Do We Really Want To Talk To Robots: Event Round Up

Freespee’s event; “Do we really want to talk to robots?” was a resounding success. An array of topics were covered by industry experts and GDPR fears were quelled. All in all, an evening of progress.

We started off with office preparations and photographs of the staff amongst the din. Prosecco was poured, and canapes were munched. Guests streamed in and socialised with Freespee team members in our open-plan space.
Eventually, we took our seats to begin the enlightening panel discussion featuring our CEO Anne de Kerchhove, Gumtree/eBay’s Head of Motors Vik Barodia and Freespee co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Carl Holmquist. The chat focused on AI, trust and the future impact of technology on brand and consumer relationships. Vik also brought up the future of MaaS (mechanics as a service), the gig economy and more.

The first quarter of the conversation covered AI. “It will become less an ‘I need something; therefore, I need to transact,” to a fully immersive experience that says, ‘hey have you thought about this?” and ‘we know what you want,’” said Vik.

He visualised a scenario where artificial intelligence is fully integrated into everyday goings-on.

“I’m amazed by what could one day be real life,” said Vik.

Presently, Barodia defines success in his industry not as predicting what a consumer wants before they want it, but by the building of trust.

“The reason that eBay is so successful is that it enhances the level of trust. eBay was one of the first businesses to introduce ratings. Ratings drive trust and probably the single biggest element of any transaction is trust. We see it on eBay and Gumtree all the time. Buyers are willing to pay more from a trusted seller. Influence comes from trust,” Vik stated.

Speaking of trust, during the Q&A portion, audience members brought up the word on everyone’s lips; GDPR.

One question explored how a post-GDPR world could stifle creativity when justification is now needed for every piece of data captured by marketers.
“I do think we’ll have a period of cleansing, but much of that pre-GDPR data wasn’t based on real relationships, replied Anne de Kerckhove. “We’re going to rebuild on true and trustworthy data and relationships. It’s a painful period, but once the data is clean, we’ll be able to renew our creativity.”

Renewal of creativity in this ever-changing world is something everyone can get onboard with.

“We are not that far away from big names in the digital space disappearing because they have failed to recognise what is happening in the online space, it’s completely cyclical,” Vik added.

Photographs: Howard Sayer 

The Meghan Markle Effect: Luxury Brand’s Call Volume Skyrockets

The Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry may have cost over £30 million but its expected to generate much more than that even now. The previous nuptials of Kate and William in 2011 brought a reported £2 billion to the UK economy and this recent event could produce even more. As a brand, the younger royals are on fire.

This focus is placed primarily on the Duchesses, Kate and Meghan. Both have a knack for wearing a piece of high-end clothing or jewellery that sells out soon afterwards. Their power as influencers is something luxury brands are desperate to align themselves with.

Meghan’s wedding dress was from design house Givenchy, which according to Influencer DB gathered a massive amount of attention from the public over the royal wedding weekend. “The brand was mentioned 3,002 times and generated 12,234,710 likes on Instagram, meaning that its earned media coverage sat at around £2.1 million,” writes Harper’s Bazaar via Influencer DB.

The dress wasn’t the only thing on her person that packed a commercial punch during that weekend. The Duchess was also sporting diamond earrings and a bracelet from a certain French luxury goods conglomerate. It was these pieces, which had company phones ringing off the hook.

Freespee data shows that Meghan had a stellar effect on the number of calls coming into a luxury brand in the United Kingdom. The Germany branch saw a similar spike. Diagrams below show roughly what we like to call, “The Meghan Effect.”

Via: Harper’s Bazaar

The Future Of Marketplaces: Vik Barodia, eBay/Gumtree

Vik Barodia has been Head of Motors at eBay/Gumtree for close to three years, with this position he has garnered a front row seat to the current digital revolution hitting both marketplaces and the automotive industry. We had a few questions for Vik before his panel appearance at Freespee’s upcoming May 23rd event, “Do we really want to talk to robots?” in London. 


How has the buyer/seller relationship evolved in the last five years?

Gumtree and eBay are all about introductions. By that, we mean introducing buyer and seller so that they can agree on a transaction. That is the basic premise of marketplaces like ours. In the last years, what we have seen is that trust is now the single most important things deciding factor between the two parties. In fact, the “trust-drive” is so strong; buyers would rather pay more to buy an item from a trusted seller than a cheaper, identical item from a “weaker” seller. Trust is formed in many ways – experience reviews, ratings and a verified status all play a significant part.

Gumtree is focusing more on personalising the user experience, do you think the advent of AI will help or hinder this for marketplaces?

