Using AI for Better Customer Engagement with Debjani Deb from ZineOne

Smart tech is all grown up and fully integrated into our society and culture. This evolution comes with a set of expectations on what a consumer experience should be: fast, mobile, smart, and able to meet and engage with you wherever you are. Many businesses are catching up to this new era of data and digital.

Debjani Deb is helping them with her company ZineOne, which offers an intelligent customer engagement platform that harnesses innovative technology to understand the customer in-the-moment and deliver a customized experience.

ZineOne is relied upon by major national brands, including Kohl’s, Crate & Barrel, The North Face, and JoS. A. Bank.

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Debjani is the co-founder of ZineOne, a predictive engagement company that helps brands engage consumers in-the-moment using their real-time context. Previously, she was the co-founder of EmPower which was sold to Genpact (NYSE G) and the Worldwide CSO at GCI, a WPP company. She has also worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, ONI systems, Mayan Networks, and AT&T Bell Labs. Ms. Deb has an MBA from MIT and an MS from Stanford University.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Debjani Deb 0:00
The data being the new oil and all of that. And, you know, you need to get your data, right. I agree with all of that. But I think over a decade, the page has turned today, the pages on intelligence, you know, how do you take that data that we talked about for a decade, and make intelligent decisions and intelligent, intelligent actions?

Alexander Ferguson 0:26
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our apply tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Today, I’m joined by my guests that Debjani Deb, who’s based in Saratoga, California, she’s the CEO of ZineOne. Welcome to Debjani, good to have you on. great to be on. Now, ZineOne, if I understand correctly, is an intelligent customer engagement platform, your focus is in the enterprise market really helping in that real time marketing space for e commerce helping enterprise companies get more understanding of what their customers are doing and are wanting to purchase? I have that correct?

Debjani Deb 1:03
Yes. So essentially, when we started, what we look forward to addressing was that, that the world is going to a real time world with what I mean by that, as brands and consumers interact, there is an expectation from the likes of Uber, and others like that the challengers that are in the market, if you would, that brands need to understand the consumer in that moment, you need to understand the consumer in that moment, you need to react with value added interactions in the moment. And that’s sort of the bar if you would, that has been set. So what we wanted to do was, we wanted to define the next generation of an engagement platform that allows brands in an omni channel way to interact with their consumer wherever they’re in a location sensitive, environment sensitive, context sensitive, very highly intelligent way. And that’s really what we set out to solve. And today we are in market with an enterprise grade product that allows you to do that.

Alexander Ferguson 2:25
What would you say is the challenge that the real issue that your enterprise clients are facing and that you’re looking to solve? What does that challenge that feeling?

Debjani Deb 2:34
I think there is a there is a step function difference between what what I call the challenger mentality, sort of the next generation, New Age brands that have come in and set the bar. Uber is a good example of it. You know, there are lots of brands in music, in retail, you know, wayfair, others that have grown up in a internet, first mobile, first world, and they have created the expectation from the consumer, that you know, me, Wherever I am, the traditional brands, you know, the brands we love, and have known for a decade or two Macy’s, Nordstrom Bank of America and every vertical really are under pressure to be able to meet those consumer expectations, because I have an app on my phone, that’s a Uber app and a Spotify app. And then I have the Bank of America. And I am not really thinking that there are two different genres, my expectation is that meet my need Wherever I am, in the same way. So that’s really the need that how do you take the traditional brands to this new form of engagement with its consumer,

Alexander Ferguson 3:59
as the startup world that has kind of set the stage of what consumers are expecting, in their experience with with an organization and now traditional brands are having to adapt and change. And that’s, it’s difficult to for a chai company to have to make that shift. I’d love to hear now, a bit more of your story. I mean, did you just wake up one day and say, Oh, I want to build a customer engagement platform? Because this will be wonderful.

Debjani Deb 4:23
Yeah, really good question. And the answer, of course, is No, I did not. So essentially, I’m a serial entrepreneur. Last company I did it was in 2005. This was when Facebook was one year old. And we were you know, my my sort of way of doing business has always been customers lead the way. So we went to talk to a bunch of customers one, you know, the they were like, in that case, it was PNG, Coca Cola, Pepsi, we went to talk to them and we were essentially focused on the thought process of what is analytics and What is it? How is analytics powered off in 2005?

Alexander Ferguson 5:05
Long power? Correct?

