On the 19th episode of Enterprise Software Innovators, hosts Evan Reiser (Abnormal Security) and Saam Motamedi (Greylock Partners) talk with Tom Cullen, CIO of Corsair. Before Corsair, Tom has been CIO at several large and defining companies, including JUUL Labs, Peet's Coffee & Tea, and Driscoll's. Today, Tom shares fascinating ways Driscoll's has harnessed technology, including leveraging blockchain to trace berry provenance, Corsair's utilization of data to enhance custom configurations for customers' gaming setups, and best practices for partnering with startups.
While many know Driscoll's as a purveyor of delicious berries found in supermarkets across the United States, fewer know what the company actually does. As Tom explains, "what's interesting about Driscoll's is that they develop proprietary berry genetics and patent them… Their differentiation is superior genetics and they're best-in-class cold chain management. They've created independent grower partnerships and coops around the globe to partner with independent growers to grow the fruit. And if it meets quality standards, it's sold and distributed under the Driscoll brand name." In many ways, although Driscoll's is not a technology-first company, Tom shares several fascinating examples that illustrate how the company uses technology in innovative ways.
During the initial wave of mainstream interest in cryptocurrency in 2017-2018, Driscoll's partnered with IBM to explore how blockchain technology could help the company with food traceability. Because Driscoll's berries are grown in countries across the globe, having access to important information in an immutable format about how the berries are grown provides essential visibility for the company. Tom explains: "we started looking at different traceability mechanisms around food and certification of food. Is it organic? Is it shade grown? How are the workers treated? Is their child labor deployed? And so there's a lot of factors that play into that in any type of global manufacturing. And so, we started a blockchain pilot with IBM and a couple of other food companies to look at food traceability. So you could trace your product back to the farm harvest date and what are the certificates and certifications of that farm."
While Driscoll's made forays into experimental technology like blockchain, Tom also shares how the company harnessed simple technology like Bluetooth sensors for their fleet of trucks. Because so much of Driscoll's market advantage comes from its superior cold storage supply chain, ensuring every truck operates at peak capacity becomes a major priority. Tom explains that trucks operating between borders often have performance issues and other optimization concerns. By utilizing a simple technology like Bluetooth sensors, Driscoll's gained access to vital live data from the trucks: "we started deploying Bluetooth sensors that would tell you not only when things were deployed, when the truck was sealed, but what the temperature was along the way. The supply chain team built a map that showed not only where the product was, but what the temperature was so we could actually reach out proactively to say, 'hey, the fruit's warming up, what's going on? Tell that truck to pull over and service their cooler.'"
In Tom's current role as CIO of Corsair, he's involved in several exciting projects that are helping optimize the customer experience. As one of the premier gaming companies in the world, finding new ways to engage their customers and provide them with the best possible experience is a top priority. Tom describes that by extracting data from one of their new software products, iCue, Corsair is getting a fuller picture of how their customers interact within their ecosystem: "...iCue sits on the computer and controls your microphone, your lightning, and your computer. If you're a gamer, everything interacts at once, which is super cool. But what's interesting is it throws off a lot of important data about how you're using products and what you're actually doing. So what we're trying to do is ingest and correlate data that shows not only product usage, but consumer behavior online, to better understand how customers use our products, what type of activities they do, and how they engage in the further community." By leveraging this data, Corsair's future product offerings can be more tailored toward what customers are actually doing.
Another initiative Tom is embarking on at Corsair relates to custom configurations. Gamers are well known for wanting their setups to be customizable to their specifications, whether it's their keyboard, controller, or the computer itself. As he explains, Corsair is optimizing the configuration process internally to solve a significant business problem, which is customers desiring more flexibility in their customizations: "When we look at building a custom configurator, you don't want to build one for every product out there because that's a nightmare to manage from a code standpoint. [We're] building a standard configurator framework and building on top of that so that it's leverageable. And you can replicate it throughout those product groups to provide that business capability." Like many other CIOs we've spoken to, Tom's focus on innovations at Corsair always connects to solving business problems.
As a CIO with extensive enterprise experience across several industries, Tom's advice for startups who want to partner with companies like Corsair is multifaceted. First, always lead with solving the business problem instead of getting hung up on explaining how innovative and impressive the underlying technology is. As Tom puts it: "My biggest piece of advice is to define your why. Put yourself in my seat and define your why. Why do I need you? And then what do you do? And what do you do well? And then how are you different from your competitors out there?" Second, startups need to be mindful of their market position, because especially early on, going after multiple market segments usually spreads the company too thin: "I've seen over-ambitious groups try to hit multiple parts of different markets, but they get spread too thin and they aren't differentiated, and they can't go deep enough to get critical mass." It's wise advice that startups at any stage can utilize to form beneficial partnerships with enterprises.