Tech Leaders Talk Podcast

Vijay Solanki

Marketing and Technology

I’ve really gone out of my way to understand what a CTO does and that his or her pain points are…


Episode Description

In this episode of Tech Leaders Talk we chat with Vijay Solanki about the role of technology in marketing. We also chat about how a CTO / CIO needs to understand the role of marketing.

About Vijay Solanki

Vijay is marketing guru with a strong technology background. He’s worked at companies like Dove, Coca Cola, Shazam, Philips and more.

In this episode you will learn

38.15 - Helping purpose based business 2.50 - Why Vijay is drawn to marketing

7.40 - Career highs and lows at Shazam

14.05 - From music to lubricants

24.30 - Digital innovation at Phillips

31.02 - Becoming a CEO

38.15 - Helping purpose based business

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Vijay Solanki Full Transcript

Ernst Pelser:

Welcome to the Tech Leaders Talk Show where we get to speak to those on the forefront of the technology world on a personal level. We dive into their careers, some of the challenges they faced, and how they've overcome them. Please help others find the show by rating us on your favourite podcast engine.

Ernst Pelser:

Good afternoon and welcome to the Tech Leaders Talk Show. I'm your host, Ernst Pelser. Today's guest is a marketing leader at heart, but also a strong focus on technology. He's worked in a wide range of industries and company sizes, ranging from technology start-ups to major household brands like Dove, BP and Shazam. Today we chat with our guests about his background and the importance of technology leaders to understand marketing within their businesses. I'm super excited to welcome Vijay Solanki to the show. Vijay, welcome.

Vijay Solanki:

Good day.

Ernst Pelser:

So Vijay, firstly I've got to say, I've learned a ton about digital marketing over the last few days, listened to some of your talks. So let's start off with a bit about your background and how you got into marketing.

Vijay Solanki:

Sure. So I actually went to university as a medical student. I'm the progeny of two Indian parents. I think I just wanted to keep my mother happy. I wasn't that fond of medical school, but I love sociology, psychology, psychiatry. So after a couple of years, I pivoted into a psychology degree. And I was probably a year or so behind a lot of my peers who are doing traditional degrees, and thinking, "Shit, what do I do with myself?" And someone suggested, actually it was the Head of Department from my Psychology Faculty, he had a friend that he knew through politics, that was a former Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble. I went to university in Newcastle. Not Newcastle North of Sydney, but Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK, which was where Procter & Gamble's UK H quarters were based on.

Vijay Solanki:

I met this guy, who was this Brand Manager who'd involved into a Training and Development Manager, and blagged myself an internship. And in doing that, and that linked to my university final year dissertation, he revealed to me that actually applied psychology, understanding consumer behaviour in a commercial context, well that's called marketing. You even get paid for that quite well, and you can have quite a lot of fun and do some really cool things. So that was what woke me up to the idea of going into a marketing role, and then I graduated. Chose not to go to P&G but to their biggest competitor Unilever, and started my marketing career there.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. So is that the creativity side of things that drew you to the marketing? Why particularly marketing?

Vijay Solanki:

I'm inherently inquisitive. This word that's overused, curious, to the extent that some of my friends, my wife particularly, just says I'm a little bit too nosy. I ask too many questions. So the reason I resonated with a lot of a psychology degree, as particularly the practical parts, was because it gave you the tools to try and figure out, "Why do people do what they do?" And it's that. It's that still, the heart of what I love. To this day, I'm driven by a sense of why people do what they do in the context of a particular business, or a particular category. That for me is the essence of marketing. If you can understand consumer, and customer motivation, and tap into that, you can do good stuff and make money. The creative part is super interesting, but it comes from insight. Creativity per se is just noise. Creativity, grounded in a triangle between where a customer is, where a business is, and how that business makes money. Well then, that's creativity that has meaningful impact.

Ernst Pelser:

So you were, I think it was at Dove that you-

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah, cut my teeth. I actually worked, used to be a great line at parties. I started at Unilever working on toilet cleaners. "What do you do for a living?" "I sell toilet cleaners." But brands like Domestos, big global brands. But I got my first kind of post-trainee role on Dove. So launch new products, built new formulations, worked out new packaging as well as promotions. And I think Unilever, the toolkit that Unilever gave me is still valuable. Most of it, not all of it. But the philosophy of Unilever, I think, is really powerful, which is, marketing is a function. But actually it's more than that. It's the philosophy by which you run a business. So whether you're a start-up or you're a Phillips of 80,000 employees, it's just a methodology and a mindset to make sure the customer is really at the heart of what you do.

