Allen T. Lamb believes he is fortunate to have developed a unique skill set and a differentiated perspective to-date within his role spanning media, tech, entertainment and sports as an operating executive, a growth-stage strategic investor, an M&A investment banker, a business intelligence researcher, and a multiple time-digital entrepreneur.
Allen has been a two-time entrepreneur, conceptualizing and launching two digital media platforms focused on enhancing engagement value for consumers and brands. His latest growth concept is Cheddah, a marketing intelligence and digital loyalty platform that delivers location-aware, cash-based incentives to users in exchange for responses to quick surveys from brands.
Allen earned an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he concentrated in Entrepreneurship & Innovation as well as a Master’s degree in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University.
- Could you share a little bit about your background and your journey? You have a lot of background in terms of your technology background, entrepreneurship, innovation and computer science as well as mechanical engineering. Just tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today.
- Before you even explain what Cheddah is, could you tell us what maybe drove you to choose to create a name as Cheddah, could maybe link the name to what the actual item or product is supposed to deliver to the consumer?
- This particular platform, the feedback that you’re generating can be utilized in any industry. It doesn’t have to be only to food or the food service industry. Correct. It could be for your bank, it could be for your airline, it could be for your local hardware store?
- Where do you see customer experience going in another 5 to 10 years based on what you’ve experienced in the first 20 years of the 21st century? Because we really have gone through a lot between 2000 and 2019.
- Could you share with us how do you stay motivated every day?
- Could you share with us what’s the one online resource, tool, website or app that you absolutely cannot live without in your business?
- Could you share also with us maybe one or two books that have had the biggest impact on you?
- Could you share with us maybe one thing that’s going on in your life right now that you are working on that you are really excited about – either something that you are working on to develop yourself or something that you are working on to develop your people?
- Can you share with our listeners where they can find you online?
- Allen shared that he appreciated the mention of just how a diverse background and a trail that he has had till now. He had the fortune of studying engineering and computer science while in school and while he thought he would have become a full fledged engineer at one point in his life, in fact, he never stepped into the tech world.
He ended up going into the financial services sector and remained there for quite some time. But fortunately, despite doing that, he was able to feed his hunger for entrepreneurship and really tapping into the origins of tech, data in particular that he had academically by starting a couple of businesses.
He also, just by nature of the various sectors he was involved in, which included media, entertainment and sports. As he was an investment banker and a private equity professional, he was able to again, engage the consumer almost from a psychological standpoint as well as from just sheer movements around the world in their day to day lives.
So, he has been quite fortunate in that, having an interest academically, along the way having started a couple of businesses and also being in financial services and engaging the narrative of consumer, he has been able to enjoy that core focus of his.
Allen stated that Cheddah interestingly is slang for cash money, in many, many circles. And in thinking about the consumer and what was missing in the consumer realm as it relates to gathering data and where we are in today’s world in terms of surveys, one thing he thought was missing was an incentive, an incentive for the consumers that would drive them to action and want to continue to provide their own data, the personal data back to brands. And when you think about incentives, as he did some years ago, he thought, “What is the best incentive in the world for many people as they are moving about and it’s really cash money.” So, what Cheddah represents is cash based incentives for this action of delivering data to brands.
When asked if it’s a mobile app – Allen shared that it is, it is a mobile first platform, although they exist across any window where a consumer might interface, which includes the web or even in person, via an iPad.
Yanique shared that it’s a free mobile app that provides a fast way to earn real time cash based incentive by answering a quick set of survey questions, could take you up to 60 seconds from brands on your day to day thoughts and experiences.
And so when this information is generated about the brand, who gets the information, does it come back to your organization and you push it to the brand? I mean, how does it work?
Allen shared that it does among a number of different ways. What happens is that as the consumer is presented with the survey, let’s say for instance you were to walk into your local pizza shop, in fact, that’s where Cheddah really began, it’s a proof of concept.
You would be presented with a survey that you can opt into, it’s typically five to seven questions and in answering those questions which could be, are you male or female?
So, a demographic information, do you enjoy these types of toppings on your pizza? So, very much brand-related in the moment. They capture those and then you were able to use your incentive on the spot.