Debjani Deb 5:07
Right? Long story short, people were talking about social media and blogs as a way to do analytics. And we were a bunch of smart people, we said, Hey, social can tell us a lot about trends, and so on, and so forth. So that started that whole company called social analytics, which went for six years, you know, big success, and so on, and so forth. So that was happening as Facebook was, you know, 1234 or five years. So when we started this, we, of course, sort of had an idea of where we wanted to go with it, which is we knew that the world was going to real time, we knew there was more work necessery to meet the consumers need in a real time fashion, we could see it everywhere, like, you know, calls coming into the call center, the agent doesn’t know what the consumer is doing. So there is a necessity for a feedback loop to understand the consumer. So that’s what we went after. But it took a lot of customer co development customer, really working hand in hand with a few large customers to understand what that meant. And what therefore would the product be. It’s fascinating for you already had these at the beginning of Facebook already seeing the integration of the of

Alexander Ferguson 6:24
social platforms playing a role with brands is I want to just like start it for you, you start to see the connections and kind of lead the way to where zine one is today.

Debjani Deb 6:35
Absolutely. Because I saw, you know, I worked with heads of digital, you know, very closely a fortune 500. My customers were people like, as I said, B PNG, Coca Cola, Nakia, Pfizer, Novartis, these were all my customers. And I was working in the with the digital groups, in that case for with social analytics, but I was very close to them. And I understood where they were going. So hence, sort of the next generation men consumer engagement platforms that are context aware.

Alexander Ferguson 7:09
A lot of this has been your your developing industry in some ways, as it’s as it’s been being created. What are bad recommendations that you’ve heard or seen in this industry? in this marketplace? Is there any you’ve heard someone say, Oh, hey, Brian, should really be doing this. And you’re and you just shake your head? Is there any recommendation for that? Or you would not recommend?

Debjani Deb 7:30
You know, it’s sort of an evolution in my mind. Right. And, you know, recommendations. In regards to that evolution, there’s a lot of discussion and has been for the last decade, on data, data being the new oil and all of that, and, you know, you need to get your data, right. I agree with all of that. But I think over a decade, the page has turned today, the pages on intelligence, you know, how do you take that data that we talked about for a decade, and make intelligent decisions and intellect intelligent actions. So I’m a big believer in a new evolution of an intelligence layer over the data layer, that allows these brands and retail and banks to look at that data and take intelligent decisions and actions in real time. That’s our thing, real time marketing, so that you can contextually react. So I would say, you know, this new sort of decade is about the intelligence layer. It is about harnessing the power of data to take action.

Alexander Ferguson 8:41
I appreciate this concept you say of it’s a continual learning or it’s an evolution, it’s something you’re constantly building upon. If you think back over the years, whether it’s nine one or empower, do you have a favorite failure? or challenges that you just face? You’re like, wow, we didn’t do that. Right. But learn from that.

Debjani Deb 9:01
Oh, there are so many, where can Where should I begin? But I think what is common to startups, like at our stage, where you’re going from series, A to A B to A See, right, where you’re sort of in that very strong hockey stick portion of that growth, is that it’s all about scale, right? And startup founders start with this sort of misnomer because you’re three people in a room trying to solve world hunger, that you can do it. All right, and you start with that notion that I can. But as you grow, it is about your team, your people, empowered people that are on a mission at with a vision that drives them that are set to change the world at scale, because you cannot do it all. So sort of the lessons that I learned along the way is that you know, it is not so much about yourself, but about the team, you build the team, you empower the people you pick to be with you in this journey, and how you sort of enable that infrastructure and ecosystem in a either a tremendous shooting star kind of momentum way or not. So all of us startup founders are really, our primary job is how do you take that set of people? And give them that vision and that mission so that they outperform themselves? If you would?

Alexander Ferguson 10:39
Are there any realizations or approaches in the past five years to that effect of how to empower your team that you found it worked? Well, any tips?

