52 - Thomas Rankin, Dash Hudson

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This is a podcast episode titled, 52 - Thomas Rankin, Dash Hudson. The summary for this episode is: <p>In Ep. 52 of Earned, Conor sits down with fellow B2B social media marketing software leader Thomas Rankin, co-founder and CEO of Dash Hudson. To start the episode, Thomas explains how Dash Hudson puts creative at the center of everything they do, as well as how the brand helps its clients understand which creative will perform well and deepen consumer relationships. Thomas reveals that Dash Hudson was originally created to be a consumer shopping app, then shares why the company ultimately pivoted its focus, along with the key learnings that contributed to its success today. We learn how Thomas determined Dash Hudson’s ICP, and hear how he “hustled” to cut through the noise and acquire the company’s first set of customers. Switching gears, Thomas details the winning creative strategies that today’s top brands are using to produce impactful owned media across their channels. To close the show, we talk about TikTok, and Thomas previews the innovative features that Dash Hudson is rolling out to help brands optimize their performance on the platform.</p>
How Dash Hudson Helps Brands Understand Which Creative Will Perform Well
04:03 MIN
Thomas' Career Journey That Led Him to Create Dash Hudson
04:49 MIN
Thomas' Key Learnings That Contributed to Dash Hudson's Success
03:28 MIN
Determining Dash Hudson's ICP
03:14 MIN
How Thomas "Hustled" to Acquire Dash Hudson's First Customers
08:58 MIN
What Separates Winning Brands’ Owned Media Strategies
03:21 MIN
Dash Hudson's Innovative TikTok Tools
06:13 MIN

Connor Begley: I had a fantastic time with Thomas today, we learned about what it's like to start one of the most successful companies in the social media space, what it was like to work with Revolve in such early days, as well as what the top brands in social media are doing on owned media. Remember if you enjoyed the show, be a friend, tell a friend, and subscribe. Thanks guys.

Speaker 2: Explore the minds and marketing strategies behind today's winning brands and businesses. Tap into the power of the Creator Economy with Earned, by CreatorIQ. Here's Connor Begley.

Connor Begley: Hi, everybody. Welcome to Earned. Today we have Thomas Rankin, the founder and CEO of Dash Hudson. Welcome to the show, Thomas.

Thomas Rankin: Thank you, Connor. I really appreciate you having me. After all this time we're finally getting to spend some time together.

Connor Begley: Absolutely, and I think it is long overdue. And for those that don't know you, so obviously again, founded Dash Hudson. And I think the reason that I invited you guys on is not only do you work with the best brands in the world, but a lot of overlap with our clients. So when we ask our clients what other tools they're using to help them manage social media, Dash Hudson's the number one tool that they're using side by side with us. And so really excited to dive in and learn more about your journey as well as learn more about what you've seen work across brands like Estee Lauder and Apple, and all those others. So really excited for today.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, same. Excited for the chat and to share some of what I personally have learned, and what we've learned as a company over the years.

Connor Begley: So maybe for those that don't know you, maybe we should start at the top. So just what is Dash Hudson? What do you do and who do you work with?

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, so Dash Hudson is the modern social media marketing platform. So we provide the world's most important companies, everybody from Apple to Unilever, we have over a thousand customers globally with tools and analytics to deepen their relationships with global consumers through creative that entertains and brings joy. And so one of the things that has always differentiated Dash Hudson is that we put creative at the center of everything that we do. So while we provide your basic social media tools like content management, scheduling and publishing, all of our insights and analytics are truly based around the creative. And so everything starts and stops with helping brands understand what creative is going to work, distributing that creative, analyzing it, and then taking those learnings back into all of their work. So I jokingly say, if you loop and you share a TikTok or you join the TikTok, maybe Buy It movement, Dash Hudson was probably behind that making you do it.

Connor Begley: Wait, so I want to actually dive in on that a little bit. That sounds like a super difficult problem, understanding how a creative asset's going to do. So how does that work? What's the magic behind the curtain on that one?

