Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it is the best place to start looking. A lot of what we think about is that “correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it is the best place to start looking.” A lack of correlation, however, indicates a lack of causality. So you can eliminate a lot of things that just aren’t working for marketing performance and spend. Like the old adage: “I know half my marketing dollars are wasted. I wish I knew which half.” Alembic can start telling you which half.
New technologies have changed the way we engage in and watch sports. Sensors, Wearable Tech, Video Assistant Referees (VAR), and Instant Replay, are examples of new technologies that have changed the way we play and watch sports. In this interview series called, “The Future of Sports; New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports,” we are talking to sports leaders, athletes, sports tech experts, and sports equipment companies who can talk about the new technologies that are reshaping the sports world.
As a part of this interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tomás Puig.
Tomás Puig is the Founder CEO of the San Francisco based startup Alembic Technologies, Inc. and Managing Director of Test Kitchen Capital; a seed phase venture fund.
His career started in film and advertising where his projects won 4 National Addys and 2 Cannes Clios. He then transitioned in-house as a CMO with a technical bent for some of the world’s fastest-growing companies — WP Engine (acq. Silver Lake), Cambium Networks (IPO), Emarsys (Growth Stage), Ceres Imaging (B round), before founding Alembic Technologies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I really had a wandering path in my teens and 20s. My first ever job was at a vintage guitar store where I was far too young to be technically working. I mostly cleaned up used amps and guitars for resale. My more corporate career launched at the NASA Ames Research Center in web development and security at the age of 15. They stuck me in a concrete box with no windows for a year and I decided I hated it. My creative side beckoned me into film and advertising and honestly, I got lucky. My first clients were a small company at the time called Facebook and then Namco Video Games. I didn’t transition to in-house until my 30s and later became a CMO. At the time, it was pretty rare to have a technical bent for some of the world’s fastest-growing companies — WP Engine (acq. Silver Lake), Cambium Networks (IPO), Emarsys (Growth Stage), Ceres Imaging (B round), before founding Alembic Technologies.
Other experiences include two years as a Bollywood filmmaker, singing opera, culinary training in San Francisco and Paris, ongoing adventures in race tracking motorcycles (KTM preferred), collecting manga and anime, and running my underground dinner party series.
Honestly, my philosophy is to be curious and strive to achieve mastery in any field you love. The work will follow the mastery.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I worked in Bollywood for a couple of years for one of the major film families. I mostly produced and did special effects supervision at the time.
One time, we were shooting at a palace in Jaipur and everything was going wrong. The generators went down. There was a sandstorm that shut down production. The food was two hours delayed. It was awful.
Suddenly, almost the entire crew decided the set was cursed. There was a full on strike! I’d never seen anything like it. In the end, we had to bring in someone to spiritually cleanse the set before anyone would continue. After the cleanse, everything went perfectly. Who knows? Maybe it was cursed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Almost all anger comes from fear.”
When a partner, employee, vendor, or friend becomes angry, it can be a reflection of the most stressful things in someone’s life. I now stop and think about what they are afraid of. How do I see and understand that fear so that we can address the root of the issue at hand?
As an example, someone may be very angry about a release schedule. Where’s the fear behind their anger? Are they afraid of not meeting the production deadline? Are they afraid of the quality of the product? Find the source of the fear and you can solve the problems now and in the future.
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?
My best friend Ben Metcalfe is really responsible for me working in startups and technology today. Back when I worked at large digital agencies, I never considered running an entire department “in-house”. He really gave me my first opportunity to run an entire department at WP Engine and I learned a huge amount from him. He even convinced the other leadership that I was the right person for the job even though I didn’t have the background they expected.
He also taught me to look at people for what they could be, how well they think and process, and their will to push through hard tasks. No need for pedigree or degrees.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’m going to go off the reservation here and reply with a couple pieces of media that I always come back to.
I probably listen to Ira Glass speak on the creative process often
“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.
Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.”
Everyone asks “how did you get here?” like we magically just arrived someday full of knowledge and skill. I wish people would talk more about the absolute terror that comes with learning something that you have great expectations for.
Another piece of media I constantly come back to us David Skok’s SaaS 2.0
If you work in technology, or any business with repeatable revenue and customers, it’s like the Bible for Go To Market metrics.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I was lucky enough to be involved in a round table discussion with the storied executive Barry Diller. For those that don’t know him, he oversaw launches of hit TV shows including “Cheers” and “The Simpsons.” He also founded and runs huge companies like Expedia and Vimeo.
