Econsultancy caught up with him to find out how he came to found the company, how he stays on top of things while travelling the continent, his favourite examples of personalisation in action, and his advice for marketers looking to optimise the customer journey.
Please describe your job: What do you do?
I’m the founder of Relay42, a tech company that helps businesses unify and activate their data to orchestrate seamless, real-time customer journeys. As the founder, my role is a little less strictly defined than it is for most people with a nicely aligned job title, but essentially you could say my role is split 50/50: half tech and half customers, but 100% strategy.
In practice, that means I spend a lot of time talking to our clients, especially the larger global ones with diverse needs, to understand and sometimes help shape their digital strategy. I’m also actively involved with our product teams to solve questions like how our product will support clients’ evolving digital strategies, and how we can best respond to emerging technologies and customer requests in a way that contributes to our long-term vision to create AI-driven customer relationships.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
I’m part of the management team, and keep close relationships with the board and shareholders. On a daily basis I work very closely with our CEO, Rogier van Nieuwenhuizen, on strategy and direction.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
My background is in computer science, so up to a certain level I understand how our product works behind the scenes and how it can develop. Interestingly enough, the thing that I really learned by studying computer science is that I’m actually much more excited about what technology can do for companies and business models than just computer tech on its own.
I always felt there was much more than just the tech side of things, so I took a different path, finished a master in Business Informatics and then founded Relay42.
In my current role, I would say that the most important thing for me is to have a deep understanding of the strategies of our clients, developments in the market and technology, to be able to drive a vision based on what is going to be possible, rather than what most of the market is doing now. This is crucial for developing a software product that will continue to be relevant in the long term.
Being able to explain complex technology in a very simple way to C-level and upper management is another must-have skill in my position. My audience is typically very smart, but they are usually not very knowledgeable when it comes to technology, so it’s up to me to explain it to them in their terms — not ours.
At the same time, I have to be able to understand their strategic challenges and the way they think about their business. Just like tech people, banks, airlines and utility companies all have their own worlds. It’s about being able to blend in with that, translate it for others, and keep it simple.
Tell us about a typical working day…
My day can go either one of two ways: either I’m up and travelling to the airport at 5 AM to meet clients, or I’m spending the day at our Amsterdam office.
More often than not, though, I’m travelling. Because we’re expanding quickly in Europe, I fly to different European capitals throughout the week to meet with clients, and when I’m not in meetings with them, I’m spending the rest of the day working remotely with our team. Thank goodness for chat and video conferencing!
When I’m travelling I try to keep as much routine as possible — so same plane, same time, that kind of thing. My secret trick for staying fit with all the travelling? Never have dessert and always take advantage of the hotel gym to combat jet lag.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
What I love about my role is merging business strategy with the vast possibilities that tech offers. That’s why even though I’m in a very commercial role, I still spend a lot of time with our product teams having discussions about how we want to prioritise development and how best to determine our long-term product roadmap.
I also love that I have the privilege of experiencing some of the largest European enterprises from an inside, strategic perspective — and with that, I get to see the actual impact of what our product does. I think that’s pretty rare. It’s what really motivates me though — seeing that what we’re doing really has an impact on the world.
As for what sucks? I know it’s the typical answer, but no one likes travelling to the airport at 5 AM and getting home after 11 PM, with an 8:30 AM meeting the next morning. It’s worth it, though!
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
My goal is to change the way big enterprises interact with their customers. I want everyone who works at Relay42 to be able to look back and see what a huge, meaningful impact they had on how companies speak to consumers.
Of course, that’s hard to translate to KPIs, but I would say the best KPI to measure our progress in that area is growth — first as we scale up the company in Europe, and later to new international markets.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
That’s an easy one: my mobile phone! Give me my phone, a whiteboard, and some paper and pencils, and I’m golden. I love drawing and strategising in a more freestyle way, versus working in Powerpoint. And my phone is honestly my most invaluable travel companion.
My favourite app is Spotify, because music is the best way for me to relax while I travel.
How did you end up at Relay42, and where might you go from here?
I started it 🙂
Before founding Relay42, I founded a tech services company that was focused on the scalability of applications with lots of data — this was before big data was even called big data. That experience gave me a lot of unique insights on what was happening in the data world. I know both of my Relay42 co-founders from those days.
Koen Bos used to work with me there, and as a client we met Koen Koppens, an ex-Googler, who had a unique perspective on marketing and data. Over dinner we had a discussion about how so many enterprises were failing to use data when it came to building digital customer experiences. This was around Christmas 2010, and based on that idea Relay42 was founded in January 2011.
Where might I go from here? I want to take our company global. Besides that, I’m driven to make an impact on the business world with tech, so I don’t plan to leave this space. If I were to be doing something different 10 years from now, it would probably be along the lines of founding my next tech company — maybe even in an entirely different space. Who knows!
Which customer journeys or personalisation have impressed you lately?
Wow, that’s a really tough question when you work in this space! We have so many clients doing really impressive things with their customer journeys. But if I had to choose one, I’d have to say KLM. They are fantastic at tying their digital journey and offline experience together in a truly seamless way.
As an avid user of their product, I get to experience this often. It ranges from being greeted personally when on board the plane, to getting personalised services via their call centre, all the way to having a seamless online experience adjusted to my specific behaviour.
Of course, I’m also really proud that they’re achieving this with our platform, so that makes it even sweeter.
Other than to buy your software, do you have any advice for marketers optimising the customer journey?
Structure your organisation around customers and their complete journeys. It’s not about data and tech, but rather what that data and tech can help you do for your customers. I really believe that more companies need to start thinking this way. Start with your customer journey and then look at the tech that can help you improve it. Stay true to what you want to be for your audience and always keep your customer strategy at the forefront.
This means, for example, moving away from channel-specific KPIs and realising that consumers don’t experience separate steps, but a single journey. Once you start aligning your business goals and KPIs around the customer journey, you’ll notice a lot of things that were being done in the past only make sense in a very narrow context. Solving that disconnect between how you operate and what your customer experiences really makes a difference.
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