How does a former member of Israel’s intelligence unit arrive in New York City and take the helm as Director of Growth and Product Marketing for the world’s largest ad-free open video platform? Nadav Charnilas’ fascination with technology began while serving in one of Israel’s most prestigious units, eventually leading him to Vimeo, a platform with more than 70 million members from over 150 countries. PostFunnel spoke with Nadav about his transition from law, to business school student, and finally, to marketer, and all the ways a quality video can transform your brand.
You began your career as a lawyer. Tell us more about your background
“I was practicing law for about five years in Israel, until I realized I was more interested in business than the legal side. So I applied and was accepted to business school at Duke University where I received my MBA. While I was there, I was fortunate enough to land a product marketing internship with Microsoft and eventually received an offer to come back once I completed the internship. After school, I moved to Redmond, Washington, where I focused on growth and product marketing for the cloud and enterprise division.
I spent about three years at Microsoft, and then my wife and I decided that we wanted to move to New York City. I had family here and we’re big city people. After moving, I landed a role in growth and product marketing at Vimeo. And that’s where I am today.”
I’m curious about where your passion for tech marketing and product innovation comes from
“I’m from Israel, and we like to call ourselves “The Startup Nation.” When I was 18, I joined the military like all Israelis do. And I was lucky enough to be accepted into the intelligence unit, which a lot of people know or don’t know, is kind of the incubator for the tech industry in Israel. In almost all of the big tech firms, at least one of their founders is an intelligence alumn.
That was where I got my first exposure to the tech world. Working there was like working at a big tech company. Obviously then, it was more around security and finding ways to use technology to enhance Israel’s security, but even then, I could see the civilian uses for all that technology.
So after my service, I went to law school and I started working at a law firm in Tel Aviv, where most of our clients were Israeli tech companies. And just talking to the executives and the founders about their business and about the problems that they were solving in the world was just…I always found it fascinating. From there, I decided to enroll in Fuqua, Duke’s business school, which opened the doors for me at Microsoft.”
Are there any principles or even disciplines that you continue to take from your law background and apply to your role?
“So, when I was a lawyer, I was a litigator, and you have to be very flexible and think on your feet because things change all the time. Every case – especially if you’re dealing with commercial litigation and corporate clients—is a different industry. It’s a completely different world and you have to relearn that world pretty well every time you have another client. I think that flexibility, that way of thinking, has been very beneficial for me.”
You fine-tuned your agility
“Yes, and in law, you deal with qualitative data. It’s reading documents. It’s facing everybody, it’s interviewing your clients. It’s interviewing witnesses. Everything was based on that data. You can’t really do anything in law without it being rooted in some kind of precedent or facts. That was the data equivalent to the marketing and product world, where today, I try to find some kind of basis in fact or data for almost everything.”
Let’s go through a day in your professional life. Are any two days the same? What kinds of routines do you have in place?
“One of the things I like about my job is that we don’t really have a routine because Vimeo is a growth company. It’s not a $100 billion company, at least not yet. Things are always changing. There are always new growth initiatives. We’re always launching new features, working on new channels, and running new experiments.
One routine I do have is beginning the day by answering my emails, Slack messages, and any product-related questions that come in, always taking a moment to consider, ‘what’s going on this week? What tests are we running? What campaign are we launching? What product feature are we launching?’ I use these questions to prepare for either the meetings around those new developments or any outstanding questions people have. The meetings are a space for us to collaborate, walk though certain features, prioritizations and share our thoughts, opinions, and concerns, until we answer one question: what are the next action items?
From time to time, I’ll also sit on user interviews because it’s very important to hear how they’re using your product, what they’re happy with, what they’re unhappy with, what they would like you to add. In addition to our competitive research and understanding how our messaging, product, and positioning compares to competitors, it’s a great way to know what you’re doing well and what isn’t working.”
Vimeo Recently launched a livestreaming feature. Can you tell us more about it?
“Most people are familiar with the free version of livestreaming: Facebook, YouTube, and Periscope. If you’re good with just streaming from your phone onto Facebook, that’s a great solution for you.
Vimeo’s users look for high quality, professional solutions. So that’s what we provide. That’s the biggest difference between Vimeo and YouTube. Vimeo is always putting an emphasis on the quality of your video. YouTube is a great platform to monetize through ads, but that’s not what we do. Our users pay us to make sure that their videos look great.
So that’s the same idea we had behind our livestreaming. Our customers are people who are professional live streamers, who want to do something more than the quick and easy livestream from a phone or webcam, someone who wants to be able to hook up their professional camera. They want to be able to have a live chat that’s a little bit more moderated. They want to make sure that there are no ads in their livestream. They want the best possible quality. On the day we announced Vimeo Live, we also announced that we acquired Livestream, a leader in the market, and it’s been a fruitful collaboration.”
In today’s world, how important is video?
“It’s super-important and it’s becoming more and more central to marketing. I think it’s becoming the main medium for people to communicate. Everywhere you go, you’re seeing video now. Sometimes I commute through Times Square because I ride my bike to work, and a few days ago, I raised my head, looked at all the ads and they were 90% videos. And I thought, ‘wow, 10 years ago, those were all just posters basically.’ There weren’t this many videos. Now you go online and you look at Facebook, and every other thing you see is a video.”
