Optimizely’s new SVP of Customer Growth Strategy, Pete Gray, has been experimenting for nearly a decade while scaling digital operations at some of the world’s largest legacy media organizations.
In his new role, Pete will help customers harness the power of Optimizely as they continue to grow their operations — something he’s all too familiar with.
Our Chief Customer Officer, Chad Wolf, sat down with Pete to explore his past experience, discuss his professional philosophies, and delve into the specific methodologies he employs to support clients.
CHAD WOLF: Tell us about your background in experimentation and what led you to your new role as SVP of Growth Strategy at Optimizely?
PETE GRAY: Before joining Optimizely, I spent eight years scaling experimentation at Dow Jones, the parent company of publications like The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and MarketWatch. Prior to that, my background primarily involved working with early-stage startups, where conducting digital experiments wasn't really a viable option due to limited traffic and resources.
However, my perspective shifted when I arrived at Dow Jones in 2015, leading to two crucial realizations:
- Value of Incremental Growth: I recognized that within scaled businesses, even small increments in growth could translate into multi-million-dollar gains.
- Underutilized Data: back in 2015, Dow Jones wasn't consistently using data to inform their digital experiences.
With this in mind, I came up with a hypothesis: Dow Jones had a treasure trove of low-hanging fruit scattered across its digital landscape that was ripe for the taking. I strongly believed that digital experimentation wouldn't just uncover this hidden potential but also kickstart a more profound cultural shift within the organization.
Fast forward eight years, and Dow Jones went through a complete transformation. Experimentation had become a part of their DNA, from running just a few experiments each year on subscription landing pages to juggling hundreds across all brands, platforms, and teams, tackling all key performance metrics.
Here's the thing about experimentation — at its core, it's simply a fresh approach to work, an innovative concept. Yet, identifying who should lead the charge, take ownership, and pinpoint the exact how-to isn’t always a straightforward task. As I journeyed through this cultural transformation at Dow Jones, I had to maneuver through the same adoption curve that all of Optimizely's customers do.
So, why am I here today? Because I wholeheartedly believe that fostering a culture of experimentation is the ultimate recipe for achieving sustained growth. My role as SVP of Growth Strategy centers on using my professional expertise to assist our customers in amplifying their experimentation efforts and maximizing their ROI.
CHAD WOLF: I’ve always admired your experimentation mindset as both an Optimizely customer and leader, and we’re thrilled to have your support in helping others develop the same. Can you share some of the new initiatives you’re spearheading in this spirit?
PETE GRAY: First and foremost, my number one goal is to provide personalized, executive-level advice to our customers. By truly understanding each customer's specific goals and aligning their experimentation capabilities with these objectives, we can work together to create a roadmap that maximizes their growth potential.
My second goal is to spread my experience throughout Optimizely's teams and operations. Optimizely brought me on board because of their commitment to infusing the entire organization with customer feedback to help facilitate further innovation, essentially making me our first "in-house customer." There are incredible teams here that are consistently trying to help our customers achieve their goals by improving not just our products, but the training and support we provide to maximize value. Basically, I identify areas for incremental improvements by assessing the Optimizely customer journey with my fresh (but experienced) set of eyes.
This brings me to Optimizely’s superpower: our ruthless, organic desire to better serve customers. One of the most humbling aspects of my time here has been the warm welcome I’ve received from these high-performing teams. They're already doing great; they don’t need me! And yet, they're hungry for me to pinpoint areas where they can better assist customers. As someone who's used to encountering resistance to change, it's refreshing to see that it doesn't exist here.
CHAD WOLF: It's clear that making data-driven decisions has long been a priority in your career. What first opened the door for you to unlock the potential of data?
PETE GRAY: I became hooked on data-driven decision-making back in college while I was studying super-organisms. If you think of an ant colony as a single organism, they display incredible intelligence, even though individual ants are as dumb as a rock. I was eager to put this theory to the test in the real world. So, when I stumbled upon an ant trail, I decided to conduct a little experiment.
I placed a tablespoon of peanut butter on the ground and patiently waited for about 30 minutes until a swarm of over a hundred ants had gathered around it. Then, I sprung my trap, encircling the ants with a ring of Elmer's glue. I was curious to see how they'd overcome this challenge.
The results were nothing short of mind-blowing. The ants on the outer perimeter quickly went to work, cutting down six blades of grass and laying them across the glue barrier as bridges. With incredible teamwork and determination, they rescued every trapped ant and managed to harvest every last bit of peanut butter. It was a remarkable display of problem-solving that completely took me by surprise.
Now, fast forward to my work in digital product experimentation. It's fascinating how similar it is to my ant experiment. Teams that embrace data-driven decision-making don't always win because they're infallible. Instead, their success lies in their continuous efforts to refine and expand their ability to listen to customer signals at every stage of their decision-making process.
CHAD WOLF: What is a universal piece of advice you’d share with any company exploring digital growth opportunities?
PETE GRAY: The experimentation mindset is much more critical (and universally applicable) than the mere act of running digital experiments. Why? Because it elevates your decision-making, regardless of the amount of data or traffic you have or the nature of the decision at hand. Every company should aspire to approach the majority of its decisions as if they were experiments. Here’s what I’ve found it takes:
- Intellectual curiosity: Culturally, you must be unbiased and ready for the data to guide you, even if it challenges a long-held belief.
- Hypotheses: You frame enhancements to your business as hypotheses, encouraging a structured, methodical approach to innovation.
- Metrics: Identify a clear success metric. What specific numbers will serve as the litmus test for whether the hypothesis proves true or false?
- Control group: Establishing some form of a control group is essential. Whether it's splitting traffic in a digital experiment or, in a real-world scenario, making changes to 50% of your retail stores while leaving the other 50% untouched, or comparing this month's business performance to the previous month after implementing a change, the key is to isolate the impact of the change by juxtaposing data of when the change was implemented against data from when it wasn't.
If you're fortunate enough to drive business growth through digital channels, this becomes significantly easier because the opportunities for in-depth data analysis are immense. With an experimentation tool like Optimizely, you can glimpse into the future outcome of nearly any decision before fully committing to it. Do you want to add a new product to your product suite? Alter your homepage design? Adjust your pricing? Modify your product marketing approach?
I want to pause here to repeat myself: experimentation enables you to *literally* see into the future. Can anyone think of a more powerful competitive advantage than that?