Debjani Deb 10:50
A lot of tips, I think, along the way, right? So the one thing that sort of jumps out at me over this 15 year period is that be very conscious about who you pick to be on this journey. Because every individual, every person has their strengths and weaknesses, things. They’re good at things they’re not good at. And it’s not about molding so much about but it’s about picking the right people for the right jobs. So we very diligent about your co founder, as you put them together, be very diligent about your leadership team, like spend the time evaluating, evaluating, evaluating to make sure that you pick the right individuals, and then really put together a culture that builds on itself. This is a very competitive market, and a very competitive market mode from the perspective of sales, but also from the perspective of employee attracting, attracting the right employees, and retaining that Silicon Valley is booming. And, you know, globally, the worldwide, the labor market is booming. So it’s not really about the money you pay or anything like that, it really is about an alignment to a vision and a culture. And really an appeal to each person’s desire to succeed that you need to tap into. And how you do that is on you, the founders and the leadership. And that’s really where you should focus and really build a strong team,

Alexander Ferguson 12:45
sort of admin, any worthwhile investments that you’ve seen have that have helped grow your team help help keep that that culture and that focus? Whether it could this investment could be a time or a product or or a mentality?

Debjani Deb 13:00
I think it’s all of the above times, certainly, you know, I grew up in India, so the the culture was very much about very hierarchical culture, especially in the corporate world, where the leader sort of set the agenda and everybody followed, I actually have really learned, because I came here at a young age, that I could perhaps write a book on this, I think it’s the, I believe it is not so much as you know, telling people what to do, but motivating them that they themselves want to do it. So it is a very different mentality, which takes time, lots of time investment, time in each individual. And really a thought process of how you lay the bigger picture, the bigger arc for your company, and your team and as individuals, and how you enable the the set of people that are motivated to travel with you on that arc.

Alexander Ferguson 14:20
That I can only imagine the experiences you’ve had it to be able to grow and develop, are there any books that you’ve always recommend or maybe give away to other people and, and that kind of influenced how you think.

Unknown Speaker 14:37
I read a lot of leadership books. So every, you know, many of the books from President Obama gates. Most recently, we had an off site for ZineOne as we all came back from quarantine and you know, back from back to back to civilization if. And I sent out the bill Campbell’s book, the trillion dollar coach to the entire leadership team, because it was about how do you coach your people? How do you coach the team? How do you take it to the next level, you know, at companies like ours that are in that stage, you know, leadership itself as its defined changes at each stage, I can tell you that what worked really well, when we were a five person company, needed changing when we were 20, needed changing when we were 70. And needed changing when you’re when you’re 100 200, and so on. So it really leadership is a large part of my vocabulary, and how we enable sort of growth and scale. I was talking to one of my leadership team members yesterday, and it the pressure of hiring fast. And fueling growth is so incredible, that often, one leads to making wrong choices in regards to who you hire. And this is such an expensive mistake, that one of the things that I would tell entrepreneurs is spend the time before you hire really put a diligent process in place as to how you pick your team members, because that will serve you in the long term.

Alexander Ferguson 16:34
Powerful insight is people are what you actually build the entire company on and be able to, to establish the technology. For you the focus on this industry, do you just have an interest in it, like what drives your own personal passion in this space?

Debjani Deb 16:53
So you know, I have been around sort of this digital evolution in one way or the other for the last 20 some years. You know, interesting anecdote, I used to be at at&t Bell Labs, which in the day was the bastion of where all the cool research and ideas came out of. And in, you know, two decades, decades ago, we were writing research papers about how work from home would evolve with higher bandwidth than this, that another. And today, decades later, we are actually living that. So, you know, I have been, have had a front row seat to this evolution in one way or the other through my career. And it is, you know, it is the time, right, essentially COVID accelerated digital transformation, and evolution and all of that. So if there was ever a time for somebody like me to be having fun, and really looking at everything that we talked about coming to fruition, from self driving cars to, you know, had long conversation about self driving cars yesterday, but self driving cars to a 5g to everything else, this is the time and I strongly believe that unless, you know, enterprises are able to keep up with the demands of this highly fragmented technology stack that allows you so much power through the compute and the storage that has become available through the evolution in cloud, and the evolutions in machine learning technologies that lets you take hordes and hordes of data and make sense of it in real time, you will be left behind so that’s where we come in with says, you know, there is a lot of like we get from any of our clients, sort of, you know, you know, 10 million user data streams coming in at at any given time in real time into our system. So the learnings of how consumers are reacting to brands across the across North America and the globe, is at our fingertips and what we do with it, to enable the value back to the consumer in a very highly privacy centered world because you don’t want to spam them. You don’t want to be overt, but you want to add value. In that moment. When somebody walks into a store. When somebody walks into a bank when somebody is shopping just in that moment. Tell me what I need and help With it, tell me how many loyalty points I have. Because that would be helpful as I shop rather than finding out later. Tell me how many more dollars I need to be at the shipping threshold. That would be helpful when I am shopping right now, tell me what would go with this pair of pants, that would be helpful in this moment, and so on and so forth. So tell me that, you know that I’ve been shopping for a sofa as I walk into the William Sonoma store. And don’t talk to me about anything else. Because you know, you have my browser history, I have been shopping for itself. So those kinds of moments in time when consumers expect value. It takes a lot of data, a lot of compute a lot of intelligent high end intelligence, not historical intelligence, but predictive intelligence to serve that consumer.

