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Digicom Interview With Jesse Clemmens co-founder and CEO at HiTide

Season 2, Episode 2

In a recent podcast episode, we had the privilege of hosting Jesse Clemmens, an expert in the field of digital advertising, to discuss the ever-evolving landscape of digital marketing and the exciting journey of building a startup called HiTide.

Jesse Clemmens, with a decade of experience in programmatic advertising, takes us on a journey through the digital advertising space. He has worked with industry giants like Google, Viacom, and BuzzFeed, contributing his expertise to real-time bidding ads. His journey includes stints at startups that were later acquired by tech giants Google and Facebook.

But it's his time at Meta (formerly known as Facebook) that truly stands out. Jesse worked on groundbreaking projects, including the Audience Network, gaming initiatives, and connected TV products. Now, he's at the helm of HiTide, a game-changing SMS growth tool tailored for Shopify merchants.

Unlocking the Power of SMS Marketing

HiTide offers Shopify store owners a unique way to turn their Instagram followers into valuable SMS subscribers. In the world of direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing, especially within the Shopify ecosystem, SMS marketing is gaining popularity. It's changing how brands connect with their audience, especially in the US, where people are comfortable with text messages.

However, despite the growth of SMS marketing, the methods for collecting phone numbers and getting consumer consent have remained somewhat outdated. HiTide is here to solve this problem by introducing new tools, starting with Instagram and direct messages. This makes it easier for brands to interact with their audience, offer incentives, and get permission for text marketing in a more efficient way.

The Transition from Rented to Owned Audiences

Jesse talks about the shift from "rented" to "owned" audiences. Rented audiences are the ones you reach through social platforms, but it's uncertain whether your message will reach the right people due to algorithms and timing. Owned audiences, on the other hand, are people who have given explicit permission to receive messages from your brand, giving you more control.

HiTide acts as a bridge, helping brands transition from rented Instagram audiences to owned SMS audiences. SMS allows brands to reach their audience directly, ensuring their messages get delivered reliably. It's like taking ownership of your communication with your audience.

The Entrepreneurial Journey

Jesse talks about the challenges and joys of building a startup with HiTide. The journey has been a long and insightful one, especially with a pivotal shift from a previous project to the current focus on SMS. This shift emphasized the importance of being adaptable, learning from failures, and being open to change.

As an entrepreneur, Jesse highlights the value of failing fast and learning from it. The ability to experiment, make informed decisions, and quickly adjust based on data-driven insights has played a crucial role in HiTide's success. Every setback has been a valuable learning experience in the journey of creating something valuable.

Navigating the Future of Digital Marketing

Jesse looks ahead to the future of digital marketing and sees a big shift towards prioritizing consumer privacy and choice. This shift is driven by changes in tracking technologies and regulations. With cookies being phased out and Apple's tracking changes, marketers are facing new challenges in reaching the right audiences.

In the future, success in digital marketing will come from effectively managing audience data. Brands are increasingly turning to SMS and email marketing, where they can directly connect with their audiences. Jesse emphasizes that brands need to adapt to these changes to stay competitive in the evolving marketing landscape. It's all about embracing the new realities of marketing.

Don't miss out on the opportunity to gain valuable insights into the future of digital marketing and the exciting journey of building a startup that's making waves in the industry. Tune in to the podcast and join the conversation on the future of digital marketing with Jesse Clemmens.

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We at DigiCom are obsessive data-driven marketers pulling from multi-disciplinary strategies to unlock scale. We buy media across all platforms and placements and provide creative solutions alongside content creation, and conversion rate optimizations. We pride ourselves on your successes and will stop at nothing to help you grow.


Hemant Varshney (00:01.424)

Hey everyone, on today's show we have Jesse Clemmens. Jesse was a partner of ours and he is solving a lot of challenges in digital. Very excited to have him on. Jesse, how are you doing?

Jesse (00:17.538)

doing great. Thanks for having me on. Really excited to chat today.

