My guest today is Steve Mast, President & Chief Innovation Officer at Delvinia.
Founded in 1998, Delvinia is a Canadian based Group of Companies that provide consumer insight and data collection solutions including Delvinia Custom Solutions, AskingCanadians, AskingAmericans, and Methodify.
Prior to joining Devinia in 2000, Steve has been a video game producer, architectural designer, and entrepreneur.
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Jamin Brazil: Hi, I’m Jamin. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. My guest today is Steve Mast, President and Chief Innovation Officer at Delvinia. Founded in 1998, Delvinia is a Canadian based group of companies that provide consumer insights and data collection solutions, including Delvinia custom solutions, Asking Canadians, Asking Americans and Methodify. Prior to joining Delvinia in 2000, Steve has been a video game producer, architectural designer and entrepreneur. Steve, thanks so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast today.
Steve Mast: Thanks, man. It’s great talking to you again.
Jamin Brazil: So the world has changed. It is March 27th, 2020. We’re going to talk about that in a minute. But before we do, let’s set some context. Tell us a little bit about your parents and how they have informed what you do today?
Steve Mast: Sure, well, first off, my mom actually she worked at the local hospital. She was a ward clerk, so she was a front line staffer if you will. So first and foremost, hats off to all the front line folks right now that are dealing with this crisis that we’re going through right now. So big shout out to them. My dad was in banking, pretty much so for 37 years, I thought about the years right. But he really loved to work with his hands. He actually didn’t really love banking, but back then, you were either a doctor or lawyer or a banker. That’s what you did when you got out of school but he loved to create. Particular to build furniture, homes, he built huge parts of our cottage. So he loved to work with his hands. And they both were really good at design, particularly they were very crafty, very resourceful people. So I think I kind of inherited a lot of that from them. Obviously when I got out of school, I had no desire to be in banking. Hence I had this sort of interesting career path which I sort of referred to as a squiggly line versus a straight line. Had really no idea then I loved design, took architecture, realized you probably don’t want me designing buildings because I think they would fall over. But I was always really good with digital, with computers. Things like the internet were sort of starting to come about at that time. My parents were super, super supportive in all my creative activities, got heavily into doing things like 3D animation, all these kinds of crazy things, particularly in university. So I got really good with ones and zeros, maybe not so much with hammer and nails. And so that really shaped who I am in my career.
Jamin Brazil: So you’ve been with Delvinia now, gosh, almost two decades, right?
Steve Mast: Yeah, 21 years.
Jamin Brazil: Prior to that, yeah 21 years. That’s amazing. So, prior to that Micro Forum, I believe is the name of the company as director of operations.
Steve Mast: That’s right. Yeah.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah. And that was the video game company. Why the transition from the video game company to market research?
Steve Mast: Do you got another podcast for that?
Jamin Brazil: That’s a big question. It’s a big change.
Steve Mast: Yeah, it is a little bit. So a couple things. One is that organization actually went through a lot of transformation as well. I think everywhere I picked in my career, I think I really learned to adapt because every one of those organizations seemed to transform. It went from video games into becoming essentially a marketing agency essentially, is what it became and started to bolt on more internet marketing related activities, because at the time we were still I’m going to kind of date myself here, but we were very much into the sort of CD ROM, DVD kiosk kind of development things. We were always in digital activities, but they were more physical activities versus today where everything was sort of online and cloud, those kinds of things. But the video game thing taught me something really interesting. And this is kind of where it ties into market research. I got really into game theory. So I wasn’t classically trained as a game producer at the time, I was like anybody was, but I understood how people interacted with the world because of my architecture days. And some of the things I learned about how people flow in and out of things, and more around people’s behavior is really what it came down to. And I was always really fascinated with that. In fact, they took that anthropology class just as a fun thing. I didn’t know what anthropology was to be honest. That’s how naive I was. And I absolutely loved it. I was like, “This is the coolest thing.” And if I were to do over, I think I probably would have done that. I just loved studying cultures and people and how they interacted with things. So I parlayed a lot of that into the video, game design side of things. And then as it sort of went through its transformation to a marketing agency and then eventually coming over to Delvinia, which we get a lot of in the early days really it was about customer experience design, digital strategy, those kinds of things when we first started, a lot of that kind of translated easily over to that. But the thing that I was struggling with was this idea of understanding game theory. And it’s interesting now when you look at a lot of the AI engines, and a lot of the simulations that are being built, like games are basically just giant simulators, right? That’s essentially what they are. And what’s interesting is when you think about a lot of what market research you’re trying to do, you’re trying to get a point in time, but you’re also trying to either simulate or predict where people are going to go. You’re trying to make some trend predictions on things. So there’s a lot of similarities between those or a lot of parallels between those areas.
