Sean Knapp of Ooyala Talks Timing, Acquisitions, and Product Strategy

Videos, Product Management, PM Confessions

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In our 2nd episode of Product Management Confessions with Sean Knapp, the Ooyala co-founder talks to Wizeline Product Director Matt Pasienski about what it was like to build Ooyala from the early days to its acquisition by Telstra to the present day.

Now, as Ooyala’s Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer, Sean goes over the following:

  • How timing played a huge role in Ooyala’s ability to introduce its innovative video analytics
  • Why it’s important to share product visions with all parties involved in acquisitions
  • Advice on identifying the product fit for a potential acquisition
  • Product strategy as it relates to hiring and recruiting

Check back later this week for the final interview with Sean.

If you missed Part 1, you can watch it here: Ooyala's Sean Knapp on Product Strategy & Execution

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Ooyala co-founder Sean Knapp

Full transcript:

Sean Knapp: You have to make really specific and strategic bets where you say, "I'm willing to vote 20, 30% of my resources to something that I may not see the fruits of this labor for a couple of years. It's a bet on some tremendously long term value for the business."

Matt Pasienski: When you do take a long bet like that and specifically you took the internet's best unfair advantage over traditional TV which is analytics. You don't get [nightlies 00:00:32], you get this person is in this house is watching with one other person on their mobile device. You have that intense level of ability to target it. It doesn't pay off until you've been educated the marketed, you created a complete solution, and you have the add dollars that are going to respond to that level.

You spend a long time front ... Obviously you're developing marketing, big companies were buying in, they saw where it was going but you had to then find a way to scramble until that big vision paid off.

Sean Knapp: Right. A lot of it tied to timing. If we look at a lot of the analytics and let's say automation technologies that we introduced now. How do you automatically recommend content or, how do you automatically target advertising from a video perspective. Had we introduce those say five years ago? Nobody would have actually embrace or accepted that in the market. That's an enterprise business that you need a rather moving industry. Part of this is finding the right technology, the right product, the right solution for the right time.

We've really invested in how do we peg this natural iterative approach with the industry. One of the acquisitions we recently made was a Videoplaza, the number one video ad server out of Europe. These guys were actually finding that some really nice early success and what's called programmatic advertising which how we've been trying to do that in the United States would have been nowhere near successful a year or two ago. In Asia, similarly is further behind but these guys have found a tremendous amount of success at that perfect time for the European market.

Matt Pasienski: That's interesting. One of the things I wanted to touch on was acquisition. You take this not only are you necessarily acquiring maybe new technology but you maybe acquiring new markets as well. You guys have face it from both sides because you're acquiring companies in Europe but then also Telstra recently acquired Ooyala out of Australia and so what are some of the ...

Sean Knapp: Something [crosstalk 00:02:36] are a nightmare.

Matt Pasienski: Exactly, our of phase. What are the kind of challenges that you face especially as a chief product officer in integrating with a much bigger company? Which is I'm sure a lot of people out there facing or as an acquirer trying to find the exact right fit for what's already exist in the company you're acquiring?

Sean Knapp: We've actually been very fortunate. We have a fantastic configuration with Telstra where about a year and a half ago, honestly they approached us and said, "What would you guys want to do to just really go kick some ass and dominate the industry?" We basically put everybody in the room and they start the white board stuff and long and behold had very quickly spent $2 billion theoretically.

At which point we said, "Okay, brainstorming is over. Let's actually go figure out how we're going to actually do something that's a much more modest degree." Telstra kept us actually at a standalone fully on subsidiary of the business so we're from a product and engineering, and actually from an entire go-to market strategy too are very independent. It's been very beneficial for us.

Matt Pasienski: Maybe to key on that, keeping a company standalone. Obviously, as an acquiring company you're looking to bring in that product and find a whole bunch of efficiencies between your existing marketing channels. You want to integrate it but in the other hand, there's all these other factors of culture and ...

