Ray Samuels: Leading Teams to Define and Execute Digital Strategies
Ray Samuels is the Co-Founder of Wripple.
Ray led Razorfish’s largest client portfolio, launched huge in Europe, and helped build the Martin Agency’s digital offering. He’s passionate about leading teams to define and execute digital strategies across the entire customer journey.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
This disruption story has three protagonists. In some cases, we’ve answered questions as a team and in others with our own perspective.
We met while working together at Razorfish in Atlanta, GA. Shannon served as the Global CEO, Bonny as BD lead for the southeast and Ray as business lead for the southeast. We all have over 20 years of experience in digital marketing and experience work, both client and agency side. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the way work gets done failing both clients and talent. The value equation was breaking down with clients feeling less satisfied with output for their spend and talent feeling trapped in outdated practices with intense pressure to do more with less.
The culprit was ironically disruption that our clients were facing due to new technologies and competitors. Because of this, they needed a way to get marketing and experience work done very differently. They needed to go much faster, do more things concurrently and with less budget. Ultimately we founded Wripple to provide everyone in marketing and experience work with greater flexibility, speed and efficiency. Our technology, the first agency services platform, replaces an old- world way of finding and managing teams to tackle marketing and experience projects.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Our product takes everything you know about the typical professional services experience and gives it a much-needed modern overhaul, offering a better experience for clients and freelance talent. We’ve effectively created an Ecommerce engine for getting agency work done. Using our platform, our clients are able to find and onboard agile teams in under a week. In the old world, after RFPs were issued and evaluated, 3-5 months could pass. At the same time, because of Automation/AI, we are saving our clients money – often up to 50% compared to other ways to deliver work. Additionally, clients love the transparency we offer. They get prices and rates in real-time, and they can drill down into the backgrounds and experience of the actual people that are going to do the work. No bait and switch.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake made was actually narrowly avoided in a last minute, divine-intervention kind of way. When we were first starting out and choosing a name for our company, we must have reviewed hundreds upon hundreds of options. We weighed the pros and cons of each, studiously reviewed design options, sent out surveys, analyzed results, checked in with family and friends. And we were running out of time!
As a result, and somewhat in a panic, we landed on something we could all partially, sorta-kinda agree on. The name was FishHive. Yes, Fish. Hive. Thrilled beyond measure that we’d finally made a decision, now the real work began in creating logos, submitting registrations, etc. We were busy, busy with our newly minted name and plan of action, until, in one serendipitous moment, we woke in horror, asking really, FishHive? FishHive? The name is actually GROSS. And the smells it conjured! We had realized the error of our ways. We’d settled on a compromise, a watered-down, group-think, stinky decision for our name. We knew we’d given up too early instead of waiting for the right name to come. Yes, sometimes compromise is needed. But sometimes you must choose to wait for the right one to come along.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
For Wripple, our customers truly have been mentors. At several critical points in building the business, they have provided invaluable insights, or even course corrected us if we were going down the wrong path. One story worth sharing involves the early days when we first introduced the concept of Wripple to prospective customers. Naturally, we were quite excited about the concept of providing our clients direct access to highly skilled freelance teams on a tech platform.
We had discovered for ourselves the immense talent available in the professional gig economy. They were excited too, but quickly helped us identify two key issues we had to solve: 1) many wanted to make sure they could work with teams that had worked together before, and 2) many still wanted a single point of contact to manage the project. As a result of this input, we added two differentiating features to our platform: 1) freelancers can form collectives, inviting their friends/colleagues to form full teams, and 2) clients can select to add a certified Engagement Managers to a project team if they want an experienced project lead to manage delivery.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Perhaps oversimplified, but for various reasons if an industry ceases to create value for customers and other stakeholders, disruption could be the right antidote. When the fundamental (old) ways of working fail to deliver value and organizations go into survival mode, i.e., vicious cycles of cost cutting, desperate consolidation, something has to change. On the other hand, if an industry has stood the test of time and generates sustained meaningful value, disruption could very well be a case of the proverbial hammer chasing a nail. Disruption for the sake of disruption.
There are plenty of examples on both sides of the disruption coin. On the positive side there are the usual suspects we all talk about and experience today: Zoom, Airbnb, Neflix, Purple, Nest. We read about these companies all the time, but we could also learn valuable lessons by covering the other side where disruption failed. A good (painful) example is from Ray’s past travels where he joined a team of innovators who set out to disrupt the exclusive private banking industry.
