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54 — The Stepping Stones of Innovation: Navigating Failure and Empathy with Carol Fitzgerald
Episode 5413th March 2023 • Greenbook Podcast • Greenbook
00:00:00 00:33:40

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Innovation doesn't come easy – but according to our guest Carol Fitzgerald, CEO of BuzzBack, failure can be the key to success

In this week's episode Carol and Lenny talk about the significance of innovation, team building, and empathy in leadership. Carol shares her experiences of building BuzzBack during the early days of the internet, and encourages taking risks during times of rapid change and technological advancement. She also highlights failure as a crucial component of innovation, and explains how experimentation can benefit both quantitative and qualitative research methods, as well as the broader MRX industry.

You can reach out to Carol on LinkedIn.

Many thanks to Carol for being our guest. Thanks also to our producer, Natalie Pusch; and our editor, James Carlisle.

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Transcripts

Lenny:

Hello, everybody, it’s Lenny Murphy, back with another edition of the GreenBook Podcast. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to spend it with us. And as usual, by ‘us,’ I mean, I have a guest. And all of our guests are special, but occasionally we get some that I’ve got a whole lot of history with. And that is what we have today. Carol Fitzgerald, President and CEO of BuzzBack. Welcome, Carol.

Carol:

Hi, Lenny, how are you?

Lenny:

Doing all right. It is great to have you. So for, kind of, full disclosure history, we have worked together on the Gen2 side for, gosh, what like, ten years now, something like that.

Carol:

Sounds good. So, my first disclaimer right off the bat is I’m in our New York City office, so if you hear those sirens that’s authentic [laugh] and you can enjoy that as a little background noise. I’m actually from New York; born and bred New Yorker. But anyway, I started BuzzBack over 23 years ago, so it’s been quite the journey, back when the internet boom happened. And it’s a bit ironic because my favorite movie or one of my favorites, anyway, is Baby Boom.

Lenny:

Okay, and you’ve stayed true to that. So, get to brag a little bit, let’s talk about what you do with that reinvention of the research experience. And for our audience, this isn’t necessarily a plug, but there really is a lot of very cool things that Buzzback has done and we’ll get into the drivers for that. But talk about that reinvention, Carol.

Carol:

Sure. So, we’ve actually come full circle that way. I remember when I started the company, the whole idea was to reinvent the user experience at a time when the biggies were going online mostly to have reach and reduce costs. We really wanted to make the respondent experience fun and engaging and visual. And that was very challenging in the beginning days.

nstituents in your business::

for respondents, for your customers, and for your employees. Is that a safe assumption that that’s just always top-of-mind for you as a leader?

Carol:

Yes. One of the reasons I wanted to start my own company—because I grew up in Fortune 500-land—was I didn’t want to have the nine-to-five, be chained-to-my-desk kind of job. And when the internet came along, I really saw it as a way to liberate, and liberate especially people who had families who maybe couldn’t do nine to five, or who wanted to go to their kids’ sporting events and all of that. And, you know, back in the day, a lot of what helped us win awards was this idea of working anywhere, anytime. So, fast-forward to 2020 and all of a sudden, that idea of blended is really, really different.

Lenny:

How much of that, Carol, for those values—because I think that’s what it really boils down to. Right? There are principles—are a reflection of your personal needs and experience as well, right? You’re a mom, you were building this business while you were raising your kids. And I assume that played a pretty large role in I want to build a company that I want to work for because this is a reflection of my life, and other people experience this as well.

we use to describe BuzzBack::

flexibility, innovation, teamwork, integrity, and quality. And flexibility with a major capital F. And that started with that work anywhere anytime module that I talked about, but it was exactly that.

Lenny:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And, you know, similar experience, right? I launched my first company after the corporate life, in 2005… MDM associates, right? And two young children, virtual company. And to that point, every company I’ve ever built since then has been entirely virtual. And based on that same foundational value. So, I love that maybe we were early adopters, but now the rest of the world is catching up. And [laugh], you know.

Carol:

Right. So, what’s that level? What’s that bar that we have to get to next, you know? I don’t know. But what I really love about it is I have a team at BuzzBack doing this now. It’s not just me doing it; they’re taking it to new heights and it’s so exciting.

Lenny:

That’s very cool. Very cool. All right, the other—so all this, you know, innovation, I think that’s an important point, again, for the audience, why I wanted to have you on was we talked about innovation and it’s easy to think of just about technology. But it’s not. Innovation, new thinking, changing, you know, striving to do better goes across so many different areas of the business, kind of a full-spectrum approach and I’ve always loved that you’ve done that; you’ve embraced that.

Carol:

So, about five years ago, I used to talk about the three A’s, right? Agile, Automation, and AI. And agile became kind of the operative word. And even our healthcare clients, which is about 30% of our business, we’re a preferred supplier to AstraZeneca and J&J and all these amazing companies—m they even wanted to be agile. But now, all those three A’s are so trumped by AI.

Lenny:

Yeah, and snake oil out there, too. So—

Carol:

Right. Well, here’s how I got through it. I’m not sure I remember, but there are a couple of events that I do remember, and one of them is just really stuck, indelibly. We had just won this gigantic project from Estee Lauder, I think it was in 2001 if I remember correctly, and it was a product testing project. And you know, at that time, we were barely a year-and-a-half old, so to win something like this was just massive.

