93 - Doug Sweeny, ŌURA
Doug Sweeny: The device is a catalyst and it is about giving everybody a voice and it was simple and an idea that was simple enough, true and authentic to what the product offering is, but something that everyone could rally around in the company. These things, you need a very simple idea and story that's authentic and true, true to the product, true to the brand, true to what consumers want, connects with culture. It's got to do all these things all at the same time, but an engineer in Helsinki or in Oulu or in San Francisco or New York, anybody, a product person, a CX person talking to a consumer can actually be able to embody that spirit and understand what that means and how to communicate it. So it's now impacting everything we are doing. It's both employees, it's new employees, it's our partners. It'll start being infiltrated in advertising of course, but it is a process. We went through it at One Medical and I went through it at Nest too and led it. It's really critical foundationally to get the brand and the business firing on all cylinders and marching down to the same beat.
Conor Begley: As a CMO, Doug is on a hot streak. His last two companies, Nest and One Medical, have been each acquired for over$ 3 billion by Google and Amazon. And his new company, Oura is on fire as well. Really, really cool product. Great guy with such a wealth of knowledge in marketing. Remember, if you enjoy the show, be a friend, tell a friend. Thanks, guys.
Speaker 3: 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 Conor Begley.
Conor Begley: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Earned. Today we've got Doug Sweeny in the show today. Welcome to the show, Doug.
Doug Sweeny: Hey, Conor, great to meet you. Happy to be here.
Conor Begley: Yeah. And I'm so excited to take out the time. Appreciate your investment team for making the introduction. They said, " I think Doug would be perfect for this." And after looking into your background, I agree 100%.
Doug Sweeny: Thanks. No, I'm psyched to talk to you today. It's going to be fun.
Conor Begley: Yeah, for sure. I think we should really start at the top, which is if you're to look at your track record, there's a variety of things that stand out. I think your ability to pick companies, particularly the last several, has been I think particularly impressive. You joined Nest Labs after Levi's, which then was acquired by Google for$ 3 billion, then joined One Medical. Not at CMO at Nest, but then a CMO at One Medical-
Doug Sweeny: That's right.
Conor Begley: ... whichwas acquired by Amazon for$ 3. 9 billion. And then Oura, which has done very well. I'm curious, what are the criteria you use when picking these companies? Also, what made you decide to go the startup route after not being in that for a long time? And then why Oura?
Doug Sweeny: Yeah, great question. If you look at what I've been focused on over the last, been doing this a long time, 30 years now, I started the first 15 year, I was agency side, so I was a creator, I loved being in these agency cultures where you're actually working across a variety of different products, automotive, tech, apparel, footwear, and I did that at agencies like Chiat \ Day and really loved that. I loved the idea of pivoting across all these different industries. After I left Adidas, I wanted to try client side and move to Levi's. It was very akin to what Adidas was trying to do in its time, which is reconnect with a whole new audience. How do you regenerate this original sportswear brand? Not dissimilar from Levi's as the originator of denim, which I loved, I loved doing and they were very similar roles even though I was in a client- side job. Living in the Bay Area for 20 years, I really had this itch to work for a startup and work for a technology brand and wanted to make the pivot. I really did, I wanted to make the pivot and I got introduced to Tony Fadell, who had created the iPod at Apple under Steve and first couple generations of iPhone. And it was a small startup at the time, and I just was like, " I really want to do this." The core of it was solving real- world problems, it was about sustainability, it was about reinventing these crappy things that sit on our walls from the'80s that sucked all this energy out of your house. Really, truly, devoid of innovation. One of the least sexy products, and Tony's energy and spirit, and this idea of partnering with him I thought was just incredibly, it fueled the fire in me. And I think from that time forward, my passion has been focusing on companies and products that are solving real- world problems. Nest was creating life- saving devices and smoke alarms and thermostats, saving energy, and security cameras. The pivot to One Medical, it was a product I knew very, very well and was solving a real- world problem, which is our US problem for sure, in that the primary care experience in healthcare for most Americans is just really crappy. The NPS in healthcare is just not really good, so those two experiences for me, that was what really got me fired up and excited about them and why I wanted to join them on their mission. For sure.
Conor Begley: Yeah, I'll never forget, I don't know why this is such a clear memory, but I was with my mom one day and we went to one doctor who then referred us to another doctor, but we had to go get a blood test and there was like an hour to two hour long wait to each stop. It was like a whole day experience and it's burned into my memory, right?