What happens to that data is that Cheddah collects that and feeds it back to the brands, so that’s one stop. And what he’d like to highlight here is that Cheddah’s special sauce and they’ll come to this in a few moments, is really around connecting answers as a consumer takes his or her journey along the way and in the case of the pizza shop, if you were to enjoy this particular pizza shop over and over again, no longer does Cheddah really need to engage you with the same questions, in fact, they’d be able to pick up from your prior sessions and continue the conversation.
Yanique mentioned that this a first of its kind, haven’t heard of an app like this before. Do you have other persons that are in this space as well? Or are you pioneering this space currently?
Allen mentioned that he’d love to believe of them as being a pioneer in the space. What he has heard of are discrete platforms that either gathers information, believe that they are through this hot term today AI, connecting information to understanding the consumer.
But his thesis in the space is a bit different and that is that the best way to understand what a consumer wants, what a person wants is to simply ask the question directly to that consumer or that person. He thinks we’ve lost our way at times in keeping it simple and that’s what Cheddah represents.
Allen shared that that is correct and just to expand a bit; they really think one of the spaces where they can create the most value and generate the most value for brands is within the offline space and the sector that’s really being hammered right now in terms of its forward narrative. But they believe there is tremendous value that remains buried and hidden in the offline sector and part of what Cheddah seeks to do is to release that for both brands and the consumer.
Allen mentioned that that’s a wonderful question to ask here on the precipice of the next decade in 2020. If you think about the last 20 years is being learning what it is to interact digitally both with brands as we think about Amazon.
He remembers as a college student using Amazon to buy his books, in fact, when it was a simple bookstore online and it’s from then into more of a social realm where we’re able to interact person to person or person to community, all of that is great in terms of sharing our stories, photographs and other ways of expressing ourselves.
What he believes the next 10 to 20 years holds is now that this information has been explored, communities have been built, what happens with your information?
Does it in fact, physician to a currency? And we found brands more and more have begun to discuss what it means to define customer experience and consumer journey by way of that data.
So, it’s important for the consumer to know the worth of that data as well as to use it as they see fit. Another angle to come from here is the increased focus around regulatory matters as it relates to consumer information as well, and protections.
We’ve seen the European Union move on that note; we’re also seeing the state of California move in that note and he can only imagine that other States and governments around the world will begin to take notice and take action as well. So, these are the areas over the next decade where he believes we’ll see an increased focus that is consumer protection as it relates to data but within that is a wealth of opportunity to begin to allow to build tools for consumers to use that data as a currency.
Yanique mentioned – So, we have a ways to go for sure, I guess linking the human experience with the digital experience and having it have a more coordinated approach where, cause at the end of the day, technology is wonderful, but I do think human beings still want to interface with another human being.
Cause sometimes from an emotional perspective the artificial intelligence cannot translate the emotions fully a lot of times based on what the customer is experiencing.
And if we go back to NPS, the net promoter score and we think about that question that people ask, that was derived by Fred Reichheld, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company to a family member or a friend?”
It’s totally subjective, really based on what you feel you got from that experience with the company and if you had a bad experience and you really care about your friends and family, which most people do, you won’t recommend them to go on and have a similarly bad experience.
Allen agreed and stated that that’s one area as well. They believe they’re pioneering in that there is a difference in one’s memory if you think about the experience you last had on a flight, let’s say, versus being able to communicate to that brand in a moment. Now many would say, well, I would hop onto social and began to tweet about my experience. Well, that’s a one way narrative versus having a conversation with the brand and that conversation would employ having the brand being able to do something about it for you in a moment.
Just by way of another example and vignette here, what if you were to have some form of experience with a brand, hopefully for better, not for worse, we all know that it’s typically in a negative experience that where you want to scream and say something that the brand do something for you in a cash based level as you are departing your flight, which could be to walk to a partnered, Kiosk Company, it could be within the airport or as you’re on your way home, it could even be the next day, but fact of the matter is they were able to learn in the moment and then to incentivize you to remain loyal and that’s where Cheddah is headed.
- Allen stated that his passion point is absolutely around stories and if you were to look at his resume and then talk to him about what he has done over the course of his career, entrepreneurially or otherwise, it’s really around helping to create these narratives and understand stories. Ultimately, we all know society rests on stories, he believes in fact, media as it relates to consumer is about remembering history in certain ways and understanding how we live today and hopefully also defining other future, so it’s quite important.
