First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Scott Swanson: Thanks for asking. We’re currently double-sheltered in place here in the San Francisco Bay Area with the area’s worst wildfire season ever. My son is anxious to play outside, but the air has been unhealthy for going on three weeks now, so we’ve had to come up with creative indoor activities. We recently installed an indoor swing set on a door jamb in our house that he loves. Overall, this is certainly a difficult time, but we have a lot to be grateful for our immediate friends and family’s good health. Luckily, our business is healthy too!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Aki Technologies
Scott Swanson: I’ve worked in digital advertising my whole career and enjoy finding ways to make advertising work in our new mobile world. In 2010, I founded a company called Mobile Theory. Our goal there was to convince brand advertisers to spend on mobile. As you know, brands ultimately embraced and decided to migrate their budgets to mobile channels, and Opera Mediaworks acquired mobile Theory in 2012. I served as the president of Opera’s advertising sales & operations division. After that, I wanted to continue to find additional ways to solve the most important problems in this industry.
While brands had come to invest in mobile, they weren’t really looking at what a person was doing or feeling—those things weren’t taken into account when delivering mobile advertising. I saw a ton of opportunities to help solve this problem with the advent of data and the ability to process it, and so we decided to launch Aki Technologies to meet that challenge.
How does Aki Technologies innovate?
Scott Swanson: We use AI to help us be smarter about reaching consumers with paid media. Mobile moments provide a framework from which to understand and approach consumers better. By analyzing the full range of mobile data signals, moments tell advertisers more than simply whether a person is within their target segment or at a relevant location. Instead, Aki enables brands to predict an individual’s state of mind and the associated needs and relevant services or products to determine if this is a productive time to connect with their product. Mobile moments give brands greater emotional intelligence, so they can approach consumers with greater empathy, drive stronger engagement, and ultimately eliminate friction in the user experience.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Scott Swanson: In January, we acquired the technical assets of Eyeview. While buying something right before a pandemic (and the belt-tightening that comes with it) might not seem fortuitous, we are really glad to have the video and personalization capabilities that Eyeview offers because we are better able to serve our clients and increase their ROAS. We have obviously had to adapt to remote meetings and have noticed our staff gets “zoom fatigue” when they have too many video meetings per day. I’ve personally recommended that if a meeting is 1:1, that it be a phone call so that our staff can feel free to stand up from their desks and move a bit more to stay more physically healthy.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Scott Swanson: Many companies had to lay off or furlough employees. We decided instead to reduce salaries by 15% across the board and keep our team intact. The team really pulled together and was able to get our business back on track, so we returned salaries to their original levels in August. I was very proud of our team for that huge accomplishment in the midst of the pandemic. We have also instituted remote learning (Excel, chess, and Spanish classes), fitness classes (Zumba, HIIT, yoga via Zoom), and Ted Talks. I’ve also decided to book calls with employees so that I can be sure to check in with everyone since I can’t see people in person.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you protect yourself and Aki Technologies in the future?
Scott Swanson: It’s really important to stay in tune with yourself and with those of your staff and organization. For me, if I’m feeling antsy or having trouble being as productive as I’d like, I know it’s important to permit myself, even if I have a ton of things to do, to go for a walk and clear my head. I know I’ll be much more productive if I do for the organization, that has meant more frequent All-Hands meetings, more transparency around decisions, and the data we’re using to make those decisions as an executive team. We’re doing a fun All Company event this week called “Zoomapalooza,” which is intended to just be for fun to let our staff connect and work on something new together, virtually.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Scott Swanson: Since we have evolved from mobile into an omnichannel offering, we really compete with just about any company that sells digital media. That ranges from Facebook and Google on the extremely scaled to the retailer media networks operated by Target and Walmart, to more context-specific targeting offerings. For example, the New York Times and Spotify both offer moments-based offerings based on the types of content their users are consuming on their platforms.
Your final thoughts
Scott Swanson: We had originally scheduled an in-person All Hands get-together for our team in March that obviously had to be made virtual as the shelter-in-place orders were issued with the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic. We had originally titled the event “Bolder & Stronger.” However, acknowledging our circumstances, we retitled the event “Adaptation.” I think that word “Adaptation” is a very useful theme to return to in challenging times like these. All of nature, all of our traits and capabilities, are evolutionary adaptations to environmental challenges that our ancestors encountered. So in a sense, all of nature’s design, including humans very form, has literally been forged by challenges. So if we feel like we’re up against insurmountable odds, I find it’s useful to shift the narrative in your mind from “Man, this is really hard” to “How can I adapt?” If we remember that we are highly adaptive animals, then we can rest assured that we can persevere and even become better if we adapt to a new environment quickly.