The CMO Show: Shobhit Shukla and the value of data

by The CMO Show

Your customers are all carrying around a GPS in their pockets. Why aren’t you using all that data to sell them things?


You’re shopping for sneakers online, but you bail on the sale. The next day, you’re walking past the sneaker shop when you get a text. It’s a personalised discount offer you can’t refuse for those exact shoes.  

This is the future envisioned by Shobhit Shukla, co-founder of Near, who sees the integration of real-world location data as the next logical step for remarketing.

Shobhit is looking to track consumers before they even step onto your premises. The idea builds on the legacy of geomarketing trends like geofencing and beacon-based in-store activations from providers like Swirl and InMarket.

Piggybacking onto the GPS functionality of your customers’ smartphones enables you to gather two of digital marketing’s most valuable data points – where your customer came from and where they go to next.

The true value of these permissions, Shobhit predicts, is marrying the data in real time with your existing digital data about customers. You can then use artificial intelligence to deploy personalised messages to individuals as they’re strolling past your store, checking apps on their phone.

This use of data challenges our traditional understanding of its value. A huge database with more historical context is no longer the ultimate goal of all data gathering.

“If I know that there was certain groups, people or a segment of audiences that walked into a Coles right now [that] is extremely valuable to me,” Shobhit says.

But as time goes on and the user moves away from a purchasing sweet spot, the value of that data depreciates. According to Shobhit, this is the lens we should be using for all data.

“The volume of data is exploding, the costs of storing and processing data are dropping, which means that there is going to be an overload of data,” he says.

“You need to identify data that is useful and the one that probably is not contextually very relevant… That’s why we believe [data] is going to be perishable.”

Tune in for an informative episode of The CMO Show, as Mark and Nicole discuss locational data and the importance of context with Near’s co-founder, Shobhit Shukla.

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The CMO Show production team

Producers – Tom van LeeuwenCandice Witton & Ewan Miller

Audio Engineers – Jonny McNeeDaniel Marr & Adam Slade

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: cmoshow@filteredmedia.com.au.

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Transcript

Hosts: Mark Jones (MJ) and Nicole Manktelow (NM)

Guest: Shobhit Shukla (SS)

MJ:   Thanks for joining us this week on the CMO show, my name is Mark Jones.

NM: And I’m Nicole Manktelow.

MJ:   And we are going to talk about really cool, geeky technology stuff.

NM: Oh this is super nerd, this nerd to the squared nerd.

MJ:   Yeah, that’s right.  Ambient intelligence, just let that sink in, ambient intelligence.

NM: It’s like AI, but it’s just there quietly in the background.

MJ:   Yeah, I don’t know, maybe it’s intelligence with feelings.

NM: I think of it like mood lighting or gentle background noise at your favourite coffee shop.

MJ:   [Laughs] Yeah, with a bit of lift music in the background.

NM: That’s right, da, da, da…

MJ:   Actually, maybe perhaps slightly more seriously, it’s real time.  So, we’re going to have this conversation with a man by the name of Shobhit Shukla who’s the Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer at Near, which is an interesting start-up.  We spoke to him – I think it was in San Francisco or New York maybe and a really interesting business here that’s been exploring what does it mean to offer real time analytics?

NM: And to do it based on your location.  And that gets back to the company name, Near, which I actually think is rather brilliant because it’s all about where you are, where you have just been and where you are going next.

MJ:   And it’s also worth saying this is very much the bleeding edge, right?  So, I don’t think a lot of marketers are necessarily saying, ‘Now, where’s my real time analytics platform?  But we do know there’s a lot of latent interest in it.  And so, you know, this concept of analytics is obviously in demand but you know, how close can I get to a very real – how close can I get to the source of the data in terms of its relevancy?

NM: And what can it actually tell me?  I mean it’s one thing to have the data but if you don’t know what you’re asking for, if you don’t know what you’re missing…

NM: If you don’t know what’s possible, how do you know that you haven’t discovered it yet.  You need to have a good ferret around I think in the data.

