Darby Sieben | Chief Product Officer, Unbounce | Decoding the power of focussed messaging, landing pages, and product love in the AI era

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[00:00:00] Jeff Adamson: Welcome to Behind the Brand presented by Neo. We take an inside look at the leaders behind today's most influential brands. I'm your host, Jeff Adamson. As co-founder of Neo Financial and SkipTheDishes, I'm fascinated by what it takes to build great companies. On this podcast, we'll learn from leaders that are reimagining, transforming, and innovating in the financial and retail industries across Canada. Let's get going!

I am excited to welcome Darby Sieben, the Chief Product Officer of Unbounce. With over 25 years of experience in digital media and technology, Darby is a respected industry professional known for his expertise in digital marketing, product development, and transformation management.

With a passion for driving impactful change, Darby has been instrumental in leading the product strategy at Unbounce, a platform that empowers marketers to pair their expertise with AI insights to create and optimize high-converting marketing campaigns.

Prior to his role at Unbounce, Darby co-founded and led RBC Ampli Inc., a venture business within the Royal Bank of Canada. He also serves as an active investor and advisor to startups, providing strategic guidance in business deals, product development, team management, and growth.

Throughout his career, Darby has demonstrated a remarkable ability to navigate the dynamic landscape of product development. From tackling complex challenges to capitalizing on emerging opportunities, he has consistently showcased his knack for innovation and customer-centricity.

Welcome to the show, Darby!

[00:01:26] Jeff: So we've known each other for quite a while, but many of our listeners I think would be interested to hear kind of your journey. We're both from Saskatchewan originally, but you've been kind of all over the country. You've worked for all sorts of different companies. You're Chief product Officer at Unbounce now. Tell us the condensed version of kind of growing up and then kind of your journey to Unbounce.

[00:01:48] Darby Sieben: Yeah, happy to give you a quick overview. So as you mentioned, farm boy, grew up on a farm in in Saskatchewan. Parents moved us to Saskatoon in the early eighties. Managed to get my first computer at that time and I was just enthralled by what this thing could do. Didn't really understand it, but just enthralled by what it could do.

And I moved to Calgary actually in 1991 after graduation cuz there really wasn't a lot of tech jobs in Calgary and I had this vision of becoming a computer programmer. So I enrolled in university and, and started for two years within Mount Royal College. And I realized there was a difference between a good programmer and a great one and I would never be a great one cuz what took me 30 minutes to do, my friends could do in 15. And I'm like, boy, this is not gonna be a good arbitrage.

But back at that time I realized, you know what, there was a little bit of a difference on, you know, I, I would look at it and say I was more kind of on the business side of tech. So I started my first company in the late nineties, sold it to CyberServe. Started my second company in the early two thousands, then I sold that to Yellow Pages Group. Joined YP for about 12 years, led their digital transformation as we moved that from a print-based company to a digitally-focused company.

Spent some time with RBC in their Ventures Group building Amplii, which is, you know, one of Canada's top cashback apps, I would think. And then I joined Unbounce about a year ago to help kind of lead their transformation as they move from, you know, a traditional static page, landing page company to leveraging data as part of our new, you know, product suite that is very much AI-driven.

So in a lot of cases I say my career has been around transformational moments, either with my own stuff that I've done or with organizations that I've worked at. So kind of that balance of being an entrepreneur and an intrepreneur at the same time.

[00:03:26] Jeff: Such an incredible career path. I mean, some of the places you've worked at, I mean, everyone's kind of heard of Yellow Pages. RBC Ventures is doing some really interesting things. But what's interesting to me about what your, kind of the later bit of your career, well first the entrepreneurship is really cool, but you know, Yellow Pages, Amplii at RBC Ventures, they're almost, and even Unbounce is kind of B2B2C. Like you think of the Yellow Pages, obviously like there's the book itself, but you have business clients and you have consumers. Same idea with Unbounce, like you, you have businesses that are using Unbounce. But maybe articulate to some people, like what does that model… you have a business client but you're giving them a product for their end customers, so they're using your technology.

[00:04:02] Darby: That's right, yeah. It's really, you know, you're, you're spot on. YP was a, was predominantly a B2B2C play. It had a B2B2B as well, but it was predominantly a B2B2C. Amplii, even though it was a consumer-based cashback app, the real underlying roots behind Amplii was actually the marketing platform behind for the purposes of helping clients generate more revenue in a positive return. And then Unbounce, you know, we are definitely a point solution that kind of sits between audience and then conversion of audience to either leads or revenue. So very much in that B2B predominantly C space, but also has the B element.

And the roots of what's kind of driven me behind all of these themes, both my parents were small business owners. And so I realize if you're a big company and you kind of mess up on some marketing dollars or things don't kind of work, you can kind of absorb that. If you're a small business, every dollar really, really counts. And so what’s kind of always driven me is how do we make sure that when smaller businesses are spending money and they're giving somebody a dollar, that they're getting a return back. Because if they don’t, it has a bigger impact on a smaller business than it does a larger business, right? Because that smaller business, they're just trying to, you know, put food on the table and put their kids through school and do all of that. And so it's more meaningful for them. And so it's kind of always been one of the things, and I've played in both the national space and the local space, but my heart is really around, you know, how do we help local businesses get a better return. Simply cuz I saw with my own parents and it's meaningful. If you make a bad investment, it can really hit home.

