EP 54: The Evolution of Technology + Impact
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we are covering a topic that's really interesting and near and dear to my heart, which is the evolution of technology and impact. And my guest is Dave Ho, the founder and CTO of York & Chapel. Welcome to the show Dave. I am so excited to have you here today.
Dave: Thank you Kelly. Great to be here.
Kelly: So York & Chapel, your team is about 40 plus people between offices across the U. S. and Canada. And I know from previous conversations that one of your great pride points is the charitable and volunteer work that you do; shelters, food banks, things along those lines. How has that impacted team building and employee engagement at your agency?
Dave: Well, I think it all starts from the top where our senior management team and the founders have all been very much involved in their local communities and that has translated to us hiring and bring on board the type of employees that really value this kind of civic engagement. So we've done things from a company standpoint as in volunteer for food banks. We did work for the Salvation Army one year where the entire staff went out in our Vancouver office and just ran holiday feast for the community and we've done that at various offices including here in our corporate headquarters in Connecticut. One of the local food banks where we started that recently this past year.
Kelly: Yeah, that's great. So because you're sort of focusing, it sounds like a lot in the charitable efforts on food banks and things like that. Is it important to you and your team like how did you decide that feeding people was one of your sort of core values? Where did that come from?
Dave: I don't think it's only working with the food banks. I think that became something that was easy for our team to go out and do on a volunteer basis but we also work with charitable organization on a pro bono basis. So we've done work for the National Down Syndrome Society, the Millennium Promise Institute, which is part of the United Nations Millennium Promise to help eliminate the extreme poverty around the world, and a number of different organizations over the years. We've sort of have an unspoken mandate where we try to help one organization a year where we select an organization that we think is doing some really great work and they obviously have some marketing or technology needs that we can help fulfill. And we’ve either actively gone out and asked to see if they need help or sometimes we're fortunate for them to have heard about us and what we've done for other organization they've come to us.
Kelly: Yeah, that's great. And so, you take that singular pro bono client on one every year. You've been doing that since the inception of the agency from what I understand and right now you're working with an organization called spirituality for kids, which of course resonates with me on a personal level. So can you talk a little bit about their own evolutionary needs and how you’re helping them specifically?
Dave: Well, this is a great organization that’s started by a single founder years ago and she really wanted to bring a level of emotional learning for children to match with the intellectual learning that they have in school. So what he did over the years has been fantastic, reaching out to thousands and thousands of kids around the world. There are global organizations but eventually the materials that she used became dated and she needed infusion of kind new thinking, new technology to help teach the lessons so we got hooked up with her from a mutual contact who actually he went through the program when he was a kid.
Kelly: Oh wow.
Dave: And now he's a consultant in New York and came to us and we work with him on a number of different projects in the past and he said, I have this great organization that's in need of help from a kind of branding and marketing perspective but also the technology perspective. They want to be able to reach kids with modern technology, to teach them using modern technology. So it's been a great opportunity to really help this organization make a difference for what they do.
Kelly: Yeah. And so you mentioned technology and obviously as the founder and CTO, I want to talk about that a little bit. So one third of your team and one third of the projects that you have are technology focused or technology based. How important would you say experimentation is to evolution?
Dave: I mean part of what is built into our DNA is a sense of looking for the newest both technology and methodologies to help evolve what we do as a marketing firm. So we have set schedules of going to conferences, ongoing teaching, and learning opportunities for our staff, especially in the technology realm so we're very active in going to conferences and participating in technology and kind of academic activities so right now we’re actually trying to push into publishing some articles, technology-based articles. We contribute our code to various open source projects. So we're really active in the community. So that's just built into the DNA of technology firm so we are as much a technology firm as we are a marketing company.
Kelly: Right. And you actually created a proprietary technology at York & Chapel called photoland, which is basically an RFID tracking system for events. Where is the tech headed as you look to update that?
Dave: That's been a very successful system for us and we've deployed it for a number of clients ranging from entertainment companies and we've used photoland in movie openings. We've also done it for hi-end events. We did an Hermes event for one of their launches of new flagship store in Miami. What we're moving from is away from RFID, which is great tech when we invented it about three years ago and we're moving towards facial recognition. So instead of tracking event goers using an RFID chip and a token of some sort, we're actually using just computer screens, cameras already built into everything from displays to phones so that we can keep track of people as they move throughout an event and take pictures and take videos. So that at the end of the event, you can walk away from something with a personalized web page of your evening's activities. So it's like a momento. It furthers engagement with a brand or with an event post the actual live portion of it. So companies really love using technology to help extend their reach and do it in a fun and unobtrusive way.
