Sirius XM DJ → Marketer → CEO
Episode #011: Kate Bradley Chernis, Co-founder and CEO at LatelyAI
November 2, 2020
There are a lot of ways to get started in a career in marketing. Some individuals attend college and graduate with a degree in marketing. Some fall in love with marketing during an internship and make it their career. Then, there are others that find their way to marketing in a unique way. And that’s exactly how this week’s guest got into marketing.
In this episode, we chat with Kate Bradley Chernis, marketer turned co-founder and CEO at LatelyAI. She started her career in radio and eventually had a show on Sirius XM with 20 million daily listeners. She channeled this experience into marketing where she worked with large brands such as Walmart before starting her own company.
We’re talking about the importance of finding common ground with others, the theater of the mind with audio, how she realized that she needed to be her own boss, how the spreadsheets she put together for a project with Walmart turned into a software company, and how she became an accidental CEO.
Stephanie's Strong Opinions
- No matter if it’s with your coworkers or target audience, you need to find common ground to make a better connection.
- You don’t have to fit into someone else’s perception of you. At the end of the day, you have to do what makes you happy.
- Keep an open mind. You never know what your next adventure might hold (it might even take you on a path to becoming a CEO).
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Stephanie Cox: Welcome to Real Marketers where we hear from marketers who move fast, ask forgiveness not permission, obsess about driving results and are filled to the brim with crazy ideas and the guts to implement them. This is not a fireside chat and there’s absolutely no bullsh*t allowed here. I’m your host, Stephanie Cox. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience, and I’ve pretty much done about everything in my career. I believe speed is better than perfection, I use the Oxford comma, I love Coca- Cola. I have exceptionally high standards and surround myself with people who get sh*t done. On this show, my guests and I will push boundaries and share the real truths about marketing and empower you to become a real marketer. One of the best parts about the show is talking to marketers who have unique experiences and speak their mind. And today’s guest is definitely one of those. Kate Bradley Chernis is a radio DJ, turned marketer, turned co- founder and CEO. She started her career in radio and eventually had a show on SiriusXM with 20 million daily listeners. She channeled this experience into marketing where she worked with large brands such as Walmart before starting her own company. We’re talking about the importance of finding common ground with others, the theater of the mind with audio, how she realized that she needed to be her own boss, how the spreadsheets she put together for a project with Walmart turned into a software company, and how she became an accidental CEO. So all my listeners know I love to ask an unusual first question, which is, tell me something that few people know about you.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. So, I was literally just writing about this, and the thing is that I’m not a people person and I really don’t like social networking at all. So, I was-
Stephanie Cox: Me neither.
Kate Bradley Chernis: You don’t?
Stephanie Cox: No.
Kate Bradley Chernis: crosstalk power behind the mic, right?
Stephanie Cox: Right. Well, everyone’s like, don’t you miss events? And I’m like, no, I don’t.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. It’s the small talk, it gets to be really intense and you have to, I feel, this is how I feel, I feel I have to put on a persona to go to that event, right?
Stephanie Cox: Yup.
Kate Bradley Chernis: That chick is not the person who sits on the couch and watch a TV with my husband later. I got to put on my polish and my cowboy boots and my smile and everything you say is interesting.
Stephanie Cox: But it’s not.
Kate Bradley Chernis: But it’s not, yeah. And it takes a lot of work too, because you really have to be dialing or entertaining or whatever it is people want you to be because there’s an objective, right? And sometimes the objective is like, oh my God, I made a new friend and I’m such a jerk, I thought this was going to be a terrible event. But most of the time, it’s a work- related thing and you just have to smile through it and put up with dumbassery, frankly. I mean, it’s just, I feel like I’m the kind of person who can make the most mundane thing interesting just by asking questions and relating it to other things in my life. But other people, they don’t have that skill, which is okay, but they don’t even try, right? So it’s just like, don’t drag me down into your hell of boring, just come on, there has to be some way we can find each other. And then the other thing is, we were at a dinner… Now, I’m going off in this, you didn’t mean this, but we were at a dinner once and there were six people invited, and on paper, everyone there should have been really interesting. And I’m interesting, I was a Rock and roll DJ broadcasting to 20 million listeners a day for God’s sakes in my other life, right? And my husband, guitar player, his band was our favorite record of the year. One of our mutual friends, Joan Jett’s, guitar player calls him the best guitar player in New York back in the day and he goes… So, and we’re interesting. We have to be interesting. No one for three hours, no one asked us what we did, which is amazing to me.
