Barry built a world class consulting practice around innovation and brand transformation for household names. But why? R/GA was flying high after helping NIKE transform their business… what caused him to pursue a NEW service and a NEW model at the height of their success?
“We had big ideas that we knew would work, but we didn’t have the right thinkers and we weren’t having conversations at the right altitude.” - Barry Wacksman
Barry Wacksman is the Vice Chairman, Global Chief Strategy Officer of R/GA, overseeing all of R/GA’s strategic practices, from consulting to insights to data. He also oversees the global business development team. Barry is a key architect of R/GA’s vision of the “Connected Age,” which focuses on growing brands through a connected ecosystem of products and services. His articles have been published in a wide variety of industry publications. He has presented on topics pertaining to strategy, innovation, design and technology at conferences and events around the world.
Barry is the co-author of Connected by Design (2014, John Wiley and Sons) where he developed the concept of Functional Integration to describe the business models of market leaders like Apple, Google and Amazon as well as the emergence of new categories like the connected home, the connected car and connected financial services.
Max Traylor: Hello everybody. First of all, I'm on a diet. Yes, I'm on a diet. I'm drinking Guinness, vitamin G for those playing the home game. And I've got Barry Wacksman with me today, and I'm, I'm only slightly jealous of his IPA. I feel I'm doing something correct for my body for once.
Barry Wacksman: Drink American.
Max Traylor: Barry, what are you drinking?
Barry Wacksman: This is a Montauk Wave Chaser India pale ale from Montauk Brewing Company, New York. Stocked in 2012. I have a feeling Guinness is a little bit older of a brewery than Montauk Brewing Company.
Max Traylor: Well, and healthier, I might add.
Barry Wacksman: That's true. It's got lots of vitamins and minerals, as led to believe.
Max Traylor: If Weight Watchers had a beer list, Guinness would be at the top.
Barry Wacksman: Yep.
Max Traylor: I think. I don't know. Maybe I'm speaking out of turn. Do you surf?
Barry Wacksman: I've tried. I wouldn't call what I do surfing. I've tried surfing.
Max Traylor: That's fair. Hey, that's better than me. What do you do professionally?
Barry Wacksman: I work at a place called R/GA. I am the Vice Chairman and Global Chief Strategy Officer of R/GA, and coming up on 21 years working at the same company, which is pretty rare in this crazy business, particularly of people who worked in the digital agency space where there was a lot of bouncing around.
Max Traylor: For the people that are lost, R/GA is an agency?
Barry Wacksman: A little bit broader than that and a little bit harder to categorize, but I would say for many years, we would categorize ourselves as a digital agency. I guess that was the lingo back in the day.
Max Traylor: Oh. Well, what do you... Now I'm very interested. How do you answer this question when a client is asking you how do you categorize yourself, or how do you go to market, how you differentiate?
Barry Wacksman: We talk of ourselves as a transformation company, and so we're typically hired by clients to help drive change. And change has lots of different manifestations and it happens at different altitudes and for different reasons, but what we're focused on is a pretty long journey that we can take clients on to help them change. And I would say 80 percent of our business is clients that have been around since way before the digital revolution, and some of them needed to make pretty dramatic changes to modernize themselves and to become more appropriate for the 21st century, which involved them creating new products and services and brands and whatnot. And so we've built a lot of capabilities that help them do that. And then we have some other clients that are new economy clients that have been around, that are actually born out of the digital revolution, the digital age.
Barry Wacksman: And I think once companies reach a certain point of maturity, they start to need to build out things like marketing and communications, but it's not obvious today how you build brands in the 21st century, circa 2019. It was a lot clearer how to do it in the 20th century. There were a lot of things that you could leverage, a lot of media platforms and whatnot that enabled you to address very large audiences simultaneously with creative formats that seem to be effective at brand-building. And nowadays it's just harder and less obvious to see how you would build a brand in the 21st century if you were starting new.
Max Traylor: And what is your role at R/GA?
