Language of Business (Episode #5): How Non Social Media Technology Still Transforms Businesses
In this age of e everything. Is it possible to truly teach an old marketing dog new tricks? We're on location with Vince Scafaria, the CEO of DotAlign. And welcome to The Language of Business. Thanks for having me, Greg.
You've been very successful in this age of e everything, using old time marketing approaches to equally be successful. Why have you been able to do that? Well, I think what we're really talking about is our focus is on helping businesses grow the top line to win their business based on relationships, which is a very old school type of thing. So DotAlign is software that automatically understands relationship networks of colleagues at a firm, so who knows who well, can help you figure out how to open a door, add an important client prospect, or prioritize a list of leads. Basically things like, Oh, well, if Greg knows the senior people at Company X better than other colleagues, as evidenced by the CEO gets back to him and they've met several times recently. Then, you know, Greg would probably be a good way to get in the door.
Are you considering LinkedIn to be accretive to DotAlign or is it a competitor? Oh, I mean, while there's no really, frankly, competing with LinkedIn, it's certainly accretive. LinkedIn does a really nice job of helping understand the external, like I call it your second and third degree connections, but you don't really know who knows who. Well, it's kind of you could have just collected a business card, but DotAlign does is it measures strength of relationships and it grabs things like your job title from your signature block of an email. It's able to do that because it's a private, in-house, secure system that runs within the enterprise against sources like email and calendar without sending data to any external place. So it has access to those kinds of data which LinkedIn just doesn't have access to. It's not lost on me that in listening to you, your customers potentially has a 30 year age range.
If somebody were starting a business like yours, what single piece of advice would you give them? Blending old school versus new school media and social media outreach. Well, I think there's something that's truly timeless, which is building connective tissue and collective intelligence. I mean, you've got an enterprise and it's meant to be more than the sum of its parts. So if you're selling into businesses, they really want to leverage their collective assets.
And so that's something that your customers are going to want to be able to do that in every way, including helping them sell. And speaking of, if you're helping a business to grow the top line by leveraging their connective tissue, those collective assets, that can be a good way to go. You mentioned that building connective tissue among different members of a team is so very important. How has that been impacted by the war in Ukraine? Well, I've certainly personally been impacted. I have team members there and it's just extraordinary what they're going through.
But I think more broadly, if I could just take the question up a level, I think business leaders are not really doing enough to talk about what's going on in Ukraine and really about fascism and democracy in general, which I don't consider partisan topics. I think what's going on right now is just something that employees want to hear about. They want to know that the company cares about people, about stakeholders, about world events. And I think that digital technologies are allowing people to really bridge together and quickly set up things like UkraineNow.Org
where, you know, there's 1,500 people who just came together in the last several days and we're trying to figure out how to deploy resources and who can be helpful and so forth. So it's it's really amazing what digital technologies do allow in terms of connecting people in pro-social ways. It seems that recently we've lost relationship building as an art. Is DotAlign trying to get things back on track for us? Well, it's interesting you say it that way because that's actually how I started the company. I looked at my LinkedIn. I had 1,200 people in there and I said, Well, now what? How many cups of coffee can I possibly have in a week? And how do I know who needs help with what? And, you know, how do I connect the dots for the people who I care about or who might care about me? And I just felt like there is a lot of potential energy that was not being made kinetic. More generally to your question, I am actually appalled at how people who should return phone calls because, you know, you did something for them and they won't even return your call in the future and stuff.
I mean, I think it sort of speaks to a little bit of loss of civility in society. And, you know, I think my my nonna would have something to say about that if she were still with us. Vince, where do you think the opportunity lies moving forward between marrying human interactions and technology? What should happen is we should have a human centric tech that treats each individual as the customer, not as a source of data to be mined. Every extractive business ends up, you know, where you have problems, whether you're extracting oil and gas and creating externalities there, where they're extracting personal data and, you know, selling someone an ad. And this economy where our data is harvested to then in turn manipulate us is upside down. There's every reason in the world we should simply pull the appropriate ad, for example, or more broadly, what is an ad. But
it's really just an economic opportunity that I might be interested in. So why not have my phone light up in the morning with various economic opportunities that I might be interested in? The fact that I'm a bricklayer and someone needs bricks laid and on and on. There's an opportunity for a decentralized model that I don't think needs web3 and blockchain, and that is pro-social, because if you just create something decentralized, you can have anarchy and chaos. How do I even know that I'm dealing with real humans? You know, if I'm, if I'm not tied within a single corporate network that validates folks, those are solvable problems. I'm surprised that big tech hasn't tried to solve them. And I think the first thing we'll hopefully see is things like a personal cloud device that runs private apps like my desktop used to.