Stephanie Cox: Wait, what?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yes. And I didn’t share it. Isn’t it weird?
Stephanie Cox: That’s small talk 101 like what do you do? Where are you from?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yes. And the people, I’m not even kidding, we talked… Here was one of the conversations was, go around the corner table and talk about your most terrifying dental appointment. Honestly, I’m not even kidding you. And I was just like, what?
Stephanie Cox: I don’t want to talk about the dentist at dinner, right?
Kate Bradley Chernis: It was even worse than that. It was like somebody, they talked about their surgery down and there was a hole going down the two thing and whatever and then someone else was like, ” Oh yeah, well, I had this thing.” And I was like I couldn’t even… I just was like… And we couldn’t eat fast enough and I felt really bad. But I didn’t feel that bad, I’m telling you about it now. That’s the thing though. So what we’re trying to say here is, it’s so easy… This is good because we were also briefly talking about politics before we came on. Common ground is everything, right? I don’t vote the same as my neighbors, but I love my neighbors. They are wonderful people. And they love me because we are able to see through that bullsh*t and find the common ground, right? The church down the road here is not my church, because I don’t go to church, but I love this church because they always have great signs. One of their signs earlier this year was tweet unto others as you would like to be tweeted.
Stephanie Cox: Oh, I love that. That needs to be on a shirt.
Kate Bradley Chernis: It’s awesome. And then the one right now says, love thy neighbor, them too. It’s awesome, right?
Stephanie Cox: Yeah. Well, no, you’re right, common ground it’s so important. And I think what sometimes people think about is they’re like, oh, well you’re from a different part of the country or you have a different background. I’m like, what do you watch on Netflix, because I bet we watch the same shows. We could talk about that for a while.
Kate Bradley Chernis: There you go. We were just talking about the weather. So, I interviewed Apolo Ohno, the eight medal superstar Olympian. First of all, he is so hot. I know this is totally inappropriate.
Stephanie Cox: This is important stuff.
Kate Bradley Chernis: I mean, but oh my God, he’s just wonderful. Literally during the interview, I couldn’t help myself, Stephanie, I was like, can you just say my name a couple more times. And he’s so great. But anyways, so we were just talking about the weather and how it’s this wonderful gift of reach acrossness. You can talk about the weather with anyone and it’s not stupid. There’s a phrase that, uninteresting people talk about the weather or some stupid thing like this, which is completely wrong. Smart people bring up the weather, because I know it’s like the way to your heart is to get you to open up and give me some information about you and have a smile. Share a smile or a crosstalk.
Stephanie Cox: Exactly. Well, it puts you in a better mood. Because, 2020 sucked. Well, and I’m a glass half full kind of person, I always try and see the positive thing. I was a cheerleader for a long time, so I think it’s just my nature, who I am.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Awesome.
Stephanie Cox: So, I’m always trying to find ways to connect with people. But to your point about events, everyone is saying, oh, I miss, going out and all this stuff. And I’m like, you know what, 20… I mean the pandemic, don’t get me wrong, it sucks really bad. But I mean, I’ve not won jeans for six months.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Oh my God. Thank God.
Stephanie Cox: It’s been great.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Totally. I was like, I’m never putting those suckers on again. Here’s what’s sad about that, Stephanie is, so I love cowboy boots. I always wear my boots to everything, to every meeting. I don’t wear regular shoes because they’re uncomfortable and boots make me taller and feel more powerful and all the things. And you can wear those, you have two options, a dress or jeans, right? So, the sad thing is I’m not wearing a dress because I’m going to going anywhere and you’re not wearing jeans either. So, my poor boots are just, they’ve retired and I feel bad about that.
Stephanie Cox: You’re saying boots don’t work with yoga pants because I feel like everything works with yoga pants in 2020.
Kate Bradley Chernis: No, it’s not cool. It’s not. I mean, you could try it, but I mean, if you’re seven, totally, then yes.
Stephanie Cox: Well, if you’re a seven, there’s a lot of things you can get away with dress wise that you can’t get away with that as an adult. Those days were like you were just oblivious to everything or you didn’t care what anyone thought.
