company this was an issue. This is what you've done to make sure it doesn't happen again, or Hey, this was our fault. You know, we screwed up. But doing that, it kills the blind culture entirely so everyone knows, you know, if you screw up, talk about it.

Mark Cohen

That's why people learn what went wrong. It doesn't happen again. You don't get blamed for it, so it's actually okay. You create that safe space. I stood up in front of all hands before and told people about my biggest ups so that you don't have to take the fear of recrimination art. Secondly, and the real value, the real benefit from doing that was we email the whole company every week or every fortnight about what went right and what went wrong. If we sent an email and didn't say something about this went wrong, the assumption was everything is okay because if it was wrong, we would have told you. And so the level of trust in the tech team just elevates by, by having that kind of transparency, not by communicating in five slides and sending it to the CEO or the executive team of the board. You get a bit of trust from the top down, but from the entire organization, this is how you get it. And if you send them an email and said, please see attached PowerPoint, no one's going to read it or PDF or whatever else. If you send them an email and everything's unscreened and it's bullet points so you can skim it, you get 65%

Ernst Pelser

Very interesting approach. I like that. Okay. You talk about the whole trust factor. You know, previously, one of the things that also during that talk, I think you also, you talk about how you get engineers to work on all those pet projects, but they, they sort of like agreed project. So they're not necessarily in the normal main business. Talk to me about how you, do you start getting the directors of the board or CEO on board with something like that because you know this space, are they going well you're taking away from our main product, you know, how do you justify that and how do you [inaudible]

Mark Cohen

Limit that? Back in when I first joined, I'm trying to work out when it was many years ago. I went back into, it was the second time I worked at Fairfax and there was a gentleman on the team whose name was Matt ferries. He lives in Perth now and Matt was running, they were doing a hackathon with the tech team and they would, everyone would take a, I forget what the time, I said it was a half a day a day and they would work on these pet projects and then they'd walk around and take a look at people's screens and each person with demo with their done. And it was kind of a low key event and I loved that scene so much. And so I kind of preferred his idea except we made it scale. So we took it to the whole company, to the whole, not just his team, but the whole tech team for that particular division.

Mark Cohen

I'm the CEO, I had a chapter with him and he said, how are you going to show the return on this investment? And so I built a dashboard and we had, it was basically a massive Excel spreadsheet with like a scorecard. So which team, which was a project and then we gave it a rating from concept through to in production. Obviously the expectation is not that everything gets to production, but we went to the show something that, and it was just to say we spent the time, we created ideas, some of them are good and they made it into the product. So there's this hard value created and we ran that dashboard for, it was about a year and we would do this every three months after that rural America began, I was running, that was the product tech roll forward of Fairfax and we are trying to figure out how to scale it across the whole company.

Mark Cohen

And so started talking about what innovation is and what disruption is. And trying to explain to people how if you have someone who's busy for the entire working day and they are located and as soon as they finish what they're doing, they have to go get the next ticket from JIRA or whatever system you're using. And there's not there 100% allocated, the whole team, there's all this overhead that creeps in because when you've got that kind of allocation, you've got queue management and you've got processes. If they're 99% allocated, the whole world is simpler. So we try to make it clear what the value of of free time actually is. And we took the one days to two days and we got all the product team and all the tech team able to participate. Not mandatory, but able. And the rule of thumb was for every team it's mandatory, but for every person it's not.

Mark Cohen

So the leadership have to try and encourage people to participate. But if you've got too much on your plate, don't, and of course I was never actually enforced. It was never like, ah, your team didn't participate. You must be bad people. We typically see it. So like 50 60% participation even through [inaudible]. So that worked really well. And then because it was working well at scale, we got the attention of the exec team and I spoke to him, same talk about this as innovation and this is how you create space for innovation. And you know, let people do the crazy projects because it's good for life. There's all these different returns on investment. When you spend time doing hackathons or innovation days, one of them is the product you ship. The second is idea diffusion. Someone see something, it's like that is an awesome idea. I'm gonna steal it from my product.

