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Today is an important day

I set up this business in 2009 from a small, subsidised office on York St John university campus. I see that office every day. I see it from the bathroom because my house I am in now overlooks it. Every day I am reminded of the start of AWA, or Applied Web Analytics, as it was once called.

Today is an important day. A day that changes the view from the bathroom.

For a long time I didn’t know I was running an agency. Obvious now, but at the time it wasn’t. Agencies, I was told, had to have a ‘point of view’. A way of looking at the world. That weighed heavy on me. What was our perspective? What did we believe in?

We believed in Evidence over Opinion, definitely – but was that enough? Was that a perspective that resonated with the team, our clients and supporters. Well, actually it did – and does. If you ask any of our team what we believe in ‘Evidence over Opinion’ comes right back at you. But was it a way of looking at things? A credo? Probably not.

Things changed in January 2019.

Johann, my business partner, returned from his Christmas break announcing that he had read 98 books and 26 journal articles during his time off. I am a big reader too, but 98!! 

And what was the one that stuck in your head the most, I asked?

Stefan Thomke.

I was to hear that name many times over the next two years. 

Stefan wrote persuasively about the power of business experiments. Split tests, in other words. The same sort of tests that we had been running for our clients for years; aimed at trying to increase conversion rates and revenue per visitor.

But these were ‘business experiments’. Experiments designed to answer business questions. So much more than ‘did my conversion rate go up?’. Business experiments were about using the scientific principles of testing to guide the organisation to make smart decisions. Ones based on data – customer data – rather than the guesses, hunches and well-meaning opinions of internal people.

And this wasn’t just a theory in some obscure academic paper. Experimentation had been used by Amazon, Booking.com, Netflix  and Google to scale their business. Bezos, himself, had said 

“Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per day”

That April I went to see Johann present at Ecommerce Africa in Cape Town and he talked eloquently (as he always does) about how Ronny Kohavi’s team at Microsoft grew Bing sales by 55% – one experiment at a time.

It dawned on me then. This is something we believe in. We had been running tests for our clients since 2012 when we worked with Paperchase, our first CRO client.

Then the wheels slowly started to turn. An internal strategy session. Discussions with clients about how experimentation could help their business. A deck created to present this new proposition, tested on agency owners; as a proxy for prospective clients who were all in lockdown. Feedback and refinements. Copywriter engaged to convert my eleven pages of ramblings into service offerings. 

And then another idea. Let’s start a conference series about experimentation. And who better to start it all off than Johann’s man crush, Stefan Thomke. By then, Stefan had published his book Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments. None of us could think of a more apt title for our conference than ‘Experimentation Works’.

Because we believe that it does – experimentation works.

For our first Experimentation Works in September 2020 we had 408 registrations, and Stefan Thomke after his keynote was joined by a panel – Lukas Vermeer from Booking.com, Peter Gray from Wall Street Journal and Hazjier Pourkhalkhali from Optimizely.

After, I remember walking home from the office in York amazed that we had pulled off such an event. 

We now knew who we were, what we wanted to talk about and what we believed in.

Our second event got even more attendees. 

But all of this belief had to take shape in new offerings for new clients. We didn’t want to abandon CRO – many of our clients want this – but we now needed to offer experimentation. 

This comes in two sizes – Prototype and Testing (a toe in the water, if you like, to test the core assumptions behind your new idea) and full-scale Experimentation programmes. We now also offer Capability Transfer – where we teach you how to do it for yourself. This is what some clients had been asking for and we’ve already done it for BAM.

Turning a belief and a proposition into a new brand is never easy. We tested this with our clients – thanks to Jim at Interflora, Ryan at BAM and Richard at Avventura Travel – and were guided by brand guru James Henderson from Brilliant Path. When you believe in ‘evidence over opinion’ assessing new designs is tough – we were just using opinions.

The evidence comes later, from paying clients.

It’s an experiment, after all.

Finally, thanks to Nicole who made all of this possible.   

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