Agency on Track for Best Year Ever: 75 New Hires, 35 Open Positions, Upping Staff to 400 By Year-End

YML is having its best year ever — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — and expanding their global staff with 75 new hires, 35 positions still open and an expected total staff count of 400 by year end.

Today, two key industry talents join YML as Rajeev Bhanot comes onboard in the new role of Head of Product, directly from The Walt Disney Company in New York, where he was Senior Director of Growth & Product Management for Disney+. Additionally, Erica Sayers joins as Director of Client Engagement, coming from Huge, where she was Group Engagement Director on United Nations Women, U.S. Department of State, Capital One, Under Armour, Dell, and Dun & Bradstreet, among others. 

“The pandemic massively accelerated the need and speed for every brand to digitally reset,” stated Ashish Toshniwal, CEO & co-founder, YML. “Our culture is now at an inflection point where the digital product business is booming and Rajeev, with his creator vision, will add critical product strategy expertise to YML’s leadership team, while bringing a lot of the start-up growth culture from Spotify and Disney+. Rajeev shares the same “builder” spirit core to YML’s DNA.” Bhanot reports directly to Toshniwal and will be based in YML’s Silicon Valley, (Redwood City, CA), headquarters office upon reopening.

YML has been behind the scenes injecting Silicon Valley’s velocity and innovation into Fortune 500’s and disruptive startups for over a decade. YML remains true to its founding as a pure digital agency, with Silicon Valley innovation and tech at its core. All revenue originates from strategy, design and engineering for digital products and experiences, and encompasses everything from websites and e-commerce platforms, to mobile apps and emerging tech (AI, machine learning, AR, VR).

YML has spearheaded digital transformation initiatives for some of the world’s largest brands including Apple, The Home Depot, Facebook, State Farm, Universal Music Group and L’Oréal, among others.

“Erica is a rare find,” shared Marcela Lay, VP Client Strategy and Head of YML Atlanta.Seven years ago she reached out to me for coffee searching for career mentorship. We didn't know each other, but I admired she was looking for ways to grow. I love Erica's strategic mindset, her passion for team collaboration, and her focus on delivering impact to clients under a customer-centric approach.”  Sayers reports directly to Lay and will be working remotely from Washington D.C.

Campaign US’ 40 Over 40 Awards celebrate the most talented and accomplished individuals transforming the advertising, technology, and communications landscape, and Marcela Lay, YML's VP of Client Strategy and Head of the Atlanta Studio, was named to the prestigious list on Wednesday, September 16, 2020.

“Marcela’s impact on YML’s business and as a team leader has been truly invaluable,” stated Ashish Toshniwal, CEO & Co-Founder, YML. “She doesn’t just lead by example, she immerses herself in every problem to deliver a thoughtful, impactful solution — whether it’s for a client, a teammate, or the future of our business. Marcela embodies the best of YML, and we’re grateful every day to have her as one of our executive leaders.”

Marcela has spent her 15+ year career pushing change and redefining the status quo. As a minority woman, a woman in tech, and a woman in senior leadership, Marcela has broken gender, ethnic, and managerial glass ceilings, not only for herself, but as a true ally and power agent for everyone she has the privilege to lead. She’s also led new business wins on Omaha Steaks International, Fresenius Medical Care, a major US healthcare provider, and guided the digital transformation on legacy Fortune 500 clients including State Farm ® and The Home Depot. Marcela joins incredible company in this year’s winner with leaders from Droga5McCannNerdWalletVerizonMediaLinkPublicis and more.

"Campaign US is excited to honor the senior talent paving the way in our industry. The individuals celebrated on this list have shown innovation and leadership across all areas of marketing, advertising and communications," said Campaign US editor Alison Weissbrot.

Nominations were judged by a panel consisting of the Campaign editorial team as well as decorated industry leaders including Steve Williams, global COO of Essence; PJ Pereira, cofounder and creative chairman of Pereira O'Dell; Heide Gardner, SVP, chief D&I officer of Interpublic Group; Mel Edwards, CEO of Wunderman Thompson; and Doug Melville, chief diversity officer of TBWA Worldwide.

by Joe Johnston, Creative Director + Co-Studio Lead ATL

Today, when shoppers are likely to be skittish about being in stores—if they visit at all—those who adapt using technology strategically and design intuitively will be better positioned to survive. More than just ordering online, digital solutions will have to consider every aspect of the business: operating logistics, employee safety, the use of physical space. And, if social distance becomes the new norm, how can technology connect humans for the better? 

Contactless Shopping 

While stores are quickly rolling out contactless payments due to COVID-19, many still use self-service touch screens and pin pads for transactions and loyalty. Given new CDC guidelines, where people are being encouraged to avoid using touch screens and pin pads, in some cases, they may no longer be allowed to use them at all. Additionally, with supply chain challenges and keeping items in stock, customers have been left with limited choices on where and what they buy.

This has led companies to adapt to new technology solutions and speed up their digital transformation. Critically, they're working with customers in partnership toward creating a more safe environment for the benefit of both parties. Stores and customers alike have had to make huge adjustments in recent months. Relying on customers to use their own devices places greater ownership in their hands to help manage their own safety, as well as contribute to the safety of others, including store employees. With this new behavior, stores are discovering even more benefits to digital product strategy.

Mobile checkout can help save customers time, both in the aisles and at the register.

Utilizing personal devices reduces interactions with physical screens and pin pads, and enables real-time loyalty offers to be activated, as well as preemptive stock tracking. During COVID-19 when 52% of customers buy what's currently available, this creates an opportunity for stores to help shoppers shop more efficiently.

"Especially during this time of hygiene safety at the gas pumps, which option is better for the customer—wiping down every surface as they move through their day, or adjusting to a new and improved contactless experience?"

Going beyond in-store experiences, this same idea is being applied to companion services. Think grocery store gas pumps, for example. You know the drill—slide in the card, punch your loyalty and PIN number, push the fuel type and fill the car. Just like mobile shopping, mobile check out at fuel pumps can happen in a similar way. Especially during this time of hygiene safety at the gas pumps, which option is better for the customer—wiping down every surface as they move through their day, or adjusting to a new and improved contactless experience?

For companies that adapt to the latter, they are not only helping to curb the spread of germs, but discovering new ways to improve the customer experience. Shell has already shown how this shift can occur. The mobile experience can be as easy as sitting in your car, selecting the pump, adding your loyalty and paying digitally, reducing physical touch points as much as possible. This experience could extend after COVID-19 allowing customers to stay in the car and out of the elements.

Rearranging Space

For brick-and-mortar grocery locations, adding new mobile device and digital capabilities can also add a layer of complexity and challenges for grocery stores. A strong wifi network is needed to support customers checking out and scanning items. Also, monitoring accurate check out using a self-service mobile device increases risk of inventory loss in some cases.

Although, if customers are able to shop at home and simply pick up their groceries, it can reduce the burden on a central digital network and minimize the need for extra security considerations.