Thomas Rankin: Sure, so it really all started with solving our own problems. So people may not know that prior to what we do now at Dash Hudson, we were actually a consumer shopping application ourselves. And so what I was doing was marketing ourselves on Instagram at the time. So this was back in 2014, 2015, and I really wanted to understand what types of photos and videos were driving the acquisition of users to our application, and what was causing them to then shop within our app. So to me it was all about who's the person sharing this piece of creative and what type of creative is actually working for me as a marketer at the time? And when that shopping business wasn't working out, we had built this internal analytics dashboard that helped us see how our photos and videos were performing, how influencers were performing for us. And it was really that thing that ended up being the business. So we shined up this internal analytics dashboard that we had. We started showing it to some really smart brand marketers that we knew, and they were just as excited about it as we were because it allowed them to see things that they didn't know. So is this photo driving performance for my brand? Is this video driving performance for my brand? So from the way that our initial analytics platform was built, it all stopped and started with the photo or the video. And so while many times brands were just looking at charts and graphs, that didn't tell them very much about the creative. And so what we did is if you see our platform, it's photos and videos and the data lives behind it. And that really works for the modern marketer. We extended then that deep knowledge around creative into building our own in- house technology that helps brands to predict the performance of their creative. So we built an AI technology called Vision, really started R& D on it in 2017, commercialized it in 2018. And so what we do is we look at all of a brand's historical performance. We look at what type of creative is performing in the market. And then we built a custom performance prediction algorithm for that brand. So if you're Apple, you've got your own model that predicts your performance. If you're a Nike, you've got your own model that predicts your performance. And that really lives throughout the Dash Hudson platform. So just to summarize that quickly, one is we just base everything visually and the way we measure around the photo or the video. And then we've built proprietary technology to help predict performance.

Connor Begley: Yeah, that makes sense. I think two things, one, it really reminds me, your story really reminds me of if you know Stuart, the founder of Slack, in a similar story where he... Slack was originally supposed to be a game. So he's tried to create two different inaudible both failed. And in the meantime they built a messaging app just to help communication while they were running that game, that became Slack. And then prior to that it was another game. They were helping to manage the photos attached to the character, and realized that the photo technology itself was actually the magic and turned that into whatever it was that they sold it inaudible.

Thomas Rankin: Flickr? Was it Flickr?

Connor Begley: Yeah, you got it.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, Flickr.

Connor Begley: So I'd be curious about the leap from photo to video in terms of technology. Obviously if you're doing any kind of computer vision stuff, that's a ton of processing power that you're trying to put forth. How does that work for video? It's incredibly complex as just a concept, to understand how a video will perform versus the photo.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah. No, you're...

Connor Begley: How does that work?

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, you're absolutely correct. So Vision, our proprietary technology, really started with the photo. And obviously taking one static image and busting it into its pieces with computer vision and then building the learning model around that. And it's a difficult problem, but video takes it to the next level. And so what we were able to do was port that learning from photo over into video, and what it really started with initially was looking at frames. So you're looking at the frames of a video, you're starting to then compare the trend of frames within a video to other trends of frames within a video to try and match what types of moments within a video are actually driving the performance. And so, like I said, we could leverage some of that knowledge around photo to start to look at the frames within a video, but then take it to that next level. The other interesting thing that you would know very well around video is that oftentimes it's those initial couple of frames that actually drive the view. So what's going to make me pause and actually want to watch this thing? So we're able to also help brands decide what is that cover image or what is that frame that you actually want to start a video with so that it drives that initial engagement that creates the view? So yeah, there was an additional two and a half years of research from our data science team that went into bridging from photo to video, and it's still as video evolves so quickly to TikTok and real style full- screen entertainment, there's another bridge to go beyond just say traditional feed video.

Connor Begley: Yeah, absolutely. It's funny, I don't know if you've ever heard Mr. B's talk about how much time they spend on the cover art for their YouTube videos. Because he talks a lot about it. He's like," You go in, you search for something." He's like," If I can get it from 20% of the people to clicking that video to 25%, that's a massive increase."

Thomas Rankin: Absolutely.

Connor Begley: And that's all being driven, or primarily being driven by just that little image, just whatever that little initial image is that's trying to catch your attention.

Thomas Rankin: That's exactly it.

Connor Begley: So let's take a step back to pre Dash Hudson. So one, tell me a little bit about what you were doing. It looks like you were in finance, you were doing some investing, what that part of your career was like and how that has been beneficial for you now? And then second, what made you decide to want to make the leap into that shopping app in the first place to go from the investor side to the entrepreneur side?

