MarTech Interview with Nadav Shoval, CEO at Spot.IM

MarTech Interview with Nadav Shoval, CEO, Spot.IM
MarTech Interview with Nadav Shoval, CEO, Spot.IM

“If you aren’t thinking about AI and how it will impact your business, you’re at risk of missing something big.”

Tell us about your role and journey into Technology. What inspired you to start at Spot.IM?

As a baby, I was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease. I survived but was left with fairly severe, impaired small motor skills, which made something simple like holding a pencil extremely difficult. In hindsight, you can trace my starting Spot.IM back to this — I was taught to use a computer at a very young age in order to avoid writing mechanically. I quickly discovered and fell in love with the world of technology and online communities, and this has been a core part of who I am ever since.

I came up with the original idea for Spot.IM when I was around 20. Originally starting as a location-based dating app, the company has since evolved into the Spot.IM is today, going from there to a type of live-chat app, and then in 2014 to its “final form.”

That’s when I read the leaked New York Times Digital Innovation Report and had a light-bulb-on kind of moment. The report was the Times’ long-term roadmap to becoming a digital-first publisher, and essentially emphasized the importance of user engagement, community, and building a loyal base of users. I knew then what the future of Spot.IM was. I traveled to NYC, met with over 100 top media execs, and learned about the dire challenges facing the industry.

With their feedback built the Conversation tool to revolutionize engagement on publishers’ sites and from there our entire Community Platform that brought us to where we are now. Independent media has always been a passion for me, and it became our core mission to help publishers thrive in the digital era.

What is Spot.IM and how does it fit into a modern Marketing Technology stack?

Spot.IM doesn’t actually fall into the Marketing Tech category. Rather, it’s a product & technical solution to the challenges publishers face in creating a community on their sites. We work with the biggest publishers in the world to do just that and improve their user retention, engagement, and revenues. Today, publishers aren’t just competing with one another – their biggest competitors are really everything that battles for your digital attention and loyalty, from social networks like Facebook and Twitter to Video games like Fortnite. We help them fight and win that battle.

What these industries have realized — and what many digital publishers are coming to realize — is that the concept of “Lifetime Value” rules in the digital world. That means the focus now lies on how to not only master user acquisition but user retention and engagement as well. We need to understand how does a publisher produces the most value for both itself and the user so that it can foster a long-term relationship? And it really is a relationship. For digital publishing, the best way forward along the path towards better lifetime value is through community-building. We help them identify their top users and engage them. From there we create mutual value and keep those users coming back forever.

Which businesses are fastest to the adoption of real-time conversation and publishing platforms? How does it impact Branding and Marketing operations?

Typically, we see that many of the VC-funded publishers that were born in the modern digital era (like our partners Refinery29) are the quickest to adopt real-time conversation and community-building. However, you might be surprised how quick and enthusiastic “legacy” media houses have been in embracing the tech. They may be intuitively understanding how important community was to the business model of print media — mostly a subscription model.

In regards to branding, having a community is simply a necessity at this point — everyone knows that. But having that community on-site, rather than in places like Facebook or Twitter, is a huge advantage, not just in terms of brand perception and recognition, but in terms of user engagement, acquisition and retention as well.

Apart from monitoring the comments sections on their sites how else can companies leverage your product offerings in order to build sustainable business models? 

Spot.IM is a Community Platform, which goes far beyond just comments. The platform is designed to turn non-engaged users into loyal, active, and returning community members. This act alone is a huge part of creating a sustainable business model for publishers, as active community members are the most valuable users for pretty much any digitally-based business — from video games to social networks and so on. For example, after a user post’s his first comment on Spot.IM, we can expect from that user an increase of 2x in their Average Revenue Per User (ARPU).

As you can see, this act of engagement alone is a trigger for a user to become one of the publisher’s highest performing users. We see even stronger effects over time; on some sites, active community members produce around 5x as much value after several months. It’s not an accident, of course — becoming a part of a community on a site delivers tangible value to that user and creates a far greater identification with the brand.

Tell us more about your recent funding round? How do you plan to extend the benefits to your technology partners and customers?