Doug Sweeny: Yes. You don't really hear of people saying, " I had a wonderful healthcare experience." The typical wait for a primary care doctor is two months. If you have a specialty issue and you need to get any specialty care, it's multiple months and you have to know somebody in the healthcare industry. So this idea that it was a tech- enabled platform, same day, next day appointments, it was a healthcare 2. 0 level experience was something I felt like I could really bring my skills to bear, I could help it in its next phase as it was scaling. I also, I would say I grew up in a household, my dad was a technology leader at IBM, my mom was a healthcare professional in New York City for 30 years, so this idea of health and tech was something we talked about at our dinner table and something I was very, very passionate about. That was why I did it. It was a great experience.
Conor Begley: Yeah, it had to be fantastic. By the way-
Doug Sweeny: Tough during a pandemic, I will say. I'll say working for a healthcare brand during a pandemic is not the easiest thing, but incredibly rewarding in that time, for sure.
Conor Begley: Yeah, I have a question. Well, let's get into the pandemic stuff. That was actually one of my questions, but let's jump ahead. What was that like being at a medical company both leading into it and then through the peak of the pandemic? I have to imagine that was a crazy time.
Doug Sweeny: It really was. The first year, it was pretty straightforward. We were scaling, we were rebranding, we built a new positioning strategy, we changed the identity. We were doing a lot of things on the communication strategy side. We went public and the day we went public the World Health Organization announced that there was a pandemic literally the same day. We shut down all of our offices within 48 hours. We had this large network across the US, 12 different cities, and we had to shut them down. And we moved to a public health service role, we reached out to the mayor of New York, we reached out to Mayor Breed in San Francisco, and we became a testing brand across the five boroughs of New York City. It was Cuomo at that time, and that's what we were doing. We really pivoted from a private organization to one that was actually helping people get tested and then get vaccines in that phase. So it was eight to 10 months of crisis mode of trying to stand up ten facilities across the country and in the major metro areas to get people the help that they needed in that time period, so it was clearly a crisis situation. As we moved out of it, things began to normalize and we continued to go back to business, but incredibly rewarding. I was really proud of just what the team, we were on the front line, so the idea of being in virtual meetings just wasn't, we had to be in offices, so both the executive staff and the teams had to be out helping people.
Conor Begley: Yeah. Again, I was so distant from it in terms of just my day- to- day business that you were just watching it on TV every day, watching it unfold, but you're on the opposite end. You're like in the middle of it, and it's just wild.
Doug Sweeny: It was really challenging. And we were in a newsroom role. We shifted our marketing, we cut our budgets because we had to, we lost our business, just fell off a cliff. As you can imagine, you don't have in- office visits, so no one's coming in. We shifted to virtual care and then we're servicing these communities, so it moved to a newsroom crisis mode where we were publishing content in a very, very good clip across social and email across the network of members to educate them on different testing, antigen testing versus other testing, the latest coming out of the World Health Organization or other health organizations globally. So it just was a different playbook entirely over those two years during the heat of COVID.
Conor Begley: Yeah, that concept of the newsroom is fascinating because again, everyone who's desperate for information is trying to figure things out, and you're not running brand campaigns at that point, right? That is not-
Doug Sweeny: No. I mean, I think it wasn't just One Medical, marketers across the board. Any growth or brand marketer was cutting budgets and trying to protect the bottom line because it was such a dire situation across the country.
Conor Begley: Yeah. Well, tell me, we didn't talk about Oura much yet. What was it about that that attracted you? Obviously in some ways it's kind of a combination of Nest and One Medical, medical device plus device.
Doug Sweeny: For sure, Conor. The consistency I'd say is this idea back to solving real problems for people and really making a difference. I think that's what I really love. I love mission- based companies that have a real clear purpose and are adding value to our lives. Life is short and I think it's really important that brands show up and help people day to day. And Oura, just for me, it was the cross section of multiple things. It was a hardware and software brand, it has this really unique form factor and position and is delivering value similar to One Medical. It has incredibly rabid fans. The fan base within Oura, our net promoter score and word of mouth for the company is incredible. The members for Oura have been introducing the product to friends and family. That's really how this is spread virally over the last, the company is 10 years old now, but it's both a wellness brand, it's a healthcare brand, it's got a fashion component. It sits in the middle of pop culture too, which is very interesting. So for me, and the stage of the company and could I really help out at this stage of where it is as the brand expands across the world, was something I could really get behind. I'd say first and foremost, it was mission, it was product, and then third, it's like the people, the team, the leadership team, the CEO, the leaders, the marketing team, the growth team, the people that you think you can work with, and that to me is sort of the decision- making process that I go through for sure.
