Inside aytm: Meet Matt Mahan, Director of Research

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Posted May 17, 2023
Trevor Brown

Matt is the Director of Research here at aytm, and has been with the company for over three years!  We were thrilled to have the opportunity to catch up with him and talk about the exciting world of consumer research, the “social study” of history, and, of course, 18th century cabinet making. We hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did!

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do here at aytm?

I consult with our clients on their research needs when they are looking for white-glove assistance with their project. The Research Services team is structured as an extension of our client’s internal resources, so my involvement can span anything from helping to articulate the core research objective through  reporting findings and discussing implications.

How did you decide to get into your field?

I became interested in the notion of data-empowered consumer centricity during my undergraduate years and later while working with a company that was undergoing a culture shift to a more insight-driven mission. I then took advantage of the growth in available “formal” insights education when I returned to school and completed Michigan State University’s MSMR program, and have been geeking out on market research ever since.

What’s something you’re passionate about?

You’re about to be sorry you asked. I’m a huge history buff. I’ll learn something about what led to an innovation, event, or condition we experience in the modern day, and I end up down a rabbit hole reading about its true origins decades or centuries past. It’s all part of the “social study” of humans that interests me both personally and professionally.

On the personal side, this has led to a few unique experiences. I could tell you about the time I spent a long weekend working in a reproduction 19th century cabinet-maker’s shop, but it might justify a post of its own (or maybe not!) 

No. We need to know about 19th century cabinet-making!

Ha, well it all started when I had to replace a damaged window in our home. I’ve been into carpentry and furniture-making since I was about 10 years old, and so wanted to DiY it. I discovered that window-making in the Victorian era was something of a technical art, and so while researching the way these things went together, I stumbled onto an in-person multi-day course teaching the traditional joints and techniques (by hand) in their construction. I didn’t even hesitate, and jumped right in. Everything about that experience was fascinating to me—the work, the history, the “culture” of the trades, the way some techniques and traditions were passed down from master to apprentice through generations without ever really being written down. I’m grateful for experiences like that because they’ve helped nurture a respect for the way things were done and the way new ideas were discovered.

Matt's reproduction “Greenhouse Wall” with casement windows.

Let’s talk more about “social study” and history?

Professionally, it has truly served as a source of inspiration. For example, I have a growing collection of vintage advertisements which I love to peruse just to see the ways in which brands learned to connect with their customers.

You might consider it an odd passion for someone who has set their career in an industry that’s largely considered forward-looking, but to me it makes perfect sense. Societal changes from the past are inextricably linked to the upheavals we are currently experiencing (and that will be defining the world’s societies in the future). It’s impossible to read about the industrial revolution and not draw parallels to the mixed response to chatGPT and the like (perhaps we’re on the verge of an intellectual revolution?)

What eventually led you to aytm?

When I came to aytm, I was seeking a challenge and that is exactly what I found. Our clientele is nuanced, with diverse and demanding research objectives. Our researchers, product leaders, developers, and engineers are truly some of the best in the business and they set the bar high. This leads to an environment that is professionally rewarding and supportive at the same time.

How do you balance your career and personal life at aytm?

For me, work-life balance is all about understanding your own personal energies: what drives them, what depletes them, and when to focus on restoring them. aytm is loaded with two things that give employees the space they need to find what that means: flexibility and a culture centered on empathy. The company doesn’t describe what “balance” looks like - it’s far too personal of a concept - but virtual setups and considerate colleagues provide the support that’s needed.

Which aytm Core Value is your favorite and why?

While I already hit on the importance of empathy in our company culture, I’d also say that curiosity is key. I believe that professional growth (both at the individual and organizational level) is bespoke - that is, what works for one employee or one company could be drastically different for another. While best practices should be considered, openness and an inclination toward asking “why?” will help ensure you and your company maintain a “student’s mindset” to remain competitive and avoid stagnation.

What advice would you give someone just starting out at aytm?

I give the same advice to new researchers regardless of what company they’re starting out at: it’s important to understand that discomfort is expected when beginning a new role. Starting a new job should challenge you with new ways of working, collaborating, and thinking. If that isn’t happening, then the role isn’t something that’s going to contribute to your professional growth. Training, of course, should be prioritized, but more important than that is to simply cultivate the mindset of a sponge: absorb. Listen and think critically about what you see around you. Eventually opinions and questions will form, and feel empowered to raise those. That leads to authentic conversations with your colleagues and builds trust, laying the groundwork for your continued development.

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