An Interview With Robbin Steif: The LunaMetrics Story
Many of our readers have heard that our founder, Robbin Steif, sold LunaMetrics in December 2017 to a great company, HS2 Solutions. As a relatively new employee to LunaMetrics, now an HS2 Solutions company, I’ve had a fascinating view of the entire process. I originally applied to LunaMetrics in December 2017, before news of the acquisition was announced, and I started at our combined organization in January 2018.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about working at LunaMetrics is learning more about Robbin, the fascinating LunaMetrics origin story and years of success that have followed. (To be honest, the Friday team lunches are pretty great too!)
Over the past five months, Robbin has been helping our two companies work together more seamlessly, expanding our shared capabilities, and basically doing way more work than anyone would expect from someone who just sold her company!
As a follower of the LunaMetrics blog for some time, I’m so excited to be working here. One of my reasons for applying to LunaMetrics was because I looked up to Robbin as a woman business owner and a woman succeeding in the tech industry. With her impending departure from LunaMetrics, I felt it important to learn more about her and the company she founded as well as collect any advice she may have for me and for others in our industry.
I sat down with Robbin a few weeks ago and our interview is below. Robbin’s stories are fascinating and her advice expands well beyond the boundaries of digital marketing and web analytics. I’m honored to share her remarks here and hope that others will find inspiration, especially those who, like Robbin, are not afraid to live life.
Robbin Steif, LunaMetrics
Our founder, Robbin, started LunaMetrics 14 years ago. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Business School and has served on the Board of Directors for the Digital Analytics Association. Robbin is a winner of a BusinessWomen First award, as well as a recent Diamond Award for business leadership.
Veranika Haurylovich, LunaMetrics
Veranika, is a Consultant in Analytics & Insight Department. Coming from a business background, Veranika understands the importance and effectiveness (!) of data-driven, customer-centric marketing. Born in Belarus and moved to the US a couple years ago, Veranika considers herself a cosmopolitan and simply enjoys life and world exploring.
Q: Why is LunaMetrics called LunaMetrics?
I user tested it. I originally had the name “Steif Enterprises,” but wanted to switch to a “real” company name. I user tested with friends around the world. There were two names that kept rising to the top – LunaMetrics and Luminetrics. I like LunaMetrics better.
Q: Why did you choose to work in Analytics and Digital Marketing?
My first job out of business school was in direct mail marketing at IBM. I was always fascinated by data and by attribution. (To be fair, we didn’t call it “attribution” back then.) Really, we were doing A/B testing. For example, we tested which envelope pulls better – the one with the snipe or one without. (A “snipe is something written on the outside of the envelope, such as “do not bend” or “open immediately.”)
I loved it. LunaMetrics is the digital equivalent of my work way back then.
Q: What made you decide to sell LunaMetrics?
I sold the company because I know you can’t always keep doing more of what you’re currently doing. I knew I wanted to expand into other areas, and I needed to grow in different ways. Personally, I’m excited to spend more time with my daughter and (hopefully, eventually) grandchildren.
Q: You founded LunaMetrics in 2004. In 2006, you hired your first employee. What motivated you during the two years that you were building the company by yourself?
Immediately before I founded Luna, I was unemployed. It was so much more exciting to do something every day and build a company than just to look for a job. This was the most welcome thing that happened at that time. I spent so much time looking for a job and not finding it. And it was easy for me to stay motivated because now I had a job, finally, I created it myself.
Q: While you were having difficult moments, especially during those first years, who did you turn to for advice?
Throughout the life of the company, I’ve turned to a variety of people for advice. But in the beginning, there were two people – a professor and a guy who worked with start-ups. I officially brought them on board as my board advisors. And every once in a while, I would have coffee with them and talk just to get some ideas. That was very useful. And over time, there were other people and other advisors who had great advice to give me.
Q: At the beginning of your business journey, did you ever think that you wouldn’t make it?