Conor Begley: Yeah. I was watching a YouTube video that was just, it's like six days old, but it was on six months with the ring, and he was just like, " I don't say this often, but this really changed a lot of things for me." And he was, to your point, this kind of rabid fan, and I think he actually showed a clip of Bill Gates in there also saying like, " Oh, this is one of the few things I use religiously." And I was like, " Oh, wow. That's about as good a recommendation-"
Doug Sweeny: It's amazing. Jeff Bezos, Bono, Jennifer Aniston, I mean the list of sort of celebrities and Prince Harry who loved the product. I mean, what it does is this amazing thing. It translates signals from the body, your physiology, your heart rate, your respiratory. The language we use internally is that it gives your body a voice, and our goal is to give everybody a voice, that your body is telling you what it needs. And the Oura device is helping you communicate. It takes these very complex signals from the body, it simplifies them, and at its core it's three scores in the morning. It's your readiness sleep and activity score that changes, activity changes throughout the day, of course, but there's this ritual that people go through once they get the product and they're able to see the information in a really simple way that you can act upon. It's incredibly empowering, incredibly empowering, and it surprises people and it's different. The form factor is one of the most killer things about it because of where it sits on the finger. If you go to the hospital, the first thing they do is they check your pulse or your respiratory, they do it off your finger, they don't do it off your wrist. So there's two arteries that come right underneath the finger, so it's able to sit on those and the accuracy is much better than wrist devices. So that gives us a head start there, but then I think it's the simplification of the data and is it actionable? Are we giving you insights? Which we do.
Conor Begley: Yeah, I think you're selling me on it. I think I need to buy one.
Doug Sweeny: I hope so. I mean, really you really have to try it or talk to anybody who likes it. I mean, I'll give you just a couple of anecdotal examples. In January, February, I had a COVID vaccine and a flu shot. 24 hours later I get a heads- up, your body temperature rose throughout the night, and it's an early detection warning on sickness. So I was up a degree and a half. So it is giving you an indication that there's something changing in your normal trajectory of your body temperature. That's one good example. If you have a glass of wine or eat a late night snack, you're going to have to metabolize that food and your heart rate's going to take a while to get to its normal resting level throughout the night. It'll give you a heads- up on that. " Did you have a late meal last night? We noticed." So again, there's these behavioral things that it's guiding you on and giving you suggestions on how to live a happy and healthy life that is really empowering for people.
Conor Begley: So I'm curious strategically as a business, obviously there was a rise in smartwatches at one time and then Apple created their own. I think it's really captured that market. I think if I were to look at who I would predict would be a potential acquirer, I think you've already got two of the big tech companies under your belt. Apple would be a theoretical third. How do you guys think about navigating that kind of ecosystem and environment, which integrating with Apple, integrating with these systems is critically important? Apple's looking at that too and going, " Oh wow, this is maybe a better form factor for collecting and giving signals, etc." How you think about that?
Doug Sweeny: Yeah, that's a good question. We worked very closely with Apple. We created widgets within both the iWatch and iPhone, so you can get those right on your home deck that gives you your readiness score, your sleep score, and your activity score in real time. So it's fully integrated within iOS is clearly a big part of our membership and our own personal ecosystem, so that's really important. When we look at the data, 36% of our users also have a watch of some kind, and it's probably an Apple Watch, so it actually is not an either or situation that we're finding. There's a lot of people who have both an Apple Watch and Oura because the use case is different. The activity trackers and watch in particular, it just serves a different purpose and the value that Oura brings is different, so it's very much a partnership. I mean, we don't see them in any way, honestly, competitive, but we see as defining it's a different category. A good example of that is we launched just at Best Buy, we're starting to grow into national retailers and we have shop in shop at a number of locations across the Best Buy network, and it doesn't sit in the wearable section. Sure, we show up there next to Fitbit and another products, Garmin, but this is a full shop- in- shop experience and it sits in its own place and close to Apple and Google and those brands. But Best Buy saw the value in that, that we were creating a new category within that it's not really exactly translatable to the wrist wearables in terms of what it does for consumers.