Barry Wacksman: I have this broad corporate role as Vice Chairman, so I've been here long enough and have had a big enough impact, I guess, on the business that they gave me that title. I oversee a lot of different parts of the business. I started as our head of Business Development, so my title at the beginning of my journey here was Chief Growth Officer. What I was really good at... Because I'm not much of a salesman, quite frankly. I'm kind of introverted and a bit geeky, and I guess I'm not bad at writing decks and writing presentations and speaking publicly, but-
Max Traylor: That's why we have beer, Barry.
Barry Wacksman: That's right.
Max Traylor: Beer can solve that problem.
Barry Wacksman: That's true. But I'm not the kind of guy that likes to go out and shoot a game of golf with a client or whatever. I wasn't as much of a relationship builder, but I was pretty good at helping R/GA come up with a vision that clients wanted to buy. I would say that my role was really helping to find the vision as related to the needs of clients. And then for a really long time, my main partner here was this gentleman by the name of Nick Law, who was our Chief Creative Officer. And Nick was great at figuring out how to take what I was coming up with strategically and turn it into work. He really helped figure out the kind of work that we needed to be making and the types of creative teams that we needed to build.
Barry Wacksman: Nick was here for I think about 17 years, and then he was lured away by big piles of money to first go to Publicis Groupe, and he became the Chief Creative Officer of the entire Publicis Groupe holding company. And then more recently he's now become one of the top executives at Apple. Well, a company called Apple Computer in Silicon Valley, and his job, he's like head of Integrated Marketing. Nick and I helped figure this out. And then our third partner in this whole endeavor was this chap by the name of Bob Greenberg. He's an industry legend and he's the founder of R/GA, and Bob is just one of the rare business geniuses, creative visionary, et cetera. And I'd say the three of us just came together at the right moment to build a company at a time when there was a lot of disruption happening in the market. A lot of clients that we were seeking out helped with a lot of things that we ended up getting very good at.
Barry Wacksman: And along the way, I think we were helped by getting in some cases lucky, and in other cases we worked our butts off, and we won some great clients that helped shape us. But probably the one that we were most associated with for most of that history I've just laid out was Nike. Nike became a client of ours back in 2001, and we went on this big transformation journey together where they changed us but we also helped change them, and we really helped Nike build out a full digital ecosystem that involved things like Nike ID where you're a customer designing products.
Barry Wacksman: We helped design and develop Nike Plus, Nike Fuel Band. We created most of the first generations of Nike's various apps as it related to smartphones, and we did a lot of interesting integrated campaign work and other digital platforms and products and eCommerce. We just did tons of stuff together, and they're still one of our largest clients and that relationship continues, but R/GA really became identified with that body of work. And so we were viewed by companies on the outside as somebody that could really help a mature company like Nike transform. They saw in that case study of Nike, this company that had been around for a very long time, that historically was a manufacturer of apparel and shoes and things of that ilk, and then Nike became one of the most adept digital marketers and one of the most adept digital transformation companies in terms of all the different products and services that they've built that served their many tens of millions, hundreds of millions of customers around the world with these different products and services.
Max Traylor: Well, you keep ticking off boxes, because I usually have to ask people about who their best clients are and things like that. We'll skip it. What's the most common problems that companies are coming to you, or opportunities perhaps, that they're coming to you and saying, "Okay, this is something that you guys are known for." Is it transformation in the case of old economy brand finding new competition in the marketplace and they have to compete digitally, or what's a problem we could focus on and talk about your unique way of solving it? Yeah.
Barry Wacksman: I think as the digital revolution swept through, and you had a lot of companies that pre-dated the digital revolution and their business model really hearkens back to a prior era, both in terms of their distribution partners and just the way that they went to market. If you look at most of the companies that are in the Fortune 500 that had started in the 20th century... And you have some that actually go all the way back to like the 19th century, some of our clients that we've worked on historically, like Coca Cola was founded in I think 1886, so they go way back in time. And regardless of what category they work in or what industry, the business model of companies that eventually formed the fortune 500 before the digital revolution swept in, all excelled at manufacturing and distributing things of a certain type. To use the Coke example, they were in the beverage category. They invented this very wildly successful beverage that everybody loved all over the world. Hello.
