Martech Interview with Alex Chapko VP, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, and India at Piano

AI is a game-changer for Adtech and Martech capabilities. This interview with Alex Chapko highlights the importance of Piano Analytics platform and DMP features.

Quite often, founders become victims of wishful thinking. Don’t be satisfied with early signs of traction, keep digging and developing your market understanding, clients’ needs, pitch, and product until you’re able to sign contracts on a regular basis using repeatable processes.

1. Tell us about your role at Piano.
As a General Manager at Piano, I’m responsible for the company growth in four large regions — Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, or in other words, India and adjacent countries. Our platform marries the world’s most advanced digital analytics solution with intuitive targeting, personalization and commerce capabilities, so clients can turn insight directly into action. We combine artificial intelligence, human ingenuity and our global network to give every company the power to make the most out of digital interactions with their customers.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
Starting in 2013, I co-founded with Dmytro Shandyba our first business, Newzmate, which is what we sold to Piano in 2018. At that time, we started with a completely different product, as a news aggregator to replace Google Reader, which had just been closed. We began to design a solution and received support from Microsoft’s BizSpark program as well as the Happy Farm business incubator. This allowed us to meet Artem Hasan, as one of our advisers, who came from the research world and taught us how to analyze the market in order to understand if it has potential.
We took this methodology, analyzed the market and realized that we had 180 competitors, three of which had attracted some serious investments, but were still unprofitable. We realized we needed to somehow change the business model to look for how to monetize the idea, so we changed direction to a B2B model. Essentially, we took our technology of semantic analysis and selection of content based on user interests, switched it to publishers and said, “We have a product that can allow your customers, your readers, to subscribe to the development of a specific article, some kind of event that happened in the world, and receive updates via email when something similar appears.” Later, it was transformed into a content marketing cloud, which was helping news media companies to automate and personalize communication with the audience on the website, in emails and push notifications. This is what eventually developed Newzmate’s business that we sold to Piano.
When our company joined Piano in 2018, there were about 150 people, and now with other acquisitions of Norwegian company Cxense in 2019 and the French company AT Internet in 2021, we’ve grown to more than 600 people across 17 offices in the world.
And during all these stages, I was growing and developing the network in news media businesses across almost 100 countries, helping them to better understand, engage and monetize their digital audiences.

3. What do you think is the biggest technological challenge in marketing right now?
One big technological challenge for marketers at both brands and publishers is that analytics and customer journey tools have historically operated separately, with arduous processing needed to connect the two. In other words, those looking at the data and those designing user experiences were siloed into two separate groups that had a hard time communicating with each other.
In response to this challenge, we acquired a leading European analytics company, AT Internet, earlier this year. Piano has always been focused on helping the largest brands and publishers achieve transparency and agility, so the addition of our new Analytics capability has further accelerated that mission. This holistic approach to capturing customer behavioral data at a massive scale, then segmenting customers to visualize and orchestrate the customer journey in real-time is the core of what we help our clients accomplish and the future of how we see the digital world.
Another important challenge we see across all markets is related to companies’ ability to acquire, transform and activate data about their audience. Especially in the news media business, it’s critical to prepare for third-party cookie deprecation, which will require media brands to build direct user relationships and provide clear value, so the reader will have a reason to share personal data with them, that, with user consent, can be used to improve advertising campaigns performance without reliance on third-party data. This basically means the ability to leverage content monetization strategies and first-party data acquisition to make their advertising business more efficient and reliable, making the overall business model more sustainable.

4. How has a data-driven approach empowered the martech industry?
With the accelerating digitalization of companies and the emergence of new digital pure-players over the last decade, more and more digital actors are adopting data-driven marketing strategies. The implementation of data-driven or data-informed policies aims to respond to the need for ultra-personalization of messages. This allows businesses to stay one step ahead of competitors, better anticipate market fluctuations, enhance decision-making and continuously improve performance in a systematic way.

5. How has the introduction of AI technology enhanced adtech and martech capabilities?
The introduction of AI technology has been a game-changer for adtech and martech capabilities. For example, AI allows us to provide predictions, anomaly detection and causality analysis. Piano Analytics develops artificially intelligent analysis on every single metric in the platform, including the ones that clients have custom-defined. It can also notify clients if a value is out of the expected range, allowing them to react faster to the drivers of their business. This helps them stay ahead of key deviations, rather than needing to have them pointed out, or missing them altogether. In general, AI allows marketing and advertising teams to scale their communication with digital customers, keeping it personalized and relevant.

6. How do you define your Analytics platform?
Piano Analytics is an advanced analytics solution built to address the challenges many users face with tools available today from legacy players like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics. Our goal with this platform is to generate a single source of truth in reporting, for segments, or for targeting, by unifying data, including marketing analytics, product analytics, content analytics, transaction data and first-party data.
We’re very excited about the opportunities this presents for our clients to really understand how they’re interacting with customers online. Anybody can say they make data “actionable,” but with Piano, our activation tools are holistically built into the platform, so clients can turn the insights directly into action to accomplish their goals.