Jamin Brazil: Z Johnson and I started reading a book on Game Theory, actually, I think we made it through two. Because I actually hadn’t been exposed to it until, gosh, the last five years. And never formally. It’s super insightful in terms of unlocking the application of market research. I mean, you understand it, but when you gamify what we do all of a sudden, it adds another layer of texture into the lens of the why and then the subsequent application of that of the insights.
Steve Mast: Yeah, one of the really interesting thing is when you’re architecting a game, I’m going to kind of date myself a little bit because a lot of the games I’ve worked on in time were referred to as turn based games, and I’m really going to date myself. There was games like Mist and things like that, and-
Jamin Brazil: I mean super popular still turn based games, yeah.
Steve Mast: Right. So those games are based around adventure. And so it really is about how you architect and how you lay out this path and think about how the user is ultimately going to flow within this. So a lot of that is you have to really do your homework on this stuff. It’s not something and you think about research that’s what you’re really doing, you’re doing a tremendous amount of understanding and studying behavior, consumer behavior but understanding behavior. And then you’re trying to lay out a plan or a strategy around how people are going to flow through that whether you’re selling something or whatever you might be doing service design or something like that. So the parallels are fascinating. They really are, I’m a huge fan of it. And now again with AI, we’ve actually invested in a company called Persona Panels. And their underlying technology is a company that basically worked in game development. And they used to do simulations for the Defense Department in terms of like hey, if we went into this community and wherever, and we were to do the following activities, I’m talking about the US government do the following activities, what would that look like? So they would simulate these things. So now we’ve taken that same technology in this company, and Persona Panels is using it to create essentially virtual people that react in the same way. So you can pump in all kinds of different scenarios like ideas or whatever into it. Maybe it’s new product ideas, new marketing ideas, and then it’ll simulate how people will react to it, which is fascinating.
Jamin Brazil: I actually think I’ve talked with them, it was a based out of Tel Aviv originally?
Steve Mast: No, the Persona Panels is out of New York actually.
Jamin Brazil: Okay. Then no, different-
Steve Mast: I would say Persona Panels is let’s call it the front end agency. So The people that run it are very much so market research folks. And then the technology used is a company called Tanjo. And the gentleman that runs Tanjo he’s the one who comes out of sort of this gaming background, but he’s done all kinds of various different artificial intelligence. It’s a whole subculture, the whole artificial intelligence, machine learning, there’s an entire group of people that kind of run with each other, and they’re super smart, super geeky people. You literally just they want to be locked in a dark room and fed pizza under the door because [CROSSTALK]. But that’s the group that is really from them, yeah. There is a group out of Tel Aviv, you’re right. There’s another one that is doing some really interesting stuff related to leveraging game theory as well.
Jamin Brazil: So March 2027, is today 2020. Crazy, right? Our world is just it’s different. And the topic that we’re going to be diving into now is making the transition because you guys have office space. What does it look like for you guys? I assume all your employees are now working from home.
Steve Mast: Yeah, we kind of decided to get ahead of the game. So on March 16th, we actually implemented our work from home strategy. And with a little bit we sensed it was coming and it was going to happen, but we really wanted to say you know what, and to be honest, you could feel it in the office. I remember on the Friday, you could sense people were getting nervous and concerned and it’s incredible how much the media has just ranted it up like crazy now in terms of how much information is out there. So people were concerned, you could feel it in the office. So we quickly over the weekend as the exec team started implementing and saying, “Okay, let’s put into play our work from home strategy and policies.” Went really smooth. Obviously there’s always a couple little hiccups here or there. Part of it is because most of our technology and most of the things that we implement are all in sort of cloud. They’re all digital based, so we’re pretty much we’re a virtual company anyway, we just happen to all be in one office. I will say the one thing that was super, super helpful in all this and if there’s any piece of advice that I can give to organizations out of this, especially any organizations that’s managing data and security is we went through the ISO 27001 certification about a year and a half ago, we started the process. It’s painful, especially if we consider ourselves a very agile, innovative company. But there’s a lot of challenging things you got to change, but it forces you to really get your business continuity plans in place. So the minute something happens and we were thinking more like data breaches and what if we have wars and you’re thinking about those traditional sort of things and pandemics weren’t necessarily one of the things. But all the same things come into play. A lot of it relies on what’s your IT infrastructure, how do they react, how do your employees maintain a level of security while they’re at home? What’s your VPN setup like? How fast can you implement it? Where is your data stored, etc., etc. So that was a tremendous help. We were almost able just to kind of– It was like a playbook. We just opened it up and everybody just followed the playbook.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, that’s absolutely true and a really good point there. And also, it’s still a point of differentiation in the market. What is the biggest issue that your employees faced? Or employees in general face when making the transition to work from home?