MJ:   Absolutely. Let’s have a listen to Shobhit and hear what he’s got to say.  Thanks for joining us again on the CMO Show.  Our special guest today is Shobhit Shukla, he’s the Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer at Near.  Thanks so much for joining us.

SS:   Thanks for having me.

MJ:   Now, the first question of course has to be, Near, what is it?

SS:   Yeah, that’s an interesting question.  So, Near is an ambient intelligence platform and what that means is in simple terms it’s a platform that collects and mines data from our smart environments which we are surrounded by.  We are surrounded by our smartphones and tablets and wearables and the whole internet of thing equals self-drive cars, Wi-Fi beacons.  And what the platform essentially does is it collects data, mines data from these smart environments and really tries to measure to quantify the physical world.

And the reason why that’s important is because if you think about the digital ecosystem, you go online onto an e-commerce site and you add something to the cart and you drop off.  They will recommend and retarget you with offers because they know what you’re thinking of buying.  Everything in the digital ecosystem is quantifiable and the attempt we have in our minds is to replicate that for the physical world and quantify what’s going on in the physical world.  That’s really what Near does.

MJ:   Right, so just to understand then, the real time aspect of – you mentioned retargeting, but being able to bring intelligence into a real time world so that you can make decisions on the fly to better serve customers, is that what you mean?       

SS:   Absolutely, that’s one of the more critical aspects of it.  We are living in times where the value of data starts to depreciate quite exponentially with time.  The data that I have about you today right now is extremely valuable.  If I know that there was certain groups, people or a segment of audiences that walked into a Coles right now is extremely valuable to me right now.

It will still be valuable a couple of days later but the fact that I have that information and I can actually use it and mine it today and at this moment is extremely critical.  And there are different use cases and ways in which you can use it but having that information in real time is extremely critical.

MJ:   Right, so your insight is actually that data is perishable?

SS:   It is actually, and the reason why I say that is, that now, increasingly we’re moving towards a world – if you think about it, how many connected devices did you have five years ago or seven years ago?  You probably had a smart phone.  You know, tablets were not around at that time.  If you look at it today, on an average you might have two or three or four or five or even more than five connected devices around you at any given point in time.

All of that data, the volume of data is exploding, the costs of storing and processing data are dropping, which means that there is going to be an overload of data and what that also means is that you need to identify data that is useful and the one that probably is not contextually very relevant and that’s why we believe it’s going to be perishable.

MJ:   Right.

NM: I’m pretty interested in this.  It sounds like you’re just spreading that touchpoint that so many companies are focusing on now the way that the customer’s are interacting with them, you’re just spreading the edges of that touchpoint out to the before and after.  So, and now correct me if I’m wrong but if I was to come into the ice cream shop when this technology was around it might know that I’ve come from the cinema, it might know that I’m going to get in my car afterwards and drive home.  Is that the scenario you’re…?

SS:   Absolutely.

NM: You’re looking for the trend of – to me, it reminds me of old fashioned web analytics, you know?  Where has this hit come from and where do they go next?

SS:   Absolutely, and a nice parallel actually you just touched upon is you can imagine what we’re doing is sort of a panel of the web analytics for the physical world.  So, you have your property and we’re trying to tell you about, you know, the surroundings and what’s happening on the periphery and even beyond which is generally a blind spot.  And the reason why it’s really interesting and fascinating for a lot of our clients is because where they fit in the daily lives of their customers defines what value they bring to their customers.

And I’ll give you an example.  We’re working with a retailer in London and it was interesting where they were trying to find out for their store as well as their competitor’s store when, you know, the demography is coming, a certain demography is coming over to their store between 12 and 2 pm on weekdays, how much time are they spending in the store and where are they coming from and where are they going?  And you know, it was fascinating we did the research and realised that they were expecting the demography to be more high end and affluent.

