After getting his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Erik Severinghaus has spent time in the corporate world, most notably at IBM, and the startup world, having been a founding member of iContact and KoalaDeal. It’s apparent he prefers the latter, as he is now onto his third startup, Simple Relevance, a recommendation engine that equips online retailers with personalized email recommendations for better email and web communication.
We caught up with Severinghaus to learn more about his latest venture, starting up in Chicago, and why there are so many stuffed animals in his office.
Tech Cocktail: What is Simple Relevance and who is it for?
Erik Severinghaus: We are a marketing optimization company that makes it incredibly easy for a company to get the right message to the right person. We work with lots of clients who have large customer lists and want to increase the engagement of that audience through digital marketing. We take the data that they have, augment it with data that we pull from a variety of sources, and make it easily actionable.
Tech Cocktail: What was the inspiration behind Simple Relevance? What do you enjoy most about working on it?
Severinghaus: Gartner has reported that by 2017, the CMO of an enterprise will control more Information Technology spend than the CIO. There’s a massive shift starting towards data driven marketing, yet current tools that bridge the marketing/IT divide have lots of gaps. My favorite part of being in this role is simply being in the vanguard of the combination of exciting big data and technology.
Tech Cocktail: Who is your greatest competitor, and how do you differentiate yourself?
Severinghaus: There are certainly other data analysis and recommendation tools on the market – but none of them harness social data and make all of these complex concepts really easy to use the way we do.
Tech Cocktail: What is the biggest advantage and disadvantage of starting up in Chicago?
Severinghaus: We love being part of the Chicago startup scene. The excitement and talent flowing into this space are just a tremendous sight to behold.
Key advantages of being in Chicago include reasonable cost, lots of talented individuals in the area, and a culture that emphasizes execution over hype.
Tech Cocktail: Describe a challenging moment or a crucial decision for Simple Relevance. How did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?
Severinghaus: A crucial decision point came when we decided to transform our business from a B2C focused site to one with an emphasis on B2B. We realized we had phenomenal technology that was getting buried because we didn’t have an effective customer acquisition plan. Key things we learned:
- Trust your gut: when we knew we needed to pivot, we made it happen and quickly
- Do what you know: we were always better with big data than the B2C world
- Keep moving forward: we continue to emphasize consistent execution and avoiding analysis paralysis
Tech Cocktail: What’s one quirky fact about you, your team, or your office culture?
Severinghaus: Because the B2C site was known as KoalaDeal – we still have stuffed Koalas all around the office.
Simple Relevance was one of the featured startups at the recent Tech Cocktail TechWeek Mixer in Chicago.