Bazaarvoice's Keith Nealon talks about investing in Belfast as a global innovation hub

  • Photo: Bazaarvoice's Seamus Cushley & Keith Nealon

    Bazaarvoice’s CEO Keith Nealon was in Belfast recently to meet the growing team at the Austin-based software development firm’s new office on Castle Street. Originally from Dublin, Keith has been based in the US for almost 18 years. We asked him about the company’s plans for growth in Belfast.

    How do you see the Belfast office’s role in Bazaarvoice globally?

    I want Bazaarvoice to be well known in the industry as an innovation company and in order to do that we have to have great people. We selected Belfast as one of our three innovation hubs and obviously I want to continue to invest in Belfast alongside Austin, Texas and Bangalore, India as one of those three. We have access to a great talent pool and great universities here. It’s not quite the ‘follow the sun’ model as we want each centre to be innovative in its own right, but if we choose to continue that cycle of continuous innovation between the US, Belfast and India then we have set ourselves up to do that.

    What are the plans for growth in the Belfast office?

    We’re at almost 60 people now in Belfast and we will continue to grow this team as we execute our strategic plans. We want to invest in Belfast as a centre of innovation. Innovation to me is research and development, so when you look at what Bazaarvoice has, it has a world class and market leading platform, an incredible network of retailers and brands – 6,200 brands and a network that 1.3 billion shoppers a month that read and post reviews and other user generated content on the way to making purchases or give feedback on products – so I want to continue that. But I also want to look at how we harness the product, the platform, the network, the customers, the community and then also the sum of the parts. Where can we use our innovation talent to go to next with that as a starting point.

    RELATED: Bazaarvoice announces over 50 new tech jobs over the next nine months

    How important is it that Bazaarvoice is seen as a great place to work?

    Many companies advertise themselves as ‘we’re going to some great destination’ or ‘we’re going to be X, Y, Z’. That’s all fine but to me it is about the journey not the destination. Do you have a great place to work, are you working with smart people, do they have your best interests at heart, do we have a good leadership team that’s aligned and wants to make sure that everyone is working on important stuff. We have all of that. We’re not a start-up with no people that promises the world, we’re a pretty well scaled company that has a market leadership position.

    I’m a new CEO, so for me that’s the starting point. This is just the beginning of the next phase and I want to make sure we get really bright, smart people who want to realise the opportunity I mentioned. The number of people on our network every month is equivalent to a seventh of the population and that’s our starting point. So, I’d hope people would see this is a great place to work, with great people, where they can build a career.

    Bazaarvoice recently announced it will be advertising for 50 new tech jobs over the next nine months

    What did you learn on your first visit?

    This trip is about listening, learning and finding out what the environment and culture is like today and where we could take it. Usually your people have the best ideas, so I want to learn from them what’s happening and incorporate the feedback when I meet with the leadership in Austin.

    They say culture eats strategy for breakfast and I believe that. But your culture and strategy should be in lockstep in service of each other. Culture is a set of values and values drive behaviours. Seamus is doing a great job translating the values into behaviours that I think everyone is rowing behind here in Belfast. Ultimately Bazaarvoice has always been known for having a strong culture, it’s had to evolve over the years and I think it’s evolving nicely here in Belfast to make it a great place to work.

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    Why has Bazaarvoice’s software, which effectively brings brands and retailers closer to the customer, resonated so much?

    Trust is incredibly important today. Shopping is moving away from what the corporation says about its product, to what the consumer and their community says about a product. You can see that ratings and reviews are now core to any buyer’s online journey. But you can also see with sites like Instagram and Pinterest and all of these destination applications, people are sharing more of their experiences with brands and that’s what consumers – especially millennials – are looking towards. People they trust and admire to influence their buying decisions. So, for us, the content side of things, what we call UGC or user generated content, is really what is driving commerce. As part of that there’s a question of authenticity and ‘who I will trust’ before making a purchase, or ‘who do I admire’ if it’s a celebrity. We have to make sure we’re building the best platform for our brands to connect them more with consumers and also allow them to harness those influencers and people of trust.

    RELATED: Nearly 6,000 jobs have been created in Belfast in last two years

    Are there any retail trends we should be looking out for in 2020?

    There are technology trends – the speed of the networks, the power on phones - that are all driving increased amounts of content, but also variety. It’s not limited to text any more, it’s pictures and videos and there’s more and more of that. Then you have people going towards destination sites or apps like Instagram and Pinterest where they’re not necessarily even thinking about purchases, but they’re finding other like-minded individuals and influencers and in turn being influenced by them. You’ll see us innovate to bring our consumers and brands closer together, leveraging the fact that these technologies have created a richer brand experience.

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