Vijay Solanki:

And it's a weird thing to say, because everyone says that. Who doesn't say, "I've got the customer at the heart of what I do." But Unilever really made you sweat that. So when I was making product formulations for Dove, I'd be testing the Pearlescence of the white, I'd be testing the “gloopiness”, I'd be testing the viscosity, from a formulation perspective with the technologists, but massive ranges of that stuff with the customer. And what would they tolerate, and what did they engage with? And so it was the detail of every touch point you brought the customer into. So Unilever gave me that gift.

Ernst Pelser:

And just to give a bit of context, what year was that around about?

Vijay Solanki:

Mid '90s.

Ernst Pelser:

Mid '90s. So I guess, your technology, you were pretty limited still with what you could do-

Vijay Solanki:

Funny you should say that though, because my technology journey... So on Dove in '96, Interactive TV was a side project. So we were playing around with Interactive TV. Whilst I was at Unilever in '93, we had one computer in the UK, Lever Brothers' head office, that through a 56K modem connected to the internet. In around '96 some of my peers were creating CD ROMs and putting them on a pack of Persil/ OMO, as a consumer giveaway. By '95 '96, we had our first websites. But all of that was stuff that was on the side. One of my I best mates and colleagues who was a finance guy went to the Commercial Director of Lever Brothers and said, "There's this thing called the internet." And persuaded them in '96, a guy called Simon Darling, that he should be their first Internet Marketing Manager.

Vijay Solanki:

So I remember that being such a big thing, but we really knew very little. We just learned to ask lots of questions. It wasn't until I was Marketing Manager, and then Head of Marketing for a media company in the UK called Capitol Radio, which like a lot of media companies, had invested in digital technology on the basis that spinning out all these new websites was going to drive a market cap and shareholder value. And like a lot of media companies, it didn't turn out that way. And one day the CEO, went, "We've got these websites. Do you want to try and do something with them?" Yeah. I started from zero. I didn't really know what the backend of a website looked like. I had no idea. That, if I'm being honest, in the late '90s, was where my technology journey began.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Okay. Then moving a few years forward, you worked for Shazam for while. Tell me about that because you've got some really interesting stories for Shazam.

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. It was probably the most... Shazam and Capitol Radio or the most fun. I would say professionally, Shazam probably gave me some of the biggest highs of my career today, and some of the biggest lows as well. I'd come out of a massive consumer-driven corporate like a Unilever. Capitol Radio was, or Global Radio as it's now called is, I think, a billion dollar, billion Euro market cap business. Probably more than that. Probably a couple of billion now. So it was four or 500 employees. I was introduced by a former Capitol Radio colleague, Clive Dickens, who actually runs technology and product for Optus here in Sydney. And he introduced me to the Shazam guys.

Vijay Solanki:

I met these four founders, and I think one was asleep in the corner of the office. Two had dyed their beards for a bet, and one was on the phone. And I just was not used to what looked like sheer chaos. They'd just concluded their Series A, a 5 billion pound fundraise, and the VCs had said to them, "One of the things you need to do is hire a grownup marketer." I just thought, "The hell have I let myself in for? Who are these guys? It's chaos." But as I got to know them, I actually realized that that was just the front. They were three super bright MBAs. Two had gone to Berkeley, and one had gone to Stanford. And then the guy who wrote the initial algorithm, the kind of genius behind the technology, Avery was a double PhD, I think, from Stanford.

Vijay Solanki:

So actually, once you got past the craziness, I realized two things. They were super smart, way smarter than me. Just that MBA rigor, and just... They were just naturally super smart people. But they also had something that I hadn't seen before, the way I saw in them, which was this crazy resilience. So there's a guy called Chris Barton who had the original idea for Shazam. And in many ways, Chris was a nightmare to work with because he would just come into the office with five new ideas every day. And my job was to bring some order and a bit of structure. And I'm not a massive fan of structure, but in this environment like, "Holy shit, we need process structure. We need to be single-minded. We can't do 50 things."

Vijay Solanki:

But Chris' resilience was what kept Shazam going through lots of hard times, as well as good times. And the company was close to bust on many occasions. And Chris just didn't understand the meaning of the word no. Like I say, sometimes that drove me around the bend. But on the whole, it was an incredible gift and mindset. And that was something I learned. And the other thing, I think, this was early 2000s. So UX wasn't a thing. Consumer journey mapping wasn't a thing. I was in a room surrounded by developers. I had never worked with developers. There's all these big boxes and people are talking to me about Apache servers and I'm like, "What?" I thought they were Red Indians. So I was getting this very fast education around technology, and people, and I'd never experienced whiteboards. You can't work in technology, and not have a whiteboard in the room.

