Willingness to continually learn. You always have to be open to learning new skills. It’s how you become a better leader/person.
Campbell Brown is the CEO and Co-Founder at PredictHQ, a global event intelligence platform that aggregates, enriches and connects scheduled and real-time event data happening both locally and globally, then predicts which ones could impact your business.
He is a husband, a father to two boys and a Kiwi (New Zealander). Campbell has spent 7 years in London (where he met his wife) working in Geo-spatial and Ad Tech businesses before moving back to the land of the long white cloud in 2008 to begin his journey into the world of start-ups. A lover of travel, data, tech, taking on the world and the movie Die Hard.
Campbell’s skill set revolves around data, customer acquisition, email, mobile, user journey, brand and conversion optimisation. He was previously part of the original start-up team of five at GrabOne and was the Marketing Director there. GrabOne grew from 0 to $100 million annual revenue inside 3 years. He was an early investor in Zoomy, a taxi platform business. He was also the CMO at global travel business Online Republic, which is where he co-founded PredictHQ with Robert Kern and Mike Ballantyne.
Where did the idea for PredictHQ come from?
My relationship with data really came to fruition in a previous start-up where I had seen its power first hand. That is, when it’s applied in a relevant, timely and programmatic fashion, it can materially improve conversion at scale.
This data awakening of sorts, combined with a need to be involved in a globally focused business led me to meet Mike Ballantyne (Co-Founder of Online Republic, a global travel group specialising in cruise, car rental and motorhome travel bookings). As I spent more time in the business, learning about the global travel market, we kept retrospectively spotting peaks and troughs with bookings. We manually traced these back to either major events or a cluster of events occurring at the same time within our respective market locations. Our retrospective acknowledgement that events had impacted the business and yet not doing anything about it when it occurred again, had to change across our marketing channels such as email, performance advertising and social media. So we roped in Robert Kern who was also working at Online Republic and is our now CTO at PredictHQ, to set about building our initial platform that could help us programmatically and proactively plan for and take advantage of events predicted to impacted our business the most.PredictHQ has been in a unique position for a start-up because:
PredictHQ has been in a unique position for a start-up because:Online Republic has allowed us to have an idea and then prove or disprove it at scale, within a global ecosystem.
- Online Republic has allowed us to have an idea and then prove or disprove it at scale, within a global ecosystem.
- It was created out of necessity, not only because we wanted to improve profitability but as a business, Online Republic needed to operate globally and act locally.
After initial successes in improving the conversion of Online Republic’s email and PPC campaigns, we knew we had a business we could commercialise globally. The rest they say is history.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The great thing about a start-up is that your days are always different because you are on such a steep learning curve. From focusing the vision, assessing the opportunities to take advantage of, talking to other shareholders, talking to lawyers about contracts, jumping on a plane to meet new partners or even diving into customer service to answer and nurture early adopters. It’s what I love, it’s why I do it. You are building something special with a team of talented people. There are of course some constants in my day that allow me to stay productive no matter where I am:
- Exercise, even if it’s 5 mins in the morning to wake myself up. I’m no Chuck Norris but I do know the importance of staying active to better cope with stress.
- Coffee in the morning, green tea in the afternoon.
- Communicate with the team using a combo of new school (Slack) and old school methods (i.e. walking over to people’s desks, crazy I know).
- Keep an eye on our 3 Geckoboard dashboards which we are always refining: Customer
- Overview, Business Health and Acquisition. Having a macro view of our business enables us to spot potential issues to investigate without getting stuck on the micro. There are only so many hours in a day.
- Try and learn about something new, no matter how small. The best way to do this is either bite-size video or curated content that I can find out more about if I deem it relevant or important. I tend to do this either on the way to work or on the way home.
How do you bring ideas to life?
There are two ways I tend to evolve ideas, both of which can be conflicting at times and can also depend on where I am e.g. on a 12-hour flight vs. a run at lunch time.
First approach: tends to happen on a long haul flight or holiday. I evolve an idea in my mind, asking myself if I’m really solving a problem. Then, as I’m very visual, I will start to map it out in my notebook, Evernote or within Cacoo: . If the idea still makes sense then I get other people involved who have a different approach to ideation. Sometimes they have a far more pragmatic, detailed and considered thought process than what I might have. Yen (@yenclim) who heads up our Product Development is one of those people that helps me on a daily basis with ideas. Yen can either take my sometimes crazy ramblings and create an amazing product or feature from them or help evolve/pivot it into something more useful.
Second approach: tends to happen on a run or late night inspiration. As soon as the idea hits my brain I have to do it. The benefit is clear and it becomes about getting it to market as soon as possible so we can quickly learn, adapt and evolve. It can be as small as a change to a meta description on a page through to building a new feature in our event intelligence web app.
