There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.
Meet: Dr. Omer Artun, the CEO and cofounder of AgilOne, a cloud-based predictive marketing company. Omer earned a Ph.D. in Computational Neuroscience and Physics from Brown University. Prior to that he was a was a consultant with McKinsey & Company, the VP of strategic marketing at CDW/Micro Warehouse, and the senior director of B2B marketing at Best Buy. He was also an adjunct professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Omer Artun: I don’t know that there was a specific job I had in mind but I’ve always loved finding practical and lucrative solutions to problems. It was in elementary school, when I discovered I could make a tidy profit collecting fruit from mulberry trees and selling it on the street, and enlisted my schoolmates to help me run this small business. With some prodding from my engineer parents, I followed in my older brother’s footsteps to enter a Ph.D. program in physics, studying under Nobel Laureate Leon Cooper. However, I decided to focus on computational neuroscience because I recognized that this field offered far greater possibilities to make discoveries that would have practical applications for problems in the real world.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Artun: At McKinsey, and later as VP of marketing at Micro Warehouse, I created systems to help companies use their data to more efficiently allocate resources and uncover new sources of revenue. This is where I realized that marketing would be a perfect place to apply the values of machine learning. Marketers are dealing with humans, and unlike atoms or rockets, humans have a lot of variability in their actions. Predictive analytics based on machine-learning algorithms offered enormous leverage to marketers trying to make sense of those actions. Rather than replacing human decision-making, machine learning and complex algorithms could help people amplify their intelligence and deal with problems on a much larger scale, something like giving a bulldozer to people who were used to digging with a shovel. I saw the opportunity to solve a problem that a growing number of companies were struggling with, and I decided to create AgilOne to respond to this need.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Artun: I experienced a pivotal moment on my way to success while working as the senior director of B2B marketing at Best Buy. I came from Micro Warehouse where I had built marketing software that made it easy to access and use customer data to make better informed marketing decisions. That was my passion: drive business by using data.
After a couple of months at Best Buy, however, I realized it was nearly impossible to access the customer data. It was all housed in an external data warehouse and there was no easy way for me, as a marketer, to get my hands on our own customer data and start creating relevant campaigns. That’s when I realized the value of democratizing data and predictive analytics for the everyday marketer. I decided that no longer should data be kept behind a gate guarded by IT or an external data warehouse, but rather it should be easily accessible by the marketer. I knew I could use my background in machine learning to create a predictive marketing technology that would have a huge impact on the marketing industry and truly leverage customer data across channels.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Artun: Manage your money well—you have people to pay at the end of the day.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Artun: There are three things every entrepreneur should embrace to be successful:
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?
Artun: Big data is affecting the retail industry in every aspect—from providing more targeted marketing and advertising to better customer service. By synthesizing big data into easy-to-understand and actionable insights, retailers of all sizes (not just those who can afford to hire data scientists) can stay ahead of industry trends, become less wasteful and more profitable.
I think small to midsize retailers will find that to stay competitive with massive online retailers, like Amazon, they need to provide a personalized omnichannel experience for their customers. They can accomplish this by arming their sales associates with more data in-store, partly based on shoppers’ online buying behavior. By providing a personalized experience—online and in brick-and-mortar stores—consumers will feel a deeper sense of brand loyalty, and retailers will become more profitable.
Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?
Artun: Nudge by Richard H. Thaler. It talks about the underlying reasons why people make decisions.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Artun: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” —Winston Churchill
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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.