The era of Mad Men-style advertising – men in black suits, chain-smoking up ideas for a clientele we would now call old-school – much like the show itself, has long been over. The customer has changed, and with it, the way brands interact with those customers.
“We kind of are known to be the mobile app guys,” Carter said. “We’re different because we don’t approach something from a strategy-only consulting-only point-of-view, we approach everything as an opportunity to make something.”
Bottle Rocket uses mobile software technology to create customer experiences for brands. For example, the company built software that allows Dallas-based Mary Kay’s independent beauty consultants to better coordinate and track their orders, while creating a consumer-facing side that offers in-app POS order processing that allows for more personalized interaction between the customer and the consultant.
Bottle Rocket has also worked with larger companies across the country, including Coca-Cola. For Coke, Bottle Rocket helped develop Coca-Cola Freestyle, an app that can be used in conjunction with the company’s Freestyle Machines, which allow consumers to customize flavors to create new drinks. A social media component lets users share their concoctions online.
“I believe that true sophistication requires you do a lot of things really well that don’t normally go together.”
While the company has been around since 2008, Carter said that in the last few years, growth and revenue have increased, helped in part by creating technology and by the changing ways that consumers and brands interact in the real world and online space. In that time, the company has also grown to about 250 employees
At the annual Tech Titans Gala on Aug. 23, the Addison-based company’s Founder and CEO Calvin Carter was recognized with the Emerging Company CEO Award for his role in navigating the early (and what some would say are arguably the hardest) years of a tech startup.
“Brands are now focusing more on apps, because it’s a significant percentage of the company’s revenue… just the sheer importance to the brands criticalness… has gone way up,” Carter said. “It’s actually not about the tech of the platforms or the device that’s coming out, it’s really about their impact on the people that you want to serve. How can you fit into their life, rather than how can they fit you into theirs?”
In 11 years, a lot changes. Bumper stickers were still a thing on Facebook, ‘Rickrolling’ was still (if it ever was in the first place) funny, and Obama was on the campaign trail with his slogan ‘Yes we can.’ Back then, Clack said Bottle Rocket was largely a group of graphic artists, programmers and project managers designing simple apps. With the explosion of new tech and by adding consulting and strategy teams to the organization, Bottle Rocket took off.
Another reason for its expansion: millennials. They seem to get blamed for most things, but in this case it has reshaped the way companies do business. This isn’t just because they are rapidly becoming the largest consumer age demographic, but also because of the way they view companies. Carter said that Millennials and Gen Z, have come to expect customization and engagement in advertising and when interacting with companies. Image is also important, he said; a company’s image, culture and values are becoming more important factors to new consumers than they previously were.
“We are making that experience better and better, and we do it through the leverage of customer-centered design… it’s important for us to have a high level of empathy, so we can put ourselves in the place of the user who is going to be using the [app or product],” Carter said. “When you put everything from a user-centric point-of-view, the tech is important because those users have found that their lives are better, more convenient, more efficient when they use that. When something surprises and delights you, you make note of it, share it with others, want more of it.”
From the CEO perspective (that is what Tech Titans recognized him for after all), part of the success of Bottle Rocket can be traced to leadership. Carter describes his leadership role as that of a symphony director: making sure that even though each team “has a different instrument, it all feels… like [it goes together,] it all works together.” While specialized in a specific role, the departments coordinate and functions well within the whole.
“I believe that true sophistication requires you do a lot of things really well that don’t normally go together,” Carter said. “We used to be very simple, now we’re complex, but are still creating simple-to-use things.”
Whatever you choose to call it – connected-lifestyle branding, digital transformation company, experience-design software developer – Carter says what separates his organization from others in the same market is its approach. He said they try to look at everything as an opportunity to make something.
“When we approach anything… we do it all with the eventuality of we’re going to build something some sort of digital product or experience, and we’re going to take that to market; it’s going to do something,” Carter said.
Instead of approaching each new gig from the traditional strategy and consulting perspective, Carter said they begin by thinking about what the finished product could be. This removes the stumbling blocks that come up along the way after talks have ended and development has begun – does the idea translate to a tangible concept, is the technology available to make that concept happen? By including designers and engineers in the initial phases of a project, Bottle Rocket can make sure that the ideas translate to a marketable product; at times Carter said it has earned them the nickname the “unconsultants.”
“At the end of the day, it’s like, ‘what the hell do we build, and can we even build the thing?” Carter said. “We approach things with a maker mentality… and because of [the data we’ve collected through our software], we have this inside track on what is the mindset of todays customer.”