Conor Begley: Yeah, that makes sense. It's definitely, it's one of those things where it's obviously a very cozy relationship today. I am curious if in some ways it's like the bigger you get the more appetizing it gets for them, right?
Doug Sweeny: Right.
Conor Begley: In some ways as a category. So it's a fine-
Doug Sweeny: It's a fine line. And I would say the other thing too that's very different is if you think about those products, they usually are screen- based, so it's about the screen, it's talking to you, " Get up, we've noticed you've been sitting down for hours. Take more steps." It's constantly communicating. Oura is much more subtle, it fades a bit into the background and you drive the narrative from a technology standpoint, you engage with it through the app. So it's very subtle in a way, and I would say the credit I would give to that is where the company was born. It's actually born in Finland.
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Doug Sweeny: Incredible, right? Created in Oulu way up in the north and teams in Helsinki too. So it was created in the Nordics and the perspective in the language and the design and the use case and the way it's presented for consumers I think is different. It's more about balance in the way we live our lives and the way you interact with is just different than the way Apple is.
Conor Begley: 100%. So on that, you mentioned that phrase, I love it, " It gives you body a voice." I'm curious, you're close to 30 years into doing this, a long time as the kind of leader, 10- plus years as the official leader of the organizations, how do you think about distilling that message and getting down to something that's really simple, really easy for consumers to understand, to remember? What's your process like that? Was it already formed when you got there or no?
Doug Sweeny: No, it really wasn't. My role, I think in these size organizations, the thing I do love is I own a large portion of the business and the brand story. So this idea of brand and business is really important to me. Membership, retail, and the direct- to- consumer business rolls into me, and I have a partner, Dorothy Kilroy, who runs the commercial side and B2B, but when I started, I started in the fall of last year and I started asking onboarding with people and like, " What do you think the brand vision is and what do you think the story is and where are we going?" And I got a lot of different answers, to be honest with you. And U started talking to our CEO that I think we've got to go down a process of really getting to the heart of what Oura is all about in a very simple form. So we started in January, took us about three or four months. We interviewed people across the company, Finland, the US, looked at our qualitative and quantitative research, consumer research, and we came back to this idea that it's really about the device is a catalyst and it is about giving everybody a voice, and it was simple and an idea that was simple enough, true and authentic to what the product offering is, but something that everyone could rally around in the company. These things, you need a very simple idea and story that's authentic and true, true to the product, true to the brand, true to what consumers want, connects with culture. It's got to do all these things all at the same time, but that an engineer in Helsinki, or in Oulu, or in San Francisco, or New York, anybody, product person, a CX person talking to a consumer can actually be able to embody that spirit and understands what that means and how to communicate it. So it's now impacting everything we are doing. It's both employees, it's new employees, it's our partners. It'll start being infiltrated in advertising of course, but it is a process. We went through it at One Medical and I went through it at Nest too and led it. It's really critical foundationally to get the brand and the business firing on all cylinders and marching down to the same beat.
Conor Begley: Yeah. You talked a little bit about that process, but how do you actually get to like, " This is what it is"? Maybe an even better question is what is the outputs? So like, "Okay, we've come to this. What is the outputs that then anybody else is using to base that on?"
Doug Sweeny: Yeah. You start to one, it's getting support and endorsement. There's a core team that worked with me on it. I just didn't do it alone in any way. I mean the CEO, the chief product officer, I have a VP of marketing, she was involved. There's our head of operations, Michael Chapp, COO was involved. Getting the core team that has to support it and provide input on it. " Does this feel right?" We looked at a variety of different territories. One, it's getting that internal support. Next, it's going to the leadership team level and getting everybody to get excited about it. Does it work? And you're getting feedback in real time. What is the reaction? Are people believe this to be true? There's board- level presentations, and then it's marketing it to the employees. There's an onboarding, a constant flow of onboarding employees and onboarding partners. We have a partner flywheel, partners coming in all the time. They have to know and be able to articulate, we have to be able to articulate who we are. So there's brand books, there's video storytelling, there's brand identity. I mean, there's a ton of content once we were done in April that we have to build off of that to get it embedded in the company, it has to stick. So we created all that. It's all completed now ticked and tied, but it's a whole process. It's just a different consumer. The consumer happens to be its employees first and foremost. That's really where you're starting, and then it moves on beyond that to partners and other people you're engaged with.
Conor Begley: Well, because then they're living it, they're telling it, everybody's aligned.
