David Mathison: New Media Activist, Author, and Founder of the CDO Club

November 02, 2020 Alex Romanovich
David Mathison: New Media Activist, Author, and Founder of the CDO Club
From corporate academia to entrepreneurship
Transformation to become more relevant
Adapting the new digital economy
Evolving CDO Club globally by travelling
David Mathison: New Media Activist, Author, and Founder of the CDO Club
Nov 02, 2020
Alex Romanovich

David Mathison is an author, blogger, speaker, entrepreneur, new media activist and event producer. He is best known for his book, Be The Media, an encyclopedic guide to how individuals, organizations, and non-profits can use new media platforms to become content creators and distributors and reach audiences previously reserved for giant corporations. David Mathison is the CEO and founder of the CDO Club and CDO Summit.

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David Mathison is an author, blogger, speaker, entrepreneur, new media activist and event producer. He is best known for his book, Be The Media, an encyclopedic guide to how individuals, organizations, and non-profits can use new media platforms to become content creators and distributors and reach audiences previously reserved for giant corporations. David Mathison is the CEO and founder of the CDO Club and CDO Summit.

Listen NOW!

For more information on David, social media links, biography and exclusive materials, please visit our website.

Support the show (

Alex Romanovich (00:00):
Hi, this is Alex Romanovich, and welcome to GlobalEdgeTalk. Today we have an amazing guest, David Mathison, who is the CEO and founder of the Chief Digital Officer's Club and Chief Digital Officers Summit. David is the world's leading authority on anything, chief digital and data officers, and he has taken this organization globally. And that's why we're very happy to have David with us in our studio. David, welcome.

David Mathison (00:29):
Thanks, Alex. Great to join you. Wonderful.

Alex Romanovich (00:31):
There's just so much to talk about when it comes to global, and global marketing, and global entrepreneurship, and I felt that our audience could immensely benefit from your presence, from your interview. Very quickly about your background. You've done a lot of different things, very corporate and very entrepreneurial. You have a degree from Columbia University. You've done work for major brands like Thomson Reuters, connect to later on Oracle, you've traveled all over the world. You've been involved with the United Nations, you've been a speaker, you published a book called BE THE MEDIA. By the way, our audience will be very interested to know that a lot of the links to these resources will be available on the landing page next to this recording. And, David, then you decided to go into a very different direction, in the direction of entrepreneurship and start a Chief Digital Officer's Club. What does that path? Tell us a little bit about that wonderful path from corporate academia to being an entrepreneur.

David Mathison (01:41):
Thanks, Alex. It's great to join you and really appreciate your kind comment. My core background is very entrepreneurial on both at startups and large incumbents. And certainly when I joined first, I was one of the first 10 people hired at a startup, which really cut my teeth on being an entrepreneur. We were very small company in the late 1980s, we had created a natural language search interface into complex data, medical data. So if you typed in 'AIDS', we'd map you into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. If you typed in 'heart attack', we mapped into myocardial infarction. So this way doctors and nurses were getting relatively sophisticated searches on complex databases without the need for a medical librarian.

David Mathison (02:29):
And that company took off, I was a young kid at Columbia doing this part time. And every time the CEO of that company hired a new employee, you would rent out a new apartment in this six door walk up on a 100 and 10th and Amsterdam, pretty rough neighborhood back in the day. And a couple of years later, boom, he had moved into Fred the Furrier's or Fur Vault in the Garment District. And this was well before like 10 years before Silicon Valley got that name. He was one of the pioneers in that space and we literally cleared out Fred the Furrier's Fur Vault and put a bunch of servers and open desk arrangements. So forget it from that point on, I was really hooked on tech and I worked for both large companies like Reuters. So in the mid nineties, they saw the internet coming, which could be a threat to their global satellite distribution system. I saw it as an opportunity. So I created a number of business plans really quickly. Do an agile befor agile, using metadata before metadata.