Thomas Rankin: Sure. Yeah, so I went to business school, so I did a degree in politics and then decided to do my MBA. And I always joke around that, like I left business school not knowing what a business was. Which is probably true for many people who go to business school. And the first part of my career was spent in environmental technology, so I was really fascinated with what was happening around renewable energy at the time. So this was in 2005, technologies were advancing around PV and even wind was still advancing at the time, carbon capture. And so I started by working for a government organization here in Novas Scotia, Canada, which is where we're based. And just got really interested in that, learning a lot more about climate change and environmental technology, and then ended up being part of setting up and running an environmental technology investment fund. And so I was working directly with clean tech companies, funding those projects that they were involved with. And it was while doing that that I started to get my first taste of what financing and something like venture capital was. And after working for the government and doing that environmental technology investing for it was five years, I then joined a small venture capital fund here in Halifax. And that fund was really set up to do early stage investing. A lot of it was pre- seed, although we did some seed in series A. So I was looking at all kinds of really early stage stuff primarily in software. And it was while meeting some founders of B2B software companies that I started to get a really clear idea of what the opportunity was in B2B software. And it really, really excited me. I decided not to start a B2B software company.

Connor Begley: I thought you went B2C.

Thomas Rankin: But what I saw at the time was that mobile and visual content and shopping were all coming together in the same place. And I thought that Dash Hudson was going to be like the end point of that, where people would come into a mobile app, get inspired through great visual content, and then buy whatever they wanted through a single cart. And so I met my co- founder Tomac, who's our CTO, and we started to build this mobile shopping product. And I think we weren't necessarily wrong, that was happening. And you saw again, Pinterest had really taken off at the time. Again, this is 2013. You saw companies like Fancy and Wanelo and Spring that were all coming up at the time, it's just we were trying to do it really lean. None of those companies went lean, they didn't work out but they certainly didn't go lean. And it was just a really difficult problem to solve. eCommerce is super hard. It was an affiliate business model. Consumer mobile was really hard, and so we just couldn't figure it out. But we came across this problem and thankfully we ended up getting back into B2B software as an idea. But I still remember that a mentor of mine when I was pitching him this mobile consumer idea, he was like," Thomas, it's a terrible idea." He's like," If you want to make money sell software to businesses, because businesses have problems and businesses have money." And I never forgot that piece of advice.

Connor Begley: Yeah, the nice part about doing business, like selling to businesses, is you get a really clear feedback loop. You can have a conversation. You can really grind it out.

Thomas Rankin: Totally.

Connor Begley: You can figure it out. Versus consumers, it's really lightning in a bottle. Like you get it right, it can explode. But it's so hard to dial that in, especially consumer mobile or consumer internet. The outcomes can be really big, but you're not swinging at a high hit rate.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, super tough. Super tough.

Connor Begley: So let's talk about what some of the things that have been difficult. So obviously you get going, you started the business, it's going. And unless your journey is different than my journey, there's been some hiccups along the way. So what are the call it two, maybe three things that you like, yeah, those are pivotal moments where I learned something that's stuck with me.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, I would say number one, I think the reason that we've been successful is that we've built an amazing team. And really it's probably the thing that I'm most proud of is the team that we have built. I would say that, and we still of our initial 10 employees, we still have seven of them work on the team at Dash Hudson, which is I think pretty amazing. And we're now 210 people.

Connor Begley: Wow.

Thomas Rankin: But I would say that early on, be it advisors, thankfully all of our investors have been amazing, but some of those people that you surround yourself really early on, they have a real influence on some of the decisions that you make and why you do certain things. And I think one of the biggest mistakes that we made early on, which I think everybody goes through is just there were a couple people that we surrounded ourselves with who maybe just weren't the best influence on us or who were maybe trying to take advantage of us. It was pretty minor, but you only get burned a couple of times and then you're like," Okay, cool. I probably shouldn't have given away that half point of equity to that person because they didn't do anything for me." And then now every time I look at my cap table, I'm just like," Fuck you buddy." Sorry, I hope I can swear on this.

Connor Begley: Go for it.

Thomas Rankin: I'd say that's one thing, but I think that's just new entrepreneur naivety. So that's number one. I think number two, in order to be successful you have to have this unwavering belief in the company you are building and in the product you are building. And yet at the same time, you have to be able to pivot when the right moment comes. So psychologically that's incredibly difficult, to go one moment from having an ultimate faith in the thing that you were building but then the next moment say, I learned this, this thing doesn't work anymore so I'm going to go there. And I think that was one of the most difficult things for me was we pivoted so many times in those first few years, but it's really hard on a founding team and it's really hard psychologically to do that. And so I think anytime I'd speak with founders who were just getting going, I'd warn them of that. You will create a business by moving quickly, trying things, testing it out like Stewart did twice. You have to be okay with change, but just understand that it's going to take a psychological toll on you and take a ton of energy out of you. It'll be really exciting, but it's an incredibly difficult time in the formation of a company. And you've managed to create a great company. I've done the same thing. There's so many people who don't crack through that first stage. And I think it is because it's so again, psychologically demanding to get through it.

