(Special): Business in the Digital Age with Howard Tiersky


In this episode, you’ll get to hear from Howard Tiersky.  Howard began his career in theater and performing arts before starting his consulting career at Ernst & Young.  There, he would build E&Y’s first website and get exposed to a whole new world.  After 15 years of being in the consulting space, Howard started his own business; From Digital, a digital transformation agency that helps companies develop new digital products for all kinds of industries.  Howard is the author of the Wall Street Journal’s best-selling book, Winning Digital Customers.  In our conversation, we talk briefly about Howard’s career journey before transitioning into an especially important topic; business in the digital age.  Stick around until the end and you’ll get to hear Howard’s thoughts on how to really understand your customer, building digital experiences around your customers, and what causes most digital products to fail in our world today.

Podcast Transcript

Note:  There may be errors to this transcript (some funny, some confusing - we used an automated transcription software!)

Howard Tiersky  00:00

I mean, sure, you're going to pay a lawyer a little bit to set up the company. And yeah, you're going to need an accountant. And the bookkeeper, someone's going to do the books. But, you know, I didn't wasn't like I was lacking all kinds of knowledge, transitioning from my role in a big consulting company, to running my own business. Most of what was important to know, was the stuff I already was doing, which was how to find clients and how to deliver the work successfully. The rest of it, you could just hire people to do and as long as you have some money coming in, fortunately, we did. It really, it really wasn't a problem.

Ash Faraj  00:31

Hey, it's ash, and you're listening to the ExecuTalks podcast. It's the top career podcast featuring inspiring career stories from today's top CEOs, executives and leaders. I can't express enough to you how thankful I am that you're choosing to listen to our podcasts out of the many other podcasts out there. Now we spend so much time and energy into producing these amazing stories with these amazing people. And all that we ask is that you please please leave us a quick rating and review on Apple podcasts. Thank you again for listening. It means the world to me that you've taken the time to listen. In this episode, you'll get to hear from Howard Tiersky. Howard began his career in theater and performing arts before starting his consulting career at Ernst and Young. There he would build E&Y's first website and get exposed to a whole new world. After 15 years of being in the consulting space, Howard decided to start his own business From Digital, a digital transformation agency that helps companies develop new digital products for all kinds of industries. Howard is the author of The Wall Street Journal's best selling book, winning digital customers. In our conversation, we talk briefly about Howard's career journey before transitioning into an especially important topic business in the digital age. stick around until the end and you'll get to hear Howard's thoughts on how to really understand your customer, building digital experiences around your customers, and what causes most digital products to fail in our world today. I'm joined today by the founder and CEO from digital and the author of The Wall Street Journal best selling book winning digital customers a five step roadmap to thrive in the digital world with a foreword from Michelle McKenna, who is the Chief Information Officer of the National Football League. Howard Tiersky. Welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us today.

Howard Tiersky  02:17

Oh, thanks so much for having me ash.

Ash Faraj  02:19

So I know you grew up in Chicago. First question I always ask is, I'm going to high school classroom with you. Who are you in high school?

Howard Tiersky  02:25

Well, I was a theater kid in high school. I was in the plays, I was directing the plays. That was my

Ash Faraj  02:30

you went to school for directing right after high school you went to school for directing?

Howard Tiersky  02:34

Yes. a background in the arts, and particularly in the performing arts, I think is potentially valuable to almost any career. But certainly any career in business, you learn collaboration, because you're working with people, you learn how to bring together storytelling and technology, which is so much of what film and television and theater is about. You know, you learn business, right, because you're putting on the actual co productions, you have to think about having a budget and getting things done on time and marketing and bringing in an audience and all kinds of things. So if there's, there's there's little better training for how to create a great customer experience than creating something that people are doing for their own entertainment, like going to see a play or a film because you know, if they don't like it, they're gonna leave, right. That's the only reason they're there is to have a great experience.

Ash Faraj  03:24

Exactly. So what did you do after college then like, right after college would you do?

Howard Tiersky  03:29

Well, I spent a year working for a organization, a performing arts center in the Bronx, it's kind of funny. That's sort of like the Lincoln Center of the Bronx, if you can imagine, as called Lehman's Center for the Performing Arts, and but it was a really beautiful Performing Arts facility where we brought through a lot of international touring companies of LA, you know, symphonies, touring, Broadway, theatrical productions, things like that. So I worked in marketing there for a year and then I went to grad school. So that sent me out to Los Angeles, where I went to USC,

Ash Faraj  04:03

what I guess what made you go back to grad school, what will prompted that,

Howard Tiersky  04:07

you know, in retrospect, it probably wasn't particularly helpful thing to do. I think at that point in my life, more education just seemed like the thing to do my my, my father's a lawyer, my mother is a professor and she has master's degree you know, so just like seemed like the next thing you do you know, you don't stop at a bachelor's degree. Although to be honest, now that well, you know, if I was advising someone today, I have nothing against getting an advanced degree, but I certainly wouldn't do it as as a default. Because so often you learn so much more out in the working world than you learn in school anyway.

