Hi Mathieu, you are the External Communications Executive at xyzt.ai, a big location data visual analytics platform. Can you tell me something more about your responsibilities at xyzt.ai and what ‘external communications’ means in a location intelligence firm?
As the person responsible for external communications, I help with xyzt.ai’s messaging to the outside world. That means that I write press releases, blog posts, case studies, and use cases, or any other type of content and product marketing. I work closely together with Joe Threlfall, xyzt.ai’s Director of Marketing & Partnerships, and help with whatever is the most pressing topic on the agenda. One day I am researching a relevant industry or persona; another day, I am organizing the logistics when xyzt.ai attends an event, as recently for Smart City Barcelona. xyzt.ai is a technology startup, after all. There is plenty of work to be done. Sometimes, the borders of who does what blur a bit, and you need to do something different. But, that exposes you to new things, and you gain a bigger picture of the company.
In this way, working with Joe has shown me the depth and diversity of marketing. Not all actions produce a direct result, but all of those actions are necessary to produce the final result. I guess that is true for practically everything, but regarding marketing, it has opened my eyes to how much work and effort goes on behind the scenes.
How did you end up working for xyzt.ai?
After finishing my Journalism master’s at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, I traveled for about six months throughout India. When I returned to Belgium, the whole Covid-19 situation exploded. More or less a week after I got back, the country went into lockdown. During these strange times, I worked on an interim basis for a few places, followed personal interests, and had some bad luck finding a job. During the summer of 2021, I got into a conversation with Lida Joly, Founder & CEO of xyzt.ai. I have known Lida for quite some time, we both live in the city of Hoeilaart. Anyway, in the beginning, I assumed she would help me with my CV and possibly introduce me to her network. But, a bit later, she offered me an opportunity to join xyzt.ai, and, honestly, I did not have to think twice.
Why do you want to work for xyzt.ai? What makes this company stand out to you?
There are a couple of reasons why I’m thrilled to be on this rollercoaster, but the most important ones lead back to the people and the product. I think true value can only last if you have the right people standing behind a project. Before I started working at xyzt.ai, whenever I had a conversation with Lida, I was always interested in what she was busy with. I knew if given a chance to work alongside her, it would be a great opportunity. After meeting Bart Adams, Founder and CTO of xyzt.ai, and all the other team members, I realized I would be surrounded by very smart and highly dedicated people who are fun to work with and have a great mindset and work ethic. And then, there is the product itself, which is remarkable how it has been built up from the ground for two years, the capabilities of the platform, and the advantages it offers to the big location data industry. Having the right people work on an interesting and promising project is a powerful combination and something I would like to be part of.
As somebody new to the dynamics of a startup and the big data industry, what are some of the challenges you experience?
I believe the biggest challenges I struggled with initially were organization, a lack of industry experience, and just generally finding a work rhythm for all the tasks I’m responsible for. You have to become familiar with how a company structures its information and executes tasks. For example, if I need to do x, where do I find y (without bothering your colleagues every time). What platform do you use for what purpose, and what are all the steps attached to the process of a task? You need to efficiently organize your current and future workload and find a way to save things that might be useful later. Suddenly, you get many emails that you need to remember and structure. Some of these organizational things are so basic and easy to implement, but in the beginning, I was surprisingly good at ignoring it for the time being and instead focusing on the work I had to do for the day. That only works for so long until you get overwhelmed. Having an organizational framework definitely made a lot of things easier for me.
“Not all actions produce a direct result, but all of those actions are necessary to produce the final result. I guess that is true for practically everything, but regarding marketing, it has opened my eyes to how much work and effort goes on behind the scenes.“Mathieu Strobbe, External Communications Executive at xyzt.ai
How did you resolve those challenges?
Some things need time (and effort). This is especially true for the industry experience part. As I’m new to the big data industry and considering xyzt.ai can visualize any type of location data, there was (is) a steep learning curve. You need to become knowledgeable about data visualization and the relevant industries (maritime, automotive, retail, etc.) to understand how things operate and how xyzt.ai fits in the picture. Reading industry articles, following industry leaders on social media, and asking questions to colleagues have been great ways for me to improve over time.
For the organizational challenge, I just needed to quit saying, “I’ll take care of that tomorrow.” This is the type of thing that you need to take care of as soon as possible because everything else you do kind of falls back on these structures that make work that much smoother. I would like to thank Lida, who has helped me immensely with this issue.
What are some of the things you enjoy doing most at xyzt.ai, and why?
I like the concept of storytelling; I enjoy it whatever the medium; a captivating book, thrilling movie, or a delicious meal. So, for me, within xyzt.ai, that translates itself to writing content. Personally, I enjoy long-format content, for example, a long read, something that is more in-depth and requires you to dig and do some reading. Afterward, it’s a rewarding feeling when you have constructed a story, you’re happy with the outcome, and you can finally read it in its entirety. It’s a bit like completing a complex puzzle that has been tormenting you, but in the end, everything is in the right place, and you get to appreciate the big picture. Of course, not every piece of content can or should be long format; that is just a personal bias.
I’m also excited about developing product marketing and getting more acquainted with all of the platform’s capabilities to better present engaging stories about location data. I think there is a lot of room for me to grow and learn and develop different ways to present informative content. Data presents an endless source for stories; I need to turn those numbers into words.
When writing content, what are some important factors to keep in mind?
At the beginning of joining xyzt.ai, Bart gave everybody a book to read. The book is called ‘Made to Stick,’ and it’s about why some ideas survive and others die. At some point, the authors discuss a concept called ‘Commander’s Intent,’ it’s a military term designed to align the soldiers with the core mission. For a writer, this means that you need to communicate the core idea of your article. A lot can be discussed in a piece of content, but at the end of it, the reader should remember one thing: your core.
Also, I believe it’s very important to keep the context you operate in mind. For xyzt.ai, that means a B2B context. That doesn’t imply the content needs to be dry and dull, but it does mean that you need to keep a professional and elegant tone of voice. The trick is finding a way to be entertaining while being professional and informational.
It’s always nice to end these interviews with something more about you, Mathieu. What are you passionate about outside of work?
I like to read all kinds of books. I used to read a lot more than lately, but that is definitely something I need to pick up again soon. Just like my colleague, Joe, tennis is a passion of mine. It’s something I used to play a lot when I was a teenager. I grew up on a tennis court, but I had a break when I was 19 years old and only started playing again last year. Besides that, I enjoy making some noise on the guitar and occasionally engaging in sporadic projects; for example, I translated a book about health and food last year.
If you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
To answer this question, I would need the help of some randomness. I would select some albums, print out the covers, and blindly throw darts at them. I’ll go with whichever one hits first. But my selection would for sure include albums by Johnny Cash, JJ Cale, Nina Simone, Led Zeppelin, and possibly a lot more.