How marketers should start leveraging AI
In this episode, host Shahin Hoda welcomes Eric Vardon, CEO and Co-Founder at Morpio.ai and Co-Founder of Arcane.
As he talks about his experience and shares what he has learnt as co-founder of Morphio and Arcane, Eric will guide us into the wonderful world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how businesses can use it to solve specific challenges.
This episode’s guest:
Eric Vardon, CEO and Co-Founder of Morphio
Eric’s career started back in the 90s when he wanted to build websites. He hasn’t stopped since: he is an AI Tech Entrepreneur, C-Suite Executive and Advisor with more than 20 years of success.
Leveraging extensive experience in business development and start-ups, Eric’s broad areas of expertise include brand development, digital strategy, communications, entrepreneurship, leadership, and growth.
Connect with him on LinkedIn
- [00:50] About Eric's background and Arcane
- [03:19] How Morphio was born
- [05:38] Some common marketing issues
- [11:18] Eric's view on AI adoption in marketing
- [13:44] How business owners can start thinking about AI
- [16:01] Lessons learnt from the experience at Arcane
- [21:09] The importance of giving back for Eric
- [23:49] The energy that comes from like-minded people
- [25:34] The connection to business strategy
Resources mentioned on this episode:
- About Morphio
- John D'Orsay, Co-Founder of Morphio
- From Morphio’s blog:
- 5 Emerging Trends in AI to Watch During 2020
- Anomaly Detection Advantages and Disadvantages For Marketers
- Some articles by Eric:
- What Every Business Needs to Know About Anomaly Based Detection
- Predictive Marketing Software - How AI Has Transformed Marketing
- Protect Your Business And Avoid These Common Digital Agency Mistakes
- Machine Learning Vs. Predictive Analytics: Which Is Better For Business?
- Council Post: A Lean Marketing Funnel Is The Cure For Uncertain Times In Business
- Six Things Business Owners Should Know About AI
- About Arcane
About the Growth Colony Podcast:
On this podcast you'll be hearing from B2B founders, CMOs, marketing & sales leaders about their successes, failures, what is working for them today in the B2B marketing world and everything in between.
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Episode Full Transcript:
[00:23] Shahin Hoda Hello, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Growth Colony. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth, and today I'm talking to Eric Vardon, CEO and Co-Founder at Morpio.ai and Co-Founder of Arcane about problems marketers face when they're usually managing large advertising budgets, especially when they're doing it with online platforms. On that note, let's dive in. Eric, thanks a lot for joining us.
[00:48] Eric Vardon Thanks for having me.
[00:50] Shahin Hoda Absolute pleasure. Absolute pleasure from lovely Toronto. It's great to have you. Now, for those who might not be familiar with yourself or Morphio. Can you give us a quick background intro?
[01:05] Eric Vardon Yeah, I'm assuming that 99% outside of uni aren't familiar with who I am. But that's okay. Yeah, so I've long, long-standing marketing guy advertising you know, the short version is I wanted to build websites back in the mid-90s. So for any of those of you that remember that timeframe, it was a while ago, where a rollover was a big deal. And, you know, I've been in the business ever since. Was fortunate enough to be in the agency side a few times, starting from my basement to you know, growing some fantastic companies and the largest being Arcane.
[01:46] Eric Vardon At one point, we were one of the fastest growing in North America, we had a lot of focus on driving a huge return for our clients. This, we started the business on the heels of the last recession reset in 2008-2009. And, you know, found it a great opportunity where clients were really focused on the return they were getting from their dollars, clearly with not as much money floating around. So that was the first wave and kind of rode that, you know, up until recently where, obviously, that the world has changed.
[02:23] Eric Vardon And it's been a really fun and interesting experience, you know, growing from zero, basically my business partner in our basements to 100 people and 15 million in revenue in five years and three offices and five acquisitions and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff, you know, to building out a really a sustainable cash flow positive, profitable business took a lot of time and effort and clearly some grey hairs has come from it.