7. What features of DMP differentiates it in the market?
DMP is quite a common platform and many solutions on the market have a similar set of features. One of the key reasons for adding DMP & CDP capabilities into the Piano stack was our belief that data and experience should not be separate. Piano is the only platform on the market where we take a deep look into the content consumption (using natural language processing to identify individual users interest and content of the content) and also enriching user profiles with zero- and first-party data we collect from other areas of the platform focused on the end-to-end user experience management. Rather than relying on third-party cookies, which we know are on their way out anyway, data on user engagement, behavior and interest is combined together to create user segments. These can then be used to influence user behaviors and accelerate business growth by connecting them with ad servers, showing those audiences hyper-targeted ads, or when combined with Piano’s customer journey orchestration tool Composer, providing personalized experiences that entice users to subscribe.

8. What advice would you like to give to technology startups?
Don’t take any advice as a guide for action. But seriously, I think that I will not say anything new by repeating the common wisdom — keep looking for product-market fit until you have a growing paying base of clients.

Quite often, founders become victims of wishful thinking. Don’t be satisfied with early signs of traction, keep digging and developing your market understanding, clients needs, pitch, and product until you’re able to sign contracts on a regular basis using repeatable process.

Even after that, keep collecting the feedback, do customer development to find where you can make a bigger impact, and when your solution will be on top of the client needs list and you will be able to deliver on your promise with a quality product, you’ll see a booming growth of revenue.

9. What work-related hack do you follow to enjoy maximum productivity?
Surround yourself with people who have an entrepreneurial mindset and give them as much power as possible to make decisions and drive the area they are responsible for in a necessary direction. You will be surprised how much faster you will be able to achieve your goals.

10. How do you prepare for an AI-centric world?
My personal attitude is probably very prosaic, but I believe that the world will stay people-centric, but lots of things will be automated. In our pursuit to improve productivity and with further growth of trust in AI, we will be interacting less with humans, where the interaction with AI-based alternatives will be faster and more pleasant. Therefore, we need to avoid any attachment to routine tasks that can and should be automated, instead focusing on skills that are always going to be unique to humans.

11. Can you tell us about your team and how it supports you?
I’m based in the Kyiv office in Ukraine, but responsible for company growth in 50 counties across 4 big regions. Part of my General Manager role is managing the team that includes R&D, sales, technical support, product management and operations functions. I believe my key role is empowering functional managers to achieve their goals, at the same time hiring the ones who have a similar stack of value and are interested to move in the same direction as I’m, then it’s a very pleasant and easy process and I know that these people will do best work possible without my supervision. Over the 2 years, we’ve shown really strong results in the region in terms of growth and overall quality of product management, and our HQ management saw great potential in Kyiv, so we are now looking for a large number of business development people, designers, developers and product managers, to grow our team.

12. What movie inspires you the most?
There are too many of them to list, and this question is very contextual. In different periods of my life different movies, podcasts, books and articles helped me in different ways.
Some of the recent ones that I watched loved a lot were Dune, Ford v. Ferrari, Schumacher (Netflix), Ted Lasso (Apple TV+ series), Shang-Chi, The Gentlemen, The Last Dance and Soul (Disney).
We have heard that you have a very joyful work culture. Can you share with us some of the fun pictures from your workplace?
Indeed, we enjoy spending time together in a fun and usually quite active way: we play table tennis and kicker in the office, play beach volleyball every Friday, participate in marathons, go to karting and love to present certificates for different kinds of emotions on birthdays.

13. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
Work apps are quite standard: Asana, Gmail, Google Drive, Salesforce and LinkedIn. The list of personal apps is much broader: Evernote, Waze, Pocket, Audible, Flipboard, Gyroscope (for aggregation of the health data from Apple Health, food tracking, productivity tracking via RescueTime).

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Alex Chapko is General Manager & VP, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, and India at Piano, a global analytics and activation platform.

Piano’s Digital Experience Cloud empowers organizations to understand and influence customer behavior.

By unifying customer data, analyzing behavior metrics and creating personalized customer journeys, Piano helps brands launch campaigns and products faster, strengthen customer engagement and drive personalization at scale from a single platform. Headquartered in Philadelphia with offices across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific, Piano serves a global client base, including Air France, the BBC, CBS, IBM, Kirin Holdings, Jaguar Land Rover, LinkedIn, Nielsen, The Wall Street Journal and more.
Piano has been recognized as one of the fastest-growing, most innovative technology companies in the world by World Economic Forum, Red Herring, Inc. and Deloitte.

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