We recently raised another $25M, led by Insight Partners — who also led 2017’s round. We’re thrilled to have them be re-upping in their belief in us. This year, we’re focused on truly completing our Community Platform, making sure that there is no one else who offers a better solution to publishers. As part of that, we’re undergoing a big upgrade of our core infrastructure, which we’ve already started to roll out to our partners.

This includes a huge increase in speed and general performance. In the coming months, we’ll be releasing additional elements of the platform that we believe will change the game for publishers in terms of how they’ll be able to build communities of loyal, returning users on their own sites. Additionally, we’ll be again doubling our team size (as we did in 2018) and focusing on an expansion to the European market.

Tell us about your technology integrations with other Marketing Technology platforms such as Contacts, Social Media, Automation, Contracts, Email, and Customer Service.

Our platform has many APIs for integrations with different types of technologies, from the MarTech ones named above to PubTech like CMS’ and more. When you work with as many large partners as we have over the years, it incentivizes you to create a platform that’s flexible and integrates with other services, and I think that’s what we’ve been able to build.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

Salesforce is the biggest tool used across our organization. We’re really excited to see what they do with Tableau, another tool we lean heavily on. For personal usage, I love Clearbit. Although it doesn’t necessarily fall into a Marketing or Sales tool, I also am a big advocate for my email client, Superhuman.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Digital Advertising technology for 2019-2020?

What the New York Times is doing with their sentiment-based Project Feels is something I think we’ll start to see a lot more of in late 2019 and into next year. This type of solution can be a game-changer for publishers in terms of first-party data and impact.

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

I’m fascinated by Scroll and Permutive, two companies that are also doing ambitious, innovative work with publishers.

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

If you aren’t thinking about AI and how it will impact your business, you’re at risk of missing something big. We applied AI very early on in our business through Machine Learning in our moderation algorithms, and that proved to be a huge value-differentiator for us when breaking into the publishing market.

When we showed a huge publisher like AOL that we could reduce their need for expensive human moderators and still keep discussions clean, it certainly got their attention. Moving forward, we’re always thinking about how we can utilize AI in smart ways that add value to the publisher or user.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology? 

When hiring new team members we look to their willingness to experiment with new technologies and learn new skills. Mindset is just as important as experience in terms of working with new technology. Since we have an awesome team that loves to try whatever new tech we think can give us an edge, it’s not very hard at all.

One word that best describes how you work.

Focus.

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

Monday, One Note, Superhuman, Slack, Clearbit.

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

I take one full day a week where I hold no meetings, except perhaps with a member of my executive team when needed. I take this day to step back from the day-to-day and “gravity” of our business and focus on the long term strategic initiatives of the company.

What are you currently reading?

“Play Bigger,” which I can’t recommend it enough. I’m usually “reading” at least one book, though I’m often consuming it as an audiobook. In general, I’m actually a visual learner so I prefer to consume information in short, clear snapshots.

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

Focus is everything, and focus means not letting the day-to-day distract you from what you really need to accomplish.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I am obsessively attentive to detail. Some might say maybe too much so (I don’t)! I apply that to everything I do — from product releases to emails.

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

Tony Haile, the CEO of Scroll.

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

Nadav Shoval is the CEO and Co-Founder of Spot.IM, an on-site community that brings the power back to the publisher. Prior to Spot.IM, Nadav has developed and founded 4 technology startups. Spot.IM is his fifth venture.

Nadav is a technology erudite and a sports addict.

spot.im logoSpot.IM’s mission is to create exceptional technology that empowers digital media publishers to develop meaningful and monetizable online communities for their readers within their Owned and Operated webspace. Our enterprise software platform helps the world’s biggest online publishers form independent communities around their distinct content, quickly bolstering their overall engagement and social interactions.

We connect millions of unique users a month across leading digital media publishers including Hearst, Sky Sports, Fox News, AOL, Uproxx, IFLScience, US Magazine, and many more. Spot.IM is VC-backed by Insight Ventures, one of the world’s most trusted and successful institutional investors, and we are focused on growing our standout global team and product stack.

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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