[02:49] Eric Vardon Always been involved with many different businesses too. And my focus now is on a company called Morphio, which is built for marketers to really ultimately change the way we work. I think we'll get into a little bit more about, you know, what it is that we hope to achieve, but our mission statement is being revamped. And basically, it is to, to create a positive movement, where marketers like us can be happier, more effective and awesome. So that's what Morphio is all about?
[03:19] Shahin Hoda What made Morphio happen? Like, what was it? Was it the experience at Arcane? Or, you know, was something else? How did Morphio coming back?
[03:28] Eric Vardon I think it came from, there's a few different things, obviously, it was a need in the agency. I mean, you've got amazing people that we worked with, that we're always instill are, you know, very busy and running around from meeting to meeting and ultimately, all we're trying to collectively do is, understand our client's objectives, you know, sit alongside them as their business changes and evolves, I think, as an entrepreneur, we put on an additional lens of being very proactively interested and focused on making money for our clients and get really excited when we can sit down, you know, with the leaders of, of any business and really help shape their, you know, their online presence.
[04:11] Eric Vardon When we started, you know, it was mainly Google and Facebook, where the spend, you know, an hour to Microsoft for some cases, was the majority of where we spent our time and effort and in the complexity just grew from there, as did the client amounts and the dollars that they were spending the complexity, and it just compounded and compounded. And we found that our bottom line really wasn't increasing. And, you know, our top line grew substantially, but the ability to drive the business forward, you know, took us in very manual into very manual ways of trying to solve it.
[04:45] Eric Vardon And so we had a conversation, I think, you know, was probably about 2015 or 16. And my business partner and co-Founder, John, I said, there's got to be a better way to scale this business. I mean, we're, we're still relying on manual processes, the same thing. In the same ways that we've executed over the last 10 or 15 years at that time, it didn't make any sense. And so we ultimately started down a path in 2015, to look at how machine learning could ultimately help our business be automated. And then from there, it just became sort of an obsession of looking at every piece or part of our business and trying to find ways that we could automate it. And we quickly realised that it wasn't one thing that we as marketers need to do. It's many incremental changes with small percentages that would actually impact and allow us to scale and that's kind of where Morphio was born from.
[05:38] Shahin Hoda Right. Now, I definitely, I know that you're very passionate about AI and definitely want to talk about that as well. On what you just said over there, you know, that like Morphio's title runs, 'defend against marketing failures', right? And what are some of these mistakes that right now comes to mind? You know, you talking about, hey, there are all these little things that were happening? What were some of these little things? Well, can you give us some examples?
[06:05] Eric Vardon Yeah, I mean, we all, it's become a regular occurrence. I mean, it's things like credit card expires or fails. You know, you've got a campaign going. And you've got, you know, a bunch of campaigns launching, and you pause by accident, or you don't pause when the campaign is supposed to end. And you either understand or you overspend. You know, a couple other examples, you know, tracking and the complexity of managing and analysing performances is a huge, huge, huge issue. You know, pixels being dropped, duplicate, you know, analytics views, or whatever the case may be. All of this relates to performance being impacted.
[06:52] Eric Vardon And whether it's an hour or a day or a week, you're talking, in many cases, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. And that's, you know, something where I was on the other end of a lot of these phone calls with a client saying, hey, I just noticed that this happened. In many cases, they catch it first. Because, you know, an agency life we have 100 things we're dealing with, and they have one and so that is a terrible, terrible phone call or email to get. And as the owner, it generally means okay, and I can think of, unfortunately, far too many examples. The worst one being about a $50,000 overspend where it's nobody else's fault, except for ours, there's no insurance or protection for an overage like that when somebody went on vacation and thought they hit pause and didn't, and nobody caught it for two weeks.
[07:38] Eric Vardon So, you know, $50,000, or whatever the example is, it generally comes out of our pocket. And you think of the other way is how much do you have to sell you look at you can look at your profit margin, how much do you need to sell to recoup, you know, that ultimately, that money that's flowing out the door. And so those are a few examples, and there's many, many more, but those are the kinds of things that cause us to be busy, scared, nervous, unhappy, stressed, and why we end up you know, running around like with our heads cut off is due usually dealing with those types of things that take us away from stuff that we love to do.
