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MarTech Interview with Gowthaman “G’man” Ragothaman, CEO at Aqilliz

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“The digital marketing space has seen almost $120 billion in spending as of 2020, making this an extremely lucrative industry that is rife with opportunities. Yet, with over 8000 companies and over 40 different technologies, this space is also highly fragmented.”

Journey into Tech

Hi G’man, tell us about your role and journey into Technology. What inspired you to take up the role at Aqilliz?

In my last role at Mindshare and WPP, I was leading the entirety of the strategic initiatives of our specialist unit, focusing on data, analytics and technology, with a keen eye on programmatic. Despite the initial scepticism, we began to realise that blockchain had immense potential in bringing a great deal of value to the programmatic supply chain.

While there, I also led the team to run a blockchain-based programmatic advertising pilot for our client PepsiCo to verify several hypotheses. For this pilot, we engaged Singapore-based high-performance, high-security blockchain platform Zilliqa who at that time, already had an existing partnership with Mindshare. I really liked the Zilliqa proposition and what they were offering, both in the form of their scaling solution sharding and through their secure-by-design smart contract language, Scilla. It was this conviction that something big was happening in the world of blockchain for marketing that inspired me to commit 100% of my time to it, and in turn, Aqilliz.

What marketing, sales and messaging tools do you use for your business?

As a startup, we are constantly building out our tool chest, with upcoming additions and improvements in the pipeline. Our recently revamped website will be the primary go-to source of information, home to product information and updates, use cases, and thought leadership pieces. Information will also be readily available on our corporate LinkedIn and Twitter, where we continuously provide updates on Aqilliz’s progress.

At its core, the advertising and marketing space capitalises on a great deal of relationship building through in-person interactions, be it at events, conferences, or live demos. Our initial strategy was to capitalise on participating in leading industry events such as Advertising Week Europe. Through these events, we planned to run practical on-site demonstrations to help provide a full immersive experience to help prospective customers and partners understand our suite of products.

However, as COVID-19 has put a halt to events in the near future, we had to take a different trajectory to ensure that we can still connect with prospective partners at this time. To that end, we’ve been actively participating in online webinars, allowing us to share our voice and solutions across wider industry discussions. We also recently launched our own webinar series, Defining MadTech, with the very first panel on Rethinking Data Privacy in a Post-COVID-19 World.

What tools and technologies synergize/ optimize results from customer communications platforms? What tools does your suite integrate with?

Not neglecting our customer engagement, we have a dedicated suite of CRM tools to ensure that clients are afforded with the necessary and timely support should they require. Our support efforts involve a two-pronged approach: for larger founder partner clients, we assign a dedicated representative of our sales team to provide support, whereas for long-tail clients, we have set up an email contact, where queries or issues will be handled by our team of experts.

As a martech solutions provider that seeks to ensure privacy, provenance, and personalisation, Aqilliz’s suite of blockchain-enabled products will integrate into any existing enterprise-grade campaign management system, demand-side platform, and customer engagement system.

Which geographies are you currently targeting to grow your revenue? Which industries have shown the fastest agility to adopt your platform?

The digital marketing space has seen almost $120 billion in spending as of 2020, making this an extremely lucrative industry that is rife with opportunities. Yet, with over 8000 companies and over 40 different technologies, this space is also highly fragmented. While we are a Singapore-headquartered firm, we are not limiting ourselves only to certain countries or verticals. Rather, our strategy is to build working relationships with strategic partners, focusing on the industries and companies that can stand to benefit from our SaaS products, helping our clients achieve maximum ROIs with greater transparency and efficiency in their marketing campaigns.

Instead of the most agile industries, it makes greater sense to look at who would be a best-fit customer, who would be most agile, and willing to follow-through with the product especially after the pilot or trial period. The customer buying journey for the martech space is a complex one, where it is still not as widely-adopted as it could be and viewed as a niche space. However, things are changing in the marketing space with COVID-19’s impact on marketing budgets and digital ad spend. It may well make greater economic sense for companies to invest in technologies that bring about greater cost-savings and increased ROIs. With that in mind, martech’s proposition of cost and productivity efficiencies may end up being a valuable one indeed.

Business Insights and Trends Watch

How much has the blockchain technology evolved in the last 2-3 years, specifically in the cloud and SaaS businesses?

Blockchain has become more than just a buzzword with a greater number of companies trialling the use of the technology and implementing blockchain as an enterprise solution across different verticals and industries, all with varying degrees of success.

In recent years, we’ve witnessed the shift from SaaS to Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS). From executing smart contracts and smart wallets to resolving the pain points of transparency, efficiency and cost, the potential of BaaS can be immense. With major players like Microsoft and Amazon all in the game, BaaS could potentially engender a widespread adoption of the technology. Depending on how this all plays out, the next couple of years could potentially see blockchain move from hype to reality, with more tangible use cases, mainstream adoption, and enhanced software capabilities.