So, being able to express those stories is important, he thinks surveys are a wonderful way of having people share their experiences but with the layer of digital and now being brought into the mix and specifically mobile and being able to use location awareness, we have a richer experience as you mentioned before, that leaps over even AI because there is some human value, human component to being able to tell your own story and not simply having it become interpreted in one.
One quick example of that, by the way, an earlier form of AI would be a brand saying, “Well, because Yanique reads this type of content or visited this type of place, or is from this area, we can make some educated guesses about her.” Well, in the end is simply an educated guess and just getting back to the thesis again, there’s nothing like having a question asked to a person and having them share their answer.
Yanique agreed – because you can assume, and you may assume as you said, based on just basic information that you may have, but asking the question is where the real truth comes about.
Allen agreed and stated that he also thinks in addition to having the real truth come out, as stories go, remembering a story is important and that is typically called the conversation. Some conversations happen there in the moment, others happen over time but where brands are missing in today’s environment, particularly in the offline space, is knowing when you come back, and this is typically the human element, let’s say with a barista, you visit a coffee shop, they happen to know you come in at a certain time of the day, you enjoy your coffee in a certain way or tea, well if we were able to use technology to help enhance that for brands, imagine how much richer experiences are.
Yanique agreed. Even just remembering your name because I always use the Cheers theme song from the comedy, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” And I think if I had more experiences like that, I would definitely visit those places because then they were paying attention, they know me, and I’m not just another transaction or another receipt, but I’m Yanique and they remember me.
- Allen shared that an online tool that he absolutely cannot live without, he would say that it is their database, if that counts as online, it’s not consumer accessible, but they happen to be on the AWS platform, which many, many others are, so they absolutely can’t live without that as a business.
Then personally if this is a consumer, anything that relates to brands that he loves and being able to interact with his information is of importance to him. He happens to do a lot of flying, so he enjoys a particular brand of airline and what he enjoys about that experience and their loyalty is that since they’ve known he travels to certain places around the world and they know the frequency that he travel, there are certain types of experiences and ways of incentivizing him that tend to appear in his feed versus another person’s.
So, he likes that and he also thinks as he thinks about that as with Cheddah, it’s stepping outside of the sphere of that airline and beginning to understand that he is not simply a consumer who flies, he is a consumer who eats, he is a consumer who exercises and to the extent those brands can begin to speak with each other with me at the center, that’s also another way of viewing Cheddah, they’re really looking to create a mesh network of particularly offline brands as well as online brands who don’t have an offline presence where they can look at the consumer as a single individual who happens to be multifaceted.
- When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Allen shared that one of the books that he has read recently, in fact, it’s called Modern Monopolies: What It Takes to Dominate the 21st Century Economy by Nicholas Johnson and what’s impacted him about that book the most is the clinical monopolies of today look very different than those of yesterday and when you had manufacturing plants popping up in communities to build whatever they were building, whether it be cars or ovens or whatever else was going into homes or into people’s lives, today being able to build business digitally and at a very rapidly scaled basis looks very different than that world perhaps a 100 or 50 or even 20 years ago. So that’s been impactful in thinking about how to both strategize with Cheddah as well as to think about the next 5 to 10 years as relates to what the world might look like in a world of Facebook or Google or Amazon. Allen mentioned that one other he’d love to share is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, that’s the story of Disney and the various iterations that Disney took as a company and just thinking about how Walt Disney starting with very small efforts around a hand-drawn a mouse and being able to create that into the global brand that it is today. Lots of learnings on both the wins and the losses and he thinks it’s the losses that are often important pertinent stories to understand those and he thought Creativity, Inc. did a wonderful job of sharing those and how it was in both describing the start of Disney as well as the multiple iterations of both executives, people and other companies have spun out from those people since its inception.
- Allen shared that he has a wonderful passion for theatre and live performance, it is something that he spend resources toward and what he enjoy about live performance and theatre, it gets back to the core of what he mentioned here a bit earlier and that is about narrative and storytelling, it’s sometime a lost art within our society and having grown up in New York and still a resident of New York, it’s an arts town and he thinks that the current sets of generations who are walking around and coming of age, it’s important for us to be able to share and engage in each other’s stories. So, what he is working on, he has been a long time itching producer, so not that anything is in the works, but he’s always in touch with artists and screenplays and other playwrights who are looking to tell stories and the hope would be that someday he would be able to help bring unknown artists and unknown playwrights to stage.
- Allen shared listeners can find him at –
Twitter – @allentlamb