Flipping the Script on Customer Data: Dr. Don Vaughn of Invisibly

Invisibly just announced what might be the first fully scalable platform that lets consumers make money on their customer data. The platform, which is currently in beta, will match fully-permissioned customer data sources with brands.

Invisibly just announced what might be the first fully scalable platform that lets consumers make money on their customer data. The platform, which is currently in beta, will match fully-permissioned customer data sources with brands. Invisibly acts as something of an agent/broker in the transaction. Dr. Don Vaughn, PhD is Head of Product at Invisibly. He sat down with us recently to bring some context to their announcement.

Below is the full transcript of our conversation.


I’m talking to Dr. Don Vaughn who is head of product at Invisibly and Invisibly just made an announcement a couple of days ago that their platform allows consumers to make money off of their data their customer data. I think that’s at its simplest but there’s a lot more to it so Don’s here to explain it all the ins and outs, the bells and whistles, the what it does and does not do and what this can mean for customer engagement on the brand side, but what it can mean for the consumers as they try and express more control over their part of the conversation. So, talk to me if you would, about the announcement and exactly what this means.


Dr. Don Vaughn

Yeah, so Invisibly – we just announced – we built a platform that lets people link their data whether that’s browsing data, social media data, financial data profile, questions they might answer. We can link that data and then we will be your agent just like a professional athlete might have, to look at deals for you. And we’ll go license that data out to advertisers and market research firms who want to know you better and it’s really one of the first steps in people being able to take control of their online advertising experience. And it signals the shift away from the one directional advertising that’s probably been the standard for let’s say, 20 plus years on the internet.



So, you’re going to broker the data for, I don’t know, a couple million people – that sounds like a big undertaking.


Dr. Don Vaughn

Yeah – you know, it is a big it is a big undertaking. It’s been many years in the making to figure out how this might look and what we realized was, you can actually have a much better experience as a brand who wants to reach people if people were incentivized to be part of that transaction. So, just like you and me we have a conversation – we both want to be here. It doesn’t really work like that online in advertising. We all know it – We all know our products need to reach people but blasting out millions and millions of ads with tiny click-through rates tells us we’re actually missing the mark most of the time. So, what we really are trying to emphasize here is, if you can get consumers as part of that transaction where they want to see relevant brands. People want to see relevant ads – it becomes content as soon as it’s relevant.

So, if you can incentivize people to link their data such that we can figure out what they’re truly interested in, and you give them control to “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” certain types of offers that you might send their way, and you put them in control, we think we can build a platform that is the best way to have a relationship with people because you’re honoring you’re you know – you’re reaching them based on their data, you’re honoring their preferences. When they say, “I don’t want to see this anymore – try something else” and that leads to better outcomes on both sides. You need more information, more control and more transparencies  – it really does leave both sides better off.



This is the best solution to what’s happening with third-party cookies and privacy laws so I can see where brands would just jump all over this because this opens up a whole new level of relationship with a customer – because the data is essentially permissioned. At that point you know it’s offered up in exchange for a very open value of exchange. I think, the brands I talked to would just be all over this. Consumers, I think, are just starting to wake up to the fact that their data has value. Do you think consumers are ready for this?


Dr. Don Vaughn

I think consumers are really ready for this. I mean the question is, yeah, nice platform – what’s the pain point? The pain point is that people are pissed off that Facebook and Google are making hundreds of billions of dollars off their data, and they’re honestly sick of being stalked. It’s a weird – it’s weird to say something and have an ad show up and have no control really over not saying that’s not a normal human interaction. That’s only possible because machines can stalk and target and slurp up data and bid on you and do all these things that we do. And

I’m fully empathetic with brands which is like, again, you have products, you want to reach the right consumers. The way to do that clearly – is personal data – but it’s provided by third-party data collectors who, you know, often collect data without people truly being informed and consented. So, we’re building this consented data platform.

We think people are really ready to take back control online and so it is like you said – it’s fully consented. It’s people are like “I do want to be part of this transaction or some fraction of it’s to make money off my data dividend.” But another fraction of it is everybody does want relevant stuff.