Doug Sweeny: Yeah, it is because you're giving. I think the other thing, Conor, as you scale, you're gifting your brand as you work with Best Buy, you work with Gucci, you work with Strava, you work with John Lewis, pick a retailer in the UK, some retailer. They have to be able to embody and articulate clearly what your brand story is. So we have to be really crisp on who we are, and it has to be clearly understandable and true so that it is important beyond the Oura family, if you will.
Conor Begley: Were those kinds of partnerships something that you guys were investing in? I would imagine they were doing it prior to you getting there. Is that something that you've leaned into a lot more heavily? Because obviously you associate yourself with a brand like Gucci, it imbues a certain kind of perception of the brand, right?
Doug Sweeny: Yeah, absolutely. It's really critical to us. Doro, my partner on the business side, she's leading that and I work very, very closely with her, and the criteria for partners that we can come in is really important. So within very different verticals. So Natural Cycles as an example, is a women's health brand focused on fertility and planning. Because we have really good temperature if you marry that Natural Cycles app with our product, you know exactly when you're ovulating for women, it solves a real- world problem for them. Incredible partnership. Strava, pretty obvious. Our members were saying, " We want you to be integrated within Strava or Apple Health." We do that, that's really critical. Gucci did something very different. It introduced us to a whole new vertical audience. One, it was global. It's across 100- plus countries right around the world vertically, and you're moving into high fashion. So the answer to your question is it's something we can absolutely surprise and delight people by partnering with a variety of different brands globally in these different vertical use cases that we think are delivering on solving some consumer challenge. So the answer is yes. We're constantly, I mean, it's a big part of our business is who do we partner with next? And we have a lot of inbound, and then we are doing a lot of outbound ourselves to think about where do we want to make those connections. A good example too is Equinox, we announced, we haven't talked about exactly what that's going to look like, that's under wraps. We'll announce in the next month or so, but that's another example of a partnership. We're creating a specific product for them to their members. It's a nice partnership to like- minded brands and the way we message to people, but that's another example, more recent example of things we're doing.
Conor Begley: Yeah, I love that. I feel like brands can kind of exist in isolation at times or be afraid to associate themselves with other brands, and it's like, " Why?" You lean on their brand equity, they add a new element, distribution, etc.
Doug Sweeny: Absolutely.
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Doug Sweeny: It's a way to surprise and delight. It creates a lot of energy within the brand, a ton of earned media, of course, and then you're getting the brand in front of an entirely new audience, which is really fun and exciting.
Conor Begley: We'll do one last question about Oura and then some other questions. On that topic of earned media, and you talked a little bit earlier about brand love, these huge rabid fans, etc. What are some of the ways that you accelerate both that content creation as well as that two- way dialogue between these people that are talking about your online or they're just really rabid fans? What are the ways that you accelerate that or the ways that you invest in that as an organization?
Doug Sweeny: Great question. So one example on the product side, we introduced this product called Circles. It's really about empathy within your circle. So it's not about competition, so think your family, maybe your partner where you're able to share your scores, readiness, sleep activity and see how people are doing. So it's really about reaching out. We tested that product. The beta test was done within a cohort of members, so we have a testing group who are some of our most rabid fans, but they're helpful in helping us create products. So we're constantly in a listening mode on the product development side. That's one clear example. Another, we have a program called Refer a Friend, internally we call it RAF, where we curate products for you that are Oura branded and help you with your sleep in some way. So blue blocker glasses, sleep masks, we do have apparel. And we have these, I mean, we work with a very small selection of brands that work testing and curating products with them and figuring out how they fit into the Oura ecosystem and benefit consumers. And those we're pushing out four to five times a year in general that we're pushing out and curating those, and it's a member benefit and it's grown in popularity, and it's something that our members really, really love because that's not a coffee mug or simply a T- shirt or something like that. It's actually something that helps you, it helps support the product's mission. Those are two examples that I can think of, just top of mind. I guess we have one other one, Conor, I would say is we've partnered with influencers, we have back to athletes or wellness or folks who, because we have such a strong following, we have people coming to us frequently asking to support the brand. So we're also engaging, of course, in the digital and social sphere with a variety of different people across all different sports, vertical wellness, micro bloggers, moms, you name it, across the brand as part of our playbook.
Conor Begley: It's funny, I hadn't made that connection to athletes, but we actually had the founder of Therabody on here, Theragun on here.
Doug Sweeny: Yeah, for sure.