Hemant Varshney (00:22.76)

I'd love to jump into your background and allow our audience to learn a little bit about you and all of the great things you've done and also what you're building.

Jesse (00:35.442)

Yeah, okay. So my background has been in ads, specifically programmatic ads for about a decade. I worked in the exchange world for folks familiar with the exchange world. That means programmatic for folks unfamiliar with the exchange world. That means typically real-time bidding ads,

Jesse (01:04.886)

Viacom or BuzzFeed and selling off ad space to the highest bidder using audience targeting technology. And I worked in that space for a bunch of years. Was at Google for a bit, was at two different startups. One was acquired by Google, one was acquired by Facebook. Spent most of my career in terms of time and probably most of my career in terms of learning as well at Metta, previously known as Facebook when I was there.

Uh, and my time at Facebook, I worked on a product called audience network and did a bunch of stuff in the gaming world. Um, probably most interestingly work. I worked on some connected TV products and, uh, now I'm building high tide, which is a SMS growth tool for Shopify merchants.

Hemant Varshney (01:53.64)

Amazing that you have expansive knowledge, especially in programmatic. And it's cool that you are part of two acquisitions. And I know maybe the future for what you're looking for Hightide is an exit. And since you've got an experience, that's pretty cool.

Jesse (02:11.858)

Yeah, you know, the best part about both my startup experiences was the kind of feeling of growing a company, a shared mission, you know, having huge impact within a smaller organization. So that's, that was like, you know, a total mind shift for me being part of those two startups and the overall experience of the startup world as I'm sure you can relate to.

Um, and probably many of the listeners can relate to is just so much bigger, so much different than a bigger company. And, um, you know, throughout my time at Facebook, I was, yeah, I enjoyed, um, maybe not every second, but, uh, most majority of my time overall, um, that was kind of a fire hose of learning. Um, one of the, one of the best things about working there was you're, you know, if you're like me, especially on the business side, working with product teams and engineers and some of the

brightest minds in the world. And especially if you've come in through an acquisition where you didn't have to go through the interview process, you are almost always not the smartest person in the room. And so the opportunity to learn is tremendous. And so in starting my own company, I've had the opportunity to take on a whole bunch of different types of learning and building a company has been, we've been at it for.

Uh, not too long now, but so far it's been a different type of fire hose and a totally different learning experience and just kind of like. Enjoying the ride and hopefully producing something of value along.

Hemant Varshney (03:48.904)

So tell us a little bit about Hightype.

Jesse (03:52.35)

Okay, so, HiTide is a platform that in its simplest sense helps Shopify merchants turn their Instagram followings into SMS subscribers. In sort of a longer version of this, the D2C, but specifically the Shopify ecosystem is currently riding a pretty dramatic wave of growth related to SMS marketing.

you know, if you're reading about Shopify marketing, for example, one of the first things you'll come across is card abandonment texts or, you know, Black Friday text messaging around sort of tent pole marketing events. The performance that's come from text marketing in the last few years, particularly driven by some really great marquee leaders in the space like Postscript, Attentive.

and many others has really transformed how marketers think about reaching their audience, particularly in the US, consumers in the US, quite familiar with this channel. And yet, the wave of innovation that has come from the actual text platform side, and even on the carrier side, has not been matched in terms of innovation when it comes to

acquiring phone numbers and acquiring consumer consent for marketing messages. Most of the phone numbers that are acquired by brands these days from consumers that want to receive marketing messages from them come from what you and I are both very familiar with from a consumer standpoint, which is you go to a website, you're browsing around, you get a pop-up, and that pop-up offers you a discount or maybe a coupon.

maybe cash back is a more recent variation of this. But that experience while it's driving a huge amount of growth is kind of siloed to the on website experience. And so what Hightight is doing is bringing a whole bunch of really cool acquisition tools to social, specifically starting with Instagram and direct messaging to acquire opt-ins for text marketing.

