Innovation Junkies Podcast

Chandos Quill on Strategy and Development in a New Organization

Chandos Quill of Adstra Data, shares her knowledge of strategy and development. She and the Jeffs dive into acclimating to a new organization, how to get brutal honesty from members of your organization, and working relationships in a virtual workforce.

Chandos Quill:
What was interesting is when we initially started the company, a big part of our thesis was we were planning to disrupt a lot of the large data companies that we had all worked for.

Jeff Standridge (Intro):
If you want to drastically improve your business, learn proven growth strategies and generate sustained results for your organization, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the Innovation Junkies Podcast.

Growth DX Plug:
Is your growth plan missing the mark? Take advantage of our strategic growth diagnostic from Innovation Junkie. Growth DX helps you benchmark your company and leadership team with a set of best practices across six critical pillars of every successful growth plan. Visit innovationjunkie.com/growthDX to learn more. Now, on to the episode.

Jeff Standridge:
Hey, guys. Welcome to another episode of the Innovation Junkies Podcast. My name’s Jeff Standridge.

Jeff Amerine:
And this is Jeff Amerine. Glad to be back.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah, the Jeffs are back together again.

Jeff Amerine:
It’s almost like… right?

Jeff Standridge:
That’s right. That’s right. Hey, let’s talk about our guest this morning. Today we’ve got Chandos Quill and she serves as the Chief Strategy and Development Officer at Adstra, bringing nearly 20 years of experience in the marketing services space. There at Adstra she’s responsible for guiding the growth and profitability of the identity and data business from both an organic and inorganic perspective. She has been the Chief Alliances Officer at Acxiom, which is where we crossed paths for a short period of time. She’s been in virtually all of the name brand data companies from Merkle to Experian, all in senior roles. Chandos, it’s great to have you with us today.

Chandos Quill:
Thank you. Really happy to be here with you guys.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah, well, it’s great to have you. And you’re in sunny California, Orange Beach area, Orange County area rather.

Chandos Quill:
Yes. Right near the beach, correct. Beautiful day here today.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. I’m sure the weather’s horrible and it’s…

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. I like to complain about the weather a lot.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure.

Jeff Amerine:
So that’s actually a good segue for one of the ways we like to get started on these podcasts, is what we call a random musing. And so this one, which is uncomfortable for some of us of a certain age, is what is your favorite Spring Break memory? What do you think, Chandos?

Chandos Quill:
Wow. Okay. Well, I’m old enough to have plenty of memories, I guess. A matter of picking one. Being that I’m in the Southern California area, when I was younger in college and even high school, the big Spring Break place will date me a bit. It was Palm Springs. You probably heard of it. It was either if you were on the east coast, you went to Florida, if you were on the west coast, you went to Palm Springs. So we were fortunate enough to be within driving distance. And lots of good memories and fun to be had there in Palm Springs. But more recently, I would say the Caribbean. Love the Caribbean. One of my favorite places.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good. Very good.

Jeff Amerine:
Jeff, what about you?

Jeff Standridge:
Well, I’m old enough to forget most of my Spring Break memories. Growing up, we didn’t have Spring Break. I mean, when I was growing at home, Spring Break, particularly as a teenager, was just an opportunity to work more and save some money for whatever we wanted to do, whether put it in our vehicle or whatever. So as a family, we never took a Spring Break trip, so to speak, until I was an adult and started having kids. And then it was an expectation because all their friends were going on Spring Break trips.
But even in college I never took a Spring Break trip, because I was one of those guys who crammed a four-year degree into almost six years, because I worked full time all the way through college. But right before, and this is pitiful, I mean, this is really pitiful, right before I graduated college, in that second senior year, I took a Spring Break trip by myself. So I went to Cancun. I went to Cancun on a Spring Break trip by myself, no other people with me, which, I guess, is the definition of by myself. And so that’s probably my most memorable and simultaneously the most pitiful Spring Break story ever told.

Chandos Quill:
Aw!