I mean marketing serves a huge purpose. In order to get knowledgeable products in front of people and that the problem is that there’s every day there’s millions more products that that could barrage people and everyone wants to reach them. So, if we can have the consumer almost pulling in what they want by using Invisibly’s ai to sort of curate their world. I’m teasing –  that’s the next in two months – that’s what we’re releasing. It’ll link your data, make money off it. We’ll broker the whole transaction just like you’re a professional athlete. We will do the sponsorships. We’ll do the deals.

Step two – we’re gonna take that data and we’re going to link up many product catalogs, events. You could go to apps, you could download deals and offers that brands might want to show. We’re creating a feed where basically people get to ingest and digest that just as they would with Instagram because if you sell tires to somebody who wants to buy new tires you’re not an ad – you’re content. You’re really valuable and that’s really what we’ve learned from many, many user interviews – is that is that if you’re relevant, and people enjoy seeing what you have

So, what’s missing is people adding the data and having control over likes and dislikes to then start pulling in things that they want and then, I think the brands are really gonna be chomping at the bit. So, for consumers, it’s literally as simple as like “Okay, I like vs I don’t like”. That’s it! You know, just choose yes or no, basically. And then the platform kind of takes it from there.

We’re one of the first platforms using ai to filter all this and try and push relevance. But you know you much better than them. So, if we can just give you an ai that takes your inputs and you have full control over it to go out there and curate your world for you – that’s the next phase of advertising. That’s the next-level company which is, if you have to consciously think about it and Google it, you’re too late. It should have already been that your ai found it for you.



Yeah, they should have anticipated your needs. So, you know the value of consumer data is a variable thing. To certain brands, some consumers really have no value. Other people – other segments – they’re just wildly valuable. How does Invisibly reconcile all that stuff – and how do broker that?


Dr. Don Vaughn

Right, I mean for those of you who know how technical your audience is. But what does it take a to show a thousand impressions of an ad online? Typically, a data fee might be something like 25 cents or 50 cents maybe a buck for the average set of people. “Oh I’m interested in a phone.” “I’m interested in volleyball.” “I’m interested in soccer.” Whatever it is you’re interested in – so it’s like a tenth of a penny to show an ad. If you really knew the person was going to convert it’d be a lot more but it’s not it’s cheap on average and then, as you point out, if you’re a doctor and we know you’re going to be buying some medical equipment for the new ER that you just built that CPM – that value of what I’m willing to pay to reach that person goes way up – way through the roof. I mean up to 20, 50, 100 bucks, 200 bucks, for custom engagements. We are at the level right now where I think for people are being introduced to the concept.

As the product guy I had to make a decision on, are we going to have a very efficient marketplace where I build a system that says “oh well, how much data got sold for how much and then take a fraction that return it to people”?  I think it’s too confusing for people so we’re paying a flat fee no matter who you are. You link your bank account – you make 75 points off that. You link a social media account – you make 25 points. You link your browsing data – you make 200 points every month. And then once you reach 500, you can cash out into just straight up cash. You can donate it to charity. So we simplified it because you’re right, there are different levels for different people on what that data is worth.



But lets just bottom line it here. From a consumer standpoint, how much can a regular old American consumer make on the Iinvisibly platform?


Dr. Don Vaughn

Depending on how many data sources you link, you can make between $60 and $100 a year which is which is the start of something. You know, we are building this platform so that’s what we can pay out based on our relationships. I think in two years we will be making people a thousand dollars a year off the personal data.



That’s significant!


Dr. Don Vaughn

Right a thousand dollars a year from the data that you’re sitting on. And for those of you who don’t know – every other business you’re connected with is already tracking and making money off of you. Look at your bank statements, you look through the clauses, they sell your data to their affiliates and in the end, you can’t even opt out of it. That’s just how it goes.

Facebook tracks you everywhere online. Your social media, when you post, there are thousands of companies that go around and mine that and look for social sentiment changes and the influence of campaigns. Everybody’s making money off your data but you. That’s over – that’s crap. We’re done with that. We’re Invisibly – like your data agent and we’re here to represent you and we only make money if you do. So we do a 50/50 split.