[08:12] Shahin Hoda And I would imagine right now, first of all, you probably deal with a lot of agencies. And I would imagine right now a, you know, tackling those challenges and making sure that you kind of address all of those small items that together become a this amazing force of driving your business and your agency to the to the ground becomes even more important, considering what is happening right now in the market and buyers becoming a lot more sensitive. Is that is that what you're saying? What is happening in the agency world from your lens right now?
[08:50] Eric Vardon Yeah, I mean, obviously, yeah, there's an outside of unfortunately, hate to even talk about it, hear about it. But a lot of agencies and small and large are failing, and clients have turned off budgets or cancelled contracts. And it's just the reality of what we're seeing. And so there's a lot of that, which means displaced marketers, stressed people looking for jobs, founders, in many cases, either starting something new or having to deal with, you know, insolvency etc. In some cases, though, on the positive side, you have a bit a lot of businesses are rapidly moving to figuring out what their online strategy is.
[09:30] Eric Vardon So I think in many cases, ways, you know, some of the issues that are out there, but most brands have now had to sort of hyper focus and what they need their online presence to do for them. In many cases, they may even completely change or pivot their business to offer something to drive additional or net new revenue through online streams. So you know, marketing as a whole for a long time has kind of gone unnoticed or shoved to the side as a thing that's kind of nice to have for the smart brands and for the smart marketers inside, you know, they know the power of what digital marketing attribution and proper tracking and an ROI can do and can mean.
[10:10] Eric Vardon And I think that, you know, we're putting in now our business into the driver's seat, where marketers are really leading strategies going forward. So that's a big, you know, big opportunity. So I'm hearing and seeing a lot of that which is super positive at the same time, finally, adoption. You know, it's been a lot of buzzwords of AI and machine learning over the last few years, but now it needs to be implemented. Businesses need cost-effective solutions, they need to scale, there's not a lot of team members out there, if you think about, there's a still a massive gap.
[10:41] Eric Vardon And a lot of jobs that are open, hopefully more of those will be filled. But in the marketing space, and a lot of that is trying to replace the you know, the mundane stuff, that constant analysis, you know, people having a hard time finding people to fill those roles, because it's it's not a fun job. It's, you know, number crunching all day long. We as marketers, we want to be strategic and have fun and solve client problems or internal problems and issues and opportunities. And so I think there's an adoption for tools, affordable tools that are smart, that's really going to help them be happier in their in their jobs. And it's, you know, it's nice to see that as a trend.
[11:18] Shahin Hoda And on that note, let's let's talk about let's talk about AI and and the, you know, agency word and market marketing world, right. I, you know, I feel like AI still quite undeveloped in terms of the marketing world and adoption in the marketing world in the agency world. What do you see over there? And what is your experience with agencies adopting AI?
[11:40] Eric Vardon Yeah, I mean, there's two, two ways I'll answer is there's definitely a learning curve and a comfortability, in terms of understanding it, and knowing how to trust and pay for, you know, a new tool that seems in many cases, just way out there. And maybe it's not relevant from my business, or whatever the excuse is. But you know, marketers and business owners need an AI strategy, they need to understand it, if you don't, you're you will fall behind it is and will take over. So it's it's definitely on the onus to to make sure that everybody feels comfortable.
[12:15] Eric Vardon I think the other way is that I'd answer it is that, you know, ultimately, it we say it's a new, a new way to work. And we use an analogy of this check engine light, and I'll use it to make my point, but we used to, and back in the old days, we, you know, open the hood, and we check our spark plugs, we'd make sure there was enough tire pressure in the tires before we would drive and, you know, you get in your car now and you've got this check engine light that tells you if any of that stuff is a problem. And you think of that, and you're like, yeah, okay, I get that that makes sense. I can see even though I'm not that old, but I you know, I can I can respect it.
[12:51] Eric Vardon You know, but that evolution hasn't necessarily impacted the marketing industry. And there are definitely things going on, don't get me wrong, but it's a notion that we need to be comfortable with the machine, in this case, the computer in the car, giving us information. And now we take that for granted, that's okay. But you know, I feel strange when this AI tool is actually giving me more insights than my maybe my team ever has. And so that's just going to take time, it's more of that social movement to new processes, new workflow, in a different way to perform our business, that right now we can do in a comfortable way, I'll be it not scalable, which is making people angry and frustrated and maybe isn't giving us all the results that we hope to achieve. So that I think is the biggest challenge whenever you have to move people into a new way to work will just take time and education and credibility. And that's a you know, that's definitely coming up.