Steve Mast: I’ve actually had this question three or four times this week, I think I mentioned to you I seem to be having these same conversations every day with people. But it really hasn’t been work related because what we were just previously talking about in the fact that a lot of our systems and processes were already there, and we could quickly sort of pivot and move into those things. The big things are personal things, which we were just talking about our kids, and just having safe spaces in your house where the kids are kind of in that corner and you’re in that corner and everybody kind of has their workspaces. And mental health, I think is a massive thing as we all know it’s been something that everybody there’s been a huge amount of awareness recently about it in the last few years about it. We have our own anxiety issues in our house. But just the general stress of being at home just the overall change and how to deal with that. Kids in general. I mean, you’ve got a Zoom call going on and you’ve got five or six or 10 people on a call. And you see two or three people, their kids are climbing all over them and it’s just the new norm, and you just have to be OK with that. So I think that’s been the big thing, it’s just really being able to deal with people’s personal issues and being very patient and understanding and having a tremendous amount of empathy in a very, very stressful time. That everybody is at a different point in time with this. So that’s probably been the big thing that we’ve been facing with employees. Oh, I will say too just as it popped in my head scheduling has been a really interesting thing. So maybe this is just me, I don’t know if you’re feeling the same way but maybe this is me but I’m very much so of something pops in my head and I barely sit in my office, I don’t even know why I really have an office, although don’t tell Adam I said that. I love to pop up at my office because something in my head, we have a very open format in the office space, and I’ve got my innovation crew, my design crew, my development crew close to me. And I’m able to sort of bounce out and say, “Hey, guys been thinking about this thing.” And then you flip open the whiteboard, and you draw it out and talk about it. Really hard to do that now. It’s hey, you send out a text, maybe a Slack request, set up a Zoom meeting, etc. You have to do all these different things now in order just to communicate, “I just have this simple idea, I just want to communicate what do you guys think?” And those ideas often are the things that become massive ideas. You need a thousand of those little ideas that become the Whopper. So I’d say we’re very much so into just operational mode, and we’re not trying to disrupt that. But my role as being sort of Chief Innovation Officer, I’d say has been probably the most challenging. Even the more I just think about as I’m talking to you, in terms of being able to sort of keep moving those ideas forward. Because right now, to be honest, nobody really wants to talk about new ideas. Everybody is just trying to find a new normal, so maybe the biggest employee issue is maybe it’s me, maybe that’s the biggest issue.
Jamin Brazil: So the point of disruption about kids climbing on other people and all that sort of thing. I feel like there is a lot more I get it, it’s okay, as opposed to before that would have been inappropriate. And so that’s positive. I would say that the sense of isolation is a big problem. Even for me and I have a full household, I’m getting a little bit like, gosh, it would be nice to go out with some friends and have a beer. And then I have one of my good friends and he and I work together Eric Santos, he’s a single guy. Well he has family locally, everybody’s isolated. And so he’s stuck in his apartment, and he’s working, but he can’t date. And so in that way, I think there’s a large portion of our population that is literally isolated by themselves and the difficulties that can be associated with that and then how you deal with it. What do you see as a key tool that you would recommend a company to use to help increase the overall connectivity across the organization?
Steve Mast: Yeah, before I get to that I just want to go back to what you were saying about– I agree with you that isolation thing. I have my grandmother who’s 102, so now she’s obviously in an old age home and we’re praying that that all sort of works out OK because obviously they’re very vulnerable. My parents are in their 80s even the two of them are I mean, they get along-ish at 80, they have to get along I guess, but just that isolation thing has been something that’s been really top of mind. And it’s interesting, one of the things my friends I was alluding to this story before with you that a group of my friends, we can get in, and we do this scotch night, and we used to do it sort of quarterly and that kind of went sort of twice a year. And everybody would go to each other’s house and someone would make steaks and you go to the next house and so we would do that sort of in a rotation. That group is actually doing Zoom meetings and it’s actually continues to grow. And essentially to say about that some of the folks that are on that scotch meeting, if you will, are alone and this is their outlet. And it’s really interesting those discussions, sometimes will go for– It’s kind of like just Zoom is running in the background or FaceTime is just running in the background. And they’re just happy to feel like they have some kind of human connection. So I think just on that isolation, I think it’s like if you know somebody, even if you don’t know them really well, I think one of the huge things right now is just reach out to them and say, “Hey, how are you doing?” It’s amazing how many people will just be like all over that. I think that’s a huge, huge thing. Sorry to answer your question. Sorry, the key tool. Yeah, we’re using all the normal stuff. Zoom, Slack, we’ve got chat rooms going all over the place. Methodify has been a really key tool I think even internally it’s been a great sort of mechanism for obviously, our clients are using it. But it’s been a really great mechanism because it is obviously in the cloud. So there’s lots of those kinds of things. Our VPN obviously has been really important. Anybody that’s running a small organization it’s really important you’ve got VPN set