Jeff Amerine:
Well, I can probably give you a run for your money on that, because from ’80 to ’84 I was at the Naval Academy. And I don’t remember Spring Break being a thing. I mean, I guess, if you’re incarcerated, kind of like we were for four years there, anytime you got out it felt like Spring Break. But there is one trip that was, it was actually during what I think we called dead week rather than a Spring Break, but it was kind of Spring Break-like, and we flew on, it was called the People’s Express for $69 round trip. It was myself and my now wife, at that time she was my fiance. We flew down there $69 from Annapolis to Melbourne, Florida.
And we rented a car and we stayed for an entire week in fleabag hotels and shared 3-dollar-and-ninety-nine-cent, all-you-could-eat, really terrible Italian food buffets to save money. And I think that whole trip cost us about 300 bucks, for a week in Florida. I could probably write a book about that week. And it wasn’t a typical kind of crazy other than we did it on very few dollars.

Jeff Standridge:
That was back when gas was less than a dollar a gallon.

Jeff Amerine:
Oh, oh yeah. Yeah, thank you for that.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. No problem, man. No problem. Let’s hop into the meat of what we want to talk about today. Chandos, I’ve got a question to kind of kick things off. You have moved in very senior roles across a number of very, what I’d consider very large organizations. And so I’d like to talk about your perspective on leadership, particularly when you move into a new role and you inherit an organization that preexisted. How do you go about kind of assessing that organization and beginning to kind of put your leadership thumbprint on that organization?

Chandos Quill:
Yeah, that’s a great question. And yeah, I have been really fortunate to have worked in a number of large data companies. And I think probably one point to make before I answer your direct question is, the leadership that I worked for was incredible. So I was really fortunate to have had really good leaders that I was able to learn from and support me. And so that’s always an important part of, I think, anybody’s journey. But to answer your question, one of the things that I found to work really well is just to spend that first amount of time, whatever time you can take, just talking to a variety of people and listening. And I know that sounds pretty basic, but it works so well.
Understanding kind of everyone’s perspective. What’s working, what’s not working, getting kind of the lay of the land and multiple inputs for not only your direct team, but your colleagues and the senior leadership above you, too, and what their expectations are. And then from there, build kind of that plan and that roadmap, because the themes come up and are identified pretty well from having those conversations.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. And that first period of time for you, is that a specific period of time? Is that a month? Is that two weeks? Is that six weeks? What do you usually try to do when you’re acclimating yourself to a new organization that you’re now responsible for leading?

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. And no, I would say a good month, it takes to do a lot of those meet and greets and phone calls, meetings back when we could meet in person. So the good first 30 days, I feel like. And that’s usually about the amount of time that you have. I mean, sometimes you land in a place where maybe there’s something going on where you’ve got to act more quickly. But generally speaking, I think organizations kind of give people that time to assess, and learn, and then come out of the gate with a strong plan.

Jeff Amerine:
Let me ask you a follow-up on that. Sometimes when you take over a new organization like that, and you’re having conversations at varying different levels, kind of taking deep dives with people, how do you disarm people in a way that they’re not guarded and that they’re willing to really give you the brutal honesty about the situation? What have been your technique in that regard?

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. I think it’s how you approach the initial conversation. You say, “Here’s what I’ve done. Here’s what my role is in this team and this organization. But really want to understand from you what’s been happening. What is your perspective?”
I think just making sure that people know you’re truly there to learn from them, that you don’t know everything. You may have a lot of experience and outside insight that will be helpful for the organization. But you certainly don’t know the organization that well. You don’t know how things get done. You don’t know how people feel about different initiatives or leaders. So I’ve found that people, if you really show an interest in listening and understanding, people are pretty forthright, sometimes to the point where you’re like, “Oh boy, this is going to be a challenge.”

Jeff Standridge:
Or, I wish he hadn’t have said that.

Chandos Quill:
Or, “Okay, we won’t repeat that. We’ll just park that over here.”

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So you talked about coming out with a strong plan. How do you then go about kind of rolling out that plan and getting support and buy-in for that plan once you’ve done your information gathering? Because again, theoretically, you’re 30, 45, maybe 60 days into your role. And you’ve now got a plan to roll out. Based upon what you’ve heard, what you’ve seen, and what you’ve experienced in other organizations, how do you go about getting people kind of in the boat with you in that regard?

Chandos Quill:
What I’ve done is started with the kind of immediate team underneath me, my direct reports. I think it’s really important to not go off and create a plan in isolation, but have your thoughts, kind of draft something up. And then what I do is kind of one-on-one with my direct reports, get their feedback and input. So you kind of combining it at the same time. And sometimes there’s great ideas, and additions, or challenges that they identify that you wouldn’t because you’re not as familiar with the team or the organization. You’re new. So I start with that. And then kind of refine the plan, obviously, making sure that it’s aligned with the rest of the organization and expectations from above, too. And then once that’s solidified, and I know I have the direct report, the management team behind the plan, then begin to roll it out to the rest of the group.

