What's Working In Marketing: Planning for Scale with Vik Kambli, Chief Marketing Officer at Clearly

Brand & Positioning Strategy
August 13, 2021

What's Working in Marketing is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.

On this episode, we spoke with Vik Kambli who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Clearly, an online retailer of contact lenses, eyeglasses and sunglasses. Vik discusses the role of serendipity in his career, the three layer framework companies need to consider for scale, how companies need to plan for scale at different stages of maturity, the importance of company values for long-term planning, what is exciting Vik in marketing today, and much more.

You can listen to What's Working in Marketing – A Podcast by RightMetric wherever you get your podcasts — including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Tune In, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts.

Here's a full transcript of our conversation with Vik:

Charlie Grinnell: In this episode, I'm joined by Vik Kambli, Chief Marketing Officer at Clearly. Thanks for joining me today, Vik.

Vik Kambli: It's a pleasure to be here, Charlie. It's great to see you again.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, likewise. So I'm really excited to have you on the show today. You have such a diverse background working at some amazing companies. And usually how I start these episodes to kind of set the stage, so to speak, is taking it back to the beginning. So I'd love to kind of go back and get an understanding of things like, where did you kind of start in marketing and how has your career kind of progressed to where it is today?

Vik Kambli: Yeah. I think some of the best advice I've ever gotten was really around how most careers happen as a result of coincidence, serendipity, and chance, and a healthy amount of luck in there as well. And like how a lot of the time and energy that young people spend on really detailed career planning, 5, 10, 15 years out, while well-intentioned, is misplaced energy because of the fact that most careers happen as a result of those things I spoke about a few seconds ago.

Vik Kambli: I'm definitely a by-product of that. And I've definitely experienced that in my own. I went to the University of Waterloo. I studied biotechnology and economics, mostly because I had no real clear idea in terms of what I wanted to be when I grew up. And to be perfectly honest, I probably still don't. But it gave me a really broad base and at least I had some foresight to say like, hey, if I wanted to go to medical school, but I wanted to go to law school, like I would have had my prerequisites covered.

Vik Kambli: And there was really no other strategy. I mean, that and like a healthy amount of curiosity, both in economics as well as in sciences. So I was about to graduate from the University of Waterloo. I had my graduation job, let's call it, lined up. I was going to go and work in pharmaceutical marketing in New York City. And then I'm writing my last exams, it's like the last week before my exams are finished and then my would be boss calls me and she tells me that, "Hey, our company has been acquired and we've eliminated your position."

Vik Kambli: And so inevitably, in the middle of exam week, having a little bit of a crisis. And so at that point, I have my crisis moment and then I walk over to my desktop computer at that time. And I'm sure you remember MSN messenger.

Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely.

Vik Kambli: And look at people's statuses since I have a status. I changed my MSN messenger name to something like “I just lost my job” to get contacts out there who is looking for someone, just let me know. And lo and behold, like 15 minutes after I changed my name, like a really good friend of mine who had a role at Microsoft and was moving into another role messaged me and said like, "Hey, we're actually having back-filled from my role yet, my current role yet. You've got the background in terms of educational background."

Vik Kambli: And it was an entry level job at Microsoft. I wish you're interested in coming and interviewing. Yeah, absolutely. Again, this is like a bolt of lightning, and this is the early two thousands and holy crap, this is... And it would be an incredible place to start my career. So Jen gets me an interview. I go through the interview process and I'm fortunate enough to get the role.

Vik Kambli: And you know what? Lucky me. I spend the better part of five, six years at Microsoft. And at that time, they're hiring some of the best marketing and business talent in the country. The network I've built there is exceptionally strong and to a large degree, I'm super close to a lot of those people today. They're scattered all throughout the Canadian business landscape, whether you look at TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest, still at Microsoft, Shopify, like it's incredible. And we kind of all professionally grew up together, which was like a really remarkable experience.

Vik Kambli: And come 2010, I've been at Microsoft for five and a half years. There's a few things that I'm starting to get stale on just mentally, just kind of doing the same thing at the same company for a while. But at the same time, I'm finding myself vacationing out in Vancouver a lot because my closest friends from high school and university are out here. We come out here for the Olympics and during the Olympics I have that, what am I doing moment? I love the beer. I love the lifestyle.

Vik Kambli: My closest friends are out here. I'm in a job where I don't really feel like I'm growing anymore. And so then right after the Olympics, I make a decision where it's like, all right, I'm going to resign. I gave Microsoft a three months notice and decided to move to Vancouver in the summer. Again, lucky me, the last project I worked on at Microsoft is the consumer launch of Office 2010, focusing on students.

Vik Kambli: I make a decision that like, hey, the agency that we're working with is a really good B2B agency. But this is a business to consumer launch, B2C launch. And we need someone with that kind of talent. Lo and behold, Wunderman has just bought Blast Radius, a Vancouver-based agency, who's done work for Nike, the Jordan brand, Starbucks, et cetera, et cetera. I talked to them, get along great with the team, and we work on the launch together.

Vik Kambli: A month before I'm about to move out, again, like I kind of just say to them, "Hey, confidentially, I resigned my job. I'm going to move to Vancouver. And if you guys know anyone that is looking for someone with my skill set, let me know." Because I'm kind of moving out there without a job. And again, lo and behold, they're actually looking for someone to help them build their Microsoft business, supporting our Redmond office.