[13:44] Shahin Hoda How should people do that? Like, how should because I mean, look, it's also a vague concept, right? AI. It's like, what does that mean? It could mean so many different things. But you know, what do you how do you think should whether it's, it's in the agency world, or it's in the marketing world, so you know, large department in organisation? How do you think they should approach AI? Like, you know, if they, if they say, Hey, we would like to adopt the, as you said, the new way of working, how should they go about doing it?
[14:15] Eric Vardon Well, what we did before we built more via was we looked at where, where we were seeing frustration from our team member. We looked at where our hours were going from our time logs in terms of where people were putting their time versus the impact, and then what we're able to charge. We did a lot of investigation on where we felt that people were just doing busy work. And ultimately where we thought that, you know, a machine could do a better job, or at least replace something that we knew the team didn't want to do. And so the point is that there's always a trying to find a problem or hypothesis and in trying to solve that with machine learning or AI is a good way to go. Because you know what it is that you hope to achieve. If you're just you know how like, sad like to invest in AI or try, well, you don't really have a need, you're just kind of curious.
[15:08] Eric Vardon And so I always say, look at the business, look at where money is going out the door, or time or effort or hours, or ultimately where people are being, you know, frustrated, or what's causing them to not be, you know, have the most impact as team members or employees and start there and build one case and go and try to solve that business problem with some machine learning. And if that's the very start, machine learning in terms of a computer, being able to compute something faster than somebody else is a simple way to adjust it. If we have a problem that we get, and it's our business. Hopefully, that's maybe an example of how we could, as business owners could start or at least give it a chance and use that as an example.
[16:01] Shahin Hoda I'd like to also touch on a little bit an Arcane and again, we touched on it briefly, but some of the mistakes that you've made and some of the issues that you've had over there, right? If you would go, this is the if you would go back, right, the go back question. If you would go back in the arcane days, because the reason I asked this is morphew have been coming out of some of the problems that you've experienced over there. You know, if you go back in the arcane days, what is one thing that you would stop doing sooner, rather than later?
[17:17] Eric Vardon Yeah, I mean, you're so I'm, you know, building the business sort of young and somewhat experienced, but really not. And I think you make a lot of decisions based on what you believe success to be perceived as, in so many cases, I think I forget exactly how the line is, but it's something like revenue or sales is vanity. And profitability is reality, or something like that. And so the point I'm trying to make is, you know, you do a lot of hire a bunch of people, because you think the headcount matters. You drive top line revenue, because you're chasing awards or other things.
[17:58] Eric Vardon And, you know, it's the hindsight, obviously, 2020, but I would, I would, we were lucky, I mean, we were profitable all along the way, maybe not as much as we could be. So we, you know, we did a lot of good things. But I think that if we could do it again, it would be more focused, profitable scale, versus, you know, scale at any cost. And so I think we may have lost some good people, I think we may have lost some really good clients. I may, I think we may have not put as much emphasis as we should have on, you know, culture or certain things. And I think we did pretty good at all those.
[18:35] Eric Vardon But, you know, if I was hindsight, I would probably really around the vanity side of really focusing on a sustainable profitable business will give you ultimate selection, ultimate power, success, creativity, whatever words that you want to use. Build that foundation, you know, you and I talked about it a few weeks ago, build that first create a system of profitability, that will really give you the power and the flexibility to take the business where you want it to go. And that is a great place to live. And, you know, learn that maybe the hard way over the last bit of the career. But, you know, that's the one one thing I would say, in terms of looking back.
[19:13] Shahin Hoda Makes sense. Makes sense. And, and do you think that would become challenging, if it's, you know, if the organisation is too small, and maybe, you know, or you felt like it has to grow in order to have a certain number in the bank accounts, so that it will start focusing on that profitability, and culture and so on, so forth? But or no, it can focus on all of those things from the very beginning?