Vijay Solanki:

I'd learned that that was how to talk with these guys. You couldn't... I was used to writing briefs. So you couldn't talk to these guys with a brief. They would go, "That's really boring." But you sat with a few pens and white boarded solutions.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah.

Vijay Solanki:

So I guess I learnt how to, in a very clumsy way, how to turn consumer business requirements into something technologies could build against. Well I didn't know what epics were. There was none of the methodology around Agile. None of that existed. We were making that up as we went along, making a lot more mistakes, getting a lot more things wrong than we were getting right. But somehow, we managed to get our shit together and get a product ready for launch.

Ernst Pelser:

Fascinating. Fascinating. So when you joined with them, or with them being developers, did you find that you had to kind of help them change the mindset to be more customer-focused, or marketing-focused? And how did you execute on that?

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. So I would come in and do my fancy Unilever-trained presentations. They failed, just because it just didn't really connect with them. And actually with the VCs and with the board going in with rigorous research, really kind of cut it, what I found worked with the team, of which the majority were techies, because my budgets were pretty tight, I'd grown up in a Unilever where you'd learn to write briefs, go through a vendor process, select a research company, brief the research company. They would go off and do the research and you'd get the results. And you might turn up to a few focus groups or a few whole tests. But generally, you gave it all off to a third party. In a start-up, you don't have that luxury.

Vijay Solanki:

So I bought myself some training on how to moderate focus groups. And we ran focus groups in the building. And bit by bit, I'd bring engineer after engineer, tell them to shut up and sit in the corner with a pen. I don't have anything from five to 15 consumers in the room talking about music consumption, talking about music discovery, talking about how they use their dumb phone, because Shazam was originally designed for a dumb phone, because it was pre-iPhone days. And then the penny would drop and go, "Ah, now we know what you mean Vijay. For weeks, months, we had no idea what you were talking about."

Ernst Pelser:

Okay.

Vijay Solanki:

Show technologists the consumer firsthand. And I still do that.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah. Yep. And you know, that's an interesting point because I work with other start-ups, and I think a lot of times start-ups tend to get very excited about the technology, and forget a little bit about the customer. I've been guilty of that. Okay. So moving a few years further, then you moved into BP. Now, I'm quite interested because BP compared to Shazam is a humongous company. Obviously, I would imagine, very fixed processes, people's mindsets, all that type of stuff. So tell me a little bit about your journey at BP.

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. So I worked for the lubricants part of the business. BP acquired Castro, I think in the '70s or '80s. It was a relatively recent acquisition. Maybe it was 10 years old or something like that. One, I was exhausted. I'd worked for two start-up, Shazam and lastminute.com, and BP had hired a European, or Castro had hired a new European marketing director, Roy. And Roy was ex-Unilever. And I suspect there's a thing, I think, when you've worked in the same corporate and particularly a place like Unilever, that's to this day, I meet new Unilever, people that have never met before and there's an immediate connection. You just talk the same language. So we got on really well, and he'd loved the fact that I had the kind of Unilever background, but I've done all this new stuff because he said, "The job you need to help me do is to completely smash up the way we do marketing in this business and reinvent it."

Vijay Solanki:

And whilst you described me as a marketer who's got a lot of empathy and love for what you can do with technology, that comes because actually what I really am is in innovator. I get excited about new ways of doing things, and I get excited about new products and services that can solve old problems, or new problems in new ways. So what that role and experiences Shazam gave me was, process is important, but often in big corporates, you would get a lot of peers or teams going, "We could do that but we need budget." And often that's the case. But Shazam taught me, "Actually, before you need any money, you need some just brilliant out-of-the-box thinking. You need to look at problems in new ways." And sometimes having no money makes you really resourceful. And I think Roy quite like that part as well. So basically my job was to help him rebuild marketing across Europe, and take 17, 18 disparate country marketing teams, and build them into an integrated European team.

Ernst Pelser:

That's quite an interesting one because there are very strong nuances between different countries, even though it's Europe, right? They're different countries. Their thinking is completely different. So how do you deal with that? The, this is maybe not a technology question, but quite interested, and do you have sort of like a central team that distributes through or do you have little pockets in each country that deals with the marketing?