With other restrictions, like limited store capacity, using an app for customers to schedule shopping time could help. Stores like Walmart started limiting the number of shoppers and re-examining their entire shopping and checkout system. No more than five customers will be allowed in for every 1,000 square feet, which is roughly 20% of a store's capacity. If the app was mandatory before entering the store, things like virtual queuing and in-store monitoring could be managed more easily by the store. Think the Fast Pass at Disney, which allows pass holders to reserve ride times during scheduled windows and change as needed.

Another aspect of the contactless shopping experience we expect to see take on more prominence is the use of temperature scanning and contact tracing methods.

Currently Apple & Google are in partnership developing a contact tracing API that could help stores and customers understand when they are in range of a potentially infected person. This would require shoppers and employees alike to have the store app downloaded, assisting in additional safety and security measures.

As the uncertainty grows around traveling to grocery stores, let alone being in them, customers want to feel safe and showcasing hygiene transparently will act as a short-term customer experience differentiator for some businesses.

Hygiene theatre will play a crucial role for business because, well, customers have expectations of things being clean. The expectation is to see these things happening in front of them. From wiping down grocery carts in front of customers to seeing cleaning crews to communicating times the stores are closed each day for cleaning. Several grocery stores are installing physical plexiglas sneeze guards in checkout lanes to visually show the safety between employees and customers. This expectation will only grow.

As the uncertainty grows around traveling to grocery stores, let alone being in them, customers want to feel safe and showcasing hygiene transparently will act as a short-term customer experience differentiator for some businesses.

The Rise of the Grocery Consultant 

With more people ordering online than ever before, essential workers may find themselves shifting into more of a consultant-type role, learning customers specific dietary and budget needs, then packaging them up for pick-up or delivery.

Traditionally, professional personal grocery shopping has been seen as a luxury. But with apps such as Instacart opening this service up to more and more people, it has become a common activity. What’s missing from this experience, however, is specialized knowledge to help navigate the moments when a critical selection decision has to be made based on dietary or other shopping criteria.

The need for in-store employees to support customers who order online with meeting dietary needs, balancing healthy eating habits, or helping them to shop on a budget is a space ripe for exploration and optimization. 

As COVID-19 continues to increase online ordering and delivery activity by nearly 3.5X, the idea of people with specialized knowledge becomes a differentiator. Additionally, it creates a greater opportunity for essential workers to cultivate a growth path through UpSkill models,. This method can boost employee engagement and satisfaction that ultimately benefits everyone—employees, customers, and company managers alike. It’s one of the ways corporations can work toward greater operational goals that align with ESG(Environmental, Social, and Governance) practices.

One of the top reasons customers love to shop for groceries themselves is to be able to enjoy the range of items. In the current environment, with limited or inconsistent supplies, numbers suggest people are eating less produce (36%) and more processed foods (47%). Additionally, customers place more trust in an end-to-end experience, reducing the chance for errors or third party logistics that increase more points of contact.

The need for in-store employees to support customers who order online with meeting dietary needs, balancing healthy eating habits, or helping them to shop on a budget is a space ripe for exploration and optimization. 

Food Door-to-Door

Perhaps the largest shift in behavior during months of quarantine has been the move toward online food shopping. As restaurants were at first ordered to close their doors, many found a loophole to staying open and keeping a skeleton staff employed through pick-up or delivery only services. Those already with an online ordering system made the shift easily. Others who may have had a website, but not the capability to order, worked to expand their digital or mobile services. Newcomers found make-shift solutions to help them keep going.

Just last year, only 11% of consumers bought groceries online once a month. What was once a novelty experience for some, has turned into a practical solve for keeping the kitchen stocked, inspiring people everywhere to wonder why they haven’t shopped this way until now.

Grocery outlets and online food services, however, have seen the largest uptick in business. Just last year, only 11% of consumers bought groceries online once a month. What was once a novelty experience for some, has turned into a practical solve for keeping the kitchen stocked, inspiring people everywhere to wonder why they haven’t shopped this way until now.

Think about it—no more dragging screaming kids to the grocery store, no more wandering aisles aimlessly and hungry, the ability to manage spending and avoid impulse buys, perhaps putting those resources into buying higher quality food.

With some stores like Menards, creating no kids policies, this further focuses the opportunity for food delivery services.

Customers make 1.6 trips a week to the grocery store on average. This is trending down because of COVID-19 with nearly 73% of customers making fewer visits. Customers are also nervous and have high level of anxiety when shopping. 60% of customers report being fearful of grocery shopping and having a sense of panic. Controlling the full store-to-handoff experience as hygiene considerations increase will set some companies apart. For example, places like Chick-fil-A now allow you to select Chick-fil-A Team Member Delivery.

The Digital Employee Experience

Today, with everyone managing a new sense of normal, store employees have been among the most impacted. Having long-forgotten how they used to work, they have already adapted to new ways of interacting with daily tasks, as well as customers. Company leaders can further support their employees by adopting digital-first resources for education and learning.

Using mobile experiences to re-train employees will be key.

Topics around proper hygiene, how to stock shelves with customers nearby, or even training materials to help essential employees grow into greater service providers can all be supported by a contactless, online portal.

Communication is one of the best tools companies have in organizing a coordinated response to new ways of doing business. Creating learning modules that can be monitored for completion and designed for all types of learners is a valuable investment that will sustain a company well into the future. By using a digital platform, new policies and learning materials can be easily uploaded or updated. Topics around proper hygiene, how to stock shelves with customers nearby, or even training materials to help essential employees grow into greater service providers can all be supported by a contactless, online portal.

Loyalty doesn’t end with customers.

Incentivizing employee loyalty through a digital experience allows people to quickly learn and improve skills for new types of work. Companies like Walmart have a robust suite of associate apps that bring new skills opportunities to their employees.

If there’s one thing that has become vastly apparent during COVID-19, it’s that essential workers have given us all a life line. With grocery store employees and delivery personnel at the front lines, it’s a great time to bolster support and appreciation for their roles. 

Illustration by Kevin Tudball.

About the Author: Joe Johnston

Joe has over 18 years experience in the areas of experience design, service design, customer insight, and innovation for many notable brands including: Lowe's, Coca-Cola, UPS, Capital One, State Farm, Arby's, Bosch, Herman Miller, AT&T, TIAA, Freddie Mac, Meijer, Principal Financial & Sony Music. This includes experience and service design, future visioning and ideation across brand experience and strategy. He's also an accomplished author, speaker, and expert on user experience/customer experience and experience innovation. Formerly Joe was the Group UX Director at Huge in Atlanta leading a team on several top brand experiences and exploring new innovative technologies.

The YML team is diverse, separated across four continents, and now entirely remote. "Spotlight" is a monthly series showcasing a different member of the YML team from across design, strategy or technology.

Who are you, and what do you do at YML?

Hey, I’m Brent! I’m a Senior QA in the Indianapolis branch here at YML.

