Ep. 161: Never Assume You Know the Market with Ryan George, Docupace

Come on in and sit back relax, you’re listening to Episode 161 of the WealthTech Today podcast. I’m your host, Craig Iskowitz, founder of Ezra Group Consulting and this podcast features interviews, news and analysis on the trends and best practices all around Wealth Management Technology.

Our topic this month is Navigating the Markets. We’re talking to executives about how they made the move into a new market or a new client segment such as moving from the RIA market to broker dealers, or vice versa. We chose this topic because at Ezra Group we work with a lot of WealthTech vendors who are entering new markets who need our advice and guidance to help them be successful. 

I was excited to speak to today’s guest, Ryan George, Chief Marketing Officer for Docupace. Ryan has spent 15 years in the financial services industry working with stakeholders across the advice landscape. Ryan joined Docupace in September 2020 from First Global where he was Vice President of Marketing Communications, where he spearheaded lead gen efforts, boosted his brand among stakeholders, and contributed to double digit revenue growth. Ryan was also a finalist for WealthManagement.com’s broker-dealer Chief Marketing Officer of the Year award in 2019. He is a Forbes Communications Council member, and was chair of the Financial Services Institute Marketing Growth and Development Council.

Before we get into the interview, if you are listening now you’re an executive at a broker dealer, an asset manager or an enterprise RIA you should run not walk to a website, EzraGroupllc.com and fill out the Contact Us form on the homepage to meet with us about your technology platform issues. Our experienced team can assist with software vendor evaluations systems integrations, improving operational efficiency, software implementations and a whole lot more. You can take advantage of our free initial consultation offer by going to EzraGroupllc.com.

Topics Mentioned

  • Never Assume You Know the Market
  • Who Will Tell You If Your Baby is Ugly?
  • Don’t Believe the Hype
  • You Can’t Do Everything Alone
  • Understand Your Value
  • Internal Communication Strategy

Episode Transcript

Craig: I’m excited to introduce our next guest on the program, is Ryan George, Chief Marketing Officer for Docupace. Ryan welcome.

Ryan: Hi Craig, thank you for having me today.

Craig: I’m glad I could fit into your schedule. You’ve been all over the place you just got back in the office.

Ryan: The first time I’ve been bouncing from coast to coast, it’s been tiring. But it’s been great to see friends from all different firms and different fintechs as well.

Craig: And you just came back from Future Proof. How was that?

Ryan: Future Proof was great. It was the first time they’ve run that event, they did some things differently that I think really helped get engagement from the audience and we’re really excited to be part of it this year. We’ll continue to be a part of it for years to come.

Craig: Excellent. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there wasn’t feeling too well. But I’m glad they went off without a hitch and and that’s all the good social media from that conference. It was definitely good to see people trying something different. So speaking something different. We are going to try something different here. Our topic for this podcast, this episode rather, is moving markets changing client segments, what it’s like, tips and best practices around changing markets or moving into different markets, as Docupace has recently done. And so we’re gonna talk about that and how you guys expanded. The broker dealer space into the RIA space, and full disclosure, Ezra Group helped you guys do it. We were happy to do that, we were working with you as a client. So we’re going to talk a bit about some of the reasons and the things that help you best practices, tips and tricks, and insights. So let’s start off first one, with the challenges. Can you talk about some of the challenges you ran into moving into a new market?

Ryan: Sure, moving into the market for Docupace was a big project that we wanted to make sure we were doing right so Docupace is a 20 year old fintech, we offer backup as technology, we do back office, we take everything from opening an account to processing paperwork, forms to moving that into the custodian and taking and taking information from the CRM. That’s a big part of connecting that in that text that goes with Docupace does, and we have historically worked within the IBD space. So we’ve worked with Advisor Group, Cetera, the larger IBDs and what we noticed a couple of years ago was hey, we really think we can add some value to the RIA space. So the challenges there were what do we do today that is valid, so identifying how can we make what we do more enticing to that marketplace, but also how do we communicate it when they may see us you know, having the history that we have they may see us as where we really are could be Y to them, so that would be the first challenge, how do we message or enter the space?