Ash Faraj  04:39

Yeah. And then, you know, we live in the information age, you can just go online and you know, pick up a book, you know, you'd like your book top, you know, teaches so much about digital transformation. It's like there's information it's all out there anyways, like yours.

Howard Tiersky  04:51

Right? Right.

Ash Faraj  04:53

You go you do you got it was an MBA that you did what was your master's degree in.

Howard Tiersky  04:57

I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts and a masters of Fine Arts. All my degrees, have an F in them and not a B.

Ash Faraj  05:04

So you really wanted to be a director that like you really wanted to be in film like that was a passion of yours.

Howard Tiersky  05:08

Yeah, actually, you know, my greatest passion was actually on live performance. But yes, my, my career goals when I was in school was to do that.

Ash Faraj  05:17

And then when did that change was that after you graduated,

Howard Tiersky  05:19

really what happened was while I was in graduate school, and my graduate program was only two years, and while I was there, I got a day job, I guess you could say, working for engineering consulting in the graphics department. So when I first started, this was just a way to make a few bucks while I was in school. But, you know, I had gained graphic design skill already, mostly through my work in the theater and needing to make things like and working in marketing at at Lehman center forming arts, doing programs and posters and things like that ads, you know, for the newspaper. And so I was brought in there to help sort of do a digital transformation, if you will, we didn't call it that at the time. But they had a graphics department that was a bunch of people with drafting tables, making graphics, corporate graphics, the old fashioned way with, you know, repeated graph pens, and stat cameras, and, you know, gluing things together. And so they had some macintoshes that they bought, but they sat unused in the corner, because these, these people were old school. And so they brought me in to try to change the way that that at least the Los Angeles Office of engineering at the time, was doing computer graphics, or to move them towards computer graphics. And as I was doing that, I became involved. And we started doing more multimedia, video, desktop video, and I, I became really excited by the capabilities of these new emerging technology media. And they had many of the qualities that I found exciting about film, television theatre, and also, you know, they were paying me, and it was, you know, while I was also at different points in time, also doing professional theatre directing in Los Angeles, you know, the amount of money you could make at that time doing that was was not as not a living. So I'm slowly I started to really fall in love with the work I was doing around digital. And, you know, a couple years later, the internet started to become, you know, a commercialized opportunity. And so I just wound up in that space and applying many of the same principles that I loved about my work in what you might call more traditional media in life performance, storytelling, bringing creative and technology teams together to create an experience those types of things. And I've sort of been doing that ever since.

Ash Faraj  07:33

Yeah. And I read somewhere that you launch the first E&Y website, is that right?

Howard Tiersky  07:39


Ash Faraj  07:39

Wow. And you launched the intranet, right? Like the internet and the internet like you launch? So the first ever E&Y website? You You're the one that's crazy?

Howard Tiersky  07:47

I did. I did. And, you know, back in those days, there was this question of what do we need this for? No. Like, isn't this some sort of academic thing the internet? Like, why? Why would we even want an internet site? And you know it for justifying? I mean, after all, the internet have been around for more than 10 years, and they hadn't had one for years. Why now? Why do we need one of these right now? And wouldn't it be better if we had an AOL forum, you know, are more people there? I mean, no joke. That was the kind of, and it was they were reasonable questions at the time. In retrospect, they seem silly. But it from that vantage point from that moment in time, the internet did not seem like a very important part of business. It was just this little side. Interesting thing. But yeah, they clarified and said, well, you realize we expect it to be both the public facing but also the internally facing, we want both internet and the intranet. These were static HTML sites of a dozen 15 pages. You know, it was very limited, of course, your very first first internet sites,

Ash Faraj  08:44

and I want to kind of pause for a second and ask, you know, because a lot of our audience members are kind of like new professionals, they might not know what what a consultant is. So what's being a consultant like? And how can someone self assess to determine if they are, I guess, if they would enjoy being a consultant, if that makes sense or be good at it,