As a QA, I wear many hats. Day-to-day, it’s my responsibility to ensure that our work meets the high standard of quality our clients expect. From a larger perspective, my job is to not only test the final product, but to be a part of the process from beginning to end, working with both our internal team and the client to craft a product that is understandable, testable, and outstanding.

Where are you from / where do you live now?

I was born and raised in Bedford, Indiana. It’s a small town just south of Bloomington. Bedford is a quintessential Midwestern USA town, boasting the title of  “Limestone Capital of the World” and vast, vast amounts of farmland.

A couple of years ago, my family and I moved to Franklin, a town just south of Indianapolis. We just bought our first house here, and we’re excited to explore this charming, local business-focused town.

Tell us a little about your background.

Considering the work I am doing and loving today, I have an extremely eclectic background. My first “adult” job following high school was in Quality Control for a medical device manufacturer, Cook Medical. Obviously this was confirming quality on a physical item, not software, but quality is quality, and this job really prepared me for a direction I didn’t even know I was headed at the time.

Following Cook, I worked in Technical Support for a small ISP in Southern Indiana, followed by an IT Coordinator position at a large Central Indiana industrial supply company, where I got to drive all over the state to assist some incredibly interesting manufacturing companies with controlling very expensive tools used in manufacturing trucks, giant gears, jet engines, etc. via vending solutions. 

Opportunity knocked at YML, but I had a lot to learn. I had to learn how to apply the basic tenets of quality I had acquired at my previous jobs to the very specific domain of software quality assurance. I was brought into an entry level QA position at YML about four years ago, and through a combination of stellar on-the-job training and self teaching, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing experts to create impactful products.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever built? Whether at YML, a different job or in your personal life. Why does that resonate with you?

The craziest thing I’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of being on a team for was a hackathon project done by the Indianapolis office in 2016. It was…ahem… “MOST EXTREME UX CHALLENGE!” - a satirical game app which was a set of mini-games exaggerating notable pitfalls in app design and UX. I helped coordinate between team members and our designer, who came up with some really amazing designs from the ideas we gave. This project was a blast from start to finish. That’s my voice in the trailer!

This project resonated with me because I find humor to be one of life’s biggest outlets for frustration. This project really encapsulates that - it allowed us to take this big subset of frustrations in app design and make something humorous out of it.

Why did you choose to come to YML?

I came to YML because YML gave me an opportunity! Even just four years ago when I joined the company, remote work wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today, and jobs in tech aren’t prevalent in Indiana where my roots are. YML blew me away from minute one with their company culture and approach to product design and execution. I continue to feel thankful every day for getting to collaborate with such experts from around the world in first class software engineering.

What’s your favorite project / client you’ve ever worked on? Why?

My favorite project was my first. As I mentioned, I worked with Cook, a medical device manufacturer, as one of my first jobs. Starting at YML, my first project was on a very lean team of two developers and myself as QA, developing an app for internal use by Cook Sales Representatives. Having this fortuitous opportunity to work with a client I was familiar with allowed me to develop my QA chops, get started with automation, and generally become immensely more comfortable to tackle the larger projects I would eventually be a part of.

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

Growth!  Both within the industry and personally. Despite existing for decades, I still consider the tech industry to be in its infancy, and I’m not sure how far it has to go before I won’t think that anymore. I see so much potential everywhere. There are so many problems yet to be solved, with more to do than we can fathom yet. 

For me personally, I have a long way to go in my career, and YML has given me the room to get started. I’ve been on one of the smallest projects at the company (me and two developers for a healthcare client) and one of the largest projects in the company (a giant team for a major Fintech client). I don’t see a point at which I’m going to feel like I’ve learned or experienced enough to be satisfied. There’s always something more to accomplish.

What are some companies you admire and why?

Hello Games is a small British game development studio who released No Man’s Sky in 2016. Leading up to the game’s release, an enormous wave of hype surrounded the game, and the developer had signed on with Sony for publishing, which increased the public excitement even more. Publicity efforts leading up to the game’s release had Sean Murray out on the interview trail. He was so passionate about his game, but he had a difficult time managing expectations during his interviews. When the game finally released, public reception was pretty abysmal to put it mildly. Hello Games did not take the money and run.

Hello Games went dark for months and got to work. Later that year they put out the first of many updates which would bring many of the expected features that were missing from the initial release, and quite a few others that nobody was expecting. I have deep respect for a company owning their mistakes and working to increase the scope and quality of their product.

What’s something you’ve learned — a skill or about yourself — during quarantine?

I’m not nearly as bad at home DIY projects as I thought. We’ve recently moved from a rental home to our own. In the rental home I’d learned how to repair and install PVC, as it was pretty difficult to get anybody in to work on anything that wasn’t an absolute emergency. In our new home I’ve had to hang TVs, install curtains, paint, hang shelves, and all kinds of things that I was pretty scared of before. Don’t make fun of me.

How do you spend your spare time?

I have two kids. I spend a lot of my time savoring every moment I can watching them grow up. We play a lot of video games together during social distancing, and we hang out in our back yard playing in the sprinklers.
I also do a lot of video gaming on my own, which has been invaluable for staying close to some of the others in the YML Indy office who play games as well.

Currently, several members of the team are playing Space Engineers together on some evenings and weekends. Please enjoy my greatest creation on our server - the Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, complete with spinning sign and drive-thru homing missiles for defense.

Gaming has also been great way for the office to give back to our community. Every year the team gets together to participate in a nation-wide fundraising event called Extra Life ( We play video games for 24 hours, and take donations during that time for our local children’s hospital.

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair. Discover how to build Fintech products that empower people, or risk becoming obsolete.

by Jason Reid Scott, Creative Director, YML

There was a time when finances felt vaguely ‘over there,’ locked behind buildings and accessible only via in-person encounters, the regular ATM visit, or a balance check over the phone.

Well, thanks to Fintech (online financial services and apps), a lot has changed in the past decade. Whether it’s buying fractional shares of expensive stock, getting approved for a loan in real-time, or transferring money to friends and family without breaking out a checkbook or visiting an ATM, new ways to grow and manage money directly have put the power in people’s hands. In this way, money has never been more personal. 

With that comes an incredible amount of trust that these products (and the companies behind them) have to take seriously. Companies can no longer coast off of carefully crafted brand promises, no matter how eloquent. No one cares about that promise if the product experiences suck. 

Design Matters

Always has, always will. Aesthetics are not lost on your users, so they shouldn’t be lost on you. While great UX will help design feel seamless (and therefore non-existent), the ‘Aesthetic-Usability Effect’ is the idea that sleek, well-balanced design conveys a greater sense of usability. And while we wouldn’t recommend looks over substance, the thing to note is that a visually delightful experience inspires confidence.

Fintech apps are, more often than not, primarily data. And while quantitative information may sound boring, it can look sexy — when it’s done right. Taking time to imagine elements as beautiful and compelling can have transformative effects. Thoughtful interactions and a touch of motion, for example, can instantly elevate experiences from expected to exceptional.