David Mathison (03:29):
Really pioneering RSS, or really simple syndication four or five years before that acronym even came out for Reuters. So at that time, I'd built about five or six products for Reuters. They were delighted, you'd normally took 5 to 10 years to build product at big company. It has always turned in stuff around in months. And this was 95 to 98 and I decided, I'm going to jump out. And with Reuter's blessing, I went out from New York, left for the West coast, packed up my bags, Beverly hillbillies style and raised 30 million in two years and basically productize that for other companies that syndication technology and that eventually got bought by Stellan, which was bought by Oracle for 440 million in 2004. So at that point I kind of took a little bit of time off and wrote a book, but found my way back to New York. And to answer your question directly on how did I get here? I just happened to start seeing that CDOs were being hired at this incredible pace.

David Mathison (04:29):
And yet there were a couple of big sectors that should've been paying attention that weren't. Those two big sectors were the big consultants: Accenture, Capgemini, McKinsey, IBM, you name it. And then on the other big group was the consultants like Gartner, and Forrester, and IDC and others, which they didn't really have a dedicated digital practice along data. And the same talk, executive recruiters should have been paying attention because there is a tremendous demand and very little supply for seasoned executives. Who've been through this. So I incubated this CDO Club and CDO Summit at a boutique executive search firm in New York City, Elig group presented it at the Harvard Club. My presentation on this in 2011 to a group of Fortune 50 CHROs and they were so enthusiastic about me continuing the research that I eventually left Elig group and started the CDO Club in 2011. And then two years later, we started doing summits and we got to the point where we're doing CDO Summits just about every month, somewhere in the world, eight years in New York, five years in Tokyo and Tel Aviv, three years in Sydney, and London, and Amsterdam and other places.

David Mathison (05:41):
So, just a really good reception to this. And now with COVID, the great quote, Alex, and I'll leave it, there is the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, famously said a couple of weeks ago, that digital transformation agendas that we're going to take a few years have now been compressed into a couple of months. And that I think, it is exactly summing up the current situation we're in Chief Digital Officers in particular are being called on to do these Herculean tasks, like, okay, within the next week we got to get 80,000 people to out of our offices in New York City and into work from home situation needs to be private and secure and 24/7 availability, boom, things that were on the digital transformation horizon that would have been like nice to have three or four years from now are now like being fully implemented. So these are crazy times. And the sad news, obviously, with millions unemployed and hundreds of thousands of people dying, it's no time to gloat or boast, but certainly this group and this community is being called on in an unprecedented way to helm the ships and get them through these uncharted territories, hopefully safely.

Alex Romanovich (07:00):
Very true, very true. It's kind of interesting. I've noticed the same thing that a lot of the companies if part of their agenda was growth, expansion, acquisition, mergers and so forth. Now it's about relevance. It's about how do we stay relevant? How do we leverage what we have and how do we leverage what's in front of us under these very difficult circumstances? Share with us, you have a unique ability to rub elbows with all of the major brands and then heads of digital, which is an extremely important part of any business. Tell us a little bit more about what are some of the companies, what are some of these companies doing to speed up this transformation and/or to become what to stay more relevant?

David Mathison (07:51):
Absolutely. And I think your community will benefit from a link that that you'll be sharing, which is just a one hour video. And my portion of that is just 15 minutes. And I promise you, take a look at that video and in 15 minutes your listeners will get caught up to speed over the last 10 years of me doing deep dive research on this. And quite frankly, the big news was this what Q1 2020 was by far the best quarter that digital and data people have ever had. And I'm going by that by real numbers. I mean, I'm not looking at profitability, we're not going looking at this profits over people, quite the opposite, Alex. This experience over the last quarter has really put people over profits. I mean, staying safe at home.

David Mathison (08:42):
So what does that entail for a Chief Digital, Chief Data Officer? Well, it could be getting folks working from home, but our move, our background on this space has really been from leadership and not technology because technology is changing so fast. It's the leaders that are the ones who are going to drag these analog companies into the digital age and hopefully get them through this pandemic. And if they go to that link, there were actually two really good links on there on my portion of the landing page that says exactly how our Chief Digital Officers dealing with COVID-19 and number two, how are our chief data and analytics officers responding to COVID-19? And because it's such a deep question and it's T-shaped right, it's wide and it's deep. What I've done is I've compiled it as sort of like a best of.