Hemant Varshney (06:16.008)

Thank you. Yeah, I think, especially like in the meta world and Instagram, it's like, there are a lot of programs that different brands are using. And I know that some of your focus is with the influencer world and getting some of that audience to engage and to sign up and provide their details so that they can get special offers

giveaways or in like, you know, and that in turn helps the brand continue list building, but then also potentially get an increase in followership on the on the platforms as well. Can you talk a little bit about what that user journey is on high tide and you know, why it's important?

Jesse (06:53.803)


Jesse (07:07.538)

Yeah, for sure. Okay, so I'm gonna describe how Hightide works from the point of view of someone that is encountering the tool for the first time as a user or as an Instagram user. And then I'll get into some of the background of how the under the hood works for brands. So.

If you are active on Instagram, you're probably familiar with some of the engagement related campaigns that brands run today, publishing content on Instagram. So there are a pretty wide variety of types of content you can produce from educational all the way down to promotional, if you're a brand looking to reach your consumer. A subset of these campaigns...

which are probably like less in terms of like total percentage of posts that a brand does, but arguably one of the most important tactics are engagement posts. So these are posts that ask for some sort of interaction from the audience, whether that's a comment, whether that's, you know, the audience sharing back about themselves or commenting about a particular item in the post or replying to a story.

or otherwise sharing or signing up for something. I'm gonna pick a very common example, which is a giveaway. And I'm gonna describe this kind of format as it would play out on a brand page. And then I'm gonna work in the influencer side of things. So your typical brand is running a giveaway once every either one to three months.

And that giveaway is something of value, usually product or a combination of products that the brand is giving away to their followers in exchange for some sort of engagement, including sharing the post, tagging a friend, commenting something. And traditionally that type of post has been executed with the objective of acquiring more followers. Acquiring followers on Instagram is super important.

Jesse (09:22.946)

building your ability to reach people for free, super important. But that's usually where it stops. What Hytie does is as the user is engaging with the giveaway post, for example, we enable the brand to send a direct message to the follower or to the user or to whoever's engaging with the post and ask them to either complete their entry,

or sign up for additional value or take some sort of step that involves opting into text marketing. And what's really cool is we do that privately in direct message, which are triggered from the post itself. So imagine you're tagging your friend because you wanna enter the giveaway for a free Yeti cooler, for example. You'll receive a DM from the brand that's like, hey,

Thanks so much for entering the giveaway. If you want additional entry or a 10% off coupon or something like that, put your phone number in and we'll text it to you. And what Hightyde handles in that scenario is identifying that a user is engaging with a post, taking them through a very short direct message automation, and then ultimately...

passing the phone number off via a tap to text experience to whoever the actual text provider is for the brand, like Postscript, Attentive, or Sendlay and our current partners.

Hemant Varshney (10:57.904)

Amazing. So we're really solving the challenge of brands being able to have greater reach to their followers from other channels outside of that one specific platform. Because like a big part of it too is that your consumer that is following you might not be on at a specific time when you make specific...

Jesse (11:15.862)


Hemant Varshney (11:26.084)

So, you know, your reach might not be as high, but as soon as you start collecting like the SMS data Like SMS open rates are like 99% or like 95% right? So you're constantly like engaging That's very cool

Jesse (11:36.961)


Jesse (11:40.474)

Yeah, yeah, the kind of piggybacking off what you're describing, the simplest description of why this is all important comes from the actual like influencer creator world, where we were actually building before pivoting to the current solution, which we can talk about in a bit. There's a really kind of well traveled train of thought in the creator world around the rented audience versus the owned audience.

