MarTech Interview with Alexey Orap, CEO at YouScan

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MarTech Interview with Alexey Orap, CEO at YouScan

“As AI starts to play a crucial role in data intelligence products, every technology vendor should pay attention to this trend”

Company Insights

Tell us about your journey into Marketing Technology. What inspired you to start a Social Media analytics SaaS company?

I’ve graduated from the Faculty of Computer Science at Kyiv National University. I started my career in the tech industry by the time the internet revolution was in full swing – end of 90’s – and all my jobs were in the tech sector since then. So technology is just “my thing,” and I feel genuinely passionate about it.

Back in 2009, I was working in Yandex, one of the biggest consumer internet companies in the region. I saw how frustrated our PR/Marketing teams were as they attempted to capture users’ feedback about Yandex’s product launches, as they lacked dedicated tools to track a broad scope of mentions on social media.

This insight, combined with my entrepreneurial mindset, was an inspiration to launch YouScan as a pioneering social media listening tool for professional use.

You have a solid experience in leading high-growth business teams in SaaS. Tell us your observations about the evolution of SaaS economy for Marketing and Sales products.

I remember using SalesForce for the first time, I think, around 2005. I didn’t really like it – it was slow and challenging to use, but nevertheless, it felt like a huge leap ahead of many other software tools I’ve used before, because you could use it from everywhere, collaborate with the team, and so on.

MarTech and Sales SaaS products have come a long way since then, and I love many of them now. Most of the tools on the market are well-thought-out, have great UI, and deliver real value to their users. However, there’s a challenge to both users and vendors now: as the playbook of building SaaS companies is well-known and available to every founder and team creating a new product, great products are abundant.

The MarTech SaaS landscape has become crowded and noisy, and with such a big choice, it is sometimes difficult for customers to compare products objectively and pick the right tools for their businesses. For SaaS vendors, it is much more challenging to differentiate their offerings, too.

Overall, I think the market of Marketing and Sales SaaS products today is very exciting, and competition is a good thing for everyone – customers and vendors alike. There are tons of opportunities for everyone.

Customer Success

What is YouScan and how does it help clients uncover customer insights?

Our product, YouScan, is an AI-powered SML (Social Media Listening) platform with advanced image recognition capabilities. We serve 500+ customers, including well-known consumer brands and agencies, such as Nestle, L’Oreal, Chanel, Google, Coca-Cola, Michelin, Samsung, McDonald’s, Mediacom, Kantar TNS, Ipsos, among others.

Our mission is to help companies become better by listening to their customers online. We focus on delivering actionable insights from social media to our users – mostly marketers and consumer insight managers – instantly, with as little manual work as possible required from their side.

For this purpose, we employ AI-powered NLP (Natural Language) technologies, which, for example, can spot anomalies in the data and emerging trends within brand-related discussions on social media. Then our platform proactively delivers these insights to users, in the form of alerts (we have integrations with various messengers), and also makes them available for closer investigation in the interface. We have a virtual character in a product – AINA (which stands for Virtual AI Analyst) – which helps users to navigate insights within our platform.

We have also developed an image recognition technology, called Visual Insights, that we are proud of. The system can detect not only logos but also visual context surrounding the brand — scenes, objects, activities, and even dominating colors in the user-generated photos on social media.

You sell to Marketing professionals, PR, Research and Digital agencies. How can other business teams benefit from investing in your products?

While the majority of our users are indeed marketers, PR professionals, and consumer research experts, applications of social media listening can benefit many other business functions.

For example, it becomes more common for Sales departments to identify prospects on social media. HR teams can manage their company’s employer reputation by tracking relevant discussions and reviews on social media, and source candidates for recruitment.

But the most obvious application for social media listening beyond consumer research, PR and Marketing, is, of course, Customer Support. Many of our customers from service industries, for example, banks and mobile operators, use our platform to find and address customer complaints and issues on social media, thus improving overall customer experience.

We are always inspired and proud when we see cases where the real customer issue was solved by the brand, thanks to their ability to track mentions with YouScan.

Tech as a Culture

Tell us about your corporate culture and how you leverage Sales, Marketing and Communications tools to build it?

We have an unusual name for a set of processes and principles that we employ to build and grow the business – we call it YouScan Operating System, or YouScan OS.

Our corporate culture is at the core of it. For us, it has become a tool to build a strong team. We not only declare our principles in a culture slide deck but apply them daily as we make decisions, especially when there’s an ambiguity or no predefined process on how to navigate a specific working situation.

Speaking of tools that we use to support YouScan OS, there are a lot of them. Still, I guess Slack as a communication tool transformed a lot of our processes, and made the communications inside our distributed teams more agile and open.

However, as with any technology, you have to use it wisely to reap the benefits and avoid potential pitfalls. In the case of enterprise communication tools, distractions may become a real problem. So we keep that in mind at all times.

Which Marketing and Sales technologies are you currently using at YouScan?

Our Sales model is high-touch, so the Marketing and Sales funnels are not fully automated. There’s a stack of technologies and products that we use for prospecting, marketing and acquiring customers.

Traditionally, we used a Sugar CRM for Sales and Support teams, Reply.io for Sales outreach automation, Mailchimp for Marketing campaigns, Unbounce for landing pages, and a bunch of other tools too, for example, tools for lead enrichment, scoring, and website analytics.