I think we need to move to more thoughtful models for interactivity. First degree CRM tends to be the Holy Grail. Is that consistent with your original vision for DotAlign and how the company is being operated today? You know, so CRM, when you say it's the Holy Grail, it is true that businesses want a single source of truth, but it's also true that not all valuable and useful information should be in that CRM. Actually, some of the most interesting business use cases are things like which of my Facebook friends or people I'm really close with on my Gmail are working at companies that we are interested to target? Right. That's an example of bringing multiple worlds of data together. And there's no way I want my Facebook and my Gmail, you know, necessarily sitting in my corporate servers.
So I think there's an opportunity to really connect people more broadly and across a constellation of related firms or advisory networks. And that's only possible if you lose this model of we need a single central hub. So we built DotAlign with this idea of privacy first software where there's a private lockbox for analysis of your data set, and then you can choose what to share with colleagues.
Really, we shouldn't have to park all our data with Zuckerberg, and we also shouldn't assume that the alternative to that is blockchain. Just because that's some decentralized technology, there are other smarter ways. Vince: Thank you very much. Thank you so much, Greg. Vince Scafaria, CEO and founder of DotAlign.
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Book a demo now. Social media and e everything has taken over nearly every aspect of building and running a successful business. But how does that relate to investments? We're on location with Mark Leavitt who is a board member with Union Square Hospitality Group. And welcome to The Language of Business.
Thank you. Pleasure to be here. What is Union Square Hospitality Group? So Union Square Hospitality Group is a holding company that pre-pandemic owned 15 full service restaurants. We're rapidly approaching that number again. We also have a catering business called Union Square Events, and it's also the holding company from which Shake Shack was born and sprung. It's, it was founded and controlled by Danny Meyer, who was my college roommate and also my partner in Enlightened Hospitality Investments, which is the private equity fund that I run with Danny and one other guy.
Mark, the focus of this episode is on e everything running potentially a successful business with poor management or vice versa. You've been at this for a while. You're now on your second fund. What are your thoughts on investing in good old fashioned businesses as opposed to ones that are ecommerce, e everything or something that is completely new and innovative? So when we look at businesses we want to invest in, what we say is particularly in the food space is we want food that's craveable.
And, and businesses that have a tribe. And it's become a lot easier to figure out who has a tribe because you look at their social media following. But when we look at someone's social media following, that's really only one part of what we're actually looking for, because companies use social media in different ways. Some companies use it as a megaphone and their opportunity to just blast the message out. We think the companies that do it better use it as a way to interact with their fans, with their detractors.
And the companies that do it well will take people that have particular issues, and instead of shouting back at them, we'll try to take them offline and deal directly with them. And we find that's a much more effective approach. When people talk about restaurants, so many of them are focused around food, but the margins in beverages are obviously much higher.
As you're talking about integrating social media innovations. Are any of these focused on Bev Tech or beverage related e-commerce of some type? So the challenge for us in investing in alcohol is that under the three tier system, which is a really outmoded legislative impediment to to efficiencies, is that since we have retail liquor licenses both within Union Square Hospitality Group and within some of the companies we invest, we cannot be in either the wholesaling side or the manufacturing side of of the alcohol, wine, liquor industries. So it really cuts out an opportunity set in space that we find attractive, but legally, we can't do anything in right now. But when it comes to being iconic of your 15 restaurants, how many of those still use traditional menus as opposed to online ordering or the use of QR codes? It's funny. When people go to restaurants, people don't really like using QR codes. People really crave having a wine list and a menu. So
so we sort of have both of those things working now. Is that something that's age based or demographic based? Help us to understand that a little bit more, please. It's definitely age based. I'm still part of the generation of people that like to read newspapers and like physically touching the newspaper, which my kids look at me cross-eyed and say: "We didn't know that there's such a thing as the newspaper that you could you could hold." But the future of all these brands is attracting the next generation of diners.
So we all need to be focused on how to make our businesses more attractive to people. And that's really why we chose the fast casual space as an area to invest. In the old days, there were full service restaurants and there were quick service restaurants, and Danny describes it as when you went to a full service restaurant, you knew you were going to get better food, but you basically left your watch and wallet at the door when you walked in. So the QSR space gave you food quickly at an attractive price, but it wasn't very good. What grew out of that was the fast casual brands or fine casual brands like Shake Shack, Sweet Green we think Dig In, which is one of ours. What they did was to say, We can get you part of the way they're on cost.
