Interview with Alex Nocifera, Field Day

How do you reinvent your startup-focused on in-person, grass roots marketing-in the face of a global pandemic? Our interview this morning is with Alex Nocifera of Los Angeles-based Field Day. Alex tells us about how the startup had to reinvent itself during the pandemic, and how it's now taking advantage of the resurgence of the economy to build its business. What is Field Day? Alex Nocifera: We help the enterprise, large brands, working with brands like US Cellular, Panera Bread, Square, Uber, and help them generate demand for their products and services in a local, acute manner. If they are trying to acquire audiences and attention, for example, on the Westwide of Los Angeles or West Village, New York, we go after very acute areas and try to drive more grass root efforts, but doing it in a programmatic fashion. For example, one lever we have is to send 20 ambassadors to the universities in Los Angeles, and handle out collateral and materials. We have the data where those universities are, we have the human resources and curated marketing labor. No different than Uber has drivers, Field Day has marketers. During the pandemic, it wasn't that cool to bring someone a piece of marketing collateral-no one wanted to be around anyone. So we reinvented ourselves, and now use our marketing ambassadors to do phone outreach. It really works very well for business-to-business type outreach. And then there's this second reverberation where you can do business-to-business and then layer in a consumer offer, to get to the employees in that business. For example, we'll go to the University, and say hey, Panera Bread has an offer, which you can also add to an email and can go out to your student base. You get both the B-to-B and B-to-C as a one-two punch. The uniqueness is we're a database, a marketplace, and predictive analytics under the hood threading together every signal into a predictive state for marketers. Talk about your financial backing? Alex Nocifera: We're lucky in that we have LA's best seed funds. We've got Eric Manlunas at Wavemaker, Brian Garrett at Crosscut, Mark Mullen at Double M, now Bonfire; we've got Peter Lee who was Baroda and is now Embark. We've got Kelly Perdew at Moonshots, we've got Sanjay Reddy and the Unlock team. We've got Peter Goldberg. We've probably got the most active seed investors in Los Angeles. You mentioned the labor force being like Uber. Are they employees, contractors, or how does that part of the model work? Alex Nocifera: It's a blend of both. We've got some W-2 and some 1099. It really depends on frequency, job type, total income earned. There's a bunch of contributing factors. Mostly, in California, it's W-2. The labor laws are not really stricter, just confusing. So, we don't want to mess with it, and we have more W-2 here. In the other 49 states, we're 1099. Where are you now as a company, understanding that lots of things have changed due to this pandemic? Alex Nocifera: It's really wild. We were on a $3M to $4M run rate going into the pandemic. Early Q1 2020, our business literally came to a horrifying halt in March, and then April. Unfortunately we had to furlough the majority of the team. As we felt the business of canvassing and old school grass roots marketing was not timely during a pandemic, we reinvented ourselves to do this local phone outreach. The difference is different from the SDR model, it's not someone from another country with a different language calling that local difference. It's literally, I'm Alex, from the local Blaze Pizza or Panera Bread around the corner from you -- leveraging local --and now we're double that trajectory in Q2, with a whole new business. 80 percent of our business is now the phone business, with these major brands. As markets are re-opening with the vaccines roll out, canvassing is coming back. So we have these two levers that we can use to help brands tell their story, wherever they are. It's truly geo-agnostic, we can do anywhere in the US, with people going and telling their story, by phone or by feet. How did you manage your investors with the pandemic. Obviously, things have turned around now, but how did the experience go? Alex Nocifera: It's a great question. Obviously, in March, admittedly you were thinking less about investors and just about life. You're thinking about your kids, who are now out of school, and I thought heavily about the employees, and a lot of concern about the safety of our ambassadors. I had a freakout about getting our ambassadors off the streets. We literally pulled people in early March, before it was mandated, and went to some brands-who really fought it, by the way-and I remember a big brand, I got on the phone with their CEO, and argued we didn't want people on the streets. There was a lot of uncertainty. To get back to the question, the investors were quite supportive. The one thing the investors I mentioned all the way through-is they have put a lot of trust into me as an entrepreneur, and they trusted me. There was a COVID operating plan adjustment, and there was a COVID 2.0 operating plan adjustment. I did my best to hold for as long as I could for not furloughing and keeping people on payroll, but once it got to the point-if you remember in June of last year-there was a false restart. We said, here we go again-and brands were talking to us again, and the reality was it was a stutter stop false start. That's what forced me on the COVID 2.0 plan, where we furloughed the majority of the team, and it was really-and I hate saying it, because everyone went through it-but it was a really shitty time. It was an ugly time of uncertainty. Thankfully, we were able to help place a lot of the people we had to furlough into other opportunities, and think we did our best. And, we're almost double the size of a team now, with the majority of the people we had to furlough have come back. We've really found our rhythm again, and I think it's even better than prior to COVID. What's your feeling on if things are picking up again? Alex Nocifera: It feels like the seminal moment for a resurgence. Not only because we've been caged for a year, but because brands have to reinvent themselves and retell their story. If you think about one of the biggest areas of disruption and destruction was small businesses and brands not being able to support their lease as tenants. Fortunately for us, because we work with enterprise brands, all of our brands stayed in business. We weren't working with main street and small businesses, but public and private equity backed companies. So they all need to get back out there and tell their story. Marketing budgets are thawing out and opening up. Why this is working out so well, is if you think about us, as humans, is we have been face planted into a screen for 18 months. Just this notion of diversifying how your story gets told, with human interaction, with texture and tangibility, has been well received by those marketing budgets. Last question, so what's next for you? Alex Nocifera: We're sticking with the theme of diversification, old school meets new school. We're taking the oldest form of advertising, the human-to-human story telling, and we're injecting it with data, and AI, and predictive analytics, and all these things. Now we've built this foundation of data driven, software enabled tools, we're going to take on some of the old school stuff, looking at print, looking at direct mail, and really figuring out how, if you're launching a new menu item, or a new product, how you get the word out there. How do you get to places people are actually going to hear your story. That's actually a hard thing today in this digital world, where the cost to acquire has never been higher. It's a really crowded, saturated area. So, the old school approach, zig to the zag, is a well timed strategy for marketers. Thanks, and good luck!