Connor Begley: Yeah, for sure. You can't have pivoted too many times. You're seven years in, you're killing it. I don't want to reveal anything that's nonpublic or anything, but it doesn't look like you have really raised much money either. You've really just grown it mostly organically.

Thomas Rankin: So we've done a couple of rounds of financing. We haven't been very public about that stuff, but that's cool. We've done your typical angel round early on. We then did a seed round, and then we did a series A in 2018. So based on the scale that we're at right now, we've raised almost no money. We're for all intents and purposes bootstrapped, but with cash in the bank. And one of the things that I would say I'm most proud of is that we've been able to be really efficient in the way that we've grown the company, both from a business model perspective, from the value that we deliver to our customers, and then just financially in terms of the way that we manage it, we've been able to be incredibly efficient. So we've never had to put ourselves in a situation where we needed money or we've never overrun our headlights in terms of things like valuation or expectations based on capital raised, which has meant we hold our destiny in our hands as opposed to it being in the hands of others.

Connor Begley: Totally. When we got acquired, I think we had raised$ 3 million at that point when we got acquired.

Thomas Rankin: It's not much.

Connor Begley: 3 million, hardly anything, I guess my question would be what made you decide, because obviously now you're definitely at a scale where you could attract and a growth rate where you could attract some pretty sizable growth equity grounds. What makes you decide not to go that route, or maybe just not yet? Because four years since your last round, most people would've done it at this point. I'd say a lot of people would've done it. What made you decide not to?

Thomas Rankin: First of all, the last few years have been kind of nuts with the pandemic.

Connor Begley: Has there been weird stuff that's happened in the last couple of years?

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, there's been some weird stuff that's happened. And so we had a pandemic, then you had a weird boom time. And it's interesting because we've been continuing to grow really well. That boom time came, which would've been the best time to raise money if we were going to do it. But we were growing well enough that it wasn't like jumping on the radar, and we just weren't quite dialed in on whether or not we wanted to do it. And then things have gotten weird again. So sometimes maybe we're a bit too conservative to be honest, but I think the way that we've deployed capital has been really, really smart. And we always wanted to wait for the right time to do that significant growth round, it could be something that's in our future. Dash Hudson's become so much bigger in terms of a product, we're going after I would say a much bigger market now than we did when we were more niche. Obviously there's a ton of competition in our market. We're growing globally so there's some obvious reasons for us to consider doing that, but we're just really conscious of timing on that stuff. And so that time hasn't quite hit yet. But yeah, we continue to grow so we don't panic about it. We're very careful, maybe a bit too conservative sometimes.

Connor Begley: Hey, it's like you said, you hold your own destiny. And I think that the analogy I always liked was a guy named Michael Deering who's a well known seed investor, was a former exec at eBay. And the way he described it, he's like," If you have a tissue box and it's full of tissues," he's like," Use two. But if you're down to one tissue, you split it in half. Maybe you can split it again." And so it forces you to be a lot more efficient.

Thomas Rankin: 100%.

Connor Begley: Is it constraints, force, creativity or whatever that phrase is.

Thomas Rankin: Constraints are good.

Connor Begley: So you mentioned there the market, so the market we're going after is big. And I know for us, one of the most pivotal moments we had as a company was figuring out who our clients weren't. And what we figured out about four years ago at Tribe was if you're getting three tweets a week, we're not very valuable. To the point that if you had less than 50,000 followers on Instagram, we had a 90% chance of churning you within two years. And if you flipped that our retention rates were really, really good, which is where you're going to get value as a software company. So for you guys, have you gone through that? How do you think about your market, what you're going after? Who your customers are? Is that something that you've thought about? I would have to imagine you have, but if so, how do you think about that?

Thomas Rankin: So as you would know, again, early on you just take whoever's going to pay you money. We were really excited and we had this great product and you whoever will pay us money for it, we'll take it. And then over time you start to hone in on who your ideal customer or what your ideal customer profile is. And for us, we went through a long period of really continuing to tighten that, just to be, again, going back to our philosophy of trying to be efficient. We said," Let's really squeeze who we're going after and direct all of our resources into that so we know that we're getting the best customers and the best users from inside of that narrow target market." And so for us it was industries, for us it was company size. For us it was the composition of a marketing team, presence on social. We really narrowed it and put all of our marketing and sales development energy into that. So we were like, shotgun approach and then just slowly started to narrow it, especially as we continue to push up market, which is again why we've got the Amazon and Apples of the world as customers. Yet, I think as you get to a certain scale, you have to take a step back and say," Okay, we've done a really good job going after this really narrow type of customer, but in order to be a really big SaaS company, you do need to be able to address a couple of different segments, whatever that looks like and however you define it." So I would say at Dash Hudson, one of the things that we are just starting to give ourselves the freedom to do is to look at multiple segments. And so I think that's really exciting because we feel as though the product is in the right place to be able to do that, the pricing and packaging is getting to a point which will enable us to do that. The service model is starting to be set up to do that. So while they have different economic profiles, those segments, we feel like we're starting to drill in on how we can serve at least two segments at the same time.