Vik Kambli: So again, like right time, right place, right opportunity. I go and work there. So when I moved to Vancouver, that's sort of the first job that I had. And again, lucky me, Blast Radius at that time was like really lightning in a bottle in terms of digital talent in the early 2010s. They built a large part of the CRM strategy for Starbucks. They were doing some groundbreaking work on the Jordan brand digitally. Really one of the top digital agencies and some of the best digital talent in North America and of the world at that time.

Vik Kambli: And then likewise, after about three years or so at Blast, I realized that, hey, this agency services model doesn't really scale and I don't necessarily just want to be doing digital strategy for the rest of my career. And I decided to move back into SAS. And at that point, there's a number of executives at Blast Radius who left the company after the earn-out period was done with WPP, which is that large company that has most of the VC's in the world.

Vik Kambli: And they had taken a stake in a local startup and they were looking for a VP of marketing and strategy. And so we spoke. It was like the smallest company I had ever worked for. I think I was employee number 25 or something like that. And yeah, we worked really hard at building that startup. For about two years, we won some incredible deals with like OpenTable, Blackbaud. But like anything else, we were up against like two very well-funded competitors from the valley.

Vik Kambli: It was an uphill battle and a lot of what we focused on there was like, how do we compete in a market where we're not the best resourced player? And that really got very stark in terms of like, how do we define our go-to-market strategy in a way that we're actually saying no to 90% of the leads that come in because we know exactly the kind of deals that we could win. We grow the startup. We're doing really well, but we're running out of money and we're kind of looking at the end of a little bit of a situation where it's like, how do we keep funding this thing?

Vik Kambli: Christmas Eve, luckily again, I should say, Christmas Eve 2014 we get a call from the M&A team at NetSuite, which is now NetSuite Oracle. They're looking to close this monster deal with American Express. And the key piece that they're missing is an enterprise billing solution, which is what my company at that time, Minexa, actually did. And they've done the cost benefit analysis where it's actually cheaper for them to buy us than it is to develop that in-house.

Vik Kambli: And again, we go through that acquisition process. And then coming out of that acquisition process, I know I don't want to work at a big enterprise software company again. So I kind of just go out and I do a little bit of consulting. I don't stay NetSuite, NetSuite Oracle now, I should say. And yeah, I do a little bit of consulting. I work with the team at Mobify, kind of helped them shape their go-to-market strategy, which PWP is at a really critical inflection point.

Vik Kambli: I kind of work with them on raising their first round of money, their series 8 financing round. And then just after my 34th birthday, the day after I get a message from the same guy who hired me at Microsoft all those years ago. And it's very much a, "Hey, you look like you're looking for a challenge." He's at Facebook now. And it's like, "We're looking for someone to help us build our business in the west and really help us establish our vertical strategy in the west. Why don't you come and talk to us about it?"

Vik Kambli: So inevitably I go through the motions there, go through the interview process. Again, I'm fortunate enough to get the role. And that turns out to be an absolutely transformational life experience, both personally and professionally. I think at that time, one of the Internet Darlings, and then watching what that company went through after the Trump election and Cambridge Analytica. And there was some really important lessons that I learned along that way, and as well just the opportunity to represent a brand like that at that time to this region of Canada. That's actually how you and I met. We met while at your role in our Arc’teryx.

Vik Kambli: And then inevitably, again, towards the end of 2019, I kind of reached a ceiling on where I could take the role at Facebook and I was looking for my next challenge. I was looking within Facebook, but I couldn't leave Vancouver at that time for a number of personal reasons. And the CEO of Clearly was in our office. Noah and I had become friends over the last few years that we'd been working together.

Vik Kambli: Coffee break between a business review that we were doing. We were just kind of shooting the shit by the coffee machine. And he asked me how I was doing. And I'm pretty transparent. I was like, "I'm doing great. I'm getting a little bit stale in the role. I'm kind of starting to think about, 'Hey, what am I going to do next?" And yeah, he's just kind of like, "Well, what do you want to do?" And I'm like, "Well, let's grab breakfast and talk about it." We grabbed breakfast a week later.

Vik Kambli: I kind of talked to him about, hey, these are the things I'm interested in doing. And I articulated three things. I want operating experience. I want to actually run a business soup to nuts and definitely get an understanding of how to run and manage a P&L. And I'm really curious on working on M&A and expansion strategies that way. He flat out says, he's like, "Well, what happens if I could offer you a job that you could do all three?"

Vik Kambli: And inevitably, I go through the interview process there and I get the role and here we are. The other kind of update as well, you and I spoke a little bit about business, I've also now made the decision to leave Clearly very shortly. And yeah, it takes some time out of the workforce. Kind of like entrench myself and kind of figure out what it is that I want to do with, frankly, the second half of my life coming out of a hundred year plague that we've been living through.

Vik Kambli: It's interesting because when we look back on history, there's a universal truth out there, which is the companies of tomorrow get started during these kinds of economic black swan events. 2008 it was triggering the .com bomb. It was true in World War II. It's the universal truth. And then the other part of it is capital markets have never been more flushed than they are right now. Meaning that if you've got a good idea that's got product market fit, it'll get funded.

Vik Kambli: First of all, I'm seeing some amazing innovations as I've kind of started talking to founders and VC's as I'm going through this exploratory process. And yeah, I'm kind of going to sit on the bench for a while. Have a lot of conversations, see where I can help businesses, see ideas that I'm genuinely curious about and problems I'm interested in solving and throw myself into something kind of at the series A, series B level and really help them scale because that's where I feel I can genuinely add value. So that was a lot, but that's kind of like the rundown. And the key takeaway there is the right place, right time, right experience, work your ass off, build connections. And you don't know the way that the dominoes are going to fall sometimes.