Mark Cohen

So like kind of cross pollinate and one of them is just the teen bullying people having fun and having a laugh together. And almost always after we did some kind of an innovation, that hackathon, we would have beers and have a social thing at the end as well. So that grew and it worked really. And then when I moved into domain, I pushed to get people beyond product and tech involved. So at the last one we ran, we had people from the sales team presenting, we had people from marketing, pitching and we, we created different streams so you could come with a pitch. You didn't have to actually build the product. So just kind of in fact we also created, this was not me, it was Mary, one of the ladies in the use experience team, a pitch Fest and the whole idea was it's for people who can't do the tech.

Mark Cohen

So come with a pitch, you've got an idea you think we should be looking at and then the CEO's in the audience listening to the pitch along with the head of product and along with the the chief data officer along with whoever else is making decisions. And so that worked really well. There's also the driver for me was make it scale, take it. It's, it shouldn't be a tech thing. It should be an organizational thing and that's how you say it. If you say innovation is a value, as I think 60 70% of companies have innovation as a value, what are you doing to bring it to life? And this is, this was a way of very visibly bringing, bringing it to life. It's a bit of a culture halfly cause it's relatively small in the scheme of things, but it's quite emotionally charged. People get very engaged and excited and it's a very clear visceral message.

Mark Cohen

We recognize and reward this. Have you have most of the competencies that you've worked for, have they always been, you know, sort of an innovation mindset or has it been a few instances where you've had to kind of push and get people to start thinking more in innovation in mindset? Because with the innovation mindset it goes the acceptance of failure, wanting to test things very quickly. Does that make sense? Yeah. So the small companies typically the less appetite they have for this kind of thing, I 100% believe that any company that believes that operates in a tech environment is an innovator or is getting ready to go out of business. You might not want to call it innovation. And you know, clay Christensen's innovator's dilemma and so on might be too academic for you. Did you ship the new product? Have you shipped a new version or are you working on a new version?

Ernst Pelser

You fundamentally innovating? Has someone in your sales team tried to do process optimisation? That's innovation, you know, that's, it's the buzzword is kind of scary because it's, it's, it's been developed and exploited by people making a lot of money out of it as a concept. But fundamentally what it is is it's creativity and invention taken to market. Now the smaller company, the more important the taken to market element is, so you might not be running a lab, which is invention as opposed to innovation. You might be shipping new products. So you've, you're actually more focused on innovation than you think you talk at length where you break out innovation and two different forms. Right. Can you remember that talk and can you talk a little bit more about that? So the, the concept is straight out of clay Christensen's, I don't remember which book that the concept was sustaining versus disruptive innovation.

Mark Cohen

I think that's when you're talking about sustaining innovation is more often than not, it's incrementalism. It's, I've got a great product that is both a feature and the forms that it can take are incremental feature additions or cost optimization. So your product's mature, you're not developing lots of, let's report as much of the operating cost. Then basically market, it's then if you think of a sigmoid curve for product life cycle, you've gone through the big vertical bid on the S and you've hit that plateau. Now it's time to try and make it run for as long as possible while we invent the next big thing. So that's the sustaining innovation. The disruptive innovation is fundamentally displaces another product. People like to talk about Uber and taxis. That's the best example of democratizing transport. So the drivers, the passengers, it's all done through an app. You don't have to touch cash, there's no stranglehold on the industry.

Mark Cohen

So pricing in theory should be set by supply and demand. Things didn't look a little bit different. Now when you look at Uber, but that was the early day promise versus a centralized, highly regulated taxi industry. And so what happens is the ride share thing came along and it slowly erodes the taxis and eats the market from the bottom up until eventually the new product actually redefines what value is and then inevitably the old product is like, okay, the metrics have all changed and now suddenly we've got this very expensive model where everyone's more than willing to accept the cheap product because the value has been redefined. The best example of from my working life was newspapers. Newspapers were always where you went to get your news to get your jobs, cars, houses and classifieds and the whole lecture is bundled together. As soon as the internet came along, it decoupled jobs cause houses, classifieds and news, so you had will domain.