David Mathison (09:31):
So for example, in that article, you can see links to a piece by the global head of consumer business at the weather channel on how to track the pandemic. Of course, the weather channel has so much data that we can use. That's important right now, same thing with El AL airlines. He wrote a piece, that chief data officer there on dos and don'ts during a crisis from a data perspective. So I think, rather than get into all that kind of level of detail on this call, it really depends on what sector people are in, what companies they're in, what their cash position is, whether they're or not going to be able to last, talk about a lot of number of higher education, universities that will not coming back.

David Mathison (10:14):
So these are unprecedented times, but I hope that those links will give your listeners of view into it across a couple of different companies and sectors, including by no small token, by the non-profit community and groups like centers for disease control, for example, non-profit organizations that are really have a leading role to play in this. In April, they put up an advertisement that they were looking for a chief data officer, we were kind of scratching our heads and saying, wait a minute, you guys didn't have one already. But again, the need for these people, it's people with data digital and security skills is such in demand right now. And that just got ratcheted it up by an order of magnitude because of the COVID situation.

Alex Romanovich (10:57):
Very, very interesting. So you mentioned something that's really interesting that a lot of the digital transformation plans and strategies and so forth have been accelerated and literally compressed by not just months, but even in some cases years, right? So how is this possible? How is this possible that companies that have been planning and strategizing to do this over the next three to five years are now doing this in a matter of weeks, in a matter of months?

David Mathison (11:30):
Amazing, isn't it?

Alex Romanovich (11:30):
Yes, it is, absolutely. And does that mean that there was a lot of cushion in there or does this mean that things can really be done when stressed or, I mean, what are some of the learnings that we can get from this?

David Mathison (11:43):
The simple answer was there were forced, right? And if they weren't forced into it, it would have been business as usual. And what is business as usual? It usually consists of it's driven by the sales and marketing team. And so, up until COVID hit and the stay at home order really in the quarantine hit it was business as usual, how do we keep the pipeline moving? How do we continue to get revenues, and here wasn't looking at. Look, there are four cornerstones to successful digital transformation, right? One is increasing revenues, right? Taking analog company or analog products and turning them into digital, two is lowering costs. So one is increased profits to lower costs, three cut expenses, three would be improving customer service through chatbots and through online services. And then four is an improving your operational efficiencies.

David Mathison (12:37):
So I would say like work from home, where does that sit? Was it top priority for the sales and marketing team? It was always numbers driven, but now, I mean, they were forced into it. They had to do it. And it just goes to show that it wasn't that big of a deal that if you really wanted to prioritize it. And by the way, that goes into number two, which is cutting costs and number four, which is improving operational efficiencies, both of those still lead to increase profits. You don't have to do number one, increase revenues, to improve your margins. You can cut costs. So I think, if big companies were forced into making a decision that they thought was a nice to have. They didn't want to rock the boat.

David Mathison (13:18):
And big factor is trust. Do we trust our employees to be able to do the job if they're competing with the laundry and feeding the cat and the kids? And I will speaking from 30 years of experience, I will say that working from home, it's a self-selecting group. There are people like I've got people in my organization we've always been, we've always worked from home. We're a virtual company, but the people that I choose to work with me, they need to show loyalty, consistency, dedication, passion, they need to build beyond what's expected,and I pick my employees that way, that I don't need to micromanage my employees, but you and I know there's a lot of employees get distracted by the shiny new, Hey, look over there, it's a squirrel. And those are not the people you want on your team right now. So I think we're all going to start seeing, we're already seeing the furloughs. We're seeing the layoffs. I think that the companies that will survive will be those are the ones that can figure out, who are those people, those all-stars that can work from home and actually be more productive instead of less.

Alex Romanovich (14:19):
Very, very interesting. Before we get to your travels and your global experience with different countries, let's just stay on this topic for just a little bit. Let's sort of take out the crystal ball and David's crystal ball. So let's fast forward 6 months, 12 months. Do you think that companies will go back to the way that they've done business before? Or do you think that they will tremendously modify the way they need to sort of adapt to the new digital economy, the optimization efficiencies as you just mentioned, optimization of resources, making sure that indeed the employees who are working remotely or continuing to work remotely will be true to what they need to do? I mean, look at Twitter, Twitter just announced that all of the employees can continue to work from home. What does this take us?