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. Across my career from some of the big company roles, Unilever, BP, Castrol and Phillips, I've experience the two extremes. And my observation is that there are pendulum swings from command and control, from the centre, to complete local country federation. And there are strengths and weaknesses of both. The Castrol experience, we went through, I'd never done this before, a restructure. One of the things I was given to do was a reduction in headcount. There was a number we had to hit. Take headcount from X million euros, and get it to Y million euros. That was an interesting exercise. And out of the back of that, we had new structures and new processes. And you can write manuals, and you can fly into countries, and you can run training programs, and that's okay. But what we did, I don't believe in transformation per se because it's an unnatural phenomenon. Like, "Hey, let's transform you today." What does that even mean?

Vijay Solanki:

I believe in businesses that have got a big eye on growth, or they've got a big problem that they've got to solve. And in doing that, sometimes you can make transformation happen. So we restructured our European marketing team. Yeah, we went through some pain because we reduced headcount. We put in together some new capabilities and some new processes. But we took a company with 100 year history in motor sport, and we took it into global soccer sponsorship. And that caused loads of pain because we had to take budget from all of the different countries to pay for this.

Vijay Solanki:

So I was like enemy number one for a while. But what it allowed us to do, there's something really powerful around sponsorship of an event, is one, it can never be moved, right? The World Cup is the World Cup. The dates are set. Formula One is Formula One. Et cetera, et cetera. So there's a very hard line in the sense that, if you don't hit that deadline, you're screwed. It can't be moved. There's something really powerful in that. And the beauty of this, we sponsored the Euro 2008, a global soccer tournament. And that allowed me to fly all these teams in, and build on the toolkits together. And it was that that started to change the business. It was that that began the transformation journey, and it was that that helped me refine the processes of how this would work. By actually getting the team together and going, "We're doing this. The CEO's backed it. The Marketing Director's backed it. You have no choice. You have to get on board or not. But if you choose to get on board, we'll work on this together."

Vijay Solanki:

So I was very clear around the assets that we had, the objectives that we had. But on the how, we flew in people from 17 different cultures. We did the first kickoff at Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal. I'm not an Arsenal fan, but it was quite a new stadium then. And that was just super cool, these people being able to, in their break, go and walk into this, I don't know, 50,000 stadium. And then I think, we started to use the magic of soccer to get people excited, even if they weren't soccer fans, because we started taking them to games. And they could see that this is ours. We've got a slice of this. We can use this to drive our OEM workshop business, and we can use this in our partnerships with BMW or with Ford. We can use this in our consumer-facing products, et cetera.

Ernst Pelser:

Of course. Yes, yes. Because I was struggling to make that link between, look motor sports makes sense from oil perspective, and then suddenly soccer. What drove that shift?

Vijay Solanki:

Damn, good question. And before we sign the dotted line on the contract, my European CMO and the CEO said, "We've done the numbers. And basically the reality was amongst car owners, more car owners watch soccer than watch motor sport." So motor sports are a more obvious link, but actually in terms of media consumption, more of our audience what soccer. But that same question got asked. So I was very lucky because in putting together the sponsorship, I got to go to Geneva to UEFA's HQ, beautiful glass by the side of Lake Geneva. And we put this question on the table, and they shared some research. My agency had shared some research. Castrol had this R&D centre just outside of Reading, the almost the UK home of technology. And in that, they would connect cars and bikes to computers so you can measure the performance of the vehicle. And you could try different oils and different formulations, and literally the computers will be measuring the performance of the engine. And that's when the penny dropped.

Vijay Solanki:

At the same time, UEFA was showing me global data on how soccer fans are becoming more and more interested in soccer-based data. Pass completion, speed of the ball. There was a Swedish start-up that we ended up working with, that was in the local newspaper in Sweden showing headlines of the ball was flying 85 kilometres an hour. So we thought, "Hang on, if we can own vehicle performance, perhaps we can own player performance." And that's where we put the heart of the sponsorship. And interestingly, to connect it back to technology, we have the money to buy the sponsorship rights. And you're often told if you buy sponsorship rights, the rule of thumb is either 2:1, 3:1 activation money against the sponsorship rights. If you spend a million on the rights, you should spend two or three million on the activation. We didn't have Coca-Cola or McDonald's cash. We needed to punch above our weight.