Charlie Grinnell: I mean, it's fascinating. I obviously knew a little bit about your backstory, but not to that level of detail. I don't know. There were so many things that I think ring true for me and my career. But what was so fascinating to me is all those serendipitous moments of luck, as you called it, that turned into like a key turning point for you have all been around growth and scale.

Charlie Grinnell: And I think that plays perfectly into some of the questions that I want to ask about that. You've kind of always landed, it seems, in these companies that are either just starting their growth or like in the middle of like big growth. Can you talk about what that looked like at different stages? So when you think about how those companies were planning things, and maybe when you joined those companies, what did that look like in terms of businesses that are in those different kinds of stages of maturity?

Vik Kambli: One of the things I want to call out too, is like, when I started my career, I started at this gigantic enterprise software. It wasn't really enterprise software, software behemoth. They have an X-Box, so I can't really call it all software. And it gradually got to Blast Radius, which was in and around 300 people. And then Minexa, which when I joined, it was about 25 people.

Vik Kambli: And again, this wasn't intentional, by any means. I don't have that kind of foresight where it's like I'm going to progressively get smaller and see kind of like, hey, what's the infrastructure that you need to build at these levels? But there's kind of three layers that I view things out in terms of like, when you're looking at an organization, how are you enabling it to scale?

Vik Kambli: And none of these are more important than the others, but they really do stack on top of each other. It's like, technology decisions that you make and the technology that people are working with, the processes that you then build around that technology to enable that technology to be as agile as possible to hit your goals. And then you've got the people who actually run those processes, optimize those processes and actually innovate around those processes themselves to make things as agile as possible.

Vik Kambli: So if I take that brainwork, technology process people, the best companies I've ever worked at they're looking at, when does our current state of technology process and people start to break? Anytime you 3X something, again, it's a general rule of thumb. But anytime anything starts to 3X, you start to really break each and every single one of those things. The best companies I've worked at, the founding team or the C-suite as well as the board is looking forward and essentially looking at...

Vik Kambli: I got a conversation with a CEO last month. My conversation with him was like, what are you thinking? What are you spending your time I'm on now when your company is seeing this explosive growth? And he said something to me that is kind of patternistic of a lot of what other really great leaders have said to me, which is anybody can 2X a company, a little bit of hyperbole there. But a 2X industry is not what I want to be spending my time on. What I need to be thinking about is like, how do I 10X this thing? In order to 10X this thing, so to go from 2 million users to 20 million users, what are the changes that we need to make? How do we need to evolve the organization?

Vik Kambli: When we think about the technology platform that we're building off of, does it scale to allow that many customers, that many transactions that happen? Does your infrastructure actually scale as well, whether you're on AWS, Azure, or any of the other platforms out there. And does your warehouse have some scale? Et cetera, et cetera. The processes as well, it's like, where do those processes where you start to see stress tests, especially if you're looking at things like internationalization, or add-on services that you may be adding.

Vik Kambli: So if you're selling a piece of furniture and you're looking to add an extended warranty onto it. Do your actual systems and your processes actually support your ability to add the extended warranties on there? And the other key thing from a foresight standpoint as well, especially on your leadership team, is like, can your leaders scale? Thinking on just like where things are currently to where things need to go. And if they can't scale naturally, how do you coach them into that?

Vik Kambli: Or start having the discussions with them about like, hey, what does a transformation of your role look like down the road? So there's really no surprises and you're having those kinds of conversations. I'd say the most successful companies I've ever been a part of, like at a very high level, they're thinking about it through those lenses, like technology, process and people, and designing their growth plans around how to scale those based off of what's anticipated. And we can talk about like, hey, how do you then build plans against that in terms of, how do you actually then build a growth plan against that? But I'll stop there for now.

Charlie Grinnell: I mean, the thing that comes to mind there that's super interesting, those three lenses, a common theme and kind of what you alluded to is this idea of agility is like a big piece of kind of all of those. And so in my background, having worked on the brand side and now working on a startup, going from a company with thousands and thousands of employees to like we're 11 people right now, building the plane and flying the plane are two different things.

Charlie Grinnell: But you see there's kind of like these two camps. There's the agile camp, like be scrappy, be fast, how do things scale? And then there's kind of this other camp that's like, how are we focusing on taking one big swing or going all in on an idea? There's two camps there. What do you think about that? Do you agree with that assessment? And if so, which one do you more align with?

Vik Kambli: Yeah. I think by and large going all in on an idea without any sort of contingencies is idiotic. And I say that from the perspective of like you need to be able to iterate. And so it's one thing to go all in on an idea, but you also need to then be agile enough to learn from what's wrong or what your customers aren't actually responding to, and then have the agility in your people, your processes and your systems to actually then iterate off of that.

Vik Kambli: Let's just talk about product. I don't know the last time that someone hit a home run right off the bat on product release number one. The world talks about Apple and their innovation. You look at the Apple Watch, the first generation of the watch, it was okay.

Charlie Grinnell: It sucked. I had one. It sucked. It's not what it is today. At the time, I remember reading articles where everyone's like, Apple's investing all this money and here we are, what? 5, 6, 7 years later. Yes, like around that. And now it's like, well, Apple is like the largest watch business in the world. And you're like...

Vik Kambli: Incredible product.

Charlie Grinnell: Amazing product. Yeah.

