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North Star Leaders Podcast

Barry Padgett

Season 2 Episode 6 28 May 2024

Transcript

Barry Padgett:

The broadness of better data, better results, allows us to go serve customers in lots of different ways. And to your point, sounds simple, but not simplistic.

Lindsay Pedersen:

The world needs what only your business can bring. And as a leader, it's your job to deliver. But where do you focus? Where do you direct your time, your team, your budget, and your emotional energy? We are learning this together on the North Star Leaders podcast. I'll be talking to purpose-driven leaders about the choices they make to create audacious economic value while also realizing their distinctive purpose. I'm Lindsay Pedersen, brand strategist, author of Forging An Ironclad Brand and host of the North Star Leaders podcast. Let's get to it.

Today I am so happy to be joined by Barry Padgett. Barry is CEO of Amperity, the customer data unification company. Barry has also held executive roles at Stripe and at SAP Concur, and has served on boards including Freshworks and Duetto. Barry, welcome to the show.

Barry Padgett:

Thank you so much, Lindsay, for having me. I'm really excited about today.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Me too. I'm psyched for this conversation. Barry, to start us off, my question for you is, what is your favorite thing about what you do?

Barry Padgett:

I would say, hands down, the favorite part of this is being at the very onset of the birth of a category. And so, CDP, I would say, in some ways, is long days, short months and short quarters. And we're right at the start of this CDP journey, and I think it'll be multi-decades long in duration and its transformative ability to really reset a whole bunch of the things that I've been doing for years and years.

I was at one company, Concur, you mentioned, and they were at the forefront of what they did for a long time, and it was so fun to be part of that process. And then, I was at Stripe, same thing where they're reinventing and creating all new different types of categories. And so, it's super fun to be out at the outer edge of space here with the new frontiers.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love it. Yeah. You're a maker and you're creating a category.

Barry Padgett:

Yeah.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love the comparison to the days are long, but the years are short, that they say about parenting, that you described that for this kind of endeavor as well with CDP at Amperity, or in any of your leadership roles, to what extent as a leader do you use an explicit artifact North Star, a mission, or set of values, or a promise? To what extent do you lean on something like that?

Barry Padgett:

I think it's really imperative, both in terms of, to your point, having a North star that is your guiding principle of what you're doing, why you're doing it, and helping to make trade-off choices and help prioritize a list of things that all seem super important, but you can only get to the ones that are urgent. So, I think it's helpful from that perspective. I also think it's really helpful for customers and for employees and partners to understand what your journey looks like.

And the best part of those North Star, big, bold, thematic statements is they generally are not a destination and they can live for a long, long time. And so, I think that's helpful. I just think, in general, it's hard to guide the ship without a tiller. And so, sometimes that North Star is your tiller there to help you, especially in early category creation where maybe chaos is the norm and stability is the dream. So, that could be helpful.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I've heard you, in other settings, talk about first principles or use the phrase first principles to lead. Is that synonymous with the way that you think of the North Star?

Barry Padgett:

Yeah. And for us, it's really simple, better data, better result. And you could apply that to a myriad of different things. It's so simplistic and it's almost overly simplistic in the sense that it sounds very straightforward and not a lot of arguments to that assertion. And so, I think, for us, when we think about better data and better results and we specifically apply that to customer data, we can really start to get into the guts of, well, what's problematic today with customer data? What does better data look like and mean? And then, how would we utilize it or deploy it, or make the customer's life better, or make the company's journey a little more straightforward?

And so, yeah, it's really helpful. And I love the simplicity. At Concur, it was the perfect trip. And that was emblematic of everything from the drudgery of expense reports to the delights of mobile booking tools on your phone and taking pictures of receipts and having OCR magically create the journal entries and early days of connecting your credit cards to your expense reports. The perfect trip was really nice in terms of how do you take a business trip and really have it feel more like our personal trips that we take with our family, which we're excited about and there's high delight and we feel like we have agency over. And so, that really worked well.

