Could you tell us about your role and journey into Technology?
I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of INK. INK is a Content Technology company (built for writers!) dedicated to the future of Content Performance Optimization (CPO) and driven by a vision of a world where storytellers control their search destiny. As a seasoned ‘starter’ – driven by the power of Next Generation technology to shift the way businesses market themselves – I was involved in my first start up at the age of 19. Just two years later, I started my first technology venture, Blastro.com. It was one of the world’s first Video streaming companies seven years before YouTube went live. Then at age 24, I joined the early-stage startup, Idera Software. We grew the company from a small team into a global enterprise with over 250 employees.
In 2008, I Co-founded Gazzang, a startup committed to Cloud Computing security that is recognized as an early player in Big Data encryption. Six years later Gazzang was acquired by Silicon Valley Bellwether, Cloudera. And all of those start-ups lead me to now. In 2016, we Co-Founded EDGY Labs, a company dedicated to continual innovation as a trend forecaster and SEO incubator providing guidance and end-to-end Enterprise-level SEO solutions for Fortune 500 brands. By leveraging the Automation developed at EDGY, we formed INK to help writers take the power of search back into their own hands.
You’ve had a long track record of successfully working in and leading diverse Marketing teams. How did you arrive at INK?
It all began with the idea of testing a theory. The theory of how we believed Google was ranking content. Of course, we didn’t know for sure, but had some ideas and wanted to test these in the world. All of the testings eventually led to INK and something that we can keep iterating to help level the “content playing field” for writers.
To test this hypothesis, we started a blog, edgy.app. It was a brand new domain with zero authority. The experiment required a site with perfect technical optimization, and no promotion or link building activity. Through creating 5 to 10 original pieces of content per day we were able to rapidly test how search engines respond to different signals. A huge undertaking and data we are lucky to have the bandwidth to gauge.
As we grew to 100,000 monthly visitors in less than a year, our intent research process grew big, fast and became extremely time-consuming. At the same time, our enterprise SEO clients were struggling to marry brand language with search performance. We saw an opportunity to truly innovate in the SEO and content creation space, so in 2017 we began translating our research and processes into a SaaS platform. Thus INK was born. It is the byproduct of the automation and scale we had to build for our own team. By ‘eating our own dog food’ we were able to test, innovate and learn what worked and does not work in the content creation space.
**In fact, I used INK to write this article, you’ll notice I haven’t lost my ‘tone’ or ‘voice’ as a human, yet important nuances and prescriptive tips are included to make sure its the best it can possibly be.**
Which markets and titles are you targeting for INK? Which set of customers are most suited to benefit from your products?
We believe that content performance should be paramount in every piece of digital content that a writer creates.
Currently, there is no standard for writers to leverage how content performs. Our plan is for INK to become synonymous with creating content for the web. We built this platform to democratize access to true AI and help create a new standard for web content writers. And more specifically, a web content writer who cares about getting their content found on search engines. We noticed that this includes a spectrum of different types of sites from small blogs to company blogs to product websites all the way to enterprise websites.
We made a deliberate decision to release INK for free to empower the huge market of Content Marketers to take the power of search back into their own hands. INK is valuable to anyone who creates content on the web.
As we expand the functionality of our free platform, we will marry performance to content ROI, something that is very difficult to measure today. We are building an enterprise version to help Content Marketing Managers and/or VP of Marketing to gain insights into the value of their content, where it’s going on the web and how it is performing over time. Our goal for INK is to help writers creating content that performs while providing companies (large and small) with insights on how that performance is impacting their business.
Which Marketing, Sales, and Customer Support technologies do you leverage at INK?
Never before has it been possible to gain data for Sales, Marketing, and Support, and then tie it back into Product Development. We’re building INK around these data points. We look at this as the convergence of Sales/Product, Marketing, and Technology. It’s a big undertaking, and one we have already set into motion and seen success with. More to come!