Max Traylor: Hello. You're interrupting. That was my phone, ladies and gentlemen.
Barry Wacksman: They invented this wildly successful product that was beloved all over the world, but they didn't stop with just that one single brand or product. They expanded by creating other things like Sprite and Diet Coke. And then over the years they not only invented new products, but they started acquiring. They bought a million brands from Snapple to Odwalla, and so over time they built this massive portfolio of thousands of different brands all in the beverage category. And the whole business model of companies like Coke was to just keep micro-segmenting the customer audience and keep inventing things that appealed to a wider, wider array of different types of customers or different need states of customers. And so in economic terms, that's called being horizontally integrated. And if you look at just about every company in the 20th century, that's pretty much their business model. That's how they grew. They kept inventing new brands and they kept building out these portfolios, typically within a single category that they were adept at, whether it was cars or financial products or beverages or packaged goods, et cetera, cigarettes.
Barry Wacksman: Then 21st century comes along, and suddenly this layer of technology that is represented by the web and mobile and social media and whatnot enables for the very first time for connections to be created between things that previously had no connection. And so you start to see the evolution of a new business model where the companies that were starting to become very successful were creating things that were connected. They might start with one product, but then they create a second product. And if you're a customer and you bought the first product, you suddenly start to see a real reason why you need to go out and buy the second product.
Barry Wacksman: There's a connection between them that didn't exist with any example in the 20th century. You can't point to a single company. And as amazing as the portfolio of companies like Coke was, if you buy a Coke and you love it and you drink it, it gives you no impetus whatsoever for buying a Sprite and drinking it, other than the fact that you might happen to also love Sprite. There's no connection between Coke and Sprite. And in fact, in many ways they're considered to be competitive. So you see the emergence for the first time of companies that are beginning to connect together their products and services using this layer of technology, and they're beginning to pioneer a new business model where they're actually getting the same customers to buy everything that they make or many of the things that they make. And of course, the poster child of this new revolution is Apple.
Barry Wacksman: They're the first company that you could point to in the history of all business where many of us as consumers literally own all of the major products that Apple makes. We own Macs. We have iPods, back when they were making those. We made the leap to iPhone. We bought the iPad. We have Apple watches. We're now signing up for all these different Apple services. Historically, we went back and we used iTunes. And there's a connection between these different products and services. If you owned a Mac and you used iTunes, there was a natural reason for you to go out and buy an iPod. You could take the music library that you've now digitized on your Mac, and it's now portable, and you can take it with you on the go. And then if you had an iPod, you could immediately make the leap to why you should drop and get an iPhone, et cetera.
Barry Wacksman: And so the same would be true of Google. They built this ecosystem of Amazon and many other companies. And nowadays when we think about it, this is one of my observations that I had back in 2011 was the rise of these ecosystem types of companies, and that was actually what my book was about that I published in 2014. This became a disruptive business model where just about everybody now that has a startup is no longer thinking of a single service or category. Nobody's trying to rebuild the Coca Cola model of horizontally integrated products that were micro-segmenting the market. They're all thinking about, "Okay, I'm going to get you to download an app and you're going to use this first service, and then once I got you addicted to that first one, I'm going to layer in a second service," or something like that. You can imagine Uber going into Uber Eats or Uber Deliveries or whatever as the beginnings of a whole other ecosystem that was coming out of companies like that.