[00:05:30] Jeff: Yeah and our CEO and Co-Founder, Andrew Chau, at Neo, I mean, his parents came from Vietnam, I think in the seventies or eighties. They kind of opened up an eight seat restaurant.

[00:05:45] Darby: Right.

[00:05:46] Jeff: Worked 364 days a year, kind of thing. Never went back to Vietnam cause they couldn't afford it. And Andrew really like, literally grew up peeling potatoes and carrots at the restaurant. Like that was, you know, playing hide-and-go-seek in the restaurant. You know, it's absolutely wild the impact that small businesses have on the culture of Canada, and I think it is often overlooked.

And when you talk about that kind of marketing attribution, that ROI, to me that was one of the kind of really eye-opening things, like I wasn't, I’m not a trained marketer, but we play in the marketing space and when I started asking the questions with small business owners, about “How do you decide on where to spend marketing?”

And a lot of times the answer was like, “Oh, well this is kind of like what we've always done,” or “Hey, I've got a good relationship with, you know, the guy that sells billboards or coupon books.”

And we're like, “Okay, great.” And then the next question is, “Okay then how do you know what you're, what kind of return you're getting on, you know, that billboard? Or you put a thousand dollars in, how much business do you get back out of that?”

And they're like, “Oh, well, they can't tell you that.”

And then, or we’ll say like, “Well then how do you decide how much to spend to acquire a customer?”

And they're like, “What do you mean?”

And it's like, “Well, I mean what's the customer worth to you?”

And they're like, “Well…”

“Who are your most loyal customers?”

So you keep asking these questions and you realize that it is such a black box in the world of marketing, especially for the SMB-side. There's just so much work to be done, I think, to really kind of provide tools to people who maybe don't have a degree in digital marketing.

[00:07:09] Darby: I would echo that entirely. We often talked about this in the YP days before digital, and I'm obviously you know, very much digitally-focused and love digital. But before digital, the world was kind of simple for small businesses to some extent. Where you had the Yellow Pages directory, which you had to be in cuz that was the original search engine. Maybe newspaper, maybe some radio and TV if you could afford it. And there was limited choices.

I think digital came along and created, you know, a great leveling field, at least between national and local. But I think it also created a lot of complexity. And in some cases, you know, a lot of questions where, “I'm just a small business owner and I'm a plumber. I just want to do the best that I possibly can do as a plumber, and I don't wanna become a digital marketing expert.” And so I think it's on the onus of these platforms to really help, you know, SMBs find that path of simplicity, but also we have the ROI and I think you're also right that a lot of small business owner put a lot of trust in who they talk to, where, you know, on the national-side, they just kind of grill you for everything.

But I think that trust sometimes can be taken advantage of and I think that's where all marketers need to be really cognizant that this is, again, meaningful for these these small business owners.

[00:08:22] Jeff: So how is Unbounce solving the marketing problem?

[00:08:25] Darby: Yeah, so the way we think about it, you know, and this kinda goes back to the roots of Unbounce. Thirteen years ago, the founders of this company, you know, looked at it and said, “Well hey, there's a lot of merchants that are spending money on advertising and we think there's a better way to get conversion. And we think a dedicated landing page speaking to an ad campaign is gonna give you a better return than driving traffic to your website.”

And I think that thesis has been proven out. You know, everybody knows that if you get really narrow on your messaging, it can really, really help.

[00:08:51] Jeff: Maybe just elaborate a bit more on that Darby for those that may not be as sophisticated on the marketing side. Like, so what you're saying there is if you create a custom landing page and you're driving tra traffic to a landing page that's specifically designed for a certain campaign, for a certain message, that will yield better results than just sending someone to your homepage.

[00:09:11] Darby: Yeah and exactly. So when you think of most corporate websites, homepages, it's about providing information about who we are, what we do, you know, maybe pricing, maybe demos of our product and what have you.

When we think of landing pages, this is a, you know, I'm clicking on something because I wanna learn about a particular product, or I wanna learn about a particular experience. And we're trying to get, you know, people through a funnel as fast as possible. And so in some cases, when we think about, you know, one real key call to action message, a couple of key points in terms of what you're doing because you're just trying to get that user through the flow. That narrowing of the message makes it more digestible for users, and I think that results in a better return, which we've seen. You know, landing pages can tend to outperform a standard website, but they have two different purposes.

So, you know, we think that the dedicated landing page side can really augment a good creative, directive ad campaign and help that ROI model regardless of what it is. Whether it's a phone call or whether it's a click, or whether it's an e-commerce sale. Conversions take many, many assets. But it's about getting people to that next stage of where you want them to go as a marketer, as fast as possible and try to strip the noise out.

[00:10:27] Jeff: It's pretty invisible to the customer too. Like I visited Unbounce pages and oftentimes you have really have no idea that this is a custom landing page. You just kind of feel like you're interacting with the brand and it, it seems to be resonating a little bit more than perhaps a generic homepage.

But how have landing pages evolved since inception? Because like I remember back in the day, like building a website was really painful and like very, labor intensive and you kind of needed to know someone or you know, it was a cousin of someone that knew how to build websites. And now it's like you can just spin it up in an afternoon. Like yeah, I think my parents could probably do it now.