But what Barry is most known for is picking talent from his ranks and raising amazing executives. They are nicknamed “The Killer Dillers.”
Michael Eisner (Disney CEO), Jerry Katzenberg (Dreamworks), Dara Khosrowshahi (CEO Uber) were all his picks.
So we asked him “What the heck do you look for?”
He said two things I’ll never forget.
“Are they curious? And are they willful?”
Curious. Not innovative, not smart, not a hustler. But an unbridled passion to learn new things, to seek out what’s broken, and discover new ideas.
Willful. Perhaps it’s willpower to withstand people saying ‘No’ dozens of times when trying to fund a company like Alembic back when we were just a presentation and two people. Or maybe it’s the ability to speak truth to power and follow your ideals.
Nowadays, I always consider these two things when I’m evaluating staff. Curiosity and willfulness.
The third can be my love of cooking. Dinner parties are a great way to meet new friends and potential employees.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Last year, the Alembic team arranged N95 masks for UCSF Medical and some local non-profits that fed the homeless in San Francisco where we’re based. It was the height of the pandemic and we were able to import and direct them to the right places. We never spoke about it much publicly, but we always try to do what we can.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the sports technologies that most excite you at the moment? Can you explain why you are passionate about it?
You know, this has been a really hard 18 months for sports. COVID has caused drastic changes, and I don’t think they are going away. The smartest leagues, teams, and even athletes have seen these changes as a way to find better technologies and techniques to engage, excite, and work with fans. The three I think we are just starting to see the power of is social media as a broadcast, blockchain, and ‘big data’ for sports.
Everyone is obviously talking about NFTs, but the ‘boring’ use cases, like ticketing to reduce fraud, are super interesting and high value for fans. The one I think I am most excited about is social media being used as a broadcast platform. We saw this start pre-COVID and it has just exploded over the last 18 months.
Everyone knows that younger audiences want snackable content. They might have the game on in the background but are watching highlights on their phones or chatting or watching TikTok videos at the same time. So how do teams interact with these fans across all these different platforms and how do they keep up when it’s evolving so fast? That change is both exciting and nerve wracking for the entire sports ecosystem, including for sponsors!
That brings me to my third, and admittedly a little biased, exciting bit of technology. Fast big data analytics for all of this. We are seeing that smart teams are constantly on the lookout for competitive edges both in the business office and on the pitch. Very fast and as close to real-time as possible analytics are the cutting edge secret weapon for the commercial side of the business. The computing power and technology being brought to bear on this problem in sports right now is really impressive and exciting for how everyone in the ecosystem engages with fans and really personalizes and instruments specific content for specific fan cohorts to give them exactly what they want, how they want it, and when they want it.
How do you think this might change the world of sports?
Technology like NFTs allow fans to be directly engaged and ‘own’ a piece of their favorite team and theoretically their favorite moment in that team’s history. We are going to see more and more of this, deeper, more passionate, but also more fickle engagement. Fans, especially younger ones, don’t understand why every brand isn’t totally personalized, why all content isn’t available on demand and cross channel, and why it all isn’t readily findable for free. They don’t understand broadcast rights, or care about them, as we all know. This will have to drive massive change in the sports ecosystem. Broadcast agreements and sponsorship strategies as well as content creation and measurement are all being looked at, and the answers people are coming up with are super exciting. The big question I hear over and over is how do I measure it, value it, and ultimately have it add value to the team and sponsors? That challenge is the one my team and I are personally really passionate about solving.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
I loved Black Mirror, I think anyone who works in technology and marketing had a love hate relationship with the show. We can see the seeds of so much of that show just in today’s everyday world right?
At Alembic we think and talk about daily one to one ‘creepy’ marketing tracking. The more we know about the individual the better we can deliver on point content and advertising, but also the more we invade people’s privacy. From your first click in social media looking at something all the way to buying a blockchain ticket, to walking through the gates of the ballpark, then video cameras measuring wait times in line for a beer, it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to connect PII to ticket to face to spending patterns and even credit card numbers.
We need to embrace anonymizing data and working with pools of aggregated data to preserve privacy and lower these risks.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the sports industry today? Can you explain? What can be done to address or correct those concerns?