Never Assume You Know the Market 

Craig: There’s so much around that and understanding your value in your other markets and how you convert that value to the new market. But I think one of the areas that you had mentioned to me that was a huge benefit, or huge value was never assume you know the new market as well as you do, right. So you really need to understand you don’t know everything.entering a new market with an existing product

Ryan: Right. You don’t know everything and I think especially within like sort of the independent broker dealer space. All of those people are duly registered advisors, they have their own RIAs. So you think you know that market, but sometimes they process a little bit differently and what we really identified was, Okay, where is the complexity in their business and where can we attack that and help them overcome that challenge? And I think that’s something that we dove into, because it’s not just naming conventions. It’s not just commission’s versus advisory payouts or advisory fees. It’s more about sort of, what’s a centralized office versus a home office, who does the work in an RIA versus who does the work inside of IBD. I think identifying those things and then figuring out how you can map your solutions or map your capabilities to solve those challenges. I think it’s a good exercise to start. But it really starts by asking questions about sort of how do these different types of firms while they’re in the same space, offer a similar type of value set, but may operate much differently.

Craig: Another best practice, besides not assuming, is getting a third party to help validate what assumptions you do have and what you guys did was come to Ezra Group as a third party.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I think Ezra Group really came in handy on is helping challenge our assumptions that we may have about the marketplace, really giving a good competitive intelligence set of sources, who may be serving that marketplace today and what they are offering and what some of our opportunity sets might be. And I think that’s a big benefit because you need to understand who you’re competing against, because when you’re in a new market you’re competing against a different competitive set and I think, with Ezra Group, I think one of the things that they really did is help us get our own house in order and sort of having them ask questions, well why are you entering this market? How are you trying to enter this market and getting our teams aligned. We may have thought people were more alone than they were. But once the question is asked, there’s something you get two or three different answers and sort of having Ezra Group sort of be that third party, that sounding board and really pointing out sort of where discrepancies may be and where gaps may be and what the offering set is is I think was critical path for us in terms of developing the right solution.

Craig: And that is so common with clients we work with, it’s not just Docupace, everyone does the same thing. When you ask a group of executives, why are you doing this? Whether it’s moving to a new market, launching a new product, whatever it is, you wind up getting four different answers for people in the room. And that’s part of the value of asking these questions and getting everyone on the same page.

Ryan: There’s a lot of I mean, like most companies have a lot of opinions. Some of them are backed up by facts. Some of them are just backed up by emotion. So really sort of putting that second camp to the side and really going to the facts of this is the experience in the marketplace season. This has been what I have seen in the marketplace and here’s where it is, can you can you respond to that at least tell me, validate that that for that tech for us, I think that’s important. But it’s also just good to have a third party opinion we often can sort of not only drink our kool aid, but maybe little bit too much kool aid in terms of understanding what our product can do, to the intelligence community to the marketplace, I think is important. And also I think working with a third party, like de Ezra Group is really important to see as the market sees us so we may see us a certain way, but having them sort of separate how the market sees us and how we need to maybe message around that or attack that message. I think is an important part of that process as well.

Who Will Tell You If Your Baby is Ugly?

Craig: That is the benefit of bringing in a third party who is objective to say hey, how do people see us because you might send how your clients see you or how you think they saw you again, you guys have had so much success in the market over a long period. The people who may have first purchased your product aren’t the same people who are at the company now and may see the way your product works differently or see your value differently.entering a new market with an existing product

Ryan: It’s interesting when you bring in a third party, sometimes you’ll have a company reject that, right? So they’ll reject the third party opinion coming in saying Well, we already know this, what do we need them for? And so sometimes you have to battle a little bit to say, Okay, open your mind and listen to that kernel of what they’re saying that is different than what you may think. And I think that takes time. It takes some people sort of approaching with the right attitude. And that’s something that I would say, looking at the start of the project, I’d recommend somebody really understanding and communicating to why we’re bringing in a third party, what role they’re trying to play because they’re the third party like Ezra Group, like you, Craig are going to challenge a lot of the stuff that we think to be true it’s not because you don’t agree, but you’re challenging it to make sure that it’s sort of steadfast in our approach and we really is something that’s entrenched in what we’re trying to do. And I think that that’s something that people may not always see when bringing the third parties that they just want them to tell them yes to everything they say and that’s that’s really not a valuable I mean, it’s a that’s a yes man or yes woman and that’s probably not gonna get the most value for the firm.