More than just aesthetics, design is a practice that enables organizations to develop a deeper understanding of customer needs and goals. In this way, exceptional design supports great business bycreating the emotional connections necessary for building and maintaining lasting relationships. Simply put, design matters. Always has, always will.

An example of a brand that is doing it right is Robinhood. Their app experience has stunning visual design, polished animations, interactions, and excellent use of haptic feedback.

Inclusivity Matters

We’re a diverse population. We come from various backgrounds and cultures. We’re old and young. Some of us grew up on digital and some of us didn’t. Some of us see the little things, while some of us… cannot see at all. Some of us are deaf or have difficulty hearing. Some of us have cognitive disabilities, and some of us have physical ones.

Many of us require assistive technologies to experience a digital product (gesture-based screen readers for us with visual impairments, closed-captioning for video and audio playback for us with hearing impairments, voice control, and customized gestures for us with cognitive or physical challenges, etc. ). We ask, what is more innovative than creating a digital product that can provide value across a range of needs, benefiting us all? Inclusive design doesn’t preclude innovation, on the contrary, it defines it. 

Aside from being the right thing to do, inclusive design is good for business. The global market of people with disabilities is over $1 billion, with a spending power of more than $6 trillion. In the US alone, the annual discretionary spending of people with disabilities is over $200 billion. That, and, well… it’s the law.

Ultimately, we are all human, but we are very much unique. Remembering that builds trust. (Not breaking the law. Also super helpful.)For more information, check out:

Personalization Matters 

People value personal interactions. It shows you’re listening; it shows you care. Doing the opposite, does the opposite.

Tailoring experiences to a customer’s specific needs — wherever possible — is crucial. What stocks are appropriate for my desired risk? What financial products should we consider based on our current credit rating? How might we improve our financial health? Etc.

Remember, we’re all different. Skip traditional demographics (age, gender, race, income, etc.). Instead, synthesize behavioral data through predictive analytics, AI, and machine learning to reach customers in real-time with contextually relevant content. It’s not just understanding who they are, but also where they are and more importantly, where they want to go.

Fintech matters when the people who make it, make it personal.

An exceptional example of a brand that is doing it right is the Royal Bank of Canada. Their product named NOMI (from 'know me') is a package of personalized tools that reveal real-time insights, automate savings, provide customized budgeting tools, and chatbot interaction.

Quality Support Matters

Trust is knowing you can rely on people when you need them most. That fact is the very foundation on which Fintech is built.

Consider an example outside of financial services. Let’s say you are out for a meal (when we actually used to go out to dinner) and the food is okay, yet the service is impeccable. The restaurant server is warm, considerate, and knowledgeable, educating you about each dish. Their enthusiasm is contagious and enhances your meal experience. Will you come back? Likely. Fintech product support is no different.

Lousy customer support leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Excellent customer support builds trust. 

If quality support is there when you need it, people will come back and — more than likely — recommend the brand to others.

From email, being the slowest and least personal, to direct messaging or video chat with your banker, being the most dynamic and high-touch, there are several methods of digital support; getting each one right is paramount.

A great example of a brand that is doing it right is First Republic Bank. They provide an omnipresent button throughout their app experience that quickly allows clients to access their bankers and wealth managers. They can do so through email, text, and even video chats.

Here’s the thing about trust: It takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.

Inspired by that thought, I’m reminded that trust is not only invaluable but something we literally must account for when designing product experiences, especially financial services. I hope this article inspires fellow designers, developers, and product managers in the Fintech space to integrate some of the concepts and pillars into their own processes. And if you need help, get in touch. Ultimately, I believe these kinds of ideas have the power to positively transform people’s experiences. And that, well… that’s all that really matters.

Illustration by Sadhvi Konchada

About the Author

Jason Scott is a hands-on Creative Director at YML with over a decade of experience designing digital products. He began his career as an Interaction Designer with while they were a startup in residence at IDEO. He was also the Co-founder and Lead Designer at Appsperse, which was acquired by AdRoll. Since then, he has worked with companies such as Key Bank, Thrivent Financial, Clover, Game Stop, BitTorrent, Pure Storage and Dolby Cinema. Throughout his experience he has noted that long-term trust is the most important asset a brand can earn. 

Beyond his creative product work, Jason enjoys sharing time with his wife (high-school sweetheart), rock climbing, beat making, cooking competition bbq ribs and making funny YouTube videos. Jason’s favorite thing to do in life is walk, seriously he loves walking—a lot.

The unexpected spread of Covid-19 has upended institutions across the spectrum, forced an array of industries to rapidly evolve and shined a light on brands like Thrive Market that were born digital and prepared to serve a population stuck at home.

Money Magazine just celebrated Thrive Market, the beloved organic e-commerce retailer and a client of YML, as among the best digital grocery options for affordable and local groceries. Money shared:

"Frequently described as “Costco meets Whole Foods,” Thrive Market is an e-commerce membership club that promises low wholesale prices and home delivery on a variety of organic and non-GMO groceries and home and beauty supplies. For the most part, Thrive Market features pantry staples — crackers, pasta, condiments — from their generic house brands, but “thoughtfully sourced” seafood and meat is available too. Overall prices aren’t super low, but they are competitive if not cheap compared to their organic counterparts at most supermarkets. Membership costs $9.95 per month or $59.95 annually, after a 30-day free trial, and delivery is free for members on orders of $49 or more."

More than just ordering online, digital grocery solutions today have to consider every aspect of the business: from the how to design a clear and intuitive mobile experience to operating logistics, employee safety, the use of physical space. Thrive Market, despite being just six years old, is well on its way to not only making a consistent impact for its members, but a more significant impact on the grocery industry as a whole.

Related press:

  • Can Rivals Take Advantage of Amazon’s Pandemic Woes? It Isn’t Easy, Wall Street Journal
  • Thrive Market CEO faces challenges of keeping up with demand during COVID-19 crisis, Supermarket News
  • Why Thrive Market is, well, thriving, Barrons

How we helped Universal Music Group create the future of music

By Neil Stoeckle, Creative Director, YML

How do you design a product for rockstars? Pop singers? Metal heads? 

That was my, and my team at YML, challenge from none other than Universal Music Group just a few months ago.  First, you have to understand what a modern musician is. From there, what makes the artists at Universal Music Group so unique.

Universal Music Group is arguably the largest, most talent filled music label in the business, representing Grammy winning artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Taylor Swift — the list goes on. 

Artists join UMG not only for their reach and distribution, but also their innovation. Appropriately named one of Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2019, UMG continues to prioritize projects that rattle industry norms and progress music forward.

They invest in an array of start-ups that constantly increase the capabilities of music hardware and software. They sponsor annual hack-athons where people in the music and tech industries combine forces to create new digital products. They own multiple music focused incubators and partner with product accelerators all over the globe, where the most promising digital ideas go on to be nurtured and polished, ultimately forming the foundations of new music-driven startups like Spreadmix — a streaming platform aimed at connecting people through live music, and Soundbops — a tool which encourages hands on music making for children early in their development. 

