Giles Palmer – From physics major to CEO of Brandwatch



Giles Palmer from Brandwatch sat down for a 'fireside chat' with Gordon Kelly (BBC/Forbes/Wired) and Marian Gazdik (Startup Grind) to tell us all about his journey from physics major to CEO of Brandwatch.  Here are some key points from his talk that was both insightful and inspiring!


What is Brandwatch?

We are a Social Media monitoring and analytics company.  We use crawlers that go through over 70 million websites each day for new content.  It’s a professional subscription service and unlike Google, which is aimed at sending you in the right direction, our aim is to keep you engaged.  Marketers use us for trying to understand their reputation, the reception of a campaign, etc.


You were pre-Twitter, how did you get people on board with this?

A key thing we learnt is not to ask people what they need.  In an emerging market anything you’re trying to ask is a pre-loaded question biased towards your product.  You’ve put more time and effort into it than anyone else so obviously people are going to accept it.  Also, when you’re a little ahead of the curve and you pitch an idea, it’s inevitable that others will picture the solution differently to you.  But they’ll probably say they like the idea because if they say no, it’s like stabbing your first-born.


You’ve obviously changed tacks a few times, how do you know when you need to pivot in a different direction?

  1. If you’re heart is not in it! My first venture was in perfumes and cosmetics (obviously something that isn’t my area of expertise).  I went into it because there was an opportunity for a lot of money… it was a gold mine.  Ultimately, when there were setbacks, I was ready to give up where others might have kept going.  You have to do something you’re passionate about.

  2. Know when the market is turning.  My second venture was in open-sourced solutions and we were a small company and our focus was very niche.  This is a very sensible approach to take, but we were in a dying market that we knew we had to move out of.

  3. Focus on one thing and do it extremely well.  We made our own search engine catered to the banking and legal industries called Search & Alert.  We were getting people interested and clients were coming back with suggestions for improvement, but ultimately it wasn’t an essential need and the utility value wasn’t more than a few thousand a year (this was due to bad research on our part).

  4. When people are interested!  Brandwatch started as a side-project and was a prototype for what could be added to Search & Alert.  I’d be talking to clients and they’d say “tell me about that!” but I’d persist with Search & Alert.  Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 but listen to what people are trying to tell you.


What was the A-HA! moment?

A friend that does SEO was saying that there must be someway in which we could work together, “it would be great if you could tell our customer the sentiment behind our brand.” I thought, WE CAN DO THAT! Sentiment analysis, let’s do it!  There was a need and at the time I thought it was an original idea.  I found out later that Nielson had a similar product and that was a bit of a blow, but then I realized it was probably for the best.  If you’re the first one to the market, then there probably isn’t a market.  Also, when you have a market that is still in it’s early stages, competition helps to build buzz, and you are not selling the concept all on your own!


What would you say differentiates Brandwatch?

Every answer I hear about differentiation, I always think reeks of bullshit.  There’s no one thing that you do that makes you different.  It’s a million small things that add up.  For us, we are culturally different from our competitors and we’ve remained the same core team from the very beginning of Brandwatch.  We’re honest and we don’t oversell of overpromise.  We’ve never competed on lowest prices because the problem we solve is such a difficult one.  We’re indexing the entire Internet!


What’s the best way to win clients?

Ask what their problems are. Listen. Empathize. Try to help.


More specifically, you can link their problem to solutions in order to have a better chance of closing the deal.  We hand over our software as fast as possible for clients to test against our competitors and then we help them through it.


How have you gone about financing Brandwatch?

Bit by bit.  Two angel rounds, followed by a corporate round and then a VC round.  I think it was easier for us when we started because we were already successful, had never made a loss, were passionate and knew what we were doing.  We built Brandwatch in 7-8 months, through layering on top of what we already had rather than completely pivoting.


Top Social Media tips for startups and entrepreneurs?

Search is the most important piece of digital marketing! 50% of our leads come through search and about 25% through social media.  Make sure your SEO is fully optimized!


The best uses of social media are the ones that give.  They are targeted to the people that are most interested in what they do, and they give.  Embrace your customer instead of just tuning your social media to output.  High-quality content will always win, especially if you listen and engage in a respectful way.  Don’t forget that there is a knock-on effect to everything you do with social media in terms of your Google ranking: play the long-game.


How do you choose the right channels?

We try things out.  We take a new startup approach and always start with lean marketing.  Marketing for us is very specific; we measure and optimize everything!  In terms of the filter, we have social + search + referral, then we see who’s coming back and we nurture them and try to move people along the journey.  We do whatever we can to be a part of the final options they might consider purchasing.


Back when we were starting out, I heard the phrase ‘Markets are conversations.’  But, if that’s true then the reverse should also be true, ‘Conversations are marketing opportunities.’  Social media has taken that to a new level in the B2B world.  Make your call centers in-house.  Speak to your customers.  Learn as much as you can from them!  At every level of your company, make sure you are also thinking about where the customer will fit in.


Your 3 tips for user acquisition?

  1. Find out who’s influential in the field.

  2. Engage with them.  Give them a free product demo, talk to them, etc.

  3. Amplify their influence online to build followers.


  1. Build your own base.  This takes longer but is ultimately more valuable.


What’s the best way to build a great team?

Get people that are hungry!  They have personal discipline but want to succeed, constantly asking for more.  In the end, they will want more for you, the company and your clients and I will clear a path for them and let them go for it.


What is your personal ambition for Brandwatch?

My ambition changes as I meet my goals.  I’d like to look back when I’m old and think that I’ve done something that has made the world a better place.  Some people have this idea that they’ll build something, sell it for 100 million, and then do what they really want to do.  But if you believe in something and you have the hunger for it, why would you sell out or find something different to do?  My aim isn’t to build a billion dollar company.  It’s to do something that matters.