Alexander Ferguson 20:59
You bring up a great point here moving this conversation to them. privacy, I mean, and and the shift of right now that’s happening with third party cookies, right? And how do you see that will change and affect how retailers are and enterprises are going to have to change or they have to change like, you will be able to track the same amount of data?

Debjani Deb 21:25
Yes, this this whole conversation going on and evolution going on about third party cookies going away. So that you, you know, retargeting as we know it is being phased out. So you cannot follow the consumer across websites. Like if I was looking at a pair of shoes, Everywhere I go, the same pair of shoes shows up. So none of that will be possible. So I think, you know, there’s an evolution happening. Let’s talk about it from the side of the consumer, right? There is a generational evolution happening. And then there is a, like people are waking up to Oh, my God, they have all my data. So I think there is a trade off being made between convenience and security, convenience and privacy. And each generation is making that trade off differently, you know, are in my generation, Forrester has actually done the survey that says in my generation people are more into privacy less on convenience. But if you ask my daughter or the teenage daughter the same question, they want more convenience than privacy. So there is a difference in how what we want as consumers. And I think the brands will react to that. But today, the centrepieces I think the pendulum has swung so highly on, I have all this data for everybody Oh my god. So it is centered on privacy as it should be. We need to button have up our systems from the governance risk security angle, so that we are secure in how we react with brands and brands are secure and how they add value to us. But I think we will chart a middle path as the generation my teenage daughters become the the pain generation, they want convenience. So they will certainly push the boundaries on what you the brand can do and know about me so you can add value to me in the moment. So it’s to be seen. Now we as a company ZineOne play really well into this notion of as third party cookies go away. You can’t track the consumer anymore across the web. So what does brands do, brands have to react to that consumer. When they’re on your site, that’s your only shot, you can’t follow them around. So do more with them add value to them when they are on your site. on that first, second, third click. If you can add value in that moment, then you can build a relationship with them. So we our tagline on this is make every moment count. Make every session count, real time marketing which is when they are there. Help them in that moment, not after the fact

Alexander Ferguson 24:33
you paint a picture in my head when you describe some of this of convenience and the desire right there real time of in hotel space or hospitality people appreciate a very high end hotel where there’s a butler or someone that can I get something for you. They know what you need. They’re just provide for it. Now everything is online and digital. In some ways. We’re starting to expect the same from our digital devices. In our in our on our experiences are just showing me what I want so I can live a better life. Where do you see this going? Like? How far could can can and will this go?

Debjani Deb 25:11
There’s a name for it. It’s sort of the digital concierge, right. And the idea here is that if you are able to look at that data as it’s happening intelligently, then you can really add a lot of value without being too much on your face. The reason people feel badly about this is that get they get spammed, how many emails did I get from a particular brand in a given day, oh, my God, please take me off the list. Because you’re spamming me, you’re sending me the same thing over and over again. And a lot of it. Fast forward five years, if the brands do their jobs, right. And they are able to take advantage of the compute and storage available to them today. And able to analyze those real time streams of consumer behavior as they’re in their stores or in their website or on their mobile app or in the bank or in the hospitality in the casino. Then you can know what they want, like give you an example, we actually work for one of the large, largest hospitality brands casinos in Las Vegas, as the person walks into the casino, if you know that they have booked massages every time they’ve come in for the last five years. I would appreciate you asking me would you like to book a massage during your stay? Because it prompts me to do something I want. But you don’t get that experience today? I mean, there is a distance between what you get and what is possible, truly possible. This is not hard to do. So that’s what I mean that I think there is a gap. And I think intelligence. So this is that rise of that intelligence layer over the data layer that’s necessary, absolutely necessary with technologies like machine learning and AI and this and that, that allow you to know their minds and therefore react in a non spammy value added way.