Either way, for ideas to become a reality people, need to embrace feedback, be passionate but not at the expense of thinking emotively, evolve it with people who think differently to you and as with most things, keep it simple so you have great foundations to build on.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The democratisation of data and the applications for this in a wide variety of different sectors such as travel, mobile programmatic and even real estate. However it’s important to remember the below when it comes to commercialising accessible data:
- No matter how complex the process is to produce an answer, make sure it’s easy for the end consumer to digest and create actions from. Some businesses end up thinking they need to over engineer the answer based on the effort required to generate it. Think about Google, they possess some of the richest data known to man but if I simply want to know what “paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia” is then I’m presented with a simple answer.
- Leveraging accessible data in its original format can be useful but what IP are you bringing to the table? At PredictHQ, we consume millions of real-time and scheduled events from concerts, through to natural disasters. So, whilst standardising and aggregating millions of events from around the world into a single source is hugely useful, we needed to do more. That’s why we enrich every single event with additional data to allow us to rank events side by side. This then segued into our Event Signals feature which predicts what events impact your business the most.
Long story short, democratising data is a hugely exciting trend but the businesses that will be worth watching are the ones that can keep things simple and focus on adding tangible IP.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m always trying to optimise my life so I can spend more time with my family whilst growing a global business. It can be anything that you think you can either do faster or create a double benefit from. For example, I stopped driving to the office. Instead, I either take the bus so I can spend 30 mins getting my day in order before I see the team. Then 30 mins getting home to clear anything I need to so I can be 100% focused on my family (though not always possible). I also bike in some days so I have the double benefit of getting to work faster and staying fit at the same time.
If you want to see some of the top things I do to optimise my life, I have written a blog post on it as it’s something I’m quite passionate about
Work life balance is nearly impossible when you are in a start-up but if you work at it then you can find something that resembles a quasi-balance.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
My first job – a milk run after school which was part hanging off the back of the milk truck and part running with a huge trolley of milk delivering where the truck couldn’t. At the time, I was 12 years old and I had just had my first flying lesson. I told Mum I wanted to keep flying which was an expensive passion. So that week when the milk truck went past, my mum asked if they had any jobs going. Because it was my first job, I resented having my spare time taken away but I began to enjoy it when I saw the benefits which came out of hard graft and commitment.
When I look back and reflect on this, it was a defining moment in my early life. I will always be grateful to my parents for instilling in me the virtues of working hard to get what you want, knowing the value of a dollar and mitigating any thoughts of entitlement. From this initial job I was able to fund myself to a point where I flew my first plane (a Cessna 152, call sign Foxtrot Whisky Kilo) solo 8 days after my 16th birthday. It’s something I’m really proud of.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I think I will always have those uneasy feelings like “shit if only we could have done this sooner” but that’s more my impatient personality more than anything else. As cliched as it sounds making mistakes, adapting and iterating quickly is ultimately what builds a better product and clearer path to revenue.
Through our initial challenges, we have been able to focus on a vision which I would never have fathomed possible when first beginning this journey. While I would love to claim that the vision has been born out of some sort of early premonition, it wasn’t. It’s been born out of hard graft, an amazing team and the ability to think better, stronger, faster. People should never confuse hindsight with vision.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Willingness to continually learn. You always have to be open to learning new skills. It’s how you become a better leader/person. The reality is, if I made like Marty McFly and traveled back in time to meet myself 5 years ago, I probably would have ended up punching myself in the face, triggering a cataclysmic chain of events. In all seriousness, though, I’m very far from perfect nor do I ever try to be as I believe that’s what gives you character. However, I have been able to learn new skills/tactics, adapt them to a situation and grow from it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Smart growth. So not just looking at piling millions of dollars into paid acquisition but actually taking a step back and trying to see the bigger picture. How can we grow exponentially but in a sustainable and profitable way? Paid acquisition is always part of the game plan but more complementary versus dependency. We have been focusing on leveraging our technology and data to grow more sustainably, at a higher margin, with lower churn and adding products and integration partnerships to help reduce our CAC (customer acquisition cost).
For example, we are just about to release a new free productivity tool called FOCUS which helps us to:
- Continue to educate potential customers about event intelligence and why it’s important to businesses.
- Generate new leads in a non-invasive process (you can use your PredictHQ account to log in, sign up for a PredictHQ account or simply use it without one) that we can on-board and then funnel through qualified leads to our Web App and API products.
- Showcases another example of what anyone can build using our API.
- Creates a product which we can market through more mass channels, in particular, one where we have the ability to distribute at no cost to millions of people (via our relationship with Online Republic). Whilst this is more of a catch-all approach our ability to qualify potentially new customers mitigates this somewhat.
- Offer a free alternative to our Web App which still gives you event visibility but helps the eventual transition from beta to paid.This has not been an overnight realisation, it’s been refined through feedback, learning from our mistakes and adapting to the ever-changing start-up landscape. We believe the path we are on now is going to allow us to do this at scale.
