MarTech Interview with Robert Vis, CEO at MessageBird

MarTech Interview with Robert Vis, CEO, MessageBird
MarTech Interview with Robert Vis, CEO, MessageBird

“AI is particularly interesting when it comes to the intersection of Cloud Communications and the Internet of Things. “

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

MessageBird itself was a big idea that started small, with just a handful of people in a garage along a canal in Amsterdam. Before founding MessageBird in 2011, I ran a company called ZayPay—a payments platform that enabled users to pay for virtual goods through their mobile phone bills in more than 50 countries. To do that, we needed to verify phone numbers via text message, but the market leader at that time was unreliable. Messages were lost or not delivered on time, and it was costing us revenue. So, our team decided to build our own technology stack in-house and integrate directly with the leading carrier in the Netherlands. At the time, that was something only big companies like Nokia or Ericsson were doing. But, despite our size, the solution seemed logical to us—if you really want to innovate, you have to own the base-level infrastructure.

The technology we built worked so well that our former vendor became our first client. Fast-forward seven years, and now the business we launched with just a handful of employees and a couple of customers has grown into a global operation—with seven offices worldwide, more than 15,000 customers—including Uber, SAP, Hello Fresh, and Google—as well as integrations with companies like WhatsApp and WeChat. My role as the CEO is to empower our ever-expanding global team to best serve our customers.

What is MessageBird and how does it fit into a modern Enterprise Communication Technology stack?

MessageBird is a Cloud Communications platform company that enables businesses of any size to easily communicate with their customers all over the world. We are the technology that allows you to call or text your Uber driver or get real-time updates from your airline, your DHL delivery person or even confirm or reschedule appointments with your doctor. We also power mission-critical communications: banks sending two-factor authentication or fraudulent activity notices, and Amber Alerts to spread the word of emergencies.

Today, enterprises can no longer call the shots when it comes to dictating how customers interact with them. These days, customers expect businesses to meet them where they are, instead of the other way around. In order to provide the digital experiences customers expect, businesses need scalable, flexible communications systems that enable them to experiment and innovate quickly. That’s where MessageBird comes in. We are helping businesses modernize communications while making it possible for consumers to communicate with businesses the same way they do with their friends and family—via their favorite communications channels, on their own timeframes, and with all of the contexts of previous conversations.

Which businesses are the fastest to adopt Voice and Unified Communications platforms? How does it impact Branding and Marketing operations?

There is no business and no industry that cannot benefit from better communications with their customers. Our customers range from agricultural technology companies like Connecterra, an AI-enabled dairy farm assistant that uses MessageBird to send SMS alerts to farmers about the health and well-being of their herds, to DHL, a global leader in Logistics and Shipping, which has leveraged the platform to revamp the way it interacts with customers—giving them real-time updates along delivery routes, instead of relying on a slip of paper shoved underneath the door stop. Another example is the Airline industry. Back in the day, passengers may not have been aware of gate changes or departure delays until they physically arrived at the airport. Now, that information is available at passengers’ fingertips—not just via SMS or voice, but via whichever communications channel they prefer, including Telegram, WeChat, WhatsApp, Messenger and more.

Plus, with advancements in Cloud Communications software, including no-code solutions that can be used intuitively by non-technical teams, it’s easier and more accessible than ever for businesses of all sizes, even those without Amazon-sized developer budgets, to build the experiences customers increasingly expect. For example, we see Marketing teams can using no-code solutions to inform customers about upcoming sales on items they might care about. Support teams helping callers reach the right person without a lot of hassle or hold time. And, Sales departments building communications flows to handle incoming inquiries from demand-generation activities.

Businesses today have to provide an engaging experience that builds brand loyalty and creates a strong connection with customers while also providing on-the-go convenience that our increasingly on-demand world expects. That’s what we’re helping to provide.

What is the relation between Marketing Technology and Digital Communications?

Building brand loyalty hinges on having a strong connection with the customer, understanding their needs and meeting them where they are. Customers will respond to communication as long as it is relevant and delivered via their favorite communications channels—whether it’s SMS, messaging apps or voice. The trick is plugging into easy to implement technologies that let you easily track your customer’s journey. When businesses have easy access to their entire interaction history with a customer, it improves the customer experience and extends that customer journey.

Which brands/industries have managed to successfully transform their Digital Journeys using Communications platforms?

We’re seeing innovators in every industry use the platform. Take SuitSupply, for instance – a retailer that helps customers find their perfect fit in tailored fashion by connecting customers with personal stylists via whichever communications channel they prefer, whether it’s WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, phone and email.

UK-based DrDoctor is helping the National Health Service save millions of pounds a year by cutting down on patient no-shows. Using MessageBird’s SMS API, DrDoctor can reach hundreds of thousands of patients anytime, anywhere via text reminders and alerts—leading to a 40% reduction in no-shows.

Transformation is taking place everywhere from banking, insurance, logistics, retail, healthcare and just about anything that goes under the banner of an “on-demand” service.

How can businesses maximize their ROI from leveraging your platform?

As Digital Transformation continues to take hold, and companies look to leverage Cloud Communication platforms like ours, it’s common to start with a small implementation to test it out before moving forward with a phased rollout. A full rip-and-replace isn’t common or even advisable. There’s no need to dive into the deep end from the get-go. You can dip a toe in before immersing yourself. Businesses can start by adding one or two channels to their communications mix, and then, as they get familiar with working in the cloud, they learn how easily they can implement additional communications channels over time.

