Episode 420 - Todd Westra / Jennifer Ives

00:25 Okay. Hey, welcome back to the show. And today I'm so excited because we've got someone who's a real human talking about a little bit of human enhancement help along the way here. Jennifer, will you please tell us who you are and what do you do to help other businesses?

00:40 Yeah, thank you. Jennifer Ives, I'm the co-founder and CEO of a company called Watering Hole AI. We help companies around the world, in particular Fortune 1000, Fortune 500 companies around the world, retail, media companies really enhance their marketing and sales efforts through the application of AI. So I always like to say that we help companies market more effectively and sell faster.

01:05 Okay, everyone knows that's the case, but not many people know what to do with it. Jennifer, who are you trying to help? Like AI is one of those magic buzzwords that everyone's like, yay, AI, but nobody really knows what to do with it. How are you helping people and who are you trying to help specifically?

01:23 Yeah, specifically. So we help chief marketing, chief growth officers really hit their numbers. So in essence, we're not just helping the chief growth and chief marketing officers and chief revenue officers, we're helping the CEOs, the boards, the investors and anyone else related to that company.

01:41 Love it. Am I wrong? I mean, everyone's talking about it, but not many people are doing anything with it. Where are you at? And how do you, how do you plug these things together?

01:51 Yeah, yeah, it's a great question. So we've been at this a long time. The company, Watering Hole AI, branded itself about six months ago. However, it's based on a number of years of R&D. So we're not new to AI. We didn't just come around when ChatGPT was announced a year ago. We've been at this for a long time, and both my co-founder and I have been involved in AI for many, many years.

02:12 I love it. I love it. Okay. So as such, we know that AI started long before JetJet, JetJPT. It just happened to be the easiest tool that we can all use. How, how did you like, I mean, were you a marketing person turned AI? Were you an analytics person? Like give us a little backstory. Like why was this so interesting to you and why did you catch the wave before anyone else did?

02:36 Yeah, so I'm a geosocial engineer by training and also by the first few years of my career. So I've been playing in data and really working in data and technology for years and years. I stepped over to the go-to-market side, the commercial side of technology companies, because I knew years ago that you can have the most amazing product or service, technology product or service. And if your market doesn't know about you, it doesn't matter. I always like to say that it's like the tree falling in the woods. If there's no one there to hear it, doesn't make a sound. It's the same with your product or service and it can be technology or not, right? If your product and service, if the market doesn't know about you, it doesn't matter. I became really, really interested and really engaged in that piece of technology company on that side of the business with some hyper growth technology companies. And so in creating and in hearing about the R&D that was going into the watering hole product and service, knowing that it was a solution to the challenge that I had as a go-to-market executive at many companies over the last 10 years in particular, knowing all along by the way, with knowledge of AI and what it could do and what it was going to do at the right time with the right data, with the right pricing, a lot of things had to kind of line up for AI to now be something that many, many companies can have access to. You're right, and it didn't just start with chat GPT. So that's where, you know, it's solving a problem that I've had. It's, it's, we, we have a solution to a challenge that I had, which I think is the best way to, to co-found a company. Hey, that solves the challenge that I've had over the last, you know, the course of my career. That is the, that is the, the painkiller to my pain point.

04:14 Well, you know, most awesome companies are the solution to the problem that the founder was having to begin with. Am I wrong?

04:22 Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

04:23 Totally. So you had this problem. You're a data nerd and that's okay. You don't look like a data nerd, but I get it. Sometimes we come in all shapes and sizes. I love data. I love analyzing data. I love trying to push more data through whatever holes I can. And so I think we're kindred spirits there, but Jennifer, talk to us about like, you're not an AI solution, but you bring solutions to people that need specific AI solutions. Is that right?

