Jeff Dachis is the kind of guy who responds to a tweet in the middle of the night. But what else would you expect from an entrepreneur whose titles include co-founder and former CEO of Razorfish, founder and CEO of the Dachis Group, chief evangelist at Sprinklr and mentor at TechStars, Capital Factory and the Founder Institute?
Dachis has spent the past 20 years "navigating the dramatic shift in the marketplace" brought about by digital, mobile and social technologies and "has tried to help unlock the value and impact created when people can connect, share and engage with each other."
He's not only a pioneer of the digital revolution, but one of the most adaptive participants. Earlier this year, he evolved again — from the head of Austin, Texas-based Dachis Group to the Chief Evangelist and advisor at New York City-based Sprinklr.
A Passionate Guy
Dachis describes himself as passionate about the intersection of the Internet, technology, big data, social marketing, digital marketing, media, entertainment, commerce, design and startups.
He's also a "proven driver of growth" for startups, build-ups, buy-ups for venture, growth equity and publicly traded portfolio companies. And he's especially proud of his "deep longstanding relationships" with global marketers, the digital marketing ecosystem, traditional advertising and media ecosystems, a worldwide digital talent ecosystem and capital markets.
We sat down with him recently to recap his career and his accomplishments and get an idea of where he thinks the digital revolution is heading next,
Sobel: Let's go back to 1988. As a graduate from the State University of New York at Purchase with a bachelor's degree in dramatic literature and dance, you co-founded In Your Face Inc., a guerilla marketing and promotional events firm servicing Fortune 500 marketers in the United States. Tell us about that and the journey to your next company, Razorfish?
Dachis: My parents gave me a knack for business and for making things happen. As I began to explore my interests, I became involved in a variety of forms of creative expression: from theater and dance and being a DJ to photography, graphic design and video production. I wasn’t particularly good at any of them, but I got a well-rounded, comprehensive understanding of the modes and means of creating media and communications.
The advent of the Internet enabled the immediate expression of ideas. However banal or profound, they could be distributed worldwide for free in HD on the go. In my mind, this represented the largest shift in the communication landscape in history. As the media, telecommunications and technology landscape began to converge, it became immediately apparent to me that this new form and function was my calling. Razorfish was founded with the idea that this digital transformation would impact every single facet of every single business, and we wanted to help.
Sobel: You founded Razorfish in 1994 with your childhood friend Craig Kanarick. Your theory was that “everything that can be digital, will be digital.” The company was originally headquartered in your apartment in Manhattan. Later, you relocated to New York City's Silicon Alley, the center of the city's high-tech boom. Soon you had your first major project — creating a section for Time Warner’s Pathfinder portal. Can you talk a bit about the early days of Razorfish and how the company ended up as part of Publicis?
Dachis: That was a magical time, as most of the people involved in the Internet and Silicon Alley in particular would tell you. There was a sense that something very important was happening, and that a changing of the guard, of sorts, was underway. There was an enormous amount of hope, and the sense that the possibilities were limitless.
Music, art and technology were all converging in Manhattan and the artists, writers, drum and bass DJ’s, hip hop b-boys, technologists, designers, phreakers and cyber punks were all hanging out, building things and creating.
We brought a business sensibility to all of that energy and a plan to create a global company by harnessing all of that technology, strategic thinking and creativity to help businesses understand the changes impacting them. We found other talented people/companies around the world that held similar beliefs and wanted to join us.
The company’s early years, from 1994 to 1999, and up through our initial public offering in 1999 and into the next millennium through 2001 were marked by an intense focus on digital change management, user experience design, systems design and development and legacy systems migration practices. We employed more than 2,200 people in 15 cities in nine countries globally and generated in excess of $250 million in annual revenue.
From 2002 to 2004, the company retooled after the Internet winter of 2001. We consolidated other web services firms like Scient/IXL, Lante and USWeb/CKS, becoming the world's largest interactive agency under the SBI.Razorfish name.
In 2004, aQuantive bought SBI.Razorfish for $160 million and merged in its Avenue A unit to form Avenue A/Razorfish. That made the joint company the largest independent buyer of interactive media on the web and intensified its focus on digital marketing and technology services. It also enabled Avenue A/Razorfish to offer large brand advertisers web site building and brand management services, along with media buying.