But what we realised was that the demography that was actually coming to their stores during the lunch hours was a fairly young, college-going or young professional folks who were coming and probably spending a very small – probably less than five minutes and just going away.  And when we did the research what we realised is that this particular retail chain was storing some very quick bites in their store.  They were storing these falafel wraps and stuff like that which the young demography is really, really interested in, and they would just come and quickly pick up a sandwich or wrap and go back to work.

They always assumed that their demography was fairly affluent folks who were looking to buy certain kind of products, and this actually helped them redefine and change the whole product shelving strategy.  So, it’s just an example, but the way you can actually understand the whole consumer journey and where you fit in it is extremely compelling and fascinating for a lot of our clients.

NM: I want to know – your system is saying it’s going to collect and mine all this data and be able to turn around things that are responding to me where I am right now, but not if I don’t want you to surely?

SS:   Yeah, you’re spot on, you’re absolutely right.

All of us have multiple devices on us and the problem is – there’s a few different aspects to it, right?  One is, I do not want to collect information about you unless you give me the permission.  And I think that’s something that most of the companies operating in the space know and follow or try to follow and we are no different.  So, we have measures in place which make sure that we only collect data from users who give us permission to collect it.

Secondly, I need to also give you the right to opt out at any point.  So, today you decided, okay, I want to – you know, I’m happy for you to collect this information and use it to either give me targeted offers or help me understand where I should go for my next vacation or what have you.  But if at some point I realise that this is not all that helpful, I want to opt out and we give you that option as well.  

And that really is the rule and that’s why we are quite different from some of the walled gardens like Facebook or Google which obviously know your name and your other details.

MJ:   But just practically speaking, how do you get that permission?

SS:   So, we get the permission through our partnerships –  so there are different data sources from which we collect this data.  So, when consumers are, you know, when they are either downloading the app or when they are in a vicinity of a Wi-Fi provider where they’re signing up for the Wi-Fi access they’re explicitly be asked in the terms and conditions as to “Are you okay to share your permission?”  And that is where they either give us the permission or they don’t.  And if they don’t then we obviously don’t get any data and even if we get data we purge it immediately.  And that’s really the process that we follow.  One of the other things that I mentioned was all of this data is anonymised.

So, there is no way for anyone at any point in time, even if something untoward happened and our data fell into hands of someone else, there would be no way for them to be able to un-hash or convert the IDs that we have into actual names or email addresses or any personally identifiable information, that’s not humanly possible.

NM: I’d like to drill into what you can decide or what the system can decide.  It’s a data-driven decision making tool I believe and to me I understand as much as being able to go into a shop or a shopping mall and that perhaps some system will recognise that I’m there, that’s a device and therefore I can get served a particular offer and that offer might expire when I leave the vicinity, I understand all of that.  Where is the decision making layer, where does that come in?

SS:   The decision making layer, actually it’s across the spectrum really.  So, as you mentioned, which was very relevant for the consumer.  So, if there is a targeted offer to a consumer there is a decision making that happens right at that moment, especially if it’s a low barrier to purchase opportunity when you are in-store, in the vicinity of the store.  There is also decision making that happens at an enterprise level and I’ll give you an example of it.

As I was saying earlier, in an e-commerce environment when you’re online everything is measured.  Now imagine that you’re a retailer, you’re a High Street retailer and there are people walking in, there are people walking out.  It’s very hard for you to know how many of these people who actually walked in ended up buying something, versus people who walked in, just looked around and didn’t find anything relevant and then walked away.  And that is another very critical aspect of the data that we’re collecting, you know?

Retailers, and again, you know, as you’re seeing that e-commerce has grown significantly and there is tremendous pressure on brick and mortar stores and retail stores to maintain and grow their market share.  And one of the core aspects of how they can do that is by understanding who their customers are and people who are coming into their environment, what are they doing when they are in?  But more importantly, where are they coming from and where are they going?  And what’s the behaviour when they’re not in my environment, which is a blind spot for most of them.

And that’s one of the interesting decisions that retailers can make to understand – because a lot of the marketing strategy and customer acquisition strategy today is based on intuition.  It’s less based on data and more on intuition and we are trying to change that.