Vik Kambli: And just iterations that kind of came out of that. Everyone who talks about Apple is like, oh my God, they're... Which they are, this amazing hardworking company. But even there, there's iterations that come out of that. But even when you're building software, it's even that much more important. Because the one thing we learned at Facebook is when you have... And we also have the benefit of just the amount of users on there.

Vik Kambli: When you have that level of users, like the way that your users use your system is actually water slowly forging itself through like a piece of stone over time. And they will tell you, if you look close, when you've actually built the analytics or like the data backbone strong enough, what your users actually want from you, then you invest against that. You iterate on that and you learn from that.

Vik Kambli: So to get back to your question, the one big swing, it's like, well, if you've got one big idea, do you want to take a swing at it? Out by all means. Absolutely. If you think that there's going to be the semblance of product market fit. But if you do and you just leave it, then that's idiotic. Because honestly, in this day and age, and in this environment, every day you're not iterating and you're stagnant, you're losing product market fit.

Charlie Grinnell: Totally. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, objects at rest tend to stay at rest. I think about it like that. It's like, if you're not pushing forward, you're going backwards. That's a really interesting way to think about it. I want to kind of ask one question. This is a bit backtracking here, just around career side of things. So people who are looking to work in growth marketing to kind of learn the ropes, you got your start at a big company, whereas some people... There's two kind of trains there. Do you go get your startup experience or do you go work at a big company?

Charlie Grinnell: For me, I was similar to you, in that I got into a big company and I was so fortunate, kind of like what you were talking about how you have you're like Microsoft mafia. I have the same thing with my colleagues at Red Bull who left the company and have gone on to Netflix, Facebook, Tesla, you name it. And yeah. Where do you sit on that in terms of like, if you were starting out again, or I'm sure people ask you for career advice, just like they ask me for career advice. I'm always kind of like go to the big company because that's what I did and that's where I learned. But I'd love to get your take on that as well.

Vik Kambli: Yeah. There's also one thing I want to clarify. The term more and more, the term growth marketing drives me nuts. And it's not because someone is intentionally trying to drive us nuts. It's more because like, if you're in any role and you're not thinking about how do you drive growth from the role, then you're irrelevant. You're really irrelevant. Especially as leaders, part of our jobs as leaders, it's like really to understand which one of the people on our teams are really like the 10X contributors and which are the 100X contributors.

Vik Kambli: And which ones are genuinely looking at solving problems versus which ones are just looking at keeping the machine running. And then solving problems means that you have that growth mindset. But you're thinking about it through the lens of, how do you continuously improve? And that goes beyond just marketing itself. It's connecting what your role is to the overall outcomes that the business is looking to drive. And if it's not connected there then, what are you doing with your time? And is your role really that important?

Vik Kambli: To answer your question, I think I used to go back and forth on this a lot in terms of post-startups, do you go to a big company and build the networks? And I wavered back and forth. And you know what? I actually think my answer to that now, who knows? That might change 18 months from now as I'm kind of going through my own career rejigging or whatever we want to be. More of the best advice I ever got was also a lot of the insight or a lot of the advice that we get when we graduate is bullshit this around like following your passion.

Vik Kambli: Let's be fair. When I was like 21 years old about to graduate university, I was probably passionate about three things. I was passionate about sleep, girls and Pro Jam. And none of those things would have gotten me very far, and obviously passions change as I get older. Better orientation is, what are you curious about? And that curiosity changes, but what are you deeply curious about? What are the problems in the world that you're interested in helping to solve or making a contribution towards?

Vik Kambli: And what I say to young people now is that should be your north star. And whether that north star happens at a large company or at a startup, I don't want to say it's irrelevant, but it almost is based out like where your general curiosity comes from. Because the cream's always going to rise to the top. You start at a startup that is obscure, you work your off, you help it find product market fit. You've got skills that whether it's that startup that you can transfer it to another role or another scope or another company.

Vik Kambli: All things being equal, the decision is really more around depth versus breadth. Again, let's say I'm curious about a problem. I've got two opportunities, one at a large company, one at a startup that's offering me an opportunity to tackle that problem. And then you kind of change your perspective on it there. It's like at the large company, you'll be able to tackle that problem at a meaningful level of depth because that's kind of the focus and the scope of what that role will be is based off that problem.

Vik Kambli: And if that passion is around solving a problem to a significant depth, then by all means, take that large company role. The other thing that comes out of the benefit of this, about those large company organizations is yes, the networks because good people find good people and hire good people, but also then get to learn how companies at scale function and work together and the processes that they build at a fairly early stage in your career, which then pay compound interest as you go and take other roles.

Vik Kambli: You can look at a company that's maybe two factors of growth below where that large company is and you're like, okay, I now see when we 6X this business, what we need to be building towards, or kind of similarly, what we need to be building towards. So there's that side of it. On the startup side, it's more of a breadth way because you're going to be working on that problem. You and I have both worked in startups. We're there now. You're going to be doing a lot of other things because there's a lot of things to do and there's not enough people to do it, especially if your startup's growing really fast.

Vik Kambli: So I kind of look at like if you want to solve the problem and if you want to work on the problem or the scratch that curiosity at a meaningful level of depth, or if you want to be yes, solving that problem, but you're also looking to get exposure in terms of like doing an exposure into other adjacent and sometimes not adjacent things, if you're at a startup, use that as a guide. That curiosity is the primary orientation in terms of that decision making, where my answer to that question is now.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. And I agree with that. I want to switch gears a little bit here back to talking about scaling and growth. One of the things that I've noticed in my career, and you've probably seen the same, is growth and scale is change and change is uncomfortable and humans don't like to be uncomfortable. So what's your kind of take or approach on getting buy-in and working collaboratively on things that are naturally uncomfortable? Like if you're trying to not just 2X, 5X, 10X, that can be uncomfortable for some people. And so what have you kind of seen in your past, both on the big company and the little company side of things to kind of navigate that?