What enabled video to become this major channel?
“A few things. One is the quality of the video. If you remember what video on the Internet looked like just a few years ago, with the buffering and crappy quality, it’s not like that anymore. With platforms like Vimeo, you get high quality videos that don’t take forever to load. The other side of that is the speed. We’ve spearheaded technology that allows you to upload videos quickly in high quality. And the third thing is just the ubiquity of storage. A few years ago, storage used to be very, very expensive for people. Today, it’s much more affordable.”
Let’s talk about some of the more challenging aspects of your position
“There are two big challenges. One is just the sheer number of initiatives we have going. We’re always juggling 10 different things at the same time and we always have to prioritize resources and do several things at once. So, that’s a challenge, prioritizing, but also not forgetting about something else you’re working on.”
And how about the more rewarding aspects?
“The rewarding aspect is just seeing the impact of the work. Decisions I make based on testing that appear in the marketing or the product. It’s great when a test based on a hypothesis receives that statistically significant score and it’s a real sign you made a difference in the business. Another really rewarding part is talking to our users and seeing the impact that it has on their lives. When you’re talking to somebody with a small business who tells you, ‘I couldn’t have a business without Vimeo,’ it’s super-gratifying.”
Can you share a lesson you learned along your career that is helping you right now as a growth and product marketer?
“There are two sides to the data coin, right? One is that you always want to have some kind of data to base your decisions off of. I think the old world of marketing used to be a lot of gut feelings. Like, ‘oh, this is the way it’s been done. This is the way I know it’s happening.’ And when success was measured, it was measured in a way to make sure it affirmed your initial gut feeling. So it wasn’t very scientific.
One thing I’ve learned is that you want to be as scientific as possible when making decisions. Running tests and AB testing is super important. It’s crucial to have that function in your company and know businesses can’t just roll things out based on gut feelings, how beautiful they think something is, how nice it sounds or whether they think that users want a specific thing. They need data and testing to make sure the process is as scientific as possible. That’s one side of the coin.
The other side of the coin is that data is never, ever, ever perfect and there’s a limit to how scientific you can be. We are marketers, not scientists at a pharma company where we can spend 15 years developing something until we achieve 99.999% statistical significance. Sometimes we have to just go with a direction or a signal. We can’t always wait for a huge group of survey respondents because we’ll never get them and in business, marketing, and especially in tech, speed matters. It’s a balancing act between making sure that we have a testing mindset—which, I think, is a growth mindset—and being aware that we have to make decisions. We have to be comfortable making decisions with ambiguity, without having a statistically significant signal telling us exactly what the right thing to do is. So we have to have some cojones.”
The modern marketer should be about balancing the creative with the data side
“100%, yeah. You have to test creative. Vimeo’s creative team members are some of the most talented people I’ve met in my life. They come up with designs that are mind-blowing, but then we test things and it’s counter-intuitive with what ends up winning. Sometimes the thing that we thought internally was not the most beautiful design or the most inspiring copy, ends up being what our users want.”
What do you recommend companies do that don’t have video content yet? Where do they start?
“I think companies should talk to a vendor that will give them a good video solution. Unless you’re Facebook or LinkedIn, building out your own great video solution when you’re not a video company is incredibly hard and time consuming. You’ll never achieve the quality a video company can offer without spending thousands and thousands of man-hours internally building it.
Once you find a vendor, you can make it your own. Vimeo provides customization opportunities, so you can customize it to look like your brand and I think that’s really important. When you want a video solution, you want it to look like yours. You want it to have your branding. You want it to have your colors. You want it to have your look and feel.
You should also offer a CTA at the end of your video so you can capture emails or you can gate it at the beginning of the video with an email gate. You can add cards for your video, those little cards that pop-up at the top that link out to other places in your website. You can offer the next video coming up. If you want videos to be engaging, I think you need to go out and find yourself a quality solution. You don’t want it to be amateurish. People pick that up immediately and a great professional video can make a huge difference.”
So, where’s video content headed in terms of how companies use it and future trends?
“I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more live events. Up until this moment in time or maybe a little earlier, it was ‘nice to have,’ and I think going forward, it will be a baseline; If you’re not going live, then what are you doing?”
I read that you love a good read. What’s your favorite book of the moment?
“Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. That one was really good, especially if you’re into sci-fi. I also liked Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project. It’s about two Israeli professors, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who revolutionized behavioral economics. They were the first ones who came in and said, ‘economics is wrong in assuming that people are rational actors.’ People actually make a lot of irrational mistakes. The book is about their lives and their friendship and the way economics, psychology, and the business world really see human behavior.”
Last question. What advice would you pass on to younger generations aspiring to enter the field?
“I think the main thing is, if you’re young, if you’re in your 20s, you’re just starting your career, you’re not married, you don’t have kids, take risks. Just do the things that you think are interesting, do the things that you think you’re really good at and that you like to do. So, even if you’re not making a ton of money at first and it’s a huge risk, so what? What’s going to happen? You don’t have a mortgage. You don’t have huge consequences in your life. Take a risk and do something that’s interesting to you and then if you really do like it, you’re not only going to be good at it, you’ll be great at it and that’s the way to be successful.”