David Mathison (15:21):
Yeah, I think that's the direction. I think just everybody is, just every large company is rethinking commercial real estate. And whether you need to have those multi-million dollar a month leases on office space in New York City, when no one's coming in and it gets harder and harder. So I think the smart ones will survive. Let's go back to, again that 15 minute presentation I gave that your listeners will have a link to. But in that 15 minutes, I listed the potential successes and the potential failures, iif we take that crystal ball out 6 months, we're already seeing the failures, right? So by that, I mean, those that are at risk, those sectors have most risk and we've already named a couple, but certainly airlines, anything related to hospitality, anything that's going to involve foot traffic, physical foot traffic, walking through the doors of the corridors of the runways.

David Mathison (16:11):
Those companies are all going to have serious issues, J. Crew already filing for bankruptcy, the gap, we've got serious issues at bed bath and beyond, on and on. But all of those companies that I just mentioned were all the ones at most risk for digital transformation anyway, right? Those are the ones that are being outclassed now, gone by Amazon and online shopping. So it's, again, this inevitable, this push that was inevitable that may have lasted years has now been truncated. So again, going back to those sectors at risk: airlines, hotels, hospitality, bars, restaurants, venues. Look at me, I'm in the events business, as well as our global community, that whole business has completely changed. And even as the quarantine or the stay at home was lifted tomorrow, taking out a crystal ball and trying to figure out when people will be able to get over that psychological barrier of going to an event, hopping in a car or getting on a subway, and taking the train, and booking a hotel, and meeting 200 people, and getting on the subway and going backwards the whole way back home.

David Mathison (17:12):
When do you think you will be willing to do that, Alex? I think it's a personal question that makes it really hard to forecast, but that would be the ones that are at risk. Now the sectors that are going like gangbuster would be any of the tech: Google, Amazon, Facebook, they all announced quarterly earnings. Amazon, Apple, they're going through the roof, right? Better quarters than they had this time last year. And then other sectors that are doing well, look at DoorDash, just hire another 175,000 shoppers. Amazon just hired another 200,000 people. So, the certain sectors are doing well. Now, having said that even the sectors that are doing poorly, we still see the Chief Digital Officers are playing a critical role. So even ask those companies cut all the discretionary expenses T&E, travel, going to events, flying on planes.

David Mathison (18:00):
And now they're starting to cut labs, innovation, strategy. The good news is a lot of these digital people are staying on right till the very end, when big companies go bankrupt, the key people that they keep on very, very lucrative contracts are those that they know they are strategic to the survival of the company. So even in the sectors that are having a tough time, we are still seeing that digital people aren't really going out of work. By the way, I usually get five to 10 emails a week from people at the C-suite or either who either know that their time is limited at that company or who are looking actively looking. I used to get 5 to 10 of those a week. I only received one email from someone in the community who was laid off. I can't say the company, but it was in the retail sector. It makes sense, but that's unusual. So again, it's like an upside-down world, Alex. The whole world has gone upside down. And yet chief digital and chief data officers seem to be even more in demand now than they were in before

Alex Romanovich (19:03):
It does make sense.

David Mathison (19:05):
And by the way, the other at-risk sectors include stuff that you wouldn't think. I mean, maybe people in college would think about it, but certainly higher ed. They're going to have a very hard time making a comeback, getting students and teachers back into classroom settings. So I think the one that are already doing, the MOOCs will be spine, the course areas and the cons people are signing up like crazy, right? For things like that, as well as Slack and Microsoft teams and any collaboration tools, those are all doing fine. And we'll be doing well.

Alex Romanovich (19:36):
It's not just higher education. I mean I have two kids and one is in high school, the other one is in the intermediate school. And I'm not sure if they want to go back, I'll be honest with you. They're having a great time doing this remotely. They're also playing games. I mean, the gaming industry is going gangbusters. And they're actually doing more work because they don't have to spend their time traveling back and forth. They're doing more work digitally and via this digital and interactive type of communications with the teachers than they would have done in the classroom. Of course, it's difficult to replace this type of interactive, human interactive type of communications. It makes sense to return to that, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon, or if it will, it's going to be very, very different.