up ahead of time, to be able to manage work from home. I’d say less about a key tool, I’d say for us it’s been kind of more two things around how are we managing, or what key things are we doing to manage the organization and sort of the people in general. The two things or one is increased monitoring and regular communication. That’s a massive thing. We are obviously doing our virtual halls and we have a daily executive stand up which is interesting, because the exec would meet once a month, go over the numbers, do our thing like typical sort of organizations do. We’re doing it daily. I got to tell you there’s nothing like a crisis that really, really makes sure that you know what your key performance indicators are, and how to manage those things. Because what metrics matter, because that’s all you can focus on right now. So in our daily stand ups, we focus on those four or five key metrics, which is really the health of the organization, and then we’re discussing other things. And then Adam, our CEO, he sends out a companywide email, and he does it in a very light, fun way. So he sends that out to everybody, and gets great feedback about all the things we’re going on. We’re very transparent about everything from the number of reads coming in, the number of proposals being written, the health of the business. I don’t even know if we were that transparent before. Once a quarter we would do town hall meetings to let everybody know we do Monday morning meetings where everybody gets together. But this has just created tremendous amount of communication. And it’s very two way. There’s lots of feedback from the staff. So increase monitoring and regular communication. That’s one. The second one is how do you virtualize your culture? So this is something I think where you’re kind of tapping into you’re talking about when you’re working from home and all of a sudden now, culture is something that people sort of bumping into each other and hanging out and talking in the lunchroom and I believe sort of culture just kind of bubbles underneath, and I know a lot of people believe it’s sort of from the top down and it is. The tone is set for sure. But a lot of it is just how people work together. And we have a very, how do you say it? We have a very lighthearted. I think we’ve got a fun culture, maybe not everybody would agree with that. I think we do. We definitely have very creative things. We’re doing this rock paper scissors thing right now.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, I’m scheduled to do that with the marketing director of Voxpopme on Monday. And I will then.
Steve Mast: Oh, Jen. Oh, amazing. Okay, awesome. So that’s been I think we’ve done two. Yeah, we’ve done two right now so far. We have another one today. So basically, it came out of Raj, who’s our chief revenue officer. He was like, “Oh, it’s too bad about the NCAA.” And he’s a big basketball fan, so is Adam. And so he came back with this idea of what if we create brackets, and what if we create a game and what not? And we really were going to do it internally, we were just going to do it for the staff. And then we were like, oh, let’s extend this out to everybody. Why not just make this a fun community thing? So it’s really important. That’s an example of our culture. We do these kind of impromptu things all the time. Adam sends out Friday memes, he started doing this a few months ago. And if you know Adam, which I think you do, he is quite the personality. And his memes are representative of his personality and they become sort of a little traditional. Now he’s sending them out almost daily. And it just keeps the tone of the organization in a light fun way. And people are commenting, I was having a really stressful day and then I got your meme, or I logged into the rock paper scissors session today and got a real chuckle out of– It’s things like that. So I think virtualizing your culture is something that’s quite challenging. And to keep that going is something that we’ve been keeping. So those are the things I would recommend, just increase your monitoring, make sure that communication is going and then make sure your culture you can maintain it during this time.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, there’s two things that come to mind. One is the biggest problem that Organizations face a lot of times it’s they think it’s revenue. But I really believe it’s organizational clarity. And that is keeping the team in line with where the company is actually going. Oftentimes this team is operating six months or even farther behind where the CEO and his head is. The executive team is usually a few days behind that CEO brain. And just the virtualization that you’re describing all of a sudden, it requires this discipline around communication that we just don’t necessarily have to have when we’re around each other because we can leverage things like bio rhythms and whatever. You can see if Adam is upset, you don’t have that visibility anymore. And so now all of a sudden, the opportunity for the CEO to be able to and the rest of the team from quite literally the entire gamut to communicate is just like it’s leveraging tools like whether it’s– I mean, Slack is a really good one. One of the companies that I’m doing some consulting for, they have an emotions channel and they have for since their inception inside of Slack, and it’s 100% remote culture company, they use the emotions channel to communicate. I found it really interesting as an outsider and as a boomer as well, where you and I don’t necessarily sit down and talk about our feelings. Especially in a work context.
Steve Mast: I do.
Jamin Brazil: Well, yeah, I know you and I do really we do. Only I need some whiskey. But anyway, men don’t cry, Steve. But yeah, I mean, people will post in that, I’m feeling whatever happy or I’m feeling isolated or I’m feeling like I need to take a mental health couple of hours or whatever, and I’ve leveraged it. At first, it was really more of an experiment to see what kind of responses I would get. And I would get responses back, like, “Hey, let’s jump on a call right now I’d love to have some FaceTime with you and just kind of like talk about this or be a sounding board for you or whatever.” And so it’s created these opportunities for connectivity, which ironically, I think just didn’t exist as well prior to this crisis.