Vijay Solanki:

We'd realize that this kind of soccer data is social ammunition for soccer fans. So if we could own the data, maybe we could punch above our weight. So that's what we did. And we built a central digital platform where we housed player performance data. We partnered up with this Swedish start-up called Track Hub at the time, and they... This is great story. One of their investors was Saab, Saab's missile division. And they used the same infrared technology that was used in missiles to monitor the movement of players and the ball real-time on the pitch. And we basically plug that into our backend, and had this very clunky screen up on a computer that showed these little circles, and a green circle for the ball moving around real time on a screen. And we were starting to measure the distance run, pass completion, et cetera, et cetera.

Vijay Solanki:

Over time, we were then working with the graphics business to try and present that in a slightly more sexy way. So that became really powerful because we could then do partnership deals with media companies to go, "We can give you the data on pass completion if you show that this is from Castro." So that's how we, for a first time, sponsor punched way above our weight. That was how I got digital going and Castro, because I was trying it in the conventional way, and people weren't interested. But through that property, and by building that platform, digital became a thing. People were interested.

Ernst Pelser:

That's a fascinating story. I would have never made that connection. Excellent. Okay. Okay. Then moving on to Phillips, because I'm really interested in this story as well, because there was quite a big sort of digital transformation in Phillips. Can you talk to us about that a little bit?

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. Phillips is an incredible organization, and it's gone from what was in my time, essentially three big pillars. There was a big healthcare business, a big lighting business, and a consumer business. Something like, I'll probably get these numbers wrong, but let's say it's 12, 10, and eight. Might have been ten, eight and 6 billion Euro businesses. And now, Phillips has sold off the lighting business and taken the consumer business and the healthcare business and joined them together. I joined the consumer business. And we knew this kind of end-to-end healthcare thing was coming, part of the way through my time there. So I joined to run digital marketing globally, and that was interesting and fun. I did some interesting projects in China, realizing if I'm going to do anything in China, you have to build it within the firewall, otherwise nothing happens. So we rebuilt our websites with a team and with businesses sitting inside China rather than outside it.

Vijay Solanki:

But I bumped into a couple of guys in the same corridor as me in the office in Amsterdam, who were basically trying to build a digital innovation program, and wanted a marketing guy. And their story, it was led by a Spanish guy, Alberto. And their story was, Phillips' Consumer business was mainly hardware and electronics. Think about Philips Sonicare electric toothbrushes, Philips shavers, body shavers, epilators, kitchen appliances. There's mechanical engineering and some electronics. The software with very light touch. And we were like... Alberto would come from Nokia and seen the battles of hardware versus software within the Nokia business, and seeing how it and where it'd gone right, and clearly had seen where it had gone wrong. And he's passionate and ambition was the power of software.

Vijay Solanki:

So long story short, we pitched the value of software to the board. The board went, "Yeah, that seems great. Here's some money. Now convince everybody else." So we were part entrepreneurs, and part consultancy, but we had some money. And we basically pitched the story to different business owners. So if you were the CEO of the grooming business, you were running, I don't know, I think a billion Euro business selling electric shavers to men, women around the world. And you'd be going, "Vijay, this is hardware. This is metal and steel. Why do I need an app? Why do I need software?" And we would basically show you the trends, show you some competitors. What was interesting is typically, if you were that guy or lady, you'd be interested in your big competitors. You'd have brawn, which is owned by P&G. But we were starting to show you all of these smaller software start-ups. And that's where Phillip started take this interest in start-ups.

Vijay Solanki:

And we had to tell this story, which is, it's fine when you're a gorilla facing another gorilla. But there were these little piranha fish and they look like they're tickling your toes. But you look down six months later, your leg's gone. Because 10 start-ups have suddenly got their shit together and grown market share really quickly. So we basically tried to persuade the businesses to enter into a program that we would co-fund. We would do some idea generation, concept development and then go straight into hackathon. And we would build a prototype in four days, or four and a half days because on Friday we would bring consumers. And that again, hard line in the sand, you have to have built something, some sort of MVP in four days.

Vijay Solanki:

Now we cheated. It wasn't like a complete free for all hackathon. We'd worked with the team for at least a couple of months to try and get a sense of the key spaces that we wanted to play in, the key potential prototypes. And we would pick one to take into the hackathon. And the hackathon were a week long. They were expensive because we would bring our partners in. So Salesforce would sit in there, and Adobe would sit in there with Product Managers, with Software Engineers, with UX Leads, people, researchers, business modelers. And we'd be there with pizza, wine and Bluetooth chip sets trying to hack into a shaver, writing stuff. And again, I don't believe in transformation programs. But by the Friday, that group were evangelized. They're like, "Holy shit. The future's software. We have to do more of this." And we did 25 hackathons. Seven led to product launches, of which I think five are still products that are in the market today, five years on.

