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Simon Berg of Ceros On How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

Lean in to digital events: When they’re executed well, digital events can be as engaging or more engaging than physical events and infinitely more scalable. Last year, during the pandemic, we did our annual event remotely. We normally have a few hundred attendees when it’s a live event; last year, we had thousands, and the video of the event has been streamed more than 100,000 times.

As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Simon Berg.

Simon Berg is founder and CEO of Ceros, an interactive SaaS design platform that empowers brands like Red Bull, United, Conde Nast, and Universal to create bespoke digital experiential content without coding. After design school turned him down, Simon began working for a magazine agency and became a master of craft across both print and digital, which served as a catalyst for his 20-year, ladder-climbing journey to CEO of the same agency: Group FMG (now BORN). As CEO, Simon led the charge to sell the agency in order to build and grow Ceros, a technology platform he incubated while at Group FMG.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I left school at 16 years old. I wanted to pursue creative avenues, and I realized the only way I could do that was to get out from underneath the constraints of school and go express myself in the world. I ended up in the graphic arts industry working at a creative production agency whose main clients were magazine publishers who picked on me and treated me like I was incapable of forming an original thought. That just made me more determined to prove that I had endless creative potential.

I spent the next 20 years becoming more and more influential in the organization, taking on every job in the place, from tea boy to co-managing director to eventually CEO. While I was there, I started building software products, and when the creative agency was sold, I focused my attention on the software and the potential of digital creation and launched Ceros in 2011. The rest is history.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I made the mistake of making good tea when I was the tea boy, because that meant that they would make you make it a lot. It quickly became apparent to me that if you make the tea badly, then they don’t ask you to make it very often.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Yeah, Kurt Ozficici. He was the creative director and CEO of a five-person agency that rented an office from our agency. If it wasn’t for Kurt, I wouldn’t have found my love of what I do today. At the graphics company, I was basically an order taker for publishers: ‘Go do this. Go do that.’ They were not at all interested in me doing any actual thinking. Kurt was the first one who asked me to be creative. ‘You got any ideas?’ he said. And I was like, ‘Yeah. Loads of ‘em! But none of these publishing types want to hear them.’ So I went down to his office, and they were in the middle of a brainstorming session, working on a billboard campaign for a boat show, and we brainstormed. I came up with a slogan, and it went down on a piece of paper. The next day six or seven ideas for the campaign were on the wall, and mine was one of them.

Then, about three months later, my brother and I were driving to work, and there it was! My idea was on the billboard! The message from the publishers was always, ‘Be a good boy. Don’t think anything.’ But here an idea of mine ended up on a billboard. And that was all because of Kurt, who’s a complete lunatic by the way. He gave me the gift of freedom of expression.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Yes, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Way back before I was CEO of Ceros, back before there even was Andreessen-Horowitz, both Andreessen and Horowitz independently invested a small amount in a company that would later become Ceros. Since he was an investor, I bought Ben’s book, and I read it at a particularly poignant moment — a dark, challenging period when I was effectively ready to jump out a window — and the book gave me hope to carry on and keep working. It taught me something I already knew, which is that great leaders make decisions when there are no right decisions to be made. It’s like if you’re trapped on top of a burning building and there are three doors to choose from, the only guaranteed wrong answer is to not choose any of them.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

To unlock creativity. That’s been Ceros’ purpose for 11 years, and it hasn’t changed. Our mission is to unlock creativity through liberating technology.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Yes. Trying to make so much money so that all I have to do is create shit without judgment by stupid people with calculators. The real answer is what we’re always working on, which is to create a future in which it would be practically unthinkable for a creative professional to go a full day without using one Ceros product or another, from the Ceros Studio to MarkUp, our new feedback tool.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?

To truly engage in a digital transformation means simply stepping back and taking a clear-eyed view of what your company does, then imagining how you can leverage everything available in the digital realm toward doing those same things only better. Assuming that you know your business’ mission — the why you do what you do — ask yourself how the digital world can be used to transform your existing business so that it stays true to its mission. That’s all digital transformation requires: a clear sense of why and a mind free enough to imagine the possibilities.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

The ones that have had their heads in the sand for the past 20 years.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

The primary challenge is that businesses are afraid of change — or in this case, digital transformation. And as a result, their fear of uncertainty and their dependence on maintaining order overrides the opportunity to leverage these tools for success..

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Lean in to digital events: When they’re executed well, digital events can be as engaging or more engaging than physical events and infinitely more scalable. Last year, during the pandemic, we did our annual event remotely. We normally have a few hundred attendees when it’s a live event; last year, we had thousands, and the video of the event has been streamed more than 100,000 times.

Treat the digital realm as the primary realm: Right now, with very few exceptions, a company’s digital presence is its only presence, so treat it as the primary concern, not an afterthought. Everything’s digital. Either the transformation happens, or you’re in trouble. Stand out from the competition: Transforming to digital is an opportunity for organizations to offer faster, easier, more convenient services to their customers, while also setting it apart from competitors who have not yet made the transformation.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Don’t overthink it. Innovation isn’t something you can mandate. It’s not something that you can schedule like a meeting or an airline departure time. It’s something you instinctively and intuitively stumble across. It can’t be forced, like, “We will create an innovation department. Gary will be in charge. And these are the seven people in charge of delivering said innovation.” It doesn’t work like that. And so, if you want to foster innovation, stop reading this article and go and draw a picture, go stare at some trees, give yourself the space you need to solve a problem or trigger a moment of inspiration

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and, of course, Ceros.com.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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