Vik Kambli: Yeah. I've got an answer for it, but I've got a story for you. But before I do that, I'd love to hear your take. Because I think about your time at Red Bull and just the growth that... Well, Red Bull transformed when you were there from this brand to this media behemoth. So I'd love to actually get your take on that as well because I've actually got a story.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. First and foremost, I think it's a mindset shift. So when I was working there internally, what we were so fortunate is I think a lot of us were on the same page, that we were comfortable with being uncomfortable. And so we knew that like, hey, everyone here is really smart. Everyone here is really aligned towards where we want to go. It was kind of just an expected thing. Like, hey, we're pushing for something amazing here. And if it's too hot, get out of the kitchen. That was kind of like the first kind of just core, I guess, alignment that was kind of like a spoken but unspoken rule is like we push. And that's kind of what Red Bull stands for as a brand. So that was the first thing.

Charlie Grinnell: The second thing around that was we defaulted to over-communicating. And so really making sure that everybody had a very clear understanding about what we were doing and more importantly, why we were doing it. And I think those two things, those were really like the combinations that came together for us at that time. And we were super fortunate. We did some really cool stuff when I was there and they're still continuing to do amazing stuff today. And so yeah, those were things that I felt like we spent a lot of time getting alignment internally and kind of like playing therapist and talking people off the ledge to be like, hey, this is going to feel weird.

Charlie Grinnell: This is new. This hasn't been done before. This is kind of our hypothesis and educated guess. Here's why we're thinking this way. We could be totally wrong, but this is what we're doing. And some of it worked and some of it didn't work. We had stuff that went really well and of course, we had stuff that flopped. But yeah, that's kind of how we thought about it.

Vik Kambli: So what was the inverse of that? I don't want you to use the name of a company or whatnot. Let's not throw anybody under the bus necessarily. But what was the inverse of that? Where it's like you or your team, not necessarily at Red Bull, but in another professional life, people will be scrolling through our LinkedIn's and figuring out who we're talking shit about. Where you wanted to drive the growth, but the company wasn't willing to accept it and why.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I think it's not necessarily one of those things that I could point to and be like this was the one thing. I think it is a mindset shift. And when I think of growth and I think of change, what kind of goes alongside that is risk. What's your risk tolerance? And I think a lot of businesses struggle with that, whether it's places that I used to work or clients of ours or friends of mine who work at other businesses, ex colleagues. There is a sense of risk tolerance there.

Charlie Grinnell: I think that there could also be aspects that are, hey, we're good. What's got us here today is like going to continue to carry us. I'm not necessarily a believer in that, especially in the last 18 months here. I think we've seen a fundamental shift in how things are done and we've seen changes that aren't just like, oh, this is like a temporary shift. We formed habits here now. Do something for a little while, like a couple of weeks. Sure. That sucks. We're in lock down.

Charlie Grinnell: When you're in lockdown for months at a time or years at a time and being restricted, that is building a habit. We've kind of changed there. So yeah, I think with this rapid change the world is going through, I think the best brands and the best marketers are going to be the ones who thrive in that discomfort, because that's what it is. If you don't like being uncomfortable, don't work in marketing straight up, or growth or scale or whatever you want to call it, because it's going to continue to change.

Charlie Grinnell: And so that's kind of something that you can see pretty quickly when you're working with companies. So at Red Bull, I think we embraced that. At other brands, maybe they haven't embraced that yet, or they're not comfortable doing that, or they think they know better. And at the end of the day, it's their business, like sure. But I just think there are so many examples. You and I could probably list off dozens and dozens of examples where we look at the best companies in the world and they have a few traits that are in common, and I would say one of those is they embrace change.

Vik Kambli: I'm so glad I asked you for some more color on that as well. And it's not a reframing I'm going to answer this question, it's the underlining thing I really got out of your answer and I'll take it back to how I'm going to answer this is like your values. And I mean that in terms of like, frankly, before I was at Facebook, I always kind of scoffed at values. It's like, you know what the fuck? It was like, what the hell is this? They're just words on paper.

Vik Kambli: And there was something that Mark would talk about a lot at Facebook, which was your values are only as good as what you're willing to give up for them. And we're better and sometimes we're worse. The company really lived and breathed that. The other piece I'll kind of like add on to that values component as well, in terms of like when they become more words on paper, and I don't want to paint with too broad of a brush here, is the difference in terms of how values are interpreted in founder-led companies versus in editor-led companies.

Vik Kambli: The example of that, that I'll use, again, very early in my career is I was at Microsoft during the transition from Gates to Ballmer. And it's well-documented in terms of Microsoft's lost decade in the 2000s, where the price stagnated. Yes, we still saw the revenue growth. There was meaningful, large market opportunities that were missed during the bomber administration, for lack of a better word. There it is. Bomber's tenure. That was the word I was looking for. SaaS for the most part was missed. Mobile was missed. Search was missed. I'm sure there's a few others. bUT you look at those, those are billion dollar markets.

Charlie Grinnell: What do you mean? You don't want to just bang it?

Vik Kambli: Yeah, exactly. I still talk to some friends who are supporting Microsoft and they still use the term bang it.