Ernst Pelser:

Fascinating. Fascinating. And then another big shift is then your next role was a CEO role at IAB. Obviously for you personally, that had to be quite a personal sort of change in mindset. Right? Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Vijay Solanki:

Yes I can. I'm at my heart, an innovator, disruptor. So I like figuring out what the rules are, and then figuring out ways in which you might break the rules. And when you come into an industry body, you have to get your head around governance, because if you don't you will fail. And that's pretty tricky because the IAB, so it's industry body for digital advertising. It's like the UN of digital, I would describe it as, because you've got competitive businesses. But you would have two, sometime three levels of competition, because you would have the digital parts of the TV companies who compete against each other. But the digital part of the news businesses who would compete against each other, but also the TV, and the news would also be competing for advertising dollars.

Vijay Solanki:

So at that time, Fairfax would be in the room, and News Corp would be in the room, and so would Channel 7 and Channel 9. Obviously, we also had Google and Facebook in the room. So a whole new breed of competition. So three dimensions of competition. So the UN of digital. So you learned a lot about governance and getting your head around the politics and building frameworks that would allow competitive businesses to work together. You were building councils where people were broadly volunteers. So their companies might have been a corporate member, but they were doing this on top of their day job. So you needed to make it interesting. You needed to make it meaningful, and often you'd need to make it commercially relevant. So you might be setting new standards for advertising formats, or I don't know. The big one when I was there was things like connected TV or big topics like viewability. Like how do you define an ad's viewed, or it's not viewed, and what does that mean, and how does that link to commercials?

Vijay Solanki:

So a lot of the time you were writing rules. It was a whole new ballgame for me. There was still innovation. We were creating new councils. I created a new technology council, a new effectiveness council that allowed me to bring in new members because we were still a cosy commercial organization. We were still trying to drive new members and also new ways of doing things. So I was getting passionate about things like infographics, and funny enough doing podcasts as new ways of trying to communicate with our community, and push our message out there.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah. Yep. Okay. Interesting. From a personal perspective, what made you go for that role? Why a CEO role?

Vijay Solanki:

Look, I think part of it was wanting that responsibility. Part of it is, the IAB at that point at some challenges and had some problems that needed fixing. I think the other part for me, I was still relatively new to Australia. So it was a good way of me getting out there and meeting new people. In my previous role, I just kept my head down and didn't get out very often. And so the IAB allowed me to be able to almost someday sit in this metaphorical helicopter and be able to join the dots in the way you can never do when you're in an individual business, because you can see how an advertiser might connect to a DSP, or a DMP, or all of those different acronyms in the advertising value chain, right to a publisher. And you don't normally get the chance to see how those bits joined together, and how they work, and how they don't work. So it was that learning, but particularly that governance, and how boards work was the biggest takeaway for me.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. So I guess one of the questions I have is, for a technology leader, because considering most of our audience is technology leaders, or have an interest in tech, what do you think technology leaders need to learn and understand about marketing within their business or businesses?

Vijay Solanki:

I think it's that connection. So I've never written any code, ever. Or maybe I have on some courses, but I would be a miserable failure if I was ever stupidly hired into a software team. But I've really gone out of my way to try and understand what a CTO does, and what his or her pressures are, and what their people do, and what their processes are, and what makes them happy, and what makes them sad. So I think it's empathy.

Vijay Solanki:

And funny enough, one of the other things I observed at Phillips, I was hired as the marketing guy because I understood consumers, and I understood their needs and I was able to articulate that into a value proposition. And then I started to learn Agile and learn Epics and work very closely with technology teams to convert that into a set of requirements. And that isn't a one-off linear process, as you know. It's an iterative, painful collaboration that goes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And when it works well is when there is mutual understanding. So I never need to be able to write code, but you need to feel, if you're the CTO, that I empathize with you, I get your challenges. And I guess, to answer your question, you have to reciprocate that. Technology leaders.

Vijay Solanki:

I remember at Phillips meeting, I think it was a Belgian lady, she was a technologist. She worked for Coca-Cola Europe and she got seconded into marketing for 18 months and then went back to technology. So she spent 18 months. She was a senior lady in marketing because it was... And that's how important Coca-Cola felt it was. And she was up for that. And she was never there to be a marketer. But my God, imagine having that and going back into your... Now I'm not saying all tech leaders should go and do a secondment in marketing. But that mindset, it's that mindset.