Steve Mast: Yeah, I actually think communications and this is going to sound really weird, but I actually think it’s gotten better. And again, it’s crisis focuses the mind like nothing else. And it focuses people and I know we’re focused on a specific problem that exists right now in the world, but everybody is having to operate around that thing. It’s almost like and I’ve said this in the past, and it’s a terrible thing to say, but wars often are a good thing. That sounds terrible for me to say that because there’s nothing– Wars are terrible, people die and they’re terrible.
Jamin Brazil: Sure I get.
Steve Mast: It focuses communities, it focuses people in ways that just doesn’t happen under normal circumstances. We get into long debates. If there’s anything that particularly when you look at the US and how divided US has been for quite some time and US is not alone. I mean, there’s lots of countries UK is another one that’s incredibly divided, even in Canada, where we find where we’re getting into very political discussions. But all that just goes out the window. It’s like we’re in this together, and the raw humanity of how do we connect and how do we– So I almost feel like communications and sort of conductivity of people have actually gotten better. Can I just say one thing about I think-
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, of course.
Steve Mast: I think you know Randy Matherson on my team?
Jamin Brazil: Yeah.
Steve Mast: Randy and I were riffing on some ideas and we’ve been working with the folks over at Realides[ph] on some different things as well. I know they’re kind of trying to figure this out as well. But I’m like it would be amazing if we’re on these Zoom calls, if we could have a little realize emotional meter beside the person. Where it’s actually in real time, it’s capturing the person’s emotion. And I could then because you’re right, I can’t really read someone’s emotion always even with their face. It’s the video, that screen still, still something is missing from that my eye doesn’t pick it up. But could technology help with that? So along with your Slack idea, I think that would be really cool.
Jamin Brazil: So let’s talk a little bit about the biggest surprise. So you’ve gone through this, is the big takeaway here that it’s surprising that we’ve been separated and yet our communication is somehow improving?
Steve Mast: Yeah. I’d say that’s been big. I’d say there’s probably a second one of that as well, where despite what I said earlier about it’s difficult to sort of kind of get out and maybe socialize little ideas that turn into big ideas, but I would say, at least it’s what we see with our team, and we’ve even seen this with clients as well. A lot of the client calls have been in this, creativity increases during these times as well. It’s interesting how fast people get resourceful when the scarcity of things and stuff. You can’t just go and it’s become such a habit. It’s like, “Oh, I need that.” You just go down to the local store or better yet just open up my phone, what am I saying? And I open up on Amazon, I get whatever that thing is. So now people have to get really resourceful in terms of how they solve problems. I’ve actually seen it increasing creative thinking, and even staff members who I would have never thought of bringing new ideas to the table around how we solve problems. They were like, “Hey, I was thinking about this thing, and this is what-” I’ve almost seen this creativity increase. And I think it’s because again, you’ve had to become more resourceful. It’s that scarcity thing increases creativity. So I think those are the two things I’d see.
Jamin Brazil: I love this point you’re making, and I had not actually thought about that. But when I was growing up, obviously pre-internet days, geez, I mean, even pre-dinosaurs. We didn’t have access to everything, and so you had to use creativity in order to figure things out. How do I change a tire? Which seems obviously stupid, but you get the point. We’ve moved into this society where I can do anything and get anything quite literally delivered. And in that framework, we’ve leveraged that and now all of a sudden, my dad who’s 82 and my wife. My dad calls my wife and says, “I can’t find any hand sanitizer on Amazon.” So she looks and sure enough, you can’t. There is some on there and it’s stupidly expensive and it has an obscene shipping fee. Which I think is how they’re getting around the price gouging. But whatever. So then they started doing research on how to make hand sanitizer. And they realize that one of the ingredients is now scarce because other people have been doing the same thing. And so then it’s about how do I make that ingredient? So we’re basically creating this chemistry experiment that the whole family is now involved with on creating hand sanitizer, which is this product that we feel like we need. So it’s to your point. Yeah, it’s definitely getting us as a society more active as opposed to the passive. I can get it quick.