Jeff Standridge:
So your role with Adstra, and you might just tell us a little bit about Adstra, our listeners, just a little bit about Adstra. But your role is strategy and development. Give us an idea of kind of what your day-to-day looks like there in that role as Strategy and Development Officer.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. There’s kind of two parts to my role and kind of my day-to-day activity. The first one is M&A. So we plan to grow organically and inorganically. And on the inorganic side, it would be through acquiring other companies that match what we’re trying to do and where we’re going with our roadmap. So I spend a ton of time meeting other companies, understanding their capabilities, kind of seeing where they are with their strategy and long-term plans. Is it a company that would be interested in selling? What ends up quite a bit is a lot of those conversations aren’t a fit from an acquisition perspective, but they’re a great fit for us from a commercial partnership.
So then I work a lot with the indirect, we call indirect sales team, partner team in transitioning some opportunities to them to pursue from a commercial relationship. And then sometimes those commercial relationships are a good foundation for an acquisition with that company later down the road. So I spend a lot of time with a variety of companies, reading a lot around different parts of the industry and trying to find companies that we might be interested in. So that’s one.
And then on the organic side, when we identify, whether it be a new vertical or a new area that we want to begin to explore for growth, I get involved in doing that. So if it’s a new vertical or industry I’ll work on kind of the opportunity, how our products and services will play within that industry, what do we need to do in order to tackle that industry in terms of our go-to-market and our resources, that kind of thing. A good example would be then, for something I’ve been working on this last year is, I know you’re familiar with, is international expansion. So that’s something I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time on over the last 12 months.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good. Yeah. Actually now Adstra went through a rebranding, what, a couple of years ago. Formally ALC. Formerly American List Council, I believe. So I had the opportunity to work with the precursor to Adstra when I was leading what we used to call the broker-reseller area at Acxiom years ago. And so tell us a little bit about that transformation over the course of the last couple of years.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. This has been a really interesting journey for me in my career. A number of us had worked together at various of these large data companies in the past. And I think there was a common desire to go and start a data and identity company that was really built for the 21st-century marketers. As you know, a lot of the older, kind of well-established data companies, they’ve had to move from kind of direct mail, and then it was email, and then digital, and it’s been a tough transformation for a lot of those companies. We were fortunate to, with private equity sponsorship, have a thesis for what we wanted to create and ALC was the platform company that kind of started the business off of. And the reason we picked ALC was they had amazing, and do have amazing brand clients, very, very strong reputation and relationships with their clients.
They had very good data assets, that created a good foundation to build what now is an enterprise identity platform, which I can talk about later, but good data assets. And they also had some interesting digital capabilities that were kind of unique in the market. But they hadn’t been able to kind of put that all together in a way that I think we’ve been able to, just from having the vision and understanding where we were going. And so now what we’ve done, and it’s been an interesting three-year journey, but what we’ve done is built a company that we still have the core kind of ALC offerings, if you will. We still do customer acquisition and data monetization for our clients.
But in addition to that, now we’ve built an identity and data platform that allows marketers to take any form of identity, send it to us. We can assign a persistent ID to that person. To identify that as an individual, assign a persistent ID, and return any other form of identity or attributes needed for that marketer to perform insights, targeting, measurement, whatever their marketing needs are, so.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good.

Jeff Amerine:
What were the main challenges of making that? We see in an organization sometimes there’s this resistance between sort of incremental organizational efficiency and serving the customers, and then really a big transformation. What were some of the challenges you had to work your way through to make all that happen over the last three years?

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. I mean, resistance to change is always a challenge, anywhere you go, back to the kind of the beginning of the conversation. And I think here, that was one of the bigger challenges, just because ALC, and then we rebranded to Adstra, but ALC was a 40-year old company that had been run by a founder for all those years and had a very distinct culture and way to do business. And it had been very successful. I mean, it was a great company under his leadership. A lot of employees had been there quite a long time. And so when you bring in new leadership with this completely different, I would say, in a way, vision and strategy, it takes a while to get your head around that, and to trust in that, and see the results.
And so winning people over through action and consistency over that first year was probably the biggest challenge, to be honest. I mean, it wasn’t building the new capabilities. That was the easy part, actually. It’s really about moving the hearts and minds of the employees that have been there a long time.