Howard Tiersky  09:02

you know, being a consultant can mean a lot of different things. Essentially, it usually means that you're going into a company, as an outsider, essentially, being brought in not as an employee, but as an outside expert, to help them do something. And of course, there are human resources, consultants, manufacturing, improvement consultants, and digital consultants and finance consultants, and you know, just almost any area of business. There's somebody out there who is essentially saying, I'm expert at this, and I can come in and for you know, usually a limited period of time and help you improve something in your business. This is essentially what consultants do. But But, you know, really what happened was the, the companies that consulting firms, if you think of classic consulting, it's mostly about advice. But what most of the consulting firms do today, if you look at the really big ones, like ones that I've worked with, like Ernst and Young and Capgemini, but the other leaders like Accenture, they're doing a lot more than giving advice there. They're building things. They're implementing things they're helping, you know, install your new finance system or what have you. So they wind up. Now today, consulting firms do a lot more than consulting.

Ash Faraj  10:12

So I want to talk about a moment in your career. When you were I think this was when you were at E&Y, but correct me if I'm wrong, when you were in the quote, unquote, blockbuster boardroom, advising them to start digitizing their offerings. And, you know, obviously, you know, we all know what happened to blockbuster. But what what was that? Like? Can you take us through that experience and what emotions you were experiencing at that time?

Howard Tiersky  10:33

Oh, well, I was super excited. I mean, we were brought in, you know, to help transform and come up with the vision for the next generation of blockbuster, which at the time, was one of the top brands in the in the entertainment industry here in the United States anyway. So it was a fantastic opportunity. And I was very excited. And I was working with fantastic people at blockbuster, who were super smart, and super, you know, creative. And we had a great team. And we were developing a vision for the future, the company. So our at least, maybe it's a bit grand to say the entire future of the company. But like what those next generation offerings, were going to look like that were going to take the company into a world where, you know, a filmed entertainment, right films and episodic television were delivered, not on physical media, but digitally to the home.

Ash Faraj  11:21

Yeah. And then they, that's when they, they learned that you don't need to stream candy, or as I remember, somewhere in the book, you saying that?

Howard Tiersky  11:28

Right, right.

Ash Faraj  11:29

Oh, they were saying that, you know, well, people will always want to buy DVDs, because you can't stream candy.

Howard Tiersky  11:36

Right, right. Yeah, it's, you know, I listen, you know, I'm sympathetic to the fact that it's hard to embrace change. And one of the challenges of blockbuster was that, even though we had a vision for the future, it was by no means certain to succeed. And, you know, in retrospect, it probably would have succeeded. Because those that were successful in this space, were doing things that were very similar to what we were proposing to blockbuster do. But nevertheless, at the moment, it's easy to say that, you know, in hindsight, and when you're someone who works at a big company, and you're a senior executive, and let's say you're a retail store expert, you know, you spent 30 years of your career, running retail store operations for companies like JC Penney, or Radio Shack or what have you. And now you're a blockbuster. And it's the pinnacle of your career, and someone says, Hey, we're gonna move away from stores, to streaming video to the home, it's sort of hard to get super excited about that, even if it's got all kinds of good justifications behind it. So I understand the psychology of it. And I talked about it at some length in my book. Yeah. And so, uh, you know, I don't want to make fun, too much of people who didn't see it at the time, it's not always easy. You know, there's all those great quotes, you can find Bill Gates saying, I don't see any reason why anybody would ever need more than 512 kilobytes of memory in their computer, you know, stuff like that, no matter how great someone is, it can still be difficult to really see where the future is going. And to be willing to place bets on it. And that was the biggest problem at blockbuster is that they just didn't embrace where the world was going. They were too enamored with who they were,

Ash Faraj  13:14


Howard Tiersky  13:14

to really fully embrace what they needed to be to win in the future.

Ash Faraj  13:18

Do you feel like that was a point where you failed or not necessarily?

Howard Tiersky  13:23

100% Absolutely. Our job was to come in there and help help get them to a new world where they would have a business streaming video to the home? And we didn't. So yeah, I mean, they paid the bill in all. So from one perspective, we completed our project, we did what we were hired to do. But that's to me, that's not what I'm doing this for, right? I'm doing this to help change the world to help transform companies to upgrade create new customer experiences. So yeah, when you do a strategy visioning project, and someone decides not to implement it, it's hard not to see that as a failure. At the time, I saw it as a failure. But I didn't know how big of a failure it was. Because, you know, it's like at the moment that they canceled this project. I didn't know that they were never going to do anything. I didn't know they were going to go out of business. For all I knew a year later, they would pick it up with another consultant, and they would have a different vision. And, you know, so it was only so there was a small failure at the time. But you know, you go on to the next project, what are you going to do? And I've certainly had projects for other clients where they paid us to develop a vision or throw a new product. And for one reason or another, decided not to proceed with it. And I might not have always agreed with those decisions. But those are decisions that business people make. So at the time, it was a small failure, but with the benefit of the sort of the fullness of time when we saw what happened to blockbuster. It's become clearer over the years that it was a giant failure, because Had we been more effective at persuading a company to go in this direction. The whole history of the company might have been different, but we didn't see that at the time.

