Lessons from a frantic fall season

  • Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

Published Dec 7, 2023

Lessons from a frantic fall season

The last two months have been incredibly busy for me. I participated in so many trade shows and conferences that I barely had time to catch my breath.

But while it sometimes felt like my life was spinning out of control as I bounced from city to city and from event to event, I realize now that things were very much on track. My busy fall was simply the expression of growing momentum, for Knak and for me.

As I look back on those two frantic months, several things have come into focus.

We have a public profile – and the responsibilities that go with it

It was a real eye-opener for me to realize that people know who we are now. Knak is not an unknown newcomer anymore. We have a public profile, both in the industry and in our home town of Ottawa.

Just to give one industry example: We recently did an event on the Meta campus in Menlo Park, California. It was a surreal experience for me to see the Knak logo up there beside the Meta and Adobe logos.

What’s even weirder (for me!) is that because we have a public profile, people are starting to ask for our opinion on certain issues.

For example, in Ottawa there is a debate about the future of the tech industry. Ottawa wants to attract dynamic young tech workers, but there is a perception that the city (especially the downtown) is sleepy and uncool. And some business leaders are starting to hit the panic button because they are finding it difficult to keep young workers from leaving for Montreal or Toronto.

My opinion (since people are now asking!) is that Ottawa is a great place for a new business. We are never going to compete with the likes of Toronto or Montreal when it comes to things like nightlife, so we should stop trying. It makes no sense to compare ourselves to those cities. We can’t pretend to be something we are not. We should focus instead of our positives. For example, Ottawa is an outdoorsy city that’s close to nature, and it’s a great place to raise a family. These are two attractive features you don’t find everywhere.

We need to work with what we have. And that is true not just of Ottawa, but of any city in the world.

I learned valuable things about our customers

One of the things you do at trade shows and conferences is scope out new customers. This past fall, I picked up two valuable tips about the people who use (or could potentially use) Knak.

First – and this is thanks to our new Chief Marketing Officer, Mychelle Mollot – I learned that you don’t need new features to attract new customers.

That’s because the ideal new customer is someone who really likes what you already do. So to get ahead, you don’t have to put all your energies into building new features and functionalities; you just have to find people who like the things you already provide. Anything added is just a bonus.

The second thing I learned is that an awful lot of people are interested in the simple basics of email marketing and not much more.

This was a surprise to me, because email marketing is my passion and all the details and intricacies fascinate me.

But as I spoke to people at shows and events, I realized that most people aren’t email experts. They are still trying to master the basics. And that means designing great emails that their audience will engage with. For those people, intricacies and details don’t matter. My talks about email design 101 were very popular ; people were just eating up simple tips! That was a good lesson.

Pierce Ujjainwalla speaking to a crowd at Inbound 2023

People want to know how we are going to use AI

Artificial intelligence has come into its own in the last year, and we keep getting asked when and how we will be using it.

It’s a legitimate question. AI has been improving by leaps and bounds, and as a software company, we need to adapt. Earlier this year, I basically threw out my long term roadmap for the product and we pivoted to what will be possible in an AI world. I am excited about what kind of opportunities this creates for us.

By attending so many events, we saw what others are doing

Having been to so many places and met so many people over the last few months, I have been privileged to have been exposed to a lot of ideas, concepts and innovative ways of doing things.

For example, when we attended the Meta event in Menlo Park, California, I was able to see first-hand how Meta puts into practice its mission of empowering people to build community.

The Knak team hangs out on the Meta Campus

We were co-hosts with Meta of the Marketing Ops Productivity Summit and Mixer.

Meta gave us the most incredible room for the event; it had an LED screen that ran all the way across the room; it must have been 100 feet wide!

Don Le presenting at MOPs Productivity Summit

It was so cool to see them living their values and allowing us to take part in building a marketing community in the San Francisco Bay area!

At a broader level, having seen so many presentations over a few short weeks made me realize that too many of them lacked punch. People attending shows and conferences want to learn, and the best way to do that is with presentations that incorporate stories or humour or take unconventional approaches. In other words, presentations have to be entertaining to have maximum impact.

I also saw some pretty impressive things that demonstrate the power of marketing.

One good example of this is the 2023 Guru Conference. Conference organizer Jay Schwedelson and his team got over 20,000 people to register for this event. Yes, the event was online and it was free. But they had a great lineup of speakers and presenters, including Martha Stewart as a keynote speaker. This is all the more mind-blowing because Schwedelson’s group is not big. They were able to build a community with little more than LinkedIn and email.

It was amazing for me to see the impact some people can have and how they are building a personal brand with nothing more than LinkedIn.

And this points up another fact: Influencer marketing is becoming a thing, particularly in the B2B space. This is something new.

Another revelation for me was the success of HubSpot.

We’re big on some of the marketing automation platforms, but HubSpot is more for small and medium-sized businesses.

I was struck by how much energy they have; they reminded me of the early days of Marketo. And they are innovative in a way I don’t see elsewhere. That really struck me.

I feel I’ve found my tribe

At a personal level, my frantic fall gave me reassurance in a way I wasn’t expecting.

I have never seen myself as a thought leader, and in the past I felt a bit of imposter syndrome as I sat on trade show stages.

But for the first time I really felt like I belonged. I felt I had a right to be up there because I had something useful and important to impart to the audience.

It was a good feeling.

In that respect, I really feel that I’ve found my tribe.

The feeling was brought home to me when I attended the most recent conference of Canadian tech CEOs organized by the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI). The conference is all about encouraging Canadian entrepreneurs, and it was a pleasure to meet legendary entrepreneur Jim Balsillie of BlackBerry fame and other innovators.

Canada's CEO Summit & Council of Canadian Innovators

It’s an adjustment for me to embrace this new normal of what my life is becoming.

But when I was at CCI, I felt it was where I was meant to be. I was with people who were like me, and it felt good!

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that my frantic fall was a tangible expression of growing momentum – momentum that’s rolling in the right direction.

When you are on a roll, it seems that one good thing leads to another. I have felt this a few times before – when I realized I was ‘in the zone,’ firing on all cylinders and going places.

That’s how I feel right now. There’s a bit of voodoo in it, but I think there’s something to it, where success builds on success.

So, yes it was a busy few weeks. But I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. Good things are happening, and I’m enjoying the ride.

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  • Pierce Ujjainwalla


    Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

    Pierce is a career marketer who has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo. He launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. He is also the founder of Revenue Pulse, a marketing operations consultancy.

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