And then, Stripe, increasing the GDP of the internet, again, very bold and ambitious and straightforward and speaks to the breadth of all the things that Stripe wants to do, which is not just about payments, but it's all of the exchange of value over the internet scenarios you may be able to imagine over the decades to come. And so, I think for us, better data, better results, it gives us both a really strong direction of how we're working with customer data today and stitching and unifying that and helping our customers make use of it. And it's hopefully broad enough where there's lots of other things with data. And if you've got algorithms in AI doing great things with data, why limit it to just one set of use cases around customers? So, that's the journey we're on, Lindsay. And we're just getting started.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love the simplicity of it, and it doesn't seem at all simplistic, it's simple and not simplistic. And sometimes with a mission or something that's a lofty goal like that, we're not there yet, but it's the goal, it can be so lofty that it's hard to imagine how on a day-to-day basis, one would use it to adjudicate trade-offs or prioritize. But I can see better data, better results, yes, we would pursue X, Y, Z, we would not pursue A, B, C. I can imagine. Can you give me an example or two? And maybe it's even a non-sexy, a small example of when it's like, "No, we're not going to do that. Why? Because better data, better results."

Barry Padgett:

Let me complicate things further with more analogies or more metaphors first.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I love those.

Barry Padgett:

Those are so much more fun. And then, I'll give you some examples. When I go to investor meetings or I'm at conferences, I'm in a meeting and I'm trying to explain in the most simple terms what Amperity does and what we stand for and what our long-term vision is. I show one slide and it's a picture of the humble wall outlet behind you, and it's a picture of the outlet. And the talk track around that is we love the trustability of that outlet, we know the ubiquity of that outlet and that we can plug in a hairdryer in the morning and dry our hair or we could plug in a crockpot in the evening and feed our kids, or plug our laptop during the day between those two events and run a small business. The humble outlet is truly magical in that everything works with it, there's a high degree of compatibility, it's always on, it's trustable.

And we don't really know what goes on behind it. It's kind of a black box for us that way. We don't really want to know. We want to plug our stuff into it. And so, the analogy is at a company that serves customers, they have a lot of appliances, they have, as you know, loyalty tools, and e-commerce tools, and digital marketing, and contact center, and support, and point of sale systems, and engagement serving tools, and mobile tools, and websites. They're all appliances. And wouldn't it be lovely if they could just plug all those appliances into an outlet that had a single source of truth about the customer so that when you buy something online and you take it into the store to return it, you're not dealing with the fact that their e-comm site doesn't, at all, talk to their point of sale system and therefore they can't help you or serve you in store.

And you can spread that across every engagement that you have with your favorite brands, whether that's calling customer service, or the emails that they send you, or what your mobile or app experience looks like. Even the simple cart abandonment email you get, the loyalty tools that you engage with. And so, that, in its simplest form, Lindsay, is we are trying to go out there for some of the world's biggest brands, like T-Mobile and Home Depot and Gap and General Motors and Macy's, and ensure that, across these big complex companies, they have a series of wall outlets all over the virtual and physical office that they can plug these appliances in and they immediately get an always on, trusted view of Lindsay that's hydrated and up to date. And they can use that to go and both drive their business forward, but more importantly, serve you as one of their best or one of their newest customers.

And so, I'll give you a couple of examples that maybe illuminate the outlet example. Brooks Running. I'm based here in Seattle, Brooks is based in Seattle. They have a wonderful CMO there, Melanie Allen. And she really takes her job as CMO very seriously, which is her job is to serve the customer no matter where they're in the journey. Whether that's an unknown prospect that they want to get started on their shoe line, or whether that's a 20-year customer that need to continue to do a good job for and show up for every day. And so, they're an Amperity customer and they plug their support and contact center tool, Zendesk is the name of it. They plug that into the wall outlet that we've built for them.