04:50 Yeah, we're, we are an AI, well, it's a little bit of both. So we bring a solution to a problem. We, we, we understand the use cases very, very intimately around marketing and sales, right? It is something that I've spent my career doing and, and our team is very involved in, in solving for those pain points. So we have a bespoke, a custom service around AI. You've got to, you've got to understand what kind of, you just mentioned all the data, right? You have to understand what kind of data the company has. What is the use case that's going to that's going to deliver the strongest return on investment for that company. If they spend $5 on applying AI to something, are they getting a 2, a 5, a 10, a 15 X return? That's something that we like to calculate right away on the back, almost on the back of the napkin. We can do a pretty good job. And then we get down into the details of exactly what that ROI should and could and should be for our clients. But understanding the data, the data, the data is in disparate sources. It is backwards looking. It is usually. I'm biased when you get it. It is always biased when you get it. So you have to do a lot of work to the data before you can start applying AI models to that data. And so you got to do a lot of custom work. You need that custom work upfront. And then we put our clients on a platform that is very specific and bespoke to what we do at Watering Hole. And we're named Watering Hole because it's all about your market is your Watering Hole. Who's around your Watering Hole? Do you have gazelles, lions, zebras? And do you just want gazelles? Well, let me baseline for you, which by the way is not AI, it's analytics. It's just looking at the data. Who's around? Oh, you've got, you know, you just wanted gazelles, but you've got zebras and lions. Did you want that? No, I only want gazelles. Great. Okay, let's help with that. And then also where are your like watering holes? Where can you find those gazelles at other watering holes to attract them to your company, to your product and service in fast ways? So yeah, that's.

06:37 I love it. Oh, I love it. I love the analogy I got wandering in my head about Africa and the safari and all that kind of stuff. So I get it, I get it. And we are all attracting people and animals to our watering holes that we give water to. When our water is dry, nobody's coming, right? So how are you helping companies not only keep water in their supply, but also build awareness so that animals know they can come to that water hole?

07:05 Yeah, so that's something that's very specific to each company. So is it that they need help at the top of funnel, right? Do they need AI applied to their marketing funnel? Do they have enough water in their watering hole, but they're attracting lions and zebras versus gazelles? So then there's some marketing, there's also some sales, because are the gazelles leaving for other watering holes? So they're in your sales funnel, they're around your watering hole, but they're leaving before they actually convert to one of your clients and your customers. And so we help. It depends on and it is dependent. It depends on the use case that is the most, the highest earning, the highest returning for our client. And it could be top of funnel, it could be sales funnel. So yeah, when the water's dry at the watering hole, gosh, if the water's dry at the watering hole, as a business, you've got to really figure that out, whether you apply AI or not.

07:57 Agreed, agreed, agreed. Okay, sometimes we've got a whole lake and nobody's showing up because nobody knows the lake is there, right? All right, all right, so your analogy's very fun. I think we could go safari all day long on this thing, but we're not going to. But I love the business model. And you've chosen, you know, I talk about this a lot with a lot of our founders, is that, you know, sometimes we come up with these amazing solutions and sometimes we target the wrong avatar. Meaning, an avatar that's not going to generate a lot of revenue for us, but we just like helping them. Now you are taking the opposite of the spectrum. You have taken these solutions and you're applying them to what type of avatar? Who are you looking for to help?

08:38 Yeah. So we as you know, mentioned at the kind of the beginning of the conversation, the market is really pulling us in the direction of retail and B2B media, media companies and B2B media companies. That is not where we started. We very much started at a kind of a B2B technology. That is absolutely where we thought that we would get the most interest in marketing and sales. And it's not that there's lack of interest. It's just that retail and media, B2B media are moving much faster and identifying AI applied to marketing and sales can move the needle for us. And they have so much data and they have so much desire to understand how AI can be applied or further applied to their own business model, to their own needs. So yeah, you absolutely as a founder, right? You start with one idea and sometimes it's the market, right, that is pulling you in a direction that you think, oh, I assumed kind of based on X, Y, and Z, I made an assumption that it would be this and that the market is pulling us in a direction that, by the way, is not far off, right? It's B2B, B2C, and direct to consumer. So those are the kind of the three areas that we help companies.