How have you seen specifically the landing page side of the industry evolve?

[00:11:08] Darby: Yeah, I think originally, the Unbounce original landing page product, what we call Classic Builder, really powerful, advanced tool. It's really designed for that user that wants pixel perfect control, and I just wanna move pieces around and make it look exactly the way it is, kind of what I would call traditional HTML building.

I think over the years, you know what a lot of people have realized is there is some standardization of these landing pages. Make it a lot more simpler for drag and drop, you know, where I can throw in applications to connect my form, I can connect my CRM tool. So it's really about simplifying and getting to that notion of build and publish as quick as possible.

We think the next evolution of this, you know, from an Unbounce view, and this is what got me excited to join Unbounce, Unbounce has now seen, you know, in the last five years, just over 22 and a half billion visitors that have passed through our clients' landing pages. We've seen two plus billion conversions. Now we've got a really good sense by vertical of, you know, the size of your headline, how big that should be, your call to action, your placement. And what we're attempting to do is pull all those pieces together into our new AI driven builder, which is about how do I get to publish quickly, but then how do I really start to optimize against the users when they land on that particular page?

Smart Traffic was our first AI tool, which is really a traffic routing tool. It's different than A/B testing. It's about finding the best converting audience for whatever that segment might be. So a Facebook user on mobile coming in at this time of day, this is the right variant for that user. But another user coming in another areas, it might be a different variant. So it's not about which variant is the best, it’s about which variant is the best based on, you know, certain traffic dynamics. And then Smart Builder's gonna take it one step farther, which is how do we start to modify the headline, the image, the placement, and the call to action based on the user that's landing on the webpage again, or on the landing page for that real clear focus of how do we get a better ROI for marketers. So we're just trying to, you know, industrialize the data side of landing pages.

[00:13:14] Jeff: I'm gonna have some really dumb questions, but I'm gonna go anyways. How do you know… yeah, what to show who?

[00:13:19] Darby: So today, you know, a marketer will come in, they'll build multiple variants, and if they turn on smart traffic as an example, so they could have between three variants, they could have 50 variants and our traffic routing tool will actually start to do very, very quick A/B tests based on traffic and then start to optimize on which segment is converting the best and then start to surface that one more.

But like I said, it's a little different than A/B testing where usually A/B is about which is the best performing variant. In our case with Smart Traffic, you could actually have seven performing variants, they just happen to perform differently with different audience segments, as an example.

[00:13:54] Jeff: And the kind of North Star is just what, what is the ROI conversion rates? Actually thinking out loud, you're basically saying that some may perform better based on the customer personas, some might perform better because they're converting but maybe it's a less valuable customer. So you, you're not necessarily just saying, “Hey, we're just gonna cut all the ones that don't convert.” You may keep all of them, but you've got tho that optionality to capture more traffic. Is that, am I capturing that properly?
[00:14:20] Darby: Yeah, that's absolutely fair. And we think there's a world where some marketers are gonna be entirely comfortable letting AI drive a lot of this and do all the kind of customization and other marketers will be, “No, we're actually gonna want to control the number of variants and then work within those particular variants.”

So, you know, we really believe that, that we need to give the toolkit to allow a marketer to decide where and how far they want to go with letting machine have kind of control, to letting them have the control and then, you know, play within that. And so we just think of it as, you know, AI's not gonna replace the marketer, AI is gonna make the marketer a lot smarter and more efficient than you know today.

[00:15:01] Jeff: Do you see this as something… like landing pages, do you see them as something that everyone should be using? Like if you're doing any type of, you know, web development, any digital marketing, should you essentially be having landing pages? Or is this only reserved for large enterprise brands that have million dollar, 10 million dollar marketing budgets?

[00:15:19] Darby: No, we have a, we've seen a spectrum of clients from very large brands right down to local businesses that, you know, are just looking to squeeze, you know, more ROI out of their spend. So if I'm spending a hundred dollars and I get 10 leads, that's $10 a lead. I can spend a hundred dollars and get 15 leads or 20 leads, now it's only $5 a lead.

And so I think there's, there's, you know, for me, landing pages are agnostic in terms of whether you're large or small. You do have to have some volume of traffic. So, you know, I would always start as a marketer, start with SEO, you know, get your website the way it needs to get going. And then as you're starting to look at these different initiatives, that's where landing pages can come in, if you know, you're looking for a better, better return.

[00:16:04] Jeff: From a product development perspective though, how do you manage to develop the product in a way that appeals to both those segments? Like, I feel like, you know, even in my, in my past… even today at Neo, you've got SMBs who they want things to kind of be a little bit more turnkey, they don't wanna be investing a ton of time in it, necessarily. They want it to kind of just work. And on the enterprise side that they've got, you know, all these crazy requests where they're like, “Hey, I wanna pop up here. I want this to be drag and drop. I want it, you know, do this. And I also want it to be, you know, no contract.” [Laughing]

[00:16:33] Darby: Right.

[00:16:34] Jeff: “And I can quit at any time.” Like how, how do you balance out those competing requirements when it comes to the product?