Artificial intelligence will play a very important role in the future of classified marketplaces. From booking tickets, buying and selling cars parts, and delivery – all facets of the buyer and seller chains can be impacted by AI. The challenge for marketplaces will be in our ability to use AI to build seamless experiences. Imagine a car part – AI can help the seller accurately list the part correctly for all the relevant vehicles it could be fitted into. The buyer gets the correct part every time. The use of AI can then help the buyer to fit the part themselves with DIY help or book the car into a service centre. All done seamlessly. Or a user buying a dress – AI can help them match that dress to a pair of shoes, handbag and even nail varnish colour – displaying all combinations for the user to choose from and buy. The options are endless – ultimately always driving success for seller and buyer which is what our platforms are all about. Personalising the entire value of any purchase is very much our focus in the coming years.

What part of the auto marketplace environment can be improved by the right technology?

For me, data is the secret to all success, and any technology, whether it be AI or predictive tools for users – dealers and private sellers – needs to sit on reliable and structured data. The auto sector has fantastic structured data, but the industry as a whole is not good enough at generating maximum value from it.

When its a high value purchase like a car, how do you build trust?

Trust on high-value items like a car must be built up for sure, both for buyer and seller, but also on the vehicle itself. Notwithstanding reviews and ratings for interested parties, we at Gumtree and eBay also help build trust in the vehicle itself by screening vehicles before they are listed. Every car listed with a number plate is checked in the background for four key things: Has the car been stolen, scrapped, exported or involved in a serious incident? That means that car is not sellable.
If at least one of these checks is positive, then the vehicle is blocked from being listed on the website. As a result, we ensure two things. Buyers on the platform can be sure that they have a choice of vehicles that are legal to sell that have a sound history. And by making this check visible, we remove inertia from the contact process, i.e. potential buyers do not need to go elsewhere to do this check – we keep the buyer on site and in front of the seller’s vehicle. This is great news for buyer and seller alike.

Do you see a collaboration between auto brands and marketplaces like eBay in the future?

Very much so. We can already see that the huge parts and accessory category on eBay drives vibrancy in the car selling category. We are not far from a world where car manufacturers use platforms like ours (because of the huge amount of traffic that we generate) to provide services to car buyers and car owners alike. The impact of eBay and Gumtree in helping auto brands to drive engagement beyond the car purchase/disposal should not be underestimated as they seek to find a new way to lengthen their relationship with those customers.

What is your view on the increase in car rental via marketplaces especially among millennials?

We are fast becoming a rental economy, and the industry is morphing into rental on demand. Disposable income is low, and millennials, with their funds fragmented in location and only in supply on a gig-to-gig basis, will make car ownership for this category difficult.
Enter CaaS –cars-as-a-service if you like, or any other fad name that can be applied. There are already start-ups with this model – today I need a small town car for a city meeting (renting for function), at the weekend, I need a convertible to go top down to the beach (renting for experience). How these early adopters fare will be interesting to watch as pricing is still quite premium. However as more come to market, and the choice is widened, prices should come down. I fully expect this sector to grow, alongside the more entrepreneurial car owners who use platforms to rent out their cars. It will be stronger as a proposition in cities where car picks up and drop off locations are more readily available as opposed to an out-of-town location. My thought is that it will take some time to become a standard mode of “ownership”, mainly because private leasing is still booming and is very affordable.

What part of the Freespee platform transformed your business? How?

The most significant impact across eBay and Gumtree has been our ability to demonstrate value to our dealers. This is not just about saying how many calls we generate for them as a return on their investment, but also to add value to the process too. The most loved feature we have is that of missed call notifications – telling dealers what number they have missed, but also linking that to the car they have listed. Notwithstanding the benefit of helping them sell more cars, we have been amazed to see how vibrant our Gumtree and eBay motors categories are. We can now claim that in any working day, between our platforms, we generate a call to a dealer every five seconds!
Find out more about Freespee’s May 23rd event here: https://lnkd.in/eeNiZZ8 

Standing Out: What’s Behind A Brand Name?

“The sweetest word in the brand universe is your brand’s name.”
Bill Schley & Carl Nichols, Jr from the book “Why Johnny Can’t Brand.”