Conor Begley: Which again, is in a very similar space in a lot of ways. And it's like athletes, if anybody's paying attention to their body and the signals that their body's sending out, it's athletes. It feels like that's an area where you could lean in big time.
Doug Sweeny: Absolutely.
Conor Begley: Like big, big time.
Doug Sweeny: Absolutely. I mean, we have athletes like Lindsay Vonn, skiing, OBJ, Chris Paul, really pinnacle athletes. We have more vertical athletes like Kai Lenny on surfing, or Katie Ledecky, who's a swimmer competing in the Olympics, who are in smaller vertical sports. So the type of athlete that we are partnering with are slightly different than you'd find within clearly Red Bull or Nike. It's a different type of athlete. We want to make sure that they, I mean, they love the product and have used it in their daily performance in their life. It is more about balance, so that's really important to them. But yeah, it's a key part of our playbook in the way we go to market, for sure.
Conor Begley: Yeah. I mean, if you could lean into connecting, and I'm sure you're doing this already, but connecting those signals to performance gains, right? Yeah, it's fascinating and I feel like that's an angle. It's not really necessarily the positioning of the brand today, but I think it could be. I mean, it's just really interesting.
Doug Sweeny: But I'd also say, Conor, its roots were out of that. During COVID, what Oura did brilliantly was a partner with the NBA and WNBA. And the Bubble in Orlando, all those athletes had rings, and they were using it for early detection of increases in temperature on folks, and it was designed to be an early warning system, if you will, for any illness. We have roots in that area. This is from 2021 time period, but for sure.
Conor Begley: Okay. So let's talk a little bit about, talk about Oura. Let's go back to that branding question. So part of the reason I asked about that is one of the things that we're working through right now, so we combined with another company. We're like 40% of the revenue there, like 60% of the revenue, and it was a company that we're slightly competitive with at the time. So in some ways we're pitching against each other and then you come together, you have to create one identity, and I think it's just like, " Huh, well."
Doug Sweeny: "How does this work?" Right.
Conor Begley: "I was just telling people that you were dumb, and now I have to tell them inaudible."
Doug Sweeny: My best friend. Can I ask you one clarifying question? Brands are not going to sit distinctly within this holding company inaudible.
Conor Begley: As right now they're two separate brands, but they're coming together under a single brand, so that's happening kind of currently. So anyway, so it's just interesting to think about what's that process? How do we define ourselves in this new world where we are together? So it's interesting to hear your talk there, and I know obviously you've gone through two fairly large acquisitions. Obviously you're not combining brands. Those brands have very much remained distinct in a lot of ways, but what have been your learnings through those post- acquisition processes? What did you observe? What were some of the mistakes that you made? What were some of the things you're like, " Oh, if I were to do it again, these were things, or if I were to recommend somebody do it, well, this is what I'd recommend to them"? How do you think about that?
Doug Sweeny: Yeah. I mean, the Nest example was interesting because we were acquired as a subsidiary within Google. The brand, I think Google really respected what we had built at Nest, and they wanted it to be separate, so it got moved to Alphabet. So it's sat in its own separate ecosystem, if you will, with Waymo and Google Ventures and those brands that were scaling. And then once it got up to a plate that said it was more mature, it moved into the Google brand. And you see it today, it's Google Nest. It's not called Nest anymore by itself. It is a branded Google brand within that family. So I do think it changed, but being really clear about who we were versus Google was really important and was one of the key reasons, of course, our engineering prowess and product, but it was really important to the way we showed up. I think it starts with deeply understanding the strengths and weaknesses and who you are. I think this starts internally with the two companies that you described are moving together and where is the synergy? I mean, where it is and being able to articulate the personalities, the vision, how those two brands show up. But then it also has to be pressure tested against what the media or consumers feel. You can create what you think it is internally, and if it's not authentic to the way the media believes you should show up, then I think that's going to be a challenge, you're going to be pitching something that's not entirely believable, but there's got to be some synergy between the two as they come together. If they're that different, then that may be more of a challenge long term. I don't want to inaudible. I wish you luck on this. But yeah.
Conor Begley: Yeah, no, I think, again, going back to our example, we're both very much in the influencer creator economy, very different categories. There's a lot of synergy between the businesses. I think-
Doug Sweeny: Yeah. I would use an example, One Medical, it stayed the same throughout. Our approach to primary care and sort of reinventing and transforming healthcare. We acquired a Medicare company and just aged it up, and then we started doing pediatric care for young families and babies. The strategy still worked across that entire, it didn't have to change. I think within the Nest example, it was much more complex because Google saw the value in Nest as partnering with Pixel, and then they wanted to move it closer to that brand. So a lot of the brand identity did have to change as that decision was made within Google leadership at that time. So it was just different, very different.
