MarTech Interview with Joel Horwitz, Senior Vice President Marketing at WANdisco

MarTech Interview with Joel Horwitz, Senior Vice President Marketing at WANdisco

“People need to write and create quality content, which tends to do better in the long term, rather than creating volumes of material that nobody will see.”

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Tell us about your role and journey into marketing technology? How did you arrive at WANdisco?

Joel Horwitz: I didn’t ever intend on getting into marketing, however, it turns out I’m pretty good at breaking up complex technical ideas to help others learn and build novel products. I think that skill comes from my science, engineering, and entrepreneurship background. I have a master’s in science and engineering from the University of Washington, and I also have an International MBA from the University of Pittsburgh.

Marketing is no longer what you would see in the TV show Mad Men. It’s not just about coming up with great creative ideas and doing brand marketing. A lot more marketing these days is very analytical, and the products are far more nuanced and technical. With the “consumerization” of IT, technical buyers expect sellers to deeply understand their complex problems and be much more prescriptive in their solutions. Technical buyers have often already researched the problem from online resources far before the first conversation with someone. That’s why there is so much investment in digital experience and self-service products.

I joined WANdisco last year after I had worked with them at IBM. Having just formed an OEM partnership with the company, CEO David Richards and I met for the first time over dinner in 2016. At the time, we were discussing the current joint solution partnership to deliver disaster recovery and high availability for Hadoop, which naturally led to a discussion about the future of the technology. I shared with David what I had observed while at IBM – that a lot of our clients were migrating to the cloud and using cloud data services, like Apache Spark, and storing their data in object storage, not Hadoop Distributed File System.

I told David how WANdisco has an advantage due to the unique WANdisco consensus technical capability that no one else has, which is to copy really large amounts of data across a wide area network. That can be handy for people who are migrating to the cloud. IBM at times was really struggling with figuring out how to help customers migrate to the cloud because the lift and shift model was not working for large and complex data sets.  That comment led to further discussions about working with WANdisco, and eventually I was recruited to join the team to lead the category creation of LiveData for MultiCloud.

Prior to that, I had encountered WANdisco as being within the big data category, and I just always really loved their brand and culture. I really believe that WANdisco Chief Scientist, Inventor and Co-Founder Dr. Yeturu Aahlad and the WANdisco team David has assembled are some of the best people I’ve encountered in my career.

How should marketing professionals prepare themselves for the data-driven environment? What kind of talent and skill alignment is needed to build a prosperous career in this competitive industry?

I would say that there’s no such thing as a generalist marketer anymore. I won’t necessarily hire a marketing person who doesn’t have significant experience with data and analytics, especially if they’re going to work for a technology company that’s selling to large enterprises. Marketers live and die by their ability to measure what matters and predict the outcome of their direct efforts.

The good news is that it is a unique time for marketers because there are so many online courses that you can take for free to learn about analytics or data science. Whether it is events, social, content, product, design, communications, or analyst relations, it is imperative for a marketer to understand the process deeply, to have laser focus on an objective, and to have the key results to measure it by. For example, it’s no longer enough to come up with a creative campaign with advertisements, collateral, and a call to action. It is more important to have a deep understanding of the right measurements, taxonomy, and configured testing to continuously optimize. Being data driven is so much more than just the tools and methodology provided by data science and advanced analytics.

What kind of talent and skill alignment is needed to build a prosperous career in this industry?

Domain knowledge is key. I don’t know if you can be a good marketer if you don’t have a deep enough understanding about your target customers that you’re selling to and how your product meets their needs.  That is really the key. I’ve observed numerous times where I’ve asked somebody who their customer is, and they throw me a title but that doesn’t tell me anything about the person. What do they read? Where do they hang out? What is their favorite sport? How do they spend their free time? What are the adjacent products or solutions that are in consideration?

How did your previous roles at IBM, Datameer and help you to prepare for your current role at WANdisco?

I’ve always been attracted to joining cutting edge companies, big or small, when they are going through change. At Datameer, I had the opportunity to launch a first-of-its-kind SaaS product on AWS before there were other business intelligence SaaS companies like Looker. We also launched a data app market that same year with 32 discrete apps for hundreds of cloud services like Salesforce, Zendesk, Atlassian, Google Analytics, Linkedin, Twitter, and others to try to reach business analysts where they were.

Our goal was to make it easy for new Datameer users to learn how to use the product and experience an “ah ha” moment sooner. At H2O, I joined as the first head of marketing and relaunched their company brand as an in-memory processing competitor to Databricks. The old brand was called 0xData and it became, a community driven company that was solely focused on machine learning.