[00:16:41] Darby: Yeah, so we think of it two ways. One is, you know, what are, what I would call the universal feature set that all marketers are gonna benefit from. We know that all marketers are gonna need to build, they're gonna wanna optimize, they're gonna want reporting, they're gonna want insights, they're gonna want benchmarking. You know, what are that universal set? And then when I stack up the product development to our go-to-market, you know, we segment go-to-market based on, you know, low end to mid-market, to agencies, to higher-end.
And some of those clients at the top definitely have different requirements. So we'll build certain features on top that will be maybe more geared towards, you know, those higher-end clients, but still allow, you know, that small client who's starting, if they become big, you know, then they're just gonna back into that.

We think of product development around, you know, what are the universal features that we can build that are global in nature? And that vertical nature comes down to, you know, who are your best, most profitable clients, et cetera? And you know, are you building tools to unlock them on that front? So that's kind of how we think about product development.

[00:17:45] Jeff: Is there a segment that you've seen a lot more pull in? Like are you seeing more SMBs adopting this? And, and has it been widely used among enterprise? Or is it, you know, both you're kind of seeing as much product market fit from each of them?

[00:17:58] Darby: So I would describe Unbounce traditionally as a PLG-led company. So it was very much product led growth. You know, users coming in and that would range from, you know, the solo entrepreneur all the way up to kind of the mid-market agencies. Unbounce doesn't play in the true enterprise. So let's call it the Fortune 100 space. That's not really the area we play in.

We tend to play in the kind of mid-market agency where I am working on behalf of my client set and my client set, that could be SMB, could be large, actual enterprise. You know, we spend a lot of time working around the agency-side of the business because they're representing on behalf of their clients. They become the experts in using the tools and then they apply it across their base.

[00:18:38] Jeff: Mm-hmm. So kind of back to the B2B2C side of things. So how do you balance out the product development that is much more focused on the kind of, business experience versus the actual end consumer experience?

Cuz you've got customers who are landing at these sites but then you also need to be building out features that are the customers will never know about. I mean, it is ultimately just like a product roadmap prioritization question. Like we constantly, internally are always like shifting things and like, let's lock it in, let's not make any changes. And then there's like, “Well this is a good opportunity. Should we bring it in? Should we not?” How do you think about that as a Chief Product Officer?

[00:19:12] Darby: Yeah. It kind of goes back again, Jeff, to what I mentioned earlier around what are those kind of universal features that, if we deploy, will work across all of our client-base regardless of geography, regardless of size of business. So these are just table stakes and then what are the things that we need to augment that might be specific to a very clear vertical. So you know, user management as an example, or being able to have, you know, custom controls on approval and, and you know, you don't need that for a solo entrepreneur, but you're gonna need for a larger agency that's gonna say, “Look, I'm gonna need actually more accounts, I'm gonna need to access more clients and do all of that user control.”

So, we try to lean towards what are the most universal pieces first that have the highest value. And then as that starts to go down and we start to say, okay, now we're starting to get into maybe a little bit longer, then how do we balance that with some of the high value maybe niche, more niche product features, but cater to a, you know, maybe a larger client-base that we have at Unbounce. And that changes quarter-by-quarter, you know, based on what we see in the market and also based on our go-to market efforts as they change as well.

[00:20:27] Jeff: You mentioned earlier that, you know, Unbounce had kind of historically been a growth organization. When it comes to X-led organization, like what's the process for determining how should a company be led? Like what should be in the DNA? Is it from the original founders who kind of say, “Hey, like we need to be product-led. We're not gonna be a marketing-led company, we're not gonna be an engineering-led company.” How does that come to be? And then how does that change over time?

[00:20:51] Darby Sieben: I'll use the Unbounce example because the company's been around thirteen years. Six founders that built it and they were very focused on the product-led growth side of it. Let's just build a great product for marketers and I think they did a phenomenal job on that.

And I would say Unbounce today is still a product-led organization. You know, our engineering team is one of our biggest teams. Our product organization is one of our biggest organizations. I do think though, what we're doing now is we're saying, “Okay, you know, you still need to have the table stakes of a great product. You know, the ability to sign up easily, remove friction points, access the tool, use it the way you just need to”, and I think everybody needs to be thinking of lowering the friction on the product usage.

The next two things we're doing with Unbounce is we are implementing a real clear partner strategy cuz we think one way that we can accelerate the business is actually with partners cuz we can't build everything. And I think, you know, as we partner with organizations and some of those partnerships are technical, we integrate with CRM tools and then some of them are gonna go deep or “Hey, how do we take our toolkit and put it into your organization's workflow?” And now when you're selling campaigns to your client, we just automatically activate a landing page and we just become, you know, the intel inside of that agency who happens to be, you know, managing the entire program for a business.

And then the last part is, you know, little more sales-led which is kind of that notion of dialing for dollars to some extent. That's both inbound and outbound. And I think you can have a combination of all of them, but at the heart of it, it's still a product-led organization. It has to be easy to use. I've gotta lower friction. I've gotta make it, you know, continually better for marketers to use it, and then the different channels on how they're gonna use it. That's where we're giving ourselves permission to go a lot farther than, you know, just being pure PLG. And that's the introduction of partnerships and sales.

