Late in the evening on Black Friday, less than a month after Senior VP of Engineering Arvind Krishnan had joined marketing infrastructure platform Bluecore, one of the company’s competitors went down. The competitor’s clients couldn’t get their advertising to people during a peak season — and for smaller retailers, that can be a death sentence. Those clients needed a rescue, and fast.
Bluecore team members across the globe sprinted to their computers, minds racing for the best solutions for their customers. It didn’t matter what time of day it was — late in the evening to early morning — their clients needed help.
“It was not about Bluecore, and it was not about the competitor,” said Krishnan. “It was about asking what we can do to make sure you’re successful — that you get the right information to your customers.”
The employees on that call never reveled in the failure of their competitor — nor did they consider leveraging their client’s desperation in any way. As Krishnan sat and listened to the hectic flood of voices on the call, all he heard was empathy, teamwork and problem solving.
“It was amazing,” Krishnan said. “I was pretty new, so I was just sitting on the sidelines watching this team come together and get the customer into a really good headspace and then solve their problem. They worked through the evening — through the night — and we did what was right for the customer.”
“Karma is real.”
Moments like these provide a glimpse into why Bluecore manages the second-largest product catalog in the business, second only to Amazon. As a vertical product built specifically for retail that uses AI to track and analyze consumer shopping data to personalize marketing content, Bluecore provides an essential service to retailers looking to maximize their advertising power.
But it takes more than a useful product to scale successfully. You also need a team that’s excited about their job — both the work itself and the people and culture around it. And as Krishnan witnessed in November of 2021, Bluecore has both a product worth selling and a team that’s motivated to do the best they can for their customers.
Built for Retail
Co-founder and CTO Mahmoud Arram has worked in and adjacent to retail for a long time. Initially, he worked at a software company that sold technology to retail businesses, and later he worked in the retail space itself, before founding Bluecore.
“It may sound like it was part of some grand scheme where I was driving toward something like Bluecore — but in reality, I was always fascinated by retail,” said Arram. His experience inspired him to build a product fine-tuned to the pain points of the industry. In contrast with a lot of marketing tech that’s built horizontally for everyone, Bluecore prioritized verticalization, using AI to collect and analyze billions of data points and personalize advertising with that information.
“With a lot of brands and retailers, marketing is their competitive advantage,” said Arram. “In order to do marketing at scale specifically for retail, it’s a technically hard problem. They have tons of different data sources — data that moves at different speeds and has very different structures — and in order to do really good marketing, you have to be able to conquer all of that data and draw insights and derive actions from it.”
In all of Mahmoud’s experience, he couldn’t find a retailer with an effective solution to this problem — so he and his co-founders decided to create their own.
“What we wanted to do is provide the ability to derive insights and take automated actions to all of the brands and retailers — essentially, to start by driving marketing and then take it from there into all of the other activities that they use in order to transact business.”
This approach comes with its own set of exciting challenges. But through the effort of a hardworking, passionate team, Bluecore is creating a product that not only provides an essential service to retailers, but also improves the overall online experience for consumers.
A Product Worth Believing In
Sherene Hilal, Bluecore’s CPO, said it best: “Basically, we make the internet less spammy.”
Having joined the company in 2018, Hilal knows more about the product than nearly anyone on the team. She was inspired to work at Bluecore from the moment she discovered it, spending a full year applying to different roles before finally joining the team. Not only does she know how helpful their AI-based data science is for retailers — she is also incredibly passionate about what it can do for customers.
“A lot of marketing and advertising is an annoyance — it’s kind of a necessary evil as part of consuming information or content or the things that you really want online,” said Hilal. “But at the same time, people are always delighted when they stumble upon something they never knew existed and that is really relevant to their life.”
This isn’t just speculation — Hilal has benefited personally.
“I’m a huge audiophile,” she explained. “I love headphones, and there’s so many niche brands that have amazing sound quality that I would never know about until I get targeted because of my preferences and affinities that companies like Bluecore understand to connect me with the thing. That’s super exciting to me.”
At the same time, Bluecore’s holistic approach to data collection means that Hilal won’t be spammed with the same advertisements over and over as she visits various corners of the web. Rather than treating each website or social media platform as individual entities to market on, Bluecore’s clients can focus on each individual shopper. Hilal, along with the rest of the Bluecore team, sincerely believes that this strategy is tremendously beneficial to everyone involved.
“There’s so many niche brands that I would never know about until I get targeted because of my preferences and affinities that companies like Bluecore understand.”
And that belief isn’t all talk — from the beginning, Bluecore has been putting their money where their mouth is. In fact, it’s one of the things that made Hilal so eager to join.
“I’ve been a big proponent of performance-based pricing,” she said. So when one of Bluecore’s co-founders instituted the model for the company, it stuck with her.
“There’s resistance to having your product be evaluated based on the outcomes,” said Hilal, “And he was all in. He was so focused on only building something that was going to drive ecommerce growth for brands.” While performance-based pricing has grown in popularity in recent years, Bluecore was one of its early adopters.
This decision is one of many that show off Bluecore’s philosophy of radical accountability. The company gives their people ownership over their work and growth, which in turn motivates creativity, problem-solving and initiative-taking — and whether they’re veterans like Hilal or new members like Krishnan, their voices will be heard. The skills that employees learn at Bluecore carry them through their tenure at the company and beyond.
A Transformative Workplace
“Most people don’t actually work at startups for eight years,” said Arram. And while Bluecore does have veterans like himself and Sherene who continue to invest in the company, they understand that not everyone sticks through the entire scaling process. Regardless, Bluecore treats their team members the same way they treat their customers: Building the best environment they can for their success in the long-term.
“There’s a really tight community here, and it’s a place where you learn more than just your function,” said Hilal. “There’s roles and companies that provide a transformative jumping-off point for people’s careers, and I really believe that Bluecore is a place for that.”
There’s much opportunity for growth and learning on the R&D teams. Bluecore’s product needs to collect and analyze billions of data points, send out billions of emails and make billions of small decisions. The challenge is making their AI work reliably at that scale for a wide variety of retailers, large and small.
“When it comes to connecting customers with the client’s products — the relevancy — we have a lot of work on the data science, AI front,” said Krishnan. “That’s our secret sauce — to continue to build on that, continue to come up with new, innovative algorithms.”
“I feel like we’re running into problems now where there are no answers in Stack Overflow,” Arram added. “We just have to go back to first principles and design them from the ground up.”
“There’s roles and companies that provide a transformative jumping-off point for people’s careers, and I really believe that Bluecore is a place for that.”
These challenges, along with the radical accountability and ownership Bluecore gives each of its employees, foster a tight-knit and passionate team that carry that connection and personal growth even when they move on from the company.
“What I’m proud of is that there are a lot of Bluecore alumni that have started companies together,” Arram said. “I know of at least three of those companies that have raised venture capital.”
By investing in their teams, Bluecore invests in creating the best product they can for both consumers and retailers. And as each team member grows with the company and some of them spin off to start their own businesses, they leave knowing that at their backs, there is a leader beaming with pride — and that their contribution to Bluecore not only satisfied their customers, but made the internet a bit less spammy in the process.