Conor Begley: Yeah, I feel like it's not uncommon too. I feel like often acquisitions happen. It's like we're just going to keep this totally separate, and it's like, " Kind of inaudible."
Doug Sweeny: Yeah, it's an adventure. I mean, acquisitions are. And for us at Nest, it changed every six months, three months, it started changing. Alphabet happened only midstream. I mean, we were a totally separate brand. First we were in Google brand totally, we had our own campus and operated separately, and then Alphabet happened and we moved out, and this has been written about, Tony wrote about this. I mean, we had to own our revenue in a different way. The way the accounting was set up, it just changed. And then the last phase of that was the acquisition and the hard move into the Pixel brand, the hardware brand run by Rick Osterloh and it just changed. But it evolved, the story was ever- changing. I do think that's a common theme in these acquisitions is they change. What you think is going to happen, may not happen in the end. Yeah.
Conor Begley: Yeah. We've definitely had people come to us be like, " I thought we were doing this." It's like, " Well, we were."
Doug Sweeny: "Not This week."
Conor Begley: "Why didn't we do that sooner?" I'm like, " I wish I had a better answer."
Doug Sweeny: That's good.
Conor Begley: I don't know. It's my first one going through it, so I'm still, I need a couple under my belt, I think.
Doug Sweeny: That's good.
Conor Begley: So in addition to doing your kind of CMO role, over the last couple of years, you've taken on a lot of advisory roles, right? So you've kind of dialed up a handful of those.
Doug Sweeny: Yeah.
Conor Begley: I'm curious one, what made you decide to start investing in those? I do that, I was on a board of a company that just got acquired. I'm doing some pretty hands- on advising to a couple other businesses, and it can be, it's real time if you're actually doing a good job of it. How do you think about that kind of balance and what made you decide to start investing on the advisory side as well as a full- time role?
Doug Sweeny: For sure. I think one of the things you do lose when you go from an agency role, like a consulting role, you're working across a variety of different businesses. Your mind is fresh because you're working across peril, footwear, tech, whatever it is, it's just different. It's constantly pivoting, you're having to pivot into an industry. When you're just focused on one industry for a number of years, I think you can lose some of that excitement or intellectual stimulation, if you will, on thinking about solving a new problem. So I enjoy it because it allows me to think about something else beyond primary care or rings outside. It's also something I limit my amount of time. It's got to be well- defined, but can you, and I'm also careful about how I make those decisions. Is it something I think I can get behind? I believe in the product. I can actually help that, the CEO or founder or CMO, at what stage are they at? It's something that I do spend a good amount of time thinking through, " Is this something I want to do?" But also it has guardrails on it because I have a full- time job. Oura is a busy place and we've got a lot going on, but it's mostly about that. For me, it's about keeping my mind fresh and thinking about solving business or marketing problems in a different way through a different product or service.
Conor Begley: Do you recommend that kind of agency route to others? Because obviously you can start in- house, you can start at an agency, you chose that route. Is that something that you think was important to your test?
Doug Sweeny: That's a really good question. There's a lot of young people that I do try to advise and mentor, and I do think it was really helpful for me. I think it gave me incredible perspective. Everything from the wine business, to energy bars, to audio systems, and you see from the inside out. I mean, a lot of those marketing roles, you're working across the sales leader, the CEO, the founder, the CMO. You're getting exposure to the deep workings of a company. I found it incredibly helpful. The cultures are also fun and exciting as well, and you're pitching business on top of it. In that stage of my life, I absolutely loved it. I think it's an incredible opportunity before you move client side. I think if you just start client side in a corporate role, I think it's a very different experience and I think people in the consultancy side would say the same thing. So the answer is I think yes, I think it's a great jumping off. I think that the downside is what I found is I wanted to own more of the experience beyond just the advertising piece. There's communications. All of a sudden, the growth lovers where you start really owning revenue. You're not just doing pure comms, you're in charge of revenue, membership revenue, hardware revenue, etc. The retail experience, how does that show up, the digital, the dotcom experience? So I think what I liked about scaling to client side is you're in charge of the whole experience and can help bring your experience to bear across all these different vehicles, yeah. But I think it's a great entry point. I really do.
