The brains behind one of marketing’s biggest hits are out to reshape the industry again… with direct mail

Postie, a new Los Angeles-based startup, has a vision for the future of advertising and marketing — and it’s direct mail.

Founded by some of the men responsible for the biggest hits in online marketing (like the Dollar Shave Club commercial that launched what became a billion-dollar acquisition) think that it’s time to take technology where it’s never gone before — into targeted, direct mail campaigns using the best ad-targeting that money can buy.

Postie uses a combination of online data collection and an on-demand print and mail technology to give its customers turnaround times on print orders in as little as 24 hours, and what the company boasts is the equivalent of online ad-targeting.

Using the service, customers can access demographic, interest and behavioral data of more than 320 million people; can use retargeting to provide direct mail campaigns; and integrate with existing customer relationship management tools.

The company was founded by Dave Fink and Jonathan Neddenriep, two former principals at the startup studio and early-stage investor, Science. At the early-stage investment firm, Fink said he was responsible for marketing activities for companies including Dollar Shave Club, DogVacay, SpringRole, Wishbone and Hello Society over the six years he worked at the company. Neddenriep served as the chief technology officer for Science — a role he’s continuing at Postie.

Where once Fink focused on reaching the widest possible audience with a viral message that could cut through the noise of online advertising, the scale of his messaging is now much smaller, even if the scope of the market he’s trying to capture remains just as vast.

“A highly targeted physical piece of mail, especially in today’s ephemeral world, elicits an emotional response that goes above and beyond what is possible online,” says Fink, in a statement. “It’s now possible to open up a whole new scalable media channel by leveraging the same data driven insights and quantitative approach as digital.”

According to study from the Direct Marketing Association, direct mail campaigns rang up $46 billion from advertisers and companies in 2014, and Fink and his co-founder are hoping that number will climb.

They aren’t the only ones. Postie has raised $3.5 million in seed funding from the Los Angeles-based firms Bonfire Ventures and Crosscut Ventures to expand its business (maybe through direct marketing?).

 

Two Facebook and Google geniuses are combining search and AI to transform HR

Two former product wizards from Facebook and Google are combining Silicon Valley’s buzziest buzz words — search, artificial intelligence, and big data — into a new technology service aimed at solving nothing less than the problem of how to provide professional meaning in the modern world.

Founded by chief executive Ashutosh Garg, a former search and personalization expert at Google and IBM research, and chief technology officer Varun Kacholia, who led the ranking team at Google and YouTube search and the News Feed team at Facebook, Eightfold.ai boasts an executive team that has a combined 80 patents and more than 6,000 citations for their research.

The two men have come together (in perhaps the most Silicon Valley fashion) to bring the analytical rigor for which their former employers are famous to the question of how best to help employees find fulfillment in the workforce.

“Employment is the backbone of society and it is a hard problem,” to match the right person with the right role, says Garg. “People pitch recruiting as a transaction… [but] to build a holistic platform is to build a company that fundamentally solves this problem,” of making work the most meaningful to the most people, he says.

It’s a big goal, and it’s backed by $24 million in funding provided by some big-time investors — Lightspeed Ventures and Foundation Capital .

The company’s executives say they want to wring all of the biases out of recruiting, hiring, professional development and advancement by creating a picture of an ideal workforce based on publicly available data collected from around the world. That data can be parsed and analyzed to create an almost Platonic ideal of any business in any industry.

That image of an ideal business is then overlaid on a company’s actual workforce to see how best to advance specific candidates and hire for roles that need to be filled to bring a business closer in line with its ideal.

“We have crawled the web for millions of profiles… including data from Wikipedia,” says Garg. “From there we have gotten data round how people have moved in organizations. We use all of this data to see who has performed well in an organization or not. Now what we do… we build models over this data to see who is capable of doing what.”

There are two important functions at play, according to Garg. The first is developing a talent network of a business — “the talent graph of a company,” he calls it. “On top of that we map how people have gone from one function to another in their career.”

Using those tools, Garg says Eightfold.ai’s services can predict the best path for each employee to reach their full potential.

The company takes its name from Buddhism’s eightfold path to enlightenment, and while I’m not sure what the Buddha would say about the conflation of professional development with spiritual growth, Garg believes that he’s on the right track.

“Every individual with the right capability and potential placed in the right role is meaningful progress for us,” says Garg. 

Eightfold.ai already counts more than 100 customers using its tools across different industries. Its software has processed more than 20 million applications to date, and increased response rates among its customers by 700 percent compared to the industry average — all while reducing screening costs and time by 90 percent, according to a statement.

“Eightfold.ai has an incredible opportunity to help people reach their full potential in their careers while empowering the workforces of the future,” said Peter Nieh, a partner at Lightspeed Ventures in a statement. “Ashutosh and Varun are bringing to talent management the transformative artificial intelligence and data science capability that they brought to Google, YouTube and Facebook. We backed Ashutosh previously when he co-founded BloomReach and look forward to partnering with him again.”

The application of big data and algorithmically automated decision-making to workforce development is a perfect example of how Silicon Valley approaches any number of problems — and with even the best intentions, it’s worth noting that these tools are only as good as the developers who make them.

Indeed, Kacholia and Garg’s previous companies have been accused of relying too heavily on technology to solve what are essentially human problems.

The proliferation of propaganda, politically minded meddling by foreign governments in domestic campaigns and the promotion of hate speech online has been abetted in many cases by the faith technology companies like Google and Facebook have placed in the tools they’ve developed to ensure that their information and networking platforms are functioning properly (spoiler alert: they’re not).

And the application of these tools to work — and workforce development — is noble, but should also be met with a degree of skepticism.

As an MIT Technology Review article noted from last year:

Algorithmic bias is shaping up to be a major societal issue at a critical moment in the evolution of machine learning and AI. If the bias lurking inside the algorithms that make ever-more-important decisions goes unrecognized and unchecked, it could have serious negative consequences, especially for poorer communities and minorities. The eventual outcry might also stymie the progress of an incredibly useful technology (see “Inspecting Algorithms for Bias”).

Algorithms that may conceal hidden biases are already routinely used to make vital financial and legal decisions. Proprietary algorithms are used to decide, for instance, who gets a job interview, who gets granted parole, and who gets a loan.

“Many of the biases people have in recruiting stem from the limited data people have seen,” Garg responded to me in an email. “With data intelligence we provide recruiters and hiring managers powerful insights around person-job fit that allows teams to go beyond the few skills or companies they might know of, dramatically increasing their pool of qualified candidates. Our diversity product further allows removal of any potential human bias via blind screening. We are fully compliant with EEOC and do not use age, sex, race, religion, disability, etc in assessing fit of candidates to roles in enterprises.”

Making personnel decisions less personal by removing human bias from the process is laudable, but only if the decision-making systems are, themselves, untainted by those biases. In this day and age, that’s no guarantee.