Kate Bradley Chernis: I know. So, my friend Sean actually was… This is so wonderful. So Sean is our friend and neighbor and he has a landscaping business. What I love is he writes a letter, it’s a handwritten letter that they print out or sometimes he emails it, but it usually gets printed out and put in an envelope to you, which I love that. And Sean just always does maybe, it’s once. I don’t know how he often he sends us, but I think twice a year. And he just always gives you a little update on his personal life. And so, the update this time was he’s got a new son who’s I guess three now, so not so new, Chase. He was saying how he was watching Chase play the other day and in the climate of all that’s going on, he just thought, just play hard, enjoy this moment where you have no idea that there’s anything wrong in the world and just do it. Just play like you’ve never played before, right?
Stephanie Cox: I love that. Let’s pivot the conversation to you were a Rock and roll DJ, and now you’re the CEO of a company and you’ve also done a ton of marketing. I’d love to just hear about, how did you get started as a Rock and roll DJ with 20 million listeners a day? What was your path there?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. So I was, let’s see, I was a fiction writing major in college, weird creative writing, a weird major, but hey, liberal arts. I was working at a little art newspaper in Burlington, Vermont, which is where I’m from. There was a ski, we all skied all the time, right? So there was a little party up at one of the ski areas that was for all the media folks in town. And so we were there and there was a terrible DJ, but the radio station table was next to me. And so, I was just complaining loudly like, ” This guy sucks. Hey, you guys are good at music, get up there and fix this,” just shoot my mouth off. The GM, I didn’t know she was the GM, but this woman turned to me and she’s like, ” Hey, you’ve got a great voice, do you want to be in radio?” And I was like, ” Sure.” Because, I was just out of college, whatever. And I guess, during my interview I totally swore, which is my nature. I’ve got a filthy mouth, but I didn’t mean to do it like that. I didn’t even know inaudible, but. So then, suddenly I was in radio and I got really lucky because that job was a bunch of incredibly talented people who took their time and really celebrated the theater of the mind, which is the thing I love so much, right? So, Stephanie that’s for folks who don’t know, that’s this act of that you can’t really get from TV, you can get it from reading a book or from listening to audio like this or music even. But, your mind has to do some work to get the story, right? And there’s an untetheredness to it. And so, you allow for the other person’s theater of the mind to be part of the experience, right? I can’t control everything you imagine me to look like or be like, or all those things, right? And so, in doing what you can as a radio producer to influence that theater of the mind. So we spend a lot of time being super artsy. And I used to make segues, this was real radio, where I chose the music and I cracked the mic and I messed up. I left silence on the radio and-
Stephanie Cox: And it was all live.
Kate Bradley Chernis: It was all live, yeah. This is like, I was really lucky. What I learned was that there was no money in radio, but there was money in production. And so, the art of literally creating either commercials or images, imaging, which is the drops between the songs that identify the station. And so I also learned that I could charge for that, which is unusual. So, usually when you go to a, this is nerd information, sorry, but when you buy commercials on a radio station, you can take the commercial that they make you for free. They don’t charge you to make you the commercial at the station and you can air it on another station for free, right? They don’t charge you for that. So, I was like, this is-
Stephanie Cox: Wait, what? They still do that today?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So they don’t charge you for the making of the commercial. So, they’ll just… Yeah. So once you have it, you can take it in other places, right? You have to pay the place for the airtime, but not for the making of the commercial. Stupid. But I was like, well, that’s crazy. We’re the best when we were the best. And so I started charging people for our creative spots because we were so good. And then, so that was interesting. And I just, a friend of mine … So, I worked in Phish. The headquarters of Phish, P- H- I- S- H was in Burlington. So I had some friends who worked there and one of them was like, ” Hey, have you heard of this thing, XM?” And I was like, ” No.” And I’d been to some other stations at this point, I’d been to WYEP in Pittsburgh and I’d been to North Carolina. So I’d been around a little bit. And it was clear that, I was a bit of a renegade. I mean they had a conglomerate of stations where there was Country, Classic Rock, Jazz, and then they had this weird little format, AAA, which is my format, Adult Album Alternative, which is NPR music, basically, and artsy. And so, we were the odd fitting ones. I’m a Reverend as heck fire, and I didn’t have my nails painted and I swear like a sailor and all the things. My friend from Phish had told me about XM, and I just happened to know some people who got me the interview. Anyways, I got to XM and that was a crazy journey because I got to the show. I was at the best place, everybody in the whole world and radio was trying to get there, right? And I