The office of language learning community, Busuu, was the destination of our latest CRAP session, in their swanky new Moorgate pad. It was inspiring to see what is (in comparison with the financial behemoths which surround them) a decade old start-up, to be up on the sixth floor of a corporate tower in Finsbury Square.
They specialize in courses designed by linguists and use an AI powered platform to connect users with native speakers from around the world, and this organic approach sets them apart from their competitors.
Arriving at the venue, I was greeted by Nuria Planell Morell, the Insights & Analytics Lead and one of our speakers for the night. Waiting to direct the attendees to the meeting space around the corner from the entrance, it was so lovely to see so many new and returning faces.
Complete with country themed meeting rooms, glass cabinets filled with awards from various worldwide establishments and a view from the balcony who’s horizon ends in the Old Street roundabout, it was the perfect place to host our event. With a roll down screen projector and a variety of chairs, benches and cloth stools, it was the perfect relaxed environment for our audience to congregate.
To subvert our previous schedules, the night started with our something special speaker, Tom L, an English language course designer at Busuu. We were treated to a linguistic language lesson on English and finding out about its sphere of influence in the world today.
He gave an overview of the language as a native (inner circle), secondary (outer circle) and tertiary (expanding circle) language and the ownership of the language belongs to those who are using it in a diverse way. Being an English Language major graduate, it felt like I had been transported back into university, and it was a delight to revisit some of the scholars and facts about the language so many years later.
We learnt about the views of native speakerism and the implications of English teaching, explaining that no globally uniform version of language exists, as it has been adapted and diversified by its users over generations. This approach makes it motivating, empowering and achievable for those who learn it with all the wonders of their accents and pronunciations.
He spoke about the complexity of colonialism and the stigma of the history surrounding the English language in some communities around the world, dealing bravely and professionally with a tough Q&A from a largely multinational audience.
Next up was Tristan Burns, Analytics Lead from Pizza Hut Digital Ventures, speaking about their ecommerce journey (and of course, providing the delicious chow for the evening – thank you!). It was enlightening (and not surprising) to hear that the first ever item bought online was a pizza back in America in 1994, so it seemed to be fitting to have this emerging ecommerce brand talking about their journey. He started with an overview of their organic development and international expansion, explaining that many legacy companies like them were kicking off digital ventures to compete with the growing delivery market.
It was a shame to hear that the golden days of the dining experience at Pizza Hut’s restaurants were long gone. I fondly remember the salad bar, the refillable fizzy drinks and ice cream dispensers with candy toppings, but then again, I haven’t been to one, let alone seen one over the last few years. Pizza Hut have focused on pivoting toward a delivery business to rival the likes of Dominos and Papa John’s, and they’ve made remarkable growth rolling this out worldwide, especially for a business which started in the ‘50s.
He spoke about the three different types of ecommerce service they have in each territory and revealed the secrets of their meal-deal, money-saving Dealbot feature, detailing the experiments the ecommerce team had with it in its research phase. Their universal Performance Lab allows all global markets to collaboratively share learning from each website, and encourage optimization initiatives around customer journey. This ensures the online measure of success is being met globally and they can improve their approach.
Nuria whom I had met in the lobby took the stage to break down language barriers around data, sharing her knowledge of long tail distribution and providing three examples of this during her career. She spoke about the limitations and strengths of different sourcing channels data and how useful it was in releasing new features to new and existing customers in regions.
She spoke about her unique way of creating alert levels for different system considerations, setting alarms for only useful data and identifying what benchmark levels look like before analyzing them. This sophisticated approach was the result of her experience of receiving 200 alerts every 5 minutes with only 3 analysts to handle them all, making her the queen of prioritization to reduce those pesky long tails!
A long standing regular at CRAP Talks, Caroline Clarke, the Technical Product Lead at Holiday Extras gave a refreshing speech in the name of imposter syndrome. Relating this to her experience of being headhunted from a back end position into front end optimization and conversion project kept it on theme, and was a profound, authentic take on a feeling nobody can deny having experienced before. She started by listing the five types of imposter – the perfectionist, the natural genius, the superwo/man, the soloist and the expert – claiming to have identified with each one of them at one point in her life. I think we all agreed!
She vulnerably revealed her experience of being too hard on herself and judging her performance, despite the great success of the project. She felt as though she had to live up to a certain expectation set by herself, which wasn’t a healthy approach.
By sharing her feelings with others in her team, she found they also related to these about themselves, and it was in fact quite normal, but pluralistic ignorance was stifling any progress. At least somebody was talking about it! Her closing thoughts were to embrace our imperfect selves, keep ourselves open and validate ourselves.
Our final speaker of the night was Manish Gajria, the Vice Preisdent of Product at Kobalt speaking on the topic of organising for speed. Self-proclaiming to have chosen a simple topic, his delivery was anything but. An entertaining, animated and expert speaker, Manish commanded the room with his wise insight and transformed a basic subject matter into a crucial development move.
He defined three classic product challenges which he had encountered in every business he had worked for, and how he had revolutionized their approach with the right structure for speed, with autonomy being a reoccurring theme in getting the most out of the contributors.
The first point was value chain alignment, fundamentally giving an owner to every part of the product, organized around economic value and drivers. The second was around planning and measurement, combining top down and bottom up strategies to find a happy middle, creating a common vocabulary on what good looks like, defined by north-star metrics, objectives and key results. The roadmap should come at the very end of all this, with boundary tests for project creep being monitored throughout to ensure focus.
The third and final point was around scaling and creating a litmus test set of questions for each stage for this to go as smoothly as possible. The exciting part of any project is thinking about ways it can be optimized or improved, whether that be by investing in extra technology, developing a B2B product offering or adding to the team hierarchy for new skills. The closing argument was to organize any structural change for scaling around your customer’s objectives, and you can’t put a foot wrong.
Despite having 5 speakers instead of 4, I barely noticed the time fly by as each talk was so captivating and well-prepared for the audience. Although we overran slightly, the turnout didn’t diminish after the second half of the evening, a testament to the sheer quality and calibre of the energetic speakers. Thank you to Busuu for letting us occupy your colourful meeting space for slightly longer than we planned – there were lots of questions to be had in interacting with the speakers at the end!
Looking forward to the next one!