It's going to be more expensive than a quick service restaurant, not as expensive as a full service restaurant. We can get you part of the way there on atmosphere. And finally, if you close your eyes and we're blindfolded, you might think a burger at a Shake Shack was the same kind of burger you were eating in Union Square Cafe. So that's what it really appeals to us about. Fast Casual is it attracts the next generation of diners that want better quality food. They want to know where it comes from.
They're willing to pay a little bit more for it, but they don't want to spend the time or the money to sit in a full service restaurant to the same degree that the prior generation was willing to do. Reflecting on the move from COVID to theoretically some semblance of normalcy, how many of these social media innovations are going to be continued for the restaurants that reopened? Yeah, so we spent a lot of time during the pandemic saying what's happened to hospitality and the demand for hospitality, and has it gone down? Has it gone up? And our conclusion was that the demand for hospitality is greater than it ever was. But the way people seek it out and consume it has changed pretty dramatically.
We made an investment iClear, the airport screening company that started a business called Health Pass to monitor people coming in and out of the restaurants. And came to the conclusion that one of the ways people seek hospitality is through safety and physical safety for themselves and their families. So we thought that was an interesting play. We made an investment in a company called Goldbelly, which you may or may not know whose business exploded during the pandemic when people couldn't travel, couldn't go to the beloved restaurants around the country and have meals with families and friends. This was one way to bring those memories back by ordering food from sort of icon. Restaurants around the country.
And then Goldbelly turned around and set up... whose mission is really to restore about 100 iconic restaurant brands that disappeared during the pandemic. Mark, thank you very much. My pleasure. Mark Leavitt, a board member with Union Square Hospitality Group and the managing director of Enlightened Hospitality Investments.
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But what about good old fashioned non social media technology? Can it still transform a business even in the decade of the twenties? We're on location with Niva Haber from Boston University. Welcome to The Language of Business. Thank you for having me. Excited to be here. What are you currently studying in school and what college are you attending at BU? Yes, I'm a senior at the College of Arts and Sciences. I'm studying neuroscience. So the focus of this segment is how non social media still is able to transform a business technologically.
Can you give us an example from maybe one of your internships or potentially preparation for your full time job? So I think the place where this is most applicable was this past summer working at Johnson and Johnson. And what I did was I worked at the brand seeing what kind of updates and new things that they were working on. On the flip side, I work with a lot of the software development team and to see what kind of projects they could do to help with what the brand was aiming to do. It's called solution architecture. But essentially I was facilitating the communication between the brand team as well as the software engineers.
How about as a senior and the classes that you're taking? What's the interplay between social media technology and non social media technology from a pedagogical perspective? I guess in my science classes, especially the neuroscience one, there isn't too much going on in terms of social media technology, but we do have a large lead based topics in our curriculum for non social media technology. So we learn a lot about different kind of research methods and different technologies for how we can collect information about our brains and analyze that in a research setting. So that includes MRI's or PET scans. And then on the flip side, we also do a lot of computational neuroscience, which essentially you take biological processes that are occurring in your brain and you try to model this in a computer. And we learn to do this using MATLAB, which is a coding language and a type of technology.
Where do you think your parents would come out on this debate, given that they're older than you are? Are they still mired in good, old fashioned non social media technology? Or do both of them have a Finsta as well as an Instagram account? I will say I am definitely more on social media than my parents. However, I do think that they can understand the power of social media technology. However, I know that my mom still really values the non social media technology. She's a professor and she uses A/R and V/R technology to teach her students different types of business skills in her classes. So they would kind of go in a virtual setting and practice public speaking.
And that way when they're in a real crowd, they're able to public speak better. So there's still ways that you can kind of value the non social media technology. And my mom definitely has that kind of sense that I do as well and was able to incorporate it in her industry.
Niva: Global Technology Arbitrage is at the heart of pretty much any company, whether it was your J&J internship or your work with Tamid in Israel. What's going through your head right now in terms of what's exciting you moving forward? Yeah, there's a lot of different technologies that are super exciting, but one of the ones that I've been kind of closely following is using machine learning for drug discovery. So a lot of the drug discovery process are super costly. Now, a new trend, and it's using machine learning technology to help facilitate this process and make it faster and more cost effective, which can hopefully bring more drugs to market.