It’s obvious that music is changing. It has been since the first note was played and will continue even after humans are no longer the ones listening. From the way people consume it to the way artists create and deliver it. Imagine a time lapse of the evolution of recorded music: vinyl record players with big brass gramophones turn into cassette tape walkmans with cushy foam headphones, which morph into shiny iPods contrasted on dancing silhouettes. 

Now look at us.  We’re living in the streaming age where owning music is a dead idea. 

Electronic stores have become graveyards for hard copy albums, embalmed in plastic and buried beneath their headstone-like clearance bins. The nostalgic teenager in me is in mourning. 

And as UMG has recognized up close and personal, musicians are changing as well. 

The rising stars of this generations aren’t the hotel-trashing rockstar stereotypes of the past. These are young, informed entrepreneurs who understand that it takes more than just good music to be famous. They have to have a strong social media presence, they need big brand affiliations, they need to anticipate future trends and and they need to identify marketing opportunities based on location, demographics and untapped and rising markets. 

The music-loving product designer in me is nerding out hard.

Welcome to Universal Music Artists

UMG’s ongoing quest for innovation combined with the recognition of the changing musician inspired the label to partner with YML.  Together we introduced Universal Music Artists  —  a new digital platform which brings data to the music industry. It aggregates user data from Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, so artists have a holistic view of exactly who their fans are and how they can better engage them.

What does that even mean?

The musical data footprint today is growing at an unimaginable pace. Music lovers pamper themselves with streaming services defined by an “any song, anywhere” reality. Every time a Spotify or Apple Music account is created, a small amount of demographic information — including age, gender and location — is captured. 

This isn’t a bad thing.

 In fact, as someone who still crowd-surfs at the age of 30 and according to Spotify, listened to 93,876 minutes of music last year, it’s pretty damn amazing. 

While Facebook gathers and sells people’s personal information to the highest bidder, UMG uses only the most basic demographic data to provide a better experience to fans. It’s like a satisfaction survey you actually want to fill out. At the crux of the UMA offering is the simple truth that guides most, if not all, data-informed digital experiences: with more information, I can make more informed decisions. 

Now let’s translate that to Gaga or Kendrick: If an artist knows who is listening, where they’re listening and what they’re listening to, they can tailor the sound, the shows, the merch, even who their next collaboration will be with — everything to better entertain the constant change of the audience.

Data is better when it’s designed

UMG’s data team may be reading this so I won’t give away all my secrets, but the beginning of the project often had me sitting with my ears open and my mouth shut, desperately trying to keep up with the unfamiliar analytics jargon that effortlessly rolled off their tongues.

 Imagine yourself walking down the street and you come across people playing double dutch and they ask if you want to join. So you do. But you’ve only ever played with a single jump rope before and you’re trying to time your moves so you don’t interrupt their flow. Then, just when you start to get the hang of it, there are 5 more jump ropes added, and then a few juggling pins, and now you’re also riding a unicycle. 

Might sound like chaos, but I loved it.

As a creative director whose stakeholders are usually individuals driven by business KPIs and dollar signs, being able to work closely with a data and analytics team was a wonderful change of pace. Not only because I learned something new everyday and because they loved every design we showed them — whether it was a large format print out of the proposed information architecture or a pretty UI exploration quickly dropped into a photoshop mockup — but because they were passionate about what they did everyday: data. 

The team was brilliant and the back end they spent years developing had so much potential. But passion for analytics without intentional hierarchical inclusion would come with a price… at the expense of the experience.

Every data point was deemed essential. Every metric was just as important as every other metric and therefore was expected to be a part of the final product. Enter: Firehose. 

‘Firehose’ was the term we used when trying to convey what the experience would be like if we included everything, simply because we could. A firehose can save lives, but not if you aim it directly at the person climbing out of the top story window of a burning building. Another macabre analogy. Sorry. At least it was effective.

The above is the redesigned Information Architecture for Universal Music Artists.

The Who

With so many different roles in the modern music industry — label heads, artists, producers, managers, marketers, promoters, artist-aggregators, booking agents, promoters — we needed to redefine the target audience in order to whittle down the feature set.

Who would use this product the most? Who would find it most valuable? The answer turned out to be pretty obvious. Artists and artist managers. The ones that make the music and the ones that do everything else.

This was such a pleasant revelation because it meant stripping the product of any unnecessary clutter that wouldn’t be appreciated (understood) by musicians. It’s pretty uncommon for a musician to moonlight as a data scientist and we didn’t want them to have to start because of some new tool their record label gave them.

In turn, we decided that Universal Music Artists needed to intuitively answer 3 key questions: How am I doing? Who is listening? How can I improve?

How am I doing?

In all the interviews we conducted, this was the question that was echoed most by artists and managers alike. How am I doing? Am I up or down? 
Basically, is there more green or red on the screen?

 From the home screen, artists are immediately presented with three hero metrics, as well as the direction in which they are trending for each:

  • Total Audience (the artists unique listeners on Spotify and Apple Music)
  • Streams Per Listener
  • Total Streams

Next in the hierarchy are the artist’s Spotlight Songs and Videos — their most recent releases. 

Releasing a track or dropping a music video is like conceiving a child. You spend months reading the right books, eating the right foods, staying away from alcohol in anticipation of bringing this piece of you into the world. And once it arrives, you’re constantly checking on them to make sure they’re safe and healthy. 

It’s tireless work, but it’s all worth it when your kid grows up and buys you a house. 

Same thing. This product solves the classic artist’s dilemma: it gives them a real-time, credible view of the health of their latest launch, every time a fan presses play.

Who is listening?

While skill is an objective quality, the idea of good music is based on bias, defined by personal preference and influenced by popular trends.

Ultimately, it’s the people who decide whether an artist will rise or fall.

Through data driven insights, Universal Music Artists identifies opportunities of growth across the globe. For example, an artist will be notified of any irregular spikes in listenership for a specific location or demographic. So if their primary fan base is in San Francisco, California, they will continue to prioritize resources accordingly, but if listeners in Sao Paulo, Brazil, are increasing each week by the thousands, managers will know to target the hell out of that location through marketing and touring. 
In addition to triggered insights, artists can see how their audience is responding to their music through the week by week flux of:

  • Total Streams / Views (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube)
  • Total Watch Time (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube)
  • Active vs. Passive Streams / Views (did someone directly search for a song or did it auto play from a playlist)
  • Top Countries
  • Top Cities
  • Streams by Age
  • Streams / Views by Gender

Can you imagine if the Beatles had this? 

How can I improve?

Whether an artist is flying high or falling off, they’re constantly looking for ways to be better.

Better than their previous release, better than their genre, better than the rest. Period.

To help them get there, this product will identify areas that are lacking so teams can counter accordingly. For example, if an artist is blowing up on Apple Music, but fairly stagnant on Spotify, managers can adjust their marketing strategy to focus on the artist’s Spotify presence.