Craig: One of our favorite expressions is we get paid to tell you your baby’s ugly.

Ryan: Luckily, our baby wasn’t too ugly but yes, I get what you’re saying.

Craig: You had a nice baby. But we do tell other companies when their baby is ugly, and that’s sometimes the first time they’ve heard that. So that is a bit disconcerting.

Ryan: Especially when people, with technology and I found this. You know, I spent my career in the broker-dealer space, in the mutual fund space and moved over to the FinTech space about two years ago, and what I found is these people their blood, sweat and tears are into these products. They have worked a long time building them, and they’re very closely held to the vest and held to the heart. And I think sometimes they don’t want to hear that it may not function as they hoped it would. And I think that that’s something that you know, just, it’s part of the business and nature and sort of how you communicate within the tech space.

Craig: Cool. So the next challenge that I want to bring up is avoiding moving too fast. Can you talk about why that’s important? Why would you avoid moving too fast?

Ryan: Yeah, so as a marketer, there’s sort of two scenarios one is the first mover advantage is going to give you a huge advantage on the marketplace, meaning if all I had to do was say this first and it’s going to enter the market first and opened my door, everything’s going to come my way, or is sort of the right mover advantage, which is when I enter the market, it’s going to be in the right way and people are going to see it as an optimal solution.

Ryan: I think what happens a lot with people trying to be first is they sort of announce something that they believe they have that they don’t or they want to have or they don’t. So you’ll see it a lot in technology announcements, they’ll say, Hey, we have this new platform, it does XYZ, and they haven’t actually built it. They’re just saying it’s built and they’re waiting for a customer to come pay for them to build it. And I think that that sometimes can lead to a bad connotation, false starts in product development, and all sorts of negative effects towards revenue, negative effects towards growth, so I think that’s why maybe moving too fast isn’t the right thing.

Ryan: Within the RIA space, it’s really interesting because it’s a very disaggregated market. There’s 30,000+ RIAs in this country, so there is while there isn’t one shot to get inside the RIA market, they do talk. And so there is a great fight among those RIAs and where you can communicate quite frequently and so I think being careful how you approach it. So when somebody says, Oh, well, we tried them and they completely lied to our face. So they completely oversold what they could do. That’s what we want to stop, that’s what we want to prevent from happening. So that’s why moving too fast can actually could cause problems. Now internally, you’re going to get that internally. You have sales team who wants to move fast. That’s their job. I appreciate that. Sometimes, it’s not always fun to hit, tap the brakes. But I think if you really have one chance to sort of open the door show up to the party and become the starlight. I think you really want to do it the right way.

Don’t Believe the Hype

Craig: Announcing a product that doesn’t exist. We call that “freezing the market”.

Ryan: Yep and it happens. It happens more and more. I see probably at least one announcement every week or two where it’s like that product doesn’t exist, they’re hoping it will exist, it’s in ideation and maybe they have a BRD for it but it isn’t built, it isn’t functioning, isn’t in use today.entering a new market with an existing product

Craig: I just dropped a new podcast today from John Rajes from LPL Financial, who’s in charge of their technology partnerships. And I asked him what’s the biggest problem you have with vendors and he said vaporware was the number one problem, right? Companies saying they got something and they just don’t have it, it’s becoming almost an epidemic.

Ryan: At Docupace, our sales approach has been I can’t speak for how it’s been the entire 20 years as a company but I think at least the past couple of years, we’ve tried to really narrow the gap between how things are sold, and how they’re delivered to make sure they’re in a narrow set. I think while some things in implementation, don’t always maybe take a little longer to implement or may take a little bit a little bumpier, I do feel confident in the way that we’re positioning ourselves within within the marketplace because I do think there’s that gap between I sometimes feel like sales can sell a dream state. And then implementation sort of provides a real state and there’s a huge gap there. And in the end, nobody really wins. They might get the sale but it might not be a long term client. The delivery team is frustrated the client gets frustrated and I think thatit’s just it’s something that’s it’s not just fintech, it’s all over the place. And I think if we’re protective of what Docupace is and the people who are doing the work behind the scenes, we want to make sure that we sort of keep that again as narrowband as possible.

