In this edition of “Ask an Expert,” Nick Ziech-Lopez and India Waters speak with Phrasee’s CEO, Parry Malm, on the beginnings of marketing and how AI influences creative content today. You can listen to the full interview on the IN Gear Podcast!
Read more below to see how the crew dives into the evolution of the email subject line, the place it has in the marketer’s toolkit, and how he turned it into Phrasee today.
The Right Person, The Right Message, The Right Time
Parry: “You know, we’d send out millions of emails to millions of people and I’d have my team test out a bunch of stuff to see what works. It was always a sort of intellectual problem of mine where I wanted to build a model that could predict what to test out and then learn from those test results.”
He found himself talking to marketers everyday and they’d often ask, “What makes a good subject line?”
Parry: “The first time I heard it, I’m like, ugh, just try out a bunch of stuff and see what works. Then, I kept on getting asked it over and over and over.”
So he figured, everybody is asking this, but there’s literally like no products on the market, I can create one with a guy he studied computer science with in Canada.
Parry: “It all started with a few pints in Camden Town in London, and by the fifth or sixth beer, we had a business.”
“So what Phrasee effectively does is we generate an optimized language that brands use in their online marketing campaigns to turn earned clicks into customers.”
Nick: “I would say nearly every listener will have been affected by Phrasee in some way.”
India: “Yeah, I love getting influenced by something, through an email or however I like when I’m looking for something to buy, I just talk to my phone and I get an ad. It is amazing.”
Nick: “Can you tell us a little bit about how the product has changed over time? Things that have worked, things that haven’t worked or, particularly, how you got to where you are as an evolving product platform today?”
Parry: “The best way to think about Phrasee is, we’ve got what we call a ‘Phrasee Brain,’ and, there are three composite parts to it.
- The ability to generate a fluent human-sounding language in a subject line. What gets more clicks?
- Deep Learning Engine, which is performance ranking for input of various language with predicted outputs
- Optimizing the Experimentation Methodology for subject lines, which explores split testing and reactions to these subject lines
At Phrasee, we are continuously testing out AI and offside filters that are keeping the subject lines as close to realization as possible.”
Cultivating Company Culture
Nick: “How would you define Phrasee’s company culture?”
Parry: “So we recently did an exercise to talk about this. I’m not a big fan of defining our values. But we came up with big ideas, fast, and fun. Because I really like the people at Phrasee; they tend to be rather ambitious folk, and they joined Phrasee because they’re excited about doing something different. There’s no pure-play technology that compares with Phrasee that hits all three of those facets.
So, people who join Phrasee, they need to have the belief in those big ideas; they need to come up with the next big idea themselves, and then do things fast. I’m just fundamentally impatient. Maybe that’s why I’ve gone down this career path? But why do tomorrow what you can do right now, you know? But then ultimately it’s about having fun.”
What is amazing is that last year everyone at Phrasee was able to take a salary cut instead of taking layoffs, with all of the employees unanimously agreeing to a salary cut in order to save everyone at the company. This in turn captured really amazing dividends for Phrasee as a company, ending up with employees getting their salaries back plus 20% due to the upturn in business and hard work.
India: “Do you ever ask any weird questions during an interview process?”
Parry: “So, I understand how interviews need to happen. But I just think the entire process is inefficient and raw with unconscious bias. The general rule is Phrasee has a one-in-a-hundred asshole policy, and unfortunately, that rule is already taken by me. I would much rather hire somebody who’s enthusiastic but needs a bit of training than somebody who doesn’t need any training but is a wet blanket.”
At Phrasee, the motto is “Say It Better,” which you can see Parry Malm absolutely did in his conversation with Nick Ziech-Lopez and India Waters. Listen to the full podcast here, and prepare to laugh!