One way to get there is through exposure. Duh.

While in a usability session with the team that manages Marshmello and Illenium (nbd), we uncovered some amazing insights on how an artist’s music gets shopped around in this golden age of streaming — playlists. 
For better or worse, modern day listeners often discover their new favorite track or band by pressing play on a popular curated playlist and passively consuming whatever comes out. If a manager can get their artist’s latest single onto one of these playlists, it’s guaranteed exposure.

Universal Music Artists is basically ammunition for this goal in the form of data, where they can compare the listenership of a playlist’s existing tracks with the recent rise of one of their own. If a song is outperforming another without any playlist help, it’s time to plug the hell out of it.

Hedonistic Usability

There is a philosophy, coined by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’, called Hedonist Sustainability —the idea that something shouldn’t be boring simply because its good for the planet. Composting isn’t fun and renewable energy isn’t terribly sexy, but Ingels challenges this tradition through his designs. 

It proved to be such an effective concept that we repurposed his thinking for product design, calling it Hedonistic Usability — just because something is utilitarian, doesn’t mean it can't be beautiful. Thanks Bjarke.

His most recent project, and the one that most obviously echoes this ideology, is the Copenhill Urban Mountain — a power plant that converts 400,000 tons of waste each year into low-carbon electricity for the people of Copenhagen.

Waste-to-energy wasn’t enough for Ingels, so he designed a ski slope to live on top of it. Breaking up the flat terrain, this artificial mountain gives people a place to test their snow skills from within the city while bringing Copenhagen one step closer to becoming the first carbon neutral capitol in the world.

Images by Alexander Vissing

The thought of “data” to anyone other than a data scientist probably sounds cold and boring — even to those who prioritize emotion and feeling in their craft. The product needed to house all of the invaluable insights that come with analytics, but it also needed to be attractive enough so music artists would be enticed to use it.

I’m pretty sure Universal Music Artists isn’t saving the planet, but I’m quite convinced it is saving music, which is why Hedonistic Usability — our recycled version of Ingels’ philosophy —was the basis for the entire interface.

The dark UI is designed to be viewed at all times of day and night — at the breakfast table, in the recording studio, in the club. It needed to be beautifully subtle, acting as a canvas for the analytics and album art alike.

The contrasting use of bright color against black puts emphasis on the most important content so that from any screen, artists will immediately know the direction in which they are trending. Green is good. Red is bad. Every platform is color coded so they know whether a piece of data is specific to Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube. We even added some subtle animation to the navigation bar because music inspires movement and…well… it’s easier to sell a design when it’s pretty.

And this is only the first launch. We have a healthy roadmap for the future of Universal Music Artists, aimed at building a stronger bond and tailoring the relationship between the fans and the music. Although this product will be used by artists and managers, it’s really for the people who are listening. 
Music is changing for the better. Sure, songs are written by teams instead of performers and roadies carry turntables instead of guitars, but now data is in the band — disrupting the music industry by bringing the audience closer to the artist.

I want to to give a huge thanks to all of the people involved in the creation of this product. All of those at YML—Jonathan Bongato, Mauricio Bucardo, Stephen Clements, Zain Jiwani, Jason Rzutkiewicz, Ramsundar Shandilya, Ryan Spencer, Shayna Stewart, Adam Talcott, Mayo Tobita, John Wilson and Bindushree. You are all incredible.

And it was topping on the cake to see the UMA work get recognized, both in the press (Rolling Stone, Billboard, Variety), as well as with a Webby recognition in the category of Apps, Mobile and Voice for the Best User Interface Award (out of the 13,000 entries from 50 states and over 70 countries.

About the Author: Neil Stoeckle

Neil is a multi-disciplined creative director who has been continuously pursuing design since he first learned how to photoshop his friends’ faces on the bodies of celebrities. Joining YML in its early days (2013), he helped structure and evolve the people-first practices that are still used today. Whether it’s a product experience for a client’s customers or an environment for his fellow employees within the walls of YML, Neil uses human-centric design to elevate the needs of people.

There is no industry Neil has not touched. He brought the artists of Universal Music Group closer to their fans through a seamless union of design and data. For State Farm, he created a simple and empathetic experience for the otherwise overwhelming maze of insurance. He’s created medical frameworks for Research Kit and fintech products for First Republic Bank.

By Poojan Jhaveri, Product Manager, YML

For most of 2020, uncertainty has been the status quo, but Apple's WWDC event and introduction of iOS14 was a cathartic and dynamic reprieve. Apple recognized the tangible changes to our daily lives in this still relatively new Covid-19 world, especially with regard to consumer behavior — how people access necessities on demand, behave socially, and perceive of the importance of health over anything else. 

Despite this ominous backdrop, WWDC 2020 — and iOS 14 in particular — did not disappoint.

The new iOS is impactful, packed with an array of special features, from the redesigned home screen, app library, threaded messages, picture-in-picture video to more meme-ojis and reduced friction for phone-call notifications. The common thread of these changes revolves around bringing context to the users in a more personal, easy, and private form.

And it will not be long before iOS 14 takes over this fall.

To meet the users where they are, here are the key features that product teams can leverage with iOS14:

  • Acquisition & Activation using App Clips
  • Retention using Widgets & Picture to Picture

1. Acquisition and activation using App Clips

Downloading an app is not seamless. It can be full of friction and additional overhead, often causing less frequent use.

According to TechCrunch, more than 51% of users download 0 apps per month. 

App Clips are Apple’s answer to solving this problem, allowing users to complete a specific task without downloading an app - similar to Google’s Instant apps. App Clips are light-weight, easy-to-use extensions of the app that can be invoked by users in the moments that they need them. For example, check out the menu below at a cafe.

Apple has given you a way to essentially taste an ice cream flavor before buying it. 

Why should you leverage this? Speed!

More streamlined experiences will enable users to get things done within seconds instead of minutes, thus allowing for lesser distractions and a more focused customer journey. By combining it with features like  ‘Sign In with Apple’ & ‘Apple Pay’, a five-step checkout process can easily be simplified down to two clicks. On the onboarding side, measuring time to first value will also improve drastically since the acquisition is tightly integrated with the user’s intent at the moment. 

If done correctly, overall app downloads might decrease, but the conversion and activations — which is the sweet spot every marketer values — will increase from those downloads. 

Next step for product marketers: Start with identifying and aligning the team on the core-action that the user must take to get value out of the app. 

2. Retention using widgets on the home screen

Let’s face it — just having the user download the app is not enough. Downloads are a long-forgotten vanity metric. In fact, 25% of apps downloaded around the world are only ever used once.

In iOS14, Apple has designed widgets to be part of the user’s Home screen, right along side apps. These widgets help the user by introducing both context and action, rather than forcing the user to look for it. These widgets can be customized for sizes as well, based on device intelligence available from Apple to surface the right content at the right time. 

