Today’s interview is with CEO and Founder of Visual Revenue, Dennis R. Mortensen, and VP of Marketing, Rich Ullman. Visual Revenue is the only real-time analytics solution that is designed specifically to enhance the hand of editors in data driven newsrooms.
Tell me about the inspiration for the idea behind Visual Revenue.
We found that a lot of people are led to believe that providing organization-wide access to raw data will instantly make them smarter about their decision-making, a belief that is unfortunately not true. In the media industry, many decisions around content have historically been made from editorial gut feelings, best practices, prior performance – but rarely if ever because a story was proven through data to resonate well with the audience.
We thought this decision-making process seemed extremely analog and that we could make it better by being more data driven. Our product as it stands today participates in the decision as to which story should go out, when, and where. In short, we strive to empower editors with data in a way that they haven’t seen before. Our platform provides editors with, amongst many things, one succinct recommendation on what to do next after an article is initially published!
Describe the value that Visual Revenue brings to the market.
We believe that there are two distinct values, the first of which is providing clarity on success and failure. Editors make hundreds of decisions about stories every single day, and it’s not always obvious which decisions are good and which are not optimal. We clearly enlighten the output of this decision-making process through our platform. The second value we bring is a suggestion – an alternative solution — to the programming action that editors have taken. After simply showing the positive or negative effect of editorial decisions, we also politely suggest what to do next, so that they can increase the number of optimal decisions they make every day.
What have been the most effective marketing channels?
The message and positioning of the product has been important for us, especially when it comes to language and working with editors, who are, after all, rather discerning and respectful when it comes to words. We find events to be a very important place to tell our story, given that they’re natural gathering places to engage our specific audience in real dialogue. We also use email marketing as a way to tell our story by opening a dialogue with new prospects and continuing to build an ongoing relationship with our customers.
How do you think about messaging and positioning for Visual Revenue?
While our product builds upon a tremendous amount of data and predictive analysis, we’ve created messaging that speaks in a very different way than most analytics. For the editor, we hope to create a sense of our understanding of their ethos and what’s driving them. What can we do to show that appreciation of their goals? We’ve positioned the product as editorial decision support, because we genuinely believe that data can never truly replace human judgment. It can only simplify decisions; it can enable editors to do their jobs better – to refine their craft.
What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting Visual Revenue?
I never worried about the technical side of building the product and always knew that we could handle that really well. I did struggle with a way to convey clearly to editors that we’re indeed on the same team, whether that be through external messaging or in the way we designed our product. That wasn’t something that came to us overnight. We faced a lot of obstacles in the beginning, approaching editors and quickly finding rejection.
What we decided to do was move our offices into the newsroom of the New York Daily News for a year. We sat literally among hundreds of reporters and editors every day, and that’s the kind of market research that you just can’t get from a survey or an interview. We got to know our target customers at a level only few can hope for. If you want to attack a new industry, you need to know them, so being around editors on a daily basis has been incredibly valuable to our company.
If you had one piece of advice that you would want to share with other startup or entrepreneurial enthusiasts, what would you tell them?
Sometimes with a startup it can be very difficult to know if you’re a month away from success or two months away from utter failure. But we overcame more challenges than we ever thought possible simply by sticking with our projects. So the first piece of advice I would give is, “Never surrender.” It’s okay to lose, but stay with your mission until the very last day. The other piece of advice I would give is to be frugal. It’s very easy to spend money, but it’s so hard to make it. When you stay frugal, you’re buying yourself more time not to surrender.
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