Pittsburgh’s Company Spotlight: Matrix Solutions
Today’s company spotlight is on Matrix Solutions, a company that has developed a leading web-based media-specific platform that enables intelligent business decisions for managing sales teams, their opportunities, and accounts.
Here we talk with Chief Strategy and Development Officer, BJ Boyle.
Imagine Careers: To start things off, what is Matrix all about?
BJ: We are primarily a media-specific sales intelligence and CRM system. I think to understand where we’re at, you have to understand where we’ve been. We’re focused primarily on anyone who sells advertising in the media business; we focus on advertisement publishing via TV and radio stations, and more recently digital outlets.
Matrix Solutions is sort of the specialty system for that industry. I always use this example: if my wife needs running shoes she doesn’t go to Walmart, she goes to Mojo, a specialty running store. We’re the “specialty store”, the specialty ad sales service for the media ad sellers. You can go get a tool like Salesforce, but you have to customize the hell out of it because it’s not built for your industry. We have a lot of people who understand the industry, so that’s what we cater to.
Our mission is that we’re trying to make salespeople faster, smarter, and more efficient. We kind of joke around here saying, we want to make people media sales machines. If you’re a C+ student, you will become a B+ Student. If you’re a B+ student, then you’re going to be an A+ student.
IC: How did the founder come up with the idea?
BJ: Matrix Solutions was founded in the mid 90s by Gary Diven, who is now retired. He recognized at the time, after working at a TV station, that there was no sales processes, strategies or systems to manage the media sales, apart from a lot of spreadsheets and paper. He built something for his group, and soon realized he had something and went out to sell it.
In 2013, Matrix Solutions was acquired by Main Line Equity Partners. When Main Line came on, it was very much in parallel to what the media industry itself was going through: that is, recognizing that things can’t be the same anymore. Since the industry is changing due to the demands of how to sell advertising and how to compete, Main Line brought an attitude of, “How do we grow this product and grow this company?”
Since then we’ve been very aggressive. We’ve introduced a significant amount of changes and upgrades into our product over the last 2 years. We’ve also increased our users 45% over the last 18 months. Additionally, we have introduced a number of new innovations in our products, our service, and more. Growth is a team sport and it takes everyone on the team to achieve our goals.
IC: Awesome, well congratulations!
BJ: Yeah, thanks! We were actually nominated this year for the Pittsburgh Tech 50 [Technology Business Product of the Year] awards, which we were all really excited about. A lot of that was because of those numbers and how we’ve really grown in our client roster as well. We actually have some of the leading names in the media business on our list.
Allow me to tie all of that back to the current openings that we have: the growth has allowed us to see a world where there is so much more that we can do. We’ve got data from all of these companies, and billions of dollars of revenue passing through our systems that we can see. To give you some perspective, there’s data out now that suggests in 2016 the amount of dollars spent on digital advertising will overpass TV advertising for the first time in history. We’re talking about TV, a $75B+ industry, staying pretty flat while digital passes it over. TV stations are looking at this thinking, “How do I grow my business? I need to find new avenues to grow and sell digital,” and Matrix Solutions has to grow with that. Matrix is also working with digital media companies on how sales tools and processes can really help propel their growth as well. Because of this, we think there’s a huge opportunity to find people who want to be a part of that wave to drive more strategic thinking and help accelerate that growth.
IC: Does your product identify those leads?
BJ: We actually integrate with companies that do identify leads and we help them to manage their account list. We also identify opportunities to for them sell more by saying, “Hey, here’s all of the companies that bought TV spots with you, but you’re not selling any of them your ad digital space – why don’t you sell them banner ads or sponsorship?” We really help them put their opportunities on the tee so that they can take advantage of that.
There was a Gartner report a few years ago that said more than half of all CRMs fail within 2 years. We have about a 92% retention rate; we lose very few clients. Part of that is because we understand our clients’ business and are a true partner to them. The interesting thing is we think CRMs are more important than ever. Part of that failure to retain a solution 10 years ago was due to companies buying CRMs, spending all of this money to implement them, and then not telling anyone how to use them. Basically, “we just need a CRM, go do it.” They failed miserably because there was no structure, no strategy and no sales process. You build a multipurpose tool and go put it in there to see if it’s going to work – you really can’t take an “If you build it, they will come” mentality. We know the business, so we can come in, consult with them and tell them how this is going to work – that’s why we stick around.
IC: So with your current position of strength in the local TV market, how do you continue to grow?
BJ: We look at our core existing in the local TV space, but our big goal in 2016 is growing our presence in what we call adjacent markets. That includes growing radio, publishing and digital. Out-of-home advertising is another one, which includes billboards, digital kiosks you see at the mall or airport, or any movie theatre advertising. Again, we want to focus on the niche of anyone who sells advertising, but we’re looking to grow outside of the TV business. There’s also enterprise business: companies that own TV, radio or digital outlets that are our key focus. However, we want to focus on our adjacencies. Part of that is looking to grow internationally. In 2015 we began working with our first clients in Australia and Canada, both of which we think are interesting opportunities.
Here’s the interesting opportunity from a technical standpoint: we believe our product translates to those adjacent markets really well, but we absolutely believe that there’s opportunities to be creative and innovative in how we attack those markets. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like we’re taking the same old Matrix product and putting it in there. We have a lot of really cool ideas to make our product flexible in those markets, and that’s part of what we’re working on. We’re not just setting up requests and knocking them out, rather, we want to create a tool that can be flexible and media-specific depending on whether you’re selling billboards, commercial, media ads or radio spots.