Why should you leverage this? Exploration based on the content of these widgets will largely impact the retention & engagement of the apps that take advantage of these widgets. These widgets allow for a discovery component that might not have brought in traffic previously. 

Next step: Identify the most frequented actions that users take in the app for consumption and plan for a widget around it. 

Some ideas to get you started:

IndustryApp ClipsWidgets
RetailBrowse through available inventory, compare prices based on items and and drive salesN/A
RestaurantsGet quick access to a menu from an NFC chip on the table and be able to order & pay.N/A
Banking- View loans, CD & Mortgage rates at a retail bank. 
- Navigate the services available at a nearest bank location and schedule an appointment. 
- Use widget to jump to most frequented money movement sections of the app such as - Transfers, deposits etc. 
- Use widget to see the percentage change in one's investment portfolio. 
EcommerceShow catalog for any merchant and be able to directly add to cart.Browse the top deals of the week. 
HealthN/ASee my alerts/messages.
MediaSave an article for later. See the top trending articles.

3. Being transparent about data & privacy

Lastly,  be sure to provide your users with the transparency that they deserve around data asks. The last thing you would want is the user to churn out because of unfair data practices.

Apple has always been a strong proponent of user privacy and in iOS14 they have added a variety of features to bolster user safety and confidence, which are critical to including for mobile apps and products in the future.

  1. Consent - Apps will now require your consent before tracking users across apps and services. 
  2. Privacy information on the App Store - Apps will now be required to self-report information about their data handling on the App Store so that users can read through and make an informed decision of the permissions around app use. 
  3. Limited access - Apps need to allow users to allow access for approximate location rather than a precise location to avail location benefits. Similarly, starting iOS14, users can choose to provide limited access to selected photos to the app rather than giving access to the entire photo library. 
  4. Recording Indicator - iOS14 will now display a recording indicator whenever an app is using the Mic or the Camera.

Next Step: Connect with legal and data teams to plan an update around this. These will be mandatory and not providing these might create an obstacle for you from uploading an app for iOS14. 

Let’s bring this to life

When should you start planning? The answer is now.

iOS, iPadOS & WatchOS Developer Betas are available starting today with public release later in the fall (around September 2020).

Connect with YML on how we can help you bring your ideas to life and get first-mover advantage before September.

And check out our case studies with State Farm, The Home Depot, Universal Music Group and more to see the impact we're making for brands across technology, design and strategy.

About the author: Poojan Jhaveri

Poojan is YML's product manager where he has been bringing digital experiences to life for brands across retail, fintech, grocery and a variety of other industries. As a motivated self-starter, he strongly believes in creating innovative products and services that help people express themselves through technology. His passion lies in the execution and optimization of user journeys across devices. Prior to YML, Poojan served as a digital product strategist at IDEO applying product and design thinking for projects ranging from finance, augmented reality, entertainment, kids apps to multi-device systems. His work has been featured by Apple, TechCrunch, Parents Choice Awards, FastCo, and other media outlets.

How adopting a start-up mentality can drive your strategy, especially in uncertain times.

by Ashish Toshniwal and Kelly Kwak

Uncertainty is the new status quo. The global community, individuals and companies alike, are wading through uncharted waters with very little historical context to rely on.  Thus far, we’ve seen the devastating impacts of grinding the economy to a halt — the stock market feels like a roller coaster ride, oil prices have been volatile, and companies across the spectrum are scrambling to stay afloat and evolve in the time of COVID.

Add to that a series of powerful worldwide protests against racism, police brutality and white supremacy, rightfully causing brands and individuals alike to reflect on their privilege, and how to build a better world.

Now, more than ever, companies are being challenged to test their abilities to pivot and action quickly.

There is a fundamental reason behind the startup culture shunning
corporate culture in favor of learn-fast thinking.

Startups need to pivot quickly to compete. They don’t have the luxury of spending time mired in “analysis paralysis.” Time is literally
the difference between growth and being open for business the next quarter.  

These scrappy players pick a direction, test, learn and iterate.  Agile,
experimentation-based methodology has proven effective many times, and many returns over. Think Netflix, Basecamp, Credit Karma (a former YML client), and Amazon, to name a few. 

The key questions are: does the learn-fast strategy always work? And does it change the face of strategy across industries and business scales?

Out with the old

We’ve all been there.  Your company unveils its new strategy that’s going to position the company for unbelievable success and growth.  It’s delivered with much fanfare in the form of a ‘vision statement’ or three strategic pillars or maybe even an inspirational video.  The strategy team pats themselves on the back for getting executive and board level approval after arduous months of research and work.  Everyone gears up for the subsequent months of cross functional planning to hammer out the perfect roadmap.  

Before you know it, you’ve just lost six months researching and planning for your three year strategy — now a 2.5 year strategy. Poof.

At this point it’s possible your strategy has gone stale, or the motivation to push forward is gone. Who has the stamina to align the rest of the organization to execute?  “The strategy-to-execution gap is an enduring problem with no easy solution” writes Nathan Wiita and Orla Leonard for Harvard Business Review.  

That’s not to say, scrap having a strategy altogether.  

As the Japanese proverb goes, ‘Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.’  Having a vision and strategic focus is invaluable.  But the process of finding that focus is evolving.

Gone are the days of strategists conducting months of studies to unveil an untested, unproven strategy that is hard to bring to life.  Case in point: GE Digital.  

GE started its digital transformation journey in 2011.  By 2015, it had invested billions, hired thousands and established GE Digital. However, the bloated strategy was pulled apart by too many competing agendas and execution subsequently suffered.  GE suffered punishing drops in stock price which led to the subsequent exit of CEO Jeff Immelt. GE announced, late 2018, that it would be selling parts of GE Digital to ServiceMax.

Here's why GE, Ford's digital transformation programs failed last year

In the new world of COVID, where entire industries — dining, travel, entertainment — have had to make massive business model pivots in order to survive - restaurants as an example - this pace of strategy development feels like a luxury and a relic of the past.  

As a strategist or leader, ask yourself if you feel your organization is stuck. Do you consistently hear the feedback, “we lack a strategy,” “I don’t understand our strategy,” “why isn’t our strategy working?”  

Has your organization poured millions in investment towards a [insert buzz word like “digital”] transformation and have yet to realize significant returns?  The good news is, you’re in good company - 70% of transformations fail.

The bad news is, you don’t want to be part of that 70%.  To succeed, strategy and strategists need to be fluid.  This is the new, potentially uncomfortable, world.  

A strategy is a direction and not a blueprint.

In the old world of strategy, your strategists are captains and strategies are the cruise ships. The ship is built to anticipate and plow through turbulent weather with the captain tracking weather patterns from miles away to make day-to-day decisions.

In the new world, strategists are sailors and strategies are sailboats. The sailor anticipates changing winds and reacts in the face of minute to minute sailing conditions to steer the ship on its intended course.   