[00:22:44] Jeff: Yeah, and it's, we had Andre Charoo from Maple on the podcast, great guy. He was talking about how, how distribution is often just so overlooked by many tech companies and startups. Like, you can build a wonderful app, wonderful piece of technology, but if you don't have a way of it somehow spreading, getting into people's hands, getting use, then you know you're not gonna be able to get funding. You might not be able to recruit the right people and not enough time is really focused on, “Okay, how is this gonna get out into the world?” Like people think that you can just build something and it will go viral and it's like there are very few cases where that actually happens.

[00:23:18] Darby: It's true.

[00:23:19] Jeff: I feel like a lot of tech companies are kind of growing up earlier and kind of like ingraining distribution into their kind of strategy earlier on than before it was, it seemed like a lot of people were like, “Hey, we have this great idea and because the idea is so great people are just gonna want it.” It's like, ah, that's tough. Like it doesn't always work out that way.

[00:23:39] Darby: Yeah, I think, you know, building something big requires a great product, requires, you know, a great founding or management team that's got the drive, requires, you know, a strong business model, distribution, timing, and a little bit of luck.

You know, as you said, it's overnight successes usually are overnight successes that take seven to ten years to get there. It's easy to celebrate and go, “Oh wow, you know, ChatGPT just came out of the gate and is, you know, look it hit a hundred million users, the fastest of anybody has.” That's true but they've also been at this for seven years to get to this particular point.

So I think it was a combination, but distribution is a big one because cost of acquisition, if you really don't have your CAC numbers down and you really don't understand your CAC payback and then your LTV, that separates a lot of businesses from, you know, success or not success.

[00:24:34] Jeff: I knew it was only a matter of time before ChatGPT came up and you've, you mentioned kind of AI as being part of your roadmap even. Let's talk just broadly, like how are you seeing AI starting to manifest itself? What's the water cooler talk that you're hearing about AI? Do you think it's hype? Do you think that you're already seeing companies being transformed by it? What's the impact today?

[00:25:01] Darby: Yeah, the impact right now is, I don't think this is hype. I think this is a tectonic shift, like when the internet really emerged onto the scene. I think this is gonna be game changing right across the board.

This is one of those technologies where, as I think about it, every single business is gonna get touched by it, and every single business can leverage this and use it as a really, really powerful tool to either surface great product, great insights, help users just, you know, move faster in terms of what they're gonna do.

As I think about, you know, the next phase of this, and we talk about this a lot at Unbounce. Content generation used to be a big thing and I think what ChatGPT has shown very quickly is content generation is becoming a race to zero very, very quickly. But I do think there's three things that are gonna separate good companies from great companies.

I think AI is gonna usher a really, a bigger emphasis on trust and brand trust. We know there's gonna be horror stories that are gonna come out of AI. I think AI generally is a more, is a better technology, but I think it can be used also potentially negatively as well. But I think brand trust is gonna be critical and I think it's always been critical, but I think in the age of ai, brand trust is gonna be critical.

I think too, the organizations that are really astute at how they collect data and use it and really think about their data as a more verticalized view. Like Unbounce as an example, we're not gonna be a horizontal AI player like ChatGPT. That can't be our space. But we can get really, really good vertical cuz our dataset focuses on, you know, a very niche area. And so I think a lot of companies are gonna sit back and look at their data and go, how do I actually start to use this?

So brand trust. Data. And then I think the third part is gonna be the experience. How do I interact with all of this? And making the assumption that all of my competitors have access to the same toolkit, and so I really need to differentiate on my level of brand, my ability to collect and use data, and then wrap all of that around really frictionless user experiences where I take the technology and put it behind and just expose the outcome. And I think those are gonna be three big areas that I actually get quite excited about. You know, where you just kind of put the technology and say, “Okay, everybody's got access to the same base but I think these are gonna be the three vectors that are gonna, that are gonna help us separate from our competitors.”

[00:27:23] Jeff: Through the lens of those three pillars. So brand trust, data, and user experience. Who do you see as the winners and losers through those three lenses? If you look at grocery stores or even the offline world, like I see that kind of being a lot more difficult for a lot of the analog companies out there to integrate this into their business, even though they have, maybe they have a lot of trust. So I don't really see that being as transformational.

But for companies that are sitting on lots of data, that data is architected in a certain way that they, the data can be, you know, accessed by AI, it can be served up quite well to create a, you know, a decent user experience. Are there companies that come to mind or even just like industries, categories that you think about where you're like, yeah, these guys are gonna be their, their success will be accelerated? And there's other ones where their demise might be accelerated?

[00:28:13] Darby: Yeah, a hundred percent. You know, one company not really related to my field that I think is doing some really interesting stuff is Deere, the tractor manufacturer. You know, as they start to think about, you know, artificial intelligence and doing weeding on a farm, but doing it very strategically as opposed to just spreading your pesticide across the entire swath that you're going down, getting very, very narrow on, “Aha, we actually have to put some here and put some here,” what have you. Plus eventually you're gonna have autonomous tractors…

[00:28:43] Jeff: Yeah, variable targeted.

[00:28:45] Darby: Variable targeted. And so here I think is a company that, you know, an amazing brand in that area. I mean, everybody trusts Deere. They've built amazing products over the last, you know, how many decades?

[00:28:55] Jeff: Well, depends, depends on which farmer you talk to.

