MarTech Interview with Jonathan Kay, CEO of Apptopia

Jonathan Kay, CEO of Apptopia chats about top B2B dynamics that marketers need to consider when rethinking processes and plans:


Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Jonathan, tell us about your journey through the years and more about Apptopia and what inspired the platform?

Many years ago in my youthful naivete, I assumed that people who knew about money would be the ones to make more money. So I went to business school and I studied finance. But after college I discovered that I had a talent for sales. I pursued that, and at one point ended up in a role that was advertised as sales but turned out to be PR. I was creative and a strong salesman, so I combined the two to push my company into the spotlight based not on our product, but on building buzz that developed into an untraditional, scalable marketing function. That put me on the radar of the VC community, and I was approached by my ex-co-founder to lead a new project idea. When we first started the company, the problem we were trying to solve was consolidation. At the time operating systems had no native functionality, and there was a surge in development that eventually led Apple to cap the number of, say, calculator or weather apps it would offer. We saw that as an opportunity to create a tool that worked like a marketplace, brokering acquisitions of mobile apps. After a couple of years we realized that information was the key to surviving in that kind of environment. So we pivoted our business into the competitive intelligence space to make data more accessible to more brands, because we were seeing they had the same problems whether they were small developers or global enterprises.

What are some of the top observations you’d like to highlight when it comes to today’s data dynamics in B2B?

Most companies have no idea how to evaluate, source, and use data. In many ways the pursuit of data has become the next stage in how people use technology to drive revenue, but it’s not as strategic as it should be.

In my experience, far too many CEOs over-optimize for growth instead of gaining meaningful insights from their data. It’s become a valuable commodity in many senses of the word, yet not enough brands recognize its full potential or have invested the resources into leveraging its power for the good of their own teams or, ultimately, their customers.

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Can you share a few thoughts/best practices on what brands should do when purchasing data and choosing vendors, for various brand purposes?

There’s that old saying, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” I see that as a good indicator of what’s happening with brands today in their search for data. Too many go with the “default” choice—the biggest, best-known provider—because they don’t know where to start. That includes knowing their own plans for the data. So they don’t know what questions to ask to ensure they’re getting what they need, because they haven’t defined exactly what it is they need. People will do exhaustive research to buy the latest gadget or car. Brands should be minimally as diligent in their pursuit of a data solution. And that might require looking two or three steps ahead. Today a report might be enough, but what about reporting next month, next quarter, next year? How well does the solution integrate with existing systems? Was it built by people who know how to build systems to help you understand and use the data, or was it built by people who just know how to sell the idea of data? This is an industry that requires agility and the ability to evolve. Brands that want to be on the cutting-edge in their own space need a strategy that asks questions about how the data can help them reach their goals and how the providers themselves continually adapt to market changes and needs.

While doing this, how can they maintain a strong sense of data integrity?

I’ve heard two schools of thought on data integrity. One is the concept that the best datasets move through procurement and compliance faster because business owners want them more. The second is its opposite; that these datasets should be scrutinized even more closely than others. My view is that having more data on your data is better. The more accurate and valuable the data, the more questions you should ask. In other aspects of life, if it looks too good to be true, we do a triple-check. The same principle should apply here. You should also be able to ask and be comfortable with the “pedigree” of the data you’re purchasing. If the provider is unwilling (or unable) to share metrics, that’s a problem. If someone asked you at some point why you used this data, would you have an answer? Would you be able to show that you did a respectable level of diligence in your review? These kinds of considerations are table stakes in public finance, but are currently falling short in corporate America.

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How in your view should data privacy be looked at given today’s dynamics?

The issue of data privacy is wrapped up in what I’ve said about data integrity. Brands can’t let the pursuit of data cloud their judgment in how that data is collected, stored, or used. Does the provider collect PII? How do they handle it? What are their safeguards? There continues to be this gray area where people don’t have conversations around this, but regulations aside, there’s a moral obligation to how you handle an individual’s information. If you’re not sure of how to proceed, consider it another opportunity to learn from those who are further along. For example, hedge funds started to use data in a more sophisticated way than any other investor. And then you started to see private equity and venture capital firms model their approach after hedge funds. Now you’re starting to see corporations evaluate the health of large companies and trade significant funds based on that data. There’s always the possibility to build on what others have already done. Survey the landscape to see what’s happening in industries that are further along in data compliance. Just because it’s an SEC mandate doesn’t mean it’s not actually a good best practice.

We’d love to hear a few predictions you have in mind for the future of B2B!

I’d like to see B2C and B2B technology and strategies overlap more. The B2B world tends to have this view that B2C has the luxury of taking bigger, more interesting risks. Each side has its particular pressures and challenges to be sure, but both have the opportunity to learn from each other and evolve together. Another thing I’d like to see is more integration of the best companies that are not behemoths like, say, Google. There’s a lot of ego in technology that can hinder opportunities for joint solutions that provide a fundamentally better service for the end customer. Moving beyond this idea that each brand alone needs to compete to “own” the customer and their experience would lead to the kinds of experiences that cement a customer’s appreciation for all brands involved.

Some last thoughts, takeaways, before we wrap up!

Few things are unique. Yet that doesn’t stop a lot of companies from developing custom solutions instead of exploring what’s already out there. We’re lucky to live in a fast-paced, digital economy where you can quickly learn from your competitors’ mistakes and triumphs. But I think brands also need to look more broadly—to brands in other spaces that may offer a wholly different category of product or service but have a similar approach to their business model. That goes back to my earlier point about the opportunity for B2B and B2C crossover. I think B2C leaders are more comfortable with change because their customers demand it of them, and that can be good or bad. I think B2B leaders are more comfortable with the status quo because their losses are more slowly realized. The pace of change is not going to slow for either, however, so brands that want to be sustainable need to absorb those lessons in agility, adaptability, and innovation wherever they’re available.

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Markets | Research Apps and Mobile Trends | Apptopia

Apptopia is a real-time competitive intelligence platform. Brands and financial firms use the platform to generate insights across mobile apps and connected devices.

Jonathan Kay is the CEO of Apptopia.

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