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

MessageBird has integrated with many of the tools businesses already use. SalesForce, Zendesk and our recent partnership with SparkPost even enables businesses to use the MessageBird platform to send emails quickly and reliably anywhere in the world. We continue to add the integrations our customers care about.

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

MessageBird leverages technologies such as AutoPilot, Segment and Salesforce CRM.

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

In the year ahead, businesses will increasingly turn to omnichannel communications strategies. Cloud Communications platforms, like ours, are like Central Management for communication—funneling customer interactions into one thread, via a single platform, no matter which communications channel a customer uses to get in touch. Omnichannel platforms are a bridge—agile enough to enable businesses to adjust to the ever-changing needs of their customers, with all the personalized, consumer-specific context they need to deal with issues as they arise.

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

Every day, it seems like stagnant industries are being disrupted. It’s interesting to guess what the next “on-demand” service will be. Whatever the business and whatever the industry, communications are going to be a big part of the success. We’re standing by ready to help businesses create the best communications experiences they can.

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

AI is particularly interesting when it comes to the intersection of Cloud Communications and the Internet of Things. Cloud communications and Artificial Intelligence make contextual conversations possible between people, computers, and gadgets. Even devices from unrelated systems can begin to talk to one another. The possibilities for this type of two-way communication are endless. They could be cost-saving, like a fleet of delivery trucks using CPaaS to connect IoT sensors directly to support agents. They could be time-saving, like a modem connecting directly to service agents, and providing them with the information they need to solve the issue, instead of having to call a customer service line. Or, they could be life-saving, like a wristband that allows the elderly to remain at home by monitoring their health in real-time, and then alerting a call center staffed with nurses with detailed information as soon as it detects an irregularity.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

We encourage our employees to think big when they’re solving pain points for our customers. Speed is important, but so is creating time and space for creative, innovative, outside-the-box thinking. Trial-and-error, and finding out what isn’t working for your customers can actually put you on a faster course of learning to find out what will work.

We’ve also built our own technology stack in-house, which, back in the day, was something only big telecoms companies did. I think that’s the reason why engineers and developers are drawn to working for MessageBird. They get to roll up their sleeves and challenge themselves by digging into a sophisticated, intricate, and complex technology.

One word that best describes how you work.

Nonstop. Building a business pretty much requires it.

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

We have offices on 4 continents so so the apps I can’t live without are typically travel related – my airline, Uber and whatever local app can bring me food on demand.

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

Relentless prioritization. It’s easy to feel a sense of accomplishment when you cross tasks off of a long to-do list. But, as CEO, it’s my job to cut through distractions and tackle core items that carry the most weight and are the most impactful in moving the needle forward for the business. Each day, I pick the 3 that I need to knock out of the park and focus on those relentlessly.

 What are you currently reading?

I’m a big believer in self-driven learning. We live in an age where access to information is broadly available like never before in history. Anyone with a mindset to learn can do so, all on their own, via Google, YouTube and the like. So, I consume a lot of information online.

Currently reading, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith, which examines the work habits that propel leaders to the next level. Also just read The Hard Things about Hard Things for the fifth time.

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

I always go back to the advice that Michael Seibel, Partner, and CEO at Y Combinator, gave to us while we were going through the program. At the time, MessageBird was the latest-stage company to participate. By the time we joined, we had already been bootstrapping, profitably, for nearly six years. That’s why it was so refreshing to hear Michael tell our class, “Ideas are one thing. Traction is another. It’s a myth that ideas are what’s important. You’re judged on execution. You have to be able to execute your vision.” Hearing Michael says those words, to me, reinforced that—even though our path to Silicon Valley as a startup wasn’t the most conventional—we were on the right track, and focused on the right things: building a business we believed in, that we knew could scale.

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

Hussle. At any point during my journey as a founder, if there was something I didn’t know or something I didn’t have the answer to, I did whatever it took to find the answer. I read everything I could get my hands on and had countless meetings with experts in the field until I became one myself. Before we launched MessageBird, I didn’t know the ins-and-outs of the telecoms industry. I read thousands of pages on old-school telecom infrastructure – like SS7 signaling, for example. I wanted to understand how networks worked and what the biggest pain points were in reliability. Even though I didn’t understand all of it, there were still key learnings that defined how we build our technology infrastructure.

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

Elon Musk.

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

Robert Vis is the founder and CEO of MessageBird, the Amsterdam and San Francisco-based Cloud Communications platform offering a suite of APIs that enable developers and enterprises to communicate with customers in virtually every corner of the planet. Bootstrapped since its founding, MessageBird closed the largest-ever early stage investment into a European software company in late 2017 ($60m led by US-based Accel and UK-based Atomico). Prior to MessageBird, Robert was the co-founder and CEO of Zaypay.com, a mobile payments platform. Robert resides in Amsterdam and San Francisco.

messagebird logo

MessageBird is the Amsterdam-based Cloud Communications platform offering a suite of API’s that enable developers and enterprises to communicate with customers in virtually any corner of the planet. Bootstrapped and profitable, MessageBird closed the largest investment into a European software business with $60 Million Series A funding in late 2017.

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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