Alexander Ferguson 27:33
More and more retailers are online for necessary reasons becoming more and more digital. What do you see as the major hurdles for a retailer to put more of an emphasis in their digital presence?

Debjani Deb 27:49
I don’t I think it’s an evolution I we work with all sorts, right, we work with the ones that are highly evolved and have have really taken advantage of digital transformation even before COVID hit. So there was a lot of focus already on e commerce on online revenue generation. We saw the evolution as a top 10 retailer, Kohl’s is one of our big customers, you know, early 20 1718, when a large portion of their ecommerce, four of their revenue was already coming to ecommerce and growing at a significant rate. But there’s also sort of a long tail of providers that have focused largely on traditional brick and mortar and are moving over and learning how to do it. So we will see this as an evolution they will get there. Because I think it’s an absolute necessity. I think there’s no two ways about it now more than ever, like we are happy clicking and buying the stuff here it was sitting in my office or at home, rather than walking in.

Alexander Ferguson 28:56
You mentioned earlier art at Bell Laboratories that you were writing research papers that are coming true today. What are you thinking of right now or or couldn’t ponder, make a prediction of that could come to fruition in the future?

Debjani Deb 29:12
I think it’s uh, you know, we are watching the evolution of 5g very carefully. And I think, you know, you know, you know, smart cars are already here. Smart refrigerators are already here. So we used to actually write about those 20 years ago. But I think with 5g, you know, intelligent endpoints will be far beyond your phone and your computer, it will be all over your house and office. And what I see coming is that those intelligent endpoints will not be uni dimensional of Oh, I’m a nest temperature regulator, but the nest thing can do more, more, more functions and everything. There will be sort of a Omni evolution on these digital endpoints that do many things. And as a result, I think all those expectations in regards to being able to react to real time context, on a phone and a computer and in the store will evolve to all of these endpoints that are all over your house and your offices and cars. And your so for example, you could be shopping in your car, you could be shopping in front of your refrigerator, so there will be a lot more pressure. And can you imagine the amount of data that means like, the consumer has 10 endpoints in the house that’s streaming different kinds of data in regards to what he or she is doing. So the ability to harness that data at scale, you know, we think cloud is big today, clouds about to like go through the roof. even beyond anything we’ve imagined, and the compute power necessery, to look at that data and make sense of it. And technologies like ours that allow you then to react to the that intelligence in real time back to the consumer to add value.

Alexander Ferguson 31:09
Just kind of for fun, as a consumer of technology, I’m sure is there in the past six months is there, you have a favorite cheap software or tech that you’ve used, personally,

Debjani Deb 31:22
oh, I’m in love with So we, we bought a license to it, which is, you know, our, we get to hear firsthand what our customers are saying to our team members, so on and so forth. The learnings are just amazing from what we can do through voice recognition, and voice analysis, and so on and so forth. So I’m loving that.

Alexander Ferguson 31:48
I always like to ask that question, because it’s, there’s always new fascinating use cases for for technology. There’s a powerful journey that you painted, both from your initial stages to this growth and and where you’re headed. If you had any closing thoughts for for someone, again, in the enterprise space, that’s that’s where you’re focused enterprise, retail and e commerce have that you would want them to know about it, what would you share?

Debjani Deb 32:15
I think it’s all about product when you are building an enterprise startup, because this is typically a very highly competitive and long sales cycle driven entry point on like mid market and so on and so forth. So, your product has to go that distance, it has to be battle tested, it has to deliver results, and it has to be in for the long term. This is not a sort of getting an out you know, leaky bucket, which is possible in other markets, but enterprise if you take nine months to get in a better state, otherwise you wasted all that time. So it is about product, make sure you spend the time in perfecting a we took two three years to just purely work on the product before it came to market. So that’s a long time requires a lot of money to really do that. So if you are going to go after the enterprise space, buckle up, it needs money, it needs time, it needs a lot of grid, but the payoff is really strong at the end if you get it right.

Alexander Ferguson 33:26
Thank you so much, Debjani for sharing your insights for those that want to learn more about ZineOne it’s and you’ll be be able to learn more. Thanks for your time to Debjani really appreciate it. Thank you for having me on every time. I will see you all on the next episode of UpTech Report. Have you seen a company using AI machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live work and do business? Go to UpTech and let us know


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