Craig: At Ezra Group we tell our broker dealer and asset manager are a clients don’t believe the hype from vendors.

Ryan: When I was at the event, I won’t say which event or who was speaking, but there are a number of people who are demoing technology and every single one was the most transformational, revolutionary, it’s going to change everything you do technology. And while I’m glad they’re that proud of what they building and I’m glad they have the passion behind it. It’s also probably not reality and what it’s delivering, this is going to improve your day. It’s not going to revolutionize or it’s gonna give you more scale that you have, but it’s also not going to revolutionize your business. That’s just not the way it works because there’s still going to be humans involved. And when humans are involved in things, the needle moves a little bit more slowly than I think technology in technology sales in marketing and messaging want to believe.

Craig: One of my pet peeves is press releases that say the leading provider of X every press release says the leading provider of X everyone can’t be the leading provider of X. You’ve only been in business for two years. You can’t be the leading provider of X.

Ryan: They’re leading something and maybe leading in X maybe to other letters, but yeah, exactly.

Craig: But as we’re saying we tell our visit our clients don’t believe the hype. Also our FinTech clients, we work a lot of FinTech clients, just like Docupace, you shouldn’t believe the hype either from your competitors, because they’re most likely blowing smoke up their client’s ass.

Ryan: Yeah, so Docupace is being in the back office space and operations, we’re down in the muck right. So we are like the grease inside the engine and we’ve been doing this for 20 years so we have a lot of long term tenured product people who’ve been building and delivering these things for a very long time and they know what I know which is this is this is difficult. And when people show up in sort of trying to make it easy. We know that there’s something behind those words that they’re saying because it’s not easy. This isn’t just that the future proof or that I was just that every single person that came up to said, new client onboarding man, I hate the way we onboard new clients. They know the reason they hate it is because they know it should be easier. They know it’s hard, and they’re trying to figure out whether we can help them and that’s what Docupace is trying to step into. But I know our business isn’t easy. It’s never been easy and likely never will be just because of the nature of what it takes to get up to deliver good experience when opening a client or starting a new relationship.

You Can’t Do Everything Alone

Craig: Alright, next challenge when it comes to changing client segments, you can’t do everything alone. What is it about that that is a problem, how do you avoid that pitfall?

Ryan: Sure, I think when entering a new market. There’s a couple of things that I think are both internal and externally. So we talked about bringing in a consultant like Ezra Group or something with some third party perspective. I think the other key part is also integration partners. So who can you partner with that may already be in that market that can help sort of bring you into clients and sets that already have so Docupace has been able to leverage a strong partner network within the enterprise software space that may already be serving the RIAs and we work with that to sort of figure out how we can deepen integrations. We recently announced integration with Envestnet on advisory counts sort of deepen our integration there and there’s others that are coming with that, coming behind that but we know that no technology stands alone in terms of especially specifically to the RIA space. So we want to make sure that you can connect connected visibly as well.

Ryan: Also, I think, who you bring on your project team internally, making sure you have visibility to the product team, to the sales team, to other management and I think one of the things that was a false start, but one of the things I had to reset internally for myself was making sure I went down a level in terms of the level of hierarchy to the people who actually be doing the work to help build this product instead of the bosses. I think the bosses sort of have the viewpoint but then they you know, they have a valid viewpoint but they’re not the ones who actually have their hands in and know exactly where they pick up here is or what the opportunity here is. So I think that’s where finding the right project team to really roll their sleeves up and build a solution for the marketplace is probably one of the most critical decisions for us.

Craig: Reminds me of a tip from Jim Collins, Good to Great, get the right people on the bus, whether they’re senior people or junior people or whatever people you need in your organization. You need the right people to make things successful.

Ryan: Yeah, and I think that that’s mainly, while it sounds like a sort of a general guidance, I think you’ll really only get to the right team. If you really start asking the tough questions because sometimes it’s not even you. For instance myself, stepping out of conversations I didn’t need to be there for a month or two so the right people could work on those things with the consultants who work on building the right materials, where I wasn’t adding any value, I think, again, that’s all about sort of having making sure the right people working on the right the right piece of the project at the right time.