don’t know how I did, honestly, because they had pulled together all the best DJs across every format that had been around for years and years. And that wasn’t me. I mean, I was young. But, I just had the balls, I guess. When I was there… So radio, as you can tell is super a boys’ club. I mean, it was sexual harassment century, central, centuries of sexual harassment. But, I didn’t even know that was wrong, because like I said, there were meetings at strip clubs. I mean that I knew it was wrong, because I was like, here’s why, because I was like, I’m not eating the food here. This seems disgusting. It was so weird. But, what I did know was wrong for sure was, I wasn’t getting credit for my ideas and there was this constant struggle like I had to fight to get the same recognition as the guys. There were obviously way less women there and that was really annoying to me. It didn’t seem like any upward mobility unless I wanted to slog through an unnatural, an unfair slogging. My body started screaming at me, Stephanie. So, I just had all these physical ailments on top of each other, and then it got so bad that I was actually physically disabled and-
Stephanie Cox: Oh wow.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. But I didn’t look disabled and so they didn’t believe me. And so, I literally, I hired… So I can’t, till this day, I can’t type or touch my phone without extreme pain. I have what’s called a partial permanent disability. So, I talk to my computer all day, which is why I have this Sennheiser mic on and I use a Stylus to touch my phone. So, I hired my own intern because XM wouldn’t hire somebody for me because I couldn’t type. And then, I found this software, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and so I couldn’t pay the coach to help me learn it, because it was like learning a whole new language and I paid her in CDs because I got them. I had CDs. Thank gosh, she liked my kind of music. It was pretty, it was terrifying. So, I couldn’t do something the whole world did, which is use the internet? Are you kidding me?
Stephanie Cox: That’s crazy. Well, it’s crazy and I’m like, but it’s also to some extent, looking back now, did you see it as a blessing almost that you went through that?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, totally. Exactly, right. And for so many reasons. Number one, I still talk for a living, isn’t that ironic, right? But what I do every day is I hear how I talk. And so, I’m very clear on that theater of the mind, what you’re on the receiving end of, I have a much better insight. And so, that’s why I’m a better marketer. I’m a great writer. I’m a great marketer because I have this understanding of what you’re hearing. So, this is the tie- in by the way. So there’s a neuroscience of listening to music, where your brain must catalog and categorize every single song you’ve ever heard when you hear a new song. And it’s just running through all that library of music trying to place this one. And so, by default, you are experiencing nostalgia, your memory banks get tapped, right, the whole time through. Now, your voice itself also has a frequency. It is a note, same idea, right? So I like to think about, how can I use this note to get you to access that nostalgia to discover something new, which is by the way, also around the music I used to play, it was old and new together and album cuts and all these things. And my job was for me to play something unfamiliar, couch it inside something familiar, right, which is what sales and the weather is all about, right? All the things we were talking about here, it’s just that common ground. And so, because I had this weird advantage. The other thing too is what it prevented me from is I don’t react to email anymore because I’m not touching it. You know what I’m saying?
Stephanie Cox: I need to do this. Hold on. Tell me more about this, because I feel like my inbox is the, inbox and now Slack, are the biggest stressors for me.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Totally. So, I turn off all of my alerts and alarms because I literally just can’t touch the stuff, and I can’t be bothered by it. And, it was stressing me out too in a million ways. So, even I have an iPad, which I can touch my phone with a Stylus, right, or my iPad for a limited time. And on my iPad, there’s no email and there’s no social. I cannot do any work on it. I’ve got that only for when I feel like doing Pinterest or something like that, right? I’ve had to separate these things. And then, with the email, because I can hear myself, I mean, I sound like a bitch a lot, so I have to use a lot of smiley faces for example.
Stephanie Cox: I use a lot of exclamation points and emojis too, I can’t help it either.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, you have to do it. And it’s very powerful by the way when you can control… So, the thing about having a microphone, which you know from this podcast is you are in control. This is your show, right? But, it’s also your job, the onus is on you to make me feel, me the listener, not me the guest, as though I have a voice, right? When you’re good at your job, that’s what you do. So there’s a two way street thing happening, right? So I think about that all the time, how can we do that in writing? How can AI replicate that? Which is what Lately is about and get you to this place of where there’s the theater of the mind, the human connection. And, it’s a combination of familiarity and newness, and that common ground and the weather and all these things into one fabulous cornucopia of magic.
