MarTech Interview with Jeff Nolan, CMO, Kahuna

Jeff Nolan, CMO, Kahuna

“Email Marketing is primed for major disruption, and we really need to embrace messaging more aggressively within B2B segments.”

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Tell us about your role and journey at Kahuna.

I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at Kahuna. The story of how I got here is not uncommon. I was kicking around in between gigs and helped my good friend, Sameer Patel, with some go-to-market issues. I didn’t want a full-time gig, so I’d come in for a few hours a few days a week. As I got to know the team and product, two things happened.

First, I really liked the people, who are young and energetic but steeped in domain expertise. Second, as I began to understand the buyer persona and customer target, I realized I lived the problems Marketing leaders in these marketplaces were experiencing. I intuitively understood these technologies, and that got me really excited. When Sameer asked me to take a full-time role, it was an easy decision.

What is the current state of digital marketplaces? How does Kahuna deliver on its ROI promises?

We have a customer success practice that is deeply involved with every one of our clients. We work with them to determine the critical measures they should be tracking, and our platform ingests the data within a sophisticated Machine Learning model to deliver unique insights. Those metrics are then correlated to campaigns and orchestrations that produce positive change in specific areas of the business. It’s really unique. The metrics are demonstrative proof of the ROI we deliver.

Which geographies are you targeting (DACH, EMEA, APAC, etc.) to promote your products in the next five years?

It is surprising to a lot of people who learn this, but our major growth areas are APAC and LatAM. We have been very successful serving Asia out of Singapore, and in Latin America, we have benefited from anchor customers in countries such as Argentina and Bolivia, and that earns us a lot of goodwill in the region. We are currently making a push into EMEA, and it is very likely that the Middle East will be a growth region for us in the years ahead.

Which industry verticals prefer you the most (enterprise, start-ups, SMBs, etc.)?

The traditional approach to segmenting B2B doesn’t really apply in digital marketplaces. A billion-dollar marketplace customer could have a few hundred employees. We look at a range of factors, but ultimately we are focused on serving the needs of the top digital marketplaces across a range of countries.

We have the No. 1 classifieds marketplace in Malaysia,, but we also want the No. 1 real estate portal, food delivery service, ride-sharing marketplace, and so on. No customer is too small for us, and today’s startup could be tomorrow’s leader… we want to be a part of that journey.

Tell us a bit about Buyer Marketing, Seller Enablement, and Market Vibrancy/Health.

It’s really pretty simple. Buyer Marketing are all the capabilities that come together to help onboard, personalize, convert, and then retain buyers within a marketplace. Seller Management is the same capabilities uniquely tuned for the sellers, and Marketplace Health is where it all comes together in an operational dashboard that connects all the moving parts on top of the actual marketplace platform, which itself is equivalent to a CMS.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies does Kahuna use at the moment? Personally, which is your favorite Marketing Automation tool?

We are SalesforceMarketoSalesloft with a lot of additional pieces that give us specialized capabilities, like Bizible for full path attribution. I’m pretty comfortable with tools like this, and competitive offerings. Some of the newer products, such as, are the most exciting for me to see develop.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing Technology for 2018-2020?

AI is clearly having a major impact on MarTech, to the point that wholesale retooling will be necessary. We will need to get more comfortable with machines making decisions that involve, today, people. Email Marketing is primed for major disruption, and we really need to embrace messaging more aggressively within B2B segments. In Asia, for example, we’re already feeling pressure to support our Sales team with WhatsApp capabilities.

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

I’m going to gracefully sidestep naming names, but I will say that my biggest pain points right now are SEO/SEM, mass data enrichment, scoring (lead and Sales opp), and funnel and pipeline analysis.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

Business leaders simply must hire team members who have data analytics skills and decision-making as core competencies. The days of Marketing winning on brand and creative are long gone. Today, we have to make split-second decisions on data and then activate tactics to drive positive change.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Empathy and hard work. I would like to think I am inspirational and motivating, but the fact is that giving people a voice and listening to what they are experiencing gets me far better results that giving a great speech. Hard work sets an example that others will follow. I am definitely hands-on, but I respect the lines that are drawn around areas of responsibility; I have never been a micro-manager. I make a point of studying and connecting dots on a wide range of operational details, which again sets a tone that I am learning and developing as we make progress on our strategy.

One word that best describes how you work?


What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Smartphone (surprisingly, I can switch between Android and iOS with no issues), my iPad Pro and Macbook Pro, a paper notebook that guarantees I won’t forget things by writing them down, my AirPods, and an Acme pen inspired by the architect Antoni Gaudi that my wife gave me. I can adapt to any software solution, which I think is one of the unintended consequences of cloud; we move much more fluidly across apps.

What are you currently reading?

Hah, I’m actually reading a lot of material on food and how urban vertical farming is the future of food. Check out “The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century” by Dr. Dickson Despommier.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Stay frosty… just kidding, I’ve always wanted to say that. The best advice I ever received was “don’t be afraid.” Those three words are an antidote to anxiety and a guidepost to consider in every important decision. Fear is the great undoing of people large and small; putting fear into a box opens you up to new adventures, great rewards and a life uncomplicated by worrying about the multitude of things we don’t and won’t control.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read?

I would love to hear what Jonathan Becher has to say.

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

Proven Marketing leader. At Kahuna, my customer #1 was the sales team and we grew pipeline 29x in less than 2 quarters while decreasing the cost per lead and opp by 400%. In less than 1 quarter we increased social media mentions by 460%. Our content strategy contributed to reducing the enterprise sales cycle to 61 days.

Kahuna Logo

Backed by Sequoia Capital, Tenaya Capital, and Uncork Capital, Kahuna provides solutions designed exclusively to meet the unique needs of marketplace businesses. The company is the only marketing technology vendor that offers robust marketplace functionality to support buyer marketing, seller optimization, market liquidity and performance insights to businesses. Kahuna is privileged to power some of the world’s leading marketplaces ranging from classifieds, to retail ecommerce, jobs, education, ride sharing, travel and hospitality and others.

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The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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