What’s in a name? A lot. For Freespee, we wanted to reflect the core aspect of what we believe in – seamless and “free” communication/speech between brand and consumer.
Our co-founder and chief strategy officer Carl Holmquist elaborated further, “the name is a tuned version of FREEdom of SPEEch. The idea from day one was to empower the consumer to speak to brands in the way they choose. Rather than having brands push you into different forms etc. If the consumer wants to talk to you, let them talk, if they want to chat, let them chat, if they want to email, let them send an email, etc.”
A brand’s name is its greatest differentiator and is the first indicator of what a company produces. For example, Microsoft – probably one of the most successful B2B companies on earth comes from the words MICROprocessor and SOFTware. Of course, the quality of their service has come to define the company, but the name is what we remember most.
On the flipside, becoming memorable can take a turn. When the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council asked the public to name their polar research vessel, no one expected “Boaty McBoatface” to be the winning (and viral) choice.
Though such a name would have stood out in the tumbling Antarctic seas, the selection was still subversive. Especially when considering the boat’s purpose as a logistic and research support vessel for the British Antarctic Survey. Perhaps Boaty McBoatface would have distracted from the critical work?
Another reason why a brand’s moniker should be creatively aligned with their DNA, who they are and what they do must be embedded in the fabric of their signature. Microsoft is clearly technology based; the Boring Company is a drilling collective. It doesn’t always have to be exact but at the very least – connected. Sports label Nike may not sound related to its product but its named after the Greek goddess of victory, a common goal of any athlete.

In B2B branding its best to be on the nose, there is a difference between B2B (Business-to-Business) and B2C (Business-to-Consumer) characterisation, and it’s down to the buyer, whether it be a business or consumer. The relationship between buyer and brand in B2B is purely rational, and the targeting has to be specific.
Xabier Ormazabal, former head of UK marketing at B2B company Salesforce.com told Marketing Week: “The complexity of each buyer is different. It’s about connecting to key buyer personas and communicating effectively the added value and what you are selling to the stakeholders who you’re trying to influence.”
A brand name sits on many influences; core values, DNA and target audience being a few major ones, let’s explore.

Core Values

What are core values exactly? They are a consistent set of rules that every company should abide by to maintain consistency and therefore strength.
A good brand name has a prolific influence, and when it reflects core values accurately, it’s practically magical. Speaking of, Jeff Bezos first named his company Cadabra, a play on “Abracadabra” but when it sounded too close to “cadaver” he quickly opted for his second choice, Amazon.
The word Amazon evokes images of a massive, exotic landscape. The online marketplace its allied with does the same. Somehow, this e-commerce juggernaut has maintained and evolved its initial goal of becoming the “earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online,” according to Amazon’s mission statement. 

DNA

Much like the nucleotides structuring our bodies, company DNA is its organisational design, including processes like decisions, commitments, networks and mind-sets. Core values and DNA aren’t the same things, values are found in the DNA. A company’s DNA can and does evolve, sometimes the name is included in the shift, especially when the product outgrows the brand. Wachovia bank became Wells Fargo; BackRub became Google (thank goodness), change is good once the core values are in place.

Target Audience

Target audiences in B2B are not like those found in the consumer-centric markets, B2B audiences have some pain points to resolve and oft-times not a lot of time to do it. A good name can affect whether your company is at the front of their minds. Freespee’s clients are looking for a smoother line of communication and understanding between brand and consumer; our name reflects such a goal. Free speech, freedom of communication and ease of understanding. It’s all there.
To recap, a useful brand name is the cherry on a company cake and can make or break perceptions, its founded on core values and can evolve to fit the ever-changing market. Unlike human names, a company doesn’t always grow into their moniker, particularly in the B2B space, it has to reflect the aim and goals a brand holds dear from the outset.
Via: Marketing Week, AD WeekMarketing MO, The Guardian, Rewind and Capture. 

An Interview With The Brains Behind Our Product And Operations

Product, engineering and operations are our backbone; these teams have helped propel Freespee into a front-running position within the conversational commerce arena. The last few weeks has seen the introduction of new faces and features to our community and platform.
With these launches in mind, we wanted to delve deeper into the production side of what makes Freespee tick. I caught up with our product managers, product marketing manager and head of tech operations to better understand the goings-on behind the scenes.


Product Managers and Product Marketing Manager: Jussi Pekka-Kekki, Carolin Wellering, and Heather Baden.

Product managers and product marketing managers probably have the best idea of what the client wants and know how to execute these requests. They’re creators at the end of the day, bringing together multiple variables to establish a unified product, all under the umbrella of the company vision. No easy task.
Freespee product managers Jussi Pekka Kekki and Carolin Wellering are based in Uppsala and run the operation from Freespee’s Swedish Hub, alongside London HQ-based Product Marketing Manager Heather Baden.

What is the role of product marketing in Freespee?

Heather: Traditionally, our role is to be the translator between product & engineering and sales/marketing. As with sides of the brain, every product marketer will “favour” a side. I lean more towards spending more time and energy with product and engineering – understanding how they operate and their pain points. This helps me in creating a more well-rounded translation to sales.
On a day to day, I work very closely with the product team to understand what is going to be released and when. We meet regularly to understand the detail of the features. I follow what they’re doing in Jira and try to have a general view of where things are before they get close to launch. As a translator, I then take my knowledge from both sides and create content that is technically rich but high level.

