Dev Ganesan

Position: President and chief executive, Fishbowl, an Alexandria company that helps restaurants with marketing.

Dev Ganesan began his career working for consulting giants KMPG and Deloitte. After leaving the consulting world, he specialized in helping companies grow. He was chief executive of Trados, Intelliworks and Aptara before joining Fishbowl late last year.

How did you benefit from working at large consulting firms early in your career?

I always recommend to youngsters to work for a large company as soon as they come out of college before they jump into a start-up. I am a strong believer in that you need to go and work with some of the very large companies where you are trained well in systems and processes, and get trained to different ideas. I benefited from that quite a bit.

Dev Ganesan, president and chief executive of Fishbowl, an Alexandria company that helps restaurants with marketing. (Courtesy Dev Ganesan)

What do you like about working with companies that are in the process of transforming themselves?

I like the pace. I always call myself a wartime general. I’m not a peacetime general. I like that intensity where you transform parts of the business, put it in that growth stage and eventually create value for stakeholders. I love that piece. It energizes me to run fast. I love fast. That also fits nicely with my personality.

What appealed to you about the CEO position at Fishbowl?

There’s a shift going on from [advertisers] spending on traditional media to spending more on digital. And once it goes into digital, it’s all about getting to know the customers, engaging with the customers.

Ultimately, the restaurants want to drive in more revenue, more guests, and you can do that by engaging with the customers. But you can engage with them only if you know more about them. That’s exactly what we do. Today, we are providing analytics so that restaurants can get to know more about their customers, where you are going, how much you are spending, and then how to make you come in more regularly and spend more money. It’s all about data-driven marketing, and that’s why I found this job to be extremely exciting.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

The company has been an e-mail marketing company, but the beauty is they have a very large base of restaurants that trust them. The reason I’m here is to take them to the next step of basically doing a more data-driven marketing with a solid analytical platform.

Before you took the job, you took 18 months off to travel, but you also studied up on analytics. What did you learn?

I discovered that big data analytics is for real. A lot of people are saying it’s all a buzzword. More and more, it’s all about data. If I have a lot of data, I can see some patterns in the data. It’s all about patterns. Then I can start making decisions based on the patterns I am seeing. The larger the data sets, the more confident you will be in the intelligence you are getting from the data.

Can’t data be overwhelming?

I think that’s where a good analytical platform comes into play. You can’t do it manually. You need to give them data so that they can take action. I call it actionable insight. We are the action engine, and that’s where I am so excited about Fishbowl.

Fishbowl has already developed an action engine, which is e-mail and customer engagement. I want to help the chief marketing officers in the restaurant business run good campaigns, measure the efficacy of the campaign and give them more intelligence around the guests.

This is where many restaurants are going wrong, which is they think “I can do a loyalty program and I’m done.” But loyalty programs are easy because that’s an end. Once you’re already loyal, I know you’re coming. But how can I get others who are not loyal members to make them loyal? That’s exactly what we are striving to do.

What’s the most challenging part of growing a company?

The common theme is it’s not technology, it’s about people. If you have the right team and people around you and you get them to share the vision, then you can basically go and execute on anything. Bringing in the right team and making sure they fit well is a challenge. When you look at a successful company, it’s the team that made it.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?

The best advice is humility because the moment I walk up to somebody and say, “I’ve done three companies. It’s easy,” you fail. It’s not about you. It’s about trying to find a solution. Things change a lot. I feel like the advice I got early in life about having a good level of humility as a leader is very critical and has gone a long way.

— Interview with Kathy Orton