First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Greg Dolan: This year has certainly brought a lot of unprecedented challenges. As a family, we’ve had to adjust to my wife and I both working from home full-time and our three children having to navigate virtual school. Thankfully, we have all remained safe and healthy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Keen.
Greg Dolan: My marketing career started at Campbell’s Soup Company, where I was a brand marketer responsible for millions in marketing spend. I was frequently frustrated by the lack of available tools to understand my strategy’s financial impact on our business.
I met my co-worker, now co-founder, John Busbice, who worked as a data scientist and shared my frustrations, conducting exhaustive analytics studies without much utility.
Together, we share a vision of enabling marketers to predictively optimize spending decisions with timely, accurate data that quantifies financial impact.
What started out as an Excel prototype developed into a cloud-based application that helps marketers drive quantifiable value through their investments. In 2015, we decided to pivot from a consulting-driven company to a SaaS-based model. Now, we have grown to 32 team members and counting, with $2B of brand spending under management with such major brands as Post, Bridgestone, Arm & Hammer, and more.
How does Keen innovate?
Greg Dolan: Keen is committed to helping marketers make courageous, data-driven decisions that build winning brands. Our innovation strategy is led by customer insight and our commitment to deliver the insights our brands need to win.
For example, our core solution models against a financial goal, but we’ve added a leading indicator model for clients who want to optimize against other key indicators, such as household penetration.
We’ve introduced a portfolio solution so that a company can not only improve the return on investment at the brand level but look across the entire portfolio to determine how much to invest in each brand to maximize return.
Consumer brands spend $1 trillion a year on marketing to yield a 2% average return; most marketers can’t tell you the financial impact of their strategies. In contrast, brands using our platform to guide their decisions have driven a 41% improvement in marketing lift over the past 52 weeks.
Their success has fueled our own; Keen has been named to Inc. Magazine’s 5000 fastest-growing private companies for the past two years, moving up 913 points in 2020!
How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Greg Dolan: One of our core values at Keen is empathy. We have made it our mission to extend empathy to how the coronavirus has impacted our clients, many of whom are major name brands that faced unprecedented, high demand during the early stages of lockdown.
While we are anxious for this pandemic to pass, it has highlighted why our solution is so valuable for marketers who want to prove their impact and be agile. Our solution helps marketers quickly adapt their strategy to unexpected changes, like seasonality, demand, and even novel ones like the coronavirus. We’ve seen our clients utilize the tool to plan in the face of major uncertainty and even achieve a 41% improvement in marketing lift within 52 weeks during this challenging year.
We’ve had to adapt internally and make the tough decision to have our team members work from home full-time. Biweekly virtual happy hours, virtual game nights, and socially distanced get-togethers have helped us stay connected and foster our teamwork culture.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Greg Dolan: Early this year, we had to enforce a full-time work-from-home policy for our team members in order to keep everyone healthy. Our culture at Keen is built on collaboration and teamwork, a trait that is easily recognizable when you walk into our coworking space in Durham, NC.
During this really challenging year, I’ve seen our unique company culture prevail and thrive outside of our office despite our inability to physically be together. We’ve grown and onboarded several new employees and clients, committed to hosting bi-weekly, virtual get-togethers, and achieved a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies for the second year in a row. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that our culture is truly built on and fostered by our team’s hard work and dedication to success, regardless of where we are.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Keen in the future?
Greg Dolan: At Keen, we believe in the saying, “grow or die.” We stay focused on our goals but make sure to stop and celebrate our wins along the way. A major win for us has been how we’ve still managed to grow and succeed in the face of this pandemic. Staying focused and grateful for our fortunate success has helped us navigate this year’s challenges.
The end game for Keen is to be seen as the leader in marketing-investment support and analytics. We’re on a mission to close that gap — also known as the ‘marketing proof gap’ between marketers’ believed impact and their actual financial impact so that they are seen as a key driver of growth for their business.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Greg Dolan: Keen occupies a unique niche of the marketing investment measurement space. While some of our competitors include major research firms like Nielsen and IRI, we really feel that Keen’s solution sets itself apart from the rest.
Our solution makes a business’ full knowledge estate actionable and accessible for marketers to build optimized plans that generate financial impact. Our data is accurate and timely so that marketers can assess trade-offs between long-term value and their current objectives, optimize by channel and timing, generate revenue forecasts, and adapt to change, like seasonality or COVID. We promote agility and data-driven decision making, differentiating us from larger firms that can’t provide timely data access, and offer marketers the ability to adjust on-the-fly.
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