How are you involved in releasing a product?

Heather: That’s a pretty broad question. There really is no start or end to launching a new product/feature. There are a couple of key parts to a launch, but the foundation of it is always the technology. I work closely with engineering and product to understand the tech regardless of the size of the product and take that to create content.
The way I do this is through translating the tech into competitive solutions for sales to have an edge. For each release, I communicate the content internally in various ways (from newsletters to full-on training sessions). I’ll also produce externally facing guides and value propositions. One of the initiatives we’re kicking off now is improving our tech documentation, and full Getting Started for developers. It’s really exciting to have various facets of enablement and different audiences to translate to.

How do you approach building a new feature?

Carolin: Usually, it depends a bit where the new request is coming from, it starts with a problem that a client has, and then we think of ways the client can solve it. There is always a lot of useful feedback from clients and success managers. We then define particular and very technical requirements. These instructions are given to the engineers, and they execute. We work in agile, so we get a lot of feedback, a lot of learning by doing. It’s an on-the-go process.
One of the best parts of building a new feature is how everyone contributes to the functionality; everyone is trying to solve the problem.
Probably one of the most challenging aspects is the stakeholder management; it can be a bit of a challenge to evaluate how long a solution will take, sometimes we don’t know where we will end up. We don’t know the direct path, for sales and the success managers.

What has been your greatest achievement so far as a Freespee Product Manager?

Carolin: How we kicked off as a team was quite smooth. I tried to provide a vision for the team that we felt responsible for, making sure that everyone stays symbiotic. For me, the team always comes first. I at least always try to make sure everyone can contribute to where we want to go. I don’t like to dictate where we want to go. If its contradicting my opinion it’s even better. Freedom of communication in every aspect is vital.
With regards to product, I’d say a significant achievement has been building the roadmap. Overall, I hope that with Freespee, we help customers/clients better evaluate the calls coming in and the conversations they have with their customers. Freespee can show them the value in these conversations.

What is the role of product manager in a cloud communications platform like ours?

Jussi: Well, the first part is to be the advocate for both the customer and the consumer. The consumers are the broader audience; they’re on a website looking for a car, for us that person is important, but it’s the customer or client who pays our bills. They serve the consumer, but since there are millions of consumers its difficult to talk to them directly. So we talk to our customers to understand how they can better provide for their consumer base.
Our role is to interpret the signals and messages we get from both parties, all over the world. We sort of create answers to problems.

What has it been like developing the product?

Jussi: Challenge-wise, at some point you realise how little you know. We’re going full speed ahead testing solutions, but sometimes you forget how fast you’re going. We are constantly building it; it feels like it’s never going to be finished. It’s the toughest part, you want to get something done, but before that’s done you’re already working on the next thing, you don’t have the time to enjoy your accomplishments.
On the positive side, we have endless amount of innovative energy where the team is constantly looking to solve a problem. We’re in a nice place where we have the potential to grow the company and product. We have so many more ideas that we can’t wait to implement.


Head of Tech Operations: Peter Hedman

Peter was recently promoted to head of tech operations at Freespee, fronting the Tech operations squad which includes Alaa Rahimi and Håkan Lund. Tech operations is the foundation of our functionality – without operations our infrastructure would cease to exist! Peter gave me a bit more insight.

How do you plan to approach your new position? What does it involve?

Peter: It involves offloading Niklas [Malmgren] with all the operations work he did before becoming CTO. I will have a closer look into the operations team. Hopefully, I can develop a better understanding of what the team is able to do and chat about how I want to work towards each sprint.
The most enjoyable part about taking this role will be the opportunities to change and shape tech operations to my vision. Since I started here, I’ve had a vision of how to make things run as automatic as possible.

We recently moved to AWS (Amazon Web Services), what will this transition offer Freespee?

Peter: It means that we don’t have to worry about potential hardware failures and we have more space to keep expanding. With AWS we haven’t had a single hardware failure, which means everything is covered in the infrastructure. AWS probably has millions of hard drives up for grabs, they likely have hard drive failures every second, but you’d never know, its resolved so quickly and allows us to keep growing.

How does that benefit us?

Peter: It improves our ability to stay online as much as possible. Not even Amazon claims to be able to provide 100% online services, but I haven’t seen any hardware related downtime since I started here a year ago.

What would you say is the most useful tool you work with?

Peter: Jira is probably our most important tool. Before that, I could not live without the text editor Vim.

Greatest achievement so far?