Stephanie Cox: So this experience, and then you start getting into marketing, how did that transition happen? What did you feel like you could, in addition to the stuff we’re talking about right now, how else did that influence how you just even think about talking to people and messaging to different users?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Well, so from radio, by the way, so I moved to another music related company from XM. And the same things started to happen to me, there was a boys club. I was sh*t on, the whole thing and I couldn’t figure it out. And of course I didn’t look disabled in any way, so there was no flexibility or understanding of whatever my needs were. But also I was also a terrible person. I had just come through a shocking experience. I mean, it was pretty… I mean, it was a hostile work environment. It was so threatening and I had panic attacks, all this stuff. And I was trying to, I mean, I wasn’t dumb, I was trying to do all the things I could do on my own to help myself. So, I was in therapy, I was getting massages. I was looking at all kinds of alternative medical care, everything I could possibly do, my own thing and it wasn’t enough. And even changing the jobs wasn’t enough. But I knew, I knew I had the wherewithal to help myself in some way. And so, my dad, one day I was up there visiting, I was in Vermont and trying to escape from my life, which is what I needed to do so badly. And I smoked too, I was just like love smoking and I was just smoking like crazy, because I was so toxic. My dad shook me by the shoulders and he said, ” You can’t work for other people and there’s no shame in that.” So, that was pretty intense because he got to the heart of two things, which I couldn’t even see, right? The first thing was, is I felt shame. That was the thing that I felt so badly, that I was disappointing my male bosses, okay? It was my fault, right? That’s what I felt. And then, number two, I didn’t know that I couldn’t work for other people and that it was okay. I was like, oh my God, I don’t have to fit into this whole system? Yeah.
Stephanie Cox: I can be my own boss, what?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Exactly. Yeah, I didn’t know that. So that was a good catch catalyst, right? And then my, because you asked how, so I’m telling you how. My boyfriend who’s now my husband, he’s very thoughtful and kind, he went straight to Barnes& Noble, because we used to go to bookstores and he bought me The Art of the Start, which is Guy Kawasaki’s startup book, right?
Stephanie Cox: Yup.
Kate Bradley Chernis: And, right in the first or second chapter, Guy says, don’t make a plan just get started. And I put down the book because I was like, well, what am I wasting my time with?
Stephanie Cox: Why am I reading this book?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Well, let’s roll. And then, I also read, I was reading a self- help book that was so stupid and I couldn’t believe… I was gagging reading it, because it just felt so inane. But, what it did was remind me that, in fact, I was toxic. Everything coming out of my mouth was like, I hate my life. I hate my life, I hate my life and that couldn’t be. Because it reminded me, I just literally thought of, the last time I hit a line drive in softball, what I thought when I hit that ball was I am amazing. It wasn’t I suck, right? And I was like, oh, okay. And that week I happened to go to lunch with a customer who was unusually hand delivering a product that they would normally mail. I took the meeting because it was a friend had introduced us. And these two guys turned out to be the most wonderful humans in the world, and they were angel investors, which I didn’t know. And they were just like, ” Wow, we really like you, let’s start company together, here’s 50, 000 bucks.”
Stephanie Cox: Wait what?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, I know. My husband was like, ” I just gave you that book.” It’s like, I don’t know, man.
Stephanie Cox: Well, but you know what’s crazy though, is sometimes, that’s the thing why I always say, you have to look for the positives because there are times where that opportunity if you were in the right head space, you could have said, yeah, no thanks, right? But you took advantage of it.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. And it was also because I was… So, I have this, I mean, I’m not very filtered as you can tell and during the meeting with those guys, they had asked me… So, they asked me about Bob Lefsetz, who at the time was a radio pundit, a music pundit who in my genre who was very well- respected. He had a newsletter, which nobody had then, and it was like, I don’t know, 20, 000 people or something on it. It was big. He loved my station at XM, but outright didn’t give me the credit. He would literally list my boss as doing things on the station, and I’m like, Jesus, that’s my show he’s talking about. My boss asked him about it and Lefsetz was like, she couldn’t possibly do that. She’s too young to understand music this way.