[00:28:58] Darby: Fair. It's kinda like the Ford, GM conversation, you know? [Laughing]

[00:29:02] Darby: [Laughing] Exactly.

[00:29:03] Darby: Everybody's got their opinion. Exactly. But I think here's a company that's looking at, you know, this notion of AI and saying, “Okay, how do we now embed this in?” and thinking about the problem of, “Okay, we got a farmer. We know farmers today are, you know, their land sizes are larger. You know, it takes a lot of capital to be a successful farmer.” And it's just how do I solve that problem and create it more efficiently instead of, you know, having to blow all my pesticide out across, you know, my entire field, I can do it a lot more strategically.

And so I think this is a company that has taken their brand trust, has really started to lean into the data side of the business and look at the output product of farming as data, you know. And then they're building great user experiences on top of it, and then they're executing really, really well. And I think that that model works almost in any vertical.

I think the companies that are gonna get in trouble might be the ones that are not transparent about the usage of data and, you know, that could get them into some really, really big trouble. And, and you know, I think that's kind of the anchor cuz if you don't have trust on that front, you can't build a great brand trust. You know, you gotta be clear with users what I'm collecting, how I'm using it. What does this all mean?

[00:30:10] Jeff: Where do you think we're going on the data front? Like, I feel like when we had the Cambridge Analytica scandal and then we have GDPR coming in, you know, CASL. There's been a whole bunch of, I think, I think we kind of cranked up the, like, scrutiny on okay, what data's being collected? How is it being used? Is it needed? What consents are you getting?

I don't know, I feel like it's been quieter the last little bit. Do you feel like consumers are kind of like, “All right, everyone's collecting everything all the time. At the end of the day, I'm okay giving my data to Meta or Google or Apple because the experiences I'm getting are actually pretty darn good. Like, I'm not being charged 15 cents per search on Google and you know, I'm not paying a monthly fee to use Meta and Facebook, Instagram.”

I'm kind of rambling here, but I I'm just wondering, like, do you sense that consumers are still really mistrustful of how companies are using our data?

[00:31:06] Darby: I think so, and I think the industry made that unfortunately happen. I think the early days of the internet was a little bit of a wild west, and we all kind of in this space went hard and we didn't really think about, you know, the impact on users. I think if you're transparent and users know what I'm giving up and how you're gonna use it, and what I'm gonna get in return, I think then you build that circle of trust.

I think Cambridge Analytica was just one of those scenarios where people did not realize the extent in which this organization was actually using the data. And so I think now we're in a world where users are a lot smarter and they're really starting to understand and saying, “Okay, I'll give you something and in return I want something back. And I just wanna have transparency around what that means.” And I think with transparency, you build trust and then I think from their users are gonna be, are gonna be completely fine. You know, the industry did it to itself and we've gotta kind of course correct that.

[00:31:56] Jeff: Do you think there's an aspect of it where people are saying, hey, like Facebook, you know, maybe some of them deep down knew that they were collecting a lot of information. Maybe once that came out they were, they were shocked at the level of data that was being collected. But I feel like some of the platforms that were doing a lot of this data collection, they didn't evolve the platforms all that much. Like when you think about Facebook now versus what it was in 2005 or 2006, I mean, it kind of does a lot of the same things. It obviously has evolved significantly, but what's evolved more than anything is the amount of ads that are being served to people but the basic function of what it does is, is kind of similar. Very, very similar.

And so it's like maybe people were like, “I'm gonna be okay with giving you my data, you know, maybe I'll, when I find out that you're collecting more than I thought, I'll let you pass on it. As long as you keep up your end of the bargain, which is continually give me a product that makes my life a lot better constantly. But what you did yesterday isn't gonna be enough tomorrow. Like you need to continually deliver more and more and more value.”

But if you're collecting, you know more and more data, but the value you're giving to the consumer is remaining fairly static or linear, then you're gonna get to a point where then customers are a little bit upset that, “Hey, like I was okay to give you all this data when messaging with my friends and seeing photos of their cats and babies andstuff was really novel. But that, that was 10 years ago. What's the new deal that we get in exchange for you getting all my data?”

[00:33:25] Darby: Yeah, I think that's always the adage, the old the old question that that comes. How do you continue to build on that front? I think, you know, part of Facebook's messaging, my guess you know, as they were really expanding the data collection, everybody knew it was an ad-based product and you know, do you wanna look at those generic ads or do you wanna have something more targeted? And I think that's the interesting rub. I think Facebook's particularly though, was really just this whole notion of what happened around elections and then social media and creating the echo chambers and spiral that kind of exposed some things that I think made everybody question, “Oh my goodness. You know, was this happening?”

I think before when we were getting targeted ads, we knew it was a little bit creepy, but it was probably better than looking at something that wasn't relevant to what I was looking at. The base toolkit, I agree, they haven't really changed much there, but you know what? It's hard to change. I mean, it is a communication tool. It's your network that drives a lot of value. I think it was really when we started to get exposed around kind of the election modeling and using data for the purposes of influencing people's opinions is when it started to get a little bit, whoa okay, maybe we need to take a, a step back on this front.

[00:34:29] Jeff: Where do you think regulation is heading? Like do you think that we've learned from our mistakes around social platforms, use of data when it comes to AI? How do you think that's gonna play out?