Barry Wacksman: And so this became the emergent business model of the 21st century idea of ecosystem. I'd say it's the heart of what most companies are looking to transform into. It was the beginnings of our consulting practice. It was kind of built around that idea, that we were going to help companies along on that journey. We had the example of having helped Nike build out a bit of an ecosystem between its various digital properties. There was a connection between all of the things that we were making for Nike so that it felt as a consumer of Nike that these things were related, and we wanted to keep you within the Nike franchise as you went on this journey of trying to use technology to fuel your ambitions as it related to health, fitness, training, et cetera. That's the starting point of it all. That's how we got to the idea of building a consulting practice, and that's where we began.
Barry Wacksman: We launched in 2012. That's when I made the very first hires to come join R/GA. At that time, we were a very famous digital agency that had won every award on the planet and was considered to be probably number one as a digital agency. We were great at designing and developing digital products and services, et cetera. What we weren't very good at, at the time, was doing the right kind of commercial strategy to provide the business rationale for why client X should invest in some new digital transformation idea that we had for their company.
Barry Wacksman: And so that really became the very first set of questions. To go back to the very beginning of this discussion when you ask me what kinds of problems do we solve, that was probably the very first thing that we were getting asked by clients. "Why should I transform? What's the world like today in terms of my competitive dynamics? What role could my company possibly play in this dynamic, and how can I realize that role by innovating somehow? What new mix of products, services, brands, experiences could I make that would bring this ambition to life and help the company transform?" Whew!
Max Traylor: Wow.
Barry Wacksman: That was long-winded, but-
Max Traylor: Can I just not ask any more questions and you can just continue?
Barry Wacksman: Your jaw's dropping. [crosstalk 00:14:56].
Max Traylor: That'd be a lot easier. I'm enjoying my Guinness, you know.
Barry Wacksman: Okay.
Max Traylor: No, well, take a sip. Geez. I mean, woo! Hey, so when I take notes on our previous conversation, I circle things that I think are really interesting. And you had told me that the biggest problem to transformation is getting buy-in or getting justification from the leadership team. Is it as simple as going on a rant as you just did, or how have you solved that problem as you transitioned from an organization that people seek out and people buy traditional agency services? But now you're selling strategy. Now you're selling transformation. That's a different animal.
Barry Wacksman: That's right.T here's a bunch of different interrelated issues here. After we became well-known for all this Nike work, we had a lot of clients that tried to engage with R/GA, and we were often being engaged by marketing departments of these very famous companies and brands, some of the biggest, most famous companies on the planet. They would be household names if I name any of them. And they were looking at that body of work and saying, "Wow, that's the kind of stuff we should be doing in my category." And so R/GA was engaged over and over again by some of these massive clients, and a couple of problems happened along the way. Number one, our teams were able to come up with a myriad of amazing ideas that I think we all knew, because we really understood the digital consumer and the digital economy and what people wanted at the time. We kind of knew that these ideas, if they were executed right, would probably be successful. They would really drive business value or ROI.
Barry Wacksman: But on the other side, the client side, we either had the problem that they couldn't feel confident in it, because they didn't feel that it was backed up by enough business thinking or it wasn't being solved at the right altitude. The client that was trying to engage us to create this new transformation just simply wasn't senior enough, and in some cases it might've been even a CMO of a company that wasn't senior enough to actually bring this thing to life. There are other stakeholders that in some cases were even more senior that needed to be activated. The reason why we started consulting in the very first place was to try to solve these two problems.
Barry Wacksman: One, we didn't have the right people to go to that higher altitude who could speak the language of CEOs and boards and whatnot. And number two, we certainly didn't have the people who could come up with the right sort of business thinking, business modeling, econometric thinking, et cetera. And I don't want to position our consulting team as being a bunch of just number geeks that just crunch out spreadsheets, because it's not that. We do have a bit of that, but they're much broader in terms of the types of business problems that they solve. As we were building it, we struggled for a couple of years and then suddenly it started taking off. And the reason was is that the clients had tried to hire us five, six, seven years ago on the back of all this famous Nike work that we failed with because we weren't working at the right altitude and we didn't have the right people.