09:46 And are you finding in this retail route that you've been sucked into, are you finding these to be more chain style retail? Are you finding mom and pop? What kind of retail are you targeting, both? Cool.

09:59 Yeah, yeah, great question. Global retailers. So those, and they could have started as brick and mortar, but they have a digital footprint now and they're pretty active digitally. Yeah. So those are the retailers. So think big global Fortune 500 retailers.

11:52 Love it, love it. Okay, that's a great avatar. And for those of you listening, like I can't emphasize enough, you gotta take the wisdom that's coming out of these people because Jennifer is really, really smart here. She is finding that she thought she would target someone specifically and ended up being attracted or her product was attractive to other people than she thought initially. She adapted and now she's finding a great avatar with need. She knows how to satisfy the need, and this is a really, really cool shift. Jennifer, that's not easy for a lot of people to do. What helped you make this decision to just kind of go with that as opposed to like, no, I gotta stay servicing these types of people?

12:34 Yeah, so I've been at this a long time. I've been at technology and business a long time, over 25 years, and I have seen people fall in love with, founders fall in love with their one idea. This is the idea, this is what we're gonna do with it, this is who we're gonna set up, and I have seen very quickly within three months, six months, two years, whatever the timeframe is. So that you do, many times the market will, you can absolutely have product market fit and then see that, oh, the market is pulling me a little bit more this direction. You can't fall in love with your first idea. You've got to release that. I learned that long, long ago. What is the product market fit that is required? Well, first off, you answer a few questions to yourself. Is your product needed? Do you have some assumptions around the market? And then allow the market to kind of share with you, allow your customers, right? Your consumers to share with you what it is they're looking for the market will guide you. And don't just don't fall in love with like, this is the only way it can be done. We have to sell to this, we have to sell this product, we have to let the market fair a little bit with you.

13:40 Thank you. Thank you. I love so much that you said that because honestly, I work with a lot of, I talk with a lot of people who get so stuck on the avatar they thought they wanted to serve, and their product is just much better for someone else, and they're willing to pay for it, and yet they just keep their head focused on this group they thought they wanted to serve. It's a bad idea, a lot of the time. Sometimes you've got to stay focused on the niche or the industry you thought you wanted to hit. But I'm telling you, Jennifer, you've done a brilliant thing here. And I'm so proud of you for following the movement of your own business. And who knows, maybe AI gave you the stats and the numbers and the nerdy stuff you wanted to look at to tell you that, but maybe it didn't. Maybe it was just a gut. What was it? What was it for you? And I want to know. Okay, good.

14:25 Yeah, a little bit of both, a little bit of both. A lot of experience, yeah, a lot of experience knowing kind of what to look for in the market, to know when the market is pulling you certain directions and some of our own technology as well. However, a lot of it is experience and it really is letting go of some, I forget how you worded it, but letting go of, attaching yourself to only one idea, one thought, one product when allowing yourself again to kind of allow the customers to, as they discover you, that doesn't mean that you go out into the market without any plan. It does mean that you kind of have an extra ear open for when you are starting and you're brand new into market, really being aware of where are you getting pulse? Where's your heat map, so to speak? Where are the pulses coming from?

15:12 Jennifer, I love it. You know, I was just at lunch today with probably a dozen other CEOs that kind of live in my little valley where I live. And we were chatting about this exact same thing of when a business founder is too emotionally connected to either their avatar or their product that they thought would be the dream solution for everybody, they just tend to stall out and if they're not willing to adapt and look at your business more objectively, you miss out on some major, major things. Now, you are a specialist in applying AI, which doesn't have emotion, right? It is purely data driven. Tell us how that's adapted, you know, as you work with clients right now and help them adapt these new technologies, have you seen use cases where they're like, holy crap, my gut didn't tell me that was happening. You know what I mean?

