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Interview With Romi Mahajan, CMO of Metavana

I heard through a mutual friend that Romi Mahajan was doing something I'd find interesting, and sure enough he is. I reached out to him and asked if he'd consider an interview about his new adventure and he graciously agreed. I think you'll find this entertaining and provocative not just because of the nature of the new venture and their novel approach to a hot topic issue, but also because Romi is such a fun guy to talk to.

Around the time I started blogging I discovered ResearchAccess.com and today’s interview guest, Romi Mahajan. Romi wrote about research issues from a marketing professional’s perspective and his insightful posts, entertaining manner, and common sense positions struck a chord with me. He became one of my personal favorites and I was even lucky enough to repost one of his articles here on GreenBook Blog.

I heard through a mutual friend that Romi Mahajan was doing something I’d find interesting, and sure enough he is. I reached out to him and asked if he’d consider an interview about his new adventure and he graciously agreed. I think you’ll find this entertaining and provocative not just because of the nature of the new venture and their novel approach to a hot topic issue, but also because Romi is such a fun guy to talk to.

We conducted this interview yesterday over the course of about an hour via email. Enjoy!

LM: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me Romi; I’ve been a fan of your blogging on ResearchAccess for quite some time and it’s great to finally have a chance to connect. I understand that you’ve recently made a significant change in your work situation: what can you tell me about that?

RM:  After an aggregate of 9 years at Microsoft, being the CMO of a $100M dollar digital agency, and a writer, I wanted to get back to my roots in terms of “building” something that had huge customer promise and could make a dent in reality as we know it.    My new role as CMO of Metavana, a soon to be launched social-sentiment engine, has all the elements of my dream job- People, Impact, Autonomy and direct correlation to both the Consumer and Enterprise spaces.  The chance to build a crack  Marketing team and to make potential energy highly kinetic is an exciting (and daunting) proposition!

LM: So sentiment analysis is all the rage now, with new companies and new approaches cropping up frequently. What makes what you’re doing different than all of the others?

RM:  I don’t like to speak ill of other companies so let me concentrate on the good parts of Metavana instead of the ‘bad parts’ of others.  What drew me to Metavana like a moth to a flame? A few things:

  1. I believe the problems in this space are not just smart Engineering problems.  I think they are physics and math problems that require the right level of scientific rigor coupled with elegant engineering and CS.   We approached this space through the lens of Chaos Theory and non-linear mathematics.  That itself puts us in a category of one.
  2. I believe in accuracy, especially since large companies, governments, and individuals are creating action plans around the result sets we provide.  Metavana’s engine provides amazing accuracy with regard to the polarity of comments on the Social Web and as such will be an integral part of any organization’s business model.
  3. I am a strong believer that social sentiment and voice of the customer cannot be sequestered in some nether region of an organization.  Further, that VOTC can’t be a one-off, expensive, episodic and hard to implement ‘project.”  It has to be present in the very warp and woof of the organization’s fabric.  We believe we have business model innovation that will help us get to ‘ubiquity’ in an easy and customer friendly fashion.
  4. Finally, I’m drawn to Metavana because we aren’t trying to solve every problem.  We have a gorgeous and fecund ecosystem of partners who will apply their expertise to get us into the last mile of the customer journey.  We are an engine!

LM: Wow, that does sound pretty darn interesting! I’ve heard of NLP, LSI, DA, etc.. but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anyone applying Chaos Theory to social sentiment analysis! Without giving away anything IP, can you tell me a bit more about how the Metavana (great name by the way!) engine works? Also, since there is a huge debate among academics and suppliers about which technique is best, can you describe how you arrived at this model as the best approach to bring social sentiment into the boardroom?

RM:  Prescient Question(s) First of all, all of those other methods are sensible at some level and not at others.  Not looking to pick a methodology fight but we believe Chaos and Symmetry theories are the next phase of evolution to get accurate, fine-grained “meaning” from unstructured and emotional content. 

As for how to get Sentiment into the Boardroom- it’s about judo really.  Because sentiment writ large is ALREADY in the boardroom it just comes in episodic phases and ties to the pathology of score-carding (as in item 9 on my scorecard is Cussat….)  Metavana aims to make all systems socially-aware so that all employees in the Enterprise make VOTC part of their jobs!

LM: The name would suggest that you are making a “big data” play by combining multiple sources of meta data from the social web to create a VOC “nirvana”, which of course is kind of the holy grail for everyone in this space. How are you tackling that integration and the competition from companies like IBM, Salesforce, and the big market research players that are also aggressively moving down that same path?

RM:  There are two answers here. One is I prefer to be playing in a big market and owning a small piece of the pie than playing in a null-set market.  Also, we are a small company and in many ways the large companies’ forays into this space are ‘proving the need.’ So I welcome them. 

When you think of an engine or a platform, integration then is about partnership with great companies that build software connectors or process connectors to the engine. So in that sense, we are federating our model to include the ecosystem.

LM:  It sounds like you are aiming for the Enterprise Feedback Management (EFM) space by offering a bolt-on solution to other data sources (survey, CRM, etc..); is that accurate? Again, it’s a crowded market, so how will the Metavana solution differentiate from players like Clarabridge, Verint, Questback, Netbase, etc…? Is the algorithm behind the sentiment scoring powerful enough to rise above the field of established players? Also, can the Metavana model be applied to other types of unstructured data besides social media, such as blogs, forums, survey verbatims, etc…?

RM:  We believe we are broader than EFM.  We believe we have accuracy as a differentiator and, further, that we can create categories for action better than others.  So, yes, we’ll compete and customers will decide who is best!  Yes, Metavana can be applied to all unstructured content/data.

LM:  Getting to the behavioral drivers of consumer choice is obviously a major demand from brands, and one of the promises of text analytics is to deliver the “affect” of the emotion behind the text. It seems to me that your approach could be really interesting to look at macro trends and possibly even predict future need states but how does it deliver on individual emotional measurement?     

RM:  Our consumer play (individual) is to be announced after our B to B play but your thinking is right.  Affect/Emotional reading is the name of the game.  I believe that we’ll be able to help with prediction of macro-trends but also for determining polarity and prediction for mundane and ordinary trends as well.

LM: Which firehoses or APIs will Metavana be accessing during the initial launch?

RM: Still to be determined and announced shortly.

LM: Very cool stuff Romi; thanks for sharing all of this and I will be sure to watch Metavana with great interest! So last question: your career is a storied one and I consider you one of the great marketing thinkers around today. How do you think the online marketing ecosystem will look within the next five years and ultimately what role will companies like Metavana play in that vision of the future? Also, you’re obviously a guy who likes a challenge, so after all the fun of launching a start-up, what will you do to keep building on your personal brand momentum?  

RM: Leonard, thanks for the personal question.  I’m really all about people, relationships, love, justice, and ambition.  The three pillars of my career are People, Impact, and Autonomy. I think the online marketing space will continue to evolve but will never be the panacea people make it out to be.  Marketing, to paraphrase the Bard, is a many-splendored thing and will continue to be a diverse, multi-faceted gem.    What I do believe is that some trends are not “undone” or “rolled back” and the Social trend is now simply part of what we eat and breathe in Marketing.  So companies like Metavana will be the new platform players that enhance the ecosystem and add to the individual and organizational voyage we all undertake.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

I have great hopes for our profession and for my company.  I hope you and your readers continue to hold our feet to the fire.

LM: Thanks for your time Romi; this has been great. Best of luck to you and Metavana! 

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