The only time I had that concern was in 2008. Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. The whole economy fell apart in 2008. Potential customers were mostly thinking how they were going to make it themselves in this new environment. I remember sitting down and talking to our team. I said: “Usually when this happens, the leader says, don’t worry, everything will be fine. But, I really don’t know whether we all will be warming our hands over a stove in two years.” I pointed out that it was an issue for our entire economic system, and I really didn’t know how it would play out.
Jonathan and Jim who are, fortunately, still at LunaMetrics were here in 2008. Jim remembers being a little bit worried because of how serious Robbin was taking it. Jonathan and Jim agree that it felt like businesses all took a big breath and held it for a few months at that time, figuring out what to do. Everyone was very uncertain about the future and what would happen. And then, suddenly, everyone let out the breath all at once, and fortunately, many companies realized they needed to be smarter with their marketing budgets and decided analytics was something they really had to invest in to optimize their marketing spend.
Q: Looking back, would you do anything differently?
I would learn earlier how to be a better manager because in those first years I went through whole teams of people who didn’t really want to work with me. After all, I wasn’t a very good manager back then, and their only option was to say, “I’m out of here.”
Q: How did you become a better manager?
First, I learned to tell myself the truth. I think that personal honesty is so important. Once I was able to admit my weaknesses, I was ready to confront them.
I do every personality test (the Predictive Index, Myers-Briggs, you name it.) One of my first employees, at my request, did a review on me, and I still have it. I do them all, in an effort to learn more about myself. Then you have to accept the problem or work on it.
Q: What is your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment is that I started this company on the back of a napkin and I sold it. I took it all the way to the end and sold it to a wonderful company and now I’m moving on to do something else.
Q: What was your biggest failure?
I didn’t have one – and that in itself is my biggest failure. It means that I didn’t take enough risks. If I could have a do-over, that’s the one area I’d change!
Q: What’s the top truth in life?
Be here now. It is about my personality and one of the things that I’ve worked on.
Q: What are you really into outside of LunaMetrics?
I’d like to focus on women, and girls, and money. I’m interested in how women can negotiate for themselves. Women make 70% of what men earn because they don’t negotiate their salaries. Second, I’m interested in teaching women entrepreneurs to charge higher prices. Finally, I’m interested in financial literacy for our daughters.
Q: Why do you think girls need it?
They say that when boys are playing with their trading cards or the electronic equivalent of that, they are really evaluating their portfolios. Girls often don’t do the same.
I ensured that both my daughters were financially literate. I put them on budgets, got them prepaid credit cards, taught them how to balance their checkbooks. They were around 11 and 13 at that time. I remember when my younger daughter turned around and said, “Oh I see. I spend most of my money going to the movies and on coffee.” It was an actionable insight!
Q: What is the future of the industry?
Companies are getting more and more sophisticated with their analytics. At the same time,
there are still companies that are just starting to understand that analytics matter. We’ll need to manage the many different customer sophistication levels, which means we’re going to need to have more arrows in our quiver.
Q: How do you do that?
The best way is to have more employees so you can specialize. For example, if a customer really wants to talk about Firebase, I will go to our Firebase expert. DoubleClick? You got it. You need to have the depth to answer the tough questions.
Another idea is work on automating certain pieces. However, no matter how much you automate and audit your processes in the beginning, you still need to sit with it and say, do I believe it?
Q: How can executives lead their company in regards to analytics and get more value out of their data?
I think companies overall can do a better job of leveraging their data by understanding their goals better. Large corporations, in particular, often have trouble articulating or even identifying their goals, so they can’t measure against them and come up with actual insights. But if they really understood their goals and if their goals are quantifiable, as opposed to soft goals, they would be able to configure their analytics in a way that matched their goals for measurement strategies.
They then can measure, evaluate, and create insights and make those changes. Then measure those changes to see if they are achieving goals better, and finally, iterate. But the first part, understanding your goals, is the hardest part.
Q: What final advice do you have for the LunaMetrics team?
You are lucky to be growing with HS2 and there are many more exciting challenges ahead for you now that you’ve got a bigger team! I won’t say “final advice” because I still get one more at-bat on the blog rotation. I will say: you only go around once, so find what you love and do it often.