David Mathison (20:35):
Well, I know this is a kind of a conservative outlook, but having you and I, we've been through downturns in 2008 and other, Y2K. We've been through some crazy issues, but in my opinion, I'm conserving cash for two to four year downturn. And even when the quarantine is listed and we start getting back to work, I don't think the economy is going to rise. I certainly think if you were a startup right now, and you were trying to get your recent round of funding done, forget about that. It's either not going to get funded or all the previous investors are going to get a cramdown round, where the valuation is lower than the previous round, or they're just going to go out of business, going to be a lot of blood on the streets and M&A activity.

David Mathison (21:17):
So I think, what we're trying to do, I think that the conservative approach would be absent any new revenues, just make sure your cast position is such that you can cover your burn, your monthly burn right now has got to last for a couple of years. And I don't care what company you're in, all your revenue plans are out the window at this point and have to be completely re-evaluated. And also now's the time to trim the staff, find out who those star employees are. The worst thing you could do though is do a riff or do a cut right now and just cut a little bit and then find out and tell everybody that's left, Hey, we're glad you're still on the team. And then have to do a deeper riff, 6 months from now.

David Mathison (21:55):
Look, after my, I did a third round. When I raised around a connector, I raised a million dollar series A, $12 billion B, and the last round was at $17 million round led by Adobe, grounded ventures. That's $17 million. At that point, I had a million dollar a month burn rate. That money was going to last us a year, year and a half. And this was November of 2000 Alex. So as a chairman of the board, I said, look, we've got to make some hard decisions here. Let's make some cuts. They were like, bring it from 80, from a 100 to 80 employees. I was like, no, we're bringing it from a hundred employees to 25. We're going to last four to five years with the cash we have and no money. That's the approach you need to take right now, I think. Because maybe things will lift in six months, but the economy isn't coming back for at least, as I said, a year to two years, minimum, I hate to be a naysayer, but it's better to be prepared.

Alex Romanovich (22:49):
Absolutely. Let's talk about your travels. I know that you're a global guy. You're always on the edge. That's why you're a wonderful guest on GlobalEdgeTalk. And I know that you probably miss a lot of that travel, and a lot of the conferencing, and a lot of conferences that you hold in Tel Aviv, and Tokyo, and Amsterdam, and the Croatian, everywhere else. What sort of has been your prior to COVID-19, what has been your interesting experience? Tell us a couple of stories about your interesting experience as it relates to CDO Club, maybe, some of the differences you see between different countries and how that is sort of unraveling and how it's developing. And also, I know that you've, I just follow you on Facebook and some other social media, I know you have frequent a guest in Australia, you get to Asia, some of the Asian countries. Tell us a couple of really interesting stories in how the CDO Club has sort of evolved globally. And what are some of the differences you've seen there?

David Mathison (24:04):
Yeah, that's a great question. And one that no one has asked me yet. Actually, that has been the best part of my job because for the last 10 years,10 years ago out, there were only as cause we met very early on in this process. There were only about a 100, 200 people with that exact title in 2010, 2011 and watching it, and actually pushing it to grow all over the world. The first thing I did was I did an event in London, right after New York we did an event at the BBC. And then shortly after that we did one close to the Sydney Opera House in Sydney. And what was amazing to me in the early days was being able to see firsthand, the pioneers and the people who've been like way ahead of the curve, those exemplars and the people charged with best practices.

David Mathison (24:58):
And so, for example, in London I was lucky enough to meet with Mike Bracken, who was the executive director of government digital service there. We gave him the CDO of the year award in London in 2014 for his work. Basically his pitch was he came in and he inherited 5,000, 6,000 government websites and he turned it all into one. How do you take 6,000 websites and make just one. Well, he wanted to make government services easy to use as Google. He wanted to make government access as simple as going to Amazon. And he did it. I mean, an incredible, incredible job. And in my opinion, he was years ahead of government service in any other country in the world by far. And then one of his proteges was an American Paul Shetler, he spoke at the event in London at the BBC.