Ash Faraj  14:52

So you were you were a consultant for 15 or 16 years before starting your own agency.

Howard Tiersky  14:57


Ash Faraj  14:58

what made you start your own agency Why not just continue working for Capgemini? What was it that moved you?

Howard Tiersky  15:04

You know? Well, it goes back a little bit to the life of being a consultant, I guess I'd say there were two main things. The first is, one of the great things about working for a big consulting company is that you get you learn a ton, as I said earlier, and so after doing it for 15 or 16 years, I had learned the business, right, I knew how to find clients, how to propose how to close a project, how to hire people, how to manage a project, how to get it completed, how to do a contract, how to make sure the client paid the bill, you know, like I had been involved in every facet of it. So at a certain point, when I looked at the many millions of dollars worth of work that I was responsible for at the company, you know, I couldn't help but feel like, well, I'm doing a lot of heavy lifting here. And my need for this company is less than less, right? Because I, I can sort of manage the whole process. And at the same time, when you work for big company, sometimes someone who's your boss, or what have you comes along and says, This is what I need you to do. This is what I want you to focus on. And for example, at the time, there was some, some certain industries that they wanted me to focus more on. that weren't what I was most excited about, at the time, I had done, I've done a tremendous amount of work in financial services. And I had done at one point work for probably half of the largest insurance companies in the United States. And so at a certain point, the company was like, you should just be doing that, you know, like you, you're an expert at that. We're just gonna send you to insurance company after insurance company after insurance company, you know, and I was like, Yeah, no, I think I'd kill myself. I want to be doing like blockbuster, I want to be doing media and entertainment projects. And there was a bit of a friction point, you know, I didn't want to do exactly what I was being asked to do. But listen, that's the gig, you know, when you're working for someplace, they're paying you a lot of money. So that was the allure that and also, I mentioned earlier that that there's a lot of travel involved in consulting, I was doing at various points, a lot of international travel, I was Asia, it was all over Europe. And before you think that sounds exciting, it's not so exciting to go to Hong Kong for, you know, 23 hours and be on the flight back, right? It's not so exciting to be sent to, you know, speak at a conference in Las Vegas, but one day and be told, we just need you to fly to Zurich for a day. And then you can go back to Las Vegas before you go home, you know. So that was a little bit crazy the amount of jet setting I was doing. And I started have a family. You know, I had at one point, I think at the time I left Capgemini. I had like something like a two, three and a four year old at home. I have five kids now. And so it just wasn't consistent with my lifestyle anymore to be on the road so much. And so I thought all right, well, you know, I'll start my own company, I can use what I've learned, I can have more control over the kinds of clients that I want to work for applying some priorities that aren't that relevant. at a big company, the big company doesn't care so much about which industries I'm excited about. They don't care so much about my family life. So in a certain point, the job is not consistent with your life and your and your goals. So that's when I decided to just try starting my own company, see how it went. And it wasn't a hard decision because I figured, hey, listen, you know, if it doesn't work out, I can always go back there or another one of these big companies. So I figured I'd give it a go.

Ash Faraj  18:25

Well, the meet the media bug or the film bug never left you.

Howard Tiersky  18:30

Well, that's an interesting insight. That's right. That's right. That was part of it

Ash Faraj  18:33

never left you. You know, obviously, you know, I would imagine that starting your own agency, there's some things you probably didn't foresee. When starting, can you take us through maybe some of the unforeseen obstacles?