16:02 Yes. So yes and yes. So in almost 100% of cases, what we do is again, this is not the AI piece, but we baseline for our customers. We baseline who's around their watering hole. Right. Okay. You told me the gazelles are around your watering hole. Let's just baseline that because in order to understand where the lake watering holes are, right, you get the... And so in almost 100% of the cases, that is not who's around the watering hole. The gazelles might be there, but it is why I mentioned the lions and the zebras and you can fill in any other animal around that watering hole. There are generally others around the watering hole and that is usually the first. And then you can also do customer sentiment analysis, which again is not AI. These are basic analysis. And that's the information that is really stunning to our customers or those who are looking to work with us. We'll do a little bit of that upfront just to share a little bit of that with them. And they are routinely surprised and sometimes we'll even push back on the data and say, that's not true. And we'll say, well, data is data. There's zeros and ones with black and white. It doesn't have, 

17:15 It’s not emotional. Right.

17:16 Exactly as you said, it doesn't have any emotions to it. There's no, data is the data. So let's look at the data. Let's see what it says. And by the way, sometimes the data set, they're really happy with what the data says, what it's showing. But many times it's, no, I don't trust that or I don't think that's correct. That's not what my gut is telling me. And we'll just say, well, this is what the data is showing. So let's figure this out together and move from there unemotional.

17:31 I love it. You know, and it is so hard. You know, I think that a lot of people listening are, you know, for many people, it's their first business. And they're like, okay, I made it past launch phase, yay! But they're so emotionally connected to every part of their business, they have a really hard time growing and scaling because they're not looking at the data, they are totally emotionally driven, and in some cases, that is a good thing. And in many cases, once you're out of growth, out of launch mode, you've got to start looking at data. Jennifer, how do you help encourage your clients, and granted, you're dealing with Fortune 500s and Fortune 1000 companies, but how do you encourage a company who's say, at that five to 10 million revenue mark a year, to understand that their gut can't take them to 100 million?

18:23 Yeah, that's such a great question. Your gut can't take you to 200 million. Your gut can definitely lead you and you should have a North arrow in you, right? As to kind of who you are, what you wanna do in the world, why you're coming from an existence. 

18:37 Right, right, mission vision, yeah, yeah.

18:41 You have to look at the data. And if the data is telling you something that you don't believe, then you double down on the data and you look at it a different way, or you start talking to your customers. And by the way, it's not that you have to be buying this data, it's not that you, you can have your own data that you're bringing in. Talking to customers, really understanding the customer experience, no matter what industry you're in. Under, assuming your customers, that's an incredible source of data, and survey those who did not make it through the sales pipeline those who churned out for some reason or another. Now you can do that very quickly now with AI and you can put a lot of AI models into place around the churn of that. However, when you're five to 10 million or just whatever size, less than a hundred million, but you should always be talking to your customers. You should always be serving them and understanding what they're getting out of your product or your service and also what they're seeing in the market. Your customers 100% of the time will usually guide you in a very strong direction.

19:39 Yeah. Oh, love it so much. You know, I had a guy on a couple months ago on the show who was a big CX guy and he would do a lot of CX consulting with companies saying, hey look, if your existing customer base is not, in his opinion, 50% of your revenue, you're screwing up somewhere. And I think that to your point, maybe it's not 50%, but if it's not 20%, you're really screwing up. Like if you're not getting a upsells and new revenue streams from your existing client base, you really are doing something wrong and using AI to manage that relationship or to even just something as simple as, hey, three months after last communication, send some notification to know that we're thinking about them. Those little cues and triggers and things that you can do are going to drive a much better consumer relationship with you and your people.

20:32 Absolutely. And those, the example that you use, there are tools out there now, very small AI-based tools that can help you do that. So again, for the $5 to $10 million.

20:40 It's amazing how many people aren't using it.

20:43 Yep, absolutely.

20:44 So Jennifer, I love your story by the way. I love where you've gone, I love what you're trying to do to serve people. You know, walk us through this though, because I think that you've reached a growth stage where you're, you know, now that ChatGPT is out and AI is becoming more of a commonality, I gotta think this is really helping you grow your business. How do you help, what advice do you have? What mistakes have you made? And did you wait too long to do X, Y or Z? Did you, is there something that just didn't work out exactly right, but maybe it shifted into a positive thing for you?