Barry Wacksman: Now we're at a point in their history where they were facing maybe for the very first time, and in some cases for companies that had been around for 50 to 100 years, they were facing the very first time what we would classify as an existential crisis, where they weren't actually sure if they were going to be able to survive the next five years.
Max Traylor: An extinction event.
Barry Wacksman: An extinction event was looming on the horizon. The business was getting disrupted by forces way beyond what anybody had ever envisioned or imagined, and the competitive set that they had built the business around, the natural competitors that looked a lot like them that they were accustomed to competing against and were successful, they were winning against those competitors, they were now being confronted with an entirely new generation of competitors that we would describe as being asymmetrical. They looked nothing like these clients. Imagine that you're Walmart or Target or Safeway, and that was a competitive set I just rattled off, those guys all know how to compete against each other. And now imagine that you've got to compete against Bezos and Amazon. That's an asymmetrical competition that looks very different. Or your Ford, Toyota, General Motors, or Mercedes, and now you've got to compete against Tesla. That's an asymmetrical competition.
Barry Wacksman: Now you're competing against a company that doesn't even think that it's a car company. It's a saving the planet company, so it's a whole different level of ambition. And Tesla is an ecosystem player, so Musk's vision was not just to create cars, but it was to create cars, solar panels on the roof of your house, rechargeable batteries in your garage, gigafactories, hyperloops, all of these things connected as an ecosystem so that he could sell all of this stuff to the same consumer. Whereas Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Mercedes never were able to even figure out how to sell two cars to the same family, other than the fact that they might love the brand. There was no connection between any of these things that they made. Just words.
Max Traylor: I think that's funny. I laughed.
Barry Wacksman: They didn't need to.
Max Traylor: Go on, please. Don't let me stop you.
Barry Wacksman: They simply didn't need to. All they needed to do to be successful was make sure that they had enough variety and variation that they could serve the needs of a very wide swath of customers. The guy who wants the sporty vehicle, the family that wants a safe vehicle that can hold a lot of kids or whatever, the older gentleman driver, the younger whatever. And so they're horizontally integrated. They've got a lot of different models of cars. They've got a brand. The brand stands for something. The ultimate driving machine.
Barry Wacksman: This is a car for drivers who love the technology and the feel of driving, or this brand over here is a luxury brand. This brand over here is the value brand. It's got all the things that you need at exactly the right price where it feels like you're getting a really good deal or whatever. That's what the world was populated. And then out of the blue comes something like Tesla, which becomes a huge disruptor to the point where the guy doesn't even need to really run ads or anything like that. He could sell cars. His biggest problem was just the ability to actually make and distribute. It wasn't the ability to sell vehicles. That was not a problem for Elon.
Max Traylor: Which is the exact opposite of people that build a business on distribution.
Barry Wacksman: Those guys can manufacture until the cows come home. They know how to do that brilliantly. Selling and getting consumers stoked about what they make and driving demand is obviously their greater challenge.
Max Traylor: Well, what I liked, what was interesting about your story is that consulting came about in order to solve the problem of needing to speak with clients at a higher altitude and solve broader business problems. I don't know, it struck me as kind of the opposite of the way most people think about it. They say, "Oh, I want to do more consulting, and in order to do that we need to speak at a higher altitude." But you were driven by what you were best at, what you had made the decision that you needed to do, and in order to pursue those engagements, you needed to be positioned and you needed to sell something completely different.
Barry Wacksman: Yep.
Max Traylor: Talk to me about building out these teams, because earlier, I could imagine you being there, doing these things, kind of glowing, levitating, and someone else comes along and goes, "Great, now it's my job to get a team of people to replicate that magic."
Barry Wacksman: Right.
Max Traylor: How does that work? Because a lot of people are out there. They believe that they are the only ones that can do something. And if what you're describing, which is it has to require some amount of brilliance, and if you were able to create an organization to replicate that magic, anybody can.