Steve Mast: Yeah, and then you think of all the I mean, this is where technology and the internet does really amazing things where we can A, you were talking about sort of like it’s well, I can’t buy it on Amazon, so I’ve got to make it. Okay, what’s the key ingredient? Oh, that key ingredient can’t get that. How do I make that ingredient? But you get all that from this unbelievable information that we have access to. So you have this powerful and then we can then open up a video chat and very quick put a group of our family or friends or whatever together to experiment together on this stuff, and solve these problems. That’s what this purpose of all this stuff was meant to be. If there’s anything that I hope comes out of this is I know there’s been I know we’re off track a little bit but what I hope comes out of this is, all the things that the Facebook and the Googles and like the Fang, those organizations have been doing and really quite honestly been bad actors if you will, and I’ve been very outspoken about my thoughts around as a lot of people are. I use all these technologies, I believe in these technologies, I’m fascinated by them. I’m a champion of them. But I’m also a believer that we’ve just let them run wild. I think that we’re all going to come out way stronger out of this. But then what’s going to happen is everybody’s going to see the real good that can be done and everybody’s going to say, “That’s what they need to be focused on.” Not selling me more stuff, but focused on really helping humanity move forward. That’s probably I’m being very altruistic. But I do believe that there will be good that comes out of this for sure.
Jamin Brazil: Well, I think you’re right and I think one of the unlocks here and Zoom is certainly picked up on it is if you give then by give I mean in their case, they gave Zoom away to educational institutions. Then you wind up being able to take advantage of significant adoption of the tool set. And so then it’s a question of okay, well, what is the thing that the value that I can contribute to my constituents, my customers, or employees or society? And then not necessarily, obviously, I’m sure they have a long term strategy, but not necessarily thinking about, okay, how is this going to impact Q2 if I do this one thing? I was thinking about Airbnb right now, which is a severely impacted business. There’s so much demand on the support side, given all the disruption to people’s travels right now, that everybody is focusing on it doesn’t matter who you are. You’re focusing on helping out in support. And so I think our society has really entered into this really neat time where we are thinking about humanity as opposed to just me or just my quota or just my whatever kingdom. And with the understanding that if I can add value, then there’s the selfish side of it too. Don’t get me wrong, but then it’s just about helping the rising tide principle or just helping everybody up then knowing that-
Steve Mast: With everybody focused on a single mission, I mean, I’ve done this many times in presentation and it’s very old and cliché, but when John F. Kennedy rallied everybody to go to the moon, I mean-
Jamin Brazil: Right. That’s exactly right.
Steve Mast: An example of that, everybody gets keenly– And look at the it wasn’t even about getting to the moon. I know politically, that’s what they were but – it wasn’t even that. All the outcomes, all the new innovations, the progress that happened during that time really is what I think really set the foundation of the United States in being such a unbelievably powerful innovator, and so it’s getting everybody focused.
Jamin Brazil: Well, let’s switch gears. I’ve spent some time on Delvinia’s website, I was blown away and loved the history blog posts. So you’ve got this beautiful blog posts that I mean, your company is old, right? 21 years you’ve been there. And it does a really nice job of articulating the journey and the people that were playing in that. In that context, it’d be great if you could talk to us about a lesson learned having gone through a couple economic crisis as a business manager.
Steve Mast: Yeah, the key one is really it’s the adaptability. Every time we’ve gone through whether it was the.com bust, which was I don’t know 2001, 2002, or the financial downturn, which was ’08, ’09 both of those times, they forced us to adapt, and adapt our business model, adapt how we are operating. It forced us to adapt. You think of when you talk about that our journey really was, we started as a digital strategy, customer experience design firm, that’s where we got our roots. And we were building things for other people. And then we evolved out of that organization because of 2001, 2002 when the.com bust we had this kernel of this idea of like, hey, kind of cool if we could collect data, because we were doing all these strategies. We had to do research, but could we do it online? Why do we have to use all these traditionals or could we do it that’s where asking Canadians and asking Americans was born out of that. And we came out of it and said, “That’s a real opportunity. Let’s double down on that. Let’s grow that.” And then ’08, ’09 it was really about, “Hey, we need to create more efficiency within the organization. And how do we do that?” And I’m not saying Methodify was totally parallel with that. But a lot of what our clients were looking for was faster, easier, cheaper ways of doing things, which I think that’s what we’re facing right now in the MR spaces. Obviously, that’s been a key thing for a while now. But we were forced to adapt and change. And you really have to be able to be pretty nimble, and really be able to– I know everybody talks about pivoting. I don’t like that word. I’ve never really liked the idea of- I get that’s kind of what you’re doing. I think it’s more just how you evolve and how you’re prepared to evolve and how you’re open to evolving and how you surround yourself with people that have the same sort of thing. I was asked, I was on a panel. I’m the chair of a community marketing association. One of the things they asked me in one of our panel discussions was – this was middle of last year I guess it was. What is that key thing I look at when I’m hiring new folks? And I said adaptability. To me, it’s such a key thing. And I always ask people in interviews, that’s one of my key questions is, give me an example of how you’ve adapted something in your life? How you dealt with adversity, and those stories and those things of how they accomplish that and how they deal with that. That to me is you can do anything and you can accomplish anything. So I’d say adaptability is a big thing. I will say too Adam has a great little actually it’s our values. He has what he calls the five Ps and right now he’s using the five Ps constantly, which is passion, patience, perseverance, perspective and people. And coming out of ’08, ’09, clearly both of us were pretty beat up, and made it through it. And I remember him and I were chatting one day and he said to me, “How do I get this stuff out of my head?” And I said, “Dude, just go and sit down over the weekend and just write it down. Just bard all over your email or a piece of paper or whatever, just get it out.” And what came out of that was the sort of like these were the things were his core values, and I’d say that perseverance thing was huge. And he just simply puts it, lead together as a team through the good and bad times. And we just keep it really simple. We’re not trying to be goofy with our values, but that’s been huge to help us through those times. And I know that sounds so cliché, of course, you’ve got to persevere. But it’s funny how many people really don’t persevere. It’s really, really interesting. You look at organizations that survive, they generally have really strong leaders that can persevere through those really tough times.
