by Chris Thilk
February 28, 2018
Blue Coffee
Photos by Hannah Cohen

They say you should fail fast. That’s partly because what you learn in the process makes for future success. Max Bennett and Mahmoud Arram, who co-founded Bluecore alongside CEO Fayez Mohamood, would concur.

“We worked for four years on multiple failed consumer products,” said Bennett. “Bluecore is based on a technical insight garnered from one of our projects.”

Today, Bluecore’s technology is used by 30 percent of the world’s biggest retailers. The company’s data sets help retailers predict and drive customer behavior — and shape marketing.

One of the biggest challenges for marketers is that marketing — if it's irrelevant and everywhere — often annoys customers. So Bluecore is applying advancements in machine learning and AI to help clients deliver a seamless user experience that people actually want.

“If we do our job well, customers will receive marketing that’s more useful and delightful, appearing to be curated just for them,” said Bennett. “Inbox and banner clutter should start to fade.”

We spoke to Bennett and Arram, the two co-founders who are closest to the tech, about their tech stack, what they look for in engineers and the interesting problems they’re solving.  

Logo shot

Blue Darts

Smile Blue

 

THE COMPANY: Creates systems that empower retail marketers to target multi-channel audiences. Using massive data sets of past consumer behavior, marketers can efficiently engage customers with relevant messages.

FOUNDED: 2013

EMPLOYEES: 130

BURNOUT PLAN: It’s better to nip developer burnout in the bud before it happens, said Arram. Otherwise, it can take months to recover.

YES AND: Bennett takes improv class for the laughs and to improve his listening skills.

HOW THEY MET: Arram met Mohamood in freshman calculus class. He met Bennett years later through Techstars, a startup accelerator and networking platform.

HOW THEY MARRY: Both Bennett and Mohamood were in Arram’s wedding, which took place the day after closing the first seed funding round for Bluecore.

 

Mahmoud meeting

Mahmoud Blue

Mahmoud Arram, co-founder and CTO at Bluecore
Arram guides overall systems architecture and engineering at Bluecore. He also gets pretty hands on with clients, making sure the tech is solving strategic problems. He was a software engineer before founding Bluecore and remained in that position for the first two years.

BEYOND WORK: Cooking gives him the same satisfaction as coding.

 

Tell me what your product does.

Arram: Bluecore’s product is designed to empower our clients to find and then retain their best customers. Marketers are able to make decisions on how to reach customers based on massive data sets across all channels.

 

What’s your tech stack?  

Arram: We hang on to Python because it’s what we were familiar with in the early days. Google Cloud Platform, where we run JavaScript/React, is great because it’s easy to operate, especially for a fast-growing platform like Bluecore. We recently added Go as our code base grew to the point where a typed language added productivity leverage.

 

What kind of expertise are you looking for in engineers?

Arram: We value simplicity over dogmatism so we like to hire smart engineers regardless of their experience with our languages and platforms. Good engineers, we’ve found, learn things quickly.

[W]e like to hire smart engineers regardless of their experience with our languages .... Good engineers, we’ve found, learn things quickly.”

How has your background affected your leadership style?

Arram: One of the biggest tasks I have is to ensure that engineers understand the direction, goals and strategy of each project and how their work contributes to that. That enables the entire team to make sound decisions.

 

Blue lunch

What are the most interesting problems your engineering team is solving?

Arram: A number of problems keep our engineering team excited. For instance, we’re processing the unified data from the commerce catalog, customer behavior and customer identity so they feel like high-end customer service. We build continuously learning retail-specific predictive models and goal-optimization techniques. We’re scaling catalog personalization so customers receive relevant recommendations. And we’re designing simple enterprise user interfaces for enterprise software to ease workflows.

 

If a developer came to you and said they were burnt out, what would you do?

Arram: There are three axis to the unofficial Bluecore Burnout Prevention Program: perks, culture and engineering processes. They’re designed to make sure people are regularly taking breaks and learning new things to keep their minds fresh. We also build processes and values that produce consistent excellence instead of relying on singular heroic efforts.

 

Max lean

Max blue

Max Bennett, co-founder and SVP of product

Bennett leads both the product management and product design functions at Bluecore, teams that are focused on finding new approaches to client issues. He studied economics, math and finance in college before taking a job at Goldman Sachs and ultimately co-founding Bluecore.

BEYOND WORK: An avid reader, Bennett devours anything from science fiction to biographies.

 

Tell us more about the two teams you lead.

Bennett: The product management team ensures we’re building the right things, which rely on gaining a deep understanding of both customer and market needs. The product design team focuses on delivering the right user experience, a bar that’s getting higher because of AI sophistication.

 

Explain what you mean by AI sophistication.

In five years, retailers will be using AI to increase profitability and growth. Marketers and merchants will have time to do what humans do best — like thinking through strategy. If we do our job well, customers will receive marketing that’s more useful and delightful, appearing to be curated just for them. Inbox and banner clutter should start to fade.

My priority is building meaningful relationships with those I work with. Caring personally about each other makes everyone more effective....”

What’s a must-have trait you look for in candidates?

Bennett: Decision-making skills. Being a great decision-maker requires humility, creativity and confidence. Many people might not yet have a resume sparkled with successful outcomes, but if they’ve made good decisions along the way, then I’m willing to take bets on people.

 

How do you think your background has affected your leadership style?

Bennett: My priority is building meaningful relationships with those I work with. Caring personally about each other makes everyone more effective, and makes our work more fulfilling and meaningful. My experience has given me an appreciation and joy of connecting with different types of people.

 

 

laptop blue

What’s a major challenge in marketing? How is Bluecore meeting it?

Bennett: There’s a massive gap between how useful marketers and audiences believe campaigns to be. Many marketers are making big investments in personalization — despite widespread audience annoyance with those ads. Bluecore is applying advancements in machine learning to campaign targeting, which is why we continue to invest in amassing retail and behavioral data to train our models.

 

What’s the toughest challenge you asked your employees to tackle?

Bennett: One challenge for the team was the task of accurately predicting what customers are likely to want in the future, even if they’ve never engaged with that product. Within two months, we had a working proof of concept. It’s now a model used by the largest 50 retailers on the planet.

 

When was your last vacation?  

Bennett: A few months ago I went to Scotland with my family. The Lake District is beautiful!

 

Read more on Bluecore: 4 major lessons the team at Bluecore learned while scaling fast

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