When I joined IBM, there wasn’t even a role for data scientists – it didn’t exist. With the launch of the Spark Technology Center and the Data Science Experience, I delivered a go-to-market strategy to re-platform the analytics portfolio to focus on the emerging data science, machine learning and data application market.  At the same time, we formed several strategic partnerships with RStudio, Anaconda, Lightbend, and others.

WANdisco is going through what we call the “second act” of the company’s Wide Area Network Distributed Computing strategy where we deliver on the modern IT infrastructure (i.e. multicloud) like no one else can.  Having started with distributed code, moving to distributed data and soon to distributed ledgers, WANdisco is the only company that is well-positioned to usher in the multicloud era.

Companies who are going through product and strategic transformation have always been attractive to me and have ultimately prepared me for my current role.

Which key technologies for marketing and sales are you keenly following?

Definitely Salesforce. I follow that religiously to see where our pipeline is. I think any good marketer needs to be able to tell you at the drop of a hat what their pipeline is looking like in a given quarter. Aside from that, I’m big on social media, digital experiences, and community marketing. To me, every marketer should be testing messaging, copy, and positioning constantly. This is why I enjoy tweeting, starting meetups, and writing blog posts. One of the tools I really like is TweetDeck.  It has a nice dashboard if you’re looking at Twitter and following different people at once. I usually have that running in the background. It’s almost like my stock feed.  However, you can’t get away from Google Analytics (or a similar web analytics platforms), Pardot (or a similar CRM), YouTube, Drupal (CMS), Adobe Suite, and many more marketing platforms used daily.

In marketing there are always new tools and platforms entering the market. As of late, programmatic advertising has really fascinated me, as have the developments in account-based marketing. I did some advisory work for MediaMath, which is a programmatic ad platform used to target profiles across multiple domains. I don’t think a lot of marketers realize that you can use these types of new platforms to reach out to different journals and trades. There’s no longer a need to go one by one. Not to mention, MediaMath has also been introducing AI into the mix to generate highly optimized and targeted advertisements.

How does WANdisco help in data management across various cloud environments?

WANdisco solves a really difficult problem. To put it simply, how do you migrate your data to the cloud without having to shut down your business? As they say, “Data is the lifeblood of the business.” As such, the problem with data is that it’s always on. You don’t just turn off your website when you want to move to a different web content management platform. You set up a staging environment, run tests, and then switch on the new site as you shut down the old one. Data migration is even more challenging than a website, with far more dire consequences if you make a mistake. For example, you can lose data in the process, you can waste significant capital investments and most importantly, you lose time.

WANdisco solves the migration problem by doing what some people have told us is like breaking the laws of physics. We use consensus and distributed coordination engines to continuously monitor all data and then update any change at all endpoints as it is migrating. We are the only company that can do that.

How does partnering with AWS help to understand and mitigate challenges in the cloud-related hybrid data lake scenarios?

I read a stat that said 94% of all AWS customers use object storage. It is highly likely that your data is already being stored on one cloud vendor like AWS. 58% of companies report they are already using multiclouds and it’s advantageous to use data with another cloud vendor, like Google, to take leverage their proprietary services. Even if you continue to only use one cloud vendor, you may want to expand your operations to a new geographic region. WANdisco makes all these scenarios possible without having to re-architect your applications. Furthermore, critical cloud services are not all the same. For example, Microsoft Cognitive Services are not the same as Google’s AI Cloud services, and AWS’s Lambda service is not the same as Google’s Cloud Functions services, nor IBM’s Fabric services versus Microsoft’s Ethereum Blockchain services. People using these platforms want choice. We help any cloud customer, including AWS, get more out of their data and avoid being locked in.  Our priority is to provide a way to replicate data over a wide area network with LAN speeds without the complexity or added risk to business operations.

Regarding the hybrid data lake strategy, we essentially allow our customers to re-distribute their data from a Hadoop Distributed File System on-premise environment, otherwise known as a data lake, to a data lake based on Object Storage or HDFS on any public cloud. Our approach is not to dictate to our clients how they set up their data environments. Instead, our focus is on the solution to move their business forward no matter the underlying file systems. We allow them to implement a decentralized data strategy while still ensuring their data remains live. This is why we call this our LiveData Strategy.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in data management and customer data management? Are these two different from each other?

The cloud is very disruptive to data management, specifically the notion of it being decentralized. I think companies have gone back and forth between all data being under lock and key, and a decentralized data management architecture. Organizations need to find a way to live in a decentralized world and that means investing in distributed technology. This doesn’t only relate to data but everything that is becoming decentralized such as ledgers, code, algorithms, or any IT asset. My prediction is that all things are going to be distributed or decentralized and the complexity to manage assets is going to increase exponentially.