Jeff Standridge:
Jeff and I have both spent some time in and out of working with private equity and venture capital and advising private equity firms in that regard and working directly with companies like yours. And so one of the things, when we started Innovation Junkie a few years ago, was to help organizations focus on building sustained strategic growth. And I know that’s something that’s part of your role now. How do you go about, in your role as Chief Development and Strategy Officer or Strategy and Development Officer, how do you go about helping the organization craft that strategic growth plan? And then the follow-up question’s going to be, and how do you monitor and make sure that the organization’s progressing against the milestones in that regard? Because as you know, private equity’s a different world as it relates to expectations, and hitting of milestones, and some of those kinds of things.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah, absolutely. I like that. It’s faster-paced with a set period of time in which to achieve the results. So I work very closely with our CEO. And when we first landed into the company, we had a very clear three-year plan. And a lot of what we had to do in the first year was, I would almost call it basic blocking and tackling to start to move the organization and set up the organization, such that as we were in parallel building the new capabilities, we were looking at improving and enhancing the HR systems. We were making sure that our financial metrics, and systems, and people were put in place, such that we could measure the results. And then also really important our go-to-market. We spent quite a bit the first year assessing the current talent, putting people in the right roles, hiring some new people, and getting a lot of that in place.
That was kind of year one. It was a lot of rolling up the sleeves and just digging in and getting those things moving. And then in parallel, we were building a new capability and new set of offerings. And so as we came into year two, we really started to get more focused on go-to-market selling, marketing, those things, and that’s kind of when the rebranding came in. And then this last year, I would say towards the end of the middle of the second year and into this last third year, we’ve just started to see now the growth. What we stumbled on is that what we had built in our initial thesis was working, but there was a pivot that we made recently, because we now see an even bigger opportunity. So now we’re looking at another plan for the next three years that’s a kind of a revised, enhanced thesis for how we will grow the company.

Jeff Standridge:
It’s interesting you bring that up. When we work with our clients, we tell them that three years is about the length of time that organizations today, particularly if they’re enabled with any form of technology, about three years is the length of a strategic plan or a strategic growth plan. Because you never know when another opportunity’s going to present itself that doesn’t fit within the strategic plan you developed three years ago, that creates an opportunity for you to pivot. So talk a little more about your perspective in that regard.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. I agree with you. I think it’s kind of 12-month, very specific plans within a three-year view. And people like to know, I think, it’s important for employees to know that there’s not just a short-term we’re just going to do these things this year. I mean, I think that there’s some kind of comfort and trust that is built when they see that there’s a bigger picture. So I agree with you on that. But yeah, what was interesting is when we initially started the company, a big part of our thesis was we were planning to disrupt a lot of the large data companies that we had all worked for because there’s some big flaws there. I mean, third-party data isn’t being used as much in digital advertising as it should be. And there’s a number of obstacles to that and barriers that we wanted to break down.
So it was kind of fun being somebody who had experience. A lot of us had experience in these bigger companies. Now, we have kind of the freedom to build something, not as a startup, but based on a foundation of a good business. And what we found, we knew that data, attributes about people, was going to be really important. And that’s the part we really wanted to disrupt from a lot of the companies we had worked for. But we also knew that we needed this identity graph and this identity solution. And what happened is we started selling. And we realized that because of more companies doing direct-to-consumer marketing and selling, COVID accelerated a lot of that, because of digital outgrowing all the other channels, and because of privacy and concerns around the use of data, our identity part of our platform was the thing that really gravitated and was addressing the need in the market.
And so we pivoted to let’s really focus on identity first and solve that problem for clients. And then along with that comes the additional data clients need to do their marketing. So it sounds maybe a bit subtle, but it was a pivot. I mean, it was something where we had to make a conscious effort to think about changing our go-to-market, thinking about investing a little more in certain parts of our platform, not focused so much on collecting more data, but really this platform that can be portable and put behind a firewall of a client so they can run all these operations themselves. Those were big product and go-to-market changes and adjustments we made.

Jeff Amerine:
Speaking of some of that, how are you thinking about privacy and GDPR and all these emerging standards and whatnot? And how has that been a challenge to implementing your current strategy?