And now, when the customer service rep is in Zendesk, when someone calls in with a problem, that customer service rep sees Lindsay in her full technicolor, all the things about you, your transaction history, your loyalty status, your recent transactions, whether you buy direct on the website or whether you buy through Sporting Goods or one of their many, many partners. And we got this lovely email that Melanie sent to us after they had just deployed this capability and it was from the customer service reps, not from the customer. And the quote from the customer service rep was, "I'm able to close cases before the customer can fully explain what their problem is."

And I just loved... To your point, not maybe the sexiest example, but we shouldn't underestimate how lovely it is to have a negatively fueled experience, generally, right? I'm calling customer service because I have a problem. And when I call, it's like, "Hey, Lindsay, thanks for calling. I'm Barry. It looks like you bought a couple of pairs of shoes last week. You returned the 10 1/2, but you kept 10s. You're probably wondering where the refund is. And you're like, "Yeah." And you're like, "Great. It's going to hit your card on Wednesday. Did you have a question on sizing? Because I can certainly get you to someone who specializes in that product line. That product line does run a little differently than our normal flagship shoe line."

It's turned this experience into something pretty magical for the customer service rep, for the customer, for Brooks. And it really just came from plugging Zendesk into that outlet so that everybody could benefit from this unified view. And I love the fact that take a job at the company that's not maybe the most exciting job day to day, which is dealing with inbound, upset customers, and you're delighting those folks. Those employees now have the tools and the data and the empowerment to go do what they want to do, which is deliver great customer experiences. It's pretty awesome. I love that example.

Lindsay Pedersen:

There are so many things about that I love. One, I love the brand Brooks Running. I've written about that brand. I love it. I love the empowerment of somebody who typically is disempowered, that somebody who is accustomed to talking to people who don't want to talk to them and now they get to talk to somebody who does. I love the way that that perpetuates their own promise. So run happy, being Brooks brand promise. It's not a very happy experience when you're talking to a customer service rep who you have to say your name for the fifth time because you got passed. I mean, there's so many ways that it can be an unhappy exchange. And for that to be happy is another way to accrue value for the Brooks brand, and it translates to their customer, translates to be as a customer. And you did this all with a really humble metaphor that is... I actually think the humbleness of it is its very power. The fact that you're... Not to use the word power in a different way, electrical power.

Here you are, creating a new category where people don't already have an idea in their head of what this category means. So, you take something that they really, really deeply understand what it means, an electrical outlet as a metaphor, and you don't brag about your product, about what happens on the other side of the electrical outlet because they don't care and they don't have space in their brains for it, neither do they want to spend cognitive calories trying to grok all of those things. So, you're not celebrating your product, you're celebrating their experience and your product just happens to be the thing that enables that. So, you're shining the spotlight on what the customer cares about.

Barry Padgett:

Correct. It's always the way to do it, right? And hearkening back to even Concur, in that perfect trip example, it was always about the experience of the traveler. Always. Who cares what's going on in the wiring in the backend? How do you make this as simple and as joyful and as delightful and as stress and drama free for the traveler as possible? They're the star of the show. And yes, the company gets lots of benefits, right? Because they have audit capabilities, and they're getting all of their compliance needs met, and they're managing their budgets in a really modern way.

But it's really the customer. It's always the customer. To your point, in this case sometimes the customer is the customer service rep and not necessarily the person buying the shoes. But luckily, everybody can win in this story and we don't have to exclude folks.

Lindsay Pedersen:

It's not a zero-sum game, it helps all parties along the line. It sounds like, just from the brands that you have grown, that, at least the three that we've talked about, very North Star centric, very customer oriented companies. Have you ever worked for a company that wasn't like that, where it was less outside in and more inside out and you didn't have the benefit of a structure like that to grow and lead?

Barry Padgett:

Yeah. Such a great question. And I would say, in general, I think everybody wants to do a good job for the customer because they know that's the difference between success and failure. Now, where on the priority list that falls from time to time may be questionable, but I think everyone in general is trying to get it right. And I think that the nuance of your question is so good because the thing that drives one of our customers to get onto the plan of getting those outlets deployed everywhere sometimes is based on, hey, we need to do a better job for our customer. Someone buys something on a Monday and then we send them an email on the Wednesday trying to sell them the thing that they just bought on Monday. And it's a terrible customer experience. They're opting out of all of our communications, which is not what we're trying to do, and we have to go fix that. Great. It's very customer-centric in nature.