We call it Sparketech. We’ve built our own proprietary backend to gain user data, Marketing channel insights, realtime user acquisition costs, and Drip Marketing campaigns. All of this is built around our Marketing Automation funnels. We then integrated Trello, Intercom, and Productboard. All of our systems work together to provide us data specifically related to our North Star metrics. It may seem like a lot of tools and buzzwords, but if you’re reading this far and are interested in how we do it, email me!
How do you see AI-based content writing platforms further disrupting Brand Messaging, Customer Support, and Communications channel?
I recently read a statistic that 4 Million pieces of content are created per day. 94% of that content will receive zero traffic from Google. With only 6% of the web content being seen, Content Performance Optimization is where the industry is moving. Content performs when it’s found, it engages, and when it converts. Until INK, there was not an AI-based content writing platform that could help with conversion no matter what those metrics were.
Content ranking number one on Google is important. But what CPO does is ensure that your content ranks high, is read, and then meets whatever goal you’ve established for it. We think of it as converging art with science. Empowering writers with insights as they writer in their tone, their voice and on their brand.
INK raises the bar for the creative industry by finally providing metrics for how content is measured. Creatives are able to write content, enter their keyphrase, and then let INK provide customized tips for how content should be optimized to compete against the top-ranked sites that the search engine has already deemed relevant. INK is the new standard for web content creation.
Zendesk acquired Smooch and integrated with WhatsApp Messenger. How do you see similar integrations impacting the web writing industry?
The web content industry is fragmented. There’s a segment that is focused on SEO, SEM, social, and eCommerce writing. Then, there are apps only specializing in helping content rank, engage, and improve writing. There are process and planning software, and media text, image, video, augmented and virtual reality specialized apps.
We see all these fragmented specialized web content apps converging. We are combining purpose and specialty in our software Inkforall.com and plan to expand further by integrating process and media.
For the Content Creator, it means a more integrated and seamless experience with intelligent insight at their fingertips. For the Business Stakeholder, it means increased productivity, attribution and ROI into all content channels at scale. We will see larger ecosystems, integrations and/acquisitions that will all help content creators have more meaningful interactions with tier target users. It’s an exciting time to be a content creator.
APAC customer base is suddenly booming for MarTech and Communications software providers. How does INK cater to the customers in the region?
INK’s cutting edge AI is unique in that it deals with the semantic meaning of language. This means it took significant time to train our AI. While we launched with performance optimization for English initially, we made the design decision early on to architect our AI in a way that would enable it to support other languages in the near future, including APAC customer languages.
What are your predictions on the role of AI and Chatbots in quicker adoption and scaling of Content platforms?
Bots and AI are already ubiquitous in business – from Voice platforms like Alexa to customer support Chatbots. We leverage bots for the INKforAll.com front-end support to better route our support tickets to the appropriate resources. Bots are inexpensive to build, solve real challenges, and work efficiently. The trend for content platforms to adopt AI will accelerate in the future.
What Marketing-related challenges do you meet every day? How does technology and collaboration tools help you to overcome these?
We face a lot of the same challenges any startup faces, the most obvious are time and resource constraints. Technology plays a large role in helping us erase some of that debt. For instance, we use all Google Suite to collaborate on Marketing assets and gChat to communicate. We have a plethora of Marketing tools to help us automate and accelerate our messaging distribution. As a technology company with innovation at our core, we spent a lot of time developing our brand then building our own proprietary Marketing tools to help us expand our Marketing reach. There’s no better way to determine what is most needed for entrepreneurs, than by being one myself. It’s easier to identify needs, holes and other opportunities to help us all work better.
Of course, we’re fortunate enough to use our own product to help with content performance optimization. We’re new to the marketplace. We live and die by website traffic. INK allows us to ensure that every piece of content we publish is optimized to achieve the most views from our target users. We then measure against our most important metrics, learn, adapt and repeat. Technology provides the data-driven insights that power our decision making.
How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a Business Leader?