This has not been an overnight realisation, it’s been refined through feedback, learning from our mistakes and adapting to the ever-changing start-up landscape. We believe the path we are on now is going to allow us to do this at scale.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Spending an inordinate amount of time trying to build a platform on my own which took me very close to complete burn out. It was never quite there. For me, it wasn’t so much overcoming the failure but a realisation (potentially a coping mechanism for the failure) that an idea is only worth so much, and you need a great team to truly bring it to life.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The real estate industry is still ripe for disruption due to the fragmented nature of its sometimes rogue real estate agent community. Therefore having a start-up that can create a sustainable, automated and scalable platform which connects the fragmented real estate industry and closes the loop on the agent/seller/buyer lifecycle, would be amazing. If someone is looking to break into this particular sector then initially focus your efforts on obtaining property listings to distribute to trusted agents versus purely helping agents/homeowners sell properties. There are businesses that help with this function today in some way shape or form. However looking at the bigger picture of what it could become once a critical mass of data has been acquired (both natively and via third parties) and tools you build to solve problems. For example, improving the customer experiences pre, during and post open homes, is where the real IP lies. Closing this agent/seller/buyer loop also opens the door (so to speak) to more relevant and timely products associated with mortgages, insurance, broadband, power and other home-based services.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought my favourite bottle of New Zealand wine (not only because of taste but it has sentimental meaning for me), Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc: as a gift for a very clever individual who has started up some huge B2B businesses in the US and the UK. He took time out of his day when he didn’t need to, to offer guidance. The few hours that I was able to spend with him were invaluable so showing some small form of appreciation for him “paying it forward” is the least I could do. Paying it forward and helping people whilst not always viable due to your own commitments is something you should actively try and do, no matter how small.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Slack: It’s the communication and visibility hub of our business. Outside of simply keeping our team at PredictHQ connected in real-time no matter where in the world we are, we also feed most of our key notifications into Slack. For example. new customer sign-ups, staging environment releases, github deployments and the list goes on. We even created our own PredictHQ integration for Slack: https://slack.com/apps/
Invision: | @InVisionApp
This has been crucial in our design process and it’s one of those products which we struggle to think of life before it.
Intercom: | @intercom
It’s so intuitive and easily provides you with a great overview of your customers which you can also use to trigger certain coms. Their chat for both visitors to your website (who could become customers) and our logged in customers is a fantastic way to communicate.
Zendesk: | @Zendesk
We use Zendesk for customer enquiries via our website but we also use them to create a knowledge base support centre filled with help articles for our users.
Geckoboard: | @geckoboard
They easily have the most relevant integrations for our business so is a real asset for maintaining a macro view of our key business metrics on a day to day basis.
Github: | @github
Coding without GitHub is like coding without a screen. GitHub makes it so easy to keep track of who does what, when and why and lets us easily manage exactly what changes are going to be deployed.
Newrelic: | @newrelic
We use New Relic to monitor our apps and servers. It gives us an x-ray vision of what is happening anywhere in our stack and alerts us when anything bad is about to happen.
Runscope: | @Runscope
We use it to test at every stage of deployment that our API behaves as expected and as documented. Essentially allows our CDO to sleep better at night knowing breaking changes are less likely to make it to production.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m not a huge reader of books. I prefer to consume knowledge through real-life interactions or trying to understand people I admire and share a similar vision to. Some of these people are not what normal society would deem successful but for me possess self-effacing qualities that people can often lose focus on, myself included. I believe that everyone has their own journey to take and far too often people become obsessed with imitating a successful person. I have learnt some of the most important lessons in business by working with some of the most divisive, inefficient and self-serving people you could imagine.
Well, that got deep pretty quickly so on a lighter note, a book I have read which is not going to help you unless you are in a zombie apocalypse: World War Z. The movie sucked on so many levels (sorry Brad) and I’m actually not a big zombie fan. But in the book, Max Brooks’ detailed depiction of a zombie apocalypse is so clever, so well thought through and engaging that it’s the only book I have read in 3 days (I normally meander for at least 3 weeks).
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Obviously, my parents have been a huge part of who I am today in terms of personality, communication style and understanding the value in earning something versus simply expecting it.
I have also had the pleasure of working with amazing people, that are now good friends, who have changed my work ethic, focus and life path. Some people are always wired that way but I would hasten to say that I was not. Looking for ways to optimise my time or pushing myself to break is something that came later. It was potentially always in me based on my early start in employment, dormant, waiting for the right moment but it wasn’t until we started GrabOne, that I witnessed the level you truly needed to be at, to even attempt a successful start-up.
Outside of my personal circle of family, friends and colleagues (old and new) that I draw inspiration from, I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for the people below. This is probably more about drawing inspiration/ideas from leaders who are currently in different stages of growing amazing businesses, whom I can relate to more than any deep philosophical appreciation:
- Elon Musk (Tesla) @elonmusk
- Stewart Butterfield (Slack) @stewart
- Rod Drury (Xero) @roddrury
- Eoghan McCabe (Intercom) @eoghanmccabe
- Mike Cannon-Brookes (Atlassian) @mcannonbrookes
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