Chandos Quill:
So in the kind of data at advertising marketing space, privacy has always been a big part of the business, whether it’s mandated privacy policies and things that need to be adhered to, or I think a lot of the white hat companies in the industry that put themselves in a situation where they’re always thinking ahead of what needs to be done. So I think in general, good, reputable companies have always thought about privacy and built their products and services around that. But to your point, there’s a lot more concerns over privacy. There’s a lot more regulation around privacy now. And so having kind of privacy by design built into your product development process is one thing.
We have an amazing Chief Privacy Officer that’s focused on making sure that we think things through from a regulatory perspective, a consumer’s perspective, and then just what’s the right thing to do for the business. And then when we took a look at what we were building to help clients address their concerns over privacy, that’s where we built a technology platform that I mentioned earlier could be installed. All of our data and services can be installed behind the client’s firewall rather than in the traditional method of sending data out to get enhanced or additional data solutions.
Now, we can put this platform, and this is the nice thing with technology and the advances in that, we can put the platform behind the clients’ firewall and they never have to send their data out. And that’s a unique and innovative way we’re handling addressing the privacy concerns of our clients, in addition to just how we source our data and the solutions we offer, so.

Jeff Standridge:
So it just occurred to me, and unless some of these people have moved, and perhaps they have, Adstra’s technically based in New Jersey. You’re on the west coast in California. We just talked a few moments ago about a delivery leader, who’s here in Conway. Your CEO and Chief Human Resource person, they’re Chicago area people. And unless he’s moved, your chief data guy was in Austin, last I heard. So talk a little bit about, is that all still the case? And where’s the majority of your workforce? And talk a little bit about this virtual workforce could open up another can of worms here for us to explore.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. And isn’t that the case for everyone? I have to send a personal note, just before I answer your question. I’m so happy that working remotely has now become a legit thing, because this office that I’m sitting in has been my office for 11, 12 years. I worked remotely once I left Experian. And then I was either on a plane or out of the country or whatever. It was always kind of like, oh, I work remotely, but it’s not something you really announced to everyone.
Now, everyone’s remote. And people understand that you can really, actually get a lot done and so forth. So personally happy that the world has come around to remote working. But to answer your question, I think a couple of dynamics. One, a lot of the people that you just mentioned in our management team have worked together before. So we’ve spent a lot of time together, whether it be in person or remotely, but there’s just already a really well established working relationship. I think that helps a lot.
Two, yes, a lot of the client base was, and is, out of our Princeton location. And so we all spent a tremendous amount of time there. That first year I was talking about, where we were trying to put together and communicate to the employees where we’re going with the company, and why it’s such a great opportunity, and why it means more growth and opportunity for them as individuals, we all spent a ton of time in Princeton. So we would have our management time. We would spend time with the employees. And so there was an investment in travel and so forth there to establish those relationships and teams and so forth. Then of course, COVID hit. And a lot of the people who we were used to working in the office had to get adjusted to working remotely. And I think now, some kind of a hybrid model will be what will continue in the future.

Jeff Standridge:
And so how many employees does Adstra have today?

Chandos Quill:
About 180.

Jeff Standridge:
And where do they sit predominantly? How are they distributed, just at a very high level?

Chandos Quill:
Functionally or geographically?

Jeff Standridge:
Geographically.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. So I would say probably well over 50% is east coast based, so New Jersey, New York area. Probably around 25%, because we do have an office up in northern California, is there. And then we have probably maybe 30% and then 20-ish are kind of in various states across. We have a small engineering group here in Orange County. So yeah, there’s small pockets of groups and then individual talent based in places that you already mentioned.

Jeff Standridge:
Very good. Truly a virtual company.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah, absolutely. Works, though.

Jeff Standridge:
Absolutely. Well, we’re talking to the Chief Strategy and Development Officer of Adstra, Chandos Quill. Chandos, it’s been great having you with us today. We appreciate you for taking the time to spend with us.

Chandos Quill:
Yeah. Thank you. This was really fun. And I feel like I got to know you guys a little bit as well, so I appreciate your having me on.

Jeff Amerine:
Thanks for coming on.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah. This has been another episode of the Innovation Junkies Podcast. Thanks for joining.

Jeff Amerine:
See you next time.

Jeff Amerine (Outro):
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