As we scale our Marketing and Sales and enter new markets, some bottlenecks in our tools and processes are becoming more apparent, and we are looking for ways to optimize them. I believe it is a common pain for a dynamically growing business as we are.

One of our plans for this year is to deploy the HubSpot platform, which will help us to integrate our Marketing and Sales processes better.

Interestingly, we have recently started to use new technology to identify product qualified leads (users that match specific engagement criteria during their trial period with our product). It looks promising, as it allows our Sales team to act on engagement signals in real-time and convert leads better.

Forecasts on Tech Trends

What are your predictions for Social Media intelligence in 2020-2024? How do new data governance policies and consumer security acts (GDPR, CCPA, etc) disrupt your Marketing campaigns?

The social media landscape changes at a rapid pace: social platforms are experimenting with new formats, new platforms are emerging on the market (TikTok is an example), and of course, data and privacy policies and restrictions start to play a prominent role in shaping the industry. All this directly affects the business of SML vendors, of course. It is never boring in our industry!

That said, I believe that there will be two main trends in a social media intelligence market evolution:

– We’ll see a continued trend for consolidation, as international customers require from the vendors to provide the cutting edge technologies, along with global and regional coverage. The BrandWatch/Crimson Hexagon merger last year is a prominent case.

– Data and privacy restrictions will drive the need to develop better technologies to uncover consumer insights within anonymized or partial data. We believe that AI-powered image recognition capabilities, like YouScan Visual Insights technology, will play a more critical role as this trend continues. They shift emphasis from quantitative analysis (“who said what on social media, and how many times”) to qualitative insights, such as those that you can get from analyzing consumption situations and brand-related visual context on user-generated images.

Also, as AI starts to play a crucial role in data intelligence products, every technology vendor should pay attention to this trend.

Speaking of ourselves, we invest a lot in the AI expertise of our team so that we can stay competitive as technologies evolve. We then focus on applying that expertise to deliver valuable product enhancements to our users, such as ML-powered text analysis and image recognition, that help them to get to insights faster.

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

AI will soon disrupt many industries, including those that were traditionally seen as not high tech-intensive, like Agriculture, to give just one example. So whatever your industry is, you have to keep that in mind and prepare in advance. You can gain a lot by combining your domain expertise and new opportunities in automation offered by AI.

As a business leader, I continuously educate myself on AI and its various implications. Just recently, I’ve finished Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom, which is a fundamental and profound outlook into the strategic landscape of AI evolution. I highly recommend reading it. Also, Andrew Ng has a lot to offer in terms of insights about the AI for business leaders in his Coursera course “AI for Everyone.” You should definitely take it.

Most important technology that no CEO can sustain their business without –

Funnily enough, despite all the advantages of the new technologies (and I consider myself an early adopter), I believe it is a technology that was invented almost 600 years ago, called a printing press, that still plays a vital role in building a great business.

The reason is that there are so many things to be learned to stay competitive that you need to keep educating yourself and your team non-stop. And the best way to educate yourself is still to read great books, even in 2020. Then apply and test that knowledge in a real-world, of course.

What inspires you about technologies?

I guess I love technology because, as Arthur Clarke said, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. We all witnessed the rise of new technologies and how that magic became an integral part of our life. It is fascinating.

Technologies can be truly transformative and improve our societies and lives. And the cool thing is, almost everyone can create them, or at least participate in the creation of new tech that will scale globally. However, technologies can also create unintended externalities and dangers on a local or even global scale. As technologists, we must always carefully consider the ethical and environmental aspects of any technologies we develop.

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

I’d love to hear opinions from marketing and consumer insights professionals, like Amy Cashman from Kantar, about how digital technologies are transforming the consumer research industry.

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

Alexey is  a tech entrepreneur with a successful track record in enterprise SaaS, consumer internet, business intelligence, and telecom industries. I have held technical, sales, business development and leadership roles in “both worlds”: large multi-national corporations as well as tiny start-ups. For more than 15 years, he has been creating and marketing disruptive hi-tech products and services on entirely new markets.

His professional interests and expertise areas are startup management, business development, strategic marketing, emerging technologies, and new business models, social media intelligence, SaaS, as well as renewables and cleantech.

youscan logo

YouScan is an AI-powered social media listening platform with advanced image recognition capabilities.

It is serving 500+ customers worldwide, including well-known consumer brands and agencies, such as Nestle, L’Oreal, Chanel, PepsiCo, Google, Coca-Cola, Michelin, Samsung, McDonald’s, Mediacom, Kantar TNS, Ipsos, among others.

Besides all analytics that you would expect from enterprise-class SML platform, YouScan also features Aina, a virtual AI-powered data analyst, which automatically delivers vital insights and alerts based on social media data.

YouScan also provides market-leading image recognition capabilities, called Visual Insights. They include brand logo detection, scenes, objects, activities, persons, and other photo contents analysis and reporting.

YouScan Visual Insights provide marketers with unprecedented opportunities to uncover consumer insights, find creative content, measure sponsorship ROI, find brand ambassadors, and much more.

YouScan has started as a regional player in CIS before expanding to other markets, so they also offer the best regional-specific data, such as VK.com.

YouScan develops their advanced technology in Kyiv, Ukraine, which is often called “a secret weapon of Silicon Valley”​ because more and more leading tech companies establish their R&D offices there. Due to the unique tech talent abundance, yet to be discovered by most of the industry players, it is a great place to develop deep tech AI-powered products like YouScan.

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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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