Howard Tiersky  18:45

I think I was just excited. You know, we started the company, we got our first client really quickly, which was Universal Studios, theme parks. So I was working again in entertainment, experiential space. And I had barely even thought it through honestly, my I started the company really just focusing on one, one project. So it wasn't like I had such a clear vision. I mean, I honestly didn't. And and then the first year, really, we just focused on delivering this project. So for a year, my company was just a big project. Yeah, very much like the project side delivered at Capgemini. It was just a big project. It was just a little different structurally. And honestly, you know, if I had to say one thing that surprised me, it was how easy it is to start a business. No, it's not easy to find clients, it may not always be easy and everything to do. I don't mean that. But I mean that some people don't start a business because they think oh, I wouldn't know how to do the bookkeeping, or Oh, there must be all kinds of legal issues or things like that, you know, and not really? Not really, I mean, sure you're gonna pay a lawyer a little bit to set up the company and yeah, you're going to need an accountant. And the bookkeeper someone's going to do the books, but you know, I didn't wasn't like I was lacking all kinds of knowledge transitioning from my role in a big company. company to running my own business, most of what was important to know, was the stuff I already was doing, which was how to find clients and how to deliver the work successfully. The rest of it, you could just hire people to do and as long as you have some money coming in fortunately we did. It really, it really wasn't a problem.

Ash Faraj  20:16

Yeah, that makes sense. The opportunity risk, I guess, was greater than the risk of, you know, failure, or you feeling like, man, if I don't do this, then like, but you know, how, what will I think in the future?

Howard Tiersky  20:28

Yeah, and you know, working in consulting, you get used to thinking of life as a series of projects, you know, not like, I've got this one job I've been doing, even though I was there for 16 years, it's not like, I did one thing for that period of time. In fact, it's the opposite. I rarely did the same thing three months in a row, other than when I was doing all those insurance projects, you know, so as a result, it doesn't feel that discontinuous to all of a sudden leave, because, because when you work for a big consulting company, you're not mostly there, you know, you're mostly at the client, you're not mostly in the culture of the consulting company, you're mostly in the culture of your clients. And that really didn't change for me when I went out on my own. So, you know, it really didn't feel like that jarring of a transition, honestly.

Ash Faraj  21:08

So how is from Digital doing today, and what are you most excited about for the future?

Howard Tiersky  21:13

Well, I mean, things are great. Like any business, we've had, you know, years that were really awesome. And we've had years that weren't as good as, say the prior year and whatnot. But there's no question that the the thing that we focus on digital transformation is super hot right now. It was already very important as we prior to Coronavirus, because the world was changing faster and faster. consumer and business behavior was becoming more and more digitally centric all the time. And so the work that we do, you know, if I rewind all the way back to creating the first website for Ernst and Young, at that time, the internet was not considered very important. But today, it's there's almost nothing more important in business is, you know, what you're doing with digital. And so that has been really good for us. And then Coronavirus is, of course, many people have observed massively accelerated the importance of digital transformation. Because, of course, so many people in companies had to adopt even more digital ways of doing things from shopping, to working to, to telemedicine tele, tele, you know, learning all these things. And so, you know, it's really a boom time in the industry that I'm in.

Ash Faraj  22:21

Yeah, and I guess, you know, now kind of transitioning a little bit into your book, if I'm putting it concisely, tell me if this is, you know, if this if this, if I'm saying this, right, that the problem statement, essentially, of the book that you're presenting is, the smartphone has become such an integral part of human life, right. But businesses are kind of slow to design their products and services around this massive shift in human behavior. And so digital transformation essentially means or like, you know, what your company specializes in, is designing or redesigning products and services around the fact that the smartphone is where most human attention now is, is that a good way to put it concisely?

Howard Tiersky  22:59

Yeah, I think that's, that's very good. And, you know, the smartphone is the number one most important digital touch point today without question, it hasn't always been. And it might not always be. So it's not only the smartphone, that's just the highest priority, right? Now, obviously, we have a dozen other digital touch points. And we also have the fact that it the entirety of a customer experience, T's these days, is enabled by digital, or at least it should be. And so even when customers having experience that doesn't seem inherently to be about a digital device, for example, they're going into a store, they're looking at products, there's so many things that we can do with digital to make that a better experience, whether it's a better point of sale system, so they can check out more quickly, or ways of alerting a customer as a sales associate. They need help and support providing kiosks so they can order sizes and styles of products that are not in the store. You know, we can go on and on about all the ways that we can improve even than what seems to be the non digital experience. So yeah, the smartphone is at the is at the top of a pile of different types of journeys and experiences that should all be digitally enabled.

