It’s not a face you’d forget – and it’s a story just as remarkable. Ridiculously young – but looking considerably older with his tangerine beard and frizzy floppy hair – Edward Saatchi is being touted as Britain’s answer to Mark Zuckerberg. His communications company, NationalField (NF), promises to take social media into the world of business – and change it as much as it has changed private lives. And with a $1 million turnover in its first year Saatchi’s ambition looks right on course. “It’s becoming the Facebook for enterprise,” says Saatchi. “It’s got so much momentum behind it – there’s no going back.”
As the son of the writer Josephine Hart and advertising mogul Maurice Saatchi you’d have expected Edward to stay in London and use his considerable contacts, but the 26-year-old has got to where he is today via an altogether more convoluted route.
A self-confessed “Obama nut” he went over to the US in 2007 to help Barack Obama’s campaign. It sounds ridiculously glamorous, if exhausting: “I was doing a couple of Masters degrees in Paris and would have to fly back from the Obama campaign to defend my philosophy thesis and then head back to the states.”
Best in Field
And it was working on that campaign that NationalField was born – under its original name of The National Field Programme for the Obama Campaign.
The need, says Saatchi, was clear: as the campaign grew and with it the number of offices and staff the Obama campaign team didn’t have a system for all the volunteers and workers to stay connected.
“We were determined we’d be the first ‘real-time campaign’,” says Saatchi, “meaning we’d know every minute everything that was going on – so we created National Field.”
The ‘we’ is his fellow NF founders Aharon Wasserman and Justin Lewis – both managers on the campaign – managing 150 people each, many older than them. They needed to know, immediately, the state of their campaign. Getting feedback from door-to-door campaigning and doing it via emails was inefficient: by the time the information reached HQ it was out of date.
At first, only the top trio used the new system – a sort of internal social network. But soon the whole campaign was using the system to communicate.
And it formed part of what was credited as the first ever ‘new media’ presidential campaign – a million people signed up for campaign text messages and 25% of Obama voters were linked to the campaign via social media.
However, it was only when his former Obama colleagues moved on to other jobs in other organisations – and complained bitterly about going back to using emails and intranets to communicate with colleagues – that the three young men realised they had a business on their hands. “We patented what we had and got on with it,” says Saatchi…
The intranet is dead
When I venture: “What’s wrong with companies using the intranet?” Saatchi looks aghast: “The intranet is dead, it was created in the 1990s, it’s not fit for purpose.” Oh, okay then.
“They’re not remotely interactive and they don’t engender a feeling of community,” insists Saatchi. “It’s just top-down information – there’s no sense that the people on the ground can give feedback. It’s not a management tool at all, it’s just a place to go and get basic information. I’ve never heard anybody say theirs is up to date.”
So if it’s goodbye intranet what can you expect from NF?
Well it looks and feels just like Facebook, which is no coincidence – one of the founders of Facebook is on the board. The theory is that everybody is already familiar with how Facebook works and will therefore quickly get the hang of navigating NF.
And even for those few who don’t know how to use Facebook “there’s a positive attitude and they want to learn,” he says. But, he says, he hasn’t come across anyone who doesn’t know how to use it at all yet.
Although there are already US firms who “do social” for companies none, Saatchi believes, offer what his does.
So, like Facebook there are streams of people telling each other stuff – but unlike the normal version your stream is based on the hierarchical set-up of the organisation – so if you’re the chief executive you get a certain stream, if you’re the new marketing intern you get a different one.
“There’s something about the social element that means people stay really friendly and it doesn’t get mean-spirited” Edward Saatchi
“It understands the hierarchy of the organisation,” which is important, says Saatchi. “A lot of social tools have said: ‘let’s make the system flat, kill middle managers’ – but from our experience if you want to be a real bottom-up organisation you need to have layers between the different people so you can funnel information up and down the chain.”
So what type of information are you funneling?
“Many people tell us they gave a presentation to their colleagues and then six months later realise no-one had a clue what they were talking about, or everyone interpreted what was said in different ways.” The theory being in a proper two-way conversation everyone will ‘get’ everything.
Adds Saatchi: It’s only when you can see the data in a “beautiful elegant way” managers can see what’s going on in their organisation – and NF will present that data in that way. “It paints a story with numbers” he says.
And the leaderboard is one example of that. Saatchi is VERY excited about his leaderboard.
He dismisses normal practice as “sad managers typing up leaderboard emails once a month – saying ‘you did really well this quarter, well done’.” That’s useless, he claims.
His version is real-time – you can see who’s up and who’s down all the time. “People go nuts for it” he claims – adding that it isn’t negative. “There’s something about the social element that means people stay really friendly and it doesn’t get mean-spirited. He says on the Obama campaign the “numbers literally exploded” after they introduced the leaderboard – and claims a 40% productivity increase in his clients. “It just unlocks something in people – they want to push themselves to the limit and it lifts the whole company.”
As a new NF client you can expect your website to be tailored depending on the culture of the company. “Some CEOs like transparency,” he says, “as it leads to competition. Others want people to be blinkered so they focus on the job in hand completely private to people outside.” But one thing he’s adamant about: everyone should be providing MORE information about the company and what it is doing, how it’s doing it and how well it’s doing it.
“The idea you should organise companies based on the quarterly report is dinosaur-ish,” rails Saatchi. “It should be real-time, it should be daily.”
He is also evangelical about feedback – most companies let their employees down by not giving nearly enough, he believes.
Pluses and Deltas
But his favourite feature is Pluses and Deltas – not a new idea and one that’ll be familiar to many, but of course not on the company intranet or similar.
“Obama does it with his daughters and calls it Roses and Thorns and he does it with his Cabinet and calls it Pluses and Deltas,” Saatchi says. The idea is simple: you say something positive and something you want to change. In Obama’s team they’d sit round and ask the questions. When they put them on the site they’d be private for everyone below them and visible for everyone above.
“It unlocks something that isn’t there when you do it face-to-face,” he says – and it becomes addictive for chief executives, who can see everything that is said, but in order of what his closest subordinates say first. And this is a young man with an unfailing confidence in his product and where it is headed. “The power of social has brought down dictators and will change the way companies work,” he says. He sees it as the democratisation of the workplace and it’s not to be underestimated. Rather like social media in its entirety.
“People definitely underestimate the importance of social media and they misunderstand it,” he adds. “It’s not the information that social media brings with it – but the speed with which it’s delivered that’s the crucial factor.”
“Speed kills” as he says. “Businesses can take advantage of that because they can see trends – get a feel for what’s going on. Or they can be wiped away.”
You have been warned.