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FanFinders’ CEO, Alec Dobbie on Innovation and Why you Never Stop Learning

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We talked to Alec Dobbie, CEO and co-founder of FanFinders, about innovating in the parenting market and this is what he said about it.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Alec Dobbie: We’re mostly good, occasionally quarrelsome but safe. It’s a little bit like Groundhog Day at times and lockdowns are tough on the kids, but there have been opportunities to connect as a family and these have to be treasured.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded FanFinders.

Alec Dobbie: Well, I’m a long-time software guy. Shortly after becoming a dad and realizing my partner’s data and that of other parents were being misused, I joined up with some smart people to launch our performance marketing and consumer intelligence company back in 2013. 

We were looking at ways of taking the traditional in-person baby club sign-up online, with the aim to arbitrage the cost of finding a member, reduce data list-selling, and the subsequent spamming. We now have over 5 million parents signed up on Your Baby Club, our self-coded platform, employ 25 people, and operate in two continents. Our technology has evolved but I’d say the objective is the same: permission-based marketing to parents through 1st party consent and consumer choice – with zero spam.

How does Fanfinders innovate? 

Alec Dobbie: From day one it has been about bringing something different to the marketplace. We designed Your Baby Club to be personalized, globally scalable, and innovative. I think the longer you’re working on a business, the more you know what you’re doing next. It’s just about going ahead and doing it because you’ve learned from the process so far. 

After 7 years, you can build a path of customer-led innovation. It’s not about throwing stuff at a wall, but testing and delivering exactly what your customers want. Our ambition is to bring tech from other places into our market to drive hyper-personalized experiences, where we’re giving users relevant content at the right time.

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?

Alec Dobbie: Looking at the big picture, COVID-19 made us take a step back to re-evaluate our plans and priorities, coming up with a more streamlined and better business as a result. We’ve also managed to increase our headcount by 30% remotely and integrated new starters better than we did before. 

To work with businesses facing different challenges, we have had to be incredibly flexible in our approach and find digital solutions to support our clients as much as possible. We haven’t been looking for short-term wins but instead, treating each case individually and developing longer-term partnerships in the truest sense. 

One of the bigger impacts was that it created uncertainty across staff, their families, and our customers. Going back to March 2020, no-one knew what to do in a pandemic. Every generation has that one seismic thing that happens during their lives and this is ours. No-one had the instant answers to it and to some extent, they still don’t. Being small and agile allows us to offer the right service for the right partners at the correct time, and we know this – along with our belief in our technology – will pay dividends going forward.

Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?

Alec Dobbie: Deciding to close our office and return to fully remote is one, which was the right choice for the business. We’re better as a team for it and it made us rethink how we communicate. Compared to having half of the team remote and others not, there is more cohesion. It’s tricky to see how that takes us into the future and the longer-term impacts for staff on a personal level, but I suspect that’s an unknown for many industries at the moment. 

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Alec Dobbie: We already used the likes of Slack and Zoom before, but we now spend more time talking to each other but from further afield, which has helped us get our metaphorical ducks in a row with things like weekly ‘all hands’ meetings, planned and strategic inter-departmental comms as opposed more ad hoc office chats. It’s also important to see faces and not just messages.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Alec Dobbie: It’s anyone that is competing for parents’ time online, which in some ways includes the likes of Facebook and Instagram. What we’re trying to do is improve our software so that our users get a better experience with us, getting content and offers that are relevant to them. When they’re deciding how to spend their time digitally, Your Baby Club is the place-to-be.

Your final thoughts?

Alec Dobbie: We’re all improving daily and you never finish learning. We have to continually try to grow as a business and in our roles. Personally, I learn every day and I’m not sure that’s ever going to stop. You never know quite what’s coming around the corner and that’s brilliant because it means you always have to be on top of your business.

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