Ash Faraj  24:06

So by the way, this applies to business to business as well, because mostly, most of the examples that I read in the book and he talked about are like business to consumer blockbusters, business to consumer, you know, universals business to consumer. This is also apply for business to business

Howard Tiersky  24:18

100%. And, and we've done quite a bit of business to business work as well. For example, one of the biggest projects that my team is working on this year is for ADP, which is the largest payroll processing company here in the United States. And they do many more things as well, all kinds of HR enablement, and their businesses selling to large companies, helping them to make sure that their employees are well taken care of another one of our big clients is Transamerica. They do retirement plans for large companies. So absolutely these companies, you know, because the truth of the matter is, businesses don't use digital. They don't use technology. businesses don't do anything. Only people do. So the People who are, you know, who are at those businesses, those people are also consumers, right? They use Amazon, they use Netflix, they use Uber. And so their expectations are being set by those experiences. And then when they look to the tools that they need on the business side, such as a payroll tool, they're looking for the same kind of ease of use, as they have with ordering, you know, a Netflix movie or calling an Uber, it's could be that some of those tools are more sophisticated and complicated, because they're trying to do they're undertaking a task, which is more complicated, and therefore they need to be more powerful, etc. But nevertheless, they're looking for that same level of elegance, ease, simplicity, convenience, etc,

Ash Faraj  25:42

you talk about, you know, obviously step starting to understand your customer map, the, you know, map map, the customer journey, and then remap the customer journey, you know, build the future optimize, you have these steps, right?

Howard Tiersky  25:52


Ash Faraj  25:53

understanding the customer, I feel is the most important step. Obviously, it's like, well, if you understand the customer, how can you, you know, influence a certain kind of behavior if you don't understand the customer. So you say, you know, there's different ways to kind of gather information or customer research or different ways to, you know, gather this information on understanding your customer. Is there a best way today? Like, Is there like a certain, like, a way that you've done this, like, this always works for us in terms of like how we, we go to a client, and we say, we've now understood your customer? What method what methods would you put up to up to up there?

Howard Tiersky  26:27

Right? Well, you know, the classic consulting answer to any question is, it depends. And so but but, you know, I will so I, you know, I still would argue, of course, it does depend what you're trying to find out what you're trying to learn what types of customers, you're studying what types of business, you know, the way you study, people who buy mega yachts, may be very different than the way you study people buying deodorant at the aisle in Walgreens, you know, it's just quite different. And you might need different methods. However, there really is one technique that is my favorite. And I find, you know, you never want to use in research are almost never want to use only one technique by itself, because different techniques, some are more qualitative, some are more quantitative, each has their own strengths and weaknesses. But customer observation, what some sometimes call ethnography, is the technique that I find to be the most illuminating. Where you you know, if you're trying to understand people who are you know, how people choose what vacation to go on, and how they decide what airline to book and how they booked the flights, to spend time with customers. While they are doing that? observe them? And where possible, ask them questions, either during or like, immediately after they've gone through a process. If you've got someone in the grocery store, buying their groceries, and you can follow them around and watch what they do. Do they have a list? Is it on their phone? Is it in their head? Do they have a way of going to the aisles? It's organized? Are they just hopping around however they want? What made them put that one thing in the cart? What made them put it back? which items did they check the price on? And which items? Do they not care what the price is? Where did they check the expiration date? What questions did they ask the people who work in the store? How did they choose which line to wait in when they were checking out? You know, what was their level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction? What were the moments that seemed to really cause their face to grimace? Like they were having a bad time? What were the things that really delighted them? Was it something on sale? Was it a product they don't normally see on the shelf, really understanding what's going on? What's the emotional journey for that customer while they are doing whatever it is that you're trying to improve? That is so rich, it can be time consuming. And you can spend two days and only do it with 10 or 12 people. Whereas if you do a survey, you might hit 10,000 people in a day. So again, different research tools have different pros and cons. But I love just watching people observing them and then asking them questions to understand what they do and why they do it. Do you feel that? If you are if they know they are being watched their behavior will change? Or not be the same? Oh, that could be? Well, you know, there's the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, right, which says that anything when observed even atomic particle, right, when observed change their behavior? So there's no question that the behavior does change. The question is how much and that might vary depending on the subject. But my belief is that if you observe someone you for a long period of time, like at least a half hour, right, that your your influence tapers off. For the first by the way, some people like within two seconds, they don't care they're being watched, doesn't doesn't seem to affect them very much. There's other people who are a little bit uncomfortable. They might do stuff in a little bit different way. But the longer you're there, the more and as long as you keep reasonably unobtrusive, the more they start to forget about you, and they're more likely to be more more natural in their interactions. But it is important with any research and it's not just observation, do people say On surveys that are absolutely true, not always, you know, do people change their answers in interviews to make them sound better? Yes. Any kind of research, you have to be mindful of bias. And that's just part of the art of research is trying to figure out what's the truth, knowing that research is always an imperfect process.