Sean Knapp: It's a ton of credit honestly to the Telstra executive team and their board where they were really keen on this. We must keep this entity separate to maximize our odds of success. Let's keep it as separate entity. We don't want to pull it in, we will be a customer of this entity but for Telstra if they actually and they've very aware of this. If they were to actually take control of our road map for example, and they benefit their own internal operations but it does not actually benefit the greater Ooyala mission which is something that they very much believe in.

Matt Pasienski: You want to make sure that whoever is influencing you has the same vision as ...

Sean Knapp: Exactly. I could not have even imagine that would work out as well as this. On the other side, obviously on the acquiring side, it was really interesting because for example we were actually going through the steps and like negotiations. Actually the due diligence on Videoplaza before Ooyala had even completed the transaction. You go to one room and you're doing the due diligence information turning to somebody else and then you're walking to another room, be like "All right now, let's go receive this information."

You felt very like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It's also been really great. This ones in a very different regard then say the acquisition with Telsra where for Videoplaza, and the other targets that we actually have in the business, we take a very different approach. We're actually looking for companies that we can integrate and we're looking for companies that for example can leverage from a lot of Ooyala strengths in analytics, a lot of Ooyala strength in North America, and that we can take advantage of their strengths geographically as well as their technology.

Matt Pasienski: What will you say when you're going in and ... If you made one acquisition, you've evaluated plenty of other ones. What are the key distinguishing characteristics especially from looking for that product fit between the great taking advantage what you already have and not diluting it but then add into it?

Sean Knapp: You do have that, we always have the same. You look at 20, you go after two, you close on one. That's roughly the numbers I think that we've held to. When you look at how do you find the right type of acquisition. First, I think you have to look at or you bind things for the people, or you bind things for the product, or you bind things for customers.

You can do all three but if I'd say similar to how when you hire somebody, if everybody is like, "They're pretty good X, and pretty good at Y, and so on." If nobody is really ecstatic about the individual along one vector, it's generally speaking a bad hire. From a very similar perspective here, we look for them to be good at two of vectors and just truly excel.

Matt Pasienski: If you had to give advise for someone who is in a position that I would love to get acquired by this company, that's one of our big extra strategy. It's find that one thing and do it really well?

Sean Knapp: I think we find this across the board when you're building the business, whether you're building your individual career or whether you're trying to do MNA. Ultimately, life for where just those who excel at something so focus on something and truly excel at it. I think when we look at for example the guys at Videoplaza, we love the team. I'd say first and foremost to bet on the team, they had great customers.

They had great technology but when we spend time with the team and when you're doing earlier stage acquisitions Videoplaza was roughly 65, 70 person company. Ultimately you're placing bets on the team. They'd taken the business incredibly far and incredibly fast, but the real big bet there is, "Okay, so if we go and turbo charge this thing, if we take their product and roll it out across our field organization and put all of our engineering and product course power behind it as well and give them access to all the tools we have. Can that team go even faster?" That was a really big one.

Matt Pasienski: There's a risk with certain teams giving them more and makes them worse?

Sean Knapp: Exactly. For us, when we spent time and we spent a lot of time and we have a lot of interesting stories about how much time we've spent with the various executive and founding team over at Videoplaza. You really do need to mind that. You have to believe very fundamentally, and the value of data and analytics, and what you can do in a programmatic and automated fashion on top of that.

We're very much align there. I think the second big one is as we have been putting together our strategy and we have a multi-year strategy at Ooyala now as part of Telstra. It's very similar to how you recruit people, just individual employees into the business. You don't pitch it. You just say, "This is what we want to go do. Here's our vision, here's our plan, here's what we think we can execute too." I think we're the best fit are the ones that get really jazzed about it.

Matt Pasienski: The fact that you're using hiring as this metaphor for building the business, and the individual as a metaphor for the company that you have to have a lot of driving foundational core value system. Then you have to have differentiating skill sets that actually allow you to come into any company and deliver value immediately.

Jen Chien Posted by Jen Chien on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.

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Jun 28, 2017

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