Mark Cohen

The way I was working was one of the housing ones. REA was another one. They used to rely on newspapers for distribution, so there was a reason that the two would be shipped together. I can remember conversation about a decade ago with the head of marketing for Fairfax where he said they'd done research for the Sydney morning Herald and found 50% of people buying the SMH on a Saturday. We're buying it for the domain book. So as soon as you go online, you have the decoupling of the product. So the value chain entirely changes all of a sudden the reason to go and pay whatever it costs for a Sydney morning Herald today versus just going online and reading your ads as they get listed and not having to wait for Saturday, the entire thing is redefined and suddenly you left with an expensive product that's harder to sell. That's textbook disruption right there.

Mark Cohen

So the market gets eroded from the button. Ebay goes, general classified seek goes jobs, domain goes, property, car sells on cars, and you've got this, you have, it's kind of verticalization. So instead of getting a bundle of everything once a week or whenever you bought your paper, you go to each one on an EDS as needs basis. And if you think of service stations, if you had to fill your car up, you compare the pump, the technology exists. There's some stations where after hours you compare to the pump or they used to be, you have to go into the store because all you in the store, you're gonna buy that sneakers bar, you're gonna buy the eclipse man. So you're going to buy a Coke as soon as you can charge your car at home. What happens to the service stations and not only because of the petrol, they make a lot of money out of that little utility shot.

Mark Cohen

So sooner or later someone's going to do something where you can pay for the Petro or you know, the Philip doesn't involve you having to go into the shop and you, you unbundling and that will be disruption again. So these opportunities will pop up and that's what digital is fundamentally interesting. Okay. Looking ahead, what's next for you? It's a very hard question to answer. I'm spending a lot of time talking to a lot of people at the moment. I've wrapped up a domain I finished a week ago just over a week ago and so still very, very early days to work it out. I have no idea what I'm getting a lot of enjoyment out of is catching up with people, talking about different startups that people have got interesting things going on, different industries as well. So the fintechs have been very interesting at the moment talking to a health tech company as well, which is quite interesting. This so much happening. It's, it's, it's a very good time to be in our industry right now. There's a lot of interesting things happening so I haven't quite worked out what's next yet, but I'm enjoying the process of trying to figure it out. Okay.

Ernst Pelser

Yeah. You mentioned earlier that you, you're quite excited about the startup world, are quite enjoy the startup world. Personally, myself, I think there's a lot of real world problems being solved. You had a lot of very high energy people out there say I'm definitely looking forward to see what the future principal for startup world. What about in the technology? Is there anything that you would specifically like see change in tech as an industry tech industry as a whole?

Mark Cohen

I find it, and this is coming from a middle age white guy, I find it so cringe-worthy when I read about some of the harassment that people face in our industry. And you often see, you know, some emotionally charged person who's come out of a situation and felt that they'd been abused or not treated correctly. And then you read this rant on Twitter as I kind of having a vent because of them, like no one should be put in that situation. And it fundamentally doesn't make sense that we'd have such a male dominated industry because it's, it's not it's not physical labor. There's not, there's another reason that the industry would be like it is. And so I guess pushing for a lot more diversity in our industry would create a lot more jobs because the industry would scale and grow quicker. I don't think that it's a zero sum game. I don't think that encouraging more women into tech is going to mean there's less jobs for middle aged white men. So I don't know what the fear factor is or why people are resistant to the hard push on diversity. I think it's an incredibly important thing for our industry to get right and to,

Ernst Pelser

Yes, definitely. Great. There's a, there seems that there's more and more people I'm speaking to that also agree that I'm getting more women into tech is, and there's a lot of the universities doing good work as well in that space. Yeah, we'll see. We'll see where we go with that. Any specific type of tech that excites you at the moment? I'm a, I'm such a gadget freak out. I see you tinkering on the weekends. There's always kind of thing.