Lenny:

Yep, hope for the best, but plan for the worst. So—

Carol:

I remember that.

Lenny:

Yeah [laugh]. I don’t know what I did to earn a second chance, Carol, but I’m glad that I did. But you pivoted, right? And I don’t want to steal your thunder, but you know, you looked at it, said, “Okay, we’ve invested a lot into this particular offering and the market has changed and we need to do something a little bit different.” And you pivoted to the [strengths 00:20:48]. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Carol:

Yes. In fact, some people ask me to define what our core values are, especially when I get asked to, you know, some of these women’s events to talk about being a woman leader and how to build a culture and all of that, and innovation with a capital I is about failing. And maybe that’s why we’re still in touch, Lenny, is that, like, I respect your opinion and I need you to tell me what things are bad, just like I need you to tell me when things are good. And now where I feel like that’s gone to and what I’m so excited about, there are two, kind of, broad strokes relative to our business I’m excited about. One is healthcare because this blend of healthcare and technology and the whole idea of companies like Google and Microsoft getting into healthcare, I mean, think about that. It’s this intersection of very traditional healthcare companies global and these major technology companies and big data and all the rest. That’s super exciting to me and there’ll be some new things that we’ll be doing there.

Lenny:

Yeah. Your wisdom always impresses me, Carol. So, we’ve talked a lot about the journey so far, and how amazing that’s been and highs and lows and all that good stuff. And I should point out that we don’t really do the rankings like we used to with the [unintelligible 00:22:54] Report. And gosh, I probably just aged myself really a lot for the audience, but you know what I’m talking about. But you’d be on it, if we still did, right I mean—

Carol:

[laugh]. Yes, exactly.

Lenny:

Yeah. You’ve grown to a really good-sized business when it starts looking interesting to other folks around. And we are in a highly aquisitory industry. Everybody likes to buy up everybody else. And you have been standing firm and solo for a long time. And we don’t have to get into your thinking about that, particularly; I’m just giving you a shout-out that it’s pretty cool to see.

Carol:

So, I’m still excited about the qual space. I do believe it’s evolving and that there’s some new technologies there in particular. [Reztech 00:23:38] has been both interesting to watch and somewhat disruptive when it comes to insights and some of the clients that we’ve worked with. But the exciting part for me is that the quote, “Consumers” of research—meaning our clients—have changed. And, you know, I know you’ve highlighted a lot of that in the grid, but research is much more democratized now in terms of who wants it, who can have it, and what are ways that you can use it.

Lenny:

[laugh]. Let’s ramp down into the final question then. So, now that we’re no retiring, but give us a glimpse into Carol the non-CEO. I know you have very little time outside of the business, but when you do, when you have those moments, how do you spend your time? What’s that thing that you’re like, “[sigh], okay, I’m glad I get to do this right now.”

Carol:

Love being outside. Luckily, I have a husband who is amazing and who loves being outside too. So, going for you know, walks or hikes or whatever it may be because nature is so, like, way to wind down the stress and get everything out from the week. I also enjoy baking. That, to me is also therapy.

Lenny:

Yeah. I love that. Now, I had no idea about the baking thing. All right, so what’s your signature dish?

Carol:

Yeah, I love making cookies. And also banana bread. I used to bring it to the office every Monday when [laugh] it was before Covid. Now, I’m sort of moving back to that as more people are coming into our New York offices right near Harold Square. But beware; you might get a little package from me.

Lenny:

I was actually going to be so bold as to ask. I’m supposed to be doing the—

Carol:

I’ve been known to be addicts for those kinds of things. It’s like once you start, you can’t stop. You just [unintelligible 00:29:40] away [laugh].

Lenny:

[laugh]. I know. It’s my downfall with this whole constant… I mean, you know the past couple of years the ups and downs with weight that I’ve been struggling with and all that good stuff. Anyway. It’s always the sweets. It’s always the sweets that—

Carol:

[crosstalk 00:29:55] package coming soon.

Lenny:

[laugh]. That’s my excuse. I’ll tell my wife. “Carol sent it to me. I cannot eat it. You know?” All right. Anything that you would have liked me to ask that I didn’t ask? Anything that you want to convey to our audience, this would be a good time to do that.

Carol:

I’m not sure there’s anything kind of profound in what I would say. I do think one thing that’s really important that sometimes gets overlooked is how important it is to think about your team. You’re only as good as your team. And clients are, you know, first at BuzzBack, but the reality is, our team is first. And we can only be as good as our team and our clients can only have a good experience about BuzzBack if they have a good team to interact with.

Lenny:

Yep. We could have a whole other conversation on that topic. And hopefully, we will. We’ll have you back and we can talk about that. Carol, it’s a delight. Where can people find you?

Carol:

carol@buzzback.com. You can also go to our website and just leave a form or whatever, if you really want to do that, but carol@buzzback.com. I usually get back in 24 hours. I’m sort of liking your email, Lenny, of like, “I’m overwhelmed and it might take me more than a day, so be patient.” [laugh].

Lenny:

[laugh]. Yeah, you know, people, Greg and others I work with, they hate that. It’s like, I’m sorry, I’ve got to have that on my signature because otherwise, people just—you don’t hear back from me. And I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just—I get too many emails. So—

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