This also relates to customer data, but what is customer data anymore? Is it your photos, your address, your DNA even? No, because we make most of that information public via our social networks. What’s really becoming customer data are the algorithms that describe and even predict our behaviors. For example, Apple stores your health, purchases, browser, and personal data on its clouds yet its machine learning and prediction models are left encrypted on your device. They don’t upload those models to the cloud because they know that is more sensitive than even the data itself. Essentially, algorithms would provide someone with the ability to predict your actions, your health and essentially the very nature of your being. For example, how you make decisions, what your prejudices are and deep insights that are considered highly personal. Customer data can get scary. I think a lot of preparation and thought needs to be put into how to protect customer data. If we don’t, there is the potential for very bad things to happen.

How can marketing teams better prepare for AI and automation? How do you prepare for these technologies at WANdisco?

I don’t think AI is around the corner. It’s still very early, even in just the script of analytics and predictive analytics. The same is true for machine learning.

AI and automation are both great and I would love to see their powers combined. For example, we use our own basic lead scoring capability, and it would be fantastic if that scoring could be updated based on what we actually see. As a marketer, I encourage my team to go and read up on ways to use these technologies to free up time, so that we can get back to talking to customers and doing the things that really matter as opposed to spending hours in the data and trying to figure out if a lead is good or bad.

The creative side and the customer listening, however, is not so easy for AI and automation to do. There’s empathy and creativity involved, which as far as I know hasn’t been reproduced. I mean, just ask Siri a question. She’s neither empathetic nor creative with her answers half the time.

Which marketing and sales automation tools and technologies do you currently use in your current role?

We use a product called DiscoverOrg. A lot of your time as a marketer is spent trying to understand your customers. Organizations are so amorphous these days. It’s hard to tell who’s in what department and if they have influence. Do they have a need? Do they have the budget? What’s the bigger strategic piece they’re working on?

DiscoverOrg helps us identify people within an organization and understand a bit more about them to profile them better and send them relevant information, as opposed to spamming them.

Then there are the usual suspects: Pardot, Salesforce, TweetDeck, and Google Analytics. I haven’t really put too much emphasis on AI and automation. I find that sometimes people try to do too much, too fast. In my opinion, it’s better to do a lot of the manual actions so that you can change it quickly if it’s not working. Only once it is working you can start activating the automation process.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in AI and data management technology on content creation business for 2019 and beyond that?

Facebook and Twitter are using AI to curate content and repost it. Nuzzel is a good example of curation that’s happening with AI – they create a newsletter for you that you can publish. As far as content creation with AI and data management I tend to shy away from that. At IBM, I remember hearing a stat that more than 50% of all the marketing content that was created at IBM had never once even been seen by a customer – which is crazy. I think people need to write and create quality content, which tends to do better in the long-term, rather than creating volumes of material that nobody will see.

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

I’m an adviser to a few – one is called Caravel. They’re based in Portland, Oregon. They use AI in the shopping experience in the direct to consumer market. So, think about a retailer that has their own mobile app. They’re training AI or other models to be more conversational and help you browse a catalogue. I think conversational AI is going to be really helpful. It will reflect the in-store experience where you ask someone “Where are the coats and where are the shoes?” and they point in a direction. I think we need to stay grounded in the ingrained behaviors that already exist. Where I’ve seen AI go sideways is when people are solving problems that don’t exist.

MediaMath is fascinating. They’re doing cool things with AI in advertising. How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader? I think you need to focus on ingrained behaviors. I’m reading this book called Sapiens and it’s all about homo-sapiens over the last tens of thousands of years and how we’ve evolved. The reality is that AI is not going to be this panacea that solves everything for us. The same behaviors are going to continue to exist.

For example, Amazon is the digital equivalent of the traditional printed Sears catalogue. People are still choosing items they want, and their needs continue to be met. The things to consider for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader is to focus on those behaviors and spotting where machine learning and AI can actually improve an experience that already makes sense for you as marketers.

For example, having an AI customer support agent is a good idea to an extent. I’ve seen a lot of value in that. As a marketer, I would be watching out for AI products or capabilities that can enhance an experience to benefit your customers.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

For most of the people I work with, it’s really ingrained into our society. For example, if you are active on social platforms like Twitter, then you are already capable of marketing. When it comes to working with technology, I encourage my team to spend time with customers or with the technical people. It’s not just about working with tech. It’s truly understanding the people and how technology works. I think a lot of what marketing is about being authentic.

 One word that best describes how you work?

Hustler. At H2O, I had the title of Chief Hustler. My goal is to always optimize my time and figure out how to create more output with the same input. Running around, getting people to work with each other, setting the direction and ultimately always being on the lookout for people, processes or products that can help. It’s a constant hustle for me.