Niva: So many of your passions are at the intersection of business, innovation and IP law. How do you manage to stay hyper focused on one at a time? Yeah, that's a great question. I think the way to do this is by really finding and speaking to as many people as possible in your network and kind of seeing what they have done and their experiences and then finding ways to bridge those experiences together.
So just being on the lookout for different opportunities and just saying yes when an opportunity comes and when you're searching for those people in your network. Are you using non social media or social media technology? I think it's a mixture of both. I definitely use LinkedIn, but I also still use the old fashioned email, emailing old supervisors or old colleagues that I've worked for in the past and seeing where they are now and kind of catching up with them.
But I also just like to meet strangers or meet people in my day to day life and see what they're doing and see if anything that they're doing resonates with me and kind of getting a conversation going that way. As you're contemplating law school, it's no surprise to anyone that law probably moves a lot more slowly than technology. We know this semester you're taking an algorithms in law course.
How do you reconcile all of that in terms of everything you want to accomplish moving forward? Yeah, it is definitely something that is occurring and something that has crossed my mind. I think the whole idea is to just keep being in touch with what is going on and especially while you're in law school or while you're on the technology side, because both fields are continuously moving forward. So it's just about trying to bridge that.
And the way to do that is really just by staying up to date and finding ways to facilitate that process. Niva: Thank you very much. Thank you. Niva Haber, a senior at Boston University. How likely is it for older professors to teach their newer students the latest tricks when it comes to PR? Or is tradition still tradition? We're on location with Oliver Pour, who is a public relations student in the College of Communications at Boston University.
And welcome to The Language of business. Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me today. Greg: It's a pleasure. I'm super excited. Oliver: What are the latest innovations you've learned in the past couple of years studying communications at Boston University? I think one of the main innovations is through earned media.
For years now, we've realized that businesses have tried to gain customers through their own contacts. When Facebook was created, when Instagram was created, you could see the kind of companies trying to dominate their own scene. But through earned media, which I've learned in PR, the aspect of getting your customers and your community base to reach their own communities, to get them as new customers and new people across, you know, your own networks.
That is truly what the innovation is. It's nothing new, but it's really all centered around this concept of listening to your customers and listening to communities. Is it a matter of people earning one another's respect or you defining earned media in a different fashion? You know, there's definitely different areas of context within it. Earned media, of course, earning the customer's respect.
Absolutely. But it's also it's building that relationship. And that's exactly what public relations has taught me. It's the fact that without any relationship, we are nothing to the customer and the customer is nothing to us. And things are becoming less transactional and more about relationship building, creating that long term connection. In your past two internships and your future job at Luminance, is there something that you wish you had learned in class but haven't studied so far? I'm going into an account executive role, so I'm going to be in artificial intelligence sales.
You know, one thing that I wish you had was a sales program here. I know every single company has their own way on how they want to sell. For example, when I was working at Paycom as payroll sales, it was it was very much a hustle mentality as sales is as a whole. But, you know, when I was working at Sprinkler, you know, during my junior spring, it is relationship building time.
So it's very different. But these are the types of things I wish I could learn, you know, across maybe a sales minor that could have been there. So I don't have any regrets or anything that I was like, Oh, I wish they had this, but if they did have it, I definitely would.
Taking a hard look at as you think about your core and elective classes that you've taken in the past couple of years, how many have focused on traditional PR concepts or rather social media or e-commerce instead? Yeah, I think a lot of my core classes to begin with, like Introduction to Public Relations class, they were teaching me that the skills you needed in order to understand what public relations actually is and as many different aspects of it, but without being able to understand the basics, you're not going to be able to become an expert. Then how would you define public relations in the here and now? Now that we're coming to the tail end of the pandemic, things are starting to open up. And as you can see, companies are starting to take a step back to do more research in order to understand further what their customers needs and wants are. Yes, without understanding the customer, without researching the customer, and without even speaking to the customer, we're going to be an unsuccessful business moving forward, I think, in all aspects of that. You know, great example, Boston University.
We are constantly listening to what our prospective applicants are saying, what our students and parents are saying, and what our alumni are saying, along with our faculty and staff and administrators. I think that is where the decision making comes in order to say, okay, what's BU going to look like next academic year and in five academic years? That's the same aspect here. So public relations at its core, I think it is centered around that relationship building between the customer and the, and the business. Oliver: Thank you very much. Oliver Pour, a soon to graduate student from the College of Communications at Boston University. Support for The Language of Business is from Boston University, Questrom School of Business.
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