Ernst Pelser:

It's interesting because marketers really care about data, right? And the overlap between the technology, the marketing, and the data analytics, and that stuff is so close now. So there's a very strong relationship there. And trying to understand all those elements I think is quite important.

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. And I think shared goals, right? because it might be where it comes to analytics, that's something you look at together. I'm working on a project now for a client, and I'm in that back and forth with my tech lead and the Head of UX and the business around, for the MVP. "What, what's the dashboard look like?" And I've been told the dashboard won't look pretty. And I'm like, "I'm okay with that." But we need to define. And I quite like tough technology leaders because marketers are terrible, right? We usually, would with tech, because we want everything.

Vijay Solanki:

And so it has to be a tough relationship as well, with respect but tough. "Vijay, you can have what you want as long as it's five things. If you want more, then there's either more money or more time." It's having that sensible conversation. And actually, if you take things like analytics, I'm as guilty as most marketers, and innovation leads is asking for more than I ever use. So that's quite an interesting one, sitting at the CMO and the CTO, sitting together and literally being brutal with each other, which is, "What are the three metrics that will define success or failure?" "Yeah, we can build out sexy Tableau dashboards down the line. But for now." And building that ethos into the team. And that I think... I think the way those two play together also defines the culture of how the rest of the marketing team and all the engineers work together. You have to...

Vijay Solanki:

So the third thing, empathy, mutual respect, role modelling good behaviour. Yeah, and being tough with each other.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay, interesting.

Vijay Solanki:

If you respect each other and you get on, you can be super tough with each other.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So from a technology perspective, so I know you, now running my own business and stuff, there is so much market tick out there at the moment. Right? How do you filter through all that?

Vijay Solanki:

I reckon if I knew the answer to that, I'd be retired on a beach in Bali. I think it's hard. I also think... I make this joke about the big technology players, they're so good at sales. Oh my God, I've been charmed by their ability to sell me platforms. Right now, because I tend to work with smaller and mid scale businesses, I always start with less. So map out what you think you need, and this is slightly metaphorical or symbolic, but half it. Because, tell me a business leader who feels like they're getting maximum value from their technology investments. I haven't met anyone yet. If you know someone, let's meet them. So you always have that slightly funny feeling in your stomach around, "I'm paying all these SaaS fees, am I really get in bang for buck?"

Vijay Solanki:

So I think again, it's partly that relationship, right? Now, if you can start with less than you think you need, then I think it forces you to go, "What's the stuff I really need?" Or the business genuinely falls apart. Often... Actually it's a bit of a trick that's used in marketing where you do these campaigns for years, and the world will collapse if we take away our TV ad spent. And then you go, "Now let's pick a test market and take away the TV ad spend." And sometimes nothing happens. Now, maybe it might happen over a long time, so you've got to be a little bit careful. But it's just that brutal rigor. Less is more, I think. But that said, so easy to say, really hard to do.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah. Yep. So we spoke sort of a little bit offline, and you mentioned that you're very interested in the sort of more good cause businesses at the moment. Can you tell us a little bit more about what's taking your interest at the moment and what you're working on?

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. So I think it's... So I don't call it cause-related or charity or CSR, but I've been over the last couple of years, in finding my own purpose, believe in the notion of purpose-led businesses. And these are businesses that seek to do the right thing profitably. They're not charities. It's not my community-based activity. It's not my box tech for my annual report. It's going out there, and doing the right thing, but not being scared to make a business out of it. And Unilever, they brought that, the absolute core for current CEO, the former CEO, Polman, who is a former CEO, Paranjpe is the current CEO. They've put that front and centre of those businesses.

Vijay Solanki:

Businesses like Adidas taking ocean-reclaimed plastic and making sneakers, but then selling them or I don't know, $150, not being afraid to make that profitable business. A society, particularly younger society that really needs to know the provenance of your product, like the need to have a more transparent value chain and supply chain. And I guess, here in Sydney and the rest of Australia, holy cow, that's all come to a head in the last couple of months, as this country is literally on fire. I really think that we're going to, and look at it, right? There are more articles about Australia written in the New York Times in the European press every day than there are in Australia. We're now a country, a test bed, an example case that the whole world is looking at.