Conor Begley: Yeah, it's interesting. Obviously we're a firm that is working directly with clients. We have clients, we have our own brand as well, which is actually quite important. But you get a breadth of experience that's quite valuable. And I think in a lot of ways, I feel like you have to work a little harder when you're an agency, you're putting your work in.
Doug Sweeny: Totally. There's no place to hide in an agency. I mean, you're only as good as the work you're doing for that client, and you can be let go at any point in time. I mean, it really is a trial by fire. It's a hard job. I have a ton of respect for folks who continue to do it day in and day out because challenging. There's no place to hide. And if the business goes, that's it. I mean, that's happened to me multiple times agency side, the business disappears and you're onto the next thing. So yeah.
Conor Begley: Yeah. Well, let's do one fun end of show question. So you've joined startups. I'm curious, if you had to start a startup, do you have any ideas what that would be or even a category that you would want to do it in? That would be-
Doug Sweeny: That's interesting. This is totally top of mind. This is a random one, but I'll say it. So I mean, I love Micro Beers, and IPAs, and things like that, and Anchor Steam in San Francisco, this hallmark brand, it just disappeared like three days ago.
Conor Begley: Like, " What just happened?"
Doug Sweeny: "How didthis happen?" I mean, there's a lot of competition, so it's like how many hazy IPAs are there in the world? There's a ton of these things now, but this was the originator, one of the really original micro brews in the US and definitely in San Francisco. And there's groups of people who are trying to go and buy it in various forms. And the last two days I've thought, " Boy, that would be a really interesting thing to go help them out." Not that I'm going to leave my Oura job, but it could be a device inaudible.
Conor Begley: You got to resuscitate it.
Doug Sweeny: I mean, resuscitate, but it's got this incredible story. The Anchor Steam story is incredible, and how do you reinvent that and connect it with what's going on with beer and tasting and culture today I think is a really powerful thing. It's sort of an old meets new, can you bring a new marketing playbook to bear on that business? But I literally was just thinking about this last night. That could be really interesting.
Conor Begley: Yeah. I mean, it's begging to be resuscitated, right?
Doug Sweeny: It really is.
Conor Begley: And it's like the beer is great, the product's great. I thought you could see they were flailing when they did that weird rebrand. The cover, the bottle.
Doug Sweeny: The rebrand. Conor, you nailed it. The rebrand was really not good. I mean, it was really unfortunate because the labeling and the packaging was so iconic. The brewery is incredible. I mean, I've been there and done a tour there. It's amazing. But it's this sort of diamond in the rough gem that just didn't survive, but I think it's going to see another day. I'm pretty bullish on it, but I think that'd be a fun one.
Conor Begley: Yeah, that'd be awesome. Well, I really appreciate you taking out the time, Doug. Congrats again on all the success. Excited to see what you do with Oura. And the day that it gets bought for$ 3 billion by Apple, I won't be surprised.
Doug Sweeny: And we got to get a ring on you.
Conor Begley: I will buy one after the show. 100%.
Doug Sweeny: Okay, sounds good.
Conor Begley: Thanks, Doug.
Doug Sweeny: All right, Conor. Great talking to you.
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In today’s episode of Earned, we sit down with Oura CMO Doug Sweeny, whose marketing prowess helped drive the $3B+ acquisitions of Nest Labs and One Medical. We start the episode by digging into this success, and hear the qualities Doug looks for before joining a company. Doug emphasizes his interest in companies that are solving real-world problems, and shares his experience working at One Medical during the peak of the pandemic. We then learn what attracted Doug to Oura, before hearing how the company navigates the tech ecosystem and integrates with tech giant Apple. Next, we dive into Doug’s process for crafting Oura’s simple yet compelling brand message of “giving every body a voice,” and discuss the importance of aligning the company around this message. Doug also explains how Oura’s clear mission has helped in establishing partnerships with companies like Strava, Gucci, Best Buy, and Equinox. We switch gears and learn how Oura facilitates content creation among its “rabid fans” and members by introducing new offerings like Circles and the “Refer a Friend” program, as well as partnerships with athletes and wellness influencers. Doug shares how the company constantly leverages its member community for beta testing and product development feedback. To close the show, Doug walks us through why he enjoys taking on advisory roles for other companies outside of Oura, and reveals what kind of startup he’d enjoy leading next.
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