MJ:   The sort of solutions you’re proposing are very technical and also quite advanced from an analytics perspective. How do you bring customers or potential customers on this journey?  

SS:   Yeah, that’s a great question, and you know, that’s one of the challenges that really cutting-edge start-ups would have at different points in time where they are trying to put the envelope and at the same time they realise that some of the customers may not necessarily be ready for it.  

And they certainly intend to invest in the future and they want to get on that journey and when we work with our partners and customers we’re not thinking of six months, we are thinking of 2, 3, 4, 5 years.  And hence we try to identify partners and customers who are willing to make that investment and move towards that with a two to three year horizon.  Because a lot of these changes – you know, working with us requires some investment on your data capabilities, on data collection, on data storage.  You know, a lot of customers want to use our product and then export data through APIs.

And you know, everyone likes to hear the word, API, but then when we actually go to deploy we realise that they’re not really setup for it.  So, it’s a journey.  We try to work very closely with our customers to take them on that journey because if we invest in the right way in the next 18-24 months, it’s taking them in the right direction because ultimately everyone wants to invest in building their data capabilities.  That’s the new oil, so to speak.

MJ:   Well, you mentioned APIs are – and I’m going to bite because it’s one of my favourite subjects!  I won’t get too technical, but in the broader MarTech and AdTech worlds obviously that whole space is coming together and as we know there are well more than 5,000 different vendors in that space.  Can you help us locate you in that universe and how do you kind of work?  

SS:   Yeah, that’s a good question.  Look, to be honest, you know, there are things that we worry about at night.  We try not to worry about how crowded the space is because that’ll just add to the list of worries that we have as entrepreneurs.

MJ:   [Laughs] Did I just talk about something that keeps you up? [Laughs]

SS:   Well, you know, we try to think of problems from first principles, right?  So, instead of worrying too much about how crowded the space, which you know, it surely is, there’s no doubt about it.  We look at it from the perspective of our clients and what are the challenges that they face.  

They have their own environment, and when I say environment, think about a bank or think about a retail client or an auto client, they have their own physical brick and mortar stores.  They have their own apps, they have their own websites and these are the places where their customers or prospects are going and spending time.  Now, when they are spending time on these properties they know a fair bit about what’s happening.

The moment their prospects or consumers leave those environments, it’s a blind spot and that is where we come in.  So, what we are doing is we are helping you understand your customers or your prospects a lot better by bridging the gap between when they were in your environment, versus when they were not and when they were probably at home or at work or travelling or with their kids and so on and so forth.  

Now, once we solve this problem or bridge this gap you could use this to enable your marketing strategy, you could use it for your retail analytics for shopper marketing.  You could use it to augment your CRM better and some of that could be through API, some of that could be batch file or whatever it is.  So, the mechanics really doesn’t matter beyond a point.  But what is really important is what is the problem that we are solving?  And that’s the problem that we are solving, and to us, solving that problem is an opportunity which to us still is fairly an open space.

We don’t see a lot of companies doing that.  There are companies on the advertising side that are just helping you acquire new customers and there are companies on the marketing side that are helping you engage with the existing customers and what we are doing is we are kind of sort of bridging that gap, which to us is – and based on what the success that we’ve seen, it seems like a great wide space that we’ve addressed in the past few years.

MJ:   Great.  Well, I think we’re nearly out of time but we have a couple of things.  Firstly, what’s the future for Near?  I just keep thinking as you’re speaking, you know, do you imagine becoming part of one of the big MarTech stacks or can you see yourselves being acquired by Google?  I mean the sort of features that you’re speaking about here seem to me over time something that I would expect to be baked into all sorts of stuff.

SS:   Yeah, well we think about it slightly differently.  For us, it’s more about how can we expand our capabilities further?  So, right now, you know, and whatever I spoke about, if you think about it, the whole ecosystem of post-PC devices, and when I say post-PC I include everything from smartphones onwards, it includes your tablets and wearables and Echoes and self-drive cars and so on.  If you look at that journey where all of us will be having multiple such devices and using them on a daily basis, we are still very, very early in that journey and it’s probably going to take us a few years.

