Acoustic CEO hatches plan to drown out marktech's big noises
Is there room for another marketing technology stack? Mark Simpson hopes so. The New York-based Brit is taking an unusual route to challenging the power chord players of the business with a startup called Acoustic and he has form in the market, having sold an earlier marktech company, Maxymiser, to Oracle three years ago.
Simpson believes that giants' buying sprees have taken precedence over delivering innovation and, my words, that M&A has superseded R&D. But rather than build AN Other startup, Simpson's answer to this was to acquire the assets of IBM's marketing software with the plan to revamp them from the bottom up. That makes Acoustic a new but pretty big company already, with 1,100 staff and 3,500 customers.
"We thought there was a really big opportunity to take on the likes of Adobe, Oracle and Salesforce," Simpson tells me in a phone interview. "When we asked marketers, we got a lot of feedback that [suppliers are] not innovating at a rate they wanted. [They feel] like they're using old tools to solve new CX issues."
What now for IBM
As for IBM, it had other fish to fry, he says.
"Their core focus is on AI, quantum, blockchain and marketing software was not one of those." It was also "fortunate timing" that IBM had committed to acquiring Red Hat.
"IBM was in a similar situation [to Adobe and Salesforce] where a lot of R&D efforts were on technical debt. Our plan is to rewrite legacy technology in a marketing cloud that's fully automated with brand-new microservices, putting every product in a single common backend and a common user interface, and using technology that's AI-led."
In what is a golden age for startups, Simpson is pursuing the path less trodden.
"We discussed doing that [launching an all-new tech business] but if you look at the marketing landscape there are 7,000 vendors. If we were going to do it properly, we needed to start at scale."
The vehicle for the acquisition is provided by Centerbridge, a private equity company with $27bn in assets.
"I'm good at growing but not rationalising all the sorts of things a PE company can do, and they will help us with the strategic, long-term ambitions in ad tech, social and all the things involved in serving the CMO."
IBM's erstwhile marketing suite was powered by its Watson AI engine and Simpson hopes it will power up Acoustic for the next phase in customer experience.
"I feel that AI will do more for CX in the next five years than we've seen in the last 25," he says. "There's a lot of hype around AI but the marketers should never know where its working and where is not, but it should provider better decision making."
For Simpson, tech marketers need an alternative approach that the old guard can't provide and his ambition is to build the world's largest indie marketing cloud and one that can plug into other systems so there's no fear of being locked in.
"If you've got $1,000 left to spend, there's not a single provider who can tell you where to best spend it," he says. Simpson's big best is that AI (and Acoustic) will provide the answer.