Stephanie Cox: Oh God, I can’t even.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, so annoying. So I was like, they were talking about Lefsetz, because they were fans and I was like, ” Oh, let me tell you about that guy. He’s an a- hole,” because that’s just how I… I don’t even think, oh, maybe they’re friends. It doesn’t occur to me that I might be putting both my feet in my mouth. But, they liked that about me, right? So, this is where that authenticity, you just, when you’re yourself the doors open.
Stephanie Cox: Exactly. Well, and people know what they’re getting and they also, I just feel like authentic conversations, people can trust you more, right? Because you’re not trying to, like we talked about earlier at events, putting on this facade of who you are. You’re just like, this is who I am, take it or leave it.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Totally. I feel bad about it, but I do accidentally insult people without meaning to in that way, because for example, if we were at an event like that, it’s totally likely that I would be like, ” Dude, I am so bored.” And then you would be like, ” Oh thanks.” But I wouldn’t mean necessarily that, you know what I’m saying? But anyways, so yeah, so with these guys, Alan and Scott, we launched a music taste making company, because that’s what they were… I was interested in music then still, obviously, and they were too. As I was marketing it, somebody else came along and said, hey, you’re really good at marketing that. Would you like to come and consult us on marketing and we’ll pay you more money and you don’t have to listen to music anymore and bad music, because that’s what you have to listen to a lot of when you’re trying to discover new music. And I was like, that sounds awesome. And so, we pivoted the company and I had an agency and essentially my first client was Walmart.
Stephanie Cox: Who’s first client is Walmart. Do you know what I mean?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, that was also lucky. There was a piece of software, it was called MyFreeTaxes and it was designed to help lift the poor out of poverty through income tax credits and financial education, which for those of us who… So most people I know grew up with savings account or an allowance or you had a lemonade stand or some kind of understanding of money early on, which is by the way, not normal. Most people don’t have that and it becomes… This is how you learn how privileged you are basically by the way. A conversation around money is not something that just happens in the world. You have to have someone lead the way for you, right? Just because banking is complicated, a check equals money? That’s not a natural thing for people to understand and it’s not endless money, it’s only money that’s in the account. Just because you have more checks doesn’t mean there’s more money, right? So this was Walmart and National Disability Institute, which is a whole 54 million Americans have a disability and most of them live in poverty because of it, frankly, the system runs them down. And also Bank of America, AT&T and the IRS and United Way Worldwide. And each of those companies have franchises of sorts, right? So the United Way has a million franchises and Walmart does also. And then there were all kinds of individuals, because it’s a good cause, so lots of people wanted to help out and be a part of this and market it. And so, my first thought was, what a mess, this is crazy. And so I just built a spreadsheet, and for my own mind just started organizing everything that came across my desk. So maybe it was like, okay, here are the… Walmart has, I don’t remember what it was, 1200 stores participating, I need a Facebook link to all of their stores. Oh, nobody has that list? Jesus Christ, let me make it for you. Or, all right, so-
Stephanie Cox: So how does no one have that list already?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, they hadn’t thought about it. I mean, this is 15, well, I guess it was about 15 years ago, 12 or 15. Yeah, so it hadn’t occurred to them. But also same. I thought the same thing, how can that be? Because they weren’t thinking about unifying the marketing and that everyone had to be on the same message. We know, but still Stephanie, most people don’t know this.
Stephanie Cox: But how?
Kate Bradley Chernis: I know, how? Still.
Stephanie Cox: Still to this day, I’m still surprised when I talk to enterprise marketers and I’m like, what do you mean you don’t have a list of, insert, all of the websites that you own? I don’t understand.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah. How can it be? I don’t know. I mean, so ironically now as a startup entrepreneur, there’s a million things that I don’t do that I should do, but it’s because my ass is on fire all day long, so maybe that’s why, but who knows. But yeah, so my spreadsheet system ended up getting us 130% ROI year over year for three years is the quick summary of that. And I mean, I’m not going to go into detail, but a couple of things that were missing that I helped us figure out, which is one, what you just pointed out, consistency, right? And how important that is for everyone to be on the same page, because when we’re on the same page, we’re mighty, right? We’re really mighty.
Stephanie Cox: Exactly.