Jamin Brazil: There’s a famous venture capitalist who once said, “There are no failed companies, there are only failed teams.” And I think back on any success I ever had, and it was a function of basically just showing up the next day. And even as you said, when it’s really hard you just keep plotting. There’s not like this big master. I mean, there might be a few companies like maybe Jeff Bezos or whatever. But I think generally speaking, it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and continuing the journey. And sometimes the journey is too hard. And you need to stop because you just do and that’s okay. But to your point, the companies that actually make it are the ones that somehow have the magic and continue to persevere.
Steve Mast: You said something there. And again, it’s inside of our value statement around lead together as a team good and bad. And that team thing is so important, because and that team could be a team of two. But you’re never going to be 100% every day. But it’s amazing when you have we have a really, I think we have a great executive team right now. And at any point in time, none of the five of us are on the same page or feel 100% every day. But we’re willing to call each other out when we’re not on the same page. And the other thing is we’re willing to pick each other up. And I think that is so important in any organization, big teams, small teams, anything, if you’re a manager, look around your team. Are you really persevering through whatever you’re doing? And are you reading together as a team? I think that is so key to success.
Jamin Brazil: Methodify fits as a what I consider to be this new tech, and what I mean by that is you’ve seen it probably in the last five years but really in the last two years it’s just been this base have been growing by gangbusters and that is, you productize methodologies instead of creating the erector set or you’ve got all the pieces you need in order to do your project. Now you’ve got a system that is functionally pre-built to accomplish what it is that you want to do as a researcher. Why did you guys decide to make that bet?
Steve Mast: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s kind of in two parts. I think a lot of this conversation is in two parts. One was sort of an aha moment. And then the other one is, there’s been a bit of a tipping point. And I think we’re in the middle of a tipping point. Although I think we’re in maybe a bit of a pause right now due to what’s going on. But the aha moment was, we were working with one of our large brand clients, big bank. And we were running sort of just kind of traditional data collection projects, working with the research agency, and their internal research organization. And what we sort of picked up on was, they were the same kinds of things. They were doing at the time, I think it might have been concept tests or something like that. Anyway, it was relatively the same thing. And they were trying to create some kind of consistency and benchmarking and stuff. And then because we had built digital tools very quickly and things we were able to create a little simple interface and allow them to sort of have this interface like a login and use it and start– And it was a very rudimentary version of Methodify and we actually called it Methodify at the time. But it was a very rudimentary version of it. And Zappy was probably a year, maybe two years in the marketplace at the time. So there wasn’t a lot of organizations out there like us. But it was still in I’ll call it sort of proof of concept stage. But the aha moment for me was I was sitting in a meeting, and the Chief Marketing Officer turned to his team, we were sitting with all the different marketers, the heads of research, it was a very large group of people and they were basically talking about the results of the Methodify research that was done. The CMO turned to the group and said, “I want everything to be Methodify. I want to Methodify-” Used it in a verb context, so that’s why we use Methodify it all the time. He actually said, “Make sure you Methodify it.” And that was the only thing he really said in the meeting. To be honest, he wasn’t even really that interested in the data, that’s what we’re there for. What he was interested in is how fast we were able to turn this stuff over. And it really was because these were standardized and productized. So for us, that was a bit of the aha moment that we’re all like this for sure is something. And obviously, one CMO saying that is not everybody saying it. But what ended up happening was our sales teams were out there talking to people and socializing with people, and they were hearing the same feedback. That was a big thing. So that was kind of the aha moment. That was to your point, it was like five years ago. And then we started really doubling down and investing on standardizing this. And I will say, the whole thing is a function of change management and transformation, which I know is way overused words right now, but it really is about that. Organizations that depending on where they are in the curve of their digital transformation cycle. Some might be really far ahead and really willing to adapt, and this particular bank was actually quite far in that overall arc. Other organizations we’re working with they’re not as far along and they have a hard time adapting standardized methodologies. Everything is custom. They just can’t get their head around the fact that you can standardize. The tipping point is a really interesting one. I said, the tipping point we’re sort of in the middle of it right now. When we first came out with Methodify, I actually got up in front of the Research Association in Canada at their annual conference and presented a little case study and talked about Methodify, and it was in a little side room, but it was packed, it was jam packed. And I sheepishly got up there and because I’m not a researcher by trade, I always feel a little, maybe not quite as smart as the group of people that I’m around all the time. But I presented, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. And this is what it’s about.” And one of the things I said at the end of the presentation, I said, “This idea of standardization and productizing methodologies really will take hold when it’s not you, meaning you, the researchers running the projects. It’s the marketers, it’s the product folks, it’s the innovation teams that are running their own research projects that you’ve set up. So you guys are facilitating, you’re no longer the gatekeeper, you’re the facilitator.” And that concept behind it, I kind of felt at the time that if they actually had tomatoes, I probably would have got thrown a bunch of tomatoes at me.