Great question. We started EDGY, which allowed us to build INK, based on the theory that AI was going to bring a fourth industrial revolution. Although at its infancy, you can see the seedling of how our world is changing. Our aim was to understand this evolving world to prepare ourselves and customers for these changes.
When personally looking at this new landscape, I took a few steps: 1) read as much as possible on the subject. I am by no means an expert, am not a mathematician, but I am learning and watching for impact markers, 2) partner with people who are experts and help them find other experts, then build centers of excellence around these people. This is something we have done well at INK and an area we will continue to heavily invest in. 3) develop and have a point of view. Our contention is that AI should be used to power man not replace them. Notice, we didn’t build an auto-text generator. We built a platform to help writers use their tone and voice with our insights so they can be more relevant online. That is an important POV which is part of the fabric of our company DNA 4) jump in the game, build products that are true AI and will be part of shaping the future.
How do you inspire your people to work with technology?
By showing how technology can work for them. As a distributed team, we are hyper-focused on communication. We see technology as a tool to foster better collaboration and connecting with each other with more meaningful interactions. Just like INK works for the content creator, not replacing them but making their life easier and results better, we find that our people are excited whenever technology genuinely improves their work and results.
One word that best describes how you work.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
Which superhero character/movie do you most profoundly relate to
This is difficult. I am a cinephile and am always drawn towards the anti-hero movies (Deadpool, punisher etc). I think I am most fond of is Kickass.
What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?
Each morning, I write down three things I am grateful for and three things I want to accomplish today. By having a clear focus on what matters for that day, it helps to set the tone and make sure that each day I am accomplishing something important.
What are you currently reading?
Currently, I am reading:
- Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Issac
- The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
- An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of The Immune System by Matt Richtel
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve been lucky to have amazing mentors and advisors over the years. They have taught me countless lessons and advised on myriad topics. However, it’s this Bill Gates quote that sticks with me: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
It’s so easy for business leaders to get wrapped up in the now, the instant gratification of success. We often miss that truly essential part of a business is that building is for the long term. It takes patience and persistence. I’ve spent a lot of time training my mind to focus on long term outcomes, trying to be patient, yet pushing forward each day. It’s a great quotation that reiterates this short-term wins toward long-term success mentality I have, and how important it is to keep them both aligned and in mind. I think about these words often.
Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?
Understanding what I am good at and love doing, delegating the tasks that I am not good at and don’t love, and elevating team members to become leaders.
Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read
Thank you, Michael! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.
As an experienced entrepreneur, Michael is driven to achieve operational excellence. He is passionate about getting ahead of the curve and helping others achieve the same. By the age of 19, Michael was spending summers helping to grow his first start-up. Just two years later, he started his own tech venture, Blastro.com, one of the world’s first video streaming companies seven years before YouTube went live. Voted “Best of the Web” by Bloomberg Business in 2007, Blastro.com continues to be a key marketing conduit for major record labels and artists.
In 2013 Michael came onboard as CEO of Laura U Interior Design to reset the company’s strategic direction in part by implementing a robust digital marketing, social media, content creation, and search engine optimization platform that has been crucial in the firm’s continued growth and online notoriety.
Two years later Michael co-founded SEO Aspen alongside expertdeveloper Alexander De Ridder with next generation algorithms and insight, SEO Aspen isimproving the process, performance, and experience that clients have with Search EngineMarketing.
INK is a Content Technology company dedicated to the future of Content Performance Optimization (CPO) and driven by a vision of a world where storytellers control their own search destiny. The company’s proprietary, ground-up AI and real-time integrated platform bridge the gap between content creation and return on investment (ROI).
By working to democratize content performance, INK shifts control of content’s searchability into the hands of the people and companies who create it. The company is led by serial tech entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer Michael Umansky, marketing and AI expert and Chief Technology Officer Alexander De Ridder, and seasoned marketing and sales executive and Chief Revenue Officer Gary Hayman.
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.