Connor Begley: I haven't quite latched onto the economics around either lower price point or freemium or however you want to segment that, just because the churn characteristics are going to be so high, ACV will be low, service model's different. Going down market's tough, but that's really cool. That's fun to hear.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, and for us we put all of our resources into enterprise, like global enterprise. Yet organically we've attracted lots of what we call mid- market companies. Yeah. But didn't provide a lot of flexibility in terms of how A, we marketed to them, or B, how we priced and packaged for them. So for us, it's like a segment that was already coming to us but we just weren't doing our best job of addressing that segment. So it's a down market from enterprise to mid- market, but we don't serve SMB and we don't do anything, we're still priced to a premium. It's just being more flexible with those mid- market customers.

Connor Begley: Well, in a lot of ways I think the product that you've built is something that's been designed for that type of customer.

Thomas Rankin: Exactly, yeah. It's a power tool, there's a lot in our platform that is just way too much for a small business. It's like just drive to the grocery store and jumping in a Ferrari, it doesn't really make any sense. It's like, take the minivan.

Connor Begley: Yeah, totally. So let's go back to you described your initial sales approach as shotgun. But let's talk about just how did you... So for people that are just starting their companies, you have two problems. Either how do I build a product that people are going to actually use and like, and the other one is how do I actually get them to pay attention to me because there's so much out there that is trying to attract people's attention. Turns out we're not the only B2B software company who's trying to sell to marketers. So how did you get your first call it 25, 50 customers? What did that process look like? What tools or methods did you find worked really well?

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, so I love telling some of these stories to my team now because it's not like you're trying to say back in the day, but it's more like, this is how hard it is to get customers. So to be honest, I'd built some relationships with brands while we were doing the shopping thing. So I at least had people to talk to about what we were building and I could get their feedback on it. So while I wasn't necessarily trying to sell it to them, I had real potential customers who could give me that feedback. But one of the first things that we did was we built lists. So we outsourced, we found a list of all the brands that we felt were our ICP at the time. We outsourced it to Odesk, which was Odesk at the time. We had contact lists get built. We had somebody come in and set us up with HubSpot as a CRM. And then we just started doing each of us, so there were three of us, myself included who started just doing outbound. Outbound email campaigns all day, every day, starting in I guess it was August, middle of August, 2015. And I'd say by the first week of September, we started to get responses back and started to have conversations. And there was just this really rapid learning process that we went to as we started to fine tune the pitch, hear what types of things that people needed in a product in order to buy it. Thankfully my co- founder and our initial development team were just like they could literally turn a light version of a feature around over a weekend. We were just like,"We need that." Boom, we'd come out with it, we'd put it in a pitch deck, we'd build it, and then we'd demo it. It would only work half the time, but we would get it there if they decided to buy it, when they decided to buy it. So, yeah, it was just a lot of emailing people to be honest. But there were a few brands at the time that I was really into because of the way that they were marketing. One was Revolve, which is still a customer of ours. So at the time they were, you would know them well, they've crushed it for years in the influencer marketing space. They were really just doing the slam the gram approach back in 2015, they did Revolve in the Hamptons and all that kind of stuff. It's like, this stuff is mad. I think before they were a customer I wrote a couple of blogs about them, just because I was so fascinated by what they were doing from a marketing perspective. But Raissa Gerona, who's the chief brand officer at Revolve now, I just kept sending her emails. And I think one of them was I think it was October or November that year, Revolve did their Christmas party and it was a very Instagrammable Christmas party. And at the same time, the same weekend, the Minkoffs opened their Rodeo Drive store and they made it an Instagrammable event. And we looked at the reach of those two events, and Revolves Christmas party crushed the Minkoff store opening. And so I wrote Raissa an email that you beat 350 million or something, you beat the Minkoffs. And she finally responded to me, and that was the 20th email I'd sent her or something. So Revolve was one of our first customers and continue to be a great customer to this day. Glossier was another brand that I was fascinated by. They were just getting going at the time, really leading the charge from a D2C perspective. I had seen Henry Chenlin speak at the conference in New York, and I was just fascinated by what he was saying. So I tweeted him, I was in the audience and I tweeted him and said," Oh, fascinated by what you're doing. We've done some research on you. I would love to share it." And he got back to me on Twitter and I set up a meeting with him, and we had looked at what they were doing as a brand. And he loved what we were doing and he loved us as a team. And so they came on. But then I think the one that I'm probably most proud of was Conde Nast. So Conde Nast was one of our first customers across all the major brands. Again, this was within our first five customers I think was Conde Nast. And I had a contact who got us in front of the right people. We got in there. We showed them the product. They were like," This is amazing," but they were going through a procurement process and we were coming in at the back end of this procurement process so we thought we weren't going to make it through. But the team there really liked us. And I called a mentor of mine, I'm like," We've got this great opportunity, but it looks like we're going to get locked out because there's a procurement process." And he's like," Forget the procurement process. Just get in there, get people using your product, walk from desk to desk, make them love it and you're going to win." And so honestly, my colleague Mary- Anne and I, we basically got a badge for the Conde offices in New York. We went in there and we just forced them to pilot essentially and manually onboarded everybody. And low and behold, we didn't have to go through procurement but we won the deal. That's three examples, but I think TLDR, just hustle, man. That was all it was. Just pulling out all the stops, looking for those great customers who were forward thinking who got what we do, but then just hustling your way to get in front of them and then believing in your product.