Mark Cohen

I, so who I'm trying to work out with, the last thing I bought was I already got the new iPhone, the pro, which is an amazingly good camera. I have an iPad pro, which is now, I'm not sure how old it is. It's, I think I'd been offered a year maybe. So it's not the new, but I find that thing is a total replacement for my laptop in the day. So as I'm running around the city going different meetings and going, you know, some pull up a chair in a coffee shop, I've got everything I need in there. It's got a SIM card so I don't need wifi. And I'm loving that. I'm finding that is a B, it's a pro. So it's pretty powerful and it's good. It would be nice if you could actually run a better OSPF, which is coming apparently within your paddlers.

Mark Cohen

But yeah, I love that thing. It's, it's a life changer for me compared to, I never had one for years and so I was carrying a laptop around. This is just the portability and everything is fantastic. Okay. And what about bigger takes things like whether it's AI or robotics or any of that type of stuff. Is there anything that's kind of catching your eye? So the, the thing that I was doing that was the most interesting personal project pet project, I think at domain was we created a team called emerging tech. And I specifically wanted to work on machine learning. And the, the guys in the team did this amazing work. So we started, we both our vision AI to process images and we pumped every image. I think it's probably been 18 months. Every single photo of every single property has been passed through this AI and the models have been trained and refined and they're really good at identifying say swimming pools, courtyards.

Mark Cohen

And then they started building products to sit on top of this new data set, which is at this point a competitive advantage as well. And the product potential is just phenomenal. And then the, so for, for a hackathon that one of the gas from the machine learning team and one of the Android developers built a they read the floor plans for houses, they identified the compass and understood which way was North. And they understood what was walls, which was windows. And then they built a thing, we chose a date and there's a slider and you could see the sun pattern. So how does this, which windows get sun when and so on, like that kind of thing with it's game changer. It's not, it's not just an incremental product feature. It's like it brings a new depth. So user would look at your product and say, I want to use that because you know, these are the kinds of questions that you have to answer before you commit to an hour of Saturday going to see us.

Mark Cohen

So like the enrichment that you can add to existing assets by applying AI or ML I think is phenomenal. And it's, it's still early days as think it's still warming up. Interesting. I think the big thing with something like AI is, you know, it's such a big beast to attack is you know, how how it even small to the lot of that type of stuff. I'll find that space. Very, very interesting myself too. Don't try to learn. So the best thing about that team, so the guy who originally put the team together I went to him and I said, so this is what I want to start working on the, these are the teams and here's the list. I think I gave him from memory, they were like 10 different ideas that I just jotted down and said, just pick one. Just just start. It doesn't matter what it is.

Mark Cohen

And he came back and said, so I've sat with the team and we think all your ideas are terrible and we've got this other idea, which was number 11 correlate. And that was where they started. And so for me, the whole point of that was, you know, two thumbs up go. And the reason why was it's not about the product you created. It's create a repeatable pattern show that you can create this new capability because it's fundamentally new. If you've got a, a team of web and database engineers building a normal website, they are very unlikely to succeed on their own without some kind of change being engineered for them to create that fourth layer to, to handle the ML. So it was just go build whatever. And they both this that connected, I won't go into all the details, but connected the images to the floor plans using machine learning.

Mark Cohen

And the product actually launched them. When we went live, I was ecstatic and I was ecstatic. There was zero extra revenue attached to it. In fact, it was costs to operate it. But the product was live and they proven that we could use ML to create consumer facing products. And there was a repeatable pattern cause we'd not created an MLT. So to me that was, that was probably the single most transformational thing actually got done in my job. Very interested. At least the is planted. It's up to someone else to water the tree now. But yes. Yeah, it's a, that's, I think it's still early days. There's a lot of hype. You've got to find the actual value. And that's difficult because there's a lot of vendors are going to come and send you MLO AI. And more often than not, it's a rules engine on top of some big dataset. So the true product is something and capability as well. So creating the capability and understanding the value that you can create, you have to incrementally build work. Thank you very much. I've really enjoyed producing show with no, actually we've been talking for about 15 minutes now. It's been great fun. Thank you. And yeah, thank you very much. Thanks a lot.

newsletter

Stay Updated!

Get monthly free advice by signing up.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.