Craig: It’s all what it’s about. Another area we recommend a lot for clients is internal marketing, internal communications plan. Everyone’s good at external communications or they’re better, but they don’t think about internal communications, letting people know what’s going on, rather than just rumors or just partial information, giving them a heads up as to what’s happening so they’re prepared or their expectations don’t get out of hand.

Ryan: I think that’s one of the things if I could go back into the project a little bit differently, I think I would handle that a little bit differently. I think trying to find the right level of information to keep people to bring them along the project as we go. But I think because we’re at the sort of launch point at the end of the road of having to spend more time catching them up, bringing them up to speed and sort of identifying gaps in messaging or gaps in marketing that may not have made existed simply because it just didn’t communicate broadly enough as well. Because I think when you have a big project like entering a new market, you’re gonna get a lot of interest internally. And if you let people in too early, they’re gonna get distracted from their day jobs and it’s something that you’re really worried about six months from now, not today. But the more they know about it, the more they’re going to be interested.

Ryan: So trying to find the right sort of way to update them, I think is something important. I think, personally, I learned some right ways and wrong ways to do and I think I would try to be more transparent as far as what the progress is and what the timeline is, is one of the timelines is probably the thing that’s changing the vote. So target hasn’t changed, what we’re trying to deliver hasn’t changed, our messaging hasn’t changed, but sort of when things are ready, and sort of what we’re doing has definitely changed. And I think that’s something that trying to communicate more broadly even down throughout the organization. So don’t think just management. You really want to take control of the messaging, making sure that all the employees understand why this is big for us and what the plan is and how we’re going to attack it and, more importantly, what we need from them in order to be successful.

Craig: Getting the right people on the bus also means letting them know what’s happening, rather than just saying, well, it’s coming soon, don’t worry. Here’s where we’re going. Maybe we had a setback here as a setback, so that they understand the realities of things and letting them know well here’s how you’re going to disappear. It’s not gonna really affect you. That way they’re aware of what’s going on.

Ryan: Yeah, so if you have some first hand experience if you create 100 slide deck that has a full deep explanation, don’t assume that everybody is going to read and dive into the 100 slide deck you know, get what create 100 slide deck but also turn that into a 50 slide shorter version and then a 10 slide even shorter version for the different people who may have different levels of interest in the project.

Craig: You sound like a good consultant.

Ryan: It might be in my future.

Understand Your Value

Craig: Call me when you’re ready for that. So the last bit of advice when moving into new client segments is understanding your value. When you bring a third party server user, bringing in a third party like Ezra Group to help you, what value did you derive from working with us and what would you recommend to other fintechs when they’re working with consultants are other people that are helping them in their marketing or their planning product planning for new markets?

Ryan: I think the two biggest things is one, understanding the competitive landscape. When you look at a competitor, you are going to look at them through some rose colored glasses of your own, so we’re better than them for X, we’re better for Y. But what the consultant can do is really say it doesn’t matter what they are delivering matters what the market believes they’re delivering, and that’s what you can be measured up against, right so there is a difference. Often there’s a delta there when you say Oh, well, we’re better than X at doing Y, but the market believes that they are better at X doing Y. That’s something that you need to understand and be able to build around or at least message yourself around. So I think that’s something that a third party like Ezra Group is really helpful with because we don’t spend as much time on our competitors, at least looking at the sort of overall landscape that a consultant would be.

Ryan: And then on the third side is really making sure to ask the tough questions. So making sure that they can ask questions, saying do you really believe that and sort of finding the deltas in what people say? So if there’s three people question, and three people give answers that are somewhat dissimilar to each other, helping arbitrage that was to make sure that they understand, hey, this is where your gaps in this question is that we need to get these people on the same page. I think that’s a huge benefit from a third party.

Craig: One of my favorite phrases around this is perception is reality. Where clients perceive is their reality, you may have a much better product. You might you may have much better technology, but the perception the market is the opposite. It doesn’t matter.

