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How Success Happened For Darwin CX How Darwin CX is disrupting an industry.

By Robert Tuchman Edited by Dan Bova

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For the founders of Darwin CX, it started with a mission: To give consumer marketers in the publishing space the digital tools many other industries took for granted.

That was back in 2017. At the time, the Darwin brain trust of Michael Smith, Laas Turnbull and Omri Tintpulver had been tasked with identifying ways a Canadian magazine brand could pivot from a traditional business model, with its heavy reliance on advertising revenue, to more of a new media model. To them, that meant taking on a customer-centric approach—one that relied on deep audience insights and a data-driven mindset. They quickly found out they'd need to build it themselves.

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"When we did a sweep of the competitive landscape, we could see that publishers would continue to have difficulty succeeding in an increasingly digitally-enabled world," says Turnbull. "Why? Because to put it in the simplest terms, there had been little to no innovation for decades on the digital side of the industry. The incumbents in the space still relied on AS400s and mainframes and archaic data schema to power the subscription files of their clients. Contrast that with the digital tools marketers in other industries have and it wasn't a pretty picture."

The trio realized very early on that they had an opportunity to disrupt an industry that was in desperate need of shaking up.

Enter Darwin.

In 2018, the startup was born as a full-blown SaaS platform. It quickly became the top choice of leading Canadian media brands, who welcomed the idea of paying a set monthly subscription fee in lieu of being charged on a per-use or per-transaction basis, which had for decades been the industry norm. This signaled not only Darwin's emergence as a bona fide disrupter but also a company firmly entrenched in the burgeoning world of the subscription economy.

It's no secret: Recurring digital subscription revenues have become a business-world obsession and pretty much the holy grail of entrepreneurial dreamers everywhere. Subscription businesses have of late grown five to eight times faster than traditional product-centric businesses, according to recent reports. Zuora's Subscription Economy Index report found that in 2020 alone, it grew revenue at an average rate of 11.6%, while its product-based peers declined by 1.6%. According to McKinsey, 49% of shoppers are now using a subscription service, a situation driven by convenience, cost and discovery.

Fast forward to today and Darwin's prospects look very rosy indeed. After being acquired by Studio Media Group, a New York-based private equity player, in the late summer of 2020, Darwin is poised to accelerate its growth in both the U.S. and globally.

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"Our value proposition is simple," says Smith, the company's CTO and Head of Innovation. "Partner with us and we'll give you the tools and support needed to evolve your business as the world changes. We provide quarterly updates with new features and tutorials you can put into action. We give our clients access to their data in real-time and in pretty much any view they can dream up. And unlike our competitors, we incorporate machine learning in some really useful, impactful ways."

Smith goes on to say that although Darwin is also the "single source of truth" for its clients and provides a true 360-degree view of each customer, it's far more than just a customer data platform, offering an expansive range of functionality that benefits its clients. One example of that utility is that the platform allows clients to spin up marketing campaigns, with tracking codes, very quickly and package and sell bundles of different products with ease. These campaigns or bundles can be cloned with the click of a button, have a variable or two changed, then be deployed instantly for A/B testing.

"You have to understand that in the past, our clients had to go through an account manager to request everything—campaign configuration, data pulls, file transfers, e-commerce landing page set-up. You can imagine the time lag and expense—days or even weeks to make the smallest change," says Smith. "Darwin allows marketers to be nimble and responsive because they can log in and do virtually everything themselves in seconds. It's a new paradigm for a new world and our clients tell us they could never go back."

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Turnbull, the company's CEO, adds that the "system is fungible" and that "we identified early on a force we refer to as the "Amazon effect.' That really just describes the way the very best online retailers—the Amazons of the world—have constantly upped their customer experience game. In doing so, they've heightened customer expectations. We seized on that and knew it would continue to be critically important."

The team took this to heart and built the platform using an open framework that allows the Darwin core to easily integrate with other best-in-breed technologies. To both Smith and Turnbull, this is mission-critical. "We don't know how or when customer expectations will change, but we know they inevitably will," says Smith. Turnbull adds, "The architecture of the platform allows us to very easily lift and shift from one technology to another so we can respond to both seismic and subtle shifts in customer expectations. The system is built to evolve—hence, the name Darwin."

What started as a publishing industry play now has the potential to become something far more wide-ranging. Darwin has clients in the magazine subscription space, membership services, digital publishers and the growing subscription box market. And this is just the beginning. The platform is ripe to take advantage of the growing subscription economy and expand into other verticals.

"At the end of the day," says Turnbull, "we collectively made one really good decision: To put the customer at the center of everything. In fact, it's codified in our name: The "CX' refers to customer experience. Michael and Omri did an inspired job of taking that notion and building an elegant technology solution around it."

Given the rise of the subscription economy and the increasing importance of the end-user, Darwin looks well-positioned to adapt, evolve and emerge a winner. As Charles Darwin himself put it, "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." Amen.

Robert Tuchman

Entrepreneur Staff

Host of How Success Happens

Robert Tuchman is the host of Entrepreneur's How Success Happens podcast and founder of Amaze Media Labs the largest business creating podcasts for companies and brands. He built and sold two Inc. 500 companies: TSE Sports and Entertainment and Goviva acquired by Creative Artists Agency (CAA).

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