 What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?

I would say iMessage, that’s a big one. I would say I can’t live without Apple – they make great products. I would say Slack to a degree, and I like the Notes app as I take a lot of notes. I also record a lot of conversations with customers.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

I try not to have any meetings on Fridays so that I can go back through the week to summarize the email initiatives, the progress I’ve made, and then make my to-do list before the weekend so that I can really detach. I think it’s really important to have a work-life balance. My hack is to try and not have any lingering work-related items going into the weekend. I really try to close out by the end of the week, and then start fresh on Sunday night or Monday morning.

What are you currently reading? (What do you read and how do you consume information?)

I’m constantly reading. The last memorable book that I read was called Who Is Michael Ovitz. It was all about the super-agent in Hollywood and how he started his firm called Creative Artists Agency. It’s a fascinating story about how he pulled the industry ecosystem towards him by building out the complete solution/product. For example, he would get the director or the actor, the screenwriter, the producers all onboard and then take that to a studio to be produced. He could therefore negotiate a better price, or a better deal, with the studio.

I also tend to listen to a lot of podcasts to get information. I always find that reading tends to put me to sleep for some reason, so I listen to podcasts at night. I also check news regularly on Twitter and Apple News. Otherwise usually it’s through word-of-mouth, people sending me recommendations or suggestions on what to read.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some extremely talented people over the years, and I’ve learned so much from them. There’s lots of great nuggets of wisdom that I picked up along the way. But the one that I always come back to is from when I was researching nanotechnology in graduate school. I was struggling because I was working on my graduate thesis. Perhaps I was trying to do too much, or I was trying to go in different directions. My advisor one day approached me and said, “You know, you should really do what you know. Do what you’re really good at. You’re good at business so you should do business.”

I don’t know if that was a nice way of telling me like I shouldn’t be a researcher and that I was no good at it. Maybe he recognized that I was spending more of my time at business and entrepreneur society meetings. I liked to work with the business students to take technology and try to productize it. I worked on a lot of projects like that. So that was probably the best piece of advice – do what you’re good at and be the best at that. Figuring that out is sometimes not readily apparent for most people, including myself.

Something you do better than others. The secret of your success?

I wouldn’t say I do a lot of things necessarily better than others. I think I do a lot of things differently.  I would describe as what I do better has been to really think about all aspects of a product, dissect a problem into its parts and understand how to describe that to somebody else. As a marketer you need to be able to describe complex things, especially in the age of technologies.

I come from a family who really likes to tell stories. My sister is in communications, my mom is an entrepreneur and investment banker, and my dad is in sales. We’re all outgoing people. I was blessed early on in understanding the value of telling stories. I think that still helps me today.

Tag the one person or more in the industry who answers to these questions you would love to read?

I think whoever is doing marketing at Tesla is impressive. I’d love to hear what they’re up to. For example, the fact that you can buy a car off their website with Apple Pay – I’d like to know the thinking that went into that. That’s pretty fascinating.

One person I’d love to hear from is whoever is doing marketing at Microsoft. They’ve had a nice turnaround story. It’s Amazon and Microsoft that are essentially leading the cloud at this point.  Google and IBM invested millions, if not tens of millions of dollars, and the marketing just wasn’t there – something was missing. I would love to understand from someone at Microsoft about how they went after the cloud, how they won where so many others who are identical to them (and maybe somewhat better) came up short.

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

Joel is an experienced high-tech Marketing professional with a diverse background in research & development, product strategy and corporate development. Prior to WANdisco, he was the Global Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Offerings for IBM’s Digital Business Group. At IBM, he also led the formation of IBM Data Science and Machine Learning product portfolio thru strategic marketing and partner ecosystem development. Additionally, he delivered accretive growth at various data & analytics startups, including AVG Technologies, Datameer, Alpine Data Labs, and; through the introduction of platform partnerships, self-service offerings, and digital marketing.

Joel holds an MBA in International Business from the University of Pittsburgh, an MS and BS in Nanotechnology from the College of Engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA. He is a board member of NUMFocus, an advisor to a number of startups, and a volunteer in his local community.

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WANdisco is shaping the future of data infrastructure with its groundbreaking LiveData platform, enabling companies to finally put all their data to work for the business – all the time, at any scale. Only WANdisco makes data always available, always accurate, and always protected, delivering hyperscale economics to support exponential data growth with the same IT budget. With significant OEM and go-to-market partnerships with IBM, AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, Oracle and other industry titans – as well as hundreds of customers among the Global 2000 – WANdisco is igniting a LiveData movement worldwide.

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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.