[00:34:38] Darby: Yeah, that's a great question. You know, I just, I watched recently video on this, this exact point. You know, right now governments, EU just passed an AI act. What are those second and tertiary effects around what can happen with the use of AI?

I think right now we're getting all excited about all the great use cases. It's gonna make things more efficient. It's gonna do this. You know, generative AI is amazing. I don't think we've fully solved the social media problems around, you know, social media has caused a few issues, right? Depression, mental health issues, what have you.

[00:35:11] Jeff: There’s a couple, yeah.

[00:35:12] Darby: A few issues on that front.

I think AI, as much as it's gonna be a tool that's gonna allow us to amplify the good. Can also be used in the other way to amplify the bad. I think this notion of, you know, content creation or even if somebody said, “Hey, what if you create a filter to take Donald Trump's voice, throw it into TikTok, and now you have a thousand people that can just start to act like Donald Trump.” You just create all of these environments as an example, that could be a real big problem.

So, I think we've gotta be careful. I do think in this case, regulation could be a good thing done well. Because we do have to recognize this is an incredibly powerful tool and there's gonna be people that are gonna try to exploit this tool for nefarious reasons. Destabilizing populations, election meddling, whatever. Even scammer artists. I mean, we're starting to see this already. You know, somebody takes my voice, they call my mom and dad, “Hey, I need money.” It sounds like me. Now I gotta coach them. Don't, you know, stop, hang up the phone. Talk to me. Did you actually call, like these are just…

[00:36:09] Jeff: Yeah.

[00:36:10] Darby: You know, some unintended consequences I think that are gonna come down from from this technology.

[00:36:14] Jeff: Yeah, it really is a new frontier and it'll have so many implications. Secondary, tertiary consequences that we can't foresee yet. It seems like Sam Altman's approach, I feel like he's looked at what's happened with some of the large tech companies and the kind of adversarial relationship they had with regulators, and it seems like he's much, he's kind of fast forwarded and maybe he's thinking a few steps ahead of saying like, “There's no way this isn't gonna get regulated. I should just really cooperate now. I should really kind of try to be a part of that process.
Rather than delay the process and become it and make it adversarial.” So he's already kind of been in front of, I dunno if it's been Congress or…

[00:36:55] Darby: Yeah, he was in Congress last week. Yeah.

[00:36:57] Jeff: Yeah and for, which is crazy to think about a company that has only been live for, you know, months to already be in front of Congress now and kind of admitting that like, hey, there are a lot of perils here that some known, some unknown, and to kinda get in front of it, I think is actually, you know, time will tell, but I feel like that's a better approach than what we've seen in the past where it's like, no, social media is good for people and it's like there's no downsides and [00:37:00] it's all about just, you know, it's ads. We're an ad company and it's like, okay, well he seems much more open and transparent about what they actually are.

[00:37:30] Darby: Yeah, I mean, I can't… I don't know, obviously Sam's motivation and I think he had a great conversation with with Congress. The one concern I do have with some of the big leading AI companies pushing regulation is as long as regulation is pushed in such a way that's designed to protect the end user and level an even playing field for both the incumbents startups, then I think we're in a good spot.

Because there is a strategy, if you're an incumbent player, regulation can actually be a competitive advantage. Because as I had more regulation, I've got the the funds to be able to manage through all of this. And so what I don't know is the motivation. Let's have regulation to protect society as a whole. Or let's have regulation cuz I'm gonna use this as a corporate competitive advantage to quash startups from eating my lunch because I can afford it. And I think that's just my contrarian side of that, end of it. Cuz regulation is a tool that incumbents use in some ways to…

[00:38:33] Jeff: A hundred percent.

[00:38:34] Darby: You know, thwart startups.

[00:38:35] Jeff: Yeah. You're stepping back into your banking world again [laughing]. No, it's a hundred percent true. Like you know, and the regulators, you know, it could be like one per, like even the open banking for example you look at that and you've got one guy who's in charge of kind of building out the entire framework and he's like, done in three months or something. And it's not that it's his his fault at all. It's just like you're gonna have these like, underfunded, overworked regulators and a lineup of a three year wait to do stuff. And it's like the incumbents are kind of like, “Hey, that's fine with us. Life's pretty good.”

[00:39:10] Darby: Right. I, I want to talk about something because you, you've done this quite well.

[00:39:11] Jeff: When we first met, you were doing the commute. You were living in Toronto, but you were kind of in the process. You also were kind of half living in Calgary too. Covid hit and then you moved to fully remote work. I think there's still a lot of people who were kind of, you know, either, I mean, there's kind of like the three camps. You've got the in-person, the hybrid, and the fully remote, and you've kind of, you've gone are, are you fully remote or are you hybrid?

[00:39:33] Darby: I'm fully remote. Unbounce’s main office is in Vancouver. So there's some portion of the team that's hybrid but a good chunk of our team is fully remote.

[00:39:43] Jeff: So what advice would you have for people, especially, I'm thinking about the managers out there, the leaders out there who maybe they have in-person teams, maybe they have distributed teams, but you as a leader, you are remote. What advice would you have to them on how to really succeed as a leader in an organization where you, whether you're managing a team of three or you're leading an organization of several hundred, what advice would you have for them who are in that kind of remote work situation?