Kelly: Right. I would also imagine that from an ROI standpoint with the clients that are using it. They're getting such a tremendous amount of content from that, whether it be like you said through video or maybe even social content, static photos, things like that so that's really interesting as well.
Dave: Absolutely. I mean, it's just right for social sharing. So video clips, still photos. We make it so that it's very easy with just a single button click to upload it to your Facebook or Instagram feed. So that's been where a lot of that technology is heading.
Kelly: Yeah. So just transitioning back for a moment to the cross-section of technology and social good. Are there any projects that you're working on now that you can share that kind of have that cross-section that we're talking about?
Dave: One of the most interesting projects right now is that we're using virtual reality and that's been a hot topic and growing. Obviously over the last couple of years, there's been recently a big VR event where a lot of new technology was launched and of course that technology is evolving very quickly. And VR has been the fastest adopted technology in the history of kind these new revolutions. So right now we're working with a company to develop a virtual reality therapeutic device to help autism patients. So York & Chapel had a long history helping autism organizations in the past. So number of years ago, we helped an organization in New York City called Felicity House, which is geared towards helping women with autism, which is a very underserved community. And through another contact we're now working with a major pharmaceutical and technology company to help launch a therapeutic device centered around helping autism patients adjust to social situations. So one of the areas where people on the autism spectrum have difficulty in is social interaction. So what we're doing is we're creating social interaction using VR and that allows autism patients to practice in different social situations, they can develop different skills, and repeat them so that they can go out into the real world and put these skills to test to use in different social situations.
Kelly: Yeah. And it's such an interesting application or use case for virtual reality. Obviously, we can have games, we can have entertainment, those types of aspects of VR but when you take that and you apply that to impacting someone's life in a way where they're in a situation where they're in a safe environment but they are really getting that real life interaction and the practice of that. And like you said even learning life skills. That's incredible. That really is such a great use case for technology. I love that example.
Dave: Well, we were trying to push the envelope around this. We're trying to make it as realistic as possible and in future editions we're introducing speech AI speech so that they can interact with avatars in real time in conversations and so teach additional skills, conversational skills. So this virtual reality world is basically limitless and we're also including a lot of gamification. You mentioned video games being part of the VR. That’s an aspect where patients really respond to. So gaming is very big in the autism community
Kelly: I would imagine.
Dave: Yeah, Minecraft has been noted as a real area where a lot of autism patients love to have that control of the world around them. So we've introduced gamification technology and techniques into it. Scorekeeping, progress bars, leaderboards, things like that to help reinforce the entire aspect of what they're doing.
Kelly: Yeah, so I do have to ask, I mean, you're changing so many people's lives with this cross-section of social good whether it be through the volunteer efforts or through the technology that you're blending with those really purpose-centric clients and projects. It's got to be pretty rewarding. Can you talk a little bit about your own fulfillment as an agency leader and how that impacts your mindset when you go to work everyday?
Dave: Well, it really makes it easy to go to work, right? What we're doing on a day to day basis really not only fulfills you on an emotional standpoint but also the entire staff. So it's been great to see the entire company get behind. Some of these social good and technology and how it impacts lives and we talk about it all the time. It's become infectious across the company and we see people really gear up for these assignments and really be vested in not only doing great work but for the good that it does for society as a whole.
Kelly: Yeah. Just out of curiosity, do you see that as a way to retain talent, attract a certain like mindedness in terms of new talent and also in terms of client acquisition? Do you feel that core value attracts clients and talent?
Dave: Definitely, talent side. I think that certainly on the retention side, when employees have a sense of what they're doing is important to the world and it fulfills an emotional need as well as an intellectual need, it helps our staff feel really connected with the work. We never used what we do as a tool for recruiting new clients. We feel like the work speaks for itself. And so, clients that have come across our work sometimes seek us out and that's been fantastic.
Kelly: That's great. Well, I love the story. I love the authenticity of what you're doing at York & Chapel and thank you for everything that you're doing and thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.
Dave: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.