Kate Bradley Chernis: All altogether, right? And this is by the way how underdogs can act like big dogs, it’s just by unifying the message and they’re in the muscles. Also, there was a waste of content. So there was lots of content being created, we call it long form content now, but before it was just blogs, podcasts, videos, radio interviews. There was all this stuff happening, willy nilly, blah, blah, blah and maybe it would just get one shout out on social or maybe someone put it on a website, but there’s nothing happening and I was like, this is-
Stephanie Cox: What’s that, an email? That’s a…
Kate Bradley Chernis: Exactly. So, let’s unlock that. We spent four hours writing that blog, let’s do something with it. So I took a blog and I looked for all the great quotes that were inside because the title was boring as hell. It was like, Walmart creates tax prep software for people with disabilities. No one cares about that sadly, right? But the quote that says, Sarah got$2, 000 and can now finally buy that car so she can keep her job, that’s interesting. That’s emotional.
Stephanie Cox: Well, it speaks to people too, right? If you’re in that situation, you can relate to that.
Kate Bradley Chernis: It speaks to everyone, that’s right. Because there’s sympathy and empathy. That’s right. Exactly.
Stephanie Cox: Back to common ground too.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Common ground, it’s so easy. So, if you had one blog and there were 20 quotes, now we’ve got 20 social posts. They’re all interesting. They all can drive traffic back to the same place. I can spread them out three times a week, and no one’s going to say that they seem redundant, because they’re not. It’s not the same quote, it’s not the same post. So anyways, so as I was doing that, I started using my spreadsheets for all my other clients and they worked and somebody else came along, my friend Steve, and now my co- founder. Steve is a serial entrepreneur, serial entrepreneur and an angel investor and had been in startup land for a while and had had an exit before. So, he knew the game and he knew… He’d had some failures too, he knew the game really well. He was like, ” Hey, I just need to see your spreadsheets. Let me look at your spreadsheets.” And so, he was always asking about my spreadsheets and I was just like, you’re annoying me.
Stephanie Cox: Why do you like spreadsheets so much?
Kate Bradley Chernis: What’s with you? And he used to drive from New York to Vermont. He would drive right by my house here in the Hudson Valley. And so, he would always stop by for dinner and was always asking to stop by. But, he was nice, we got along, we were friends and we’d make him dinner. And then one day he was like, we just need$ 25,000 and we’ll build some wireframes and we’ll automate your spreadsheets because everybody needs this. And I was like, what? Okay, I don’t even know what a wireframe is, you’re not speaking my language. B, don’t touch my spreadsheets because they’re awesome, what are you crazy? And C, $ 25, 000, I’ve worked my whole life, I’m buying my first house with that 25 grand right now. You’re crazy, right? I don’t have that kind of money. So he did, he pulled the money out of his own pocket and brought along Jason who’s now my other co- founder, one of them. And they came to my house on a Sunday night. It was a Sunday night after Christmas. And so, as a consultant, I only got vacations when my clients had vacation, so I was on vacation. It was Sunday night, 8: 00 PM, I’m half into two glasses of wine. I was like, what, get away from me. And they delivered the wireframes and I was like, oh my God. And Steve likes to say that I was much nicer to him after that, because I got it.
Stephanie Cox: So what was that like to see something that you had been working on for a while turn into a company when you had no intention of it becoming at least a software company, you were just using it as a tool to help you do better in your consulting work?
Kate Bradley Chernis: Honestly, it was so weird. I still didn’t even understand what the wireframes totally were or what I was selling at that point. Because at that point, we had to start pitching to investors. So for the first six months, I mean we raised$250, 000 by October, which is pretty great on ideas basically, on total bullsh*t. I mean, you’re just winging it and you don’t know what you’re talking about at all in any way. I mean, I really didn’t and because I couldn’t even still imagine it and because it wasn’t built yet. There wasn’t a thing to imagine. We were just literally talking about this idea. And then Stephanie, it wasn’t AI and it wasn’t about writing. It was about organizing because that’s the fundamental thing I had done for XM was, XM, for Walmart was pull together the pieces, right, and give us that insight more or less. So, that’s what’s been the most exciting thing is it’s morphed so much over the years and it’s morphed for a couple of reasons because I paid attention. We had customers and we saw what they liked and didn’t like, and it was really easy to see what they liked. So do more of that, duh, right?
Stephanie Cox: Yeah.
