Events impact demand. Armed with this realisation, Campbell Brown founded PredictHQ to help businesses improve their forecasting. Find out how he thinks about leadership, product, and surrounding himself with the right people.
29 Sept 2021 · 5 min read
Data is a valuable business asset. It can be used to analyse performance, monitor customer satisfaction, make design decisions and more. When strong patterns emerge, it tells a story, so why not use those stories to predict the future? That’s what Campbell Brown, co-founder of PredictHQ asked back in 2016, not long before he met Tidal’s Grant McCarthy.
Both Grant and Campbell were at similar stages as company founders when they met, and the way Campbell tells it, it was a match made more from design than fate. Grant immediately saw PredictHQs enormous potential and set about cultivating a relationship, while Campbell related strongly with Grant’s product and market know-how, and was on the hunt for an Australian investor. “Grant's a product guy, I'm a product guy. We're always talking about it.”
PredictHQ was also aiming at a US market, from an Auckland base. Campbell explains how they were attracted to Tidal because they were Australian, but with global experience. “They had already taken a business from Australia to the US. That's why I went with them.” Tidal had the specific expertise needed.
Events impact demand. Founded with this insight in mind, PredictHQ makes businesses smarter by helping them anticipate how external conditions will influence sales, profits, product demand, etc. Their customers access comprehensive datasets related to conditions like major sports events, severe weather, scheduled holidays, etc., so they can capitalise on their understanding of demand, plan labour and resourcing, adjust pricing, and adapt for better efficiency. It is a winning idea and rapidly gaining traction in the US and Europe markets that are digital-first and ready to optimise. Uber was one of their first big enterprise customers.
But even with the solid product, Campbell realised early that they “needed to start going from just building a product to building a business.” That meant having a strong and clear sales pipeline and tangible financial goals. So the PredictHQ team, Grant, and another independent investor, got in front of the whiteboard and spent time working out a plan.
Campbell remembers discussing questions like “what do we expect to get from our customers? What if we only get 10% of these customers? Working backwards from a $1million target, what do we need and how are we going to do it?” He goes on to say “that meeting in particular was a very critical leap. Because a million dollars seems really achievable, but actually when you step back from it, without salespeople, your pipeline is actually pretty small. And if conversion is low, you have to increase the pipeline.”
So in the end, Campbell said, they “sat there for a couple of days and worked through a plan and it came true. I look back on those times fondly because Tidal gave up their time and energy to help us get to our first goal. Which ultimately led to us to raise a Series A and then Series B and here we are.”
Even though they are in the business of insights, Campbell says they sometimes need a bit of help themselves in that area and Tidal’s analyst Max Kausman provided it. Max has a successful track record in corporate advisory roles and shared his experience and knowledge with Campbell to help with customer acquisition strategy. The information enabled Campbell to formulate an enterprise pitch that integrated familiar corporate language. “It helped the customer have a lightbulb moment about us. They could relate.” This same strategy was effective in moving a number of big deals forward.
At the other end of the sales pipeline is product creation, which is equally important to PredictHQ business success. Luckily, finding a great fit for senior product roles is something Tidal’s Wendell Keuneman is great at, and he did not disappoint when PredictHQ started looking for a VP of engineering. “It was a critical hire,” Campbell noted and Wendell, Tidal’s product-led growth expert, “met with the candidate before we hired him and then helped us to understand how we wanted to structure the team.” Anticipating rapid expansion of the business, they needed more than just a new senior hire, they needed to to get the team mix right in order to handle scaling. “We ended up splitting development and data teams. Which will ultimately let us scale faster.”
Founders Campbell Brown (left, CEO) and Robert Kern (CTO)
I’ve spoken to a number of founders for Wavemakers pieces and they usually travel in pairs. Speaking to Campbell alone (co-founder Robert Kern was not available) provided a different insight, which came out toward the end of our conversation.
“It's such a lonely, lonely job, you know, and a lot of CEOs talk about it as so bloody lonely. But Grant's got empathy, and he knows that I’m going to feel that and need support, which is great.” Campbell talked a fair bit about Grant and their relationship. “He’s always there on the other end of the phone. So whether it's me sending a text message or me calling him when he's at his kid's football game… he's always been my point person.” And the respect and trust is mutual.
Campbell is not alone, with nine people in his senior leadership team, but sometimes a different kind of feedback is needed. For example, when Campbell disagreed with an idea put forward by the board, he called Grant to check that his resistance was logical and warranted. There have been other times where Campbell needed to pause in a decision and seek a bit of feedback, and Grant was there to bounce ideas and talk through things.
“The rose-tinted view of startups is that it's all sunshine and lollipops, but it's only sunshine and lollipops maybe 5% of the time. 95% of the time there’s something wrong that you're trying to solve. You need someone who's going to be there, who can listen to you and who is going to partner with you.”
When you’re choosing an investor, Campbell advises founders to “focus on the partner, not the fund. It's so critical because you're going to go through some hard times...and there's only so many people you can turn to that are actually going to say ‘mate, it's okay. Let's try to figure a way through’.”
It’s this kind of personalisation of data and genuine care that has become a foundation of PredictHQ’s values. Caring for their people, with a “ family and friends first” policy that means things like paying for flights home to care for sick parents or to attend important celebrations. “In the past year and a half, because we've had such an amazing culture, we have leaned on it and we've helped people through it. And I think if we didn't have that culture, that would have been really tough.”
Reflecting back, Campbell says he didn’t always value teams in this way. “I tried to build everything myself and I ended up getting three hours sleep a night. Not really getting anywhere fast.” But his focus is quite different these days, “my job now is the culture in the team and making sure we're going the right way. Being there to jump in on sales calls and being that support mechanism in the business.”
Campbell has definitely drunk the PredictHQ data Koolade (of his own making), “I am data-driven in my day-to-day life. I'm always optimising my life with data. I'm just always looking to squeeze out a bit more.”
When I asked Campbell about the impact of Tidal’s support, he said “I know there's a lot of analogies that you probably hear all the time, but Tidal gets in the trenches with you. And it's what founders crave, because if you don't see that people are going to get their hands dirty with you, they're probably never going to be fully supportive.”
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