If you ask virtually every CMO about the keys to their success in having their marketing efforts cut through, you’ll likely find a few trends in their answers. For one, most of those CMOs will credit having their CEO completely on board. This isn’t a successful person demonstrating how humble they are, nor is it an attempt to curry favor with the CEO—it’s simply a reality of marketing. If the CEO doesn’t encourage his team to throw (some) caution to the wind, no one will take risks—that means mundane, dull, middle-of-the-road marketing will prevail.
Louay Eldada, the CEO of Quanergy, a company focused on developing laser-based sensors that help things like cars, drones, and even border walls see, is all in on the idea that CEOs need to encourage risk taking. To develop this tech—called LiDAR—everyone involved had to take risks. That’s why, to reach their level of success, Eldada had to hire the right team, build a supportive culture where failure is a step in the right direction, and encourage risks. Below are a few highlights from his interview from CES 2019 that address those actions and the company’s marketing. Plus, you can check out the full interview here.
Rumor has it the 2020 Olympics will feature a flying car. What sort of tech are you bring to this event?
We’re bringing an accurate navigation. As you can imagine, a flying car that will actually be carrying the Olympic torch and lighting the Olympic cauldron in the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, has to be very precise. You don’t want that to not go well.
Since the Jetsons, quite a few people have been waiting for flying vehicles. When do you think those will be on the market?
I strongly believe we’re going to see flying cars before we see fully autonomous vehicles on the road. Fully autonomous vehicles on the road are a lot more difficult than flying cars. They have to deal with chaos. They have to deal with pedestrians, people on the road that might cross the street where they’re not supposed to, cars that might run a red light and so on. Flying cars have no people in their way. And those who follow software-defined virtual lanes in the sky, are much safer, much easier to actually make happen than then fully autonomous vehicles on the road.
One hot topic is border security—is LiDAR something that could be in play?
It is. It’s more effective and lower cost as border security than a wall. And you don’t have a physical barrier that really disturbs the environment. It really solves the problem without creating one. We have had an installation In Del Rio, Texas, which we have shown it to politicians— Republicans and Democrats— everyone likes it. If the goal is to prohibit people who are not allowed to cross the border from crossing it, let us solve that—don’t tell us to build a physical wall. We’re in the United States of America. We have Silicon Valley. We have the center of innovation on planet Earth. Let’s use it.
What do you generally want from your CMO and marketing team?
They identify market needs, but they also have to prioritize, and they have to manage the funnel. So, I evaluate them on their ability to do all of the above efficiently and effectively. But additionally, I tell my employees: every single one of us is a marketing person. Every employee who represents the company is the marketing of the company. Anything that any of our employees say about the company, represents the company. It should have marketing value and should generate excitement about our products.
What areas of your marketing are shining?
As Steve Jobs would say, “let me tell you what you need.” So, were doing that in areas like autonomous vehicles, border security, industrial automation, 3D mapping, robots, and drones. We’re saying, “Let us tell you and show you what you need.” We let them watch it, observe it, see it, experience it and then it sells itself at that point. We absorb the cost of the pilot. We let the customers experience the solution and that’s the most effective way to market it and to show the value.
What wisdom would you share with other startups and small businesses?
I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of decades in my four startups. The most important thing is the hiring. Hire the right team. Hire the right team and give them direction but get out of their way. If you hire the right people and you empower them, you have an army of a few hundred people who all can do what you can do and can be just as effective. A simple way to say it: A group of two hundred brains that are all capable is a lot more effective than one brain that controls 200 people as if they were puppets.
What’s so great about taking risks?
If you don’t run into things that don’t work, you’re not trying hard enough. It means you’re being too conservative and too timid in your efforts. If it doesn’t work well, maybe it is one of those things that is not feasible, that no one can do. But it’s certainly worth trying if you can. And a very important part of the culture in the company is that failure is OK. Bad news is okay. I mean, when the employees feel like they can take a risk and there are no severe consequences, they get so much more innovative and creative.
What are you, as the leader, doing to make that culture real?
I have to have an open-door policy. People walk in every day and tell me about any issues they face, and I immediately move on to “how can we solve them?”. How can I help you? Which direction should we go next? I just move on immediately, I don’t dwell for a second on the failure. What have we learned? How should we change the direction of the program?
What makes your team so special, and how do you work with them?
The core team I have at Quanergy has been with me through my four startups. That speaks a lot. Those people are very traditionally conservative people. I’ve been encouraging them to take risks, and it’s only stuck because they saw failure in action and through experiences with me. When they fail or when there is an issue—I take it well. If anything, they get rewarded for honesty and being straightforward and direct and immediate in their communication. And that’s why they stick with me because they know that I believe in how capable and how smart they are. The fact that they failed means nothing. It’s a big family. It’s a culture you build where everyone is comfortable telling you anything and everything immediately when it happens. It’s the only way you can solve problems as soon as possible.
Can you talk about when things haven’t worked?
If you don’t run into things that don’t work, you’re not trying hard enough. It means you’re being too conservative and too timid in your efforts. You always have to push the boundaries and try to do what most people think is not feasible. Everything is “not feasible” until someone does it. If it doesn’t work well, maybe it is one of those things that is not feasible, that no one can do. But it’s certainly worth trying if you can. If you have a problem worth addressing and you can’t fix it one way, you try to fix it another way. And a very important part of the culture in the company is that failure is okay. Bad news is okay. I mean, when one when of the employees feels like they can take a risk and there are no severe consequences—boy, they get so much more innovative and creative.
We’re at CES, why is this a good business opportunity for you?
All of our customers—let’s say all the auto makers from all over the world—they come here. Top executives from all of our customers come to CES to look at what’s available, to see what kind of new technology is available for their vehicles, their systems, their machines. This is the place to be to be seen by decision makers. We work all year round to generate the interest and get our contacts at key customers to sell the idea to their executives, to actually get the decision makers to show up. In the end they all do.
How do you get the word out to that target? How do you market?
We talked to the U.S. government. We talked to politicians on both sides of the aisle and they both actually like our approach; we effectively protect the border and we do not need a physical wall to be built. It really solves the problem without creating one.
We have had an installation In Del Rio, Texas which we have shown it to politicians—Republicans and Democrats—everyone likes it. We expect marketing to clearly define the market need. Not necessarily the solution. We worry about how to solve the problem. I want to understand the problem. Border security is a great example. If the goal is to prohibit people who are not allowed to cross the border from crossing it, let us solve that— don’t tell us to build a physical wall. We’re in the United States of America. We have Silicon Valley. We have the center of innovation on planet Earth. Let’s use it.
You work with many different industries—do you use partners? How do you make sure your partnerships work effectively?
We always have partners. We don’t try to enter different markets by ourselves and do everything by ourselves. Each market has its own incumbent experts. We work with them to really improve their solution. Give them a more capable solution. In one case, for the police cruiser in our CES booth here, we partnered with Six Watch, a company based in the Boston area, that’s founded and run by former law enforcement officers and they understand the needs very well. They were law enforcement officers and they’re still very well-connected in the law enforcement and Armed Forces space. They understand the need very well. And we just give them the ability to solve the problem.