Barry Wacksman: Again, really interesting set of circumstances that all kind of aligned at the same time. Now we're positioned as a transformation company. Companies are hiring us because they're facing these existential crises. They're looking for an innovation strategy to help lead them into the future so that they can become stable again and competitive again, and as it turns out, there's not a lot of obvious partners to turn to. There is a whole legacy of management consulting firms that have been around for a long time, and they have very deep relationships, and they're highly embedded with all of these clients that I could mention that we work with, but it turned out that those consultancies were largely failing those clients. Famously, they were failing them. They were charging a lot of money. They were taking a lot of time. They were delivering these very insightful decks full of all kinds of data and ideas, 250 page deck, and the client would look at it all this and say, "What the hell do I do with this?" It wasn't actionable for them.
Barry Wacksman: They didn't have any downstream capabilities to help take the idea and bring it to life. They couldn't design or build stuff historically. It was not on the set of capabilities that they had. It turned out that as it related to corporate innovation in this new digital age, they were woefully unequipped to let it really deliver it. And so we found a bit of a white space there, and we were never the very first choice of these clients. We were like often their second, third, fourth, or ninth choice. They already tried with both of these other guys and they weren't really getting anywhere, and we were able to build our consultancy in this new era, this new world. We were able to think about creating a range of [inaudible 00:00:24:20], and so that really became a hallmark of our work was to actually build strategy that was easy to [inaudible] how to turn it into action.
Barry Wacksman: And so a lot of what we ended up creating were things that were enabled clients to take the thousands of ideas they have and filter out the really bad ones. We got good at doing that kind of stuff. And the other thing that I think we uncovered was that there was this very strong connection as it relates to innovation between business and brand. And that's the other thing that often these guys lacked. In order for us to help transform these companies, we often either had to create new brands for them, and so there was this natural flow from a business strategy into a brand strategy and then a brand design, or we had to help them rethink their entire master brand. And so the two pillars of our business transformation practice are innovation consulting and brand transformation, as we call it. And so those two things involve both a strategic and a creative view of business, and they have abilities to not just come up with facts and strategies, but actually design things, new brands or re envision old brands.
Barry Wacksman: And then all of that work can feed into other teams at R/GA that are adept at designing and developing new things, new digital products, services, et cetera. And then all of that can feed into other teams at R/GA that know how to bring things to market, how to create campaigns and do marketing communications as it relates to the modern tools of brand building, how to build brands in the 21st century, how to gain customers, how to try to turn them into fans and members for the long haul, et cetera, how to connect with consumers and audiences at a time when media is highly diffused and fragmented. Young people don't want to pay any attention to something that smacks of an ad, and so all of this also requires transformation. The whole idea of marketing had to be transformed. The way that we used to do marketing doesn't work any longer. And so all of these things have transformation of the core.
Max Traylor: What was the most interesting thing about watching a whole team of people searched for, found, hired.
Barry Wacksman: Yeah.
Max Traylor: That's the question.
Barry Wacksman: Well, I went through two leadership teams. The first group of people that are hired, I think joined us at a time when we still hadn't quite figured things out. We didn't [inaudible] know what we were doing. We were still a little bit early [inaudible] now. We hadn't quite gotten clients [inaudible] 2016 starting to face these existential crises. And so my team circuit 2012 that I initially hired, we didn't figure out a way to be successful together, and they've all gone off and joined, and largely done other things. And then the team that came in about four years ago now has just been wildly successful, and so I got lucky.
Barry Wacksman: I found some amazing leadership game changers, some of the best people I've ever worked with, smartest people on earth, and they've been able to take this thing and really build it [inaudible] and they had the timing right. I would say that to be successful in this business, it's not just people, it's not just clients or whatever, there's also this whole timing factor, like timing the market right, having the right solution at the right time is key. And we've been lucky at R/GA because we've had the right solution for what the market needed at a couple of different places in our history, and that's largely how we've transformed the business over the years. The original founders of R/GA were pioneers of the visual effects revolution or Hollywood. They were building out technology in feature film visual effects at a time when that was poised to take off. 1977, that's the year that Star Wars came out. And R/GA was founded in '77 around this disruption of computers coming into film process. Hey! We have a visitor.