And what these creators are talking about in that case is social, um, anywhere where there's an algorithm between you and your audience, you can consider rented in that, you know, maybe you've built up that audience over time and you feel fairly confident about the ability to reach them, but you don't always have a one-to-one. Um, for example, you can post at a time when you think that post is most likely to reach an audience, but there's a million different factors, um, coming in between you and the, and the consumer.

even if they are on Instagram at the time. So everybody knows this, everybody's familiar with it. The concept of an owned audience on the other hand is this is someone who I am almost certainly able to reach when I want to because I have a direct connection with them. And so in our case, the Instagram post itself is the rented audience. You have 100,000 followers, maybe you reach 10,000 of them on an average post.

versus SMS where it's an owned audience. You have that list of people who have explicitly raised their hand and said, hey, I'd be happy to hear from you with interesting stuff. And when you hit send, that message is gonna reach that consumer. And so that's what's really exciting about the solution we're building. It's essentially a bridge between this rented audience and this owned audience and helps turn more of the rented audience into an owned audience where you have more control over your destiny.

Hemant Varshney (13:37.044)

Amazing. That's, you know, it's amazing. Switching gears a little bit. So I know, you know, we've spoken a little bit about high tide, but outside of the platform and what it's solving for, what has it been like to build, you know, this startup? What's that journey been like?

Jesse (14:01.13)

The journey has been well, I feel I feel Feel like we're early in the journey and yet the journey has been really long if that makes any sense As you know well having met me A pivot ago. We've we've learned a lot along the way. So the company is You know currently relatively small we launched this new product high tide

Hemant Varshney (14:13.296)


Jesse (14:30.758)

and really the new company less than eight months ago. And prior to that, I had been working on some projects that were in a different space, which was the creator space, hence my kind of example from the creator space.

Jesse (14:49.209)

I have, uh...

you know, felt the experience that you can only feel as an entrepreneur of, you know, just getting punched in the face, many times over on every specific, you know, every every, you know, potential problem you could run into along the way of building a company I've run into every, you know, learning experience is probably a better way to describe it. I've run into that too. And yet somehow on the other end of it.

um, you know, building in its totality is just like an incredible adventure. And it's a lot of fun. It's a hell of a lot more fun than, um, you know, building even, even with full autonomy within a, within a bigger corporation. Um, and so the starved experience has been really, really fun. Um, there's many, you know, been many experiences where I've had to learn. Relearn lessons that

as you might see if you're watching the video, I have tons of books I love reading, especially reading business related books. Sometimes I feel like I waste my time reading because I can read something a dozen times and until I experience it myself, I don't believe it. And there's been many such cases where I've really had to relearn lessons I've learned in the past. But the, you know, in the...

Jesse (16:17.582)

three steps forward, two steps backwards rhythm of building a company, those three steps forward and making incremental progress on building something of value for others and hopefully building a company of value is a lot of fun. And if you're kind of a lifelong learner like me, it's enjoyable even with its knocks.

Hemant Varshney (16:42.257)

What advice can you give, you know, entrepreneurs or startups? I very much echo the sentiment of there are a lot of lessons to be learned and there are things that you don't know that you don't know that you don't know and until you don't get to the first degree of I don't know, you don't know the next sets of questions to ask. You know, I think something that I strongly believe in is...

And this is in a bunch of books. It's if you're going to fail, fail fast and make sure you're learning along the way. Um, and so that's something I try to incorporate. Like we, we move pretty fast at Digi-com. Um, we're learning a bunch of things where, you know, we're dabbling in building, like some of our own tech. Um, and other times it's how do we make processes more efficient? How do we make reporting more efficient? Like.

So there's a lot of things that work. And if you don't learn fast, it can, you know, that can be, that can not be great for your company, right? At least that's something like that, that advice that I like to give, but what are some pieces of advice you can give to other entrepreneurs, other startups?

