Digital Leaders Q&A: Paulo Cunha, CEO of ShiftForward


Paulo Cunha is an entrepreneur and ad tech expert with a 14 year mixed background of Computing, Web Marketing and Advertising technologies.

Currently Paulo is the CEO of ShiftForward an online advertising technology firm. We caught up with Paulo to ask him about his work around ad tech, and what a typical working day is like…

Broadly speaking, what are your key business goals? And what are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

As a relatively new company our main goal is to turn business leads into customers, and KPIs are an important tool in helping us to achieve this. We have to be able to prove to prospects that they need our products and that they will get value from their investment with us.

And in the end this all comes down to profit: evaluating the monetary value customers can get directly from our products and through audience monetisation.

These are difficult things to measure but the need to do so has been driving our product and User Interface development to facilitate the collection of usable data for both us as a business, and also for our clients.

We are capturing a variety of data that is fuelling our metrics and are now able to show our clients how much money they make by using our products.

What is the biggest challenge in your role?

We are at that interesting time in the life of a business that all successful startups go through. We are out of incubation but are working at full capacity and need funding to scale out if we want to be able to execute all of our ideas.

Managing the gap between where we are right now and where we want to be is therefore our biggest challenge. We are a small company but we have big shoes to fill.

How is the function of marketing evolving within your organization?

As we have evolved, so the marketing function has changed and grown within the business, being seen as an essential element of the sales process.

Marketing connects directly with our sales goals and, as guardians of the brand, the marketing team controls the guidelines for our sales activity such as pitches or emails.

Which tools or software do you find most useful in your role?

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make the biggest difference. My iPhone is still probably one of the most useful tools for making my life work as it should – and Excel remains invaluable too.

However, I also use another piece of software, called Aha!, which is having an impact on how we build the business. It is a product road-mapping and strategy tool and it helps us really focus on what we are doing next, along with timings and how we’ll get there.

What do you see as the most significant trends in digital marketing over the coming years?

We are finally going to see real convergence in the industry with ad tech and martech now coming together as a result of TV becoming addressable and trackable.

TV shows we used to watch_Paul Townsend_Flickr

This will have big consequences as marketing tools have always been built around individuals but advertising tools have looked at mass market or one to many.

As they come together and personalisation across all channels becomes a real option it is going to be fascinating to see how the industry pans out – and the impact this will have on the consumer. It’s going to be a huge shift.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

I need to wear many hats! It’s the same for anyone at the helm of a startup. I have to understand a little bit of everything and trust the people who work around me to do their best.

Sometimes this seeming lack of control can be a bit of a challenge but it’s impossible to run a business like this in any other way.

Tell us about a typical working day…

Working in a startup environment we have a fairly flexible working day where everyone has to be around for core working hours but start and end times are up to you. I tend to arrive around 10am but will probably have spent time on calls beforehand.

In the morning I’ll have a catch up with marketing and the product delivery team to find out where we’re at with various projects and will go through customer leads and the sales process with our sales team.

Then at least once a week we’ll aim to have an informal team lunch when everyone gets together over good food for a chat.

The afternoon is more about serious, in-depth conversations about strategy with the senior management team, and once week I’ll get a full update from engineering.

Obviously client contact is a very important part of my day too. I try to meet up with them often, especially at big events like Dmexco where you can see a lot of people in a concentrated burst; and when we are on the brink of a new project or launch, such as our ad forecasting partnership with AudienceScience, communication levels become much more intense as I like to remain hands-on.

Otherwise, if I’m not travelling, we’ll talk remotely with calls spread throughout the day as we work across so many time zones.

At the end of the day, if it’s a Friday, we get out the beers and toast the end of a (hopefully!) good week!

Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?

Yes – make it your goal to understand the fundamental operations of the industry. We have found that most people who come into digital don’t understand how deeply technical it is. Few could describe how ad servers or even cookies work.

You can get so far with a top line understanding of how things work, but an in-depth knowledge of technology and processes can take you much further, whatever your role.

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