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Thomas O’Malley: “Never give it away”

Never give it away. Once you give your product away, you will never be able to charge for it. A free pilot means the customer won’t value it and then the pilot invariably fails. I had the pleasure to interview Tom O’Malley is founder and CEO of Currnt, a marketing intelligence startup that uses AI […]

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Never give it away. Once you give your product away, you will never be able to charge for it. A free pilot means the customer won’t value it and then the pilot invariably fails.


I had the pleasure to interview Tom O’Malley is founder and CEO of Currnt, a marketing intelligence startup that uses AI to recruit on-demand, curated teams of experts for virtual focus groups and ongoing advisory boards. Tom launched Currnt in 2015 while living in Palo Alto, and fulfilled his vision for the company to be fully remote and 90% gig in 2018. Prior to Currnt, he held various senior leadership positions at Oracle, Avaya and Qwest Communications. Tom received his MBA from the University of Chicago — Booth School of Business and his bachelor’s degree in business from Emory University — Goizueta Business School. As a demonstration of the work-from-anywhere culture, Tom resides in the resort town of Coronado, Calif. with his wife and two daughters.

About Currnt: Currnt is the world’s first knowledge-networking platform that connects curated groups of professionals and brands for accelerated innovation and marketing. The company’s proprietary technology allows clients to leverage AI to source bespoke professional groups and sponsor facilitated online focus groups and ongoing advisory boards that yield actionable insights, credible thought leadership, and relevant relationships, simultaneously with little effort and great reliability. Currnt works with more than 75 companies across major industries, including technology, healthcare, consumer products and professional services. The company was launched in 2015 in Palo Alto, Calif. and today is fully-remote with 5 full time employees and more than 30,000 gig participants. For more information, visit www.currnt.com.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Twenty years in large enterprise taught me that companies tend not to engage with their market in meaningful ways and miss huge and sometimes obvious opportunities. After seven years in a strategy role at Oracle, I became convinced companies need to learn faster by collaborating with their market. They say if you are bothered about something enough, you have to create a startup to solve the problem…so I did.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I met my first investor in the parking lot of a restaurant on Sand Hill Road. An ex pro NFL’r, he is a physically massive man and I made some comment about how his car fit him like a glove. Continuing idle chat on our way into the restaurant, we ended up at the bar together and had a few drinks and laughs. Turned out we were both from Cleveland, and shared similar values. I stayed in touch with him for a couple months, until finally he took a meeting to hear more about my business. Today, he is still my most active investor and advisor, and we have become great friends.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think it’s the fundamental and practical need we solve for: companies need to talk to their market. Yes, we use some really cool technology to find and engage them, but the idea is really quite simple…companies should engage their professional target market, learn from them and leverage their voice in their marketing. Sprinklr engaged over 100 CMOs across a whole year, they conducted 24 market studies, received over 80 pieces of content, and generated 300 Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs). There is so much ROI in talking to your market that it deserves to be an always-on practice.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We saw LinkedIn Groups fail to keep people engaged, and we think we know how to do that over time. We are experimenting with a new mode of engagement that allows for experts to assemble around professional topics, generate timely insights together, and get recognized in personalized reports. We think it will help people stay fresh and relevant in their professions.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?

I think success for me happened when I stopped caring about the outcome of my work, but rather the importance and my enjoyment of the journey. There is a myth that a startup yields overnight success and therefore many get frustrated when they are in year four and still have not exited. When I started to see that success is the freedom to do what I love, then I realized I was already a success.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Focus on the journey, not the destination you expect or hope for.

How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?

Marketing is the relationship you have with the customers/partners you seek to have and retain. I think the old way of thinking is to “target” your market. That lens puts you at odds with the market, like a cat-mouse relationship. Instead, if one sees it as a relationship, then it moves the thinking from a transactional perspective to an empathetic one.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

At risk of sounding predictable, clearly my spouse is the unsung hero related to my journey. We have made many life decisions together that gives me the ability to pursue business goals, but most important is the patience and faith in the journey itself. Doing a startup is REALLY REALLY hard; I really cannot imagine it possible without 100% support at home.

Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners?

Well I only really know B2B, but for me, nothing is more powerful than authentic outreach over the phone. Yes, the phone. Newer generations are afraid of it, and too many avoid calling their customer and having a candid discussion about value. In spite of all the logos on the martech posters, I don’t think there is anything more powerful than the old voice-box.

What are your “5 Non Intuitive Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses”? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. There is no one coming to save you: We realized early on, there was not going to be one customer, investor, employee, or vendor that was going to save us. We had to figure it out ourselves.
  2. Never give it away. Once you give your product away, you will never be able to charge for it. A free pilot means the customer won’t value it and then the pilot invariably fails.
  3. Make time to know how your customers think today…not yesterday. Times are changing so fast. Just as our needs have changed, so have your customers…keep it fresh.
  4. They say, “Figures lie and liars figure,” anecdotes are not over-celebrated. If one person said it, then 200 were thinking it. Be authentic while finding your uniqueness.
  5. Don’t underestimate a good spreadsheet. Sometimes more tech just hides the truth. We moved off CRM and into spreadsheets and life is simpler and transparency makes for accountability.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Say no to leaf blowers…pick up a broom and stop blowing it around. It may sound silly (cuz it is) but I think they typify a larger flaw in society that I’d like to see change: the “I don’t care about the noise and dust I create as long as my little patch of life is cleaner.” There is a lack of awareness and empathy we all should have for each other. I’m not sure leaf blowers would be my platform necessarily.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you catch it, see a doctor and get rid of it.” Just kidding, but I love “The Jerk” with Steve Martin. I don’t have any “life lesson quote,” but I do spend a lot of time listening and learning from older people who have lived a full journey. I had a paper route as a kid through a senior community (I had way more customer churn than any of my friends). It also took me twice as long because my customers liked to bend my ear. It just stuck from there…I still enjoy listening to the infinite paths people take through life.

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