Connor Begley: Yeah, for sure. I love that. It's funny that observation on the RFP process, because we get put into these RFP processes all the time. And we'll get feedback from their procurement team, like," Oh, you've got to have China otherwise we're just not going to choose you." You're like," Well, there's 150 people at your company using our software." So I don't think they're just going to suddenly want to stop using it. And I think if you just get people in it and using it, that's the most important factor. And I love that, that's really reminiscent of the doing things that don't scale motto, like Airbnb, they went around and took photos of people's houses because people didn't have enough good photos. It was like a take a photo button on the website. Yeah, I love that. And I think the funny thing about those, so the Revolves of the world, we didn't start working with them that early. We started working with them maybe three years ago, I think. But I think the most fascinating part about working with companies like that, or a Glossier, is they're so far ahead of the curve that if you just observe what they're doing and what they think is important, inevitably the brands that are slower adopters will catch up. Because Revolve's creating billions of dollars worth of market capitalization doing it. So that was a process that worked really well for us too generally.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, and what we've found the key is I we've always believed in building for the early adopters because we want to be innovators in our market. And the tension for us has always been as we've gotten bigger, because as you build more customers demand, more of the blocking and tackling stuff, like the day to day, they demand more of the day to day features. Like the boring stuff, but it's the stuff that they need. But by putting your energy into that, you're not building for the innovators. So we've always said it's our job to run this dual track of build stuff people need but innovate at the same time, and make sure that we're putting our necks on the line to build things that we don't necessarily know are going to work but that the most innovative customers are telling us is important to them. And we've always tried to balance those two things, so we're always looking for that next cohort of innovators that we can work with to build what everybody else is going to use in a couple of years.

Connor Begley: Talking about those innovative brands, I know that a lot of the people that are going to be listening to this are brands. That's going to be the majority of people listening in. So what have you noticed about the Revolves of the world and others that has been a consistent signal for success? What are they doing differently when it comes to particularly owned social or creative that's winning?

Thomas Rankin: So it's really interesting, and we see it across both very large global brands and we see it with, I hate the term D2C now, it seems like it has bad vibes attached to it. But more modern eCommerce brands. So whether it's Nike with Jumpman or it's Hydro, the thing that ties those companies together is that they really care about communicating creatively and visually and entertaining an audience, that's the brand and the relationship with the customer is just core to what they do. And they hold that very sacred. But they're also innovators and data driven. So they want a tool and they want to set their teams up for success so that they have the insights to ensure that brand creative is as impactful as it possibly can be. So the brands that we find are most successful in this new world of what we're talking about as social entertainment are ones that A, understand it from a creative perspective. So want to communicate with their consumer through those medium. Two, are resourcing it. So they're either building specific teams to work on this type of creative or they're retaining an agency to help them with that. The best ones do it in house, not with agencies. And then three, they're using-

Connor Begley: Using the same thing.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, and then the three is they're using data to make decisions, whether it's us or you guys or some other platform. But everything is really data driven. And then from a senior executive point of view, typically the CMO or the VP of marketing, they're willing to take risks. And I think the brands that are being most successful in this world of modern social marketing typically have a CMO or a VP that's going to resource their teams and enable them to take risks, and trust them to figure it out. Because with new channels, what you put into it typically is what you're going to get out of it. And I think that evolves over time. Not every brand continually evolves with the changing times of social media, but the best ones continue to invest.