Like many other cases where disruption went south, this was back in the late dotcom days. Long story short the team tried to create an entirely new digital customer experience for high-net-worth individuals that really loved the high touch personal relationship with their private banker. Technology certainly could have enhanced the business, but it really wasn’t broken, nor did it require a new digitally-led business model. An attempt at disruption for the sake of disruption. This cautionary tale is a constant reminder of what not to do as we build Wripple. No hammers chasing nails.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
a) Successful people make decisions quickly, but change their minds slowly. Learning to trust your gut to make the right decision multiple times every day is key to future success and vital to the pace of the startup world. Analysis paralysis under pressure is real and the time for consideration is when you have the time to truly do it.
b) Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. When starting a business that will disrupt the industry landscape, you cannot have ANY limiting beliefs. The world at large will give you many reasons to doubt this path and pull you off-course, but aiming high and believing in the positive impact your business will bring is paramount to success.
c) Don’t take anything personally. As someone in sales where daily rejection is the norm, it’s especially important for me to embrace this one. Everyone has their “stuff” and their reasons for not being able to support your business. But that’s not personal or about you.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We have a lot of work to do to shake things up within the existing scope of Wripple! However, one thing we haven’t talked much about yet is the impact we will make in terms of giving independent workers or freelancers a completely new way to build their business while enjoying a flexible and rewarding life. Independent work can be lonely and it’s often difficult to get exposure to the most interesting or challenging projects. But being part of a team and community can change all that. With Wripple, independent workers can connect with others to form teams, and they can get access to challenging assignments for some of the world’s best companies and connect with other members of the talent marketplace to tackle opportunities with non-Wripple clients. Over the next several years, we envision a world where hundreds or even thousands of teams are working on interesting projects for our customers. Team members are making really good money, while at the same time enjoying a flexible, balanced lifestyle as an independent freelancer.
Further down the road we do see application of the core Wripple platform to other functions / industries, ultimately redefining what professional services looks like, but for now we’re keeping our eye on the prize.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Ray – There is a quote from The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho that serves an important reminder as I continue on this journey: “If a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure”.
Shannon – I love the book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Alan Singer. As I have grown older, I have discovered the importance of truly understanding the ‘inner wirings’ of myself and how that understanding can lead to change which can create more peace, happiness and focus on others. I have found this invaluable in terms of personal relationships, business relationships, parenting and leadership in general.
Bonny – Brene Brown’s recent book Daring Greatly has had a great impact on me and specifically my approach to growing a disruptor business. Her inspiration mirrors mine in the words of Teddy Roosevelt about the man in the arena with a face marred by dust and sweat and blood… “who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Making a difference is not easy work and certainly not for the faint of heart. This quote gives me inspiration daily to keep getting up and fighting the good fight.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Ray – The sad truth is I can’t remember who said this, or when, but it has stuck with me for quite some time. “Every morning you wake up, you can decide to make it a good day” I can’t say with a straight face that I make the right decision every single day, but every day I am at least grateful as hell that I have the choice. And most days this quote reminds me that it is up to me and me alone to make the most out of what I’ve got. This means even on the toughest of days I look hard for the silver lining, not the pit of despair.
Shannon – I always loved this quote: ‘I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship’ by Louisa May Alcott because it speaks, in a very simple way, to so many aspects of life that are important to happiness and achievement– both in business and in personal life. It emphasizes the importance of focusing on vision and goals, over fear. And how fear moves to the background if vision and goals are in place. It also communicates how important it is to stay curious, and always seek new learning opportunities while remaining focused on the task at hand.
Bonny – “If you have built castles in the air, your work is not lost. Now is the time to put foundations under them.” — Henry David Thoreau. This quote has been meaningful since high school for me when I knew I had lofty dreams of changing the world one day, making it a better place, but I truly wondered how to make this happen? Now, looking back on my life and career and the rock-solid foundation built from a 30+ year education in this industry, I now see that our company, Wripple, is that castle for me!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
How about the ‘Yes, And!’ Movement? A while ago we took improv training to help shake up our thinking and build better ideas together. One of the rules of improv is always to build on what your partner says with ‘Yes and’. We walked out of our session realizing the criticality of watching and listening to get to better ideas and outcomes. There’s a whole lot of talking at or past each other these days. One could say we’re all experiencing a deficit of intentional listening. In the age of Zoom it’s also a lot easier to look past the human on the side of that laptop screen. It’s not a technological breakthrough, but what if we all took a few cues from improv and really heard what people were saying to build on top of instead of ignoring or tearing down? Maybe the ‘Yes, And!’ Movement would give air to more brilliant ideas that might otherwise get drowned out, bring down the temperature and help us connect in ways that are constructive.
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