Not a long time, but still to the order of probably three to five years in a lot of these destinations that you’re operating in where we will be at a point where outside of smartphones the whole variables economy and the self-drive economy and the IOT economy is going to grow to a point where that data becomes really scalable.  And we are really preparing ourselves for that.  That is really where we see ourselves.

So, whatever I’ve told you about today, you know, it’s really the tip of the iceberg and where we see ourselves as a company is how can we mine the data at scale to be able to deliver much deeper insights about consumers to our partners and clients.   So, yeah, I mean that’s really what our goal is for the next few years.

MJ:   Great.

NM: That’s fascinating.  I can’t wait to see how you guys progress in the infrastructure and traffic management section of the world which sorely needs heavy attention.

SS:   Absolutely

MJ:   Yeah, that’s a big problem.  Well, we have, before we close out, we call it the rapid fire questions and if you’re up for it, it’s a good chance for us to get to know a bit more about you and how you see the world, so are you ready?

NM: It’s kind of like speed dating, so get too nervous.

SS:   I don’t think I can possibly be ready, but let’s go for it.

NM: Just hold on.

MJ:   Okay, well what are you grateful for?

SS:   I’m grateful to be doing what I love doing.

NM: Do you like rain?

SS:   I love rain.

MJ:   In the movie of your life, who would play you?

SS:   Well, Tom Cruise, you know, we can always dream high, so Tom Cruise.

MJ:   [Laughs].

NM: What’s your greatest career fail?

SS:   I actually wanted to be an investment banker and I failed at it and I thank god every day that I did.

MJ:   Beach or mountain?

SS:   Mountain.

NM: Best ever career advice?

SS:   If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing then you are living someone else’s life.

MJ:   Summer or winter?

SS:   Winter.

NM: Who’s your hero?

SS:   My father.

MJ:   If you weren’t a marketer or in your business, what would you be?

SS:   I’d probably try to be a doctor because both my parents are doctors.  So, I don’t know if I will try to but I would have definitely given that a shot.

MJ:   If you could change one thing about the marketing industry, what would it be?

SS:   I think we all need to be a little more transparent about what we do and how we do it. Right now there is a lot of buzzwords flying and I wish that we all went a little deeper and under the hood and spoke about things in more layman terms. I have been in this industry for a while and I just get confused half the time myself, so I can feel for the marketers.

NM: Favourite book?

SS:   I actually recently read Lee Kuan Yew’s biography and I’ve been in Singapore for a long time and I’m ashamed to say that it took me a long while to read it but that’s probably one of the most inspiring books I have ever read, so Lee Kuan Yew.

MJ:   Thank you.  If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?

SS:   My first name, geez that’s a tough one.  People have actually told me that I don’t need to have two names, I can just go with the name Shosh, which is kind of the first two or three letters of my both first name and surname, so I’d probably just go with Shosh and nothing else, just Shosh, it’s easy.

NM: Nice, like a rock star.

MJ:   Wow, yeah that’s very rock star.

SS:   And most of my Australian colleagues always tell me that you have to have a nickname, you just have to have a nickname.  And that’s such an Australian thing that you either extend it by adding a vowel or just remove the last three letters of the first name and there you go, so…

NM:  We’ve already shortened.  Didn’t you get the email?

MJ:   We’ve moved on, yeah that’s it, it’s done.  Well, we heard it here first.  So, thanks, Shosh, it’s been great to have you on the show.  We really appreciate your time and all the best with the future of Near.

SS:   Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure.

MJ:  Well that’s a wrap, thanks very much, and again, thank you.

SS:   Thanks guys.

MJ:  Thanks for joining us on the CMO Show.   It’s been great to have you with us.

NM:  We’ve had a blast haven’t we?

MJ:  We have.  Until next time.

NM:  Indeed.

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