Kate Bradley Chernis: But putting our own words on it has been very difficult. Even to this day, it’s hard to describe what Lately does, because that’s the bane of your existence, right? The Shoemaker has no shoes as marketers, so I hate that, but hey, whatever, it’s part of the game. It’s all part of it.
Stephanie Cox: Well, you mentioned my favorite buzzwords, so AI, which I feel is, everyone’s like, well AI and personalization and insert new buzz word and I’m like, but when you say it, what do you mean? Tell me. So, you got to tell me what you mean by AI.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Sure. Because to be honest in the beginning, there was a little bit of bullsh*t, because we learned what everybody learns, which is, oh, people are calling this AI and it’s getting a lot of recognition, and so we should label it as well. But then I had to look into really what the AI was. So, as I’ve learned, there’s two kinds of AI. There’s a pseudo and authentic. Pseudo AI is when a human still has to push the learning forward. The machine actually doesn’t get smarter on its own, there has to be some human dragging it forward, right? And then, authentic AI is when it is actual machine learning. So in the life of AI, I think it was born in the 1940s or something like that. But on the grand life’s span of where it is in the world, if it’s a human, we’re a six month old toddler, not even a toddler. So, we’re a six month old baby, all of AI not Lately, but just generally. Which means we’re far, far away from any movie types of things. But for us, I mean, what we do is, and this is really important because people are so excited about the automation they forget the AI, which is actually the true, I think the true real innovation. So, Lately we’ll take a podcast like this and automatically transcribe it and then automatically take the transcription, find the best quotes and then parse up the quotes with the video, so if we were recording video, right? So, you’re going to get hundreds of mini movie trailers in a few minutes. But the way it knows what to pick is because it automatically studies your analytics and in real time. So it updates every day and it learns what your customers will like, comment and share. And it builds a writing model based on the words that you write, literally, right? And so, that’s really important because it’s pretesting. It knows what’s going to work before you get it. So, it’s like Netflix, Stephanie, right? So Netflix has been, we talked about them earlier today.
Stephanie Cox: They know everything about me and what I love.
Kate Bradley Chernis: They do, right, exactly. So, when you first started Netflix, they started to learn what you liked. And then they recommended relevant content based on the data they learned. Then, they got very smart and they said, well, now that we know what all you people like, we’re going to build original content based on that data. And their original content is now the most watched on its platform, right? And this is what Lately is doing as well.
Stephanie Cox: So let me get this straight, you went from a radio DJ to a marketer, working for huge brands to the CEO of your own company. And now basically you can make my job easier is what I just heard.
Kate Bradley Chernis: Yeah, that’s right. So, my job is to do essentially what I did for Walmart. You can do what I did for Walmart for way, way less a fraction, pennies, right? So, I charged Walmart, it was $140, 000 inaudible billable or something like that. And I spent three years doing that work by hand and you can do it for 300 bucks and five minutes.
Stephanie Cox: So, would you say you’re an accidental CEO then? You weren’t intending to be a CEO of a company and employ other people, but it just all worked out that way and now you’re in this situation where clearly you’re happy doing what you’re doing?
Kate Bradley Chernis: I mean, I’d say I love that term by the way, cool hashtag, accidental CEO, but it couldn’t be because by nature I am bossy and by nature I am risky, right? And by nature, I love the pirate ship. So whether it was being a line cook not a waitron, a line cook and rock climbing and radio. I like all these pirate jobs and entrepreneurship. This is, and it’s again cliche, it is a rollercoaster, but I’m driving my own rollercoaster, right? So, if I didn’t love the downs as much as the ups, I wouldn’t do this. So, and there’s no accident in that, right? I choose this.
Stephanie Cox: Common ground, it came up so many times during my conversation with Kate, which illustrates its importance and really everything we do and how easy it is to find common ground with someone if you actually just try. When you think about this from a marketing perspective, it means that you should be able to find common ground with your target audience no matter your experience, whether you’re marketing to marketers, IT, doctors, lawyers, it doesn’t really matter, just even consumers. If you can find common ground between your brand and messaging and your target audience, it’s going to help you get better at creating compelling messages that really are effective and drive results for your business. So, make sure you’re out there constantly thinking about what that common ground is between you and your audience. You’ve been listening to Real Marketers. If you love what you’ve heard, make sure to subscribe, rate and review our podcast. And, don’t forget to tell a friend. All of this marketing goodness shouldn’t be kept a secret.