Ryan: Yeah. And I think something that’s hard to internalize. Especially when you again, when you hold something close to your vest, in terms of you really care about a product and you’re passionate about it, you want to scream, we can do this better than them. But it does not want to say sometimes it doesn’t really matter is that not what the market proceeds and so trying to find those the way between those two is important, specifically when you’re introducing a new capability that’s not something that you have done before, or a 20 year old FinTech we have a sort of a reputation that may precede us supplanting that reputation introducing exactly what we can do. Takes a lot of work and also takes a lot of unified messaging that needs to be developed and delivered.

Craig: Exactly. It’s having better technology and the market not knowing about it is a long term marketing strategy. You need to let people know, get the message out there that you have better technology and here’s why. If that’s even important, sometimes the specific technology you have isn’t as important as the client experience, the workflow, the configuration, the price, the integration capabilities on every client is different. Some clients may say, Well, we only care about your technology. That’s the most important part. Others may say, Well, we’re more concerned about how well you integrate with the other tools we have. And other ones might say well you only care about your user experience. So it’s different for each client.

Ryan: Yeah, and I think that’s a really important point because I think when entering a new market, you need everybody behind it. So like think of the the Pied Piper and with the parade behind everybody following the Pied Piper down the street. The fallacies in that that story is how long it takes the Pied Piper to get everybody behind him.So it’s not easy to get that chorus behind, following in line. I think that’s the part that when I say be careful moving too fast. That’s something that can happen where you go too fast and people are delivering it in different way. They’re going after different targets or worse yet, they make sure to themselves I don’t really believe in what we’re doing here. And that gets decades out to the marketplace and that you know, there’s deception there. It’s not because they don’t believe in what you know that the company can add value. To a specific target sentence that they just don’t understand why they’re going after them. And I think that that’s something to combat as well.

Internal Communication Strategy

Craig: Indeed, and I want to I want to touch on another area for internal information and internal communication. Docupace has done a number of M&A deals this year. How do you internally communicate those? This isn’t necessarily on the topic, but we talked about internal communication. What’s some tips or some advice you’d give about internal internal communications for upcoming M&A deals?

Ryan: Those that can be a huge challenge, I think those are like to do maybe like layers of the onion. So internally, so our CEO, David Knoch, and our board, which involves involves our president founder, Michael Pinsker, and other members from FTB capital. They really are sort of the tip of the spear in terms of M&A conversations. They’ll go through any handful of conversations with a company before before anybody else is ever brought it. They’re sort of having discussion before like, hey, well, let’s explore this.

Ryan: And so when that may happen, then there’s a broader set of executives or product team or due diligence teams that come in to kick the tires, look under the hood, kick over the rocks as possible. The challenge in that is, if you you know, a lot of times these M&A deals don’t go through. There’s 1,000 reasons why sometimes something that we could walk away and sometimes that the other group could walk away and a third party could come in. I mean, those are just two examples of what can happen two or three examples. So you don’t want somebody to get excited about it because it becomes a distraction from their day job.

Ryan: But I think anytime you’re introducing something new or company’s about to sort of go in a different direction, or launch something, the sequence in which you let people in is always going to be a real challenge because everybody is going to want to know the most amount of information available at the earliest time. So there you have that dynamic tension between I want the information and I want it now, but they may not need now. A, because it may not happen and B, it doesn’t really affect them until a later date. And so I think trying to keep that close to the vest and then there’s the big sort of not something that isn’t necessarily concern and then there’s also a letting it get out right because the more people who know the more likely that information can can get leaked, even accidentally, because you never know who knows what. So that’s something that we have to keep very close to the vest. Our CEO David does a really good job of bringing people in at the appropriate timeframe. And I think while we may be close, and I may want that information, I do know that just because I want something doesn’t mean I need to know it at the time and I feel confident that I will get brought in at the appropriate time.

Craig: And Ryan, we are out of time, you’ve said it all. Can you tell everyone listening where they can find more information about Docupace?

Ryan: Sure, we have lots of fun content www.Docupace.com We have a monthly newsletter. It’s not a sales pitch. It’s all about market research. It’s some cool pieces of research from third parties that I find throughout the internet from the Schwab’s and Fidelity’s and such when you go to Docupace.com you can look under Resources and you’ll find blogs, downloads, all sorts of fun stuff that we have out there.

Craig: Ryan, thanks for being on the program.

Ryan: Thank you Craig. Appreciate it.

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The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at craig@ezragroupllc.com

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