Max Traylor: Yeah. Little boy in the background.
Barry Wacksman: Yeah, yeah. Let him have some beer.
Max Traylor: He doesn't drink, so, you know.
Barry Wacksman: I was going to say give him some beer!
Max Traylor: That'd be a fun one. Well, look, you say luck, I heard focus and patience.
Barry Wacksman: Yeah, we could be that too.
Max Traylor: Because you saw something, and a lot of people, "Oh, well, I've got this really good idea. It's hard to sell. People don't want to buy it." I mean, you believed in this thing. You saw it coming and it took a little while. It took an entire leadership team coming and going, and hiring a whole new leadership team before it really took off. And those are the difference-makers. It does require timing, but we're not sitting there rubbing a rabbit's foot going, "I hope we're prepared." You prepared it, you had methodologies, and you stuck with it, and then the market finally caught up to you.
Barry Wacksman: I think that's right. It happened to us a couple times, by the way. In the early days, R/GA-
Max Traylor: Once it happens to you once, it tends to happen to you again.
Barry Wacksman: Yeah, I guess that's true, but what's remarkable is that so many of the companies that I look at that inhabit this broader space of agencies or consultancies or whatnot largely have been making kind of the same things throughout their entire history, and they haven't really been pushed in a direction of having to invent new services. I find that remarkable that we're in this service industry, and that we as agencies or consultancies are actually pretty bad generally at creating nuance. It's like, wow, that's pretty crazy. And if you look at the work products of some of the most famous ad agencies, they're kind of making the same thing and a little bit the same way that they've done for 50 years. It's changed a bit. I don't want to be that much of a naysayer, or I don't mean to insult them. Some of these companies are amazing. They do incredible work, but what they haven't necessarily proven is their adeptness at creating new services. That's something that I think we've always been pretty good at R/GA. There's many things that we've tried [crosstalk 00:30:43]-
Max Traylor: It's doing the same things better versus doing something completely [crosstalk 00:30:46].
Barry Wacksman: Yeah, doing the same things better. Right. Modernizing them slightly for a new age. But the output of most ad agencies is still narrative pieces of communication, and most creative teams that work inside of ad agencies, for them, the thing that gets them the most excited and the thing that they most want to make is videos. Whether they play them on TV or on YouTube or whatever, that's the thing that they're most jazzed about making to this day.
Max Traylor: Well, what does the future look like for someone like you that has built a career off of figuring out what's coming next and sticking to it? What are you most excited about? Is it delivering these concepts in a way that can impact more people, or is it something completely new?
Barry Wacksman: There's always going to be new things that emerge, and we know them when we see them and we start to try to build businesses around them. At the same time that we started our consulting business, 2012, about a year after that, we actually started a [inaudible] R/GA and that's been another exciting development that's been highly successful. We're probably the only company that again, was like a digital agency back in the day, that was successful at building a ventures business, and many other firms tried over the years to try to create either incubators or labs or something along those lines. We have a very robust ventures program that's now held up as being one of the best programs in the world for startups that we've now incubated close to 120 companies. We work on behalf of very large corporate sponsors who are looking to R/GA to help partner with them to understand the world of startups as it relates to their category.
Max Traylor: Is there any focus to the types of companies in your incubator program?
Barry Wacksman: Currently we've got programs sponsored by Mars. You know, the big candy packaged goods company. That's called the Leap Venture Studio and it's focused on their pet care division. We've done a couple of programs with a big Australian bank called Macquarie. It's one of the largest investors in the world in infrastructure technology. That was the focus of those programs. We just announced a program on data privacy that we're recruiting the sponsors for at the moment, so we don't have them. And probably the most famous program that R/GA runs is called the Global Sports Venture Studio, which is looking at the future of sports and entertainment. And it's a multi-sponsored program that has about 11 different companies ranging from Major League Soccer, UEFA, which is the European Soccer League, NHL, Adidas, Dick's Sporting Goods. There's a whole range of companies that are sponsors of that program.