IC: What challenges do you face in adding to your team right now?
BJ: Finding the right people that are the right fit. We’re a small company and our team is very important to us. Ultimately you have to find people who want to come in and be a part of a small team and want to grow fast. There’s some skills we have to find: being comfortable wearing multiple hats, also being just as excited about thinking strategically as you are putting out a fire the next day. You also need to have a mindset of being innovative, decisive, and comfortable moving fast. I think sometimes that makes it hard to find the right fit. You may have some engineers that work at large companies that are big company engineers, and they’re great at that. For example, you may have an engineer at a large healthcare IT company whose job it was to do nothing but the chart or the integration of something, very important, but if you asked them to get outside of that, they didn’t want to do it. Here, one day you might be on reports, another day you might work on something else, you have to be comfortable and interested in doing that.
IC: And I guess not everyone is?
BJ: Or they think they are, and they might not end up being. We want someone who is excited by that, and the small company with a lot of potential for growth — it’s definitely a competitive marketplace!
IC: Why do you think people want to work at Matrix?
BJ: Its funny, probably a lot of the same reasons and challenges. I think we are a company that is small and nimble, allowing you to have opportunities to influence the direction of the company. The leadership team isn’t hidden behind glass towers somewhere, and you’re interacting with everyone, every day. We have very loyal clients, which allows you to have a relationship in how you can impact the customer, and I think a lot of people really like that. We have a close team and we have a mission that’s easily defined – we want to make sales people better. So you kind of come in and you can tie that around what you do. It’s fun to work in a business that you can understand; everyone watches commercials on TV. I find myself having to not DVR and watch more commercials, I have to support the business [laughs]. I think the biggest piece is that we’ve always been a company that puts stock in our employees, and making sure that everyone feels a part of that team. Now that it’s focused on growth, any new hire we bring in has a chance to start day one and really affect how we do business here.
IC: What brought you to Matrix?
BJ: So I’ve been here for about 2 years. I came on right after Mark and his team at Main Line took over. I was one of the first to come in on that new team to help drive that vision and product strategy. My background was working in a small startup-style company, and went from growing that to taking it to acquisition stage, and selling the company. I then joined a big company, which was great, a big company making a huge difference. But when you go from a 120-person company to a 12,000 person company, you start to see the differences. Things can move really slow and it can take a while to get things done. I was faced with the opportunity to decide to go all in with this big company, but what I really wanted to do was find a small company that was really ripe to grow and needed someone who was passionate to build the product and strategy, and that was what excited me about Matrix. I was excited about the leadership team, the ownership, and how they wanted the company to grow. I was looking for an opportunity to bring proven ways to grow a software company, bring innovation in, and rally around that.
We’re not a company that is against change. Personally, I would never join a company that told me to just come in and just steer the ship. We want to be a company that’s always looking to be better and challenge the norm, and how do we make changes before things are broken. That’s exciting to me and that’s the kind of environment I want to be in, and those are the type of people we’re looking for who are comfortable doing that. That’s what helps us grow faster.
That’s what we think about all the time – what’s the next thing. It’s hard to sell to salespeople sometimes because at the end of the day salespeople like to do what’s working. If they are hitting their numbers, they might say, “Why do we need a CRM?” We’re trying to get out in front and say what is it that they need, that they don’t even know they need yet? We want to create products and services so that they are ready when that curve hits them. It’s a fun challenge reinventing ourselves again. We went from account list management, to a CRM, to what’s next – how do we aggregate data, be smarter and give them what they need to be successful?
IC: When do your best ideas come to you?
BJ: For me there’s probably two times. I’m a morning person so I like to wake up early. I try to get to work early, read the paper, stay fresh, jot down ideas. I do try to spend that time really reading, getting caught up, and thinking on those ideas. The funny part of this question is the other part, I get a lot of great ideas in the shower.
IC: What’s your favorite thing about living and working in Pittsburgh?
BJ: What I love about Pittsburgh is that the area is family friendly, has a lot to offer, and it’s been a great place to raise kids. There’s a lot of opportunities that are affordable and easy to access. I really like the pride that people have in the area, that’s a great perk about it. Having actually lived in Pittsburgh longer than I have actually worked in Pittsburgh, what’s really interesting to me is the growing tech culture. There’s a lot of impressive people in the area that we’re surrounded by smart, innovative thought leaders and entrepreneurs with interesting conversations and ideas, and that helps drive us to be better.
IC: Are you from Pittsburgh originally?
BJ: Yeah, I actually grew up in Ellwood City, up North. I did my undergrad in Mount Union in Ohio. My wife and I got married near there and lived and worked in Ohio for 8 years. We moved back here to Pittsburgh and have worked here for the last 6 years.
IC: So what’s next or is there anything else you want to add?
BJ: I think from a product standpoint, it goes along the lines of how we grow alongside that TV business. We really want to take the opportunity to grow in adjacent spaces. That means taking opportunities with new investments, sort of skunk works-type projects and other areas that we can innovate on top of our current product.
With all of the data that we have, we think there’s a lot of opportunity to find innovations within all of that. Part of that is talking to our Data Architects, people who are really excited about big data, and making that data actionable. The juxtaposition that we have is our clients who aren’t data scientists and who aren’t naturally going to go in there and look at all of this data. So part of that is the challenge and solving that so it’s not just another data or core report.