Editor’s note: In an ongoing series, INMA is profiling our most engaged members — our super fans — to give members a chance to learn more about each other. Today we profile Matt Lindsay, president and CEO of Mather Economics in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States.
As one of the first data science-as-a-service companies, Mather Economics has had the opportunity to build lasting bonds with the companies it works with. And that is something its president and CEO, Matt Lindsay, doesn’t take for granted.
“I am proud of the long-term relationships we have with our customers,” he said. “We have worked through crises and celebrated successes together. I am proud that we have helped evolve the business of journalism and helped new media companies transition their businesses to digital platforms while maintaining their customer relationships and journalistic mission.”
INMA recently caught up with Lindsay to find out what else was on his mind.
INMA: What big lesson have you learned over the past couple of years that helped shape your plans moving forward?
Lindsay: Our big lessons from the past few years are that customers are willing to pay equivalent amounts for digital subscriptions as they have for print products, that there is a significant opportunity for publishers to optimise their products through analysis of reader preferences for content, and that activating insights from analytics within a company’s operations is where publishers need the most help.
INMA: If you had your career to do over again, what would you want to know in the beginning?
Lindsay: I would encourage my younger self to take more risks, both in my corporate career and in starting a business. Failure is temporary, while success is permanent. The amount of funding available for start-up companies is remarkable. Mather Economics bootstrapped our company from the beginning, financed our growth from cash flow, and made money every year. Amazon and Tesla lost billions along the way and are doing fine.
INMA: What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning
Lindsay: Working on interesting questions and solving difficult problems with a smart group of people is the most rewarding part of my work. We focus on helping clients first and worry about revenue second, which usually works well.
The complexity of digital solutions today makes that approach a bit more challenging, but we still focus on our long-term customer relationships every day. Employee relationships are another core focus of our business. We want to give our staff the opportunity to do meaningful, interesting work where their impact on our clients and our business is clear.
INMA: What is the craziest job or project you’ve ever done in media — and what did you learn from it?
Lindsay: One of my early newspaper consulting clients asked me to update a pricing elasticity analysis of their subscribers every week. They said they would send me their subscriber data on the same night each week, and they needed me to return the recommended pricing changes back within a day or two.
These pricing changes were uploaded into the billing systems, and the bills went out as usual. Eventually, we incorporated test and control groups into the recommendations, and the insights into customer willingness to pay for news products from this process were incredible. As word spread of this approach, we added hundreds of newspapers to the process and added other services such as churn risk scoring. This experience has taught me that the implementation of insights is more important than the initial analysis in many cases.
INMA: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Lindsay: That it is a small world. Relationships and our reputation are our greatest assets. Every year it seems we are in contact with current and former clients and employees. Many of them have changed roles inside the newspaper industry and outside of it. They contact us because we are a trusted partner.
INMA: What do you do to relax?
Lindsay: I play golf and tennis, which are great social sports. Reading non-fiction books is a welcome diversion, and I enjoy playing guitar. It is easy to get started but tough to master. As many people know, I am a University of Georgia Bulldog fan. We won the College Football National Championship last season, which was the first one since 1980.
INMA: If you hadn’t gone into news media, what was your backup plan?
Lindsay: My plan was to be an economics consultant that applied microeconomics insights to business problems. Media was not where I planned to go. My first industries were transportation and utility networks. I have also worked with lotteries a good deal since their pricing optimisation is challenging.
INMA: What is your favourite thing to read?
Lindsay: The Economist magazine. I am sure this will come as a surprise to everyone.
INMA: What do you find the most challenging/interesting about the news media industry right now?
Lindsay: Breaking news is not what people pay for. Certainly, it is important and vital to an open, democratic society, but it is a public good available in many places. News media companies are challenged to create compelling products people will pay for that have news as a part of their value proposition to the customer.
Advertising has funded news media for a long time. I believe it will continue to do so, but reader revenue is the most critical element of the news media business model for the foreseeable future, and the preferences of the reader are what needs to drive product development.