Max Traylor: Final question. I always just look at my beer as like, when I run out of beer, I don't have the patience to keep talking.
Barry Wacksman: Okay.
Max Traylor: But what's the business model behind that, if you don't mind me asking? What kind of work are you putting into these programs, and what do you look as the financial or strategic payback?
Barry Wacksman: We started [inaudible] 2013 based on a bunch of factors that were happening at that period of time. It was one of these historical periods where the startup thing was really taking off again. We had a lot of people who worked at R/GA that were being lured away to work on startups, and so we wanted to create a bit of a career experience for our employees to be able to work with startups without actually having to leave the company. It was one thing that was happening 2013. Two, we were looking at alternative business models for ourselves. Was there another way for us to make money besides selling our services by the hour to big Fortune 500 companies? And then the third thing was our clients were looking at... And many of them had their own ventures arms or they were sponsoring programs with firms like Techstars and other companies that were involved in running accelerators and incubators.
Barry Wacksman: They were looking at making sure that they as organizations understood the world of startups that were coming into their industry so that they could A, make sure that they weren't going to get disrupted by somebody. B, think about things to acquire or make investments in, or at least do pilots with to see if there might be some startup out there that could help jumpstart innovation inside of a mature business. And so these three factors came together at circa 2013, and it led us to create the very first program of R/GA Ventures. The original idea was that we were going to invest in startups. [inaudible] some period of time. While they were here, they were going to gain access to R/GAs talent. That was really the draw for most of the startups.
Barry Wacksman: For the first time, there was now a program, an accelerator that you could join, where you could get access to the world class talent of a company like R/GA that could help you execute your business idea at a much different level than what you can do with the team that you've cobbled together with the money that you've raised at the time. And we called this idea creative capital. That was the thing that we could bring to startups was our creative capital. It was beyond the idea of financial capital, which you could get from a seed investor or a venture partner or whatever, and this was the main differentiator of the R/GA Ventures program. And so we did two programs [inaudible] the investor. There were [inaudible] category of IOT connected devices.
Barry Wacksman: We had just come off the back of helping develop things like the Nike Fuel Band at the time, so we knew a lot about wearable devices and connected types of products. And so we self-invested in these first two programs, and it got so much press and PR that suddenly all these corporations read about it and said, "Wow, what you guys are doing sounds amazing. We were thinking about doing an accelerator for our business. Could we hire you to run it for us?" And so it immediately, within a year, turned into a new service offering of R/GA. And it's something that we get paid money by the corporate sponsors to run the programs, and we have equity stakes in the startups. And so we now have [inaudible] 14 companies and some of them are quite mature, and there's going to be a bunch of exits that will happen in the coming years where we'll have these windfalls of money that are based on the equity stakes that we have.
Max Traylor: That is a good story.
Barry Wacksman: I thought you might like that one.
Max Traylor: Yeah. Well, look, I'm getting [crosstalk 00:37:18]-
Barry Wacksman: In 2019, I think we did six different [inaudible 00:37:21].
Max Traylor: Well, I'm getting the magic notification from the wonderful people at Comcast. Thank you again. You've been kind of cutting in and out, but it's interesting enough where I don't care. No one else is going to care. This has been brilliant stuff. Thank you. That's really all I have to say. I hope you've enjoyed your beer. I'm drinking Guinness, so you know I love it.
Barry Wacksman: I know, I know. [inaudible 00:37:47].
Max Traylor: You know, old faithful, but wow! Thank you.
Barry Wacksman: Cheers, Max. Great doing this.
Max Traylor: Cheers to you too.
Barry Wacksman: All right. Have a good one.
Max Traylor: Bye now.
Barry Wacksman: Bye bye