Charlie Grinnell: I'm a buddy at Microsoft. Sorry if you're listening. Had to. Low-hanging fruit, easy win.

Vik Kambli: But the values hadn't changed. However, the optimization point going from Gates to Ballmer kind of changed. And again, this was a contributing reason why I decided to leave the company at that time was I had a really hard time seeing what the vision was, apart from making more money from Windows Office and Windows server, especially when you're there and Google is eating your lunch on search and Apple is watching the iPhone and you're scoffing at the idea, and, and, and.

Vik Kambli: So that was really interesting in terms of just seeing how those values manifest themselves and how they make difficult decisions on that. The other one that I point to as well is there's this really famous story that we would tell our partners when I was at Facebook, which was Mark after the IPO, which was an absolute disaster. If we think that 2012, Facebook's IPO was ugly on a number of different levels.

Vik Kambli: And then on top of that, at that time mobile phone proliferation was going crazy. And the vast majority of Facebook revenue and Facebook's product was so desktop oriented. So during an all-hands, Mark got up in front of the company and he what? He said to the company, essentially to players, hey, we're a mobile first company now. And what that means is that everything that we do needs to be brought through the lens of how do we design for customers or people's experiences on a mobile device?

Vik Kambli: And some people took it seriously and others did it. There's like these stories that started rolling it out in terms of like there would be Mark's engineering and UX leaders and teams would go into product reviews with Mark and presented them in designs, presented them in roadmaps that didn't actually have mobile devices at their core. They were thrown out of the room and said, no, go do it again. I meant it when I said mobile first.

Vik Kambli: And inevitably, Mark's calendar started opening up for weeks on end. And that was kind of the oh shit moment internally. It's like, oh no, he's serious about this. As a founder, it's always been his ruthless decisiveness, not meanness or anything like that, that I always admired in terms of like, how do you make really difficult decisions that are going to hurt you in the short term from a revenue standpoint or from a product roadmap standpoint, but they're going to benefit you, or they're going to benefit your customer base and therefore benefit your company over the long term.

Vik Kambli: So I kind of looked at it through that lens in terms of like your values, but then also the ability of the leadership team to live those values and actually make sure to hold their team members accountable to the values themselves, which then really builds that culture that you and I were talking about both at Red Bull and what I experienced at Microsoft and other organizations. On the more technical side of that, it's really around having a plan and executing against that plan, where that plan needs to evolve.

Vik Kambli: And I got to go back to that desktop versus mobile example. Calling that play early where it's like, hey, this isn't working, or if we keep this, yes, we're going to keep making more money in the short term, we're going to be digging our own grave in the long term because the market is moving. So I kind of look at it through that lens.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. It's interesting. There's a phrase that I've used both on the brand side and in building the right metric, is this idea of going slow now to go fast later or short-term pain for long-term gain. And what's funny is it's not sexy. It's not something that the headline people or thought leaders talk about when they're talking about growth marketing or product decisions or whatever. But that's the shit that moves the needle, it's the unsexy stuff.

Charlie Grinnell: It doesn't sound good when you're talking about it necessarily because it's hard conversations or it's you're slicing and dicing in every different way to kind of look at different ways to do things. And also those decisions sometimes piss people off and it sucks. And some people you rub them the wrong way because of that. And so, yeah, I don't know. That definitely sparked a lot of different memories in my mind of times where I've been in the room or watched leaders that I've admired be in the room have to...

Charlie Grinnell: They would probably say it's the shitty part of their job, which is making a tough call that people don't agree with. And then 2, 3, 4 years down the line, it's like, oh, that was genius. That was brilliant. Just like we talked about with the Apple Watch. There are so many other products out there that have been like that. So, yeah, I definitely empathize with that.

Vik Kambli: The thing I want to underline with what you just said as well is just the importance of toil. If you're doing the job right, for the most part it shouldn't be sexy. It should be ugly.

Charlie Grinnell: Oh yeah. You're the shit.

Vik Kambli: You should be frustrated and sometimes not even knowing where the way out is. And I've got such a respect for people who toil in silence for years and years and years, and lo and behold, you got something that is, I don't want to say shiny, but there's a product market fit there. And you kind of think that, oh, look, this happened overnight. No, this has taken like years of iteration and figuring things out. And so that toil piece as well, which I think is underestimated, especially based off of like this very showy social media culture.

Charlie Grinnell: The highlight reel of like look at how shiny my life is and look at this thing. And, oh, look, my company was built in a year and it got acquired. That type of shit, where it's like, what? That's not the reality.

Vik Kambli: One of my favorite Instagram accounts is actually called LinkedinFlex.

Charlie Grinnell: Yes. It's so good.

Vik Kambli: Oh, it's so funny. It just points a needle, like throw a finger in the eye of all of those like gloat, humble bray.

Charlie Grinnell: The personal news.

Vik Kambli: Oh God. Yeah. It's like, just leave that alone. The work will speak for itself.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, totally. So there's a lot happening. I feel like the last 18 months in marketing, since COVID hit, I think we kind of had these waves of innovation in marketing and like different trends, whether it's being very performance focused in marketing automation and that side of things. And then swinging back to being like, no, it's all about brand. And how do your customers feel? There are kinds of those brands and performance side of things.

Charlie Grinnell: And I feel like the pendulum swings back and forth constantly depending on what's happening in the world. Based on kind of where we're at today, like how we've kind of come out on the, knock on wood here, backend of COVID, what are you kind of most excited about when it comes to just marketing in general today? Is it a technology? Is it a way of doing things? Is it a specific brand? Is it a trend?

