I had the pleasure of interviewing Fayez Mohamood, Co-Founder and CEO at Bluecore, a retail marketing company whose AI-driven platform brings together website, customer and live product insights to match customers with the products they love. While working directly with a few retailers at a company in the loyalty space, Fayez found that many of them were pretty good at working with customer behaviors, but they were missing out on managing and driving value from their online product catalog. Fayez co-founded Bluecore based on the hypothesis that connecting behaviors and identity to a live product catalog could be the core of a new type of retail marketing platform, one which triggers communications in real time and makes predictions that drive retail outcomes such as increased lifetime value and repeat purchases. Today, hundreds of brands and retailers, including Teleflora, Vineyard Vines, Staples and Best Buy Canada, use Bluecore to drive increased revenue with less effort.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My parents are from India, but I was born and raised in Qatar and lived there for 18 years before moving to the United States in 1999 for college. I studied electrical and computer engineering in college and grad school and started my career as a microprocessor performance engineer at IBM and AMD. Even though it may seem far from what I’m doing today, a lot of the data processing challenges and designing of systems that drive marketing performance are reflected in my work at Bluecore.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We were once in a meeting with a top 10 retailer in the US. We had just 15 employees and about 20 or so smaller retailers as customers at the time. We took the meeting as an opportunity to learn, with the assumption that we’d never win the deal given that our product and team were still pretty early stage. We were meeting with a committee that was evaluating other solutions besides ours, including Salesforce, Oracle and a few other industry-standard solutions. We were very frank about our strengths, but also direct and open about our weaknesses even though we knew we could build against the other solutions. That said, we didn’t need such a big customer at the time. A few days later they called us and told us they wanted to award us the contract — and our champion specifically cited the fact that we were the company that said “no” the most and “I don’t know” the most. They appreciated our strong viewpoints on innovation and the frankness around the lack of capabilities within our platform. Our doing so built trust, especially when compared to the bigger vendors that typically promise the moon and under-deliver. We ended up winning the deal and that customer enabled us to scale the vision and ambition of our company faster than we’d have done otherwise.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When it comes to diversity, our executive team is 45 percent female if you include our three male co-founders and more than 70 percent female if you exclude the co-founders. For a software company at any stage in the country, this is 3–4 times the benchmark for male-founded companies and more than 2 times higher than female-founded companies. This is especially remarkable given that both my co-founder and I grew up in very conservative environments and went to all-boys schools. Growing up in these environments left us with a deep desire to build appropriate representation on our team so we could drive forward with greater perspective. I am very proud of this.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
There is something new every quarter. This quarter I’m most excited about building our partnerships strategy with different key players in the marketing software landscape.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Employees today want to be introspective and grow outside of their core skill sets. Startups give you the opportunity to learn a lot in a short amount of time across different functions. In addition, founders and CEOs need to spend more time learning classical management concepts around being direct and timely regarding feedback, so their employees can reduce the time it takes for them to become better versions of themselves.
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?
Too many to name, but if I had to pick one it would be my grad school advisor at Georgia Tech. He had such a high bar for the quality of the work we produced and built the confidence in me to tackle the most difficult technical problems by breaking them down one step at a time. I constantly find myself in situations where I can’t make left from right and top from bottom when running a high-growth company, and the mindset he instilled in me allows me to be constructive when problem solving.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Not as much as I’d like, and I hope to spend more time doing that over the next decade. One thing I’m doing right now is mentoring a startup founder who has a life-threatening ailment. I lost my kid brother to a chronic health issue last year and I have learned a ton from seeing how he focused on the important things in life and getting through college and work. The perspective I have from that experience and building a startup is something I’m trying to bring to the brave founders who are running startups while dealing with their personal health. I hope to do more in that arena during the coming years.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. A diverse team can improve your ability to recruit and fill critical roles in the organization that are imperative to sustaining high growth. Our diversity, especially on the executive team, is a big driver of our growth.
2. High-growth companies thrive on the accuracy and frequency of critical decision making. More perspective from diverse teams and schools of thoughts offers the ability to drive better decision making that can make or break the growth trajectory of companies.
3. Diverse teams are much better equipped to scale internationally, which many companies do in order to reach a larger addressable market. As Bluecore considers expanding internationally, having people who have different experiences and backgrounds becomes key for scaling abroad.
4. Diverse teams do much better at understanding the nuances of different customer bases. For instance, we serve retailers that serve consumers of different genders, locations, lifestyles and so on. Having a diverse team allows us to understand their needs and serve them better.
5. Diverse teams are generally more productive and effective. Fostering an environment where everyone is comfortable to try things and fail with the support and guidance of others allows people to fulfill their professional potential and thus makes them more productive as colleagues and employees.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem.
Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding, sports, and entertainment read this column. Is there a person whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Ben Horowitz, a co-founder and general partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Originally published at medium.com