Jesse (17:50.012)


Jesse (18:01.322)

Yeah, what's a piece of advice? I think, like, as you were talking, I had one that came to mind, which is basically make everything an experiment. So in our work together, DigiCom and HiTide working on some stuff in the ads world, like testing, specifically A-B testing, campaign testing, messaging testing, content testing.

you name it, that is literally the name of the game. And what's really interesting about building a business I found is that the more you can take that mindset into everything you do, the greater your chance of success. So to stretch that analogy out, you can test everything from hiring all the way down to

your North Star as a company. Everything should be subject to change and testing. You should make informed calculated bets and then be ready to learn very quickly if the data suggests you're headed in the wrong direction. So for us, probably the most important change and test that we did in the short history of our company so far resulted in the pivot to this.

SMS related product. What we were doing previously was working on a tool that helped creators and influencers better manage their incoming DMs and comments. And we built many, many different tools within that tool, continuously searching for something that would provide that like 10X, aha value. And we weren't really, to be honest, we weren't really sure what we were looking for, but we-

kept shipping product, talked to literally, you know, hundreds and hundreds of influencers and creators along the way. And we decided at one point, very late last year, maybe it was even early this year, to take, to embark on an experiment and a test. And that test was, hmm, what would it look like if we took incoming DMs that a creator or influencer is receiving?

Jesse (20:23.67)

and just ask that audience member, hey, do you wanna sign up for a text list? This didn't necessarily come out of any super informed deep research, but the result that we saw was surprising and clearly, very clearly way better than, way better than anything else we were doing. And so for us, that 10X, and it was like, holy shit.

Hemant Varshney (20:46.264)

It's that 10x.

Jesse (20:51.586)

What, why are we building anything else? This result is fantastic. Where else can we apply it? And what we ended up realizing was that this is a great, really fantastic product for brands, instead of what we were testing it for, which was creators who had their own brands and were selling on Shopify. This tool is actually better for scaled teams and teams that are looking to build big brands.

And if we hadn't embarked on that test, we might have been pushing along stubbornly with our view of the world that was informed by the limited information we had at the time and still building this other tool, which I gotta say, I'm really thankful that we found this SMS acquisition play because it's been working really, really well for our customers. And if we hadn't approached even that little test and experiment,

with an open mind, we probably wouldn't end up, you know, with what, you know, is starting to look like a really great product.

Hemant Varshney (21:56.708)

Amazing. That's just, that's amazing.

Jesse (21:59.923)

Yeah, it's, um.

It's a hard lesson to learn because there is, there is a part of, um, you know, a part of every entrepreneur or, you know, probably every, you know, campaign strategist, uh, anyone that's in that's like testing things, um, where you do have to bring a level of like, um, conviction, but you have to, you have to kind of know what to look for and when to change your mind. And that can be really tough. Um, that's actually one of the fun things that I learned.

Uh, working with you and your team is like how that same mindset applies to testing ad strategies and acquiring audiences and finding leads and all the kind of lifeblood of a business. So that's been really fun as well.

Hemant Varshney (22:43.58)

Thank you. Yeah, I know we experimented on different campaign styles, different acquisition, white paper, direct to site content. So I appreciate you saying this. Couple more questions for you. You're building digital technology. Where do you see digital marketing going in the next five years?

Jesse (23:03.042)


Jesse (23:12.702)

Oh, big question. Digital marketing in the next five years. So the

Jesse (23:22.49)

Probably most obvious and most significant shift that's happening is the one I wanna talk about, which is the move to more consumer choice and more privacy, specifically in the marketing world. So if you're listening to the podcast and you're following along with marketing in general, you're probably aware of all the changes that are coming in terms of cookies and...