Connor Begley: Yeah, I was interviewing Toto, who's the SVP of marketing at Benefit Cosmetics. And he was saying, he's like," I expect 75% of our creative to fail." He's like," That's what I expect, 75% failure rate." And he is like,"And 25% going to hit, and of that, a smaller percentage is going to really hit." And he's like," And that's okay. I want my team to feel comfortable doing that."

Thomas Rankin: That's awesome.

Connor Begley: And that makes a ton of sense. So something I want to dive in on, and this is a very boom and bust thing, is TikTok. So obviously for you guys, I think when we first got to know you guys, Instagram was the primary channel, right? You had YouTube, you had other channels, but that was a big thing. And I think that's one of the things that you guys got really well known for.

Thomas Rankin: Yes.

Connor Begley: Obviously for a lot of our brands, TikTok's become the inaudible, the thing of the moment for good reason. How have you guys thought about the TikTok space, one from a product perspective, and then two, we talked a little bit about video earlier, but just how have you seen it affect their strategies and then what have you seen across winning strategies when it comes to TikTok as well?

Thomas Rankin: So I guess it would've been probably a year and a half ago that brands consistently started to bring up questions about TikTok, and a lot of it was what are you seeing on TikTok? What are other brands doing on TikTok? What are you hearing? We're thinking about making TikTok part of our strategy for this year. And so it just started to continue to pop up. And obviously we were monitoring it and seeing what was happening and watching brands that were being successful. And so about 18 months ago we decided, okay, this is going to happen. And this is going to be big. It's clear that the trajectory here is real and we haven't seen anything like this throughout the life of our company. And so we started thinking a lot about it, what it meant to marketers, and we started to build a relationship with the team at TikTok. So last week we were announced as an official TikTok marketing partner, which is super exciting. So we're building on the TikTok business insights API. We started working with the partner team last summer and we started building out alphas and betas in August of last year. So we had a long period of time where we got to work really closely with the team at TikTok and with our brands to figure out what it is that brands were going to need to be successful as they really either get going or start to measure their success in those early innings. And I think for us getting in early with the team at TikTok was really important because it meant that we could take direct learnings from our customers to inform what they were building in the API, which then of course fed back into the product that we were able to create. So that's really exciting from a product standpoint, we were able to launch insights, community and scheduling publishing. We also did a couple of more innovative features outside of the traditional functionality. We're doing some editorialization in product around trending sounds, which is really exciting. Teams obviously have such a hard time keeping on top of trending sounds. And then we built something called the entertainment score, which looks at the performance of a video essentially disconnected from views because virality on TikTok is such a weird thing and not necessarily the best strategy. For brands and so many views that you get, if you do go viral are just meaningless because it's just appearing on somebody's feed and they're not actually watching it. So it's effectiveness, but it's a score that's built specifically for TikTok. So anyway, that's a lot about the product, but we've been spending a lot of time on the product, excited to have that fully out now in the market.

Connor Begley: The trending sounds thing is fascinating by the way. We had an event in New York, and I was talking to one of the bartenders and he was a musician, and he had listened to a panel we had done and he was like," W should connect." TikTok plays a huge role for the music business now. Because you're trying to get to be one of the trending songs on TikTok because it helps you to get discovered. And it's just fascinating, I just hadn't thought about that as a concept. And it's like, whoa. Or TikTok Radio on XM series is the number one station by far, and it's just crazy.

Thomas Rankin: It's pretty wild. And the sound PA plays a really important part in how the algorithm delivers you content on TikTok because they're looking at the style of the video, but they're also looking at sound, and when they're building your personalized algorithm, they're also looking at your engagement with sound. Because they know that if you're going through a sound, you're looking for other videos that are built on that sound, then it may also be an indication that you're looking to create content around that sound. So the signals that TikTok uses to deliver us all content is just totally different from what you would see in the more traditional social graph on Facebook. And it's so funny. So any of the brands that are listening to this, I'm sure you feel this pain. We always ask brands like," Hey, how are you figuring out what sounds are trending and how do you as a team start to decide what sounds or trends you may be able to participate in?" And literally it's just everybody looking at their own feeds and sharing it in Slack. And then there's always a senior marketer who says," So and so's feed is way cooler than mine" Again, it's like Instagram back in the day where you made the intern the person, who Instagram now it's like the sound trends are downloaded to the younger members of the team. So we've done some work actually on with our team. Again, our trending sounds feature is not algorithmic, it's editorialized based on a bunch of data. But it's been an incredibly popular feature and it's only been out for a couple weeks. So it's a big problem to solve, and I think there's a lot more work to do around sound. This is just scratching the surface.

