5 Questions For a CEO: James Yancey, CloudTags

by Jeff Hilimire on April 25, 2014

This is the tenth installment of my “5 Questions for a CEO” series. The list so far:

This is an exciting CEO series post for me because its the first one that was suggested to me by someone else. And while I haven’t yet met James, I’ve heard a lot about CloudTags from one of their investors and have been a fan since day one. While this might not be exactly how James would describe it, my understanding of their business is that they help bridge the gap between the online and the retail shopping experience.


Describe CloudTags and why its going to change the world.

My co-founders and I have been working together in digital for over a decade to engage, personalize and re-engage people. But times have changed and with the advent of a mobile always on society, personalization is less about relevant content on a stationary computer and more about relevant contextual interactions with the things around you in the physical world. If you’re on Amazon viewing a t-shirt, on that same page, you’ll be offered all the most statistically relevant shorts and shoes that go with it. In a physical retail store, if you add a t-shirt to a wish list via your phone, the next most relevant product, say a pair of shoes, may be two floors up. Does it make sense to navigate you to that product then, wait to see if you walk near by it or send it as a recommendation via email afterward? We’re figuring out the answers to offer the most location and context aware personalization for mobile experiences using tablets, mobile phones and beacons. We are increasing sales for our clients by getting more customers to choose to identify themselves via email in building collections of product they’re considering prior to checkout.

I’m productive by brute force.

As the CEO of a startup, how do you manage your time? Any tips for other startup leaders?

I work from 5:30am – 5:30pm. Because I have our tech team in India and clients in the UK as well as the US, its a blessing and curse that at any given time, someone is up doing something to build CloudTags. I like starting early because once I wake up and turn on my phone, there are already many things to respond to. I focus on India and the UK from 5:30 – 9:30 and then focus on the US from that time onward. Because we are an early company with people in multiple locations, its important to allocate time to focus on the needs of each part of the business. Its easy to delay or put off things that aren’t in your immediate surroundings, so I have to mentally divide my day into non-US and US priorities.

I try not to schedule meetings in the evenings during the week unless critical. No matter how busy I am, I try to ensure that every day between 5:30 and 7:30 I exercise by running and going to the gym. My personal style is to respond to things immediately in terms of email. Many studies show that its better to have dedicated times to respond, etc. I find myself more efficient and productive to respond continuously throughout the day. I have little time allocated to relationships etc in this phase of the business and try to spend time with friends and family a bit on the weekend.

Describe your morning routine.

I don’t set an alarm. I wake naturally every morning between 5:30 and 6:00am and turn on my iPhone. I lay in bed and respond to email for an hour before I actually sit up and turn the light on and open my laptop. I usually have a Google video call with my UK co-founder at around6:30am when my hair is still a wreck as I haven’t showered. I shower and get ready in 30 mins and usually have scheduled regular calls that start at 7:30am (tech, data, etc) that cross US, UK and India. I often eat breakfast on these calls, which means my Indian team assumes that all I ever do is eat, which isn’t true, because I don’t have time to.

What tools do you use to keep yourself productive (mobile, desktop or otherwise)?

I’m productive by brute force. I don’t like systems other than my phone and email and my brain. Everyone is different. It works for me and rarely miss anything. The time and energy focused on extensive organizational systems has never been something I’ve bought into. To make this work I have to respond to things on the fly. I’m never rude to multitask in meetings and give people my full attention. But I have the ability to jump across topics and functions rapidly without distraction. I can talk about marketing, look at financials and respond to email about hiring someone in India with great ease. This is just how I’m wired. I think everyone has to find their own best way. Don’t assume that your system works for anyone other than yourself. The litmus test is quality of output and whether or not you miss anything.

Who do you look up to in the business world and why?

There is no one single person who is my savior. Categorically I look up to people who come from little means and have created wealth due to their ingenuity and hard work. I don’t generally admire executives of big companies who have never built a company from the ground up. I respect them. But I respect teachers and doctors in the same way. I admire people who come up with a new idea and fight to make it real and stick with it against the odds and find success.

The people I have the least respect are those fed from a wealthy family silver spoon and have a hobby that isn’t profitable and call themselves entrepreneurs with little risk or sacrifice. I also don’t have much respect for entrepreneurs who don’t put any of their own money into a company and ask others to fund it. People like Jake Burton Carpenter who invented snow boarding or the founders of Pandora are some good stories and role models. They fought for change that took a while to make mainstream, but they stuck with it.

Steve Jobs is a cliche answer, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a fan for all the same reasons.I also have great respect for things we take for granted now like railroads, cable and phone companies. The amount of work to create those initial networks that help our innovation today is mind boggling. Connectedness that we take for granted had much blood, sweat and tears to get us here. Let’s not forget that.

Bonus: You have some great investors. What is the biggest piece of advice you’d give to startups in search of quality investors?

I’d say that if you want investors then you need a bank of trust from your previous efforts. Most concepts change as you learn more and smart investors know that. Many of them invest in people first. So start increasing your chances for being fundable today by being consistent and honest in what you say and what you do. The main thing is a solid track record of those two things matching up. If its your first venture then you will probably do a friends and family round. Regardless of your current job, create situations that will highlight your entrepreneurial DNA.

Show that you can bring about change and inspire people to follow you. If you can’t do those things, then whether your idea has potential or not, you’ll have a hard time getting things off the ground. Don’t be lazy and show that you have continually grown and stretched yourself. The money will come a lot easier if you’ve done these things. Past the first money just keep showing investors that you do the things you’ve said you will and the money will come. Its never easy, but the world is your oyster if you try and succeed at proving out your hypotheses in the early days.

  • Dave Williams

    Really great interview. I love what James Yancey is doing, especially him as the CEO and leader who truly cares about people and is a visionary of the future for his customers.

  • dongeorge

    Nice interview. Yes, a good idea alone does not success make. It takes a good idea plus the right person. It looks like CloudTags has the right components. Jeff, save this interview — it might come in handy 10 years from now when the HBS does a case study on CloudTags.

  • Rollover

    I found what James said refreshing. Cloud Tags has identified an needed area to improve brick & mortar customer experience that will also produce needed new revenues. The retailing industry needs this now.

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