David Mathison (25:47):
And then fast forward a year I meet him in Australia. The day I arrived in Australia we were going to do our event at the University of Technology in Sydney, the Business School there, Frank Gehry building. And I turn on the news day I arrive, I opened up the newspaper on the front page of the newspaper - it's Paul Shetler, the new chief digital officer for all of Australia, pulled out of London, an American guy and reporting directly into the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. And like I said, I arrived at that day in Sydney and I see Paul Shetler shaking hands at the UTS Business School with the prime minister of Australia. So that's how important this stuff is. And that's the heavy kinds of relationships that we've had where you meet a guy that he sits on a panel one day in London, the next day is reporting into the prime minister of a country.

David Mathison (26:36):
Same thing in Israel. I was giving a speech in Israel, in the back of the room was this really, really big guy like real ox, seven foot tall, strong comes up to me and after it says, Hey, I'm giving a presentation at Microsoft in Israel tomorrow. Can you join me? I want you to present on what you did. So I get there and arrived tight security. It turns out it was a presentation in front of all the government ministers of Israel on digital Israel. And this guy was an ex-Navy seal in the Israeli Mossad, who was a frightening looking guy, but like really, really smart. They made him the head, the CEO of digital Israel. So, it's just crazy how quickly these leaders are being called on to take over responsibilities on such a global scale. And that to me is what I miss about traveling. But in a lot of ways, I don't miss getting into airports, and airplanes, and hotels, and taxis. It's been nice not having to travel. And that comes from a guy who's got a degree from Columbia and international business. That's been kind of nice these last four months to actually get real work done and not have to hop on another plane.

Alex Romanovich (27:40):
David, the stories are amazing. And I actually would love to invite you back at some time, at some point in time and continue this conversation. One last question I have so that we always try to end our conversations with this question. There are a lot of global entrepreneurs that may be listening to this conversation. What is your advice? What should be the advice from you has been all over the world, who's done digital traditional work and so forth? If I'm an entrepreneur right now at this moment, what should I be doing?

David Mathison (28:20):
I take it to a photography, I really love amateur enthusiast. And the thing that strikes me most about your question is here's what's my approach to photography. If you see something that makes you say, Hm, you know what? You don't see that every day, grab your camera. If you see something in front of you where like, that's unusual, grab your camera and take a photo. Because most likely, no one else has seen it either. And I would say for entrepreneurs to take that same approach, if you see something that you think needs to be done or that can improve efficiencies, increased costs, there are so many ways, it's so inexpensive to start a business today, just get started because I knew nothing about events 10 years ago, knew nothing about building a community. I'm a tech guy.

David Mathison (29:05):
And now I'm an entrepreneur, but as an entrepreneur, when you see a hockey stick growth curve, like I saw in 2011, just go for it. And then once you've done that, you've got to be consistent, you've got to be dedicated. We stuck with this through some pretty tough times, and this is probably arguably the toughest time people will ever have to go through, these are also the optimal times to start new businesses. Because as we talked about in the beginning of the call, all kinds of things that were on the back burner. Now people are seeing just how easily and how quickly these things can be implemented. So there's no better time to be an entrepreneur than right now.

Alex Romanovich (29:44):
What a great, great answer, what a great story. With your permission, by the way, I would love to feature some of your photographs. I absolutely enjoy them. You are a pro at this, and I totally enjoy some of the angles, and some of the things that you do see that are so unusual, that is so unique. So with your permission, we would love to post some of the photographs from you and share with the audience.

David Mathison (30:11):
Sure. Be delighted. Thank you, Alex.

Alex Romanovich (30:13):
David, thank you so much for being with us. I'd love to continue this conversation. I'd love to invite you back in the future. And wishing you good health, stay well and I know that you and I will see each other very soon.

David Mathison (30:28):
Likewise, Alex, thanks again for having me. I look forward to joining you again.

New Speaker (30:31):
Thank you, David.

From corporate academia to entrepreneurship
Transformation to become more relevant
Adapting the new digital economy
Evolving CDO Club globally by travelling