Connor Begley: Yeah, for sure. It's fascinating. I think the looking at somebody else's TikTok is a deeply personal experience. If you go to somebody else's, it's like," Oh, these are your deepest, darkest interests."

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, totally.

Connor Begley: Talk about what you love watching.

Thomas Rankin: I feel like everybody's feed becomes more reasonable over time, I do. I think if you're just delving into TikTok for the first time, TikTok is going to blast you with a bunch of stuff just to see what grabs you. But I think everybody becomes more normal on TikTok over time, either battery just become really weird niche, but that's cool too.

Connor Begley: Yeah, they're definitely testing you. I remember they were sending me a bunch of anime content. I'm like," Why am I getting so much anime content?" And nothing gets anime. I just don't watch it personally. So then now it's like when I see something that I don't like, I try and flip really quickly. I'm like," No, no, no, no. Don't show me more of that. I don't want to..."

Thomas Rankin: The coolest thing about TikTok is it was purpose built for that. They can call it the content graph as opposed to the social graph, and all the signals are gathered to get you content you actually want to see.

Connor Begley: Yeah. So we'll do one fun end of show question.

Thomas Rankin: Sure.

Connor Begley: We'll wrap up, and I'm actually going to switch it up just based on this topic. So if I were to look into your TikTok, what would be two or three categories, big categories that show up in your?

Thomas Rankin: So this is so corny, but golf. I love to golf. Oh, there you go. I feel like that's such a trope now is everybody got into golf over the pandemic.

Connor Begley: I love you have the Spanish golfer guy, does he show up for you?

Thomas Rankin: No, mine are usually either swing tips or fails, it's usually one or the other.

Connor Begley: Okay.

Thomas Rankin: Okay, everybody loves a bad shot tracer. So golf, there's some really weird... I'm Canadian, Canadian humor, inaudible, do you know the S are... Or RCMP or your, I don't know, state troopers kind of thing. There's some really weird, funny Canadian humor around S and stuff that are out there, and just Canadians from the country. And I love that stuff, just anything dorky like that I absolutely love. But yeah, a lot of it is sport and weird Canadian humor, I would say. And then talk show clips, that would be the other thing. Because I don't actually get a chance to watch the talk shows at night. We have children. Yeah, don't do that anymore. But so I love that I can get the Kimmel clips on TikTok.

Connor Begley: I think this is the best part about TikTok. I don't think any of those three types of videos have ever shown up in my feed. But everybody has their own mix of weird stuff.

Thomas Rankin: You don't get the weird rotate, you don't get the weird Mounty jokes, you mean?

Connor Begley: I don't, but it also topic. At one point I was getting a lot of dark humor stuff and then that stopped. I'm like,"Where did that go? I don't know." But now it's a lot of existential stuff. I'm like," Am I having an existential crisis? What's going on?" I don't think I am, but it's ruin me a lot of this stuff and I'm watching it. And I don't know.

Thomas Rankin: You got a busy life, man. You got a busy life.

Connor Begley: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you taking out the time to do this. I know I learned a lot. I'm sure everybody else learned a lot as well. And I wish you continued success as Dash continues to kill it. Thank you, and thanks again, Thomas.

Thomas Rankin: Yeah, you bet. And to you as well, thanks so much for having me.

Connor Begley: For sure.

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DESCRIPTION

In Ep. 52 of Earned, Conor sits down with fellow B2B social media marketing software leader Thomas Rankin, co-founder and CEO of Dash Hudson. To start the episode, Thomas explains how Dash Hudson puts creative at the center of everything they do, as well as how the brand helps its clients understand which creative will perform well and deepen consumer relationships. Thomas reveals that Dash Hudson was originally created to be a consumer shopping app, then shares why the company ultimately pivoted its focus, along with the key learnings that contributed to its success today. We learn how Thomas determined Dash Hudson’s ICP, and hear how he “hustled” to cut through the noise and acquire the company’s first set of customers. Switching gears, Thomas details the winning creative strategies that today’s top brands are using to produce impactful owned media across their channels. To close the show, we talk about TikTok, and Thomas previews the innovative features that Dash Hudson is rolling out to help brands optimize their performance on the platform.