21:27 Yeah, you know what? I would have engaged the community much, much sooner, engaged and educate the community. The conversation around AI is really very, very strongly focused on chat GPT, which is wonderful, that it's out there in the world, and that people are using it, and people associate AI in their almost everyday life now and ask questions, and hopefully are very curious about it. That's something. I don't know that it was a mistake. I underestimated the lack of knowledge of AI and AI applied to business strategy. I underestimated the lack of knowledge that some very, very smart C-suite executives had. And it's not that they don't understand it. It's that they're leading their companies. They're leading these very global companies, very big companies, growth engine companies. And AI, again, on the news cycle is really stuck on chat GPT. So when coming into a conversation around the other pieces of AI, of generative and predictive AI, because it's on a spectrum. So you're coming in and you're talking about these AI models, and yet you're starting months ago, we would be answering a lot of questions around chat GPT, which has nothing to do with what we do, except it shares the moniker of AI. So, and I'm a community builder to begin with. So, many, many companies that I've been with, I have created or helped to create a community around that particular product or service. That's what I would have done earlier. And I strongly, strongly recommend it to no matter what size company you are, the sooner that you can create a community around your product, service your company, and basically own that conversation, lead that conversation in a thoughtful, transparent, honest way, the better you'll be. So that's, that would be my, my thought for the, for your, for your viewers and your listeners.

23:16 I like it. I love it. Love it. Love it. Love it. Yeah. No, if you don't have a community around your mission and what you're doing, your chances of really connecting with them is much smaller. And I think you're right. There's so many tools now. There's so many ways to keep engaged with people. And you know, to the, to the model of that CX guy before, boy, I thought about what he said after we got off. And I remember thinking, 50% of my revenue should be coming from new growth within my client base. And I thought, there's no way I'm doing that. I'm not seeing that. And I need to make some changes. And I think that AI is jumping into everywhere we are right now. And what's a good first step? What's a good thing that you would suggest for, say, a sub $10 million company? What are you not doing right now? What's a good AI thing they could adopt right now?

24:06 What I would do is I would become very curious. What are some ways that AI, just start to learn, start to experiment, whether it is through ChatGPT or Bard or one of these free tools, start to experiment with how some open, free AI could be helping with your efficiencies in your business. That's where I would start very, I would be curious. I would start testing tools that are already out there. I would ask lots of questions. I would be meeting within the community of CEOs or the industry that you're in. I would be asking all of those questions. Do not block out AI. Lean into the curiosity around AI. And also within your company, start asking the questions kind of almost, what is your business strategy? And then where would AI make the most difference applied to your business strategy, that's where then you want to start is what is the use case around that piece of your business and start small again get curious around it start small test and learn test and learn.

25:06 Well, for those of you listening, I hope that you're loving what you're hearing. I am, and Jennifer, do you have a community that we can post in the show notes here for people to connect with you on?

25:17 Oh my gosh, sure. So on LinkedIn, please find me on LinkedIn. Love to talk to you, love to connect with you. Jennifer Ives on LinkedIn, Watering Hole AI. And yeah, that's the best way to reach me. You can also come to our website, wateringhole.ai.

25:30 I love it. I love it. Well, Jennifer, before I let you go, I got to hear the shoutout. Who is it in your circle who has been there for you to kind of mentor you through some of the growth you're seeing in your business?

25:41 Yeah, so who has been kind of in my world? I will shout out Sam McKenna, I will shout out Anthea Stratigos, I will shout out John Koffhold, I will shout out the entire organization chief as well as CEOX. These are individuals as well as organizations that have been really supportive and very wonderful to me in my career.

26:02 Love it, love it. Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to do this today. I love your business, I love where you're going with this thing, and for those listening, connect with Jennifer, find out what she's doing, and I would suggest connecting with her and finding out what you should be doing in your business.

26:19  Thank you, Todd. It was a pleasure.

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