But other times it could be, hey, we have a consent and a contact ability and a challenge here, and we don't know what customer data we have, where it's located and whether we have permission from the customer to use it and in what capacity we can use it. And so, maybe not as heroic as let's make the customer service rep the hero, but more so driven out of a real need to ensure you're still serving the customer and you're dealing with compliance and control issues and governance issues. And so, there's a myriad of use cases, as you can imagine, that drive better data, better results.

And better results could simply be not falling a file of the law around what data you have, on whom, where it's located, and whether you have actual permission to use it. So from that, all the way through really great predictive analytics to deep customer-centric experiences and personalization. Again, the broadness of better data, better results allows us to go serve customers in lots of different ways. And to your point, sounds simple, but not simplistic.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah. It's not simplistic to them, it's meaningful to them. It strikes me that there's a... I don't know if it's a philosophy or a sensibility, the idea of centering the promise around the customer's experience and being really singular, being really specific, the perfect trip, better data, better results. There's a philosophy to valuing that as a first principle, a North Star. And not all companies have that, right? I can think of a lot of companies that have done really well and don't have that same sensibility, that same heart for having a singular customer promise like that. I've noticed, especially in tech towns, it's sometimes actually less common. And then, there are some industries where, of course, you're going to be customer-centric...

I come from consumer packaged goods, and what else would you be centric around? There's not that much to say about cat litter, but there's a lot to say about the customer. So, it's very philosophically squared with the idea of being customer-centric in our North Star. I've just noticed there's a regional or a vertical difference in the way that that can or can't be applied as a tool. Have you noticed that? And I know that you've spent a lot of your career living abroad in other countries. Is this something that you've seen everywhere you've gone? Or is it some places, some industries, some schools value it more than others? Some are just product driven, and buy our cool product, and I hope you can figure it out. And some are, let's start with the customer problem.

Barry Padgett:

Yes. That's such a good point. I haven't really thought about it in great detail. I would say there's some probably commonality in my journey, in my experiences. And I'd say maybe there's two things that are pretty consistent. One, I've tended to see this first principles approach and really be steadfast about the North Star and really clear about that in companies that are really building for durability, meaning they have grand aspirations to be multi-generational in nature. Everybody's kids to be interns there one day and they're really building for something that's 10 or 20 or more years into the future. And therefore, you need that sort of North Star, you need that anchor to help guide you through what's going to be a very tumultuous decade or two in trying to build that kind of successful outcome and that kind of company.

I'd say number one, I think companies that generally have this durability quotient tend to want to be able to anchor what the next 5, 10, 20 years looks like, not just the next five quarters. And so, it's helpful to have that kind of North Star. And then, two, again, just personal experience, I think companies that have some emotional quotient with regards to what they do and how that service or product is consumed. For example, at Concur, very emotional. Travel is a very emotional topic, missing flights and getting stuck in middle seats and missing connections and a poor trip is deeply emotional. Again, really nice that you've got this kind of North Star and it has an emotional component to it. The perfect trip, it's delightful. It sounds like a happy thing to experience.

And then, even something like Stripe where you could say, hey, it's deep financial infrastructure, how emotional does it get? Well, I don't know. Using your credit card online and being able to use your watch to pay for things in the grocery store, having that ubiquity connectivity and interoperability and being able to have contactless, touchless payments. And I know you've traveled extensively as well, but going to even a restaurant anywhere else in the United States, no one disappears into the back with your card. You're taking care of right there at the table. It's super easy. And so, there's an emotional component to your money and knowing where it's going and having it feel safe and secure and easy and trustable.