[19:40] Eric Vardon Well, I mean, I think you have to hope that it does all those things, and maybe you can get lucky and I think in a lot of cases, we did get lucky we you know, we had a great group of of individuals that have had separate focus and other areas of the business and we're in constant In communication, and we're friends and loved growing the business and so we support each other caught mistakes or issues are brought up certain things that maybe if you're a solo entrepreneur or didn't have a partner, you would have probably missed or made huge mistakes on.
[20:15] Eric Vardon So I think in that case, we got lucky. You know, but I do think you can have it all, it's just really surrounding yourself with great advisors. I'm a huge component of proponent story of peer networks, I'm in YPO and YPO member for now, a few years and, and other peer networks prior. And so, you know, having a network as me as an individual that I can go to, to be able to, you know, confide and have other shared experiences with other individuals that are going through unique, similar or different things, was also something I wish I would have done earlier on. It's been a great addition in the last few years for me.
[20:56] Eric Vardon But yeah, so surrounding yourself in and in working hard and focus, knowing your business, knowing your numbers, having a great finance team. And a little luck along the way doesn't, you know, it doesn't hurt anybody?
[21:09] Shahin Hoda Never does? It never does. Okay. And last question I want to ask is around your personality and some of the things that you believe in, I've noticed that, you know, from from reading some of the material and the chats that we've had, you are and you mentioned it right now you're very big on community, and you're very big on helping others out. And there's some some components of his marketing, but also, I feel like there's a big component of that of what you believe like, Morphio has a community, and you and the team give a lot away. you've, you've talked about that, in some of the articles that I've read, what why is that?
[21:49] Eric Vardon Like, I think a lot of the founding principles of all the businesses were involved with come from our morals and principles and values that we have as individuals. So, you know, I believe that giving back is good karma. And, you know, helping each other in this case, as entrepreneurs, is something that can be a very, you know, obviously, it feels great, but it can be a very individual way to live. Entrepreneurs, many times are very siloed, even if they're surrounded by amazing people.
[22:25] Eric Vardon You know, it can be it can be lonely at the top, if you will. And that's something that I experienced. And I feel as though you're as entrepreneurs, too, you're so focused on what's ahead next, that sometimes you don't stop, give back, you know, appreciate what you have, and all those kinds of things. So, so partly, it's, you know, I love enjoying and talking to people and being around other business owners, I learned just as much whether they're just starting or been in business for 20 or 30 years, and I've always enjoyed learning from other people, you know, all along the way, whether they're in the same business as me or not.
[23:03] Eric Vardon So the active listening part, and just the natural curiosity is kind of who I am. And so that would be the other way I would look at it. But, you know, ultimately, it comes down to, you know, those shared values and really living up to it. And sometimes, you know, you go through those phases of, you know, your life and you hit a certain age, and there's certain things that ultimately you just want to do, and I think that's a big one. So whether it's direct community, the community of marketers, community of business owners and entrepreneurs, or if it's, you know, passion projects, like roller hockey, which I love to do, and golf and other stuff, helping people out makes me feel good. And, you know, I think it's important for us, especially with everything that's going on to be as humanly positive as possible. So take that for what it is.
[23:49] Shahin Hoda No, that makes sense. That makes sense. What have been some of that some of the highlights from being part of communities like you, the Morphio community, you mentioned WPO, like what was those, some of those early experiences that it kind of made it click for you?
[24:08] Eric Vardon I think it's just like my, like, you know, this you walk into a room with, you know, a bunch of strangers that are networking thing, and you're lucky enough to find someone that you instantly just get along with. It's a really great feeling. And, you know, I have a whole 'nother belief on why that happens. But there's a lot of power in that and the energy that comes with like minded people, and ultimately, I think moves the world forward. And so you I think you'd become a little bit addicted to, you know, surrounding yourself by other people that you know, you want to be like or that you want to share with and if we all are, you know, filled with energy and if it's all positive and you can surround yourself with, you know, people that impact you in a positive way.