Three years later, in 2007, Microsoft acquired aQuantive for $6 billion in an all cash transaction and with it Avenue A/Razorfish. At the time, aQuantive’s (including Razorfish) revenues were slightly under $500 million annually.
In 2009, Avenue A/Razorfish was spun out of Microsoft and sold to Publicis for $600 million, and changed its name back to the original brand we created, Razorfish.
Today, I’ll estimate that Razorfish has approximately 3,000 employees globally, generates in the neighborhood $500 million in annual revenue and throws off a pretty decent profit margin under Maurice Levy at Publicis. I’m excited to see what Tom Adamski, the new Razorfish CEO, will do at the company along with Luke Taylor from LBI/Digitas. Exciting times ahead. My sense is that Razorfish has found its permanent home, is positioned well for continued growth and is in very good hands.
I’m very proud of where Razorfish is, as well as of the thousands of extremely talented people that have worked there, the ground breaking, industry leading and category defining work the company has done over the past 20 years leading the digital revolution, and the work the global company continues to do to pioneer digital marketing as we know it to be today and what it will become.
Sobel: You’ve done extremely well, and you’ve arguably created one of the few early Internet brands to survive for 20 years and an industry leading and iconic company on the digital landscape. What brought you to the decision to form Dachis Group in 2008?
Dachis: Underpinning the advent of the social platforms that were emerging around that time was a sense that the tools of self-expression were becoming democratized. We envisioned it in 1994, but it was becoming a reality in 2008.
The ability to share your ideas worldwide for free, in HD, on the go was becoming a reality due the advances in social technology, social platforms and people’s willingness to share and engage with each other about everything. Life, family, shopping, selling, advertising, creative expression, media and every single function inside and outside of business, education, politics, government and every kind of organization was being impacted by people’s willingness and ability to connect and share.
It struck me that this fundamental secular trend would be more powerful and have more impact on society than the original advent of the first wave of Internet adoption, and that the data underlying all of the connections and sharing would, in the end, be the primary value driver for businesses in the networked economy.
Given the advances in distributed computing and true big data technologies, the ability to collect, process and analyze enormous sums of structured and unstructured data was finally possible at a scale that made sense.
We started Dachis Group with the underlying premise that businesses need help designing the people, process and technology transformation needed to become social businesses, and that they would need a big data social analytics platform to help them drive strategic decisions based on the data.
Sobel: Earlier this year, Sprinklr acquired Dachis Group, forming the largest independent end-to-end social relationship platform in the market. In a CMSWire story, Andrew Jones, an analyst at Altimeter Group, described the companies as "very complementary." By acquiring Dachis, Sprinklr adds industry leading brand analytics and content optimization to a platform Forrester Research already rates as 'the most powerful technology on the market,'" he said. Can you talk a bit about that?
Dachis: Sprinklr has the only purpose built enterprise grade platform that enables all the touch points of a business to seamlessly manage all of its external facing relationship experiences — human resources, public relations, crisis management, customer support, call centers, marketing, advertising, sales, advocacy and social engagement — from one platform, powered by the data and analytics derived from the Dachis Group merger. This is unique, and the value proposition is really resonating with the only people that matter — Sprinklr customers. Thankfully, they seem like a pretty happy bunch.
Sobel: It’s now 2014. Dachis Group is now part of Sprinklr and your new role is Chief Evangelist-Advisor. Can you talk a bit about the thinking behind the merger and where you see yourself down the road? I’m also interested in how you see the Sprinkler/Dachis merger working.
Dachis: When Sprinklr approached us about combining forces, I wasn’t convinced. But once I met (Sprinklr CEO) Ragy Thomas and learned about his vision for the future of the company, I knew we were making the right decision to work together. Sprinklr's peanut butter and our chocolate turned out to be a phenomenal combination and has been the impetus to enable Sprinklr to move beyond Dachis Group and acquire both TBG Digital to integrate a paid media offering as well as Branderati for customer advocacy based solutions.
With our respective experience in M&A and integration, the process and results have gone without any major hiccups. The merger and integration went extremely smooth, and Dachis Group is now a fully integrated part of Sprinklr. It's an amazing company with very talented people.
As the technology landscape as well as connections, sharing and networked business modes continue to evolve, I am certain there are going to be new exciting opportunities that emerge.