Interesting. So, if I understand correctly from the announcement, the platform is in beta right now. Is that right? Okay so I just got my announcement earlier today, that I’m part of the friends and family group and i’m honored to be part of it. I’ll be all about it – just getting in there and trying to figure it out. But when this gets opened up to the public, how does the general public find out about this? I mean, because, this is a fairly new concept.


Dr. Don Vaughn

Yes – a fairly new concept and you know, whenever I talk about it, people love it but no one knows this exists because we’re so used to signing up for a product for free and then having all our data mined and sold for much more than it would take to build the product. That’s why there’s insane profits from tech companies, as they get you with the free thing that they’ve built and then it’s just tons and tons and tons of bad revenue. So right now we’re doing word of mouth. We’re reaching out to friends and family. I think a lot of this is going to be word of mouth. When we start paying people you know, you’re starting to earn money every month, it becomes very real. You want your friends to be a part of that. But the truth is, a lot of it takes trust, Mike. Like, data’s a very sensitive topic and no matter how many times I tell people like, advertisers – none of them want your social security number, none of them really want to harass you. Good advertisers, what they want is just to know are you interested potentially in their product. Will you learn about it and then to follow up?

Brands, they build what they think is a great product and they want to get in front of the right people. So, it’s really about trust. My good friend Jim Pickow had a great quote which is that “Trust is built one micro transaction at a time”. And so we’ve just got to show that we’re building it. We’re not taking your data and selling it to China. We are not just not paying you so we’ll just continue to follow through. And I think word of mouth will be the main way that we spread.



Huge. So, what’s the downside for a customer here? I mean, is there is there fine print that they need to be aware of? Is there like “oh well – we’re not selling to china but we’re selling it to you know whoever else?


Dr. Don Vaughn

No, only North Korea (haha). So, there’s all these controls. Look, this is a beta so there’s all these controls that we will be building that we’d love to right now, license your data out to people who want it – to brands and companies that want to buy it and license it on the programmatic exchange, but we don’t yet have the sophistication to give you control over it. “Yeah, I’ll sell it to all these, but i don’t want to sell it to McDonald’s, or i don’t want to sell it to Kohl’s, or i don’t want to sell to you know the football team near me”, and we don’t have that in there. So, it goes out in bulk and the reason for that, Mike, mainly is that unfortunately while people think their data is extremely valuable, You know as well as I do that there’s so much data – unconsented data out there about you right now that floats around that it waters down the value of your true data.

So many people stalk you online. They already know a lot of this stuff so when we try to license your data out they’re like well they’re like well we’re not paying a premium yet because I can just buy it from this other data stalker, no problems.



But those days, as you and I both know, those days are numbered.


Dr. Don Vaughn

Those days are numbered and thank God. How weird would it be like in real life if somebody was following you around everywhere you went to every store and writing down notes and then and then giving it to brands. So my hope here, and part of coming on here, it’s not just to get people on board – it’s to let brands know that like, I empathize with brands and sense that you need to get out there. That’s the only way of doing business for the last 20 years.

I’m telling you, there’s a new way which is actually respecting people’s consented data and licensing it from them directly, rather than buying it from some of these, you know, very sketchy data collection companies. So, some of this will be if you want to future-proof yourself as a brand relying on third-party data brokers is, like you said, the days are numbered. I think next Invisibly will work with you and we will find a way to, you know, to work and reach people who want to be reached.



Very cool. Don Vaughn is the Head of Product at Invisibly. I have been privileged to have kind of a corner view of what’s happening here over the past few months but the recent announcement makes this really exciting and really compelling. I don’t know if I’m allowed to invite people into the beta but I’ll be telling everybody I know about it because this is really exciting stuff. So again, thanks a million Don.


Dr. Don Vaughn

Thanks so much for having me and giving great feedback along the way. And I really think we’re ushering in a brand new era of how brands and people interact in a direct one-to-one relationship and Invisibly just puts them together.

Photo by Persnickety Prints on Unsplash.

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