The role of the strategist in making day-to-day, week-to-week, actionable decisions is a crucial ingredient to success. As strategists we need to move from being research-obsessed to results-focused; silo-ed to operationally imbedded; waterfall to agile.

Months of market and customer research cannot give you the same insights as in-market product testing.  The key is finding the right balance of research and in-market testing to ensure you’re consistently on the right course.  

Uber’s chief of product, Manik Gupta, wrote to employees, “We will focus on fewer projects with more direct business impact.”  Uber deliberately relies less on user research for tactical features and instead relies more on experimentation.

Experimentation is the backbone of strategy

Starting any project with validating a new concept is the bread and butter of traditional strategy and also how strategists earn the taunt of “analysis paralysis.” However, focusing on experimentation means recognizing specific considerations to strategy.

  • You’re formulating your problem statement and hypotheses using past data, however, you’re validating your problem statement, hypotheses, customer need and demand through experimentation tactics such as qualitative and quantitative studies ranging from shop alongs, surveys and individual interviews to diaries (“Painted door” experiments).
  • View this phase as a way to ensure you’re clearly articulating objectives that make sense.  Use this as a gut check vs. hunt for empirical evidence.
  • If you already know your customer, shorten the cycle of customer research by focusing net new research activities on answering key unanswered questions.  Find the shortest path to do this with tactics like painted door experiments.
  • As a rule of thumb try to find ways to complete these activities in 4 - 6 weeks.  If you go over 4 - 6 weeks, ask yourself if you’re mired in analysis paralysis.
  • Lastly, but most importantly, try to get in front of your customer.  Do some field research with a prototype in hand to truly get useful feedback.

Optimizing existing experiences offer strategists an opportunity to marry strategy with execution.  If you’re not focused here, PIVOT. Here's how:

  • Strategy isn’t a once and done exercise.  It’s infused in execution and should live into maintenance and optimization.
  • Your strategy must be informed by further experimentation that helps you consistently grow and improve your experience.
  • Optimizing existing experiences is where strategists should focus: it’s the intersection, the place to marry strategy with execution.  
  • If you’re not there, PIVOT.
  • Get cozy with your analytics and business intelligence team, and build out your experimentation capabilities. Employing a robust optimization program that enables and actions upon A/B and multivariate testing insights is the key to consistent improvement.

Agile strategy in action

YML recently brought this strategy to life recently with TaxAct, America’s #2 online tax filing service. Our challenge was simple: steal market share from the leader. TaxAct needed to impact their conversion rate without affecting revenue; driving better conversion rates for an average of 300k visitors every single day during the 2019 tax season. 

The real challenge, though, was that tax season is only three months long. We needed to extract as much value as possible in that short timeframe. 

Our strategy incorporated improved brand design, but more importantly a range of experimentation and iteration. Lessons from product analytics were embedded into the new experience by setting up personalization to target audience segments based on characteristics, seasonality and device dimensions.

YML meticulously designed a roadmap for A/B testing across the tax season both from the client side, as well as server-side experiments ranging from UI (copy, the order of the modules), to price and tier changes.

Agile, experimentation-based strategy led to significant impact and growth for TaxAct.
See the work.

For context, most iterative experiments like this occur over many months or even years, reviewing performance and making the appropriate changes based on the data. But YML didn’t have that kind of time. Our strategy integrated fresh versions of the website to users every four hours, for three weeks straight. 

YML drove up conversions by 22% and achieved unprecedented levels of performance. This in comparison to the previous year was a 400% increase. 

Strategy informed by experimentation requires meticulousness, organization, and a constant eye on the objectives. Substantial growth potential can be unlocked by systematically learning and acting upon a strategy - meeting it head on and charting your course.

About the Authors

Kelly Kwak is the Director of Strategy at YML. Shehas over 10 years of experience building impactful strategies for clients ranging from mid-cap to Fortune 50 companies. Her experience ranges from pure business strategy to digital product strategy. Having had both consulting and agency experience, she is able to understand the real needs of her clients and develop solutions that matter. She has worked on consumer-facing products at startups like Kabbage and Fortune 50 companies like Lowe's.  

Ashish Toshniwal is the CEO and co-founder of YML. An expert in mobile strategy, product design, and technology. Ashish has been featured on CNBC, ABC News, Forbes, and Adweek as a leader in technology, and has his very own TED talk about finding purpose in your work. He has led YML to be recognized by The Wall Street Journal as “One of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley.”

Who are you, and what do you do at YML?

Hello! I’m Sunil, Director of Engineering at YML, and I can't deny that I am a geek at heart.  My role demands that I drive the best engineering solutions for our customers and the best support for our top-notch engineering teams.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever built?

The entrepreneurial spirit in me is always active and I’m always tinkering and building things. From a novel pet-store to an IoT child tracker to building a mobile app that takes a picture of a car's damage, I’ve tried it all. I want to keep the programmer in me active. 

Before I got my hand on a computer, I also used to build model airplanes.

SE5A - The Vintage Model Company

Where are you from and where do you live now?

I was born and brought up in the Silicon Valley of India, Bengaluru. While a large part of my career was spent working (and lots of travel!) in the US, I now live in Bengaluru. There’s so much happening on the tech front here that it’s infectious. Bengaluru brings out that innate entrepreneurial and innovation spirit in anyone that lives here.

Apart from being the tech capital of India, it’s also is the brewery capital of India! Who wouldn’t want to live here?

Tell us a little about your background.

I was born a computer engineer! My first tryst with programming was with BASIC back when most of my peers hadn’t seen a computer. I was hooked on programming and it’s still the thing I do to clear out my mind. A large part of my early career was devoted to building solutions in the Biometrics space. I’ve also spent the recent years building products and solutions in the Fintech and InsureTech space.

Outside of work, I have a knack for finding great places to travel to and great places to stay. I’d say travel has played a large part in shaping my personality.

Why did you choose to come to YML?

I am excited to be part of YML for the sheer promise it holds of a great career for anyone who’s part of its journey. I am amazed at the incredible work we do and I’m super excited to be part of it. We don’t just talk design and technology here, we go ahead and build it!

What about this industry are you most passionate about?

I feel it’s the people and minds that are shaping our lives with technology and the privilege to be part of that. To be able to create something that alters and changes people’s lives is just unbelievable and I feel lucky to be doing what I’m doing. I’m a Sci-Fi geek and to be able to experience mind-bending stuff that are coming into our lives is just fascinating.

What are some other companies you admire?

Marvel Studios.. period! Black Panther is definitely my favorite.

The Passionate Politics of “Black Panther” | The New Yorker

I also admire any company that stretches the imagination and are disruptors. I admire anything from Apple to SpaceX to Reliance Jio, who are making tech accessible, as well as pushing the boundaries of what humans can do and achieve.

How do you spend your spare time?

While we're not working (or not binge watching on Netflix), my wife, Ranjitha, and I are mostly traveling. We love seeing new places.  If we’re not traveling, we’re likely pondering over our next destination. We always have a travel bag ready to go! I also love playing racket sports and running.


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