Peter: Implanting the Saltstack software. We’ve gone from installing three servers (for example MySQL), over many hours to getting the job done in minutes.

Freespee: Finalists For The ICMA Technology Award!

Happy days! Freespee was voted as a finalist for the Technology award at the ICMA (International Classified Marketplace Association) Innovation Award ceremony held in Vienna, Austria last week. 
Adrien De Malherbe, our VP for Marketplaces, presented on how the Freespee platform enables marketplaces to better serve their buyers and sellers. 
Notably, Freespee stood out as the only company out of twelve that was a provider (offering services to other marketplaces). It’s an honour to have been placed so highly next to in-house developed technologies!
More about the Technology award via ICMA’s website:
“Virtual insanity” – Technology award – for most revolutionary tech implementation
The award aims to highlight the key tech players in our industry. Advances in Technology that created more efficiency, cost effectivity and have provided firms with an invaluable reach to clients and customers is what the jury will be looking for. This section is also open for service providers.
Thank you to the ICMA judges for our award!

An Enlightening Interview with Freespee’s CTO Niklas Malmgren

Freespee’s CTO Niklas Malmgren recently moved from his position as VP of engineering to CTO; we had a few questions for Niklas regarding his new role and vision for Freespee!


Where and how did you get your start in the tech space?

Niklas: I’ve always been a computer enthusiast, but it took three years behind the wheel of a taxi to realise I wanted a career in tech. I got my  break and learned the trade at online payments company Klarna. I worked there from 2011 to 2016, and it was an amazing journey both personally and professionally. The company grew from 400 to 1400 employees during this period. I started as a developer and ended up a manager.

Do you think driving a taxi helped with how you understand consumer communication?

Niklas: Maybe. You do need to be able to communicate with a wide range of people as a taxi driver; I had conversations with everyone, from bums to billionaires.

How has Freespee’s technology grown since your first day there?

Niklas: I’m proud of the significant improvements the team has made to the tech stack since I joined Freespee. We’ve created a new framework for segments and workflows, and we’ve built a great, scalable software architecture for Freespee Talk, our consumer communication software. We have some of the best tech talent in Uppsala [Sweden], and everyone is really focused on crafting sustainable, stable solutions.

How does VP of Engineering compare and contrast with CTO?

Niklas: I’ve had to learn to delegate! Adding Product to my list of responsibilities has meant more focus on strategies and processes. And recruitment. We have so many open positions right now.

How tuned in to consumer communication do Freespee squads need to be?

Niklas: We want to be the experts in how consumers and our clients/companies want to communicate, so these are essential skills for every employee. But the good thing is that customer communication is something everyone can relate to. As consumers, all of us have bad and good experiences from trying to communicate with companies.

What is in the tech stack and what are you currently up to?

Niklas: We’re currently learning more about how our clients want to communicate with their consumers, as we’re putting the finishing touches on our new product, Freespee Talk.  Together with our contextual routing, Freespee Talk will revolutionise the way consumers, and companies connect.

Would you say contextual routing is the rockstar of our system?

Niklas: Contextual routing is definitely a killer feature. It’s extremely powerful, and it has made it so much easier to explain to friends and family exactly how Freespee simplifies communication. But it’s a budding rock star. It will become immensely more powerful, useful, and intelligent down the line. Wait and see!

Tell us about trends you’re noticing in the cloud telephony eco-system?

Niklas: Voice bots is a hot topic at the moment. Used wisely it can have an immensely positive impact on consumer experience. Used mindlessly it will significantly degrade the experience. Knowing when to connect you to voice bot and when to connect to a human is essential. Do they only want to know opening hours or something more complicated? Does a bot better solve a more straightforward question? It will be a better consumer experience if we can connect you to a bot straight away instead of waiting in a queue. Anything that improves consumer experience by saving time and money is a win-win. The focus on consumer experience will continue to grow, especially combined with leveraging the data that’s available.

What should potential clients know about our API?

Niklas: We have really versatile and powerful API that allows you not only to fetch data but to do just about anything with your account. Handle campaigns, retrieve phone numbers. It’s used by some of Europe’s largest online marketplaces.

Can you share your plans for the future of our platform?

Niklas: You’re going to see us finding new ways of making our customer’s data truly useful to them. And we will continue improving the consumer experience by launching our first consumer-facing widget. On the tech side, as Freespee is expanding, we will put a lot effort into ensuring an even more scalable platform.

What are the challenges facing our industry?

Niklas: Right now, it’s definitely regulations. We have made considerable investments making sure we respect the new EU data protection legislation, GDPR, and we are right now putting the finishing touches on our platform to ensure full compliance.