- The recent NIL NCAA decision, while a long time coming, is ripe for abuse, and also ripe to change the way professional teams look at recruitment and the draft. What keeps a local booster with a business from asking for a social media post and overpaying by 10x? And with student athletes now able to monetize their fame, they have every reason to, and encouragement, to increase their influence. For sure that influence will need to be measured and included into that athlete’s contract value. Obviously, this will add another complex layer to all aspects of successful team building and the commercial side of the ecosystem as well. Transparency and accountability are the clearest ways to address these, it is actually part of why I built Alembic.
- On the subject of accountability, I personally love seeing athletes stand up for the things they believe in. I have always felt that athletics can be a force for real leadership and change and we are seeing that more and more. Whether it is USWNT standing up for equal pay, Simone Biles stepping away in Tokyo, or Phelps coming out to talk about his struggles with depression. They have each used their personal platforms and taken these conversations mainstream. I know this is a technology conversation, but I think it is changes in technology that have really facilitated these athletes’ abilities to have these conversations and this level of impact. Something we are seeing now with social media is the ability for fans to be a direct fan of a player, not just a team, and maybe not a fan of the team at all, but just the player. While it can be a force for some real good, it’s also a giant shift of thinking in sports and it calls for some very creative shifts in thinking about the entire sport commercial ecosystem. Technology and transparency are helping here again. But to some extent, we need to upgrade the way we think as much as the technology we use.
- Obviously with COVID, it would be disingenuous to not talk about how teams and fans engage with each other and the stadium. Teams spend huge amounts of time, emotion, money, thought, and effort creating the most amazing stadium experiences possible. My local baseball team, the SF Giants, have one of the most incredible urban stadiums on the waterfront I’ve ever seen. Building it literally revitalized the entire China Basin neighborhood, but with COVID we all have had to rethink how we stay safe, still consume sports content, and stay faithful to our beloved teams. We can talk about OTT, apps and new ways to engage all we want, but we all know nothing compares to sitting in a stadium and watching a match. Teams are really embracing technology to help, from the most mundane like GIANT ventilation units that exchange all the air 5 times an hour, to machine vision to watch lines backing up and advise people to go to other locations for snacks, to completely digital ticketing and in-stadium commerce. All of these strategies help reduce the possibility and spread of COVID and are being used more and more now.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it is the best place to start looking. A lot of what we think about is that “correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it is the best place to start looking.” A lack of correlation, however, indicates a lack of causality. So you can eliminate a lot of things that just aren’t working for marketing performance and spend. Like the old adage: “I know half my marketing dollars are wasted. I wish I knew which half.” Alembic can start telling you which half.
- You need a long history of data to build your discoveries against
This reconstruction and forecasting requires months of data, and customers with a sufficiently large enough audience to make these discoveries against. Our public companies and major league teams provide a stronger sample to build against than my personal profile with 5,000 followers. For an enterprise organization on our platform , this data-set typically runs billions of rows a year.
- Just having data stored is not the same as gaining actionable intelligence. We also knew a lot of our friends and leaders in enterprise businesses, sports, media, and CPG who were struggling with the volume and quality of data coming into their go-to-market teams. They’d have these huge CDPs, CRM, and data lakes that they were just drowning in. Even if they had the ability to ingest large data sets, they could not acquire actionable intelligence. It is like owning a huge gold mine that produces only ore but having no refinery to create the actual beautiful metal.
- Quality of data into your systems will determine how much you can learn from it. Another example is an internal, proprietary machine-learning based forecasting tool which uses our unique dataset to provide reliable predictions for customers. This dataset is reconstructed from the moving totals of social media metrics, providing insights previously unavailable. Without this reconstruction process, Alembic would be unable to offer high-quality predictions.
This reconstruction and forecasting requires months of data, and customers with a sufficiently large enough audience to make these discoveries against. Our public companies and major league teams provide a stronger sample to build against than my personal profile with 5,000 followers.
- It’s all about the right people
You’re not going to learn anything if you don’t have the right staff to build things with.
You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂
To destigmatize mental health treatment and management. I’ve have founder friends commit suicide or just crack at the seams. Sometimes a friend will complain and make fun of therapy. I ask, “You go to the gym to work on your body right? Why not have a therapist to work on your mind.”
We work our best when we manage and balance our mental health. Get a therapist if you are able.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Barry Diller would be top of my list today. He really knows how to identify and grow talent.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow on Twitter @tomascooking or follow our blog at getalembic.com/blog
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!