Ash Faraj  30:17

I guess there was there was a part in your book where it said, you know, you have gathering research, like data analysis or gathering data, you know, from from from from online or from resources? Are there any like resources you would recommend? Or you know, that you use all the time like McGraw Hill? And what do you use?

Howard Tiersky  30:37

Well, you know, there are so many different types of data sources, there are those that you find within an organization like their Google Analytics or omniture, data

Ash Faraj  30:45

call recordings.

Howard Tiersky  30:46

Yeah, you know, customer satisfaction data, call center logs. So many examples. I know, in the book, we talked about, literally dozens of different examples. And then of course, there are external sources like like, like what you say industry specific, they could be analysts like Forrester, Gartner idg, they can be, you know, like any kind of research, you know, like you described, it could be books, it can be articles that have been published academic sources. So, you know, I think the key to research and I talked about this in the book is always to start with your research goal, your research questions, what is it we want to know? And then depending on what you want to know, well, is that something we have in the databases in our company? Is that something we can go find out by observing or asking our customers? Is that something we need to go to an outside expert? Is that something we need to? I mean, it all depends on what you want to know. There are so many methods of answering questions, but you have to make sure you start by being very clear on what the questions are.

Ash Faraj  31:39

Okay, a couple last questions about your book. You talk about, you know, kind of moving on to build a future section, right? You know, there's three reasons why new products fail. One is the wrong value. proposition two is a failure to execute three is a lack of awareness. What do you what do you feel like the most common reason you see is today, like, what's the most common?

Howard Tiersky  32:01

I think all three are pretty common. And honestly, some products, some products have two or three of those problems, a lot of products are not are created with the wrong value proposition. If I mean, if I had to pick one, if you're forced me, I probably say that the process of figuring out what the product should really be, is the most prone to both error and also humans being led astray.

Ash Faraj  32:26

And again, that goes back to understanding the customer of the day.

Howard Tiersky  32:29

Yes. And also understanding yourself, because I know there's a tendency that for humans to fall in love with their ideas.

Ash Faraj  32:37

Yeah, that's true.

Howard Tiersky  32:38

You know, it's a little bit like what I was saying, in our research, let's get really clear about what we're trying to accomplish. And sometimes what happens very often, what happens is that we start by thinking about what we want to accomplish, like, increase the customer satisfaction and conversion rate on our website that sells widgets. But somewhere along the line, we start to have some ideas. And those ideas take on a life of their own, we think they're amazing. They're the most genius thing that anyone has ever created. And we want our ideas to, to thrive and survive and be seen by the world, and almost the way we want our children to be successful, we want our ideas to be successful. And so sometimes that means we're not as objective as we should be about whether those ideas really achieved the goals. I talk a lot in the book about the principles of design thinking. And without getting into it in too much detail. Some people may be familiar with design thinking. But you know, if I was to say it in a sentence, you know, design thinking adds two major ideas to the process of coming up with two major concepts to the process of coming up with ideas. One is that before you start brainstorming, make sure you really understand the customer. topic I talked about a lot. And then the second is after you come up with some ideas, go through a process of prototyping and testing them. Because the reality is that a lot of ideas just won't work. They won't be adopted by customers. They're just, they're just not they sound good, but they really just aren't going to work in the end in the market. And so there's a lot of shortcuts to failure. And I recommend, take shortcuts to failure. There's my meme of the day, I love that you're going to fail, you know, and obviously people you hear in Silicon Valley, this idea of fail fast. And you know, people may say, Well, why would you want to fail at all? No, you're going to fail. If you're going to be successful, you're going to fail a lot more than you succeed. So figure out how to get to the failures as quickly as possible. So you can go back to the start. It's like a video game. You know, like when you start to play and you realize this this this isn't going well just just die so you can start the game again, you know? Yeah, so anyway, that's that concept is really key.

Ash Faraj  34:35

So here's here's a question for you and feel free to use an example reference an example here if need be, but how much time do you usually give or how do you know when to iterate or when to you know, when something has really failed? Does that make sense?

Howard Tiersky  34:48

Oh, yeah, it definitely makes sense. This is a this is one of those ultimate, you know, when people give advice, yeah, like, you know, like at a graduation, no. What is what is your Advice. If you're speaking to a an entrepreneur or someone creating a startup, you might say, persistence young man, you know, the key to success is persistence. My wife was just reading a book called grit. I don't know if you've seen this,

Ash Faraj  35:12

Angela Duckworth.