Vijay Solanki:

So this notion of purpose-based business, I think super, super important. I've been helping a small, I guess, I'd call it chart start-up, the have developed a smoke mask. Today's a pretty bad air quality day here in Sydney. I know yesterday was bad in in Melbourne as well. And their problem that they're trying to solve is the people are stigmatized around wearing smoke masks. How might we solve that and make an Ozzy feel a bit more comfortable with wearing a smoke mask? I, my Phillips days, built a smart air purifier with a team out in Shanghai. Never did I think I'd be turning on an air purifier living here in Sydney.

Vijay Solanki:

So there's just a massive, I think... I mean it's tragic, but at the same time there's a massive opportunity for a bunch of businesses, big and small, to think about that for Australia, but also actually for the world and go, "Can we be doing things better, but still doing them profitably?" And I'd be urging everyone to think about that. Yeah. How can we make technology be for good, but still be for business?

Ernst Pelser:

Any other businesses you're looking at the moment? Well firstly, the mask business, what is that called?

Vijay Solanki:

It's called Smoggys.

Ernst Pelser:

Smoggys.

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah, it's four 20 somethings. Two are from Ogilvy in two are from Wave Makers. So they've come from agency land and they set it up about six weeks ago. So I think they're just waiting for shipment to arrive. So they did a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page. But there are a range of businesses that are cropping up. There's a lot in the start-up space, but I think it's just for any business. I think brand now is, like a brand-positioning statement has to include purpose. Simon Sinek has got us to think about our why. Well every business needs to know its why. Why are you here? And if you weren't here as a business tomorrow, would anyone give a damn? Like that's why this stuff matters. Because from a marketing perspective, there was incredible loyalty to brands that existed for hundreds of years. Now, you take the ASX 200 the Fortune 500 the FTSE 100, look at it now, look at it versus 10 years ago. Radical change.

Ernst Pelser:

And you know what I think? Our younger generation is a lot more aware of the environmental impact and care a lot more than let's say people my age. So I think most big businesses are shooting themselves in the foot if they don't get on board and try and have some type of positive impact, which is not just financial.

Vijay Solanki:

Yeah. Yeah. But make it more than a charitable donation. Don't get me wrong, all of that stuff, 1% of profits, all of that is amazing. But if you can, for your next product, your next service, if you can go out and answer the question, "How am I making society, planet, my community a better place?" And that isn't about necessarily solving world hunger, or even solving climate change. Although clearly that's a topic that many people are talking about. I'm doing some work for a parenting business and I go, "That's purpose-led because who doesn't want to be a better parent?" So it's that, and it's making sure that as a business, you know your why. And technology, the plasticine, the tools for solving those problems, they're going to come from technology more from anywhere else.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah, that's an interesting point because we've got so much tech, and we're advancing so fast from a technology perspective, some of these big problems we must be able to solve with... It's not all about technology, but it's not that the opportunities aren't there to solve that. Okay, interesting. So you also run a podcast called Best of Both. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about that?

Vijay Solanki:

Sure, sure. So my consulting business is called The b'OLD Intern. And it comes from the idea that you never stop learning, however old or young you are. The idea of Best of Both comes from a book I read last year by this guy, Chip Conley wrote this book, The Wisdom of thought. And one of the principles that he references is this idea of mentoring. When you're older, you've got all this experience but you need to keep learning. And what it's taught me is the answer around these solutions, it isn't all technology, it isn't all new school, and it isn't old school. It's about bringing together the best of both.

Vijay Solanki:

So part of my podcast series has been, I've explored two topics. Purpose has been one. The best of both has been another, where I talk to senior leaders and I go, "What's the stuff that you learnt early in your career that you still apply?" So for me it's that consumer piece, that psychology, why do people do what you do? But what's the new stuff? And what's the stuff that you've only been doing for the last few years, the new things you've learned? And for me, that's probably about iterative development, and agility in everything that you do. So best of both is about how do you find the right blend of old and new thinking?

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. And where can people find it?

Vijay Solanki:

In the usual places? I'm on Spotify, in Apple podcasts, and I'm often talking about it as myself on LinkedIn.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay, awesome. Awesome. Vijay, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for your time.

Vijay Solanki:

Thanks for listening. Cheers Ernst.

Ernst Pelser:

Thank you for listening to The Tech Leaders Talk Show. If you've enjoyed this episode, please help us by rating the show on your favourite podcast platform. If you do, send a screenshot to our host, Ernst Pelser on LinkedIn for a shout out in the next episode. Please reach out if you had any feedback or questions.

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