Vik Kambli: I'm excited about the technology that's about to be built. It gets back to what I said earlier about the companies of tomorrow being founded during these kinds of times and really seeing over the next 18 months or whatever that is some of the innovation that we're really going to see. In terms of industries, I'm really interested in what some people want in the healthcare space.

Vik Kambli: Basically delivering services at a distance, whether you look at access to mental health care both in terms of delivery, but also like cost accessibility and some of the things that we're going to be able to do there. The other piece I'd say is that the media has changed, and I'm really fascinated to see how this is going to play itself out and again, where this starts to find its equilibrium.

Vik Kambli: And then there's another absolute truth that's going to happen, which is household savings rates have never been higher during this year. And at the same time, there's been trillions of dollars pumped into the economy. So it's not a big statement to say to the consumer economy, assuming again that we find a level of equilibrium with managing COVID is going to boom. The 1920s roared for a reason. And I'm confident based off the information I have right now that 2020 is going to roar.

Vik Kambli: But then I'll take it back to that media statement that I had. It's like, look, I went to university during the rise of Facebook. And that changed how I consume media. I consume media through feed. And then mobile came up and lo and behold, I'm on Facebook feed, I'm on Instagram feed, I'm on Twitter feed. And that's my preferred mechanism for consuming media. Like you and I are roughly the same age, so how that's proliferated in terms of like the products that were built focused on us using that feed as the primary mechanism for delivering information.

Vik Kambli: And then Snapchat came around in let's call it 2012, 2013. This disappearing videos thing was like, holy shit, this is actually a medium that kids want to use.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. People are using this thing?

Vik Kambli: Stories are everywhere. We're seeing memes always being in Excel, just kind of like tongue in cheek.

Charlie Grinnell: Was it yesterday or the day before, TikTok just announced they're pulling stories in too. I'm like, okay, yeah, you might as well slap it on your clock radio at this point, Excel.

Vik Kambli: Right. Because that is the key preferred mechanism of consumption of a generation of people. And lo and behold, that generation of people, who were at this point kids or teenagers, they're in the workforce now and that's their preferred mechanism of communication or media intake, and they've got purchasing power. So you better figure out how to market to those people as a result of that purchasing power.

Vik Kambli: The thing that is really fascinating right now for me is the TikTok. You've had another medium that's kind of accelerated its adoption, whatever we want to call it. Like short form, six second video, virtual broadway, whatever the hell we want to call it. I was listening to another podcast, and I've got to verify this to be fair, but he was talking about how the most played songs on YouTube now aren't even like songs, but they're like the six second hooks that are being played in TikTok songs.

Vik Kambli: And it's like, hang on a second. You've got a group of teenagers that have now decided that this format is their preferred format for consuming media. So what I'm really curious about then is how this then manifests itself over the course of the next 5 or 10 years as that generation enters the workforce, starts getting processes, and what that means for how we market to people. So I know that's less specific around like, hey, what Canadian Tire is doing in Ecommerce. There's a macro, which I am, but there's a macro trend there around like there's a generation and a media change that's happened that's really fascinating.

Vik Kambli: And I kind of take it back to like one of the pieces of reading that they gave us at Facebook when we started was Marshall McLuhan's, I can't remember the name, media and theory. It was written in the '50s or '40s. McLuhan talks about how when a plane approaches the sound barrier, all of a sudden you can start seeing sound waves on the wing tips. When you start to reach the limits of something, you actually start to see the forums of the next iteration of that thing coming together. Sound all of a sudden appearing as matter. He talks about how the limits of photography... This is probably a better example.

Vik Kambli: The limits of photography were never more evident than when the video camera came out. Because all of a sudden, you'd get like this static screenshot, but it's not a screenshot. But this static image. To be able to arrange those static images in a manner that told a story, which completely changed how we communicate with each other. And we're there again. We're there a number of times during our lifetimes. And then you think about like even our parents, there's a reason my parents just can't turn the goddamn TV off.

Charlie Grinnell: Or just switch HDMI ports.

Vik Kambli: Exactly. It's the medium that they grew up with. So yeah, a long-winded answer, but that's what I'm really fascinated about.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I think that the TikTok one is fascinating because I feel like that short form video, that's kind of been hiding in plain sight. That is something that I feel like a lot of smart people that you and I both know wouldn't have been like, oh yeah, that's the thing. We saw it for like a hot minute with Vine and then it's kind of come to resurgence. And I think a big piece obviously is the algorithm.

Charlie Grinnell: And I actually watched this really great, it's a 13-minute video by The Wall Street Journal. They did an investigation into the TikTok algorithm and anybody listening, I think if you just Google Wall Street Journal TikTok algorithm. Basically they created fake TikTok profiles and recorded how setting up those profiles, the algorithm would serve them and what kind of rabbit holes it would take them down.

Charlie Grinnell: It's a fascinating look. And I kind of felt the same way when I first got on TikTok. I basically started scrolling. And as kind of like someone like you, who's like a nerd who has worked in this stuff, I was so fascinated with how little input I had to give to that algorithm for it to spit out shit that I loved, shit that I thought was hilarious that I didn't even know I would like.

Charlie Grinnell: And so that was crazy to me. And kind of building off what you said, yeah, I think there has been that fundamental shift between this younger generation and short form video and how that's going to change how we consume media. It's also going to link to commerce in some way, obviously. That's kind of the next foundation. Then there's also the kind of piece of like, how are you creating these experiences that are super deep enriched without that much user input?