[00:40:11] Darby: Yeah, I think one thing about remote is you have to lean in a lot more to ensure that your presence is felt. I think sometimes being in an office is easy. People see you, so your presence is there. I think when you're remote, you've really gotta look at how do I ensure that my presence is felt and is there with the team?

And so just simple things, you know, like we do things you know, like using Slack just, “Hey, good morning.” And just, you know, trying to create a little bit of that water cooler type effect. So I think you've gotta be highly present. I think the second is you gotta trust your people. I think it's easy when you're in an office, you can look at somebody and go, “Hey, are you working or are you not working?” I think, you know, remote, you've really gotta trust and you've gotta measure outcome as opposed to input. So output as opposed to just input.

And then I think three, you've gotta be really crisp and clear on objectives and timelines and you know what the expectations are. Be less concerned maybe about how the work is done and more concerned about the output.

But it's definitely a shift. I mean, you know, being in an office, the one advantage, you know, is the whiteboard sessions and then pulling people in and just, and you can still recreate that in a remote environment, but I think it does take a littlemore effort and a little more work. And then the trade off is obviously for employees, I think in some cases you're gonna get a lot more productivity if they're remote. But then you lose a little bit of the productivity time. So it's kind of a balance.

I think organizations have an interesting challenge. I think the ones that are a hundred percent in office and the ones that are a hundred percent remote, those are easy cuz you can just kind of build your entire structures around both. The hybrid one, I think is the one where it's a little bit tricky for organizations to step through because…

[00:41:52] Jeff: It's the worst of both worlds.

[00:41:53] Darby: Having six people in an office on a Zoom call cuz one person's not there and then it's like, wait a minute.

[00:41:56] Jeff: Yeah. And it's, especially for young managers, it's, it's gotta be tough. Especially in a young in… Yeah, if you're a young manager at a young company, if you think you can kind of just glide into a management role and succeed, I think that's a little naive because to your point around like, hey, you gotta be really clear on outcomes. You gotta be really clear on process, you know, and those are difficult things to do in a company that is just figuring its stuff out.

And ironically it, I feel like it's more mature companies who are bigger on documentation, on process. You know, things are more predictable. You know, you have clear KPIs and OKRs and targets and comp plans are all aligned to everything. It seems ironic to me that those are the companies that are most least in favor of remote work when they actually would probably be able to kind of implement it.

Maybe, maybe implementation would be difficult. But operations, like execution, once it's implemented, should be a lot easier. Cause everyone kind of knows like what they should be doing versus a young company where you're like, “Hey, what the, what should the product be? What do customers want? How do we go to market?” Like, you're more problem solving all the time. And it's like, “Well, what are the outcomes that we want? Okay, we know the outcome, but we have no clue how to get there.”

And as those young managers, I really feel like there is a… I sense that it's missing right now from some of them. And at least for guys like you, you've been around the block, you know, a long time. Like this isn't your first rodeo, so it's awesome to hear that you know, you've been able to kind of succeed in in that remote environment.

We've gotta wrap up here, Darby, but is there any kinda messages you wanna get out to our listeners and, and where can people kind of follow you and, and kind of learn more about your own leadership style?

[00:43:35] Darby: Yeah, so two areas to learn about me. My primary medium is LinkedIn. So, you know, your listeners can easily look me up on LinkedIn. That's where I do a lot of posting and what have you. I'm on most of the social media platforms, but LinkedIn is the one that's the highest engaged.

[00:43:52] Jeff: Yeah, TikTokas well. We'll follow you there.

[00:43:55] Darby: [Laughing] TikTok. Yeah, although I haven't been doing too much there, although I might start. We'll see. Depends if it gets banned in Canada. I guess we'll find out.

And then a lot of historical stuff that I've written, you know, going back kind of 20 years, is really just on my own personal website darby.ca. If you wanna go back, kind of look at some of the history of, I used to blog a lot 10, 15 years ago and that was fun.

[00:44:14] Jeff: I know you're an OG. What you own, you own darby.ca. That's how I know you're an internet OG.

[00:44:19] Darby: It's true. It's true, but actually darby.ai is now gone, so I kind of missed the boat on that one.So there you go.

[00:44:27] Jeff: Well, listen, Darby, it's been so great to catch up with you and I really am grateful for having you on and really excited about what you guys are doing at Unbounce and yeah so just thanks so much for joining.

[00:44:37] Darby: Awesome. Yeah, thanks Jeff for having me and keep up the great work on the podcast. I listen to it every time it drops, and I think you guys are doing a great job with all of the guests that you brought on board, so I really appreciate the opportunity.

Jeff [00:44:55] Thank you for tuning into Behind the Brand. If you enjoyed today's show, please subscribe and leave a review on your preferred podcast platform. If you’re interested in learning more about Neo Financial, visit us at neofinancial.com.

Behind the Brand is a production of Neo Financial and MediaLab YYC. Hosted by Jeff Adamson. Strategy, research, and production by Keegan Sharp, Alana Tefledzuk, and Kyle Marshall.

Creators and Guests

Darby Sieben | Chief Product Officer, Unbounce | Decoding the power of focussed messaging, landing pages, and product love in the AI era
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