And I would say the same thing with Amperity, is we're dealing with consumer experiences. Even though we're a B2B company, we sell to companies that have lots of consumers. There's something deeply emotional about being attached to your phone, and therefore your relationship with AT&T or Verizon or T-Mobile, or your signal failing at the worst possible moment, that's a pretty deep emotion that we have when that occurs. And so, I do find some commonality between those two dimensions. Someone really building for the long haul and then, two, that emotional quotient. And those two things seem to feed into this notion of having a really great, long-term view of what the world's supposed to look like, and what your part is in that vision and being clear about being able to say it in a couple of words.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I just love this so much. I think the idea of, and we've talked on this show before, about the tension between short-term and long-term demands, as a leader, when you're building a business that you'd like to be around for years and decades, that you can't not mind the long-term vision. And therefore, having an explicit tool to guide that is really helpful. And I think of the other end of the spectrum, an organization that might not need to have something like this. I think of a used car dealership, not because it's tacky, but because they probably aren't going to ever see that customer again. So, I could probably argue the other side of this as well, that they too could use it. But if you care about durability, then you care about customer relationships. Why? Because you want them to remain your customer for years and years and years.

And if you're just selling something, you're going to flip and get out of the company the next day, it might not be as much utility to having that North Star. So, a company that just wants to flip the company and get out of there, maybe they too would benefit from a North Star, but it wouldn't have the emotional quotient. It would be, let's nail these next five quarters and maybe that just is the North Star. And for the rest of us, for the companies that want to build something enduring, it's pretty hard to do that without having this really singular, what are we all building toward? What is the nature of the relationship we want to have with our customer?

Barry Padgett:

Yeah. And I think it's very leader dependent too, to your point. It's a little bit old now, but there was a Patrick Lencioni book called The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, and it's written in his fable format.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah. I love his writing

Barry Padgett:

Yeah. And it's super interesting. And I won't spoil it, but there's a well seasoned enterprise leader who, in semi-retirement, decides to invest in his local pizza joint and takes the principles of what he learned running some of the world's biggest businesses to running this humble one store only, not a chain, pizza shop. And bringing things like these durable qualities and traits to thinking about, how do we make this pizza shop last for 20 years and make sure that employees can see this as a career, not just part-time work? And so, I think it is very leader dependent in terms of what that person's trying to create.

What's the experience I want to create for the customer? What's the experience I want to create for shareholders? And maybe, more importantly in some cases, what's the experience I want my employees to have when they're here? And so, I think, to your point, we could find a used car dealership, which maybe is the happiest place on the planet both for customers and for employees because it's so leader centric and leader dependent, and that person has a view of the world that is beyond the industry or the vertical or the product or service that they sell, and is more just a quality of who they are as leaders and what they want to build. So, I think it's a great question, Lindsay.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Yeah. I wouldn't want to say that everybody has to have a North Star. You yourself as a leader can decide, "Okay. We're the kind of company that X, Y and Z. And so, we would benefit from this." And also, I mean, to your point about the leadership, especially when you're doing something really difficult, you're creating a new category, you got to have heart for it. If you don't actually have heart for it, it's going to be really difficult to sustain the energy and just help sustain everybody else's energy to do that. And so, even if it's a cool North Star that other people like, if you, as the leader, don't have a conviction and heart for it, then it's not going to have the same utility as if you do. As we wrap up, I have five rapid fire questions to ask you. One word answers. Are you ready?

Barry Padgett:

I'm nervous.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Oh, my Gosh. Don't be nervous. Okay. What's the best way to spend a Friday night?

Barry Padgett:

Family.

Lindsay Pedersen:

What's your favorite running shoes? And if you say Brooks, then you have to say what type of Brooks.

Barry Padgett:

I have many pairs of Brooks. And so, it depends if I'm treadmilling it, or if I'm on a trail run, or I'm pounding pavement.

Lindsay Pedersen:

You are a runner.

Barry Padgett:

I would say the full Brooks portfolio. And I would say that even if they weren't a customer, because I love their stuff.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Me too.

Barry Padgett:

I also have some Hokas, which I love. I know you said one word, but Hoka and the Deckers company that runs Hoka. They're also a customer.