Charlie Grinnell: I think about Facebook. Obviously Facebook did a really great job because all of us were sitting there for years and years hammering in information, how we felt, where we went to school, joining this group. They did a great job of collecting information. What I think is so fascinating as TikTok doesn't really collect any information except for how fast or how slow your thumb scroll is, or are you downloading it or did you pause there?

Charlie Grinnell: So that's kind of something I'm fascinated about. It kind of reminds me of Amazon's no-click ordering. But what is that for media? And what does that mean for content consumption and how does that eventually tie into commerce? We're all kind of getting to that point where it's like, if there's barriers of friction, how are all these platforms creating these experiences where that friction is just not there?

Vik Kambli: Can I add one final thing to that?

Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely. Yeah. I feel like this is a separate episode, by the way. I'm like, this is amazing, just talking about that. But continue. Yeah.

Vik Kambli: The core truth that a lot of marketers want to ignore in terms of what has changed is we've gone from a world over the last 20 years and it's happened very quickly the way people used to find products. And so I'd go out into the world, I'd see a billboard. I'd be watching the Superbowl and I'd see a commercial. I'd be flipping through a magazine at the doctor's office and see that. So I would find a product as a result of that.

Vik Kambli: We're in a world where products find us. People finding products or products finding us. That is the fundamental shift that's happening in marketing. More and more marketers are realizing the role that those algorithms play in product discovery. And then the game becomes, how do you then make sure that what you're building to put into those algorithms, both from a bidding's strategy standpoint, or actually more importantly, from a creative standpoint. Are you crafting your creative message in a way that is going to be easily intakeable? I just made up a word, easily digestible.

Charlie Grinnell: Optimized for it, optimized for consumption.

Vik Kambli: Are you hitting people with your message in the front as opposed to waiting for the end of the 30-second ad? There's a fundamental shift there in terms of like the medium that you're designing for based off of the medium you were designing for 20 years ago, even 10 years ago.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. As we wind down here, I have a couple of rapid fire questions. What's one book that you would recommend someone working in growth or marketing to read?

Vik Kambli: I've got two answers for that. So the book to go through marketing is a book called How Brands Grow. And I cannot remember the name of the author. I think it's Byron something and he's a professor in Australia. And he really breaks down marketing into two things, demand creation and demand capture. So brand marketing and demand...

Charlie Grinnell: Performance marketing, I guess.

Vik Kambli: Yeah. It's not like I haven't been doing it for 10 years.

Charlie Grinnell: That thing you do.

Vik Kambli: But then the role of brand marketing, where he really distills it down into, how do you actually occupy a couple of neurons in someone's brain when they're ready to consider your products or consider your category, you're number one or number two. Kind of establishing those. There's a reason why sleep country has that jingle and we can't get it out of our heads. It's like, we're ready to buy a mattress. Why buy a mattress anywhere else? But they're in the consideration set and the role of brand marketing.

Vik Kambli: And so that's fundamentally changed my thinking on how I think about an investment in brand. The other book I'd say is I recently re-read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. I think it's a really important book in terms of how we decide to invest our time in life and make sure that we're getting the right balance across like factors of how we spend our time in love, work and in struggle. And what I mean by struggle is finding things that you care about, you're curious about that suck a little bit less at every day and invest in that. So I'd say those two books are the ones that I recommend.

Charlie Grinnell: Continuing on that thread, I found that for myself, I've learned a lot just by consuming information, like reading a ton, whether it's Twitter articles, whatever. Who are you following or what are you reading? What's a daily newsletter for you or something that you're following or reading?

Vik Kambli: Yeah. So I'll actually pump a product here. There was an incredible newsletter out there called The Peak. It's a Canadian newsletter that essentially is a five-minute distillation of like all the headlines for the day and that in my Google Home device, which I've kind of set up, kind of is my media intake for the day in terms of just getting a rundown on what's going on in the world.

Vik Kambli: I also try not to spend too much time on that because there's a lot of fear porn out there that I don't necessarily want to be devoting a ton of mind to. And then in terms of who's on my Twitter feed, I think [inaudible 00:54:19] is brilliant. And I learn a lot in terms of just how to look at problems from a first principles standpoint as a result of the work that he does and the way that social capital breaks down markets.

Vik Kambli: Matt Taibbi's and Glenn Greenwald are incredible from the investigating reporting standpoint. And on the other side of that, actually I've got a ton of respect for the work that Kara Swisher does. It kind of helps me get both sides of perspective on what's going on in the marketing technology industries.

Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. I'm a big Kara Swisher fan. And yeah, all those other ones I follow as well. Okay. Last question. Where's the best place for people to get a hold of you online? I feel like we've talked about so many things and there are going to be people who want to reach out to you. What's the best place for them to get a hold of you?

Vik Kambli: Yeah. I'd say LinkedIn messaging is probably like an easier one. Vik Kambli on LinkedIn. K-A-M-B-L-I. Or you can email me. Like I mentioned, I'm leaving my role, so I'll be definitely spending a lot of free time and always open to conversations like this one. My email address is Vik, V-I-K, and then again, my last name, K-A-M-B-L-I @gmail.com. Yeah.

Charlie Grinnell: Cool. Well, Vik, thank you very much for taking the time. Always love chatting with you. I feel like we could go on for hours and hours and hours and be excited to see where things go in your next moves and stay in touch.

Vik Kambli: Thanks so much, Charlie. This has been a blast.

Charlie Grinnell: For show notes, other episodes, and more content, checkout rightmetric.co. If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening.

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