Howard Tiersky  35:14

Right, exactly. And, and the essence of it is that success is dictated more by people who stick with things than by say, intelligence or talent and things like that. So someone might say, you know, young man, you know, persist, right, be persistent, don't never give up. And then someone else is gonna say, the key to success is to pivot, right? If you look at so many of the successful digital companies, they started on one thing, and then they change and they change the change. And that goes with, you know, also listen to your customer, right, you get a product in the market, it's not doing well understand your customer, what your customer really wants change, change, change. So these two ideas are kind of contradictory. Well, wait a minute, which is the profound advice. If I have a vision, and it's not working, should I be sticking with it and pushing it forward? And just, I'm going to stay with this no matter how long it takes to be successful? Or should I say I have a system working, I'm going to try something else, I'm going to try something else. So like, like so many pieces of advice, you know, in the details, it's never as easy as like what you put on a bumper sticker. Um, I've actually created a whole flowchart, which I have that I think I post on LinkedIn, and places, which is the wind of persistent when to pivot, but I think, you know, if I was to try to not go through that whole thing, and just be kind of concise. I think I'd say, if it's not working, do you know why it's not working? If you don't really know why it's not working, it's too soon to give up. You've got to find out why it's not working. Is it that for example, there's no awareness? Is it the execution? Is it the product concept, right? So you have to find out if it's not working? It's crazy to give up if it's not working, and you don't even know why don't now because you know, you could be one of those people that was that stopped digging for gold one inch away from, you know, I forget stories like that, right. Some guys spent 20 years with a pickaxe digging for gold, and only after 20 years gives up and the next day someone else buys the mind from him for $1. Yeah, and the first five minutes of digging, he's working in the same hole, the other guy dug for 20 years and he hits gold. Now, that's probably story's probably not even true, you know, but you don't you never want to be that guy. No. So that's, that's key. And then once you do find out and by the way, the types of research techniques that I talked about in my book, are how you find out why it's not working, right, there's a whole bunch of things you can do to try to understand what's going on. And then once you understand why it's not working, then you have to go well, can I fix it or not? Maybe it's just a one degree correction. And it can work. Or maybe it's a fundamental flaw in the whole concept? Well, obviously, it's a one degree correction, you're probably gonna want to persist. And if it's a fundamental flaw, you're probably going to want to pivot. And so that's, I think that's that's it, you know, don't give up before you understand why, why you're unsuccessful.

Ash Faraj  38:01

Something I look for when I decide to partner with someone or hire someone is

Howard Tiersky  38:06


Ash Faraj  38:07

And the way you measure that is

Howard Tiersky  38:09

having them do something like say, Okay, let's try this. Why don't you come back to me in three days with your proposed plan or something, something that they've literally doing on assignment, so it can't be something someone else did, and they you don't know what their role was? literally getting to see them do some work shows you how smart thing,

Ash Faraj  38:26

the most important quality in a leader is

Howard Tiersky  38:29

my first thing I wanted to say was transparency, truthfulness. I think that's the number one most important quality but overall communication and transparency and truthfulness is the art of communication. That's, that's the number one quality of leadership is

Ash Faraj  38:45

something that has helped me get past my own fears and insecurities have been

Howard Tiersky  38:49

well, I want to say Tony Robbins, very involved in the Tony Robbins community and organization for many years. And so many principles that he teaches are fantastic.

Ash Faraj  39:00

Something I've struggled with as a leader in the past has been

Howard Tiersky  39:04

time management, prioritization,

Ash Faraj  39:07

something I do to make sure that I feel positive and stay productive is

Howard Tiersky  39:11

not schedule my meetings. So back to back that like I'm just in meetings all day like like with no breaks and no time to reflect

Ash Faraj  39:19

one setback or failure in my early 20s. I will never forget is

Howard Tiersky  39:23

I tried to stage of production of, of Dracula, where people were going to be a street performance that was going to be staged each scene in a different like area of Greenwich Village in New York City. And it was a huge disaster. We never completed it. It was a completely impractical idea. And it quickly became clear as we tried to rehearse it. And I recall that vividly.

Ash Faraj  39:46

On a more positive note. The sweetest moment I've felt in my entire career was when

Howard Tiersky  39:51

watching people use the tools that we create watching someone really get benefit and value. And I don't know that I could pinpoint one but You know, whether it's renting a car, or you know, I'll tell you one for myself, which is we did the app for triple A for roadside assistance. And this was very recently my daughter's car broke down. And she called me to come help her and was nearby and we use the app to call for roadside assistance and it worked great. And I was like, wow, yeah, I'm a customer who my own thing.

Ash Faraj  40:22

Thank you so so much again for listening to today's episode. It means the world to me that you've taken the time to listen and I hope you choose to listen again to us next week. Take care

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