Jamin Brazil: Right, I mean it’s such a power play.
Steve Mast: Oh, totally. It totally was and I got it, and I could feel it, and I could sense it. But that tipping point is happening now. We have one of our clients just trained 75 of their marketing team and their product teams on Methodify across both Canada and the US. And all the methodologies they were put in place and they were vetted by the research department, set up properly. And they’re still doing a lot of the custom work. But to allow it to really, truly where there’s more consumer insight across all the marketing programs, it really needed to get outside of that group. So that tipping point is happening now where it’s not just locked in the research department, it’s actually getting out to the other groups inside of an organization.
Jamin Brazil: Just to put it in full context, I had a conversation with 10 heads of insights, not on the podcast. None of them actually have ever been on the podcast, but on this subject of enabling automate or basically democratizing access to consumer insights.
Steve Mast: Yeah, that’s what it is.
Jamin Brazil: Across the board, I think there was one. So nine out of 10. Nine out of 10 were terrified of this concept because their concern was that the user wouldn’t be educated on the backside to make the right conclusion. But the real point is they’re doing it anyway. And whether they’re using Survey Monkey or whatever platform. And so you’ve got to be able to get in front of that, you’ve got to be in the driver’s seat so you can put the best practices around the application of the insights and understanding of the insights. And so I really believe that the training, so how to use the tools is really important. I think there’s going to be a big surge and big opportunity in our space, too, if we take it to move it into enablers through knowledge sharing. Whether that’s more educational certifications, that sort of stuff.
Steve Mast: Yeah, it’s interesting we actually have started working on it’s funny you say the certification because we purchased a qualitative chat bot called Chris last year. And it was integrated inside of Methodify before. And we’re slowly now rolling it out as either a standalone tool, standalone platform, it has its own brand. But it’s really sort of helping automate more of the qualitative side of things. I actually see there’s really this blending between quant and qual. And I think, you probably agree, there’s really the distinction between the two is getting kind of blurry. So we’ve been working a lot in terms of implementing that inside of organizations, it’s funny how people have embraced that in some cases than even standardizing. And I’m like, “You know this is like a virtual interviewer. This is literally doing your job. You know that, right?” And it’s funny, they embrace it a little bit more. But I think because the back end still needs a lot of interpretation of it, but also make no mistake, this is not about every aspect of research. This is not high end problem solving. This is literally giving, if you think of the marketing process and you think of the five or six different gates that a marketing like typical, take a TV ad or whatever the different stages, this is literally just allowing along those stages through that creation process a very quick thumbs up thumbs down, give you a little insight is blue good? Is it red? That’s what it is. It’s creating this and I get agile is so overused, but it’s allowing people to really truly be agile in connecting with their customers while they’re developing new products, new marketing materials. It’s not trying to solve the big, big, crazy questions that a lot of sort of traditional research firms they do. So to me, it’s more adding to the market. It’s not necessarily taking away from the market. It all depends on your perspective.
Jamin Brazil: Last question, what is your personal motto?
Steve Mast: That’s an easy one, I’ve lived by this for years. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And I think in these times, I think what you do is more important than what you say. Even though we just spent the last hour having a great conversation, but I do think what matters at the end of the day is what you do.
Jamin Brazil: My guest today has been Steve Mast, President and Chief Innovation Officer at Delvinia. Steve, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast today.
Steve Mast: Thanks, Jamin.
Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, thank you so much for your time. I found a lot of value, I learned some stuff. If you did, please take time, share this on social, LinkedIn, Twitter, if you tag me, I will send you a T-shirt, I promise. Have a great rest of your day.