Lindsay Pedersen:

No kidding.

Barry Padgett:

I had Hokas before they were a customer. Same thing with Brooks.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I like to rotate between the Brooks Ravenna and the Hoka... I can't remember what Hoka I have, because they're pretty different.

Barry Padgett:

Totally.

Lindsay Pedersen:

What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

Barry Padgett:

I'm so boring. French vanilla. Sorry.

Lindsay Pedersen:

What brand of French vanilla?

Barry Padgett:

I'm kind of an old schooler. I like Häagen-Dazs. I know it's not particularly local, but-

Lindsay Pedersen:

Can't go wrong, though.

Barry Padgett:

I live in Seattle, there's a Whidbey Island Ice Cream, which is also really nice. But I'd say old school Häagen-Dazs French vanilla.

Lindsay Pedersen:

If it's a really good ice cream, then if it's vanilla... If it's not a good ice cream, then you can't be vanilla because you can cover it up with other stuff. But if it's really good, it can be vanilla.

Barry Padgett:

That's true.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. What is a TV show that you're loving right now?

Barry Padgett:

I feel like this is the kind of question where someone asks you, what's your favorite movie? And if I'm in a setting with people I don't really know or it's a professional setting, I always feel like I'm obligated to have a deep thinker.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Right. An intellectual.

Barry Padgett:

But if I'm with friends, I'm like, "Oh, yeah. Original top [inaudible 00:28:05] for sure. Top Gun."

Lindsay Pedersen:

That's the one I wanted. Okay.

Barry Padgett:

Yeah. Yeah. In terms of TV show, I've been watching The Last Kingdom on Netflix, which is about the Danes and their invasion in UK, but it's kind of like a less gory version of Game of Thrones.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay. That actually sounds up my alley, less gory, but still story-driven, like Game of Thrones. Okay. Last question. If you had to choose between a fiction book and a non-fiction book on a given day, what would you choose?

Barry Padgett:

Non-fiction 365 days a year.

Lindsay Pedersen:

No kidding. Despite your love of the Game of Thrones-style story TV escapism.

Barry Padgett:

I know.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Okay.

Barry Padgett:

I only, for some reason, read non-fiction. I don't know why that draws me in.

Lindsay Pedersen:

That's what you're curious about.

Barry Padgett:

Yeah. I think so. I want to leave a book, not only just feeling good for having read the book, but I want to feel like I know something-

Lindsay Pedersen:

Smarter.

Barry Padgett:

That I didn't know before I started the book. Yeah.

Lindsay Pedersen:

I'm better now. I've got something I didn't previously have. Yeah.

Barry Padgett:

Indeed.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Barry, this was so awesome. Thank you so much. Where should I send people if people want to know more about you or Amperity online?

Barry Padgett:

We're super easy to find, we're amperity.com. And if they want to contact me directly, it's just my initials, bp@amperity.com.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Bp@amperity.com. Okay. Thanks again, Barry.

Barry Padgett:

Thanks, Lindsay.

Lindsay Pedersen:

Thanks for listening to this episode of North Star Leaders. Make sure you don't miss an episode by subscribing on your favorite podcast app. For show notes, transcripts and newsletter signup, visit ironcladbrandstrategy.com. Please join us again for another episode of North Star Leaders.

Lindsay speaking

About Lindsay

Lindsay Pedersen is a bestselling author and brand strategist with a scientific, growth-oriented approach to brand building. She has advised companies from burgeoning startups to national corporations, including Zulily, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Coinstar, and IMDb.

Her background as a P&L owner at Clorox fostered in Lindsay a deep appreciation for the executive’s charge: increasing the company’s value. There, she led mature, billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita. In each case, she was solely responsible for increasing the business’s value.

Thanks to this executive perspective, Lindsay demands that brands be hard-working, disciplined and rigorous in growing a business. Her brand strategies are tested in the crucible of her proprietary Ironclad Method. Lindsay arms leaders with an empowering understanding of brand, and an ironclad brand strategy to guide choices as they grow.