[25:00] Eric Vardon Then yeah, I think that that is something that you can't just turn off. And so, I always see myself being pretty proactive and, you know, being involved, you know, in many ways, and again, given that we're what we're dealing with, where, you know, you can't really hug people, you can't really, you know, approach people anymore, and you don't know what they look like. It's just, it's really hard to deal with, for someone like me, that would probably, you know, randomly hug everybody. But hopefully, that'll all lift and change or will go back to the way things should be. And that some, but it's a little bit more on, on on how I look at community.
[25:34] Shahin Hoda Fingers crossed, Fingers crossed 'sayings, but no, that makes sense, and thank you for sharing that. Okay, so we spoke on a wide range of things. We talked about, you know, mistakes in the marketing and advertising world. We talked about AI, we talked about some of the mistakes and lessons. And also, lastly about community, is there anything else that you think I didn't cover? Or I didn't ask that you think it will be valuable to cover here?
[26:07] Eric Vardon Yeah, I don't know. I mean, it's tough to say I could probably talk forever. But um, I think, from our conversations, you know, I believe that in our space, often we are hired as service executors. And a lot of times, you can get into order taking too quickly. And so I'd always say, especially in the lens of agencies, and our clients, give the clients the respect that they deserve, and make sure that they know that we're in the same room for a reason they saw something in each of us that they like, whether it's a service or, you know, a way that something was said, or potentially a core value proposition, or whatever the case may be.
[26:56] Eric Vardon And so instead of really order taking, I would, I would really challenge to ask those businesses questions and really infiltrate what it is that they hope to achieve. And the more you come back at asking deep questions, and doing research and giving a lot of energy towards knowing their business, thinking differently, whether it's right or wrong, I have always believed that, that level of intimacy can show that you really do care about the business. And I think that that is something that with all the noise and complexity of digital marketing, that that that connection to business strategy, sometimes gets, you know, thrown down the channel, or ladder have you.
[27:38] Eric Vardon And so I'd love for everybody that are marketers to bring back that challenge. We are the experts, we know the data, but also just you know, not only get to know your client or the business, but really get to know what it is that they hope to achieve. And ultimately, if they're going to choose a digital marketing company, one versus the other, it's generally because they'll see something in the way that you approach their business that the other hasn't. And if you really put that time and effort in, I think that will help everybody really secure either more happiness in the role or more success as an agency. You know, when they go when they try to grow.
[28:14] Shahin Hoda That's very true. And I think that's also true for marketers in organisations as well, I feel like you know, a lot of situations, and a lot of situations that you you find that maybe the upper management will come and all of a sudden dictate something because you know, what they like or what they think is right, and override some of the you know, marketing has gone done market research, understanding the customer and all that, but the, you know, the highest paid person in the room doesn't necessarily feel that's the case. And they might push back and things would change. And I feel like it is agencies, but at the same time in the marketing world, it is also the marketer and the practitioners in organisations as well that find that, that challenging and that they've got to push back. I really like that.
[29:03] Eric Vardon Yeah. I'd also say so just on that point, it's like, and that's really what I'm so passionate about now is that, you know, why would any of us accept to be frustrated and unhappy and busy, you know, in going in and out of Facebook data and Google Analytics and Google Ads all day long when we don't have to. You know, we all want to think about those big strategies and have time to be creative and problem solve and, and sort of, that's the thing that all of us have to think about is if I didn't have to do those things in the morning for two hours, what else would I do with my day and just start there and say, okay, maybe I can replace those two hours. And then I could replace an hour here. 20 minutes there. How much love would you have for your job if you now had three or four hours in the day, not doing the things you don't want to do and enjoying all of that extra time on the things that you love. Right. Sounds pretty simple. And that's the challenge.
[30:08] Shahin Hoda Yeah, I think there's a pretty simple answer to that as well. All right. Eric, thank you so much for this now, if anyone wants to know more about Morphio and what you and the team are doing, what's the best way for them to find out?
[30:23] Eric Vardon Sure, yeah, just head on over to Morphio.ai, m-o-r-p-h-i-o.ai. You can always find me on on LinkedIn as well just send a message out much like you did, we'll connect and have some shots. So there we go.
[30:38] Shahin Hoda Sounds great. Thank you so much, Eric.
[30:47] Eric Vardon Thanks a lot.