What drives the current competition in the ‘Data Economy’? How does blockchain help to meet growing demands in the industry?

We have certainly progressed into a time where data is thriving and deemed the new age currency. In the age of Internet of Things, blockchain, and AI, the possibilities of data are endless. Businesses have been coming up with strategies to monetise data and drive enhanced value for their customers. It has become more essential than ever, even for startups and SMEs, to appropriately utilise data with the rise of the data economy, or risk getting left behind.

As the $1.7 trillion marketing economy continues to grow, the costs to engage with consumers are also rising as a result of fragmented technologies and ecosystems. User base retention and being able to provide personalised and relevant content are all part of the predicaments that plague the marketing sector, with data being the key that unlocks it all.

With data central to businesses, data breaches and violations have become a major concern for both consumers and regulators alike. Legislations like CCPA and GDPR serve to shine the spotlight on data privacy concerns, and with the demise of the cookie, the data debate is unlikely to end anytime soon.

This is where emerging technologies like blockchain can come in to bridge this gap and balance between personalisation and privacy. Authenticated data that is compliant, end-to-end visibility, and automation are just some of the benefits that blockchain can bring to the table, reconciling a fragmented platform economy.

Recap of 2011-2019

Tell us about one epic moment from the decade (2011-2019) that changed your outlook into the tech landscape?

The emergence of the programmatic technology ecosystem was a very significant development in the last decade. As the share of digital spends rose, so did the emergence of walled gardens in the advertising ecosystem. Open garden programmatic technology, characterised by an open-sourced assembly of demand-side and supply-side platforms along with other related technologies, was seen as true decentralisation. Admittedly, the potential to create a truly decentralised technology stack was very thrilling and exciting.

However, I also believe that the very same ecosystem, which came forward to deploy this innovation did itself a big disservice in not being able to collaborate and converge their technologies for a common purpose. Inevitably, this led to less efficiency and less accountability. Shared accountability is a platform concept. The industry is now slowly maturing itself to adhere to this new requirement.

What are your predictions for the SaaS and Cloud martech industry and technologymarkets for 2020-2024?

Not only because we’re saying it and calling out, but I genuinely believe that privacy, provenance, and responsible personalisation are the single most important requirements for the industry in the next 5 years.

Just like GDPR, the implementation of the California Consumer Protection Act serves as a model for all future state-wide data privacy bills that will eventually expand and cover the entirety of the United States. Furthermore, as the Personal Data Protection Bill will eventually be enacted in India, we’re sure to see this movement towards privacy regulations expand in other countries in the region such as Indonesia. I would like to believe that in the next four to five years, almost two-third of the world’s population will be protected by regulations with their respective domiciles. This is a big development, as this also entails data to reside under the respective judicial law of the land, impacting cloud services that will now need to expand their capacity to cover multiple regions. While SaaS and cloud technologies provide large-scale efficiencies on shared computing, there will be a regulatory premium on privacy and security that will be added on to these services.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

Startups in the fields of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and blockchain are all very interesting. All of these three services provide the next layer of applications on top of the existing HTML5 architecture. Eventually, some of these or most of these will also become a ubiquitous layer, but only towards the far end of this decade. In my view, this is going to be an absolutely exciting decade.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

Rishad Tobaccowala and Rob Norman are the two industry veterans I really look up to. More than keen to hear their views on this!

Thank you, Gowthaman! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Gowthaman Ragothaman, former global client lead at WPP, has taken on the role of CEO at Aqilliz, a blockchain solutions provider.

Addressing sector-specific challenges in the field of digital marketing, Aqilliz will facilitate a fairer ecosystem underwritten by greater trust, transparency and engagement. Ragothaman, the former global blockchain solutions lead at GroupM, established his career under the WPP group of companies, having worked at Mindshare for almost two decades. Aqilliz is created in collaboration with Zilliqa, a high-throughput public blockchain, which will provide the infrastructure for secure and scalable futuristic solutions for enterprise clients.

aqilliz logo

Aqilliz is a blockchain solutions provider that addresses sector-specific challenges across the digital marketing industry. Powered by Zilliqa’s high-throughput blockchain platform, Aqilliz’s suite of bespoke, blockchain-based solutions enables marketers to efficiently optimise campaigns, connect with consumers, and track results.

Within a rapidly crowding marketing ecosystem, the exchange of value now takes place at unprecedented rates and across multiple destinations. Aqilliz is able to restore the true value of marketing across the digital marketing supply chain, benefiting brands, platforms, and consumers alike.

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