Apple tracking changes and a whole bunch of shifts that are probably in the long term in my personal opinion, really good for consumers, but that are really painful to kind of bear out in the short term for marketers that are really trying to reach consumers with relevant messages. So in the five year time period, it's not going to get easier.

uh, it's going to get harder. Uh, when I, when I, when I say it, I mean, you know, finding, um, the right person to send the right message to and, um, owning your data and, uh, you know, moving whatever audiences you already have as a, as a brand or a marketer to an owned channel where you're sure to reach them, I mean, tremendously important and the, um, the writing is, I'm not sure what a better analogy is, but the writings on the wall.

maybe it's like the banner, the like 50 foot banner is flying by an airplane. Like everything from the, let's see, it's September 2023 right now. And so Clavio just published their S1. And they are a relatively big technology player in the space of email marketing and now SMS marketing. And they're seeing tremendous, tremendous growth.

writing this wave of change because as marketers, it's just continuing to be important to own your audience. And that's probably the dominant trend for the next five years, if not more. Because also, while these changes are happening, they're so big that Google, Apple, Meta, everyone involved that's of note is rolling them out relatively slowly. So I think the...

Hemant Varshney (25:43.101)


Jesse (25:43.222)

you know, iOS tracking change happened probably quicker than the cookie change will, um, but this is like paramount importance for everyone in this industry.

Hemant Varshney (25:52.068)

Yeah. And I think there's also like a large element of attribution, you know, with like the way we do attribution planning and modeling on the backend for, for a lot of our partners, like that's to help alleviate because like, we don't have like as much clear visibility as we did, you know, pre iOS 14, like pre iOS 14, we were over attributing, but you know, it was a lot easier to find the things that are working and drive growth.

Post iOS 14, we lost visibility into a lot of tracking. And yeah, like, you know, moving your followers into your CRM where, you know, you can reach them. Maybe at some point, I know with the new iOS 17 rollout, I think like there are a lot of email companies that will lose tracking on, like conversion tracking on email.

Jesse (26:50.339)


Hemant Varshney (26:50.704)

But, but like if you're looking at things from like a total business framework, and I know there are a lot of channels that play together, but with the way we do custom modeling, we were able to see, okay, this is what email did last touch, and this is how paid channels like impacted, you know, these other non paid channels. And so what is the business efficiency and health? But again, like, Jesse, to your point, it is going to be important to

you know, be able to directly reach the consumer because there's going to be less and less visibility. That's something we've been experiencing and trying to solve.

Jesse (27:23.177)


Yeah, it's basically like, you know, this like bomb has been thrown into the marketing kind of landscape and marketing is not going away. Advertising is not going away. Audience based advertising is not going away. There's just going to be different methods and some of those are going to take time to shape out. If you think of the incentives at play here, Apple, you know, has been shaking things up.

Hemant Varshney (27:36.618)


Jesse (27:55.298)

to say the least and arguably they're one of the most advertising dependent, you know, of the top of the top market cap technology companies because, you know, many of the most useful app experiences in the app store are advertising enabled, actually more than that advertising dependent. So what will like what will likely happen is a post.

Hemant Varshney (28:17.404)


Jesse (28:24.822)

you know, like a different world in five years where Apple is a much, much more important player in targeting and advertising rather than Apple removing the ability entirely for people to serve relevant messages to consumers. So anyway, anything could happen. And clearly like, you know, there's this crazy jockeying happening and probably, you know, there's...

Hemant Varshney (28:44.541)


Jesse (28:51.25)

Amazon and TikTok is kind of the dark horses at the party, likely to only get bigger and shake things up too. So it'll be exciting.

Hemant Varshney (28:58.588)

Yeah, it will be. Jesse, thanks for being on our show today. Wanted to ask you one last question and that is where can our listeners find you, learn more about high tide and get in touch with you?

Jesse (29:14.486)

Oh, let's see. The best place to find me is on Twitter. My handle is, well, if you search my name, Jesse Clemens, last name C-L-E-M-M-E-N-S, you're likely to find me. Also on LinkedIn as well. And Hightide is spelled H-I-T-I-D-E. And you can find us at If you're a...

brand or a marketer or someone that's just interested in SMS and the kind of cutting edge of things, drop me a note. Love to hear from you. And our demo button is at the top right of our site. So please come through and we'll have a good chat.

Hemant Varshney (30:00.276)

amazing. Thank you.

Jesse (30:02.946)

Thanks so much.


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