Client challenges keep us innovating, says ad tech entrepreneur

Brands are often looking to Silicon Valley to learn how to be innovative but former NASA analyst and ad tech entrepreneur, Sandro Catanzaro, believes traditional brands can be a source of inspiration for the start-ups too.

Challenging to inspire: start-ups are looking to clients to keep them innovative
Challenging to inspire: start-ups are looking to clients to keep them innovative
Their requests reflect actual business needs, and thus, value

The eternal quest for innovation leaves a lot of brands feeling like a donkey following a carrot, chasing a horizon that promises a permanent future proofing, a seat at the front. Being such a brand is, of course, a question of culture, talent and myriad other ingredients.

But with Amazon’s culture coming under the microscope, big brands seeking that innovation environment may be thinking twice about the cost of such a task. According to Sandro Catanzaro, a former NASA analyst and MIT research that co-founded ad tech start-up and programmatic platform Dataxu, clients are actually what keep the innovators inspired.

"Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum," he says,  "The inspiration comes from our clients, who bring their most relevant business challenges to the table.  As an example, working with our automotive and telecommunications clients, we have developed software to measure Marketing ROI, and we do so by applying scientific methods that are new for many in marketing. Their requests reflect actual business needs, and thus, value."

But what can brands learn in return? Catanzaro has given three lessons from his time running a start-up:

Innovation can come from anybody in the organization

"Empowering individuals to pursue their passion by providing them with tools and time to work on side projects is extremely powerful. Most of our team members know how to make things better, and these side projects have often turned out to be strategic initiatives for the company."

As part of our empowering individuals to create, and pursue their passion, we are proud of our annual Innovation Day. It’s a day were all DataXu offices around the world are encouraged to pause day to day activities and come up with innovative solutions – this ranges from a quick fix to ideas for completely new products. At the end of each Innovation Day these projects and ideas are presented to the founders and company executives. More than a fair share of good ideas has come from the Innovation Day.

Cross-functional teams can provide the best solutions

"At DataXu, some team members work within internal systems in different departments, and others interact with customers. Cross-functional (small) teams can at the same time create a comprehensive solution that takes into account all the details, while also being agile to think outside the box."

Customers know best (most of the time)

"Use your customers to guide where to innovate and how to prioritize. Be relentless in asking for feedback, but think carefully about what the customer really wants. Sometimes they will express their need with a solution attached to it, and you can add value by finding a solution to the actual root problem."

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